SELF-RECOMMENDING!

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.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. JohnMcG says:

    The more I think about this, the more unworkable it seems.

    A universal call to “be nice” runs into problems as soon as we have rivalrous claims of what it means to be “nice.” It may not be “nice” to keep Trans people’s out of bathrooms of the gender they identify with. Others see it not “nice” to enter a bathroom that some had expected and were comfortable only with those who are anatomically of the same gender.

    So, to make this system workable, we have to invalidate one of the claims. Instead of negotiating a compromise, those with the most cultural power have a total victory. Not only must those concerned about unisex bathrooms lose on this particular issue, they must also have their concerns invalidated as bigotry, hatred, and fear-mongering.

    And, I don’t think the proposed solution of “organizing” meanness makes things better. It seems this leads to things like passing ham-fisted laws rather than working things out on an individual level, and raising the stakes to the point where each side feels they have to dig in. My suspicion is that the people of North Carolina could have worked out better arrangements than the current Last Stand of the Culture War we’re witnessing now.

  2. Deiseach says:

    Recommending this brilliant Argentinian sports channel ad for the Copa America using Donald Trump’s speech (the conjunction of Messi with that particular phrase is hilarious).

    • Hlynkacg says:

      LOL; that is wonderful! Thank you.

      • Deiseach says:

        Makes the speech a lot more enjoyable if you imagine The Donald is talking about the necessity for a solid back four when he’s talking about building a really great wall 🙂

  3. JoeQTaxpaer says:

    Coordinated meanness sounds a lot like justice: it looks fair from everybody’s view, not just the one with greatest motive to be mean.

    • Jiro says:

      This is the point where sokmeone can legitimately bring up Hitler. He did an awful lot of coordinated meanness and it certainly didn’t look fair from everyone’s view.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Technically he did a lot of his worst stuff in secret. He didn’t publicize the killing programs; neither did a lot of other totalitarian regimes.

        Of course this rule breaks down when you get to Pol Pot or Rwanda…

  4. M. Qtips says:

    So it sounds like the rule isn’t “Be nice”, but rather, “Minimize resulting entropy.”

  5. Jill says:

    People are making some interesting points here about calling people by their desired gender pronoun, or not. Food for thought. Certainly if someone demanded that everyone address them as “Jesus Christ” or else their feelings would be hurt, that wouldn’t fly. So there is a question, in what circumstances does a person have a right to be addressed the way they prefer to be?

    Personally, I have no problem with calling a person by the gender pronoun they prefer. For people who object to it, I think perhaps, for them, it is similar to the “Jesus Christ” request. They feel like they would be agreeing to pretend something that is not true, i.e. agreeing to tell a lie so as not to hurt someone’s feelings, since they see gender in terms of birth gender only.

    • SM says:

      I think it might be useful to separate “has the right” and “it’s nice to”. I.e. if somebody insists on being called “Our Lord Jesus Christ” and I really like him and/or don’t want to upset him, I might just do that. Or might not, if I don’t care for his quirks. But when somebody insists it’s not mere matter of politeness but it’s his/her right to control my speech, I would certainly object. Not because I like being impolite, but because I don’t see how it’s a right in any sensible understanding of rights.

      Now, of course, there’s an issue of moderation – the moderator can say that being nice to the person requesting use of certain pronoun is much more valuable to him on this venue than ability of other commenters to use whatever pronoun they like, and that would be completely legitimate. I wouldn’t call it “right” though – it’s just the decision of the moderator. Just like if the decision would be that you should not use the seven dirty words in comments would not mean you have a right to never hear those words – it’s just in this venue the rules are such that you should not use them.

  6. Jill says:

    It is refreshing to have a board’s moderator expect people to act nicely in general. We could use a LOT more of that in political debates, gatherings and discussion. It’s ridiculous how childish the candidates and their supporters have gotten, in insulting people.

    I was not in favor of Ted Cruz for president at all. But I really felt sorry for him when someone at one of his political gatherings told him “You look like a fish monster and you’re a horrible person.”

    The guy can’t help the way he looks. And if the person thought there was something horrible that Cruz did, he should have been specific, rather than slamming him as a person.

    And of course there is the 24/7/365 Obama bashing and Hillary bashing that keeps going on all over the Internet and the TV., radio etc.

    I prefer to see political discussion that is about how our country can become better in various ways, and our problems solved as a nation. The insult fest seems to have crowded most of the constructive discussion out of the picture.

  7. SM says:

    It seems to me you are putting too much trust into the wisdom of crowds. After all, we know there are cases of various bad groups taking over governments and wreaking massive destruction and suffering, and just hoping since it’s coordinated it can’t be that bad is not a very big hope. Taking your example, a Jew can very well be very worried about people and groups talking about oppressing Jews by coordinated means, exactly because it has already happened, so the promise “oh, it is very small chance it will happen here” is not really convincing – unless you can prove very convincingly why the chance is indeed very small and will remain small forever. In fact, a Jew probably should be worried more about that than about “beating up” group because beating up would be easier to counter-act than coordinated governmental oppression – if somebody tries to beat you up you can counter-organize, use weapons, involve police and public shaming, etc., but your options are much smaller if the state does the same.
    Historic examples also show you do not need to convert 51% of the population – more like 10-20% that are active and passionate enough to make silent 60% decide it’s better not to oppose them and suppress the opposing 10-20%.

  8. Jill says:

    I do have concerns about the transgender issue. Not the bathrooms. If you use the bathroom of the gender you look like, no one notices anything different.

    It’s the operations that concern me. It seems like surgeons are trying to sell people stuff that doesn’t exist– as many expert sales people do in all areas of life. You get people radically altering their bodies, experiencing pain and trauma from the surgery– and from it being nonreversible. And people believing that this surgery and these treatments are going to make them into the other gender. But they’re not.

    The surgery is far from making a person’s body into being the gender that they have been fantasizing about being. They’re made into a crude imitation of that gender, that likely doesn’t measure up at all to what they were fantasizing about.

    It’s not that I think there should be laws against transgender surgery. It’s just that I wish it were possible to have a more open discussion of these issues, without rigid sides taken. You don’t have to be fundamentalist religious or Right Wing to have concerns about transgender issues. But it seems most folks are either politically correct Right Wingers, wanting to discriminate against transgender people– or else politically correct Left Wingers who feel they must show so much respect for transgender folks as a minority, that the liberals treat tans folks like most liberals treat Black Lives Matter folks.

    Liberals mostly just act as if trans folks are right about everything, to be politically correct. So if trans folks fantasize that this surgery is the answer to all their prayers, then we aren’t allowed to question that.

    Or maybe we don’t feel free to talk about what the surgeries actually do to a person’s body. Hopefully their surgeons are legally required to talk about this to them.

    But many trans people probably have their eyes on their fantasy stars and pay little attention. Because that’s what humans are like. We think about what we want and ignore a lot of uncomfortable realities.

    • Nornagest says:

      Rather than speculating, why not talk to people that have gone through it, and see how they felt about the outcome of their surgery? Or better yet, look for research that’s done that systematically? It’s been performed for many years now, so you should be able to get an idea of long-term as well as short-term outcomes — and you should be able to find data from before it was a political football, too.

      (Note that I haven’t done this, and I’d be interested to see what the results are.)

    • John Schilling says:

      I do have concerns about the transgender issue. Not the bathrooms. If you use the bathroom of the gender you look like, no one notices anything different

      Among adults, sure. But a big part of that battle is being fought in high schools. And while seventeen-year-old Jackie may be as fully invested in her current gender identity as is possible for someone with a penis that the surgeons won’t touch for at least another year, most everybody at the school clearly remembers the thirteen-year-old socially-maladjusted Jack. Possibly some of the other girls remember Jack’s clumsy, creepy attempts at hitting on them back when he was trying to fit in as one of the guys.

      This is a hard problem; I don’t see any obvious answers that don’t leave some people feeling genuinely threatened by the outcome.

      • Jill says:

        Interesting. I never thought about it at the high school level. Strange that a transgender individual would choose high school as the time to come out It’s got to be the absolute worst time of life for someone to do that.

        But I am looking now, and I see a lawsuit was filed on this topic in Chicago. Interesting.

        Part of the issue here is, what is there to keep people who are not transgender from pretending to be, in order to get access to girls in the girls locker room? Nothing, it seems.

        I joined a women’s group once, and one of the people who showed up to the meetings was a transgender female, born male. The group ended up splitting up, rather than go through a big fight about who could be in the group. The group was about sharing experiences of growing up as a female– which of course the transgender person didn’t have. That person had experiences of wishing to be female, which are quite different.

        None of the group members born female wanted that person there, although no one cared which rest room they used. And no one wanted them to be discriminated against in jobs or restaurant service, or anything like that.

        That’s the problem though with liberal political correctness. Being a minority means always being considered correct, and having all your demands granted.

        I say this as a person who is progressive, but not politically correct.

        • Deiseach says:

          Strange that a transgender individual would choose high school as the time to come out

          Well, puberty. This is the time when your body is changing on a very deep level and the stresses of dysphoria (if present) and social roles and expectations etc. are going to be at their most immediate.

          If you’re going to identify as “not this gender”, this is your time to do so since people really no longer have the option of thinking of you as “a tomboy but she’ll change when she gets older” or “he’s very quiet but once he starts growing taller and getting stronger he’ll hang out with boys his own age instead of his sisters”.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Jill
          Part of the issue here is, what is there to keep people who are not transgender from pretending to be, in order to get access to girls in the girls locker room? Nothing, it seems.

          Perhaps similarly handled as are needs for other medical accommodations. Need to bring a service dog to class … ground floor classroom for those in wheelchairs … etc. For example, there are government regulations as to which handicaps entitle someone to bring a service dog into certain facilities.

          Not to add an extra burden to the trans people, but to give some recourse when an unreasonable person is abusing the tolerance of reasonable people.

        • “Part of the issue here is, what is there to keep people who are not transgender from pretending to be, in order to get access to girls in the girls locker room?”

          The fact that being transgender is generally viewed, I suspect especially among high school age kids, as weird. I can imagine a teenaged male caught going into the girls’ restroom telling the school authorities that he is transgender and telling his peers how clever he was to claim to be, but actually pretending to be transgender if he isn’t sounds like a high price to pay for the opportunity to freak out teenage girls by going into their restroom.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s true now, but the people pushing for transgender access are the same ones fighting to normalize transgender status in general. The more normal it gets, the more plausible the scenario becomes, so I find it a little dishonest for those people to claim that it’ll never happen on grounds of high schoolers being too skeeved out by the option.

            (That said, I think the chances of normalizing it to that extent nationally, and having it stick for more than a few years, are approximately zero. I also think the whole bathroom issue is an incredibly stupid topic for a national debate.)

      • John Schilling says:

        Strange that a transgender individual would choose high school as the time to come out It’s got to be the absolute worst time of life for someone to do that.

        Except that it’s the time when people generally get far enough through puberty to understand, or at least believe, that this is what they have to do to be happy.

        Pragmatically, my advice to any high school student with transgender inclinations would be to live the next few years like you were a spy under deep cover in enemy territory, your very life dependent on maintaining cover as whatever it is people already think you are. Then take a year off after high school, and go to a college where nobody knows you while consistently presenting as whatever gender you are sure you want to be seen as. But that comes with costs too, and it’s not fair to put them all on someone already so vulnerable.

        Hence, the hard problem.

        Part of the issue here is, what is there to keep people who are not transgender from pretending to be, in order to get access to girls in the girls locker room?

        Right now, the severe social stigma afforded to the transgendered in all but the most enlightened environments (i.e. not high schools). That’s going to be a powerful deterrent to would-be Peeping Toms for some time to come. But the same people who are trying to open the women’s rest rooms, locker rooms, showers to the self-identified transgendered, are also trying to remove the social stigma. I am genuinely not sure how that story ends.

        • Jill says:

          There are certain types of people who are not concerned about social stigma e.g. psychopaths. And policies of letting anyone who claims to identify as transgender into female locker rooms or bathrooms, may seem like an engraved invitation to such people.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            That would require them to be willing to live as the other gender. While they don’t care about other people’s feelings, I have doubts about their willingness to wear short skirts and high heels for years. It really cuts down on your ability to attract girls through normal methods.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This is not true. The criteria is self-identification, and self-identification alone, and frankly, that’s all any business is going to have to go on.

            Do you really want to claim that living as a woman is all about wearing short skirts and high heels?

          • Randy M says:

            I don’t really think anyone is concerned with actual transsexuals molesting or spying on women in locker/rest rooms. They are concerned with people using the law as cover to do so without official suspicion and a ready alibi.

          • onyomi says:

            I still find the idea of sexual predators pretending to be transexuals just to gain access to bathrooms kind of far-fetched, but a more serious issue does occur to me–one which will almost inevitably start coming up assuming increased acceptance for transgender identity claims: prisons.

            How long before a male convict claims, at heart, to be a female in order that he be transferred to an all-female prison? Not that that would necessarily be pleasant for a single man surrounded by criminal women–he might end up regretting it–but it seems like it might happen anyway.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            How long before a male convict claims, at heart, to be a female in order that he be transferred to an all-female prison?

            Look up Pvt. Chelsea Manning.

            Her case seems to have good evidence: military medical records etc. But if some men were faking, why would this be a big serious problem?

          • onyomi says:

            I do recall the case of Chelsea Manning, though in her case I’m pretty sure it’s legit and, in any case, she wasn’t headed for a maximum security-type prison anyway.

            But aren’t the problems pretty obvious if the bar gets set low enough that any man about to go to maximum security man prison has to be taken seriously if he claims he belongs instead in maximum security female prison? Being the only man in a huge group of admittedly not-nice females sounds a lot more fun than being one man among many other violent men with no women around.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Onyomi
            Being the only man in a huge group of admittedly not-nice females sounds a lot more fun than being one man among many other violent men with no women around.

            So, again, why is this a big serious problem? So a few men go from high sec mens to high sec womens? So what?

            If some officials find it a problem, they can squash it real quick by minor regulations. “We want to support your health and preferences. Have you taken your hormone pills today? When would you like your surgery?”

          • onyomi says:

            Mandatory hormone treatments might be a way to deal with it.

          • John Schilling says:

            Mandatory hormone treatments might be a way to deal with it.

            For a subset of gender identities, yes. The people who feel they need to present themselves socially as a woman but have sex by inserting their erect penis into a vagina – and I’m sorry I don’t know whether the correct term is “hetero transwoman” or “gay transwoman” or what, but they do exist – will find such a practice as abhorrent as e.g. what was done to Alan Turing.

            All of these problems are easy if we only have to deal with a subset of gender identities that people claim in the real world. And it may be that the best we can do is to throw up our hands and say “OK, this covers 99.85% of the population, Dear God we’re sorry for the hell we’re going to put the rest of you through, welcome to Omelas”. I wouldn’t be averse to thinking a bit harder about the alternatives before we break out the mandatory drug therapies.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “and I’m sorry I don’t know whether the correct term is “hetero transwoman” or “gay transwoman” or what, but they do exist ”

            Futa? Or is that just the porn term?

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ John Schilling
            The people who feel they need to present themselves socially as a woman but have sex by inserting their erect penis into a vagina– and I’m sorry I don’t know whether the correct term is [….]

            Normal heterosexual plus cross dressing.

          • hlynkacg says:

            The people who feel they need to present themselves socially as a woman but have sex by inserting their erect penis into a vagina – and I’m sorry I don’t know whether the correct term is “hetero transwoman” or “gay transwoman” or what, but they do exist

            You mean transvestites?

            Pertinent Eddie Izzard sketch

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Samuel Skinner

            Futa? Or is that just the porn term?

            Futa is short for futanari, which is the Japanese word for hermaphrodites.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ InferentialDistance
            Futa is short for futanari, which is the Japanese word for hermaphrodites.

            Better see what Google / Urban Dictionary says before using ‘futa’, though.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Randy M
            I don’t really think anyone is concerned with actual transsexuals molesting or spying on women in locker/rest rooms. They are concerned with people using the law as cover to do so without official suspicion and a ready alibi.

            I remember a similar vision being used against the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) circa 1970s. And, Google informs me on a search for { ERA restrooms }, similar fears were used to defend Jim Crow customs, and for some political and semi-political issues in decades earlier yet.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            “Futa is short for futanari, which is the Japanese word for hermaphrodites.”

            So gelborru is misusing the term. Dang- I hoped that was a correct fit.

      • houseboatonstyx says:

        @ John Schilling

        To posit a John/Joannie (aka JJ) in pretty much the same situation. Attempting “to live the next few years like you were a spy under deep cover in enemy territory” is unlikely to work if the normal signs of male puberty aren’t happening. Worse, if this JJ has already come out to some extent.

        So what are the respective outcomes? If the mtf trans goes in the girls’ restroom, there’s maybe noise and some girl might even think she’s in danger of rape — very unlikely.

        If zie goes in the boys’ restroom, there’s danger zie will be bullied or given real physical damage.

    • Nita says:

      Similarly, cochlear implants don’t really give you the same quality of sound perception that naturally hearing people have. The technology is getting better, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. And most people are not aware of this.

      Technically, doctors have to inform their potential patients in order to obtain their informed consent. Are there reasons to believe that some doctors have been shirking this duty, and people have been undergoing surgery while misinformed about its results?

    • M. Qtips says:

      Parenthetical aside, just catering to a pet peeve of mine: not a liberal here, but a good friend and frequent close observer of many. Please reconsider painting liberals (or anybody) with a broad brush. I know an abundance liberals who are skeptics by nature, on all issues, and most of the people I know on the left who agree with the what might be called ‘party line’ on trans issues do so because they’ve thought it through and can support that opinion with cogent arguments, not out of some kind of “political correctness” or “bleeding heart” empty-headed, knee-jerk sympathy for underdogs, as apparently in so many conservatives’ imaginations. (FWIW I have no opinion on the issue itself, I’m not informed enough about it to form one so I leave it to others.)

      In somewhat stronger terms, I feel Black Lives Matter is at its heart one of the most important issues facing our nation today, and while there’s wrong on both sides, the only right is on the side of BLM—I have yet to hear a single argument against it, in many months of attention, that isn’t solidly grounded in either misinformed ignorance or ingrained, structural white supremacy (except in one single case where it was grounded in individualized, explicit white supremacy).

      If you want to form a valid opinion about it, I would suggest you should very carefully study the issue and learn the arguments for it, as understood by the more rational people involved in it, in addition to whatever arguments you may have heard against it, before commenting on it publicly. There are aspects of the black experience in America that are very difficult to grasp if you haven’t personally been on the wrong end of them (it was difficult even for me to grasp, and I approached it with a far more open mind than you seem to be exhibiting here.)

      That is not an opinion formed out of some sort of knee-jerk “political correctness” but rather the result of several years of personal critical observation and active inquiry, and a complete (and demonstrated) willingness to change my most dearly-held beliefs when the factual evidence is against them. You insult people like me, and my vast efforts and difficult path to truly understanding the issue, when you disparage and trivialize it as you have.

      It’s my fondest hope that the ultimate result of BLM will be to normalize the understanding of systematic racism among people who have no firsthand experience with it, as I’ve begun to understand it. If that happens—and I’m by no means certain that it will, there are enough bad actors on both sides to easily derail the entire thing—but if it does, comments like yours here are going to look far uglier by the light of history than they may to you right now. They do to me, and a few short years ago they wouldn’t have, either. But I think this is a much more serious issue than those who don’t understand it tend to perceive, and it’s as close as I come to religious faith that the sub-cognitive social machinery of structural, ‘implicit’, or ‘invisible’ racism is a cancer that will metastasize and eventually spread to attack far outside the current limits of its victims.

      If BLM fails, it will be a national moral tragedy of historic proportions. I sincerely hope that someday most people come to understand that.

      Until then, please, if you can, be aware of and perhaps think twice before belittling me.

      While I obviously haven’t presented my direct arguments in support of it, I hope this comment has been enough to convince you that there are indeed rational, skeptical people who have learned through observation and intellectual rigor that those arguments do exist.

      It ain’t just bleeding hearts and “political correctness”, two phenomena which seem to be orders of magnitude more prevalent in conservative imaginations, and conservative media punditry, than they are among real-world liberals as I’ve lived among thousands of them for close to 50 years. (Granted, yes, there’s a loud lunatic fringe on the left where you can find all that stuff easily. The right has an analogous and equally unflattering one, I shouldn’t have to remind you. It’s not the majority or even a sizable minority.)

      And, besides, I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize lack of depth in political opinions, from—I presume—the side of the playing field that just picked perhaps the most factually truth-averse, anti-analytical, reason-disdaining major party nominee in American history. Sorry, your team handed your critics that card; expect it to be used frequently for a while 😛

      • suntzuanime says:

        You sure sound like a liberal, friend.

      • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

        Unfortunately, the paragraphs of self-praise in between “Please reconsider painting liberals (or anybody) with a broad brush” and “Sorry, your team handed your critics that card; expect it to be used frequently for a while ” aren’t enough to prevent people from spotting the contradiction– but they’re enough to make us positively gleeful when we pounce on it.

      • For what it’s worth, I’m dubious about Black Lives Matter because it’s not inclusive enough. Not only does it leave out that the police are dangerous to white people though not as dangerous on the average, but the police are more dangerous to Native Americans than to black people.

      • Glen Raphael says:

        @M. Qtips:

        I would suggest you should very carefully study the issue and learn the arguments for it, as understood by the more rational people involved in it

        Could you give us a hint as to where to find all these allegedly-good parts of BLM? I didn’t even realize it was the sort of thing that could have coherent arguments for it. Most of what I’ve seen flying under that banner has seemed anti-rational, uninterested in evidence or argument in favor of outrage-mongering and a general plan along these lines:

        (1) We are outraged!
        (2) We will express our outrage!
        (3) ???
        (4) Things get better…somehow?

        In short, my perception of that elephant has all been consistent with what you call the “loud lunatic fringe on the left”.

        I grant that there might be a there there and I grant that you believe you’ve found it, but I haven’t found it yet. So: where should I have been looking?

        • Mr. G says:

          As an example of where NOT to look, consider the BLM’s list of misconceptions:

          “misconception” #2 is that it’s a leaderless movement. The document says no, it’s a leaderfull movement by which they mean it’s got LOTS of leaders! A half dozen component subgroups or vaguely affiliated groups – they all have leaders, and every local chapter’s got leaders and, heck, you could be a leader too if you join! Which is…pretty much exactly what anyone would mean in saying “it’s a leaderless movement”.

          “misconception” #3 is that BLM has no clear agenda, which also seems to be true. And no, the fact that a half-dozen vaguely related affiliate and/or component groups each individually have some “demands” does not mean that BLM itself does too. Since nobody is in charge, there’s no way to definitively say what the group wants or tell if it’s making progress toward getting it.

          There’s a decent New Yorker article on where is BLM headed, but much like the “misconceptions” article it seems to reinforce the impression that BLM contains way too much toxoplasma and selection bias.

          There are some really important points that need to be made about police accountability and police brutality and police militarization…but there’s nothing specifically black (or trans, or feminist) about those problem and trying to force it into that mold – using these incidents as an excuse to fight the culture war – seems like a bad idea. Turning actual social problems into racist and/or gendered social problems is great if you gain power and status from being on a certain side in that conflict, but not so great if you want to actually improve either the social problems or the race problems or the gender problems.

      • “Not only does it leave out that the police are dangerous to white people though not as dangerous on the average”

        It might be true, but Scott had a pretty detailed discussion of the evidence here a while back, and it wasn’t at all clear whether police discriminated, on average, against blacks.

      • Vorkon says:

        It’s my fondest hope that the ultimate result of BLM will be to normalize the understanding of systematic racism…

        I think you mean “systemic.” The two words have wildly different meanings, and it really irks me how often people (often, but not always, knowingly) conflate them.

      • Agronomous says:

        @M. Qtips:

        they’ve thought it through and can support that opinion with cogent arguments

        That’s not the standard around here. Everybody in this comments section is smart enough to come up with cogent arguments for a conclusion they start with and are unwilling to give up (because, e.g., doing so would lose them friends, status, or jobs).

        Hell, J. Random Lawyer can come up with good arguments on either side of any given issue: it’s their job.

        The question is not, “Can I find a good argument for this position?” — it’s: “Is this position actually correct?”

        I’ll leave it to others to interrogate your self-congratulatory performance of Not-a-Liberal Liberalism. I can’t do it nicely enough to avoid the Reign of Terror.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ Jill
      You get people radically altering their bodies, experiencing pain and trauma from the surgery– and from it being nonreversible. And people believing that this surgery and these treatments are going to make them into the other gender.

      I have this same sort of feeling about a lot of surgeries (and other radical treatments). But if there are rules from the Right-wing side such as “All penises must go in the men’s locker room” — that’s pressure to go ahead with the surgery asap.

  9. BBA says:

    Let me just say that, even if you can coordinate it, being mean isn’t always the best choice.

    • Deiseach says:

      I wonder how funny the “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” meme looks now, given that both Cruz and Kasich have dropped out of the race and The Donald is looking worryingly like he will be the Republican nominee? Perhaps framing the discourse on a higher level than “Ted Cruz is weird-looking” might have served the Democrat-supporting right-thinking people better in the long run?

      Better hope those t-shirts made a lot of money! Though don’t worry, I think Trump is not going to try overturning Roe vs Wade or anything like it.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” stuff helped Trump, but not because anyone was convinced of the badness of Cruz as a result. Rather, it looked like the same sort of contempt towards conservatives (broadly, non-leftists) as has become common, which resulted in more support for the one candidate willing to hit back: Trump.

        • Hlynkacg says:

          I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of Instapundit’s response to David Brooks these last few months and I expect to get a lot more before November.

          To ask the question is to answer it.

          The Tea Party movement — which you also failed to understand, and thus mostly despised — was a bourgeois, well-mannered effort (remember how Tea Party protests left the Mall cleaner than before they arrived?) to fix America. It was treated with contempt, smeared as racist, and blocked by a bipartisan coalition of business-as-usual elites. So now you have Trump, who’s not so well-mannered, and his followers, who are not so well-mannered, and you don’t like it.

          Message received and understood.

          • onyomi says:

            Translation: “I like things the way they are. People who don’t should kill themselves.”

          • Two McMillion says:

            When you say “America doesn’t need fixing”, what exactly do you mean? Do you mean that America has no problems whatsoever?

          • Anonymous says:

            Of course it isn’t perfect. It also isn’t broken and doesn’t need to charge radically in order to “become great again”. It’s the greatest it’s ever been.

            If the tea party or trump people have their way things will be objectively worse for them (never mind me). Utils from spite are great and all, but you can’t eat them.

            And I never said anything about killing themselves, though exile to either Mexico or Moldova (their choice) would be a pleasing aesthetic symmetry to it.

          • Psmith says:

            US median wage in 2010 was $26,364. US male median income in 1972 was $10,540

            A Buick, which back in 1972 was a typical car most people would buy, cost about four thousand dollars in 1972, say 40% of male median annual salary.

            Today’s Honda Civic, which is a typical car most people would buy today, costs about twenty thousand, about 75% of median salary.

            Which looks to me like a massive fall in living standards. The electronics in the modern car are nicer, but I really don’t give a $#!& about the stereo. The working class guy of 1972 could take a girl for a ride a lot easier than the working class guy of 2010. Electronics be damned.

            In 1972, a loaf of bread in the US cost about ten cents. A man’s median annual salary could buy one hundred thousand loaves of bread

            In 2010, a loaf of bread in the US costs about a dollar. The median annual salary can buy one quarter as much bread.

            –Bernie Sanders

            (wait, shit, wrong guy)

            (Also, this does not appear to be entirely accurate when we compare median male income to median male income: https://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/. So maybe not.).

            (But see also https://www2.census.gov/prod2/popscan/p60-087.pdf)

          • Hlynkacg says:

            If the tea party or trump people have their way things will be objectively worse for them.

            The Whole what’s the matter with Kansas? trope has been thoroughly debunked on this blog more than once.

            I also suspect that any real attempt on the part of the working class to leave or secede would be painted as treason. After all, the government can’t afford to let it’s tax base fly the coup.

            Edit:
            also see Psmith’s comment above.

          • Nornagest says:

            The car thing’s a little more complicated than it seems. I did a similar comparison a while back (a 2012 Ford Focus versus, if memory serves, a ’73 Maverick; a bit downmarket from a Civic and a Buick, but similar in spirit), and found that while the Focus cost twice as much adjusted for inflation, it was also about twice as good in every way that matters: power, acceleration, safety, cargo space, fuel economy. Plus the stereo, of course. And a lot more than twice as good when it comes to reliability; there’s a reason there aren’t many ’73 Mavericks on the road right now.

            That all sounds pointless from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old that just wants a vehicle for college, until you realize that used cars now are fairly reliable in most cases, while used cars in 1973 were a crapshoot at best regardless of age or brand. Buy a used vehicle for half of the sticker price on a new one and you’re still getting all those amenities, adjusted down a bit for progress since the last model refresh. Except that your car will probably last for five to ten years instead of ten to fifteen. And that’s still better than what you’d get out of the Maverick.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Hlynkacg
            Flyover working class isn’t a tax base. It’s giant welfare sink, albeit they insist on getting their welfare covertly.

            And Psmith wrong person indeed. You can tell because he characteristically writes as though woman aren’t real people. Wouldn’t go well with his pro-rape cheerleading I guess. Ad hominium and all that, but I can’t think of any other person that I’d be less inclined to listen to with an open mind.

          • Nornagest says:

            Anon, I’m very much not a Jim fan, but he doesn’t even mention gender issues in that post, or women at all aside from a throwaway reference to taking a girl for a ride. Can we at least try to take issues on their merits rather than shitting on the people that bring them up?

          • Anonymous says:

            In the section quoted it’s the dog that didn’t bark. No mention was the problem.

            Edit: Actually there is a mention: “The working class guy of 1972 could take a girl for a ride a lot easier than the working class guy of 2010.”

          • Nornagest says:

            I’m guessing you suspect him of some sleight of hand by using male income in ’73 vs. median in 2010?

            It’s a logical place to look for sleight of hand, but it’s not happening in this case; you get similar results if you use household income, or inflation-adjusted prices without touching income at all. Middle-class wages have been flat for thirty years pretty much any way you look at it, and new cars really have gotten more expensive. However, “new” glosses over some changes in the market, and you’re getting the same or more value for money, as I show above.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Flyover working class isn’t a tax base. It’s giant welfare sink.

            Right, because the real wealth producers work in clean places like restaurants and banks, not in dirty places like coal mines and steel mills. This is classism on your part pure and simple. This sort of classism is big part of why members of said class think that “America needs fixing” in the first place.

            I can’t think of any other person that I’d be less inclined to listen to with an open mind.

            anon@gmail making an appeal to reputation? The lack of self awareness is telling.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Nornagest
            No I’m saying he simply doesn’t care if women’s welfare has improved. They aren’t real people and they don’t count.

          • Anonymous says:

            While I can’t say I’ve read every anon@gmail post, I’d gladly put up the oeuvre against Mr. Rape’s.

            And yes Hlynkacg it turns out Marx was wrong about the labor theory of value. Maybe someone should get the word out to the flyover working class. Who knew there were so many marxists in that group?

          • Nornagest says:

            You may be right, but surely we, people who aren’t Jim and presumably do care about women’s welfare, might be interested in the prices of consumer goods over time? Women buy cars too.

          • Anonymous says:

            You might be concerned about the price of consumer goods, but 1) you seem to come to a different conclusion than jim and 2) you (probably) acknowledge that other things are important to.

            Besides which I don’t see how any of this is much of a refutation of my claims that: “[America] isn’t broken”, “[America] is the greatest it’s ever been”, and “If the tea party or trump people have their way things will be objectively worse for them”.

          • Psmith says:

            @Nornagest, very sound points. I don’t entirely disagree. Tires and brakes have gotten a lot better since 1972, to name but two.

            That said:
            1. I’m pretty sure that you could at least get a lot more street-legal straight-line acceleration for your dollar in 1972 than you can today. (Well, except for sportbikes, now I think of it. Hm.). To go with the Buick theme, a 1970 GSX claimed 510 lb-ft of torque and a likely underrated 350 hp for $4880 with a 13.38 quarter mile. I don’t believe you can get a stock street-legal car that will do that today new for under $40,000.
            2.

            And a lot more than twice as good when it comes to reliability; there’s a reason there aren’t many ’73 Mavericks on the road right now.

            I would think the relevant comparison is between ’73 Mavericks on the road today and 2010 Foci on the road in 2053, which doesn’t strike me as an obvious win for the Foci. Also, it’s my understanding that old cars were a lot easier to fix yourself when they broke down, although I don’t have enough personal experience to confirm or deny this.
            3. With respect to fuel economy, presumably the stagnationists will say that needing to worry about fuel economy in the first place is a sign of declining wealth.
            4. Likewise, I don’t know that I want to say that nobody really cares about safety, but I don’t have much of a response to the claim that we’ve made cars safer not because anybody except Ralph Nader actually wanted safer cars but because we can’t make cars faster, or even as fast as we used to, at the same price point.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: Middle-class wages have been flat for thirty years pretty much any way you look at it, and new cars really have gotten more expensive. However, “new” glosses over some changes in the market, and you’re getting the same or more value for money, as I show above.

            But was Jim Sanders right about bread?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            anon@gmail
            Who said anything about labor theory of value?

            You can’t eat a hedge fund, and buying food with that money is dependent on someone having that food and being willing to sell. Likewise you can burn money to keep warm (if you have the physical cash), but burning gas works better.

            Seriously, how long do you think the cultural centers like New York or LA would last if the fly-overs actually decided that they were done playing?

            Edit:
            Maybe someone should get the word out to the flyover working class. Who knew there were so many marxists in that group?

            You obviously haven’t been paying attention to the 2016 Democratic Primary results. Anyone else “Feeling the Bern”?

          • Nornagest says:

            @Psmith: Subaru claims a 13.2 quarter mile for its 2015 WRX, which you can probably get for around $25K. Some modern muscle cars can get you into that neighborhood in their stock spec, too — the Camaro seems to be the fastest — but that’ll push you closer to the $40K price point.

            That said, I’m willing to concede that you could probably get a lot more straight-line speed for money in the early Seventies — largely because cars weren’t loaded down with all the safety and emissions-control shit then that they have now.

            @Le Maistre Chat: It’s superficially plausible, but I honestly haven’t a clue. If you want to take a whack at it, be my guest.

          • Anonymous says:

            Diamonds are more valuable than water. Are we going to go through every idiotic misunderstanding of value?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Diamonds are more valuable than water.

            Only in such cases where water is plentiful and diamonds aren’t, and even then their relative value is strictly circumstantial. You should look to your own “idiotic misunderstandings of value” before castigating others.

            Seriously, you didn’t learn this stuff in high school?

          • Psmith says:

            Subaru claims a 13.2 quarter mile for its 2015 WRX, which you can probably get for around $25K.

            Very nice.

            Anyway, yeah, I see what you’re saying. I just think that the stagnationists have at least a colorable case here.

          • Adam says:

            We have speed limits. I’m not sure what advantage there is to getting more speed than you can legally use.

            I don’t know about bread because there are many different kinds of bread, but USDA tracks a weighted-average index of all cereal grains going back to the 1880s. It was $1.57 in 1972 and $5.18 in 2010, which at 3.29 is less than the income multiplier of 4.32, as median male income was actually $7450 in 1972 and $32205 in 2010. I’m not sure where Jim got the numbers, but that’s from Psmith’s Census link. The grain price is bulk, not retail, so hey, maybe Wonder Inc. has tripled its markup over the same span, or maybe he’s comparing Wonder bread from 1972 to artisan ciabatta in 2010.

            This isn’t to say the lower end of the middle class hasn’t gotten stiffed a bit in the last 40 years (though I don’t see why you need to lie to prove it), but usually the culprits would be housing, college, and healthcare expenses, which have all badly outpaced anything tracked by CPI and haven’t obviously become better products to the extent something like motor vehicles have.

          • Nornagest says:

            That link was Psmith’s, not mine.

          • Adam says:

            Caught me within the edit window.

          • Jiro says:

            Is it really okay to compare male income? I’d expect that having more women in the workforce would affect men’s income–if you have more people applying for jobs, but the number of jobs hasn’t gone up by enough, then the salary will go down.

            You may need to compare household income instead, but that has its own problems if there’s a greater divorce and single parent rate. Maybe two person household income?

          • Adam says:

            I definitely don’t think you should only look at male income. I just did that because Jim did.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            “So now you have Trump, who’s not so well-mannered, and his followers, who are not so well-mannered, and you don’t like it.”

            Yup. See also: Rabid Puppies.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Your position can be boiled down to “We should import foreign workers because they’re easier to exploit than the locals”.

            That’s refreshingly honest of you.

            Edit:
            It’s also telling that you assume that dirty work naturally means “unskilled”. Your classism is showing again.

          • Anonymous says:

            Who said anything about exploiting? It would be a trade of value for value. Is this more cowboy Marxism? Maybe Red was the right color after all.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            You did when you brought up finding “other takers”.

            You want to find cheaper labor elsewhere? That’s fine, but if you think that’s Marxism, you really need to reacquaint yourself with Hobbes, Smith, and Rand.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m not the one that called hiring cheaper labor “exploiting”. Also, no one needs to acquaint, much less reacquaint, himself with a third rate novelist with delusions of grandeur.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            No, you just said that they should kill themselves if they’re not satisfied with their lot, or otherwise fuck off to Moldova. Afterall, labor is cheap.

            I pointed out that it’s not nearly as cheap as you seem to assume because if the flyover class were to actually “fuck off” en masse the cultural centers that you value so highly would collapse. LA would be a charnel house without food and water from the Central Valley, and New York would freeze come winter without Appalachia’s coal and gas.

            You also seem to be ignoring the fact that the “flyovers” are a sizable percentage of the population, and control a sizeable chunk of territory. Why would they “fuck off to Moldova” when they can fuck off to Idaho or Utah?

            The irony of course is that any attempt to actually do so gets painted as treason, and the same folks who’re saying that the country would be “much improved if they took a hike” will turn around demand that the US Government use any and all power at it’s command to stop them if they tried. They think the current game is rigged, and that’s why “Flipping the Table” by electing someone like Sanders or Trump is looking like an increasingly attractive option.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            No one is or will paint emigration as treason. That’s your own personal delusion.

            You’ve obviously never had to pay expatriation taxes, nor have you paid much attention to US history. If (by way of example) the Mormons were to re-found the Nation of Deseret you’d better believe that the US Government would come down on them like a ton of bricks. Historically the Feds have taken a dim view of individual states/municipalities operating independently.

            As I said you can’t eat spite.

            Except it wont be the flyovers that will hurting for food if the system collapses. As I said above, most of the farms, reservoirs, and power-plants that the coastal urban centers depend on for their survival are situated in flyover territory.

            I’m curious, do you view lower-income urban demographics with the same disdain you view the flyovers? or is it tribalism all the way down?

          • Anonymous says:

            I like the bait and switch where fucking off to Moldova all of a sudden becomes starting a insurrection and trying to steal part of the country. Well done.

            As for the urban poor, at least they don’t insist that their welfare be dressed up — and that they really aren’t on welfare but are in fact the most valuable people around. They know their place.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Bait and switch? You just haven’t been paying attention. See my initial reply…

            I also suspect that any real attempt on the part of the working class to leave or secede would be painted as treason.

            As someone who spent a good chunk of time living/working abroad emigration out of the US is actually rather restrictive compared to most countries. You either need to pay a rather hefty expatriation fee or you need to continue to pay US income and property taxes on your foreign job/home. Otherwise you end up on the IRS’s (and Interpol’s) shit-list. As such leaving isn’t always an option, at least not for low-income folk dissatisfied with the IRS.

            That leaves secession or “Going Galt” which you characterized as “trying to steal part of the country” but that characterization begs the question. Why we do the residents of New York have a stronger claim on the ownership of Utah than the Residents of Salt Lake City? Are you really that eager for a scrap?

            I’m also curious as to what you think is being “dressed up”, it’s no secret that rural states spend more money per capita on things like roads, irrigation, and electricity, because the distances are longer and the people are fewer but that isn’t exactly “welfare” seeing as how those same roads and power-lines are what allow the rural areas to provide the cities with all the goods they take for granted. If they were to be disposed of it would be the urbanites who felt the pinch first, not the flyovers.

          • Anonymous says:

            Your average annual net income tax for the 5 years ending before the date of expatriation or termination of residency is more than a specified amount that is adjusted for inflation ($147,000 for 2011, $151,000 for 2012, $155,000 for 2013 and $157,000 for 2014).

            Your net worth is $2 million or more on the date of your expatriation or termination of residency.

            You fail to certify on Form 8854 that you have complied with all U.S. federal tax obligations for the 5 years preceding the date of your expatriation or termination of residency.

            If any of these rules apply, you are a “covered expatriate.”

            The only one that applies to our hypothetical working class expatriates to Moldova is not paying the five prior years worth of taxes, in which case they are already on the IRS’ shitlist.

            There’s a long history of working class dupes thinking they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires and worrying terribly about what their taxes will be once they turn all around. Maybe that’s what you were going for?

            As for your last paragraph, subsidies for rural living are not necessary to produce food or timber or coal. They might reduce the price, but they aren’t necessary and are an inefficient way of reducing the price even if they do. And in any event there’s always foreign trade. You threadbare fantasies about how rural areas are the secret beating heart are pathetic. And rural living subsidies aren’t even the worst forms of hidden welfare. That’d be disability, farm subsidies and above all the MIC.

          • Deiseach says:

            Diamonds are more valuable than water.

            Diamond availability on the market is carefully controlled to keep the prices high. God’s sake, even late Victorian/Edwardian novelists were using this as a plot point! (Pardon the faux-Cockney rendered phonetically, it’s in the original):

            “By the way, they very nearly came to blows in the garden, within a few yards of me, and I heard something that might come in useful and make Rosenthall shoot crooked at a critical moment. You know what an I. D. B. is?”

            “Illicit Diamond Buyer?”

            “Exactly. Well, it seems that Rosenthall was one. He must have let it out to Purvis in his cups. Anyhow, I heard Purvis taunting him with it, and threatening him with the breakwater at Capetown; and I begin to think our friends are friend and foe.”

            …”Ho, yuss, we know all abaht thet! Set a thief to ketch a thief — ho, yuss.”

            …But a sudden silence recalled my attention to the millionaire. And only his nose retained its color.

            “What d’ye mean?” he whispered with a hoarse oath. “Spit it out, or, by Christmas, I’ll drill you!”

            “Whort price thet brikewater?” drawled Raffles coolly.

            “Eh?”

            Rosenthall’s revolvers were describing widening orbits.

            “Whort price thet brikewater — old I.D.B.?”

            “Where in hell did you get hold o’ that ?” asked Rosenthall, with a rattle in his thick neck, meant for mirth.

            “You may well arst,” says Raffles. “It’s all over the plice w’ere I come from.”

            “Who can have spread such rot?”

            That’s the whole rationale behind blood diamonds – they are sold outside of the official markets in order to raise finance for warlords or insurgents (and my cynicism prompts me to think that the World Diamond Council was more worried about independent and competing sources of diamonds getting onto the market and reducing the price, rather than the ethics of exploitation and warmongering).

          • onyomi says:

            As much as I hate sending traffic to Salon, this article I just read responds perfectly to those who think “there’s nothing wrong with America.”

          • Anonymous says:

            Just goes to show you myopia isn’t limited to the left or the right.

            To manipulate them, the Democratic and Republican elites have both played a double game for forty years and have gotten away with it. … Elites on both sides have collaborated to engineer a revolution of economic decline for the working person, until the situation has reached unbearable proportions. The stock market may be doing well, and unemployment may theoretically be low, but people can’t afford housing and food, they can’t pay back student loans and other debts, their lives, wherever they live in this transformed country, are full of such misery that there is not a single word that an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush says that makes sense to them.

            This is just nonsense. Forty years ago was not some sort of golden age for the lower classes. On the contrary. The only metric that’s gotten significantly worse since then is inequality, and the only people that care about that are those that want to harness the politics of resentment and jealousy to further their personal ambitions. A rising tide really does, and has, lifted all boats. What it doesn’t do is fix the flaws in human nature, unfortunately.

          • Cerebral Paul Z. says:

            Not exactly the last word in coherence, that article. If Clinton is a tool of the elites, and there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Clinton and Trump, what can it possibly mean to say “the game, for the elites, is over”?

          • onyomi says:

            “The only metric”

            I rest my case.

          • Anonymous says:

            I wish I was a good enough writer to channel Deiseach, but just imagine one of her “tru wuv” responses on gay marriage except this time on the pride of the lower classes. I give no fucks. If they aren’t just dupes and really do want to burn it all down and experience true pain because their feelings are hurt, than I am entirely justified in thinking we’d be better off if they fucked off to Moldova.

          • Psmith says:

            Why we do the residents of New York have a stronger claim on the ownership of Utah than the Residents of Salt Lake City?

            That is kind of a key point. I do believe we’re dealing with Social Contract Is Love Social Contract Is Life anon from upthread.

            it’s no secret that rural states spend more money per capita on things like roads, irrigation, and electricity

            I wonder about this, actually. Going by the standard “federal money in minus federal money out” type metrics, red states tend to get a pretty good return on their taxes relative to blue, but the presence of the black belt complicates attempts to apply this fact to discussions of the white working class. See for instance 1, 2. But see also.

          • hlynkacg says:

            This is just nonsense. Forty years ago was not some sort of golden age for the lower classes.

            Nobody said that it was, only that it was arguably better than now.

            Consider the alien world described by Jack Kerouac and JD Salinger where people can just wander in off the street, ask for a job, and have a reasonable expectation of getting it. Consider the experience of someone who grew up in the “rust belt”. Who’s parents lost their jobs when the local mine or factory closed, and who has since watched their hometown fall apart.

            Do you really think they’re better off now than they would have been 40 years ago or even 20?

            I am entirely justified in thinking we’d be better off if they fucked off to Moldova.

            …and they are equally justified in thinking that we’d be better off if the urbanites fucked off to Sweden or Cuba. Yes, you can argue that all the money gets made in the cities, but they’ll just respond that without them there’d be nothing that money could buy.

            You’re basically in the position of any good Londoner of the 1800s who hates it when those damn dirty Sepoys try to haggle with you on the price of tea and will demand that the full might of the Empire be brought down upon them should they try “steal” India from it’s rightful British owners.

            PS:
            In regards to the “working class dupes thinking they are temporarily embarrassed millionaires” you conveniently left off the part at the top where…

            If you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien, the rules for filing income, estate, and gift tax returns and paying estimated tax are generally the same whether you are in the United States or abroad. Your worldwide income is subject to U.S. income tax, regardless of where you reside.

            Which, once again, I covered in my earlier reply when I said…

            …You either need to pay a rather hefty expatriation fee or you need to continue to pay US income and property taxes on your foreign job/home.

          • “I’m sorry it upsets you so much that the people you’ve decided to identify with are cryto-welfare queens.”

            Perhaps I missed it–did you explain what you meant by that and why? Are you claiming that white working class Americans are mostly on welfare? If not, what?

          • “I like the bait and switch where fucking off to Moldova all of a sudden becomes starting a insurrection and trying to steal part of the country. ”

            The example offered was the case of the Mormons. In what sense was the area they settled “part of the country?” Because the U.S. government claimed it but had done nothing to get control of it until the Mormons settled it? That was about as pure a case of Lockean property claim as you can expect to find.

          • Deiseach quoted “Diamonds are more valuable than water.”

            And responded:

            “Diamond availability on the market is carefully controlled to keep the prices high. ”

            The diamond/water paradox was discussed by Adam Smith, a little more than a century before the formation of De Beers. Diamonds were described as valuable by Pliny and others a considerable while earlier.

            And, currently, De Beers controls only about a third of the rough diamond market.

          • hlynkacg says:

            David Friedman asks:

            I missed it–did you explain what you meant by that and why?

            It’s the old “rural areas receive more federal money than they pay in” metric, which I’ve already responded to.

            After all, we expect rural areas to pay more per capita for things like roads and power lines because the distances are longer and the population is lower. Likewise most of the federal money they receive tends to be in the form of things like military installations, power-plants, and NASA test facilities which are generally built well away from urban centers due to the whole NIMBY effect.

          • Jiro says:

            The only one that applies to our hypothetical working class expatriates to Moldova is not paying the five prior years worth of taxes, in which case they are already on the IRS’ shitlist.

            The problem is that even if you don’t have to pay, proving to the US government that you don’t have to pay is extremely expensive, requires hiring lots of specialized paperwork pushers that are hard to find overseas, and subjects you to large penalties in case of a mistake. If you’re a multinational corporation, you have a house lawyer to deal with this., If you’re an individual, you’re just screwed.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you are an individual who is no longer a US citizen or resident, why do you even care?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Because the US government will put a warrant out for you if you don’t.

          • Anonymous says:

            It isn’t extremely expensive and you can do it yourself. At least for the population under discussion. The rich are a different story, but temporarily embarrassed millionaires aside, that’s not relevant to the discussion.

            Also, I like that Atwood thinks his ancestors found an empty desert with no one living there and turned in into a land flowing with milk and honey. Good story, but seems a bit derivative IMO.

        • Anonymous says:

          If you are an expatriate, i.e. you’ve renounced your US citizenship, and you aren’t a covered expatriate you neither need to continue paying taxes on your worldwide income nor pay an expatriation tax.

          This isn’t rocket science.

      • SM says:

        It is quite surprising (though maybe it shouldn’t be) and upsetting to me when the people deploying those weird-geek-shaming strategies against Cruz (they don’t genuinely think he is Zodiac killer but they think marking him as “weirdo” and then exploiting base revulsion towards “weirdos” as a weapon is useable) look like the same people that could be singled out and ostracized as “weirdos” in certain high-school environments or similar places. I mean, you don’t have to like Cruz, it’s quite fine to oppose everything Cruz stands for, but could we please at least go above “this guys doesn’t look like somebody I used to see, he must be a serial killer” thing, and from the same people that would swear they are for maximum inclusiveness if asked?

      • BBA says:

        I suspect most left-wingers, if pressed, would admit that they find the prospect of a Trump presidency slightly less terrifying than the prospect of a Cruz presidency. At least the ones who know anything about Cruz beyond “he’s the Zodiac Killer lolz!”

        (Was this meant as a reply to me? I don’t see what this has to do with my Homestar link.)

        • M. Qtips says:

          I’m left-leaning by birth although definitely not a left winger anymore, but I still have many friends across the spectrum between blue dogs Dems and social libertarians. So I can tell you with some authority that, I don’t know about “most”, but among some of the more perspicacious on the left, there is definitely a scootch more opposition to a Cruz presidency than a Trump presidency. Trump is seen as ideologically repellent, but basically an oaf. Cruz is seen as ideologically as bad, but intelligent, devious, and scheming on top off it.

          I, personally, breathed a huge sigh of relief when he dropped out. Without intending to start any debate, my personal opinion was that Trump would be a loud, obnoxious, but basically ineffectual lame duck and Hillary would be a menace who won over half the country even as she sold us all out (Hello Obama II, er, GWB III, er, Reagan VI) but the worst we’d face is another recession. But Cruz, now, the prospect of him with real power scared me.

          • Deiseach says:

            But if the strategy for dealing with political opponents is to use mockery, then the mockers have no right to be shocked and appalled when (a) that mockery is used against their candidates (b) the other side ends up represented by someone who is unaffected by their mockery and indeed welcomes it because the more jeering they do, the more they are persuading people to come to the opponent’s side.

            And it is rather hypocritical for people who strive to lecture the world about inclusivity, non-shaming, not judging people on appearance or ability, acceptance without judgement, and so on to resort to “He’s got a weird face, haw haw haw! He must be so dumb! Haw haw haw!”

          • hlynkacg says:

            But if the strategy for dealing with political opponents is to use mockery, then the mockers have no right to be shocked and appalled when (a) that mockery is used against their candidates (b) the other side ends up represented by someone who is unaffected by their mockery and indeed welcomes it because the more jeering they do, the more they are persuading people to come to the opponent’s side.

            Exactly!

            In fact it’s an almost predictable result, to tie this into the Genetic Engineering thread one post over; If we select right wing politicians for ability to resist mockery, we will eventually breed politicians who are less susceptible to mockery. Some might even adapt to harness it as an energy source.

      • My assumption is that if “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer” did Trump any good (did it?) it’s because a lot of Trump supporters want a leader who can get away with saying any old thing, as long as it’s hostile.

        • Deiseach says:

          They didn’t want Donald Trump because he’s a horrible bigot. But faced with other candidates for the Republicans, they didn’t like any of them – fair enough. But the only grounds they used were mockery and stupid memes like “Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer” (yes, I’m sure the families of the murder victims were laughing right along at that one).

          So if you have no coherent expression of why you think Candidate X is a bad candidate, then you get a Candidate Y who doesn’t care a straw about your jeering. And people who might have supported Candidate X are not feeling “Yes, I should definitely think about going to the side of the people who thought the Zodiac Killer meme was hilarious, I’m sure they will welcome me and strive to honour my values”, so if all they are faced with is Trump as the only viable alternative, what are they going to do?

          I imagine a lot of reasonable people will not vote, or will vote third party/independent candidate if one is available. But I can see a lot of people going “This is the only choice you left us, so I’m voting for him. How funny is that joke t-shirt now?”

  10. EH says:

    This post was meandering and incoherent, with so many unprincipled exceptions and downright non-sequiturs that my opinion of the author has become much lower.

    Why not just say “my opinions are illogical and incoherent, and I may ban anybody who espouses traditional morality,or points out that people who think they are the other sex are wrong, or who publicly disapproves of immorality, or makes me take offense on behalf of some hypothetical person whom I imagine should feel offended or just generally points out that my expressed views are absurd, or points out that the predictable end result of my non-negotiable social beliefs is profound degeneracy leading to the fall of Western Civilization and the replacement and dispossession of the posterity of those who founded and built it. ”

    If you’ll read the last bit again, that’s the reason I and people like me consider you and people like you to be existential threats who must be defeated and expelled.

    • Evan Þ says:

      “Why not just say ‘my opinions are illogical and incoherent…'”

      Scott’s already admitted that much, at least.

    • Deiseach says:

      EH, were I to run a traditional (not Traditionalist) Catholic blog and say “I’m going to ban people who argue against traditional morality or who try to push for immorality in society”, would you say that my opinions are illogical and incoherent, or that I do not have the right to run my own blog as I see fit, or that I am an existential threat who should be defeated and expelled from Western Civilisation?

      Scott is liberal in his politics and beliefs (by “liberal” I do not mean any particular political position more general than “on the leftward side of the spectrum of left and right”; I’m not trying to pin him down to any particular party or grouping). So he runs his blog by those lights, and he is perfectly entitled to do so.

      Whether you or anyone else find his opinions illogical and incoherent is a subjective matter of judgement. But you cannot say that he is acting beyond his bounds in exercising his right to set limits to the kinds of things he is willing to permit or entertain on his own personal blog.

      This is not a public space in the sense of the public square. This is a personal and private endeavour. He is not setting himself up as a media or political space for opposing ideologies to fight it out. He is attempting to be a neutral (insofar as we know what he chooses to tell us of his beliefs and ethical system choices, so we can judge where he is coming from) facilitator of a certain level of discussion, but this is not a free-range forum – that’s what the sub-reddit is for. He posts on particular topics that interest him or have attracted his attention, and we get to talk about those.

      Scott can, if he wishes, put up a post about knitting patterns. If that meanders into a fight over the future of Western Civilisation, I think he’s perfectly entitled to say “That’s not what I want to hear about, I want to know your opinion on plain versus purl stitch, anybody who wants to fight about the Hurrians if it’s not related to textile arts is getting the boot”.

      He is the God-Emperor of this blog and is entitled to invoke the Reign of Terror if it so pleases him, and I’m happy with that! 🙂

      • Jiro says:

        There’s a difference between openly not being fair, and pretending to be fair while actually not.

        Scott can moderate the blog in any way he wants, but if he pretends to be moderating it for rational discourse while really moderating it against rational discourse, he’s going to get criticized for it.

      • EH says:

        >EH, were I to run a traditional (not Traditionalist) Catholic blog and say “I’m going to ban people who argue against traditional morality or who try to push for immorality in society”, would you say that my opinions are illogical and incoherent, or that I do not have the right to run my own blog as I see fit, or that I am an existential threat who should be defeated and expelled from Western Civilisation?

        [Yes. As a Catholic,your opinions are illogical and incoherent. You can run your blog as you see fit, but that does not make your opinions logical or coherent, nor does it make them correct. Arguing for traditional morality makes Catholics pro-civilization, so tolerable, unlike those arguing for degeneracy, nevertheless the bulk of their beliefs are false and self-contradictory, and ultimately they have no right to be wrong, therefore those beliefs must be defeated. If they don’t surrender and admit their error, then at some point tolerance will end and they must go.]

        >Scott is liberal in his politics and beliefs (by “liberal” I do not mean any particular political position more general than “on the leftward side of the spectrum of left and right”; I’m not trying to pin him down to any particular party or grouping). So he runs his blog by those lights, and he is perfectly entitled to do so.

        [Yes, but that doesn’t make him right, nor consistent. By the same token, if his host culture doesn’t accept his views, as it shouldn’t, then he has no beef if it excludes him as he excludes those who attack his existance and culture.]

        >Whether you or anyone else find his opinions illogical and incoherent is a subjective matter of judgement. But you cannot say that he is acting beyond his bounds in exercising his right to set limits to the kinds of things he is willing to permit or entertain on his own personal blog.

        >[A matter of judgement is a matter of being right or wrong. He is wrong. His feelings are wrong. His subjectivity is wrong. His belief in what is best for him is wrong, and his claims of what is best for others are *utterly* wrong. If he isn’t willing to entertain what is right, that promiscuity, homosexuality, mental and sexual disease, the behaviors that spread them, and the culture that supports them are wrong, then he has no right to be accepted by any culture – if he rejects what is right then I reject him, I reject his beliefs, I oppose his spreading those diseased beliefs,]

        >This is not a public space in the sense of the public square. This is a personal and private endeavour. He is not setting himself up as a media or political space for opposing ideologies to fight it out. He is attempting to be a neutral (insofar as we know what he chooses to tell us of his beliefs and ethical system choices, so we can judge where he is coming from) facilitator of a certain level of discussion, but this is not a free-range forum – that’s what the sub-reddit is for. He posts on particular topics that interest him or have attracted his attention, and we get to talk about those.

        [If this is not a public place, then I suppose that you agree that private shops need not deal with those who oppose their beliefs. If Mr. Aaronson can’t be forced to allow a comment, then a bakery can’t be forced to write endorsements of ass-fucking on a cake.]

        >Scott can, if he wishes, put up a post about knitting patterns. If that meanders into a fight over the future of Western Civilisation, I think he’s perfectly entitled to say “That’s not what I want to hear about, I want to know your opinion on plain versus purl stitch, anybody who wants to fight about the Hurrians if it’s not related to textile arts is getting the boot”.

        [Hypothetical. He is talking about these subjects, and is asserting that the opinions held almost universally in every culture worthy of the name are now unacceptable.]

        >He is the God-Emperor of this blog and is entitled to invoke the Reign of Terror if it so pleases him, and I’m happy with that! ?

        [Glad to hear you’re on-board with God-Emperors. Go Trump!]

      • EH says:

        My last comment should have said: “Mr. Alexander”.

  11. Tibor says:

    I am sorry if this is the n-th time (which as well might be the case) someone came up with this in the comment thread, but it seems to me that the nature of “misgendering” someone is (or could be) quite a bit different from “shaming” people and hence seems like quite an arbitrary (and rather strange) requirement.

    The difference between calling someone who is biologically a man a “he” and saying “you’re an an evil capitalist/socialist pigdog” quite a big one I think. If I use the first it could be simply because I might believe that using gendered pronouns based on what people want to be called is nonsensical and I’d rather stick to objective biological facts (rather than dealing with messy contents of people’s heads). It does not necessarily have to mean that I want to shame someone or tell them to “go back in line”. At the same time the pigdog cannot reasonably interpreted as anything other than an insult. There is also a difference between someone calling someone a “he” even though that person identifies as a “she” (or the other way around) and saying “you’re a goddamn man, stop acting like you’re not!”. The first one is just about using a personally preferred concept of gender, the second one is trying to force other people to share that concept as well, which is what I would personally find the most annoying about that.

    But the exact same thing (albeit mirrored) is when transgender people try to force others to share their concept of gender. I personally am ok with calling someone who feels like a woman a she, even though it is biologically a man the same way I am ok with calling someone by his preferred nickname (or not using a nickname he does not like) regardless of what I think about it.

    But note that there is a difference between insisting on using an undesired nickname, which is definitely not a nice thing and serves no other purpose than annoying that person and using a gender pronoun based on biology, which, even though it could also serve that purpose, can also simply be a matter of how one sees the world. If that is the case, the person insisting semi-forcibly that someone use his favourite gender pronoun is actually the bully, IMO. Hence, since I don’t see that as nice in the first place, I don’t feel obligated to be nice either.

    So to wrap it up, generally I think the rule of banning people here who are obviously not nice is a reasonably good one (because flame wars are annoying and make the discussion more difficult…on the other hand, it is useful to have a full information of what people are like if “let loose” and decide to interact or not interact with them based on that), I think one should definitely have quite a high standard of proof for what is “obviously not nice”. The stated principle of this blog is charity – and assuming that someone who refuses address someone else with a personal pronoun of the other person’s choice is doing it for malicious reasons, is not very charitable. While “don’t you call yourself a woman you pansy” clearly meets the standard of not being nice”, referring to a male (male still reserves its biological meaning only, or does it not?) transsexual as a “he” does not.

    • Jiro says:

      The stated principle of this blog is charity – and assuming that someone who refuses address someone else with a personal pronoun of the other person’s choice is doing it for malicious reasons, is not very charitable.

      There’s a commonly used loophole here: Yes, assuming someone is doing it maliciously is not charitable. But you can tell them it upsets you and if they keep doing it, then they’re doing it despite being told that it upsets someone. Knowing that it upsets someone and doing it anyway is by definition malious and needs to be punished.

      So not only do we the principle of charity you descrined, we need an additional one which says that just because something upsets someone doesn’t mean that the upset trumps everything else, and something can be knowingly upsetting yet not malicious.

      • Deiseach says:

        we need an additional one which says that just because something upsets someone doesn’t mean that the upset trumps everything else, and something can be knowingly upsetting yet not malicious

        Engaging once again in the disgusting habit of dragging religion into it, this is the “weaker brethren” approach which is an extension of the principle of charity (see St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, chapters 14 and 15: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”)

        Arguing that [something] is wrong/right may upset another person yet not be meant maliciously nor need it be incorrect. What we have to do in a particular case is decide:

        (1) Is this so important that I am willing to continue upsetting the other person? Or is it only important to me, and not really an important point, so I can avoid discussing it in future or at least not in terms the other person finds distressing?

        (2) Is that a genuine request about distress, or are they only using that as a silencing tactic – “help, help, I’m bein’ oppressed”?

        In doubtful matters, charity, so unless it is something we can justify as objectively important (and not a personal hobbyhorse), we should take the distress of others into account as to how or whether we argue a point.

        • Jiro says:

          You can’t separate between becoming genuinely distressed and using it as a silencing tactic.

          It’s common for people to become distressed only if it gets them something–yet their distress is genuine. Their subconscious feeds them distress in a strategic manner even though the distress, when experienced, is real.

          By specifically deferring to genuine distress, you just create incentives that encourage this sort of subconscious strategy.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Parents of toddlers know this well. I’m sure my daughter feels genuine distress when I deny her another piece of candy, but giving in to the ensuing tantrum will just result in her continuing to exhibit genuine distress every time she wants something.

            Teaching her that my “no” is firm results in much less genuine distress in the long run.

      • Tibor says:

        I basically agree with you but also with Deiseach. If something is important (although it is of course also hard to say what is “objectively important”) then insisting on using one term even though the other party is allegedly distressed by it is fine. If not, then it does indeed qualify as malice. I think that using he/she based on biological sex might be argued to be important enough (although to me, he/she is a mix of physical and psychological, basically “I feel like this person is feminine/masculine” rather than “this person was born with female/male genitalia”, but the latter definition is obviously more clear cut). Insisting on calling someone with a nickname they don’t like and which carries no significant meaning otherwise is almost definitely not important.

        This is not mathematics and so these things are necessarily more hazy than would be nice and eventually it boils down to personal judgment. But my point is not that “misgendering” (I use the quotation marks, because unless you specify what the one correct definition of gender is, you cannot really misgender anyone, not objectively) people is never malice but that it is not automatically malice (not even if done against the wishes of the one who is being “misgendered”) and does not automatically deserve a ban in the comments section of a blog whose central idea is charity.

    • Dirdle says:

      But note that there is a difference between insisting on using an undesired nickname, which is definitely not a nice thing and serves no other purpose than annoying that person and using a gender pronoun based on biology, which, even though it could also serve that purpose, can also simply be a matter of how one sees the world.

      What if we reverse this – is it okay for someone to use the birth name of Bob Commenter, if they know it and think that it’s a more “real” name than their online nick? Is it okay to continue after Bob says they prefer to keep their online affairs distinct from their real life? Or if they say they just prefer their handle?

      And, I mean, we already use “Lord Voldemort” as a nickname frequently enough. If the person in question posted here and asked us to not do that, I think we could reasonably argue that it’s a more right nickname than his own choice is, since it captures such important aspects of his political views in a way everyone can understand. That argument would not, in my opinion, be correct – it would be as wrong as insisting on using pronouns associated with birth gender – but we could make it. So where’s the actual difference between a (nick)name and a pronoun that makes using one after being asked not to rude, and the other just an expression of a worldview?

      I don’t think the line here is as sharp as you want it to be.

      • Tibor says:

        Dirdle: I do see a distinction. A name is something rather arbitrary which is given to me. My name is Tibor but from what my parents told me I could have easily been an Adam or a Karel (Czech version of Carl). By changing their mind on the day I was born, they could have made me an Adam, they could not have made me be born a female. The pronouns he and she used as a way to denote someone’s sex are way less arbitrary than given names. That said, I do agree that in some cases a “she” might still be a better description for someone born physically male, because we normally use it to denote more than just what kind of genitalia you are born with and there are border cases of people who’s psychology is rather female even though they would classify biologically as male or vice versa. Still, the physiological part is the most clear cut because it is easier to observe and to judge. If someone decides to use that as a sole guide to which gender pronoun to use then I don’t think that he is incorrect. I think that he is not capturing the full story, but it is far from being mean.

  12. Mariani says:

    “but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.”

    Calling people what they call themselves is a basic rule of politeness, but does this extend to wacky tumblr pronouns beyond “he” and “she”? Because that sounds like a tiring series of ideological hoops to jump through just to have a conversation.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      Seconded; one of he/she/they/it is manageable, but an arbitrarily large number of unfamiliar terms is obnoxious.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      I’d rather leave than be forced to adopt sci-fi pronouns, FWIW.

      • Deiseach says:

        But sci-fi pronouns would be fun, Le Maistre Chat! And we wouldn’t be arguing over singular versus plural “they” if instead we all used “xie” or “kazarr” or the like.

        I’d be much more amenable to someone saying “In future, Xo request kleebah all to address qa with the pronouns “tsanz, tsanx, tsanqq” when communicating with or about qa. Thanking kleebah in advance!” 🙂

    • Anonymous says:

      Scott said we couldn’t misgender transgender commenters. He didn’t say anything about honoring requests for zhe or war-and-peace-as-pronouns or toasters or any of the other reductios people are trying to throw against the wall.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        So we can call non-transgender commentors the other sex, apparently. I don’t think Scott wanted to create a unique privilege for the transgender caste, but there it is.

      • Mariani says:

        What if your “gender” is neither male nor female?

        • Anonymous says:

          Use singular they or construct your sentences to avoid the need for a gendered pronoun.

          Claim you don’t want to because of the purity of your truth telling, claim that you don’t want to because it concedes a point you aren’t willing to concede, claim you don’t want to just because you don’t feel like — all fine. But don’t claim you are being asked to do rocket surgery; it is easy to avoid being banned under the rule if you choose to comply with it. There’s no need to for smart ass requests for clarifications.

        • Mariani says:

          Why the spittle-flecked post, Anonymous? Do you think I am not asking this in good faith? Take a deep breath and cool off, because I am being 100% earnest. You someone extracted the idea that the singular “they” would always be appropriate while “he” or “she” very well might not be, but I am not sure from where. Can you fill me in?

          • Anonymous says:

            FWIW, I read previous Anonymous’s tone as calm, not spittle-flecked. I think the medium of text is making people seem less polite than they intend to be.

            Personally, I’d be surprised if anyone here ever took offense to “they.”

        • EyeballFrog says:

          Then you’re most likely deluded and should probably do something about that.

  13. stargirlprincesss says:

    I think this sort of “half-measure” is unlikely to go well. One option would be to institute the following set of rules:

    -Refer to people as members of their self-identified gendered. Do not insinuate this gender is not “real.”
    -No discussing the trans-rights movement. Statements in support or opposition to trans-rights are banned. For example discussion of the bathroom laws is not allowed.

    • Jaxologist says:

      Yes, the policy as currently described basically bans any cogent way of articulating the “trans is a bunch of nonsense” position, while leaving the pro side unshackled.

      But really, why don’t we get into the concrete case that we all know is going to come up?

      Multi is going to bait Jaime, Jaime is going to bite, and then Multi is going to demand that Jaime be banned.

      Is the policy that Jaime will be banned for taking the bait, that they both will be banned if he takes the bait, or that Multi will be automatically banned for baiting in the first place, regardless of response? Because this has already played out more than once in the comments, and the perverse incentives some of those options present should be obvious enough. Better to precommit now so everybody knows where they stand.

      • Anonymous says:

        Good riddance to bad rubbish. Maybe if we are lucky Sunzuanime will get caught up in it as well.

      • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

        To be honest, multiheaded may be a Commie, have very tumblrish behavior, a recalcitrant hatred of libertarians and be in general a very angry person, but, as far as I’ve seen, the baiting usually goes the other way around.

      • Poxie says:

        But really, why don’t we get into the concrete case that we all know is going to come up?

        Multi is going to bait Jaime, Jaime is going to bite, and then Multi is going to demand that Jaime be banned.

        You really think that would happen?

        I’ll admit I don’t always have the patience or time to slog through the comment threads on SSC, so correct me if there’s an example showing I’m wrong – but I’d give good odds that Multi gets banned (again) before Jaime.

        … and when has Multi asked for someone to be banned? (Besides herself.)

        • Jaskologist says:

          Most recently, fairly recently, probably kicked off here.

          This is the point where I realize I spend way too much time reading SSC threads.

        • Deiseach says:

          The problem would be that probably the easiest way to solve this would be a list of the commenters’ names with “these are the pronouns each wants you to use, if you use any others I’m going to assume you’re doing it deliberately and ban you”.

          But the problem is that would require people to out themselves as trans who might not want to do so, plus it would give a list of targets to anyone who wanted to be an asshole about it.

          So unless Scott introduces a policy that requires us to use singular “they” when referring to everyone, the only thing we can do is stumble on with occasionally saying “he” or “she” in error, getting corrected for it and being assumed not to have deliberately done it on the “one bite” rule, and if the same person does it again in reference to the person they’ve been corrected about, then banning.

    • Mariani says:

      so there is no such thing as a stupid pronoun? If you think that’s a value-neutral rule, you have your facts wrong

      • stargirlprincesss says:

        I didn’t say it was value neutral.

        • Mariani says:

          Ok, but forcing people to take a specific ideological stance on something as basic as language is a bad thing in a comment section where complicated philosophical subjects are debated using, you know, language.

          • stargirlprincesss says:

            The conflict should be decided. Allowing this conflict to go on is a bad idea. The rationalist diasphora is 4-5% trans. Scott is not willing to let people call trans-people by anything but their preferred gender.

            The one reasonable concession is that discussion should be banned on both sides. So people can’t openly argue for trans-rights.

            Though I am actually unsure of Scott’s opinion on preferred pronouns other than he/she/they.

    • Deiseach says:

      For example discussion of the bathroom laws is not allowed.

      That’s tricky, though: suppose one’s position is “I couldn’t give a damn about gender identities, but I think this piece of legislation is piss-poor law on technical legal grounds” and one wishes to argue that? Or the contrary: “I think ‘you can decide your own gender’ is valid but I also think states have the right to create their own laws and this law is legally fine, even if I disagree with it”?

      People might want to discuss the technicalities of topics that are in the spotlight but a blanket ban means they can’t do so, even if the point they want to discuss has nothing to do with the hurtful aspect.

  14. caryatis says:

    Scott’s distinction between free speech and picketing funerals would not be accepted by the courts: picketing is a form of speech. As is so-called “misgendering”: I am not comfortable referring to a trans person by their preferred pronoun, because I believe that amounts to endorsing a theory of gender that is wrong. Not really an issue on the internet, though, because I can just avoid using any pronoun.

  15. Here’s my current take on gender.

    I used to believe it wasn’t that big a deal, and people took it much too seriously.

    However, it was observable that transgendered people were acutely miserable living by their birth gender, and (from what I saw, I realize there are exceptions) much happier after they transitioned. I literally don’t know of anything else that will make an adult as visibly happy for a few years as transitioning if they need to. After the few years, they go back to what looks like a more socially average level of happiness.

    Clearly, there’s something I don’t understand about gender, though I have come to the conclusion that it’s got a large social component, it’s not just about the body. In fact, I don’t believe (for purposes of understanding happiness and transgender) that there’s such a thing as “a man” or “a woman”– there are just men and women of particular cultures. I suspect there’s imprinting involved.

    I do my best to call people by the pronoun they prefer because this is much kinder than not. I haven’t had to deal with anyone who prefers a pronoun other than he, she, or they, and I have no idea whether the people who prefer xe, ve, or other non-English pronouns suffer as much if they’re referred to by a good-approximation English pronoun as someone who prefers “she” over “he” does when referred to as “he”.

    This doesn’t mean I manage to really believe that someone who looks like one binary gender is actually the other because they say so. However, I don’t trust my beliefs– I think the way male and female are constructed has something wrong with it.

    I wonder what’s going to happen with transgenderism if the gender binary is broken down. Obviously, there might still be people who are very uncomfortable in their bodies, but if the social roles aren’t as different, will there be people who desperately want a role which isn’t the one for the body they’re born into?

    • Adam says:

      I’ve wondered the same thing. Grouping all these people together – that is, people who prefer ‘he’ or ‘she’ with people who prefer non-standard invented pronouns – seems like lumping all vaguely leftist weird people in with each other even though they’re nothing at all alike. Wanting very strongly to be a man or a woman, to the point of surgical modification and hormone therapy, seems like you’ve very clearly bought into the notion of the gender binary, that having facial hair and a penis is what makes a person a man, and of course that ‘man’ is a coherent and obvious grouping to begin with, which is pretty much opposite the politics of someone who is genderqueer, fluid, or otherwise non-binary. They may be allied against a common enemy because they’re both non-traditionalists, but they’re not the same.

    • Mariani says:

      >Clearly, there’s something I don’t understand about gender, though I have come to the conclusion that it’s got a large social component, it’s not just about the body. In fact, I don’t believe (for purposes of understanding happiness and transgender) that there’s such a thing as “a man” or “a woman”– there are just men and women of particular cultures. I suspect there’s imprinting involved.

      Well, that’s what we’re supposed to believe — I always sort of just believed that boys and girls liking different gender-based toys was a product of culture. What is actually true seems to be much different. This study shows that toy preferences among male and female rhesus monkeys strongly parallels those of human boys and girls:

      ‘We compared the interactions of 34 rhesus monkeys, living within a 135 monkey troop, with human wheeled toys and plush toys. Male monkeys, like boys, showed consistent and strong preferences for wheeled toys, while female monkeys, like girls, showed greater variability in preferences. Thus, the magnitude of preference for wheeled over plush toys differed significantly between males and females. The similarities to human findings demonstrate that such preferences can develop without explicit gendered socialization. We offer the hypothesis that toy preferences reflect hormonally influenced behavioral and cognitive biases which are sculpted by social processes into the sex differences seen in monkeys and humans.’

      Also this:

      ‘A new study finds that young females in one group of African chimpanzees use sticks as dolls more than their male peers do, often treating pieces of wood like a mother chimp caring for an infant. In human cultures around the world, girls play with dolls and pretend that the toys are babies far more than boys do.

      “Although play choices of young chimps showed no evidence of being directly influenced by older chimps, young females tended to carry sticks in a manner suggestive of doll use and play-mothering,” Wrangham says.’

      The tabula rasa theory is comforting when it comes to things that seem to restrict people, but there just isn’t much evidence for it.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        That was perhaps the cutest scientific experiment ever. The other candidate is the fairness experiment with cucumbers and grapes.

      • Emily says:

        My toddler girl makes everything into a phone. Her toy laptop can be a phone. A driver’s license-sized piece of plastic can be a phone. Everything in between in terms of size which she can hold up to her ear can be a phone. I wonder what it would take to get chimps to adopt that behavior and the extent to which it would be gendered.

        • Mariani says:

          What do you mean “get” them to adopt behavior?

          • Emily says:

            I assume my kid makes everything a phone because she watches people use phones. Would chimps start pretending things are phones if they watched humans use phones enough? Would this be gendered? (For that matter, is making-everything-a-phone gendered behavior among human toddlers?) I have no idea. I am curious, though. (I am not actually in earnest proposing that someone try this experiment on chimps.)

      • However, if you look at adults, they may have a strong preference for male or female presentation, but they aren’t indifferent about which cultural presentation they’re doing.

        Also, part of what shapes my view is contemplating Orthodox Judaism, in which Talmud study is the male-est sort of male thing. Most human cultures don’t have anything much like Talmud study at all, let alone coding it as male.

        Just for the fun of it, I’ll add that Roz Kaveney mentioned that when she studied Chinese, it was considered macho to do so. In China, learning Chinese is gender-neutral.

        I’m not saying there’s no reality to gender, just that people live mostly in their imaginations, and they have no idea how much they’re making up. And that Mother Nature/Father Biology are rolling on the floor laughing at human categories.

    • Jaskologist says:

      However, it was observable that transgendered people were acutely miserable living by their birth gender, and (from what I saw, I realize there are exceptions) much happier after they transitioned.

      Has it actually been observed? People talk about this like it’s obviously true, but I’m only aware of 2 studies, one by John Hopkins which found no improvement after surgery (but had a sample size in the dozens), and the one linked elsewhere which has a much larger sample and found the abysmal 1/5 suicide rate unchanged.

      Only two studies, but it beats zero.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        Er

        “Research from the US and Holland suggests that up to a fifth of patients regret changing sex. A 1998 review by the Research and Development Directorate of the NHS Executive found attempted suicide rates of up to 18% noted in some medical studies of gender reassignment.

        You either have an operation or suffer a miserable life. A fifth of those who don’t get treatment commit suicide.””

        The first is attempts. The second is successes.

        • Jaskologist says:

          Good catch. Anybody have access to the actual study so we can compare like to like, without reporters getting in the way?

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          @ Steve Sailer

          From a few quick Googles, variations on [ disappointment after surgery ] brings up mostly cosmetic surgery, then weight loss surgery. [ Suicide after surgery ] brought up mostly weight loss, a few mentions of controversial articles re suicide after sex change surgery.

          If some sort of baseline were compiled of disappointments with different kinds of (technically successful) surgeries, perhaps it would show high rates of disappointment for people with serious social problems they blame on the original physical defect — such as getting a nose job or weight loss surgery or cochlear implant that does not fix the social problem.

          Sex change could bring a strong disappointment as it’s radical and permanent. But if what little data we have shows that X% of patients would be miserable and/or suicidal whether they got the treatment or not, and some who got it would be very happy with the result — that’s a good outcome stronger than likely with the nose job or the weight loss.

  16. Oren says:

    Not at all disagreeing that this is a nifty and useful idea, but it seems like it’s just pushing things back onto a nebulous concept of what defines meanness.

    Some conservatives could (plausibly) argue that having a flamboyant gay pride parade through a conservative area of town is “mean”. It’s not unreasonable for them to impute an intent to purposefully confront those with traditional sexual mores for no practical reason. After all, would the pride parade be any less effective for every other non-mean purpose if it was done in a liberal part of town …

    Similarly, minorities could quite plausibly argue that chalking “Trump 2016” outside the multicultural center is “mean”. It’s not unreasonable for them to impute an intent to confront those minorities with a nativist political sentiment for no practical reason. After all, would chalking be any less effective for non-mean purpose if was done elsewhere on campus …

    And then we’re stuck in an unending series of fine (even micro) judgments about when and how public expression cross some nebulous line into meanness.

    [ Maybe it’s just my penchant for bright-line rules. I tend to think that issues with implementation are likely just as important as abstract correctness, which leads me to want to make implementation as mechanical as possible…]

    • Eggoeggo says:

      Some conservatives could (plausibly) argue that having a flamboyant gay pride parade through a conservative area of town is “mean”.

      “Sweden: Gay march through mainly Muslim area of Stockholm called ‘provocative’ by anti-racist activists”

      It certainly has been argued. But only a certain kind of conservative is allowed to claim offense. 🙂
      All these micro-judgements are just weapons in tribal skirmishes, and don’t have anything to do with the principles people are debating here.

    • Deiseach says:

      The subject of marches is a politically sensitive one.

  17. One problem with the SJ paradigm of dealing with social issues is that is hinges upon a subjective/participant-defined approach to acceptable speech. So rather than deciding whether speech is inaccurate or misleading in a way designed to harm a group, it tends ask “is somebody, especially a disadvantaged group, *offended* by this?”, and if so it designates it unacceptable. The difficulty here is obvious – being offended by something has the perverse incentive of allowing you to silence any criticism or debate. Many of your posts highlight this and related problems really nicely. It spoke to what I feel is a widespread mistake – racism or sexism isn’t bad because it hurts somebody’s feelings, it’s bad because its factually incorrect, harms somebody’s actual prospects in life and potentially risks their physical safety. Even then, I err on the side of allowing it to be openly debated, provided it’s not part of an orchestrated campaign of hate, as defined from a value-neutral POV. Censorship naturally appears suspicious and we should try to support a free search for the truth wherever we can. I think it might be better to err closer to that approach in this case too.

  18. Mr. Breakfast says:

    This doesn’t account for the adaptive and self-regulating nature of shaming. If I attempt to shame someone for something which is not shameful, I will fail. The target person will not feel shame, and any bystanders who witness it will at a minimum think less of me and will possibly jump in to defend / support the target.

    Shaming is less effective if the target is genuinely confident of the rightness of their decisions. I suppose there is no way of judging to what extent calls for spaces safe from (contrary) shaming are really demands that others support the moral self-deception of potential targets, but I bet it is at least part of the story. When you know you are wrong, it is far more urgent to escape examination than when you know you are right.

    A friend (I can’t remember who) once argued that “be nice” provides a nigh-infallible ethical decision procedure.

    It could be nigh-infallible due to the partisans of niceness continually re-writing morality and consensus social truth to align with whatever “nice” sentiment has most recently captured their attention (deploying shaming to achieve compliance, of course).

    • Deiseach says:

      Yeah. “Slavery is not nice, so we know it is wrong” – honestly? So if we had nice slavery, that would make it right? Like the type of Roman slavery where educated Greeks were bought to be teachers and doctors? Or an emperor’s ex-slave could have more power than those of free birth?

      • InferentialDistance says:

        Slavery is not nice

        nice slavery

        Might as well ask “what if we had square circles?”.

    • This doesn’t make much sense. Most people get upset if someone calls their mother a prostitute, even if they know perfectly well that their mother is not in fact a prostitute.

      This is not a matter of objective moral truth (and how could it be when there’s no such thing), it’s a matter of empathetic reaction to verbal agression.

      • Mr. Breakfast says:

        I think if you called my mother a prostitute, I would laugh at you.

        Now, perhaps if my mother was not a prostitute, but was for some reaswon in danger of being believed to be a prostitute (like she was a single mother living in comfort without a visible means of support) I might be upset due to the threat that others would believe your accusation.

        I might also be upset at the implication that you believe my social status to be so low that you could get away with overtly insulting me.

        In neither case would I call the resulting emotion of upset “shame”. I am not claiming that suppressed guilt is the ONLY cause of the direct subjective hurt of shaming.

  19. Muga Sofer says:

    For example, in an Archipelago you might well have absolute safety…

    Didn’t Archipelago have a democratic international government? Armed with the supernatural powers necessary to enforce rules like “you can have as many weapons as you like, but no wars”, “no supplying other clades with media that violates their social mores”?

    That seems strictly less safe than a normal constitutional government, since you physically can’t defend yourself from whatever the majority decides counts as “human rights” or “punishing externalities”.

    Also, the link mentions that

    If anyone in Christiantopia tries to prevent her from reaching that embassy, or threatens her family if she leaves, or expresses the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around, UniGov burns their city and salts their field.

    So I don’t just have to worry about 50% of whatever percentage of the population votes going evil, I also have to worry about standing anywhere within a hundred miles of anyone who offends UniGov right now.

    EDIT: Also, Archipelago is literally established by the Messiah.

    • Deiseach says:

      So I don’t just have to worry about 50% of whatever percentage of the population votes going evil, I also have to worry about standing anywhere within a hundred miles of anyone who offends UniGov right now.

      Don’t forget, “the slightest amount of coercion to keep her around” might be no more than saying to her “I think you are making a mistake, please don’t go, your views of what are waiting for you elsewhere are wrong and this is why”. Boom! Carthago delenda est!

  20. Daniel Keys says:

    At first, I thought you were heading for something that occurred to me back when same-sex marriage was in question:

    Certain conservative ideas imply that, if we can predict how society will change, we have a moral duty to make that happen as soon as possible and pretend it was never any different.

  21. Daniel Keys says:

    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 suppose I’m glad to hear that you’re fooling yourself with regard to other social classes as well.

    Some “ideas” exist solely to encourage “meanness”. It should not be controversial to place Nazism in this category; Nazis were beating up hecklers at Hitler’s pro-coordination speeches before they even adopted the name ‘Nazi Party’. (Also, while “National Socialism” could be given a meaning, it sounds like what a Marxist would expect straw-right-wingers to come up with if they needed an answer to Marxism but didn’t have a coherent ideology beyond hating people.)

    • suntzuanime says:

      Man, it is damn hard for the National Socialist German Workers’ Party to get a fair shake, even in the SSC comments section. The term “Nazi” was a slur used by people who wanted to be mean to them; we should be nice and recognize their self-identification.

    • Nornagest says:

      Some “ideas” exist solely to encourage “meanness”.

      …but once you’ve established that, you have an incentive to lump as many of your opponents’ ideas into that category as you can, so that you can be mean to them without inhibition. Making this, ironically, kind of an example of itself.

  22. suntzuanime says:

    If we’re not allowed to misgender transgender commentors, can you give them a little mark so that we know what gender to use? I am not looking forward to the task of compiling a gender database.

    At least we’re still allowed to misgender cisgender commentors, phew.

    • Anonymous says:

      If we’re not allowed to misgender transgender commentors, can you give them a little mark so that we know what gender to use?

      A little rainbow flag perhaps with pronouns on it? Oh, and during any meetups, it would be best if they wore such as armbands. Would avoid miscommunication, I’m sure!

      At least we’re still allowed to misgender cisgender commentors, phew.

      Not to mention non-commenters. So calling you a woman, or Bruce Jenner a man (provided I am not mistaken that he doesn’t post here) is perfectly OK?

      • Deiseach says:

        Anon, suppose in replying to you one of us says “In his comment, Anon said…”

        (1) “Please don’t refer to me as ‘he’, I prefer to be completely anonymous, use ‘they’ if you must” – that’s an acceptable request and it would be churlish to refuse and insist on using “he” (we don’t know if you’re he, she, they, or whatever, so it’s not doing anything but being deliberately objectionable to keep saying “he”)

        (2) “You have deliberately and offensively misgendered me! I call for your banning!” – come off it, nobody knows if you’re he/she/they/it/whatever, you’re anonymous and it was accidental or a habit of usage. Getting offended where no offence was intended is over-sensitivity; it may be an understandable result of being deliberately insulted where offence is deliberately intended and it’s a reflex action, but it’s still over-reacting.

    • Adam says:

      Obviously you’re being sarcastic, but I did seriously wonder about how this rule applies to everyone else. Does it bother non-trans people generally to be misgendered? I suppose it would bug me if someone in my physical presence was calling me a girl with the specific intent to belittle me because they think being a woman is insulting.

      Unintentional misgendering has been pretty common on the Internet, though, especially since most of my early formative discussion time was spent on the Physics Forums where I had a genderless username and a picture of Sylvia Plath as my avatar. She’s not widely recognizable, so many people just assumed it was a picture of me and referred to me as ‘she’ and I rarely bothered to correct them. It’s not important to me that I get identified as male by other people. I do consider being male to have benefits, but those are benefits of secondary sex characteristics that don’t depend upon the perception of others or even my self-perception, things like not having to deal with monthly cramping, migraines, and childbirth, being generally larger and stronger than at least half the population, being less likely to catch UTIs and STIs.

      • Frog Do says:

        It doesn’t bother me, I’ve never had a strong attachment to being gendered properly on the internet either, though this is not a problem for me IRL. I do tend to get offended when people misindentify me politically or religously. This is why I’m generally suspicious of a stance where being extremely sensitive to gender identification while not caring about any other type: it seems to me to be pretending modern tribal behavior is actually nontribal ethics. Consistant identitarianism would take into account so much more than it currently does. If there’s a good argument as to why I’m wrong, I’d like to hear it.

        • Adam says:

          The extension to tribal identification more generally is interesting, as I’ve brought up several times recently that’s another one that I don’t really get because I’ve never felt it myself, but the more recent explanations dealing with historical reasons for it make sense in a way that I can at least understand it now. It also happens that strongly-preferenced leftists and rightists on the Internet seem to both assume I’m part of the other group. I’ve varied in explaining to myself why this is from not having strong preferences personally to being generally contrarian to finding arguments more compelling than conclusions, but it probably really is mostly that I don’t have any political or ethical opinions that are particularly central to my own self-image or identity. I try to just believe whatever seems most reasonable, but a lot of conflicting positions that can’t all be correct all sound roughly equally reasonable to me and digging further to reach a personal conclusion doesn’t seem worth it when 25 years of doing that didn’t get me anywhere.

          Another one is ethnic identity. I’d think from my last name it’s pretty obvious Hispanic descent at least on my father’s side (and if you know I’m from LA, specifically Mexican is a pretty good bet even if you can’t otherwise tell us apart), but I’ve very often gotten Hawaiian and Japanese and Filipino. I guess there wasn’t a tremendous genetic difference between whoever became the Aztecs and whoever became the Mongols 20,000 years ago, but beyond that, I’m reasonable certain there is no Asian in my ancestry. Nonetheless, it’s never bothered me that this happens.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Somebody misgendering me in real life would simply look absurd. I couldn’t take it seriously enough to be offended by it.

        On the internet, it would merely seem curiously strange, since I’m mostly hanging out on heavily male forums such as this one.

      • Dr Dealgood says:

        I’ve only ever been misgendered (if you can even call it that) by people unfamiliar with English pronouns, almost always Chinese and Korean immigrants. Obviously that doesn’t bother me at all, despite considering masculinity an important part of who I am. If anything it’s hilarious.

        If you’re willing to stretch definitions a bit, I’ve definitely been mistaken for gay a few times due to wearing more cosmopolitan fashion in a rural area. That is much more obnoxious even when it doesn’t involve being hit on by chickenhawks. You could definitely make the argument that it’s because I consider it an insult, though personally I think the main reason it irks me is because of the potential for misunderstandings.

        • Adam says:

          I never picked up on any cues to your gender until you said it right now, but I’d always pictured you as male just because of ‘doctor,’ which I guess is probably mildly sexist, though still the safest bet statistically if we’re assuming medical doctor. I’m reasonably certain Jax has mentioned his wife before, which gave away male.

          I’ve definitely been mistaken for gay quite a bit, but that was because several of my better friends in my 20s were gay, so hanging out with them put me in a few places where everyone is just assumed to be gay, which had nothing to do with the way I looked. I dress pretty plainly and lazily and don’t look very cosmopolitan in spite of being a born city boy.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Just to be clear I’m not actually a doctor, or at least I won’t be one for another 4-5 years. My handle is a Mad Max reference: my gravitar (which you can’t see?) is a picture of the character Dr Dealgood, Bartertown’s judge / ringside announcer.

            I considered changing it to a less obscure reference but I just can’t seem to get beyond thunderdome…

          • Adam says:

            Yeah, Ghostery blocks the gravatar and since I don’t have one anyway, I’ve never bothered to unblock it.

        • onyomi says:

          Very few are the native Chinese speakers I’ve met who consistently distinguish he/she and him/her correctly. It’s not uncommon for them to call someone “she” and then, two minutes later, call the same person “he.” I’m pretty sure this is because, in the Chinese spoken languages, there is no distinction.

          There is a relatively recent distinction now made in the written language by use of a “woman” radical in the character for “she,” a development which was originally hailed as a feminist victory of sorts. In 2016, weirdly enough, it may seem like a bad thing, since it prevents 他 from acting as the truly gender neutral pronoun it once did.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            I didn’t know that the character difference was so recent.

            I only tried to learn Mandarin recently and it was kind of odd to me that they’d have different characters for Ta1 when referring to men and women, but pronounce them both identically. I just wrote it off as a wacky Chinese thing and didn’t connect it to their language reforms.

          • Jaskologist says:

            I’ve always found it strange that they have trouble with he/she, since the written language makes the distinction, and obviously the concept of male/female isn’t foreign to them. Are the written characters just much newer than I assumed, or is this another indication of our brains handling written and spoken language differently?

          • onyomi says:

            “Are the written characters just much newer than I assumed, or is this another indication of our brains handling written and spoken language differently?”

            Yes and, more importantly (since most living speakers grew up with 她), yes.

      • Nornagest says:

        Does it bother non-trans people generally to be misgendered?

        This seems to be related to that cis-by-default thing that got discussed a few times a while back. Some people care a lot, some people only care a little bit, some don’t care.

        It’s never bothered me much.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Nornagest is obviously male if you know the legendary sagas. If not, I suppose someone could parse it as “Norn, a guest” and reason that Norns are female.

          (I’ve also been misgendered.)

          • Nornagest says:

            To be fair, my namesake is pretty obscure. Most people don’t seem to recognize it as Norse, let alone as a specific character.

            (A lot of people assume it’s a Tolkien character, which I guess makes sense given how much he cribbed from the sagas.)

          • LHN says:

            I knew of Nornagest via Poul Anderson, who did a fair amount of saga-cribbing of his own.

          • Adam says:

            I didn’t know the name origin, but somehow knew Nornagest was male. Probably something in the comment history. I have to admit I honestly don’t know either way with you, but I don’t comment here as much as most people. Sometimes I don’t read a post for two months and miss a lot. Then I read again and suddenly all the rules have changed and people are using Harry Potter code words and I’ve never read or seen Harry Potter and I’m confused for a few weeks trying to figure it all out.

          • “Most people don’t seem to recognize it as Norse”

            I didn’t, and I’ve read all of the family sagas and Sturlungasaga pretty recently.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s from Olafs saga Tryggvasonar, but the bit it comes from is kind of a side story. How it came to be my regular handle is a long story involving a MUD and a couple of in-jokes.

      • Michael Watts says:

        Does it bother non-trans people generally to be misgendered?

        I can speak to one circumstance — I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with Chinese college students, and being around me forced them to speak largely in English.

        If a Chinese speaker indicates a person’s gender in speech, it’s because they chose to do so (by using the appropriate adjective); the language doesn’t encode it in any way. There is only one third-person pronoun (variously spelled, in a really stupid move by someone long ago, 他,她,它, or more exotically). This means that Chinese speakers lack the mental circuitry to make the distinction in real time as they produce sentences, and females are routinely referred to as “he”. (I’m pretty sure the thought process responsible for this goes like so: “I want to say ta” -> “what’s the English for ta?” -> “‘he'”).

        The girls very commonly make fun of boys who call them “he” (“I’m your girlfriend! Don’t you know I’m a girl?”), but I’ve never seen one take offense. It’s pretty hard to blame someone for making a mistake you know that you yourself can’t help making most of the time.

        • onyomi says:

          Though 她 was originally considered something of a feminist victory, a fact which throws into relief some of the inherent conflict between feminism and transgender.

          • Michael Watts says:

            Do you have more about this? The way I read it, 她 was introduced as a translation aid.

    • BBA says:

      Funny you should mention this. I once saw a trans woman tweet that “men” with anime girl avatars should just admit they’re trans and they’ll feel much better once they’re on HRT.

      Either she intentionally misgendered you or you’ve been misgendering yourself all these years.

      • Nornagest says:

        I think these diagnostic criteria could use some work.

      • suntzuanime says:

        lol. I actually use male anime avatars in some places, so I guess I’m intersex or whatever the nice, non-banworthy equivalent term is.

        • EyeballFrog says:

          Why would intersex be ban-worthy?

        • Deiseach says:

          I’m even worse, I play as male characters when playing games as well as using male avatars! Though my current avatar is a Hindu god – hmmm, am I having delusions of grandeur or simply tapping into my innate divinity?

          I should just break down and admit I’m a man, right? Or at least an anthropomorphised symbol of destruction and finality leading to new creation in the symbolic circular processes of time and eternity 🙂

          (This is the kind of rigorous “homophobes are really closet cases” logic that impresses me so much in debates).

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            Why Shiva rather than Kali?

          • Jiro says:

            (This is the kind of rigorous “homophobes are really closet cases” logic that impresses me so much in debates).

            You know, I was never convinced that all the Obama birthers really wished they were born in Nigeria themselves.

  23. Landshill says:

    Some of this might make sense if most people weren’t evil and most human systems weren’t evil.

    Since they are, not sure why the coordination even matters.

    • Marvy says:

      Very few people are evil.

      Human “systems” are evil more often, but not as often as you seem to think

      • Landshill says:

        That’s what an evil person would say!

        But jokes aside, I really do believe most people are pretty evil, unless we redefine good and evil to give sadism and petty harm infliction a free pass.

        Just imagine you could give random humans godlike power over very large but finite universes. And then measure the total amount of suffering, injustice etc. vs. the total amount of pleasure, freedom etc. resulting from that.

        I think the outcome would be pretty negative. And that’s without all the coordination failures.

        • People are a net gain to humanity, as evidenced by the fact that we continue to exist rather than being worn away by entropy and each other. However, I have to include self-care to get this conclusion.

          • Landshill says:

            I don’t even think people are a net gain to humanity, paradoxically. The human-on-human torture alone outweighs whatever positive value the existence of people has.

            I’d also expect more negative than positive value to nonhuman minds from the existence of humanity over the long run.

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        Ooh, ooh, I’ve been waiting for this topic for _ages!_

        Here’s how I view it: let’s say we have a human being raised in circumstances that would lead us to do evil – a person raised from birth to be racist to the point of violence, or a member of the Hitler youth. If this person, when they grew up were to say, kill someone (or perform some other evil deed), there is sense in which we can attribute this to their upbringing; we might say “if only he/she wasn’t raised to hate minorities!” Yet we would still view their actions as abhorrent, and I’m sure in the context of online message boards, many people would call this person by pejoratives as assholes, scum of the earth, etc.

        So now let’s say the circumstances of our own lives were different: what if we were raised in Nazi German to be violent jackbooted thugs? Would we likewise commit such violent acts? There are two answers: Either we deny we would commit such acts (which presupposes some sort of nonsensical ideas about causality and/or assumes we are somehow ethical supermen) or we have to admit yes, we’d likely do (or be predisposed to do) such evil actions as well.

        But, this is the trap, because the principle thing that’s causing people to do evil here is the *circumstances*, and if we can demonstrate any given human being would do evil under the right circumstances, then all human beings are evil. Why? Because I can imagine a perfect human being who would do evil under *no* circumstances, a sinless one, a messiah. That person, who would be totally ethically perfect, would be good. A person who would do evil under *any* circumstances is simply evil – which of course, is all of us. (Since a person who does not have a history of evil acts, solely because circumstances did not conspire to give that person opportunity and motive to do so).

        >“As the folk saying goes: If you speak for the wolf, speak against him as well. Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our own people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood? It is our own. And just so we don’t go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: ‘If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?’ It is a dreadful question if one really answers it honestly.”

        -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    • Brian Donohue says:

      “Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.”

      – Erich Heller

      • Brad (The Other One) says:

        “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

  24. “This is the much weaker claim that legality sets a minimum bar for people attempting mean policies. ”

    There are two ways of reading that, and I don’t think either works for your purposes:

    1. You should not attempt mean policies that are legally forbidden.

    Shaming people for being promiscuous (or for lots of other things) is not illegal, so that reading does not put that sort of uncoordinated meanness below the minimum bar, which is what you are trying to do.

    2. You should not attempt mean policies unless they are legally required.

    Making your kid get vaccinated would, by that standard, be below the minimum bar if it didn’t happen to be legally required–and in many times and places it wasn’t.

    I don’t think it is clear that uncoordinated meanness is necessarily worse than coordinated–it depends on the details. Sixty percent of the population refusing to hire Jews or to patronize Jewish doctors is a pretty minor inconvenience, since Jews are only about two percent of the population and so can find plenty of jobs and patients in the forty percent willing to deal with them. Sixty percent of the population voting to make it illegal is a more serious matter. More generally, there are some forms of meanness, such as employment discrimination, which are ineffective unless practiced by a lot of people, others, such as assassination, for which that isn’t true.

  25. Dude says:

    This is all well and good and I do agree. But what about vegans? I mean, you’re hard-pressed to say they aren’t right (given their ideals are based on niceness) but sometimes their actions are ‘mean’ (shouting at fur-wearers). What does it mean when vegans are ‘being mean’ by taking away your bacon? Do you feel unsafe because your ‘personal choice’ is being questioned?

  26. Kazi Siddiqui says:

    I don’t believe in the existence of “society” as a thing distinct from collections of individuals, except as a fictional entity invented by bullies now that their “God” excuse has run its course. Since “societies” don’t exist, “social functions” don’t exist either. Only events such as helping and hurting individuals exist. The former is something done by good people whereas the latter is done by evil people, and bullying belongs to the latter category. (In a collection of individuals, I prefer to have Rawls’ maximin principle applied to individual liberty.)

  27. Nicholas says:

    I had been wondering if my Chaotic alignment was dissolving into neutrality. This stirring, and admittedly rather disturbing, argument for Lawful Neutral is evidence against. Good to know I’m ideologically consistent.

  28. I’ll take any misgenderers that aren’t accepted here.

    • Fahundo says:

      Take them where?

      I might be willing to misgender someone in exchange for a night on the town

    • Montfort says:

      Spandrell, didn’t you say you would never post here again? Couldn’t you line up some proxy poster to advertise whatever it is you’re pushing?

      • Anonymous says:

        He has been pardoned by the sovereign.

        • Montfort says:

          His ban may not stand, I don’t know. But he did, prior to being banned, say he would never post here again or take the site seriously. And yet here he is again, so I wonder what changed his mind.

      • I am offering a mutually beneficial deal: I take away evil reactionaries to a place they will enjoy, so Scott can spend less time banning evil reactionaries and explaining to his friends why he allows evil reactionaries in his blog.

        I have no interest in posting normal comments here. I could use as an excuse that the cause of that old comment of mine isn’t in a position of influence over Scott anymore, but really, rest assured I will not haunt you with my crimethink.

        • Anonymous says:

          But if I leave this place forever, where will I get my latest update on what the intelligent leftists are doing?

          • That’s what Freddie DeBoer is for. This blog is where the host makes an exquisite exposition of a reactionary-ish viewpoint and smart leftists try to shoot it down under strictly nice rules of engagement.

  29. Kyrus 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.

    Oftentimes safe spaces are used offensively though. For example “This university is a safe space”. If every group got their own little safe space it wouldn’t be too bad but in reality I don’t think that it would be distributed that fairly.

    • Anon says:

      In the context of universities, generally I see specific spaces designated as spaces for specific groups – “the campus LGBT center is a safe space for queer and trans students”, etc. I don’t think “this university is a safe space” is anything like a central example; in fact I can’t recall any examples of that happening at all.

      • Machine Elf says:

        There’s a fair amount of “making X a safe space for Y” rhetoric used to justify censorship and/or mobbing campaigns. For example, from the famous “Yale students yelling at a college master” video: “it is your job to create a space of comfort and home for the students who live at Silliman… when you hear the provost say she didn’t know how to create a safe space for our freshmen at Silliman, how do you explain that?”

        The general pattern of “offensive use of safe spaces” Kyrus talks about is that someone says that a place ought to become a safe space for [historically marginalized group] and this puts their demand that X opinion is grounds for expulsion or silencing on firmer ground. At least some of the people arguing against them don’t have problems with explicitly delineated safe spaces created to be safe spaces, they have a problem with the expansion of the ideals of the safe space to something which existed to be something else – an intellectual space, as universities, or a public area, or a competitive arena, or a safe space for people with a different and possibly mutually exclusive set of requirements as Scott talked about in A Response To Apophemi On Triggers.

        • Adam says:

          I thought you were making fun of them until I clicked through and saw the place really is called ‘Silliman.’

  30. Liskantope says:

    This post reminds me of what I’m pretty sure is the only time I got piled-on in any comment forum, which goes to show how little time I’ve spent participating in internet discussions in my life. I don’t remember which post this was in response to, or even precisely what I was arguing. But I was sharply criticized in an SSC comments section for advocating for the existence of some set of rules as to what type of personal remark should or shouldn’t be made in the workplace, subject possibly to some sort of discipline/reprimand. I remember that one of the responses was something like, “Well, I would sure hate to work with you! Who knows what kind of innocent comment might get me disciplined.”

    To which I tried to respond that they were missing my whole point! The main advantage of having a set of rules which lays out what sort of remarks should or shouldn’t be made is that everyone knows what to stay completely safe from reprimand. It’s coordinated meanness, if we consider that it’s “mean” to tell people they can’t say certain things. It protects everyone from the seemingly-arbitrary whims of an individual who decides one day that a particular thing is unacceptably offensive.

    • The Nybbler says:

      It doesn’t work that way. If there’s a set of rules like that, the best you can expect is anyone who violates them will be disciplined. Anyone who is called up on the carpet and confidently asserts that they should not be punished because they clearly broke none of the rules will be shocked by the response. The authority will either stretch one of the rules beyond all bounds of reason, in ways they have never done so before and will not generally do so in the future, to justify the punishment, or they will come up with a new principle which is supposed to be obvious and self-evident (e.g. “you should not say anything which makes people feel uncomfortable”), and claim your behavior violated that principle.

      Rules only provide reasons to punish; they do not protect non-violators.

      • Michael Watts says:

        or they will come up with a new principle which is supposed to be obvious and self-evident (e.g. “you should not say anything which makes people feel uncomfortable”), and claim your behavior violated that principle

        You really reminded me of part of the description of Qing law in Legal Systems Very Different from Ours:

        Where the offense did not seem to fit any category in the code, the court felt free to find the defendant guilty of doing what ought not to be done or of violating an Imperial decree—not an actual decree but one that the Emperor would have made had the matter been brought to his attention. The underlying assumption was that people ought to know right from wrong without the assistance of the legal code, hence it was proper to punish those who did wrong, although the lack of a relevant legal rule raised difficulties in setting the appropriate punishment.

      • Liskantope says:

        Hmm, I don’t know. My above comment (somewhat accidentally) is relevant on more of an object level as well, since maybe a reasonable set of rules would be something like the rules Scott has advocated in this post. In other words, you’re allowed to have a discussion in the break room about your opposition to promiscuity, or homosexuality, or some types of religion, but you’re not allowed to directly belittle a coworker for being promiscuous, gay, or religious. I think this is unambiguous enough that it could be consistently enforced.

        I admit, though, that it’s problematic, since there will be many who claim, not without reason, that (for instance) openly mocking the particular religion of a coworker is just as oppressive to that individual as explicitly belittling them. I don’t know what a feasible adjustment would be, or even if there is one. So I’m not sure whether my “rule suggestion” from before could be made to work. And I’m not actually endorsing what I said on whatever comments section earlier, since a lot depends on the context and I don’t remember exactly what my stance was, but I am defending it against the claim that I was calling for arbitrary policing.

        • Nornagest says:

          I’ve never actually seen this set of rules in the wild, but if the behavior of schoolyard bullies is any guide, it’ll make explicit mockery of a colleague’s race or religion will go away and be replaced by people just happening to have a discussion about how much that race or religion sucks every time that colleague walks by. Which will correctly be interpreted as the same thing. Language is flexible; it’s quite hard to police its content by policing its form.

          (“In times past, loyalty to the cause of the populace was found everywhere. The will of the Group of Seventeen was the will of everyone.”)

        • Adam says:

          The reasonable rule to me seems clearly have whatever discussion you want outside of the workplace, but don’t talk about how stupid some part of another employee’s personal identity is either directly to that employee or anywhere else while on duty. If it sucks that much to not be able to make fun of religion on the job, go work for the Freedom From Religion Foundation or some other place where they’ll allow it.

          Not that I have any idea how to translate that rule to a blog. Obviously, Scott has the right as the page owner to police his comments section however he sees fit, but what the optimal policy is to promote whatever goals he is actually trying to promote, some of which seem at odds with each other, is a mystery.

          • Liskantope says:

            I think your suggestion is a good idea for a guideline of workplace social behavior, better than my suggestion above.

          • The Nybbler says:

            This is a great rule until The Other Side decides it’s OK to talk about how great their personal identity is and how wrong yours is, and starts suggesting ways to handicap the wrong-identitarians in order to make a more inclusive and welcoming environment for the correct-identitarians.

            (e.g. the correct-identitarians might suggest a prayer before every meeting, disallowing work on their Sabbath, a ban on the wearing of Color of The Evil One, requiring all requests to end with a blessing on their lord, etc)

          • Adam says:

            This is a great rule until The Other Side decides it’s OK to talk about how great their personal identity is and how wrong yours is

            That’s exactly what I just said is against the rule. A rule obviously doesn’t work if it isn’t followed.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Adam, yes, the rule doesn’t work if it is not followed. And the rule you propose is never followed and is a magnet for selective enforcement.

  31. Gordon Brachmann says:

    This is a great blog… But commas should go inside all quotation marks, ditto with periods and question marks! Outside placement is British Standard Usage. (In American Standard English, colons and semi-colons still go outside however.)

    • blacktrance says:

      This is a somewhat contentious issue. I prefer commas and periods outside quotation marks, because they’re not part of what’s being quoted.

    • Urstoff says:

      This comment is so SSC

      • Creutzer says:

        On the contrary, American punctuation is distinctly un-SSC on account of its illogicality. See all the other comments on this subject.

    • gbdub says:

      I forget which version it is, but I always preferred to have the punctuation inside the quotation marks if and only if the punctuation is a natural part of the quoted text. So the comma would go inside only if the speaker of the quote was inserting a comma like pause there.

    • sweeneyrod says:

      But American Standard English is stupid and wrong (in this regard).

      • Gordon Brachmann says:

        It may be true that ASE is stupid and wrong, but following it is neither, I think. Deviating means you lose reader credibility, and it’s also an eyesore to those accustomed to normal usage. If Scott genuinely cares about innovating and changing usage norms, then this trade-off is worth it. But if he cares primarily about the content of his posts, the best way to persuade/gain credibility/ensure smooth reading experience is to follow usage norms.

    • InferentialDistance says:

      Here in this programmer-adjacent community, we put quote-external punctuation outside the quotation marks because it isn’t actually part of the quote and quotes should nest cleanly inside the sentence structure. [joking]Additionally, you’ll offend all three descriptivist linguists that read the comments.[/joking]

      • Creutzer says:

        You mean prescriptivist, I think?

        • InferentialDistance says:

          I mean that the descriptivists would be offended by Gordon Brachmann prescribing grammar when Scott’s quote usage was perfectly understandable.

        • Dahlen says:

          The name for the Correct school of linguistics is “descriptivism”, not “prescriptivism”. The latter seems to be a common misspelling.

      • Deiseach says:

        Is this an American versus British English thing, because I put punctuation marks outside the quotation marks?

    • Said Achmiz says:

      No. The “punctuation inside quotation marks” rule is stupid. We decline to follow it.

      • Jaskologist says:

        The rule is not stupid, but an artifact of mechanical problems which were alleviated by placing the period inside the quote.

        Now that you know why the fence was there, feel free to remove it.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          With respect to Chesterton, I did not say that the rule was always stupid, or that it was obviously invented by stupid and/or evil people, etc. But now, especially when advocated for by people who very likely have no inkling of the history involved, it is a stupid rule.

        • Anatoly says:

          That links says “Printers discovered through trial and error that commas and periods could be more reliably printed if they were routinely placed inside of quotation marks.” without further references.

          That sounds like a just-so story. I’m inclined to give it near-zero weight. It’d be much more convincing to see a contemporary description of “mechanical problems”.

    • Nornagest says:

      I place periods, question marks, and commas inside quotation marks if and only if they’re part of the text being quoted, and you should too. It’s easier to parse, and it pays to be polite to the natural-language processing systems mining your communication for advertising data, because they’ll rule the world someday.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think your naivety has you labouring, despite meagre evidence, under the delusion that this blog is orientated only to Americans. It would behove you to change that assumption.

  32. vV_Vv 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.

    you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of divinity, but you are not allowed to actually tell religious commenters here that their god doesn’t exist and their religion is all made up.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Scott’s ruling on this apparent double standard is very relevant to my interests.

    • Deiseach says:

      you’re allowed to (politely) express your philosophical disagreements with the idea of divinity, but you are not allowed to actually tell religious commenters here that their god doesn’t exist and their religion is all made up.

      I’m not sure of Scott’s position on that but for myself, I don’t mind if you do, so long as it’s not couched in the terms of two six year olds having a row in the playground (“And you’re a stupid poopyhead if you believe that!”)

    • Daniel Keys says:

      Does this mean we agree that when people use the word “God”, they usually mean something more personal – like their parents, or their local church?

      • Deiseach says:

        Does this mean we agree that when people use the word “God”, they usually mean something more personal – like their parents, or their local church?

        From “The Screwtape Letters”:

        If you look into your patient’s mind when he is praying, you will not find that. If you examine the object to which he is attending, you will find that it is a composite object containing many quite ridiculous ingredients. There will be images derived from pictures of the Enemy as He appeared during the discreditable episode known as the Incarnation: there will be vaguer — perhaps quite savage and puerile — images associated with the other two Persons. There will even be some of his own reverence (and of bodily sensations accompanying it) objectified and attributed to the object revered. I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located — up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall.

        So yes, we make little idols and think of them as and call them “God”, and yes, it’s possible we say “God” and mean “my church/my social circle/what I have been brought up to think is the right thing to say and do”.

        But it’s not always the case, and even in the cases where people are going by “my family/my church/my neighbourhood”, they may also have an idea of God as God.

        I would not agree that all the time, what is meant by “God” really is “some other thing in the environment”. Unless we’re going to also agree that what people mean by “correct form of ethics” is “my Bay Area vegan transfriendly computer programmer college graduate circle’s preferred model of behaviour” 🙂

        I think it’s possible to be a vegan, non-binary, climate-friendly-renewable energy-using computer programmer who also is sincerely trying to live by a coherent and accurate system of ethics based on a set of principles not dependent on how their like-minded friends and colleagues like to live (and would shun them for departing from such) 🙂

        • Daniel Keys says:

          I don’t know what powers you attribute to this “God as God”, and I’m certainly not inviting you to tell me. But I look around at theists and see a lot of behavior that I can both explain and excuse, on the sole condition that their true underlying belief – the actual difference in their models of the world – is that their parents/church possess limited magical powers which will protect the believer against anything really bad happening if they follow the rules.

          (A promising feature of this theory is that, when an atheist subscribes to the Just World Fallacy, such people could reasonably think the atheist believes in their “God”.)

          How they square this with the existence of death is an interesting question. Clearly they think the spell rules out death of some types, as we see from people ‘losing faith’ when it happens to someone they can’t classify as an unprotected out-group member (or whatever dodge gets them through the day).

          • Deiseach says:

            That is your interpretation of their belief, not what they may actually believe. I suppose if such a theist say “No, I believe in God!” you would explain that as “They think they believe, but they really alieve in their church/family”.

            Which doesn’t get us any further forward in understanding one another, as I could equally “explain and excuse” your atheism as “Oh, they think they believe this on rational grounds of scientific empiricism but actually they are being deceived by the Devil” and I would dismiss all your protests over “No, that’s really not what is happening!” as “Yeah, but you would say that, under the Devil’s influence”.

            (Please note: not what I honestly think you think. But anyone can explain someone else’s actual behaviour as contrasted with stated beliefs by saying “I can tell you don’t really believe what you say you believe and I have a better model for what you do believe”).

            I think you’re right that we do tend to attribute “limited magical powers” to authorities, but once we’re old enough to understand that no, our parents are going to die or no, bad things happen to good people, we should become mature in our faith.

            For some people, that may mean they do indeed lose faith. But that is no more a true measure of what the principles are then someone who says “I thought improving and advancing medical science means I could live to be three hundred! What do you mean you can’t guarantee I’ll live to be ninety? I’m going to go for the crystal healers and latest lifespan extension fad diet, they’re guaranteeing me extra longevity!” reflects on the actual worth of medicine.

            There are better reasons for losing faith than “I thought it was magic and it’s not”.

          • Two McMillion says:

            A few thoughts, @Daniel Keys:

            You’re probably right about most theists. I see this a lot as well and agree that they should stop thinking this way. Magical thinking and just world fallacies did not become common by being easy to avoid. But I think it would be an error to say that theism ends there. I have been around plenty of theists who have lost people close to them, and the majority of them have not lost their faith as a result. I think it’s interesting to examine the reason death fails to make them lose their faith. In most cases, the answer is simple- they believe their dead relative is in heaven. In their view, all the sadness is on their side. They have redefined death so that death is not so bad.

            It seems fairly obvious why this happens. Simply put, humans are very bad at holding two propositions in our heads at a time. Acting and grieving are in some ways mutually exclusive. We have only a finite number of neurons and therefore only a finite amount of brainpower. Devoting resources to action takes resources away from grieving. So in most cases, we move on by, on some level, driving the feeling of badness out of our minds. Oh, most people will acknowledge that death is sad no matter how much time has passed, but they no longer feel it on a visceral level. It’s the nature of how our minds operate.

            Now, you seem to be making a distinction between how theists might deal with death and how you, presumably, would. But it seems to me that you have not transcended the dichotomy of how the human mind works. The hope of heaven reduces the sting of death by giving believers hope beyond death- telling them it is possible to move on and be joyful again. But I think things like Eliazar’s post “You can face reality” often have a very similar effect. That post, too, tells us that no matter how bad the world is we can move past it. The basic message is the same; only the source of the hope is different. While the hope of heaven, for the believer, makes death not so bad it can’t be moved past, being told they can face reality can do the same thing for the non-theist. In practical terms, all that either might mean is that the bar for “bad thing” has been moved.

            Perhaps you aren’t like this, but I notice that many atheists seem to have undergone this bar-moving process. They say, “Theists are weak! They need God to deal with the bad things in life, but I can handle it on my own”- when in reality, all that has happened is that you have substituted “my ability to get past what happens to me” for “the comfort given by God”. You have done exactly the same as the theist, but you have done it with a different source. Of course, I’m sure we’ll all acknowledge that bad things are bad, but on an emotional, visceral level, don’t those bad things seem a little smaller when you remind yourself you can face reality?

            Rationalists are not immune to being shattered by events, but it seems to me that many rationalists have changed what events can shatter them. Perhaps most of us can face and move past the reality of the death of a close friend or family member- but what about losing our intellects? How many of us would that destroy, at least as thoroughly as the theists you’re thinking of are destroyed by a close death, Daniel? Atheists are not stronger than theists; their supports are simply in different places.

          • Jaskologist says:

            If religious belief couldn’t survive contact with death, there wouldn’t be any religions for us to even talk about.

  33. Bugmaster says:

    > but you are not allowed to actually misgender transgender commenters here.

    FWIW, I feel this is too harsh, since I don’t even know the gender of most commenters here — and thus I’ve got something like a 30% chance of failure (assuming I remember the results of the demographics survey correctly). If you said, “but you are not allowed to intentionally misgender transgender commenters here”, then I’d be 100% on board with the rule.

  34. gbdub says:

    I don’t know that the biggest issue is “coordination” as “proportionality”.

    The main issue with shaming, doxxing, beating up in back alleys, etc., is not so much who does it, as the magnitude of the punishment itself. E.g. Brendan Eich got fired for simply donating to a cause (that actually won a popular vote!) a few years before. Or someone might get driven to suicide for being promiscuous.

    On the other hand, “coordination” could conceivably eliminate the pile-on effect. Uncoordinated, the pile-on is hard to avoid – none of the individual people saying “I don’t want to use Firefox because Brendan Eich is against gay marriage” were being particularly mean. No is the single person saying to the promiscuous teen – “I personally disapprove of your many sexual escapades”. But when everybody is applying shame to the point where the consequences become severe, then yeah, that’s serious meanness. Still a hard nut to crack.

  35. Randy M says:

    Another example of coordinated meanness is the behavior of recent Muslim immigrants into Europe shaming native women for their western style dress. Actually this is a reversal to the slut shaming mentioned in the post by Scott. Also for various other non-Islamic practices, like Charlie Hebdo style irreverance.
    It appears to be having an effect, despite not being near a majority, due to having strong coordination and confidence within the subculture.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      “Greetings, infidels! We thank you for letting us move here and collect welfare. The new rules around here, as commanded by God, include women having to dress modestly on pain of assault and no drawing pictures of Muhammad on pain on death.”

  36. Le Maistre Chat says:

    So Scott, you’ve made many posts implying that everything is about tribes, either genes or deep culture.
    In this post, you say that what would creep you out about lawful skinheads is their circulating petitions to discriminate against the tribe of Judah. You don’t, if I recall aright, identify with Judaism, but as an atheist. So you identify with the tribe of Jewish atheists because philosophical choices and unchosen heritage are both objectively important to identity, am I correct?
    On the other hand, you’ve come across as a Christian sympathizer ever since you were Yvain (one of Arthur’s knights) on LessWrong. Indeed that’s the only reason I was attracted to your blog: you came across as the Only Sane Man in a group where most members mimicked Yudkowsky’s Dawkinsian (“I’m interested in science, and any subject I’m not interested in is objectively false!”) autodidactism.

    SO, what prevents you from updating your beliefs to include “God exists”, can you imagine ever updating your beliefs thus, and if so, would you become a practicing Jew, a Christian, or something out of left field?

    • I’m speaking for myself, not Scott.

      I’m an agnostic of Jewish heritage and background. I don’t practice the religion. Anti-Semitism terrifies me. I have a Jewish name. I apparently look Jewish. Anti-Semites don’t check for agnosticism.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Ms. Lebovitz, I don’t recall you coming across as a Christian sympathizer. Polite, to be sure, but nothing like Scott’s active interest in the Church Fathers (“Even Origen would admit you’re going to Hell”).
        In your case, it’s straight up rational to identify with the tribe of agnostic Jews. And personally, I hold the belief that skinheads, like Communists, deserve a degree of coordinated meanness.

    • Jaskologist says:

      Even if Scott doesn’t identify with his Jewishness, the skinheads would probably identify him with it. Luther and Torquemada may have been satisfied by renouncing the Jewish religion, but ever since Darwin, antisemitism has tended to apply a one-drop rule.

      • moridinamael says:

        I know you’re probably right, but doesn’t literally everybody in the Western world, if not the entire world, have one-drop?

        • brad says:

          It’s not literally one drop. For better or for worse, anyone that doesn’t use the halachic rule uses the one grandparent rule that the Nazis came up with. Including the State of Israel.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      “SO, what prevents you from updating your beliefs to include “God exists”,”

      Are you serious?

      “can you imagine ever updating your beliefs thus, and if so, would you become a practicing Jew, a Christian, or something out of left field?”

      He did just do a post about people who are relatively like him that followed that path. Of course it involved heavy abuse of mind altering drugs and unexpected results, but I imagine that is the most likely version he can conceive of. If it was clear what belief he would follow right now, he would be following them.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Yes, I’m serious. As a Bayesian rationalist, Scott could have thought processes like this:
        “*hears the ontological argument* I’ll have to take that into account.”
        “*looks up the existence-is-not-a-predicate rebuttal* My belief on God’s existence is unchanged.”
        “*reads Goedel’s ontological argument* … well now I do need to update my belief.”

        Since neither the ontological argument nor any of the Five Ways indicate which monotheistic religion to believe, Scott could choose to worship God as a Jew because of the importance of ancestry, as a Christian because of pre-existing philosophical sympathies, or anything else logically compatible with Classical theism: Muslim, Hindu, etc. IOW, what tribe he’d identify with upon becoming a convinced theist with nothing more to go on like personal revelation.

        Drugs have nothing to do with it unless you assume materialism. Not every change in mental state has to be a change in chemistry unless the mental is reducible to the material.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “As a Bayesian rationalist, Scott could have thought processes like this:”

          That isn’t how Bayesianism works. At all. Hint- if it was, I could make any Bayesian believe anything by repeating wrong logical arguments as long as I cycled through different ones. And then I could make a different Bayesian believe the opposite by switching the conclusion.

          Logical arguments are true as long as the conclusion follows from the premise and the premise is true. If neither of those hold, the only Bayesian value they have is “a person is making false logical arguments for this position”. Is that more likely in a universe where that position is true or more likely in a universe where that position is false?

          “Scott could choose to worship God as a Jew because of the importance of ancestry,”

          That is like rejecting relativity because your ancestors didn’t believe in it.

          “as a Christian because of pre-existing philosophical sympathies,”

          I don’t think you get his philosophical sympathies at all. He wrote articles for less wrong. He agrees with EY about most of the stuff there.

          “IOW, what tribe he’d identify with upon becoming a convinced theist with nothing more to go on like personal revelation.”

          Deism. Why is this even a question?

          “Drugs have nothing to do with it unless you assume materialism. Not every change in mental state has to be a change in chemistry unless the mental is reducible to the material.”

          Yes, why would a psychologist who can see how people’s mental states are changed by drugs believe that people’s mental states are reducible to material phenomena.

    • Adam says:

      I’m not gonna speak for Scott, but I am another person with an undergrad philosophy degree, and doing that kind of thing entails having an interest in the really drawn-out thoughts of people from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, as opposed to being obsessively focused solely on post-enlightenment vaguely positivistic science advocates. As it stands, getting a philosophy degree from an American university entails reading a whole lot of Christian thinkers because that’s basically the western heritage once you get past 160 BC or so. Becoming very finely acquainted with this history is sufficient to demonstrate that nearly every human who ever lived isn’t just insane or instantly dismissible because I disagree with them about a fairly fundamental proposition regarding the nature of reality. On the other hand, it still doesn’t mean I agree with them.

      Again, not Scott, but what would cause me to update is personal revelation. I feel fairly confident after spending a decade reading thousands of pages on each side that rational discourse doesn’t give a satisfying answer one way or another and at best can only convince me of a vague sense that we exist on purpose, not of any specific religious particularism, and if it just so happened to be exactly the same one my grandparents believed, that seems too convenient and motivated. I’ve read some pretty damn good arguments from Muslims, Buddhists, even shamanistic animists. So really the only argument for any particularism I’ve ever felt sympathy toward is the argument from religious experience. And as it stands, I’ve never had a religious experience.

  37. Paul G says:

    I like the main argument in this post, but it has a glaring weakness: it doesn’t account for the ways that regulatory lawmaking and the increasing use of lawfare effectively short-circuit the 51% safeguard (or even a super-majority safeguard like the Bill of Rights). At the national level, there is very little democratic check on the actions of the politically-appointed leadership of regulatory agencies, and there is almost literally no democratic check on the actions of those agencies non-appointed employees. And as over 90% of all laws passed are regulatory, not legislative, this means that the “51% agreement for coordinated meanness” standard applies to a vanishing number of the laws that govern our society.

    The embarrassing episode (or scandal, depending on your point of view) of the IRS’s “enhanced scrutiny” of politically conservative nonprofits starting in 2011 is a good example of this. There were floods of applications for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2010 and 2011, and the records make clear that a pattern emerged very quickly with how the IRS handled them. By early 2012, the IRS’s clear tendency was to give quick approval to over 90% of the nonprofits with names that sounded politically liberal and to withhold or significantly delay approval for over 90% of nonprofits with names that sounded politically conservative. That is a pattern of unfairness, and I feel comfortable saying that it isn’t something that 51%+ of Americans would approve of. But it was done — and, by all accounts, still continues to be done to a certain extent — because there is no democratic check on regulatory agencies.

    Another example is the “Dear Colleague” letters from the Department of Education regarding how colleges and universities are being asked to handle accusations of sexual assault. The letters made clear that the administration was interpreting Title IX to require colleges to revamp how they handle accusations of sexual assault. Specifically, the guidance in those letters “strongly encouraged” (see: required) university administrators to:
    A) hold their own extra-judicial hearings on accusations of sexual assault
    B) use very low standards of evidence and “preponderance of the evidence” — the lowest possible burden-of-proof standard — for verdicts
    C) effectively operate on a presumption of guilt rather than a presumption of innocence.

    A “strange bedfellows” coalition of men’s rights advocates, civil liberties watchdogs, and college administrators came together to protest the guidelines as unjust, unworkable, and/or unconstitutional. Multiple courts agreed, holding that these standards violated the Due Process rights of the accused. And the DoE appeared to back down, withdrawing the guidance in the “Dear Colleague” letters … until they inexplicably and very quietly revived that guidance again in March of this year. It seems pretty obvious that, at the very least, there wasn’t 51%+ support for this change. That didn’t matter, though, because the regulatory rulemaking process is almost designed to function best in the absence of that kind of consensus. For people who valued effectiveness over democratic legitimacy — in other words, most progressives from the Progressive Era — regulatory rulemaking is a godsend. For most of the rest of us, it’s a net-negative with an impact that runs the gamut from “annoying and inconvenient” to “a threat to life and liberty”.

    In this situation, the 51% standard is more idealistic than realistic. We haven’t operated in a 51% world for a generation.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      You nailed it. As a conservative, I feel very unsafe with the current rules for coordinated meanness in America, and the only way to mitigate it is to hope for a Red President to capture the regulatory agencies. That’s a weak solution, since the President literally cannot fire a bureaucrat, but it’s better than being treated as an enemy when the regulatory agencies are under a Blue President.

    • Adam says:

      They actually seem like bad examples to me. They were quickly noticed and heavily pushed back upon. In the case of the IRS, the pushback was successful, at least for a reasonable value of ‘success.’ No charges filed, but several top officials forced to resign and they can’t do this any more. Better examples are hundreds of regulations no one even notices or thinks about, but of course, being that, no one will ever bring them up, either. I don’t even know what they are.

      • Evan Þ says:

        What makes them bad examples? Paul points out how the Department of Education’s letter is currently in place. The IRS incident was also successful in that they delayed numerous nonprofits’ approval past the 2012 election, which Democrats won (would more conservative nonprofits have made a difference? Probably not… but who knows?), and they’ve still escaped prosecution for it.

        • Adam says:

          If you disagree, you disagree, but I definitely said what I think makes them bad examples.

  38. Sigivald says:

    “society demands taxes to pay for communal goods and services”

    Quick (or not so quick) (libertarian) nitpick.

    Society* does no such thing – nor are the things provided typically strictly communal.

    (TL;DR summary above – if you care about the details of the complaint, keep reading.)

    Government demands taxes to pay for government distributed and provided goods and services.

    Some, like roads or mutual defense, are basically communal – others deliberately not so (food aid and scholarships – I do not hold that unevenly distributed benefits are inherently wrong by any means; just they’re not “communal”, nor should they be).

    To the extent “society” acts, it acts organically and through its constituent individuals.

    The State acts in a different manner, though the input of individuals and the desire to gain their approval [votes] means that the State sometimes appears to act as a proxy for “society”.

    But the State is, nevertheless, not society, nor a very good proxy for it, and it leads to grave errors to conflate the two entities.

    (* I am tempted to quote Thatcher and deny “society” even exists [as a coherent and relevant entity, rather than the abstraction in the next paragraph], but that’s neither here nor there, and rather more complicated than it’s worth.

    Even if we grant “society” as “the sum of all people in an area who have a shared public context”, which is perfectly fair, that blob doesn’t demand those things and is nearly incapable of a coherent demand or policy decision.)

    • Winfried says:

      I’m surprised I had to go this far to see some version of Bastiat’s distinction between government and society.

  39. blacktrance says:

    The problem is that often one person’s defense against meanness is another person’s meanness. Tax resistors think taxation is meanness, while most people think that the government is entitled to that money and the resistors aren’t doing their part. People who favor the recognition of transsexuality think that misgenderers are being mean by not accommodating people’s pronoun requests, while the opponents of recognition think that it’s mean to force them to use language in a false and politically charged way. Some SJ people think that calls for open discourse are mean (“How dare you put my existence up for debate?!”), while proponents of open discourse think the SJers are being mean by silencing them.
    There may be a fact of the matter about which side should get its way, but determining which side is being mean is often dependent on which side you think is right. So when both sides agree that something is an instance of meanness, ~75% of the work has already been done.

    Also, when an instance of meanness is coordinated, that often makes it worse even if (sometimes because) it’s applied predictably. For example, if my neighbors hate drug use, I can hide it from them by keeping it at home and not talking about it – not great, but doable. But if they coordinate and pass anti-drug laws, then I have to worry about the police breaking down my door and sending me to prison. Disorderliness is far from the only problem for most instances of meanness.

    • suntzuanime says:

      Taxation is meanness, but it’s okay* because a lot of people are collaborating to be mean. With regard to your other points, it seems like the main question is, what’s the default, such that a deviation from the default can qualify as meanness? Moldbug had an essay about how defaults get determined: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2012/11/adore-river-of-meat.html If the sovereign determines the default, then that’s coordination, which then licenses the meanness, whatever rebellious malcontents may claim. It gets a little trickier in a democracy, because the sovereign is the Cathedral, which doesn’t explicitly coordinate. But we all have a systems view here, I’m sure, and implicit coordination is plenty sufficient for us.

      • blacktrance says:

        A lot of people will claim (sometimes rightly) that the default is mean, and also we probably don’t want to commit to the relativistic position that meanness is necessarily deviant from the default in a given society – e.g. if slavery is the default, it’s still mean.

        • suntzuanime says:

          For the specific sort of meanness that is “deviating from reasonable behavior in order to be pointlessly rude”, the default is what matters, since if it’s the default it’s not rude, you’re just oversensitive.

          I think “no pointless rudeness please guys folks” is the reasonable core of what Scott was shooting for, but his aim wasn’t very precise and he has ended up with a lot of collateral damage to reasonableness in the process of walking his shots.

    • Liskantope says:

      I think your first paragraph is basically a restatement of Scott’s rebuttal against his friends’ assertion that niceness is the measure of how ethical something is.

      At the same time, it seems that when comments are exchanged on an online space, it is much more likely to be obvious who is being “mean” to whom. (You might say the exception is something like use of pronouns referring to transgendered people which you referred to… I would disagree that each party has a valid case that the other was being “mean”, at least as long as the demand for certain pronouns only applies to the trans person being directly addressed.)

  40. onyomi says:

    I have at least one very culturally conservative Facebook friend who likes to complain about transgender in terms such as: “you can ‘identify’ as a woman all you like; you’ll never have the same status as my wife or mother.”

    Lurking behind these kinds of statements, I think, are sentiments like “I take pride in my masculine identity and my wife’s feminine identity; these identities are central parts of my being, and you can’t just take them on and off like you would put on a new pair of shoes or switch political affiliations.” Unlike my facebook friend, I don’t have a problem calling someone with a penis “she” if she asks me to, or someone with a vagina “he” if he asks me to. But I also don’t share my friend’s sense that my masculinity is a core part of my identity.

    This relates to a strong liberal (in the broad sense) tendency to push people to divest their personal identities from unchosen, largely immutable group memberships. You can be proud that you’re a doctor or a lawyer or a Bernie supporter, but you can’t be proud that you’re white, or have a penis. Because you had no control over the matter. Related, you can’t condemn a person with a penis for being attracted to other people with penises because that, also, is something they have no control over (by logical extension, you also shouldn’t be “proud” of being a gay woman of color, though arguably that is a counterweight to historical undervaluation; it does point, however, to the ways in which SJW is fundamentally illiberal, even reactionary in a meta sort of way).

    I’m pretty sympathetic to the traditional liberal view and its logical endpoints. Being proud about something you had no control over and condemning people for something they had no control over seem pretty lame. I’m not a fan of identity politics of any kind. At the same time, I can’t claim to have no emotional investment in being a white, heterosexual, American male (the “American” part is not biological, of course, but I didn’t really have a choice, either).

    Also, this may sound strange, but a lot of people don’t have that much to feel proud about. It may be easy among a group of MDs, PhDs, JDs, etc. to say “be proud of your own accomplishments! Don’t try to bathe in reflected glory of membership in some big, unchosen group!” but most people don’t have MDs, PhDs, JDs, successful artistic careers, etc. so in saying they can’t take pride in unchosen group membership we may, in essence, be telling them they can’t feel proud in general (though maybe they should instead take pride in being nice or ethical).

    As with most things, I think the best guideline is “live and let live.” I should not intentionally misgender you, but you’re moving into the realm of imposing on me if you demand my restaurant install a third bathroom, or that everyone at an event go through an elaborate exercise of stating their preferred pronouns when the traditional pronouns are good guesses 99% of the time.

    Conversely, just because you don’t consider your maleness or whiteness or blackness or Americanness to be a core part of your identity, doesn’t mean others should not (this might, ironically, be a point of agreement for strong traditionalists and trans people: if you are going to go to the trouble to come out as a trans woman rather than falling into the default your genitals would sort you into, then you must, to some extent, consider your gender to be an important part of your identity, as the traditionalist, in fact does. I, on the other hand, am closer to a “cis by default” person for whom gender identity is not a very big deal).

    The only point which seems irreconcilable is the one where the unchosen, immutable nature of an identity is precisely what makes it valuable, or at least part of what makes it valuable. This is why transgender presents a challenge both to traditionalism and also feminism. Not sure if there is a simple solution.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Part of the problem though is that a lot of what enables our achievements is equally unchosen.

      My intelligence and personality are the output of my parents genetics interacting with my environment. And turning that raw ability into domain skill cost an enormous amount of other people’s money, whether my parents’ or the government’s, which I could have rejected but had little choice in recieving. Can I take pride in my educational accomplishments, knowing that? Evidently yes, because I do.

      Who you are and what you’ve done are inseparable. Being proud of one means being proud of the other. Denying a man pride in his masculinity and denying an intellectual pride in his intellect are identical, and wrong in either case.

      • onyomi says:

        Yes, this seems the logical endpoint, arguably repugnant conclusion of certain aspects of liberalism: you can’t credit or blame anyone for anything.

    • Randy M says:

      I think people like your friend take less pride in being male than in being a man. That is, they feel that being male implies a certain ideal to strive for (in some domains) that is different than that being a female would imply.
      In that sense he is earning his pride if he is appropriately masculine–obviously a word with varied connotations, but whatever the goal is as he sees it, he has worked for his progress towards it.

      And then of course there is the point that the PhD’s and MD’s are proud of utilizing their intelligence, ambition, opportunities, etc., which, while admirable, are also probably largely unearned, rather inborn.

      • onyomi says:

        Good point. This same friend seems to have lots of high standards about what constitutes “manly” behavior: acting tough and honorable and protecting and providing for your family, etc. In this sense, being a “man” is something you earn, just like an MD. But by this logic, if a woman is tough and honorable and provides for her family, does she become an honorary “man”? I don’t think this person could accept that.

        • Randy M says:

          Could go either way. Among macho men, a woman might be accepted as “one of the guys” if she displays masculine attributes but it’s probably understood as an honorary position and not the norm.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Queen Elizabeth I was manly by that definition.

          • onyomi says:

            “Emperor” Wu Zetian was certainly perceived that way–and criticized harshly for it.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Elizabeth I was adored for things like her “I have the heart and stomach of a king” speech, which I suppose tells us something about traditional Chinese vs. English gender roles.

          • onyomi says:

            That is interesting. China had a long history already by that time of conceiving of gender roles and hierarchy as part of the natural order of the universe (yin and yang, therefore eunuchs, which are neither yin nor yang, are suspect, as are womenly men, and, especially, manly women, who are a threat to civilization itself, which depends on masculine authority controlling feminine nature).

        • Hlynkacg says:

          But by this logic, if a woman is tough and honorable and provides for her family, does she become an honorary “man”?

          For all intents and purposes, yes.

          Note how women like Margaret Thatcher, and Marie Curie are often dismissed by so-called “feminists” for being insufficiently feminine (or feminist).

          • onyomi says:

            I always assumed Thatcher was disqualified as a woman for the same reason Clarence Thomas is disqualified from being black. Though it is interesting to consider whether this was a factor as well (or whether there is any truly “feminine” way to be a powerful politician). But feminists don’t seem to have a problem with Hillary, and she doesn’t strike me as more feminine than Thatcher. Then again, they don’t seem to have embraced her very vigorously, either.

            (Weirdly enough, being a feminist itself, paradoxically, is not stereotyped as a very feminine thing to do, either).

          • Randy M says:

            It’s not that weird; I don’t think feminists respect femininity all that much either. I think they would argue gender roles are socially constructed to give power to men and weakness to women; why respect someone who chooses to exhibit weakness well?

          • onyomi says:

            Then why don’t they love Thatcher and Ayn Rand? I think it can only be because having the wrong politics trumps almost all else.

          • Adam says:

            Why on earth would it not? It’s a political movement. This is like asking why the French liberation movement in the 40s would kill French collaborators. I mean, they were French, right, so aren’t they who you’re supposed to be fighting for?

          • Hlynkacg says:

            I think they would argue gender roles are socially constructed to give power to men and weakness to women

            Granted, that is what they’d argue; but it just makes the dismissal of women who demonstrate that they can successfully compete with men “on men’s terms” all the more strange.

            We are presented with a paradoxical situation where it seems that the “misogynists” are more ready to recognize and reward female strength/ability than the supposed “feminists”.

            Edit:
            To continue the French liberation analogy, it’s almost like the Resistance deciding to fight the American and British “invaders” at Normandy.

          • Randy M says:

            Wait, why is that strange? I’m with Adam, as a political movement, feminism is only going to publicly avow women supporting the same goals. Make a graph with axis of strength versus adherence to political feminism, and they will most admire the women in the + feminism, + Strength quadrant. The other quadrants are either defectors or oppressed.

          • onyomi says:

            “Why on earth would it not? It’s a political movement. This is like asking why the French liberation movement in the 40s would kill French collaborators. I mean, they were French, right, so aren’t they who you’re supposed to be fighting for?”

            Yeah, but it’s not like Thatcher and Rand argued for oppression of women while breaking down barriers and stereotypes in their own lives. They merely supported the cluster of beliefs which most feminists broadly associate with “them,” rather than “us.”

            It’s sort of like the issue of black conservatives: if your number one issue is helping black people do you praise a successful black conservative politician because he’s a living example of what you want, or criticize because he’s harming the cause? I guess I can understand the latter, but it’s rather question begging (assuming you know the answer of what’s really best for black people) and patronizing (not respecting the judgment of an individual black person who presumably doesn’t think of himself as a traitor to his race).

            If you’re a feminist, then while you’re obviously allowed to hold other political views, you should at least have some respect for actual women who achieve the goals the movement supposedly wants to make possible for more women. If you then disrespect those women’s right to have an unorthodox opinion on other issues then you are, in some sense, disrespecting the autonomy you’re supposedly fighting for them to have.

            That is, it is arguably more sexist or racist to believe that there is one “correct” political viewpoint for women or blacks to hold.

          • Randy M says:

            If you are a successful woman who does not advocate for feminism, you are refusing to help others rise up. You are a sell-out, basically.
            If you are an “unsuccessful” woman who isn’t feminist, you are held back by your delusions.
            If you are an “unsuccessful” woman who is a feminist, you are held back by oppression, and need the systemic change advocated for by feminism to achieve equality, etc.

          • Adam says:

            I would assume they applaud the fact that a black person can achieve a position of esteem while simultaneously criticizing the content of whatever they’re advocating. That isn’t inconsistent in itself. It’d be a little inconsistent if you claimed your primary concern in life was women achieving power and then get pissed when it happens because it’s Margaret Thatcher, but I haven’t ever heard too many feminists say something like that is their primary concern. Usually they’re advocating for specific policies, not personal achievement, and any policymaker that advocates opposite policies is going to be an enemy.

          • onyomi says:

            It’s actually not so much direct criticism, by feminists, of people like Margaret Thatcher and Ayn Rand that bothers me, but more of a subtle ignoring of achievement on the part of people on the wrong side of the political divide.

            Like if Margaret Thatcher had been a Labor politician and equally successful, but never particularly championing the cause of women or doing anything that obviously made women better off, I kind of suspect that she would nevertheless have been held up as more of a feminist hero.

            Ditto Ayn Rand. Self-taught philosopher, fleeing oppression (too bad she was fleeing the wrong oppression), supported her husband, one of the best-selling authors of all time writing in her non-native language… by all rights she shouldn’t just be tolerated by feminists, she should be a feminist hero. It’s more the deafening silence that gets to me.

            Since we’re talking about replacing all the white men on the money lately, I will trade liberals every other founding father on every bill and coin if only we can put Ayn Rand on the 100. The best part about the proposal is that it’s somehow appropriate whether you love her or hate her.

          • Protagoras says:

            Various other people have pointed out why feminists would have a problem with Thatcher, but I’m curious about your mention of Marie Curie. I don’t recall hearing much, or indeed any, feminist criticism of Curie.

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ onyomi
            Then why don’t they love Thatcher and Ayn Rand?

            And Palin and to some extent* Hillary. Till 2000, Palin was a model for a ‘liberated woman’ by our 1970s standard. Self-made career with house-spouse and breast fed her baby at the Governor’s desk.

            Sometimes I get the impression that a woman who has already got success with her own style and issues … no longer counts as a woman. Dunno enough about Golda Meier or Indira Gandhi to generalize further.

            *Hillary works for women’s issues, but it’s been kind of a sideline to her day jobs (national health, foreign affairs, economy etc).

          • onyomi says:

            “Sometimes I get the impression that a woman who has already got success with her own style and issues … no longer counts as a woman.”

            I do think part of it is the bipartisan fact that the personality traits associated with political success are not, by and large, associated with femininity. That is, it may not be that politics makes you masculine, but that the most stereotypically masculine women go into politics.

            There may also be the fact that Republicans/right wing/conservative parties tend to expect higher adherence to gender norms, so while Republicans go for “manly” men (Trump), they expect their women to be well made-up, wearing heels, etc.

            I don’t know where Fox found Megyn Kelly–someone who apparently has the time to always looks like a supermodel yet have three children and be a serious thinker who won’t shrink from any debate.

          • Deiseach says:

            Thatcher was notorious for preferring all-male cabinets (as she allegedly felt better able to control men*); in all her time in office, she only appointed one woman (Baroness Young) to her cabinet and possibly that was mainly because Baroness Young was Leader of the House of Lords and a very staunch ally on Section 28.

            *I remember a sketch on “Spitting Image” where Thatcher brought her cabinet to a restaurant; after the waitress took her order she asked “And what about the vegetables?” to which she answered “Oh, they’ll have the same as me”.

    • Also, this may sound strange, but a lot of people don’t have that much to feel proud about.

      This doesn’t sound strange, it just sounds wrong.
      My Wife has a song for you:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZpvfmSL6WkM
      There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in your various identities. Assuming you are American, you are part of the most successful branch of humanity. We have eliminated famine, we have protected and expanded our Forefathers notion of liberty, we have walked on the Moon and explored the deepest secrets of the Universe, etc.
      Not taking pride in this cultural-political identity strikes me as odd.
      Diminishing the achievements of normal people just going about their day also strikes me as odd.
      It strikes me as not unusual but still wrong to consider a college education or “art” as superior to successfully raising a family. Bobo thinking.

      As with most things, I think the best guideline is “live and let live.” I should not intentionally misgender you, but you’re moving into the realm of imposing on me if you demand my restaurant install a third bathroom, or that everyone at an event go through an elaborate exercise of stating their preferred pronouns when the traditional pronouns are good guesses 99% of the time.

      I tend to agree. However, there’s also struggle at the margins. As an individual, the best thing to do is to keep in mind core values and sacrifice unneeded hobby horses.

  41. Murphy says:

    “but you are not allowed to directly shame any commenters here.”

    I’m kind of curious whether this extends to people describing abhorrent acts, if some commenter posted up a long gleeful but polite account of their favorite hobbies of systematically outing/doxing gay and trans people who live in countries where such things carry the death penalty and hanging out in communities for supporting suicidal people and then trying to taunt them into killing themselves.

    Does the first reply calling them a disgusting, sadistic evil monster who should be ashamed of themselves attract a ban or is truthfulness a defense?

    • Anonymous says:

      Your example would probably find little disagreement here, but there are acts that some people firmly believe are abhorrent even as others have no problem with them at all. For example, I’m thinking of the woman for whom Scott was attempting to raise funds some threads back who violated an agreement to have an abortion. I believe that violating such an agreement, in general, is completely unconscionable, though I refrained from saying so in that thread. Many others disagreed.

      At the same time, I saw commenters shaming this woman for engaging in promiscuity/polyamory, and I didn’t think *those* criticisms were founded. Nevertheless, I personally wouldn’t forbid such criticism. I find these “anti-shaming” norms quite stifling: in the extreme, I cannot remark on your hypothetical doxxer’s abhorrent behavior and must act like nothing has happened. It doesn’t sit well with me.

      • Evan Þ says:

        … and I’m the exact opposite: I’m pro-life; I think it was virtuous of her to break the abortion contract, just like it would be virtuous for a hired hitman to break his contract. I also think polyamory is morally bad, though I refrained from saying so in that thread (or most other places; I’d rather not get into a discussion of it).

        Still, I totally agree with your criticism of anti-shaming norms. They break down in extreme examples, which points to how there’s some other principle in play which Scott didn’t articulate in his post.

    • “but you are not allowed to directly shame any commenters here.”

      I’m curious about a different question of interpretation.

      Suppose someone, in an argument, deliberately lies, asserts facts that not only are not true but that he knows are not true. Demonstrating that shames him, given the norms of our society. Even demonstrating that the asserted facts are not true and are easily seen to not be true may well shame the person who asserted them, even if he didn’t know they were false.

      One might argue against ever doing that, perhaps on the grounds that we are all too willing to believe that asserted facts we disagree with are obviously false. But accepting that argument eliminates a lot of legitimate arguments.

  42. Nevertaken says:

    This argument has a lot going for it, but I think it suffers from a flaw. If the rule is that no one can be reproached for doing anything that isn’t actually illegal, then there is going to be a tendency to push to criminalize everything that is reproachable. The problem with that is there is a negative effect on society for each thing we make illegal. ‘Good laws’ are laws that make something illegal which has a larger negative effect than the ‘cost’ of the law itself. For an easy example, laws against murder very clearly meet this criterion: the cost to society of murder is greater than the cost to society of outlawing murder. But to accept this does not mean you have to be blind to the cost of the outlawing. There are people in our society right now sitting in prison for murders they did not commit. That’s a real cost that we accept only because the harm of murder is so great.

    Once this is recognized, and the cost of outlawing is factored in, then it becomes apparent that there are almost certainly some activities which are harmful to society, but have a cost of outlawing that would be even greater. Adultery might be an example of this. Or a certain low level of bigotry that is subjective enough that outlawing it would be overly Orwellian. There are other possible examples, and much room for debate about what is in this category and what is not. But the category almost certainly exists, and the rule described in the main post leaves us with no way to deal with it. We don’t want to accept these activities, because they are genuinely harmful to society. But we don’t want to outlaw them, because doing so would be even more harmful. Closing the door on the possibility of shame means that we will either have to fully accept them, or outlaw them, neither of which is a good solution.

    So I guess I am arguing for shame, or reproach, as a tool necessary for our society. But of course like all tools, it can be misused. It’s probably best used between people who know each other very well. For example, if my best friend told me that he was cheating on his wife, I would be in a position to reproach him much more effectively than I would if some commenter on here started bragging about their adultery.

    Therefore, in the context of governing blog comments, the rule makes a lot of sense, because blog comment threads are perhaps the worst place possible to employ the tool of shame. But that doesn’t mean it has no place.

    • Randy M says:

      Yes, the law is a blunt instrument. If it is the only instrument allowed, you’re probably going to end up with even more collateral damage.

  43. Frog Do says:

    We go a couple more rounds of this and maybe people will believe me when I say Less Wrongers have a much larger set of Right Answers than is explicitly stated.

    • Alex says:

      Less Wrongers have a much larger set of Right Answers than is explicitly stated.

      As in “they betray their own ideal” or as in “they are really up (on?) to something”.

      • Frog Do says:

        Technically it’s a “betray their own ideal”, but honestly no one post-Less Wrong actually believes in the ideals as total system anymore (this is what Meaningness and the post-rationalists are getting at), all explicitly totalizing systems are gonna fail eventually.

        What I mean is there is a much stronger set of norms that actually apply, in a community that prides itself on openness and niceness. It is mean to hide your doctrine if you have it.

    • Samuel Skinner says:

      Other people at Less Wrong agree with Scott on this?

  44. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    One important advantage of coordinated meanness is that it allows netting.

    Say Blues are a bit more powerful than Greens. In an uncoordinated state, you might have Blues subject to eight units of meanness by Grerns and Greens subject to ten units of meanness by Blues. If people coordinate, they can instead make it two units for Greens and none for Blues, preserving the effective punishment for being Green while delivering a nice Pareto improvement.

  45. Anonymous says:

    > coordinated meanness happens when everyone (or 51% of the population, or an entire church worth of Puritans, or whatever) wants to be mean.

    Now you’re just being naive. Is 51% of the population really of the opinion that smoking marijuana users should be sent to prison for 10 years? Or that people pirating movies should pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and be sent to prison? Or that that a teenager should end up in jail for paedophilia if she sends nude pictures of herself to another teenager?

    Some of the “coordinated meanness” is there because a relatively small special interest group has somehow captured disproportionate share of power. Some of it is there because the system is so complex that crazy edge cases happen without anyone noticing. In a system that follows some kind of moral average of the people would, I think, have much less coordinated meanness because peoples’ opinions on things tend to vary a lot and most people are relatively forgiving creatures.

  46. Dr Dealgood says:

    As other people have said, “Be Nice” only works when everyone is on the same page re: Niceness. When what qualifies as Nice or Mean is itself under dispute the rule cannot possibly function.

    One of the big problems with both modern progressivism and religious fundamentalism is the assumption that everyone already agrees on the ethical questions, in their hearts at least, so all disagreement must come from ignorance or rebellion. This is recapitulated to a degree here.

    We all agree on what constitutes Niceness and Meanness, so all we have to do is work through which acts of Meanness are too important to punish and which acts of Niceness are too trivial to make cumpulsory…

    • Alex says:

      Very much this. Also I translate “coordinated meanness”, however well intentioned, into “forcing people _not_ on the same page into submitting to our notion of niceness”. I’m not saying it is wrong to do, but you have to be _very_ sure that you actually are on the right page to do this. And there is the old joke that it is always the wrong people who have sufficient levels of sureness.

  47. SUT says:

    Shaming is a big part of support groups – whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous or the Red Pill, complaints of victimhood are often swiftly rebutted by a group leader with a call for perseverance, renewed faith in personal agency, and dismissal of the idea that for some people the situation is just too challenging. And there’s some shaming of the reported actions that led the person into their current “woe is me” crisis.

    One of the ironies of shaming these shamers is these support groups know the victim’s struggle better than society at large; they know the ecstasy of a bender and what you’d sacrifice to go on one. And as a group these support groups have inexorably moved toward shame (or is it guilt?) as the best tool for personal change.

    The mark of the unhelpful support group is its reluctance to shame: for example in the movie Jerry McGuire, Renee Zellweger needs to be torn away from the grievance culture of jaded divorcee (always the man’s fault!) before she can enter into a union of love or at least hope. Sounds a lot like MRA, doesn’t it?

  48. Lawrence D'Anna says:

    If I were the sort of person who thinks transgender is a delusion then I would say the thing about misgendering at the end is a totally unprincipled exception to everything you wrote above it. There you are proposing to shame and exclude people for committing the newly invented offense of using English the way it’s always been used!

    I don’t actually think it is an exception, but I do think it points out a limitation to your main point, which is that sometimes it is impossible to include everyone in a civil space, yet alone a safe space.

    I’m also worried that this unfortunate mutex has been strategically and in some cases deliberately created. I don’t doubt that trans people experience misgendering as a slur, but that experience is mediated by culture and that culture’s activist purposes are served by them experiencing it as a slur. I worry about the moral hazard and what new offenses will be invented next.

    • moridinamael says:

      I wonder how much of the willingness/readiness to misgender is rooted in a fundamental doubt that the target is actually hurt by the act.

      • Walter says:

        I bet it is most of it. People aren’t orks in most contexts. I am rarely slapped in the face, but when I had a broke finger people would shake my hands if I didn’t warn them. They didn’t know they were hurting me, so they would. If I told them, they were fine with changing their greeting ritual to avoid causing me pain.

        Similarly, I don’t let people decide what sandwiches I eat. That’s not their business. But I have a coworker who has a peanut allergy. In deference to our shared lunch space I don’t bring PBJ’s. If I stopped believing in his allergy (say I saw him crunching down on a pbj, or I saw a science study that revealed that peanut allergies are not a thing), I’d probably go back to eating whatever I pleased.

        What stays my hand is my desire not to cause harm. If I don’t think I’m causing harm, my default response to orders from strangers is disobedience. They don’t get to tell me what to do, etc.

      • Lawrene D'Anna says:

        I think it’s mostly motivated by concern for moral hazard.

        Like, I know it’s going to hurt Muslims to see cartoons of Muhammed, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them tell me I can’t draw one. Without the attempt at censorship Muhammad cartoons would be r/atheism edgelord drek. Grownups wouldn’t bother with it.

        Same with pronouns. The attitude is, “look I know this hurts your feelings but I’ll be damned if I let you tell me I can’t use the English language in its accurate and correct form”

      • vV_Vv says:

        Does it matter? Do you worry about hurting the feelings of the schizophrenic guy who thinks he’s Jesus by “mispersoning” him?

        • Lawrene D'Anna says:

          @vV_Vv

          Actually, yes I would. Why would I want to antagonize him just because I’m right and he’s wrong? What purpose would it serve?

          But if there was a frighteningly censorious movement of schizophrenic activists that was successfully redefining what language is considered the minimum standard of politeness in the surrounding culture, I might feel differently.

    • Liskantope says:

      It’s not entirely a matter of “using English the way it’s always been used”. There’s a largely-agreed-upon meta-principle at play here, the same one that compels us to respect each others’ bodies and possessions (even if we think we know what’s best for someone else and their property), and in particular, to call others by the name and the pronunciation they prefer. (Of course, such rights are generally denied to children, for reasons.)

      • eh says:

        If your name was given as “Dam Sun”, you requested everyone call you “Superior Lord Liskantope”, or you insisted that you were really Napoleon Bonaparte, you’d meet resistance; the first because it sounds like a joke, the second because it demeans whoever uses it, and the third because it’s insane. The same perceptions, wrong or right, are probably behind misgendering.

        If a biological male is making a good-faith effort to present as a woman, many reasonable people will also act in good faith and use the correct pronouns for her. That good faith is shaken a bit when the individual insists on “they”, and falls apart completely with the more exotic pronouns. It feels less like mutually-agreed-upon respect, and more like an ideological mugging by someone who just wants to throw their social justice cred around. When Lawrence d’Anna says “I’m also worried that this unfortunate mutex has been strategically and in some cases deliberately created”, I think this is what he’s worried about.

        • Liskantope says:

          This comment is meant as a response both to you and to Lawrene’s comment below.

          I agree that probably a lot of the motivation behind misgendering is a desire to “respect the truth”, rather than any malicious attitude, and certainly not primarily out of disregard for anyone’s body, property, or name. That said, I don’t see why my suggested meta-principle can’t be fully applied without creating a conflict with anyone’s respect for their perception of truth.

          If I insist on being called something that sounds like a joke or which makes the addresser feel demeaned (“Superior Lord Liskantope”… I like it), then I may still have a basic right to be addressed thus, but others certainly have the right to judge me as obnoxious and avoid me. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode “The Maestro”, where Elaine dates a musician who insists on being called “Maestro” even in purely social contexts. I suggest that he has the right to insist on being called “Maestro” and, say, to break up with someone purely on the grounds that they refuse to call him by that title. On the other hand, Elaine might not want to hang out with someone who expresses such a pompous and silly preference, and she has every right to stop dating him for that reason. I propose that those who do have to interact with him — for instance, his coworkers — really should call him “Maestro”, even as they inwardly roll their eyes at his obnoxiousness. Similarly, the fact that a male-presenting person wishes to be referred to with female pronouns might strike another party as irrational, or as though they’re trying to shove extreme political-correctness-culture ideas down their throat. The other party still should respect the meta-principle, even while they have the right to avoid the transgender person’s and the perceived unreasonableness of their attitude.

          Now of course there are certain circumstances where respecting a certain name preference might actually directly cause a problem in certain environments. I’m too tired to think of examples now that don’t sound silly. Clearly, in these situations other considerations have to be weighed against the meta-principle.

          Similarly, if I insist that I’m Napoleon Bonaparte, then there’s a good chance that my basic sanity is in jeopardy. The fact that I should immediately be taken to a health care professional doesn’t contradict the notion that in the meantime, others should address me the way I ask. This is vaguely analogous to the fact that, despite our society’s meta-principle of preserving free speech, action should be taken in response to statements that present a clear and direct threat to anyone’s safety. This doesn’t contradict free speech: when we arrest someone who threatens violence, they aren’t in trouble for saying they plan to kill someone; they’re in trouble because of their evident intention to do so.

          But I might be getting too tired to write coherently; time for bed. Lord Liskantope out.

      • Lawrene D'Anna says:

        I agree with you on the object level; but I think your meta argument would be very unpersuasive to anyone that doesn’t agree with you on the object.

        I think they would say: “gender like a fact, not a name. And respecting facts can’t possibly disrespect someone’s body or possessions or name.”

  49. baconbacon says:

    I feel like everything is backwards in this post.

    Coordinated meanness is so much worse and scarier than uncoordinated meanness. It is also probably more frequent as well if you count individual actions. Even skipping over the Hitlers, Stalins and Maos of history and just focusing on the US it is pretty freaking obvious (to me) that coordinated meanness is shudder inducing terrifying.

    You wouldn’t worry much if skinheads proposed anti Jew legislation? How would you feel if you were part of a group that was threatened by a presidential candidate with imprisonment and or deportation? What if the current president was shipping out your friends and family at a rate higher than any other president in history? Coordinated meanness against Jews is unlikely, but that is simply genetic luck for you.

    Deportation is pretty benign compared to drone strikes, mass incarceration of minorities, genocide of Native Americans, Vietnam, etc- and the US is one of the NICE societies.

    The scale difference between coordinated and uncoordinated is enormous. Taxation = theft is really a misnomer, would I rather get taxed or mugged ? That is an easy one. Would I rather get taxed every single day of my life in 5 different ways (property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, social security tax) or maybe get mugged and have to put effort into not getting mugged? That is an easy one in the opposite direction.

    Given the scale differences it is plausible that coordinated niceness could be far worse than coordinated meanness. If public education in the US was even a tiny negative for minorities individually it would do more harm than the existence of the KKK.

    • onyomi says:

      Yes, exactly. By contrasting thugs beating up a Jew in a dark alley with people peacefully soliciting support for an anti-semitic proposal you’re fairly certain will gain no traction, you’re stacking the deck in favor of the ethics of predictability and large-scale, coordinated action. If we contrasted “individual thugs sometimes unilaterally decide to beat up Jews, but we usually catch them and throw them in jail” with “the society has decided to legally empower squadrons of Jew hunters” then orderly predictability doesn’t sound so good.

      Basically, something that was unethical when an individual decided to do it only becomes scarier when a group decides to do it.

      What Scott is really arguing seems to be simply that large groups are less likely to do bad things than individuals because coordination is hard. But that also means large groups are less likely to do good things. Large groups are less likely to do things in general, but history doesn’t seem to show at all that large groups, on average, behave more ethically than individuals. And predictable, orderly doom is worse than possible doom, so predictability itself isn’t always better, either.

    • Anonymous says:

      >5 different ways (property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, social security tax)

      That’s four!

      You could also add money printing tax.

      (You get taxed for earning money, spending money, and having money in two different ways.)

    • Walter says:

      Ultimately, though, there are groups you can’t mutually satisfy.

      Like, I like buildings to stay where I put them, and not catch fire. Arsonists probably see that as super unreasonable.

      Form the perspective of an arsonist, the current presidential candidate, and all the others, are THROWING HIS PEOPLE IN JAIL (where they will likely be mistreated, and possibly sexually assaulted) unless they successfully pass as cisnotstartfires. Our response is, basically, “lawbreakers are out-tribe. No one cares what happens to them.” Is this coordinated meanness?

      Pivoting to your immigration example, say for conversation purposes that you are all about this whole rule of law thing. Call your tribe the law abiders if you got to. If we stipulate that the immigrants broke the law by sneaking across the border, then you and your buddies want them deported. Say that I’m a member of an extended family with American and foreign members. Say that the foreigners can’t legally get here, and there is a civil war going on in their country. (this isn’t as hypothetical as I wish it was). One of us isn’t going to be happy. I can call y’all racists, You can call us crooks, but the fact remains that our preferences aren’t going to mesh.

      Is it meanness if the immigrants take some resources that locals want? If so is it coordinated? Is it meanness if we eject border jumpers whenever we catch them? Should their crimes be pardoned? If this is meanness, is it coordinated?

      There is certainly a question here, but I don’t think it reduces to niceness/meanness. It is two different groups of people, with very different notions of what is important and what is to be done. Reality is finite, and the sets of preferences are mutually exclusive.

      • baconbacon says:

        Pivoting to your immigration example, say for conversation purposes that you are all about this whole rule of law thing. Call your tribe the law abiders if you got to. If we stipulate that the immigrants broke the law by sneaking across the border, then you and your buddies want them deported.

        This argument falls apart since the law can be changed. Virtually no conservatives are advocating mass deportation along with much easier immigration laws to enable legal immigration. On the other hand no conservatives are arguing that we need to go over the records of every Jew that immigrated during WW2 to ensure their entry was legal.

        Rule of Law arguments are Motte and Bailey stuff. Black’s shouldn’t break the law if they don’t want to go to jail! Rule of Law!

        • Walter says:

          *blink*

          Um…do you actually believe that there aren’t people who think that folks should obey the law or suffer the consequence? Like, fun blog fights aside, that’s just not true. Those people totally exist. They are most people.

          “Do the Crime, Do the Time” isn’t a dog whistle for “Screw people with different skin color from my own.” It is a real point of view, with a wide following.

          “We can change the law” isn’t a counterpoint to “obey the law or take your punishment”. It is pretty much orthogonal. Conservatives believe that you should follow immigration law. That they don’t want to change that immigration law is a separate deal, and I’m having trouble understanding how you think that it somehow makes the argument fall apart.

          You can even *gasp* believe that you should follow the immigration laws (and the drug laws, and sex worker laws), WHILE wanting to change those laws. Being pro rule-of-law isn’t just a mask that people who have object level positions wear, it is a totally real thing.

          And yes, obviously, black folks, (and white folks too. Every kind of folks, even.) who don’t want to go to jail shouldn’t break the law. That’s super obvious, and its worrying that you are repeating it like its a counterpoint.

          • Hlynkacg says:

            Yes, allow me to second that blink.

            Though now I’m imagining the classic D&D alignment matrix in terms of “Chaotic Evil” vs “Racist Good”.

          • baconbacon says:

            Um…do you actually believe that there aren’t people who think that folks should obey the law or suffer the consequence? Like, fun blog fights aside, that’s just not true. Those people totally exist. They are most people.

            This is the Motte. If these people were really worried specifically about obeying the law then they were be a near perfect overlap between their group and concerns about police abusing their power, instead the correlation is practically the reverse. Instead they loudly declare their support for the law against groups that they dislike and are quiet when groups they like run afoul.

            You can even *gasp* believe that you should follow the immigration laws (and the drug laws, and sex worker laws), WHILE wanting to change those laws.

            You can, but almost none do which is the point.

            And yes, obviously, black folks, (and white folks too. Every kind of folks, even.) who don’t want to go to jail shouldn’t break the law. That’s super obvious, and its worrying that you are repeating it like its a counterpoint.

            I find it far more worrying that there are blatant examples of historically terrible laws that should never ever be followed, and yet people still fall back on the old “its the law” defense.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s more than one Bailey to that Motte. Some of the Law-n-Order types talk big about the Law, but it’s really Order they care about. They’re against anyone bucking Authority, no matter how bad the Authority acts and no matter who the group is that is bucking it.

          • Walter says:

            @baconbacon

            When I say “people who believe in the law exist”, and you respond that this statement about the world is a Motte that I maintain in order to gain argumentative advantage, I worry that you’ve rationalized your common sense away.

            Like, do the math. The complexity of the conspiracy you are positing is STAGGERING. Who goes around informing all of the kids being taught that you should obey the law that really what that means is that the cops will club their enemies? None of those kids ever recorded this? None of them ever became people who agreed with you and testified?

            The belief that “Everyone who says A really believes Y” should need extreme evidence. You are going with “if they really believed Y they’d be extremely concerned about Z, ergo they don’t believe Y.” That’s…not really sufficient.

            First off, plenty of folks think you should obey the law and also that the law should be changed. You are sort of hand waving them away, and it is important to push back on that. Marijuana legalization is the most obvious recent case that I can think of. Look around, you’ll find an ocean of “I never tried this because it was illegal, but now I got high and let me tell you what it was like” sort of stories.

            But moreover….I’m unconvinced by your counter assertion in its entirety. Saying that if people really meant that laws should be followed they’d be concerned about police abuse of power, and they aren’t, so they don’t, is super shaky. If A -> B, but not B, ergo, not A, has a bunch of links, and most of them you are making up.

            Why would people who are most concerned that the law is obeyed be super concerned about police abusing their power? You sort of snuck that in there, but it doesn’t seem to track at all. Police mostly don’t abuse their power, when they do it is rarely law abiders who suffer, other police are always around them, they rarely go to jail, etc. Plenty of reasons that it isn’t a big deal to your typical suburbanite.

            There are people who believe in following the laws. Motte and Bailey isn’t a magic thing that lets you ignore the evidence. How to put it in less wrong terms… your map is wrong. I’m telling you a fact about the territory.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @baconbacon

            You’re just asserting that the police are systematically abusing their power but not everybody agrees. If you’re going to use a controversial issue in support of your argument, you should at least defend it.

    • anonymous says:

      Taxation isn’t theft, taxes are the subscription price to live in your country.

      They say that the queen owns all land in England. To me it looks like all governments are the de facto owners of their respective territories. That justifies taxation.
      To complain that you can’t escape taxes because all countries have them is is the same as saying that I can’t be a farmer because all fertile land is already taken and they want money to let me use or buy a field. That’s life.

      Still, you could complain that governments are an oligopoly, which is a different complaint from “taxation is theft”. And then we’d be talking.

      • Anonymous says:

        I don’t think many people will find “might makes right” a compelling argument in any context where they did not already agree with the conclusion it implies.

        • anonymous says:

          Oh no, it isn’t might. It’s general agreement.
          The fact that everyone, except for a few anarchists and anarcho-capitalists, agrees that it is right.
          Might follows from that.

          If you own a piece of land, what makes it yours exactly?
          The fact that you can physically force an intruder out?
          Or is it general agreement that you have a right to do so?

          (I know that some would say “it’s mine because I settled it first” or something, but that isn’t how real life works – I live in an ancient country and nobody remembers who settled it – everything runs on general agreement).

          You have the might to force an intruder out of your property (with or without help from the police) only because everyone agrees with it. Or else you wouldn’t.
          Usually and ideally, might follows from (most) everyone agreeing that it’s right. Even the might of governments.

          You see, private property isn’t any different from government power. Either you are a left-anarchist or you have to recognize that governments, like landlords, have a degree of legitimacy.

          • Nornagest says:

            If you own a piece of land, what makes it yours exactly?

            This is a subtler and more contentious question than you seem to think it is. There’s an enormous number of different systems of land tenure, both within and outside of modern states, and an even more enormous number of justifications and rationalizations for them.

          • anonymous says:

            This is a subtler and more contentious question than you seem to think it is.

            Whether taxes are legitimate is also a subtle question, but we’re just talking here, not writing treatises.

            There’s an enormous number of different systems of land tenure, both within and outside of modern states, and an even more enormous number of justifications and rationalizations for them.

            Like I said, everything runs on general agreement.

          • Nornagest says:

            General agreement falls apart with the first defector if it doesn’t support some kind of enforcement mechanism, so there’s a component of force. But there’s also a component of mutual trust. The details, and the circumstances under which those enforcement mechanisms are used, vary widely and don’t always include anything we’d recognize as state power.

            It’s rather like the situation around systems of money, and for some of the same reasons. Describing either one in terms of a yes/no, legitimate/illegitimate binary is probably going to be more misleading than helpful in most contexts.

          • anonymous says:

            Describing either one in terms of a yes/no, legitimate/illegitimate binary is probably going to be more misleading than helpful in most contexts.

            I agree.

            (that’s the reason I wrote “a degree of legitimacy”).

            I just wanted to refute the anarcho-capitalist idea that government is 100% illegitimate.

      • Psmith says:

        There was a discussion about this in a recent links thread, starting here and continuing at some length.

        I’m more or less with anon on this one, for what it’s worth.

      • vV_Vv says:

        They say that the queen owns all land in England. To me it looks like all governments are the de facto owners of their respective territories.

        It’s actually stronger than this. Governments are sovereign powers over their territories. Sovereignty is stronger than ownership, and in fact ownership rights are granted by the sovereign power to people living in its territory.

        Therefore, you can own something only to the extent that the government decides that you own it.

        Theft is taking something you own without your consent, therefore taxation is not theft because the government just decides that you don’t own that money anymore. On the contrary, tax evasion is theft because you are appropriating money which the government decided that you don’t own.

        • John Schilling says:

          and in fact ownership rights are granted by the sovereign power to people living in its territory

          This is pretty solidly established with respect to ownership of land, less so with respect to other sorts of property. And even with land governments are bound by their own laws and by customary international law, and for the most part cannot arbitrarily revoke any property rights they have contracted to give or sell without offering fair value in compensation.

          On the contrary, tax evasion is theft because you are appropriating money which the government decided that you don’t own.

          Not until you establish that governments properly own absolutely everything. And it has to be “absolutely everything”, or close enough as makes no difference, because tax bills are not constrained by the amount of actual money the in the target’s possession.

          Then let’s revisit the legitimacy of all the offshore bankers who have faithfully held stewardship over the money of kleptocratic governments when mere people, who have no right to own money unless the government says so, have made claims on it. Last time I checked, they were supposed to be the bad guys, but apparently that’s changed.

        • That’s not what the 5th Amendment says.

  50. John Schilling says:

    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)

    If most people in the United States are signing the petition, how long do you think it would be before Tel Aviv winds up as a smoking radioactive crater? Probably from an Iranian, Saudi, or Turkish missile rather than an American one, but that hardly matters.

    Point being, I think the entire argument of this post is at least subconsciously rooted in “My tribe, which is right about everything, is in the majority in the powerful places and has the greatest capacity for organized meanness”. In which case, yes, if you are always right and always powerful, only allowing organized meanness is the winning move. And one of the ways it wins is by using organized meanness to prevent smaller, weaker factions from organizing.

    If you look at it from the point of view of the genuinely weak, uncoordinated meanness has a lot going for it. One of the strategies that works when you can’t win every fight and can’t ever win without excessive cost, is to pick a few fights and press those anyway. They cost you more than they are worth, but they cost the attacker more than the cheap victories he’d win if you never fought back and so act as a deterrent. This works at every level from the personal to the international – not as well as being strong enough to defend yourself against any attack, but much better than nothing. It is, for example, the sort of thing Israel would have to do if it didn’t have the United States as a patron.

    And at the lower levels, it is extremely difficult to coordinate. But, A: it doesn’t need to be coordinated, and B: the individual acts of resistance are nuclei around which a coordinated effort might coalesce. The Civil Rights movement largely grew out of this sort of thing.

    • Murphy says:

      I think it’s also important to note that in real history people have theoretically had the chance to move to another country before things get really bad with coordinated meanness… but it doesn’t help much when the SS comes marching through the streets of your new country *anyway*.

      Never mind that other countries tend to lock down and close the borders if too many refugees try to flee from somewhere.

      So there’s the implicit assumption that you’d be ahead of the curve for predicting the decent into meanness.

      I think you’re hitting the right note with uncoordinated meanness of the genuinely weak: When you don’t have power often one of the first moves by those in power is to block you from coordinating. At that point you have the choice of giving up or trying out asymmetric warfare.

    • vV_Vv says:

      If most people in the United States are signing the petition, how long do you think it would be before Tel Aviv winds up as a smoking radioactive crater? Probably from an Iranian, Saudi, or Turkish missile rather than an American one, but that hardly matters.

      Indeed, if the greatest world power was taken over by Nazis then a small country packed full of Jews and with a hexagram on its flag seem like one of the last places in the world where you would want to be.

      Anyway, Scott’s whole argument in favor of coordinated meanness seems weird:
      1) a bunch of anons who hang around /pol/ and Stormfront and occasionally get out of their basements and individually try to beat up Jews.
      2) skinhead gangs beating up Jews 20 vs 1.
      3) angry mobs doings pogroms against Jewish communities with the tacit complicity of the government.
      4) the government rounding up Jews and sending them to the showers.
      are in order of increasing coordination. Would Scott argue that they are in order of decreasing concern?

      • There is something about not following a rule over a cliff in fine print at the top of Scott’s post.

        I think the charitable reading is to not engage in or support uncoordinated meanness, and that there’s a lot more coordinated meanness that’s actually somewhat useful.

        However, there’s also so much coordinated meanness in the world which is much more mean than useful that I think Scott’s rule needs a bunch of scope analysis.

        Has anyone else gotten to The Art of Not Being Governed yet? Those early empires were coordinated, mean, and a net loss for a lot of people in them, as evidenced by how much trouble those empires had keeping people if those people had a way to escape.

      • Jiro says:

        I think one of the ideas is that the government rounding up Jews is less of a threat because since it takes a lot of people to do, there’s less of a chance of it happening in the first place, and something that is less likely to happen is less of a threat.

        (Incidentally I’m not convinced by this. If you’re going to compare the government to the bunch of anons, you need to compare the *expectation*–that is, the risk of it happening multiplied by the damage it causes when it happens. The government of Nazis is less probable, but does correspondingly more damage, so the danger doesn’t actually go down, and it may go up simply because the government can do things that a bunch of anons just couldn’t.)

  51. onyomi says:

    Even though I agree with the conclusion, I disagree with most of the argument:

    I think two things are being conflated: ethical meanness (insert your definition of “ethical”–if a consequentialist, “meanness that brings about good consequences”) and unethical meanness (for a consequentialist, “meanness that brings about bad consequences”).

    It seems to me that individual acts of ethical meanness are not only necessary, but that, at times, they are the only way to achieve certain good/ethical results. This is why private charity is much more effective with the same amount of money than public: if you make a law saying “all poor people get charity, except those who fail a drug test,” then inevitably you’re going to end up being unethically mean to some drug addicts who might get back on their feet with charity, and also unethically nice to some poor people who really would be better off, long term, if they stopped receiving charity, even though they aren’t drug addicts. The individual case worker has discretion to deal with individual cases. The law cannot.

    That said, if there is an act of individual ethical meanness which can be scaled without becoming unethical, then there’s no reason not to scale it. But conversely, the mere addition of orderly predictability will not, in most cases, turn unethical meanness into ethical meanness. The only case it would would be one in which the only thing tipping the scales into unethical rather than ethical territory was precisely the disorder and unpredictability. I don’t think that applies to many cases. Usually, if you’re going to be helped by charity you’re going to be helped by charity, whether administered by an individual or a large group. If you’re going to be hurt by charity…

    And this, in my opinion, is really the core of libertarianism: what would be bad if you did it as a private individual does not become good just because you do it as a representative of some big, orderly process. Unless, of course, the only thing keeping it from being good was, precisely the disorder. But such cases are rare. The primary problem with a private individual robbing you because they think they know better than you how to spend your money is not the disorderly, unpredictable nature of it.

    And this also overlooks the fact that predictability and consistency are not always better. In the case of receiving private versus public charity, the certainty that you are, for example, legally entitled to continue receiving unemployment benefits for the next two years, might be precisely what keeps you from seriously looking for a new job for two years, whereas if you have to convince a private charity worker you are making a serious effort or risk being cut off at some unpredictable time, then you are more likely to make a serious effort.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I agree with all of this, and your other comments elsewhere in the thread.

    • Psmith says:

      The primary problem with a private individual robbing you because they think they know better than you how to spend your money is not the disorderly, unpredictable nature of it.

      Just so. Can’t live your whole life on a meta-level.

    • moridinamael says:

      “Meanness” is a moderately interesting lens through which to view ethical questions, primarily because its use can potentially sharpen a consequentialist argument. As you say, it breaks down as a tool if it is used to replace a consequentialist argument.

      It reminds me of … Nyan .. Warg .. that guy’s old Less Wrong post, Morality is Awesome. Using the word “awesome” to ground your thinking is interesting and even useful in a sense, but it breaks down into consequentialism as soon as you try to apply it in complex ways.

  52. Ben Smith says:

    Interesting post and I think the principle could work well within the bounds of a society with good basic norms of fairness and inclusivity and constitutional protections of those same values.
    And I hate to be the one to bring up Nazi Germany, but it seems appropriate. Nazi Germany had a coordinated meanness against people they said we’re weak or degenerate or responsible for social problems. Just about any authoritarian society seems at least particularly vulnerable. Singapore is an authoritarian society with coordinated meanness I might be able to stomach; Saudi Arabia less so, and then there’s North Korea with a level of oppression meeting the definition of “totalitarianism” which is definitely a form of coordinated meanness. To contrast, China’s cultural revolution was a form of maybe vaguely similar uncordinated meanness, but I’m not sure NK’s coordinated meanness is any better and it’s probably a lot worse.

    Maybe the takeaway is that coordination is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for justifying meanness?

  53. Peter says:

    Two comments.

    1) There’s a very… Prachettian feel to all this. Like the licensed thieves, who would only mug you twice a year, and you’d always get a receipt (or, later, you could pay your inn-sewer-ants and skip the whole being-mugged thing altogether).

    2) US Bill of Rights. Unfortunately the trouble with a US Bill of Rights setup is that it tends to entrench the power of those enfranchised at the time of passing over those not so enfranchised. How might US history have been different if it was possible to get something like the 13th Amendment through by a straightforward majority vote in Congress?

    • Evan Þ says:

      “How might US history have been different if it was possible to get something like the 13th Amendment through by a straightforward majority vote in Congress?”

      The South would’ve seceded back in 1850 when California was about to give free states a majority in the Senate (since they already had a majority in the House.) Some historians argue that the North wasn’t yet prepared to win the war then.

      On the more meta-level point: Changing that standard changes all sorts of things and makes factions far more touchy, with unpredictable results.

      • Samuel Skinner says:

        California was pro-Southern (it had the smaller share of votes for Lincoln out of any state he won- only 32.3%). As for the Senators you had Fremont (first republican candidate for president), William M. Gwin (strong Southern Sympathizer), John B. Weller (“As Governor (1858-1860), he intended to make California an independent republic if the North and South divided over slavery,”) and David C. Broderick (who was pro-Union and killed in a duel for it).

        With at least 1 Senator, the South had equal votes in the Senate.

        • Evan Þ says:

          There were a lot of other “doughface” (i.e. pro-Southern) Senators from free states, too. But California still banned slavery, and at the time, that was perceived by the South as being the most important thing.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Pro-Southern as in “born and raised in the South”. Or

            ///Here Gwin’s Chivalry faction spoke on the South’s behalf. Gwin even considered that it might be possible for a Republic of the Pacific centered on California to secede from the Union. But when his party suffered badly in the elections of 1861, he saw there was little more that he could do in California to promote that cause.///

  54. Two McMillion says:

    One of the problems I see arising with this idea is- who gets to decide what’s mean?

    It seems to me that a precondition of profitable discussion is that no single party should get to dictate the all the terms of the discussion. Saying, “You’re not allowed to be mean” is fine until one person gets the ability to decide that “‘Mean’ means disagreeing with me”, and suddenly disagreement with them boots you out of the realm of civilized conversation.

    • Anonymous says:

      The majority does. This is how, for example, we have decided that being a nazi is mean regardless of whether you kill jews. It’s also why conservatives are threatened by the culture shift – if the majority starts believing that most of your beliefs are racism and racism is mean, they’re gonna boot you out of all conversations.

      If we have a culture war it is/will be the result of progressives achieving majority in some areas of life and using that power prematurely (before they’re a majority everywhere, and against a group that isn’t so small).

    • Peter says:

      In the specific case of SSC comments policy, ultimately Scott gets the final say. Except the final say isn’t completely final, as if really seriously messes things up there’s a danger of mass exodus.

      In the more general case; the largest or most powerful group who has done the best job of “co-ordinating meanness” gets to have that power – often exercised indirectly by controlling who it gets delegated to. So the USA gets to make law that defines property rights that define who can have certain privileges on computer systems, which means that Scott has admin power over this forum, which means he gets the “final” say. Also, the USA won’t let him force us to use this forum (not least because many of us are outside its jurisdiction) so I guess we have the final-final power of walking away.

    • Two McMillion says:

      Sure- but history would suggest the majority is wrong about what’s mean quite a bit.

    • Frog Do says:

      Scott’s friends, of course, just as your friends moderate what you say. Scott has already explicitly said that his social standing with his friends moderates his speech (thought not in those words), so his approximation of what his friends will find offensive governs his decisions. multi will get banned half a dozen times but it will always be temporary, some random 4chan shitposter will get permabanned immediately; despite their behavior (and thus their “real beliefs”) being the same.

      For all the slow people in the audience, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what happens.

    • The Nybbler says:

      And that’s the culture war in a nutshell.

      When it starts, you can solve the dilemma by refusing to be shamed, by continuing to speak up, and by objecting to the shaming. Unfortunately that all fails if the “anti-meanness” people manage to get in a position where they can actually censor. But in a place where new forums may be created easily, that doesn’t work so well either. They play whack-a-mole, sometimes they get control of infrastructure (e.g. 4chan and reddit), but even that doesn’t work; unless you’re as powerful as a totalitarian government, you can’t stop it all. And so you get ants… and Trump.

      • Deiseach says:

        What’s really frustrating is when meanness is used as the criterion for deciding if an argument is right or wrong or valid or should be permitted.

        It’s really annoying to be trying to thrash out definitions and rules and having that exchange be shut down by people going “You’re being mean!”

        Because “being mean” hurts their feelings and hurting their feelings is bad and wicked and evil so you are bad and wicked and evil and your ideas are bad and wicked and evil and we all agree bad and wicked and evil things should not be permitted, so shut up you people with the bad and wicked and evil ideas.

        I don’t think being insulting or offensive or hurtful for the sake of it is any good at all, but if there is a really important question on the line, someone is going to be hurt by being told they are in the wrong on this, and hurt feelings alone are not enough to decide if the agreed view is right or wrong.

        The hypocrisy then creeps in where X group can’t or shouldn’t say mean things, and because Y group all agree X are bad and wicked and evil, it’s perfectly permissible to say mean things about them (because they’re not mean, they’re true). Like blog posts about how all Trump supporters are Nazis, that’s the only reason they follow Trump.

        I don’t like Trump, but I don’t think he’s Hitler. Far from it. However, when his campaign finally runs into the ground, the way may have been paved for a real Hitler-a-like to use that wave of disaffection; if all the Right-Thinking people have been calling the Trump sympathetic racist sexist homophobic religious fanatic ignorant swine, that’s not the kind of enticement to make those so called switch to the party of the Right-Thinking people where they will continue to be called racist etc. A genuine demagogue with neo-Fascist notions can reap a lot of benefit there. How about not calling a sizeable number of your fellow citizens neo-Nazis, maybe that might convince them your Nice Party of Niceness would be nice to them, too?

      • Nornagest says:

        I’m astonished that I hadn’t seen the “do you want ants? because that’s how you get ants” joke before this.

  55. Orphan Wilde says:

    Unless it is germane to the specific topic under consideration, nobody should specify their gender at all, and to do so should be regarded as defection from a group norm in which we collectively move past all that nonsense and are measured on the merits that actually matter in the medium. (Same thing with race and sexual preferences and most anything else people are frequently terrible about.)

    Now, I don’t say that because I believe it – I do, but that’s not the reason I say it – but because I’m interested in a question which underlies that idea: Who would this advantage, and who would it disadvantage, and why?

    Because I’m reasonable certain pretty much everybody would believe that this would primarily advantage their enemy tribe, no matter what that tribe is.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Regardless of “whom does this advantage”, your plan doesn’t work at all when the following two conditions obtain:

      1. The topic of conversation (as handed down by our host) often directly concerns gender, sex, etc.

      2. Commenters refer to personal experience or anecdotes of any kind when discussing the topic.

      #1 is a big part of what makes this blog so interesting. #2 is a big part of what makes the comments section of this blog so interesting. I’d hate to lose either.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Those conditions are exactly what “Unless it is germane to the topic” refer to.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Ok, but my point is, it is germane to the topic on a regular basis; and that’s already the comment threads where people talk about their own and each others’ genders. IOW: “don’t do X unless it’s the kind of situation where you should do X, which happens all the time, and is the sort of situation where you do X already, so really, just keep on doing X”.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Gender is almost never germane to the topic, including when you’re talking about gender.

            I’m as guilty of this as anyone, because a well-introduced fact about yourself can -seem- germane, and can -seem- to add something meaningful to what you say, and often other people will take you more seriously when you do so which makes it a quite seductive tactic – but in reality, my gender does not have a bearing on the legitimacy of my observations about gender. The correctness of an observation about reality isn’t dependent upon the observer.

            If the topic is lived experience, then yes, your gender is germane. Otherwise? No. Not at all.

            Suppose you’re arguing that transexuals face significant discrimination in the workplace. Now suppose one of your opponents – who is arguing they don’t – asks whether or not you’re transexual. Consider this case for a moment. Is the question germane? Does either answer change any of the substantive arguments you’ve offered? Does it make you more or less correct? Offering the fact up front doesn’t make the fact more relevant.

            But it is relevant, you say! Well, if your opponent is transexual, does their argument that transexuals don’t experience discrimination have more weight?

            I see this issue all the time. In one forum, a woman who says women have it worse should be taken seriously as lived experience – a woman who says women have it better is just lucky (or biased), her evidence doesn’t count. Or, in another forum, a woman who says women have it worse is just unlucky (or biased), women who say women have it better are the ones whose lived experience matters.

            We defend the relevance of the evidence that supports us, and discard the relevance of the evidence that weighs against us. It’s never germane, but we like to pretend that anecdotal evidence that supports our position has special relevancy.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @ Orphan Wilde:

            Gender is almost never germane to the topic, including when you’re talking about gender.

            Ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.

            I did read the rest of your comment — and so “stopped reading there” would be inaccurate — but I may as well not have. This assertion of yours is absurd, and so are all of your arguments and examples in support thereof. (I apologize for not providing a fisking, but I think that would be unproductive.)

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            No. If you have a really good argument, present it. I’m happy to change my mind in favor of better arguments.

            That, however, is not an argument. It’s a claim that argument is beneath you, that I am beneath you. Well, it’s not beneath me, and if there’s a truth to be found behind the sneer you present here, then you are doing me a grave disservice by giving me the sneer and not the truth.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            @Orphan Wilde: Human beings love talking about themselves and how whatever topic is under discussion affects them personally, no matter how contrived the connection. You can ask them to stop doing that, sure. You may as well also ask that they stop wanting sex, power, and wealth, while you’re at it. As a general rule, it’s not going to happen.

    • I disagree with the transgender concept for the reasons I’ve stated in other comments. And I don’t belong to a tribe, which may be why I fall outside your generalization: I have no objection to the policy you suggest, and I think it would benefit people who disagree with transgender. The reason is that the people who disagree are simply accepting a status quo, it is the others who are trying to change something. If no one mentions gender, nothing will change.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        If no one mentions gender, something has changed, I think.

        Regardless, thank you for the data point.

    • keranih says:

      Unless it is germane to the specific topic under consideration, nobody should specify their gender at all, and to do so should be regarded as defection from a group norm in which we collectively move past all that nonsense and are measured on the merits that actually matter in the medium. (Same thing with race and sexual preferences and most anything else people are frequently terrible about.)

      I suggest that race, gender, SES and geographic location are a lot more germane to a number of topics than some are willing to acknowledge. We-as-humans don’t have a long history of differentiation on those grounds just because the wind is southerly.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Outside very narrow domains, it is either an argument from authority or ad hominem.

        • Frog Do says:

          That’s a claim you have to prove.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I decline your invitation to begin with the assumption that you are correct. Relevancy is something to be established, not presumed.

          • Frog Do says:

            I think you are saying “outside of very narrow domains, mentioning race, gender, SES, and geographic location of the speaker is irrelavent to their argument outside of very specfic circumstances”. You are making the strong claim that the speaker’s identity is basicaly never relevant.

            I am claiming “you probably can’t escape your identity, it’s always going to be relevant to your argument”. Outside of formal mathematical proofs, I can’t see how I’m wrong, here. It can be minimzed, sure, but that still requires a construction to minimize your identity (which is hard), and given how informal everything is here, seems to be a bad assumption.

        • “it is either an argument from authority or ad hominem”

          Or a datum.

          If I report on my observations, my characteristics are relevant.

      • Adam says:

        It doesn’t have jack to do with whether your position is correct or not or whether your argument is valid, but I’ve found it more illuminating than I’d have thought now that all this Albion’s Seed stuff has been explicitly articulated. It makes more and more sense to me why this whole red/blue tribal divide thing never rang true or made sense to me as a consequence of my own region of descent. I’m sure there are several other places like this (maybe Vegas?), but Los Angeles was effectively an inaccessible backwater with only a few thousand people living there until the 20th century when the railroad came and especially after the automobile became prevalent. We seem to have escaped the legacy of founder effects from specific subsets of English immigrants to the American east coast.

        Officially, it was Franciscan Spaniards who created the first communities that still endure to this day, and later Rancheros who owned most of the land before anyone lived here, but really the place that is recognizable today was simultaneously founded by so many different groups of migrants coming from different places all at once that no single one of them could ever be dominant. My own hometown was founded by Quakers in the 1880s, but almost none of their legacy is intact except the street names. The city is overwhelmingly populated by second and third generation Mexicans not much impacted by 17th century English class disputes.

        We’re also strangely home to the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere, but it’s not college student Buddhists you’d stereotype as ‘blue tribe.’ We just happened to catch a huge wave of Taiwanese immigrants back in the late 60s when we assigned immigration quotas to countries and diplomatically recognized ROC but not PRC, meaning Taiwan could effectively send unlimited people here.

      • Nornagest says:

        It almost always adds information, but in an Internet context, it also very often sheds more heat than light. And from a community culture standpoint, I think it often makes sense to avoid the latter at the cost of the former.

  56. Anonymous says:

    Can we just make everyone to have touchier skin so they won’t be bothered by shaming and being beaten up? I really want that.

    • Two McMillion says:

      I, for one, think the world would be a harsher and less beautiful place if people with thin skin were not in it.

      • Orphan Wilde says:

        Why?

        • Urstoff says:

          See: 4chan

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            4chan requires thin-skinned people to function. You can’t be offensive without somebody to get offended.

          • Urstoff says:

            The thin-skinned people aren’t on 4chan, and only about 0.01% of the content is ever known to external individuals. Presumably the fact that very occasionally the Internet gets angry at 4chan isn’t the only reason people post on 4chan.

            Although I guess you could be saying that 4chan can only be 4chan because there are norms of offensiveness in the world at all (although that’s not the same thing as being thin-skinned). Which is probably correct in a broad sense. This makes me wonder if you can have norms of respectful behavior without norms of offensiveness. I don’t find 4chan terrible because it’s offensive; I find it terrible because it’s endlessly tedious (as are most comment sections on the Internet). Without strong norms of respect, it seems to me that the signal to noise ratio quickly drops to zero.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Respectful conversation doesn’t generate signal; nor does non-respectful conversation destroy it. 4chan is full of people entertaining themselves; that’s what it is.

            But I argued on /pol for a little while at one point. And when I wrote a thread, with serious, well-researched, well-argued positions – I got a lot of serious, reasonably-researched, reasonably-argued rebuttals. They weren’t trained to a high level of discourse, but some did attempt it.

            The issue isn’t the standard of discourse. The issue is that the system doesn’t differentiate based on quality of discourse. 4chan is, essentially, random. I didn’t continue arguing on /pol past that point, but not because of the incivility – it’s actually quite a civil place once you understand what the norms are and why they exist – but rather because the system was designed so that I could not colonize it.

          • Urstoff says:

            I agree that respectful discussion does not necessarily generate discussion, but disrespectful discussion, at least on the internet, certainly does seem to reduce signal. To use a highly technical term, it can often lead to shitposting, which can drive out people interested in having actual productive discussions, because shitposting is incredibly tiresome.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            The problem in environments where “shitposting” are viable tactics is that the environment is such that shitposting is a viable tactic. I don’t think norms of respectfulness really enter into it.

          • Psmith says:

            I’m not seeing the problem. It’s fair to say that not everywhere should be 4chan, different strokes for different folks and all that, but 4chan doesn’t strike me as conspicuously bad in any meaningful way.

        • Two McMillion says:

          Because I think it is good and right that the world move our emotions, and I think it is good and right that when what is in the world is ugly that we be angry at it and be repulsed by it. Because I think it is very easy, in living day-to-day, to become callused to the sheer amount of cruelty and heartlessness that exists in the world. But if cruelty and heartlessness are real things and not simply constructs the human minds create, then they do not merely receive our emotions but can also merit them. I think it is very easy for those of us who inclined towards reductionism and the measuring of marigolds to forget that no matter how much we measure the human mind never comes to taking in all the information contained in a physical object or event. Of course one should not use one’s sensitivity as a shield from criticism, but neither should one’s intellect be used as a bludgeon. I think that the burden of reasonable conversation always lies on everyone involved in that conversation, and that the claim that those who lack thin skin should leave is too often a retreat into arrogance for those who think kindness beneath them. I think that the people I see most often out in the world doing those are not the rationalists and the intellectuals but the people who, without a shred of intellectual rigor or backing, were pierced by a problem in the world and went out to correct it. Because maybe it’s true what we say, that those with thin skin lack emotions fully grounded in reality, but why should that matter? What in the world made us think reality was something comprehended with the mind in the first place?

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            There are those who hurt people for the sake of hurting them.

            Being thin-skinned isn’t a shield; it puts a target upon you, “Torment me, for I shall amuse you when you do”. It doesn’t prevent harm, it foments it; and the thinner-skinned you are, the more readily you take to taking harm from things, the less sympathy your harm will garner from those so inclined.

            What moves you more – the crying child? Or the adult stoic with a single tear, struggling to maintain their composure? One of these happens because candy wasn’t purchased – the other has significance, has weight, has gravity.

            You and I can likely agree that emotions are important. But I think this means that emotions shouldn’t be spent on trivial matters, such as what some asshole on the internet says, but rather felt because there is something worth feeling that way about.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Well, what’s a trivial matter? I think that there are more and less important things, sure- but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the smallest leaf falling in a forest has more significance than humans attribute to the battles of great nations.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            I’m sorry, are you actually arguing that there’s no significant difference between a leaf falling and millions of people dying horrible deaths in battle?

          • Two McMillion says:

            Of course there’s a significant difference! I simply think that humans are very bad at seeing both the scale of that difference and where either lies on a scale of “absolute” goodness or badness. Thus, I have a proportionate mistrust in any decision a person makes that requires them to calculate either of these correctly.

          • Two McMillion says:

            Which, to be clear, is why I said “humans attribute”.

          • Deiseach says:

            People can’t help being born with a thin skin, but constantly demanding the world wrap everything in cotton wool for fear you will get a jar makes you the centre of the universe, and any accidental bruise becomes a deliberate injury to be revenged:

            You know, there are physical bodies on which a wound will not heal. Sir Arthur had a mind of that sort. It was as if it lacked a skin; he had a feverish vigilance of vanity; those strained eyes were open with an insomnia of egoism. Sensibility need not be selfishness. Sybil Rye, for instance, has the same thin skin and manages to be a sort of saint. But Vaudrey had turned it all to poisonous pride; a pride that was not even secure and self-satisfied. Every scratch on the surface of his soul festered.

    • Soumynona says:

      I don’t think giving people touchier skins is really what you want to do here.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Monopolies of violence enforce the rules the community has decided to enforce, and this is not mean because it is coordinated.

    Is it mean if it is a monarch enforcing it, or does that count as coordination too? If it doesn’t automatically count as coordination then either we’re a community of progressives coordinating to ban misgenderings, or Scott is an EVIL TYRANT doing MEAN THINGS.

    • Peter says:

      When a monarch does it… I suppose on SSC Scott and his computer really can be a one-man ruling band, albeit over a limited domain. A powerful AI backed up by not-sentient-enough-to-count robots might be able to unilaterally enforce rules with the consistency usually associated with co-ordinated efforts too.

      In the case of someone like Henry VIII, though, it’s Henry’s men that do the actual enforcing, they co-ordinate by doing as the monarch says. (Or not, if they’re like Charles I’s men).

      But this is a pedantic quibble. At any rate, you’ve hit the nail on the head – the key point here is the monopoly on force and not co-ordination as such, although the two seem to go together.

    • Walter says:

      Scott isn’t a tyrant. He doesn’t rule by virtue of his banhammer. If I stole his banhammer, I wouldn’t rule SSC. He would make a new blog, and everyone would go there. SSC is where Scott’s posts appear.

      He rules by virtue of his posts being the content that brings us here. It is more like the patriarch who provides for the family getting to set the rules, less like the despotic king.

      EDIT: Meant to reply to Peter, not OP. Sorry.

  58. JBeshir says:

    This was interesting, and my first impulse was to say that I wholely agree. Reading the comments I’m less confident about it than I was on first read, but I think I still agree, although without confidence because my experience has been that human norms are damned complicated and often held in place by non-obvious systems of incentive, and I don’t feel I have a good grasp of the ones pertinent to this.

    That said, I think to make it work you need a *narrow* definition of meanness/shaming; exercise of force, insults, mockery, deliberately trying to render someone unemployed, etc. Specifically it needs to be actions intended to disincentivise/emotionally hurt others that a large supermajority can agree are intended as such. This is a good argument against vigilantism generalised to social shaming and unnecessary cruelty well, but it gets trickier when the meanness is potentially an incidental side effect of other things.

    It works well as *a* moral guideline, but you’ll need others that draw in less broad sweeps to get a good fit.

    I think that proviso doesn’t apply so strongly when you’re using it as a philosophical basis for deciding what your forum’s rules should be, though, rather than as a norm for how everyone should be expected to behave in life in general. There you can just do what seems right and people can have different rules elsewhere.

  59. Foo says:

    Unfortunately I wonder whether competition between different shaming systems is won based on simple numerical advantage in people following one system vs another, i.e. people “vote for norms through shaming”. In which case people who subscribe to the meta-ethical principle of only coordinated meanness would see their object-level ethical principles lose in culture wars. (SSC is a monarchy with Scott at its head, so I doubt it would fall prey to this particular failure mode, but culture at large may very well.)

  60. I am not loving this article. I am a resident of the Great State of North Carolina, which has recently passed HB2, resulting in a number of significant trans-unfriendly outcomes. I don’t think that the right answer here is “Well, they’ve got sufficient coordination here, time for everyone else to move out.”

    I really don’t think meanness is the right standard at all; as you note in your examples, groups have a starting predefined set of default sympathies; being nice implicitly includes some people, and excludes others.

    I feel like there’s a valuable idea here, about avoiding spirals where two minority groups spend more and more of their energy tearing each other down rather than coordinating (or simply ignoring each other), but doing bad things is bad regardless of whether it’s one person or your entire community doing it.

    Furthermore, the idea of tying effectiveness of enforcement to the metric is just weird. If I have a rifle and no morals whatsoever, I can effectively enforce a morality taboo by sniping people who I see out and about dressed improperly. If I do it right, murdering from well-chosen locations such that I can get away, and I don’t leave evidence behind, then I can probably kill quite a few people before I’m caught. If I can kill enough people to actually effect social change, then have I passed the effectiveness coordination hurdle?

    Using any of guns, social pressure, or peacefully-passed legislation to hurt people are all bad. I do agree that here and now, for some groups, the level of harm from the legislation is going to be much less than from the less-coordinated actions, but that’s only because those groups basically fall into the set of people everyone is being nice to already. A moral ideology that says “Well, we’ve already coordinated against this Hated Outgroup, so I guess we’re fine now, but our terrorist predecessors were immoral getting us to this point.” is contradictory to all manner of good sense and reason.

    And, re: the misgendering thing; People, really? Look. People agree to work around tendentious and politically-charged concepts all the time, when speaking to people who don’t share their views. If you have a different opinion than Scott’s on what constitutes manhood or womanhood, then address that without making it personal to the other members of the discussion.

    Also, to be blunt, we only have each other’s words, given names, and tiny icons to work with. How the hell does anyone here really know the gender of whom they’re interacting with, excepting what they tell us? Can you not just pretend a poster is saying “Actually, all of that stuff I posted that gave you the impression I was male/female/other was part of a careful Internet prank, my genitals and lifestyle are actually in the configuration you would expect for the pronouns I request.” I mean, that’s not ideal, certainly, but if you’re not going to take people’s word for their gender , should you really be spending the pixels and effort to back-and-forth with them at all?

    • Anonymous says:

      Also, to be blunt, we only have each other’s words, given names, and tiny icons to work with. How the hell does anyone here really know the gender of whom they’re interacting with, excepting what they tell us?

      From the pictures of themselves they post online? I mean, there’s at least two people associated with SSC who aren’t shy about their looks and gender identity. Why exactly would I disbelieve that what they assert to be them is actually them, and what they claim to be their gender identity, to be their gender identity? You could, of course, adopt a policy that everyone is male, even the females, except the underage ones, who are FBI agents instead.

      The point isn’t that the details are in doubt. The point is that some people object to being coerced to use language in a way that contradicts what is credibly known.

      • I will draw upon the traditions of my people to respond to your question; why would you believe the posted pictures and disbelieve the naked assertion?

        Again, I think that if you don’t trust people to accurately report their gender, then you don’t have a lot that can be credibly known about them.

        If you can basically trust people, then the best way to resolve the apparent tension between what you perceive their gender to be and what they are telling you is to trust them. And if you can’t, then since you’re going off self-reported data anyway, you have not enough information to tell either way. So, given that, why not default to what they’re asking for?

        • Anonymous says:

          I will draw upon the traditions of my people to respond to your question; why would you believe the posted pictures and disbelieve the naked assertion?

          I don’t. There is a difference between believing an assertion and regarding it as true.

          If someone incapable of seeing colour regards blue and red as the same shade of grey, I will believe them that they think so. I will also know that these two are clearly different colours, and the problem is very likely with their perception.

          So, given that, why not default to what they’re asking for?

          Because if they assert A and ~A, I’m going to have to choose one. Do you want me to believe A and ~A at the same time? I sure don’t want myself believing that!

      • Randy M says:

        I don’t think anyone is misgendered on the basis of avatar or posting style or whatever, but on the basis of an explicit statement of being trans.

    • Foo says:

      Being against uncoordinated meanness still lets you be against coordinated meanness. The point is that uncoordinated meanness is almost always bad, but coordinated meanness is only sometimes bad (according to Scott).

    • Mary says:

      ” If you have a different opinion than Scott’s on what constitutes manhood or womanhood, then address that without making it personal to the other members of the discussion.”

      The sane rule there would that no one is allowed to bring up personal matters in the discussion.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Not quite so sane. For example, upthread, we’re discussing the complexity of the US tax code. Someone claimed that a simple W2 should be simple enough for most people to use; I responded based on my experience as a VITA tax volunteer that it isn’t.

        True, for all you know, I could be making up the story… but it’s still at least as valid as the rest of the discussion.

        • Mary says:

          Ah, the question is what would your reaction be if someone said that you were making it up?

      • Is “You’re a woman.” bringing up personal matters?

        Is “I’m a man?”

        You know, maybe Scott should embrace his original rule literally, declare No Race And Gender in Open Threads, and add man/woman, male/female, guy/gal, and all gendered pronouns to the ban list. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell for all!
        (Epistemological status: .28 Swifts.)

  61. Michael Watts says:

    Oh, a few thoughts.

    You never actually describe what qualifies as “coordinated” meanness. It’s hard for me to see how “if you say something that offends my honor then I get some friends and try to beat you up in a dark alley” could be more clearly within the semantic space described by “coordinated meanness” as the words are conventionally used. And indeed there is an oversight process there; you have to convince your friends that what I said was bad enough to be worth the attack. Beating someone up one-on-one in a dark alley is risky.

    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.

    The ideas I’ve absorbed from American culture say that mobs are very dangerous and in fact prone to self-rile regardless of what their nominal leader might want them to do. They say that there are a lot of things people are only willing to do as part of a mob. Some of this may be unfair mob stereotyping, but…

    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 take exception to this. It amounts to SSC taking an official position on the nature of reality, and purposefully hamstringing arguments on one side. As I understand the rule, this would be acceptable:

    She’s a man, and wishing won’t make her a woman. She has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

    And this is unacceptable:

    He’s a man, and wishing won’t make him a woman. He has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

    My words reflect my assessment of the world. You are overreaching to tell me they have to reflect yours instead. But here are some situations that I see as analogous in some relevant way:

    1. I read, years ago, about a man who took out a billboard showing a photo of himself cradling the outline of a baby, with the paraphrased text “this would have been my child if my ex-girlfriend hadn’t had an abortion”.

    Obviously, that’s an anti-abortion argument, but what makes it interesting to me is that it’s made in very strong terms. Compared to most arguments you’ll encounter on either side of the abortion debate, this one packs a punch. I brought it up to my mother intending to have a discussion about arguing in weak terms or strong terms, and was shocked by her reaction — she didn’t think a billboard like that should be allowed. After much hassling about freedom of speech and debate on political issues, she said she thought her reaction was because she was deeply uncomfortable with strong attacks on abortion, because she felt that, as an abortion provider, they put her personally at risk.

    2. I hope we all remember the Jyllands-Posten Mohammed cartoons. They occasioned a lot of controversy here in the US, with many otherwise respectable outfits taking the position that while it was all very well — even important — to have a discussion about the Mohammed cartoons, that could be done without having the bad taste to actually display the cartoons. This can’t work; it cedes the idea that publishing the cartoons was wrong before the argument even begins. And the hey-why-don’t-we-not-kill-people-who-haven’t-done-anything-wrong argument becomes much stronger when you don’t act like those people are asking for it.

    People have to be allowed to make their arguments at full strength. “No matter how much she might like it, wishing won’t turn her into a woman” is a self-evidently self-defeating statement.

    3. In Cohen v. California, the “fuck the draft” case, Warren Burger was so anxious that “fuck” not be uttered within his courthouse that he opened with a tactfully stated request that Cohen’s lawyer observe what he felt was proper decorum: “Mr. Nimmer, you may proceed whenever you’re ready. I might suggest to you that as in most cases, the court is thoroughly familiar with the factual setting of this case, and it will not be necessary for you, I’m sure, to dwell on the facts.” [1]

    Mr. Nimmer, accepting the wishes of the court not to dwell on the facts, kept it brief:

    And of course fundamentally, may it please the Court what this young man did was to walk through a courthouse corridor in Los Angeles county on his way to a courtroom where he had some business.

    […] although it’s not on the record the fact is he was called there as a witness in a case which he was not involved in himself.

    While walking through that corridor he was wearing a jacket upon which were inscribed the words “Fuck the draft”, also were inscribed the words “Stop war” and several peace symbols.

    Nimmer realized that conceding that it wasn’t appropriate to say “fuck” compromised his case. And people have credited the fact that he won to the choice he made to use the word in court. [2, footnote 8]

    So, in sum:

    1. I object to the idea that you can tell me what I think.
    2. Referring to masculine people with masculine pronouns adds emphasis to your statements, and this should be allowed at “pretty important” levels of “should”.
    3. Having people refer to others that they are claiming to be masculine, as feminine, adds some crippling self-contradiction to everything they say, and this must not be required, at “critically important” levels.
    4. It is fundamentally dishonest to say “people are welcome to argue this topic here, but the arguments on one side will be handicapped”.

    Why is saying “you can argue that they’re men, but you have to admit they’re female” less weaselly than saying “yes, the pictures are newsworthy; yes, it’s important that we’re allowed to print them; but no you can’t have them accompanying your article on the subject” or “of course you can make anti-abortion arguments, but not the kind that might make someone really upset“?

    • James Picone says:

      If I were to argue with you about transgender stuff, and I were to refer to you as ‘that total fucking arsehole’ every time I brought it up, I would expect to be moderated – likely banned for a period of time.

      As far as I can tell, you seem to be arguing that I should be allowed to do that – after all, I think that people who deliberately misgender trans people are total fucking arseholes, so refraining from referring to them as such is conceding the argument before it even begins.

      I fundamentally don’t understand your position. You’re arguing that you should be allowed, in polite argument, to refer to people in a way they find incredibly insulting and hurtful.

      • Anonymous says:

        If I were to argue with you about transgender stuff, and I were to refer to you as ‘that total fucking arsehole’ every time I brought it up, I would expect to be moderated – likely banned for a period of time.

        Isn’t this something multiheaded does a lot?

        I fundamentally don’t understand your position. You’re arguing that you should be allowed, in polite argument, to refer to people in a way they find incredibly insulting and hurtful.

        I think the basis is that the new rule expects you to admit that 2+2=5 in practice while you are (for the moment) allowed to disagree in theory.

        • Anonymous says:

          Multiheaded has also been banned a lot.

        • James Picone says:

          Isn’t this something multiheaded does a lot?

          And they’ve been banned a lot. The system works!

          I think the basis is that the new rule expects you to admit that 2+2=5 in practice while you are (for the moment) allowed to disagree in theory.

          So, again, you’d prefer insults all around? The conservatives call all the left-wing people commie entryist hippie scum, the left-wing people call all the conservatives evil fascist heartless warmongering bastards, the atheists call all the religious people ignorant sheep, the religious call all the atheists immoral lecherous monsters, and the less said about what the alt-right and the social justice people call each other the better.

          You are not required to refer to people in the most insulting way you believe is true.

          • Anonymous says:

            Indeed not. But neither should I be forced to refer to them in plainly false manner. I will comply with Scott’s edict, but in ways that don’t require lying.

      • Anonymous says:

        In what way does calling him a total fucking arsehole strengthen your argument? “She is not a woman” vs “he is not a woman” is pretty clear; while in the case of “total fucking arsehole is wrong” vs “Watts is wrong” I’d even say the latter is more persuasive.

        • James Picone says:

          In what way does calling a transwoman “he” strengthen your argument?

          And if it does, then if I’m arguing that you’re a TFA for misgendering someone, then surely calling you a TFA strengthens the argument in the same way?

          • Jiro says:

            In what way does calling a transwoman “he” strengthen your argument?

            It strengthens the argument because an argument not containing a contradiction is stronger compared to one that does.

            Saying “she is not a woman because….” is contradictory. It concedes, by use of pronouns, the point which it tries to argue against.

          • Randy M says:

            In what way does calling a transwoman “he” strengthen your argument?

            Obviously if by the rule of the site, you must concede the opposing premise as part of stating your opposition to it, you come off as someone with deep ambivalence about the issue, if not incoherent.

            The trouble is that having the argument every time one wants to make a response to a transgendered person is tiresome and derails the thread.

          • Alex says:

            Same question as below:

            Why on earth would anyone want to engage in an argument on the question if a given individual qualifies as “a woman”?

          • Deiseach says:

            It’s the difference between saying “Ice is not cold” and “This water is not cold”. If I concede that this sample of water is indeed ice, then I am conceding that it is cold.

            Conceding that someone is “she” means conceding “is a woman”, since we use “she” to refer to women (if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be having this damn argument over pronouns in the first place!)

      • Michael Watts says:

        You’re welcome to refer to me that way; it’s likely to make me more dismissive of you in general. But it will generally be orthogonal to any argument you’re trying to advance, which makes it a tolerable grounds for banning. (In a discussion of whether I should be banned, it would be a coarse way of expressing an idea that was very on-topic, and therefore it should not be grounds for banning when said in that context.)

        You can argue that Caitlyn Jenner really is a woman without referring to me as “Total Fucking Arsehole”; I cannot fully argue that Bruce Jenner is a man while referring to him as “she”. Just as the article defending Jyllands-Posten while tastefully not showing the naughty pictures is not making the same argument as the identical article displaying the pictures.

        I’m going to use pronouns; that is the structure of human language. I’m not going to use pronouns that cause me to pre-emptively admit that I’m wrong. You are symmetrically welcome to be generally dismissive of me. But your offense doesn’t determine what I think, and I care what I think more than I care about you. I think you’ll find, on reflection, that you care what you think more than you care about me, so I hope you can understand the sentiment.

        Until you can control my mind, you’ll have to just get over the outrage you feel when I dare to speak my own language.

        Finally, I will note that for purposes of making policy, your genuine hurt cannot be distinguished from hurt that you claim to feel because you want me to shut up. But it doesn’t matter so much, because even assuming my words cause you deep and genuine pain, that won’t justify making me change them. When you’re using civility to stop people from making the case for their position, you have taken civility too far.

        • James Picone says:

          You’re welcome to refer to me that way; it’s likely to make me more dismissive of you in general. But it will generally be orthogonal to any argument you’re trying to advance, which makes it a palatable grounds for banning. (In a discussion of whether I should be banned, it would be a coarse way of expressing an idea that was very on-topic.)

          I’m not arguing that I should be allowed to hurl insults.

          I don’t see how calling you a TFA is more orthogonal to the argument being constructed than calling a transwoman ‘he’. The claim “transwomen are men” is the output of your argument, not an actual argument as such. Similarly, calling you a TFA is an output of the other side of the same argument, not the actual argument as such. If refraining from using the wrong gender fundamentally hinders your argument, then surely refraining from describing the implied ethics of the position hinders the other side of the argument.

          I’m going to use pronouns; that is the structure of human language. You are symmetrically welcome to be generally dismissive of me. But your offense doesn’t determine what I think, and I care what I think more than I care about you. I think you’ll find, on reflection, that you care what you think more than you care about me, so I hope you can understand the sentiment.

          Until you can control my mind, you’ll have to just get over the outrage you feel when I dare to speak my own language.

          Yes yes, liberalism etc. I’m not arguing that a law against misgendering people would be a good idea. I’m arguing that deliberately misgendering people is incredibly rude, and thus a) you shouldn’t do it and b) it’s totally reasonable for places that aspire to civil argument to forbid it.

          Finally, I will note that for purposes of making policy, your genuine hurt cannot be distinguished from hurt that you claim to feel because you want me to shut up.

          Again; symmetry. You could assume that Multi and Ozy and whoever are faking insult specifically to shut up conservatives, and they could assume that all the people talking about how the social justice movement scares them are just trying to delegitimise perfectly reasonable arguments.

          Or, y’know, we could have a civil discussion.

          Also in practical terms I think once people start having surgery and taking hormones it’s kinda hard to argue they’re doing it for rhetorical effect.

          • Michael Watts says:

            I’m arguing that deliberately misgendering people is incredibly rude, and thus a) you shouldn’t do it and b) it’s totally reasonable for places that aspire to civil argument to forbid it.

            I am arguing as follows:

            1. If it is incredibly rude, it is so only because of campaigns to deem it rude. “You” (I don’t really mean to refer to you personally) could try to fix me, or you could try to fix yourselves by taking less offense.

            2. I may not like being incredibly rude, but I hate lying more than that.

            3. While it may be reasonable for places that aspire to civil conversation to prohibit misgendering, places that aspire to civil argument on the topic cannot reasonably do so, and for that purpose misgendering must necessarily be considered within the bounds of civility. My response to you is the possibly-familiar “wishing won’t make it so”.

            I’ll repeat my original closing question:

            Why is saying “you can argue that they’re men, but you have to admit they’re female” less weaselly than saying “yes, the pictures are newsworthy; yes, it’s important that we’re allowed to print them; but no you can’t have them accompanying your article on the subject” or “of course you can make anti-abortion arguments, but not the kind that might make someone really upset”?

          • Alex says:

            Michael:

            I understand what you are saying.

            However, the question is why do you care about making the argument “He’s a man, and wishing won’t make him a woman. He has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.” in the first place. Care in fact so much that you think the alternative was a “lie”.

            I’m asking because really there are few things I could care less about than the gender of quasi-random people on the internet.

            The “misgendering” problem imposes complexity on my pronoun determinition algorithm. As described elsewhere in this thread, maybe even intractable complexity. To some extent the same is true in person, where I consciously have to override the pronoun my brain would decide upon, left to its own devices.

            However, this objection is about the way language is wired in my brain. It is not about having strong opinions on other people’s identity whatever that might be.

            So again: Why care at all?

          • Jiro says:

            However, the question is why do you care about making the argument

            I care less about making the argument itself than about honesty about what is permitted. If we’re not actually allowed to make the argument, then you and Scott should say so. Having a limbo where we’re officially allowed to make the argument, but restrictions defacto prohibit it is dishonest and does nobody any good.

          • Alex says:

            Jiro:

            Point taken. But re: “you and Scott”, please leave me out of it. I was just curious. Other than that I’m okay with you making every argument you could wish to make.

          • Michael Watts says:

            Alex:

            I do not care about making the argument, and haven’t made it. I was not even aware that an argument of this sort was active in the SSC comments until I saw Scott addressing it in this post.

            I do care about honesty, and I find Scott’s attempt to legislate the contents of my mind incredibly offensive (my summary point 1), not to say totally incompatible with the idea that the person with the better argument should win (my summary point 4).

          • InferentialDistance says:

            @Jiro

            I care less about making the argument itself than about honesty about what is permitted. If we’re not actually allowed to make the argument, then you and Scott should say so. Having a limbo where we’re officially allowed to make the argument, but restrictions defacto prohibit it is dishonest and does nobody any good.

            From Scott, emphasis mine:

            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 don’t see why you need to talk about specific commenters on Slate Star Codex in order to discuss the topic of transgender people. You are more than able to express your opinion on what maleness and femaleness are (and how transpeople fail to successfully capture the necessary traits of the gender they want to be perceived as) without calling specific SSC commenters specific genders that they would rather not be called. If you absolutely need to cite something there are plenty of transgender people who aren’t commenters here who can used as examples, though in general it would be preferable to stick to the abstract on the off chance that they read the comments.

          • Jiro says:

            please leave me out of it. I was just curious.

            “I was just curious” is normally said by people who are not just curious but want to passive-aggressively make an accusation without actually saying it outright. By saying “I was just curious”, you sound exactly like one of those people who is not just curious.

            If you actually are just curious, please try to avoid the overly literal Internet attitude which believes that only your exact words count. People don’t act that way; “I am just curious” doesn’t communicate what its literal words seem to say.

          • Alex says:

            Jiro, I assure you that I have no interest whatsoever in disallowing any argument whatsoever. I asked a simple question, first in what I feel to be a very civilized way, and then again, along with my growing confusion in a “what the …” way. I apologise for the phrasing of the latter, if that helps. There is no “me and Scott” on this point and hasn’t ever been on any point, as far as I remember.

            Naturally I cannot prove my intentions to you, but if you want to cross check my other comments in this thread, if anything, I argued against the proposed rule, though for other reasons than you.

            However, I will not honor your interpretating what ever the hell you like into things I never said on the grounds of me being to literal. Saying what you mean and meaning what you said should be considered a virtue. And you can take that, [I will imitate a phrase from another poster, that I rather liked] “from my cold dead larynx”.

          • Jiro says:

            Saying what you mean and meaning what you said should be considered a virtue.

            Using implication is an important part of how human beings communicate. You can’t just say something which has non-literal implications, and then insist “well, being literal is a virtue”. No, it’s not, and you can’t make it be so by saying so.

            The use of “I am just curious” as a roundabout way of accusing people of things is not something I just made up in order to reinterpret you. It’s used that way all the time. People are not computers and don’t talk like computers; if you treat human communication with utter literalness, your communication isn’t functioning well.

          • Alex says:

            Please allow for cultural differences when dealing with a global audience.

          • “I’m asking because really there are few things I could care less about than the gender of quasi-random people on the internet. ”

            I think that when such arguments come up, they are not over what a particular person’s gender is but over what “gender,” “he,” “she,” “man,” woman” mean. Given that gender is one of the ways in which we make sense of the world, it’s not an unimportant question.

          • Alex says:

            David:

            Thank you. My possible replies to that are unfortunately scattered around the whole thread. I’d like to refer you to other comment

        • Randy M says:

          Why on earth do you want to make an argument about what people want to mane an argument about?

        • The Nybbler says:

          Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but the rule refers specifically to “transgender commenters”. Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t post here (as far as I know).

          My objection to this policy is more theoretical than actual; I’ll refer to a commenter as “he” or “she”, but it’s too much damn work to use any of the alternative pronouns on a case-by-case basis, or to avoid gendering altogether.

          In some cases I suspect these sorts of demands are a strategy to make the demander hard to respond to; in those cases on other forums I use s/h/it. I suspect that would get me banned here (but I think commenters trying that crap might get banned here first).

          Also purely theoretical here though not elsewhere are people who switch back and forth (I won’t try to follow it more than twice), and people who do things which completely destroy their credibility (e.g. a man with a full beard and no plans to do anything about it claiming to be a woman — I view such a person making me call him “she” as a mindfuck and dominance technique)

          • Deiseach says:

            Look, if in the morning you declare on here “Call me xie/them/zer”, I’ll do so. It’s no cost to me to do so.

            Demanding I believe you are three genders at once, or a new undefined gender, and that if I still have some notion of gender binary in my head that I never express to you, and that if I never say anything, use the pronouns you want, I am still misgendering you and causing you hurt and offence – that’s excessive.

      • Rob says:

        The argument here is not whether or not being misgendered is insulting but whether it is an insult, is what I’m picking up. OP believes that misgendering is a part of his assertion, and that his assertion is disingenuous if he does not use the pronouns he believes in. I’m prone to side with OP, but I also think Scott has the right to enforce his own rules.

    • With respect, how applicable is “She’s a man, and wishing won’t make her a woman. She has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.” to specific assertions of SSC poster’s gender?

      I mean, I’m not sure what goes on at the meetups, but I’m reasonably sure that haven’t in fact personally verified the genital configuration and function of most of the posters here.

      So, if all you have to go on is the poster’s words to determine their gender…shouldn’t you go on their words? You can still make arguments that all people with functioning testes and a penis are men, but you don’t have standing to apply that to other posters here. And while I do think that the odds of you being banned under the Reign of Terror are moderate if you did repeatedly assert a trans-exclusive definition of gender, I think that you could do so and remain intellectually honest without falling astray of this specific rule.

      • Anonymous says:

        So, if all you have to go on is the poster’s words to determine their gender…shouldn’t you go on their words?

        *If* that’s all that is known, then sure. But if someone introduces themselves as trans*, then more is known. If they post a picture of themselves, then more is known. If someone wants to secretly be a man/woman on the internet, nothing stops them, and they will likely be believed, and fake-identity-compliant pronouns will be used.

      • Michael Watts says:

        You can still make arguments that all people with functioning testes and a penis are men, but you don’t have standing to apply that to other posters here.

        I like to think that SSC commenters are aware that “all people” includes SSC commenters.

        • How many SSC posters can you personally confirm have or lack testes and a penis? (Or chromosomes, or whatever?)

          My own opinion is that concepts like “Man” are important and valuable, and that they match really well to reality, and that there are connotations in terms of both gross physical attributes and social behavior track extremely well across time and culture. Gender cleaves reality at the joints most of the time.

          But some of the times, it doesn’t. Trans people are a thing. Intersex people are a thing. People with chromosomal abnormalities are a thing. People who are just outliers in their gender space are very much a thing.

          Gender is a useful categorization of things we see in the world, but it’s not reductive, and attempts to make it reductive run into the aforementioned edge cases. And so, given that, I absolutely no harm in being polite, on the grounds that whoever I’m talking to almost certainly knows their personal gender situation better than I do.

          Biology and gross physical structure matter. Growing up with one set of gonads putting sex hormones into your body during puberty matters a lot. And, as a result of that, there are a whole lot of cases in which the category of (cis men and trans women) and (cis women and trans men) are useful distinctions.

          But trying to overload “man” or “woman” for either of those sets is just sloppy, especially when every supposedly-rigorous definition of gender runs into numerous edge cases and exceptions.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            But some of the times, it doesn’t. Trans people are a thing. Intersex people are a thing. People with chromosomal abnormalities are a thing. People who are just outliers in their gender space are very much a thing.

            They’re a thing, but a thing that happens less than 1% of the time.

            Why should we throw out a classification scheme that’s valid 99.7% of the time? This isn’t particle physics, two nines is excellent in terms of reliability.

          • They’re a thing, but a thing that happens less than 1% of the time.

            Why should we throw out a classification scheme that’s valid 99.7% of the time? This isn’t particle physics, two nines is excellent in terms of reliability.

            Newtonian mechanics works really well most of the time, but I wouldn’t try to set your GPS with it.

            Likewise, attempting to apply that classification scheme with two nines of reliability to the sub-population of trans people will produce less-than-stellar results. And when you’re interacting with a subgroup of people, those results matter. To three nines of reliability, nobody has cancer, for instance.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            Ok technically relativity isn’t particle physics but you really did demonstrate my point there. We have absolutely no need of that level of precision in ordinary language.

            And the “less-than-stellar” results of calling a transwoman he rather than she or they are dwarfed by the costs of reorganizing the whole English language to avoid it. Not to mention vigorously punishing anyone who uses the old format, which as it happens is the main “less-than-stellar” consequence of misgendering. The cure is worse than the disease.

          • Peter says:

            There are a few issues with the “it’s rare” objection.

            The first is, if you’re going to make that objection, saying, “let’s be practical here”, you don’t have the standing to make stands “on principle”. I mean, if you’re going to make pragmatic concessions for the purpose of having neat and easy classification schemes, then why not have pragmatic concessions for the purposes of counteracting dysphoria etc.?

            The second is, if you’re going to say, “it’s rare”, then you’re vulnerable to the “well, moving to the new standard won’t be too burdensome for you then will it?” objection.

          • Dr Dealgood says:

            It is a pretty big imposition, not because there are a lot of transpeople (transhumans?) running around but because a lot of perfectly clear statements suddenly become objectionable.

            So if I talk about my opposition to circumcision, do I have to clarify that some children with foreskin are “girls”? Or that sometimes “men” give birth too when in a discussion of falling fertility rates in the West? Or any number of ridiculous edge cases that serve as distractions from otherwise normal discussions?

            This happens a lot, and to certain demographics is the actual point of pushing trans politics. Making it more difficult to talk about anything relating to sex is frequently an end.

          • Peter says:

            Level of imposition: let’s split off making general statements about men and women, and talking about individuals.

            Talking about individuals – i.e. the issue raised in the original post, i.e. not misgendering the commenters, well, if the individual is trans then that’s analogous to the case where you’re building a GPS system and have to decide whether to take relativity into account. The fact that relativity doesn’t matter most of the time doesn’t matter in the cases when relativity does matter, likewise with trans, intersex, etc.. This is what I meant by “not excessively burdensome”; most of the time, the person you’re talking about won’t be trans. Not even in my social circles.

            Making general comments about sex and gender in society… For a lot of correlational work, it doesn’t matter that much which classification scheme you use, the numbers will work out pretty similar. In general, if you’re doing correlational work then you’re pretty much saying that your generalisations have exceptions, your correlation coefficients are a way of quantifying how many.

            For things like your foreskin and pregnancy examples… Our experiences appear to vary. I’ve never heard anyone complain about the foreskin thing. I’ve occasionally been known to talk about “pregnant people” but to a certain extent that’s just me, and partly because I’ve actually met a pregnant transguy. Go ahead and make your generalisations, but be prepared to admit that they have exceptions.

            Yes, there are going to be people who take things too far. Yes, there are people who will use things as excuses to push other agendas. Yes, there are some circles where people will be ridiculously persnickety about things (one perk of being somewhat trans* myself is that I get access to various support and social circles and people are often a lot more relaxed about things than in activist and academic circles. People only exposed to activist and academic circles must get a distorted view…). Possibly things are less sane in the USA than the UK; I hear more horrible culture war stuff from over there than I do from my own country, even if I only take the left into account. I’ll admit that trans* terminology (and all of the arguments about it) does my head in at times.

            But one thing I always like to say is that the practise is easier than the theory. A lot of the worst of it can be avoided by not deliberately seeking it out. Not misgendering people, and making it so that people can go to the loo, isn’t hard. Not unless you make it hard by fighting a long drawn-out rearguard action. (It’s notable that children are often much better at getting the whole trans thing than adults are.)

          • Deiseach says:

            I don’t mind the discussion about gender roles and expectations and I don’t particularly mind calling someone whatever they want to be called.

            I do get irritated about the “biology doesn’t matter” because, as you put it, the “gross physical structure” does matter. Humans are not seahorses, a “pregnant man” is not a biological male, they are relying on functioning female biology to produce that child. They are the mother, not the father (they needed a cis male’s sperm to fertilise their or the donor ovum) and in many cases, medications will affect men and women differently, or women will exhibit the symptoms of heart attack differently to men, etc. Someone with ovaries can still develop ovarian cancer, regardless of the insistence on “I am a man and I demand you see me as such”; if the presence of ovaries (or testes) is not accounted for in medical records, and I think that such is seen as “gatekeeping” and foisting coercive gender identity on people a la “assigned/coercively assigned male or female at birth”, then ignoring the possibilities because “we don’t need to check for this because that’s a male/female disease and you’re not male/female!” is negligent.

            I also think some people would react “The doctor spoke to me about my ovaries/testes, they misgendered me and were offensive!” even if it was in the context of “we need to keep in mind for your health”.

            So insisting that I change my mental beliefs to “this person is a man who is pregnant and that means biologically as well as preferred gender identification” is something I resent and will not do.

            I’m prepared to say “X who identifies as male is carrying a child and he and his partner are very happy”. I’m not going to say “X is the world’s first pregnant man” (where “man” here is meant quite plainly to infer biology, not ‘brain formation due to foetal testosterone exposure in utero means X identifies as male regardless of biological sex’ or however it goes).

            I’m not going to insist to X “Look, you’re pregnant, that makes you a woman!” But equally I’m not going to say “There are women who have uteri and women who have penises and men who have penises and men who have uteri and that is so because in a tiny percentage of cases there are intersex people”. If your biology is functional enough that you can get pregnant and vaginally deliver a child, you’re not intersex, so we’re talking about your mental sense of self as a particular gender (or no gender, or genderfluid) which may be based on your brain biology (rather ironic that ‘male brains’ and ‘female brains’ are being used to support arguments about transness, given that (a) feminism has tried to do away with such distinctions, since traditionally they have been used to ‘prove’ women can’t use logic, are more emotional, etc. (b) we get told chromosomes don’t matter, hormones don’t matter, genitals don’t matter, physical biology doesn’t matter, when it comes to assigning gender).

            I now await all the people going to jump down my throat about intersex biology.

          • Deiseach:
            I talked about this a little on Ozy’s blog. Basically, I think that the problem is that conceptual space is being turned into a DMZ in the culture wars.

            One group of people are strongly resistant to the idea of (cis woman, trans man) and (cis man, trans woman) being useful, descriptive sets that deserve names, let alone being the default for words like “woman” and “man”.

            Another group of people are resistant to the very idea of gender being complicated, even in the edge cases, and who are very firm on being able to address other people by the gender they perceive.

            Perhaps one day the Culture Wars will have their Christmas Truce and we’ll be able to stake out the space of Misgendering People Is Bad But Biology Matters, without anyone trying to stake out the territory for a tactical advance, but that level of general consensus and commonality does not appear to be here today.

    • Anonymous says:

      I find your post more convincing than Scott’s, which is very rare for this blog, but also I’m biased on this particular issue.

    • Urstoff says:

      The proper extension of gender pronouns sure is a weird hill to die on. If someone wants to be referred to as “he” or “she” or “it”, who cares? I don’t really understand why people feel that their integrity is somehow being violated if they call someone by whatever pronoun that person prefers. It’s not a “there are four lights” situation; gender is a fuzzy concept, unlike whether someone has two arms or a particular set of genitals. Using whatever pronoun that a person would prefer is not being coerced into lying.

      • Jaskologist says:

        Gender is not a fuzzy concept. By what justification are dictating that everyone must simply accept that it is?

        • Urstoff says:

          Depends on what you mean by gender, etc. (“fuzzy” was perhaps an improper choice of words; I didn’t mean “the extension is indeterminate”; rather, that there are multiple distinct concepts tied to the word)

          Here’s where I see this conversation going: one side thinks sex determines gender. Given that this makes the concepts coextensive, gender in this sense is a superfluous concept (I doubt they differ in intensional properties, either). The other side thinks that sex does not determine gender; rather, other factors (particularly internal psychological factors) do. This means that their concept of gender is distinct from the concept of sex (a concept that both sides hold in common).

          So if a person asks you to use a gender pronoun based on their concept of gender that is distinct from sex, I don’t see what the difficulty is doing so, even if you typically use pronouns based on the sex of the person rather than gender. Modifying your use of gender pronouns is not lying; it’s simply changing your usage to reflect a different convention. Thus, I’m not sure I really see why people feel that their integrity is violated when they are “forced” to use a pronoun based on the latter concept of gender.

          • Orphan Wilde says:

            Personally I don’t -have- an internal concept of gender. I find the entire idea rather repulsive and oppressive. “Gender” exists solely in my translation dictionary, and translates, more or less, to “Label loosely correlated with sex which implies a lot of social norms and obligations.”

            I translate anytime I speak, but if somebody didn’t, and they just had words for sex, then yes, you’re asking them to lie.

          • Urstoff says:

            Which is why, ideally, people that prefer others to use a different convention act with patience and explain that convention.

          • Rob says:

            I like the idea of having two definite biologically defined genders, purely because it’s a bit more clear-cut than the near infinite scope that people seem to create on tumblr. That being said, we don’t live in a perfect world, so there is a significant population that can’t fit into those rules. I think that for that population, I should refer to them how they like, but first and foremost they have to be in that category. On the internet, that’s as simple as saying “I’m trans,” but if I were a lawyer in a court of law, I would probably draw the line at *in the process of getting a reassignment surgery*.

          • Peter says:

            The odd thing comes from encountering the output of some old-ish strands of feminist thought; there’s lots of mention of the “sex-gender distinction” and “gender binary” but without the idea that they were separate fields in a database and you could have “male” in one slot and “female” in another slot. This often went along with blank-slate views of the mind whereby gender was what you got by the way society treated you based on your anatomy. So various things could be to do with sex and various things could be to do with gender, in a similar way that some things could be to do with having a penis and some things could be to do with having testicles (and the possibility of having one but not the other not being discussed or important). There were various ideas of destroying the gender binary, but this seemed more to be about stripping male/female of connotations than adding extra possibilities for denotations; you could do this by acting in a way that presented a weird mix of stereotypes, even if in modern terms it was all entirely cis way. This paper on “rejecting the gender binary” (basically, fun with word2vec) seems be an odd throwback to the old definitions.

            What seems to have happened is that various trans* types entered the conversation, and the meanings of the words changed even if the valencies stayed the same. A cynic might say, “the gender binary is whatever it is we’re meant to be against this week”.

            This is what I’ve worked out from my own observations, at least. I expect that at least some people will say that I’m wrong…

            (I think there’s a fallacy that says that if there are two near-synonyms then there must be exactly two things, distinguished by one neat distinction. When there’s a big messy pile of things, with so many joints that if two people try to carve at the joints they’ll carve in different places, then if people believe the fallacy then confusion will result. But that’s a whole other can of worms…)

      • You are assuming precisely what is at question, namely whether pronouns should refer to (social) gender or (biological) sex.

        • Urstoff says:

          No, I’m treating the “should” question as trivial. It’s a convention, not a factual question. I don’t see the convention of deriving pronouns from gender any more factually correct than deriving pronouns from sex, but if someone prefers a particular method, and it’s of little cost to me to adhere to that convention (which it is), then I see no reason to be obstinate and refuse to use their preferred convention.

          • Alex says:

            With you on the first part.

            As for “but if someone prefers a particular method, and it’s of little cost to me to adhere to that convention (which it is), then I see no reason to be obstinate and refuse to use their preferred convention.”

            Taken literally, this does impose significant overhead to the point where I have to keep an Excel file of the preferred pronoun (if known) of every internet acquaintance.

            I’m willing to accept “they” as an easy way out. For some values of “easy”. Still you have to inform every newcomer, potentially not a native speaker, of that convention. Also, this is not how language works. If “he/she” had nothing to offer that “they” did not offer, “he/she” would have vanished between Shakespeare using “singular they” and the present day. Or to phrase it differently: In linguistic terms the mere existence and widespread use of “he/she” proves that the cost associated with “singular they” is not “little” in an absolute sense.

          • Urstoff says:

            Right; for internet messageboards, more leeway should be given. For friends you know in person, it’s not a burden.

        • Peter says:

          Back in the (Good/Bad) Old Days, “sex” was the word, indeed I think the use of “sex” for coitus is a relatively recent thing. “Gender” was a gramattical thing, in English it seemed to be all about pronouns, but in other languages it’s more complicated. Cue my confusion in German classes as to whether I had to refer to my pet dog as der Hund and er despite her being definitely female. (Apparently, oh god, it’s complicated)

          Then came a long middle period where a) people got a bit prudish about saying “sex” when they didn’t need to (due to connotation of coitus) and started saying “gender” instead then b) feminism and so forth happened and then c) various trans* types entered the conversation and so on…

          Of course, these days in some parts things have come full circle; gender is, in practise at least, about pronouns again.

      • stargirlprincesss says:

        I am about as “Pro-Trans” as anyone on SSC. But I think it is almost always bad form to ask “why is this the hill you want to die on?”. There are many reasons to “die on hills”. Notably that slippery slope is very real.

        • Urstoff says:

          Is it bad form if I’m genuinely curious? The implication is that I perceive it to be a fairly minor thing from the perspective of the person being asked to use a particular pronoun, but for others it’s clearly not a minor thing. I don’t really see the slippery slope here, myself.

          • eh says:

            Not to get too Orwellian here, but control over the language and framing used in a debate gives significant advantages. As has been noted above, drawing a distinction between gender and sex concedes vital ground.

            As to why it’s important, I have a theory. There are four broad schools of thought: 1) that gender and sex are different, and gender is determined internally by self-image, 2) that gender and sex are different, but gender is determined by social role, 3) that gender and sex are different, are aligned in healthy people, and are both determined by biology, and 4) that gender and sex are the same, and sex is biological.

            For 1), gender is individual, and it doesn’t matter what you call someone. It’s a silly debate: you should just call someone what they want to be called!

            For 2), calling someone their preferred pronoun is allowing them to circumvent gender norms. Someone can’t claim to be a woman and gain the rights of womanhood without undertaking the duties and obligations. For some, it’s perfectly acceptable to transition convincingly, while for others, being a gender requires having lived it for a very long time.

            For 3), someone can’t choose whether or not they have gender dysphoria, nor choose their chromosomes. Calling them their preferred pronoun may be done as a kindness, or may not be done in an attempt to help them get over it.

            For 4), transpeople are identical to otherkin, a pack of rowdy teens who want to force everyone to call them silly names.

            Only 1) wants to define gender as non-binary. Only 1) and 2) think it’s possible to change your gender. Only 1), 2), and 3) think gender exists.

            It should be fairly obvious, from this, why different types of people think this is important. 1) are exasperated by the whole thing, and don’t understand what the fuss is all about. 2) don’t want transpeople to shirk their duties or erode traditional gender roles. 3) either don’t want to give in to the demands of the mentally ill, or feel the mentally ill are entitled to a bit of compassion. 4) don’t want to put up with cheeky little buggers from Tumblr telling them what to do.

          • Alex says:

            Having asked a question similar to Urstoff’s and getting similar results, I find eh’s comment very helpful. It is No. 2, that had me puzzled.

            However, there should be a variation of 4) stating that gender does not exist as opposed to being the same as sex.

            Presuming that sex and gender do both exist, 1) and 3) (unlike 2) are actually just different conclusions from the same thing. Both believe that gender is determined internally, they diverge only on the question if this should be considered as a problem.

            Actually this is a continuum. There is an interpolation of 1) and 3) where one does acknowledge gender as an internal conception, but neither feels obliged to embrace others’ internal conceptions (1) nor to fix them (2).

            If I were forced to choose a stance, it’d be that one. Live and let live, so to speak.

          • Leif says:

            that gender and sex are different, and gender is determined internally by self-image

            My question for people with this view is, self-image of what? I.e., what does being “male” or “female” gender imply you are imagining about yourself? I don’t think gender can be defined as self-image of gender; that seems meaninglessly self-referential. The only viable candidate I’ve been able to come up with is self-image of sex, but if that’s the definition, isn’t it correct to say that transpeople have an inaccurate self-image of their sex? And that when they ask other people to use their preferred pronouns, they are asking others to share that inaccurate image?

          • Alex says:

            Leif:

            Outsider’s perspective, actual trans-people should correct me.

            Numbering as per eh’s list.

            To believe in the existence of gender (1,3) you have to, at least in part believe in gender (2) because in your head you can do whatever you like and if it was only that, we would not have a problem. So I imagine getting accepted in a social role is part of the deal.

            In your words, defining gender (1,3) as the self imange of gender (2) is not self-referential. It only looks that way because words do not equal meaning.

            In the most general terms, the political problem with gender (2) seems to be, that it is determined to a large extend by secondary sexual characteristics.

            So even if an individual, in eh’s words, undertakes all the “duties and obligations” this is likely to be overruled by not trivially changable outward characteristics.

            I can understand that this is terribly “unfair” for some values of unfair. [And I do mean this sincerely, Im not trying to diminish the problem]. However, many a proposed solution to that problem brings new problems.

            Maybe it is a mistake to artificially import this problem to cyberspace where said characteristics are already hidden by default. I really mean no offense here, but if one prefers to be gendered as “she”, why not adapt an internet persona that can be actually identified as she-gendered by username and or avatar?

          • Leif says:

            Alex:

            Thanks for trying to explain. I’m not sure whether your interpretation is correct or not. But if it is, I think I’m against that belief.

            When I was little, my parents told me something like: “Boys have penises. Girls have vaginas. Some people think being a boy or a girl means you have to play with certain toys, but those people are wrong. Anyone can play with any toys they want.” That’s still how I feel about it.

            To the extent that social gender roles exist, aren’t they just the composition of peoples’ biased behaviors? Shouldn’t we try to get everyone to stop being biased, rather than trying to make it easier to change which set of biases people apply to you? (Imagine if we applied the latter approach to racism…)

            Isn’t biased behavior a product of the biased person’s perception of the other person’s qualities? What is the quality they are perceiving? It can’t be gender(2), because now that would be self-referential: we are creating the full definition of gender(2) here, which can’t include itself.

            Does it boil down to: gender(2) = social role = others’ biases = others’ perceptions of sex? Because then we’re still ultimately talking about sex: transpeople are asking others to perceive them as a particular sex, or at least to apply the biases they would normally apply to members of that sex.

            If transpeople are inviting gender-biased behavior appropriate to the gender they identity with, are cispeople inviting the same thing? Should cispeople switch to identifying as agender if they don’t want people to apply biases to them?

      • nyccine says:

        The proper extension of gender pronouns sure is a weird hill to die on. If someone wants to be referred to as “he” or “she” or “it”, who cares?

        If a three-year old wants hormone blockers and sex-reassignment surgery, who cares?

        This isn’t about language, it’s about doing the right thing. The pro-trans community’s stance – that when someone says they’re transgender, they are, and deserve your support in their decision – is completely incompatible with the reality on the ground. You cannot hold this belief and acknowledge the reality of people like Walter Heyer, who, in a fit of depression, completely ruined his life because a homosexual activist convinced him it would solve his problems. You cannot hold this belief and acknowledge the fact that the overwhelming majority of children who present as transgender do not persist in this belief into adulthood, something that will only get worse as more and more children are pushed (there are reports of schoolchildren convincing their classmates, who had never identified in this fashion at all, that they should “come out” as trans) into this.

        Scott wrote a singularly horrible post about transgenderism, in which he mocked the standard practice of his fellow psychiatrists of not going along with the delusions of their patients, belittling it as nothing more than “that’s just not the way we do things.” That is not why that is done; it is done to prevent even more harm.

        Signing on to the transgender movement, as Scott does, is not an act of kindness, it is an act of unspeakable monstrousness; you are encouraging people to harm themselves, to ruin their lives, all so you can feel sufficiently progressive. There are nowhundreds of children who are being destroyed, all so that some of us can smugly declare ourselves better than those “less enlightened.” It is an entirely fitting irony that Scott was fond of comparing social problems to Moloch, as this is nothing less than the barbarism of the Cannanites.

        • anon says:

          could you elucidate for us why that article is bad and how exactly transitioning harms trans people?

          • hlynkacg says:

            I would expect the adverse effects of surgery, and certain chemical/hormone treatments to be obvious. It’s not like you can “undo” them.

          • Anon says:

            hlynkacg: What adverse affects?
            ETA: Also, afaict WPATH standards of care require that those receiving surgery be over the age of majority.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            I can (sort of) answer that.
            http://www.theguardian.com/society/2004/jul/30/health.mentalhealth

            ///Research from the US and Holland suggests that up to a fifth of patients regret changing sex. A 1998 review by the Research and Development Directorate of the NHS Executive found attempted suicide rates of up to 18% noted in some medical studies of gender reassignment.

            Mr Bellringer, who works at the main NHS gender identity clinic at Charing Cross hospital in west London, said: “I don’t think that any research that denied transsexual patients treatment would get past an ethics committee. There’s no other treatment that works. You either have an operation or suffer a miserable life. A fifth of those who don’t get treatment commit suicide.”
            ///

          • “and how exactly transitioning harms trans people?”

            I think it’s obvious that the poster believes that many or all of those who transition are not really trans–i.e. that they don’t have a female brain in a male body or vice versa, to use the simplest metaphor.

            That view isn’t absurd–people do sometimes fool themselves about themselves for a variety of reasons. If you are really male, biologically and emotionally, and get your body surgically and chemically altered in an irreversible way that prevents you ever being a functional male, that’s a pretty serious mistake.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Anon asks: What adverse affects?

            See David Friedman’s reply above.

          • Anonymous says:

            Not to mention something I’ve heard from the trans-sphere themselves – that post-op transsexuals apparently have sky-high suicide rates.

        • Samuel Skinner says:

          “The pro-trans community’s stance – that when someone says they’re transgender, they are, and deserve your support in their decision – is completely incompatible with the reality on the ground.”

          Unless you have figured out how to diagnose people over the internet, you have no way of knowing which people in the comment section are genuinely transgender and which aren’t. Which is what the rule regulates.

          “You cannot hold this belief and acknowledge the reality of people like Walter Heyer, who, in a fit of depression, completely ruined his life because a homosexual activist convinced him it would solve his problems.”

          I’m not sure why you think Scott’s position is mutually exclusive with that.

          “There are now hundreds of children who are being destroyed,”
          ///
          Younger transgender children can receive treatment on the NHS, but at that age it takes the form of counselling and support sessions. Medical intervention isn’t considered until they approach puberty, when hormone blockers might be offered.

          Blockers delay the physical changes associated with puberty, giving the young person longer to decide if they want to live as a man or a woman. At the age of 16 a patient can then take cross-sex hormones, with full surgery only offered after the age of 18. The estimated cost of gender reassignment surgery on the NHS is around £10,000.
          ///

          Yeah, it looks like they are doing the sensible thing. Having people go through therapy in order to see if it is a real issue, attempting to weed out the false positives and not taking permanent changes until they are an adult.

          • Evan Þ says:

            Of course, that assumes that getting the therapy itself doesn’t push them in one or the other direction. I’d suppose that social assumptions, at least, would mean that someone getting that therapy would start more- or less-strongly thinking of themselves as transgender.

            (Which may or may not be a good thing, overall, depending on base rates, screening tests for the therapy, your standards for “Good Thing,” and a number of other things.)

    • Soumynona says:

      As I understand the rule, this would be acceptable:

      She’s a man, and wishing won’t make her a woman. She has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      And this is unacceptable:

      He’s a man, and wishing won’t make him a woman. He has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      The rule is “don’t personally attack other commenters”. In the quoted sentences, are you talking about a hypothetical transsexual or your interlocutor specifically? It’s not a perfect defense, because you can pretend to talk about hypotheticals while actually insulting a specific person, but it should make a difference when done in good faith.

      And why would you need to talk about anyone else than a hypothetical transsexual in a discussion like that? Is saying “you’re a dude, dude, neener neener” or something really essential to your philosophical integrity? You can’t argue against transsexualism without doing it?

      I disagree with you about transsexualism. I also have dangly bits and have no problems calling myself male. It’s impossible for you to misgender me, so does that mean I win the argument?

    • Creutzer says:

      As I understand the rule, this would be acceptable:

      She’s a man, and wishing won’t make her a woman. She has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      And this is unacceptable:

      He’s a man, and wishing won’t make him a woman. He has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      I’m not sure whether this was intended as a reductio ad absurdum, but my perception of these two formulations is that they illustrate perfectly why the rule makes sense. I’m cis and I still perceive the first statement as a simple disagreement and the second statement as disrespectful when uttered about a transwoman. Odd as it may be, “she is a man” feels like a perfectly coherent thing to say. (At the same time, I do find it incoherent to refer to Ozy, who insists on not being called “she”, as someone’s girlfriend. So obviously “boyfriend/girlfriend” is specifically tied to gender in my mental lexicon while “man/woman” is tied to… whatever.)

      • John Schilling says:

        I accept that this is your perception. My perception is that the second statement is a coherent assertion of a position of fact (that might be wrong on several grounds) whereas the first is almost oxymoronic and denies the ability to present a coherent argument for the speaker’s position.

        I genuinely do consider it disrespectful, offensive, and actually infuriating to be told that I must conform to the first standard. This is going to make it difficult for us to communicate, I think. Possibly Scott’s banning policies will render the issue moot.

        • Creutzer says:

          I wonder if this whole thing isn’t really a difference in the mental lexicon. That would kind of explain why people are so extremely offended by being asked to adjust their pronoun use, because it’s kind of unpleasant to be told that you can’t speak your own language.

          Not that I really understand what precisely that difference between our idiolects is. I’d be interested in an intuition from you. Let’s say we’re talking about a transwoman. You assert that this person is a man. Someone else wants to contradict you. Does that person have to say “No, he’s a woman” or “No, she’s a woman” in order for you to perceive them as making sense?

          • John Schilling says:

            In my native language, “No, he’s a woman” is straight-up oxymoronic. “He” is a pointer to a member of a class which is defined as not having any women in it. Depending on the context, I will probably be able to decipher the intended meaning, but in roughly the same way that I can decipher figurative uses of “literally”.

            “No, she’s a woman” is a perfectly coherent statement of fact, and the proper rebuttal to “he’s a man”. It may be false, but that’s something we can discuss rationally.

            Or not, if saying “In this context, the penis makes Jane a man no matter what Jane would prefer”, constitutes “misgendering” and gets me banned.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Creutzer

            I think John Schilling wishes to be able to say that eating babies is immoral without having to say it as “eating babies is not eating babies”.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree strongly with this (edit: Michael Watts’) post. The very use of the word “misgender” is begging the question. I would contend that “transgender” commenters are the ones misgendering themselves! Can we expect these individuals to be banned posthaste?

      Further, I reject the assertion that using correct pronouns to refer to “transgender” commenters is intrinsically mean. I don’t deny that this practice may cause pain to some people, but the same could be said of the Mohammed cartoons. Offense taken is not always reasonable! It seems to me misguided in the extreme to forbid many (by my reading of this thread) SSC-goers from honestly expressing a facet of how they perceive reality.

      I suspect that Scott *doesn’t* truly want anyone to express a philosophical disagreement on the concept of gender, no matter how polite – or at least doesn’t want a large number of people to do so. How would “transgender” readers like it if everyone used their preferred pronouns, but strong disagreement with this norm were the prevailing opinion of SSC commenters, openly and regularly voiced? I imagine that they would feel uncomfortable and indeed “unsafe” regardless – consider that polite and nuanced disagreement with the ideals of the social justice movement is labeled as misogynistic/racist/etc. on a regular basis.

      It seems to me that the rule as written throws the other side a bone to avoid the unpleasant business of outright banning a line of argument, but in the end the other side is not exactly welcome. I agree that it would be less distasteful if Scott were to just take an explicit position on this.

    • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

      As I understand the rule, this would be acceptable:

      She’s a man, and wishing won’t make her a woman. She has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      And this is unacceptable:

      He’s a man, and wishing won’t make him a woman. He has a working penis, and could father a child tomorrow.

      This, however, is always unacceptable.

    • “she said she thought her reaction was because she was deeply uncomfortable with strong attacks on abortion, because she felt that, as an abortion provider, they put her personally at risk.”

      That argument would also apply to strong attacks on any political position, including mine. For samples, see the Facebook climate arguments.

      • There’s deadly violence against abortion providers. So far as I know, this isn’t the case in disagreements about global warming.

        • Adam says:

          Or if there was, in the analogy, it would be directed against coal barons or something, not against college professors. This guy’s mother doesn’t feel targeted because she’s made academic arguments in favor of abortion.

        • John Schilling says:

          There’s deadly violence against abortion providers. So far as I know, this isn’t the case in disagreements about global warming

          It has certainly been advocated, and on a mass scale. Please don’t make me go out into Tumbler and Gawker and the like to find examples, but there is no shortage of people who explicitly want all the “deniers” to be rounded up and sent to prisons or reeducation camps or whatnot.

          The difference is that climate-change catastrophists believe themselves to be politically ascendant, thus capable of coordinating their meanness, and if you expect the government to do that on your behalf Real Soon Now then going out and doing it yourself isn’t terribly appealing. Much of the right-to-life crowd believes itself to be politically marginalized, and if that’s the case then only small-scale disorganized resistance will be possible at this phase.

          And I can’t help but appreciate the irony in two people named “Friedman” and “Lebovitz” arguing about whether or not to take seriously the people who say they want to round up millions of people and send them off to camps, or just dismiss them as a fringe political movement that will never amount to anything.

          • What would be a good way of estimating the risk of large-scale violence against people who don’t think global warming is a major problem? When would it be likely to start.

            For the short run, abortion providers are in clear and present danger.

          • Leif says:

            FWIW, Bill Nye has publicly advocated this.

          • John Schilling says:

            For the short run, abortion providers are in clear and present danger.

            I believe there has been exactly one abortion provider killed in the United States in the past decade, and one unsuccessful attempt; I don’t think that is statistically significant. Possibly you are thinking of the 1990s, when the rate was one every other year or so, but that problem has been mostly solved.

            Roughly speaking, nothing that kills one person every other year is worth worrying about unless it’s your job to worry about it. Things that might kill thousands or millions of people in the future, might be worth worrying about a little.

        • There is currently an attempt by, among others, a bunch of state Attorney Generals to hold a firm liable for damages for the offense of not having supported the correct position on global warming. Quite a lot of the people who argue the issue online claim that “deniers” ought to be held liable.

          Being sued isn’t as serious as being killed, but an attempt backed by lots of respectable legal authorities is more of a believable threat than illegal actions by a few individuals with extreme views.

  62. TheOmnivore says:

    “SCOTT — YOU STRUMPET!!”

    I just, you know, wanted to try it out and see if it felt good . . .

    • Soumynona says:

      Way behind the cutting edge of modern insult technology. Nowadays you call a guy a beta cuckolded by strumpets.

      • Deiseach says:

        I think it should be allowable to call men strumpets too; if they behave like strumpets, why confine a good condemnatory epithet to one sex?

        Also “minx”, there are definitely some men I would (approvingly) like to refer to as “minxes” (and no, I’m not going to tell you who) 🙂

  63. Rob says:

    I am much more used to being marginally abusive to everyone in a forum environment, so stuff like this naturally makes me cautious. Nonetheless, SSC is first and foremost a blog run by you with social standards set by you. I think it’s a little patronizing to act like it’s a democratic process in your case, even if the metaphor actually stands on a national level – you’re a moderator of an internet comments section. Reddit is democratized, this place is a bit more like an image-less 4chan, where the behavior of a board depends on direct moderator interference.

    You mention that we shouldn’t misgender transgendered people in the comments section deliberately. What’s your stance on the generally accepted gender neutral pronouns (they, them, their)?

    (speaking of “they”, my English teacher says that I shouldn’t use those three words as pronouns in a formal paper, even if the dictionary calls it correct. Is she right about this, or is it just her imagination?)

    • Milan says:

      I actually like the being marginally abusive thing on a forum, as long as everybody else likes it as well. Offensive humor is great if everyone is willing to get as good as he/she/they gives.

      • Rob says:

        This is why I made the comparison between SSC and 4chan even if they’re different environments. When you go to 4chan, and you say something stupid that doesn’t conform to their rules, they call you out on it. I imagine it’s the same way here. Not like Reddit, where you can expect communities across the entire site to shift, merge, and split more easily. There, migrants are common.

    • brad says:

      A paper that avoided plural pronouns altogether would be awkward at best. There’s no reason, prescrptivist or descriptivist, to do that.

      Perhaps what he meant was that you should avoid the use of singular they in formal writing. Singular they is well attested back to Shakespeare’s day but the Victorians found it logically inconsistent and many older grammar treatises held that it was incorrect. Its use is jarring to some people. It’s a style choice.

      • Rob says:

        She was telling me to avoid singular they. I understand the reasoning behind it, but it’s a bit strange to try and change a standard I’ve been adhering to all my life (and will probably continue to stick to as soon as I get a new teacher).

      • onyomi says:

        Interesting how, in the same thread, there are people telling us we should ignore the illogic of singular “they,” but start putting our commas outside quotation marks for logical reasons.

    • Speaking for myself, “they” as a singular offends my ear because either you end up using a singular verb with a pronoun I hear as plural or a plural verb with a pronoun being used as a singular.

      And I don’t care if Shakespeare did it.

      It would be nice to have true gender neutral pronouns, but none seem to have caught on as yet. Contrast that with the striking success of “Ms.”

      • Speaking only for myself, I’m quite comfortable with the singular they, and I’ve been known to stretch it to “themself”. (Corrected from reflexively typing “themselves”, which probably proves something.)

        I wonder whether there are local variations in whether people’s dialect defaults to a singular they. My background is Northern Delaware/Philadelphia.

        • JBeshir says:

          I’ve used themself, and heard other people around here use it. It does feel more slangy than singular they, which has been a default pronoun that I notice I tend to use whenever someone’s gender isn’t immediately in mind, or when I’m repeating a cached thought, as well as whenever gender is even mildly ambiguous.

          I’m in the UK here, so quite far away. Born in the North West, currently living South West.

      • LHN says:

        I wonder if people reacted the same way to the royal “we”, or to the deprecation of “thee/thou” in favor of singular “you” (losing subjective “ye” along the way). Use of the plural form for singular individuals at least has a fairly long history, in English and other languages.

        For me it’s an adaptation, but one I’m willing to live with given the available alternatives. “Neutral he” isn’t, “one” is stilted, “he/she” and “he or she” are cumbersome. In practice I’m probably more likely to just recast the sentence, but sometimes that’s more trouble than it’s worth.

      • onyomi says:

        Yeah, singular “they,” definitely offends my ear.

        I also find the demand that I should refer to someone by a gender neutral word to be an imposition in a way I don’t find it an imposition for a biological male to ask me to call her “she,” or a biological female to ask me to call him, “he.”

        In my brain there are two boxes for humans: “male” and “female.” There are also some smaller boxes within boxes for “stereotypically masculine males,” “stereotypically feminine females,” “feminine males,” “masculine females,” and so on. There is no “transcends gender” box because no one is an angel or bodhisattva.

        I find this last point bothersome because it would be like if I met Rachel Dolezal and referred to her as “white,” but she said “no, I prefer to identify as black; please refer to me as black.” While that would be a little weird, I could handle that. I’d say “okay, you want me to try to slot you in this other box, at least in terms of how I talk about you? Okay.” But I couldn’t accept being told “don’t imply I have a race! I am beyond race! I transcend race!” To which my response is “no, you don’t.”

        In other words, you can demand I put you in a different box, but I’m not going to make a whole new box for you. Coincidentally, this is how I feel about the bathrooms, too…

        • How do you think about people who are bi- or multi- racial?

          Recommended: (1)ne Drop, a book about how people have developed black identities. The process and personal histories (this is world-wide, not just the US) are more complicated than I could have imagined.

          • onyomi says:

            Well, I’ll agree that the comparison breaks down in that race is a spectrum and gender is, by and large, a binary. Honestly, I just say “half-black, half-white person…”; or, if they prefer to identify with one race or another, then I’d call them that. Not that I am called on to refer to peoples’ races all that often.

        • JBeshir says:

          How do you deal with writing responses to people with gender-ambiguous names on the Internet? Just avoid pronouns entirely, or use generic he, or something else?

          • onyomi says:

            Sometimes I use he/she or s/he. Sometimes I use generic “he.” Around SSC I tend to assume commenters are male unless they have very feminine-sounding handles and/or feminine-looking avatars.

        • Adam says:

          I’ve experienced roughly the same internal blocks to using invented pronouns. I don’t have much of a problem with ‘they,’ but in practice I’ve found myself mostly using names if I know them as an avoidance mechanism.

          There pretty clearly are at least some people who transcend our linguistic categories, though. Intersexed people are rare but they exist and there’s no obvious way to pronoun them without asking which they prefer in advance, and it seems reasonable that they might prefer neither since in their case neither is accurate.

          And yeah, multiracial. I kind of hate filling out forms that request demographic information for this reason. We don’t have clear records going back more than a few generations and I’ve not taken any genetic tests, so best I can tell is some mix of Spanish and Aztec with whatever the heck else got thrown in along the way. I don’t strongly identify with white or Native American and neither seems to have genetically determined much about me other than lactose intolerance and facial structure. I’m not even all that similar in temperament, intellect, or whatever else seems to matter to our resident population biologists here to my own immediate blood relatives, let alone entire historical populations that used to be more homogeneous from which I’m mutually descended.

          • onyomi says:

            Between “they” and “ze,” I’ll take “they,” because the former makes me feel like I’m talking about 2 people, whereas the latter makes me feel like I’m talking about an alien. Both feel rather like saying “the artist formerly known as…” to me, though (as in, they feel like slightly unreasonable demands on others’ patience as a way of making some kind of point about how you see yourself).

          • Adam says:

            I’m glad someone else said alien. I swear there has to be a pop cultural reason for that I can’t remember.

          • Vorkon says:

            To be fair, the whole “artist formerly known as” thing was mostly just a way to say “fuck you” to record companies who wouldn’t let him use his own name on his music once he left them.

            It’s basically the same phenomenon as the people suggesting that their favored pronoun is the full text of War and Peace elsewhere in this thread, except Prince was actually in a position to make people DO it.

          • ThirteenthLetter says:

            “There pretty clearly are at least some people who transcend our linguistic categories, though. Intersexed people are rare but they exist and there’s no obvious way to pronoun them without asking which they prefer in advance, and it seems reasonable that they might prefer neither since in their case neither is accurate.”

            On the other hand, hard cases make bad law. When you’re a small enough minority, there start to be things it’s unreasonable to ask for.

          • onyomi says:

            “On the other hand, hard cases make bad law. When you’re a small enough minority, there start to be things it’s unreasonable to ask for.”

            +1

          • onyomi says:

            “I’m glad someone else said alien. I swear there has to be a pop cultural reason for that I can’t remember.”

            Z and X are the most “alien”-sounding English letters for some reason. If you want to name a scary alien overlord, something like Zaxos is infinitely superior to say, Tipitaka.

          • InferentialDistance says:

            Z and X are the most “alien”-sounding English letters for some reason.

            They are extremely uncommon (‘Z’ is the least common, according to Wikipedia, with ‘X’ being the third-least common). Summed together with ‘J’ and ‘Q’ (the other two least-common letters), they have less frequency than the fifth-least common letter (‘K’).

            This would explain why “Jzqx” seems like a good alien name. Or “Qxzj”.

          • onyomi says:

            Good point about the frequency. Q is definitely a good letter for an alien as well, and has in common with x the quality of being, at least in modern English, a completely superfluous letter (q can always be replaced by k, and x with “ks”). Which is probably why they’re uncommon (maybe only used in words of certain etymologies, like French for q, for example).

            X is also a letter which sounds like a mathematical placeholder, a film rating, and a radiograph. All making me think of “Kwisatz Haderach,” though maybe that could be made even more alien and less Arabic as “Qwisatz Haderax”

          • Nornagest says:

            There are enough different transliteration schemes for Arabic floating around that the Q, at least, would be normal in some of them. I’ve never seen X used in one, though.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Singular “they” offends my ear too… but since both writers as eminent as Shakespeare and writers as socially conservative as C. S. Lewis used it, I’m treating my offense as something more about myself than about the English language, and accepting the usage anyway.

      • Tibor says:

        The gendered languages (i.e. all languages that I speak other than English) that I know all have a quite definite gender neutral pronoun – he. Because the word “human” is grammatically masculine (in Czech, German, Spanish, very likely in all Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages, but I don’t know that for sure, I think that some Scandinavian languages might not have genders). Hence using “he” as a default pronoun comes to me naturally in English as well and the idea that it somehow excludes women is quite outlandish to me – I understand this particular “he” as a “human” not as a “man”. And human is a sufficiently abstract word that I don’t really imagine a human as a man, even though the word is masculine.

        Also, the word “person” is grammatically feminine in the languages I mentioned, so I also have a tendency to use “she” in conjunction with that in English. Similarly, I do not imagine a person as a woman.

        And the “right” pronoun for a child is “obviously” it, because in Czech and German, a child is grammatically neuter (I find it strange that el niño means both a boy and a child in Spanish, being a masculine word).

        • Dr Dealgood says:

          English is, or was, the same way. He / his can be used as generic pronouns, and Man / mankind for the human race generally.

          S/he, he or she, they, xie and other attempts at gender neutrality are recent innovations.

        • Orphan Wilde says:

          “Mann” was originally more sex-neutral, in terms of describing people. Wermann became “man” and “husband” in English (the division between adult-male and married-male as concepts perhaps contributing to the split; I have no idea where “husband” came from, perhaps another language, or perhaps dialectic mutation?), and wifmann became “woman” and “wife” (likewise, again, perhaps adult-female and married-female required distinction); the former arose through dialectic crossbreeding of some kind (I guess?), the latter through shortening.

          I once knew the pronouns for all three, but I’ve since forgotten them. But IIRC, “he” and “him” were pretty close to the gender-neutral version, with the male-gendered version having been dropped at some point.

          • Anonymous says:

            I’m way late here, but “husband” is Saxon/Old Norse for roughly “the freeman of the house”; the hus- part is the same as in hussy (= housewife). In Swedish, for example, “husbonde” is still a word meaning “master of the house” or “the man a servant works for” and just “bonde” on its own means “farmer”.

        • LHN says:

          Ostensibly neutral “he” tends to carry male-as-default along with it. I’m pretty sure most people would find a construction like “An employee may use his paid medical leave if he becomes ill or pregnant” jarring, however grammatically correct it might be.

          (Though of course insofar as the pronouns are divorced from biological sexual characteristics, that may not be the case going forward.)

        • Have another test case: “Man is an animal that breast-feeds his young.”.*

          *Note rational punctuation

          • suntzuanime says:

            I’m pretty sure the appropriate pronoun for Man-the-abstract-collective is “its”, just like it uncontroversially is for humanity-the-abstract-collective.

        • keranih says:

          Playing around with “building” a language for a fictional human subspecies (desert dwelling transhumans/nomads), I eventually decided that this group had collective pronouns for various groups, that would be translated as “they/them” in English

          – one word that meant “that group over there which is yet unknown” and would also be applied to some groups of animals (wolf packs yes, herds of goats no)

          – one word that meant “a group of only adult men”

          – one word that meant “a group of mixed genders and ages” – because it was beyond rare for there to be three or more women together and none of them with a child at heel.

          They had different pronouns for males and females based on age – and a general “neutral” (not neuter/genderless, but of unspecified gender) pronoun for unweaned children and toddlers.

  64. candles says:

    Not so sure how I feel about your point 2.

    I can absolutely see aggressively, publicly using something other than someone’s preferred pronoun, and drawing attention to it, as being a hostile thing to do.

    On the other hand, I really don’t think you’re being very charitable or, frankly, well-thought out, on the subject of the transgender pronoun issue, particularly when it comes to social conservatives, vis-a-vis safe spaces.

    Obviously transgender-identifying people prefer to have language used a certain way in relation to themselves.

    On the other hand, for many social conservatives, this new language norm being aggressively rolled out by activists and the blue tribe is roughly equivalent to waking up one day and being told by Your Betters ™ that, going forward, 2+2=5, and you and your kind can expect very severe public sanction (that you and your entire local culture did not agree to) if you dare to say 2+2=4. Which is to say, I flatly don’t think you can have both a safe space for transgender-identifying people, and a lot of social conservatives, right now. There isn’t actual common consensus, and any proposed norm is politically aggressive to someone.

    I’ve always admired your original norm of trying to read other people charitably, and expecting your commenters to read both you and each other charitably. I find it inspiring. Maybe I’m just reading too much into it, but I feel like your point 2 is abandoning that charity… which, purely as a matter of pragmatics, is too bad, too, because I think your unusual commitment to charity has been a big element of how wonderfully heterodox your community of commenters is. But maybe it’s just me being uncharitable with what is admittedly a pretty terse sentence.

    • Milan says:

      “Which is to say, I flatly don’t think you can have both a safe space for transgender-identifying people, and a lot of social conservatives, right now.”
      You mean not a safe space for both at the same place and time, right? Because otherwise I can totally imagine having both of those space, just somewhere else.

      • FWIW I don’t think Scott is trying to make this a “safe space” for trans people in the SJ sense. I think that he’s mostly just trying to shut down people deliberately misgendering as a form of attack.

        • FeepingCreature says:

          Then he should damn well make that an explicit part of the rule.

          • null says:

            Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, but wouldn’t that produce a rule like ‘you can misgender people if it’s not an attack on them’? I don’t see how you can enforce such a rule.

          • FeepingCreature says:

            “For the purpose of preventing the deliberate use of misgendering as an attack on transgendered people, do not misgender trans people on this forum.” There is no reason why the spirit of a rule cannot be part of its letter.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            There is no reason why the spirit of a rule cannot be part of its letter.

            “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…” 🙂

          • Mary says:

            It would also be wise to avoid such terms as “misgender” which are not commonly known.

          • Jeff H says:

            Why? If you know what a gender is and how the prefix “mis” generally functions, the meaning of “misgender” is pretty obvious. Especially so if it’s clear from the context that you’re discussing transgender people, like, for instance, if the very next word is “transgender” and that’s not even the first mention of the concept in that sentence. If a person with the IQ I’d like to think the typical SSC reader has claims not to understand the word given all those clues, I find it more plausible that they’re playing dumb to make a point than that they’re genuinely confused.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you know what a gender is…

            Then you’re living in a different century, because in this one there are too damn many definitions of “gender” for anyone to keep track of and some of them are decidedly Humpty-Dumptyish.

          • Samuel Skinner says:

            Yes, lets not be charitable to Scott, the master of charitability. He obviously doesn’t mean “don’t call people he or she as an insult”.

      • candles says:

        Yeah, exactly.

    • houseboatonstyx says:

      @ candles
      Which is to say, I flatly don’t think you can have both a safe space for transgender-identifying people, and a lot of social conservatives, right now. There isn’t actual common consensus, and any proposed norm is politically aggressive to someone.

      It’s easy to avoid using ‘he’ or ‘she’. There’s plenty of neutral ground. We do it all the time when referring to a poster whose sex/gender we know nothing about. When necessary, ‘they’ or ‘zie/zis/zim’ are available. So to use a hurtful pronoun as an ‘in your face’ flaunting of some conservative principle or as begging the question, is very rude imo.

      Otoh, for the trans person or ally to reject the safe neutral ground of easy avoidance and insist on a particular favored pronoun, or to ‘call out’ some careless or uninformed use as coming from some elaborately-described bad motive — is unreasonable and rude.

      Both of these derail productive discussion.

      • Randy M says:

        It is also kind of rude to suggest someone should have used a word that they have probably never seen before. Zie might be available, but how many English speaking people do you think have ever heard of it before? 5%?

        By the way, for anyone who hasn’t seen it, Scott has an excellent post on his tumblr about this recently. I don’t know the criteria for what gets promoted to this blog and what doesn’t, but he’s had some interesting things there today.

      • eh says:

        Some requests seem reasonable, others like dominance games. For me, a continuum emerges that goes “call me by name”, “call me she”, “call me they”, “call me zie”, “call me zerina”, “call me princesself”, all the way to “call me Xychromatron The Seductive, Ruler Of The Labia, Archetype Of Femininity, Planetkin And Friend To Asteroids”.

        Getting called the wrong pronoun out of “he/she” presumably hurts for someone who has spent their life struggling against it, but getting called “they” instead of “zie/hir/xir” seems less hurtful, and not getting called “princesself” or “Xychromatron” doesn’t seem hurtful in the slightest.

        • Milan says:

          Also, am I the only one whose brain parses 90% of the more “exotic” pronouns to male? Zie, xe, and so on, when I read it, the primary association is male, and then I have to consciously make an effort to correct my thinking. Is this a “male by default” thing? Do women have the opposite effect?

          • Adam says:

            I parse them as extraterrestrial personally. All bets are off since they don’t necessarily reproduce sexually and may not have any kind of easily identifiable dimorphism.

            Edit: This possibly sounds insulting, but I don’t mean to imply trans people are alien or anything, just that I associate names starting with a ‘z’ sound with aliens. I’m sure there’s a specific fictional reason for this, but I’m not sure what it is.

          • Peter says:

            Possibly; for me, they tend to come across as female, not least because I learned German at school and zie, xe etc. sound very much like sie, roughly the German for she.

            (Then again, sie can refer to forks, and isn’t always appropriate for girls, depending on how you’re referring to them.)

  65. c0rw1n says:

    This is not about Correct ethics, is it? It’s about implementation in a world where people do not have sufficient empathy and theory of mind to not be assholes, right?

    Because the Correct ethics is still “universalize as if the process you use to universalize would itself become universal”. Which is obviously completely incompatible with the very principle of fixed laws and crushing societal structures.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Universalizability is inconsistent with fixed laws? Do you just mean that if everyone were perfect there would be no need to have government enforcement, or something else?

      • c0rw1n says:

        Not only, though that would fix everything, tautologically, of course.

        I mean that every fixed law will have corner cases where it is violating the point of having it, without even getting into how enforcement works in reality. They are always trade-offs, every boundary will have Type I errors on one side and Type II errors on the other. A system of bounding the acceptable behaviors with the meta-universalizability criterion does not need fixed laws; I think that’s what the contractualist anarchists say they want (but forget to count the time to go over all the overlapping contracts they’d be bound by, which would involve recursive combinatorial explosions of frictions for resolving any dispute).

        Of course the next practical problem is to assess the actual preferences of people in cases of dispute also, which isn’t remotely more solved than recursive resolution of possibly-incompatible-and-overlapping contracts. But I don’t despair yet that they might be practically automatable some day.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.)

  68. 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.