Different Worlds


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New topic: paranoia and Williams Syndrome.

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

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

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

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

The results are less than heartwarming:

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

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

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

The woman, Jessica says, was incredibly angry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Another change in topic: bubbles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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785 Responses to Different Worlds

  1. insilications says:

    Good post, especially for some EA and rationalists.

  2. fd says:

    On “I.”: If I had time to read even a fraction of the 783 current responses, I’m sure I’d not be the first to wonder if this (observation of wildly divergent results among practitioners) isn’t a near-perfect argument that everything taught in “psychotherapist school” is mostly-useless filler. Could it be that a reliable human connection is more important than a practitioner’s exercise of some kind of technique?

    On “IV.”: I’ll bet a dollar to a donut that your Facebook-stalking research didn’t control for “competence as perceived by colleagues”. Do you know anyone, in any field, who is happy to be forced to work with someone who has proved themselves to be a drag on everyone else’s productivity? And, possibly worse, doesn’t realize it? (D-K?) I have little doubt that the ostensible benefactors of such forced collegiality (i.e. those who are managerially shielded from unkind human responses to their own incompetence) will perceive their unhappily-forced-to-get-along teammates as all kinds of unpleasant/nasty/bigoted/fill-in-your-own-personal-perceptual-bias-here.

  3. srconstantin says:

    I’m another woman who doesn’t experience sex discrimination.

    I don’t get catcalled (or, I didn’t until I got pregnant, at which point it started happening ALL THE TIME if I wear clothes tight enough to show a belly). I don’t experience men assuming I’m dumb; people usually catch on that I’m not pretty quickly. I don’t think I’ve ever been passed over for career advancement based on my sex.

    At first I thought this was because I’m not that attractive or “femme” in presentation, so I don’t get slotted into the “decorative young woman” stereotype. But plenty of “plain-looking” women *do* get tons of harassment and sexism.

    My current guess is that it’s some combination of the company I keep being less sexist, my threat-sensitivity being lower, and that I exude some kind of “take me seriously” field, due to things like a monotone voice and a non-wiggly walk.

  4. Jakub Łopuszański says:

    Polish hospitals are for free and (thus?) overcrowded which gives me a unique opportunity to observe behaviours of my fellow citizens in difficult, stressful, new situations.

    What I observed is that there are two distinct ways people handle this.
    Me and my wife belong to a group of people who try to solve all arising problems by combination of googling, asking professionals, reading, talking to each other, and our friends. We do not try to make ad-hoc friendships with other patients in the room we are staying in, nor ask them for advice.

    The other kind of people, seem to behave the way I remember from my youth school trips. They are afraid of professionals, chat/gossip/ask for advice fellow patients. Know names of all of them. Tell them private stuff, etc.

    It seems like this distinction represents two different strategies for solving problems: one would be more introvert, since based, DIY, and the other is more social, barter-like, and full of trust for the (ad-hoc) tribe.

    I believe this could at least partially explain things like why some people prefer religion, and some science. Why some prefer vaccines (because of experts, backed by science) and some prefer to be afraid of mercury (because of advice from friends, backed by anecdotes).

    I think that both strategies have some pros and cons, and we could learn from each other, as probably combining the two is even more optimal (provided that one know when to ask stranger about directions, and when to trust GPS).

  5. jmoran says:

    As a psychiatrist, even one who personally and intellectually rejects psychoanalytic concepts, shouldn’t this phenomenon of transference be completely familiar to you? Even therapists who are most embarrassed about Freud still grudgingly admit to the centrality of this concept. I mean, where you are aware of complementary feelings activated by the patient, e.g. feeling a father’s contempt for the boyish patient in front of you, recognizing them, but not acting on them. Theoretically, if the unconscious traffic is going the other way, then there is the possibility that some unexamined and inhibiting attachment patterns could influence the patient. But then, how would one explain the apparently good effects of the ‘niceness field’ that you are projecting? Is it actually a healthy rejection from a well-attached individual of the temptation to engage with the patient at their pathological terms? Thus you are implicitly cueing them to more functional responses? (edit: needed to unpack the last point more).

  6. lkbm says:

    TL;DR: I want an app that will give me insight into percentage of people in my bubble who hold different views/tribal beliefs, and perhaps “specific-person-whom-you-respect believes X–stop dismissing X-believers as one-dimensionally evil/dumb.” (More than that, I want everyone else to get this insight into their own bubbles.)

    Post-election, one of my FB friends posted that he voted for Trump, and why, specifically to give us all a data point that not all Trump voters are knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers (or something along those lines). And I find him aggravating and wrong, but I also know he’s very smart and morally staunch+well-aligned. Okay, so not all Trump voters are stupid or evil. I knew that, but it’s good to re-enforce.

    Similarly, I used to dismiss astrology-believers as just plain dumb, but then I had a pretty-reasonable friend who believed in astrology. Turns out you can believe in astrology without being one-dimensionally dumb! This was sort of news to me. (At that time, I had three housemates I knew to believe in astrology. Now it’s probably a dozen. It’s become *very* hip with college kids these days and now comes up in conversation daily. It’s by far the primary way they talk about people/personality. And it s very convenient to recognize that most of my housemates aren’t one-dimensionally dumb simply because they’re so fantastically wrong about this one thing.)

    We also mock Trump in the company Slack all the time. I estimate that we have zero Trump-voters where I work, but I also assumed none were religious (I now know that *at least* 8% are). If it’s zero, this mocking might be a nice community-building activity, but if it’s non-zero, it’s a community-harming activity.

    I could do a survey at work (but maaaaybe shouldn’t), but for my friendgroups, not so much. Facebook doesn’t give me a a way to reach 100% of my friends with a “here’s an anonymous survey about your beliefs”. If the first two people who answer are my mom and my dad, it will put it in my “family” bubble. If the first two people are my housemates, it will go in my “co-op” bubble. I want something that very explicitly *doesn’t* pick a sub-bubble of my friends.

    (Facebook friends might be the wrong place to survey anyway, and I’m torn on anonymity. You tell me that 10% of my FB friends are YEC, I’ll say, “yeah, I know that 10% of my FB friends are old religious nuts”. I need to know that more than zero of people I really respect hold views that currently lead me to dismiss a person as dumb/evil/wrong tribe.)

    How should I get this data? (And how do I make this easily-repeatable so people see me do this and it spreads?)

    • moonfirestorm says:

      I think the problem with this is that somewhere upstream of this data, you’ve got people with a publicly available list of what they believe. And some people will go “oh Steve believes X? Well, maybe I should rethink my offhand dismissal of X”. And other people will go “oh Steve believes X? Well, time to cut Steve out of my life!” As a result, people are a little wary of publicly stating their views in a list their entire friend base can get to.

      Typically, you learn these things by getting to know the people you respect, and asking them questions about what they believe, and they can decide whether or not they want to open up to you about that.

      Similarly, if I was at work and the company Slack was spending a lot of time mocking a candidate I was in favor of, I’d probably consider it the right choice to just ignore it, and I definitely wouldn’t consider it an opportunity to jump up and say “well ACTUALLY I’m in fervent support of this guy”. My political beliefs aren’t important enough to risk my livelihood over, and it’s been quite clear recently that “losing your livelihood over expressing political beliefs” is at least on the table, if not a guarantee.

      If you want people to be honest about their beliefs, a good starting point might be shutting down mocking of beliefs. I’m not sure that’d be sufficient for people to come out of the woodwork and start being honest about what they believe, but it’s probably necessary.

      • lkbm says:

        Yeah, I try to limit my own work Trump-mocking and mentioned it to one or two people.

        I think having people anonymously provide the data is less effective, but also largely avoids the risk to the person answering. Of course, I still would be hesitant to answer *every* question honestly.

        I can personally mostly-solve my “astrology people are all dumb”-type assumptions just by reflecting on the fact that I’ve consistently been proven wrong–not all astrology believers are dumb. Not all Trump supporters are dumb or evil. Not all Creationists are dumb. Not all Janeway fans are idiots. (Step two would be actually talking to them about their beliefs, or reading about the beliefs as written by thoughtful believers.)

        I’ve come around to the fact that there are a lot of creationists who are vastly smarter than I am. Knowing that some of them are my friends makes it slightly less abstract. Knowing that my good friend Bob, whom I really respect, is one would make it much more effective.

        One mind-hack to achieve this would also be to do what I do whenever I’m tempted to write a passive-aggressive note to whichever one of my anonymous housemates left a mess in the kitchen this time: just remember that it could have been my favorite housemate, rather than assuming it was that one jerk who does this all the time. (I know it’s probably one of the more slob-like people. I just need to act in accordance with the understanding that it might not be.) Similarly, the physicists I know probably aren’t YEC, but I can update my automatic response to YECism by taking the time to think what my reaction would be if they were.

        Also, apologies to any Trump supporters offended by my lumping them together with astrologists, Young Earth Creationists, and people who think Janeway was a good captain. Not all tribal delimiters are commensurate, including these four.

  7. Toby Bartels says:

    Having a niceness field may distort your scientific measurements, but it’s still a pretty good superpower to have. Just look at what Jimmy Wales was able to accomplish with his!

    I’ve never met Jimbo in real life, but I was around for most of the early days of Wikipedia, when the number of regular editors was small enough that we all talked to each other over email. Based on that experience, his niceness field works over electronic communications.

    I think that yours does too, Scott. The variety of political opinions among the regular commenters here would lead into shouting matches anywhere else, but you can get away with only light moderation, because (to apply the mind-projection fallacy) they all know that you expect them to get along, and they mostly do. Who would want to disappoint such a nice guy as you?

    • I knew Jimbo on Usenet long before Wikipedia existed. The context was Humanities.philosophy.objectivism, and he was pretty nearly the only one of the Objectivists who made a serious effort to understand and engage with my anarcho-capitalist views.

      Not exactly niceness but a kind of open mindedness that treated views he disagreed with as worth understanding. Also true of Scott.

  8. curlyhumility says:

    This brings to mind something that’s long puzzled me.

    *ALL* my friends with whom I am or have been close enough to talk to about their relationship with their childhood family experienced, at the very least, significant emotional abuse. (I also fall in that category.) This holds true regardless of their subculture or their parent’s subculture (liberal subcultures, conservative subcultures, apolitical mainstream, immigrant subcultures, etc.). This is true of people I’ve known since childhood and people I met a month ago, people I randomly met because I liked their art and commented or happened to be in the same bookstore one day and people others (close friends or not) have introduced to me. This is true regardless of whether we clicked immediately or whether it took years to become close enough to talk about childhoods. This is true regardless of whether our close friendship was maintained or eventually dissolved. They may not even recognize their past as abusive. The one thing is common is that they’re a close friend of mine – and every single close friend of mine was emotionally (or worse) abused in childhood. It hasn’t gotten to a point where I insist abuse is nigh inescapable in families – I do believe it’s more common and tolerated than most people think, but I don’t think that’s an unusual view – but I’m mostly taking it on faith that healthy families exist.

    My working hypothesis is that there’s some sort of quality found primarily in abuse survivors that I either highly value in a friendship or actually currently need to see in order to become close to someone. (Possibly this isn’t “abuse survivors seek like” so much as “mentally ill seek like,” but I’m less sure of that connection.)

    • Is it possible that the common element is you–that you interpret as abuse what most other people don’t? That would fit your “They may not even recognize their past as abusive.”

  9. Barely matters says:

    When I read about this, it makes me even more excited about upcoming developments in ubiquitous, unobtrusive, wearable cameras. At least for the cases that can be recorded in public, I think the data these could capture will be able to quickly demonstrate the extent to which these different worlds exist.

    Come to think of it, there must have been someone who has thought to do an internal study wherein they just leave a camera and mic running during company meetings and then later they can review the tape and objectively evaluate whether certain voices are being systematically ignored or listened to or otherwise reacted to in noteworthy ways.

    I know that in fields like traffic safety, studies are starting to crop up where the researchers pay subjects to attach camera and accelerometer rigs to their vehicles and drive normally for a year, and in the process enough of the subjects get into collisions that trends start to emerge. I wonder if a similar model could work by paying subjects to wear google glass style (Or even less obtrusive if possible) cameras on their lunch breaks for a few months. The beauty of these tests is that they can be easily blinded, as the subject doesn’t even need to be aware of what is being studied (IRB shenanigans notwithstanding).

  10. rlpowell says:

    My Psychology Of Sex professor asserted that he’d seen a study that friends tend to share kinks (BDSM, foot fetish, whatever; mild stuff, not true paraphilias) even when they’ve *never talked about sex*. I have replicated this experiment in my own life repeatedly (well, except for the “never talking about sex with my friends” part, obviously). I have never found the original study.

  11. alsosprachaspiethustra says:

    I wish I knew what it was about me that has historically sent out “please mock, belittle and ridicule me” signals…I tried attitude change after attitude change, behavior strategy after behavior strategy, and the only conclusion I could come to is that the behavior of such assholes was inner-directed, and based solely on their decision to degrade someone else into nothingness for kicks. Recently I stumbled upon an attitude that seems effective–potentially lethal nonreactivity. Your face has to tell, not ask, that you are to be treated respectfully OR ELSE. But in a way that is outwardly courteous. Don’t react, but nonreact in a way that still indicates you can and will destroy any challengers. Nonreact from a position of contempt rather than passivity.

    Social cues are strange. Glad to see that I’m not the only one who doesn’t always have 100% intentional awareness and deliberate control over every signal I give off, ever.

  12. Lillian says:

    So i keep meaning to make this post but getting sidetracked by replying to others. Anyway, i’ve actually had the exact same thought as Scott a few years ago, but less well developed. It came about as a consequence of reading other women’s accounts of harassment and sexism and relating them to my own experiences. It made feel like i live in a parallel world from everyone else. It’s not just that sexism and harassment are rare in my experience, or that the women around me are generally treated with respect. Itvs thay they are clearly regarded as more likeable, more trustworthy, more compassionate, more deserving of compassion, and just generally morally superior to men. This is very much at odds with the oived experiences of other women.

    However i noticed that there actually weren’t huge differences between events as recounted by women who experienced harrassment and my own recollections. The major differences, aside from frequency (explainable by my not socialising much), was emphasis and interpretation. The most salient examples occurring in a chat room i used to participate in.

    At the time, identified as a lesbian. Despite the fact that i’m bisexual, was actively dating a man, and had a history of crushes on multiple men, i’d convinced myself i was homoromantic So i online i would say i was a lesbian. There was a guy in the chat who’d tease me about it, he would say lesbianism is a fake orientation and lesbian sex isn’t real sex. Perhaps he knew i was bullshittig, the man who broke me out of my lesbian phase was there too, and he saw right through me. The thing about it though is i interpreted the guy’s commentary and other jerky behaviour as good natured ribbing, and he was one of my favourite people in the chat.

    Later on, while reading stories of sexual harassment and discrimination, i suddenly realized that cast in a different light, thay would have been a perfect story about homophobia and hostile environments. Hell for all i know he was being genuinely mean-spirited and i just didn’t notice. On the other hand maybe ot was really just joking with me, but another woman in my position would have failed to see the humor.

    Another example from the same chat, there was a guy i liked who swinged between liking me back and finding me incredibly annoying. One day he managed to neg me into giving him a picture. After i casually mentioned my weight, he insisted i was fat via private chat. He kept insiting this despite my marshalling considerable evidence showing that for my height and weight, i’m actually pretty thin. Eventually, frustrated with his immunity to logic, and fearful he did genuinely think i was fat, i sent him a picture, tried triumphantly saying, “See? Not fat!”

    His reply, “Huh, didn’t think that would work. You’re cute by the way.” Finally realising what he’d been up to, i felt chagrined more than anything else. Like oh my god i can’t believe i fell for that. It didn’t feel like sexual harassment, it felt like being outwitted and outmanoeuvred at the social interaction game. It was a lesson learned, but i still liked him and was very sad when he finally settled on finding me annoying. Again this is something that in retrospect probably would not have been interpreted as charitably by many other women.

    Somewhat related to all this. Since childhood most of my friends have been male, and much as i enjoy their company, never in a million years would i want to be them for more than a couple of weeks. The grass just does not look greener on the other side. Like sure, it’d be fun for a while to rock the body of a handsome young man, go pick up bears and leather daddies at the gay bar, and later go pick up straight girls at the normal bar. But i don’t think i could cope long term with the idiosyncrasies of male social interaction. Not having female privilege would also be a problem, since i haven’t the faintest clue how to use male privilege. Overall manhood seems like a fun visit, but as much as i love the locals, i don’t think i’d like actually living there.

    The fact that i view feminity as fun and desirable, while masculinity seems onerous and unpleasant, probably does a lot to incline me to be charitable towards men. It may also incline me to interpret being treated as a woman as an inherently positive experience. In contrast a lot of feminists seem to believe that being treated s a woman is inherenily negative and undesirable. This is a problem when, being women, that’s exactly how most people treat them.

    • Aapje says:


      I think that men tend to be taught that they deserve nothing unless they do something to deserve it, which results in a tendency to blame themselves for anything they lack in their lives & a tendency to get upset over inequality of opportunity, but not so much other kinds of inequality.

      I think that women tend to be taught that they deserve a great life, which results in a tendency to blame others for things they lack in their lives & a tendency to get upset over inequality of outcomes.

      I also think that women are conditioned in a way that gives a tendency to be very unaware of their privileges. I wouldn’t say that men are necessarily very aware of their privileges, but they I think they more easily recognize that both gender roles have their downsides.

      I think that men and women could generally benefit by shifting closer to each other in how they perceive things, although in some ways men and women are both on the wrong side of the optimum.

    • lvlln says:

      Your description of your online experiences reminds me a lot of some of mine in the past decade.

      For instance, in the late 2000s, I got heavily into Halo 3 on Xbox Live. A standard part of playing Halo 3 online with other players is getting insulted by other players in extremely crude ways that would make a 13 year old roll their eyes for going too over-the-top. I would be called all sorts of slurs, be told to go die, be told how terrible my play was (I was probably slightly above average, based on the player rankings the game calculated, which meant I was complete and utter shit compared to the hardcore players), and even get death threats occasionally.

      To me, this was an integral part of the experience of Halo 3, one that, if removed, made the game far less desirable to play. It was a combination of considering it just good natured ribbing, an acknowledgement that I belonged to the game and its community, as evidenced by being spoken to as if I belonged there.

      It came as a huge shock to me when I heard some people complain about the toxic environment of Xbox Live and the verbal abuse within it. After thinking about it for a bit, it did occur to me that the words I received could be interpreted as exclusionary, rude, and bullying. It was just that such an interpretation was only justified if one completely removed the context that it had never occurred to me to see it that way.

      Another place where I had a similar earlier experience was 4chan, where I spent a lot of time in the mid-2000s. The slurs, insults, and threats were even more nasty there than what I would experience in Halo 3 later, and it seemed absurd to me to take them as anything other than clear displays of love and respect, due to my understanding of the norms of the 4chan community. Again, when people started talking about the toxic hateful environment of 4chan, it caught me completely by surprise.

      I don’t think such surface-level interpretations of people’s words in these highly context-dependent settings is necessarily wrong per se, but I must admit I find it highly problematic when such interpretations are pushed forward as the only correct one, or the one to which everyone should conform all the time, lest they be cast away as a bad person.

      I wonder if there’s a relationship between something like this and trait neuroticism in the Big 5. I could see the differing interpretations of the same interactions as being from the different likelihood of experiencing negative emotion in reaction to stimulus. There’s nothing wrong with being high in trait neuroticism, of course – it’s by luck that one has such a trait, after all. But if this is indeed something at play, it appears that we’re in a situation where the people most high in trait neuroticism are dictating that the rest of the world conform to their own requirements so that their negative emotions are minimized.

      Which wouldn’t be the worst state of things, but it would cause real harm to the quality of life of the majority who aren’t so likely to react negatively to stimulus. For me, 4chan was a truly loving and accepting place that helped me a lot in some hard times, and if you took away the insults and threats, that would have made it far less helpful to me. Similarly, the idea of playing an online shooter where the voice chat isn’t something like Halo 3 in the late 2000s just doesn’t appeal to me. I mean, the game itself is fun as a base, but what got me hooked to the game at the time was the social interactions and specifically the tone and nature of those social interactions, not just the mechanics of the game.

      • Matt M says:

        The greatest tragedy of the Cataclysm in World of Warcraft was the permanent loss of Barrens chat 🙁

        • moonfirestorm says:

          Wait, why was Cataclysm what killed Barrens chat?

          It’s a fragmented zone now, but it’s not like the major driver of Barrens chat was new players anyway, you have to be a certain sort of person to fit into that and the new players were more providing fuel for the fire. I was always under the impression that it was mostly high-level players hanging out there, possibly to defend against Alliance raids, that were creating the unique toxicity.

          With that in mind, I’d expect the death of Barrens chat to be mostly about decreased interest in world PVP, faster leveling through zones (with heirlooms, which predate Cata), and high-level players having more to do on other continents (which if anything was temporarily mitigated during Cata, since Org was the Horde max-level hub).

          I could see a case for rebalanced zones making Silverpine more attractive for leveling players, but you’re still feeding half the horde races through Northern Barrens. And old-world flying seems like it would make it even easier for max-level players to head over there for a while.

      • Brad says:

        A standard part of playing Halo 3 online with other players is getting insulted by other players in extremely crude ways that would make a 13 year old roll their eyes for going too over-the-top. I would be called all sorts of slurs, be told to go die, be told how terrible my play was (I was probably slightly above average, based on the player rankings the game calculated, which meant I was complete and utter shit compared to the hardcore players), and even get death threats occasionally.

        The slurs, insults, and threats were even more nasty there than what I would experience in Halo 3 later, and it seemed absurd to me to take them as anything other than clear displays of love and respect,

        For me, 4chan was a truly loving and accepting place that helped me a lot in some hard times, and if you took away the insults and threats, that would have made it far less helpful to me. Similarly, the idea of playing an online shooter where the voice chat isn’t something like Halo 3 in the late 2000s just doesn’t appeal to me. I mean, the game itself is fun as a base, but what got me hooked to the game at the time was the social interactions and specifically the tone and nature of those social interactions, not just the mechanics of the game.

        This is completely and totally bizarre to me. I’m not saying I don’t believe you, but I find it to be such a completely alien worldview that I’m tempted to reach for explanations like Stockholm Syndrome.

        I could *maybe* see wanting to dish it out and a sense of fair play that thought that getting it back was the price of that, but actually reveling in being attacked and insulted, and seeing it as a gesture of love (!) is simply bizarre to me.

        • lvlln says:

          In Korean, there’s a phrase which means “you are,” which is pronounced “nigga.” If you went to Korea, many conversations will contain the noise “nigga.” Because of the context, people understand that this noise means something other than a slur for black people.

          Obviously Korean is a language that exists separate from English, and it evolved largely separately with its own linguistic quirks and all that. But the language spoken on 4chan or Xbox Live isn’t all that different from Korean in just how far removed it is from English as it’s generally used in society at large. E.g. hearing the noise “go kill yourself” was about the equivalent of hearing the noise “how are you doing today?” in most of America, and I interpreted it as such, much like when I hear “nigga” in a conversation with Koreans in Korean, I know it means “you are.” It wasn’t something I picked up on instantly, but neither was it something that I found incomprehensible or difficult to pick up compared to any other esoteric social spaces.

          I think one major source of trouble when it comes to people considering these spaces toxic comes from the fact that it’s not as obvious that 4chan and Xbox Live speak are different from English as it’s obvious that Korean is different from English, due to the fact that they evolved from English and still use the exact same words and syntax, just with very different meanings. And there’s no guidebook or orientation session to help people get in.

        • At a slight tangent …

          Many years ago, I spent several summers as a camp councilor at a camp for gifted children. One pattern I noticed when in charge of a cabin of (I think) thirteen year olds was insult as social interaction–the term they used was “ranking out” somebody.

        • Brad says:

          A few points:
          I had a Korean roommate once. He used to fight with his girlfriend on the phone sometimes. I had no idea what he was saying since I don’t speak Korean but I was damn sure they were fighting.

          Now it is true that there’s some variation in cultures as to the meaning of what looks like hostility. I’m Jewish and it’s a cliche that Jewish families bicker but it doesn’t mean they are actually mad at each other. However, nonetheless plenty of Jewish families are dysfunctional and sometimes they really do mean to hurt each other. If you tell me that in the context of halo 3 “fag” isn’t actually insulting someone’s sexuality I can accept that. But if you tell me that this community which has a reputation for toxicity is actually uniquely love filled and all insults, slurs, and attacks are actually just compliments and endearments than I’m going to think it is more likely that you are far towards the Williams’ side of the Williams-Paranois spectrum than that you are accurately describing those communities.

          A further bit of evidence is how outsiders are treated. If a WASPy visitor comes to eat a Jewish home they aren’t going to stop being what they are. They’ll still bicker with each other. And sure the visitor might get a little more needling than he is used to. But if he is not returning it and obviously not comfortable he isn’t going to be marked out for an especially strong version of the culture. On the contrary he’ll get the kid glove version at worst.

          At least unless he happens to have the poor luck to come across a group of asshole Jews. Because that kind of thing is being an asshole. Now contrast that with the “show us your tits” phenomenon with women that clearly aren’t into the back and forth. If it was all out of love than it would be limited to people that read it as love.

          • lvlln says:


            But if you tell me that this community which has a reputation for toxicity is actually uniquely love filled and all insults, slurs, and attacks are actually just compliments and endearments than I’m going to think it is more likely that you are far towards the Williams’ side of the Williams-Paranois spectrum than that you are accurately describing those communities.

            “A reputation for toxicity” is doing a heck of a lot of work here. By whose account? Admittedly, there’s an issue of time – I haven’t really gone to 4chan in the past ~8 years, so 4chan of the 2010s might be a very different place compared to the 4chan that I experienced. Likewise for the Halo 3 gaming community. My perception was that those who partook in the community didn’t consider it toxic and enjoyed it just as I did and sought to maintain its norms and language quirks. From my experience, these communities deserve as much reputation for being toxic as Koreans deserve a reputation for being racist for saying “nigga” all the time.

            I didn’t say that these communities were uniquely love filled. I said that I found these communities loving and accepting in a way that was helpful. I don’t claim that these were places of unconditional love to everyone. I’m certain that my own idiosyncrasies contributed heavily to the positivity of my experience there.

            Of course, it’s very possible that I’m wrong. I don’t have access to what anyone else was thinking. Heck, for all I know, 4chan is all just 1 other person running the world’s strangest prank on me. What I do know is that this way of modeling those communities gave me tools for affecting my behavior so that my interactions with others in the community tended to be overwhelmingly constructive and pleasurable. That doesn’t mean my way of modeling the community is necessarily correct – sometimes a wrong model can keep spitting out useful results until it suddenly doesn’t – but I think it provides at least a little bit of support, and I haven’t seen any evidence it’s incorrect or seen any other model that seemed to be more useful.

            A further bit of evidence is how outsiders are treated. If a WASPy visitor comes to eat a Jewish home they aren’t going to stop being what they are. They’ll still bicker with each other. And sure the visitor might get a little more needling than he is used to. But if he is not returning it and obviously not comfortable he isn’t going to be marked out for an especially strong version of the culture. On the contrary he’ll get the kid glove version at worst.

            I’m not sure what this analogy is supposed to get at. Again, I certainly never claimed that these communities were particularly open or loving to outsiders. Just that my experience with it was one of love and acceptance. In fact, my top-level response was specifically me explaining how I came to realize that my own personal interpretations of my experiences in these communities was not necessarily the same as others’ interpretations of their experiences.

            I do think those communities tend to be insular and hostile to outsiders. I think a lot of the development of different uses for English terms and phrases came out of desire to have an exclusionary shibboleth – react to “fag” or “tits or GTFO” as if they’re different from “hi” or “I acknowledge that you claimed to be female,” and that marks you as an outsider. Probably the biggest reason I found the communities so accepting and loving is that I was already an anime fan and an online shooter player, so I had soaked up the norms of the community slowly over long periods of time even before I got into 4chan proper or Halo 3 on Xbox Live, and so I had an invisible advantage in entering such places. “Privilege” is a word that comes to mind.

          • colton says:

            I believe that I was last active on 4chan’s /b/ board a bit earlier than lvlln, so please take this with a grain of salt as the community has most likely changed significantly since then. Disclaimer: I almost entirely lurked and probably posted a dozen times total over several years, so my experiences are likely biased.

            The insults seemed to me to be more of a proof of belonging than anything else. Members would typically refer to themselves using the exact same vicious terminology (see the concept of “oldfags”, or veteran members), and most of the group-defining activities and discussions centered around manipulating or harassing others for amusement. There was also a lack of real vitriol in insulting others- when the group does psychological warfare on innocent 3rd parties for fun decides to just insult you with generic insults, it can be seen as the Internet equivalent of a joke at a friend’s expense, regardless of how offensive the words actually were.

            When you take this into account, you can how members would see the insults to themselves as proof that they were worth being a member. Every time a member saw an insult directed at them, they saw proof that they were worth being proved worthy as a member, and that it was better to have them around than to break out the “real” attacks.

            I also recall a surprising amount of genuine attempts to help other members (admittedly mixed in with deliberately terrible and offensive advice), so there’s probably more to it than that- I just wanted to try to explain how the insults were interpreted in the community as I recall it.

          • Aapje says:

            My perception is that the power of slurs in general society is not really their literal meaning, but that they signify exclusion from the ingroup. Countercultures want to stand out from society and frequently invert social norms. By making slurs a sign of inclusion, rather than a sign of exclusion, they signify acceptance for those who aren’t accepted by society. lvlln was a fag, but so was everyone else in the community. Being called that didn’t exclude him, but by accepting being called that and by in turn, using that sort of language for others, he demonstrated being comfortable with norms that diverge from those of general society.

            This culture provides a barrier to entry for ‘squares’ who perceive the community as toxic and leave quickly. Only those with strong motivation stay, so the community is stronger. It’s very similar to how hazing make for stronger groups.

          • carvenvisage says:


            Brad’s point is

            If it was all out of love than it would be limited to people that read it as love.

            My experience is that this is generally not the case with shit talkers. I’m not saying it never is, but realistically when the basic goal of the activity is to ‘go too far’, not every practicioner is going to be a saint.

            It’s true that often those things aren’t meant with malice. -The ideal is that everyone is tough enough to say what they like, and be hyperstrident and so on, but the likes of xbox live should be a public place, not one monopolised by a very particular culture which is defined by being offputting to outsiders.

            (as opposed to 4chan for example which is set up as an anything goes kind of place.)

            From my POV online gaming was (partially) colonised by that culture much the same way feminism has tried to. If you’re part of the culture, if you like the aesthetics, the sense of life, it’s great, -it’s a community, if you don’t, they’re a bunch of aliens who want to control what is considered normal, to something that might be toxic to yourself.

            At some point these cultures become establised, and then it really is a bastion of that culture, but in publc online places there first has to be a process of colonisation. It’s like a religion.

            n.b. I played halo 2 on xbox live for some time and what I remember is not a bunch of shit talkers but the most friendly (mostly american) people I’d ever seen in my life. (Call of duty, was perhaps naturally, a different experience.)


            Crackpot theory:

            Bad games attract shit talkers. If a game is good, it’s hard to frustrate people playing it, so people who want to do that get bored and leave. If a game is bad, it’s much easier to frustrate people playing it, so that’s where those people congregate.

  13. benwave says:

    Well, I’m late as heck to this party but I thought I’d relate an experience I’ve had. So, you know you hear a lot about sexuality being significantly influenced by genetics right? That’s always confused me because it didn’t match my lived experience – I could equally happily choose to be with men or with women, so to me it had always felt like a choice. As something which would be mostly influenced by environmental factors. So, I was confused!

    Then, while reading an article showing some evidence that the kind of people who ran gay conversion camps and therapies and such forth were themselves genetically predisposed to be gay, it suddenly all made sense to me. Those men talk of homosexuality as a devil to be resisted, because to them they Are constantly tempted – They are genetically gay. In the same way, to me Sexuality seems so much like a choice… because to Me, it Is a choice. I must be genetically bisexual. Everyone’s experiences were correct, and so was the data. It strikes me as something very similar to what you discuss in this article!

  14. Z says:

    Regarding those who repeat destructive relationships, there are theories on how they come to be and how to break the cycle. I forget if it was Erik Erikson, Otto Fenichel, Stephen Diamond, or someone else, but it goes like this:

    1. There are important relationships from your childhood that failed: a family member, best friend, etc.
    2. One then seeks out similar relationships out of a deep desire to try to resolve those failures.
    3. However, due to the strong selection bias, the “replacement” relationships fail in similar if not the same ways as the originals.
    4. The only known way out is to sort out the original failed relationship(s) via CBT, etc. to accept what happened and remove that deep desire to “fix” it.

    • Eponymous says:

      Does that work? I mean better than, say, discussing warning signs to look out for and analyzing how your own actions contribute to the problem?

      • Z says:

        Hmm well from personal experience, I won’t declare 100% certainty yet, but I’ve noticed a difference between knowing warning signs and understanding at a deep level why they are warning signs for you as an individual.

        So too is there a difference between knowing one’s contributing behaviors and changing them consciously, vs. changing them as a natural result of changes in your own perspective.

        Also there are people I was deeply attracted to, that were horrible for me, and some I knew consciously they were horrible for me. Now I only find them marginally attractive at best. Many disgust me. My emotional reaction to them is different now.

  15. Jayson Virissimo says:

    Many years ago, I worked a security job that involved selecting some people for “additional screening”. We were issued a mechanical pseudorandom number generator. Essentially, you would click the button each time someone would come through the checkpoint. After some (non-constant) number of clicks, it would have a different readout that is supposed to prompt you to select the next person in line for additional screening. We were also instructed to never tell the public how they are selected.

    The majority of the time, the person selected was a member of the majority demographic category in the region in which we were operating (as would be expected). They would be selected, shrug, and say something along the lines of “I guess it’s my lucky day”. Much more rarely, someone would get selected from a minority group. A fraction of these people would say something along the lines of “Oh, what a surprise, you picked the #{minority class/race/etc…} person” and be visibly agitated. At the time, I wondered how many of these incidents got recounted to others as clear instances of discrimination, not knowing that the result was determined by a dumb clicker.

    • lvlln says:

      This reminds me of something I think I read on another open thread here in the past couple of weeks. A white person said that in the past year, he was pulled over while driving 5 times for no discernible reason, as admitted by the police. He chalked it up to dumb luck; among the hundreds of millions of regular drivers in the world, the probability that at least one of them would be unlucky enough to be pulled over 5x in a year despite committing no driving violations is probably close to 1. He also realized that had he been black, the current narrative would compel him to conclude that he was obviously the victim of racial profiling.

  16. jasmith79 says:

    You know, I’m the kind of person who reads this blog, read LW, subscribes to Julia Galef’s youtube channel, etc. And yet… I’m a passionate religious believer. Maybe I just haven’t thought about it enough yet, maybe I’m suffering delusions, or per this concept maybe… my internal experience of the world is qualitatively different.

    • Eponymous says:

      While LW types are mostly atheists, there is a subset of quite religious people. I think the relevant personality trait is “taking ideas seriously”.

  17. Ankur says:

    I’ve long wondered about this. One thing that struck me was as I became happier/less neurotic, the world and the people inhabiting it changed significantly for the better.

    I started trusting people more, and that drew other sorts of people to me, who would have never spoken to me, nor I to them. It’s a very interesting phenomenon.

  18. hnau says:

    as if they were lecturing on a particularly boring episode from 19th-century Norwegian history

    TIL: Norway sided with France in the Napoleonic Wars and suffered heavily from the English blockade. The 1814 Treaty of Kiel handed it over to Sweden as spoils of war and saddled it with further debts. After a brief, doomed revolution and independence movement, it spent the rest of the 19th century under Swedish rule. Meanwhile it was hit by a series of economic crises and experienced mass emigration, mostly to the American Midwest.

    Suddenly the comparison with patients talking about their psychological issues doesn’t seem so jarring.
    Also relevant:

    • willachandler says:

      Agreed 100% 🙂

      Psychiatry-minded Norway-philes may enjoy Guttorm Floistad’s Spinozist deconstruction (reference appended) of the writings of the Norwegian author Gabriel Scott.

      A (non-boring?) example of Scott’s prose, which is cited by Floistad’s article, is this passage from Scott’s novel The Source, or the Letter Concerning Marcus the Fisherman (Norwegian title Kilden eller Brevet om fiskeren Markus, 1918):

      Into your [Spinoza’s] chaste soul the universe has lowered itself as into a clear spring, in your opened mind the universe has divulged its secrets in a whisper.

      You have ground the lenses through which men have been able to perceive the deepest aspects of existence, you have taught them to search for truth, not attempting to embellish it.

      You have ascended the three steps of understanding, and from the third have beheld the divine shadow behind all things, perceiving them as they are.

      Besides this you advised moderation.

      But unlike the majority of preachers, you were not content alone to preach, but practised your teaching in your own life, and were the first to fulfil its law.

      You spurned all honorary distinctions, princely favours, money — indeed any superfluity, and remained at your craft instead.

      And, while you, untroubled, pedalled your wheel and inhaled glassy dust in your workshop, you felt that God thought in you, and that you were yourself in God — in the same way that a leaf on a tree is infused with the tree’s vitality and at the same time, is enveloped by it.

      Lol — if by some concrete practice(s), psychiatric patients could learn to feel this way, then far fewer psychotropic prescriptions would need to be written … so perhaps there’s no great harm in listening thoughtfully to those “boring” Norwegians! 🙂

      On the other hand, it is sobering that the same person (Gabriel Scott) who wrote the above passage in 1918, could by the 1930s become a public supporter of Vidkun Quisling, and an admirer of the German National Socialists. Ouch. 🙁

      — references —

      @article{cite-key, Author = {Guttorm
      Floistad}, Journal = {Studia Spinozana},
      Pages = {185--201}, Title = {``The Source'':
      Spinoza in the writings of Gabriel Scott},
      Volume = {5}, Year = {1989}}

  19. Machine Interface says:

    Obviously the correct course of action is to find all these aura-of-niceness people, find what is doing that, and inject it into everyone else.

    • yodelyak says:


      The understanding that but for the grace of God, I too would be a not-nice person surrounded by not-nice people. The faith and hope that, by the grace of God, I can become a nice person, and be surrounded by nice people.

      The sociological imagination.

      Did I list three things, or the same thing three different ways?

  20. Clegg says:

    Another data point:

    A few years ago Katie Roiphe wrote an article arguing that a literature PhD is not a waste of time. She closes,

    Thinking back to some of my smartest most promising friends in graduate school: One is an English professor at a university in New York City; one is a reporter for the New York Times who writes about volatile, important places; one is a law professor. But I am sure for all of us: The training is there. The inefficient path has its joys and largesse.

    The only other place I have heard of her is in the preface to the second edition of I Never Called It Rape, where the author cites her as having dismissed the findings of the book by saying roughly, “1 in 4 college women can’t be getting raped because it hasn’t happened to any of my friends.”

  21. Inty says:

    I read an interesting explanation for the serial abuse thing somewhere (probably reddit). It was that after being hurt once you put up walls (taking the form of subtle signals, body language, etc), and that means the people you get close to will disproportionately be those who do not respect your walls.

    If true, this should mean these people also disproportionately meet those who have trouble reading the ‘wall’ signals properly. I wonder if serial abuse victims have more autistic friends than average. In practice I don’t imagine any study on this would have a large enough sample size to pick up anything from the noise.

  22. jebbyderinger says:

    That is really interesting. I work with a guy who mentioned to the group he was speaking to that he always get’s anxious when speaking. I have always felt being around him made me feel extremely calm and relaxed. I mentioned it to him and he told me he has a nervous tick that causes him to talk very slowly as opposed to most people who talk fast when anxious.

  23. Bram Cohen says:

    Your experiences as a psychiatrist make a lot of sense to me as someone who’s struggled through learning basic human interaction and has gained the ability to do it okay for a few seconds at a time. Your patients take a look at most good psychiatrists and think ‘There is a warm, empathetic, trustworthy person who has extraordinary command of their own emotions’, which is what most psychiatrists are trying to project. They take one look at you and think ‘There is a technical, understanding, trustworthy person who is detached from their own emotions’. And the patient then corresponds to everything both of you say accordingly. These judgements are based on a bunch of things, most importantly subtlety of facial expressions and eye contact. I’ve worked on being able to do better at this myself, and after a lot of technical work on being able to recognize and make facial expressions, understanding the subtle meanings of durations of eye contact, reflecting back emotions people give off, controlling the emotive tone of my voice, etc. I can pull it off fairly well for a few seconds at a time. Which is enough for communication in normal conversation, but wouldn’t be enough to change the overall tone of how I came across in a therapy session. Pulling that off sounds extraordinarily difficult, on par with those method actors who show up to the set in character and stay in character until after they’ve left. Like that, except without the actual performing in character part and just being in character the entire time while something totally unrelated is going on. This sounds extremely intense and difficult.

    The only trick I’ve learned for this is to get drunk on dates, which actually works fairly well. Perhaps in your therapy sessions if you were on phenibut or your patients were on psilocybin or both you’d have the more usual emotional meltdown dynamic.

    Your peers would likely have a similarly difficult time emulating your style as well, having to do most of the same tricks in reverse.

  24. Ghatanathoah says:

    I’ve noticed that my personal Overton Window seems to be calibrated around what “world” I am in. Having what I perceive as an excessively optimistic or pessimistic view of human nature is the easiest way for me to dismiss you as crazy. Similarly, I regard people with extremely uncharitable theories about why the people who disagree with them act the way they do as inherently untrustworthy and probably not worth listening to.

    For example, I remember right after 9/11 reading about someone who suggested Americans volunteer to go do community service in Afghanistan instead of invading it. He seemed really convinced that a goodwill mission like this would somehow get the Taliban to stop hating American and stop oppressing their own people. He seemed to think that the Taliban didn’t sincerely believe in any of their principles, that they were really just mad about third-world poverty, and that a sincere effort on America’s part to alleviate this would make all that pesky religious fanaticism evaporate.

    Excessively pessimistic people are even worse. I think my true rejection of SJWism is based on my dislike of this attitude. Whenever I read an SJW describing how they imagine a “privileged” person thinks; I mentally scream “You’re not describing human beings. People don’t act like that, people don’t think like that!”

    I have a similar reaction whenever I read anything written by paleoconservatives, especially when they write about what they imagine open-borders people must be thinking. Whenever I hear the phrase “electing a new people” I mentally shout “Why! Why are you so out of touch? Don’t you have any theory of mind?”

    I think what both the excessively optimistic, and the excessively pessimistic people have in common is Bulverism. They don’t seem interested in listening to what people say their motivations are, and instead just invent them out of whole cloth. I will chuck any world-view that does this straight out my Overton Window, and I don’t think I’m wrong to do so.

  25. armorsmith42 says:

    one mechanism by which this can happen is explained here in The Asshole Filter

  26. Christian Kleineidam says:

    It’s interesting what this means for psychiatry as a science. If two psychiatrist who do the same technique have radically different effects on their clients the assumptions behind evidence-based psychiatrist are shacky and it’s basically what Feymann called cargo-cult science.

    The evidence-based medicine paradigm won’t bring the goods that are promised when different therapists who do the same standardized technique get radically different results.

    We need to stop treating the evidence-based ideology as an ideal and move on to prediction-based medicine that can actually fulfill the promise of telling us whether treatment A or treatment B is more likely to cure us.

  27. The Obsolete Man says:

    I was about a 1/3 of the way through reading the comments and something just clicked…

    Scott has been talking a bit recently about Bayesian priors and perception (sense-data). What if all of these ‘different worlds’ are simply the cognitive analog to an optical illusion? Our mind *must* fill in the blanks to complete a type of Gestalt full picture of things. Some people ‘fill in’ a lot more than others. Sometimes the ‘filler’ is way out there – more or less plausible. Alternatively, we *must* create a narrative for everything.

    Optical illusions are not wholly false – we just misinterpret scale, proportion, polarity, etc.

    The need for narrative is a survival mechanism, but what if there was a way to change how we form our narratives if they consistently turn out to be counterproductive? This sounds like CBT on the surface, but I think Scott may be trying to identify something more fundamental.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      I don’t think of it as creating narrative, so much as that’s how memories are stored.

      That’s why stories are so important. They give us better (or worse) ways to store things. The stories you know profoundly limit (or expand, to be optimistic) your own world. If you can tell yourself your own stories, so much the better. (However, most people are incapable of this.)

      It’s also why a culture is basically the stories it tells about itself. Replace the stories, replace the culture.

    • TheEternallyPerplexed says:

      Optical illusions are more than filling the blanks or misinterpreting a static input. They can be construed as prediction errors (“… a hypothesis, called “perceiving the present,” that the visual system possesses mechanisms for compensating neural delay during forward motion. This article shows how this hypothesis predicts the empirical regularity”). (But see also…)

      (EDIT: link corrected)

  28. Shion Arita says:

    I think this explains a lot of why peple’s experiences with the way others treat them (e.g. abuse) varies so differently.

  29. thunenveblen says:

    Interestingly, Thomas Sowell (a very well-known black conservative political theorist) has provided this justification for his conservative leanings. Despite growing up poor in the 1940s-50s South, he noted that he never felt racism when growing up, and that people generally encouraged his achievement. It seems likely that this perspective sits at the root of his conservatism.

    It’d be interesting to see how these results interact with the huge body of literature on how parents pass down their political affiliations to their children.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Thomas Sowell (a very well-known black conservative political theorist)

      It’s kind of sad you felt the need to spell that our here. One of the worst aspects of politics is how it memory-holes the opposition as unworthy of consideration, or even acknowledgment.

      Exhibit A: It took over a year to get current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be put into the Smithsonian’s African-American museum exhibit, and only then after a Republican outcry. Shameful.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        A different anthropologist is rumored to have introduced a new sexual practice to that tribe.

        I don’t want to pick on Chagnon, whom I admire, but famous anthropologists tend to be strong personalities, as measured simply by their impact on other academics. Chagnon, for example, is extremely masculine for a college professor. You’d want him by your side in a bar brawl. He has tended to be a polarizing figure among his fellow academics.

        Would it be that unlikely that a distinctive persona would elicit different information and perhaps even behavior from native subjects? Margaret Mead, for example, got Samoan teenage girls to describe to her a culture much like Margaret Mead would like it to be.

        • albatross11 says:

          You could imagine a kind of bubble effect happening here, where the peoplewho found the scary/weird outsider most interesting were most likely to stick around and talk to him. Also, you could imagine the anthropologist’s expectations/beliefs/desires affecting what stories the people talking with him wanted to tell him.

          As a rough parallel, imagine sending a high-school-aged interviewer from another country to talk to kids in an American high school about sex and drug abuse. It wouldn’t be too shocking if some kinds of interviewers caused either over or under reporting of either or both.

  30. Steve Sailer says:

    I suspect something similar happens in cultural anthropology. The extremely masculine Napoleon Chagnon goes off in the jungle and comes back to report that the tribe he stayed with happen to be The Fierce People. Other anthropologists happen to meet tribes that wind up sounding much like them.

    It’s not just reporting bias, it’s that the tribal people respond to the anthropologist’s personality. If Napoleon Chagnon were doing field reporting on your son’s Pee-Wee football team, you and the other dads would probably quickly make him the coach and he’d lead your kids deep into the playoffs.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      Are you suggesting that the anthropologist’s demeanor could change how many people the tribe *kills*?

  31. TomA says:

    There is a fundamental here that will help you untie this Gordian knot. For most of our specie’s evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in small familial or tribal groups, and hence the social habits that have become endemic to our species are the patterns of behavior that worked well in that primordial environment, and facilitated our ability to survive and thrive for >200,000 years. It is only within the last few millennia that large-scale social structures have emerged and dominated, and we have been adapting that change as well as can be expected. We now live in a hyper-changing environment in which just about everything that can change is changing, and doing so very rapidly. Our ability to adapt quickly and beneficially has been pushed beyond the limits of what natural evolution has historically enabled. The paradigm has changed systemically, and you are trying to cope with the collateral damage.

  32. Aella says:

    I’m a camgirl, and I work with other camgirls, and I’ve seen this phenomenon with the amount of trolling different girls get.

    Early in my job, I’d see tweets from girls talking about insults, put-downs, and trolls they have to deal with in their room. I thought this was weird, because I got very few of these. Everyone I saw was really nice!

    Over time I figured I projected a niceness field, or something to indicate that I would not react to trolling – but then one time I was camming alongside one of my friends, and she responded to something in my own feed that I’d missed – an insult.

    My friend started talking about how I “don’t see” trolls, and afterwards I learned that her perception of me was that I had a strategy of completely ignoring all the trolling I had going on in my room – when in reality I just did not register it. I either skimmed past it, reinterpreted it, or didn’t consider it noteworthy enough to put into my ‘trolling experience’ category.

    Learning that my brain was doing that was a bizarre feeling.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Learning that my brain was doing that was a bizarre feeling.

      Also, healthy. “Don’t feed the trolls” really is the best advice. Somehow, you internalized that without even realizing it. 🙂

    • Matt M says:

      As a regular customer of your particular industry, I think that’s absolutely right.

      Girls who “fight back” against trolling are a huge turn-off to me. Not that they don’t have a right to do so, but it doesn’t seem to work AT ALL, and in an environment where the girl’s attention is the most valuable commodity, giving it away to freeloading trolls while ignoring your paying customers strikes me as incredibly poor strategy.

      Most of the girls I frequent either ignore them entirely, or dismiss them with a pithy one-liner and immediate ban and resume conversation as normal.

  33. The Nybbler says:

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

    A lot of these are probably just all the same thing, though. You’ve found a coherent group that happens to have all of these characteristics, not the intersection of all sorts of different odd groups.

  34. hollyluja says:

    This reminds me of the legend (anyone know the source?) of the wise man sitting outside the gate of the city. A traveler rides up and asks what kind of people live in this city. The wise man asks the traveler what kind of people were in the last city he visited. The traveler responds that the people were mean and untrustworthy. The wise man tells the traveler “you will find the same here”. And the man rides on.

    Next traveler rides up. same question. He says that in his last city, the people were trustworthy and kind. the wise man tells the traveler “you will find the same here”. And the traveler enters the city.

    At the risk of increasing the narcissism of the reader, the world is your mirror and your unconscious creation.

    • Sebastian_H says:

      This is one of those insights that is true, but can be taken too far. This isn’t the world of The Secret, where everything that happens to you is because you called it to yourself. Sometimes you really are a Jew in Nazi Germany and you aren’t getting out alive no matter what your general outlook. But sometimes you’re the paranoid person who would be better off not worrying about all the people who aren’t thinking about him. The problem is distinguishing between the cases and acting appropriately. Which of course we all have problems doing.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        Sometimes you really are a Jew in Nazi Germany and you aren’t getting out alive no matter what your general outlook.

        Didn’t all Jews get out of Nazi Germany alive? As I understand it, the killings took place entirely outside of Germany proper, mostly in Poland… Actual German or Austrian Jews were deported, if they didn’t leave voluntarily first.

        I guess it depends on whether or not you consider Nazi-occupied or aligned (like Italy) countries to be “Nazi Germany”. If so, you’re correct, carry on, nothing to see here…

        • Aapje says:

          Of the 522,000 Jews living in Germany in January 1933, approximately 304,000 emigrated during the first six years of Nazi rule and about 214,000 were left on the eve of World War II. Of these, 160-180,000 were killed as a part of the Holocaust.

          Of course, a substantial number of the German Jews had migrated to countries that were conquered by the Nazis and were still killed.

          • All I Do Is Win says:

            Of these, 160-180,000 were killed as a part of the Holocaust.

            Thanks. Were they killed in Germany, specifically? I could have sworn I had read that there were no concentration camps in Germany proper that participated in the Holocaust, but my memory is admittedly hazy on this point. I know there were work camps.

            I realize it doesn’t matter one way or the other to the Jews that died, but I think it matters to the German culture, for the same reason that it matters that Islamic terrorists are kept at Guantanamo Bay, not Illinois. It’s still the US detaining the terrorists indefinitely, but it’s somehow different when it’s not, specifically, next door to a Chick-fil-A or a football stadium.

            Of course, a substantial number of the German Jews had migrated to countries that were conquered by the Nazis and were still killed.

            Good point, I hadn’t considered that. Although my point wasn’t that German/Austrian Jews weren’t killed by Nazis, but that Germany had tried to keep the killing to outside its own borders (presumably due to shame).

          • Besserwisser says:

            There were concentration camps inside Germany. What wasn’t in Germany proper were extermination camps, which are specifically designed to kill instead of detain. But towards the end of the war the distinction between the two often didn’t go much beyond the name and this is why we have pictures of American soldiers in concentration camps even though no American made it to occupied Poland where the extermination camps were. It was also a common excuse by Germans to say that no concentration camps were in their neighborhood, so they clearly didn’t know the full extent of it.

          • Aapje says:

            @All I Do Is Win

            Only part of the killings happened in concentration camps. Furthermore, many of the concentration camps were work camps, not extermination camps. In the work camps, Jews and others were worked to death, not just executed. There were German concentration camps, but not German extermination camps.

            There were ‘euthanasia centers’ in Germany as part of Aktion T4, where patients with serious hereditary diseases were murdered. Once war broke out, the standards of assessment were eased and Jewish people could be murdered there primarily for being Jewish.

            In 1941, Aktion T4 was officially ended (not really), although it really evolved into the Holocaust. Gassing was developed for Aktion T4 and many of the people responsible for Aktion T4 got a high position in the Holocaust hierarchy. Furthermore, some of the Aktion T4 centers were kept open and used to kill concentration camp prisoners (from work camps). For example, Bernburg Euthanasia Centre and Sonnenstein Euthanasia Centre, both in Germany. In the former, prisoners from the German concentration camps Ravensbrück and Neuengamme were murdered. In the latter, prisoners from the German camps Sachsenhausen & Buchenwald and the Polish camp of Auschwitz (when this was not yet an extermination camp).

            You have to keep in mind that the popular image of the Holocaust reflects the late stage of the Holocaust, when the Nazis had settled on a set of methods that allowed for large scale & rapid murder in a relatively secret manner.

            The early stages of the Holocaust featured a diversity of methods, which were generally not that efficient. Furthermore, there was a strong focus on extracting cheap labor from Jews before letting them die. The German Euthanasia Centres were also located close to where Germans lived, so it was very hard to kill large numbers without it being really obvious.

            To give an idea of how much things changed, the Aktion T4 centers together officially killed about 70,000 people. In Auschwitz alone, over 1 million people were killed.

        • willachandler says:

          OuLiPo-founder François Le Lionnais’ short memoir Painting at Dora (1946, reprinted 2014) recounts his experiences as an engineer/prisoner at the high-mortality underground rocket-factory at Mittlebrau-Dora (which was located precisely in the center of the German heartland).

          My best friend there [was] a young man to whom I became attached as one can only in such cases, and who would not, alas, leave this awful adventure alive.

          His name was Jean Gaillard.

          Intelligent as he was sensitive, Jean was keen on all things concerning the spirit. Together we passed all the time we could surveying the spheres of human knowledge, making a sort of inventory of all the world’s civilizations had managed to build.

          I retraced for my friend the history of number theory, which we soon broadened to a more general history of mathematics. Next we explored electricity, optics, and chemistry. We veered toward philosophy and reconstituted its trajectory from the primitive theogonies through existentialism and Marxism.

          When the day came for painting, Jean asked me to share what I knew and thought about the matter.

          Thanks to ∏roteotypes Press, Le Lionnais’ small, hand-bound book makes a fine holiday gift for your favorite SSC-reader.

          For historical background regarding Mittlebrau-Dora, Michael J. Neufeld’s scholarly biography Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War (2007) is an in-depth exploration of how a US-certified “good German” — namely Wernher von Braun — helped to create, exploit, and deny the murderous realities of Mittlebrau-Dora.

          More globally, the surprising (and dismaying) ease with which individual STEM-professionals and nominally rights-respecting democratic governments can come to collaborate in oppression and atrocities is documentd in Sanford Segal’s Mathematicians under the Nazis (2014) and David Price’s Threatening Anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI’s Surveillance of Activist Anthropologists (2005) … these works have been mentioned in previous SSC comments.

          Conclusion: Could similarly oppressive, similarly murderous events happen again? Could they happen in the USA?

          Alas, the above works soberly document that no amount of rationality is entirely protective against the brutal sequelae of willful ignorance and unempathic cognition.

          — References —

          @book{cite-key, Author = {Fran\c{c}ois Le
          Lionnais}, Publisher = {$\pi$roteotypes},
          Title = {Painting at Dora}, Year = {2014}}

          @book{cite-key, Author = {Segal, Sanford L.},
          Publisher = {Princeton University Press},
          Title = {Mathematicians under the Nazis}, Year
          = {2014}}

          @book{cite-key, Author = {Michael J. Neufeld},
          Publisher = {Knopf}, Title = {Von Braun:
          Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War}, Year =

          @book{cite-key, Address = {Durham, N.C},
          Author = {Price, David H.}, Publisher = {Duke
          University Press}, Title = {Threatening
          anthropology: McCarthyism and the FBI's
          surveillance of activist anthropologists},
          Year = {2005}}

      • j1000000 says:

        While your comment is obviously true, Viktor Frankl’s view in Man’s Search for Meaning has a little bit in common with The Secret.

      • willachandler says:

        In a nutshell, Viktor Frankl’s logo-therapeutic message amounts to “‘meaning’ is a verb”.

        For details, see Frankl’s (lesser-known) sequel to Man’s Search for Meaning, namely Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning.

        Compatibly, Rhonda Byrne’s “Secret” amounts to “thoughts determine reality”.

        To expand “The Secret” in more detail, “Frankl-style meaningful thinking logo-therapeutically conditions the perception of reality, and the resulting meaningful actions, in the long run, condition reality itself.”

        Thus, once the practical details are worked out, Rhonda Byrne’s “Secret” practices don’t differ greatly from Viktor Frankl’s “Meaningful” practices … moreover, both Byrne’s and Frankl’s recommended practices are eminently compatible with contemporary CBT/DBT psychotherapeutic practices.

    • Nick says:

      Someone above told this story, but it was a bar instead. I think you got the Victorian Buddha Sufi Lite version.

    • engleberg says:

      There’s a version in Heinlein’s Take Back Your Government. My guess: a trope from from early 20th century How to Make Friends and Influence People stuff.

    • willachandler says:

      Innumerable books of Jewish humor contain a joke about an astutely mirror-minded Rabbi who invariably affirms “You know, you’re absolutely right!” … and variations of this “universal joke” occur for pretty much all religions, and pretty much all counseling professions too. 🙂

  35. Maznak says:

    I used to date a (very good looking) girl that was maybe borderline Williamsian – well probably not if the condition is so rare, but she was certainly leaning in that direction – she was extremely nice, trusting, never suspected any manipulation, was finding obvious assholes (as identified by me) quite ok or amusing. She seemed to be almost always in a sunny mood, very rarely anything else. Partially I believe it was because for good looking girls the world must seem to be a very nice place – if only because practically all the guys treat them so well. But it was going beyond that. In the end she ended up being manipulated heavily by some multilevel marketing people and even entered several religious sects led by people who were terrible at first sight (for me). At the end we split because we couldn’t agree on too many things and especially people. But I still remember her occasionally and sort of miss that sunny attitude.

    • Toby Bartels says:

      >probably not if the condition is so rare, but she was certainly leaning in that direction

      Williams Syndrome is a specific disease with many symptoms, of which a pathologically extreme level of trust is only one. So rare as it may be, that doesn’t mean that such a pathologically extreme level of trust is equally rare. (But it must be rare enough that, unlike its opposite paranoia, we don’t have a name for it; otherwise, Scott would have used that name instead of bringing up Williams Syndrome).

  36. Sebastian_H says:

    Perceptions differ story:

    I’m 100% homosexual. My sexual interest in women is literally zero. I present as nerdy: i.e. non-sexual. That was especially true at the time of this story.

    I was studying for my second set of finals in law school. I had just finished too many hours of cramming in the library so I went to the school’s store for a sugary snack. I was in that kind of daze where your thinking is like 1/3 normal speed, standing in front of the Hostess display trying to decide what I wanted.

    Suddenly this female undergraduate loudly says: “Stop looking at my breasts!”. I’m still a bit dazed so I sort of look at her funny and then say “I wasn’t, sorry”.

    She then says “No, I saw you staring at my breasts and it isn’t ok to treat me like that”.

    I point to the display and say “No, I wasn’t staring at your breasts, I was just trying to decide between the Ho-Hos and the Ding-Dongs”. I suddenly realize that sounds worse and then turn bright red. She shrieks at me and stalks off.

    The funny thing is, again I’m 100% gay. There is no way I was objectifying her breasts. But I’m sure if she told the story it would start with “I was feeling liberated and this skeezy bro started raping my breasts with his eyes, so I told him off” And when she tells the story my finishing line is just proof of how much of an asshole I am, instead of how much of a clueless gay guy I am.

    • Mixer says:

      I’ve experienced something of the opposite of this. For several decades, I was a leather worker specializing in whole body garments for a re-enactment group. This was a hobby, but I’ve been doing it since I was 16 (not so much anymore.. I stepped away from that group several years ago, and aside from the occasional shoe or belt repair, I no longer work with leather.)

      Anyway, leather reacts differently against skin than cloth does. The skins’ oils, salts and sweat will react with the leather, smoothing it, stretching it (in some areas), making it firm (in other areas) and contouring itself to the body as it is being worn; when I “make an outfit,” that process tends to take about a week before it’s really ready for public wear, and up to a year before that outfit is fully developed as a second skin. Consequently, I couldn’t make an outfit for someone without first seeing them completely in the buff. I needed to see every little imperfection, bump, crease, scar, etc, to be able to craft something that would look good and be comfortable. When I was doing this, I was very up front about the requirements with assurances that I was not doing this to get a cheap thrill; the quality of my work (I’ve been told) was so good that most people agreed, even though most were a bit hesitant about it.

      During this time, I observed different reactions between men and women. For men, they generally had a slight hesitation with it, and relaxed completely within a few minutes of the sketching and measuring. If anything, the beginning wasn’t a problem, but they did tend to want to alter my designs once the outfit was finished :).

      For women, they were much more hesitant, and at the start were very shy and a little tense. Once the process began, though, one of two things happened: they either relaxed and went with it, ending up being interactive and collaborative with the design, or got upset that I was not oggling them, became preoccupied with that and left the entire design process to myself. This isn’t just my perception; many have told me later on that they were miffed that they put themselves “on full display” and I didn’t seem to notice. They usually thanked me for being a professional while they were saying that.. but the miff-i-tude was still there.

      People have internal narratives and scripts they follow. You were an age appropriate male in a public place, so you must be “eye raping her breasts” if that’s the narrative she already had in her head as part of the script “woman out in public.” For the women who were miffed, I was a service provider for something they wanted, but I required nakedness, so that must be the “price” they had to pay for me to do the work as part of their narrative, and when I didn’t “accept payment” according to the script, they were very confused and thought I was somehow rejecting them. So, damned if you don’t and damned-er if you also don’t.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m not entirely normal myself, but I think you’re missing that women can feel being attractive to men as a strong requirement. They’re failures if they didn’t get your attention.

      • Bugmaster says:

        This is possibly off-topic, but what kind of re-enactment are we talking about ? I always thought that traditional leather armor was worn over some sort of a cloth undershirt — am I completely wrong ?

        • Nornagest says:

          I don’t know a lot about leather armor — it wasn’t common in any of the periods I know well — but a thick, quilted cloth undershirt called a gambeson is worn with mail, to cushion blows and prevent chafing.

          • Lillian says:

            Note that for a long time, up until the High Middle Ages, mail was just worn over clothes. The Romans did have leather vests under their lorica hamata, but it had no value as armour, it was just to make the mail wear more comfortably. The inovation of putting a gambeson, which had previously been and continued to be the common man’s armour, under the mail massively increased its protective value.

            Leather armour itself is something of a mystery. There is very little historical record of it in Europe before the 17th century, but there is some record of it. Since no examples or how to guides have survived, we’re left to guess how it was made and used.

          • Mixer says:

            Lillian: plated leather was somewhat common in Eastern Europe around the 12th century. I haven’t really dabbled in armor other than repairing existing (broken) armor, but from what I understand, leather panels were cut, boiled (sometimes in wax) and held together with thick lacing in a overlapping manner, much like the siding on a house. Most of the leather armor I’ve actually worked on was made of 8 ounce leather or thicker and didn’t look (to me) like it would be capable of offering much protection against a bludgeoning weapon. I did once work on a set of 10 ounce armor.. and that was thick enough that it would offer protection against both cutting and bludgeoning weapons. But wow.. was it unwieldy. Not much freedom of movement at all.

          • Since no examples or how to guides have survived, we’re left to guess how it was made and used.

            I can’t speak to Europe, but there is at least one surviving example of hardened leather lamellar from the Middle East that I have seen described. And lots of European mentions of cuirboulli.

          • but from what I understand, leather panels were cut, boiled (sometimes in wax) and held together with thick lacing in a overlapping manner, much like the siding on a house. Most of the leather armor I’ve actually worked on was made of 8 ounce leather or thicker and didn’t look (to me) like it would be capable of offering much protection against a bludgeoning weapon.

            I don’t know of evidence for boiling in wax and am not sure what boiling would even mean. You can harden leather by soaking it with melted wax but that isn’t a very good way of making armor against real cutting weapons, for two reasons.

            1. It’s easier to cut stiff leather than limp leather, for the same reason it is easier to cut half frozen meat than thawed meat.

            2. Beeswax is a lubricant.

            To make cuirboulli that provides real protection, you water harden it. In my experience, while boiling water works, water a little below boiling (180°F is my preference) works better. After a minute or so the leather gets stretchy, like thick rubber, useful for shaping elbow kops and such. The longer thereafter you leave it in the thicker it gets, the darker it gets, and the harder and more brittle it will be when it finishes drying out. You can get a similar effect with wet leather in a not very hot oven, but I have no experience with that.

            8 ounce leather is the bottom end of the relevant range; for SCA purposes I would only use it if you have significant overlap. About 12 ounces works better and does indeed provide significant protection against bludgeoning weapons. For a good many years in the SCA most of my armor, other than the helm, was cuirboulli.

            I know of no period description of how it was made.

          • Note that for a long time, up until the High Middle Ages, mail was just worn over clothes.

            That sounds surprising. Can you point me at your sources?

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            Mixer: “Lillian: plated leather was somewhat common in Eastern Europe around the 12th century.”

            The first few times I read that, I read it as plaited leather.

            I don’t know that there was ever armor made of braided leather strips, I don’t know that it would be especially practical (competitive with bamboo?), but I bet it would look really cool.

          • Lillian says:

            That sounds surprising. Can you point me at your sources?

            No specific sources, just a personal impression as to a general lack of evidence of people wearing gambesons under mail prior to the 13th century. At least not in most of Europe and the Islamic world. They might wear something like the subarmalis, a vest or tunic of felt, linen, and/or leather intended to make that mail wear more comfortably. This likely did have some added protective value, but in function it was more like clothes than armour.

            Here’s a discussion from MyArmory Forums on the subject. It is mentioned there that there is a 6th century Eastern Roman manuscript describing a gambeson like garment one finger thick intended to be worn under armour. The author also says many soldiers hated it and preferred to just wear their metal armour over their normal clothes. So perhaps gambeson and mail was a thing, it just wasn’t popular until the 13th century.

        • Mixer says:

          SCA, and (as I’m sure DavidFriedman would attest to) the outfits I made were not period. They would fall into the category of GenBar (Generic Barbarian.) But, a lot of people wanted to wear GenBar outfits and the classic GenBar was little more than a rectangle of leather held up by a lace for men, and two triangles tied together with lace for women. I tailored full body outfits to the person; if I made something for you, only you really could wear it. You might have a friend would could put it on, but it wouldn’t look or fit right. If I find any photos online of my work, I’ll post them so you can see.

        • Mixer says:

          David, boiling was used primarily to replace the water in the leather with something with a higher viscosity and not quite as destructive as water. Bring some oil up to the boiling point of water, submerge your leather in it, the water vaporizes and escapes through the fibers – drawing in the oil to replace it. This will harden the leather but leave it a little malleable as well, while extending the life of the leather. I know people water boil leather to make it harder, but as a leather worker.. I wince when I hear that. Water is great/essential when the skin is alive, but once it’s dead, water becomes the Great Destroyer; you want as little of it as possible within the fibers of the leather, with oil (Linseed, if I remember correctly) replacing the water.

          Heh – just looked it up on Wikipedia:

          Like i said, I don’t have a lot of experience or historical knowledge with leather armor; what I know comes from what I’ve gleaned from ancillary research (not much) and what I’ve been told (most of it). But, what I do know about leather does align with what I’ve been told, so I’m inclined to believe it.

          • David, boiling was used primarily to replace the water in the leather with something with a higher viscosity and not quite as destructive as water.

            So what you mean by “boil in wax” is immerse in melted wax at a temperature above the boiling point of water? I don’t think you can actually boil wax–I would expect it to break down from the heat.

            Water hardening, as I mentioned, works better at a temperature below the boiling point of water. I believe what it is doing is setting off some sort of polymerization reaction in the leather–I’ve read an account of the chemistry but don’t remember the details. When the leather comes out of the water it’s stretchy, not hard. It hardens as it dries.

            I’ve never experimented with using hot linseed oil to harden leather.

          • Mixer says:

            Yes; I suppose the term “boiling” comes from the escaping water vapor in the liquid (air bubbles rising rapidly in a hot liquid = boiling) although the liquid temperature must be above the boiling point of water.

            I’ve never boiled leather myself. I used heat to remove as much water as I can from garment-grade leather, and oil to seal out any additional water from getting in. Modern leathers already have been processed this way, so I never did it often, but once in a while I’d get a hide that had been partially cured and I basically had to finish it off (some of my best/most unique outfits came from those hides..)

            Reading that Wiki snippet, though, I have been involved with curing leather using uric acid (urine), but not hardening or boiling. And I’ve never even heard of ammonia being used. Uric acid makes the leather soft and supple; I can’t imagine it being used for hardening. Ammonia is sometimes used to clean grained leather; again, I can’t imagine how it could be used for hardening. But then again, I don’t know all the methods.

          • Mixer says:

            Hey – I just had a thought. What if the modern evolution of “cuir-bouilli” is both “curing” and “boiling” (two things you need to do to a hide to make it protective)? And together, a “cuir-bouilli” was implied with leather much like “etouffee” implies shrimp or crawfish?

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t speak French, which “cuir-bouilli” sounds like, but the Italian for “leather” is “cuoio” and I’m pretty sure that’s a cognate. A little poking around in Wiktionary reveals that it derives from the Latin “cuero”, meaning “skin” or “outer layer”, and that the English “cure” derives instead from the Latin “curare”, which means something like “tend”. So in short they’re false friends.

    • ManyCookies says:

      I, a homosexual male, was let go as a counselor from a Girl Scout camp for flirting with a female coworker. To this day we have no idea what the hell I said or did.

    • Squirrel of Doom says:

      If you were straight, you would have noticed there were BREASTS in your field of vision, much like you’d notice someone stepping on your toe, and you would have appropriately averted your eyes.

      Only because they meant nothing to you did you break the rules.

  37. LadyJane says:

    I remember reading about a woman who completely and totally lacked the emotion of fear, due to brain damage caused by a rare genetic condition ( The researchers noted that she had been physically attacked and robbed at gunpoint/knifepoint several times in her life, and showed absolutely no signs of distress. What most fascinated me wasn’t her reaction (which should come as no surprise, given her condition), but the fact that she had experienced so many instances of violent crime in the first place, which is extraordinarily unlikely from a statistical perspective. The researchers hypothesized that it was due to “a marked impairment on her part of detecting looming threats in her environment and learning to steer clear of potentially dangerous situations”, which indicates that the vast majority of people have innate heuristics built into their brains specifically for the purposes of avoiding conflict, and that these heuristics are *extremely* effective (even for people with mild to moderate psychological and social disorders). I’d speculate that these heuristics affect output as well as input; i.e. it’s not just about recognizing potential threats, but about giving off subtle nonverbal cues to discourage potential attackers or avoid being noticed by them. The fact that we take these heuristics for granted shows just how deeply ingrained they are in our cognitive systems. I wonder if what Scott describes as a “meanness field” is likewise just a lack of some mental system that most people have.

    I’m suddenly reminded of the hitchhiking robot that was destroyed after a scant few weeks of exploring the country. Presumably that robot didn’t have any built-in threat-avoidance heuristics either (though given that it was visibly a robot, I doubt it could’ve done much to blend into a crowd/convince people it was dangerous/signal that it wasn’t worth attacking, so those heuristics probably wouldn’t have done it much good).

    Incidentally, this is why I’m a little skeptical of so-called brain hacks; it always seems to me that behaviors which initially appear to be pointless or counter-productive may actually have some subtle yet important purpose, and that removing them is likely to be more of a trade-off than people expect, and not necessarily one worth taking. I also wonder if that provides part of the answer to Scott’s earlier question of “why do psychedelic drug users always tend to be such weird and usually unsuccessful people?”, in that such people have likely made a lot of those invisible trade-offs, while erroneously believing they were simply improving their minds with no drawbacks.

    • lvlln says:

      This reminds me of a recent episode of Sam Harris’s podcast Waking Up where he spoke with Gavin de Becker, an expert on predicting violence. Becker was a big proponent of the idea that one should trust one’s gut when it comes to avoiding potentially violent conflicts – that that gut feeling reflects information that you perceive but which do not register consciously. And that gut feeling also manifests in changes in one’s body language. An example he used was when he hired a contractor to renovate his house (IIRC). His dog had an immediate disliking to the contractor, and later on, it turned out that the contractor had cheated him out of a bunch of money. Now obviously a dog knows nothing about the honesty of a contractor, and neither does it have any instinctual intuition about sensing that. Becker posited that he himself must have unconsciously noticed something off about the contractor, and his dog was reacting to changes in his body language in response to this gut feeling.

      A neat just-so story that’s impossible to verify. But regardless of the veracity of that one story, I think he’s not alone in being an expert who believes that unconscious perceptions and non-rational reactions to such perceptions carry a lot of meaning in communication. I think Becker would agree with the general thrust of those researchers’ hypothesis about why she was victimized so much. From the conversation, he seemed to put a lot of weight on the ability for a potential victim of violence to affect one’s chances of becoming a real victim by changing their behavior and famously got into trouble for writing that he believes “first time a woman is hit, she is a victim, and the second time, she is a volunteer.”

      • LadyJane says:

        From the conversation, he seemed to put a lot of weight on the ability for a potential victim of violence to affect one’s chances of becoming a real victim by changing their behavior and famously got into trouble for writing that he believes “first time a woman is hit, she is a victim, and the second time, she is a volunteer.”

        Of course, given that these behaviors are largely subconscious, and that it’s likely very difficult or impossible to simply learn/unlearn them by choice (at least without extensive counseling from someone with in-depth knowledge of human psychology), such a statement is likely to do very little to actually help abuse victims change their habits in meaningful ways, while also doing a lot to contribute to the harmful and erroneous social perception that abuse victims consciously choose to seek out abusers. So it was still a nasty thing to say, or at least a very poor choice of words, even if I agree with some aspects of the underlying point.

        • lvlln says:

          Well, those words were in a book he wrote, and I don’t know the exact context. Certainly it’s not as if he went around saying just that phrase to people, and it seems quite possible that the words surrounding that phrase make it not nasty, and it’s only by pulling it out of context that makes it nasty and worthy of getting the writer in trouble (this kind of phenomenon seems to happen basically every single day).

          That said, even standing alone, my perception is that the “erroneous social perception that abuse victims consciously choose to seek out abusers” has been so well-debunked that the error is generally in the opposite direction: it’s basically dogma that victims of abuse have no agency, and the idea that they could take actions to appease their own suffering is verboten. In that environment, I think emphasizing the agency that victims and potential victims have can be helpful. At least, as a former victim of domestic violence myself, I found those words to be a mildly helpful reminder. My perception may not reflect society at large, though I don’t know of any evidence that proves that I’m wrong or right on this.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Both ideas are out in the wild. Going that far to one extreme surely fans both flames much more than it swings the pendulum.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I’m in the middle of the de Becker interview, so there may be more later, but meanwhile….

        I read The Gift of Fear, and the dangerous person in his childhood home was his mother. The whole rest of the book is about dangerous men.

        Also, it’s been a long time– probably close to 20 years– since I’ve been in fear of my life. I’m wondering how the male vs. female split on that level of fear is here.

        I also suspect that women are encouraged to be too cautious and men are encouraged to be not cautious enough.

        • I can’t remember ever being in fear of my life from other human beings. I have been in mild fear of my life a couple of times for medical reasons.

          • LadyJane says:

            At the risk of getting into semantics about the exact nature of qualitative experience, I’d argue that you do feel some fear of other human beings, you just don’t notice because it never rises above the default level of fear for you. If your fear level was truly zero, as opposed to whatever low but non-zero minimum threshold it’s stayed at for your life, you would probably end up similar to that woman.

          • Aapje says:


            I’ve been in fear of being beaten, but there never was the sense that the bullies would seek to kill me.

            That’s probably a different kind of fear.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @Aapje The situations described with that woman go beyond fear. Getting in someone else’s car means cognitive difficulties and/or a tendency towards trusting obedience (like a dog has). The absence of fear is quite different than the presence of an active tendency that can highjack you like that.

            @aapje maybe once you have been beaten up once and know you can survive it. If you have been beaten up and know you are physically fragile (currently), or have never been beaten up, they might be the same.

            (I take it by ‘beaten’ you mean something fairly severe)

    • Nornagest says:

      Conventional wisdom in the martial arts scene is that most of its street value comes from learning to recognize threats and learning to look like a harder target, rather than actual use of technique. That’d tally with this pretty well.

  38. liskantope says:

    Might as well respond to this post with a few examples I’ve seen my own life that spring to mind.

    I have one good friend who has speculated repeatedly on why she seems to attract sociopaths in her life. We were never able to settle on a good explanation, but perhaps her apparent charitable sensibilities have something to do with it.

    I have another good friend who gets approached on the street much more often than average by people who need help or want to buy/sell drugs; when he’s walking in public in a group it’s him whom the strangers approach and try to make friends with. (He also hears a lot of wild speculations on his nationality, even though he and his family are completely Caucasian American for generations, but that most likely has something to do with his face and hair being somehow striking rather than with the vibe he sets.)

    And then there’s me, and I’ve long noticed trends in the kinds of people I tend to attract. People who are self-serving (for the obvious reason that I give off a strong vibe of wimpy niceness that marks me as easy to take advantage of), and women who want a male friend they aren’t interested in dating (because, as they’ve explained to me, I create an immediate impression of “safeness”… reading between the lines of what they say, I must come across as pretty non-sexual too). Since moving out of an American university environment and into a “real adult world” abroad, I’ve thankfully managed to mostly avoid the self-serving people while attracting (platonically) a series of women some 8-11 years older than me and recently divorced, as well as several never-married men in a similar age range.

    But curiously, despite being exactly the kind of person whose demeanor gives the appearance of being very precise and polite in the way discussed in the post, I do not seem to share Scott’s superpower of attracting other such people.

  39. Cugel_the_Unclever says:

    So this is a very interesting post. It connects a little with something I’ve been trying to understand about my personal experience of bullying in secondary school.

    I never got seriously bullied in secondary school. I got picked on a little, from time to time, as I think everyone does; but I got picked on a *lot less* than some other kids. Now, I’m a fairly introverted, bookish, academically-focused person, and I spent a lot of time outside of lessons just trying to find somewhere quiet to read. Because of this I’ve always been confused by the way that popular depictions of (mostly American) high school bullying focuses on the “nerdy”/”smart” kids getting spontaneously attacked by the sporty jocks. As a nerdy, introverted loner, I’m exactly the sort of person you’d think would get bullied, and yet I never suffered from it particularly. And nor does the stereotypical depiction of nerd/jock interaction fit with my personal experience.

    The kids who *did* get bullied tended to be less academically capable, and they tended to get bullied by similar sorts of people. And they (the bullies and the bullying victim) all used to hang out together[1], or sit together at the back of the classroom. From my observations, the bullying dynamic seemed to me to involve the bully progressively winding up the bully-ee, and the bully-ee reacting in an angry or emotional way, which would cause great mirth and hilarity on the part of the bully[2] and the the bully would just keep applying pressure until the bully-ee burst into tears/threw a wobbly.

    (Note that I went to a good school and never observed much serious violence).

    The thing is, when someone picked on me, I just *wouldn’t react* like the kids who got bullied a lot. I recognised the kind of rise that most bullies were trying to get out of their victims, and mostly just ignored the bully’s efforts until they got bored and went off to pick on someone else.

    Now this is just my third-party anecdotal observations of what other kids experienced. It could be I’m missing a whole bunch of other stuff I just wasn’t around to see. It could be I was fortunate. And I hesitate to mention it at all, because it feels like victim-blaming. But… well, to a large extent they *did* bring it on themselves, by choosing to hang around with people who treated them badly and reacting in a way that (to my teenage self) just seemed to *invite* ill-treatment[3]. Obviously it’s wrong to blame the victim in this case; but it always *seemed* this way to me, in the sense that there was a recognisable set of behaviours that were within the control of the victim.

    Sometimes I’d be sat near the front of the class, and I could *hear* the escalation. The bully would taunt some unfortunate kid, and the kid would get progressively more wound up, which would in turn invite more bullying. And it was *infuriating*, because (to me) the obvious thing to do would be to just calm down, move seats, or otherwise make the problem go away.

    I see fewer of these specific sorts of interactions nowadays, but I still see *similar* types of interaction. Similar in the sense that there is some kind of social conflict taking place, and I’m sat there grinding my teeth because it seems like all participants are *deliberately* either winding each other up or allowing themselves to be wound up[4]. So much interpersonal conflict seems to me to be caused by individuals *choosing* to react in an overly emotional or aggressive fashion.

    And I respond, for the most part, as I always did in secondary school: by trying to put as much distance between myself and people who exhibit these sets of behaviours as possible. The people I choose to hang out with tend to be relaxed, laid-back, and not given to extremes of emotion. Which ties in with Scott’s point about self-selecting friendship groupings.

    [1]: This ties in with Scott’s point about people who suffer from abuse seeking out abusers. So many bullying-victims seemed desperate to be friends with the very person who was, by all appearances, making their lives miserable.

    [2]: Note that this dynamic *always* seemed to consist of a little gang of people, with one guy/girl as the lead bully and one guy/girl as the hanger-on they picked on when they got bored.

    [3]: Deliberately winding people up by doing things you *know* will wind them up is a dick move, of course; but the existence of trolling and similar behaviours suggests it’s at least a little bit fun.

    [4]: The connection between these patterns and the dreaded Cu1ture W&rs is left as an exercise for the reader.

    • Aapje says:

      I think that one dynamic is that a kid is ignored by everyone and due to a strong need for social contact ends up being drawn to and sometimes provoking the only people who will give the kid any attention at all; where negative attention is preferred over being totally isolated.

      I would suggest that it’s a problem when people feel they have to choose between a rock and a hard place & it’s unfair to blame them for choosing the hard place; where the false assumption is that they could have chosen the pillow instead.

      It also seems pretty clear that reputation effects play a strong role and that once a ‘bullied’ reputation is established, it can be very hard to get rid of that. Many seem to experience strong reversals when switching schools or graduating, whereafter they get a chance to interact with people without the baggage that makes non-bully cool kids unwilling to befriend the bullied person out of fear of becoming a target as well.

    • randallsquared says:

      I felt at the time as though I acted the same way you describe in middle and high school (and, indeed, it’s the standard advice!), yet I remember being bullied quite a lot. It was pretty puzzling to me, as I wasn’t able to see what the bullies got out of it. I had no interest in socializing with those who bullied me (or more than one or two other people at the school at all), and didn’t.

      In retrospect, I believe that half of the behavior I interpreted as antagonistic was genuinely attempting to socialize with the weird kid, but I distrusted everything and everyone, and probably managed to poison a lot of potentially fruitful relationships.

      • baconbacon says:

        Its a mistake to classify all bullies as alike, just like basically any group. Some people pick on others in specific circumstances, and changing the circumstance will pretty much cut it out. An eye roll and walking away doesn’t work on the kid who is releasing his pent up anger about his abusive father though.

    • Unirt says:

      Sadly, it’s not only the obvious easy-to-control reactions that make you a good bully-victim, but also the less obvious subtle reactions. I got bullied quite a bit, even though I didn’t react to the bullies like you describe, or hang anywhere near them if I could avoid it. Nevertheless, I was genuinely bothered by them picking at me (and the fact that my reputation was low enough to make me a good bully-ee) and that must have shown in my face and my posture. I suppose these micro-reactions – looking slightly scared and embarrassed – were good enough reward for the bullies. I could tell that there had to be something I was doing wrong but I had no idea what that was. Noone had taught me to make eye contact with the bully or other useful tricks, and I didn’t have courage to explore the possibilities myself.

    • Walter says:

      The core truth to never lose sight of, in a bully situation, is this:

      The bullying victim wants to be the bully’s friend.

      The bully doesn’t have power because they can shove the nerd into a locker. Bruises go away overnight when you are young. They have power because they have the ability to make the victim realize that they want them in a locker. The victim’s anguish comes from being disliked by the one that they long for approval from.

      The folks who tried to bully you ran into a stone wall of apathy. They could make you look ridiculous, or suffer bruises, or whatever, but they couldn’t make you care.

      People don’t get this, and it is why so many attempts to help the victim fail. The victim protects their tormentor. The battered wife tells everyone she fell down the stairs, not because she fears her husband but because she fears the possibility of something taking him away. The kid says he lost his homework, because if he gets the bully in trouble then he will NEVER get to be in the cool kid’s club.

    • liquidpotato says:

      I knew a guy growing up who was picked on mercilessly by a bunch of people in the class. Those guys will bully everyone, but this one guy got all the prime cuts. He tried doing what you did. Stay away and not give a reaction. It didn’t work.

      What finally stopped the bullying was that he swung a chair at one of his tormentors and broke his nose.

      • Witness says:

        I recommend trying the “ignore it” way first, but this is the other classic bully-stopping move.

      • FeepingCreature says:

        I’m seeing some contrast between your comment and the one above saying that bully victims just want the bully’s approval.

        I guess the lesson is “no, your elegant theory does not cover every case.”

        • liquidpotato says:

          I’m not clever enough to say. Just that it seems to me that the real ingredient to stopping bullying is the willingness to employ active resistance, whether it’s by standing our ground or swinging a chair.

          • Aapje says:

            I think that the various dynamics and issues are way too complex for a generic message only directed at the bullied person to be a generic solution.

            For example, fighting back only works if the bullied person can do sufficient damage. If the bullied person is relatively weak and/or the bullies operate as a group, this is hardly a given. Of course, we could arm kids with guns or tasers to equalize their strength, but that seems like a bad idea as well.

            I also think that some bullies use violence because they have their own issues with which they cope by abusing others. For example, a kid who is abused by his or her parents may use physical or psychological violence to restore a feeling of self-worth by creating a clear hierarchy where they are not at the bottom.

            I suspect that a person who is abused by such a bully can only escape this by becoming a less suitable target than another person. So then the bullying will just happen to another person.

            And these examples are just some of the issues.

  40. Eponymous says:

    Here’s a fascinating question: are people basically calibrated correctly, or not?

    For example, take the Williams/paranoia axis. Where would one like to fall on this axis? Naively I would think towards the middle, but maybe not.

    Or take the Autistic/non-autist spectrum. Or the neuroticism/sociopathy spectrum. Or the ADHD/focus spectrum.

    Presumably these are all calibrated based on the ancestral environment. But maybe different strategies are best today.

    For example, Peter Thiel has observed that a disproportionate share of silicon valley entrepreneurs seem to suffer from a mild form of aspergers. He thinks this is because human beings are biased too far towards following the crowd, and so people who are somewhat immune to social convention come out ahead. It’s easy to imagine that this is due to a difference from our ancestral environment.

    Or take the observation that many CEO types seem to be mildly sociopathic/psychopathic (think Donald Trump never feeling like he has to apologize for anything). Maybe that’s adaptive in the current environment.

    Or take attitudes towards risk. Maybe people are too risk-averse on average relative to what works best in the modern environment. They should go out and start companies or whatever, whereas striking out on your own 10 thousand years ago was a sure way to get yourself killed. An example might be Scott Adams, who says that he’s optimistic to a degree that would be pathological if it didn’t work out for him. Maybe the “positive thinking” self-help types are onto something.

    Of course, I’m not sure how far this is hackable, or if we’re stuck with what we have. But I do think we can alter our outlook on the margin, and maybe it would be good to do so.

    • Aapje says:

      You can’t properly evaluate whether people take enough risks by just looking at the people for whom it works out. I used to live near a lottery winner, but you can’t use him as an example to argue that everyone should play the lottery to become happier on average.

    • Mark says:

      Are there any advantages to having one optimist and one pessimist in a community, as opposed to having two middling people?
      I would guess that unless there is some significant emotional reward/punishment involved, people will tend towards disinterest rather than rational calculation – so maybe you need the range of extreme personalities to ensure both balance, and effort in both directions.

      • Are there any advantages to having one optimist and one pessimist in a community, as opposed to having two middling people?

        I think it generally makes sense to have a distribution of characteristics, behavioral or physical.

        Suppose opportunities to take a high risk gamble with positive expected return occur occasionally. If everyone is a risk preferrer, a few of them get the good gambles, most get bad. If nobody is, the good gambles are untaken. But if a few are, the good gambles get taken, the others don’t.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Of course, I’m not sure how far this is hackable, or if we’re stuck with what we have. But I do think we can alter our outlook on the margin, and maybe it would be good to do so.

      Cognitive-behavioral therapy, if it works at all, does exactly that.

      Here’s a fascinating question: are people basically calibrated correctly, or not?

      I would simply check the distributions (are they normal?), and if it they are normal, check the 50% representative and see if—in the current culture—that appears to be adaptive behavior. If so, cultural adaptation is good and you should expect no changes going forward. If not, which way is it off?

      The direction the current calibration is off gives you a strong idea of where the culture is headed, because the winners will adapt the culture to their needs over time.

  41. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I’ve been exposed to much less anti-Semitism than other Jewish people I know. I’m talking about harassment in person, not what I’ve read about.

    I have no idea why. When I was a kid, I was teased constantly about being short and having feet that turn out. I was called a dirty Jew *once*.

    I have no idea what made the difference.

    • Brad says:

      As compared to people in nearly identical circumstances? Because antisemitism seems like one of those things that’s extraordinary sensitive to time and place. My parents grew up less than 5 miles apart from each other but my dad experienced much more antisemitism because of the demographics of the community he grew up in as compared to my mom’s. Likewise I imagine that Princeton in the 50s was a very different experience than CCNY in the 50s or Princeton in the 70s vis-a-vis antisemitism.

      • Nancy Lebovitz says:

        I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I was in a grab a tiger by the toe neighborhood. (There are other places where it’s grab an n-word by the toe.)

        Even if it’s local variation, I seem to be at the extreme low end of the distribution.

        • Michael Arc says:

          My experience matches yours, except that since I seek out more diverse experiences I’ve also had extreme antisemites try to reassure me that I couldn’t really be Jewish.

          • Aapje says:

            If they are extreme antisemites they may believe that Jews kidnap Christian babies 😛

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve run across a couple of black people who believe that the people who say they’re Jewish are really fake Jews, the real Jews are poc.

            What’s your estimate of the chance of the US becoming violently anti-Semitic?

  42. Majuscule says:

    One of the most valuable insights from my visits with a therapist a few years ago was that people want you to share their communication style, and might even need that just to register your response as something they recognize. If someone communicates with a lot of emotion and volume, and you’re quiet and calm, your responses might not register with them. This felt like an epiphany for me; my mother was very loud and emotional in her communication style, and our arguments would drag on and on until I had been pressed into yelling and getting emotional myself, which for me took ages and was generally unpleasant. As soon as I displayed strong feelings, the argument would be over. Now I observe the same pattern fairly regularly; once someone supplies the right emotional– not just verbal- response, the argument ends or at least the direction completely changes. The therapist encouraged me, if I was comfortable with it, to match my mom for volume. The first time I tested this, and it worked, I felt like I’d been given some sort of skeleton key. It made me wonder how many other keys like it were out there, and how many social interactions that were obnoxious or mysterious to myself and other people might be similarly unlocked.

    • Thegnskald says:


      I am not a therapist, or anything related, but something doesn’t sound right there. Following that advice means other people get to determine your social behaviors. It sounds like advice on how to cope, rather than how to thrive.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that it’s OK if this is just a tool that he or she can use occasionally to ‘slap’ some sense into the other person and then returns to normal behavior.

      • Deiseach says:

        From the other side, the explanation I’ve seen for this is that the emotional people don’t trust politeness as such; they see it as fake, as a veneer, as hiding what you really think, so they keep at you until they break through the veneer and get the ‘real’ or ‘true’ reaction. Doesn’t matter if you’re mad at them, anger is genuine and valid as far as they’re concerned, but they don’t and can’t know what you ‘really’ think or feel or value until you show honest feelings (to their evaluation).

        Pain in the backside if you don’t like that style and it can go badly wrong when they push and push and push until you really do blow up and go nuclear tactical strike on them, but the therapist’s advice is helpful in short-circuiting all that nagging and niggling. Show ‘real’ emotion as far as they’re concerned, and they’re convinced and the argument is over. If it saves psychic wear and tear in the long run, then it’s thriving. Some people you can’t simply walk away from (like the mother in the above), so you have to use what tools you can.

      • All I Do Is Win says:

        Following that advice means other people get to determine your social behaviors.

        Not exactly. It means that if you want to get along with them easily, and don’t mind that you’re carrying most of the load, you can do that.

        For many people, I’m fine with that. For others, who I don’t want a relationship with, I’m not. It’s 100% up to you.

        Think of this technique as a really reliable tool you can use whenever it’s convenient for you.

  43. Freddie deBoer says:

    My manic phases are like being in fight-or-flight syndrome for weeks at a time. I know some people experience elation, but for me it’s nothing like that. It’s a caged animal feeling, a certainty that people are working against me, wanting to harm me. Occasionally this is full-out paranoid hostility on my part, but more it’s a conviction that people in my orbit – my friends, my significant others, my bosses – are terribly displeased with me, in some sense, and looking for an opportunity to cut me out of their lives. And this fear becomes so palpable and all-consuming that I check, endlessly, to find out if people are in fact angry with me. Because silence means they must be; a delay in someone texting me back, in this state, is a sure sign that I’ve given offense and they’re going to walk out of my life, and probably do something to hurt me on the way out. And sure enough my constant accusations that people are offended with me cause offense in time, and thus my paranoia is justified and confirmed.

    My doctors call it a “mixed state,” which is appropriate in that way that psychiatric terminology always drains the life out of particular problems.

  44. manwhoisthursday says:

    It seems to me there are two issues here:

    1. People have a genuinely different social environments due to the people they attract.
    2. People interpret their social environments differently due to their temperament, intellect etc.

    Obviously the two are related. Your temperament and how you interpret the world affect what people you tend to attract, and what people you attract will tend to affect how you interpret the world. But, in theory, they are separate issues.

    • Thegnskald says:

      And also, your expectations will filter what you will agree to, in a very broad way, as Nancy points out above; if you expect people to be shitty, you won’t work to find non-shitty people.

    • Nick says:

      Your temperament and how you interpret the world affect what people you tend to attract, and what people you attract will tend to affect how you interpret the world. But, in theory, they are separate issues.

      Yes, thank you!!! I’ve been reading my way through the comments hoping someone would make this point (dalitt did a little bit above too). I’m going to expand on this in a top-level post below if I have the time to write it.

  45. Simon Penner says:

    Regarding the women in tech culture war:

    I’ve been involved with women in tech stuff for the better part of a decade now, only recently withdrawing due to all the groups becoming more polarized and partisan. I’ve worked at now 8 different software engineering jobs.

    I have never, ever, ever seen even a single instance of sexism towards a woman in engineering.

    This includes the time I spent in my official capacity as the cultural liaison for the engineering team (which meant that it was in my formal job description to be first point of contact for engineers who had these issues).

    I’ve spent a lot of time puzzling over this as well, just as you had. For a long time I was satisfied with saying “They’re all just liars trying to manipulate their way into tech money” but, if your explanation for the world includes a term for “literally everyone is knowingly evil” then your explanation is probably wrong. Eventually, I settled on a two-part explanation that is almost identical to what you have written here.

    I believe that the dramatic difference in self-reported stories concerning harassment in the tech industry are a function of 1) people with different dispositions or priors, interpreting the same actions as positive or negative; and 2) a failure to properly bubble off.

    (1) is almost exactly a restatement of what you’re getting at above. Whenever I’ve had the chance to ask a woman about her experience with harassment in tech, everything that everyone has ever answered me buckets into either “what are you talking about, we all experience that. I’m a guy, I experience that”, or “that is not harassment, that is not negative, if that makes you uncomfortable then you need to find a new line of work”.

    I don’t think I need to expand more on this; the blog post did a good job. I’ll take questions for further discussion though

    (2) is more nuanced and possibly controversial. As I mentioned, some of what is described to me as sexism, is harassment that I myself, as well as other male friends, have regularly experienced in the past. We don’t anymore. Because we quit those jobs. Why would you want to work somewhere where people are all assholes all the time.

    I’m sure there are some workplaces that are exactly as bad as people say they are. I wouldn’t know, because I avoid them. And so I find it incredibly difficult to care or empathize with people who work at workplaces that sound toxic. Just leave them!

    Sometimes I wonder if this is why there is such a dramatic disconnect between the self-reports of women who claim tech harassment, and women who don’t. I suspect that the women who don’t have just figured out the trick: if a company has a shitty toxic work environment, you quit (preferably right before a big deadline, to send a message) and go find somewhere better. The women who claim to have experienced significant tech harassment, I suspect they for the most part just work at shitty companies, and could avoid all the harassment if they just went somewhere else

    • Evan Þ says:

      I’m sure there are some workplaces that are exactly as bad as people say they are. I wouldn’t know, because I avoid them. And so I find it incredibly difficult to care or empathize with people who work at workplaces that sound toxic. Just leave them!

      But if you’ve never worked at a good workplace, how are you supposed to know your workplace is toxic?

      When I got hired out of college by Really Big Software Company, my first boss didn’t talk with me much. I was handed some books and online videos, told “read these and watch these, and you’ll know your job,” and nothing much else. Every once in a while, he called me in and said “Do this task”; when he didn’t cancel our meetings, it was generally my giving status updates on the tasks. And that was it.

      And because he was my first boss, I just took it as “okay, that’s what a normal boss’s like; I guess you don’t really get support once you’re no longer an intern.” It never crossed my mind to complain or to ask for more support; what, was I supposed to be one of those entitled people complaining about normal aspects of the work world?

      Then my first boss transferred to another team, and my new boss actually started talking with me and helping me see what my role was supposed to be and asking me where I needed more training, and it was great. What’s more, I saw that my sense of “normal” had been skewed. But if all my bosses had been like my first one, I never would’ve realized that things could be different.

    • Jiro says:

      Also, as someone pointed out above, “tech” isn’t “engineering”.

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      ” if a company has a shitty toxic work environment, you quit (preferably right before a big deadline, to send a message) and go find somewhere better”

      If women have been told that all the workplaces are horrible, why would they bother to look for somewhere better?

  46. prayforenemies says:

    Your describing the Universal law of attraction. like goes with like, and its based on “liking” and “disliking”. As soon as I react with “i like – whatever” or I “dislike -“, then my behavior begins to be determined by that reaction and my behavior sorts me into places and with people who like the same things. this is actually what happens, its not exactly mysterious, it is just that liking/disliking reaction seems so normal that we aren’t actually aware that its a reaction and how often it happens and that we have a choice in it. For me, I’ve realized I have literally spent 95% of my life in quiet, serene, open, and physically idyllic places. And I realize now that this has been a huge factor in how I decide where to live and what sort of activities appeal to me. Almost all of human behavior is determined by this like/dislike reaction, but why does it occur? Because of the judgment that the things we like are “good”. that’s why Plato was always talking about the definition of the good and why it is not pleasure. Nothing so fleeting can be good.

  47. Simon Penner says:

    A friend breaks off two appointments in a row, each time saying that something has come up – did something come up, or is he getting tired of the friendship?

    I think you just did me more good than the better part of $10,000 worth of past therapists did.

    This sounds stupid and smug but I am dead serious. I’ve spent most of my life feeling very lonely and wondering why the hell I have no friends and nobody will spend time with me.

    It also turns out that I end up having a lot of constraints on my energy, especially concerning logistics. It takes up a large number of spoons for me to go to any event that I can’t walk to.

    So, historically, I bail on plans with people a lot. I don’t bail at the last minute, that would be rude. I just tell them, when invited, “I can’t make it, but I’d really like to. Let me know for next time!”. But I suppose, after 3 or 4 of those in a row, someone who doesn’t know me well is going to decide they don’t want to.

    I wish you had written this years ago

  48. cmurdock says:

    The “Last Superstition” review on the old blog he linked seems to be missing some images (which form part of his argument). Does anyone know what they were?

  49. dalitt says:

    As I understand it, you suggest three mechanisms which explain our different experiences of the world:
    (1) We perceive similar interactions differently. (Williams syndrome, paranoia)
    (2) We unconsciously encourage different behaviors in similar people. (Niceness field)
    (3) We surround ourselves with genuinely different people, even if we live in similar environments. (Bubbles, young earth creationism)
    I think (1) and (3) clearly are real mechanisms. What is the evidence for the existence of (2), besides a reddit comment?

    Here’s an alternative mechanism, which is related to (3) — something about you might make certain types of people seek out your company, and make others avoid it. For example, maybe nice, calm people like your writing and go to SSC meetups; maybe your patients prefer a psychiatrist who discourages emotional outbursts.

    • Thegnskald says:

      Can confirm the existence of “fields”.

      I have a few I turn on and off at will. One is a “predator” field, which makes other people go to the other side of the street; I can make a group of four men avoid me when I have it turned on. It is pure body language, mostly in the way you walk and look at (or through) other people. It helps to visualize how to take down everybody you walk past to keep in going.

      • Mark says:

        How often do you do that?

        I can well believe that if you make yourself look mental the majority of people will go out of their way to avoid you, but I’d also think you’d end up getting attacked more.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Not often.

          I lower my body very slightly to give a subconscious impression of stalking, stop moving my arms with my walk to give a hint of being ready to grab a weapon, straighten my posture, and look through people rather than at them – the last so that the impending violence appears to be aimed at someone else I am busy thinking about, and is thus somebody else’s problem to deal with.

          There might be other elements too, that I am less aware of.

    • Deiseach says:

      (2) We unconsciously encourage different behaviors in similar people. (Niceness field)

      Well, we do consciously alter our behaviour to elicit particular behaviour from other people – I suppose the classic example here is the job interview where you’re advised how to dress, sit, shake hands, tone of voice, and all the rest of it – “sell yourself”.

      But we do it when interacting with people at all levels – close (family, friends), intermediate (colleagues), far (general public, someone on the other end of the phone when calling up a business to complain or a government office to apply for something). We try and appear friendly, trustworthy, authoritative, ‘don’t waste my time’ etc. in different situations to make people respond.

      So that such behaviour could spill over unconsciously isn’t such a stretch – preferring calm, reasonable, no yelling or crying interactions over emotional, extroverted ones can come through in small ways that we’re not aware we’re projecting because we didn’t consciously turn on that behaviour, but nevertheless it’s how we want this interaction to go so… our body signals our true desires.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      maybe nice, calm people like your writing and go to SSC meetups

      Can confirm. I like Scott’s writing (and 30% of the commenters here), but don’t attend the SSC meetups because I’m neither nice, nor calm.

  50. lintondf says:

    There is a very old joke that goes:
    A man walks into a bar and says to the bartender: “I just moved here. What are people like in this town?”
    The barkeep asks, “what were they like where you came from?”
    The guy says, “Awful. Everyone was rude and cruel.”
    The barkeep replies, “They’re the same here.”
    Later another guys comes into the same bar and asks the barkeep the same question and the barkeep asks him, “what were they like where you came from?”
    The guy answers, “Wonderful. Friendly and polite.”
    The barkeep replies, “They’re the same here.”

    • HeelBearCub says:

      “But no matter where I’ve gone
      I was sure to find myself there
      You can run all your life
      And not go anywhere”

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      Prejudice really does vary from one place to another, though.

      • Barely matters says:

        +1 to this.

        I live with one foot in two different cities right now, and the way I’m perceived and treated is completely different between them. After living in one place for so long that I’d started to forget and wonder “Wow, maybe I do just suck with people. Maybe I am the problem”, and then seeing it flip so starkly as soon as I go somewhere else, all the talk of “You’ll find these people the same” feels like vague gaslighting sometimes.

        Sometimes the problem is you. Sometimes you’re black and live in the antebellum south. And I’d sure hope that people wouldn’t be telling that person “It must be that you’re projecting an ‘exploit and shun me’ field.”.

        Telling these problems apart is hard without actually being able to physically move to a different place to test them, but I don’t think the answer is to just take a guess depending on local cultural palatability and call it a day.

  51. Johan Richter says:

    Certainly different people are more sensitive to discrimination than others. Some of course define it more broadly than others, which may be part of the explanation. Eg, if you consider a mildly non-PC joke harassment you may remember hearing it and exaggerate it in your mind, while if you are fine with such jokes you may not even remember hearing it.

    But I don’t think different definitions tell the whole picture, some detect it more often for reasons probably related both to ideology and personality. I read an interesting link interview with Mary Ellen Rudin, a well-known female mathematician, who got her PhD in 1949. In the interview she said that she never considered that there might be any difficulty in being a female mathematician. I think that she was blind to some discrimination she actually faced, but I also think it is true that there are people today who see discrimination where there is none because they ideologically expect to see it.

  52. tristanls says:

    Pheromones? Is there a way to test for your pheromones vs. your colleague? I notice I have a thing for in-person meetings, and withhold trust until after such a meeting (not always granted, but it’s a pre-requisite). I have a lazy non-tested idea that it might have something to do with smell/pheromones.

  53. JohnofCharleston says:

    Halfway through this, I realized this entire argument seems like support for Kant.

    People are social animals, people conform to some degree to the conscious and unconscious signals from others. Even when not conforming they sort themselves into different communities which barely interact. If you’re going to attract the behavior you model, it’s extra important only to model behavior you wish to see.

    The categorical imperative doesn’t make much sense when you take the murderer at your door as a given. It gets a lot more credible if refusing to lie for any reason reduces the number of murderers.

    • Matthias says:

      This works for attitudes or behaviors that evoke themselves, but not for those that evoke orthogonal or opposite responses.

  54. Paul Conroy says:

    Williams Syndrome:

    1. Recent research has shown that some of the mutations causing Williams Syndrone in Humans, also cause hypersociability in dogs, and account for most of the differences in behavior between wolves and dogs.

    2. Williams Syndrome is characterized by an “elphin” appearance, and reaches its highest frequency in Ireland. I wonder if those facts underlie Irish myths about Fairies, Leprechauns and such?

    • Nancy Lebovitz says:

      “Williams Syndrome is characterized by an “elphin” appearance, and reaches its highest frequency in Ireland. I wonder if those facts underlie Irish myths about Fairies, Leprechauns and such?”

      No. The Fair Folk are *dangerous*. They’re called the Good People for a reason, and it’s not because they’re Good.

  55. Lasagna says:

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

    Yep. I have a little bit of a different take on this, but I know where you’re coming from.

    It’s strange when you’re confronted with clear proof that people think differently than you. I think we typically go through life believing that we all want basically the same things – insert whatever you think “well, everybody wants this specific thing” here – but it isn’t particularly true. I’m glad it isn’t.

    I’m not conflict-adverse (though friends will tell you I’m definitely chill), and I like conflict-prone people fine. They’re fun, if exhausting sometimes.

    I had this friend. For various reasons, he always dated women that were some combination of beautiful, smart, guaranteed-to-be successful, and from extremely wealthy families (the “various reasons” is he was more or less the male equivalent of this – income sorting is real, and uncomfortable to watch up close). Anyway, at one point he was dating this girl that we all just loved. She was all those things above, but also incredibly kind and wickedly funny, and was obviously enamored with him. I took him aside – clearly, this was the one, when are you going to pop the question?

    Nope, he was going to break up with her, because they never fought. There was no conflict in their relationship, and he hated that.

    I was floored. It never occurred to me that people would WANT that. I spent my time trying to find girlfriends – and, eventually, my wife – with whom life was peaceful, relaxed. I couldn’t imagine that someone WANTED the opposite, rather than unfortunately ending up with it.

    Live and learn. He eventually married someone else, they fight like crazy, and seem perfectly happy together.

    Anyway. Long-winded, and not really to my point. Sorry for the rambling.

    I know it’s fashionable to believe that we all live in these bubbles, but I’m going to push back a LITTLE and say that some of us don’t. I’ve got chilled friends, I’ve got friends who love to argue about everything. I hang out with people from across the political spectrum, and we all hang out together. My family and my in-laws have very different opinions on just about everything (really, you have no idea), and they get along great. While I’m a very special and unique snowflake and all around terrific guy, I doubt that I’m all THAT different than everyone else.

    So it might be worth considering that the coastal elite bubble (am I ever getting sick of that term) is in play when we talk about bubbles: “we’re in a bubble, everyone we know is sorted into similar bubbles, therefore everyone in the country is locked into social media blah blah blah where they only know people who think exactly like themselves.”

    • Luke Perrin says:

      Wait, are you suggesting that the rest of us are in a bubble bubble?

      • Lasagna says:

        That’s it! Love it.

      • Thegnskald says:

        I do feel that way sometimes.

        My social group has a significant mixture of religions, political beliefs, urban/rural people, income levels, sexual orientations, gender identifications, people from different states… (race mixture has been poor lately, but that is because the local meet-up place closed for over a year and has only recently re-opened, under new management, and only a few subgroups have started attending regularly, and the token black friend of the major social group moved away for a better job).

        The mixture isn’t average – autistic types are unusually common – but overall it is reasonably representative. Gender is biased a bit in favor of women, much to their annoyance, as there are now zero eligible bachelors, and several single women – with the caveat that “eligible” excludes a couple of single men who are either asexual or are afraid to show any interest in women.

        We now have three toxic SJW types, up from two. Yes, they exist in the real world; the newbie appears to be a sociopath who uses SJW language as a weapon (other people’s boundaries are triggering, or something), the other two are a couple. The man in the couple tried to create a “safe space for women”, which the women were not interested in, as he has, for example, yelled at one of the women at night in the parking lot. The woman, I am less familiar with specifics, except that she generally treats people like shit.

        I’ve debated getting them ejected from the social group, but that would probably cost too much social capital, and I am more interested right now in getting the convicted felon who has repeatedly stolen from people in the group ejected anyways. (He is being protected by another prominent group member, which makes overt action too expensive, so it requires a little more subtlety.)

        So yeah. The “bubble” thing is weird to me.

        Hell, I don’t even have internet bubbles. It is too interesting to see what other people have to say, and it gives me a good pulse on the direction of things.

        • nimim.k.m. says:

          I am amazed to be reminded that this kind of social life is something that really happens to people, and it’s not just a thing that exists only in fiction. How do you find the time for it?

          • Aapje says:

            I’m more amazed at the willingness to put up with things:

            ‘We have a thief who is protected by a powerful group member, so now I have to covertly…’

            “the newbie appears to be a sociopath who uses SJW language as a weapon”

            ‘there is an man who rationalizes away culpability for his own bad behavior by rationalizing it as being common to all men and who protects his self-image by white knighting, rather than try to fix himself to behave decently to women’

            I want to run away from these people so hard.

          • Thegnskald says:


            I don’t.

            I invested a reasonable amount of time in the beginning, and now do maintenance work on the social relationships, which involves smaller gathering of the better people from the larger group on a weekly or biweekly basis, and then my wife and I host parties periodically, and occasionally attend those hosted by others.

            The initial investment of time was pretty substantive, but at this point it is little more effort than having one friendship.


            The broader group is somewhere north of fifty people (probably one hundred fifty?). Three terrible people isn’t a big deal, although they are way more salient than the dozen or so merely-crappy people who, while I’d prefer they not be around, don’t make the social dynamics actively worse (say, the woman who stalked one guy into the group, then settled on dating another guy because he made a lot of money, or the guy who is, as far as I can tell, never not high, or the woman who cheats on her husband constantly and is never not taking illegally purchased prescription meds… eh, there are others.).

            These three are salient because they are causing problems. And the thief isn’t even a significant problem in the larger group, apart from warning newbies, and I would ignore him if he weren’t specifically in one of the subgroups with high overlap with my own subgroups.

            The SJW trio are a problem though, yes. Fortunately, they have basically zero social capital, and burn whatever capital they get as soon as they have it, so they don’t pose so much a threat to the greater group dynamics, as to the mental well-being of the members of the group who lack the confidence or assholishness to just tell them to fuck off. Which is a problem, because these are exactly the people they are targeting, so, well, there we go.

    • hnau says:

      So it might be worth considering that the coastal elite bubble (am I ever getting sick of that term) is in play when we talk about bubbles: “we’re in a bubble, everyone we know is sorted into similar bubbles, therefore everyone in the country is locked into social media blah blah blah where they only know people who think exactly like themselves.”

      Yes, and the mechanism for this seems obvious: the degree of choice available in one’s social circles. In big metro areas it’s much easier to find living situations, jobs, education, entertainment, etc. that are dominated by like-minded people.

      True, the Internet also makes this easier for everyone… but I’d expect that a lot of the non-conscious selection that Scott posits would be driven by face-to-face (or at least voice) interaction.

      You mention family, which is kind of the extreme case of this (and another possible anti-bubble mechanism for Middle America). You don’t have any control over who your blood relatives are, so it stands to reason that they won’t form a bubble.

      I guess the underlying assumption here would be that bubbles come from self-selection, not peer pressure changing how people think / behave. Not sure how to square that with what Scott describes in the original post.

      • Aapje says:

        I think that cities tend to have less peer pressure than towns, but allow for more self-segregation. So city bubbles tend to be primarily due to a lack of diversity of beliefs, while town bubbles tend to be primarily people acting conformist.

        So both have their bubble mechanisms, but they are different. For example, self-segregation probably has a greater tendency to get gulagy because everyone believes in the cause, while conformism tends to have many people go through the motions, without conviction. On the other hand, it’s probably easier to escape self-segregation.

      • You don’t have any control over who your blood relatives are, so it stands to reason that they won’t form a bubble.

        GKC makes that point somewhere, criticizing the idea that the family circle is narrow. You get to choose your friends. You are just dumped into your family.

  56. Ozy Frantz says:

    Another anecdote:

    In high school, I was fucking surrounded by nerdy men who were under the impression that they were Nice, and therefore if a nerdy girl said “no” to asking them out she was probably a horrible stuckup bitch and it was justified to get all their friends to argue with her until she started dating them. This was a horrible dynamic and left me with great sympathy for blog posts with sentences like “niceness is not a selling point, it is literally like saying your car has wheels.”

    Today, I am fucking surrounded by nerdy men who think that quietly having a crush on a girl without telling her is probably sexual harassment and they should hate themselves for it, and asking a girl out probably means they are an Evil Harassing Misogynist. They would not ever pressure someone into dating them who didn’t want to date them, in much the same way that they would not travel to the moon.

    I have no idea what changed.

    Sometimes I wonder how many other conversations I’m hopelessly confused by because I happen to not have met half the problem.

    • BBA says:

      The second group read the same blog posts as you about the first group.

    • Aapje says:


      Feminism won, congratulations.

      Seriously though, a major issue for progressive movements is overreach. It’s important that there is not just conservative opposition, but also progressive opposition that pushes back against goals that are in the right direction, but are off the mark. The reason is that seemingly the only effective method to effect initial change is to push people in a direction, not to give them a nuanced message that only affects those who need it. Conservative opposition often merely hampers progressive change, but progressive opposition can redirect or temper it.

      Let’s say that in the old situation, 60% of men were too sexually aggressive, 30% are in a sweet spot and 10% are too unaggressive. Then it’s pretty much inevitable that when there is a push to reduce the aggressiveness of that 60%, is not going to make everyone end up in that sweet spot, but will push everyone towards to become less sexually aggressive, including those who don’t need that. The more lopsided the concern is about sexually aggression with no regard for the opposite problem, the more people will be damaged by pushing them into a becoming too unaggressive.

      Nerds are a little special in that they seem exceptionally sensitive to these messages. So the harm to this group seems highly disproportional. This is similar to how some people metabolize medicines differently and need different doses.

      Now, in a healthy situation, this kind of damage is recognized by more and more people as the damage gets greater and you get pushback from those affected and allies. Then the activists take note of this and push less hard or start to push in a more nuanced way.

      When it comes to gender and nerds, we don’t have a healthy situation like that. Ironically, one reason is that the traditional gender roles benefits feminists in that they teach men not to see their problems as systemic, but as personal challenges to be overcome individually. So they try to adapt and if they fail, they suffer, rather than ask for help. Another reason is that feminists tend to have the goal to remove power from men and the theory has many rationalizations for this and why all resistance by men is reactionary, which makes it extremely resistant to taking male perspectives or pushback seriously.

      Nerds have the extra problem that this society has a lot of prejudice against the introverted and a lot of prejudice against nerds. Furthermore, there is special (intersectional) prejudice against male nerds when it comes to sexuality, where the common assumption is that male nerds who are sexual are creeps or otherwise transgressive.

      Because so much is stacked against men in general and male nerds specifically, it’s pretty much impossible for men and especially male nerds to be effective activists, which is why it’s crucial to have non-male activists speak out for us.

      Anyway, I’m rather surprised/confused that you don’t realize this already, Ozy. Quite a bit of your writing seems to be pushback against SJ orthodoxy that disenfranchises and harms men in general and male nerds in particular. I guess this primarily stems from your high intellect and displeasure with hypocrisy, which makes it impossible for you to ignore SJ hypocrisy; not a broader understanding of the forces at work.

      • Alexp says:

        I remember seeing a SJ-aligned blog make a pretty good point about this: the portrayal of nerds in media. Basically at least since Revenge of the Nerds, the joke was that the Nerds had some of the same sort of jerkish views and attitudes towards women as you’d expect from the asshole jocks, and fratboys and Biff Tannen’s, but because they’re so sexually non-threatening, it’s charming and funny, rather than dangerous. You see the same thing in The Big Bang Theory.

        I think that may sort of color a lot of societies attitudes towards nerds.

      • Thegnskald says:

        Looking at the history of feminist victories, and looking at nerd culture’s failure to fold entirely in front of a society-wide assault on it, I feel like there is something missing from this analysis:

        Why is feminism failing against nerddom, and why is nerddom, at the same time, suddenly becoming a huge part of popular culture?

        It seems like feminism has been attacking nerds for a long time now, because it has – but the unusual thing isn’t the attack itself, it is the failure of the attack to take much ground.

        (I suspect the issue feminism ran into was this: Feminism has always been fought using memetic weapons, more or less. Nerds fight memetic wars for fun, in their spare time.)

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Feminists mostly don’t fight against nerddom.

          Feminists mostly fight against the current dominant culture, to the extent it is not feminist.

          (Note: The infamous “nice guy(TM)” is a creep, not a nerd.)

          You are looking at an effect, not a cause.

          • gbdub says:

            I don’t know, I think the “nice guy” is always portrayed as both creepy AND nerdy. Neckbeard and fedora, etc.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Why is feminism failing against nerddom, and why is nerddom, at the same time, suddenly becoming a huge part of popular culture?

          Nerddom failed pretty hard; go back to _Untitled_ and the post by Scott Aaronson writing about how he fit into Ozy’s group 2 above, note the fall of the tech press and of many tech companies. The main reason it didn’t fail completely is there’s no place for nerds to go. We cannot meet feminism’s standards and we are not high-status enough to give them lip service while ignoring them. When you corner a rat, he fights.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Scott Aaronson isn’t merely a casualty, he is ammunition.

            You mistake the nature of this war – you don’t win by beating down your enemies, you win by making them the villains.

          • The Nybbler says:

            That’s not a tactic, it’s just what the end condition looks like; from my point of view the villains are behaving villainously and calling it virtuous; from theirs they are behaving virtuously and I am the villain. Whichever side is winning will have more people seeing it their way, but that’s not how they win.

            The winning is done through firing, blacklisting, silencing, prosecuting, no-platforming, imposition of vexatious rules, ejection from groups and associations, etc. When the nerd finds himself in a position where anything he can do is wrong and if he does nothing that’s wrong too, he can be punished for any of it on the word of others, and the others can get away with anything with respect to him, they’ve won. The only real advantage the nerd has is that this is a familiar state.

          • Thegnskald says:

            The civil rights era wasn’t won by the side blacklisting, prosecuting, silencing, ejecting, and imposing rules.

            Mind, the side that won immediately starting doing those things, but it had to win before it could.

            The civil rights era was won by the side that could more consistently frame their opponents as the villains, and thus acquired the social power and currency to begin doing those other things.

            And then that side started abusing their social power against other people – or at least were successfully framed in the social consciousness as doing so – and Trump was elected.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The civil rights era was different, and it was singular. And it cannot be used for any purpose other than civil rights; there’s an analog to Godwin’s law which is basically “How dare you compare your puny problems to those of the civil rights era?”

            In general the “shock the conscience” idea doesn’t work with nerds. Rosa Parks was _sympathetic_; the story they went with was that she was a poor tired black woman who just wanted to rest her feet when that mean bus driver demanded she move. Nerds (particularly male nerds) are not sympathetic; when the ordinary person sees something bad happen to a nerd, their instinct is not to sympathize but to pile on.

            On the other hand, it DOES work with feminists; when one says some creepy nerd microaggressed her, ten people will pile on the nerd saying what a horrible person he is, and at the same time ostentatiously and publicly sympathize with the feminist. And the details of what the microaggression was _do not matter_.

          • Thegnskald says:

            To say you should learn from the civil rights era isn’t to say everything that has something to learn from that era is equivalent.

            Ten years ago, the response to concerns about men’s rights was to assume, whatever you said, you really wanted to be able to veto an abortion.

            Five years ago, the response to concerns about men’s rights was something about an ice cream machine. (Which is to say, mockery.)

            Today, the response to concerns about men’s rights is “Feminism fights for your rights too, it’s about equal rights”.

            Speaking as somebody who personally convinced some half-dozen self-described feminists to stop using the term “feminist” during that era because the movement had become extremely misandrist – it took a long time to realize we were winning, because the status quo was losing. And it still is! But the direction of the change isn’t “getting worse for men”, it is “getting better for men”.

            I was quite gratified to overhear two “normal” men talking about men’s rights a few months back. Haven’t personally gotten involved in that fight for a while – for a wonder, reading endless articles about horrible things people go through isn’t very good for your mental health.

            Likewise, the trend isn’t “getting worse for nerds”. We passed that peak a couple of years ago.

          • CatCube says:

            @The Nybbler

            Rosa Parks was _sympathetic_; the story they went with was that she was a poor tired black woman who just wanted to rest her feet when that mean bus driver demanded she move.

            The reason Rosa Parks was very sympathetic is that she was explicitly chosen by movement leaders for the PR blitz because she was sympathetic. That’s not to downplay her contribution; I mean, she got arrested knowingly. But the Civil Rights Movement basically had adults in charge who were careful and politically astute. A woman named Claudette Colvin was arrested under similar circumstances a little earlier, but the NAACP let that pitch go by because she didn’t have the sympathetic presence that Parks did. They were looking to swing at a home run. (Colvin was one of the plaintiffs in the case that overturned segregation, but the NAACP didn’t put her front and center in the PR campaign.)

          • BBA says:

            @Thegnskald: Again with the bubbles – in my circles the norm is still to dismiss MRAs as bitter divorcees with unpaid child support and basement-dwelling neckbeards tweeting death threats.

          • AnonYEmous says:

            but that bubble is beginning to pop

            or at least, become isolated and less powerful

            win / win, probably

          • Aapje says:


            In so far that men’s rights/true egalitarianism is becoming slightly more mainstream, it’s because men are comparatively losing out more and more, so the disconnect between ‘the narrative’ and the truth is becoming more and more obvious. Many people notice this, even if much of the truth is being withheld from them.

            However, as long as the media vilifies non-feminist activists, they get no-platformed from pretty much any non-negligible platform and neurotypical activists get so mistreated that they end up in tears; the situation is one where MRAs and true egalitarians are oppressed.

            Anyway, you seem to define winning as ‘winning hearts and minds,’ while others define it as actual improvements in laws and policies. You can argue that the former is a bit on the upswing in the general population (but not those actually in power!), but I think that it is hard to argue for the latter. The two can go in opposite directions when there is polarization between an elite who has most power and others in society.

            As for it getting better or worse for male nerds: feminists are clearly targeting nerd enclaves like IT and seeking affirmative action to discriminate against male nerds. This is provably already happening at mild levels at places like Google, more than in the past. So the trend is towards more discrimination of male nerds. People who speak out against this get kicked out (Damore), while those that favor it get to speak freely, resulting in a very one-sided conversation. There is a large risk that bad decisions get made in such an oppressive environment.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Aapje –

            Men’s social clubs are making a comeback. Moose Lodges, for example, are starting to gain members, after steadily losing them for decades.

            This kind of change is probably invisible to most people, but it is, seriously, huge. Male (safe, in sjw terms) spaces are in a slow resurgence.

            In another front, in what will probably be the biggest social game-changer in decades, vasalgel is moving into human trials next year. You can bet any sons I might have will be using it.

            This year has seen a number of men’s abuse shelters open up throughout the country – the failure to get this rolling in Canada a few years ago resulted in the suicide of a prominent MRA. That is a huge deal. Canada still hasn’t made any headway, but the US has.

            The ball is rolling.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Moose Lodges, for example, are starting to gain members, after steadily losing them for decades.

            If they ever get significant, there will be successful lawsuits to allow women, followed by other successful lawsuits to make them over for the benefit of the women. And they won’t admit nerds.

          • Aapje says:


            I agree that small steps are being made in the positive direction, but there are also negative developments. Furthermore, pro-women activism gets ton of attention, money and effort being put into it and there is a strong push for more. That is why I said ‘comparatively losing.’

            If I start with $10/hour and get a 50 cent raise, while you start with $20/hour and get a 1 dollar raise, I am falling further behind. To catch up, I don’t merely require a 1 dollar raise as well, but more than that.

            IMO, at most you can argue that there are signs that such an acceleration may be imminent, but it’s far from a given that this is the case.

            It’s especially fragile since much of the media is highly biased and imbalanced, so people get the ‘mainstream feminism’ message 99% of the time and the other side only 1% of the time. It’s hard to be confident when there are so few organisations that provide continuity for the other side. In contrast, feminism has many organizations, gets a continuous stream of attention and has strong support within many organizations don’t have feminism as their core goal. That ball keeps rolling no matter what.

            Men seeking help and moral support from each other in Moose Lodges is an example of men coping within a bad system and not engaging in activism to demand support and/or equality. So I don’t consider this very positive in the sense that it makes an overall societal change (although if it helps those men then that is very good, of course).

            The shelters for men is a very positive development, especially since we frequently see the claim that men don’t need these services. So if you have full shelters for men, it is at least possible to point to that. A big problem is that otherwise you get the circular problem that men don’t seek this kind of help because they know it isn’t available, which is then used as evidence for a lack of need.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            I think you’re equating men’s rights and nerddom without sufficient justification. It is non-obvious to me that “men’s rights are nerd rights.”

            And while yes, SJWs and neckbeards are natural enemies, the waning of social justice is not because neckbeards are winning, it’s because SJWs have gone after the normies. Nobody cared when they went after vidya. People cared when SJWs started forcing Christians to bake gay cakes, burning down cities because a thug got shot for thuggery, messing up football games with stupid kneeling protests, etc.

            Nerds aren’t winning, SJWs are losing influence because they went after the mainstream culture instead of an unpopular subculture. You can still beat down nerds, and nerds will still be beaten down long after the last RadFem dies alone from toxic exposure to purple hair dye and is eaten by her 12 cats.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Conrad –

            It is an object example, not equating two things.

            As for the rest, eh, I am getting kind of bored of this discussion, and I have already shared all the thoughts I feel are sufficiently interesting to merit sharing on the topic, so you’ll forgive me if I tap out.

          • Aapje says:


            Your comment would be a lot better without that last sentence.

          • Nornagest says:

            Whoops, I think I edited in a bad word and my comment got eaten. Sucks that I have to remember what were inflammatory phrases five years ago. Let’s try that again.

            Nobody cared when they went after vidya. People cared when SJWs started forcing Christians to bake gay cakes, burning down cities because a thug got shot for thuggery, messing up football games with stupid kneeling protests, etc.

            Tropes vs. Women, the first blast of the trumpet against vidja, came out in 2013, the same year as the first cake incident (I think there have been more than one). l’affaire du reproductively viable worker ants kicked off in 2014, the year of Ferguson, but didn’t reach peak l’affaire until 2015 (the year of Baltimore). The kneeling protest is recent, but it’s a comparatively minor issue, and everything else you mention all happened at once. You might be right about the causation, but we can’t infer that just from the timing.

        • liskantope says:

          I would say that nerddom has gradually become a larger and larger part of popular culture since (I would say) at least the late 90’s, way before feminists started attacking it. The internet was booming (a good way for socially awkward and computer-oriented people to connect and make their presence known); Magic The Gathering and Pokemon were becoming huge; and a scrawny, bespectacled kid was the hero protagonist of an unprecedentedly popular new fantasy series.

          • Nornagest says:

            Harry Potter the character isn’t remotely a nerd, though, glasses and scrawniness notwithstanding — he’s a decent-to-mediocre student with no intellectual inclinations, not particularly awkward for his age past fifty pages of the first book, and his only real interest or talent is athletic. Hermione is a nerd, but as important as she’s been to female nerds of the last generation, I don’t feel like she’s made as much of a splash in nerd culture generally.

            On the other hand, Harry Potter the books might have contributed to mainstreaming nerd culture just by being a household-name fantasy series — something that hadn’t happened since Lord of the Rings.

          • gbdub says:

            I always figured nerddom came under the social justice Eye of Sauron precisely because it was getting immensely popular, and nerds went from rejects the girls ignored to suddenly gatekeepers of pop culture, where their white maleness became problematic. Entryism might be too harsh a term, but there was I think at least some of that.

            Harry Potter I do think played an important role though – it’s the first relatively mainstream fantasy/sci-fi series I can recall that was at least as popular among girls as boys. Although maybe Animorphs? My sister and I both read those.

            Maybe I’m missing something that came earlier, but in my middle school days the idea of otherwise entirely “girly” girls suddenly caring deeply about the adventures of a wizard was a culture shock.

          • liskantope says:

            I agree that Hermione, rather than Harry, is the full-fledged nerd of that book series. But I’d argue that Harry did exhibit more stereotypical nerd characteristics (male, physical weakness, glasses, to some extent a social underdog who got bullied a lot) than most hero protagonists up to that point that I can think of (though I guess Peter Parker, who showed up much earlier, was similar in this way).

            Your comment brings to mind the fact that, if I remember right, Lord of the Rings fanatacism made somewhat of a comeback starting around those years.

            Also, I should have mentioned, in the late 90’s, major Star Wars reboots were coming out and the prequel trilogy was just beginning.

          • liskantope says:

            @gbdub: Animorphs was a big part of my life when it was coming out, but to the best of my recollection the fandom was somewhat more concentrated among me and my (very nerdy) group of friends, and almost all boys. Interestingly, in comparison to Harry Potter and LotR, it seems to be treated as a bygone classic which enjoys what can almost be described as a narrow cult following.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I believe the big shift happened when it became clear that it was possible to make big money by being an IT nerd.

            There was another thing going on– science fiction and fantasy (led by LOTR, I think) became major parts of fiction.

            Fantastic elements are part of the normal human pleasure in fiction, but for a long time (since the 20s or thereabouts) they were Not Respectable.

            I don’t think Star Trek made as large a difference as Star Wars. Star Wars made it clear there was a huge audience.


            I would say that Harry Potter is nerdish, not so much because of the characters as because it’s a long fantasy series with a lot of detail.

            One thing that is nerdish is how seriously the characters take their homework.

          • Matt M says:

            For as much as people hate on Big Bang Theory, and for as much about nerd culture as it gets horribly wrong, I think it has been a huge ally to nerds in the culture war overall – mainly by portraying them as sympathetic. As regular people with unique and interesting lifestyle choices.

            Sheldon for one is portrayed far more sympathetically than he deserves to be. He acts like a selfish and egotistical jerk, yet is continually portrayed as having his heart in the right place, as deserving of friends and romance (even if he himself doesn’t want it), etc.

        • BBA says:

          Talk about different worlds – in my experience feminism is doing much better in nerddom than elsewhere.

          (Of course, part of this is that I mentally associate nerddom with intellectualism, and from there universities, the blue tribe, and all the rest of that cultural baggage.)

        • Aapje says:


          I partially agree with Nybbler. Most of the demands are simply impossible because nerds occupy the more system-oriented parts of the world, which they cannot leave due to their nature. They are often mercilessly bullied in school over their system-oriented behaviors, including physical violence and extreme social punishment & yet this generally does not work to make them act more people-oriented.

          So when some feminists bully them, using tactics that can work on others, this simply doesn’t work on them.

          Similarly, nerds often cannot comply by being inclusive, because the usual feminists definition of inclusiveness is based on outcomes, not effort. As has been shown by Scott and many others, the reason why women do not enter system-oriented professions in large numbers is not that they leave or are rebuffed by gatekeepers, but primarily by their choice*.

          I would argue that the behavior that Ozy notices is actually an example of nerds being extremely willing to comply, yet seeing no way to do so within their capabilities. So they then resort to the solution that nerds often choose when they think that they are not capable of not hurting others due to their limitations: being passive and leaving the neurotypical to take the lead.

          After all, the perfectly logical conclusion to the common feminist belief that men are conditioned to be toxic/rapist/etc, while women are not, it to let these non-abusive women make the moves and to have the men act passively (so they never take advantage of the female conditioning to accommodate men out of fear of their wrath)**.

          * Where people can disagree whether this is due to nature, nurture or both.

          ** Note that I think that these common feminist beliefs are very inconsistent with the facts.

          • Thegnskald says:

            As I suggest above, the examples Ozy notices aren’t merely casualties, they’re ammunition.

            I mean, you could probably win a cultural war by beating up the opposition, but honestly, that has at best a mixed track record. In practice, cultural war is fought with more subtlety.

            Let’s take our nerd-who-tried-and-failed and transport him to another cultural battle, a recent one, that has mostly ended now. Let’s reimagine him as a gay man who tried and failed to be straight. Take his story, make it public, make people read it – how miserably depressed he was, how hard he tried to pray-away-the-gay, how he turned to resource after resource trying to be better without ever improving.

            Do you think our hypothetical gay man’s story proves that gay rights were losing?

          • Aapje says:


            You seem to have a strong focus on ‘winning’ the culture war, but wars have casualties. WW 1 was an allied victory, but 5 million allied soldiers never got to enjoy that victory. Many others suffered permanent disabilities.

            I have little doubt that eventually true egalitarianism will win, but the road to that outcome matters a lot. The longer it takes and the more unfairness that has to happen before people will change their outlook, the more suffering and unfairness will happen that is avoidable detriment to human happiness.

            PS. What if most people don’t actually read the story by the gay man and the media doesn’t actually report what he wrote, but frames it as ‘pervert who refused to put in the hard work to be straight slams successful conversion therapy?’ If you look at how Damore was reported on, it was mostly a false narrative that painted Damore in a false light to reinforce existing beliefs.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Aapje –

            I feel like you are measuring victory in terms that mean you are only winning when you have already won. Great humanitarian ethic, not so useful for gauging what direction things are going.

            If we have no casualties, there is nothing left to fight about.

        • John Schilling says:

          Why is feminism failing against nerddom, and why is nerddom, at the same time, suddenly becoming a huge part of popular culture?

          Which definition of “nerddom” are you using?

          What I would call “geekdom”, defined roughly by interest in a cluster of genre entertainment loosely centered on SF and comics, is becoming a huge part of popular culture. I’m not convinced that feminism is failing against geekdom, so much as that its interest in attacking it is limited to a few specific fronts.

          “Nerddom”, I define roughly by interest in STEM subjects and associated thought patterns as more than just a means to a high-paying job. I do not believe that nerddom is becoming a huge part of popular culture, or that it ever can. It is recognized as a significant but not dominant economic niche. And its partial, but only partial, immunity to feminist attack is I believe mostly due to its indifference to the opinions of the people influenced by feminism.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Nerddom is the culture surrounding interest in STEM subjects and associated thought patterns; mentally, I’m very nerdy, but I do not fit in with other nerds, because the culture is much larger than that; it is ways of dressing, for example. Most people probably wouldn’t consider me a nerd, or if they did, only because there isn’t quite a label to describe what I am, and that is the closest thing that sort of fits.

            And yes, nerd style is entering into the mainstream; it’s been, what, ten years since people started wearing glasses they didn’t need? That’s not emulating geek culture – that is specifically emulating nerd culture.

            Likewise, the Yay-Science nonsense by scientific illiterates who, if you told them you were attempting to falsify the theory of evolution, would think you were a caveman – when more properly you’re either tilting at windmills or are doing some probably-interesting work in biology, and either way, are probably going to learn something interesting, which after all is the idea. Hell, I encourage creationists to attempt to falsify evolution, and would probably help them. Can’t think of a better way to get somebody to engage with the evidence.

            There’s also a lot of geek culture spreading out, too, of course; Marvel, Star Wars, Star Trek, all of that. Geek culture has been more successfully turned than nerd culture, but the high degree of overlap means there’s still a fight going on there, which is interesting if for no other reason than that pretty much every other cultural group feminism has concentrated fell more quickly.

          • Gobbobobble says:

            it’s been, what, ten years since people started wearing glasses they didn’t need?

            Who does this outside hipsters who do it as countersignalling?

          • The Nybbler says:

            Nobody; heck, 10 years ago, the actual nerds were getting LASIK.

        • Bugmaster says:

          As I see it, nerddom enjoyed a brief ascendancy in the 90s and early 00s, but now its power is on the wane. In a few years, nerds will return to the same cultural place where they came from; i.e., being a nerd will once again have few if any positive connotations.

          The organizations in charge of most of the hobbies traditionally associated with nerddom (comics, video gaming, tabletop gaming, science fiction literature, etc.) are very actively pivoting away from presenting their audience in a positive light, and toward portraying them as basement-dwelling troglodytes once again. Meanwhile, nerdy career occupations such as science and computer programming are either doing the same thing, or are becoming increasingly commodified due to automation. For example, it’s no longer enough to just know some Javascript in order to work as a traditional nerd; you have to have a M.S. or a Ph.D. — so it’s much harder harder to be a well-paid nerd.

          However, I don’t think any of this is due to “feminism winning”. Rather, I think that both the waning of nerddom and the waxing of feminism are just side-effects of the natural progression of society, which tends to marginalize people with poor social skills. The brief resurgence of nerddom was a social bubble, and like most bubbles, be they social or economic, it has popped.

          • Thegnskald says:

            In the universe I inhabit, Marvel is pivoting from Iron Man as a nerdish jock to Iron Man as a nerdish nerd, it is (still!) increasingly cool for black men to self-identify as, and dress as, nerds, the Hugo Awards collapsed when somebody challenged the dominant social group and still hasn’t managed to really recover from it, tabletop gaming is increasingly socially acceptable, board games are in an amazing renaissance of not-sucking, and…

            …well, I don’t read comic books, but video games haven’t suddenly started sucking – while there’s a lot more content I’m not personally interested in, it has utterly failed to crowd out the content I am personally interested in, and I think interpreting “feminist video games exist” as “video gaming has been conquered by feminists” is some kind of logical error, although I couldn’t say which one or how, exactly.

            (Although Fallout 4 sucked, you can’t exactly blame that on feminists. I think if anything it sucked because the developers tried to incorporate ideas modders had played with, or maybe just trying to make Fallout: Minecraft Edition, without revamping the engine to actually support it or make it more than casually interesting, producing what felt like a mod being sold as a game. On the whole it is hard to get upset about that failure, because I think it failed in the right direction.)

          • Nornagest says:

            Fallout 4 has a passable engine, and its core features are all individually fairly well done. I might have been happier if it had kept its old skills system or even used a variant of TES’s, but you can make perfectly good RPGs with minimalist leveling schemes — see Dark Souls. And its companions might not have the emotional depth of New Vegas‘s, but they beat Fallout 3‘s by a mile.

            Its biggest real problem is lazy quest design and failure to support Fallout’s traditional range of playstyles: with a bare handful of exceptions everything’s a shallow shooting gallery or a fetch quest, and the mod community can’t fill the gap because everything’s fully voiced. A lesser but still significant problem is that it doesn’t do a good job of integrating the build-a-bear settlements with the rest of the game, or really making the feature fun at all outside the construction phase.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            but video games haven’t suddenly started sucking

            Wat. The big studios are completely infested with SJW stuff. Black female nazi soldiers (with no swastikas!) in Call of Duty, Mass Effect Andromeda, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, etc.

            Witcher 3 is the last good video game ever made.

          • Nornagest says:

            Witcher 3 was pretty damn good, but I’d at least wait for Cyberpunk before writing off big-budget games entirely. Those Poles don’t seem to give a shit about our silly moral hangups, and if they manage to pull off another win like that you can bet the American studios will sit up and take notice, morals or no. And I thought there hadn’t been a WWII Call of Duty since 2008 or something?

            I’ll give you Andromeda, but Bioware knows its audience, and that audience is deeply rooted in the Tumblr side of fandom.

          • Matt M says:

            Wait, what’s the problem with Andromeda?

            Aside from probably over-representing LGBT by a couple orders of magnitude, and ham-fisted attempts at inclusion such as HI NICE TO MEET YOU IM AN UNIMPORTANT BIT CHARACTER AND BY THE WAY IM TRANS JUST THOUGHT YOU’D LIKE TO KNOW, I thought it was fine. Didn’t see much SJ influence on the main plot or characters.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Well, what you said. But then also the really crappy graphics.

            This is the real problem I have with social justice-ifying of games, movies, etc. Spending points on social justice stuff comes at the expense of actual competence.

          • Matt M says:

            We’ll have to agree to disagree on that one. I thought it was a great game taken down by a well organized and pre-meditated attack from trolls and haters.

          • Nornagest says:

            My main issue with it was boring characters. It was arguably an equally or more competent shooter than the previous Mass Effect games — not that that’s saying much — but that’s never been what I’ve played Mass Effect for, and six months from release I can’t even remember the names of half the cast.

            The graphical issues were annoying, but par for the course — even in 2 and 3, Bioware had managed to take a character modeled on Yvonne Strahovski, one of the most beautiful women in the world, and give her a bad case of potatohead in half her animations. Models and animation are just not what the studio’s good at.

    • baconbacon says:

      They grew up thinking you “get” someone to like you by doing certain things and acting certain ways. After years of failure they find out that their behavior was poor and are embarrassed about it, but they are still trying to get people to like them and are desperately searching for the behavior that will get people to like them.

      • Garrett says:

        Wow. This hits home. (It’s bringing cookies … isn’t it?)

      • Lillian says:

        You do get people to like you by doing certain things and acting certain ways. The issue is that it’s like winning a a battle, while it helps to have a tactical doctrine, your specific implementation will depend on the present operational parameters. You have to tailor your battle plan to the situation on the field, and then be able to adjust and improvise as the engagement develops. Without a dynamic situation based approach you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can’t win battles, or set succeed at social interaction, by following a script.

        • baconbacon says:

          There is no universal way to behave, no specific way to act, and it is not at all like winning a battle. Choking someone is almost always wrong, a totally crappy way to act, but in very specific circumstances it is totally fine! The person who bakes 1,000 cookies for the bake sale or brings an extraordinary dessert to a pot luck is liked by some and loathed by others.

          Most behaviors are heavily context driven, Jimmy doesn’t carry Andrea’s books because he wants her to like him, he does it because they are already at an understanding that she likes him, and the actual action is about exploring and cementing bonds that already exist, not about getting that first recognition in. It is also about figuring out how much further the relationship is going to go. Turns out Jimmy is an ass so Andrea dumps him, but this doesn’t mean that Andrea is now going to look for a “nice guy” instead of a Jimmy, she is probably going to look for a Jimmy who is nicer. Some people never figure out that “I wish my boyfriend was more like you” also happens to mean “I wish you were more like my boyfriend”.

          Turns out people have a whole spectrum of wants from their friends and mates, Jimmy lost out because he lacked one or two, but that doesn’t mean you can displace him by amplifying those one or two things. You still won’t have many of the things (even just the intangible connection they had at first) that are also necessary from Andrea’s POV.

          And getting over that first hump, that first moment when they can see you as a romantic partner or a close friend, because it is so heavily built into our subconscious. Why do you like her? She pretty, smart and fun! But you liked her right away before you knew if she was a little smart, or very, before you knew if she was fun or just pleasant, and she is far from the prettiest (even by your own definition before you saw her) in the school/class/party.

          Without a dynamic situation based approach you’re setting yourself up for failure. You can’t win battles, or set succeed at social interaction, by following a script.

          Relationships aren’t like battles, and this advice is especially bad for people starting out well behind in reading and understanding other people. Switching strategies on an individual almost never works, if you tried being nice, ignoring them probably won’t do the trick, swapping to negging after that fails is just going to make you look like a jerk. Even worse is switching strategies between interests. Being X, Y and Z didn’t work for #1, but it might well have worked out on #2 and that is what you have the most experience at, and hopefully fits who you are better. Trying something different when you have no experience reading the situation is most likely to lead to disaster, more frustration and more isolation.

          • Lillian says:

            Thinking about social interactions as a tactical wargame gave me a useful way to map them, and allowed me to take an objective based approach. It made them both more enjoyable and easier to understand.

            After i started doing that i could see how, for example, someone was stubbornly holding to a position because he had no open line of retreat. This understanding allows me to shift my positions such as to allow him to vacate his fortress with his colours flying, preventing a bitter and brutal storming of his positions. Alternatively i could see that the casualties likely to be sustained in a particular argument campaign are not worth the gains, and so decide to decline the offensive.

            Thay said, it’s more like waging a war than winning a battle, since every campaign influences the next, and the fighting is never over. In all, it’s by far my favourite wargame.

        • wobbler says:

          No not following a script, but you need to have something to improvise around

        • bean says:

          You can’t win battles, or set succeed at social interaction, by following a script.

          Depends on the social interaction. When I was tour guiding, I had a script. I’d ask people if they were enjoying their visit, and then if they had any questions. I wouldn’t recommend trying to make friends in quite the same manner, but finding something like that is probably a good way to start if you’re a bit unsure of yourself socially. I know it did wonders for my public speaking skills.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      You know, that’s actually a really interesting example, when you consider how interlocked it is.

      Consider. We have three groups here: A, B, C. A complains about B (and likely doesn’t know about C). C doesn’t know about B (well, maybe; but let’s keep this simple here) and takes A’s complaints as directed at them (again, more or less, but keeping it simple), matching the language of the complaint to aspects of their own behavior. And so when C attempts to go to A to either dispute or get clarification on their complaint, A misinterprets them as B both because (1) they don’t know about C and (2) C is now describing themselves in the language that A used to describe B. And so C concludes that they really are the target of the complaint… etc. Boom, double-blindness.

      (I guess it’s a little less interlocked than all that; someone from C attempting to dispute A’s complaint without mistaking themselves for a member of B, and explicitly saying they’re not one, is likely to get mistaken for a member of B all the same. But such a person may just notice that A is seriously confused and stop listening to them…)

      • Michael Arc says:

        Alternatively, A may be, for good reasons, afraid of B, and the momentum from victories against ‘B’ may be valuable for A’s cause. If A isn’t afraid of C, but can ‘mistake’ C for B with plausible deniability, A can acquire momentum and rally together against B with less fear. This sucks for C, but if it’s continued for long enough it should cause C to notice the existence of B. The question is, when they do, will C seek help from B as a common enemy of A, or will C oppose B for causing the whole mess.

    • Alexp says:

      I think most men were at some point stuck at some version of those two extremes. It years of interacting with women, asking some out, getting rejected, asking some out, getting accepted, and then getting rejected again, before finally coming to a happy median.

      With nerdy men, I think a combination of lack of women to interact with (not none, just fewer) and possibly autism-eque symptoms may make it harder to get to that median. So they get stuck at whatever extreme is currently in vogue, so to speak.

    • Sebastian_H says:

      This is a good example of how social dynamics can influence internal perceptions. The first group was wrong and harming other people, the second group is wrong and harming themselves. The pendulum swings…

    • Gobbobobble says:

      I have no idea what changed.


  57. thedixon says:

    I want to add a personal example on an abusive relationship. I had been in one in my life years ago. It is hard to say who was the abuser/abused in that one, it seemed to be flipping back and forth. But objectively looking, she can probably claim I was the abuser, and describe it to people, and it would match the typical description of an abuse(it never got physical, except she actually hit me a couple of times).

    Neither before or after had I been in any relationship which had any issues with abuse. They were all very healthy. I am friends with most of my exes.

    I think that some people somehow manage to pull out abusive behavior out of other people. I am not sure how. But I do remember that she could make me very angry with just a couple of well placed words/gestures at any moment. Those words would be rather innocent on a surface, but they would hit just the correct buttons for me, which I had no idea I even had.

    • Besserwisser says:

      According to research, the majority of abusive relationship include reciprocal violence. Your experience sounds much more like the norm than an exception. I’m not sure how often people end up in one abusive relationship after the other but I’m sure there are many other cases where they are exceptions rather than the rule.

  58. DrBeat says:

    So people have inherent traits that make others want to be nice to them and serve their needs, and other people have inherent traits that make others want to abuse them and do them harm.

    The fact that you can notice this and everyone calls you insightful and when I notice it I’m repeatedly told I’m insane, is the best proof yet of inherent popularity.

    • Murphy says:

      Some people do seem to wear an invisible “kick me” sign. For some it can be a coping mechanism, I can think of a few people who seem to always make themselves the butt of jokes in almost any social circle but end up vaguely liked my the groups as a result.

      Though sometimes it can be maladaptive. Some people have a way of always getting in fights they’re going to lose. The innocent example would be watching one of my little nephews prodding and poking the other incessantly until he’s finally pissed enough to turn round and beat him. The less innocent version is basically the same thing but with a skinny little twerp doing roughly the same thing with a big drunk bruiser in a bar.

      Some people unconsciously escalate negative body language from others and project it back and always seem to have people around them they’re in fueds and conflicts with. Some people naturally deescalate and seem to have peaceful social lives.

      • Cugel_the_Unclever says:

        I can think of a few people who seem to always make themselves the butt of jokes in almost any social circle but end up vaguely liked my the groups as a result.

        This is true. There’s also a point where this sort of behaviour dynamic veers into being really unhealthy.

        Similarly, I’ve met some charismatic individuals that seem to be hyper-capable of establishing rapport with *anyone* and find themselves being generally liked with minimal effort.

    • Deiseach says:

      DrBeat, I am awaiting your “Cancer mortality only happens to UNPOPULAR people, POPULAR people get all the best treatments and drugs early to help them survive, best proof yet of unfairness of inherent popularity!” comment one of these days.

      • Murphy says:

        Funny you should mention that because “perceived social support” actually has an effect on chemicals that can make tumors worse.

        Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a key cytokine that is capable of stimulating tumor angiogenesis, and it has been associated with poorer survival in patients with ovarian carcinoma.

        “Higher levels of social well being were correlated with lower VEGF levels in presurgical patients with ovarian carcinoma. These findings suggest a possible mechanism by which poor social support may be associated with disease progression. Further study of these relations may demonstrate novel pathways relating biobehavioral factors to tumor growth and disease progression.”

        The universe and human biology is genuinely cruel.

      • Walter says:

        That doesn’t sound THAT crazy to me. Like, “popular folks tend to be richer or less stressed, ergo live longer” is the sort of thing I’d nod along to if I heard it on the radio.

      • DrBeat says:

        When you make things up to make people sound stupid, then you can make them stupid by attributing made-up stupid ideas to them, you sure got me here!

    • Dedicating Ruckus says:

      People’s reaction to a given idea will depend substantially on the presentation of the idea, even entirely divorced from the idea’s validity in itself. Scott is a very skilled writer with a particular talent in presenting ideas such that they’re seriously considered, whereas your comments along similar lines, while often describing real phenomena, have a tendency to be rather histrionic and hyperbolic in tone.

      This isn’t a matter of an inherent personal quality divorced from all behavior; it’s intentional presentation, and presenting ideas such that skeptical audiences will consider them is a learnable skill.

  59. andhishorse says:

    People who have close friends with a wide range of “fields” (i.e. behaviors that they unconsciously evoke in others): do you observe differences in the behavior? Is there anything you notice that could be replicated to achieve a desired effect?

  60. TyphonBaalHammon says:

    Reading this made me return to the theory that I’m projecting a subconscious field of intimidation (not sure if that’s the appropriate word but it’s something like that) that keeps pretty much everyone at bay.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      I do that as well. Number one descriptor is “scary.”

      That’s partly why I’ve never visited one of Scott’s meet-ups, despite living close enough and finding him interesting. I’m pretty sure I’m the kind of person he wouldn’t want in his life. My wife on the other hand, they’d get along swimmingly I’m sure…

      • Murphy says:

        I think I may be the opposite. I’m a fairly beefy guy but apparently I broadcast some kind of signal such that random stranger women who are being hassled by someone have decided I’m ideal to be the guy they can pretend to know.

        So it’s probably some kind of body language thing and not just shoulder width.

        • AnonYEmous says:

          that almost sounds like the opposite – they pretend to know you because you’re beefy enough to deter hassling

          ya know?

  61. Murphy says:

    “I worry that to match her results, I would have to somehow copy her entire personality.”

    I pretty much agree with your thesis. Though for different reasons to you and I summarizes some things differently to how you do.

    Part of the difference is probably down to differing reactions to the quote. Mine in such a situation would be “rightyo then, copying it is” since my default approach to unfamiliar social situations was to copy the personality of someone who seemed to be doing well.

    So I get to see a certain amount of snapshots of how different people experience the world and the difference is huge.

    I learned fairly young that most people are somewhat emotionally lazy and simply emote back what they think the other person feels about them rather than bothering to form a strong specific emotional position on the other person.

    I also agree re: bubbles, we select the people around us.

    From a young age I was somewhat less sensitive to micro-expressions and body language than most.

    I’ve never been formally diagnosed with Autism but a family friend who’s full time job is diagnosing autistic children was of the opinion that of course me, my dad, my brother and sister are all solidly on the spectrum.

    I never had much trouble making friends because as a 5 year old I’d march up to someone on their own and start talking, the logic at the time was that they weren’t busy talking to anyone else so probably wouldn’t mind.

    With understanding gained later in life I now know I was blithely marching up to the kids with various minor movement disorders or similar who most people unconsciously avoided. From my point of view it worked out well, I have a modest pool of long term good friends.

    So as an adult my social circle includes lots of people with unusual ticks and/or body language or movements. My best friend struggles to be remembered by anyone, his body language is fairly blank and he just doesn’t make an impact on people, people he’s worked with for years forget him. The best example is probably from our school years: the people who were missing on the day of yearbook photo they photo-shopped them in. Except him. Because, well, literally everyone from his classmates to his teachers forgot about him.

    My Fiance finds some people just hate her on sight. Entirely literally. I’ve seen it happen with complete strangers who she hasn’t spoken a word to. Like 2 cats fluffing up. I find it fascinating. Though she also sometimes finds she hates people on sight with no idea why as well and it’s typically mutual.

    My going hypothesis is that she tends to mirror the micro-expressions that people project at her and amplifies it slightly where most people dull it slightly. Which is fine until she meets someone like herself who also naturally amplifies and then it only takes one or the other scowling slightly or similar to get a feedback loop. I have a strong feeling that were she in a relationship with someone similar to herself they’d have lots of screaming fights. But since I don’t strongly mirror people unless I choose to we have a nice low-drama relationship.

    An interesting phenomenon is that people can be thrust from one social world into another after developing neuro problems. My sister is in a similar boat to myself and worked as a nurse on a neuro ward years ago. There was a particular condition she found fascinating. There was a patient who thought she was the only nice nurse on the ward. That every other nurse was horrible and hated her for no reason. She knew the nurses and knew they had no strong feelings on this woman. So she watched. Most of the nurses were normal humans who respond to body language unconsciously.

    The patient had a disorder which paralyses facial muscles and a lot of the little unconscious movements that make up normal body language.

    The other nurses would come down the line checking on the patients, “hello Mr so and so, how’s the neck this morning, any more pain?” etc but when they’d get to this patient they’d go blank. Avoid eye contact, barely speak a word etc. Because the body language she was projecting thanks to her condition roughly translated to “I don’t want to talk to you, go away, leave me alone” and they were complying completely unaware that they were doing so.

    Like myself my sister being a tad blind to such things was thus the “only nice nurse on the ward” because she was utterly ignoring the body language, having less automatic systems for responding to it, and acting exactly as she would to anyone else.

    Apparently patients with the condition in question tend to kill themselves at an extremely high rate. it’s not a painful condition but suddenly people they’ve known for years seem to barely talk to them and it seems like the people they love aren’t even looking them in the eye…. because most of their friends and family are normal human beings with mostly hard-wired reactions to expression and body language that they can’t really turn off.

    They’re still the same person surrounded by the same people but suddenly they experience an utterly different world.

    Imagine if you suddenly found yourself in the body of that other therapist. The one who broadcasts the “be emotional” signal. You’d probably be highly distressed most of the time as suddenly people have emotional meltdowns and even in your personal life you suddenly find yourself at the heart of endless drama. If she found herself with your “be calm and analytical” signal she might be terribly distressed that everyone around her seems to react to her in such a muted fashion.

  62. nestorr says:

    A few years ago I met a lady who had a bizarre talent for attracting weird people and getting into strange situations on a daily basis.

    I rationalized it by figuring she must have some quirk of body language, making eye contact with the crazy hobo muttering to himself on the train so he immediately comes over for a chat, that sort of thing, but the crazy bisexual borderline personality roommate we shared arrived before she did, and the crazy drunk lady shouting about her children having been kidnapped who tried to wrench off her car window was just standing in the middle of the road waiting for her…

    But yeah, I think body language is Very Important. Years ago I participated in an anti bullying intervention my dad organized for Asperger’s kids. They were doing a big publicity thing by giving the kids recording devices, to pressure the schools to be vigilant, all seemed a little counterproductive to me, but I was along for the ride. One of the kids I spoke with I gave some body language tips, short eye contact vs looking away, no preemptive flinching, etc… and it reportedly did wonders for him.

    I myself have developed the capability of being effortlessly social, after decoupling my stress reactions thanks to meditation, I am genuinely relaxed around people and that seems to translate to positive, accessible body language.

    Now I’m thinking about confessionals and how the ritual and the hidden confessor conditions the experience, obviously people don’t go having big emotional breakdowns in confession (Usually). But I wonder how the experience for priests compares to that of psychiatrists. I suppose the whole secrecy of the confessional puts a damper on any kind of systematic research on that subject… though you could anonymise like anything else I suppose.

    • andhishorse says:

      Could you go into more detail about how you removed stress reactions in social situations? That seems very useful.

      • themadmammaker says:

        Seconded !

      • Thegnskald says:

        Not the author, but:

        Realize that almost everybody else is so concerned with how they come off to other people (wrapped up in their own story about themselves) that they rarely, if ever, notice what other people are doing wrong (and even more rarely care).

        We tend to get hung up on the rare person who does notice, and speaks up against us, that we don’t realize they are the weird ones. And once you realize they are weird – well, it becomes easy to notice that these people tend to be toxic assholes.

        • Creutzer says:

          But they don’t have to consciously notice it, let alone bring it up, in order for the interaction to go wrong. Simplistically speaking, they will just not like you and not know why. Why should that make one less nervous?

      • nestorr says:

        Involuntary reactions are still triggered by higher level cognition – i.e. you see a tiger in a zoo, you’re not afraid. You see the Tiger at the same distance out of the cage and bam! Fight or Flight reaction is triggered. Involuntarily, but the source of that trigger is the cognitive realization that the tiger is free now and can eat you.

        Most stress reactions in daily life are like seeing the tiger in the cage and getting scared, they’re maladaptive and based on a misinterpretation. You can tell your limbic system not to be scared and it’ll believe you, after all you’re it’s only source of news.

        I find meditation helps with this as it seems to strengthen the frontal lobes’ hold on the reins, so to speak. I have a reduced startle reflex, I no longer cringe when I remember embarrasing events from the past, etc… Although I’m taking a break from it at the moment because it’s maybe leading to sexual densitization, which is not a positive result.

        Once you’re calm and relaxed your body language will naturally put people at ease and they will reflect back with a similar vibe. I recall reading an article on how to put people at ease and found that I’d been doing most of the things the article described already instinctively.

        Caveat, I’m white, male 6ft tall, conventionally attractive and I’m living a lifestyle that allows me a lot of freedom to choose my social situations so I concede I may be full of shit, but I was essentially a hikkikomori during my 20s so I’m doing ok. Might simply be “maturity”.

  63. LadyTL says:

    I have had experiences with having a sort of presence too. I try at work to carry myself with a feeling of competence (regardless of actual skill sometimes) that makes alot of people assume I am a supervisor or a manager. This often makes customers (unless I am checking their ID or refusing them sale of alcohol) trust my opinion. It also makes alot of former supervisors and managers angry with me for nothing I have done because they feel I am taking on more authority then I actually am. I had one tell me I was not allowed to tell new employees how to do things despite having to spend hours unsupervised with them doing tasks they did not know how to do. Another came in on her off day bound and determined to find out something to write me up for and then found nothing.

    I do have Asperger’s so I can be quite formal and depending on stress level brusque because trying to keep track of every minute detail about people’s emotional state is draining. This also hits me hard as I cannot tell when people are actually friends with me. I was part of a gaming group for over a year. Was friends with them I thought because we joked around, talked about families and life outside of the game, etc… Then the DM died (unexpected heart attack). I was not invited to the funeral or wake or anything. I wasn’t even called to be let know. I found out by calling about the next session and then was told. I then never heard from any of them again.

    • Mark says:

      I dunno, but I’d say that with friendship you have to interact in multiple spheres – if you only ever meet at the tennis club, then you are a tennis friend.

      You can leverage that into a general friendship by doing other stuff as well, inviting people out for tea etc.

      If I had someone who I only ever met while doing one activity, like working, or playing at a chess club, I would be less likely to invite them to a special occasion (wedding, birthday, funeral, Christmas) because I wouldn’t feel like we’d stepped into the general friendship territory.

      You’ve got to start somewhere though, so I might invite them anyway.

    • liquidpotato says:

      One thing I would do in the D&D situation is to call the old group up. Tell them I miss playing D&D with them and would like to get the group together again and take the initiative to organise something. It would likely be rocky to get it started at first because people will have to shift their routine by now, but keep going at it, and chances are the group will eventually come together

      The truth is, I wouldn’t know what’s going on in their minds. I’m not a mind reader, and I will never know unless I straight out ask them. So, if it really bothers me I would ask them, if not I wouldn’t think too much about it.

      I don’t know how long ago that D&D group thing is but going forward, this would be how I handle similar situations. YMMV.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      In 4th through 6th grades 2 of my friends and I spent every day at Josh’s house. We were a group of 4 friends. Then Josh moved away and the remaining 3 of us basically never talked again. Turns out we were all just friends with Josh.

      Were you friends with the other group members, or just the DM?

  64. Yosarian2 says:

    I really think this is one of the root causes of a lot of the problems we have discussing certain kinds of issues online.

    Some people assume, based on personal experiences, “racism/ sexism/ homophobia are universal problems that cause massive amounts of suffering and if anything are getting worse over time, and we have to do more to fight that.”

    Other people assume, based on personal experiences “racism/ sexism/ homophobia don’t really exist anymore, and people who complain about the issues are probably just whiny SJW’s looking for a way to attack people.”

    Then the first group assumes the second group must be arguing in bad faith, because OBVIOUSLY everyone must have seen seen how universal racism and sexism and homophobia are. And the second group assumes the first group is arguing in bad faith…

    (Personal confession; until I read Scott’s blog, I kind assumed that everyone who complained about SJW’s attacking people were just whiny racists/sexists looking for excuses to attack people that didn’t want them to be sexist or racist anymore, because I am a white man and I have never seen anyone do anything even remotely like the stuff people complained about when people complain about SJW’s, and I’d certanly never seen any “sjw” being unfair to anyone, online or in real life. Scott’s blog helped me realize that people in a different bubble then me may be having very different experiences.)

    • Besserwisser says:

      The dichotomy between people saying discrimination doesn’t exist and people saying these particular groups are discriminated against annoys me to no end. Because I actually doesn’t see it that way in regards to gender. But virtually every time I bring up men’s issues, I get accused of wanting to make things worse for women when I just want the same considerations for men.

      • Yosarian2 says:

        I don’t think most people have a problem saying “A, B. and C are unfair to women, and x and y are unfair to men.” In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are. (For example, major feminist orginizations like NOW have argued for decades that having only men and not women drafted is unfair, and that if we’re going to have a selective service act it should include both men and women.)

        Of course, you still run into the same problem which is that people only have their own experiences, the experiences of those in their own bubble, or maybe the experiences of those they read about which likely were written within their own (extended) bubble, and that makes these kinds of conversations hard. And of course there are a lot of people who claim they care about men’s issues when what they really want is the subjugation of women, which badly confuses the issue. But still, if you think that “I’m not denying that discrimination against group x is an issue, I just also think that the way society treats group y is also problematic” then you may already be passed the biggest hump in discussing these kind of issues.

        • Besserwisser says:

          While I’m not too familiar with NOW’s stance on the draft, I do know both feminists opposing the possibility of selective service for women while ignoring the presence of it for men and I’ve seen NOW effectively arguing against shared custody by casting fathers as abusive. Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign. You’d have to be insane to not consider the draft as unfair towards men, even if some might not use as hard a word as discrimination. I’m just saying I don’t find overly enthusiastic support from feminists on men’s issues and my disagreements go into areas where most feminists wouldn’t be willing to budge.

          This might just me being in a bubble where I may hear more about NOW’s stance on shared parenting than the draft but I did have more engagements with feminists in the past and that I consider to be somewhat less bubbled. And yes, I see most people agreeing to a form of “women have some issues and so do men” but I see that much less in feminism. Part of the problem is that I often do see feminists claims about the oppression of women to be over-stated and will say so, even if this means agreeing with people I don’t necessarily want to share a dinner table with.

          • Brad says:

            Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign.

            More than 60 million Americans consider themselves feminists. You are going to find ‘some’ that espouse everything and anything.

          • Besserwisser says:

            I do find a lot of different feminists but too many not accepting something so obvious is still a bad sign. Maybe “some” wasn’t the right qualifier and I’m perfectly fine with considering, say, radical feminists as a completely different entity from the rest of feminism. But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

          • Brad says:

            But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

            I don’t see how you could possibly determine this by engaging with some relatively small number of non-randomly selected people.

            In fact, that’s one of the implicit messages of the essay we are discussing.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            While there is a lot of “Well those people weren’t representative” going on now, a few years ago, overt hostility to men’s rights was pretty damn representative.

            BWATM was the “pro-male” feminist site, named after the mocking response feminists gave to those who advocated mens rights, and it made a habit of shitting on cis men on a regular basis – in practice, it would admit gay, trans, and non-gender-normative men suffered, and that was it, because the only suffering it admitted to was suffering of being insufficiently masculine. “Ruminations on toxic masculinity” might as well have been the subtitle.

            In real life, you would get flunked out of gender studies for suggesting men might suffer for being men, and were told throughout the classes that men were rapists and pigs, in a variety of colorful ways and metaphors, and you were likely to be assigned castration fantasy material. (I forget the name of the comic, but yeah, that was seriously a thing.). Outside of these courses, many universities started instituting mandatory “orientation” classes, which repeated some of the same ideas.

            There is a bubble – it is called supporting men’s rights, and trying to get feminism to be what it said it was, an egalitarian movement for sexual equality. If you didn’t do it, you didn’t see.

            And yes, things are better today, in at least feminists pay lip service to the idea that men suffer, and toxic masculinity has fallen out of vogue and it is acceptable to want to be masculine now (mostly). But this is a recent development, and a lot of people are still rightfully pissed off about how they were treated just a few years ago.

            The biggest game-changer was the video of the guy talking about joking about his own rape – the conversational tone changed immediately.

          • Brad says:

            This is a bizarre response. I gently suggested to Besserwisser that his anecdotes could not be taken as representative and that he should seek out data. And your response is to double down with “no, you’re wrong here’s some more anecdotes, gut feelings, and conclusory statements with nothing to back them up”?!?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Do you demand the same rigor from women claiming they experience sexism?

          • Besserwisser says:

            There is such a thing as a feminist with moral authority over the movement. NOW and other major feminist organizations, feminist academics, feminists speaking at the UN and really all kinds of high-profile feminists are a lot more representative of the movement than some random feminist on tumblr. And there is a lot of horrible stuff going on both with well-known and respected members of the movement and many of the random feminists you might pick up on the street.

            Also, it’s a common meme among anti-feminists that applying criticism to feminism is like “swordfighting a fart”. Every time someone points out something bad a feminist did, other feminists will invariably either defend the bad thing or claim the ones that did it aren’t Real Feminists. There has to be a point where a feminist does or says something bad, it gets praised by feminist media and embraced by millions of feminists, where I can start blaming feminism itself.

          • Brad says:

            If they make similarly sweeping, unqualified claims about huge numbers of people without anything more than appealing to personal experience and the context is one where debate is in order (e.g. the SSC comment section), then yes I’d push back similarly.

            Are we even reading the same site? As I mentioned has as a significant theme the problem of non-representative experiences and here you are in the comments treating your experiences as representative.

          • Thegnskald says:

            No, we are not, because it is not 2012 any longer, and men’s rights have made some major cultural gains. Go back in the archives if you want to see what I mean. (In particular there was a post by – I want to say Nathan? – about how early feminism should be forgiven it’s misandry because the early feminists were rightfully angry about the state of affairs. A bunch of MRAs got angry in the comments section, because a consistent theme of the posts in those days was how MRAs were too angry, and the misogyny implied by that anger was Unacceptable, and feminism was the one true way.)

            At a certain point, the fact that one of the founding members of the first women’s domestic abuse shelter in the UK was run out of the country in fear for her safety after violent incidents and threats directed at her, for trying to start a men’s shelter has to mean something. Saying “But there is no quantitative evidence of this social phenomenon” falls a bit flat when MRAs have been consistently attacked, both violently, as in her case, and socially, as is more commonly the case.

          • Brad says:

            More anecdotes, gut feelings, and conclusory statements backed up by nothing.

            If you have no interest in trying to get past cognitive biases and forge a better understanding of the world, then why are you even here? Surely there are more appropriate venues online to vent your spleen about the dastardly feminists and get sympathetic noises mirrored back to you. 4chan or reddit or something.

          • Besserwisser says:

            So, how would you go about falsifying feminist theory, Brad? What would it take to make you think feminism was in any way bad? So far you only criticized experiences put before you, regardless of the support of actions and statements of the feminists. You haven’t put forth any arguments in favor of feminism either, only that the term is basically meaningless because there are 60 million feminists and appearently every opinion under the sun could be found among them. Which, frankly, is an interpretation I’m fine with. If feminism is a meaningless label, then it can be disregarded and discarded at will and we can tackle feminists or any other people regardless of it.

            I wouldn’t get my political opinions mirrored at me at 4chan. Heck, I came in this conversation because I complained about being thrown in the same boat as people like that, so you clearly haven’t been listening.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            Have you noticed that I have consistently argued feminists have gotten better, that society is getting better?

            Your argument comes down to “I don’t see it”. I see it. And the fact that I am saying feminists are getting better should suggest to you that my opinions on them aren’t rigidly negative, that I am not an ideologue endlessly hammering on the “feminists are terrible” drum, as you seem to imply.

            Other people are telling you they have seen it, too. I can direct you to communities full of people who say they have seen it.

            Yeah, there are communities who say they have seen ghosts, true. But here is the difference: I have pointed you to a specific blog and a specific timeframe. You can go look. (The name was Noah, just remembered.). Other people can point you to resources. I can point you to books, to comics, to coursework. The evidence isn’t “I saw this”, the evidence is easily found. A woman’s dog was killed because she supported men’s rights, with a threat that she’d be next.

            That’s not an anonymous death threat in the internet era, either.

            At a certain point, when you say “I don’t see”, it is because you aren’t looking.

          • Brad says:


            Your argument comes down to “I don’t see it”. I see it.

            No it doesn’t. It boils down to if you want to make broad, sweeping, unqualified statements bring sufficient data.

            Other people are telling you they have seen it, too. I can direct you to communities full of people who say they have seen it.

            At a certain point, when you say “I don’t see”, it is because you aren’t looking.

            Did you read the post titled Different Worlds posted on October 2, 2017 By Scott Alexander on the website Star Slate Codex?!?

            The fact that you are making this crappy argument in the comments to this post without even acknowledging it goes directly against the ideas therein is just bizarre to me.

            I have pointed you to a specific blog and a specific timeframe. You can go look. (The name was Noah, just remembered.).

            What exactly do you think that comment proves?

            A woman’s dog was killed because she supported men’s rights, with a threat that she’d be next.

            Do you hear about the Chinese Cardiologists?


            You haven’t put forth any arguments in favor of feminism either, only that the term is basically meaningless because there are 60 million feminists and apparently every opinion under the sun could be found among them. Which, frankly, is an interpretation I’m fine with. If feminism is a meaningless label, then it can be disregarded and discarded at will and we can tackle feminists or any other people regardless of it.

            Great, then we are on the same page and neither one of us will make broad sweeping claims about what feminists believe or do on the basis of ten people we happens to have talked to. Instead if we want to make statements about what feminists believe we’ll look for surveys that use random sampling or other tools designed to produce good data.

            Glad we sorted that out.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            You are reacting as if the proper response to “White people were racist in the 50s” is “Do you have evidence that all white people were racist?”

            Yes, you can find some feminists who weren’t men’s rights. Hell, I mentioned one in passing, the woman who tried to start a men’s shelter. Not All Feminists is implied.

            I have a spreadsheet somewhere where I started taking every feminist from Wikipedia’s list of feminists and catalogued them by misandrist statements made. I stopped partway through because it was fucking depressing. 50% of those I researched said something absolutely horrible (saying men were inherently rapists was a common theme – I did come across the memoirs of the son of one of them, and his comment on his mother was, basically, “Yeah, it was terrible”), and another quarter merely made sweeping statements about how culture made men flawed in some way.

            Yes, more anecdotes, about data. But let’s talk data – what, specifically, would change your mind?

          • Brad says:

            Yes, more anecdotes, about data. But let’s talk data – what, specifically, would change your mind?

            If I wanted to make a claim like “most feminists oppose expanding selective service registration to include women” or “a substantial minority of feminists oppose expanding selective service registration to include women” I’d look for a relevant survey.

          • Thegnskald says:

            That isn’t my claim.

            So, again, what evidence would change your mind? I don’t want to go digging for evidence only for you to tell me it is the wrong evidence.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:



            Erin Pizzey was attacked by feminists for saying that many women (more than half) who were attacked by male partners were violent themselves, not for starting a shelter for male victims.

            Pizzey wrote about women who were violent in the shelter, and women who went back to violent partners because they wanted to continue the fight.

          • Brad says:


            That isn’t my claim.

            To recap how we got here:

            My first post quoted Besserwisser as saying

            Plus, the draft is kinda low hanging fruit in this regard, if even some feminists are not on the same page as me on that, that’s a bad sign.

            to which I responded:

            More than 60 million Americans consider themselves feminists. You are going to find ‘some’ that espouse everything and anything.

            to which Besserwisser responded

            I do find a lot of different feminists but too many not accepting something so obvious is still a bad sign. Maybe “some” wasn’t the right qualifier and I’m perfectly fine with considering, say, radical feminists as a completely different entity from the rest of feminism. But most feminists I can’t find too much common ground with and many with whom I agree tend to be much less representative of the movement than the ones I disagree with.

            to which I responded:

            I don’t see how you could possibly determine this by engaging with some relatively small number of non-randomly selected people.

            In fact, that’s one of the implicit messages of the essay we are discussing.

            It was at that point that you decided to step into the thread with your first post, which I must say was rather rambling.

            So if your claim has nothing to do with the draft, and presumably has nothing to do with whether or not the feminists Besserwisser finds common ground with are representative (because how would you possible know), then perhaps you give a short and clear statement of what your claim is exactly?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Nancy –

            My recollection on the exact details appears to be faulty; no surprise there, I had Andrew Jackson confused with Stonewall Jackson for the longest time. Thanks!

          • Besserwisser says:


            Erin Pizzey’s dogs appearently weren’t killed by feminists most likely but racist neighbors because her daughter had a black boyfriend and I don’t think she ever considered herself a feminist at any point. There are other feminists which pay more than lip service to the movement but a lot of them have effectively being ostracized by the movement.

            I frankly don’t care much about feminist beliefs other than as motivators for their actions. If feminist activism leads to unfavorable changes, I’m going to critcize that only to be greeted again and again by a barrage of other feminists calling them Not Real Feminist. Only that a lot more effort is expended to keep feminism’s name clean and no discernible action to challenge the Not Real Feminists.

            If the claim is that feminism actively helps men, as OP proposed, then I’m going to require evidence for that. Otherwise I can see feminism at best as indifferent to men’s issues and every negative action just makes the movement look worse. Which is the point I’m at and now I’m going to need a lot of persuasion to not only not see feminism as a net-negative but actually helping men.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            I’ll concede to rambling, although I have to question why you were arguing with me if you had no idea what I was trying to say, instead of asking.

            My point is that feminism has been, and to a lesser extent is, fairly hostile to those advocating for men’s rights. That is pretty much it.

            On the specific issue of the draft, I think the dominant feminist position has always been “end it”. The slightly more dominant of the other positions has historically been “men only”, which is a major part of the reason why Eleanor Roosevelt (and later Phyllis Gadfly, although for some reason she is better remembered for it) opposed the ERA. No idea about modern feminism; all I can really say there is that feminists haven’t pushed very hard on the issue in any direction lately.

          • Brad says:


            If the claim is that feminism actively helps men, as OP proposed, then I’m going to require evidence for that.

            This is what the OP said:

            I don’t think most people have a problem saying “A, B. and C are unfair to women, and x and y are unfair to men.” In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are. (For example, major feminist orginizations like NOW have argued for decades that having only men and not women drafted is unfair, and that if we’re going to have a selective service act it should include both men and women.)

            It doesn’t say “feminism actively helps men”. It says “In fact, a lot of feminists might agree with you about x and y, depending on what they are.” and then goes on to give a specific example. You go on to concede to at least ignorance as to his example (” I’m not too familiar with NOW’s stance on the draft”) and so never directly challenge what he said.

            I think you are seeing what you want to argue against instead of what is actually there.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            I think the aspect of this conversation you are missing is, well, what I have been telling you. Telling an MRA they will find common ground with feminists is… uh…

            Well, the thing is, most of them started there, assuming they would.

            Most of them are now pretty staunchly anti-feminist as a result.

            Yes, in theory, feminists and the MRM should get along. In practice, the MRM is basically made up of men and women whose concerns about men were met with mockery, scorn, and hostility in the feminist groups they tried to find common ground with.

          • Besserwisser says:

            This isn’t the first time a feminist has proposed herself and/or other feminists are really in favor of men’s issues. When investigated, it invariably turns out at best to be pure lip service. Sometimes lip service followed up by blaming men for all the worlds woes. Sometimes those “feminists” end up actually being avowed anti-feminists. I’m tired of hearing it. Maybe I haven’t heard it often enough that it would be statistically but it sure feels like it.

            If NOW opposes a male-only draft, that’s good. But my priors are telling me that this only became an issue for NOW once it was seriously talked about when the inclusion of women in the draft started being discussed and that the prevalent position before was “selective service is not the draft” when it only pertained to men. Which isn’t to say they wouldn’t oppose selective service when asked but they probably minimized the problem. Lip service is not enough at this point.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Besser –

            NOW’s anti-draft position is a stance that is older than that. I think it was part of a broader anti-war stance, rather than a principled gender equality position, but, eh, that is the uncharitable interpretation.

            ETA: Early men’s rights advocates were a major part of feminism in that era, and one of their primary demands was an end to the draft. They largely dropped out of the movement after the end of the Vietnam War ended; contemporary accounts vary on whether it was because the draft wasn’t an immediate threat anymore, or if it was because they perceived feminism was becoming anti-male, but in either case it is conceivable that NOW’s position there was a result of that early participation, as they formed in the middle of the war.

          • Brad says:


            My point is that feminism has been, and to a lesser extent is, fairly hostile to those advocating for men’s rights. That is pretty much it.

            In terms of what it would take to convince me of this, first I don’t think personifying feminism is accurate or useful in this context. Because of that I’m unlikely to ever be convinced of something of the form “feminism has been fairly hostile …” It would be a more tractible claim if it was “Most feminists”, “most leading feminists”, “many feminists”, “many leading feminists”, or so on. Second I need a little more clairty on “those advocating for men’s rights”. If you mean those people that self-identify as “men’s rights advocates” (MRAs) then I concede the point and we can move on with our lives.

            But it seemed to me reading your posts that we were going for something broader than that having to do with men and their rights generally and not limited to reactions to the specific rather small (AFIACT) movement.

          • Thegnskald says:

            It isn’t limited to self-described MRAs, no. It is anybody who advocates for men’s rights, of which self-described MRAs are a relative, and recent, minority.

          • Besserwisser says:

            See, when we’re already at the point where we agree a certain position is terrible AND supported by most feminists, I see the differnce between “most feminists” and “feminism” as merely a formality. At least we would have to discuss at this point if it’s the feminists who don’t conform to the majority viewpoint are inconsistent with wider feminist beliefs, the same way non-radical followers of religions tend to ignore inconvenient part of their holy scripture.

            The way I see it, all feminists but a few fringe groups, to the point that I’m hesitating to call them groups, rely on a worldview in which men aquired disproportionate power over society and used it to benefit themselves at the expense of women. This creates a disconnect with the observation that men have issues too, which every one here seems to agree on so far. You could reconcile this be denying reality and say that men have no issues, which was and still is a common feminist position. Men don’t have issues for being men, only for being trans*, gay, a minority or otherwise fit into an acceptable group to care about. The other position is that despite society being formed and ruled by men, men still get the shorted end of the stick sometimes. This is consitent with reality** but no longer internally consistent. There seems to have been a shift from the former stance to the latter in recent years but regardless of if that shift even happened and how strong it was, I reject both positions and don’t think they can be reconciled with efforts to combat men’s issues.

            *TERFs disagree on that one.

            **Minus Patriarchy Theory, if you don’t believe in that.

          • Brad says:


            This isn’t the first time a feminist has proposed herself and/or other feminists are really in favor of men’s issues

            That’s not what Yosarian2 wrote. You ought to respond to what people write not to what you wish they had written so you can do an copy-pasta-esque dump of your opinions on your hobby horse issue.

            When investigated, it invariably turns out at best to be pure lip service. Sometimes lip service followed up by blaming men for all the worlds woes. Sometimes those “feminists” end up actually being avowed anti-feminists. I’m tired of hearing it. Maybe I haven’t heard it often enough that it would be statistically but it sure feels like it.

            Given that you admittedly have a completely closed mind, I think you should evaluate whether or not you can constructively contribute anything to discussions on these topics on a rationalist or rationalist-adjacent website.

            If NOW opposes a male-only draft, that’s good. But my priors are telling me …

            It isn’t called a prior unless you intend to update.

            Men’s rights only inasmuch as they don’t overlap with women’s rights? So for example, would your thesis predict that a feminist that otherwise supported the notion of healthcare as a right would actively oppose the inclusion of prostate cancer screening in a universal healthcare scheme?

          • Nornagest says:

            I reject both positions and don’t think they can be reconciled with efforts to combat men’s issues.

            The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general. This is actually quite similar to intersectional feminism’s nominal position — the word “kyriarchy”, which means “rule by lords”, sums it up nicely — and differs mainly in priorities and in emotional valence.

            It strikes me as strategically doomed, fraught with incentive problems, and, well, aesthetically displeasing, but it is self-consistent at least.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve seen a claim that men are less likely to be killed by their wives if domestic violence shelters are available for women.

          • Besserwisser says:


            Where’s the big disconnect between what I and what Yosarian2 said? At most my interpretation would demand a little bit more from feminists, which would make it all the more damning if they couldn’t fulfill the lesser condition. Which they barely do, arguably.

            Priors, as far as I understand them, are supposed to change when the inputs change. Mine won’t change unless I can get something to support feminists’ claim about how we supposedly all work on the same side already. That the draft is unfair to men is frankly something that should be clear before we sit down together on a table and start negotiating. And I’m already perfectly willing to talk with feminists*, I’m just very dubious if that would go anywhere at this point.

            * Most of the time. I’m honestly tired of the whole discourse at the moment but I won’t hold that against any feminists who are interested in a dialogue.



            I think studies have shown how murders of women dropped once women’s shelters became widely available. It doesn’t seem like a given that men’s shelters would do the same for women but it’s an interesting thought.

          • Aapje says:


            The other position is that despite society being formed and ruled by men, men still get the shorted end of the stick sometimes.

            What I’ve commonly seen is that many feminists are perfectly willing to accept the existence of systemic male-on-male harm, presumably because it is consistent with a strict oppressor/oppressed dichotomy. After all, one can just argue that the oppressed men have an oppressee trait like mental illness, being fat, low in wealth, etc.

            Where the line is often drawn is the existence of systemic female-on-male harm. The result is that it’s very common to get the response that it’s up to men to solve men’s issues as they are the cause and not a problem for feminists or women who don’t have the power to fix this.

            My position is that both men and women are pretty clearly guilty of perpetuating gender roles for both genders and thus cause systemic issues for both genders and thus need to take responsibility for this.


            The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general.

            I think that the standard MRA position is that both women and men had/have had obligations and entitlements, but different ones. I don’t think that there is a real standard position of why this split happened and actually think that most of them don’t really care about the why and want to fix the present.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            For reference, in case anyone was curious or wanted to see a source, on NOW’s own page where they list the highlights of their history, they say this:

            >1980 NOW announces opposition to the draft, but states that if there is a draft, NOW supports the inclusion of women on the same basis as men.


            So this has been a position they’ve taken consistently for a long time. Note that this was a really big deal at the time, it was a major part of the debate around the equal rights amendment.

            On a side note, I’ve always taken “toxic masculinity” to be not an attack on men or on being masculine, but just as commentary that the way society forces harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles on everyone is harmful to men as well. For example it may encourage self destructive behavior, or lead to any man who shows emotions to be attacked or bullied for it, ect. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that some people have used it as an un-nuanced way to attack men, but that wasn’t the original idea.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            Oh, I should also mention that changing the law so women are drafter as well is still an issue NOW advocates for today.


          • Aapje says:


            On a side note, I’ve always taken “toxic masculinity” to be not an attack on men or on being masculine, but just as commentary that the way society forces harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles on everyone is harmful to men as well.

            I disagree, because if that was the case, “toxic masculinity” would be used concurrently with “toxic femininity,” but the proponents of the former term tend to strongly object to the latter term.

            I don’t see how you can square a symmetric claim that both genders are forced into harsh and exaggerated versions of gender roles with language that merely calls out one gender for this. One of my (many) objections of feminism is that there is frequently this disconnect between the abstract level and the object level, where egalitarian statements are made on a high level of abstraction, but then the statements on the object level are highly non-egalitarian, interpreting similar things differently, depending on which gender does it or is the recipient.

            If the feminists I talk to (and who use “toxic masculinity”) would merely claim that “toxic femininity” is less significant, I would not consider that necessarily an attack on men or masculinity; but I can’t see total rejection of symmetry in language as anything but misandrist framing of the debate.

          • DrBeat says:

            “The standard MRA position as I understand it is a version of the second: that society was formed and ruled by hashtag notallmen, to benefit themselves at the expense of women and of men in general.”

            The standard MRA position is that society was formed by men and women in order to perform functions that benefited them. The role of men in this society included having more power, but also more responsibility and risk. The role of women in this society involved having less power, but also less responsibility and risk. Keeping a lot of women alive was more important to societal growth than keeping a lot of men alive, so men and women organized society around keeping women safe. That is the number one thing sexism cares about: keeping as many women as possible, as safe as possible, and it infantilizes them and limits their freedom to do this.

            The idea that all societies ever were made by men just to screw over women and the women just sat there, powerlessly, helplessly, for thousands of years without having any agency and any input on anything is their lives evinces a really, really dim opinion of women. Exactly as dim as redpillers, as a matter of fact, because feminism and theredpill believe the same things.

          • Yosarian2 says:

            >I disagree, because if that was the case, “toxic masculinity” would be used concurrently with “toxic femininity,” but the proponents of the former term tend to strongly object to the latter term

            They don’t use the term, but modern feminism was largely formed around the idea that it’s very unhealthy for women to be expected by society to have an exaggerated version of the traditionally feminine behaviors. For a good early description of this, I’d suggest reading the book “The Feminine Mystique” from 1963, which is often credited with starting second wave feminism.


            The terminology is different, but it’s the same concept. Societal demands and expectations of strongly enforced gender roles are unhealthy for both men and women and fundimentally limit human development.

          • Aapje says:


            The Feminine Mystique is about how women comply with the gender role and as a consequence harm themselves.

            Toxic masculinity is about how men comply with the gender roles and as a consequence primarily hurt women.

            These are not symmetric claims.

            The actual truth is that men who comply with their gender role place demands on themselves, their (potential) partner, the social norms and how society should be set up; while women who comply with their gender role place demands on themselves, their (potential) partner, the social norms and how society should be set up.

            Men and women are semi-symbiotic. A man who seeks to gain self-respect, happiness, etc from being a provider, protector, etc needs a woman and a society who values him for doing these things and who support him in this. A woman who seeks to gain self-respect, happiness, etc from being a stay at home mom needs a man and a society who values her for doing these things and who support her in this.

            Similarly, men and women who want to break from their gender role need a partner and society who support them in this.

            What feminists then tend to do is convert this into an oppressor/oppressed dichotomy by:
            – mostly ignoring how traditionalist behavior by women limits the options for men, while recognizing how traditionalist behavior by men limits the options for women
            – Claiming that bad behavior is exclusively male and caused by ‘patriarchal indoctrination’ as a way to oppress women, when properly performed scientific studies show that a large percentage of the perpetrators are women.
            – Recognizing the downsides of the female gender role and the upside of the male gender role much, much more than the downsides of the male gender role and the upsides of the female gender role.
            – and more things like this.

            The end result is a movement that tends to be highly unwilling to recognize how men are harmed and tends to be unwilling to address this; and even worse, sometimes even adding to the harm that is done to men.

          • Yosarian2 says:


            >Toxic masculinity is about how men comply with the gender roles and as a consequence primarily hurt women.

            That’s not how I’ve seen the term used; whenever I’ve seen it used in feminist writings, it’s talking about how extreme gender roles are actually harmful to men.

            Just for an example, here’s an article discussing it:


            On a side note, I’ve absolutely seen feminist writers talking about all of the issues you bring up here, including women’s role in perpetuating sexist systems, an the way those systems limit both men and women. In fact as far as I know those are ideas that specifically come from feminism, and I find it a little surprising that you think feminists aren’t aware of those concepts.

          • Aapje says:


            That is certainly not the only way how it is used here:

            Toxic masculinity is the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.

            Or here:

            I understand—I really do—why a lot of people raised to be a man are seeking a gendered sense of self that is separate and distinct from all that has been called out lately as toxic masculinity. These days a penised person* would have to be really clueless not to notice all the manhood-proving behaviors that have been critiqued as hazardous to well-being (one’s own and others’).

            Whenever men organize to shine a light on their issues without a feminist perspective where women are the primary victims, you consistently see a subset of feminists try to no-platform these efforts. One of the latest being the movie “The Red Pill.” In itself this is not damning, because there could simply be a subset of feminists that is radical. However, in all these cases, I have never seen a somewhat comparable effort by feminists to counter the no-platformers and let those who really care about men have a voice.

            Instead, I consistently see rationalizations why they of course support men’s rights, but 10 years ago one of the people who favor men’s rights said something bad, so they just can’t support them (this level of scrutiny is of course not applied to those who advocate for women).

            I also see a lot of professed concern about men that somehow never results in similar efforts to help men. Once you get to a policy level, convictions are no longer ‘free,’ but you actually have to divide budgets or find a balance between the rights of men and women. The actual policies that mainstream feminists fight for reveal their true stripes. They are rarely egalitarian and they are rarely fair.

          • Aapje says:


            Note that I’m not claiming intent, but rather very strong bias that causes people to see equality as inequality.

        • Thegnskald says:

          Brad –

          Not sure what you are looking for here.

          Are you suggesting that I am suggesting feminists would deliberately sabotage men for no reason? Seems a bit uncharitable.

          But I have encountered feminists who support mandatory male circumcision on the basis that it might reduce STD transmission to women, which is the closest analogue I can think of. No idea how common that idea is, but there is a weird amount of resistance among feminists to ending male circumcision, which I think ultimately comes down to what they personally find attractive.

          By and large, the bigger issue isn’t hostility to men themselves (which is dying out), but rather an attitude that men have it good enough, or possibly too good, and that if men are made worse off to balance things, that is acceptable. This kind of considered apathy means there is a tendency to regard men’s rights advocates as trying to make men even more better off than women, and that MRAs are taking attention away from more important issues of overall balance.

          They seem to think it is like… men have seven X units of utility, twelve Y units of utility, and two Z units of utility; women have four units of X, six units of Y, and three units of Z. And they see MRAs as focusing on the disparity in Z without regard for X and Y. So there is a resistance to correcting Z, even if it is obviously unbalanced, because this would things on the whole even more unbalanced.

          Whereas MRAs tend to see things somewhat the other way around.

          Personally, as far as easily-made changes go, I think the MRAs are right in spades; the low-hanging fruit for women has already been plucked, as we are left with complex social issues that may not be solvable. Domestic violence shelters for men are an easy thing to do, on the whole, and would make a significant difference; likewise, fixing the fucked-up complex of laws that, for example, leave male rape victims paying child support to their rapists wouldn’t be hard.

          But there has been a lot of resistance to both of these ideas.

          I suspect some of the problems men face, such as homelessness, fall in the “complex social problem” bucket.

          Nornagest –

          I don’t trust that term. Intersectionality is always sold as “oppression is a complex interaction of different factors”, but gets used as “if you are a member of multiple oppressed groups you are exponentially more oppressed”. Which misses the original point, which I’ll loosely phrase as “Women can be more oppressed than men on the whole, and gay people can be more oppressed than straight, but because of complex interactions it is possible for gay women to be less oppressed than gay men”. That is, completely the opposite of how it is used.

          Overall, I think it is a flawed attempt to paper over complexity with a nice-sounding theory. Straight men can be abused by straight women without needing any special axis to describe how this could happen. Oppression experienced at the individual level isn’t the same as class oppression; they are completely different phenomena.

          • Nornagest says:

            I don’t trust that term. Intersectionality is always sold as “oppression is a complex interaction of different factors”, but gets used as “if you are a member of multiple oppressed groups you are exponentially more oppressed”.

            Yeah, that’s why I said “nominal”. The theory behind intersectionality looks fairly sound to me, if you buy the foundations of oppression ethics, but you run into the usual motte-and-bailey issues in practice. Still, plenty of modern feminists take the theory seriously enough to at least give men’s issues lip service, and from there the theoretical leap to mainline MRA ideas is nowhere near the unbridgeable chasm that it’s often treated as.

            My issues with both lie at a more fundamental level.

          • Brad says:

            Brad –

            Not sure what you are looking for here.

            You asked me what it would take to convince me of your claim. I’m trying to understand your claim with enough specificity to answer that question.

            I think there’s an important distinction between situations where there’s some sort of zero sum game between the genders and a situation where there isn’t. It is much more reasonable to assume (before getting into the question of empirical evidence) that feminists are reluctant to support the men’s side in the former case than in the latter case.

            For example, if you told me that a majority of feminists are opposed to a proposal that would make it easier for men to win custody battles (and so perforce make it harder for women to win custody battles) my inclination would be to believe that was true. I’d still need some evidence, but my inclinations would be that way. On the other hand, for the prostate screening example above, I’d want more evidence because as you allude to it seems totally unreasonable.

            From your examples, men shelters looks more like prostate screening and child support paid to rapists looks more zero sum.

            Finally, there’s the issue of salience. Let’s say you had a survey that said 8 in 10 self identified feminists believe that states ought to provide domestic abuse shelters for men. Would you nonetheless say that most feminists are hostile to the idea if they ranked a list of 100 government priorities and self identified feminists ranked shelters for abused women at an average spot of #3 but shelters for abused men at an average of #82?

          • Thegnskald says:

            Brad –

            In a sense, yes. I would say that ranking would be evidence that feminists would be hostile towards someone who put domestic abuse shelters for men at a #1 slot, or whatever. It would not imply hostility towards the idea itself, however.

            But at this point, it appears our positional difference is largely in degree, not kind.

          • Aapje says:


            The common objection to male shelters that I’ve seen from feminists is based on the claim that domestic abuse of men by women isn’t of the severity that gives men the need of a shelter.

            So the objectors seem to believe that the money will be diverted from shelters for women where they perceive a shortage of space, to pay for mostly empty shelters for men.

  65. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    One more thought about the paranoia aspect. The whole SJW ‘microaggression’ thing seems like carefully cultivated collective paranoia: teaching people that any ambiguous social interaction which could be interpreted as racism, sexism etc is in fact an aggressive act. This does not seem to be helping either side. Any ideas what can be done about that (except the obvious, bury the whole concept and never mention it again)?

    • Are you sure that the number of genuine microaggressions is zero?

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

        No. But I’m pretty sure that most occasions of people asking “where are you from?” are not meant as aggressions, and that teaching people to react to it as such is harmful.

        • Svejk says:

          It seems a lot of people don’t have to be taught that “where are you from” is an aggression because they experience it as such; repeated occasions of the same apparently innocuous question can make it annoying to some and sinister to others, depending on sensitivity. People exposed to the microaggression concept may reframe their experiences to impute more nefarious intent than intended, but I think the original ideal was to alert innocuous questioners to the received experience. Maybe this would have worked if twitter and tumblr didn’t exist.

          • Creutzer says:

            It seems a lot of people don’t have to be taught that “where are you from” is an aggression because they experience it as such

            Really? That means either the people who ask “where are your from” in your country are assholes or your immigrants are unreasonable.

            There is only one type of “where are you from” that I think it’s reasonable to take offence at, and I’m really wondering how wide-spread that is: it’s when the asker already knows where they are from, or doesn’t care, and what they’re really asking about is ethnic group.

          • Dan says:

            Living in 50% or less white areas of Florida for 20+ years and Miami for 6+, all of which teeming with people from other places, the only person I have seen get offended by someone asking where they were from was an asian-american sociology professor who had recently relocated from the west coast.

            In a world far more diverse than that that is inhabited by most, this is a ubiquitous and innocuous question. The future is going to be very hard if asking someones background is pathologized.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’ve never had being asked where I was from by a stranger lead to any further conversation. Maybe I’m supposed to follow up by asking them where they’re from?

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Nancy, to learn smalltalk my dad taught me FORM. Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation.

            “Where are you from?” kind of counts as family. So after asking where someone is from (assuming the answer isn’t “here”) then you can ask a Motivation follow-up, like “Oh, why did you move to [here]?” Perhaps the story’s interesting. “What do you do for a living?” (Occupation) “Oh, what made you want to be an [x]?” (Motivation). “What do you do for fun?” (Recreation) “Oh, how did you get into [x]?” (Motivation)

            Hopefully at some point the person has something at all interesting about them or their motivations. If not then, well, maybe that’s just a really boring person.

          • Svejk says:

            Really? That means either the people who ask “where are your from” in your country are assholes or your immigrants are unreasonable.

            The canonical “where are you from?” used to illustrate the microaggression concept is a nonwhite (often Asian) American with no foreign characteristics other than nonwhite physical appearance. The stereotyped sequence follows:

            “Where are you from?”
            “No where are you really from/Where are your parents from?”
            “Jersey City”

            The idea is not that immigrants are tetchy about their background, it’s that some citizens don’t like being assumed to be foreign in their own land.

          • Conrad Honcho says:


            Isn’t it only the “where you really from?” part that’s insensitive?

          • Creutzer says:

            That’s exactly was I was describing in my second paragraph. But it doesn’t answer the question: does this actually happen appreciably often or is this just a mostly made-up bogeyman?

            And I’m really very opposed to this particular and absurd way of asking “where are you from” being treated as if it were representative for the question, because most instances of that question are without doubt not that, and perfectly inoffensive. At some point, it will happen that some idiots start calling it offensive to ask a person with a thick accent where they’re from.

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            The idea is not that immigrants are tetchy about their background, it’s that some citizens don’t like being assumed to be foreign in their own land.

            I think this is a worthy point. Worthy enough that I try to ask “where are you from?” in a way that hopefully makes it clear that I think they could just as easily be from Philly as the Philippines. My typical way of managing this is to word it as “so, are you from the [whatever local area we’re in at that moment] area?”. That should imply that they could be from fifty miles away as far as I know, but either way, it’s obviously not a knock on them.

            (Of course, some people treat that as a microaggression. Some days you just can’t win.)

          • Svejk says:

            I’m not an expert on microaggressions, but I gather that a key point is that their effect is cumulative, so that once an external response is triggered it often seems intemperate and disproportionate, and is sometimes mis-targeted.

            If a person is repeatedly asked “where are you from?”, and 40% of the time this question proceeds to “where are you really from?”, and also notices that his majority-group peers are never asked this question, he may assume that “where are you really from?” is implied much of the time, and react (internally, mostly) accordingly.

            Again, because of the bubble thing, it is hard to tell if this reaction is “reasonable”.

          • Deiseach says:

            Yeah, but sometimes people asking “Where are you from?” mean “Are you from Ballydehob or Ballybunion?” and not “You look furrin'”.

            Sometimes it’s “How did you end up here?” There’s a fella who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Donegal, and I’d love to know how the hell that happened. I mean, Dublin or Cork? Sure. But Donegal?

            The only way I’d be more surprised is if it was Leitrim. Not even Irish-native people want to go to Leitrim!

          • eccdogg says:

            Right, I often ask my cabbies or uber drivers with accents where are they from because I am interested in learning about them, why they came to the US, what things are like in their home country, how they like it here etc etd.

            And I ask the same of most people I meet. “So are you from here originally?” Where did you grow up? Those all seem like very reasonable small talk get to know you questions.

          • skef says:

            Nancy, to learn smalltalk my dad taught me FORM. Family, Occupation, Recreation, Motivation.

            A boy is about to go on his first date, and his father gives him the following advice: “If you ever don’t know what to talk about, just remember the three F’s: food, family, and philosophy. You can always start a conversation about one of those subjects.”

            The boy picks up his date and they go to a soda fountain. Ice cream sodas in front of them, they stare at each other for a long time, as the boy’s nervousness builds. He remembers his father’s advice, and chooses the first topic. He asks the girl: “Do you like potato pancakes?” She says “No,” and the silence returns.

            After a few more uncomfortable minutes, the boy thinks of his father’s suggestion and turns to the second item on the list. He asks, “Do you have a brother?” The girl says “No,” and there is silence once again.

            The boy then plays his last card. He thinks of his father’s advice and asks the girl: “If you had a brother, would he like potato pancakes?”

          • I often ask my cabbies or uber drivers with accents where are they from because I am interested in learning about them, why they came to the US, what things are like in their home country, how they like it here etc etd.

            As do I. I can’t ever remember getting a negative response and it often leads to interesting conversation.

            I suspect the important thing is that you say it in a way that signals “how interesting” not “why are you trespassing in my country?”

          • sarahkimpossible says:

            The canonical “where are you from?” used to illustrate the microaggression concept is a nonwhite (often Asian) American with no foreign characteristics other than nonwhite physical appearance. The stereotyped sequence follows:

            “Where are you from?”
            “No where are you really from/Where are your parents from?”
            “Jersey City”

            I am of Asian extraction, have lived in various Western countries (family moved around a lot), and I’ve had this exchange, verbatim except for the geographical locations. But to put a twist on things: thanks to the globetrotting family, I speak fluent English with an accent that does not concord neatly with any one geographical region.

            I tend to assume that someone who asks “Where are you from?” is probably trying to place my accent. Given that I find linguistics interesting, and will happily take an excuse to discuss rhotic versus non-rhotic accents, this tends to strike me as a perfectly innocent question.

            The follow-up “Where are you really from?” does bother me – it implies that I’m lying – but I’ve yet to encounter a speaker who intended it in a “You don’t belong here” sense. Typically, it’s a poorly-worded inquiry about my ancestry. Stupidity, not malice.

            I have had one interaction that I do file under “microaggression”, simply because it was so bewildering that I’m not sure how else to class it:

            A few years ago, a sixtyish white woman sat down next to me on the tram in February and said, apropos of absolutely nothing, “Happy New Year!”

            I had my headphones in, I hadn’t made eye contact, and it didn’t register that she was, in fact, addressing me. I was very confused when her random utterance was followed by “I said, Happy New Year!”

            My blank incomprehension must have shown on my face, because she followed up with “It was Chinese New Year yesterday!” At which I smiled and nodded and got off the tram a few stops early so that I could put an end to the interaction.

            Maybe this woman had a problem with impulse control. Maybe she was going to sit next to everyone on the tram and say the exact same thing. And maybe she was being awkwardly presumptuous about my ethnicity and cultural history in a way that othered me.

            But when I think back on it, I’m mostly annoyed that she violated the convention of not trying to engage people who are wearing headphones on public transportation.

          • Protagoras says:

            The mention of accents reminds me that I once told someone from Singapore that I thought I recognized her accent. She didn’t seem personally offended, but she told me that I should be careful saying things like that because in Singapore having a strong accent was apparently low status; the elite Singaporeans like to think their English is better than that. I don’t know if that’s Singapore as a whole or just her circles (or if she was just making it up, even), but another data point in the variety of possible responses.

        • lvlln says:

          An aside, but I was reminded by sarahkimpossible’s comment that, about once a year, an Asian tourist – usually Chinese and unfortunately not Korean even once – comes up to me in public and starts asking me questions in their language (I’m a Korean-American). I’ve been fortunate not to be interrupted on a subway seat while wearing headphones, but usually it’s while I’m walking somewhere, and the person just comes up to me and starts talking as if I should understand the language. Most recently, I was taking a walk during lunch a couple of days ago, and an old Asian lady, apropos nothing, just came up to my face and started talking in Chinese to me. I just muttered “I don’t speak Chinese” and continued walking.

          I don’t interpret this as evidence that Asians in general or Asian tourists specifically carry some implicit bias about Asians and think they all look alike. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that one might confuse an Asian from one country with an Asian from another country, even if one is Asian oneself. It’s even harder for people who aren’t of Asian descent like me or the tourist. I do think those individuals who come up to me and act as if they’re automatically entitled to my full attention are being rude.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m just really looking forward to the day society progresses to the point there are zero microaggressions so we can finally do something about these insufferable nanoaggressions.

    • LadyTL says:

      I wish it was paranoia. I have gotten alot of microagressions over the years for things like I am wearing long skirts, wearing no makeup, having waist length hair, not cheating on my long distance husband, not being girly enough in someone’s opinion, for liking computers etc…

      • Aapje says:

        Isn’t that better called passive aggressive behavior?

        Some problems I have with the term microagression is that it:

        – seems to lump together highly disparate behavior. Asking a question like ‘where are you from’ is IMO typically used either to gather information to know how to relate to a person and/or to have a topic to talk about. This seems very different from criticizing people over their life choices.

        – By pooling disparate things together, it creates fertile ground for motte-and-bailey reasoning and other illogical arguments.

        – It seems reverse reasoning: starting from the theory that certain groups experience unique negative interactions and then assuming that all these negative experiences have the same cause. The problem here is that the basic theory seems trivially false (if it were true, ‘oppressor’ groups would never experience these kind of negative interactions, which is clearly not the case).

        – The theory it is based on seems fundamentally racist and sexist to me & I dislike that.

        • yodelyak says:

          I think even when people are using behavior that fits the pattern of “micro aggression” specifically in order to make their target feel they are targeted by aggression, the best response is often to feign blindness to the distinction, and treat everything ambiguous as friendly. Generally this forces those who want to be bullies to behave nastily in much less ambiguous ways–at which point coordinating meanness to shut down their nastiness becomes much easier.

          I think both the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths have very explicit injunctions along the lines that, if you are insulted on one cheek, you should offer your other cheek as well. And I think the reason this counter-intuitive behavior works is not that it’s good to be weak, or to welcome insult as praise, but that real strength is always coordinated strength, and coordination problems require this kind of patience and restraint.

          • Witness says:

            real strength is always coordinated strength, and coordination problems require this kind of patience and restraint.

            I’ve struggled to articulate points very similar to this in the past. I think this framing will help me quite a bit. Thanks 🙂

          • Paul Brinkley says:

            Agreed – I don’t think I ever quite considered this angle before.

          • Nick says:

            Thirding that this is really interesting.

    • Mark says:

      I think it would be best to be honest about how micro-aggressions make you feel, without assuming some invisible shadow host of social opinion sweeping up behind in support of your position.

      “Where are you from?”
      “Sorry, I have a bit of an issue where people asking me that question makes me feel like I’m being rejected as a normal member of the community.”

      And then actually listen to the response without getting angry…?

      [There are certain standard questions that people ask me that I find personally problematic. I normally just feel bad, grin and bear it. Probably be better to take a more honest approach, though.]

      • Murphy says:

        There are people who freak out over “where are you from?”?

        I’ve had “where are you from”‘s by entire life due to a slightly odd mix of accents and for most of my life the answer was something like “oh, born a few miles down the road”

        As someone who I’d be willing to bet a small amount got “where are you from” more often than yourself over my life it never would have occurred to me that some people read that as “You must not be a real member of the community!!!”.

        I guess that may be an example of being at different ends of the trust/paranoia axis.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I get a moderate amount of “Where are you from?”

          Until I became familiar with Social Justice, I interpreted it to mean that normal people are interested in really boring things. I’d reply with my true but boring answer.

          “I was born in Philadelphia, but my parents moved to Delaware when I was six months old. I moved to Philadelphia about 20 years ago.”

          [serves you right, you boring person]

          If my ancestry comes up, I’m half Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) on both sides. The rest of my ancestry is from what used to be the Lithuanian empire– the Ukraine, Byelorussia, that sort of thing. Really, I think I have the least interesting ancestry of anyone I know– no famous people, and a limited geographical range. So many people have ancestors from two or three continents.

          Anyway, after SJW, I wonder whether all those people think I don’t quite fit in.

          • Aapje says:

            Anyway, after SJW, I wonder whether all those people think I don’t quite fit in.

            Or…they are trying to fit you in, by trying to figure out your culture so they don’t unnecessarily offend you.

            The causality may be the opposite of what you think. As in: they notice that you don’t fit in and try to figure out how to deal with that.

          • Chalid says:

            I don’t mind “where are you from” but it really annoys me when people don’t accept my answer and keep digging.

          • Nancy Lebovitz says:

            I’m been told that I get the white people version. If I were darker, I’d get “But where are you *really* from?” if I only explained my personal history.

            So help me, I’m tempted to say I’m from Nigeria and then explain that my family were diplomats.

            Aapje, it might also make sense to ask people why they asked me, not that I feel very sure of getting an honest answer.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nancy, I’ve got a lily-white friend who’ll happily explain that he’s Filipino. You see, his parents were missionaries…

            Perhaps to his disappointment, he hardly ever gets the question.

        • Skivverus says:

          My mother got this often enough that she’d tell people about it; I mostly got the impression that it was an annoyance rather than a matter of freaking out, and that mostly because people would respond to her answer with “no, where are you from?”

          On the one hand, their hunches were arguably correct – she grew up in Hong Kong – but on the other there are probably more diplomatic ways to ask about heritage.

        • srconstantin says:

          “Where are you from” is annoying/stressful if you’re an immigrant and you left the place you’re “from” for a damn good reason and don’t identify with it much. My father does not like it when people find out where he’s from and say “Oh, so you’re Romanian!” I’ve also noticed that a lot of Russian Jews are weirded out when Americans say “you’re Russian” — they’re like “man, they sure didn’t call me Russian in Russia!”

          Sometimes when people insist SHUT UP I AM AN AMERICAN FROM AMERICA, it’s not because they’re self-hating about their heritage, it’s because their experience of their country of origin wasn’t that great, and identifying with that country is sort of epically missing the point. (Imagine referring to Elie Wiesel as “a Romanian.” Sounds pretty awkward, doesn’t it?) Some people are into the whole Columbus Day/Casimir Pulaski Day/St. Patrick’s Day thing — some people are NOT.

    • Quiet Lurker says:

      I suspect that almost every instance of microaggression people think they’ve experienced was actually just a standard awkward social interaction where the other party just happened to be a different race or gender.

      I can think of more than a couple instances in my own life where this might have happened.

      One example: I was once in a hospital with my mother and the two of us were standing in front of the elevator trying to remember which floor we needed. While we were figuring things out the elevator arrived and a man who was waiting beside us stepped into it. He gestured that we should join him, but I just shook my head and said “We’ll get the next one.”

      He looked crestfallen, which confused me. Why should he care which elevator we take? Was he lonely or something? Only later did it occur to me that he, not being white, might have thought we didn’t want to share an elevator with him because we were racist.

      If he did think that, he must now believe he has firsthand experience of racist microaggression.

      These kinds of awkward interactions are common (at least in my life). If the group a person believes may be committing microaggressions against them makes up a large portion of the people they’re likely to interact with on a regular basis (whites or men for example) then it’s surely possible to build up dozens of erroneous personal examples.

      • lvlln says:

        That incident really highlights one of the major problems with microaggressions as it’s pushed as an issue today: they are completely determined by the subjective opinion of the microaggressed and independent of the intent or any other internal thought process of the microaggressor, yet the microaggression is supposed to indicate or reflect some deep internal bias within the microaggressor, who now has the responsibility to confront one’s own bigotry as evidenced by the microaggression. Of course, many people will argue that calling something a “microaggression” doesn’t mean berating the microaggressor, just asking them to be a bit more thoughtful about their behaviors, but my experience indicates to me that reactions to someone committing a microaggression tends to go much further and is usually much closer to demanding psychological and behavioral modifications in the part of the microaggressor (my experience may not reflect what’s common, though).

        These kinds of awkward interactions are common (at least in my life). If the group a person believes may be committing microaggressions against them makes up a large portion of the people they’re likely to interact with on a regular basis (whites or men for example) then it’s surely possible to build up dozens of erroneous personal examples.

        This is the especially depressing part in this, I think. Every behavior has some level of ambiguity in it and some room for interpretation. People err in various directions and magnitudes due to their personal idiosyncrasies. But lots of influential people are now pushing it such that certain types of ambiguous behaviors get interpreted uncharitably by default. Not only does that make those interactions more negative, people see more and more evidence of insidious unconscious bias due to how they interpret behaviors that are microaggressions, making them more sensitized to interpreting ambiguous behaviors as aggressive in the future. And since people are punished for defending themselves from charges of bigotry regardless of the validity of those charges (as that just proves that they’re bigoted), and since people are punished for suggesting more charitable interpretations of ambiguous behaviors (as that’s just gaslighting), we create a ratchet where people perceive more and more insidious bigoted behavior as happening, even under the same circumstances.

        Not to mention the actual suffering that this induces by training people to feel hurt from interactions which truly are ambiguous. Of course, ambiguous behaviors which are actually aggressive in reflection of someone’s internal bigotry DO exist, and it can be helpful to notice and to analyze them. But encouraging people to more often interpret ambiguous behaviors in this way seems very well designed to increase suffering by people on both sides of the interaction. If a behavior is truly ambiguous, then it seems most helpful to interpret it charitably, and if it’s not truly ambiguous, it seems misleading to call it a “microaggression” instead of just “aggression.”

        • Fluffy Buffalo says:

          Thanks for spelling out what I meant in more depth and clarity.

        • Randy M says:

          they are completely determined by the subjective opinion of the microaggressed and independent of the intent or any other internal thought process of the microaggressor, yet the microaggression is supposed to indicate or reflect some deep internal bias within the microaggressor

          This is insightful.

          Not to mention the actual suffering that this induces by training people to feel hurt from interactions which truly are ambiguous.

          I agree that this is a harmful attitude. It’s good advice to assume the other party is having a bad day, distracted, has poor social skills, etc. There’s times when offense is really really blatant, I suppose, but if you interpret ambiguous interactions positively, you will be happier and more pleasant.

          It seems like some people have the view that it is not moral to be happy if someone slights you–righteous anger is required if it is at all justified. But the old saw that the best revenge is living well has some truth, especially because then you don’t avenge imagined slights.

        • BBA says:

          In tort law there’s the “eggshell skull” rule, which is that a negligent person is responsible for all damage caused by their negligence, even if the victim is unusually frail and suffers much greater harm than a typical person would under the same circumstances.

          Microaggression theory appears to be applying the same principle to social interaction. I’m not saying I strictly agree with the rule, but if it’s analogous to the Common Law as handed down by the Gods of the Copybook Headings, there must be something to it.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The eggshell skull rule is about damages, not liability, though. If I bump an eggshell skull person in an interaction where I am not negligent, and as a result they die, I’m not liable.

            (Also it’s a stupid rule)

          • Evan Þ says:

            As The Nybbler said, the eggshell skull rule requires you to first commit a tortious action. As long as you don’t break that rule, you’re in the clear; if you do, you do so at your peril.

            But, @The Nybbler, why’s it a stupid rule? I see it as quite sensible to make the tortfeasor fix all the damages caused by his action. For instance, if someone burns down my apartment, I want them to replace my (hypothetical) rare book collection even if they had no idea it was there.

          • The Nybbler says:

            It means the very smallest tort can have effectively unlimited damages, even if the wronged party could have mitigated them through ordinary care. A wealthy person could line his yard with expensive and easily breakable sculpture and bankrupt the first clumsy or drunk person to wander into one.

          • ECD says:

            @The Nybbler,

            I’ve never heard of a case where the eggshell plaintiff rule did away with comparative fault. Where are you getting that?

            Also, for your example, it’s possibly true that they could bankrupt someone, but the most likely person to fall on their lawn breaking a statue is judgment-proof by virtue of having no money, so I don’t think that’s a serious concern.

          • The Nybbler says:

            There’s no comparative fault in my example; it’s not negligent for a person to put his own property out on his lawn. The eggshell skull rule says any trespasser has full liability for all damages caused by his trespass, no matter how unforseeable those damages were to him.

          • ECD says:

            @The Nybbler,

            It’s certainly not illegal to “line his yard with expensive and easily breakable sculptures” but I’d expect any defense attorney to argue that it was negligent, or that they failed to properly mitigate damages (see e.g. discussion on ‘safety glasses’:

            Edited to add: Also, the alternative is that the person who did nothing wrong is paying for it (as there’s no magical third option where no one pays for harm caused).

          • BBA says:

            yeah, you caught me assuming strict liability (which, TBF, is pretty much the standard rule for everything these days). No wonder I never got a job practicing law.

          • lvlln says:

            I think there’s definitely something to it. I consider it just good courtesy to follow the “eggshell skull rule” when it comes to social interactions. The person you’re speaking with really might metaphorically have a skull made out of eggshells, and crushing their skull is a terrible thing to do, even if accidentally, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.

            But people are allowed to behave without good courtesy. It’d be one thing to remind someone that the people they’re interacting with might have eggshell skulls, it’s another to deem them as a bigot deserving of ostracization if they don’t repent and re-educate themselves.

            And it’s a whole extra problem if we have empirical evidence that constantly reminding people that they might have eggshell skulls actually literally causes people’s skulls to turn into eggshells. That’s just going to cause more unnecessary suffering. One might posit that this is just the tradeoff of encouraging people to treat others as if they have eggshell skulls, but it seems to me that it’s perfectly possible to encourage that while also reminding people that statistically they probably don’t have eggshell skulls, and that not believing they have eggshell skulls is actually a way to make their skulls less likely to turn into eggshell.

          • But, @The Nybbler, why’s it a stupid rule?

            I’m not the Nybbler, but it’s a question of interest to me.

            The problem is that the victim knows he has an eggshell skull, the potential tortfeasor doesn’t. If one person in a thousand has an eggshell skull, it makes more sense for one person in a thousand to wear a helmet than for everyone to treat everyone else as if he needed a helmet.

            That assumes, as the economic analysis of tort law usually does, that tort damages fully compensate, so given the rule there is no incentive for the unusually vulnerable person to take unusual precautions.

            Another thing wrong with it is that the case it originates with (Vosburg v Putney) is crazy and looks highly artificial, possibly fraudulent.

            A third thing interesting, if not wrong, is that precisely the same logic of advantages and disadvantages (I’ve omitted the argument for the rule, since that wasn’t the question asked), applies in a different legal context (the rule of Hadley v Baxendale) where the common law has the opposite rule. Richard Posner, one of the main L&E people, separately argues that both common law rules are economically efficient without noticing that he is choosing to look at one of two alternative arguments in the one case, the other in the other case, and both apply to both.

            For details see Chapter 14 of my Law’s Order.

          • The Nybbler says:

            Another point is that while it is true on paper that the eggshell skull rule applies to damages and not liability, the argument that a lot of damage was done therefore there _must_ have been negligence is often made… and accepted.

          • Aapje says:


            In other words, you get a lowest common denominator society.

            It is costly to make everything super safe and tailored for the least capable and also makes many things impossible.

            It’s like a world where every room is a padded room with no furniture. It hollows out the human experience for most people.

          • Gerry Quinn says:

            An ‘eggshell skull’ criterion for damages may be less of an issue if an ‘in the opinion of a reasonable person’ criterion has first to be passed for liability.

  66. Rachael says:

    This is a fascinating topic! The subtopic of variation in women experiencing sexism is one I’ve thought about quite a lot, but I hadn’t thought of it as part of a more general phenomenon as in this post.
    I’m a woman who doesn’t experience street harassment, sexual discrimination, and so on (and I’ve worked in programming for several years, and tend to have majority-male hobbies), and I keep seeing things on the internet insisting that these are things that “all women” experience, and that it’s even more common in tech and male-dominated circles.
    I have a very tentative theory (corroborations or refutations welcome!) that it’s not about attractiveness per se, but unusualness or noticeable-ness. I don’t stand out very much; I look like a lot of other people. I’m hypothesising that women who get a lot of street harassment are likely to be strikingly pretty *or* ugly – or very tall or short, or very thin or fat, or with an unusual hair colour, or from a racial minority, or with lots of visible tattoos or piercings, or notably dressed according to a particular subculture (goth, sporty, etc).
    The book Dataclysm, by the guy who writes the OK Cupid statistics blog, introduces the idea that some OK Cupid users are rated 3 out of 5 for attractiveness because everyone rates them a 3, whereas others are rated 3 because they have a very polarising look and some people rate them 1 and some rate them 5. Same mean, different variance. I’m not on OK Cupid, but I think if I were, I’d be the first kind (low variance); and I’m guessing that the second kind (high variance) get more harassment.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      Interesting point. There might be something to this. I’m around a fair number of people that stand out in the ways you suggest, and it’s indeed a case of “love ’em or hate ’em”. Of course, this feels like confirmation bias, so I’d have to think of cases of stand-out people that don’t get harassed.

      …this seems rather hard to do. Practically all of these individuals are boat-rockers. I’ll have to think on it.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      I have a very tentative theory (corroborations or refutations welcome!) that it’s not about attractiveness per se, but unusualness or noticeable-ness. I don’t stand out very much; I look like a lot of other people.

      Same here. I also generally don’t experience harassment/cat-calling…not that it’s never happened, but it’s unusual, and I suspect that’s because I kind of fade into the background. Or maybe I project a strong “leave me alone” field.

    • Lillian says:

      Sometimes i work as a model, as a consequence of this my hair may be dyed unusual colours. Normally it’s very dark brown, most people actually assume it’s black, even family memebers who’ve known me all my life. It got painted a subtle burgundy with teal highlights, and latter emerald with gold highlights. People are usually very nice to me, having my hair painted seems to makes them more so, not less.

      On the other hand the only instance of street harresment in years happened last summer while i was wearing a satin blue dress in the middle of the day. A mestizo guy in an SUV slowed down and desperately kept trying to ask me out. Normally i’m flattered when people compliment or express interest in me, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer, that made me feel harrassed. This kind of thing is really rare though.

      On the whole i think standing out just seems to increase the magnitude of the kind of attention you already get, not the kind.

      • Lillian says:

        Oh my edit didn’t go through. Just wanted to note that while i’m not striking enough to get to model frequently, i wouldn’t get any jobs at all if my appearance wasn’t noteworthy in some way. So even with my normal hair colour and boring clothes i do tend to stand out a bit. Hell a random guy on the train once told me he’d seen me on the same line months previously, we hadn’t interacted at all, i was just that noteworthy to him. Yet almost no harassment, no experienced sexism, and everyone is just generally nice to me. There’s no apparent polarising effect.

        • The Nybbler says:

          Hell a random guy on the train once told me he’d seen me on the same line months previously

          If you were an Internet feminist, you would count this as harassment, along with all the other incidents of people expressing interest and/or complimenting you. How dare some guy _talk_ to you when you’re just trying to go home? If a guy merely noticed your hair color change and commented upon it (or simply looked at your hair an instant too long), that would be harassment too.

          • Thegnskald says:

            Dude, not helpful.

            Not every comment is a reason to be angry at internet feminists.

          • Besserwisser says:

            Considering this is a comment chain about women expressing experiences with harassment and many of those women happen to be feminists, I think it’s fairly relevant. One of the points of this article was how people rate the same experiences differently.

          • Thegnskald says:

            And yet, in spite of rationalizing a relevance – it still isn’t actually helpful.

            Imagine, for a moment, you were discussing, in a thread about consent, how you once didn’t have sex with a girl because something didn’t feel right, and it turned out later she was on drugs and thanked you.

            And someone chimes in “Yeah, but many dudes would have banged her anyways”.

            I mean, it is sort of relevant to the conversation, but it is unnecessarily hostile, moves the topic of conversation away from the experiences of the person speaking and to someone’s personal pet issue, and burns up good will towards that pet issue.

            Plus, it is likely to trigger an argument without any new information, which is the perfect recipe for a lightless fire.

          • Lillian says:

            @The Nybbler: Yeah probably, i wrote more about my attitudes in another post. They’re not exactly internet feminist kosher.


      • Jade says:

        On the whole i think standing out just seems to increase the magnitude of the kind of attention you already get, not the kind.

        This totally fits in with my experience as a 6’1 blond gal living in [Big Metropolitan City]. Mostly because of my height and partly because I’m conventionally attractive (I do model some), I seem to get three types of “attention” based on my looks:

        1.) Mostly non-threattening attempts at socialization/conversation, and genuine compliments. Getting asked out also falls into this category, because most guys are kind and don’t react adversely when I turn them down, and sure, it’s a nice ego boost, I’ll admit it.
        2.) Grey area maybe-patronizing/harassment or maybe-good intentions-but-came-off-a-little-creepy. Like when I’m was studying in the park and a man says to me “you’re too pretty to be studying that hard.” He could be meaning it in a patronizing way, but I don’t want to automatically label him (or anyone) as a chauvinist/misogynist without actually knowing them. Some people give weird compliments, and I’m not looking to immediately crucify every man who does as inherently “evil” or whatever.
        3.) Harassment/assault. No grey area here. Things like men saying loudly to their friends “check out this piece of ass” and trying to grab me as I walk by. Or guys not taking no for an answer when they ask me out.

        In a given time frame I get about the same number of “attention” incidents on a whole, but each category comprises different levels of occurrence depending on a lot of factors: what clothes I’m wearing (more revealing=more of 2 and 3, duh), what shoes I’m wearing (I don’t think that heels making me taller affects this so much as they affect the way I walk/body language). But sometimes things are counterintuitive, like how not wearing makeup/looking less put together definitely increases the occurrences of category 3s, and looking super put-together/businesslike guarantees a lot more of 1s and 2s.

        The interplay between all three is really weird, and especially reading here that some women face more of this and some face less, and leads me to wonder if there are definite factors about me that contribute to the attention I receive that I’m largely oblivious to.

  67. AC Harper says:

    This article reminded me of ‘Connected’ by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler. They reported that the social networks we are part of shape us in various unconscious ways. The ‘connection’ influences what we eat, if we smoke, and how our sexual lives unfold, whether we are wealthy and so on. Not only are we influenced by our (Connection) friends but also their friends and their friends’ friends too, by a decreasing amount, even if we don’t know their friends and friends’ friends. A subtle but significant point.

    So chances are that if you find yourself in a Connection of abused-and-abusers the Connection reinforces itself and you will continue to be abused. If you are a criminal you will find it almost impossible to ‘go straight’ while you are Connected to other criminals. Giving up smoking will be harder if the majority of people around you smoke. I hypothesise that if you are a SJW you will select other SJW to connect with and fail to understand the humanity (Connection) of Republicans – and of course vice versa.

    I also hypothesise that humans are ‘troop’ animals by the nature of the evolutionary processes that have worked on us. With 7.5 billion people in the world there are too many to form a single Connection with, so we currently appease our evolutionary heritage by identifying much smaller like-minded/like-affect Connections to identify with and contribute to. I don’t know how many separate Connections anyone modern might have, it will depend on context and the Connections may overlap – but people often speak of ‘family’ and ‘work’ being completely different worlds…

  68. Fluffy Buffalo says:

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

    • gemmaem says:

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

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

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

        • Deiseach says:

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

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

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

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

          • Sebastian_H says:

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

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

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

    • Autolykos says:

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

      • Fluffy Buffalo says:

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

        • Autolykos says:

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

          • moridinamael says:

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

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

        • adrian.ratnapala says:

          Then err on the soft side.

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

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

        • themadmammaker says:

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

        • Alexp says:

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

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

          • eccdogg says:

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

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

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

          • At a slight tangent …

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

            And I then realized that what was going on was that the sports they did in school were things other kids did lots of for fun, I did them only if I had to at gym classes or the like, so of course they were better at them than I was. And I ended up with a self image of myself as physically strong and reasonably fast.

            Getting back on topic … . A martial arts class, or any other relatively uncommon physical activity, can give self-confidence to someone who lacks it because he is bad at the competitive physical things his peers do.

          • Nornagest says:

            That’s certainly the experience I had. I was an unathletic child, but got to be a fairly good martial artist after I discovered that early in high school, and later became a serious contender on the intercollegiate level for epee fencing. (Competed in saber, too, but I’m not really built for it.)

            The moral of the story is, if you’ve got a nerdy child that you want to physically motivate, put a sword in their hand. In retrospect I really wish I’d started five or eight years earlier.

        • Deiseach says:

          The problem is that the martial arts that actually help you deal with adversity necessarily include the experience of getting beaten, mauled and dominated (which a paranoid character would interpret as being bullied).

          But that would help with learning the difference between “this person is deliberately picking on you” and “this is just part of how you have to learn this, see the other guys are getting knocked about as well, part of life is getting knocked about and dealing with it”. The nephew did a few years of taekwondo and enjoyed it, and it really did bring him out of his shell, but I don’t think there was any emphasis on “now you will be able to beat seven bells out of anybody”.

          And don’t be too heavy on the idea of paranoia; it may be anxiety more than anything, and it’s a fine balance to get right the “taking it seriously” and not fall between the two stools of “implanting the idea that he’s paranoid with good cause” and “belittling what he says and thinks”.

        • Andrew Hunter says:


          I got beat up as a kid. A lot. Elide a five graf explanation of how bad it was and how much this fucked me up.

          In college I picked up BJJ. And yes, BJJ involves getting mauled, a lot, by bigger, stronger, more talented people.

          Nevertheless it was one of the best things I’ve done in my life, and it was a great lesson: I can get through this, and the guy grinding my face into the mat for 5 minutes actually likes me and will grab a beer that night. And you know what? I’m bigger and stronger now than I was, but I’m not the biggest or strongest guy in the room (except when I hang out with SWPLs.) And despite that, it’s been ten years since I felt threatened by anyone. I will never again be terrified that someone might beat me up. And I have a great high-T hobby.

          Now, there are better and worse places to practice BJJ. If anyone in the gym wears this T-shirt walk away and don’t come back. But a large number of BJJ groups are stunningly nice. Yes, we all beat each other up–but we all know that there’s someone stronger, which is humbling enough to keep us friendly.

          Highly recommended.

          • Paul Brinkley says:


            My experience with HEMA has been virtually identical.

          • jimmy says:

            Hah, I train with the guy modeling that shirt. He’s actually a perfect example of a jiujitsu guy who is stunningly nice.

          • wobbler says:

            Likewise my experience with Krav Maga (which I’ve only started learning recently). It’s fairly brutal, but everyone is really friendly.

            However, when I was a kid being bullied at school, I went to Fencing classes (which I later segued into Kendo). Not really applicable in any practical self-defence sense (people don’t really carry swords around anymore!), but it _does_ teach you how to maintaining a fighting distance and the experience does allow you to focus on getting things done in a dangerous situation, rather than getting distracted/panicking by having a weapon pointed at your chest, which I think is helpful. And it’s not really any kind of “beating up” — everyone is in armour and it’s very “sportified” and distance (as martial arts go)

        • carvenvisage says:

          I don’t want to read too far between the lines here but it sounds like you are envisioning your kid joining you in BJJ. If that’s correct, the rest of the post might have some accuracy:


          Ever heard of Muay thai? Boxing? No one has to get held down, still less held gratuitously or unnecessarilly in a checkmate position (-something most serious BJJ places are understandably pretty easy about), in order to learn an unarmed combat sport.

          That you fell for a Mcdojos in the first place should make you question how qualified you are to judge what is necessarry. ‘Getting dominated’ is no more plausible a part of the equation than ‘pattern and forms’.

          A tolerance for being nominally dominated is purely a necessarry evil for training certain martial arts (in particular, -almost uniquely, BJJ).


          Even if there is no serious striking place around, a mcdojo is fine for a 4th grader, or a plain old punchbag hung up somewhere. (if you have the space). Even a severe aversion to your particular hobby should not be a major obstacle. Let the kid do judo or something. I just personally got a barbell and dumbells for a new place for <150 bucks. It's absolutely not some major dilemna, still less one of of needing to get your kid to want to be dominated in order to involve them in martial arts. That is surely all in your head. Probably based on contrast of that style to McDojos.

          Shit, if 'doesn't want to be held down just to slowly learn a martial art that isn't even that applicable to IRL' makes you paranoid, mike tyson was probably paranoid too. No way is that the problem.

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      When Panic Attacks by David D. Burns is pretty good. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, actually works, doesn’t take a ton of effort or skill to apply.

      It applies to anything anxiety-related.

  69. Peter Gerdes says:

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

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

    • Aapje says:

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

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

      • Besserwisser says:

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

  70. John Nerst says:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Mark says:

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

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

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

      • John Nerst says:

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

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

        • Mark says:

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

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

          • John Nerst says:

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

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

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

  71. gemmaem says:

    This stuff is often culturally dependent.

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

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

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

    • Luke Perrin says:

      Maybe shop assistants in the UK and US dress differently? Do you wear a lot of black polo shirts?

      • gemmaem says:

        Not really! I remember one time I was in a shoe shop. I was wearing a red v-neck top with long sleeves. I could not figure out why the woman who had spoken to me had jumped to the conclusion that I worked there.

        Maybe it’s because I like to walk around aimlessly and think, and this sometimes includes wandering into shops but not looking very closely at anything. Perhaps British people would not just wander into a shop for a change of scene or whatever.

  72. fhaufiwuni4ntdsv says:

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

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

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

  73. Acedia says:

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

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

  74. US says:

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

  75. promotoriustitiae says:

    Can confirm this in practice.

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

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

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

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

  76. Reasoner says:

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

    • Bugmaster says:

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

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

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Fuck off

        • Mark says:

          Seems a little intemperate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Not kind.

            True. Necessary.

          • Mark says:

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

            Could be a teachable moment….

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

          • Nornagest says:

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

          • Nornagest says:

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

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

          • Nornagest says:

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

          • Scott says:

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

          • Thegnskald says:

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

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

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

        • poignardazur says:

          On one hand, that was inappropriate and unconstructive.

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

    • magana says:

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

    • Aapje says:


      1. “Some of my best friends are black”

      2. Lower your head and/or wet yourself.

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

      Option 3 might be the wisest.

    • eh says:

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

    • Common Tater says:

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

      • HeelBearCub says:

        @Common Tater:

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

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

        • Witness says:

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

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

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

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

          • bean says:

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

          • Witness says:


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

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

            Agreed there. And one worthy of solving.

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

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

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

          • Aapje says:

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

          • bean says:

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

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

          • Common Tater says:

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

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

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Common Tater:
            All fair and valid points.

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

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

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

          • Common Tater says:

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

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

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

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Common Tater:

            Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

          • Witness says:

            Thanks to everyone above for helping improve this thread 🙂

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

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

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

          • Mixer says:

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

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

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

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

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

          • Brad says:

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

            Maximum commenting depth.

          • Nornagest says:

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

          • Nick says:

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

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

          • Gobbobobble says:

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

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

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

        • Bugmaster says:

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

          • Evan Þ says:

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

    • apollocarmb says:

      If you liked them they would not think that.

    • HeelBearCub says:

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

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

      • bean says:

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

        • Mark says:

          I don’t like battleships.

          • bean says:

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

          • Mark says:

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

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

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

          • HeelBearCub says:

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

            Oh, wait. You don’t.

          • bean says:

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

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

          • Mark says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

          • Thegnskald says:

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

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

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

          • Mark says:


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

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

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

          • Randy M says:

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

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

      • Deiseach says:

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

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

        • baconbacon says:

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

        • Hyzenthlay says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

          • Protagoras says:

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

          • quanta413 says:

            What Hyzenthlay said.

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

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

    • Thegnskald says:

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

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

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

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

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

    • AnonYEmous says:

      what a flaming hot thread this has spawned

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

    • All I Do Is Win says:

      Easy, treat them nicely and like a friend.

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

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

    • Bram Cohen says:

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

  77. OpaqueLotTaxi says:

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

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

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

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

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

    • carvenvisage says:

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

      • yodelyak says:

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

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

    • pansnarrans says:

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

  78. leoboiko says:

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

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

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

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

    • awalrus says:

      But I’m also absurdly introverted/shy,

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

      • leoboiko says:

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

        • Thegnskald says:

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

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


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

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

  79. Then a few days ago I stumbled across the Reddit thread

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

    • Error says:

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

    • poignardazur says:

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

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

      • Murphy says:

        They’ve been hit by the niceness field.

      • DrBeat says:

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

        • Dedicating Ruckus says:

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

          • DrBeat says:

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

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

        • poignardazur says:

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

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

    • Deiseach says:

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

  80. ScarecrowBoat716 says:

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

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

  81. Sniffnoy says:

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

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

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

  82. ScarecrowBoat716 says:

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

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

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

    • poignardazur says:

      Uh. Yeah, I think I’m the same.

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

      Hell is other people.

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

        • poignardazur says:

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

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

      • ScarecrowBoat716 says:

        Wow that article describes me to a T! Including the question about what if I woke up as a woman? As the article predicted, I would be fine with it. I’ve thought about that question before, and my only hangup with waking of as a woman would be – again – biological (periods don’t sound fun, birth sucks, my emotional disorders would likely be worse). I don’t have a strong gender identity and I’m surprised to see it’s split 45.3/39.0 in favor of the cis-by-default type.

        Maybe I’m in the minority of cis-by-default people because I’ve never had a problem with people choosing a different gender than their sex organs would ordain. Although I generally don’t care at all what other people do with their lives and don’t get bothered in the slightest by subjectively moral decisions like that, so I might just happen to have the right personality for trans-tolerance.

    • tailcalled says:

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

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

    • herbert herberson says:

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

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

    • sandoratthezoo says:

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

      • gbdub says:

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

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

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

      • Deiseach says:

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

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

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

        • poignardazur says:

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

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

          • Aapje says:

            Your voice didn’t break?

            Getting strong suddenly is also difficult for some boys.

            Many boys worry about the size of their penis.

          • Evan Þ says:

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

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

          • gemmaem says:

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

          • Matt says:

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

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

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

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

        • tlwest says:

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

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

    • Brad says:

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

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

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

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

    • Eli says:

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

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

    • vV_Vv says:

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

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

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

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

      • Aapje says:

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

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

        • vV_Vv says:

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

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

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

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

          • The Nybbler says:

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

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

      • hyperboloid says:

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

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

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

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

    • Bram Cohen says:

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

  83. Thecommexokid says:

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

  84. Dedicating Ruckus says:

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

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

    • Doug S. says:

      So Scott is like Captain Carrot?

    • Svejk says:

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

      The bubble is real.

      • yodelyak says:

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

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

    • Zubon says:

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

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

      • leoboiko says:

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

        • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

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

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

          • Ketil says:

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

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

        • Matthias says:

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

          • Interesting.

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

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

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

          • Matthias says:

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

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

  85. Jliw says:

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

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

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

    • All I Do Is Win says:

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

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

  86. ThrustVectoring says:

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

    • Douglas Knight says:

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

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

  87. Antistotle says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    • Noumenon72 says:

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

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

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

    • ashlael says:

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

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

      • Matt M says:


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

        • Brad says:

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

          • Gobbobobble says:

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

          • Evan Þ says:

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

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

          • Matt M says:

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

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

            So you are an anarcho-capitalist?

          • Matt M says:


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

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

    • RDNinja says:

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

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

      • lifetilt says:

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

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

        • Paul Brinkley says:

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

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

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