NꙮW WITH MꙮRE MULTIꙮCULAR ꙮ

Be Nice, At Least Until You Can Coordinate Meanness

[Epistemic status: idea for one’s toolbox of ideas; not to be followed off a cliff]

I.

Commenters on this blog have sometimes tried to shame or attack other commenters for perceived misdeeds like sexual promiscuity. They tell people to their faces that they’re bad people and try to humiliate them.

When this happens, I ban the commenters involved.

And I get protests – what about free speech? What about the marketplace of ideas? Isn’t shaming sometimes a useful social mechanism? There are some norms we can’t or shouldn’t codify into law; shouldn’t violation of those norms be punished by shaming? Shaming can be very effective – for example, last week we learned the Puritans had a premarital pregnancy rate near zero because they publicly shamed anyone who departed from their moral standards. Might it not be useful to have something like that nowadays, either for premarital sex, or for other evils like homophobia and racism that we want to discourage? And even if I think we shouldn’t, is it really okay to ban the people trying, seeing as they were probably well-intentioned?

I think my answer is: be nice, at least until you can coordinate meanness.

II.

A friend (I can’t remember who) once argued that “be nice” provides a nigh-infallible ethical decision procedure. For example, enslaving people isn’t very nice, so we know slavery is wrong. Kicking down people’s doors and throwing them in prison for having a joint of marijuana isn’t very nice, so we know the drug war is wrong. Not letting gays marry isn’t very nice, so we know homophobia is wrong.

I counterargue that even if we ignore the ways our notion of “nice” itself packs up pre-existing moral beliefs, this heuristic fails in several important cases:

1. Refusing the guy who is begging you to give his drivers’ license back, saying that without a car he won’t be able to visit his friends and family or have any fun, and who is promising that he won’t drive drunk an eleventh time.
2. Forcibly restraining a screaming baby while you jam a needle into them to vaccinate them against a deadly disease.
3. Sending the police to arrest a libertarian rancher in Montana who refuses to pay taxes for reasons of conscience
4. Revoking the credential (and thus destroying the future job prospects of) a teacher who has sex with one of her underage students

Sure, you could say that each of these “leads toward a greater niceness”, like that you’re only refusing the alcoholic his license in order to be nice to potential drunk driving victims. But then you’ve lost all meaningful distinction between the word “nice” and the word “good” and reinvented utilitarianism. And reinventing utilitarianism is pretty cool, but after you do that you no longer have such an easy time arguing against the drug war – somebody’s going to argue that it leads to the greater good of there being fewer drugs.

We usually want to avoid meanness. In some rare cases, meanness is necessary. I think one check for whether a certain type of meanness might be excusable is – it’s less likely to be excusable if it’s not coordinated.

Consider: society demands taxes to pay for communal goods and services. This does sometimes involve not-niceness, as in the example of the rancher in (3). But what makes it tolerable is that it’s done consistently and through a coordinated process. If the rule was “anybody who has a social program they want can take money from somebody else to pay for it,” this would be anarchy. Some libertarians say “taxation is theft”, but where arbitrary theft is unfair, unpredictable, and encourage perverse incentives like living in fear or investing in attack dogs, taxation has none of these disadvantages.

By the rule “be nice, at least until you can coordinate meanness”, we should not permit individuals to rob each other at gunpoint in order to pay for social programs they want, but we might permit them to advocate for a coordinated national taxation policy.

Or: society punishes people for crimes, including the crime of libel. Punishment is naturally not-nice, but this seems fair; we can’t just have people libeling each other all the time with no consequences. But what makes this tolerable is that it’s coordinated – done through the court system according to carefully codified libel law that explains to everybody what is and isn’t okay. Remove the coordination aspect, and you’ve got the old system where if you say something that offends my honor then I get some friends and try to beat you up in a dark alley. The impulse is the same: deploy not-niceness in the worthy goal of preventing libel. But one method is coordinated and the other isn’t.

This is very, very far from saying that coordinated meanness is a sure test that means something’s okay – that would be the insane position that anything legal must be ethical, something most countries spent the past few centuries disproving spectacularly. This is the much weaker claim that legality sets a minimum bar for people attempting mean policies.

As far as I can tell there are two things we want in a legal system. First, it should have good laws that produce a just society. But second, it should at least have clear and predictable laws that produce a safe and stable society.

For example, the first goal of libel law is to balance people’s desire to protect their reputation with other people’s desire for free speech. But the second goal of libel law should be that everybody understands what is and isn’t libel. If a system achieves the second goal, nobody will end up jailed or dead because they said something they thought was totally innocent but somebody else thought was libel. And nobody will spent years and thousands of dollars entangled in an endless court case hiring a bunch of lawyers to debate whether some form of speech was acceptable or not.

So coordinated meanness is better than uncoordinated meanness not because it necessarily achieves the first goal of justice, but because it achieves the second goal of safety and stability. Everyone knows exactly when to expect it and what they can do to avoid it. I may not know what speech will or won’t offend a violent person with enough friends to organize a goon squad, but I can always read the libel law and try to stay on the right side of it.

Likewise, in the Puritan community, I know exactly what things I have to do to avoid being shamed. Better still, I can only be shamed for violating one set of moral standards – the shared moral standards of the whole community. This isn’t true of random people shaming promiscuous people, or people with the wrong opinion on race/gender issues, or whatever, on a private blog. Not only do most people reasonably expect to be able to do those things (and/or talk about those things here) without being shamed, but there are too many conflicting standards to meet – plausibly somebody could be shamed by traditionalists for being promiscuous, and by free-love people for not being promiscuous enough. Since shaming is unpleasant and supposed to act as a punishment, this is the equivalent of letting anybody beat up anybody else if they think they’ve broken an unwritten rule. It probably results in a lot of people being beaten up for not very much social change.

III.

The second reason that coordinated meanness is better than uncoordinated meanness is that it is less common. Uncoordinated meanness happens whenever one person wants to be mean; coordinated meanness happens when everyone (or 51% of the population, or an entire church worth of Puritans, or whatever) wants to be mean. If we accept theories like the wisdom of crowds or the marketplace of ideas – and we better, if we’re small-d democrats, small-r republicans, small-l liberals, or basically any word beginning with a lowercase letter at all – then a big group of people all debating with each other will be harder to rile up than a single lunatic.

As a Jew, if I heard that skinheads were beating up Jews in dark alleys, I would be pretty freaked out; for all I know I could be the next victim. But if I heard that skinheads were circulating a petition to get Congress to expel all the Jews, I wouldn’t be freaked out at all. I would expect almost nobody to sign the petition

(and in the sort of world where most people were signing the petition, I hope I would have moved to Israel long before anyone got any chance to expel me anyway)

Trying to coordinate meanness is not in itself a mean act – or at least, not as mean as actual meanness. If Westboro Baptist Church just published lots of pamphlets saying we should pass laws against homosexuality, maybe it would have made some gay people feel less wanted, but it would have been a lot less intense than picketing funerals. If people who are against promiscuity want to write books about why we should all worry about promiscuity, it might get promiscuous people a little creeped out, but a lot less so than going up to promiscuous people and throwing water on them and shouting “YOU STRUMPET!”

This is my answer to people who say that certain forms of speech make them feel unsafe, versus certain other people who demand the freedom to express their ideas. We should all feel unsafe around anybody who relishes uncoordinated meanness – beating people in dark alleys, picketing their funerals, shaming them, harassing them, doxxing them, getting them fired from their jobs. I have no tolerance for these people – I am sometimes forced to accept their existence because of the First Amendment, but I won’t do anything more.

On the other hand, we should feel mostly safe around people who agree that meanness, in the unfortunate cases where it’s necessary, must be coordinated. There is no threat at all from pro-coordination skinheads except in the vanishingly unlikely possibility they legally win control of the government and take over.

I admit that this safety is still only relative. It hinges on the skinheads’ inability to convert 51% of the population. But until the Messiah comes to enforce the moral law directly, safety has to hinge on something. The question is whether it should hinge on the ability of the truth to triumph in the marketplace of ideas in the long-term across an entire society, or whether it should hinge on the fact that you can beat me up with a baseball bat right now.

(if you want pre-Messianic absolute safety, there are some super-democratic mechanisms that might help. America’s Bill of Rights seems pretty close to this; anyone wanting to coordinate meanness against a certain religion has to clear not only the 50% bar, but the much higher level required of Constitutional amendments. Visions of more complete protection remain utopian but alluring. For example, in an Archipelago you might well have absolute safety. The skinheads can’t say “Let’s beat up Jews right now”, they can’t even say “Let’s start an anti-Jew political party and gradually win power”. They can, at best, say, “Let’s go found our own society somewhere else without any Jews”, in which case you need say nothing but “don’t let the door hit you on your way out”. In this case their coordination of meanness cannot possibly hurt anyone.)

IV.

I’ve said many times I find the idea of “safe spaces” very attractive. I think they can be understood not just as spaces that are guaranteed safe for one group, but as spaces that have coordinated meanness against anything that threatens that group – ie they’ve agreed to shame, shun, and expel people who violate group norms. Everybody knows the local norms, and if somebody gets kicked out they can’t say they weren’t warned.

This is the principle with which I deal with the blog comments I started off by talking about. Right now people come to this blog with a default expectation that people aren’t going to be mean to them or try to shame them for things, other than the things universally agreed to be shameful in these general circles (like trolling, spamming, and misusing one-tailed t-tests). I want to explicitly reinforce that expectation here.

If you support being meaner in certain ways for the greater good, either as a subculture or as a society, you’re welcome to try to use this blog to advocate for that policy (within reason), but you’re not welcome to enact that policy unilaterally.

So here are two previously implicit SSC rules, made explicit for your edification:

First, you’re allowed to make (polite) arguments for why we should try shaming certain groups, but you are not allowed to directly shame any commenters here.

Second, you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of transgender, but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.

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1,322 Responses to Be Nice, At Least Until You Can Coordinate Meanness

  1. Eric Rall says:

    While I largely agree with the object-level conclusion, I have some quibbles with the argument in favor of it.

    Taking the example of taxation vs theft, taxation is not free of perverse incentives: instead of living in fear and investing in guard dogs, we avoid otherwise-beneficial behavior on the margins for fear of the tax consequences, and we invest in tax advice, tax prep software, and tax-advantaged investment options to minimize our tax burdens. The particularly rich among us also invests in accountants, lawyers, and (in extreme cases) politicians.

    The coordinated nature of taxation does greatly reduce the deadweight loss: I expect the deadweight loss of taxation in the US (and other first-world countries) is much, much less relative to the utility of the tax-funded programs than the deadweight loss due to theft relative to the utility theft accrues to thieves. And if we did have uncoordinated private theft on anywhere near the scale of the current level of taxation, it would probably be the end of civilization. On the other hand, the coordinated nature of taxation allows much, much more taxation to happen than theft, and I’m not sure whether the absolute total deadweight loss due to taxation is less than the absolute total deadweight loss due to theft.

    • Tom Hunt says:

      > Taking the example of taxation vs theft, taxation is not free of perverse incentives: instead of living in fear and investing in guard dogs, we avoid otherwise-beneficial behavior on the margins for fear of the tax consequences, and we invest in tax advice, tax prep software, and tax-advantaged investment options to minimize our tax burdens. The particularly rich among us also invests in accountants, lawyers, and (in extreme cases) politicians.

      This seems not to be due to the nature of taxation as a policy, but to implementation details. For instance, if we adopted Lord Voldemort’s idea of shifting everything to property taxes, or any of an arbitrary number of other simplifying proposals, it would be easy to reduce the actual time and effort the average person has to put into taxes to about zero — and, similarly, to reduce the perverse incentives against starting new endeavors, to destroy the benefit you can get from paying lots of money for tax lawyers, &c. None of these problems need plague Fnargl’s tax program.

      • > Lord Voldemort’s idea of shifting everything to property taxes

        I assume that you are referring to someone by a nickname, but I am nevertheless going to adopt this as a Harry Potter headcanon.

        • Alsadius says:

          Apparently it’s a local nickname for Mencius Moldbug. (I just found this out last week)

          • Hlynkacg says:

            It’s kind of an inside joke.

            There was a flame war a while back that resulted in Scott declaring a moratorium on discussing Moldbug posts.

            Naturally people started referring to Moldbug as “he-who-shall-not-be-named” which, thanks to the “headcanon” effect, led to lots of jokes/speculation about what sort of political platform, tax proposals, etc… Lord Voldemort would advocate.

          • John Schilling says:

            And it’s an incorrect inside joke, because Scott did not declare a moratorium on discussing Moldbug posts and indeed specifically said that if you wanted to talk about Moldbug and/or his posts you should do so and use the name “Moldbug” to make it clear what you were talking about.

            But, yeah, it has by now morphed into Moldbug as Voldemort.

          • Jiro says:

            I suspect the actual bans are causing some of the problem.

            It isn’t obvious, and I certainly didn’t remember, that “Moldbug” is permitted among all the things that are prohibited. So instead of trying all combinations to see what gets through, people use indirect references even when direct references would be allowed. Scott’s policy of banning certain words has effects outside just those words.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            If memory serves, it wasn’t Moldbug’s name which was banned, but the name of the political philosophy which he espouses.

      • Andrew says:

        So taxation without deadweight loss works in theory, but has anyone actually tried it?

      • SJ says:

        Shifting all taxes to property taxes does not remove the deadweight losses or perverse incentives.

        It simply moves them to a different place. (Probably a less-obvious place.)

        • Paul Goodman says:

          Actually if by a property tax you mean a land value tax it at least drastically reduces the deadweight losses/perverse incentives. The reason is that the supply of land is completely inelastic; if you tax income, people are incentivized to work less, but no matter how much you tax land there isn’t going to be any less of it.

          Of course there’s the issue of progressiveness, but if you have the ability to convert all taxation to land value taxes you can probably institute a UBI or whatever to make up for it.

          • gbdub says:

            “Make as much money as you want, however you can, as long as you don’t increase the value of any durable property” isn’t a perverse incentive?

          • Lars Doucet says:

            To be clear, Land Value tax is not quite the same as property tax. The entire point of Land Value tax is that you *don’t* count the value of any of the buildings/improvements on it, so that what you are actually taxing is the “ground rent” itself — ie, the value your land has accrued by virtue of being in proximity to things your neighbors have produced.

            I’m not an expert but apparently lots of smart economists point to this distinction being what makes Land Value tax special and less prone to deadweight loss than other taxes (including Property tax).

            In short, the theory is that ground rent represents value the community, not you, have produced, and the rent of the stuff on your land represents value that you, not the community, have produced.

            Put another way —
            By taxing the ground rent, you return to the community the value it has produced rather than let that positive externality be captured and lost to a rent-seeker. The Henry George theorem[1] further suggests that the ground rent is approximately equal to the amount of spending on public goods in an area — so that not only would land value tax be a sensible way to accrue enough tax to pay for all your public goods without needing additional taxes that do suffer deadweight loss, it also keeps the value of public goods from being unfairly captured by private interests who just happen to own land situated in a strategic location (ie, speculators).

            That’s the theory at least, explained in its own terms, as best as I understand it.

            [1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George_theorem

            Addendum: hilariously, this theory was put to the test when an economic consultant independently derived the theory in order to solve an early problem with speculators in EVE Online:

            http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RaminShokrizade/20130405/189984/How_I_Used_EVE_Online_to_Predict_the_Great_Recession.php

          • Alex Trouble says:

            “Actually if by a property tax you mean a land value tax it at least drastically reduces the deadweight losses/perverse incentives. The reason is that the supply of land is completely inelastic; if you tax income, people are incentivized to work less, but no matter how much you tax land there isn’t going to be any less of it.”

            Utter nonsense. There is a difference between *land area* and *land value*. The former is highly inelastic, but in a completely meaningless way.

            Land value is determined by its usage, which is highly elastic. Note for example, that a square foot on the slope of a remote mountain, is probably worth less than a square foot underneath the Empire State Building.

          • Michael Watts says:

            the supply of land is completely inelastic; if you tax income, people are incentivized to work less, but no matter how much you tax land there isn’t going to be any less of it

            Of the following scenarios, are any possible?

            – Taxes on land lead to the abandonment of plans to fill a body of water, resulting in less land than there otherwise would have been.

            – Taxes on land lead to reduced efforts to keep the sea out of an area below sea level, resulting in less land than there used to be.

            – Taxes on land lead to less care and maintenance of the land, and it desertifies, resulting in the same amount of land, except that less of it is usable.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That argument for the LVT fails to consider that the cost of public goods is related to the improvements more than the land. That is, if I have an acre on one side of a street and my neighbor has an acre on the other side, and I have a single-family home but he has a 100-unit apartment building, chances are he and his tenants cost a lot more (in terms of required schooling, policing, sewer, water, etc) than my family does.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Michael Watts –

            In this system, the first two would be the sorts of things government should be doing.

            The third, however, doesn’t actually make sense?

            In all three cases, you would still buy, and sell, land. You’d be taxed more heavily on your ownership of it, but causing your property values to drop wouldn’t be a very wise choice unless your goal is just to reduce your property taxes – but if that’s your goal, it’d be more profitable to just sell it.

          • Michael Watts says:

            Orphan Wilde, I don’t understand your objection. Land needs maintenance just like everything else needs maintenance. The question isn’t “do I want my land to be more valuable or less valuable?”, it’s “does the value of the land cover the cost of maintenance, or is it better to get what I can while it’s there?”. Taxes on the land reduce its value as accounted against the cost of maintenance.

            I also don’t understand the implicit argument that a deadweight loss imposed by taxes no longer counts if we have the government assume general responsibility for doing, at some level, the same kind of activity that was prevented by the deadweight loss.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Michael Watts –

            I don’t think value is as easily extracted from land as you seem to imply? My family had land. We sold it; it was a deadweight loss for us. (My grandfather bought land, more or less, because that’s what people did when they got money in the part of the country we lived in. He never extracted any value from it.)

            Whoever bought it presumably put it to better use.

            If there were a Shinra machine that could leach the life force out of the land and leave a desert and the ex-owner a little richer, we might have a problem; but land doesn’t work like that. (If you killed all the grazers on your land for a long period of time, you might see desertification issues, granted. But hunting rights, for lack of knowledge of the correct terminology, are an entirely independent issue.)

          • Alex Trouble says:

            Lars,

            So, that proposal (if it could even be implemented at all, which I’m skeptical of) would push people to build out and away from others, creating a different set of externalities (more costs to get from place to place) and deadweight loss (buildings not being built in optimal areas).

          • Simon says:

            @Alex

            The square foot under the empire state building is valuable because of the rest of New York, most of which is not under the empire state building’s owner’s control. For a sensible land value tax, the land under the building is taxed as if it were an empty lot, taking the rest of the city constant, so the building itself has no effect on the assessed land value.

            @Michael

            The first two scenarios are plausible. However, a sensible land value tax should not take into account the state of maintenance and repair of the property in assessing the tax value, leading to no reduced incentive to maintain the land (short of outright abandonment of the property). Abandonment could be a problem with high land value taxes, particularly given errors in the assessments that might put the taxes above the use value of the land.

          • Alex Trouble says:

            ” For a sensible land value tax, the land under the building is taxed as if it were an empty lot, taking the rest of the city constant, so the building itself has no effect on the assessed land value.”

            How can you possibly know what that is?

            This still discourages building in developed areas–any tax that can change based on behavior will have DWL.

          • Simon says:

            How can you possibly know what that is?

            I’m no property value assessor, so perhaps I should leave that to the experts – but really, it doesn’t seem like you can’t get an approximation. Any time a lot is sold and the existing building is torn down and replaced, subtract any undestroyed improvements and add an estimate of the teardown cost to the sale price to provide an estimate of the land value; develop a model about what factors (location only) influence the land value and estimate the parameters in the model using these data points. You could also use land sales in which the building is not torn down if you can accurately estimate the building value.

            No property would be assessed on it’s own actual sale price, only based on the model.

            No doubt somebody who actually knows something about this could do much better.

            I should note that, if your concern is efficiency, it’s much more important that the assessed land value is hard to manipulate than that it actually be accurate. This suggests keeping the model simple.

            This still discourages building in developed areas–any tax that can change based on behavior will have DWL.

            There are some deadweight losses because people will forgo opportunities to buy up multiple lots to make improvements to one to increase the value of the others; because there will be imperfections in the assessment that will lead to some scope for manipulation, etc. The point is, these deadweight losses should be much smaller than for any other tax we currently use.

          • John Schilling says:

            How can you possibly know what that is

            The same way you know what the value of a piece of land and building together are worth – look at what similar plots of land and/or buildings are selling for in similar markets. This isn’t rocket science.

            It does require enough domain-specific knowledge that I, a rocket scientist, usually just ask an assessor. The ones who have assessed my piece of residential real estate, and I’m looking at one of their reports right now, seem to have had little trouble making separate entries for “current assessed value – land” and “current assessed value – improvements”.

          • Anonymous says:

            Unlike say the zero rapes in trans open restrooms which are certainly cause for concern.

      • bbartlog says:

        Property tax as the only fair tax isn’t particularly a Voldemort idea, I seem to recall that its most well-known proponent was Henry George.

        • Lars Doucet says:

          Indeed, also Adam Smith (according to Wikipedia):
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax

          • “Indeed, also Adam Smith”

            But David Ricardo, who was a much better theorist than Smith, argued against it—from a public choice/rent seeking standpoint. He pointed out that if the value of land largely depended on the taxes imposed on it, land would tend to be held not by those who could best make use of it but by those with the best political connections.

            Which points at one of the problems with land value taxation–the problem of how to separate the site value of land, which is supposed to be what gets taxed, from the rest of the value. It might be doable by a sufficiently intelligent economist who actually wanted to get it right—but he isn’t likely to the person the IRS gives the job to.

            Consider, as an analogous proposal, an IQ tax. Properly measured to include only the genetic element, it has the same attractive feature–taxing an input to production in perfectly inelastic supply.

            Putting aside possible dysgenic effects.

          • Simon says:

            @David

            That’s probably a much stronger objection for relatively unimproved land (e.g. most rural land) then for highly improved land (e.g. most city land).

            In the city, if anything I’d expect land taxes to be less subject to political manipulation than current property taxes. Fully developed lots can vary in value for all sorts of reasons but less reasons for a land value tax (location, location, location).

          • Viliam says:

            Taxes on land lead to reduced efforts to keep the sea out of an area below sea level, resulting in less land than there used to be.

            Could something similar have happened in Atlantis? Wrong tax system, and the whole civilization literally sinks in the ocean…

        • Alexp says:

          Hell, the Economist advocated for it. Well, not nothing but a property or Land Value tax, but at least more of it.

    • Fj says:

      we avoid otherwise-beneficial behavior on the margins for fear of the tax consequences

      Can you expand on this in more detail, please? I thought that tax brackets are doing a pretty good job at leaving income monotonic pretty much everywhere.

      • Error says:

        I’m curious what you think the motivation is, if intentional.

        (full disclosure, I have three family members who can only afford health insurance as a direct result of Obamacare; bias applies)

      • Mary says:

        People are very good at not quite intending things that benefit them.

        Remember that we have a large bureaucracy whose business is looking after poor people.

      • Adam says:

        Mark’s right. After some of the mid-90s reforms, most American federal welfare programs were pretty decent at avoiding the 100% marginal income tax thresholds, but the PPACA subsidy program really jacked that up. I only know a few it happened to last year, but the exact problem is it happens to people who are making like $15,000 a year, really poor people who can’t afford an out-of-nowhere unexpected two grand bill from the government.

      • “I thought that tax brackets are doing a pretty good job at leaving income monotonic pretty much everywhere.”

        After tax income increases with before tax income under the standard graduated tax system, as long as no marginal rates reach or exceed 100%. But there are costs to earning income. If increasing my income by a thousand dollars costs leisure that I value at five hundred dollars, a marginal tax rate above 50% makes it not in my interest to do it.

        • Viliam says:

          Sometimes the costs are even straightforwardly financial. Specific details depend on country; for example where I live there is often the situation where employees could get more money by traveling to work, but they are not allowed to deduct the costs of the travel from their income. So the marginal tax plus the costs of traveling may exceed the marginal income.

      • Eric Rall says:

        The marginal rate greater than 100% scenario is a special case where the effects are large and obvious, but any nontrivial marginal tax rate has distortionary effects. To decide if an economic activity is worthwhile, you look at the expected benefit (after-tax income), adjust for risk, aggravation, status effects, etc, and compare against your next best alternative. The classic examples are work vs leisure (are you making enough the last hour you’re working that you wouldn’t rather be home playing Halo) and market production vs home production (work overtime and hire a painter, or paint your house yourself; alternately, have both spouses work and pay for daycare, a cleaning service, and takeout, or have one spouse stay home with the kids and do the cooking and cleaning). Since market production is taxed while leisure and non-market home production is generally untaxed, high marginal taxes can change which side of the choice looks best. The higher the marginal rate, the more likely it is the make the difference.

        The effect is not unique to income taxes. Pretty much any tax has a deadweight loss associated with it. The formulation I hear most often is that deadweight loss is proportional to the square of the marginal rate and the elasticities of the supply and demand curves for the thing being taxed. The latter point is why land value tax is theorized to be an exception with little or no deadweight loss: the supply of unimproved land is thought to be perfectly inelastic because nobody is making more of it (at least outside of the Netherlands).

        Search for “deadweight loss due to taxation” or look up the relevant chapter in your favorite microeconomics textbook for a full explanation.

        • I had an interesting thought that I wonder if anybody has any data on. How much of the change in % of households with two working adults (outside the home in a job) is due to changing marginal tax rates and the cheapening cost of housework due to labor-saving devices?

    • Rob says:

      > and (in extreme cases) politicians.

      I think you’re much more optimistic than I am about this. Companies lobby and bribe to increase their profits as a policy, and this is nearly indisputable. (on the internet, people often stumble across laws that are pretty ridiculous, like a tariff on foreign pillow cases or something, and the answer to “why?” is more often than not lobbying)

      • Alsadius says:

        Back in the 90s, Microsoft used to brag that they spent not a penny on lobbyists. Sounds like great policy – make stuff people want, don’t bother with politics, and everyone wins. So naturally society decided to reward them by…launching a court case to destroy Microsoft as a company for having the temerity to give us free stuff. Now they spend millions on lobbying.

        Yes, some companies use lobbyists aggressively to rent-seek. Others just lobby in self-defence.

        • I’ve talked with left-wingers who don’t believe any lobbying by business is self-defense.

          • Mary says:

            There are left-wingers who believe that all businesses have magical money trees and are willfully refusing to hand the money out, out of pure spite.

            At least, that’s the premise that would make their arguments make the most sense.

        • Mary says:

          It’s not like there’s a hard and fast rule against rent-seeking vs. self-defense once you’re forced to lobby.

        • Soumynona says:

          Microsoft was “rewarded” for being an abusive monopoly. Which is something you know very well. Maybe you disagree with that, but why the fuck would you raise this completely offtopic issue here in such an obnoxious and dishonest way?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Microsoft was called “abusive” for providing free software to its consumers – that competing operating systems were allowed to provide. Microsoft wanted to provide its Office products as a free component of Windows, for example, and was prevented from doing so by court order (no such move against Apple, who does provide such free software). Same deal with IE versus Safari – Microsoft is required to provide a way to uninstall IE. Safari -can- be uninstalled using third-party applications, but Apple doesn’t provide the mechanism.

            This wasn’t curbing the excesses of an “abusive monopoly”, this was blatant market favoritism, and I’m afraid I agree wholeheartedly with those who assert that Microsoft was punished for not ponying up campaign contributions to powerful politicians (who run the most abusive monopoly around).

          • Murphy says:

            @Orphan

            You don’t seem to understand why such rules are in place.

            Joe Blogs who runs a small bus service offers free fares for the day: not a problem.

            Bill Blogs Inc, a multinational with deep pockets moves into Joes town and offers free fares until Joe and all the other small actors have gone bankrupt then starts charging twice the price Joe Blogs used to charge: Big problem.

            (this is actually a tactic that certain bus companies used, using their deep pockets to eliminate local competition then jacking up the price)

            If a software company which has 1% of the market offers a free extra to try to draw people in it’s not a problem.

            If a software company which has 95%+ of the market uses it’s advantage in one area (operating systems) to try to get an advantage in another (browsers) then that’s a problem.

            It’s not one rule for all, it’s one rule for people who control the majority of the market and another for people who don’t. And that’s sane and sensible.

            In hindsight it the browser “market” had already collapsed due to some good free browsers. Nobody was going to be able to jack up the price once they had control of the market but the rules are written for the more normal case.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Do you have any cases of such tactics at market capture (through non-regulatory means) both working, and returning a profit to the company that engaged in them?

            I’ve personally seen a few companies attempt it. In the cases I’ve observed, they always give up because it didn’t actually work, including in one case an attempt to capture the gasoline fueling market of a town of a couple of thousand people, where it should have worked trivially.

          • Psmith says:

            Standard Oil officials occasionally tried to use the threat of cutting prices and starting price wars in an attempt to persuade competitors to keep their production down and their prices up. But the competitors understood the logic of the situation better than later historians, as shown by the response, quoted by McGee, of the manager of the Cornplanter Refining Company to such a threat: “Well, I says, ‘Mr. Moffett, I am very glad you put it that way, because if it is up to you the only way you can get it [the business] is to cut the market [reduce prices], and if you cut the market I will cut you for 200 miles around, and I will make you sell the stuff,’ and I says, ‘I don’t want a bigger picnic than that; sell it if you want to,’ and I bid him good day and left.”

            (from The Machinery of Freedom)

            (ETA: my point is that this price war stuff is probably a good deal more fiction than reality.).

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Well, that’s a great second example of the tactic failing miserably?

            Standard Oil is in general a terrible example of the need for monopoly regulation. I don’t understand why people bring it up – on the one hand, yes, it was a natural monopoly. On the other hand, it had been rapidly losing market share to its competitors for nearly a decade when the government stepped in and took credit for what was already happening anyways. (More, I’d argue that the government wouldn’t have dared attack it at the zenith of its market power, because Standard Oil could easily, and relatively cheaply, have purchased most of the government officials of the time)

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            To me the most remarkable thing about the theory of predatory monopoly is how popular it is with people who also believe that businesses are excessively focused on next quarter’s profit. Of course I have no idea whether the person who brought up the idea here is one of those people.

          • There are serious problems with the theory of predatory monopolies. First, what happens to the competitors’ plants and equipment when they collapse? Do they burst into flames just because their owners are bankrupt? No, they get sold at cut-rate prices, allowing another competitor to enter the market very cheaply. Of course, the monopolist can try to buy them up himself. I believe Rockefeller tried to do that at one point, and people started building fake refineries to sell to Rockefeller!

            I heard a story once about an American chemical manufacturer whose European competitors tried to put him out of business by selling the chemicals below cost in America. He simply hired proxy-buyers to buy up everything they were selling in America and re-sold it in Europe at a profit!

            And what if you actually managed to sell your product at a price of zero? How long would you have to do that to finally kill off all the competition? Well, the public school system has been offering zero-cost schooling for a century, and there are still private schools everywhere. So it takes at least a hundred years in the education market, and I see no reason why education should be the exception rather than the rule. That’s a long time to sell at a loss!

          • Jiro says:

            Education is the exception because

            1) Education quality can really vary, by a lot more than typical widget quality. If Microsoft distributed free browsers that caused a 50% chance of making your computer burst into flames when run, there would still be significant paid commercial browsers. Furthermore, the very fact that public education is run by government causes the government to be able to get away with poor quality products–it’s not as if people can stop paying for them.

            2) Many people are very price-insensitive when it comes to buying essentials for their children

          • nyccine says:

            On the other hand, it had been rapidly losing market share to its competitors for nearly a decade when the government stepped in and took credit for what was already happening anyways.

            That’s news to me. Every source I’ve ever seen says that Standard Oil’s market share had dropped from 70% to 64% by 1911, and this was largely driven by Standard Oil pulling back on some of its more aggressive practices to drive out competitors, precisely to try and head off action by the feds. While there were competitors, they were almost entirely in areas Standard hadn’t expanded into, and held the same vertical structure Standard did (something that would automatically raise red flags today).

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That isn’t the relevant timescale.
            “In 1904, Standard controlled 91 percent of production and 85 percent of final sales.”

          • onyomi says:

            Has anyone ever seen someone dressed like a man enter a women’s restroom? Or any employee at any establishment ever tell a man “excuse me, sir, you’re not allowed in there”? You might say “well, they’re just not taking advantage because, right now, they know they could get in trouble, but if you open the floodgates to giving male-appearing people the benefit of the doubt…” but if there were all these predators out there only held back by the threat of an employee saying “excuse me, sir,” well, one, you would expect them to be making an occasional failed attempt one might witness, and two, I would personally expect the vast majority of attempts to be successful, because most public bathrooms are not closely monitored and the consequences for a failed attempt are nothing more than momentary embarrassment.

            This just seems like such a non-issue to me.

          • SomethingWitty says:

            Microsoft wasn’t punished for wanting to give people free stuff. If Microsoft decides to provide something for ‘free’ in Windows, all they’re doing is rolling the cost of it into what they charge for Windows, and removing the ability of consumers to purchase one without the other.
            From the consumer perspective, “Woo! I no longer have to purchase Office” immediately means every computer they buy from a vendor locked into Windows now costs $50-$70 more, and they have no option to try to use something like ‘Open Office’ or Google docs instead. It also removes most of the need for Microsoft to price Office competitively, since their consumers are only and to choose between somewhat more expensive Windows and nothing.
            This is a practice known as ‘bundling’ which we have laws against, specifically because of how harmful it can be when monopolies or near monopolies engage in it.
            Was the bundling of Internet Explorer with their operating system the best example of their anti-competitive practices? No. Was it the most urgent thing to sue them for? No. The lawsuit was too little, too late, and fairly arbitrary in its target. That does not however make Microsoft the victim here, it just means of government did far less than it should have to guard against their monopolistic practices.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Something Witty –

            They weren’t planning on increasing the price with the mentioned inclusion; their plan was to roll it out with home versions of Windows, so more users would be familiar with it, which would improve their sales to businesses and large corporations.

            It was a more official version of their strategy of quietly encouraging piracy among home users for the same reason.

            The thing about Microsoft is that, until relatively recently, home consumers were never their target market; they made their money in corporate sales and services. The home consumers were more a marketing strategy than anything else; make sure the people businesses hired were familiar with Windows so they’d have to buy that.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Is there really a general law against bundling? I ask because Southwest Airlines is still running ads boasting about how checked-baggage service is bundled with their regular fares.

          • brad says:

            I believe the anti-bundling rule only applies to bundling something a company has a monopoly in with something it does not have a monopoly in.

            IIUC what Microsoft did would have been perfectly okay for Apple.

          • JayT says:

            @Jiro, are you really saying that the quality of browsers doesn’t vary? Internet Exploder Explorer has long been the butt of jokes, and even if the government hadn’t stepped in there’s no reason to think browsers like Chrome or Firefox wouldn’t have come into existence.

          • Jiro says:

            Quality of browsers doesn’t vary as much, even though it does vary. Dumping browsers can make Microsoft get a monopoly in paid browsers despite their browser being inferior, but it doesn’t work if the browser is *too* inferior.

            Browsers have not reached that point. Schools have, especially since people have much more exacting requirements for educating their children than for browsers.

          • Re: Bundling
            http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/26/business/26SCEN.html?pagewanted=all

            But the court was clear that not every form of bundling was illegal. It is illegal only when a company with significant market power — a monopolist — packages its monopolized product with one of its other products

            Wikipedia says Microsoft is not actually banned from bundling products under its agreement with the Feds. I think M$ doesn’t bundle Office because it can charge a premium for different versions of Office. The typical home version of Office doesn’t include Access, for instance.

            A lot of the business world operates off Office, unfortunately. I have no idea why major companies essentially keep all data in a series of linked Access databases, but what the fuck do I know. *grumble grumble*

          • Murphy says:

            @Orphan Wilde

            @Psmith

            Yes.

            The company Stagecoach.

            They’ve come under fire from the MMC (Monopolies and Mergers). They would move into a town, swamp local smaller bus services with far more busses and start a half price “sale” that lasts as many months as it takes for the smaller competitors to go bust or pull out.

            Stagecoach’s aggressive policy received most publicity for the events in Darlington in the second part of 1994, on which the MMC reported in August. The local authority put its municipal bus operation, Darlington Transport Company (DTC) up for sale in July last year. Busways, a Stagecoach acquisition, bid, but by October the Yorkshire Traction Company emerged as the preferred bidder.

            Stagecoach recruited the majority of DTC bus drivers offering bonuses of pounds 1,000 and three years’ guaranteed employment.

            It registered on all DTC’s commercial routes and began to operate on a free fares basis five weeks before its registered services were due to start. Yorkshire Traction withdrew its bid, the local authority was unable to find another buyer and DTC went into administration.

            The MMC described these actions as “predatory, deplorable, and against the public interest”.

            Since deregulation of the bus market in the UK fares have gone up far far above inflation.

            Stagecoach has grown to a 430m pound company. So price wars and unfair competition worked really well for them.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            One problem with the Darlington example is that the alleged predator didn’t gain a monopoly. Nor is it obvious that it was even aiming for one; if the article can be trusted, the Stagecoach subsidiary, a new entrant in the market, initially offered free service in order to skirt a regulatory restriction on when it could begin paid service.

          • Kuyan Judith says:

            In case anyone is still checking these comments; I dunno about in the U.S., but I know in Australia the Bunnings hardware store chain is notorious for price gouging.

            I’d guess this probably means other Wesfarmers owned chains would do the same given the chance, but Target, K-Mart and Coles are all in competition with other similarly well-funded chains. Although Officeworks doesn’t seem to have obtained a monopoly despite only being in competition with smaller companies.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            @Soumynona – first warning. You are likely to get banned if you continue.

        • Midge says:

          Yes, some companies use lobbyists aggressively to rent-seek. Others just lobby in self-defence.

          When rent-seeking becomes the norm, businesses may find themselves rent-seeking (even rent-seeking aggressively) as a matter of self-defense. I don’t blame businesses for doing that – in fact, I’m sympathetic to their plight. Yet it’s still rent-seeking. Or so it seems to me.

          • Furslid says:

            It’s also that the marginal cost of rent seeking is lowered by developing a self defense lobby. It’s expensive to lobby to prevent some harmful laws. It’s not much more expensive to also lobby for for favorable laws at the same time.

            Once a business has a lobbying ability there is a huge temptation to rent seek. Also, the lower marginal cost makes previously unprofitable rent seeking profitable.

          • People here seem to be limiting “rent seeking” to behavior they disapprove of. In terms of the relevant economics, defensive expenditures are also rent seeking.

            The rent seeking costs of theft include both the thief’s time and effort trying to steal from me and my time and effort trying to keep him from stealing from me.

          • Furslid says:

            @David F. Thanks for that. I’ll have to remember to change how I use the term in the future.

      • Mary says:

        Lobbying is a Constitutional right.

        As for “bribes” — what’s the difference between a bribe and protection money?

    • Tatu Ahponen says:

      It should be remembered here than in many (most?) other first-world countries, the idea of tax advice or tax prep software (for individuals – businesses are another matter) would be ridiculous.

      http://www.vox.com/2016/4/8/11380356/swedish-taxes-love

      “In Sweden, the four-page tax form comes in the mail already filled out. On a Saturday morning, Betty and I take our coffee to the couch and review the forms. Seeing they look reasonable, as they always do, we “sign” with a text from our phones. In 15 minutes we are done. We don’t have to hire a tax consultant, and we avoid fights about whether a print cartridge bought at the drugstore is a business expense or not.

      The Swedes expect their government to be efficient, and the tax authority is. Only 11 percent of the Swedish taxpayers say it is NOT easy to fill out their forms. I can’t imagine what a similar survey question would show in the US.”

      The American tax system is ludicrously, ridiculously inefficient.

      • The Nybbler says:

        I’ll take spending a few hours and having to buy a computer program to fill out my taxes, to an extra 9% of my income, which is the difference between their US tax and their Swedish tax.

      • brad says:

        It’s easy to exaggerate the difficulty of filing U.S. taxes because for some edge cases (generally involving non-public business owners) it can get very complex.

        But for the majority of people that have only w2 income and for whom the standard deduction is best, it is quite straightforward.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          I think you overestimate the average person’s ability to fill out multiple-page forms that include pointers in their arithmetic and obtuse language. Or more meaningfully, their ability to determine, based on some often extremely obtuse language, which forms they even need to fill out.

          • Evan Þ says:

            I volunteer with the VITA program, an IRS-sponsored free tax prep program for low-income people. Some of our clients are self-employed with legitimately complicated tax situations, but at least half have only W2 income and take the standard deduction.

            Most of the time, they’re still lost amid the thicket of tax forms.

            I agree, the Swedish system would be by far the best. Send a simple pre-filled tax form, with a cover letter saying “If you’re self-employed, or you donated more than $X in non-cash charitable gifts, or you XYZ, you should probably fill things out yourself instead.”

          • brad says:

            Fair enough. I’ve only done my own — both by hand and by computer program — never tried to help anyone else.

        • Nornagest says:

          Be aware that state and local income taxes or sales taxes (but not both) can be deducted. It takes a highish middle-class income or a high-tax state or both, but it’s not uncommon for that to push you out of standard deduction territory alone, whether or not you have mortgage interest or large donations to deduct.

          Doesn’t make tax forms much harder, though. I bought tax software for years before figuring out that doing it myself wasn’t much more of a pain.

  2. Leif says:

    If I think it would be good to shame a particular group of people (not on this blog, in general), how do I know when I have sufficient coordination to meet the standard? The only specific examples I see in this post is government, which seems like a decent way to coordinate violent meanness, but not necessarily of coordinating shaming; and meanness to protect safe spaces, which is different from shaming random individuals who aren’t trying to be part of your group.

    To be more specific, suppose I want to do the Puritan teen pregnancy shaming thing. Do I have to get Congress to pass a bill saying everyone should be mean to teen mothers? Should I conduct a poll of my local community and look for a particular percentage of support? Etc.

    • grort says:

      I think it depends on which community you want to discourage from having teen pregnancies. If you don’t want pregnant teens in your internet forum, you need to talk to the forum moderators. If you don’t want pregnant teens using Tumblr, you need to get something added to the Tumblr code of conduct. If you don’t want pregnant teens at your school, you need to talk to the board of directors. If you don’t want pregnant teens in your nation, then yeah, you need to talk to Congress.

      Note that most actual communities, when they want to dissuade people from doing something, will have a better way of punishing people than “random people will shame you”. Being shamed by random people is not a very good punishment, because it’s difficult to predict, and because it falls more heavily on some people than others. Communities will assign punishments like “forum moderators will ban you from the forum” or “police will put you in prison”. The specific tactic of shaming is something that people only need to use when they don’t have sufficient coordination to create an actual rule against a behavior.

      • grort says:

        I suppose it’s possible that someone might be coming at this question, not from the perspective of “I want to dissuade teens from getting pregnant”, but from the more specific perspective of “I would enjoy shaming some pregnant teens”. All I can say is that person would be a jerk, and that person should not be allowed to shame anyone.

        • Jiro says:

          Despite LW-style rhetoric about people’s single true objection, most people have multiple reasons for what they do. It’s not beyond belief that someone would both enjoy what he does and want to do it to better the world as well.

      • Jiro says:

        grort: That reasoning implies you should always oppose protest marches.

      • Leif says:

        Banning pregnant teens from Tumblr probably won’t do much to prevent teen pregnancy. Arresting them or kicking them out of school might, but both of those options are all-but-guaranteed to mess up their lives, and we don’t want to do that.

        Shaming can potentially discourage a behavior without creating substantial material harm to the people who are shamed. IF we’re going to institute a punishment to discourage a self-destructive behavior, shaming seems like one of the better options, if not the best.

        Of course, shaming can still cause material harm (to mental health). I’m not saying anyone should go around shaming teen mothers (I feel bad picking on them; I just stole them as an example from the OP). But I do think shaming and others forms of meanness are sometimes a useful tool, when used judiciously, and I’m against a general rule prohibiting all disorganized meanness, and all shaming, without respect to context.

        The reason shaming makes people feel bad is because it tells them, on an emotional level, that others disapprove. “I disapprove” and “you suck” have essentially the same semantics, but “you suck” is stronger emotionally. I think sometimes, in some circumstances, it’s necessary to make someone feel the disapproval to get them to understand. It’s not just about punishment (although that can play a role), but about conveying emotions.

        • 57dimensions says:

          I feel like teen mothers aren’t really the best category to use as an example for shaming, especially for online communities, since like you said the effects would be negligible. Teen pregnancy isn’t really an idealogical position or attitude as much as a sign of poverty and bad sex education, so things like homophobia or racism work better as categories when thinking about rules for communities. Someone can refrain from saying a racist or homophobic thing in a comment on a blog, but a pregnant teen can’t just stop being pregnant at will to follow the rules of a group.

          • Psmith says:

            Teen pregnancy isn’t really an idealogical position or attitude as much as a sign of poverty and bad sex education

            This may not be entirely accurate, at least in an American context. See for instance.

          • Anonymous says:

            but a pregnant teen can’t just stop being pregnant at will

            Depends on the jurisdiction.

          • Leif says:

            Ok, but I don’t want to talk about using shaming (or whatever) to enforce norms within the context of a group. I want to talk about using shaming (or whatever) to reduce bad behavior in the wider world, and increase the world’s overall utility.

        • grort says:

          I still think that “random people will shame you” is a terrible punishment. People who are powerful within the community would be immune to this punishment, because nobody would dare try to shame them. People who are weak within the community would be shamed much harder.

          If you’re proposing that the government, or some other centralized process, would shame people in a controlled and measurable way — I could imagine that being useful for some forms of behavior modification. For example I can imagine a software engineering group where, if you break the build, you have to wear the Hat of Shame for a day.

          • Leif says:

            People who are powerful within the community would be immune to this punishment, because nobody would dare try to shame them.

            This is the yes-man phenomenon, and it doesn’t just apply to shaming; it applies to any form of showing disapproval. If someone powerful requests honest feedback on something, they will be less likely to receive negative feedback if people don’t like it. I actually think this is a negative for powerful people, but I’m sure many of them like it.

            If we’re going to ban anything that people apply unfairly based on status, we’re going to have to ban literally all social interaction.

          • Anonymous says:

            For example I can imagine a software engineering group where, if you break the build, you have to wear the Hat of Shame for a day.

            I recall one discussion on Hacker News about an office where the last person to break the build was awarded a rubber chicken, to be displayed prominently on their desk until someone else broke the build. This was in a larger thread about building a big red flashing light that would go off continuously as long as the build was broken.

            So yeah, group shaming seems to be a fairly common and effective method in that circumstance.

          • Salem says:

            We really have built a big red flashing light that goes off continuously whenever the build is broken.

            We don’t have rubber chickens, but we do have periodic discussions about hooking up a nerf gun so it will auto-shoot whoever breaks the build.

          • Sivaas says:

            At my last job, there was a large orange pipe wrench, which upon build breakage was carried to the person responsible (by all engineers present, with musical accompaniment by a button that played the Imperial March) and left on top of their cubicle until the next time the build was broken.

            I’m not sure it really mapped to shame, though. I received the wrench a few times, but never felt like it was an attempt to show bad feeling towards me, and when I was helping present the wrench it didn’t feel like we were trying to make the other person feel bad. It was more just a shared ritual among the group, all in good fun, with the additional side effect of making sure a build breaking was never trivialized or ignored.

          • Agronomous says:

            Shame is bad. The problem’s not that Dan broke the build; the problem is that the build is broken. So a red flashing light indicating that we all have a problem is far preferable to a chicken or wrench or dunce cap indicating that Dan has/is a problem.

            It should be everyone’s top priority to get the build un-broken ASAP. Maybe at first only a couple of people can pitch in usefully; that’s OK, but they should be able to pull in others as needed. (And don’t underestimate the efficiency of simply reverting to the last working build and integrating Dan’s stuff again.)

            Next step is to figure out why the build broke on the build server: did it work on Dan’s machine? Are there tests that only intermittently fail (that is, only intermittently do their job)? Is something different about the configuration on Dan’s box and the build server?

            Whatever the answer, make sure to fix that, with the same urgency that you fixed the build.

      • “The specific tactic of shaming is something that people only need to use when they don’t have sufficient coordination to create an actual rule against a behavior.”

        The existence of systems of social norms is evidence that the tactic can work. My standard example is that there is no law preventing me from teaching university classes stripped to my waist—but it would be a foolish thing to do.

        For more and more elaborate examples, see Order Without Law by Ellickson.

  3. Pseudoperson Randomian says:

    So…this article is a long winded way of saying “Say whatever you want except attacking other people in the comments section directly”.

    As I understand it, it’s basically “It’s okay to say that iPhones suck and should go away, and people who use iPhones should be ashamed of themselves. But it’s not okay to say another commenter sucks because they use an iPhone”

    That bout right?

    • implic8 says:

      >long winded

      you lost bro?

      • Rob says:

        Scott writes an entire argument on being constructive in the comments section, and you happen to write a poor quality comment in the one way that isn’t explicitly stated to be wrong.

        • Milan says:

          Well, to be honest, noting on an SSC post that it is long and can be said in fewer words is also not exactly constructive, nor new information 😀

        • tenshal mungafe says:

          Why are you complaining about him doing something that, by your own admission, isn’t wrong?

    • Soumynona says:

      “That bout right?”

      I don’t think so. If you say that all iPhone users should be ashamed of themselves you are still shaming the iPhone-using commenter in a (very clumsily) concealed manner. The post isn’t about being a sneaky dick. It’s about not being a dick at all.

      Talk, instead, of all the reasons why iPhones create a great social harm and why having a policy of aggressively discouraging iPhone use would lead to great justice.

      • Muga Sofer says:

        Yeah, you can’t say “all [category you’re in] are terrible” to someone, but you can use it in an abstract argument. I think. As long as you say in a polite and far-view-sounding manner.

  4. Pku says:

    I’m curious about how this interacts with the notion of criminal law as a mechanism to limit power rather than control behavior.
    The notion goes thusly: we can’t really stop everyone from being jerks by government action, and we shouldn’t try because that would lead to anti-libertarian (statist?) dystopia. So the purpose of criminal law is to stop it from going too far – saying “okay, you can be jerks to each other, but if it goes too far and you hit the other guy’s head or car with a baseball bat, the government’s going to step in”. I like this approach (I should probably admit that I got it off the Dresden Files).
    This gives a notion of the use of power that’s orthogonal to the meanness axis, but is still important: locally (if you know the story and the people involved), you might be able to judge a situation well enough to interfere based on who’s right. But if you’re a government (or even a closer authority figure like a schoolteacher), you probably can’t, and should leave things alone until they get out of hand.
    The problem is that this implies that the only people who are allowed to be mean are people who know you personally. Say, in a situation where someone needs to realize he’s passed the bounds of good taste and is just being a jerk, you shouldn’t coordinate your response – someone who knows him needs to tell him. This is a contradiction I’m having a hard time resolving.

    (Also, does the explicity of the new rules mean no one’s allowed to say things like “bronies are creeps?” Becuase if so, yay.)

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Somebody on this blog who didn’t leave in the great Hegira to Tumblr actually said “bronies are creeps”?

    • Psmith says:

      There exists an r/bronyweapons for just this sort of content, I believe.

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Why do I get the feeling the kinds of people who organize Everfree are not particularly happy about that?
      Oh hey, here comes more happiness. >_>
      Reckon there’s still time to organize a West Coast Armoury group visit before next week? I kinda wanna see someone’s fluttershy-themed suppressor build…

  5. Eggoeggo says:

    Hang on, if you can’t shame people out of the safe space for violating group norms, it’s not a safe space. To me, it just looks like you’re saying “nobody is allowed to guard the wall”.

    Also, “the things universally agreed to be shameful in these general circles” are determined through practice, not discussion.

    • Anon says:

      Right, it’s not a safe space. It’s Scott’s space. He is allowed to kick people out for violating group his norms. No coordinated meanness is necessary.

      • Eggoeggo says:

        Which means any group that wants to dominate discourse is motivated to be constantly pushy and provocative at a low level that just slips beneath Scott’s willingness to waste all his time policing thousands of comments a week.

        Feels like it’d shape up exactly like Twitter’s moderation system, with all the same mob-coordinated manipulation.

        • drethelin says:

          Well yes if a huge group is putting in a concentrated effort to dominate you and your space, the response necessarily needs to be different than a system designed to fend off random bad actors. Twitter has millions more people than SSC has commentators, so there are things that will work here that won’t on twitter.

        • Tracy W says:

          You forget Scott’s reign of terror, he can just block the email addresses or IP addresses if he gets sick of moderating individual comments.

        • MF says:

          In the event that happened, I imagine he would disable commenting for non-whitelisted accounts.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Yeah, and we’ve seen it. They don’t seem to be able to stay below the threshold consistently, though, and they get banned.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m very very lenient to anybody who’s nasty because somebody provoked them first. There have been a lot of otherwise ban-worthy comments I’ve let slip for that reason.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            Only when you notice and care about the provocation, which you don’t.

          • Eggoeggo says:

            But it still puts you in the position of having to mentally process all of them and apply the appropriate amount of leniency in the context of a 5-deep comment chain full of catty sniping.
            It doesn’t have to give you impossible decisions to overload your system–just too many annoying ones that suck up valuable time.

            It’s a standard entryist trick, isn’t it? Create lots of drama, demand more moderation, accuse moderators of the usual transgressions (not caring about the safety of X!), then offer to take over moderation as volunteers.

            It also exposes the moderator up to outside attacks that they could have otherwise avoided by avoiding certain subjects. Penny Arcade’s community is a prime example of this exploit working extremely well.

            You’re a dozen times smarter than I am, but you still only have 24 hours in a day. That’s going to be the weak point of any one-man moderation system, no matter how effective and charitable it is.

  6. Doug says:

    Four thoughts:

    1) “a church worth of Puritans” is my new default unit of social approval/disapproval.

    2) In some cases, might it be necessary to have uncoordinated actions before society can agree on coordinated actions? Sometimes it might be awareness raising, other times we might want to beta-test them. As an example of the former, the civil rights movement had to overcome a lot of community standards through individual demonstrations against them before there was a societal and legal change. As an example of the later, we had to infect a few people with cow pox before we could demonstrate a need for societal-wide vaccination.

    3) I find these lines blurry in terms of actions vs. words. Namely, how do we distinguish “shaming” from broader societal wide discourse? So If I write a letter saying “Green-eyed people are ugly and should not represent our nation. They should have their passports revoked” and send it to my [brown-eyed] Congressman, that’s fine, but sending the same letter to my green-eyed neighbor is forbidden?

    4) How do we define the societal unit? This blog has high standards for one-tailed t-tests, and you seem to think it’s reasonable to enforce that. What’s to say me and my two buddies don’t constitute our own community with standards we can enforce? What if Town X hates green-eyed people, but the state that town is in loves them?
    4b) Proposal: “a church worth of Puritans” is the minimum level of societal organization necessary to declare your own community standards. I’m only half-joking.

    • DanielLC says:

      2) Then coordinate doing it in a small area. You’re not going to demonstrate anything with random smallpox vaccines. Demonstrating something requires more coordination than actually doing it.

      3) You’re allowed to say that you find green-eyed people ugly and you do not think they should represent your nation in public discourse. You are not allowed to single out green-eyed people.

      4) You and your friend are allowed to make your own community and enforce your own standards on each other. The point where you can define the community as an area or something instead of the people who agree to be part of it is where the latter stops being practical. I can just stop being friends with you and you can keep track of this and not give me the benefits of friendship, but the US can’t stop giving me roads.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        4) You and your friend are allowed to make your own community and enforce your own standards on each other.

        Really? I missed that one, last time I checked the federal and state governments were pretty aggressive about rooting out nonconformist communities.

        If what you want to do is any weirder than hypothetically refusing to bake pizzas, you can expect G-Men armed with military weaponry to show up without warning and put a stop to it. Remember the FLDS incident a few years ago?

        I mean, the entire history of Mormonism is a pretty good counterpoint to that idea. Even if you move out into the middle of an empty desert the government will hunt you down to make damn sure you aren’t being too weird. I’m half-convinced that the reason so many FBI agents are Mormon is for self-defense.

        • Adam says:

          They were violating the part about the community being only people who agreed to be a part of it, specifically all the 10-year old girls being married off to the elder with 36 other wives. Mormons were completely left alone by the FBI when they didn’t do that.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Do you have any evidence that this actually occurred?

            There were certainly accusations, but AFAIK the government was never able to back up any of its claims and the initial complaint was exposed as a hoax.

          • Adam says:

            You guys must be referring to a different thing than I’m thinking of. Warren Jeffs definitely actually occurred.

          • I think the reference is to the actions taken against the FLDS in Texas by the state child protective authorities. They raided a settlement on the basis of a bogus phone call by someone who claimed to be a female minor in the community married against her will, actually had no connection to the FLDS and a history of making bogus phone calls. They seized about three hundred childen from infants on up, labeled various mothers as minors without making it clear in their public statements that they were refusing to accept documentary evidence of age—it eventually turned out that most of them were adults. The children were only returned to their parents after unanimous decisions against the child protective authorities by both the state appeals court and the state supreme court.

            It was a pretty ugly series of actions, and I think one could make a case that the authorities were guilty of attempted genocide, given the current legal definition thereof. For details (I followed the controversy pretty closely when it was happening) see:

            http://daviddfriedman.blogspot.com/search?q=FLDS

          • Adam says:

            Yeah, I didn’t hear about that one. I’m guessing it’s recent then, because I haven’t really paid much attention to the news for the last few years. Not all FLDS are created alike and I guess it’s a shame they all share a name, but the unfortunate side effect is law enforcement will be jumpy. ‘G-Men armed with military weaponry’ made me think he was talking about Warren Jeffs and the FBI, not Texas Child Protective Services.

        • Jiro says:

          We generally accept the idea that a community can exert control over its 10 year olds whether they agreed to be part of it or not. Objecting to this on the grounds that the 10 year olds didn’t agree is an isolated demand for rigor.

          The only thing that distinguishes this from “well, the FBI could also break up any community that sends their kids to bed without dessert and makes them do homework” is that you have independent reasons for thinking that marrying off 10 year olds is bad, reasons which have nothing to do with your supposed community principle.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Exactly.

          • Adam says:

            Isolated demand for rigor? Non-Mormons who marry 10 year-olds also get arrested. This is not an out-of-the-ordinary demand made only of Mormons.

          • Jiro says:

            What makes it an isolated demand for rigor is that you only invoke “the 10 year olds didn’t agree to be part of the community” when what is being done to 10 year olds is something you already dislike for unrelated reasons. You don’t apply it to every instance where a community does things to 10 year olds against their will.

            This is not an out-of-the-ordinary demand made only of Mormons.

            The isolated demand for rigor isn’t being applied to only Mormons, it’s being applied to only selected community actions against 10 year olds..

          • Adam says:

            I’m not really sure how to respond. I mean, you’re right, I guess. The issue the Feds took with the FLDS wasn’t that the children there had no say in being part of it. The issue was they were raping children. That still seems to mean it’s not a counterpoint to the general observation that you’re free to go start a community in the middle of nowhere and be generally weird, provided the weirdness isn’t criminal. The FBI has never gone after Guerneville.

          • Jiro says:

            Your argument was more general than just “they are raping children”.

            Your argument was that when a community does things to children, the children have not agreed to be part of the community, and therefore prohibiting it is not interfering with the community’s own practices. Taken seriously, that argument applies to anything done to children–it includes child rape, but it also includes completely innocuous things. Making that argument and then not actually applying it to those innocuous things is an isolated demand for rigor.

          • “The issue was they were raping children. ”

            In what case? In the original Jeffs case, the charge was that he had pressured a woman into a marriage (with someone else) which she later said she hadn’t wanted. She wasn’t a minor and I don’t think that the husband in that case had other wives. I didn’t follow the details of the later case involving Jeffs.

            I don’t believe anyone in any of the cases was accused of forcible rape, of children or adults. In the Texas case the authorities claimed that various of the mothers were underage—but they were refusing to accept documentary evidence of age, so “underage” meant “we have decided they are underage,” and mothers were reclassified when necessary to get the numbers up.

            In one case where they held two pregnant women until their children were born and thus under the control of the authorities, they eventually conceded that one of the mothers was eighteen and the other twenty-two.

            By the time all of the fraudulent claims were eliminated, it was not clear that the teen pregnancy rate among FLDS women was higher than the Texas average.

            In the Texas case, the three hundred children seized included infants, male and female. They weren’t seized to prevent them from being forced into marriage ten years later.

            And, in that case, the age of consent had been raised and the legal penalty for polygamy increased for the explicit purpose of targeting the FLDS–the original proposal being by a state legislator in the town they were moving into, described in legislative documents as for that purpose.

            The treatment of the whole case in the media was extraordinarily biased, treating CPS assertions as facts and generally downplaying known facts inconsistent with them.

          • Adam says:

            I was still talking about Jeffs. He’s currently serving a sentence for multiple counts of sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault of children. If you don’t think that’s rape, fine, but I think it’s fair usage of the term. As long as you agree on the facts of the case, I don’t really care the specific verbiage used to characterize them and am willing to call it whatever you’d prefer to call it.

          • TheWorst says:

            We generally accept the idea that a community can exert control over its 10 year olds whether they agreed to be part of it or not. Objecting to this on the grounds that the 10 year olds didn’t agree is an isolated demand for rigor.

            That’s an excellent point.

        • smocc says:

          “I won’t particularly like it there, but there will be a place for me there.”

          I hope so! I just happened to be reading:

          68 And it shall come to pass among the wicked that every man that will not take his sword against his neighbor must needs flee unto Zion for safety.
          69 And there shall be gathered unto it out of every nation under heaven; and it shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.
          70 And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand
          – Doctrine and Covenants 45:68-70

          As a Mormon who grew outside the west, your analysis hits home. I like the US right now, and I like the founding principles, and I’m committed to keeping it going, but I don’t necessarily expect it to last forever and it certainly doesn’t have my highest allegiance.

        • Adam says:

          So are you not going to believe me when I say that wasn’t the argument I intended to make? You’re responding to a comment in which I just said you’re right. All I was originally doing was counterpointing the premise that it’s not possible to form a weird community of your own because the FBI went after the FLDS. I really wasn’t trying to make any bigger point about children consenting to being part of a community. I can’t go back and edit it now.

        • caryatis says:

          FLDS people are not Mormons.

          And the reason the feds interfered with the Mormons in the 19th century was only partly the fact that they were polygamous and otherwise weird. They were basically running a theocratic and totalitarian society, which led to a lot of oppression of dissenters.

  7. Amelia Kelly says:

    Notwithstanding the rest of this comment, this is an excellent post and I thoroughly approve of the principle proposed therein.

    It seems to me that a ban on uncoordinated meanness makes it difficult to coordinate forms of meanness that aren’t already coordinated, and thereby makes it a lot harder to change the status quo. Which I guess could be thought of as a good thing from a Chesterton’s fence perspective, but there are so many respects where the world is obviously broken that I’d be hesitant to create more obstacles to fixing it.

    If we lived in a world where people routinely ate unambiguously-sentient babies, this principle would suggest that we should make lots of philosophical arguments against babyeating, but we shouldn’t actually seriously try to stop it (at least on an individual level; maybe some kind of complicated economic incentives might be okay, but those could easily be mean too). After all, the babyeaters would say that babyeating is very important to them, and so making them feel bad about it is mean (and I think they’d be right). Anti-babyeating would be thought of as a weird-but-interesting ivory-tower thought experiment rather than as a real thing that people should actually do, kind of like Peter Unger’s positions are thought of in our world. This seems bad, and I think it’s a good metaphor for a lot of real-world moral issues.

    (I think the argument I’m making here could be considered a steelman of political radicalism in general.)

    • daronson says:

      I like this steel-man argument. But I think most cases where “being mean on a micro level” worked (of which we certainly have a number of examples) have some common characteristics: basically, I think that in none (or few) of them did meanness work as a deterrent (white people in Southern communities of the civil war era didn’t spontaneously get together and say, “let’s desegregate our public institutions to prevent all these freedom riders from bothering us” and Irish independence didn’t happen from the English parliament saying, “ok, the IRA is just causing too much havoc: we give in to their demands”). I think that what the micro-meanness accomplished, rather, was exposure: it kept the question in the public consciousness and gave voice to people who cared enough about it to be mean. In this way I don’t think the function of the meanness was that different from Gandhi’s hunger strikes (which were not mean) or even ISIS’ gratuitous violence (which is mean in a totally random way): all of these are ways to, at worst, maintain hype and “feed Moloch” and, at best, ways to force the silent majority with a weak opinion to examine their beliefs and cause coordinated change.

      • Pku says:

        I’m not sure you can classify ISIS with the others there, since their violence appears mostly random (I don’t know if it actually is, but neither do most other people, so they’re not effectively spreading awareness).

        • daronson says:

          Well ISIS needs media attention for recruits and funding. If I were the sort of person who decides between donating to ISIS or Al Quaeda, say, I would be likely to choose the one I’ve heard more news about, and the one that seems more passionate about what they’re doing. (Although I do agree with you that ISIS is part of a different context, and is not really trying to convince anyone of anything: I included them just as the opposite pole from Gandhi in the “trying to increase exposure” category.)

          • Agronomous says:

            I’ve read somewhere that ISIS spends over 70% of their budget on fundraising, rather than directly funding genocide, oppression, and random violence. I’d recommend waiting until GiveWell does a writeup on them before donating.

        • Not random, and also not intended to convince other people of anything. It is intended to convince themselves that their religion is true. Islam basically teaches that in the plans of eternal providence, it will conquer the world by force. The obvious falsity of that claim terrifies them, and so they respond in a desperate attempt to make that doctrine true.

    • stargirlprincesss says:

      Unilaterally trying to stop other baby-eaters from eating babies would go extremely poorly. Seems likely you would just get eaten/otherwise killed and no babies would be saved. You would just be causing trouble for no real reason.

    • Desertopa says:

      On the other hand, in a world where you can’t generate coordinated opposition to babyeating, uncoordinated opposition to babyeating probably won’t suffice to get people to stop eating babies. From a non-utilitarian perspective, it might satisfy a moral imperative, but in consequentialist terms it’s unlikely to accomplish much.

      • Mary says:

        But you could save a few babies, probably.

        The Underground Railroad certainly would not have ended slavery.

        • Wrong Species says:

          Obviously we don’t have a counterfactual but at it’s peak, the Underground Railroad was helping a thousand slaves escape a year. Project that forward a few decades(and imagine that it grows in number) and it doesn’t seem especially unlikely.

          Even if it didn’t directly end slavery, it does seem to have contributed to a confrontation between the North and the South that led to abolition.

          • Mary says:

            It is greatly improbable that it would have increased in number. The more damage it did, the more they would throw into stopping it.

    • Tracy W says:

      But isn’t this basically the position anti-abortion types are in? (Leaving aside the literal eating.) They believe life starts at conception, and millions of human lives are being murdered and then most Western societies expect them to not even harassas abortion providers? [Note: I’m pro-choice myself.]

      Or if you believe that people who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their saviour are going to hell for all eternity and the you can’t get Christianity taught at schools.

      Or you’re a fervent animal rights activist…

      But, on the whole, most pro-lifers or born-again Christians or animal rights activists don’t resort to violence or even uncoordinated meanness against those who disagree with them (yes there are terrorists and persistent harassers, but they’re rare relative to opinion polls). Presumably they mostly regard this world as a better one than one in which they are at war with most of their society.

      • Two McMillion says:

        Presumably they mostly regard this world as a better one than one in which they are at war with most of their society.

        Sort of. I think most Christians would say that God has ordained both the end we work towards as well as the means we’re supposed to use to get there. The Christian view of morals is neither entirely deontological nor entirely consequentialist, and has shades of virtue ethics in it too. We have a duty to fight the evils in the world, but we’re not allowed to fight evil by absolutely any means we please. The abyss gazes back, and all that. While there are cases where you’re allowed to violate a lower moral principle to uphold a higher one, you better genuinely be in a situation where you absolutely have to break the lower rule. These situations are much rarer than a lot of people believe.

        This is one of the problems with the trolley problem- that three deaths are worse than one is a transparent moral fact, but establishing the general principle that we may sacrifice one life to save three others is far more difficult.

    • Forlorn Hopes says:

      The question here is what if you’re wrong?

      What if people aren’t eating babies, they’re just taking a harmless drop of their blood for medical reasons, and you’re being mean to them for no reason.

      Or abortion as some people are saying. A lot of people literally believe that abortion is on the level of eating an unambiguously sentient baby. Should they be aloud to be mean to people who have an abortion?

      An advantage of only supporting coordinated meanness, even in dystopia where evil is common place, is that the requirements of coordination serve as a filter to identify genuine wrongs from harmless things people simply think are wrongs.

      Not a perfect filter, but it’s a good idea to have it in the pipeline of filters.

      • Deiseach says:

        A lot of people literally believe that abortion is on the level of eating an unambiguously sentient baby.

        Is that what I believe? I had no idea. I’m so glad the better informed can instruct me!

        Since I appear to be going for maximum offensiveness these days, Scott can you explain why you were worried about the latest chapter of Unsong appearing to be pro-life? What is so terrible about us that you would rather make it unambiguously clear you’re not one of those?

        • Murphy says:

          To be fair FH didn’t say *all* pro-lifers believe that and I’m pretty sure a reasonably large number of pro-lifers do view abortion as morally equivalent to murdering a child and once you’re into the realm of murdering children, eating your victims only moves you a little further down the scale of evil.

          • Forlorn Hopes says:

            Correct. I was thinking more about the people who actually attack abortion clinics than anyone likely to be posting here.

            Though even more moderate pro-lifers will quite gladly state they believe abortion is the murder of babies.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Well, I believe that abortion is literally the equivalent of killing a baby, but I also think that blowing up a clinic would be at least as bad, which is the reason I don’t oppose abortion with violence.

        • Galle says:

          I don’t recall anybody specifying that you were one of those people. Empirically, it’s clear that a lot of pro-lifers believe that abortion is baby-murder. They’re usually happy to volunteer this information themselves.

        • Faradn says:

          Fiction has a weird tendency to be pro-life by default. My guess is that’s why he was apologetic about it, the thoughtlessness of that tendency.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Deiseach

          >>A lot of people literally believe that abortion is on the level of eating an unambiguously sentient baby.

          >Is that what I believe? I had no idea. I’m so glad the better informed can instruct me!

          Aside from the eating, where do you draw the line/s, and which lines are they?

    • anon85 says:

      That’s a really cool story that I haven’t seen before. But as a side note, what’s up with the rape stuff? That probably prevents me from linking to this story in polite company.

      • sweeneyrod says:

        Unsympathetically, Yudkowsky being *edgy*.

      • Nornagest says:

        Eliezer claims it’s there to further the story’s theme of ethical incompatibilities: the humans of the story aren’t as weird as the Babyeaters or the Superhappies, but their ethics are not ours. Surprise!

        I don’t think this is complete horseshit, but I do think Eliezer likes to shock the normies, and I also think he’s not sending quite the message he thinks he is. He has a long history of being a little tone-deaf on sexual issues.

        • anon85 says:

          I mean, it was just completely unconvincing – instead of making the future humans seem weird, it simply broke my suspension of disbelief.

          And anyway, that wasn’t even the only pointless mention of rape in the story. At the very end, the confessor confesses:

          “Back in the ancient days that none of you can imagine, when I was seventeen years old – which was underage even then – I stalked an underage girl through the streets, slashed her with a knife until she couldn’t stand up, and then had sex with her before she died. It was probably even worse than you’re imagining. And deep down, in my very core, I enjoyed every minute.”

          It’s things like this that make the story mostly unlinkable, even though it otherwise raises some interesting points.

  8. Simon Penner says:

    I hate to be That Guy, and especially as one of the first commentators, but

    On the other hand, we should feel mostly safe around people who agree that meanness, in the unfortunate cases where it’s necessary, must be coordinated. There is no threat at all from pro-coordination skinheads except in the vanishingly unlikely possibility they legally win control of the government and take over.

    It has happened before.

    —-

    I like where you’re going with this and I think that there are a lot of good ideas here. But I think that ‘coordination’ is a lossy heuristic at best. In particular, I think your second reason is… optimistic.

    The second reason that coordinated meanness is better than uncoordinated meanness is that it is less common. Uncoordinated meanness happens whenever one person wants to be mean; coordinated meanness happens when everyone (or 51% of the population, or an entire church worth of Puritans, or whatever) wants to be mean. If we accept theories like the wisdom of crowds or the marketplace of ideas – and we better, if we’re small-d democrats, small-r republicans, small-l liberals, or basically any word beginning with a lowercase letter at all – then a big group of people all debating with each other will be harder to rile up than a single lunatic.

    I don’t think this is very accurate in practice. Mobs of people are terrifying, and some people have a shockingly good ability to rile them up and point them in their preferred direction. Large groups of people acting in a coordinated fashion also have an amplified ability to cause harm. A single lunatic trying to rob a grocery store is easily stopped; a coordinated mob is doing what it will do. There are plenty of edge cases like this and I’m interested in hearing you expand on this.

    You’re tentatively hypothesizing: “the line where it’s ok to be mean is drawn around coordination”. I don’t think it’s fair to say this, because I don’t think there can be one line drawn like that. Coordinated meanness has a much more damage potential. It should be held to a higher expectation than uncoordinated meanness

    —-

    On the other hand, I think you hit on something very important here

    So coordinated meanness is better than uncoordinated meanness not because it necessarily achieves the first goal of justice, but because it achieves the second goal of safety and stability. Everyone knows exactly when to expect it and what they can do to avoid it. I may not know what speech will or won’t offend a violent person with enough friends to organize a goon squad, but I can always read the libel law and try to stay on the right side of it.

    This seems to me to be one of the most important functions of the law, any law, and with some drinks in me I might even argue that this is what defines something as acceptable. Safety and stability are so important, because they help you to set expectations and proceed accordingly. A law might be unjust, but if it is easily understood and consistently applied, anyone can avoid trouble, or at least try to. By way of example, consider your point about taxation. We all agree that taking someone elses’ things, with threat of force, is immoral. Taxation is taking someone elses’ things, with threat of force, but we generally agree that it’s ok. Even ignoring any philosophical implications, people don’t have the knee-jerk outrage against taxation that they do against robbery. I think the consistency of taxation is what makes the difference.

    With the tax man, you know exactly how much will be taken from you. You’re told this in advance, and you can plan your life accordingly. You might resent this, but you’re given a sort of simulated exit alternative: you’re free to do whatever you please to mitigate the damage. Maybe you decide “well then, I’ll work less so they take less”. You have that option.

    With the robber, it’s sudden, it’s a surprise. You’re not given any opportunity to react. You can’t plan your life around it. You can’t take actions to mitigate the damage. There’s nothing you can do.

    In both cases the same thing has happened: someone has taken a thousand dollars from you by force. But the predictable, fairly-applied nature of taxation makes it ok. On this point of yours, I’m in complete agreement.

    —-

    Excellent post, as always. It’s always a joy to read your posts

    • Tracy W says:

      Mobs strike me as quite rare in contemporary Western societies. And when they do occur, eg the London riots a few years ago, they seem to be more motivated by looting and the pleasures of breaking stuff than by a desire to actually harm a particular group of people. (Note I was living in London at the time.)

      • Aapje says:

        They are fairly common on social media nowadays though and regularly get people fired or otherwise in major trouble.

        • Tracy W says:

          Compared to single harassers getting people fired, or posting nude pictures of their exes, or goading them into committing suicide?

          • Aapje says:

            They occur less often than that, but single harassers are very common. Just because something is rare compared to something else, doesn’t mean that it is quite rare in general. For example, only 3 percent of the water on Earth is freshwater, yet I wouldn’t call freshwater ‘quite rare’.

            I would also argue that if you take effectiveness into account, the gap between the number of single harassers that actually manage to get people fired or commit suicide and the mobs that manage to do so shrinks considerably.

            Anyway, we probably have a different definition of ‘quite rare.’

        • Teal says:

          Just how ‘regularly’ are we talking about? In say people fired (or equivalent) per 100,000 population per year?

          • Milan says:

            Quite rare nowadays, but there does seem to be an increase if you look at the trends.

          • fubarobfusco says:

            How could you tell if there really was an increase? Keep in mind that there are a lot of folks who are paid to make you afraid of your fellow humans.

      • vV_Vv says:

        Mobs are rare because the state takes action to prevent them.

    • Nebfocus says:

      Coordinated meanness sounds very much like tyranny of the majority. This is a good thing?

      • Anon says:

        It’s better than tyranny of the minority.

        Also Scott mentioned other mechanisms like the Bill of Rights by which coordinating meanness needs to achieve a higher bar than just a majority, which is an important tool for avoiding both tyrannies.

        • Nebfocus says:

          Disagree, tyranny of the majority/minority are equally bad.

          • Radmonger says:

            Disagree, there are a lot more minorities than there are majorities.

          • Aapje says:

            @Nebfocus

            By definition, tyranny of the majority hurts fewer people than tyranny of the minority. So from an utilitarian perspective, the latter is worse.

      • Tracy W says:

        “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.” – Churchill

        • Anonymous says:

          I think the second part is needless.

        • Patrick says:

          That is best seen not as praise for democracy, but as a condemnation of government.

          • Tracy W says:

            An interesting and bold claim. Particularly given the context in which Churchill said it. Why do you think that?

        • I take the Churchill quote not as a defense of democracy but as a critique of government. If the best form of government works very badly, that’s a reason to do as few things as you can manage via government.

          But I don’t assume that is how Churchill meant it. I suspect his incentive was more rhetorical than philosophical.

      • JBeshir says:

        I think it is, sort of, thus all the stuff about how it being coordinated is (a, possibly not the only) *minimum* bar, necessary but not sufficient.

        I don’t think uncoordinated meanness is a tyranny of the minority, though. Uncoordinated meanness can go in both directions at all times, which means it can make things worse for everyone, doesn’t essentially exhert any useful incentive in any particular direction, and does a lot of harm for the amount of incentive it does. And it lacks consistency; because it can’t use high probability low impact incentives, it has to use low probability huge impact incentives, e.g. randomly stabbing people instead of fining them.

        And the incentive is to try to ramp up meanness more than the other side, any time the other side ramps up, to incentivise more strongly than them, and in the absence of coordination there isn’t an obvious way to get out of that situation aside shaming the other side so hard they stop.

        Uncoordinated meanness is more analogous to a war than to a tyranny of any sort. And I think “continual war is worse than tyranny of the majority” is reasonable.

      • Furslid says:

        It’s a predictable tyranny. It’s better than unpredictable tyranny.

        It has limits. With coordinated meanness there is generally a limit. As bad as Jim Crow laws were, they didn’t have the death penalty. Less coordinated action by individuals and ad hoc groups…

        It’s also able to be worked around. There are ways to avoid breaking explicit laws or standards. There isn’t a way to avoid giving offense to anyone.

        And most coordinated groups warn first or give lighter punishments in grey areas, fringe cases, and accidental transgressions. Individuals often don’t or can’t.

        • “There are ways to avoid breaking explicit laws or standards. There isn’t a way to avoid giving offense to anyone. ”

          On the other hand, the person who is offended at me has no more access to force, physical or rhetorical, than I do, so acting on his offense is risky for him. Coordinated action is a lot safer for those doing it.

          Some of this gets into the logic of feud as form of law enforcement.

    • Paolo Giarrusso says:

      Not only are mobs more likely than this post assumes, they seem a danger now.

      And huge fascist or nazi mobs are arguably rising: many are concerned that Trump is a fascist, and he’s trying to coordinate meanness against Muslims. Since I’m sure you know the news more than me, I’m confused that’s not mentioned.

      And in Germany there’s growing concern about the right-wing AfD — not that neonazis ever disappeared, but they’re rising.

      Generally, this article is interesting, but it felt to me like a rationalization a posteriori of “no shaming”.

      • szopeno says:

        The problem with your position is that you implicitly assume that Trump IS fascist, while Trump supporters may think YOU are the totalitarian commie (commie and fascist should be equally bad in anyone’s vocabulary).

        For example, SJW and leftist mob no-platforming people because someone thought they said something enrageous, are from my point of view far more dangerous than rightwing groups of citizens engaging in democratic process

        • Teal says:

          ‘Commie’ and ‘fascist’ aren’t parallel. The use of the diminutive makes the former sound like a playground insult and reflects poorly on the person using it.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Frankly, they both sound childish at this point in history and anyone who uses either should feel bad for trying to use shame instead of reason in an argument about politics/economics.

      • Aapje says:

        Paolo,

        It is wrong to argue that the supporters of Trump and the AfD are universally fascists/Neo Nazi’s. Of course those people are attracted to those movements, but all the evidence points to the majority of the supporters being people who are disillusioned with Neo-Liberalism; the currently dominant ideology which seeks to internationalize the economy, thereby driving down wages & work conditions and funneling all growth to the 1%.

        Large-scale migration is a very visible element of this ideology, which tends to impact people strongly. It tends to be a focal point in the rhetoric, but interviews with supporters generally show that these people don’t want the more extreme rhetoric being made into law. Most see such strong rhetoric as a necessity to break through the political correctness and put issues such as immigration limits and problems with integration on the agenda, rather than aiming for oppression.

        In a way this is understandable, since ‘tone policing’ has been used in the past not merely to achieve a respectful debate, but also to censor certain opinions. So they see the use of extreme rhetoric as reclaiming space in the debate to discuss certain issues.

        Anyway, I am pretty unhappy that we are now in a situation where many ‘enlightened left wing’ people feel superior to and dismiss these people, without recognizing how Third Way politics and shaming used to defend certain policy positions has impacted many in the lower and lower-middle class. Ironically nowadays we are in a position were many left-wing people are defending the interests of the middle-upper and upper classes, while harming the lower and lower-middle classes that they traditionally used to fight for.

        • Anonymous says:

          It is wrong to argue that the supporters of Trump and the AfD are universally fascists/Neo Nazi’s. Of course those people are attracted to those movements, but all the evidence points to the majority of the supporters being people who are disillusioned with Neo-Liberalism; the currently dominant ideology which seeks to internationalize the economy, thereby driving down wages & work conditions and funneling all growth to the 1%.

          I think it’s not quite that. A lot of them seem just people who want their culture, religion, mores and laws to be used in their country. People who don’t want foreigners displacing them, taking advantage of them, committing crimes at rates greater than natives. The internationalization of the economy is not on their minds, even if the results of it are what brings about the problems they want gone.

          I hope that this does not merit to be called a Nazi or Fascist.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            One of the things that typifies current upper/middle culture is Global citizenship, where identity is no longer national. As a general rule, wealth de-localizes people. In a poor community, people often can’t afford formal (taxed) arrangements, so you get informal solutions: handshake loans, share the wealth, pay it forward, quid pro quo free labor, etc. This only works if you are part of a community that has strong shaming and limits on who can participate. These kinds of communities have a certain warmth to them and also strengthen the ego of the poor.

            I agree that part of the anger is that these communities have been broken up by immigration. For example, in my country the strongest support for the anti-immigration party is in places where these communities fled to after the influx of immigrants.

            However, I can’t agree that the ‘internationalization of the economy is not on their minds,’ since the anti-immigration parties in Europe are universally anti-EU. Trump is also consistently criticizing the current trade deals that he calls unfair to US workers. However, many of the voters tend to have limited education and don’t seem to understand the mechanisms that result in worse working conditions. This is not that surprising, as a deeper understanding of these mechanisms is only now developing among the better educated (under the influence of people like Piketty, more and more information coming available about how big business operates, etc).

            So you see a lot of simplistic rhetoric about being abandoned by politics/the elite. In my opinion, these people sense that the system is screwing them over, but don’t entirely understand how.

          • Anonymous says:

            So you see a lot of simplistic rhetoric about being abandoned by politics/the elite. In my opinion, these people sense that the system is screwing them over, but don’t entirely understand how.

            Yes. I think we’re describing the same thing, but from different perspectives. Your critique is from the viewpoint of someone with a decent understanding of economics and politics, mine from the viewpoint of a random prole who knows he’s getting cheated, but does not know how or who is doing the con.

          • Aapje says:

            Yes and I think it is very important to explain that these people have valid concerns and problems, which should be taken seriously. This doesn’t mean that we should accept all the rhetoric, but rather that we shouldn’t dismiss their disillusionment with existing parties as ‘voting against their own interests’ or ‘angry white men wanting to oppress others.’

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh yes, you mean racist bigot fascist pissbaby shitlord sexist nazis. Honestly, it’s like your political terminology is years and years out of date.

            I profusely apologize for being stuck in the 1600s.

        • nydwracu says:

          Ironically nowadays we are in a position were many left-wing people are defending the interests of the middle-upper and upper classes, while harming the lower and lower-middle classes that they traditionally used to fight for.

          Yes. This is the point. This is by design. They do not care about the lower and lower-middle classes. They stopped doing that decades ago. Read Tom Wolfe.

      • Tracy W says:

        How many people are murdered by one or two people every year, compared to how many are killed by mobs? In the UK in 2011, the year of the London riots, there were 5 people killed in the riots, and over [edit: 500 800] murdered. If everyone in Britain had refrained from murder when not part of an angry mob, the country would have had the lowest murder rate it ever recorded that year.

        As for German and American worries about right-wing mobs, how many Muslims are being attacked now by one or two or three assailants away from police eyes? Donald Trump’s rhetoric can do a lot of harm without a literal mob.

        The news media has a tendency to report far more on rare events than common ones. One of the reasons I like Scott is that he often avoids that fault.

      • Sastan says:

        Then why are the only violent mobs we’ve seen been Trump protesters?

      • Maware says:

        It doesn’t have to be so extreme. Junior high and high school often can be perfect examples of mob mentality. All that is required is a target where people can justifiably dislike or act in concert against them. He smells. He prays in school. He dresses funny.

        The danger isn’t fascist movements, the danger is a small community uniting to hate on a person who is different. Much more common than a far right party taking power and somehow managing to govern effectively.

    • Anonymous says:

      With the tax man, you know exactly how much will be taken from you. You’re told this in advance, and you can plan your life accordingly. You might resent this, but you’re given a sort of simulated exit alternative: you’re free to do whatever you please to mitigate the damage. Maybe you decide “well then, I’ll work less so they take less”. You have that option.

      Not every place tells you in advance how much you owe in all circumstances. Tax codes tend to be impenetrable, perhaps especially the US code.

      With the robber, it’s sudden, it’s a surprise. You’re not given any opportunity to react. You can’t plan your life around it. You can’t take actions to mitigate the damage. There’s nothing you can do.

      Sure there is. Learn some self-defense, get a gun, get a bodyguard, leave for places where robbers are less common, etc, etc.

      • Mary says:

        One notes that exactly following IRS directions is not a defense in tax court.

        • Anonymous says:

          I shouldn’t be surprised.

        • Winfried says:

          I run into that in other areas of regulatory compliance.

          I’ve written several emails to different agencies that boil down to ‘tell me what you want and I’ll make it happen’ and gotten a response along the lines of ‘we’ll know what we want when we see it’.

      • Jason K. says:

        Yeah, that argument against ‘taxation = theft’ is weak. If Joe Schmoe came to Scott and said he was going to take X amount from him every year and if Scott didn’t comply, he was going to kidnap Scott and put him in a cage, would Scott suddenly think that wasn’t theft?

        Basically, the arguments that taxation isn’t theft tend to boil down to “It isn’t theft because the government does it”. The formality of the process is naught but a fig leaf.

        • TheAncientGeek says:

          Since when did a thief give some of their takings back to you?

          • Anonymous says:

            So it’s justified because of welfare?

          • Vorkon says:

            When you pay the mafia protection money, even though it is primarily an extortion scheme, they do, in fact, work to prevent other criminal organizations from operating in your area. (And if popular media is to be believed, sometimes work in other ways to manage their territory.) This seems to me to be roughly equivalent to the sort of services government provides, (police services, at least) but most people would still definitely call it theft.

            (At least, I’m assuming you’re talking about getting government services in exchange for taxes. If you’re talking about getting a “refund” on funds that were already withheld, well then, ha.)

          • Wency says:

            Vorkon:

            You’re channeling Mancur Olson in your argument here — Power and Prosperity is a very good read that touches on this and several other questions.

            Olson argues that a dictator/monarch serves as a sort of stationary bandit who has decided it makes more sense to stay in one place and continue to loot it rather than going from place to place to loot them. But having a stationary bandit in charge is often better than not, because in the process of maximizing his own self-interest, he will end up providing some basic services and security that a roaming bandit would not — protecting his investment. He also won’t steal everything — he needs to leave people with some things so that they will continue to produce things for him to take.

            A roaming bandit, by contrast, will take everything that isn’t nailed down and leave the place in ruin.

            Likewise, an area that is under the control of organized crime might be safer than one that is not, if government is too weak or ineffective to provide security, since the organized crime syndicate will at least try to maintain a monopoly on criminal activity.

            To the degree a democracy is well-governed and looking out for the nation’s interests as a whole, it resembles a sort of ideal, bandit-free community. Its taxes are supposed to be part of a group consensus to provide to public goods, unlike the taxes of the stationary bandit, which serve primarily to support his own lifestyle.

            But special interests and corrupt politicians resemble roaming bandits, extracting the maximum for themselves at the expense of the polity as a whole.

            So, is taxation theft? I’d say it depends on how bandit-like the government is — i.e., to what degree your taxes support corruption and special interests, as opposed to the public good.

    • Peter says:

      Even ignoring any philosophical implications, people don’t have the knee-jerk outrage against taxation that they do against robbery.

      Tangent: There’s a certain sort of libertarian rhetoric that tries to work up the outrage against theft and apply it to taxation. It’s not clear to me how those sorts of libertarians actually feel, but it doesn’t seem to impress non-libertarians, even if the non-libertarians have difficulty articulating why taxation isn’t so bad.

      (Full disclosure: I’m a centre-left “yay tax” type.)

      • Anonymous says:

        *I* tend to view taxes as protection money for living on someone’s turf. And it’s fine with me. I’m perfectly willing to pay that protection money, so long as nobody else is allowed to extort me.

        • Aapje says:

          I prefer to see it as a social contract. I pays the moneys, I gets the services.

          The part where I get upset is when big business and 1%ers get the services without paying for them, which creates a reverse Robin Hood scenario: taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

          • Anonymous says:

            I prefer to see it as a social contract. I pays the moneys, I gets the services.

            What about when you do pays the moneys, but you do not qualifies to get the services? I mean, a modern welfare state has a huge amount of services where you need to be provably incompetent to qualify for them.

          • J Mann says:

            I don’t think many people or businesses get services without paying taxes – they may not pay as much tax as you like, but they pay. (And if not paying as much tax as one would like is the criteria, small business and the 99% probably fit the bill too. For example, my base line assumption is that almost anyone who gets paid cash tips, settings money in a poker game, etc. probably is not paying full taxes.)

          • Tracy W says:

            In the USA the top 1% pay over 40% of federal income taxes, over their share of income, which is 17%.

            As for businesses,they never really pay tax because they’re just a legal fiction. All business taxes are paid by some combination of a businesses’ customers, employees or shareholders. The only economic reason to have a tax on business income is to reduce tax evasion and avoidance. Otherwise we could just tax dividends when they’re paid to shareholders and wind up at the same distributional impact.

          • Anonymous, there are also illegal immigrants whose employers are paying into social security to make the employment look more legal, but the employees will presumably never see the money.

          • Anonymous says:

            Anonymous, there are also illegal immigrants whose employers are paying into social security to make the employment look more legal, but the employees will presumably never see the money.

            Yeah, but that’s a uniquely American issue, I think. Most of the rest of the world has stuff like national ID registers, so they can actually check if someone is a real person or not.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            The safety net is also a service. Admittedly I’m fudging a bit here. What it boils down to is that my money buys me a set of services and a vote to change those services. An important factor is that I feel sufficient kinship to other people in my country so their votes align sufficiently with my opinion, so I don’t feel oppressed by a majority.

            Europeans for the most part don’t feel the same about citizens of other EU countries, which is why the EU is probably doomed. In the US, there was the issue that some states didn’t feel that kinship sufficiently, hence the civil war.

            @J Mann

            Starbucks paid no corporate taxes in the UK in 2012. Since it’s common for the government to subsidize businesses (which is negative taxes), I suspect that they got more that they gave. Most big businesses nowadays funnel their taxes though tax havens, so that they pay very little taxes in the place where they use the government services. Aka, they are not paying for the services they use.

            @Tracy W

            The rich use more services than the poor, so claiming that they pay for the services they use by virtue of paying more than 1% of total taxes is not proof that they are paying for the services they use.

            Secondly, when you say that they pay 17% of income tax, this excludes a lot of capital. Key to tax evasion schemes is that de facto income is not seen as de jure income, so it’s not seen as taxable income.

            Finally, all taxation is fairly arbitrary and pretty much based on legal fiction. However, legally companies are people and thus I can’t agree that they ‘can’t really pay taxes.’ Claiming that they don’t is the same as claiming that an employee doesn’t really pay taxes, but really it is the employer who does so.

          • Anonymous says:

            The safety net is also a service. Admittedly I’m fudging a bit here. What it boils down to is that my money buys me a set of services and a vote to change those services. An important factor is that I feel sufficient kinship to other people in my country so their votes align sufficiently with my opinion, so I don’t feel oppressed by a majority.

            1. You don’t need to pay taxes to vote. Is there a country that still does this equivalent to wealth-based voting powers?

            2. There exist tax-funded services that you are excluded from by dint of unalterable personal properties.

          • Galle says:

            Social services you don’t qualify for are a case of superrational counterfactual bargaining. If I hypothetically DID qualify for this social service, I would certainly want it to be funded, so even though I don’t actually qualify for it, I am happy to fund it. In exchange, I expect others to be happy to fund social services they don’t qualify for but I do.

            Also, sometimes I value the people receiving those social services.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            I wasn’t claiming a direct link between paying tax and voting, but rather a system where you pay based on ability to do so. So a jobless person is still part of the’ pay tax in return for voting and services’ bargain, it’s just that his/her income tax is zero or negative. If the person gets a (decent) job, they simply move up in the tax bracket, they haven’t been exempt.

            However, a pet peeve of mine is the implicit or explicit notion that only income tax is tax. Consumption taxes are also taxes and paid by nearly everyone.

            As for your other comment, I don’t pay 100% of the tax in my country, so there are people who pay for services that I use and they can’t/don’t and vice versa. Those people and me have our vote to try and change this arrangement. Also what Galle said, it may make me happy when other people are taken care off (and may actually benefit me, for example, mental patients with good care are less likely to harm me).

          • Wrong Species says:

            The United States has one of the most progressive tax systems in the world. European countries have such extensive welfare states because they have higher taxes on the middle class.

          • brad says:

            I don’t think that quite follows. The U.S. *could* have a continental European style cradle to grave social state, without much higher taxes. We’d just need to have a continental European sized military / national security state and have less inefficient health and education sectors.

            Healthcare inefficiency is particularly shocking–our governments (fed, state, & local) collectively pay more per capita (overall population) in healthcare spending than some other first world countries even though the such healthcare only covers less than half the population.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Except the 1%ers are paying quite a bit, whereas a huge number of people in the bottom quintile are paying nothing and getting a lot.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Whatever any of us thinks of social-contract theory, it doesn’t appear to be doing much work here. If having agreed to a social contract doesn’t prevent Aapje from complaining about the insufficient taxes on the rich which are evidently part of that contract, then neither should it prevent a libertarian from complaining that taxation is theft.

          • Tracy W says:

            @apple: before we get into the vexed issue of capital taxation, you have misread me. The top 1% are paying over 40% of federal income taxes, well above their share of income.

            Secondly the US federal government spends about 49% of its money on healthcare and social security, which are not services targeted at the rich.

            The “legal person” language of the law just meant that companies could sue and be sued, it didn’t turn them into people who care about their living standards. I do not follow what your comparison with employers and employees is meant to imply.

          • Adam says:

            I believe the argument is the returns to government investment, e.g. all of the great technology we have that originally started out as NASA or DOD projects, or our absolute domination of international trade thanks to the might of our 20th century military, the benefits of interstate trade due to the interstate highway system, have accrued far more to the wealthy than to the poor, not that the wealthy are the primary direct recipients of current expenditures. If that’s our basis for allocating taxes, then indeed, old people and sick people should be paying a lot more.

            The counterargument is usually the wealthy could have purchased these things on the private market if there were no government, whereas the poor could not.

          • “The part where I get upset is when big business and 1%ers get the services without paying for them”

            How is that? High income taxpayers pay not merely more federal income tax than low or middle income taxpayers, but a considerably larger fraction of their income as taxes.

            For 2010, for instance, the top 1% paid an average of 23% of their income. The average for the population as a whole was about 12%. For the bottom 50%, it was a little over 2%.

            (My source). You can find similar numbers from other sources. They are for federal income tax–including payroll taxes makes the net effect less unbalanced against high incomes).

          • “The rich use more services than the poor, so claiming that they pay for the services they use by virtue of paying more than 1% of total taxes is not proof that they are paying for the services they use.”

            That’s an argument against a head tax–everyone paying the same number of dollars. But the rich are not merely paying more money than the average, they are paying a larger fraction of their income. Is there any reason to believe that if Bill has twice the income of Charles, Bill uses more than twice the services?

          • “or our absolute domination of international trade thanks to the might of our 20th century military”

            What absolute domination of international trade? And what does our ability to sell things to people in other countries and buy things from them have to do with our military?

            U.S. international trade is 22.6% of its GDP. Japan’s is 33%. South Korea: 82.6%. Singapore 262.8%.

            Singapore and South Korea must have impressive militaries.

            In absolute numbers, both China and the EU have more foreign trade than the U.S.

          • Tracy W says:

            @adam, the US federal income tax has been progressive for decades too. And presumably a number of those things you mention have benefited the middle class as well. So anyone arguing this would not have to present some data to support the initial assertion, but also present evidence that the top 1% benefitted significantly more than their share of taxes over that time.

            And, what domination of world trade? There are quite a lot of countries outside the USA remember. I’m having trouble working out what you even mean by dominating world trade. For NZ, the UK joining the EEC was a far bigger deal than anything the US has done in world trade. Bit of an insular economy, the USA.

          • Aapje says:

            @Tracy W (and Cerebral Paul Z.)

            Frankly, I think that you have a rather limited outlook on markets, assuming that prices have to be independent of the buyer, which is merely one way to run a market. I once went to a Czech restaurant were I wanted to look at the prices again and accidentally got the Czech, rather than the English menu. It had far lower prices. Price differentiation is also pretty common in the West for the elderly.

            There is no reason why a social contract should have a flat price/tax, so it’s perfectly valid to argue that a group is underpaying if they pay less relative to their ability to pay than other groups.

            The social contract I buy into has progressive taxes, so paying more than their share of income is perfectly valid (especially since you ignore wealth, while wealth inequality is actually far larger than income inequality).

            PS. Healthcare is a complex topic

            @Adam

            Yes and no.

            The wealthy benefit more, which is justification for higher taxes. The fact that a much smaller percentage of their income goes to basic needs is another justification for higher/progressive taxes.

            The poor benefit more from some programs, but much less from others. For example, the poor tend to live in more violent environments than the rich, so the state is more effective at providing safety for the rich than for the poor. Overall they clearly have a worse deal in society, IMO.

            A similar thing is true for the (chronically) ill, they benefit more in some ways and less in others.

            As for the rich being able to buy services in the absence of a government: you can’t really buy similar living conditions on the whole. In places without (functioning) governments, rich people are required to be warlords and live in gilded cages, since they can’t really move about without armed guards, sticking to a few secure locations, etc.

            But of course, the smart rich people tend to just form their own government that works for them.

          • Tracy W says:

            @Aapjie:

            Frankly, I think that you have a rather limited outlook on markets, assuming that prices have to be independent of the buyer

            I note that you don’t disagree with anything I actually have said.

            As for what you think my outlook is, I will treat this seriously only if you are prepared to first do me the favour of treating whichever viewpoint I assert I think you have as your own viewpoint. To be precise, I think you have the outlook that paying me $(US)10 would be a good thing. Contact me at tracyw1~at~gmx.com for Paypal details.

            so it’s perfectly valid to argue that a group is underpaying if they pay less relative to their ability to pay than other groups

            Maybe, maybe not. But the initial assertion was that the top 1% were getting services without paying for them. Before we move onto this new assertion of yours, are we agreed that the top 1% are at least paying for the services they receive?

          • onyomi says:

            “rich use more services than the poor”

            How do you figure? Most rich people send their children to private school, never apply for medicaid, may employ private security guards…

          • Adam says:

            Yeah, this probably isn’t worth it. Try to present both sides of an argument and you just get both sides peppering you. Since the only objection seemed to be to ‘domination of international trade,’ I was thinking historically, not exactly this minute, like going back to the gunboat diplomacy era up through banana republics. The U.S. was somewhat of a colonial power for a while and even had a dominant export economy up until shortly before I was born. People don’t only benefit from the state of their country as it is right now.

            There’s also more to trade than exports. American poor have benefited tremendously from cheap import goods. American rich have benefited tremendously from cheap overseas labor that allowed them to open up their business to a much larger domestic market. Which of those is the bigger benefit? Shit, I don’t know. I was just trying to say there’s more to trying to figure out who benefits from the services of the government than divvying up last year’s federal budget. Is that much uncontroversial, even if you disagree with one of four examples of how the rich might benefit?

          • Vorkon says:

            *I* tend to view taxes as protection money for living on someone’s turf. And it’s fine with me. I’m perfectly willing to pay that protection money, so long as nobody else is allowed to extort me.

            -anon@gmail (who, by the way, in keeping with the theme of this article we should totally coordinate meanness against in order to shame into not using that name/email combination, but I digress…)

            I prefer to see it as a social contract. I pays the moneys, I gets the services.

            -Aapje

            Honestly, I fail to see the difference of opinion here. How is paying protection money to live on someone else’s turf, in exchange for safety from other people looking to extort and/or harm you, not a perfect example of a social contract at work? Anon@gmail even agrees that the services rendered make the protection money worth paying. (As do most Libertarians and other people who make the “taxation is theft” argument, for that matter.)

          • Tracy W says:

            @Adam:
            On the USA’s colonial past, Adam Smith, in the Wealth of Nations argued, I think strongly, that colonialism made the people of both the colonised and colonising countries worse off, compared to free trade. I’ve never seen Smith’s argument rebutted.

            So if we are discussing gunboat diplomacy and American colonialism, then, at least until someone rebutts Smith, the question is how to properly distribute the costs of past American government actions. In a democratic country, I rather feel that everyone who voted for the government in question, or refrained from voting, bears some responsibility.

            I was just trying to say there’s more to trying to figure out who benefits from the services of the government than divvying up last year’s federal budget.

            That may be. But, given that the top 1% in the USA pay over 40% of federal income taxes, and 49% of the budget goes on health and social security, it’s not like any more detailed examination of the numbers are actually going to change the overall story about the 1%.

            (I also note that the only people on this thread who have actually been giving evidence and numbers are myself and David Friedman. If there was some actual numbers showing my argument was wrong, as opposed to vague speculation, I’m pretty confident someone would have cited it by now.)

          • Anonymous says:

            -anon@gmail (who, by the way, in keeping with the theme of this article we should totally coordinate meanness against in order to shame into not using that name/email combination, but I digress…)

            Being a natural contrarian, this will only make me want to use that email more.

            (Digression: I wonder sometimes, what the evolutionary purpose of contrarianism is. The best I can come up with is that these people are a backup solution for when society becomes, in their conformity, substantially insane. Then it’s the minority of contrarians who – through no particular conscious effort – provide continuation of the tribe.)

            Honestly, I fail to see the difference of opinion here. How is paying protection money to live on someone else’s turf, in exchange for safety from other people looking to extort and/or harm you, not a perfect example of a social contract at work? Anon@gmail even agrees that the services rendered make the protection money worth paying. (As do most Libertarians and other people who make the “taxation is theft” argument, for that matter.)

            I took Aapje’s statement to mean more than just protection, but also stuff like health subsidies, dole, public schools, etc, etc – redistributive, socialistic policies. Protection is in the gang’s own interest, so they’ll do it regardless of whether I approve, but it’s a worthwhile anyway. Whereas the redistribution is quite clearly long-term undesirable.

          • Nita says:

            Clearly, contrarianism is an alternative mating strategy shaped by the pressures of sexual selection. Aside from signaling the fitness-correlated trait of high social confidence, this behavior also helps the individual stand out from the crowd of more conformist competitors.

            In other words, contrarianism is not about diversity of views.

            Sincerely yours,
            Robena Hannasdottir

          • Maybe the function of contrarianism is that it’s good to have some people who reflexively shove back against the tendency higher status have to overreach in their demands.

      • Simon Penner says:

        For what it’s worth, I believe that taxation is a literal instance of theft.

        But I don’t have the knee-jerk outrage against taxation. Part of this is because, well, being anti-outrage is really my core thing. But for the most part, I agree with my argument above. It doesn’t matter who can craft the best Worst Argument In The World. Taxation is engaged in by a relatively predictable, relatively consistent manner. We can see its outcome. We can even discuss its outcome and judge whether or not we think it’s good. To my mind, this sidesteps the argument over taxation entirely, and reframes it as a sort of utilitarian calculation. If taxation is theft, that just means we need to figure out the socially optimum amount of theft.

        Granted, I also think that it is probably much lower than what we do right now. But that’s an empirical question. It’s not something to take sides over, get outraged and yell at each other. It’s a thing we can measure and settle objectively.

        • Aapje says:

          I believe that taxation is a literal instance of theft.

          Real theft is when a person takes something from you and that person now decides what happens with your property. In a democracy, you get a vote to how the pooled money is used, so it is clearly different. Is it theft when a sports team pools their money after a game and buys a crate of beer?

          Furthermore, I doubt that many people want to live without services paid by wealth pooling, like a police force; while most/all people want to live without experiencing real thievery; again showing that they are different.

          that just means we need to figure out the socially optimum amount of theft.

          Tax rates are much less important to me than to live in a good society. Money is just a means to and end, you can’t eat it. Services bought aren’t necessarily better than services paid out of taxes (although in the US there is a bit of a self-fulfilling view on the government: people have low expectations, so they accept poor services). However, even in the US people tend to understand that you can’t defend a country (or run an empire) without having an army funded by wealth pooling.

          It’s not something to take sides over, get outraged and yell at each other. It’s a thing we can measure and settle objectively.

          No. People have subjective beliefs about ‘what is right.’ When you have a government that creates an optimal meritocracy, where people get paid directly proportionally to the economic value they provide (and non-productive people starve to death), that will make some people happy, but will outrage many others, as they don’t share those ethical beliefs about ‘what is right.’

          Of course you may have the opinion that your ethics are objectively correct (although I can’t see how they can be), but you must realize that plenty of other people don’t share the same ethics and thus will take sides/be outraged against you, even if you ‘measure and settle objectively.’

          • Anonymous says:

            >In a democracy, you get a vote to how the pooled money is used, so it is clearly different.

            What about residents not entitled to vote, but required to pay taxes? Almost every state taxes residency, not citizenship.

            >Is it theft when a sports team pools their money after a game and buys a crate of beer?

            Are they going to beat up the team member who doesn’t want to contribute?

            I also don’t believe taxes to be theft, but these arguments are bad.

          • onyomi says:

            “Is it theft when a sports team pools their money after a game and buys a crate of beer?”

            If participation on both the team and in the pool are non-optional, then yes.

          • Garrett says:

            Real theft is when a person takes something from you and that person now decides what happens with your property.

            That describes my interaction with the government.

            In a democracy, you get a vote to how the pooled money is used, so it is clearly different.

            1/300 million isn’t much of a vote. And, it reminds me of the quote that “9/10 people enjoy gang rape”. That something is popular doesn’t make it right.

            Furthermore, I doubt that many people want to live without services paid by wealth pooling, like a police force

            As a libertarian rather than an anarcho-capitalist, I agree on policing. Of course, this argument fails to take into account that most taxation is not based on police services used, nor is most spending directed towards policing and similar efforts. Get rid of taxation for art projects, schooling and welfare and then we can re-assess.

          • Anonymous says:

            How can you have a pre-theoretical notion of “your property”? The concept only makes sense within a system of government, which in turn comes with taxation.

          • Salem says:

            Property long predates government.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not in the modern sense. Only what you could physically defend.

          • Salem says:

            Or what your friends and allies could physically defend on your behalf. Or what no-one challenged you on. Or what you could recover after the event. And so on.

            I think saga-era Icelanders (to give one example) would be very surprised to learn that they only owned what they could personally physically defend.

            Today’s government isn’t really in the business of property defence. They’re in the business of law and order, which is not the same thing – private citizens are expected to defend their own property, which is why we all lock our doors and most of us have alarms. The police even run adverts warning us not to display valuables in public. If I do get burgled, or robbed, the government may (but probably won’t) catch those responsible, but they certainly won’t recover my property. That remains self-help.

            Things have changed far less than you imagine. I’m no an-cap, but I do wonder at the magical powers some people ascribe to government.

          • Anonymous says:

            That system that you and your friends and allies developed was a government.

            Sure if you manipulate the terms it’s easy enough to show that property long predates government. But not otherwise.

            The long and short of it is that in the world today the same things that give “your property” any meaning also require you to pay taxes. Taxes are theft is incoherent.

            If you don’t like it, bitch at your parents for being responsible for you having been born. Not having been born was the only way you wouldn’t have had to suffer the awful oppression of living in a society with a government.

          • Psmith says:

            That system that you and your friends and allies developed was a government.

            Fair enough, but that leaves a whole lot of room for governments dramatically, even unrecognizably, different than our own. (See David Friedman–is a “legal system” a government?) I am also reminded of Peter Leeson’s distinction between government and governance.

          • Adam says:

            @Salem

            If I do get burgled, or robbed, the government may (but probably won’t) catch those responsible, but they certainly won’t recover my property. That remains self-help.

            I think there was someone on this post who mentioned they had a car stolen and reported it and the police just said to go look for it herself. That may have been more a matter of triage than delineation of duty, but definitely the government isn’t responsible for recovering stolen property. Even if they find it, I don’t think they necessarily go looking for the owner. That’s what we have property insurance for, though I guess we rely on the threat of lawsuits potentially backed by force to feel assured that the insurance company will actually pay us if we file a claim.

          • Salem says:

            That system that you and your friends and allies developed was a government.

            But it didn’t have taxation and it wasn’t a state. If you want to stretch to it “government,” you can, but given that even animals have notions of property, I share Psmith’s worry that you’ve made the term infinitely elastic.

            Regardless, we started with you saying that property requires government which requires taxation. I am happy to see that you now cheerfully concede that you were wrong, and that saying “taxation is theft” is not incoherent.

            The long and short of it is that in the world today the same things that give “your property” any meaning also require you to pay taxes.

            I admire your ability to skip so lightly over several people’s unequivocal demonstration of how wrong you are, and I look forward to your cheerful concession on this point too.

          • Anonymous says:

            The long and short of it is that in the world today the same things that give “your property” any meaning also require you to pay taxes.

            I admire your ability to skip so lightly over several people’s unequivocal demonstration of how wrong you are, and I look forward to your cheerful concession on this point too.

            Where shall I tell the travel agent I’d like a ticket to in order to get to David Friedman’s imagined freedom loving ancient Iceland?

          • Psmith says:

            TIL: medieval Iceland didn’t real.

          • “Where shall I tell the travel agent I’d like a ticket to in order to get to David Friedman’s imagined freedom loving ancient Iceland?”

            Perhaps from the same source from which you got your imaginary view of my beliefs?

            My account of that particular legal system.

        • Salem says:

          Your ability to deliberately misread remains impressive.

          As several commenters have pointed out, government isn’t what gives my property meaning in the here and now. Go back and re-read. If someone steals my iPad, the government won’t get it back for me. At most, they will imprison the thief, but for any given crime this is very unlikely. Instead, I have to rely on tacit norms and my own private actions.

          But why believe me? Ask the police whether they’ll get your property back if someone robs you. In fact, I encourage you to get robbed first, to put your theory to a real test.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It’s worse than that. The government won’t get your iPad back, but it will come down on you like a ton of bricks if you violate its monopoly on use of force to get it back yourself.

          • Anonymous says:

            Perfect law enforcement isn’t a prerequisite for providing the only meaningful framework for private property we have.

            Again, it makes no sense to be pissed off at taxation “taking your stuff” when without the taxation you’d be living in a world of shit where property more or less doesn’t exist.

            If the social contract is such a terrible burden feel free to kill yourself.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Anon@gmail
            I get the impression that you are using “meaningful framework” and “social contract” in a manner vastly different from their popularly understood meanings as your position requires a lack of distinction between Malum prohibitum and Malum in se to remain coherent.

            Otherwise why kill yourself when you can kill everyone else?

          • Anonymous says:

            You are welcome to try. I suspect you’ll have no more luck than the poor fools in Eastern Oregon that took the rhetoric people like you recklessly spout seriously.

            Also nothing I’ve said has anything to do with theories of criminal law. But quidquid Latine dictum sit altum videtur, so I guess you’ve got that going for your comment.

          • Salem says:

            You seem to think that the police won’t recover my iPad due to imperfect law enforcement. You couldn’t be more wrong. The police won’t even try to recover my iPad. They are (quite rightly, by the way) in the business of law and order, not the business of property defence.

            You keep making these threadbare assertions that the state provides the only meaningful framework for private property, and we all keep laughing at you. Please do keep it up.

            There is no social contract, as you know. It’s funny, because I actually do think the state provides an important function, but listening to lunatics like you is powerful evidence that David Friedman is right.

          • Psmith says:

            As was mentioned upthread, there is a sense in which “might makes right” is true. But it’s not a particularly compelling argument in favor of obeying the state beyond the bare minimum required to avoid a free ride in the ATF party van. If the social contract is “do what you like and don’t get caught”…well.

          • Anonymous says:

            If you’re not a certain kind of utilitarian, it’s possible that taxation is theft (in the sense that it is immoral/violates certain rights) AND that a world with government and taxation is better than a world without it. This is how I feel about a number of government functions.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Anon@gmail

            How do you square your assertion the legal framework provided by a government is “the only meaningful framework for private property we have.” with your assertion what property rights have nothing to do with legal theory? They can’t both be true.

            Likewise “Malum prohibitum” isn’t an attempt to sound profound or incomprehensible so much as it is a commonly used “term of art” that I would expect anyone with a passing interest in the law (or who’s taken an introductory Civics/Poli-Sci class) to recognize as a matter of course.

          • Anonymous says:

            I didn’t say it had nothing to do with legal theory. I said it had nothing to do with criminal law theory, which is where your terms of art come from.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            So how do you get a legal enforcement of property rights without the statutory and contractual prohibitions to which Malum prohibitum refers?

            You either have to take the position that the only meaningful rights are those which the government enforces (in which case which rights are enforced and how becomes supremely relevant), or you have to make an appeal to some sort of extra-legal concept of morality/rights in which case we are right back where we started.

          • Vorkon says:

            If you’re not a certain kind of utilitarian, it’s possible that taxation is theft (in the sense that it is immoral/violates certain rights) AND that a world with government and taxation is better than a world without it. This is how I feel about a number of government functions.

            Is this the same anon@gmail that everybody else is arguing with? Because unlike everything else in this thread, this comment is actually reasonable. (And there’s no “witty” lines about people how people who disagree should kill themselves, to boot.) It also seems incompatible with the other arguments being made by anon@gmail, so if it is the same one, it’s leaving me a bit confused.

            See, this is why I hate anon@gmail so much…

          • Hlynkacg says:

            @Vorkon

            I sympathize.

          • “So how do you get a legal enforcement of property rights without the statutory and contractual prohibitions to which Malum prohibitum refers?”

            On the unlikely possibility that that is intended as a real question, one answer.

          • hlynkacg says:

            On the unlikely possibility that that is intended as a real question…

            It was intended to point out the obvious hole in anon’s argument. You can’t claim that the state is only meaningful framework, and claim that the question of “Malum prohibitum” vs “Malum in se” isn’t relevant.

            As I said before. If the only meaningful rights are those which the government enforces, which rights get enforced and how is very relevant to the discussion.

          • “If the only meaningful rights are those which the government enforces”

            Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but I conjecture that you didn’t follow the link I offered, which described a non-governmental mechanism for enforcing rights.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I didn’t because “the only meaningful rights are those which the government enforces” is Anon’s position not mine.

    • Forlorn Hopes says:

      I read the post as defining “coordinated meanness” as saying the community (be it the country or a church full of puritans” has written or commonly understood unwritten rules saying what actions will result in you being punished, and how those actions will result.

      By this definition riling up a mob would be uncoordinated. There’s not many written or unwritten rules in the first world that say “breaking this rule shall be punished by mob violence”. The only example I can think of is lynching in the American south, and that’s thankfully in the past.

      Lynching is another example that says coordinated meanness isn’t always good, but Scott said that too in the post.

      • Simon Penner says:

        “Coordinated” is an overloaded term, and I think there is a better word for what Scott is getting at (though I don’t know what it is).

        But I disagree with you. Because consider: until 15 years ago, we had coordinated meanness around gay marriage. We all coordinated to say that gay marriage was wrong, and we will punish people who advocate for it.

        For one, this is in my mind a clear cut example of invalid meanness. But secondly, this is very much a mob thing. Because why are we coordinated? Most homophobes don’t care about gays one way or another. They don’t think it through. They just live their life. Part of their life is that they belong to a community that informs them that being opposed to gay marriage is a required shibboleth, so they shrug their shoulders and go along with it.

        Part of why they shrug their shoulders and go along with it is because the leaders of their community are able to rile up the more zealous members of it. This shifts the social default to a position of homophobia, and people follow.

        Scott seems to mean a sort of deliberate, measured meanness. Meanness decided upon rationally. But this is not always the same as coordination. The homophobia is coordinated meanness, but I’d bet that for the most part it was not rational or measured.

        • Nornagest says:

          We all coordinated to say that gay marriage was wrong, and we will punish people who advocate for it.

          Attempt it, sure. Advocate for it? As far as I know, no one got thrown in jail or beaten up by cops for being on the anti- side of Prop 22, let alone the better-known Prop 8.

        • Forlorn Hopes says:

          I think you’re overlooking the “minimum bar” part of Scott’s post.

          Coordinated meanness isn’t always good, such as your example of homophobia, but uncoordinated meanness is always a problem.

          • Alex says:

            This is only true if you buy into the semantical con that “nice”/”mean” are functionally different from “good”/”bad”, which they are not.

    • Orphan Wilde says:

      I think you miss a critical element of coordinated meanness:

      Who is going to stop it?

      Once 51% of people want to do a thing, something like 30% of the people won’t care either way.

  9. platzapS says:

    Have you just reinvented the rule of law?

    • J says:

      One of the things I wish I could telepathically install into everyone else’s brain is what’s so subtle and important about the rule of law.

      One author gives the essential components as Generality, Prospectivity, Publicity, Consent and Due Process. It took me years to appreciate how profound that is.

      Scott is grasping for a bunch of those notions in this post. Coordination -> Consent: we need a majority vote. Prospectivity and Publicity are how you know what libel is before you get arrested for it. And Due Process is what ensures you don’t just get beaten up in a dark alley.

      “The Night Watch” is one of my favorite Pratchett books because it’s a sort of civics class as a novel, and Vimes is able to cope in a corrupt world because of his understanding of the foundations of civil society.

      • J says:

        Also, one of my favorite Borges quotes is about Due Process:

        “The [execution] was set for March 29, at 9:00 A.M. That delay … was caused by the administrative desire to work impersonally and deliberately, as vegetables do, or planets.”

        • Deiseach says:

          On the other hand, the impersonal and deliberate work, as in the death penalty (whether you agree with it or not, and I don’t) means that the State, by taking on the role of revenger, avoids things like lynching mobs and blood feuds. Since it is done on behalf of and in the name of us all, there is no personal animus or anger or desire to inflict suffering for the gratification of personal hatred, and there is supposed to be fairness in the process for everyone, accused as well as victim and survivors, which personal revenge does not take into account.

          That’s why every society eventually comes up with some form of laws about murder, even if they don’t have the death penalty, and they permit the accused to have a chance of living even if they have to pay compensation to the family of the victim.

          • “Since it is done on behalf of and in the name of us all, there is no personal animus or anger or desire to inflict suffering for the gratification of personal hatred, and there is supposed to be fairness in the process for everyone, accused as well as victim and survivors, which personal revenge does not take into account.”

            That’s hilarious. In the US, there’s a combination of incompetent and overbearing police, coerced confessions, and cheating prosecutors. Most people would start the list with racism, but this kind of thing happens to white people, too. I’ve wondered whether racism is at the root of having a vicious justice system– (white?) people wanting something which would be hard on black people– but I really don’t know how it happened.

            I have no idea whether procedures are better in other countries, though not having the death penalty at least solves the problem of government killing innocent people.

            I don’t know whether this question belongs in the Albion’s Seed thread, but I’ve noticed that a good many Americans are terrified of being excessively kind, and I don’t know what’s going on with that.

            http://www.innocenceproject.org/

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/radley-balko

          • Jiro says:

            I’ve noticed that a good many Americans are terrified of being excessively kind, and I don’t know what’s going on with that

            “If you are kind to the cruel, you will end up being cruel to the kind.”

          • “the State, by taking on the role of revenger, avoids things like lynching mobs and blood feuds.”

            Iceland changed religions twice, in both cases with violence and threats of violence. The first time, paganism to Christianity, the violence killed perhaps a dozen people (going by memory–I haven’t checked the exact number but it was small). That was under a feud system. The second time, Catholicism to Lutheranism, it killed several times as many out of a smaller population. That was under royal rule, I think Norwegian.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m referring to it, but I don’t think people automatically understand it to argue against shaming.

  10. “but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.” In my introductory microeconomics class I was discussing the male/female wage gap. A student asked me if what I was saying was relevant to gay people. I said that I wasn’t sure, but then I pointed out that one of the highest paid female executives was born male. I then got nervous that I had defected by accident in saying that this executive was born male because perhaps people such as this executive are considered to have always been female. I ended up just apologizing and saying I don’t know the appropriate terminology but I certainly don’t mean to be insulting to anyone. Given the complex language rules, the danger of following old patterns, and the social cost of being seen to be anti-trans the (unfortunately) easiest thing for many is probably to just avoid talking about people who are not gender conformists.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      I feel that the reasonable standard (for this comments section at least) is that if someone says “Please call me ‘x'” then you call them ‘x’ (and extend that somewhat, i.e. if they ask to be called a man, you use “he” to refer to them).

      • LHN says:

        I remember making an argument to that effect in college. (I don’t remember the context, but not in relation to transgender issues.)

        The person I was talking with replied that thenceforth he wished to be called “my lord”.

        • sweeneyrod says:

          If anyone wishes to be called “my lord”, I will willingly attempt to do so!

          • Rob says:

            I would do it, but I would be as belligerent as possible about it until they gave up.

            “Hey Ro-”

            (loudly:) “YES MY LORD AND MASTER? WHAT MIGHT YOU REQUIRE OF ME?”

          • Wrong Species says:

            It’s easier to say that now when no one is asking you to do so. If everyone in the world was making up pronouns and asking you to refer to them by these terms you might throw up your hands and admit that there should be a limit.

          • Anonymous says:

            Call us lords, we need more respect around here.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Rob

            The question is, will Scott tolerate people being literally in compliance with his new law, while being openly mocking its existence when doing so? Will the interests of those the law is meant to protect be happy with that arrangement?

          • Cadie says:

            Wrong Species: Hopefully most people who are serious about their gender pronouns won’t do that, and IME that’s been the case. Most people who I know, both offline people and online people I interact with frequently enough for it to be a concern, either use he, she, or they. Semi-unique words to refer to a specific person present even outside of context already exist; those are their names. Pronouns have a different language function than names, and should be fairly few in number else they’re basically nicknames and no longer work as pronouns.

            Part of the problem is that English speakers haven’t fully settled on a gender-neutral singular pronoun for people yet, so some who don’t want “he” or “she” end up making up their own. Singular “they” is the most popular and IMO makes the most sense since most English speakers already know it and it feels more natural than neo-pronouns when used in a sentence. And we already have precedent for using the same non-gendered word for singular and plural, in the case of “you.” So I hope singular they becomes the accepted standard, or else there’s a different one or two added to the language and accepted as standard, and then unique pronouns won’t be an issue anymore because they’ll have no purpose that isn’t better served by using a name.

        • James Picone says:

          “Don’t hit people” is a pretty good rule, even if you sometimes play sport or need to defend yourself. Sure, it doesn’t contain literally every exception you will ever need, but in most situations you will encounter, you shouldn’t hit people.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          I recommend the Huck Finn Rule in these matters:

          He said we ought to bow when we spoke to him, and say “Your Grace” or “My Lord” or “Your Lordship”– and he wouldn’t mind if we called him plain “Bridgewater,” which, he said, was a title anyway and not a name; and one of us ought to wait on him at dinner, and do any little thing for him he wanted done.

          Well, that was all easy, so we done it.

          However, the rule is conditional on it being easy. I’ll call people by their preferred pronoun if I happen to remember it, but I’m not planning to maintain a database.

          • Poxie says:

            Thanks for reminding me that I need to go back and reread Huck Finn. I’ve forgotten a lot of the sick burns and serious shade Twain dished out, all seasoned with a serious dose of common decency.

        • Nornagest says:

          Cute, but not consistently grammatical — both honorifics and pronouns work by replacing noun phrases, but the rules for when you can use them are different. Sometimes the replacement gives you a functioning sentence, but sometimes it doesn’t, especially in the reflexive and possessive cases:

          “He ate the cake.”
          “Sir ate the cake.”
          “Andrew proved he is stupid.”
          *”Andrew proved Sir is stupid.”
          “Bob shook his ass.”
          *”Bob shook Sir’s ass.”
          “Charlie embarrassed himself.”
          *”Charlie embarrassed Sirs’self.”

          So the possessive ends up looking like you’re introducing a second agent, and so does the personal pronoun, sometimes. You’d need to replace the proper noun too to get it to work, and then it sounds distractingly kinky. And the reflexive is just unspeakably awful — I don’t think English has a form that can substitute for it without rephrasing.

        • I was at an event this weekend that had nametag stickers for “my preferred pronouns are”, with preprinted ones for the various trendytrans neologisms (xe/xir, etc).

          Either that has become startlingly common, or you and I attended the same event.

        • I was at PenguiCon….

          As was I. Sorry to have missed meeting you.

      • sweeneyrod, the problem here with reliably using the pronouns that people ask for is that there isn’t a convenient way to find out what they’re asked for if they’ve done it in a past thread.

        • Poxie says:

          Is the word “reliably” the problem here? It seems like there’s an implied “… once you know” tacked on, and maybe also an implied “… unless you forget” too.

          OT:
          I use a forum that labels each user’s posts with their preferred pronoun (text-based gaming, not killallthemisogynists.com or anything – we use a lot of third-person pronouns*), and people screw up other people’s pronouns all the time. People are overwhelmingly polite** about 1) pointing out the error and 2) apologizing for the error.

          * It’s a forum for playing Mafia, Classic Soviet-Invented Party Game! You have to talk about what so-and-so said all the time.
          ** As polite as can be expected during a game of Mafia, Classic Soviet-Invented Party Game!

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Some of the people in my gaming group play social games online.

            I… don’t understand. I don’t understand! I feel like it’s missing the point. How can you even play the game without looking for tells in other people while trying to fake tells for yourself?

            (Incidentally, socially-awkward people: Play social defection-oriented games; creative verbal games like Funemployed or Snake Oil are also useful in improving your Speech score. It’s not a fix – there are some seriously socially awkward people in the regulars group I play with who are still seriously socially awkward – but it does give you some skills.)

          • Poxie says:

            Dear Orphan Wilde:

            I… don’t understand. I don’t understand! I feel like it’s missing the point. How can you even play the game without looking for tells in other people while trying to fake tells for yourself?

            You do it via written language. It’s different, but totally possible. For instance, saying

            I… don’t understand.

            tells me something different from a simple “I don’t understand.”

            Online Mafia games take a long time to play. One “day” in-game might last two weeks, where at a party it’d last 10-15 minutes max.

            But they definitely have their own drama. You can check out examples at mafiascum.net or elsewhere.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        For example, our host wants to be called Scott [last name] rather than Scott S-sk-nd around here, and I hope everybody would agree that calling him latter (with the actual vowels) would be pretty dickish.

        • Poxie says:

          I’m gonna call your comment a DM, because I had forgotten Scott’s government name until you provided some key letters. Consider revising.

        • HrToll says:

          And it seems to me that this comment is an attempt to be dickish with plausible deniability. Why not simply write “Scott Alexander rather than his real name”?

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

          I mean, it’s not like Scott makes any effort in hiding his identity, but I think there’s an unspeaken rule of not bringing it up, just in case.

          • HrToll says:

            Right, I’m sure many commenters already know Scott’s real name – it’s not very hard to find if you really want to know. The problem with this comment in particular is that it conveys the message “see how close I dare to go to violating Scott’s explicit request not to refer to him by his real name?”, which is certainly not kind and wholly unnecessary in this case. It strikes me as dickish in spirit, if maybe not in letter.

          • Protagoras says:

            Scott doesn’t necessarily want this blog coming up when, for example, a patient perhaps googles his name. This is a reason not to mention his name, even if everyone here knows it (and quite clearly not everyone knows it; I am mysteriously good at forgetting it myself, having discovered and then forgotten it twice before again being reminded by the comment above).

      • Jason K. says:

        But then you get people like me:

        My preferred pronoun is spelled exactly like the entirety of War and Peace, without spaces. Failing to refer to me this way is clearly a grievous insult.

        • Anonymous says:

          Fine, but you’re gonna need to conjugate that for us and show some examples of usage, as indeed do the vast majority of neopronoun users.

          • Jason K. says:

            Nah. It isn’t my responsibility to educate you.

          • Anonymous says:

            Actually, irl, listing the forms of nonstandard pronouns is common practice.

          • Jason K. says:

            People that won’t use a consistent identity won’t get non-snark responses. Actually, that would be an interesting parallel to explore. Perhaps another time with someone that will actually stand by their position.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            In the vocative case, which I demand be added to English to make it a safe space for me, my preferred pronoun is still spelled exactly like the entirety of War and peace except that Natasha Rostov’s name is now spelled “Throat-Warbler-Mangrove”.

      • “I feel that the reasonable standard (for this comments section at least) is that if someone says “Please call me ‘x’” then you call them ‘x’”

        I disagree. The fact that someone self-identifies as male (or female, or honest, or any other characteristic) doesn’t determine how I see that person.

        Referring to someone who self-identifies as female by male pronouns is, under most circumstances, discourteous. The solution is not to lie about one’s own views, which is what using a pronoun that doesn’t correspond to how one actually views the person amounts to, but to either avoid gendered pronouns or avoid references to the person that would require such.

        • caryatis says:

          I agree. No one should be ashamed of their gender, and referring to someone as a man or woman is not an insult. If you suffer emotional pain because I call you “he” rather than “she,” you have a mental illness, and I’m sorry for you, but it is the illness that is hurting you, not me.

          I also avoid pronouns when referring to “trans” people online. Not so easy in real life, though.

          • Anon-y-moose says:

            See Scott’s take on that particular reasoning here: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/ .

            Gender dysphoria may be a psychological illness, but most signs point to it being caused by a hardwired and fairly distinct neurological-anatomical incongruity, and not some abstract malaise that only exists in the Cartesian dualist mind. Intentionally misgendering people for some philisophical stance on the issue seems roughly equivalent to repeatedly pointing out someone’s disability after they’ve told you they’d prefer not to talk about it, because you personally don’t think they should be sensitive about their handicap. “In bird culture, this is considered a dick move.”

            The second half of this is that by far the most successful treatment of the mental illness you’re describing as a personal issue involves reconciling your external identity with your neurology, since with the technology we have we can’t go the other way around. You’re right that the illness is hurting them – but maintaining a public identity in a neurologically congruent manner is the most successful treatment the medical community has devised for that hurt (a hurt, by the way, which has significant consequences for the outcomes of the illness). So your form of protest against reasonable accomodations for ‘mental illness’ is not just a matter of insensitivity to the feelings of a sufferer but actively interfering with their best attempts at treating the illness -like encouraging a recovering alcoholic to drink. (It may be closer to forcing them to drink, since they can’t decline to be misgendered when you opt to do so, but I’m aiming for charity on my ‘dick move’ analogies)

          • caryatis says:

            I don’t think it’s been proven that treating the mental illness requires everyone in society to pretend that a man is a woman (or vice versa).

            Also, while it’s true that Scott previously said something interesting about this, as he has about a lot of issues, it doesn’t settle the question. I wasn’t convinced.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yeah, I try to avoid interactions with trans people and it makes me sad… English is not my main language and I always end up offending people despite care and good intentions, like, I use the pronouns which I feel are best until the person tells me they would prefer something else. Things start to get weird here, the most weird for me is people who like being called “They”. This is super confusing because “They” is already a pronoun, and it is plural! I can understand the Xyr thing but why take words which already mean something else? Best not to tell what happened when I had the brilliant idea of calling people by the gender and species neutral “It” online…

      I feel like transgender people are being acculturated to become walking minefields and use their condition as an easy way to gain status by forcing everybody else to modify their behaviour, and this is really bad for them imho, puts them in a bad psychological state.

      I think people ought to be called what they are perceived as by the one who is talking about them. It is honest and lets you know where you really stand outside of your own head. I particularily dislike when transphobic or otherwise heretical people are forced to speak in a way which does not accurately represent their thoughts, feelings and perceptions on the matter. It is very bad for them and it is very bad for transpeople who now have an even harder time identifying the people that can see them for what they are.

      • Urstoff says:

        Singular “they” has been in widespread usage in English for a long time. Like many other standard usages, it’s not “grammatically correct” (whatever that means) and thus is not taught in ESL courses (to the detriment of language learners).

        • Alex says:

          I’m in no position to argue that, but although English is not my first language, I do most of my reading in English and that easily tallies to tens of thousands of pages a year (Estimate is in unit “pages” because it is based on goodreads stats + any reading not in book form). The only place where I ever consciously came across singular “they” is here. This includes “progessive” works e. g. “Ancilliary Justice” etc.

          How sure are you that “widespread” does not apply only to your subculture/filterbubble?

          Out of curiosity: How “off” does my written English sound, anyways?

          • Urstoff says:

            It’s much more prevalent in spoken than in written English (as with most “grammatically incorrect” usages), although as Steven Pinker pointed out in his most recent book, it’s been around since Shakespeare.

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singular_they

          • Alex says:

            Very interesting, thanks.

          • brad says:

            Singular they is fairly common, especially in spoken English. But not exactly in the way some trans-people use it.

            For example, the sentence: “President Obama is going to Cuba next month, they will meet with Fidel Castro.” sounds very odd to my ear. On the other hand if the subject being referred to is indefinite it doesn’t sound as strange. For example, “If anyone comes in, let them know I’ll be back in an hour.” Anyone is singular, so in the prescriptivist rule the pronoun should him but them sounds fine to me.

          • Murphy says:

            @Urstoff

            I’m going side with Alex on “they” being a terrible singular pronoun when there’s the far more reasonable option of something like “ve” and “vim” which flows far more naturally in almost any sentence and doesn’t make it unclear whether you’re talking about a group.

            People can choose pronouns but if you choose silly ones already in use for something else (worst I ever saw was someone on tumblr trying to claim “and” as their pronoun) then you earn a little scorn for making it really really hard to talk to/about you.

          • Urstoff says:

            You can try to establish “ve” or “ze” as a convention, and if you do, great. But right now, the singular they is in widespread use, and in most contexts it is not confusing at all.

          • JBeshir says:

            I’ve used singular they since childhood, well before I was aware of any gender politics, in the UK.

            I think I just took it as given that the normal way to address people when gender was unknown didn’t become invalid simply because it was known, and grew up recent enough that singular ‘he’ was archaic.

            Online interaction means it gets a lot of use, because often gender is non-obvious or at least not immediately in mind at the point of drafting a sentence.

          • Alex says:

            Murphy:

            For sake of completeness, you are not actually siding with me there.

            Any argument I brought up against “singular they” works even more so against artificially coined pronouns. Also, let me repeat that I have no political interest in this topic, I’m merely stating that any proposal to motivated gendering is not free as in gratis, linguistically. The question of “free as in freedom” is for others to discuss.

            Also, and perhaps more importantly I find motivated gendering to be punishing outsiders, as explained elsewhere in the thread. This certainly is even more true for what basically is the secret language of an ingroup.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            “If anyone comes in, let them know I’ll be back in an hour.”

            It is perfectly reasonable to expect that multiple people might come in, though. The problem with that sentence is not that them is plural, it is that anyone is singular.

            Yeah, of course standard English is very explicit that anyone is a singular indefinite pronoun regardless of the plurality in fact. That is a frankly arbitrary rule. The determinism it inspires may be considered a positive outcome, but it is certainly possible to imagine a parallel universe where standard English has a different rule. One where anyone is assigned the expected plurality in fact, for example, is perfectly reasonable as well.

            Under such a rule the use of him or them would be interchangeable contingent on whether the speaker expects one or more people to come in during his absence.

            Since the motivation for the use of them in this example is as much or more motivated by disagreement with prescriptivist jerks about the plurality of anyone as with the indeterminate gender, I think it is a poor example of the singular they.

            I see the “singular they” used far more often in this manner than I do for indeterminate gender.

          • brad says:

            WWWtbA, that’s a good point. There’s a fuller taxonomy here: https://www.visualthesaurus.com/cm/dictionary/dos-and-donts-for-singular-they/

            “Someone thinks they got cheated.” That’s similar to the anyone example I gave.

            “John or Marsha thinks they can do it.” The article points out it’s hard to make this sentence work any other way.

            “My friend said they would be in town this weekend.” This one seems to be fairly common in spoken English and less so in written English.

            “I think if someone in my class was pregnant I would be sympathetic to them.” The article recommends against this one, and I have to agree this is a bridge too far for me.

            Finally, similar to the one I mentioned that sounds odd to my ear–“Barack Obama said they would meet with the Dalai Lama.”

            Unfortunately for those advocating for it, the gender non-binary version of singular they is closest to that last sentence than any of the others, and is going to sound quite jarring to most people IMO.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Data point: As a non native speaker, I generally use singular they for all the “inbetween” he and she. It has never come up in my formal english education, but it did a lot in informal internet conversation, I find it to not be particularly less intuitive than plural you.

          • EyeballFrog says:

            brad

            Personally I would only accept the first example. The third example seems unacceptable because the speaker would know the gender of his friend, and as such a singular they is inappropriate. The second example is simply a poorly constructed sentence. I can’t easily think of a situation where that sentence would come up.

        • Anonymous says:

          I learned by myself, mostly reading/internet/watching films etc. Never once saw They used like that other than in very modern works. Of course perhaps I did and ignored it and became confused by it insead?

          It is confusing on account of also being a pronoun that means something else… Like if you are talking about a group of people and one of them is a transperson who likes to be called they, what does “They said lalala” means? Are you talking about the transperson or They as a group? Sure, you can use the transperson’s name instead but its not a perfect solution, lets call transperson “X”.

          “X and their friends were talking, X said something and then they laughed”

          Could mean they all laughed or they laughed, ambiguous. The literature I’ve read where the author uses “they” in this manner is always hard to follow for me.

          Is there any native english speaker who thinks “They” is confusing too?

          • Machine Elf says:

            Singular “they” is most common when talking about someone loosely specified or poorly conceptualized. Take for example the sentence “If somebody tries to take my cookies, they should expect a punch in the face.” Somebody is grammatically singular as shown by the verb agreement “somebody tries” (compare “if those five guys try to take my cookies…”), but I don’t think anybody would regard the use of “they” in that sentence to be strange. Possibly this is because the “somebody” in this case represents an undifferentiated mass of potential cookie-takers, and it could be any of those people that will need punching.

            With that as a base, singular they has been creeping into ever more specific cases: I personally regard the sentence “The building manager told me that they needed my rent by this weekend” as perfectly natural, with “they” referring in an isolated context to the building manager; for me it’s only really once we get to named individuals that it starts sounding weird.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Except for the made-up pronouns, I don’t see any one solution fitting all cases.

            In many, many cases, singular ‘they’ works fine, but “They told me they would be arriving after them” loses too much information.

            “She told me he would be arriving after them” is more clear, but “Alice told me Bob would be arriving after the others” would be more clear yet.

          • “Yeah, of course standard English is very explicit that anyone is a singular indefinite pronoun regardless of the plurality in fact.”

            Better still, so is “everyone.”

            My wife tells the story of a grammatical purist at her college who, asked “where is everyone,” replied “he want thataway.”

        • Anon says:

          Alex, Anonymous:

          See Wikipedia and elsewhere. Singular “they” to refer to individuals of unknown gender is nigh-universal; I’m certain you’ve come across it elsewhere, although you may not have realized it was not intended to be plural. (That said, it is much more common in conversational English, since the authors of texts usually know the genders of all characters.) Its usage to refer to individuals who would prefer not to be identified as male or female is new, but a fairly reasonable extension of its older use.

          Anonymous:

          Yeah, there’s some ambiguity, but there’s plenty of ambiguity anyway – if you say “he”, were you referring to John or David? If you say “they”, were you referring to two, three, or all of the members of some group (or, indeed, an individual of unknown gender, per above)? If you say “you”, do you mean the single person you are directly addressing, or a group to which they belong?

          I don’t think the particular case of singular “they” really adds that much overhead.

    • jacob says:

      I think there’s a pretty clear implication that this is about “mean” misgendering, not accidental. If you refer to someone who identifies as female with “he”, get corrected, and then apologise for the mistake and use female pronouns from then on, my presumption is Scott wouldn’t punish you for that. The issue is when, for example, someone identifies themselves as a trans women or non binary person AMAB and a commenter than insistently continues to use incorrect pronouns, denying then gender identity.

      Honestly in a comment thread system accidental misgendering happens all the time because people are just text and usernames, its pretty okay.

      In general I understand the point its easier to avoid discussing such people but obviously thats problematic too. I think the solution is just to be respectful and learn from mistakes. You fuck up a pronoun, apologise and move on, as if you’d gotten someone’s name wrong. You won’t be perceived as anti-trans if you don’t politicise defending your mistakes. I often accidentally misgender trans* and nb friends of mine, but I’m pretty sure i dont pay any social cost for that because its understood to be an accident, not a denial of their identity.

      • “denying then gender identity”

        Failing to agree with their view of their gender identity.

        The idea that seems to be behind the way you put it is that your identity exists in my head, and thus you have a claim to control over the contents of my head.

        Which is why I find the idea that by disagreeing with someone’s view of his, her or its gender identity I am “misgendering” him disturbing.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “The idea that seems to be behind the way you put it is that your identity exists in my head, and thus you have a claim to control over the contents of my head. ”

          No, just the contents of your speech on this forum.

          • So “denying them gender identity” meant “denying that their gender identity is what they claim it is?”

            I read it as “keeping them from having their preferred gender identity.” In other contexts, denying someone something means keeping him from having it, not saying that he doesn’t have it.

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    Well said!

  12. Massimo Heitor says:

    “Sending the police to arrest a libertarian rancher in Montana who refuses to pay taxes for reasons of conscience”

    Can federal government tax the air we breathe? They have the power and the legal right to do so.

    The federal government claim to massive tracts of land, including majorities of states like Nevada, is absurd. Let people use the Earth and forage or at least acknowledge families like the Bundys that have been grazing on those lands before the remote federal bureaus claiming rents even existed. Or let the states and municipalities administer those lands and charge rents as they see fit. It’s absurd that the federal government is laying claim to such earth and grass.

    You are arguing that arresting recreational drug users is legally right but morally wrong. Federal government claims to massive tracts of land that ranchers have been using for generations is completely morally wrong.

    • Pku says:

      In the Bundy case, I’d argue that the moment he resorted to armed defiance it stopped being about ranching grounds – on which I have no strong opinion – and became terrorism, to which the government is fully justified in responding with force. The reason we live in an organized society and not a chaotic wasteland like Syria is that we agree to follow rules even when they’re unjust, or at worst resort to legal action rather than guns.

      • birdboy2000 says:

        Not terrorism, rebellion. I don’t disagree with the conclusion, however.

        • Edward Scizorhands says:

          Agree. It’s scary to call that terrorism, and incorrect when he’s doing it in plain sight and random people are in no danger.

          • anon says:

            I think it’s time to pronounce the 200-odd year experiment of using the word “terrorism” a failure and just move on.

        • John Schilling says:

          I generally don’t care about the object-level conclusion when people play that sort of language game to support it. Bundy the self-righteously thuggish criminal, I am no fan of. Bundy the falsely-accused terrorist, gets a measure of sympathy from me. Please don’t make me sympathize with people like that.

          • Pku says:

            You’re right, I apologize for that.
            But while he’s not a central example of terrorism, there are some significant shared properties (the literal definition, someone who tries to achieve political gains by a show of force, is technically correct about him, even if many of the implications are not). There doesn’t seem to be a good word for that – “rebellion” seems wrong in that he’s not trying to secede, and “criminal activity” isn’t quite right in that criminals hide from the law instead of openly defying it. I guess this is one case we should just avoid definitions, and this irks me more than it should.

          • Ptoliporthos says:

            the literal definition, someone who tries to achieve political gains by a show of force

            How is that the literal definition of terrorism?

            I don’t think anyone really uses the term that way.

            Terrorism usually refers to the practice of deliberately killing (or deliberately attempting to kill) unarmed civilians with the explicit or implied threat to continue to do so, at random, until political demands are met.

            Your definition is far too broad.

            A state that declares war against another, perhaps to force the return of disputed territory, but does not deliberately target civilians, is not engaging in terrorism.

            A rebellion that targets government military installations is not engaging in terrorism. (They’re the rebel alliance, not the terrorist alliance)

            Crashing an empty plane into the Pentagon would be an act of war, hijacking a plane full of civilians and crashing it into the Pentagon is terrorism (and an act of war).

            The Bundys may have been deliberately trying to provoke a violent confrontation with government agents, but they weren’t threatening to kill random civilians until their demands were met. The Bundys are not a central example of terrorism, because they’re not an example of terrorism.

          • John Schilling says:

            How is that the literal definition of terrorism?

            I don’t think anyone really uses the term that way.

            There are prescriptivist definitions of terrorism that come pretty close to that. Most of them I think trace back to governments trying to define the word in a way that encompasses as many of their enemies as possible but never ever their own actions, but I’ve seen them start creeping into allegedly impartial dictionaries. In terms of descriptivist usage, I agree, that’s not the central example people are using for terrorism.

            As with “pornography”, it’s a term that is I think still genuinely useful but will never be defined rigorously enough to prevent people from playing Orwellian linguistic games with it. So my policy has to be, playing those games means losing the game, “Persuade John Schilling that you have something interesting to say”.

          • Vorkon says:

            While it’s true that many people (and governments) do use an overly broad definition of terrorism, even the broadest official definition I’ve ever heard doesn’t use the term “show of force,” as in Pku’s definition. The broadest I’ve heard is “use of violence or the threat of violence” to achieve political gains, which, while somewhat similar, is still far less broad than the “show of force.”

            The Bundys never threatened to use violence against anyone, except, as they repeatedly pointed out whenever they were interviewed, in self-defense, so that definition really doesn’t fit.

            If you really want a term to describe what they were doing, I’d suggest you just go with “protest.” The only thing that made what they were doing any different from, say, the Occupy movement, is the fact that they were armed, which I don’t think changes the fundamental nature of what they were doing unless they planned to use those arms. You might call it a stupid, poorly thought out protest, (which, incidentally, is another similarity between the Bundys and Occupy) but that doesn’t change what it is.

            (As a side note, am I the only one for whom it feels like nails on a chalkboard whenever I need to pluralize something like “Bundy?” I almost just went ahead and typed it as “Bundy’s” or “Bundies,” even though I knew it was wrong, just to make myself feel better. >.< )

          • Adam says:

            You’re not alone. Pluralizing a family name that ends in ‘y’ bugs the hell out of me, too. And I agree that the most proper term for what they were doing is ‘protest.’ It was effectively the same thing as a sit-in, except instead of chaining themselves to a counter to avoid being removed, they armed themselves to avoid being removed. At bare minimum, you have to actually attack someone to be properly called a ‘terrorist.’

          • Jeff H says:

            “The only thing that made what they were doing any different from, say, the Occupy movement, is the fact that they were armed, which I don’t think changes the fundamental nature of what they were doing unless they planned to use those arms.”

            At least to me (someone far outside of, and kind of creeped out by, US gun culture), this seems… well, hair-splitting at best. That they were armed shows that using those arms was, at rock bottom minimum, a possibility they took seriously enough to prepare for at nontrivial cost to themselves and their cause. You can argue that technically that doesn’t quite rise to the level of “planned to use those arms”, but the similarities between the two seem a lot more salient than the differences.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Apologies for the tangent but I’ve noticed a tendency to underestimate the effectiveness of natural/improvised weapons, and overestimate the effectiveness of purpose built weapons like guns and knives.

            A baseball sized rock or empty glass bottle can take out an unprotected human just fine.

          • Vorkon says:

            @hlynkacg

            That’s not really a tangent at all, and is actually probably the best response I can think of to Jeff H’s concerns.

            A person with an intent to do violence can be dangerous, no matter what they are armed with. It’s the intent to do violence that is dangerous; If you have that, you’ll be able to find a weapon.

          • keranih says:

            “There are no unarmed men, only disarmed minds.”

          • Agronomous says:

            “There are no unarmed men, only disarmed minds.”

            Sharpen those Hufflepuff bones!

          • keranih says:

            …You can’t make me read that. I refuse.

    • brad says:

      I see no particular reason why it is absurd for the federal government to own massive tracts of land, but not absurd for states to own (or administer) those same lands. Perhaps there’s some nuanced policy reason why the latter is preferable to the former, but calling the one absurd just looks like counter-productive exaggeration.

      Further, I wonder if your argument would apply equally well to a large absentee landlord, prototypically living out east?

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        The short version of the answer:

        Because this leaves massive tracts of states in Federal control.

        Which if you’re on the East Coast (or other densely populated area) may sound like a “So what?” statement; but these areas aren’t generally held in densely populated states, so these states have, effectively, no recourse. Massachusetts has as much say about what happens to federal lands in Arizona as Arizona does. In the 11 Western states in which more than half of the land is owned by the Federal government, there is a lot of bitterness about this, as many people feel disenfranchised; more like imperial subjects than citizens of the country.

        • brad says:

          Disenfranchised is a funny word to use for the circumstance whereby everyone gets one vote regardless of how close or far he lives from the parcel of land we are voting on.

          Nonetheless, I get the argument. I may not agree with it, but I understand how it works and what’s appealing about it. I still think absurd is a bridge way too far. It makes me less sympathetic, not more.

          And I think the absentee landlord (a la Ireland in the 19th century) question is a good way to clarify intuitions. Would the situation be different — better or worse — if rather than the federal government owing 80% of Nevada Mike Bloomberg did and he didn’t allow any ranching, timbering, ATVing, etc. on his lands?

          • brad says:

            So … no problem then? Are property taxes and federal employees behaving badly the main issues to your mind?

          • Furslid says:

            It seems obvious to me how that could happen. Imagine a polity consisting of your US state and the country of India holding an election on eating beef. Might you object to the fairness of applying the results?

            That’s probably how a lot of Westerners feel on voting with Massachussets and New York on federal land use.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Disenfranchised is exactly the term.

            All the land the federal government owns is land that people cannot live on. It’s that much less potential population for these states. It’s that many fewer congressional representatives. All the industry that isn’t allowed to happen is jobs that don’t attract people and enrich the locals. Arizona gets almost no say in how half of Arizona is run.

          • brad says:

            Arizona can’t be disenfranchised because Arizona isn’t a person. The people of Arizona can vote the same as the people of anywhere else (actually a bit more than some). The potential Arizonians either don’t exist or do exist and live and vote somewhere else and so also aren’t being disenfranchised.

            Like I said, and in response to Furslid as well, I get the argument for localism and/or federalism. I see some merit to it, but there are pros and cons. It isn’t a slam dunk. Unless you are planning a civil war (and how well did that work out for the Bundys?) you need to convince, not just preach to the choir. Acting like it’s a slam dunk is anti-convincing — at least to me.

          • Leif says:

            rather than the federal government owing 80% of Nevada Mike Bloomberg did and he didn’t allow any ranching, timbering, ATVing, etc. on his lands

            If Mike Bloomberg owned all that land, why would he want leave it unused? He could make a lot more money by putting it to good use.

            Voters in Massachusetts don’t significantly feel the economic effects of how land in Nevada is used. As such, they aren’t incentivized to make good decisions about it.

            If Mike Bloomberg owned the land, he would have better incentives. And the residents of Nevada do. So Mike Bloomberg owning it, or the state of Nevada owning it, both seem preferable to the federal government owning it.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Voters in Massachusetts don’t significantly feel the economic effects of how land in Nevada is used. As such, they aren’t incentivized to make good decisions about it.

            Exactly.

            But it gets worse, one of the things voters in Massachusetts are incentivized to do is engage in virtue signaling by (intentionally absurd example) putting up signs that say “no rednecks allowed”.

  13. Shmi Nux says:

    I mostly agree, except for the statement “In this case their coordination of meanness cannot possibly hurt anyone.” Not right away, maybe, but that’s how ideological wars start.

    • Murphy says:

      I’d also argue that it can move the Overton window.

      If there’s regularly someone on TV saying very politely that perhaps we should kill all the Jews then that other guy who’s merely politely saying that perhaps we should consider excluding the Jews from working with children and vulnerable people…. sounds a lot less evil and crazy and when a third person comes along saying that no no no, we shouldn’t do any of those things, all we really need is a register of Jews to help keep track the Problematic ones and nothing more… well he’s sounding even less crazy.

  14. Anonymous of the House Codex, Seventy-Fifth of His Name says:

    A rational person may be willing to follow this strategy to the extent that he expects that other people will follow the strategy if and only if he does.

    However, empirically other people are not rational. In the words of rationalist scripture, “the ‘rational’ strategy adapts to the other players’ strategies, it does not depend on the other players being rational.”

    What is the incentive for any individual to cooperate with the requirement to only be mean if it can be coordinated? Do you expect this to be stable? How is it better than other ideologies that would have been perfect if everyone else were just willing to ignore their incentives (e.g. communism)?

    If it is known that a majority of the population follows the rule “only be mean if it can be coordinated” and I very much want to be mean to Scott, what is stopping me from making everyone’s life miserable until enough people agree to coordinate to shun Scott? In other words, how does this system hold up when it becomes the target for exploitation by unethical agents?

    • Tracy W says:

      Making everyone’s life miserable is quite tough, particularly if you can’t make people associate with you.

      After all there are plenty of people already who try to make everyone’s lives miserable, for apparently no ideological reason, and when I run across one, my first response to them is to not invite them around and to turn down their invitations.

    • Loquat says:

      If you try to harass everyone else into coordinating to shun Scott, and Scott is more popular than you are, the more likely outcome is that everyone else will coordinate to shun you.

      If, however, you have enough of a popularity advantage over Scott to make it work… honestly, that sounds like a subplot of a “mean girls” high school novel.

  15. E. Harding says:

    “Second, you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of transgender, but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.”

    -I dislike this, though I admit it should make comment threads less chaotic. Rules against misgendering people just feel too oppressive on free expression. Transgender as a widely accepted category is a pretty new idea, anyways, and it certainly didn’t spread via greater knowledge of scientific discoveries.

    • Tracy W says:

      Why rules against misgendering people in particular seem too oppressive? If you want to insult someone there’s plenty of gender-neutral ways of doing so.

      And quite frankly here we mostly don’t know people’s gender. I’ve been misgendered a fair few times on the Internet and that never seems to bother the people I’m arguing with particularly, unless they’re also trying to make an argument based on my (incorrect) gender, and those are typically logical fallacies anyway.

      • Fahundo says:

        Why rules against misgendering people in particular seem too oppressive?

        Possibly because, as you pointed out, misgendering is really easy to do by accident, especially on the Internet when the only thing you might know about someone is a pseudonym.

        • Tracy W says:

          I presumed Scott was talking about deliberate misgendering of transgender people, eg someone says they’re a trans woman and then in response someone else calls them “he”. Not accidental stuff.

          • Fahundo says:

            Sounds like something we should know for sure rather than presume, right?

            So coordinated meanness is better than uncoordinated meanness not because it necessarily achieves the first goal of justice, but because it achieves the second goal of safety and stability. Everyone knows exactly when to expect it and what they can do to avoid it. I may not know what speech will or won’t offend a violent person with enough friends to organize a goon squad, but I can always read the libel law and try to stay on the right side of it.

          • szopeno says:

            But addressing transwoman by “he” means forcing someone who thinks man cannot become a women to resign hsi position before a discussion even starts. It’s like forcing Jews to say “Son of God” about Jesus in theological discussions about whether Jesus was really son of God..

          • Fahundo says:

            Well to be fair, not every discussion with a transperson is going to be over whether you agree with their decision to be trans. At least I hope not.

          • Tracy W says:

            @szopeno: addressing anyone as “he” or “she” in English is ungrammatical, the second-person is “you”, which is conveniently gender-neutral.

            If you find yourself talking about someone in the third-person you can use their name, or handle, and other gender-neutral terms if you want to avoid implying a gender.

          • I have this problem talking about Ozy, to pick a salient example. I know that they prefer not to be gendered as female, but everything from their appearance to their writing style strikes me as gender-typical feminine, which makes it really really hard not to call them “she”.

            I mean, I made a point of doing it in the previous paragraph, but if this weren’t the topic at hand I would probably have just called her a girl.

          • szopeno says:

            @Tracy W, You are right; however it requires you to be constantly on guard, as it’s quite natural in human speech to use “he” and “She” regularly.

            I am Polish and my language forces me to use gender whenever I talk in past tense (e.g. I must use gender when I say “you said” i.e. either powiedziałeś or powiedziałaś), which might somewhat influenced my opinion above.

          • Milan says:

            @szopeno
            See, this is why everybody should talk Hungarian. 😀 It is about as gender-neutral as it gets.
            When I am speaking English, I misgender basically everybody from time to time, because my brain just pick one of the pronouns randomly when talking about somebody, with seemingly no correlation to the actual gender 😀

          • Winter Shaker says:

            @szopeno:

            But addressing transwoman by “he” means forcing someone who thinks man cannot become a women to resign hsi position before a discussion even starts

            As Tracy W hints at, this is probably an instance where gender-neutral ‘they’ will serve nicely. It can feel a little odd using it for a specific named person (or at least, I find it feels more odd to use it for a specific named person than for an unidentified or generic person), but it avoids both misgendering your interlocutor and forcing you to accept a position you are not persuaded by.

            By the way, I have been trying to learn a little bit of Polish recently (though still at the very beginnerish stages – I can recommend Gabriel Wyner’s ‘Fluent Forever’ as having some useful brainhacks for helping with memorisation), so I can understand where you’re coming from given that gender seems to be more deeply baked in to the grammar than it does in English. But you do have a neuter gender – are there any moves afoot to try to institute a gender-neutral pronoun on the ‘on / ona / oni / ony’ lines that would take neuter? That would seem like a reasonable compromise if it could be made to catch on.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Winter Shaker: No, in fact quite the opposite: if I recall correctly, Polish feminists (at least those connected to Gazeta Wyborcza) tend to promote feminine suffixes for common nouns that have had masculine forms established as gender-neutral (e.g. psycholożka instead of psycholog for a female psychologist). If you find that bizarre, perplexing and completely backwards, then well, so do I.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Winter Shaker: And yes, there is neuter gender, but using it for people is quite awkward.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Grey anon:

            there is neuter gender, but using it for people is quite awkward.

            Okay, but I’m not aware of anyone promoting ‘it’ as a gender-neutral pronoun for humans in English – I assume that would be equivalent to using ‘to’ in Polish? Rather, they are promoting singular, non-gender-specific ‘they’, or more rarely, some more esoteric, consciously constructed alternative like the Spivak pronouns. If you could do that in Polish, either use ‘oni’ (is that the correct plural for mixed-gender groups?) or something else constructed with the ‘on-‘ root, then wouldn’t expect that to sound dehumanising.

          • Creutzer says:

            Using a neuter pronoun in a language with grammatical gender is just as bad as using “it” in English: It’s unthinkable because you get a feeling of dehumanisation and depersonalisation. But the central cases of trans people – those who transition from one binary gender to the other another – do not pose any problem whatsoever for such systems. It’s non-binary people who are difficult to accommodate because there simply is no pronoun. You have to say “that person” all the time (which in itself tends to come with problematic connotations, because it’s official/distancing).

            You can’t construct anything else with the Slavic on- root because if it’s singular, it’s still got to be in some declension class and have some gender. In some Slavic languages, at least the plural is gender-neutral, but in Polish, for example, it’s not – there’s a distinction between masculine and mixed, one the one hand, and feminine, on the other. The only thing you could in principle do is use the mixed-gender plural – I don’t know if anybody’s tried that.

        • szopeno says:

          @Winter Shaker
          Basically everything Anonymous above said is true. It would be much harder than just using new pronoun in English, because you would have to either (a) use awkward constructions and most people would just think you can’t speak Polish properly (b) there is no way to use “neutral” when using past tense in addressing someone. Even though children is neuter gender, for example, and you can use neuter in third person (“ono powiedziało”) you cannot use it in fsecond person (“ty powiedziałoś” – a construct which does not actually exist – sound like some uneducated redneck talking and sounds just funny).

          As for “psycholożka” it’s actually we have masculine “doktor” and feminine “doktor”, which you can clearly see in declension “i see male doktor” – “zobaczyłem doktora” vs “i see female doctor” – “zobaczyłem doktor”. New forms introduced by feminists are unnecessary, sometimes they sounds funny (doktorka sounds like diminutive form of “doktor” and just does not sound serious, though pycholożka seems fine)

          • Winter Shaker says:

            Okay, thanks for all the interisting linguistics info. It looks like this is a problem that cannot be solved without getting over the hump of getting an awkward-sounding construction to sound non-awkward to future ears.

            As it happens, the reason I was in Poland and trying to learn some of the basics was to visit a friend who is studying abroad there, and who is the social hub through whom I met almost all of the non-binary transgender people I know … but the question didn’t come up in conversation while I was over there. I guess I’ll need to ask her when she’s got time today.

          • szopeno says:

            Frankly, I do not see that as a problem at all.

        • The reason I find a rule against misgendering people oppressive is that it implies that someone else has a claim over the contents of my brain–that I have to believe, or at least pretend to believe, something about that person because that person wants me to believe it.

          If someone self-identifies as female and I identify that person as male, it’s courteous not to make a point of the disagreement–just as its courteous not to point out that I believe some here are mistaken on other subjects unless some substantive argument requires me to do so. My usual approach to the problem in realspace is to avoid gendered pronouns in such cases. But I’m not willing to use a gendered pronoun that implies I believe something I don’t.

          I should probably add that what I believe about someone’s gender isn’t as simple as XX or XY, which I usually don’t know. Someone who is XY and does a sufficiently good job of seeming to be XX I might well see as female. But if I don’t, I see no obligation to pretend I do.

          • Leif says:

            I agree with you 99% (and it’s great to see someone expressing this sentiment), but not the last paragraph. I might mistake a mouse for a rat, but if I discover my mistake, I’m not going to keep calling it a rat.

            My impression is that gender means “perception of sex”, except reified as a distinct object ostensibly unrelated to sex, so that the perception can’t be judged as wrong. It’s like declaring that a specific portion of the map isn’t required to correspond accurately to the territory.

            The gender theorists want to define gender based on the object’s perception. You want to define it based on the subject’s. I think perception of sex should be based on sex, because of the general rule that perception of X should be based on X.

            Do you think I’m misinterpreting what gender means?

          • Alex says:

            I presume that your assesment of somebody’s lets say grammatical gender to avoid politics is something your brain comes up with in microseconds. Because if that were not so, you could not speak fluently.

            I’d like to differentiate “beliefs” (I) formed by that system and “beliefs” (II) formed by conscious thought on a subject matter. Personally I feel _much_ more inclined to defend my beliefs of the second category. To the point where I would not use rhetorics of “lies” or “pretense” in the context of the former first, which, in my view, is basically an artifact of brain wireing, and not something I have particular emotions about.

            My surprise re: e. g. Jiro and Michael elsewhere in this thread comes from this conception.

            However, I have a category II belief that politics and category I beliefs should be kept seperate in both directions. Neither should influence the other.

            I oppose the rule in defense of that category II belief, rather than my category I beliefs about peoples’ genders. Maybe this helps do explain my statements made elsewhere in this thread.

            So that’s a thank you for the input, I guess.

          • Teal says:

            I agree with you 99% (and it’s great to see someone expressing this sentiment), but not the last paragraph. I might mistake a mouse for a rat, but if I discover my mistake, I’m not going to keep calling it a rat.

            My impression is that gender means “perception of sex”, except reified as a distinct object ostensibly unrelated to sex, so that the perception can’t be judged as wrong. It’s like declaring that a specific portion of the map isn’t required to correspond accurately to the territory.

            Consider the tomato. From a botanical standpoint it is clearly a fruit. However, in a culinary sense it is a vegetable. And what is the culinary sense but the very same thing — a reified perception of vegetable-ness.

          • Amy says:

            Leif: if you are saying that gender is identical to XX/XY, you are misinterpreting it, by taking a complex category and oversimplifying it to the point that it becomes a very leaky abstraction, useless in any exceptional case (this kind of error is described more precisely in the sequence “A Human’s Guide to Words”, particularly “Disguised Queries” and “Neural Categories”).

            To focus on the biological component of gender, many separate organs (like the brain, the genitals, muscle tissue, skin, the skeletal system, etc.) go through a process of sex differentiation with each one happening at a different time in development and under different conditions, with the process usually initiated by the transcription of the SRY gene, which is usually on the Y chromosome. If everything works fine, XX/XY chromosomes happen to be a great predictor of every other part of the body (but then again, so does every other sex differentiated organ). So in the typical case you can mostly (sex hormone levels still vary somewhat) reduce all this complexity to a binary gender abstraction.

            But you’re not arguing about a typical case, you’re arguing about trans people which is one of the cases where the system breaks down. There are many many other situations, for instance people with XXY, XXXY, XXX chromosomes, people with XX genotypes who are male in every other phenotypical way and vice versa, and many more intersex conditions.

            Unless you’re talking about inheritance of traits, the phenotype is usually much more important than the genotype, since it tells you what the person is actually like physiologically versus just the genetic information (consider twins, for instance). In that case you can’t just argue definitions and refuse to update on the information that the genetics are an inaccurate predictor of the actual person – you have to look at each part separately. See “Disguised Queries” – what you mean by gender would then depend on what you hope to infer by learning the gender in the first place. If you were doing a mammogram or breast cancer screening, if you know that the person has breasts (and possibly their hormonal levels), you don’t need to know what chromosomes or genitals or brain they have.

            With this in mind, the ethical part of the transgender thesis goes like this: If society is to have a binary gender system, and we have to make a rule to assign a social gender to exceptional cases that is ethical and helps rather than harms people, we should focus on the organ that is actually conscious, intelligent, capable of pleasure and suffering, predictive of behavior and optimal social role, and generally considered the most important part of the body – the brain. Perhaps this is my rationalist/transhumanist side, but in my mind any society that considers the welfare of its people to be ethically less important than some unthinking molecule in their bodies has lost its humanity and reverted to evolutionary paperclip maximization.

          • Leif says:

            Amy:

            if you are saying that gender is identical to XX/XY

            Not what I said. I said that when people talk about gender, I think they are talking about perception of sex, which should be identical to sex, based on the general rule that perception of X should be identical to X. Rationality involves adjusting our perceptions to match reality.

            Sex is a bit more complicated than XX/XY (and it seems like a strawman to involve chromosomes when I never mentioned them). But that doesn’t mean anyone can accurately claim to be any sex they want.

            I don’t know the specifics of how you define gender after reading your comment. You’ve said it’s in the head, but what specifically in the head? How do I, examining the contents of my own head, know which gender I am? What do I look for?

      • Deiseach says:

        I’ve been misgendered a fair few times on the Internet and that never seems to bother the people I’m arguing with particularly

        I’ve been assumed to be male and referred to as “he” a few times as well, mainly I suppose because the name I use isn’t identifiable as belonging to any particular gender. It’s been accidental, it hasn’t been intended offensively.

        If I were trans, I suppose it would be a different matter and I would be a whole lot more sensitive about it, but oftentimes it is ignorance not malice.

        • Alex says:

          Placing this here but could go in principle, anywhere in this thread

          “I’ve been assumed to be male”

          I admit to making that mistake. Why?

          1) If one had to algorithmically classify internet commenters’ gender, the classifier that defaults to male would show good performance because not so long ago interest in this new thing called the internet correlated very well with maleness. Applying this heuristics is a habit, maybe a bad habit, but one that formed because it worked.

          2) Your avatar picture, no offense, I parse, at a glance, as “David Bowie”. Along the lines of 1), “male avatar” seems to predict male far better than “female avatar” predicts female.

          3) Other than heuristics 1) and 2) we have first names to go by. This easily fails interculturally and totally fails with made-up usernames. E. g. “-a” somewhat predicts female in many languages but not in Italian “Andrea”.

          4) My, maybe faulty, grasp of English grammar prescribes using “3rd person singular” as a pronoun for “somebody”. This already allows for “he”, “she”, “he [generic]”, “she [modern generic]” and “(s)he [maybe overdoing it].

          Only by observation I can vaguely guess that the accepted solution however is “they”. This is very easy to miss.

          5) In conclusion, choice of pronouns (or what does “gendering” mean, anyway?) is an incredibly complex problem even before it comes to politics. I would expect that “misgendering” on the internet is something that happens to all people all the time. So while I’m not opposed to an anti-misgendering rule per sé, I am very doubtful how useful such a rule might be.

          6) Meta-Conclusion: The rule seems a very in-groupy thing which assumes that not only do participants know the gender the other participants identify as (or however this can be phrased more acceptable) but also they know about the non-standard grammar that is the accepted solution. This does not dampen meanness, it dampens outsiders trying to join. Since it comes from the author of “the book” on ingroup/outgroup, I have to ask: is this intentional?

        • To my surprise, someone told me they’ll been assuming I was male– my livejournal/dreamwidth handle, nancylebov, was somehow getting parsed as nancycle.

          As for ignorance as a justification, one of the things I detest about Social Justice is that they use ignorance as grounds for attack.

        • Tracy W says:

          @Deiseach, I was thinking about the times someone has told me something like “you’re only saying that because you’re a man.”

          My favourite was when I was 41 weeks pregnant and was accused of having a typically masculine negative view of pregnancy. I did have to agree that my view of pregnancy at the time was exceptionally negative.

          Anyway, yes I think it’s mostly ignorance.

        • CAE_Jones says:

          The very first person to wrongly assume I was female on the internet seemed pretty surprised when I told her how often I get mistaken for female over the phone. (And a couple times in person because I had long hair when I was 2 and 13, and another time in person because the mistaken person was blind.)
          … Actually, in my first three or so years online, I was frequently mistaken for female. I don’t think my writing style was especially feminine. Maybe it was that I didn’t realize that avatars were a thing? Now I want to archive-dive to look for clues.

          • Adam says:

            This makes me wonder how many of you I’m mentally misgendering because Ghostery blocks gravatar.

      • For some people that has nothing to do with insulting, but with speaking the truth. I know Scott disagrees with that, but I think he’s mistaken. The fact that someone wants to be called something doesn’t always mean that they are that thing.

        • Leonard says:

          True. And I would be curious how Scott would deal with a commenter who claims to be superior to other commenters and as such demands to be addressed as Your Highness, His Highness, etc. Or one who thinks he’s a dragon with matching unique made-up pronouns.

          As for speaking the truth, you never have to choose between misgendering and “mis-sexing” someone. (Curious, innit, that “mis-sexing” is not a thing, even though it’s a concern to a far greater percentage of the population than misgendering is.) You can always refer to another commenter using his name. For example, if you feel that calling Ozy “them” is wrong — and yes, I am an English snob who feels singular “them” as deeply awful; you can have my singular/plural distinction when you pry it out of my cold dead larynx — and you don’t want to go with whatever nonstandard pronouns Ozy accepts, you can simply write “Ozy” all the time instead of using a pronoun. (As I just did.) Yes, this makes somewhat stilted sentences and even more stilted paragraphs. And it does not relieve you of the burden of remembering which people get exceptional treatment. But this is Scott’s house, so you gotta obey the rules or take a hike.

          • Alex says:

            This might work for “Ozy” but it would not work for “aratherlongusername”. There is a reson, pronouns exist and that they are short.

          • Anonymous says:

            Is the gender/sex distinction a result of recent language prescriptivism, or did it exist a hundred years ago as well?

            (genuine question, I do agree that prescriptivism or not this is Scott’s garden in the end)

          • Anonymous says:

            @Anon

            I think it’s recent. “Gender” used to be a grammatical concept, where “sex” was the descriptor used for people, rather than words. I know at least one language that still has only the latter, and the former means exclusively the grammatical aspect of a word.

          • LHN says:

            Is the gender/sex distinction a result of recent language prescriptivism, or did it exist a hundred years ago as well?

            It was at least sufficiently below the radar that the pithy grammatical truism “Nouns have gender, people have sex” had some currency.

          • Winfried says:

            @Alex

            Some people take offense at shortening their name a well. At best you are kicking the problem down the road a few paces.

          • Agronomous says:

            There is a reason pronouns exist and that they are short.

            Because saying all those nouns over and over can really wear you down?

      • Jaskologist says:

        Because most people don’t do it to be insulting, they do it to be truthful.

        Imagine the following comments policy:

        There are five lights in this picture. Anybody who says otherwise will be banned.

        Also, there are people who go around periodically go around asking “how many lights do you see?”

        • ChetC3 says:

          So you wouldn’t object to someone describing you as a racist, say, or a misogynist, so long as they said their sense of honesty compelled it?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The sort of person who calls people racist non-ironically isn’t going to give people they think are racists a pass because of a “safe space”; the safe space is supposed to protect people from racists, so it’s even more important to call them out.

            Which is to say – if it’s the sort of thing they do, they’re going to do so regardless of the norms of the environment. (Online, at least. In person, less so.)

            So I feel like a false bargain is being offered here – look, nobody will call you a racist/misogynist in exchange for you treating other people the way they want to be treated. Except you can’t actually offer people not calling other people racists/misogynists.

          • James Picone says:

            @Orphan Wilde:
            That doesn’t have much bearing on whether or not you object to people calling you a racist or sexist if they really believe it.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know about Jaskologist, but I wouldn’t object, if there were at all grounds for calling me a racist/misogynist. Especially not on the internet, where the opinion of complete strangers should not have any power.

            If this were in real life, and I either thought they were provably wrong, I’d sue for defamation. If they weren’t wrong – at least in some reasonably interpretable way, like maybe I don’t think all races are equal, or maybe think men are stronger than women – then what exactly is the problem?

          • If I objected to someone referring to me as a racist it would be on the grounds that I am not one, not on the grounds that I don’t consider myself one. Reality is out there–it isn’t defined by my beliefs.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            @David Friedman:

            What is the reality about whether or not you’re a racist defined by, rather than by your beliefs?

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I think he means that whether he’s a racist is defined by his beliefs / attitudes about race, not whether or not he identifies as a racist.

            Assuming that the word racist refers to anything other than itself, there has to be some way to objectively distinguish between a racist and a non-racist at least in theory. If the only thing that makes you a racist the belief that you are a racist, then the word is utterly useless.

          • caryatis says:

            The difference is that calling someone a racist is an insult (the term has no agreed-upon content). Calling someone a man or a woman is a statement of fact.

        • Good Burning Plastic says:

          Yes there are — the fifth one is behind the guy. 😉

      • John Schilling says:

        Why rules against misgendering people in particular seem too oppressive?

        Because sometimes such rules force people to lie, or engage in elaborate circumlocutions to avoid lying. One of the live issues in gender politics is whether or not people with working penises should be allowed into the safe spaces for people who don’t want to have to worry about being vaginally raped right this moment. Insisting that we refer to a subset of people with working penises as “women”, does not exactly foster clear communication on the subject and I think unfairly handicaps one side in the debate.

        And because sometimes it seems that the whole point of the exercise is a “There Are Four Lights” level of enforced social control.

        If you want to insult someone there’s plenty of gender-neutral ways of doing so.

        And sometimes when people use these words with their classic meanings, it isn’t actually because they want to insult people.

        Nineteen times out of twenty, referring to a transgendered person with their preferred pronoun is a cheap, harmless courtesy. The twentieth time, it is the demand that I do so that is insulting. As an absolute policy, “no misgendering the transgendered” does strike me as oppressive, and it is one I will probably end up violating at some point.

        • Anonymous says:

          One of the live issues in gender politics is whether or not people with working penises should be allowed into the safe spaces for people who don’t want to have to worry about being vaginally raped right this moment.

          It’s funny how we don’t need background checks to sell guns because the criminals aren’t going to follow the law anyway, but rapists are totally going to be frustrated in their rape schemes because the law says they aren’t allowed in the bathroom.

          I will probably end up violating at some point.

          Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

          • Anonymous says:

            There’s shitty arguments for gun control, hence we can deploy similarly shitty arguments for bathroom laws?

          • Evan Þ says:

            That’s a poor comparison. With gun control, there’s already a law saying, “Felons shall not be allowed to buy guns.” The traditionalists’ whole argument in the bathroom case is that there should be just such a law saying, “People with male genitals shall not be allowed in the ladies’ room.” In both cases, this signifies cultural disapproval and empowers people to speak up (or call the cops) if they know someone’s violating it.

            The analogous situation to background checks would be different – a law requiring armed guards outside bathrooms inspecting people’s genitals before letting them in the main door, but leaving open a side door (analogous to illegal purchases) with no guards.

          • nyccine says:

            It’s funny how we don’t need background checks to sell guns because the criminals aren’t going to follow the law anyway, but rapists are totally going to be frustrated in their rape schemes because the law says they aren’t allowed in the bathroom.

            This is a wonderful example of how being emotionally invested in a preferred outcome clouds one’s judgment. A policy of “no men in ladies’ rooms” means staff immediately acts to head off anyone going in who shouldn’t be there, security gets called straight away, and women can immediately raise a fuss the moment they spot a man walking in. None of this happens if everyone has to walk on eggshells for fear of being labeled transphobic.

          • Anonymous says:

            You’re right, your comment is a wonderful example of that.

            There are lots of trans-accepting bathrooms out there in the world already. How many rapes have taken place in them? How does that compare to similarly situated non-trans-accepting bathrooms?

        • sweeneyrod says:

          I don’t believe you are prohibited from referring to transwomen in general as men (although it seems better to refer to them as transwomen in any case, because they are not central examples of men), but merely from using specific pronouns for people who have asked you to use others. As I interpret the rule, you can even call a specific transman a woman (provided you do so in a way that is either kind or necessary).

          • John Schilling says:

            So if it is either kind or necessary I can refer to a specific transman as “woman” but not as “her”?

            Clearly “not allowed to actually misgender…” contains a great deal of detail for people who know the code. Is there an online version of the codebook, because none of this is actually clear to me.

          • Creutzer says:

            The gender features of pronouns are presuppositional. By referring to someone with a pronoun, you present it as uncontroversial that they are that gender. It’s a kind of “When did you stop beating your wife?” thing.

            Hypothesis: That’s what makes it so offensive to the misgendered person.

            Prediction: “that woman” should be perceived as equally offensive as “she”.

        • Tracy W says:

          Because sometimes such rules force people to lie, or engage in elaborate circumlocutions to avoid lying.

          But this strikes me as being nothing particular to misgendering. I went through a stage where I would quite often rewrite my comments to be much politer and less sure of myself (driven admittedly as much by some times when I’d been the subject of a well-deserved smack down as well as by a general felt moral obligation to politeness).

          Saying “have you considered?” Or “why do you think that….?” instead of “you idiot” doesn’t strike me as any less of an inconvenience than editing “he says…” to “[name] says….”

          • Adam says:

            This happens to me so much. Not here as much, as there are notably fewer idiots than on most of the Internet, but a huge proportion of everything I ever type into a comment box I never submit.

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s a difference between editing for tone and editing for avoiding forbidden truth. I haven’t spent a lot of time in China, but I’m familiar with the various dodges that people have to use to even hint at criticism of the regime, e.g. the fictitious date of “May 35” because suggesting that anything ever happened on June 4 gets the banhammer.

            I would rather not see that sort of thing being made necessary here. And no, it’s not something that can always be avoided by substituting a personal name for a pronoun or something similarly trivial.

          • Tracy W says:

            @John Schelling:
            But from the sound of Scott’s description this is a tone thing. You can argue for the position that transgender isn’t a thing. What you can’t do is assert that someone is a man after they say they’re a woman.

            I am having trouble imagining a situation in English where you have to refer to someone as being of a particular gender to make your point, even though you disagree with the gender they assert. Can you give an example of this happening in English? (Specifying in English as clearly Polish has its own issues.)

          • Anonymous says:

            @Tracy

            He doesn’t have to anything, not even post here!

          • John Schilling says:

            @Tracy W: If we’re going to make a point of referring to people in the manner they prefer, I will take pointed objection to your misspelling my name 🙂

            As for the specific request. If, as previously mentioned, we are having the safe-spaces-for-the-vaginally-endowed debate, and Janet with a penis says “I am a woman; I clearly can’t use the men’s showers at the gym. If you say I can’t use the woman’s showers in spite of my being a woman you are really saying that I can’t go to the gym at all and that’s oppressing me”, then in fairness I need to be free to rebut that claim by saying, “Janet, in this context at least you are a man and not a woman”. I don’t need to use pronouns to do so, but I do need to be able to deny Janet’s status as a woman.

            And, as I might be wrong, she needs to be able to defend her status as a woman, both of us having full use of the English language to make our claims.

            If the next day the group is going out to lunch and Janet wearing a dress and not sending mixed signals suggests the new Thai place, I might well respond with “Janet makes a good suggestion and I think we should do what she says”.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            If the next day the group is going out to lunch and Janet wearing a dress and not sending mixed signals suggests the new Thai place, I might well respond with “Janet makes a good suggestion and I think we should do what she says”.

            Okay, thanks for a halfway realistic example. I have been puzzled by what I’m remembering posters saying, something like “address me as I wish to be addressed”.

            No one sfaik minds being addressed as “you”* — the second person pronoun. ‘He’ and ‘she’ are third person pronouns; nobody gets addressed by those anyway. Those words don’t come up when Cis Person is talking _to_ Trans Person; only when Cis Person is talking to Someone Else _about_ Trans Person. Which is seldom in Trans Person’s presence.

            Which is why I’m calling your Janet/Thai example only halfway realistic. It doesn’t need any pronoun at all; adding one is just clunky. It’s much smoother to say “[….] So let’s do Thai.”

            If you wanted to establish Janet’s credibility (perhaps at a formal business conference), repeating her name would be better than a pronoun.

            * Now, “y’all” is a different matter, honey.

          • John Schilling says:

            It’s much smoother to say “[….] So let’s do Thai.”

            But that doesn’t acknowledge Janet as the one who initially suggested Thai and found the neat new Thai restaurant. I can find ways to do that, and in the example lead with one, but they are sort of clunky.

            To the extent that microaggressions are a thing, does it count when someone gets credit for her ideas only half as often as anyone else because the various ways to say “her idea” are either linguistically clunky or on the unmarked fringe of a Social Justice minefield?

          • Tracy W says:

            @John:
            My apologies for misspelling your name.

            On the Janet issue, I note that your suggested reply ““Janet, in this context at least you are a man and not a woman”.” doesn’t actually rebut Janet’s argument. It doesn’t say what changing room Janet should use, and instead it’s likely to get you entangled in an argument about what a woman really is. (This isn’t specific to arguments about definitions of gender, in my experience arguments about definitions of ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’ or whatever tend to be equally pointless. The only situation I’ve found arguments about definitions to be useful is if you’re arguing about how someone else used a word or phrase, eg what did Jane Austen mean by “family circle”.

            Taking the situation as stipulated, it strikes me as much more straight forward to say something like “Janet, you have a penis, so you shouldn’t be using the woman’s changing rooms because [whatever argument you have for there being changing rooms for the vaginally-endowed.]” This is assuming that Janet has already openly said she has a penis, if you would be revealing private information you could go generic and say “People with penises shouldn’t be using the women’s changing room because…. “

        • Loquat says:

          One of the live issues in gender politics is whether or not people with working penises should be allowed into the safe spaces for people who don’t want to have to worry about being vaginally raped right this moment.

          It’s fascinating to me that this can co-exist, in heavily overlapping demographics, with the issue over #notallmen/#yesallwomen in which men are expected to understand, and try to accommodate, that many women will regard them as Schroedinger’s Rapists in a wide variety of scenarios.

        • BBA says:

          My guess is, in a few decades’ time all restrooms will simply be labeled “restroom” and gendered labels will look just as backward and bigoted as the racial labels of the Jim Crow era look now.

    • Wrong Species says:

      I think this is a situation where no consistent meta rule can really apply. You either have to accept the concept of misgendering and agree with trans people or you don’t. There isn’t a way to disagree with trans people without being offensive.

      • “There isn’t a way to disagree with trans people without being offensive.”

        Why is that true of this issue, not true of other issues where people disagree?

        Can you disagree with someone who believes that global warming is a terrible threat without being offensive? That it isn’t? With someone who believes that taxation is theft? That property is theft?

        • Wrong Species says:

          Because there isn’t a neutral way to refer to a trans person. With global warming there are people who are opposed to the idea of it happening at an alarming rate and are referred to as either a denier or a skeptic but at least in principle it’s possible. The English language doesn’t have a gender neutral third person singular so it forces us to take a side just by talking about it.

          • I wasn’t planning on living in an era when third person pronouns and the weather are political issues. When I put it that way, it sounds so much like satire.

            This isn’t exactly solid evidence for the simulation hypothesis, but I’m tempted.

          • onyomi says:

            I think that the fact that bathrooms, the weather, and third person pronoun usage have become premier issues for the cultural elite is actually a serious problem, and a symptom of what I think has caused Trump: berating people who can’t find a job about this sort of thing is the 21st c. equivalent of “let them eat cake.”

          • To my mind, the really deadly thing is the belief that it’s urgent to convince very poor white people that they’re in general in some sense better off than black people.

  16. Thursday says:

    I don’t think this really gets how group norms are established. As a social conservative, I’m in favour of informal social norms, such as shaming, doing most of the work to discourage many immoral behaviours. While I’m not opposed to morals legislation in all cases, I don’t think that any comprehensive attempt to supervise people’s sex lives through law is likely to be either successful or humane. It has to be done informally, mostly without coordination. (BTW that also means it’s pretty much useless to have social conservative laws unless the population is already socially conservative.)

    One also has to consider how norms are changed. They aren’t mostly changed by discussion, but by people actually testing things out by practice. That means people may test the waters and try to shame someone for something. And if the people around them allow them to get away with it then that helps establish a new norm.

    • Paolo Giarrusso says:

      But I’d have thought that conservative informal social norms are in fact coordinated, though not explicitly though the rule of law. You just live like your ancestors taught you to live, don’t you?
      Or maybe I’m misunderstanding — I just spent a month around people grown in a village in rural society before ’68, and that’s what I’m thinking about.

  17. Alex Z says:

    I like your point, but I think you could emphasize more strongly the idea that coordination is necessary but not sufficient.

    Also, presumably, you are still some kind of utilitarian-like person and you propose this rule as a useful heuristic, not a deontological principle. If that is the case, you should clarify. As some people have pointed out, sometimes, uncoordinated meanness is “good” because it helps change standards.

  18. Obrigatorio says:

    Aren’t you just rehashing Weber’s ideas on the monopoly of violence?

  19. Outis says:

    I think “coordination” is a very poor choice of words for the concept you want to express. A crime syndicate is coordination. A harassment campaign is coordination.

    What you really mean is that meanness should be sanctioned and enacted by the state, i.e. the monopoly on force.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree, “coordination” doesn’t sound like the right word to my ear. Though Scott is trying to generalize beyond the state, so “state monopoly on force” isn’t quite right either.

  20. Anon says:

    If we accept theories like the wisdom of crowds or the marketplace of ideas – and we better, if we’re small-d democrats, small-r republicans, small-l liberals, or basically any word beginning with a lowercase letter at all –

    I think totalitarians would disagree, along with most communists and anti-majoritarians.

  21. The principle of being nice until you can coordinate meanness does a good job justifying rule 1, no-shaming. The connection between the main argument and rule 2, however, is more tenuous. Scott implies that when people misgender, it’s because they’re being mean for the greater good, but when people insist on misgendering it often has nothing to do with such concerns. Rather, misgendering, to the misgenderer, is about resisting a usurpation of power; the misgenderer objects to being forced to use language they believe to be misleading, or even false. If the misgenderer is a strictly observant Kantian, then complying with Scott’s rule 2 is literally not an option, no matter how much they want to participate in the SSC community, no matter how “nice” they may wish to be, unless they just avoid using pronouns at all.

    Of course SSC is Scott’s space and the rule makes sense. But I think the above is worth noting, because it means that “safe spaces” do more than Scott’s post implies. Safe spaces are inherently political. They’re about protecting a community from people who might be hostile to it. But Scott seems to think safe spaces just prohibit certain kinds of meanness, and so prevent political opponents from attacking the community within the safe space. This is false; safe spaces also define what counts as mean, and so, at least sometimes, prevent political opponents from entering the space in good conscience, even when said opponents don’t *want* to be mean at all. Some disagreements are strong enough that no matter how not-mean the two sides are, they can meet only on ground where meanness is not prohibited.

    • Tracy W says:

      But is a misgenderer being forced to use language they believe is false? How often do you have to refer to someone’s gender?

      I once saw a play in which a revelation turned on the character’s gender not being what was thought. After the big reveal we read the programme with renewed interest and it indeed carefully avoided any mention of the performer’s gender.

      • Anonymous says:

        It’s not a really huge issue in English. In any language where grammatical gender plays a role, it is a great problem.

        • Vamair says:

          I’ve talked in a gender-neutral way in Russian a few times when I didn’t know the gender of a person I was talking to. That’s a fun challenge, actually. There’s a hack that you can talk about “a doctor” using masculine forms even if the doctor in question is female because the word “doctor” is masculine and using female forms would be bad grammar.

    • Anon says:

      > If the misgenderer is a strictly observant Kantian, then complying with Scott’s rule 2 is literally not an option

      Obviously false: just avoid giving a gender at all. Inconvenient, but certainly does not prevent participation.

      This is important, since in fact “safe spaces also define what counts as mean, and so, at least sometimes, prevent political opponents from entering the space in good conscience” is not true. It only prevents political opponents from expressing certain views.

      • Jiro says:

        Inconvenient, but certainly does not prevent participation.

        Beware trivial inconveniences. Being inconvenient may be defacto prevention of participation, especially if you require a continuous stream of trivial inconveniences such that your target is likely to slip up at some point and the slipup is used to ban him. (Or two slipups are used to ban him with the first being a “warning”.)

        • Anonymous says:

          I think what’s going to happen is a lot of conscientious objectors to anti-misgendering are going to adopt some form of evasion of the issue, such as avoiding pronouns vs known transgender people, then it’s going to become a local shibboleth – insisting on referring to someone by their name or handle being a way to recognize people who find referring to transsexuals by their chosen pronouns to be dishonest or oppressive – and then Scott is going to start banning people for complying with the letter of the law, but not its spirit (whatever that is).

          • Deiseach says:

            Re: the toaster thing on Tumblr, I’m quite happy to refer to someone as a toaster if they ask me to do so (you’re a complete stranger to me, we’re never going to meet in real life, it’s no skin off either of our noses) just so long as they don’t demand I actively work to change my perception in order to believe heart and soul that they actually are a toaster if I can’t convince my brain’s visual processing that they are a toaster.

            If that’s misgendering and grounds for banning, then let me be banned.

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: the toaster thing on Tumblr, I’m quite happy to refer to someone as a toaster if they ask me to do so (you’re a complete stranger to me, we’re never going to meet in real life, it’s no skin off either of our noses) just so long as they don’t demand I actively work to change my perception in order to believe heart and soul that they actually are a toaster if I can’t convince my brain’s visual processing that they are a toaster.

            If that’s misgendering and grounds for banning, then let me be banned.

            I don’t particularly object to some lighthearted roleplaying or joking around. So long as both parties know that there are no actual toasters involved, that the toasterosity is imaginary. Not so much if the other party actually wishes me, unironically, not joking, to confirm what I see as a delusion.

            I mean, I certainly wouldn’t feed a schizophrenic’s paranoia about imaginary thieves by pretending to admit that they’re real. I’d try to get them to take their meds instead, and avoid the topic of thievery whenever possible.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            I expect the medical community will already be working on a transition procedure, involving surgery and testoasterone pills 🙂

            …I’ll get my coat.

    • JBeshir says:

      I agree with the conclusion here about the inherently political nature of safe spaces, that a space isn’t safe for everyone at once because conflicting access needs, etc. That said, the thing that strikes me here is…

      Whenever my family visits my grandmother, on my father’s side, we say grace before eating, despite that she’s the only one of us who is Christian. This requires me to lie in what I repeat, and to give implicit endorsement to a memeplex that I think is actually responsible for a fair bit of harm.

      And yet it would be very rude for me to obviously refuse to say it, let alone to express atheistic views or something else directly contradictory at that point. For me it is something that maybe is part of an undesirable social phenomenon; for them it is core to their identity. It would be perceived, correctly, as prioritising social campaigning over a family member if I were to ‘conscientiously object’ there and then, to resist the implicit assumption of Christianity or whatever in that manner.

      Something can be both about resisting an usurpation of power, and be meanness for the greater good, and even be unacceptable meanness for the greater good.

      And there are no strict Kantians. Human refusal to be indirectly complicit/casually entangled in things, is tactically deployed. What people can’t do in “good conscience” reflects the underlying tactical situation remarkably well. It is always aimed at things which still seem in flux in society, at where they think they can achieve change or at least awareness. It isn’t a natural consequence of being generally radically honest; it’s people noticing that being radically honest rather than abiding by social niceties there and then offers a lever on the world.

      This is okay, but people judge you for where you do that and you can’t credibly appeal to “I was forced to by general rules”.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        And yet it would be very rude for me to obviously refuse to say it, let alone to express atheistic views or something else directly contradictory at that point. For me it is something that maybe is part of an undesirable social phenomenon; for them it is core to their identity. It would be perceived, correctly, as prioritising social campaigning over a family member if I were to ‘conscientiously object’ there and then, to resist the implicit assumption of Christianity or whatever in that manner.

        It doesn’t seem particularly rude to me to simply sit there with your head bowed and/or eyes closed and not say anything. If you won’t allow prayers to be said in your presence, yes, you’re being a dick. But your grandmother would be being just as much of one if she were to insist that you say it in contradiction to your beliefs.

        Actually, for all their faults, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have a good policy about this, since they have so many idiosyncratic objections to things like the Pledge of Allegiance. Their rule is to do one less “step” than everyone else, to strike a middle ground where they’re not appearing to endorse it but also not causing a fuss. So if everyone else stands up and puts their hand over their heart to say the Plege, they stand up but don’t put their hand over their heart.

        • JBeshir says:

          I’ll agree with that. I think if you go through the motions but don’t actually speak it’s not the same as obviously ignoring their request or stating refusal. It isn’t even entirely unambiguous that you did refuse.

          I hadn’t heard of that rule, and I think that’s a fairly good rule in general, so long as it successfully avoids causing a fuss.

          If it does you probably do have to resolve the object level question as to whether the downsides of resisting mandatory patriotism or whatever the objection is are worth the fuss. Yes is a valid opinion, though.

      • “And there are no strict Kantians. …”

        This is correct to a large extent, but some people are closer to being “radically honest” than others. And in terms of this transgender discussion, talking about “always aimed at things which still seem in flux in society” isn’t really fair for this reason:

        I think that “the pronoun ‘she’ implies that a person is biologically female” is a true statement. Scott’s comparison with the borders of countries actually argues against his own position. For example, it is currently utterly false that “the state of Iowa falls along the western border of the United States.” And I think it is equally false to assert that gendered pronouns do not say anything about a person’s biological sex.

        But he is right about this: if the whole world wanted to do that, we could in fact make the western border of the US fall there. In the same way, if everyone agrees in the future to use pronouns in a way consistent with transgender, it will in fact have changed the meaning of the pronouns. So someone who wants to be radically honest will go along with it in that context, but they will not go along with it now, if they hold the above opinion about the current meaning of words. That is because of things being in flux: it is about what the meaning of a word is at various times.

        Although this is Scott’s blog and he has a right to any rules he wants, I personally find that rule pretty terrifying, because Scott is a pretty nice person and if he thinks a rule like that is reasonable, that could be a bad sign for me, because I am very far along the spectrum towards the radically honest side. That could mean e.g. it could end up impossible for me to hold a job in the future, even if not because of this particular type of rule, but because of similar rules (which in essence are an attempt to force a point of view about the facts on a person.)

        • Anonymous says:

          You may want to practice some mental reservation.

          • Evan Þ says:

            “The Protestants considered these doctrines as mere justifications for lies. Catholic ethicists also voiced objections: the Jansenist “Blaise Pascal…attacked the Jesuits in the seventeenth century for what he saw as their moral laxity.””

        • Mary says:

          “But he is right about this: if the whole world wanted to do that, we could in fact make the western border of the US fall there. ”

          By this do you mean we could remove all parts of the US that fall west of it, or that we could somehow set up a system where it’s the western border in spite of not being on the border to the west?

    • James Picone says:

      There’s a symmetric argument by social-justice people about calling Republicans fascists, or whatever other random grouping and insult. Are your ethics consistent there?

      • FacelessCraven says:

        @James Picone – “There’s a symmetric argument by social-justice people about calling Republicans fascists, or whatever other random grouping and insult. Are your ethics consistent there?”

        Can’t speak for him, but I don’t have a problem with that. Casual rudeness and spite to my groups have been the norm much of my life. I don’t really get that worked up about it.

        On the other hand, I don’t really have a problem using “they” for, say, Ozy.

        • Viliam says:

          Casual rudeness and spite to my groups have been the norm much of my life. I don’t really get that worked up about it.

          Yeah. At some moment the insults just become a part of background noise. Instead of “oh, did I do something wrong?” now the automatical thought is “oh, it’s that rude person talking again. Ignore”.

          If SJWs tried to be even more rude, they would be just plainly silly. I would probably enjoy that. (That’s why their next step is trying to get people fired from their jobs or something like that. The rude words have already lost all their power to shock.)

          My decisions about whether and when to be polite are exactly that: my own decisions. By default I usually choose to be polite, unless I believe there is something more important at stake. If someone would decide that they are a giraffe, I would probably play along, because why not. If I would randomly forget this fact, I would probably apologize, and even feel slightly guilty because I have upset a weird person for no good reason; but if someone would suggest I have actually committed a horrible crime, I would tell them to grow up.

          (By the way, I would be perfectly okay with having a norm of calling literally everyone “they”, because that wouldn’t feel like random people imposing their own whims on me. Even better, we could have a script for replacing “he” and “she” with “they” automatically.)

      • The symmetric argument, I suppose, is that social-justice people have to call Republicans fascists because not to do so would be dishonest? I don’t know that this makes much sense, because I don’t see how not saying something could be dishonest. You can always just stay silent. Everyone keeps quiet about some things some times, that’s how being polite works. The pronouns are an issue for the the traditional-gender-roles Kantian only because pronouns are (in some sense) more central to language than other words. It’s easy to be honest while avoiding calling someone a fascist, even if they are one; it’s hard to talk to someone when there is no pronoun you can use for them that both of you will find acceptable. But people are right (and I said as much in my post) that the Kantian can participate, so long as he accepts the inconvenience of avoiding pronoun usage. If it ever comes to be the case, as others have suggested, that pronoun-avoidance itself is seen as a form of misgendering, then the Kantian will really be in trouble.

        (Sidebar: I suspect a Kantian could justify using someone’s preferred pronouns if he scare-quoted them. But I doubt the trans person would be happy about their pronouns being scare-quoted like that. What would Scott’s policy be on such scare-quoting?)

        So, the above is why I don’t think any SJ people really need to call Republicans fascist—they just want to. But what I think doesn’t matter! What matters is if they think that calling Republicans fascists is obligatory. In which case… well, you asked whether my ethics are consistent, but I didn’t espouse any ethical principles in my post, so I’m not sure how to answer. All I said was that certain facts followed from certain other facts. In this case, the people who feel obliged to yell “fascist” will be unable to participate in any forum where accusations of fascism are banned, and so any attempt to engage with them in rational discourse will require a willingness to be subjected to such accusations. The general point is that it’s unhelpful and a bit self-serving say “you can make any argument within this space so long as you’re nice.” Your definition of nice already excludes the participation of those who would make certain arguments, and not because they’re trying to be mean, but because their beliefs make certain actions obligatory which you think intolerable.

        Incidentally, this is a specific instance of a broader problem with the position: “A wants X to be the case, and B wants Y? Well, let’s make sure neither can force their preferences on the other, and then have them talk about it and maybe come to an agreement.” This works fine with disagreements about taxes and other things that can be described objectively. It doesn’t work very well with disagreements about identity and things like it, where what’s at stake is how we should talk in the first place.

      • If they believe Republicans are fascists there is no strong reason not to say so. They should, of course, be prepared to defend that belief.

        I don’t think it is rude to hold beliefs that happen to be false, although it’s usually better to hold true beliefs. And if you believe something, it is not rude to say so.

        • Creutzer says:

          I think there is a case to be made that it’s rude to be epistemically irresponsible in believing bad things about other people (and then pronounce that belief). It’s reasonable to assume that most people who believe X are fascists probably do so in an epistemically irresponsible manner; it’s unlikely that they have really considered what the defining features of fascism are and whether they apply to X.

  22. Fahundo says:

    And reinventing utilitarianism is pretty cool, but after you do that you no longer have such an easy time arguing against the drug war – somebody’s going to argue that it leads to the greater good of there being fewer drugs.

    Wouldn’t someone who argued that be completely wrong though? I’m no expert but I was definitely under the impression that the price of illegal drugs eg heroin was going down since the drug war, and availability going up.

    • Anon says:

      Something something correlation something causation. Note that whether that’s true or you just pulled it straight out of your ass, decriminalization and legalization would cause drug prices to fall further.

      • Fahundo says:

        Where exactly was causation implied?

        • Paolo Giarrusso says:

          Well, you tried to refute
          > somebody’s going to argue that it [the drug war] leads to the greater good of there being fewer drugs

          and that’s about causation, so either you talk about causation or your refutation is invalid.

          In plainer terms: That statement claims that waging the drug war causes higher prices than not waging the drug war; that’s compatible with other factors causing drug prices to fall exactly when the drug war started (assuming and not conceding that this fact be true), exactly because of correlation vs causation.

          • Fahundo says:

            In plainer terms: That statement claims that waging the drug war causes higher prices than not waging the drug war; that’s compatible with other factors caujsing drug prices to fall exactly when the drug war started (assuming and not conceding that this fact be true), exactly because of correlation vs causation.

            This is still not incompatible with what I said. If the drug war caused prices to rise by a small amount, and then other factors caused prices to fall by a large amount, then thenet effect is still a failure to raise prices.

            We’re left with the tautology that if drugs are equally or more available, then they didn’t become less available.

          • Steven says:

            For what it’s worth, there are economic studies that attempt to answer the question of whether drug prohibition causes prices to increase.
            Nearly universally they find that prohibition causes susbtantial price increases, although there is some dispute about the exact magnitude.
            Here’s one good example, written by an advocate of legalization:

            Jeffrey A. Miron (2003) The Effect of Drug Prohibition on Drug Prices: Evidence from the Markets for Cocaine and Heroin, Review of Economics and Statistics, 85(3): 522-530, http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/003465303322369696#.VyjMVIQgtD8 ($), http://www.antoniocasella.eu/archila/MIRON_2003.pdf (ungated working paper version).

    • Wrong Species says:

      If you honestly don’t think drug legalization would lead to higher drug consumption than you are just straight out ignoring basic economics.

      • Fahundo says:

        Ending the War on Drugs is not the same as legalization. Lots of things are illegal without having wars fought against them.

  23. Said Achmiz says:

    So what actually constitutes shaming? Can we have a definition?

    • Paolo Giarrusso says:

      It’s easier to “be nice”, since being nice is crucial for society and is taught. We also have tested ways for regulating niceness — apologizing to each other when there’s a misunderstanding .

      Shaming is probably hard to fully define, but in the context of Scott issues with feminism & C., this seems clearly about “shaming” as advocated by the Social Justice movement. Not sure that’s a good definition, but it works if you belong to that movement and want to shame somebody.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        I don’t belong to that movement. Care to report what their definition is?

        Edit: Also, I actually don’t think that’s at all the type (politically speaking) of shaming that Scott was mostly talking about.

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          The social justice movement type of shaming consists in the second half of this list of behaviors that Scott disapproves:

          beating people in dark alleys, picketing their funerals, shaming them, harassing them, doxxing them, getting them fired from their jobs

          As for the other types of political shaming, he explicitly mentioned mis-gendering trans people and being mean to people for being promiscuous.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Is mockery ok? Can I mock someone, personally and directly, for having bad ideas? (As long as I don’t doxx them etc., or misgender them etc.)

            We shouldn’t be mean to people for being promiscuous, ok. Is there anything for which we can be mean to them? (Themselves being mean to others, perhaps? Or not even that?)

          • Milan says:

            As long as you are mocking the for the bad ideas, I would say yes. (Although you should always do it with style, if I may recommend.)

            The problem is, that more often than not, mocking for the bad ideas tends to quickly give place to mocking for belonging to a group, and then for looking and behaving in a certain way, which can be very much not okay.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Milan:

            Well, fair enough. The point I was making in this thread is that I’d like to hear Scott’s definition (or have him endorse one of the commenter-supplied ones). Until then, the new rules are quite vague…

    • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

      How about “Anything which conveys the message that the other person’s opinion or action constitutes a moral failing, not a mere error.”

      • nyccine says:

        “Anything which conveys the message that the other person’s opinion or action constitutes a moral failing, not a mere error.”

        Which means any insistence that certain behaviors are evidence of moral failure, or certain behaviors should not be done, is “shaming.” Scott’s argument is just another iteration of “Hate Speech isn’t Free Speech;” just as there is not, in practice, any meaningful difference between “Hate Speech” and “Speech I don’t like,” there is no difference between criticizing specific behaviors and “shaming” the person doing those things.

        • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

          Yes, that’s a fairly accurate summary of what I understand “shaming” to mean. I get the impression that you don’t agree, but I can’t tell where the disagreement lies.

  24. Thecommexokid says:

    “Defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

    • Said Achmiz says:

      This is a disingenuous line. Who defends positions by citing free speech? What people defend, when they cite free speech in such arguments, is free speech.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Defending a position by citing free speech is sort of the ultimate concession; you’re saying that the most compelling thing you can say for your position is that it’s not literally illegal to express.”

      Sometimes you have to remind the jerks that yes, this is perfectly legal for me to say this, sorry but your frothing lynch mob will have to dissipate. And no, sneering at the reminder that this is exercise of free speech still does not make you right and me wrong.

      • Milan says:

        One would assume though that you have other arguments for your standpoint beside legality.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Perhaps I do, but whether that’s the case is none of your business, insofar as the topic of the discussion is “should I be permitted to say what I am saying”.

          • Milan says:

            I think the quotes are about the situation (quite frequently seen on the internet), when somebody voices an argument, which then gets soundly defeated by facts/sources/common sense, and then the person retreats to free speech as a final fallback position.
            Is he allowed to do this? Yes. Should this behavior be strongly discouraged? In my opinion, also yes.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t see the “say what you will but that’s just my opinion” employed as a last defense nowadays. The quote seems more like a jab pointed at the vague direction of free speech to me.

          • Milan says:

            We probably frequent different parts of the internet, although I will agree that simply disregarding the counterargument and just trying to label the other side as something bad are more frequent tactics on “my side” as well.

          • “I think the quotes are about the situation (quite frequently seen on the internet), when somebody voices an argument, which then gets soundly defeated by facts/sources/common sense, and then the person retreats to free speech as a final fallback position.”

            I cannot remember having ever seen that argument made explicitly in an online discussion.

        • Anonymous says:

          One would assume though that you have other arguments for your standpoint beside legality.

          And sometimes, the lynch mob is not interested in those.

          • Milan says:

            See my comment over yours, in reply to Said Achmiz. I don’t the quote should be applied in the situation with the lynch mob, but rather in the one described above.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’ve actually not seen that situation happen. Maybe I browse the more highbrow parts of the internet too much.

            What I have seen happen is assert A, back up A with sources and credible theory, and get denounced for asserting A. Not because it’s not true, but because it is unacceptable – the denouncing parties wishing that the one who claimed A be punished in some way for asserting it.

          • Milan says:

            If I am not mistaken, you are describing the argument “no matter if you are right or not, you should not talk about it because offensive or something”. In which case I fully support countering with “its free speech, and you can engage in some undesirable activity if you don’t like it”.
            As far as I have seen, social science would benefit a lot from this 😀

          • “If I am not mistaken, you are describing the argument “no matter if you are right or not, you should not talk about it because offensive or something”.”

            “Offensive” isn’t an adequate reason, but there might be true statements that one ought not to make in public. Consider the issue of jury nullification. One might believe that it was morally correct–that a juror who believes the crime the defendant convicted ought not to be a crime should vote for acquittal–but also believe that the consequences of that view being widespread would be bad. Similarly for the argument in favor of rational ignorance in voting.

            And, most obviously, for correct information on how to make bombs or poisons.

        • John Schilling says:

          One would assume though that you have other arguments for your standpoint beside legality.

          And if we use only those arguments, we win a few object-level battles on specific issues, but leave the general principle of free speech undefended. After a while, we don’t win the object-level battles any more because we aren’t allowed to talk about them.

          Attacking a position by dismissing the other side’s claim to freedom of speech is the ultimate arrogation; you’re saying that you don’t just want to win this debate but to control the terms of all future debates. If you try to pull that one, you can hold nothing but object-level views I strongly agree with and you’ll still find me on the other side.

    • The Nybbler says:

      This is a social justice line used to disparage free speech, and it’s wrong. It’s not a concession at all; it’s addressing a meta-issue. If I claim advocacy of some position is “free speech”, I am not defending the position itself; I am defending my right to advocate it in the first place. I understand that some of my opponents may disagree with the position utterly and completely and that is their privilege, but we should be able to agree that my advocacy of it is acceptable.

  25. drethelin says:

    I think one of the big problems with this approach is: how do you respond to covert* uncoordinated meanness? If someone is bullying you, this suggests that the correct response is NOT to fight back, but to call in a teacher or parent. Everyone is familiar with authority figures who don’t have the knowledge, incentives, or ability to actually resolve a situation. In a lot of cases centralized (perhaps OVERcentralized) systems have no proportional, appropriate, effective ways of responding to decentralized problems.

    Proportionality: If someone punches us, for example, we have little legal recourse in between not pressing charges and charging someone for assault. Sure you can limit it to misdemeanor assault, but that can still end up costing someone 6 months of their life, not to mention costing the BOTH of you a huge amount of legal time and money. The reliance on a centralized authority destroys the ability to respond swiftly and proportionately to all sorts of minor crimes. It forces escalation or surrender.

    Effectiveness: The teacher often has no direct knowledge of the bullying, no idea of what the severity may be, and no authority to intervene based on intuition or probability. This means that even if you ask a teacher to help, they might have to shrug and do nothing. This makes for a pretty ineffective response. Due Process is important, but it involves a trade-off that fundamentally leaves a lot of problems unsolved. In many parts of America, cops simply will not respond to reports of gunshots, stolen bikes, etc. This seems to me to be a serious problem with the system, and I have no proposal as to how to solve it, but a bottom-up approach is a lot more attractive than “wait for the state to become perfect.”

    Maybe on the whole it’s worse to punch back against schoolyard bullies, but my intuition tells me we can get better results if we have a consistent moral code about appropriate interpersonal meanness rather than one that forbids it entirely.

    *whether deliberately or simply through the authority’s inability to find Butt Hole Road with both hands and a map.

    • Tracy W says:

      Add in the principle of proportional self-defence?

      • drethelin says:

        The problem here is: Humans are bad at proportionality, and especially bad at proportionality in the heat of the moment. The most obvious time to punish a bully for his actions is immediately, but that’s also the moment most fraught with bias and rage. While the governmental system has a problem with escalate/ignore, responding to interpersonal violence with interpersonal violence tends to have the problem of escalate or ESCALATE.

        • Tracy W says:

          Well that’s where the bigger authority comes in. When I was being covertly bullied at school by a boy ‘accidentally’ sticking his foot out when I walked , I responded by ‘accidentally’ stepping onto his outstretched ankle with my full weight, then apologised for my clumsiness in a voice dripping with sincerity. Things stopped there.

          Legally there’s the concept of proportional self-defence.

      • anonymous says:

        There’s some reasons for disproportionate punishments to intimidating actions /implied threats, that I’d like to lay out:

        1. Most defections are not punished. There are few enough people who are willing and able to take the physical (and legal) risk to put a disincentivising stop to bad behaviour. The more such people there are, the less disproportionate responses have to be, but the reason this guy is rampaging around like that is because there are not many such people. “lunatic Vigilantes” are the only unpredictable threat that such people face. A population sprinkled with them is massively more resistant to intimidation, extortion, riots, etc.

        2. A directly proportionate response is not a disincentive. If I am a thief, -even a really incompetent thief who gets caught two thirds of the time, and all I have to do is pay back the money when I get caught, then I have no (outside) incentive to stop stealing. If I have to pay back twice the money, all i have to be i a marginally competent thief (51%+ success rate) for this to remain an industry my society encourages me to go into. If I’m a really competent thief, -95% success rate, the punishment has to, before even getting into any other factors, be 20 times disproportionate to make thieving an even-expected-utility action.

        3. pushing people around and getting away with it is not just pushing people around. It is a live oppurtunity to transition from your position of tyrant into violence, theft, rape, etc.

        4. Little old ladies are not universally psychologically prepared to be around violence, and the implied threat of more. The harm done to the old lady is not primarily that she was moved several feet several times against her will, (though that is dangerous if she is frail), it’s that a lunatic deliberately put her in close contact with his willingness to be violent, -in a position where she was helpless to stop him. And this lack of psychological preparedness is not a unique feature of little old laides.

        5. Intimidation is also a thing. If there is an 80% certainty that over the course of this guy’s life, he gets away with it, and that if he doesn’t all that happens is he goes to jail, it’s psychologically a lot harder for the little old lady to avoid fear, -she is much more likely reduced to the status of a non combatant. If there are genuine threats to the minityrant, it’s much easier to adopt the mantle of soldier. It’s the difference between waiting and hoping for the cavalry to arrive, and waiting to die, leaving it entirely in the hands of a demonstrating sadist.

        5. Humans are often overconfident. If someone has a 95% success rate at their favoured anti-other-people activity (and probably 100% so far), but believes they have a 99%, 99.9%, or 100% success rate, putting them off doing so

        6. For many people, violence is existentially satisfying. If it’s not just about potential profits, but about being a hard man who doesn’t shrink from the true face of the world, nor the risks, who “sees” that e.g. only wolves prosper among sheep, and only the strongest most worthy wolves, then you’re talking about a whole different level of necessarry incentive. Unfortunately criminal’s / traitor’s ideologies are strong forces in the real world.

        7. Lowlifes and degenerates are not known for being particularly well attuned to subtle messages. They believe that force is a language, and that it trumps all others. Unfortunately, this is a very workable model of the world, and one highly resistant to being refuted except on its own terms (but not the individual acolyte’s own terms, of course).

        8. Humans don’t like to see injustice paraded around, especially if it’s injustice against them. There’s a difference between a crime carried out surrepticiously, and one carried out of people for being too gentle to. Even purely on aesthetic grounds, what could be more appropriate than to prove them gravely mistaken?

        Intimidation is not just a temptation, or a profiteering thing, often enough it’s a creed, and it begs out for the incidental, but final, refutation of an appropriate response.

         

        The only contention I might have with the above post is the possible implication that there were not higher levels of force which would have been, in an ultimate sense, more appropriate (though perhaps not in practice). I don’t applaud his christian restraint, except insofar as it is a necessity in a society that thinks violence ought to be the monopoly of criminals, and men in wigs.

        Nonetheless, and I mean that literally, none the less, I thank him for his service in defence of country, and what could after all have been my grandmother, -or even just my brother or father.

    • Thanks. See my comment below about minor aggression.

      Also, in Philadelphia, the police didn’t respond to my *car* being stolen. They told me to look for it.

      As it happened, they were right– I found it a few blocks from my place (not where they said it was likely to be). Still, there was an element of luck that I found it, and whoever it was took no risks by joyriding.

      • Soumynona says:

        Did they completely refuse to help? Maybe they meant that you should try looking first and contact them again if that fails.

        It could be a sensible approach, if a significant proportion of cars were stolen by Dumb Kids(TM) and abandoned a couple of blocks away.

    • Butler says:

      > The reliance on a centralized authority destroys the ability to respond swiftly and proportionately to all sorts of minor crimes. It forces escalation or surrender.

      There’s a connection to be made to Haidt’s victim culture here, I’m sure of it.

  26. AnonymousCoward says:

    I’ve said many times I find the idea of “safe spaces” very attractive. I think they can be understood not just as spaces that are guaranteed safe for one group, but as spaces that have coordinated meanness against anything that threatens that group – ie they’ve agreed to shame, shun, and expel people who violate group norms. Everybody knows the local norms, and if somebody gets kicked out they can’t say they weren’t warned.

    I think the huge amount of infighting in supposed safe spaces is decent evidence that not everybody knows the local norms. From my perspective there is startlingly little agreement in social justice circles on basically any proposition, and it seems to me that the norm is to actively avoid codifying beliefs in order to remain nebulous and hard to define so that Motte and Bailey type strategies are more effective.

    • Anon says:

      Having just come back from a weekend in a space which was explicitly declared to be a “safe space” in a speech at the beginning (which, notably, also laid out many of the norms explicitly) and which had no infighting at all, I think your sample might be biased.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Consider: society demands taxes to pay for communal goods and services.

    And here I thought it was protection money owed to the gang on whose turf you live.

    Some libertarians say “taxation is theft”, but where arbitrary theft is unfair, unpredictable, and encourage perverse incentives like living in fear or investing in attack dogs, taxation has none of these disadvantages.

    Taxation, just like all laws, can be unpredictable and impenetrable. After all, nobody guarantees that the local polity will not pass a law arbitrarily changing the taxes owed. And instead of attack dogs, you invest in tax lawyers, so I don’t quite see that much of a difference.

    As a Jew, if I heard that skinheads were beating up Jews in dark alleys, I would be pretty freaked out; for all I know I could be the next victim. But if I heard that skinheads were circulating a petition to get Congress to expel all the Jews, I wouldn’t be freaked out at all. I would expect almost nobody to sign the petition

    In America, sure. In some other countries, you could reasonably expect an expulsion edict to pass.

    Second, you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of transgender, but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.

    Sounds like avoiding pronouns is the safest option.

  28. A few times, a man (different men in each case, I think) has taken my hand without my consent.

    As it happens, my reactions to being told to do something aren’t especially quick. This isn’t defiance, it’s a processing issue. It could get me into real trouble in an emergency, but fortunately, that situation hasn’t happened yet.

    As a result of typical mind habits, I wouldn’t expect someone to let go of my hand quickly because I asked, so I’d yank my hand free hard enough to sting. Yes, I did have a mild intent to punish.

    The reaction each time was “You didn’t have to do that!”, but at that point I wasn’t exactly verbal, so I didn’t have words for why I wasn’t nicer. In retrospect, I didn’t *have* to yank my hand out hard, I wanted to.

    I think what I did was an example of uncoordinated meanness, and I think it was a right thing to do.

    As a side note, it certainly wasn’t dramatic enough for a “You go, girl!” video, and I’m fine with that.

    • Anon says:

      I think this is where the “not to be followed off a cliff” from the preface comes in. “Be nice” is a good rule, but not the only rule.

      • I admit that I saw “Be nice” which was in large print, and failed to see “not to be followed off a cliff” which was in very small print.

        The cliff may be somewhat ill-defined, but maybe cliffs are like that.

    • MawBTS says:

      As a result of typical mind habits, I wouldn’t expect someone to let go of my hand quickly because I asked, so I’d yank my hand free hard enough to sting. Yes, I did have a mild intent to punish.

      Isn’t that the optimal strategy in prisoner’s dilemma? Mild but immediate punishment?

      Seems like a better approach than “complain to the guy running the jail”.

      • It’s the optimal strategy in Prisoner’s Dilemma, but the real world is more complex than PD.

        Scott seems to be recommending always cooperate when faced with some degree of offenses until you can coordinate.

        This is pretty much what people do in the real world– people generally put up with a lot of oppression unless they see they have a chance of winning. There’s a lot of heated argument about whether there’s a good enough chance of winning to be worth the risks.

        • “people generally put up with a lot of oppression unless they see they have a chance of winning. ”

          In the context of social interactions rather than rebellion, it isn’t an issue of winning but of making the actions you object to unprofitable for those who engage in them. My favorite explanation of that point is “Margin of Profit” by Poul Anderson.

          Norm enforcement involves lots of minor, often uncoordinated, “being mean.”

    • A few times, a man (different men in each case, I think)

      You think? Not trying to be mean here, but what were the circumstances such that you couldn’t tell who had taken your hand? Or are you saying that it’s happened enough times that you don’t remember who the men were?

      • I mean they weren’t people I knew, I didn’t pay a huge amount of attention to who they were, and I’m not good at remembering people.

        Approximately three times, decades ago, at science fiction conventions.

        And you are coming off as mean. Furthermore, you suspected you might be coming off as mean.

        If you want to avoid that appearance in the future, drop the “You think?” and don’t ignore it when someone says “a few”.

  29. Timothy says:

    Quora might be one of the only places on the Internet that has created a similar kind of safe space at a large scale, and I feel like what you’re proposing is pretty similar to Quora’s Be Nice, Be Respectful policy.

  30. Andrew says:

    if you want pre-Messianic absolute safety, there are some super-democratic mechanisms that might help. America’s Bill of Rights seems pretty close to this

    Literally every legal article I’ve read on the Bill of Rights describes it as one of the most anti-democratic things in american life. This is supposed to be a good thing, that 51% of the people can’t establish a state religion or do away with habeas corpus.

  31. Jiro says:

    If you support being meaner in certain ways for the greater good, either as a subculture or as a society, you’re welcome to try to use this blog to advocate for that policy (within reason), but you’re not welcome to enact that policy unilaterally.

    I don’t actually believe that if you prohibited X, and someone were to argue that 1) X wasn’t an attempt to be mean for the greater good, or 2) X actually had enough agreement behind it that it was not unilateral, you’d seriously consider permitting X.

    Which of course is your right, but it does mean that your justifications have as much relation to the actual way you run the blog as the Constitution does to why the Supreme Court rules as it does.

  32. Inachodladh says:

    I largely disagree with this post.
    “you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of transgender, but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.”

    Maybe we should be allowed to (politely) explain why we don’t think god exists, but we shouldn’t be able to refer to the bible as an untrue document because that would offend christian commenters.

    I’m not against safe spaces, or against open forums. But the two should not be mixed. Don’t have the false pretense of an open forum when you’re going to favor the sensibilities of some groups over others. Rules should be kept to very general things, like”no personal attacks” or something.

    • Anon says:

      Where has Scott ever claimed this was an open forum?

      • Fahundo says:

        I don’t know if he ever made that claim about SSC comment threads in general, but isn’t that what the weekly Open Threads are?

        • Milan says:

          AFAIK discussing race and gender is not allowed even in the Open Threads, or at least it was some time ago.

        • Peter says:

          I always took the idea of the Open Thread as that there was no set topic; in other threads a comment could be deprecated as off-topic, in open threads that particular thing didn’t apply. Later on there were some restrictions as to topic, but even then the threads were ‘open by default’ as opposed to the loosely topic-locked by default other threads.

          AFAICT “Open Thread” had no connotations beyond “no specific topic”.

    • Creutzer says:

      It’s not really analogous since saying the bible is false it not a way to cause targeted, personal pain or discomfort to a particular christian. But more importantly, people here do not, as a matter of fact, gratuitously refer to the bible as a false document and engagements with christians have been uniformly civil.

      • Sometimes they do. It is, however, a lot less common and a lot less mean-spirited than in a lot of other atheist-leaning spaces, such that there’s quite a few Christians (myself included) who are happy to stick around.

    • TD says:

      I’m actually fine with Scott just saying “This board is my sovereign property. Obey or else.” I appreciate the attempt in this article, but it could have just said that and I would have accepted it. Even better if it was signed with a royal seal.

      I never got the idea that Scott was running an open forum where open meant “say whatever you like without limits”. This is a managed community with a particular purpose in mind. A true open community would be closer to a chan /b/.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’m actually fine with Scott just saying “This board is my sovereign property. Obey or else.” I appreciate the attempt in this article, but it could have just said that and I would have accepted it. Even better if it was signed with a royal seal.

        Indeed.

        Any graphics designers want to help Scott with a royal seal?

        • Randy M says:

          I would be shocked if Scott, as a con-worlder, did not have several to choose from already.

    • Deiseach says:

      If we’re going to get into rows about transgenderism (and I feel I have to apologise in advance if that is perceived as an incorrect or offensive term, I am operating out of ignorance of what is a better or considered common use for “philosophy of being transgender”), then what about the requirements or request or demand or hope (however it appears to you) as expressed that “I don’t just want you to use the ‘correct’ pronouns or my preferred pronouns when you talk to or interact with me, I want you to really believe I am that gender [or agender or non-binary or whatever] and if you don’t, then you are misgendering me”?

      I’m happy enough to refer to someone as [whomever] if that’s their request, I’m not going to have conniptions about whether they’re going to use the women’s toilets while I’m in there, but if I see a photo and my brain reflexes flash up on instinctual recognition mode [looks male/looks female], I am not going to chide myself for deliberately offensively misgendering you. After all, if the problem is that your exterior does not line up with what your interior is, then I can’t read your mind and know what your interior identification is, and contrariwise, if you can’t read my mind why are you offended if I refer to you as how you wish to be referred?

      • Well, trans people aren’t psychic, so it’s not like we can actually know how you secretly gender us in your head, unless you take the additional step of telling us about it.

        (And speaking for myself only, there’s a big difference emotionally between an accidental/reflexive “ma’am, uh, sorry sir” versus a targeted “YOU ARE A WOMAN DEAL WITH IT.” I don’t really expect people to never do the first kind of misgendering, I just want them to accept a polite correction rather than dig in their heels and start talking about chromosomes.)

        I’m a pretty big believer in freedom of thought (distinct from freedom of speech–speaking a thought is different from merely having it) as utterly inviolable. It’s certainly unenforceable. So, sure, think what you like, as long as it stays in your head. I would like you to think of me as male, but if you only behave exactly like someone who thinks of me as male, heck, that’s better than most people manage anyway.

        • “I don’t really expect people to never do the first kind of misgendering, I just want them to accept a polite correction rather than dig in their heels and start talking about chromosomes.)”

          The way you put that (“accept a polite correction”) implies that your view of the subject is correct, their view is wrong, and you expect them to agree with that. If you are someone who is unambiguously male (chromosomes, genitals, self-identification) and someone addressed you as female because you have long hair and the light wasn’t very good, that’s a reasonable expectation.

          But if the person was correctly viewing you in terms of his definitions of male and female (but not yours), you are demanding that he alter his view of a pretty fundamental feature of reality to conform with your preferred view, which is not reasonable.

          Objecting to the other person insisting on an argument about a subject you don’t want to argue about, on the other hand, is not unreasonable.

    • J Mann says:

      Inachodladh:

      Maybe we should be allowed to (politely) explain why we don’t think god exists, but we shouldn’t be able to refer to the bible as an untrue document because that would offend christian commenters.

      I think that’s susceptible to the same general rule that you can express ideas, but have to do so “nicely”, which in this context means without language the speaker should know is insulting and can be eliminated without preventing the idea from being expressed.

      So if you prefer to refer to the Bible as “the untrue foundation document of the Christanist cults,” that’s probably insulting in an unnessary way. (On the other hand, the statement “there is a lot of historical and internal evidence that suggests the Bible is not literally true”, if relevant to the discussion, would be OK.

      IMHO, a closer question would be if you know that some of your readers prefer the word “Bible” to be capitalized when referring to the Old or New Testaments, do you do it? I think Scott’s rule suggests yes – it’s probably not as traumatic for most religious folks as misgendering, but it doesn’t cost you much, and it might avoid offense.

      (P.s.: I don’t personally take offense at capitalization, and I don’t know if anyone else does.)

    • stargirlprincesss says:

      The bible may be false but its not obviously false. The proof that it is not obviously false is that many intelligent people think its true.

      Stating your opinion that the bible is untrue is fine. but it actually is rude to act like its obvious the bible is untrue. At least unless your speech is explicitly directed toward other atheists.

      dis-claimer: I am an atheist.

      • moridinamael says:

        Ehhhh both “obviously” and “rude” are in the map, not the territory. The bible is obviously false to me, and to me it is obvious and not even particularly unusual that large groups of intelligent people can be wrong about something.

        “It is wrong to tell people they are wrong when you believe they are wrong” is a bad intellectual norm.

        “Rudeness” can be swapped out for the “meanness” in Scott’s original post without losing much nuance. I avoid being rude (“mean”) because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings; but sometimes the goal I’m trying to accomplish is more important to me than avoiding rudeness. So it’s a tradeoff, not a rule, and not very useful as a heuristic.

      • Adam says:

        Maybe not the whole bible, but it’s trivially false onat least a few things, i.e. plants being created before light, bats being a type of bird, or different gospels disagreeing on counts or times, which could just be transcription errors, but still, at least one of them has to be wrong. I think it’s fair to say most Christians don’t believe it’s right in the cases where it’s obviously false, but if you happen to be arguing with one of the few who does, it’s fair to point it out.

  33. Jack V says:

    Huh. That’s really interesting, it seems to approach an idea I’ve had but not easily been able to put into words, from another direction.

    Viz, if one large part of the nation has a significant disagreement with another large part, they should agree to disagree, not in the sense that they don’t care, but that they need to find a compromise where they allow the other to go on doing things their way, because they HAVE to — the alternative is civil war. And they can go on trying to persuade each other, but hold off trying to impose their views simply because it doesn’t work. (cf. wars of religion).

    OTOH, if a large majority disagree significantly with a small minority, you should (out of general principles of “do unto others” and “what if i’m mistaken” and “human rights are good”) allow them to do what they like when it primarily affects themselves, but when you’re sure you’re right about what’s right, you *should* impose your view on the minority, because you can via normal laws with minimum bloodshed (eg. ban FGM, allow contraception, etc, etc).

  34. Aapje says:

    The word ‘safe’ ruffles my feathers by virtue of fitting in a pattern of word inflation that typifies SJW rhetoric. Just like ‘microagressions,’ it conflates being offended with being (physically) unsafe. As offense can be taken at everything, including facts or gender/race/appearance, this opens the door to both censorship and segregation under the flag of ‘safety.’ We have seen this exact type of abuse of the term, where people have been banned from spaces by gender/race or have been banned from expressing non-PC beliefs (despite those not being hateful).

    If you just want a space with rules of behavior, I suggest using ‘polite spaces.’ Or just say: ‘we have rules of conduct.’ By doing so you abandon hyperbolic and manipulative language, which in itself makes a debate more of a ‘polite space.’

    • Anonymous says:

      Can’t say I disagree.

    • TD says:

      “Private property” comes to mind.

      • Anonymous says:

        How is that relevant?

        • TD says:

          I’m in favor of safe spaces when they are understood in that context. My entire problem is with advocates of safe spaces who only care about them for their own group, so the safe space is just part of a strategy and not an institutional idea that gets applied consistently.

          • Aapje says:

            @TD

            The issue is not so much that they only want them for their own group, but rather that some of them want to extend very restrictive safe spaces to public property.

            In my opinion, people should be free to put whatever restrictions they want on speech on private property (like this blog). However, it becomes oppression once you start to censor public spaces or only certain forums get funded from public money. An example of the latter is the publicly funded universities that give support to feminist student organizations, but refuse to give the same to MRA organizations.

          • TD says:

            “some of them want to extend very restrictive safe spaces to public property.”

            Yes, that is a problem, but I wouldn’t mind them renting a quiet room from the University as long as they pay for it. They can help upkeep the University, and maybe once they have to pay for it, they won’t be so eager to exploit it. The problem is that a certain kind of student is being subsidized to have the “college experience” and get involved in protests, which is encouraged by a certain kind of teacher trying to relive their youth. Certain courses (again, not naming names now…) have become prominent since at least the 90s which are basically workshops in activism, so it’s really a self-inflicted wound by the Universities.

          • Milan says:

            If everybody can rent one of those rooms, then yes, that sounds cool (provided they don’t run out of rooms, and excluding illegal activites).
            What I see as more problematic when they want to extend the safe space to cover the whole university.

    • Nita says:

      As far as I know, “safe spaces” are explicitly designed to be “safe” for a particular group (or, sometimes, several particular groups). As in, “this is our safe haven from the rest of the world, where we can enjoy a guaranteed supportive environment, for a change”. For example, a functioning Christian church is like a “safe space” for Christians. When I’m visiting one of those, I don’t express my opinions about God, the Bible, and religion in general.

      A “polite space” is something completely different.

      • Milan says:

        They will not stop you at the door to the church saying you cannot enter based on your outer characteristics.

        • Anonymous says:

          But they may well look at you disapprovingly if the manner of your dress is inappropriate (such as being topless), or your behaviour is (like shouting). The priest may, in fact, tell you to leave.

          • Milan says:

            Exactly. If a safe space for any group bans people for unacceptable behavior, be it dressing wrong or saying the wrong things, it does not strike me as morally reprehensible. Not letting someone in said space because of simply not belonging to the group, regardless of behavior does, however.

          • Aapje says:

            @Anonymous

            Neither is censoring of opinions though. I don’t think the Church is going to threat Femen differently from BBAA (Bare Breasts Against Abortion*). Nor would they really care what it is that you are shouting, but rather that you are a nuisance.

            * I wish this was a thing

          • Milan says:

            Censoring opinion in a space where entrance is voluntary is of course OK. I now use voluntary in a stricter sense, because technically college is also voluntary, however people should not have their opinions censored there.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that you should be more clear, choice is only a valid argument if people have similar options elsewhere. For example, it’s a completely different situation if certain speech is banned from one debate space, but people can have a their own space where that speech is allowed; vs a situation where only certain speech is allowed to be debated.

            In the second case, people still have have a choice to attend the debate or not, but they lack the option to attend a debate with their own speech.

          • Milan says:

            That was what I was getting at, thanks for the clarification. (It’s my seventh hour of the workday now, so I’m not really running on top efficiency 😀 )

          • Tracy W says:

            technically college is also voluntary, however people should not have their opinions censored there

            I am with you on the anti-censorship, but I think in the case of educational institutions it’s because free speech is essential to doing their job well. Educational institutions are about ideas and the only way we can have any confidence in ideas is if they are exposed to the best attacks possible on them and are still standing.
            And educational institutions are about transmitting ideas to the students and you can only tell If an idea has actually been transmitted if the student can openly and safely disagree with it.

            Banning an educational institution from using freedom of speech strikes me like banning engineers from using calculators or computers, or hospitals from using cleaners. You’re denying them.an important tool to get their work done.

        • Nita says:

          If there was a way to identify atheists on sight, some churches might do that, and I would have no problem with it. In fact, even now they can put up a sign saying “NO ATHEISTS”, and I will stay out.

          • Milan says:

            Well, this to me is a twofold problem. Identifying and locking out atheists who voice their opinion openly would also be kinda ok by me. (I would disagree, but it is their turf.) However, somebody who is outwardly indistinguishable from a believer, just lives with doubt in their heart, locking them out strikes entirely the wrong chord with me.
            So, to answer your comment, the sign is ok imho, also “banishing” vocal atheists. Because these things are about choice.

          • Anonymous says:

            However, somebody who is outwardly indistinguishable from a believer, just lives with doubt in their heart, locking them out strikes entirely the wrong chord with me.

            Quibble: If by ‘doubt’ you mean ‘uncertainty’, then that’s something just about every believer feels. You don’t need to be absolutely certain to be a believer. Weak faith is still faith.

          • Milan says:

            @ Anon
            I meant something like “I am almost certain God does not exists, but I want to belong to this community a lot, so I will never voice my belief and try my best that others don’t notice”.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Milan

            That might not disqualify you. But you’d probably want to check with a priest.

          • Milan says:

            @Anon,
            Thanks, although I was not talking about myself. I am quite comfortable with not believing, and I only want to visit churches on the basis of they look cool.

          • Aapje says:

            @Milan

            There is at least one pastor who doesn’t believe in God:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaas_Hendrikse

            The most progressive end of Protestantism overlaps with atheism.

          • Frog Do says:

            If your beliefs don’t impact your behavior, they’re ornamental and you’re just LARPing (not that this is a bad thing).

            I blame this confusion on the intersection of Puritanism and Quakerism in the pre-Revolutionary USA, one of the great debates was how much God cares about your beliefs, and this kind of bizarre focus has carried over though history. Practical men are often the slaves of a defunct theologian, etc, etc.

          • Brad (The Other One) says:

            @Nita

            The only thing that comes to mind resembling this might be that churches with closed communion may not allow you to have the Eucharist (that is, ceremonial wine and bread memorializing’s Christ’s death.)

          • Mary says:

            Most of the ones with closed communion would object to that characterization.

          • “The most progressive end of Protestantism overlaps with atheism.”

            Unitarian: Someone who believes there is at most one god.

          • Anonymous says:

            There is at least one pastor who doesn’t believe in God:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klaas_Hendrikse

            The most progressive end of Protestantism overlaps with atheism.

            Damn. While I don’t believe very weak faith should disqualify a lay member from membership, I think it should very much disqualify from leadership. You shouldn’t become a priest, or remain a priest, if your faith is too weak.

      • Aapje says:

        @Nita

        ‘A guaranteed supportive environment’ is not what Scott seems to ask for; nor is it what people claim who want to turn classrooms and other public spaces into ‘safe spaces.’ So you have people using the same term for different concepts, which invites Motte-and-Bailey discussions, weak manning and slippery slopes.

        So my suggestion to Scott and other people who aren’t (big) bigots: use a clearer term.

        PS. A church is a rather bad comparison since a service isn’t a debate and sermons are performed by clergy, not regular citizens. Furthermore, at least on the protestant side, sermons can differ greatly. A progressive Christian will not experience a ‘safe space’ during a conservative service and vice versa.
        PS2. Is a “guaranteed supportive environment” just another word for an echo chamber?

        • Milan says:

          “So you have people using the same term for different concepts”
          Yeah, but you know, those other people are wrong 😀

          • Aapje says:

            Yeah, but you know, those other people are wrong

            I would argue that a term is badly chosen when a common sense reading of the term is likely to be different from the intended meaning and a much more clear term is available.

            For example, if you want a supportive space, why not call it a ‘supportive space?’ After all, none of the dictionary definitions are ‘supportive.’ The same goes for ‘polite.’ You need to manhandle the dictionary definition and make a bunch of assumptions to go from ‘safe’ to ‘polite’. Why not say ‘polite’ right away then?

          • Milan says:

            I was attempting a joke, in general I think I agree with what you are saying in that post.

      • Mary says:

        No, they are IMPLICITLY designed to be “safe” for a particular group. Otherwise people would start demanding the opposite. Because they want to go anywhere they want and just exclude others.

    • Teal says:

      The word ‘safe’ ruffles my feathers by virtue of fitting in a pattern of word inflation that typifies SJW rhetoric. Just like ‘microagressions,’ it conflates being offended with being (physically) unsafe.

      Anti-SJW has the same exact same problem. Lynch mobs anyone?

      I think it’s probably just a millennial thing. Akin to what they’ve done to the word ‘literally’.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yeah, probably. I blame rapid advances in physical safety putting organisms evolved to cope with high attrition rates in an environment where their instincts don’t align really well with what is actually happening.

        Name X used to be associated with most terrible condition A, but technology has reduced the condition to be one-tenth as severe, A/10 – but now this condition is the most terrible, and now gets called X, where in earlier days, it might be called something less hysterical.

        • Cadie says:

          I notice this a lot with kids. I grew up in an environment and era much less safe than the typical mid-2010s American suburb, but was less scared of danger, and my parents were less scared of it than parents seem to be today. A little of that is better knowledge about what’s dangerous and what’s not, but the bulk of it is that the standards have changed and increasing safety leads to increased demands for safety.

          There’s a point at which trying to minimize danger further yields a smaller benefit than the unintended harms the extra effort causes. I’m not sure where that point is. It’s probably different for everyone anyway. But it exists and we all have one.

      • Anon says:

        He literally glowed

        (F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby)

        Which millennials would these be?

  35. multiheaded says:

    Guest post by Mr. Yarvin, I assume?

    • Anonymous says:

      Why would you think that?

    • A piece exploring the roots of the rule of law results in a comparison to Lord Voldemort.

      Interesting.

    • eh says:

      I consider misgendering someone mean and spiteful. Using the real name of a man who wrote under a pseudonym is significantly worse, however, since it shatters the tacit agreement that we respect each others’ privacy. As a transwoman living in Russia, you are perhaps more in need of privacy than anyone else, and stand to lose more if you get doxxed. On this basis, this is a good example of shameful and shameable behaviour, since the community as a whole benefits from pseudonymity, as does Scott, and as do you and I.

      That aside, this is the opposite of the opinions expressed by Mr. Moldbug, given that Scott directly relates coordination to either democratic vote or social consensus, things Moldbug has suggested we replace with an omnipotent and all-killing version of Jabba the Hutt.

      • Hlynkacg says:

        I was going to say something, but you managed to express the same idea much more clearly, tactfully, and with less overt nastiness than I would have.

        *tips hat*

      • Nick T says:

        Moldbug’s identity is hardly secret anymore.

        • eh says:

          I’m not sure it matters whether it’s a secret, so long as it isn’t common knowledge. Scott’s real identity is probably easy to find, since he goes to meetups, posts personally identifying information, and keeps dropping hints. I don’t know it, because people don’t hate him enough to share it with me.

          Even if the cat’s out of the bag with Moldemort, a norm of respect for pseudonyms seems worth encouraging, for the same reason spies in the UK allegedly spent years saying “no comment” when asked whether the gigantic building being built to house SIS and MI5 even existed: easy-to-follow rules cause fewer misinterpretations and let fewer important things slip.

          • Adam says:

            His real name has been discussed here before, not even just in comments, but in the actual post that first referred to the Strange Loop incident. That’s the only reason I know it. In fact, this blog is the only reason I even know this guy exists at all, pseudonymously or otherwise.

      • multiheaded says:

        I had zero idea that his pseudonym is STILL supposed to be kept somehow separate from his real name???

      • Leonard says:

        It isn’t. Moldy never tried very hard to keep his pseud secret, and people did warn him about it. He just did not care that much; in his telling he was using his pseud to avoid being linked to juvenile writing on usenet, not his current identity. This may not have been wise, but it was his decision.

        Surprisingly the pseud did last for some time, but it’s been public for quite some time now. At least since the strangeloop saga last year.

    • Soumynona says:

      You’re not even trying to make sense, are you?

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I am somewhat surprised at finding myself in the position of defending multiheaded (sorry, dude, it’s just that I disagree with you on so much…), but:

      Contrary to the several folks who’ve replied to the effect of “that comparison makes no sense, wtf are you talking about”, I think multiheaded is onto something (even if their manner of expression is characteristically unpleasant); indeed the parallel between the ideas in this post and those of the referenced writer is one I also noticed, immediately upon reading it. The role and purpose of law, specifically, is one on which he’s written in a similar vein quite a bit (although he’s far from the only one! Take this Less Wrong post, for example, which refers to a closely related idea).

      Please don’t be so quick to judge nonsensicality, eh? 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t know about Scott but multi is definitely a death eater. Look at how many people are calling her nonsensical; that’s THE death eater trait.

      • Anonymous says:

        If supporting stare decisis, a fundamental principle of jurisprudence, makes you Literally Moldbug, your outgroup homogeneity bias has officially taken over. The comparison is still ridiculous.

        I would like to propose that Godwin’s Law be extended to Moldbug for the purposes of this blog.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Outgroup homogeneity? No, you’ve got it quite backwards. I am not saying “gah! the mention of this sort-of-similar idea makes you as bad as That Dude There, who is just… just… so bad!!” Quite the opposite: I’m saying “ah, I note a fascinating parallel between this idea you mentioned and some commentary of That Dude, who says interesting things!”.

          Not everything is battle lines in the culture war. I can say that multiheaded is right about a certain thing, and not, thereby, establish myself as a member of … whatever Hated Sinister-Side Tribe you snap-judged me as belonging to. (Though I understand the impulse, so no harm done, I suppose…)

          Edit: In short, I do not mean to tar Scott (and Eliezer) by the comparison, but to praise him. And (even more ironically…) I am fairly sure that was multi’s intention as well.

      • multiheaded says:

        ^ you absolutely get it, thanks.

      • Deiseach says:

        I like multiheaded, even when I disagree with her. I think because we both seem to agree that class is woefully unrecognised as a defining social force by progressive thought (and conservative too, let me give my own side a kicking here) when dealing with matters of oppression or equality, seemingly mainly because it makes people uncomfortable to examine their class advantages (“America is a classless society, unlike Europe/We’re all middle-class now” depending what continent you’re on) or broach the topic unless we’re talking about those people, them, the ones we can all comfortably agree are the underclass (and not within a hundred miles of anything to do with our own social circle or background): the ones we are comfortable dismissing as “IQ 90 people” or not within a standard deviation of our own lofty intellects.

    • Psmith says:

      Boy howdy, sure is a lot of venom in the replies to this slightly snarky but basically accurate observation. IIRC, back when Moldbug got disinvited from Strangeloop, he said something like “tell me what creed I have to profess in order to be accepted, and I’ll happily swear to it in the presence of three witnesses of your choosing”, or words to that effect–not trolling, at least not any more than he always is–and nobody would offer him a suitable progressive shahada. Compare to

      Likewise, in the Puritan community, I know exactly what things I have to do to avoid being shamed. Better still, I can only be shamed for violating one set of moral standards – the shared moral standards of the whole community.

      (The Trve Cvltists would rejoice to hear Obama declare himself emperor-for-life and exile Congress to a Gulag in Alaska.). Jim also likes to talk about this–the leftist singularity can only be stopped by a leftist pope, and the issues of the particular policies being enacted are not as important as those policies being predictable in a way that Jim and Moldbug think requires something like a King or Pope or sole proprietor. I don’t know if their solutions are right, but I think they, and Scott, aren’t obviously or trivially wrong to claim that there’s a problem here.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        IIRC, back when Moldbug got disinvited from Strangeloop, he said something like “tell me what creed I have to profess in order to be accepted, and I’ll happily swear to it in the presence of three witnesses of your choosing”, or words to that effect–not trolling, at least not any more than he always is–and nobody would offer him a suitable progressive shahada.

        Yarvin is a racist windbag, but that response to the Strangeloop drama and the absence of a progressive shahada in response to him massively increased my respect for him.

        • Anonymous says:

          Under what definition of racism is Moldbug racist?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Belief that certain racial groups are more intelligent than others, or more suited to slavery, makes one racist by many common definitions.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            He believes that some mental traits vary by human population (“HBD”), and divides up the human population in ways that most scientists believe are a colonial social construct. Or in more impressionistic terms, dude basically loves everything about Samuel Johnson except his anti-racism.

          • Anonymous says:

            OK.

          • “He believes that some mental traits vary by human population (“HBD”)”

            Are you implying that you don’t believe that, or that believing that makes one a racist even if it’s true?

          • “Belief that certain racial groups are more intelligent than others, or more suited to slavery, makes one racist by many common definitions.”

            So the author of Albion’s Seed is a racist? Judging by Scott’s summary, he believes that white indentured servants were less suited to slavery in colonial Virginia than blacks.

            We know that easily observable physical characteristics have a different distribution in different racial groups. Surely the default assumption is that less easily observed characteristics, such as intelligence, probably also have a different distribution.

            Do you want to use a definition of “racist” which applies to almost everyone, the only difference being whether or not people are willing to admit the views they actually hold? That strikes me as a bad idea.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            HBD isn’t racist, but only racists insist HBD is correct.

            The evidence is weak; this is defended by arguing that the mainstream scientific establishment is suppressing evidence. Which may or may not be true, but, however conspicuous, absence of evidence is not, in fact, evidence.

            Evidence is evidence. And the evidence is quite weak. HBD requires assuming that evidence is being suppressed, that fake evidence is being entered into the record, that the Flynn Effect is false and the evidence is wrong there OR that the Flynn Effect is weaker than current evidence in existence (note that the Flynn Effect is still being observed in low-IQ populations in the US, whereas it has apparently stopped for average-to-high-IQ/wealth populations), and/or that IQ maximums have already been achieved for all populations (again, the Flynn effect is still being observed for low-IQ populations, so this is clearly false).

            A weak form of HBD is clearly true, genetics vary between populations; the “strong” form, that this implies significant variations in intelligence or personality across genetic populations based on genetics, isn’t supported by the evidence; it requires a leap of faith to believe.

            Why would you make a leap of faith into believing in a theory which implies racial superiority, unless it supports a belief you already have?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @David Friedman
            I don’t hold to those definitions; in particular, I reject categorically any moral system which holds it to be morally wrong to believe something which is well-supported by evidence. But a lot of people do. And they really refuse to believe in the differences they object to, too. (I take it as a given, as they do, that calling something “racist” is saying it is morally wrong)

            I haven’t read Albion’s Seed, but I think that some of those who hold the views I describe would not object to saying that blacks were physically better suited to survival doing manual labor in colonial Virginia (though some would), but any hint that blacks were more docile or otherwise receptive to slavery in particular would get you branded as a racist.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Orphan Wilde,

            Let’s not drag this into a discussion on the biological reality of race: if you want to continue the topic, perhaps link to a new top-level post in the Open Thread?

            That said, you are incorrect regarding the evidence for substantial racial differences. A lot of evidence is reasonably well known and accepted in particular fields but rarely talked about outside of scientific circles. I’ve seen this firsthand with genetics: there are a lot of interesting, and politically touchy, findings which make their way through the community but aren’t trumpeted to the mainstream population. HBD online is basically the equivalent of pop science blogging, just on more (politically) controversial topics.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Fair enough, if you’re arguing there is real evidence out there that is being ignored.

            I haven’t seen it. And none of the people who propagate the idea have offered it, so I must conclude they don’t have it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @David Friedman: If HBD is true and the human population objectively divides along “white”, “black”, “East Asian” and “Amerind”, I would say “racism is true” rather than bending dictionary definitions of the term.
            If mental traits are caused by evolution and vary between human populations but don’t divide up along the lines of early modern racism, I wouldn’t call accepting this truth racism. I’m skeptical of HBDChick’s hypotheses, but I wouldn’t call having Darwinian hypotheses about the obvious differences between contemporary Muslims and Christians/Westerners racist.

            Why am I still skeptical? Because HBD claims depend on materialist priors + empirical claims about how fast evolution works in a species with a 20-30 year generation that they haven’t demonstrated.

          • Jiro says:

            If HBD is true… I would say “racism is true” rather than bending dictionary definitions of the term.

            But it would be a very noncentral example of racism that’s true. Using noncentral examples this way is a bad idea.

          • Anonymous says:

            @David Friedman

            Are you implying that you don’t believe that, or that believing that makes one a racist even if it’s true?

            If racism is true, then being a racist is correct and nothing to be ashamed about. If racism is false, then being a racist is incorrect and something to be ashamed of.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Anonymous

            It seems to me that you’re implicitly using two definitions of racism. Racism as in “HBD is true”, if you want to call that racism, is different from racism as in “people of races I dislike should be treated badly”. Isn’t it? Are you really saying that the only reason you oppose race-based oppression is because you don’t believe there is any correlation between race and IQ?

          • Anonymous says:

            Who says I don’t believe there’s any association between race and IQ? By the definitions given by The Nybbler and Le Maistre Chat, the (minimum?) standard for racism is simply believing in genetics-based racial differences in mental features. If that’s what racism is, I see exactly no reason not to be racist.

      • Seth says:

        … not trolling, at least not any more than he always is …

        Read that sentence carefully. In context, his whole statement was mildly amusing in terms of playing against the expected response of bombastic defiance. But, let’s be serious – he was making a joke, and everyone with some background in these sorts of controversies can recognize he was making a joke. Whatever his character faults, the guy does seem to have a dry sense of humor.

        Nobody gave “a progressive shahada in response” because progressives weren’t inclined to play a game with him. One of the things which shows very clearly how much “SSC commenters lean right”, is the way things which are extremely common to anyone even mildly left, are treated as complete mysteries by the right-leaning group. Any progressive who engaged with him on the level of taking that seriously was going to get endless grief from right-wingers looking to score in-group points. It’s no surprise that no progressive bothered. It was a joke, chuckle if you appreciate that sort of thing, but it’s not like any deep discussion was going to happen.

        • Nornagest says:

          Strikes me as ha-ha-only-serious. That is, he’s trying to be funny, but he’s also trying to make a point.

          I agree that he didn’t expect to be taken up on the offer, but that was the point. Insofar as SSC missed that, I don’t think it’s a right-wing thing, I think it’s a literalism thing.

          • Psmith says:

            Just so. I agree that Moldbug, for all his edgier-than-thou protestations of formalism, has too much fun LARPing as a brave dissenter to ever really give it up and swear fealty to orthodoxy as a practical matter. But nobody asks the Liberty University admins what dogmas you have to believe in order to be a member of the community in good standing, because they can point you to any of several places in which they explicitly enumerate them.

            (This example elides the difference between believing and professing, but you get the idea.).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Exactly. It’s not a matter of us being right-leaning or autistic. It’s a question of whether leftists have any coherent text enumerating their truth claims. It looks bad for leftists if Catholics can point to the Summas and they are sub-literate.

          • Seth says:

            C’mon. It’s not a mystery to have, e.g. “Don’t write anything that sounds like you’re justifying racism, especially biological-determinism arguments that have literally hundreds of years of nasty oppressive history behind them.”

            But anyone even slightly socially liberal just knows what’s going to happen with that – point-scorers rushing to write along the lines of, for example, “Oh, oh, look at me, the right-winger, I’m such a clever person, let’s play where’s-the-boundary, I bet you’ve never heard that, progressive. Is this racist, huh? How about that, is it racist, huh huh uh? It’s science, right? You want me to deny science, progressive? GOTCHA!”

            The “SSC commenters leans right” part comes from the complete lack of understanding about how tedious and annoying that can be, especially by people who think it’s a killer rebuttal.

            Recursively, for all the rhetorical excesses of the left, there’s some inverse case where we are now having a thread about professed ignorance of a creed e.g. “All those arguments which have been used to justify slavery, colonialism, racism? Don’t make them”.

            [Pre-emptive disclaimer – the above is not a statement itself on the truth-value of the arguments, technically. Only the supposed obscurity about them.]

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            @Seth,

            I agree that no-one, Moldbug included, is actually unsure of why he was considered controversial. The greater point that he made though, that the standards of what is offensive enough to disqualify you from the public sphere are genuinely very unclear and rapidly changing, is pretty valid.

            A few years ago, when Trans was still on the back-burner in favor of gay marriage, the range of acceptable opinions on the subject was much broader. Today it’s difficult to even know what to call them: I’m pretty sure transsexual isn’t allowed anymore but how bad is it, more of a faux pas or is it on the “creating a hostile work environment” end of the spectrum?

            You can keep track of all of the developments, if you’re keyed into activist culture or just obsessively follow the news, but if you’ve got other time commitments it’s pretty easy to find yourself a decade or more behind the times on any given issue. And as we’ve seen, some of these seemingly innocuous missteps are career-ending.

          • Jiro says:

            I agree that no-one, Moldbug included, is actually unsure of why he was considered controversial. The greater point that he made though, that the standards of what is offensive enough to disqualify you from the public sphere are genuinely very unclear and rapidly changing, is pretty valid.

            I think there’s another, perhaps more important, point: It may be that people do have standards, but that those standards, when spoken out loud, are obviously indefensible. Asking them to state their standards is a way to confront them with this fact. (For instance, suppose that someone wants Moldbug to avoid pointing out uncomfortable truths. He might not be willing to say out loud “I want Moldbug to avoid saying uncomfortable truths”.)

          • Seth says:

            @Dr Dealgood – I completely agree with you that there is a problem with unclear and shifting standards, overall. However, Moldbug is not an obscure or unclear case at all. That is, we are approaching a fallacy that might phrased as because there is a bailey, there is no motte. Moldbug is not a complicated corner case. He’s much closer to a central example. He’s (Techie) Racism 101. While he’s not any more racist than many people around, let’s not conflate that with any sort of idea that he’s unwitting or unaware of what he’s advocating, and why it’s inflammatory (to put it charitably).

            @Jiro – (Group) biological determinism is well-trod ground. It’s just an instance of nature vs. nurture, which has been debated endlessly in many contexts.

          • suntzuanime says:

            Moldbug is graduate-level techie racism, TYVM.

    • multiheaded says:

      Disclaimer in all caps since this off-hand remark unexpectedly blew up.

      I LIKE THIS BIT OF MOLDBUG, THIS IS WHERE HE SAYS FUN AND WORTHWHILE THINGS, I DO NOT NECESSARILY ENDORSE SHIT, BUT FORMAILISM IS A COOL IDEA TO EXPLORE.

      I WAS READING MOLDBUG WAY BEFORE MANY OF YOU HAVE STARTED, ANYWAY. MY THOUGHTS ABOUT HIM DO NOT, IN FACT, REDUCE TO “PURGE HIM FROM EVERYWHERE AND COMPARE HIS EVERY WORK TO MEIN KAMPF”.

  36. Salem says:

    Co-ordination is a trade-off. Perfect co-ordination requires totalitarianism. No co-ordination means anarchy. Good co-ordination mechanisms are robust, so they still work if there are some defectors.

    And so my gast is flabbered by your object-level examples. Real-world co-ordination to “shame”* promiscuous women is functioning and robust. Yet, because a few people on Jezebel complain about “slut-shaming,” you argue it’s unethical to continue, not because the Jezebellers are right, but because we don’t have universal co-ordination? Meanwhile the co-ordination of the Jezebellers is multiple orders of magnitude less, but something tells me you’re not going to condemn people who flaunt their sexuality for acting without perfect co-ordination.

    Nice is loaded. Nice to whom? And it’s not hard to notice your thumb on the scale.

    *A tendentious description, but I’ll let it go.

    • Butler says:

      I also think it’s… struggling for the right term here, but let’s try to get the concept across with the jumbled-up collection of words and ideas of crass pragmatism, anti-idealistic, might-makes-right thinking to deny the lone plucky idealist his efforts to change the culture.

      I want to make an analogy about the Galileans telling Jesus to stop making all the sinners feel bad, but sadly my hermeneutics aren’t up to scratch.

      • Well, that’s also the opposite of what Jesus mostly did. He wasn’t called the “Friend of Sinners” for nothing.

        • Jesus was mostly kind to sinners, but he didn’t seem to mind making (high status?) Pharisees feel bad.

          • Mary says:

            He was kind to you once you admitted you were a sinner.

          • The Smoke says:

            It is not too far off to say that Jesus was the proto-SJW.

          • Mary says:

            Nonsense. Jesus was very explicit about his not getting into the legal side of things.

          • Did anyone notice I might have mis-capitalized Jesus’ pronoun? Did anyone care?

          • Teal says:

            Are non-believers expected to use deity-case for Jesus as a form of politeness?

            In the Jewish context, I don’t think non-Jews are expected to go through the G-d circumlocution, though on the other hand writing out hypothesized pronunciations of yud hay vav hay in causal conversation does strike me as rude.

          • keranih says:

            Did anyone notice I might have mis-capitalized Jesus’ pronoun? Did anyone care?

            You mentioned the Christ in a sense of general approval on a blog that is largely peopled by anti-faith types. I care about the capitalization, but not anywhere enough to get upset over it.

            (OTOH – the new Catholic missal for English has, through some fairly clever phrasing, pretty much eliminated gender assignment for the Holy Spirit, and greatly decreased that for God (to be separated from God-the-Father.) I like this. It’s making my mother cranky.)

    • “No co-ordination means anarchy.”

      Government produces all order.
      Under anarchy there is no government.
      Therefore anarchy is chaos.
      Q.E.D.

      In Washington there isn’t any plan
      With “feeding David” on page sixty-four;
      It must be accidental that the milk man
      Leaves a bottle at my door.

      It must be accidental that the butcher
      Has carcasses arriving at his shop,
      The very place where, when I need some meat,
      I accidentally stop.

      My life is chaos turned miraculous;
      I speak a word and people understand
      Although it must be gibberish since words
      Are not produced by governmental plan.

      Now law and order, on the other hand,
      The state provides us for the public good;
      That’s why there’s instant justice on demand
      And safety in every neighborhood.

      • Salem says:

        Haha, very good. I apologise for my sloppy language.

        I was using “anarchy” in the looser sense of chaos. With no co-operation, we truly would have a Hobbesian chaos. You are of course right that anarchy, in the anarcho-capitalist sense, involves plenty of co-operation, and that most co-operation, even today, is not overseen by the state.

        I would add that I was certainly not suggesting that social norms need, or should, be underwritten by state action. Indeed, I think often of the anecdote from al-Tanukhi that you quote in Chapter 13 of Law’s Order, in terms of the limits on the state’s power in that regard.

  37. Deiseach says:

    If I say “I think you are wrong” or “That is a bad idea”, I’m not trying to shame the person who puts forward such a notion. Not unless I believe they know it’s a bad idea or wrong but are still proposing it, or are trying to use it as a means of unwarranted moral superiority, or prop up “And this is why you lot in the opposing camp are all Nazis!”

    There’s no shame in ignorance or honest mistake or difference of opinion. Perhaps a lot of misunderstanding comes about when one person thinks another is trying to shame them or make them feel ashamed; if person B did not have that intention, then you get the duelling “They were being deliberately offensive and hurtful to me!”/”I only pointed out the errors in their thinking and they immediately started yelling about oppression!” interpretations of interactions.

    A friend (I can’t remember who) once argued that “be nice” provides a nigh-infallible ethical decision procedure.

    I think your friend is mistaken, though; niceness has little or nothing to do with whether something is right or good (or good for you either personally, whether it’s death by chocolate versus broccoli – I know which I think is nicer – or the body politic, when it comes to making laws about taxes).

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      There’s no shame in ignorance or honest mistake or difference of opinion.

      This is why I find the rise of “[z]splain” as a thing to be mocked insidious. When even good faith attempts become ammunition, there’s not even a potential for reconciliation. The bridge has been burned.

  38. Milan says:

    Okay, so I have a question. If someone would say, “you can choose if I address you as he, she or they (or an arbitrary one agreed on by the majority of the forum), but I will ignore the requests for more tumblrian sounding options”, is that also misgendering?
    I mean, if you have ten people on the forum each requesting their own pronouns, and if you use the wrong one you get banned, then how quick will it empty?
    (Please note that I am not arguing for or against the described behavior, I am just curious. I don’t really have a stake in it myself, because I don’t comment here that often, and my default solution would be just using their name each time instead of a pronoun.)

  39. keranih says:

    I disagree pretty strongly with this post. I think Scott’s philosophically incorrect on several points, starting with his ranking of laws which are good over laws which are consistent and clear.

    No. That is an outcome over system error. We can not have a workable system of laws which treats everyone nicely until we have fixed the issue of everyone knowing and understanding the laws, and agreeing to follow them.

    Secondly, the “be nice until you have a group behind you to be mean” is both morally and practically in error. First, insisting that people may only express the morals of a larger group is, I think, deeply wrong, and betrays all sorts of individual freedoms. Secondly, by so strongly preferring moral codes that favor group effort, we set up a situation where instead of chiding one person into stopping being an asshole, we have a whole group who are engaged in, and dedicated to, that action. A stitch in time saves nine.

    I don’t have a huge problem with either Scott making rules for his space, or for the general idea of not being cruel to people with gender disphoria, but I find this attempt to define a system of niceness to be extremely problematic long time before we get to the cliff.

    (And on edit – that line about taxes not being unpredictable or unfair is a clear sign that Scott hasn’t attempted to run a small business.)

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I more or less agree with this comment. I just want to add a quibble, which is not a disagreement per se, but:

      I think Scott’s philosophically incorrect on several points, starting with his ranking of laws which are good over laws which are consistent and clear.

      No. That is an outcome over system error. We can not have a workable system of laws which treats everyone nicely until we have fixed the issue of everyone knowing and understanding the laws, and agreeing to follow them.

      I actually read that bit of the post as a sort of… rhetorical working of one’s way down from the position that “having just laws” is the only thing that matters (which is the position of your stereotypical young idealistic liberal etc.). In other words, we must first acknowledge that Law matters, as well as Good, before we can move on to the position that Law matters more than Good (and possibly from there to the position that only Law matters, and there’s no such thing as Good, a la Voldemort et al).

      In other words: sure, yes, the thing you said, but it’s a “no, we need fifty Stalins!” objection — we’re getting there.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      When did I rank laws that are good over laws that are consistent, except chronologically?

      • keranih says:

        When you said:

        As far as I can tell there are two things we want in a legal system. First, it should have good laws that produce a just society. But second, it should at least have clear and predictable laws that produce a safe and stable society.

        If you meant, “we want two things: 1) xyz and 2) abc, then I would probably understand it to mean a non-ordered list. But the way you phrased it made it seem pretty clear that you were valuing good laws over clear laws.

        If the intent was (as above) to say “we need laws that are both good and clear” then I didn’t follow, and I agree that including both is important.