THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

This is the bi-weekly visible open thread (there are also hidden open threads twice a week you can reach through the Open Thread tab on the top of the page). Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever. You can also talk at the SSC subreddit or the SSC Discord server. Also:

1. Happy Valentine’s Day! While you’re waiting for blockchain-based dating to materialize, remember that there’s already a rationalist dating site, Reciprocity.io. Go through your Facebook friends and check boxes for which ones you want to date or hang out with, and if they check you too the site will let you both know. It does require your Facebook friends also use the site, but if you’re socially exposed to the rationalist community many of them will. The Reciprocity team wants me to remind you that even if you’re already on there, this might be a good time to go back, update your selections, and see if anyone new has joined.

2. There will probably be an SSC meetup in Berkeley on March 3. I’ll post a clearer announcement later, but just wanted to give some advance warning.

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### 1,074 Responses to OT95: Zoetropen Thread

1. bean says:

Today, Naval Gazing looks at the invasion of Tarawa, as an example of amphibious warfare in WWII.

• Urstoff says:

Thanks for this post. Tarawa has always interested me, as my grandfather was on the Heywood and, with Eddie Albert (of Green Acres fame), took small craft to rescue injured marines in the water and take them back to the ship.

Why did the US decide to take Tarawa rather than just bomb and bypass it like they did with Truk?

• bean says:

Because we needed an airfield there to support the drive into the Marshalls, IIRC. The big Japanese bases (notably Truk and Rabaul) were bypassed because they were more trouble than they were worth to take, given that we could build bases that were 90+% as good on nearby islands that were a lot less heavily defended. Manaus is the most obvious example. Tarawa was also a rude wakeup call to how hard that kind of campaign could be, too. I’m not sure when Truk and Rabaul were discarded as targets, but I think Truk at least was after Tarawa was taken.

• gbdub says:

We needed the Marshalls to take the Marianas – Wikipedia claims Tarawa could cut off direct communications from Hawaii, but I’m not clear on why, since it is southeast of the Marshalls. Maybe it was too big of a base to leave in a position to harass the Marshalls campaign. But then Truk is smack between the Marshalls, Marianas, and Solomon Islands, so you think that would be more critical.

• bean says:

I’d have to check Morison to be sure, but I don’t think Wiki is right on this. The key realization of 1943-1944 was that so long as we could take bases and control the flow of supplies, we didn’t actually have to take the Japanese strongholds away from them. But the bases were necessary to support the blockade and to help the onward advance. Tarawa was taken because we needed one of those bases, not because of how much of a threat it was. During the Marshalls campaign, it was important as a base for long-range photographic and bombing missions. And those bombing missions, every couple of days, were important for keeping bypassed bases combat-ineffective after the initial carrier strikes.

• bean says:

Morison confirms that the Tarawa invasion was at least in large part done to get an airfield we could do surveillance of the Marshalls from. The Japanese locked them down in the aftermath of WWI, and we had no idea what sort of forces they had there.

2. stoodfarback says:

char-rnn
The simplified idea: you take a bunch of text and train a neural network to generate similar output (one character at a time).
A better explanation (with great visualizations): http://karpathy.github.io/2015/05/21/rnn-effectiveness/

So, let’s grab everything Scott’s written online (~3.5M words), throw it at a gpu for a day or two, and see what happens.

Well, it’s mostly babble, but occasionally funny. Here’s some output: https://pastebin.com/SZLSTLwu

Also, I’m learning a new language and wanted a small project for practice. To that end, I made a twitter bot that posts a snippet once a day: @slatestarcodex2

• toastengineer says:

I always wondered if there was a way to get a char-rnn to babble on a specific topic. Like, train a RNN on a bunch of essays tagged by topic, flip it around and have it generate text from the topic. Wish I understood this stuff.

Know a good “I want to do cool things first and then understand why it works” style tutorial on ML? Everything I’ve seen is either “here are the magic buttons you press to make the magic library do things” or “okay, first thing you have to do is get a masters in math, come back when you’re done.” I prefer the programming-as-craft type stuff of “Okay, this is how you do this; got that? Okay, here’s why it’s done like that and why it works.”

• gwern says:
• vV_Vv says:

“Okay, this is how you do this; got that? Okay, here’s why it’s done like that and why it works.”

http://deeplearning.net/tutorial/ A bit old, but good quality.

• Scott Aaronson says:

If it doesn’t require changing your code in any significant way, then could you try it on my blog? Please? 🙂

Maybe it will be something like:

“In a world where Trump is president, the doofosity is valued at $11,000 when I last checked, and the biting vaginas have fully replaced the argument, it’s obvious that those of us who see the difficulty of establishing quantum supremacy are merely insufficiently brave.” • Scott Aaronson says: If it just consisted of a single recognizable sentence from one post with a couple random phrases swapped out for other phrases, that would tell you that the neural net was doing something pretty uninteresting. • vV_Vv says: Maybe try it on your papers and see if it generates a proof that P != NP 🙂 • AG says: We could even do an all-Scott mashup (along with Adams), and see what a MegaScott blog would look like! • moyix says: I’ve got a GPU running torch-rnn on this now, but if anyone else would like to try (heck, maybe you have 100 GPUs sitting idle and can beat me to it ;)) the dataset I’m using can be found here: https://gist.github.com/moyix/2a21fe829a8b898901fbba3cebdc8386 I collected it by simply enumerating all of the post IDs, extracting the “entry” div, and passing the result through html2text. There are probably some odd artifacts but it looks reasonable from a quick glance. • moyix says: > This proponent to 0 is gender graphs (4 mirrored by a modification that records on Congress claiming that D-Wave’s approach,” that constructing a subroutine still reached as they’re not conscious or real experiment. > Once again, there are just a remote flying open problem! I’m not making that everything above the summary:I simply give me post an infinite robot as so as: on this is that I wrote a very name, but will assume that a young Europea might not support unearned by Domini Massachusetts. Hmm, may need a bit more training… • Douglas Knight says: RNNs are supposed to learn to balance quote marks and parentheses, aren’t they? • moyix says: Douglas Knight: yes, it should be able to – but I’m still messing around with getting the hyperparameters right, and those are also samples from fairly early on in the training process. I’m going to let it sit overnight, but I thought some of them were nonsensical fun already. (Not sure why I can’t post this as a direct reply. Some kind of nesting limit?) • toastengineer says: Yup. Don’t want to break the formatting, I guess, even though the blog only takes up 1/3 of my screen at 100% zoom anyway… The agreed-upon convention seems to be to reply to the parent of the comment you want to actually reply to, and say @name or use the quote tags if it’s ambiguous who you’re talking to. • Thegnskald says: Reads like a John Sidles comment. • stoodfarback says: I gave this a shot as well. This time, I kept the html since you use it for formatting, and I wanted to see how it would be handled. Trained on the posts (~500K words) and comments (~1.1M words), so output is probably skewed a bit towards comments. https://pastebin.com/yg3jEJ7Q (@moyix, will be interesting to see your results as well. I found the hyperparameter stuff really opaque, and just eventually stumbled on something that looks like it works) • Peter Shenkin says: I thought you mean Sir Walter Scott and I had a moment of cognitive dissonance when I started reading. • quaelegit says: Next project: mashup of SSC and Sir Walter Scott, like the King James Programming bible. 😛 • paranoidaltoid says: “More folic acid: Democrats have different violence in self-college, climate, energy, subsidies that allow the participants to engage with their sexual preferences.” On point, Scott AI-xander. • bean says: For some reason I find #9 hilarious: “This is the twice-weekly hidden open thread. Post about anything you want, ask random questions, whatever.” The AI has learned what really matters, or something like that. I’m also curious what it would do with the comments. • Nornagest says: It’s amazing how it’s totally incoherent but still somehow sounds like Scott. • SkyBlu says: I’m not sure I want to talk about these things. I can now upload a human being to respect this situation right. 3. Well... says: When you first imagine a perfect hexagon, is it flat on the bottom, or is one of the points facing down? • Acedia says: The former, but I can’t be sure that isn’t because I was primed by the fact that it appeared first in your sentence. • RavenclawPrefect says: It’s flat for me, as are all other regular polygons when I imagine them (except perhaps a 2-gon, which I think I usually imagine as a vertical line segment, and if I’m thinking about these things in the context of the complex numbers I’ll see them as points on the unit circle with a vertex on the right). Some other math visualization questions I’ve been curious about: When you think about an integer, what comes to mind visually (if anything)? Does it vary based on any properties of the integer? What mental image do you get when higher-dimensional objects are described (e.g. the unit tesseract, or the space R^4)? What do you see when you think about “the rationals” as a set? Does it vary based on context? I have my own answers to these questions but am not including them so as to leave people unbiased; probably don’t scroll down yet if you intend to answer and haven’t yet formulated a clear idea of your conceptions of these things. These questions presume the existence of mental imagery, but I’d also be really curious to hear what people with aphantasia think about when they encounter these concepts; is it in any sort of sense that can be easily conveyed over text? • Well... says: My hexagon is always flat side down by default, as are all the other regular polygons, and my 2-gons are horizontal too. Something definitely comes to mind when I think of an integer but I’m not sure I could efficiently describe it. There are various fonts, background textures, and different colors involved. Maybe someday I’ll paint a few select integers exactly the way I visualize them by default. I only know the tesseract, and I either think of Carl Sagan presenting it, or lately, the “tesseract” scene from “Interstellar”. If you ask me to visualize the rationals as a set I think of two brackets with a few representative integers & an ellipsis scribbled between them in my 10th grade math teacher’s handwriting, maybe also with his voice (or a voice like his) saying something to the effect of “let this be a set containing the rationals”. • BlindKungFuMaster says: Fun fact (to connect the first two topics in this thread): The inventor of the word “tesseract” is a relative of the “godfather of deep learning” geoffrey hinton. That’s one interesting family. • anonymousskimmer says: on integers: Mostly I’m pre-visual, or even straight up auditory (especially when I’m doing digit sum sequences it’s auditory and some standardized previsual manipulations akin to moving the digits around and morphing them into the new digits, but without visualizing said moving and morphing. When I need/want to do the digit sums fast I drop the auditory.). When I’m visual it’s the standard orthography. on higher dimensions: Things like this (note, while I am recreating the image on my own, it’s based on having seen animations like this before). Two decades ago I tried visualizing 4+ dimensional space using colors and textures based upon the descriptions on a personal website by a person at some polytechnic. on number series in general: I don’t visualize them. I don’t know if this is because I’m not a set person, or for other reasons. If I think enough about it I start recalling Disney’s Mathemagic land. • Forge the Sky says: I’m relatively unsophisticated mathematically, but maybe that’s still data you’re interested in. When you think about an integer, what comes to mind visually (if anything)? Does it vary based on any properties of the integer? The integer appears visually to me as an arabic numeral, with a kind of ‘faded out’ space around it indicating its general position within other numbers of its magnitude – i.e. ‘7’ would appear about 2/3 up in a sort of ‘grey space,’ and ’50’ would appear in the middle of a ‘grey space.’ If I’m doing arithmetic this lets me do quick approximate math even with larger numbers; if I’m being more exact I’ll fixate on specific digits – i.e. if I’m doing math with ’45’ I’ll see the four to one side forming the scope of the 40’s with the 5 about in the middle of the range. What mental image do you get when higher-dimensional objects are described (e.g. the unit tesseract, or the space R^4)? Not sure what the ‘space R^4’ is, but a tesseract sort of…slides off my mind. I can bring to mind those 3d-rotational animations but they don’t make sense to me. Intuitively I suppose I think of a cube within a cube or (irrationally) of a more complex 3d object, such as a dodecohedron with the points joined strangely. What do you see when you think about “the rationals” as a set? Does it vary based on context? I only think about rational numbers as a set when I’m also thinking about irrational numbers. In that case I visualize them in a similar way as I do positive vs. negative numbers – after a ‘zero’ point, things kinda go from black to white. • andrewflicker says: I have a math degree, just so you know my priors: When you think about an integer, what comes to mind visually (if anything)? Does it vary based on any properties of the integer? Generally no visualization, but a nonspecific impression of magnitude. -10^6 and +10^6 “feel” the same, basically. What mental image do you get when higher-dimensional objects are described (e.g. the unit tesseract, or the space R^4)? For the unit tesseract I picture an “unfolded” tesseract- ie, the four-armed three-dimensional cross model. For R^4 (and indeed, R^3 or other things perfectly normal to human experience), I picture an endless gray universe with no sense of dimensionality. When I work in it, I picture ordered quartets and an impression of euclidean distance, similar to my impression of the integers. What do you see when you think about “the rationals” as a set? Does it vary based on context? Without obvious context, I picture the popcorn function. With context, the picture will vary- which I think is ideal. Pretty silly if your model doesn’t change with context! • Thegnskald says: Integers and rationals aren’t things I attempt to visualize. Tesseracts are modeled in my brain as-is, and converted for visualization purpose into “cube with an additional dimension”; the best metaphor I can use to describe how this looks is to imagine a cube with a slider at the bottom, that can be dragged back and forth to change the color of the cube. Except there is no slider, and the color doesn’t change, the cube just stops existing if you go too far in either direction. (If I concentrate, I can generally set up four-dimensional scenes, by mapping the fourth dimension onto a time coordinate. I can map fifth dimensional scenes by mapping the fifth dimension onto probability-space. To get to six, I have to involve rotation-as-an-analogue-for-waves, and it requires that all interaction with the sixth dimension be mediated by motion.) • beleester says: Hexagons are flat side down, as are all polygons. Thinking about a number just gets me a mental picture of that number. Nothing special about it. Thinking about integers in general gives me the mental image of a number line, probably because integer makes me think “positive or negative” as opposed to the natural numbers. When I think about a tesseract I see the weird slanted-cube image, or if I think a little harder I get an image of a bunch of cubes stuck together like building blocks, which is less accurate but a little more descriptive (since a tesseract has a cube on each side, like a cube has a square on each side). The space R^4 makes me think of a set of grid axes, but with a fourth axis sticking out at a weird angle. Thinking about “the rationals” makes me think about fractions. No real mental image, just a number like “3/2”. • I have a degree in mathematics and one in CS. When you first imagine a perfect hexagon, is it flat on the bottom, or is one of the points facing down? It’s flat on the bottom, and I feel strongly about this. When you think about an integer, what comes to mind visually (if anything)? Does it vary based on any properties of the integer? If the integer has been specified, I generally picture its Arabic numeral and also say that number in my head. The “visualization” of the numeral has a location and maybe a size, but has no font or color. (It’s not gray or black; it has no color, nor does the nonexistent background.) If the integer hasn’t been specified, I don’t visualize much until something starts happening to it. What mental image do you get when higher-dimensional objects are described (e.g. the unit tesseract, or the space R^4)? I picture a tesseract as two cubes offset diagonally. R^4 is a big empty colorless featureless space. It looks just like R^3, but you’ll find that you can fit an extra orthogonal line in it. What do you see when you think about “the rationals” as a set? Does it vary based on context? I see a horizontal line with infinitely many points on/above it. I know the points are on the line, but picture them somewhat above. The rationals with smaller denominators are higher up, and when I zoom in I can start to see rationals with larger denominators separate from the line. This is all abstract, though: e.g. at no time could I count and tell you “how many” points I was “seeing”. I’d also be really curious to hear what people with aphantasia think about when they encounter these concepts I’m not sure whether I have aphantasia. When I visualize things, they have a shape (or at least an outline?) and a location, and I can rotate them about. But there’s no color (I can keep track of which thing has what color, but wouldn’t describe it as “seeing” that color). When I do algebraic manipulations, e.g. (x+y)(y+z)(x+z) = x^2(y+z) + y^2(x+z) + z^2(x + y) + 2xyz, the letters and numbers have a position but no color and no font. And there’s no background. I recognize people’s faces perfectly, but can’t picture them at all. EDIT: When I did that algebra, I pictured this: ____x__x __+_____+ y________z __y__+__z (Ignore the underscores; I can’t figure out any other way to force WordPress to preserve spacing.) with each of the sums circled, then looked for triangles with each corner on one side of one of the circled sums. I figured out that there were two kinds of triangles up to symmetry: 6 of the first kind and 2 of the second. I only needed to visualize 3-4 triangles before this became clear. And 6+2=8, which seemed like the right total number, so there was the answer. • akc09 says: Non-math person here, more of an artsy type. The hexagon is flat side down. Integers are a pretty neutral font, but I have very strong opinions about what “colors” they are, especially the first 10 or 20. Odd numbers are “warm” and even numbers are “cool.” (A side note: that last part seems totally obvious to me, but a friend of mine in school who also had some synesthesia insisted that it was the opposite—that odd numbers were cool colors and evens were warm.) I have a lot of trouble with the higher-dimensional stuff. I’ve always tried mental tricks to help myself “get” what they might look like, but it never really works. And I’ll be honest, when I hear “the rationals,” I just think that it would make a neat rock band name. • zenith says: That’s interesting. I also associate colors with numbers but it has no relation to the parity of the numbers. However it’s based purely on the representation of the number as a string of digits – so, for instance, the number 314 is the same as the colors of the digits 3, 1, and 4 side by side (though overall it’s mostly 3-colored, that is to say blue, because more significant digits are given precedence). If I imagine the integer as a pure quantity, irrespective of the base I don’t really have a visual image, but if I imagine two at the same time then there’s a clear sense in which the greater one is further to the right even if there isn’t anything visually depicted there. • FF says: I probably have aphantasia and part of my research is in math. I never visualize the objects you mention. If compelled to give some sort of graphic representation, all I see is a definition, i.e. k \in Z s.t. etc., or a field such that certain conditions holds. So in a sense it is text. But in general I just think about it. • Douglas Knight says: To visualize R⁵ first I visualize Rⁿ and then I set n=5. But that doesn’t work for R⁴. • The hexagon is flat on the bottom for me, and the same goes for other polygons. For the rational numbers, I have a sort of not-quite-visual concept of the dense order structure. Like, there are scattered points, but I am aware that if I look between the points I will find more points. This is different from real numbers which are in a straight line. Although since I’ve been reading about nonstandard analysis lately I’ve started to think of that line has having gaps in it too, where the infinitesimals should be. I don’t have any imagery for single integers (for the set of the integers I would think of evenly-spaced marks on an infinitely long ruler). Higher-dimensional objects… well, I don’t really know anything about them. Naively generalizing, a four-dimensional cube could presumably be thought of as an family of three-dimensional cubes parametrized by a real variable. So I have this picture of four or five cubes in a line in my mind, although that’s more of a selection of a few cross-sections than a visualization of the whole object. • I think I imagine it horizontal, not vertical, so neither a side nor a point is facing down. • quaelegit says: Does this mean you’re imagining seeing it edge-on (so it looks like a line segment) or you don’t have a particular direction defined as “down” in your mind’s eye image of the hexagon? • outis says: Maybe David doesn’t have the mind’s eye? Or he has a really weird version of it? (See Scott’s earlier posts about this.) I think he’s saying that he’s picturing the hexagon lying flat on the ground. Of course, a person who actually visualized the scene would immediately understand “down” in terms of their (imaginary) visual field, so for a hexagon lying on the ground before them the “down” direction would be the direction towards themselves. David doesn’t seem the type to be willfully obtuse, so I think there’s a decent chance that he’s not actually visualizing it. • quaelegit says: >Maybe David doesn’t have the mind’s eye? Or he has a really weird version of it? (See Scott’s earlier posts about this.) Good point! That’s one of my favorite SSC articles and I didn’t think of it… >I think he’s saying that he’s picturing the hexagon lying flat on the ground. Ah, so “down” would be out of the plane of the hexagon. That also makes sense. I did not mean to imply anyone was being willfully obtuse, just a failure of imagination on my part… • I think I may be seeing it as if it was flat on the ground and I was looking down at it. On the other hand, thinking about it, I believe I visualize a triangle as equilateral, with one side down. But mostly I don’t visualize things–I have poor visual memory/imagination, mostly feel as though it is the concepts not the pictures I am dealing with. • quaelegit says: Thanks for replying! This makes sense. I think the way the question was asked caused me to assume “down” was in (or parallel to) the plane of my vision (I guess I’m assuming that I’m observing a plane?) but “looking down at it” is also entirely sensible interpretation. And this whole thread has made me think I’m a much more visual thinker than I realized… • anonymousskimmer says: Generally flat on the bottom, but this time it was 3-D rotated toward the z-axis so the “bottom” was at an angle. It also had a hexagonally-sided tube projecting behind it. I believe the 3-D rotation might have occurred because I was still reading your sentence (scanning rightward with my eyes). • Paul Brinkley says: Either way. Perhaps slightly more frequently with a flat bottom. • quaelegit says: Flat bottom if it’s just one hexagon (or other polygons except maybe 2-gon); points if its tessellated hexagons. • A1987dM says: This time it was corner down, but I’m somewhat sure I used to usually imagine them edge down. • Eltargrim says: Point down, as per most depictions of cyclohexane or benzene. • fion says: Flat bottom, obviously. Because otherwise it would fall over! • Matt M says: Tend to agree with this. Not sure if this is universal, but the first time I learned about any shapes more complicated than “square, triangle, circle” was in kindergarten, and we learned by playing with these little wooden blocks of shapes – one of which was a hexagon, and yes, you sometimes stood it upright with the flat edge on the bottom. Whenever I think of a hexagon I think of that little yellow block. • Laplace says: Point facing down, since I tend to imagine a pentagon with a point facing up and a flat bottom first, then correct by adding one more point at the bottom. • ASparklingViking says: Point down. Once I’ve visualised a hexagon,my brain starts adding more to the image. If the initial hexagon is point down, it has the property of like-a-hexagon, and tessellating hexagons form up around it accordingly. If the initial hexagon is flat side down, it has the property of two-parallel-lines. I then try to extend those lines to infinity by adding more hexagons, but the awkward extra jutty bits keep on getting in the way by overlapping with each other or causing gaps. This is actually irritating enough to prompt me to actually stop lurking and post for the first time! • Rob K says: Flat bottom. Pretty sure if you asked me to envision a cell from a honeycomb, though, I’d put it point down. • Nancy Lebovitz says: Edge down. • baconbits9 says: Point down, flat down = octagon • yodelyak says: Definitely the former, always, and picturing the point down takes noticeably more effort to fill out the whole picture (e.g. to include that there’s a point going upward also), whereas I picture the flat-on-the-bottom one completed from the get-go. • Thegnskald says: It takes an effort to pay attention to “down”, as it isn’t a natural category for mental imagery. And it depends on what hexagon I am trying to visualize. I might have a better answer if I hadn’t spent time writing a hexagonal coordinate system (a task which makes you acutely cognizant of the difference). 4. johan_larson says: I’ve started Bryan Caplan’s “The Case against Education”. So far, Caplan has leveled his main charges against the education system: – the education system (meaning college, mainly) conveys little knowledge that is actually useful to students – education is highly sought after mainly because it is valued by employers – the highly educated are valued by employers mostly because their educations are hard-to-fake signals of three valuable qualities: intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. I’ll have more to say later as I get farther into the book. • fahertym says: I’m curious if the “Education” in the title refers to “the concept of education in general” or “the modern education system.” • johan_larson says: More the latter, I think. Caplan isn’t opposed to all education. He acknowledges that some things, such as literacy and numeracy, are obviously useful. And he has good things to say about parts of modern education, the more vocational the better. He is mostly kicking general education or perhaps the liberal arts. • Wrong Species says: You make it sound like he just wants to reform the system a little bit. Caplan biggest problem with education isn’t with what is taught, it’s the mandatory(quasi-mandatory, with regards to university) nature of its existence. For the most part, he wants to abolish the whole thing. Anything kept is vastly different and based on what students want to learn and maybe a few very general skills like reading, writing and basic math. • azhdahak says: Liberal arts certainly deserves to be kicked. (I went through liberal arts in college, and was disappointed to find that that tweet is entirely right. That’s not to say that the program itself was dogmatic — it wasn’t, and we could push back against Rawls and the like all day with no social consequence, although the Christians didn’t fare so well. But, somehow, the people who get big in academia are all the most tepid and soulless party hacks the world has to offer, more Vogonate than a government bureaucrat. And it’s gotten worse since I graduated, and everything that isn’t my particular discipline was irredeemably awful even then.) • Brad says: the education system (meaning college, mainly) conveys little knowledge that is actually useful to students The main counterclaim there is going to be that, it’s not about knowledge it’s about skills. the highly educated are valued by employers mostly because their educations are hard-to-fake signals of three valuable qualities: intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. I’ve seen the argument (here among other places) that at least as to the first, it could be replaced by an IQ test, if only if it weren’t for Griggs v. Duke Power. But even leaving aside that the case doesn’t actually ban IQ tests outright, what about other countries? Are white collar employers in Canada, the UK, Germany, or Japan any less likely than in the US to demand college degrees or administer IQ tests? N.B. I’m bitter about a huge amount of student loan debt and so am predisposed to like BC’s argument. • Wrong Species says: IQ tests don’t signal conscientious or conformity well. • Lillian says: IQ tests only measure intelligence, not conscientiousness and conformity. An average IQ person with a college degree is very likely to be a better employee than a high IQ person who dropped out of college. It’s completely reasonable to expect that someone who could not hack it in school will also be unable to function in an office environment, and employers discriminate accordingly. This solution is therefore quite inadequate. • Aapje says: @Brad The main counterclaim there is going to be that, it’s not about knowledge it’s about skills. And perhaps more controversially, the skills that people learn may not be the skills that are taught. My college education featured lots of math and I don’t feel particularly capable of doing complex math now and even less inclined to put in the effort, but I suspect that it may have greatly improved my ability to think logically. Learning and practicing math may have changed my brain in very beneficial ways. These changes may be best achieved by teaching math, but then be far more universally applicable, to non-math problem solving. • MrApophenia says: Same here. The actual content of all the papers I wrote in college was utterly irrelevant to my post-college life (although I still think the topics I was studying were interesting), but the ability to crap out a reasonably coherent written product on demand, even when I would much rather be doing something else, has proven immensely valuable. It’s the “Wax on, wax off” theory of education. The point isn’t the stuff you’re taking the class about, it’s the process you learn to do it. • Anonymous says: I’ve been IQ-tested by, IIRC, two Norwegian employers. While this is a very small fraction of the total amount of applications sent out, it is a large minority among cases where the application got through the first round of selection. Additionally, one employer I was spamming with resumes conducted an online personality test for every application. • Bugmaster says: I don’t think raw intelligence is the only thing that matters in the job market. Sure, it’s very important; but it’s only one component of the required ability: solving novel problems quickly and correctly. Sure, if you are super-smart, you can reinvent your entire field on the fly from first principles. However, most people are not that smart. Hence, college is supposed to teach you some of the known solutions to basic problems in your field; but more than that, it’s supposed to teach you the general approach people have been using to solve problems, and to advance the state of the art (as well as general work/study skills, of course). Without such foundations, most people — yes, even smart ones — would not be able to get much useful work done. • johan_larson says: It’s important not to exaggerate what Caplan is saying. He is not saying that all of education, or even all of high school and college, is useless. But he does think that at least a third and possibly as much as 80% of it is useless. It is useless in the sense that it teaches knowledge and skills that aren’t useful to the students. And he therefore want us to stop doing that, damn it. The problem with the claim of uselessness is that high school graduates and college graduates get paid much better than those who failed to complete high school and college, which is hard to square with his claim of uselessness. His answer is that high school and college educations are valued not for the skills they convey, but for the pre-existing qualities they reveal, namely intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. (And presumably he has some better cheaper way of doing that, but I haven’t finished the book yet.) • vV_Vv says: The problem with the claim of uselessness is that high school graduates and college graduates get paid much better than those who failed to complete high school and college, which is hard to square with his claim of uselessness. Indeed. Caplan and all his fellow anti-educationists (who include Scott, to some extent) are effectively arguing that there is an obvious, large, global, persistent and in fact increasing, market inefficiency. This seems to run counter to basic economic reasoning. His answer is that high school and college educations are valued not for the skills they convey, but for the pre-existing qualities they reveal, namely intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. Which demolishes his claim that education is useless. We could steelman Caplan’s thesis by arguing that education could be made more efficient if in addition to signaling it also taught more useful knowledge or skills, though I’m not sure exactly how to accomplish this, but it’s unlikely that education could be significantly shortened without sacrificing its signaling value. (And presumably he has some better cheaper way of doing that, but I haven’t finished the book yet.) I wouldn’t hold my breath. • albatross11 says: One question: It’s quite plausible that most of us forget most of what we study in college. But most of us also don’t know what we’re going to be doing in the rest of our lives. So at least some of the stuff we’ve forgotten is stuff that we might have ended up needing, but didn’t. (Like, I once had a class in COBOL. I have never had any reason to write any COBOL, and probably couldn’t write “Hello, World!” in it at this point. But it wasn’t totally crazy to take a class in it, since I couldn’t know when I took it that it would never be worthwhile.) • albatross11 says: vV_Vv: Greg Cochran’s discussion of Caplan’s work points this out, but from the starting assumption that such market inefficiencies can exist just because people aren’t all that bright. (In particular, the HR department is usually not populated from the very brightest, most innovative, or most risk-accepting people in the world.) The destructive thing about using education as an IQ and personality test is that it’s so expensive, and there seems to be an arms race going on, where more and more jobs use college degrees as entry requirements even when there’s nothing about the job that requires advanced education, because it’s an easy way to filter for minimal intelligence and diligence. The result is that you need a college degree to get hired as a clerk, whereas thirty years ago, a high school diploma would have been sufficient. And so you get the same job your dad got, but you get it after four more years in school and$30K in student loan debt.

• Iain says:

I have never had any reason to write any COBOL, and probably couldn’t write “Hello, World!” in it at this point.

How could you ever forget such an elegant language?
 IDENTIFICATION DIVISION. PROGRAM-ID. HELLO. PROCEDURE DIVISION. DISPLAY "HELLO WORLD" GOBACK. 

• Matt M says:

In particular, the HR department is usually not populated from the very brightest, most innovative, or most risk-accepting people in the world

The risk part may also be a result of state-enforced laws and regulations.

Firing people is risky and difficult. Various requirements make hiring people an expensive and painful process. HR is conservative for a reason – everywhere, even at fast-paced silicon valley tech startups.

• (And presumably he has some better cheaper way of doing that, but I haven’t finished the book yet.)

I haven’t read the book, but the obvious way is employment. Working at a job for a year or two ought to produce better evidence of much of that than four years of college.

Indeed. Caplan and all his fellow anti-educationists (who include Scott, to some extent) are effectively arguing that there is an obvious, large, global, persistent and in fact increasing, market inefficiency.

That is indeed the puzzle.

• Anonymous says:

>obvious, large, global, persistent and in fact increasing, market inefficiency
>market inefficiency
>market

This is about as “market” as the US healthcare system, with its lack of price information caused by government meddling.

From the wiki: “Some kind of education is compulsory to all people in most countries (…)”

• Yosarian2 says:

>This is about as “market” as the US healthcare system, with its lack of price information caused by government meddling.

The market we are talking about is the employment market. Employers can hire anyone they want, and they are willing to pay much, much more for people with an education. The natural conclusion is that employers must think that educated employees are more productive

I don’t think it’s plausible for it to all be selection effects either.

On a side note, considering the whole rationalist community is kind of based on the idea that you can learn to be more rational by doing things like reading the sequences and blog posts and going to workshops and such, and that people who are more rational can “win” more, I’m surprised to find such doubt around the idea that maybe a general well rounded education really can make people more effective in general. Why is that considered so implausible?

• Nornagest says:

you can learn to be more rational by doing things like reading the sequences and blog posts and going to workshops and such, and that people who are more rational can “win” more

I think we can now say pretty conclusively that rationalists don’t “win” any more than the demographics they’re drawn from, unless you’re denominating winnings in blog output, cuddles, or familiarity with cog-sci buzzwords.

The community’s about ten years old. There are people who’ve been in it from the beginning, read the Sequences, gone to workshops, done everything Eliezer Yudkowsky says you should do. I know a lot of those people. Some of them are impressively accomplished, but those that are, were (or were heading that way) before they joined the community, and those that aren’t, haven’t gotten noticeably better.

• Incurian says:

On a side note, considering the whole rationalist community is kind of based on the idea that you can learn to be more rational by doing things like reading the sequences and blog posts and going to workshops and such, and that people who are more rational can “win” more, I’m surprised to find such doubt around the idea that maybe a general well rounded education really can make people more effective in general. Why is that considered so implausible?

I think the argument is not that it’s implausible, but that what you have described is not what our education system is actually like.

• Anon. says:

Which demolishes his claim that education is useless.

It does not. You have to actually do a cost benefit analysis and compare the alternatives. The societal benefit is tiny compared to the costs in this case. And given that this is a zero-sum arms race, you could retain most of the benefits simply by moving everyone down the ladder by one rung. Ranking preserved, costs decreased.

Why is that considered so implausible?

The plausibility of the hypothesis has nothing to do with it. It’s the mountain of evidence against it that matters.

• AnonYEmous says:

Which demolishes his claim that education is useless.

It does the absolute opposite of that. Forget that education could be made more efficient; signalling could be made more efficient! Instead of going to college for four years, you could go to work for one year at the company as an intern or something; saves time, accomplishes more. If they like you at the end of that year, they hire you. Why isn’t this system already in place?

Plus, most people think that education actually makes you better at things and this is the agreed-upon “worth” that education has in our society. In my opinion this is also an accurate way to look at things, but anyways; this refutes those arguments. If you disagree with this conception of worth, fine, but you are far in the minority (and in my opinion you’re wrong to boot).

On a side note, considering the whole rationalist community is kind of based on the idea that you can learn to be more rational by doing things like reading the sequences and blog posts and going to workshops and such, and that people who are more rational can “win” more, I’m surprised to find such doubt around the idea that maybe a general well rounded education really can make people more effective in general. Why is that considered so implausible?

because this is the SSC community, not the rationalist community

yes there’s significant overlap but I am much more interested in being part of the former than the latter, not least because Scott Alexander >>>>> Eliezer Yudkowski.

But anyways, I think being a rationalist is about learning generally applicable methods to things; I don’t think that works the same in regards to mathematics. It’s not like becoming a rationalist will increase my ability to solve equations or vice versa, and as an empiricist I’m uncomfortable with the idea of that being true because it’s so dang hard to measure (and in my specific case, I feel like a lot of people use it as a general excuse where it’s not particularly warranted to defend traditional institutions that no longer have any reason to exist, if they ever did.) On top of all that though, most people don’t have any need for these higher-level skills or interest in learning them; you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, and if the horse doesn’t need water then you should just accept that and move on with your existence.

• Yosarian2 says:

A lot of people responded to my post, and maybe I should have been more clear.

My prior would be that getting a general education which includes at least some basics of math, science, statistics and research methods, history, economics, philosophy, ect, in an academic setting that has research and formal paper writing with logical arguments and evidence and all of that, would in general help people become at least somewhat more rational than baseline, all else being equal. I would expect other benefits as well, but that one at least is one I would expect to benefit most people.

• azhdahak says:

The community’s about ten years old. There are people who’ve been in it from the beginning, read the Sequences, gone to workshops, done everything Eliezer Yudkowsky says you should do. I know a lot of those people. Some of them are impressively accomplished, but those that are, were (or were heading that way) before they joined the community, and those that aren’t, haven’t gotten noticeably better.

Sure, because we haven’t really been trying. The things that make you impressively accomplished aren’t interesting or intellectually satisfying.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

N.B. I’m bitter about a huge amount of student loan debt and so am predisposed to like BC’s argument.

I hear you man. We’re throwing another $20k lump-sum at the debt this spring, and then we will FINALLY be in the five-figure range. Unfortunately the vast majority is at a variable rate. 🙁 • Forge the Sky says: this reminds me about how I should have more gratitude towards my parents paying tuition than I already do • A Definite Beta Guy says: Yes, this is definitely a life goal of mine. I graduated with no debt because my parents paid for my education (and I lived at home). My Wife received some support, but had an advanced degree paying full freight at an out of state school. It’s incredibly expensive, and the interest rates are unsubsidized beyond a certain level. Could be a lot worse, at least Mrs. ADBG makes a lot of money to help pay down the debt. • maintain says: I’ve been reading it also. I have a question about it. He examines three different hypotheses for why successful people are more likely to be educated: -The signaling hypothesis–that education doesn’t so much teach you things, as it signals to employers that you are competent. -The human capital hypothesis–that schools actually do teach you things. For example, according to this hypothesis, if you had a good education, but no actual paperwork to show off that you got said education, you would still be successful. -Ability bias–that competent people go to school, and those same people would be successful even without education. Now, he goes on to state that the real reason is probably some mix of all these hypotheses, then he goes on to try to figure out how much of the mix is actual learning, and how much is signaling. (Spoiler: He thinks it’s mostly signaling, hence the title of the book.) But it seems like he completely forget about ability bias. For instance, he talks about the benefits of a high school degree, but I know people who never finished high school, yet still went to college, so right away I’m confused as to how that fits in. Shouldn’t that prove that a lot of the benefits of high school are caused by ability bias? He doesn’t seem to examine this possibility, does he? Aside from that I like a lot of the other things in the book. The explanation of the signaling model is pretty enlightening. I feel like a lot of stuff about education and job hunting now makes more sense. It also made me come to the depressing realization that the education system was designed almost for the sole purpose of filtering out people like me; I was accurately filtered out. I had previously thought that not having a college degree wasn’t a big deal. And it’s not a big deal in and of itself, but the fact that I couldn’t get one, when it didn’t seem too hard for a lot of other people proves some things about me. I’m pretty much a defective human, and I just never realized I’m defective, since my defect prevents me from seeing my defect. Now I need to figure out how to contribute to society without my defect interfering. • Bugmaster says: Now I need to figure out how to contribute to society without my defect interfering. It depends on what your defect is, an in what area you’re trying to contribute. For example, I know a few successful scientists and software engineers with ADD or depression; some of them mitigate it through prescription drugs, other learned to plan around it. Some of them finished college; others did not, but they did manage to learn quite a lot from online courses and self-study. On the other hand, I hardly know of any mechanics who would say that college was instrumental in their careers; apprenticeship under an experienced mechanic seems to count for a lot more. Of course, serious physical disability would pretty much preclude a person from taking any kind of a job that requires manual labor; this is not something you can work around (yet). That said, I don’t know all that many people in general, so I don’t have data, just anecdotes… • My son described one of his professors at Harvey Mudd who had ADHD and dealt with it by having multiple projects and switching from one to another. I have never been diagnosed with ADHD but tend to follow the same strategy. • Aapje says: @maintain On the positive side, I think that at middle to top levels of society, there is more room for people with major defects to find a decent niche than in the past. This may not be true at the low end of society or in some specific ways (like relationships), but if you are posting here there is a reasonable chance that a good niche may exist for you when it comes to finding a job (although this may mean not looking for ‘standard’ jobs). • Bugmaster says: I think it depends on the college, and on your major. Some college/major combinations do indeed make it a goal to teach specific employment-related skills; others aim to teach enough theory, critical thinking, and work/study habits to make it easy to acquire a variety of skills in the discipline. In the latter case, the education is not merely a signal of intelligence and conscientiousness, but rather their direct cause. • limestone says: It’s often told how the higher education is supposed to teach proper work and study habits; however, in fact college incentivizes pretty subpar work ethics, which becomes painfully obvious the moment you look at how most college students actually study. If anything, the higher education has corrupted my work habits, which later took quite an effort to restore. It could be argued that subpar work habits are still better than no work habits at all; but if they were any good, I’d say it’s unlikely that a college would improve them. • Bugmaster says: FWIW, higher education had the opposite effect on me. I didn’t have any work habits to speak of before it, and now my work habits… well, they’re far from perfect, but at least they do exist. • Wrong Species says: Caplan addresses the critical thinking aspect of education. School doesn’t teach you how to critically think. Students learn one very narrow aspect of something and fail to properly apply it to different scenarios, even if they are only slightly different. • aristides says: I haven’t read the book, but I have read every one of his blog posts on the subject, and here is my impression of his belief. Roughly 80% of all gains on education are from signalling. It does not make sense to subsidize something that is mostly about signalling, since it encourages greater and greater competition for only 20% the benefit of the cost. He would end all government spending on education and let the private sector readjust to only provide better services. Education would still exist, but it would become more vocational, and there would be more internships and apprenticeships, since they could provide more human capital and still signal the three factors. I’m not sure what he thinks would happen if the government stopped funding education, but here are my thoughts. Parents will still send their students to elementary and middle school, but the average school would spend much less per student, have larger class sizes, and focus on literacy and numeracy. Most high schools and colleges would close, and people would start working earlier. Liberal arts education would be considered a luxery expense rich people do to signal high status and sophistication. Professional grad school would still exist, in fewer number, and the return on their education would be much lower. Most jobs would stop requiring degrees and have apprenticeship tracks where you learned on the job for minimum wage. Student debt might plummet though. Overall, I think GDP would increase significantly, but at the cost of most people being dumber, less cultured, and spending more of their life working hard instead of playing around. • but at the cost of most people being dumber, less cultured, and spending more of their life working hard instead of playing around. My feeling is that culture learned in courses you had to take is too likely to end up as cocktail party conversation–knowing what to say about a subject without actually knowing the subject. That’s the end product of studying a subject not because you are interested in it but in order to pass the final exam. Culture acquired by reading books you like or arguing with people about subjects that interest you is more likely to be real. So far as working hard, I think the result of Caplan’s reforms, assuming he is right about schooling, would be people spending less time working hard and more time enjoying themselves. The present system, after all, if we take the 80% wasted claim as correct, involves eight years times .8 of useless work. To put it differently, if you start working eight years earlier and the first two years of apprenticeship are substituting for eight years of school, you could have the same lifetime wage profile and retire six years younger. • Thegnskald says: Six years younger? Should be four years younger, unless the retirement market is failing, and people aren’t saving optimal amounts of funds. (Tongue in cheek) • aristides says: That’s a very good point on the culture, and I am inclined to agree with you, though I know some would scoff at popular culture. I am less sure of your argument that people would retire earlier. First, I think most of the gains would be spent on positional goods and not be put into savings or make anybody better off. Young people always have a smaller savings rate. Further, is there any evidence that starting work earlier, or having earning more results in earlier retirement? I have not studied this point much, but my impression is that retirement is based more on career tracks, when the body and mind start to atrophy, or when they are old enough to collect social security, than when people actually meet a magic number of savings. Please correct me if I’m wrong • I said “you could have” not “you would choose to have.” • Bugmaster says: I personally have always hated liberal arts, but I have to admit that at least some of my courses on art history, general history, literature, and esoteric religions really did broaden my horizons. They didn’t do anything for my wage profile, but they did allow me to enjoy things, and become interested in things, that I would have never encountered otherwise. Then again, if optimizing your wage profile is your ultimate goal (and I honestly can’t present a logical argument for why it shouldn’t be), then enjoying things is actually detrimental, so you might be right… • Tenacious D says: One really big opportunity cost from the present education system is delayed family formation (exceptions exist, but for a lot of highly-educated people this is true). Probably not too much from a bachelor degree alone, but add an extra degree or two plus the years it takes to pay off some debt and reach financial stability, and by then much of the optimal fertility period has passed. In my view this is a bigger deal than retiring 6 years earlier. • AG says: One could argue that certain Asian countries have partially disproved this theory (that government ceasing to subsidize education would drive earlier employment). It delayed the ratchet, as some kids indeed did not go to high school, while others went to vocational school in lieu of high school, but instead an entire economy revolving around the entrance exams developed, suicide rates increased, and jobs for those without diplomas or with only vocational certificates have dried up. And the richest then send their kids to school in America as the “easy out.” So there’s not much consequentialist difference, except one system also has increased suicide rates. • HeelBearCub says: Most jobs would stop requiring degrees and have apprenticeship tracks where you learned on the job for minimum wage. Citation needed, I would say. The trend is for companies not even want to hire new college grads, let alone HS grads or (shudder), 14 year olds. They want people who already know how to be productive. These even extend to relatively low skill jobs like waiting tables, where I have seen people desperate to hire wait staff, but unwilling to hire people without a year of experience waiting tables. Because employees are more mobile than in the past, companies are generally unwilling to train them to the point of productivity. • A Definite Beta Guy says: I’ve historically seen this but it might be changing, given the low unemployment rate. The last few hires in this office have had a lot of people with next to no relevant experience. I consider this a healthy development, because this job is so easy a caveman could do it. So, possibly, this “you need X years of experience doing the same thing” is more a function of the unemployment rate than it is any structural change. It’s only recently (like, last quarter) that we’ve started seeing economy wide wage pressure. • HeelBearCub says: Again, this was even at a restaurant that really wanted staff and was currently understaffed. Sure, anecdata and all that. Still you are describing what happens under full employment. Most of the times economies aren’t running at full employment. As a for example, the US did not reached full-employment between 1978 to 2017 (at least according to Wikipedia). It’s hard to know exactly what the advent of gig-economy, tools, etc will do, but it seems unlikely to me that the net effect would be for employers to be more incented to provide “free” training for their employees, especially in a capital market where corporate employers are being evaluated on a quarter by quarter basis. • vV_Vv says: the highly educated are valued by employers mostly because their educations are hard-to-fake signals of three valuable qualities: intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. And how is this a bad thing? • Anonymous says: Spending 20 years in school just to get those credentials doesn’t seem like an efficient use of time. Or money. • vV_Vv says: The argument is primarily about college education, not primary school or high school, which are assumed to teach you actually useful things (e.g. basic literacy and numeracy, foreign languages), make you learn very useful skills without explicitly teaching them (social skills, mostly) and keep you under adult supervision while your parents are at work. Intelligence can be measured quickly and reliably with IQ tests, but as far as I can tell there are no reliable paper-and-pencil tests for conscientiousness and conformity. It could be well the case that the only way to assess these traits is to measure performance for multiple years over a number of relatively arbitrary tasks in a fairly structured environment. This is what college is about. Do you know any faster method to achieve the same thing? • Matt M says: It could be well the case that the only way to assess these traits is to measure performance for multiple years over a number of relatively arbitrary tasks in a fairly structured environment. This is what college is about. Do you know any faster method to achieve the same thing? Basic military training. • vV_Vv says: Basic military training. So why aren’t employers hiring college-uneducated veterans for positions that would normally require a college degree? Why does the military itself run academies and officer cadet schools, which are essentially equivalent to college, in order to train and select its officers? Basic military training probably tests for conformity, in addition to physical fitness and an intelligence threshold: in order to pass it you must be able to complete simple but physically hard tasks under the close supervision of a commanding officer. It does not test for conscientiousness: the ability to plan and execute a multi-step task over several weeks or months, correctly pacing your work, without somebody watching over your shoulder telling you what to do next. • Emily says: Having a high school diploma (as opposed to a GED) is predictive of first-term enlistment outcomes, conditioning on AFQT scores. There’s a personality test that’s been used that’s also predictive in research conditions; I don’t know if it’s even been actually implemented, or if it would be gamed if it were actually used as a criteria for enlistment. I would guess those are getting at conscientiousness. • Matt M says: To elaborate a little and get more realistic, my answer wouldn’t just include “basic training” but more like “two years of entry-level military enlisted work.” Which would include basic training, some sort of advanced/technical training, and then being observed on the job for some time. This sequence typically allows you increasing amounts of freedom and latitude in managing yourself, your life, and your job, and could test for conscientiousness, as you describe. • Brad says: What’s the fully loaded cost of an enlistee for two years? That sounds even more expensive than subsidizing college loans. • Matt M says: What’s the fully loaded cost of an enlistee for two years? That sounds even more expensive than subsidizing college loans. I’m sure it’s more than most people think – but also cheaper than college. They live in barracks and eat food and wear clothes that are generally a lot less fancy/expensive than what college kids are consuming. I guess you’re right that in the college example, they eventually pay back the loans – but you also get labor from the enlistee, probably at below-market rates (depending on the type of labor being done). That said, if two years of military service was taken as seriously by the labor market as a bachelors degree is – you probably could get away with charging people for the privilege…. • bean says: They live in barracks and eat food and wear clothes that are generally a lot less fancy/expensive than what college kids are consuming. I’m not so sure on the less expensive front. BDUs/ACUs/Whatever they’re calling it today are certainly less fancy than most college kids are wearing, but I doubt they’re cheaper. IR camo pigments and flame resistance aren’t cheap. As for food, you lose the fancy coffee, but pick up lots of processing on the field food. IIRC, average cost to the Navy is about$80-90k/yr for a typical crewman on a warship. Junior enlisted ashore is probably a bit cheaper, but I’m going to guess at least 60k/yr. • Paul Zrimsek says: How about intelligence tests for those jobs where it’s a need, and work record in previous entry-level jobs for everything else? • maintain says: >make you learn very useful skills without explicitly teaching them (social skills, mostly) I never understood when people said this. Apparently no one learned social skills before school was invented? And the way to learn social skills is to be isolated with a small group of children, all the same age as you, where you are not permitted to talk most of the time? That seems like a recipe for preventing children from learning social skills. • Anonymous says: Seconding @maintain here. People learned social skills before mass education, and possibly learned them better than they do nowadays. • maintain says: >How about intelligence tests for those jobs where it’s a need, and work record in previous entry-level jobs for everything else? Sure, that could work, but how do you get the entry-level job to begin with? He talks about this in the book. • toastengineer says: Who the hell learned social skills in school? You aren’t allowed to talk to anyone! • Brad says: It seems like this is a cost internalization problem. If employers make somewhat worse decisions on entry level hires, and then for subsequent-to-entry-level there’s the work history to look at for job performance (which should be better than even pretty good proxies like intelligence and conscientiousness) what’s the total cost in lost productivity? How does that compare to the signalling percent X costs of higher education (including opportunity costs)? Assuming that the latter is considerably higher than the former, that means we have a market failure. We collectively would be better off in the situation where less resources were spent on education leading to somewhat worse decisions entry level hiring decisions — but we can’t get there because individual incentives aren’t aligned with the global optimum. For those of us that aren’t libertarians such a market failure generally suggests some kind of government intervention is in order. However that intervention, at least at first, looks like reduced government involvement in the pro-education direction rather than government intervention in the anti-education direction. So, again at least at first, it looks like libertarians and technocratic liberals can on the same page. The problem, of course, are the distributional consequences, which in this case consists the employers that are free riding and Big Education which benefits from the sweet, sweet signaling spending. • Matt M says: Who the hell learned social skills in school? You aren’t allowed to talk to anyone! During class* sure, but there’s lunch, recesses, and time between classes to be accounted for that are entirely social exercises. As someone with low to marginal social skills, I did fine during school, but my social life completely collapsed without the structure and “forced socialization” that public school provided. *and even classes are a lot more likely to have group discussion oriented activities than straight non-interactive lectures these days • bean says: Who the hell learned social skills in school? You aren’t allowed to talk to anyone! Me. When I moved into the gifted program, for the first time I was surrounded by people who were actually interesting to be around, and it did wonders for my social skills. Regular school was a lot like being stuck in an environment where almost everyone is obsessed with reality TV and nobody at all cares about the same things you do. Try going from that (where you don’t develop social skills because there’s no reason to) to here, but in-person, and see if it doesn’t help a lot. • As someone with low to marginal social skills, I did fine during school, but my social life completely collapsed without the structure and “forced socialization” that public school provided. You don’t say what you did next. I would think there would be a lot of ways that the same sort of structure could be provided in an employment situation, or volunteer work, or the military, or … . Especially if that was something most people valued. • Matt M says: Next, I enlisted in the military, and made basically zero friends. Same thing when I left and entered the workforce. Sure, I get along with a lot of co-workers, and some of them I get along with well enough to occasionally attend events with them outside of work, but this is relatively rare. Never had anyone I’d be comfortable with, say, asking them to help me move. And I think it would have been the same even if I went to college. As soon as I had the freedom to spend my free time alone, that was the choice I made about 99% of the time. So I can’t lay the groundwork to build the foundation of a solid friendship. There’s also the fact that when I was in school, my alternative to being at school was not to hang out in a place of my own choosing optimized to suit my own needs – it was to stay at home in a cramped noisy house surrounded by my parents and siblings that I didn’t get along with well. • Desertopa says: I think it would be fairly remarkable if college, which wasn’t designed for the purpose of offering a fast, reliable and cost-effective means of verifying prospective workers’ intelligence, conscientiousness and conformity, just happened to be the most practical system for that purpose. A vetting system could be made much more cost-effective, at least, by setting participants to productive labor throughout the process which could generate value that would at least partially allow the system to pay for itself. And the costs could also be reduced by not placing people who’re responsible for producing publications which are at least theoretically intended to advance knowledge of their fields in charge of overseeing the work of the participants. If college is primarily a vetting process rather than a learning process, that’s a serious misallocation of human resources. • azhdahak says: The argument is primarily about college education, not primary school or high school, which are assumed to teach you actually useful things (e.g. basic literacy and numeracy, How many years of schooling does it take to teach basic literacy and numeracy? foreign languages) lol make you learn very useful skills without explicitly teaching them (social skills, mostly) Are you familiar with American public high schools? Intelligence can be measured quickly and reliably with IQ tests, but as far as I can tell there are no reliable paper-and-pencil tests for conscientiousness and conformity. It could be well the case that the only way to assess these traits is to measure performance for multiple years over a number of relatively arbitrary tasks in a fairly structured environment. This is what college is about. Do you know any faster method to achieve the same thing? I regularly test at around the fifth percentile for conscientiousness and am not terribly conformist. I graduated with higher honors than anyone else in my department and year. So why aren’t employers hiring college-uneducated veterans for positions that would normally require a college degree? I work at a company that likes veterans for management positions. I don’t know whether they went to college, but preferring to hire veterans is a thing that happens, even outside government positions. • ArkyBeagle says: For 20 or 25 years, humans’ brains are still developing. It’s not like you could spend 10 of those 20 years mining coal or something. Time was you could, but child labor went out of style. It went of style partly because the labor wasn’t needed as much. • Anonymous says: Just because we’re “still developing” doesn’t mean we have to get sent to prison until we stop developing, and start slowly deteriorating. • Matt M says: Yeah – the argument isn’t “this is a bad thing” but rather, “there has to be a more efficient way to go about accomplishing this” • Fuge says: He’s making the homeschooling error. Homeschooling can work very well when a family has excellent social capital, income, and time to educate the child well through individual effort. And if you talk to homeschooling parents, usually these types of parents dominate the conversation, leading to a Lake Wobegon effect where somehow, all homeschoolers are above average. Generally the gifted and rich can overcome the inefficiencies of that model of education. However homeschooling has huge potential to fail anyone who isn’t this. A lot of homeschoolers survive, but you don’t see the ones who essentially need to learn a basic high school education quick through remedial classes in college, or who simply can’t read or deal with advanced math. If the parents aren’t very motivated and wealthy, education becomes “take care of the younger kids” for girls, and “help dad work on his landscaping business” for boys. That’s why public education is so valuable, the ability to share risk and reduce parental burden in education is critical for an overall educated population. Caplan just looks at the best of the best and figures education is a waste for them, since they are smart and rich enough at the start not to need formal credentials. But it works so well for people otherwise; it prevents the burden for being educated for being absurdly high, even higher than student loan debts in terms of getting education done. Not everyone is a perfect self-starter and auto-didact. • albatross11 says: Is there any good data on how much worse this problem is for homeschooled kids than public school kids? It sure seems like a lot of public schooled kids get though 13 years of state-mandated education without learning all that much. My half-serious proposal for this: if a student graduates high school and enters college, his high school gets a bill for half the tuition on any remedial level classes he needs to take. • Randy M says: It’s certainly not easy to disentangle the causes. If the student isn’t motivated, public school isn’t going to be terribly effective without parents who are pushing. Teachers can’t motivate every student. And if the parents are motivated and intelligent enough to be willing to homeschool, it’s quite likely the student, just by dint of genetics, was going to do alright in public school, barring, let’s call it, a strong peer effect. Homeschooling seems likely to have the biggest positive differential when the student is exceptionally good or the school exceptionally bad. • If the parents aren’t very motivated and wealthy, education becomes “take care of the younger kids” for girls, and “help dad work on his landscaping business” for boys. The standard Amish pattern is version of this–help run a household for the girls, help run a farm for the boys. My impression is that it works, as judged by the ability of people brought up that way to run productive farms, start small businesses, in general function in the world despite the apparent handicap of extensive religious restrictions and the need to be bilingual. Insofar as the essential skills taught in K-12 are reading and arithmetic, those are things most adults know and can help their children learn. Beyond that, in a world with books and the internet, kids are not dependent on their parents knowing things in order to learn them. And insofar as the real output is things like work habits, working–helping to run a household or a farm–should be at least as good a way of learning them as doing class assignments. Is there data on output measures of home schooling vs public schooling? I have a vague memory of some old research on home schooling but don’t know if that was part of it. • SamChevre says: Just a clarifying note–that’s the standard pattern in addition to some formal schooling. Typical Amish/Mennonite schools 20 years ago (there’s been some movement toward a longer day in the last few decades) had 3 hours of instruction/schoolwork a day, and a 120 day school year. (Typically 8:00-12:00, with a half-hour of devotions and two 15-minute recesses.) But that was all very focused work and instruction time: no class changes, no time getting everyone to calm down and work, no group projects. After 8 years, the typical graduate can read and write English fluently (including older styles of English like the King James Bible), do arithmetic including fractions and decimals and units well in real-life situations, and will have some basic science vocabulary and techniques. Those are the key goals and they are met. Foreign languages, more than very basic science, and preparation for algebra are taught little if at all, but what is taught is taught very thoroughly. I frequently joke that I’ve had less education than the average high school graduate, even though I have a college education. • alwhite says: I kind of think Caplan’s argument is itself wasted effort. I’m not saying his arguments are wrong. It just seems to me that they aren’t accepting reality enough. I see that reality being “why are employers desiring university grads so much?” I don’t think the problem exists in the education system as much as it exists in the employment system. Managers, hiring managers, human resources etc seem to have a really hard time gauging competence and ability to do a job and are therefore deferring to a signalling system to help determine that competence. For education to be a WASTE, as Caplan puts it, there has to be an easier way to determine competence. What is that way? Why aren’t we using it? What does the efficient markets approach have to say about this? • johan_larson says: For education to be a WASTE, as Caplan puts it, there has to be an easier way to determine competence. What is that way? Why aren’t we using it? What does the efficient markets approach have to say about this? I suspect you could judge competence about as well by taking a close look at high school performance, particularly in demanding courses, followed by a summer internship. The youngsters who took AP Calc, US History, English, and Physics and got 4s and 5s, and who did good work though a summer, are probably pretty much the same bunch who can get through college and do well. Assuming your entry level employees really don’t need any special skills, you could probably have saved them four years of effort by hiring them before college. As for why employers don’t do this right now, the answer is probably that they don’t need to. We tell these youngsters they should go to college and subsidize them either as parents or taxpayers when they do, so they go. Employers may as well reap the benefits of the sorting we are doing at great personal and public expense. And just to confuse the issue, many courses of study do teach at least some actually useful skills. • vV_Vv says: The youngsters who took AP Calc, US History, English, and Physics and got 4s and 5s This is mostly equivalent to SAT, which effectively tests for intelligence. and who did good work though a summer This is closer to a conscientiousness and conformity test, but very short and not uniform, hence probably not very reliable. Employers may as well reap the benefits of the sorting we are doing at great personal and public expense. But at the end of the day these expenses are being paid by people’s salaries, which are paid by the employers. An employer who figured out a quick magic test that substituted college could use it to scoop young employees before then entered college, undercutting other employers, these employees would be generally willing to start working immediately for the same starting wage of a college graduate or even a lower one, if they were to switch to a different employer later their work experience would more than make up for the lack of a degree. This looks like a win-win scenario for both employers and employees, do why doesn’t it happen? Probably because such test does not exist. • Forge the Sky says: But at the end of the day these expenses are being paid by people’s salaries, which are paid by the employers. Yes, but in such a way that no individual person can readily exploit the inefficiency. Even with a magic conscientiousness test. Too many people are using the inefficient strategy, driving up wage prices generally. • johan_larson says: Since you are clearly very engaged in this issue, let me suggest you get yourself a copy of the book and read what Caplan has to say. I expect Caplan does a better job of arguing for his position than I would. He addresses arguments like yours starting on page 22, in the section, “Signalling ‘Simply Doesn’t Make Sense'”. • The Nybbler says: An employer who figured out a quick magic test that substituted college could use it to scoop young employees before then entered college, undercutting other employers, these employees would be generally willing to start working immediately for the same starting wage of a college graduate or even a lower one, if they were to switch to a different employer later their work experience would more than make up for the lack of a degree. This is less true than you might think. Earlier in the tech boom it was more common for people to become programmers without a college degree, either by direct entry into companies who would hire such or through leaving a school and becoming part of a startup. Even with experience, it was more difficult for these people to find jobs in other companies, because their resume would just be filtered out for lack of a degree. • Edward Scizorhands says: An employer who figured out a quick magic test that substituted college could use it to scoop young employees before then entered college, undercutting other employers, So let’s say you had a time machine that could see the future, in only that it would tell you, at high school graduation age, who will be seen as a valuable employee in 5 years. By definition we are selecting for people with high conformity. Why do they take your job instead of doing the safe thing and going to college? • anonymousskimmer says: High school brains are less mature. Don’t underestimate the benefit from choosing people who are (mostly) 21+ years old. • belvarine says: Managers, hiring managers, human resources etc seem to have a really hard time gauging competence and ability to do a job and are therefore deferring to a signalling system to help determine that competence. Right. You see this in the tech field: what’s the best way to interview? Sample project? Pair programming? Whiteboarding? Toss out resumes without a kitted out Github? There are too many dimensions of personality and history to automate risk management in hiring processes. Back in the day, unions provided certification and apprenticeships so employers could rely on communities of tradesmen to provide solid workers, but since the US has annihilated organized labor the closest thing we have to certification is higher education. • Urstoff says: I seem to recall reading that IQ tests have been found to be just as predictive of future performance as anything else. If there were a good way to get honest measures of conscientiousness, then IQ + conscientiousness would be an excellent predictor of performance. • Kyp says: There was a study linked in one of Scott’s articles in the last 2-3 months that goes into this. It covered all the major things people do use or could use for hiring purposes and gave them values for how much of the variance they could account for. A combination of an IQ test and an integrity test fared the best by far, with education and experience around a fifth as effective. It was a pretty extensive effort and I really wish I could remember the link to it, but it’s out there, and hopefully someone here remembers it and had the foresight to bookmark it. • maintain says: >For education to be a WASTE, as Caplan puts it, there has to be an easier way to determine competence. What is that way? The signaling aspect of education really is providing economically useful information to employers about potential employees. Caplan admits that. The waste part comes in when the government uses tax payer money to pay for education. Let’s say there are 100 people who want jobs, and 50 job openings. The employers want people who are intelligent, conscientious, and conformist, so they hire the 50 people who have high school diplomas. The government sees this as an unemployment problem, and so pumps 2 million dollars into paying for education. Afterwards, let’s say there is another round of hiring. There are 100 people who want jobs, and 50 job openings. The employers want people who are intelligent, conscientious, and conformist, so they hire the 50 people who have college degrees. The same number of jobs got filled by the same number of people. Where did the government’s 2 million dollars go? If the government spent the money training doctors or something, maybe you could claim that the money was spent usefully, but suppose these were just clerk jobs, and they were filled by English majors. How do you feel now? Is this a wise use of taxpayer money? Caplan says that an individual can’t unilaterally defect from the signaling system, but the government, with it’s bird’s eye view, can choose to waste less money on education. • The question is whether Caplan has proved too much. Government pays almost all of the pecuniary cost of K-12, and it’s at east arguable that the wasted time of the kids is balanced, from the standpoint of the parents, by the babysitting function, at least for the younger kids. So the private cost is only what high school age kids could earn while doing things they found no more unpleasant than going to school. That’s a small fraction of the total cost, so even if the schooling is 80% waste, the government subsidy makes it privately rational. But for college, while there are subsidies, most of the pecuniary cost is paid by the students or their parents as well as all of the cost of time spent by the students. So it’s hard to see how that can be privately rational if anything close to 80% of the time is a waste. • johan_larson says: I guess the question is, for a new high school graduate, “Is there anything you can do with four years and150,000 that will impress potential employers more than going to college and studying diligently?”

Off-hand, I can’t think of anything.

I suspect Paul Graham would tell you to get together with your smartest friends, build something useful, and try to sell it. You’ll probably fail, but even if you do, you’ll have learned more than you would have jumping through professors’ hoops.

Sounds like a huge longshot to me.

• Nornagest says:

Probably depends on the field. I’d be a lot more likely to hire a 22-year-old that had spent the last four years working on a commercial software project (assuming a related skillset) than one that had spent the last four years earning a degree, though I’d hire a 26-year old with a degree and four years of experience before either one. But credentials are a lot more important in some other lines of work.

• maintain says:

>“Is there anything you can do with four years and \$150,000 that will impress potential employers more than going to college and studying diligently?”

Sure, you can pay employers to let you work for them.

I think in a completely free market we might actually see things like that: Early in their careers, people go into debt, paying big bucks for the right to work for a company, knowing that the experience gained there will allow them to move on to better jobs that pay more.

Since that’s not legal, we need some loophole that allows us to pay tons of money for the right to start working. Universities offer that loophole.

>Probably depends on the field. I’d be a lot more likely to hire a 22-year-old that had spent the last four years working on a commercial software project (assuming a related skillset) than one that had spent the last four years earning a degree

When you say it like that, it’s not a bad idea, but suppose you’re an 18 year old trying to get started. How do you convince your first employer to hire you? You might end up as a 22 year old who just spent the past four years unsuccessfully trying to get their first gig.

Employers do not have a magical ability to detect diamonds in the rough.

• Nornagest says:

How do you convince your first employer to hire you?

You don’t, but the proposal I was responding to wasn’t “magically get a company to hire you”, it was “get together with your smartest friends, build something useful, and try to sell it”. You’re not getting hired, you’re starting your own business.

You’ll probably fail, because most startups do, but you’ll have given yourself experience in the sector.

• maintain says:

I’m skeptical of how that could work. If everyone did it, it would just become “Go do some shit then fail.”, and employers would have no way of telling the people who were competent who failed from the people who were not competent who failed. (Or from the people who didn’t even try, but claim they tried and failed.)

• Randy M says:

Sure, you can pay employers to let you work for them.

Well, that’s an argument for higher ed, then, since at least there you have a schelling point of 4 years.
Or did, anyway.

• Nornagest says:

I’m not proposing a new cultural norm, I’m saying how I’d respond to people, right here, right now, who took the career path outlined in johan_larson’s second paragraph.

But it’s not like college is an especially good indicator of competence, either. Making it through a four-year degree is evidence that you’re reasonably bright and good at following directions, but there’s some steep diminishing returns after that; most software companies have stopped asking for GPA, for example, since it turns out it’s a very poor predictor of performance in industry.

• maintain says:

I’ve done it. People don’t respond well. They respond with confusion. There are apparently already a lot of job seekers out there who claim they worked for their own no-name company. Nobody cares.

I was just saying the new cultural norm thing as a thought experiment. It’s easier to see why it won’t work when you imagine it on a large scale. In reality it would never get to a large scale. If it did somehow end up on a large scale, it would not pay off, and it would become less and less popular until it was no longer the cultural norm.

• johan_larson says:

I should repeat that I don’t really believe this course of action is advisable, but to steelman it, what you are aiming for is the noble and enlightening failure.

You spent four years trying to understand a domain of customer need. And now you actually know it inside and out.

You spent four years trying to build a solution. And now you actually know pretty darn well how to build real stuff in that domain (software, perhaps?) and have a fairly impressive real product to show for it.

You spent maybe three years knocking on doors and persuading people to give you money. Now you have an impressive set of skills in generating leads, pitching solutions, and negotiating deliverables. Plus a bunch of useful contacts.

And all of this is more useful, and more indicative of effectiveness, than four years of assignments, essays, and exams.

Or so the story goes.

• maintain says:

>what you are aiming for is the noble and enlightening failure.

If it’s a noble and enlightening failure that signals to employers that you are intelligent, conscientious, and conformist, then it could work.

• Matt M says:

If it’s a noble and enlightening failure that signals to employers that you are intelligent, conscientious, and conformist, then it could work.

There also needs to be some sort of trusted way to verify that it is true. As you said, there are probably a lot of people out there claiming to have done that very thing. Some probably did, but many probably did dick all for four years and then thought “Gee, I better put SOMETHING on my resume – guess I’ll just tell them I tried to start my own business. They’ll never know if I’m lying!”

• CatCube says:

This is one of those things where the industry matters. Maybe “my four high-school buddies and I struck out on our own to form a business” works for software, but in my own field, structural engineering, attempting that would mark you as a dangerous idiot. I cannot overemphasize how important it is to work under somebody who knows what the hell they’re doing when you’re starting out. And that’s after college, where I use most of my major-specific classwork on a daily basis.

• Bugmaster says:

Why not just go to a good college, learn some stuff, and thereby reduce your probability of failure ? You might think you’re super-smart, but consider: are you smart enough to avoid making mistakes that countless generations have already made before you ? Is re-inventing the wheel (or Quicksort, or Young’s Modulus, etc.) really worth your time ?

• Anon. says:

For education to be a WASTE, as Caplan puts it, there has to be an easier way to determine competence. What is that way? Why aren’t we using it? What does the efficient markets approach have to say about this?

Because it’s a coordination problem and the typical solution to coordination problems (government) is actually making it worse. The entire problem is that both students and employers are acting entirely rationally, but this behavior is wasteful in aggregate.

The reason government is making it worse is covered in Hanson’s latest book: politics isn’t about policy, etc.

• johan_larson says:

In chapter 2, Caplan considers whether the wage premium conferred by successful high school and college graduation can be justified by the knowledge conveyed. Basically, no. While some majors teach skills that are directly useful on the job, many do not. Also, people generally do not retain skills they don’t use regularly, and they have trouble applying something they learned in one context to a different one, so the idea of specific instruction conferring general knowledge and sophistication doesn’t work either. People remember what they were specifically taught, at best.

• johan_larson says:

The highly educated are paid much better than those who are not. In chapter 3, Caplan addresses this education premium. The rewards of education are real: high school dropouts are paid 23% less than high school grads, college graduates are paid 73% more than high school grads, and those with master’s degrees are paid 122% more than high school grads.

He then tries to account for this education premium through other factors which tend to correlate with education, such as intelligence and socioeconomic background. Generally speaking, adjusting for these other facts lowers the education premium, but it never goes away completely. This is true particularly for vocational degrees such as electrical engineering, but is still true for degrees in archaeology and history, for instance, where the knowledge conveyed is not directly useful. So clearly colleges are doing something that makes their graduates particularly attractive to employers.

Caplan thinks that something is selection for the desirable qualities of intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. Later chapters elaborate on this claim.

• IrishDude says:

For those who’d rather listen to a podcast on this than read the book, Bryan Caplan was on EconTalk recently discussing “The Case Against Education”.

5. toastengineer says:

So apparently when I said I was starting that GURPS game in “the next OT” I really meant the next integer OT. Who knew!

For those who missed it; I’m GMing a play-by-forum-post semi-hard-ish original setting sci-fi space adventure GURPS game and anyone who hangs around here is welcome to come join. I make no claim to be good at GMing but it’s almost always net positive fun.

It’s happening here. There won’t be as much stuff as I hoped there would be when you get there but… just read what information is there and ask questions in the OOC thread if you’re confused about anything I guess.

You will have to register an account with Myth-Weavers; then click the “join game” button on the left side of the page I linked to above and click the “game forum” bit to see the actual forum where it’s going on.

• Incurian says:

I have submitted an application. Very much looking forward to a new source (object?) of procrastination.

• Aapje says:

I have just developed a new game called Procrastination™. It is an idle game, which means that the game requires no intervention, you automatically get a higher score over time.

To do the name justice, the game doesn’t require registration, instead, everyone on SSC is autoregistered.

Since I believe in symmetry, I wanted to name to be true to the developer experience as well. So I have not actually developed anything. This means that there is no way to check the score, but checking the score would just lower your score anyway.

• US says:

Sounds like it took a lot of work – but I like this game!

• Forge the Sky says:

Well I developed a game where you win by not playing. I hated it and quit after a while. Now I feel good about myself every day!

• Randy M says:

Can the game be viewed by non-players?
By which I mean humans not involved, rather than fictional characters.

• toastengineer says:

Yeah, it’s all out in public.

How would fictional characters read a real website?

• Randy M says:

I presume from behind the GM’s eyes. I was riffing on the nomenclature “non-player character”.

• limestone says:

I’d want to participate, but how much time do you expect players to commit?

• toastengineer says:

I’m planning to hash that out with the people there once they get there. I’d like people to commit to posting at least once every other day but “posting” might take you anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour depending on what you’re making your character do.

It’s an asynchronous sort of deal unless two characters are talking to each other. You say “Florbnortz decides to go shopping for anti-rad meds,” and then at some point that same day I show up and tell you that poor Florbnortz encounters a mugger on the way, and then you come back the next day to post about what Florbnortz says to the mugger.

• Nornagest says:

Applied.

6. OptimalSolver says:

People who married across racial lines, how did it work out?

If you don’t mind doing so, please also specify the ethnic groups you and your partner belong to.

• Well... says:

It hasn’t finished working out, it still is working out. I’m white, my wife’s black. We’ve been living like a married couple for about a decade and been an actual married couple for about two thirds of that. A couple kids have joined us along the way.

Maybe you could lay out some specific things you’re wondering about?

• SamChevre says:

If I may add to the request–if there’s identity-significant non-racial information that you’re comfortable sharing, please do.

Two of my sisters (white) married “black” men. One is Kenyan (Luo), one is African-American. The dynamics are very different.

• ajar says:

What are the big differences you’ve observed in your brothers in law and their family dynamics?

• Squirrel of Doom says:

I’m probably a jerk for jumping in, but I assume Kenyan men are culturally very different from black American men. Much like, say, Bulgarian men are compared to white American men.

• ajar says:

Ahhhh of course I know that. My question was asking for specific differences.

• SamChevre says:

The big specific difference are mostly cultural.

Gender roles:
The Kenyan–very patriarchal. The man is the head of the home; he’s entirely responsible for meeting all the needs of all his people. Anything his wife makes is great and helpful, but fundamentally making sure there’s enough money to meet the needs is not her problem. The American–much more “separate spheres”–the man has his income and buys what’s important to him, the wife has her income and the household is mostly her responsibility.

Social self-image:
The Kenyan–very accustomed to being in charge. Was trained to lead and expected to lead, and has a vision of leadership that’s mostly about responsibility to your followers. The American–accustomed to a world run by other people. Your primary relationships are with peers, and you might help them out but you aren’t responsible for them.

These are the two differences I think of first. I’d sum them up as “the Kenyan is used to a much more hierarchical society, and was trained for a position as a leader in such a society.”

• Well... says:

if there’s identity-significant non-racial information that you’re comfortable sharing, please do.

My wife (black) and I (white) are different in a lot of ways — politically, religiously, and in terms of our socioeconomic background (about which I’ll say: hers was much more comfortable and stable than mine; I grew up pretty poor and hungry while she grew up solidly middle-class; but, my family is culturally very SWPL while hers is culturally very black middle-class, which is a lot like white middle-class but with certain things swapped out for other things).

• Creutzer says:

hers is culturally very black middle-class, which is a lot like white middle-class but with certain things swapped out for other things)

Would you elaborate on this? It sounds interesting. As a European, I have practically no idea about what the American black middle class is like.

• Well... says:

Certain foods are different, for instance. Whereas a white family eats a lot of mashed potatoes during winter holidays, a black family eats sweet potato pie.

Tastes in music are different too: while driving and listening to the radio for example, white middle-class middle-aged people in the US tend to tune to classic rock (Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, etc.) and country, whereas their black counterparts tune to R&B, soul, and smooth jazz.

My wife grew up watching all the Eddie Murphy, Whoopi Goldberg, and Wesley Snipes movies from the 80s and 90s, because her parents watched them. A lot of white people watched them too, but I get the sense they were kind of “standard viewing” in middle-class black homes, the way Schindler’s List and Fiddler on the Roof were in Jewish homes.

The art on the wall at my in-laws, when it represents people, features black people almost exclusively. During Christmas, all the Santa imagery depicts a black Santa.

• Matt M says:
• Tarpitz says:

I’m not married, but my father’s (white, English, Anglican, upper middle class, early 60s) marriage to my stepmother (Punjabi, English, Catholic, middle class, mid 40s) seems great. They’ve been married I think 14 years, are terrific parents to their two sons, get on well with each other’s families, and so far as I know (and I see a lot of them) have never had any significant marital problems. She can’t receive Catholic communion, because she’s married a divorcé, but that’s the only cultural problem I’m aware of. They live in a small, prosperous, almost exclusively white (there’s also a Japanese woman who’s married to a white man with mixed race kids) village in the home counties.

• Muro says:

My mum is Australian (British, German, Irish, etc.).

My dad is Mexican (60% native American, 30% Spanish).

The marriage is very good.

Our family has been living in Australia for the past 20 years, and my dad doesn’t retain most aspects of Mexican culture.

I know you probably asked this because you think marriages like this won’t work, because of culture or something. Or maybe that black people are innately unable to treat white women according to the standards that they desire.

Honestly I don’t know in general, but my parent’s marriage does not satisy this pattern. My dad is very smart and has discarded/destroyed a lot of his traditional cultural values (he was raised in Calfiornia) and replaced them with his own. He is very ambitious and cooperative, and he cooperates well in the marriage.

I know marriages are meant to suck, and I’m sure my parents’ is no exception, but as far as I can tell it’s going fine.

• AG says:

Isn’t the very existence of Filipino culture proof that mass interracial and inter-cultural marriage can produce an entirely new ethnicity and fusion culture?

In the Bay Area, I often encounter people who are “ambiguously brown-yellow” and it’s a toss-up if they’re Asian or Latino, but more often they’re both.

7. Daniel Frank says:

I’m heading to Mexico City next week for 4.5 days (first time in Mexico, but I’ve travelled a lot before). Any recommendations outside the usual?

So far, my itinerary includes: national museum of anthropology, eating at pujol, nacho libre, teotihuacan, and a day hike at nevado de toluca.

• johan_larson says:

“Nacho libre” like the Jack Black film?

• Jameson Quinn says:

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

Also, eat street food, especially anything where raw corn dough, not just machine-made tortillas, is an ingredient.

• Tarpitz says:

I got some great fish tacos at a place called La Cerveceria de Barrio, near the Hilton Reforma (where the Magic tournament I was there to play in was taking place). The octopus and mackerel ones (two separate dishes) were particular highlights, if I remember rightly.

8. CatCube says:

Does anybody have any recommendations for a tutorial for LaTeX, especially with an eye towards customizing classes? Creating a documents with the basic classes seems pretty straightforward (and produces pretty-looking documents quite easily!) Now, to develop my understanding of how LaTeX puts together documents, I’d like to try poking around “under the hood”.

However, trying to get information about how to do any customization is kind of frustrating. I see references to compiling “source2e.tex” for documentation (OK, distributing documentation in a non-human readable and making the user compile it makes a weird sort of sense for a typesetting program). However, I can’t seem to compile it for my distribution (MiKTeX), since it apparently incorporates other (.dtx) files that weren’t included–I think. When you can’t compile the help file it gets a little difficult to look things up. I have, of course, found a compiled version online, but question if there are differences between that one and the one that I would get from my own system.

I’ve found various courses by Google search, but even that seems a little hinky. One of the ones recommended by a rollup of LaTeX tutorials was a presentation slideshow (would be a PowerPoint slideshow, except it was in LaTeX, not PP, of course). Not really the super-greatest form of information transfer. But, aesthetically, the slideshow is very nice.

Since I like to do these kinds of things by doing a toy project that I might be able to actually use later, my target is to create a class that will correctly typeset a formal memo on Department of the Army letterhead. The reason I’ve chosen this is because the requirements are well specified (Army Regulation 25-50 lays out exactly how margins, paragraph numbering, pagination, signature blocks, etc. are to be laid out), but they’re fiddly enough that actually doing it correctly will be a challenge (for example, the signature block at the end of the memo has 4 blank lines as room for the signature, but the signature block must be kept together with the previous paragraph and the previous paragraph must have at least two lines on a page–so if the last paragraph is only three lines total it must keep the whole paragraph on the next page with the signature block)

I’ve got a Word template with the letterhead to automagically create the proper paragraph numbering, but anything but the simplest documents does require some hand-fiddling to comply with the pagination rules. More complicated things like SEE DISTRIBUTION lists have to be hand done. I’d like to see if I can switch it over to LaTeX and leave it mostly automated.

• skef says:

This isn’t remotely everything you need but it’s one high-level take on the subject. It recommends The LaTeX Companion appendix A as the primary resource, which I won’t link to but isn’t very hard to track down.

• CatCube says:

Just looking at the first page shows me that it’s talking about exactly what I’m trying to do. Thanks! I’d found the LaTeX Companion on latex-project.org, but didn’t know if there was a well-known reference or tutorial to be found online for free. I’ve been able to get Python to at least give me what I need using such resources, though I’m sure a professional programmer would cry looking at my code.

• skef says:

I’d found the LaTeX Companion on latex-project.org, but didn’t know if there was a well-known reference or tutorial to be found online for free.

It’s up to you whether consulting an appendix in something that you haven’t paid for is acceptable, but when say “isn’t very hard to track down” I mean it isn’t very hard to turn up a PDF with a bit of searching.

• michelemottini says:
• jchrieture says:

A recommended (vast) course of typographic study:

(0) obtain the complete TeXLive distribution (free for all platforms)
(1) acquire motivation: read Donald Knuth’s AMS article “Mathematical Typography” (1979, free) and Knuth’s book The Errors of Tex (1989, not free)
(2) learn user-conventions: Gratzner’s “More Math into LaTeX” (not free, covers more than just math)
(3) learn the basics of document design: \documentclass{memoir}, and documentation ‘memman.pdf’
(4) tie it all together with the command-line utility ‘latexmk” (which is the unix utility ‘make” generalized for typographic production)
—–
At this point you will be able to produce pretty good documents of all kinds … documents infinitely superior to anything that Microsoft Word and/or Adobe Illustrator can produce … that are generated entirely by readily-automated command-line idioms …

… and you will be motivated to learn more … MUCH MORE !!!
——–
(5) learn graphics: \usepackage{tikz}, and documentation ‘pdfmanual.pdf’
(6) learn presentation design: \documentclass{beamer}, and documentation ‘memman.pdf’
(7) study The LaTeX Companion to learn how to code packages yourself …
(8) study typographic tuning: \usepackage{microtype},
(9) study critical edition usage: \usepackage{reledpar}

Now you are prepared to learn the basics of (LaTeX) font-design … itself a discipline of near-infinite domain and range.

9. fahertym says:

Anyone a fan of the video game, Transistor? It deals with free will vs. determinism, the nature of creativity, and some highly abstract/sci fi possibilities of AI. I just finished writing a novella length analysis of the whole game:

https://objectivevgaesthetics.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/why-we-create-a-transistor-analysis-introduction/

• Bugmaster says:

FWIW I did like the game a lot, but I still think Bastion was better. On the other hand, Pyre is a totally different game, I can’t really compare it to Transistor.

• fahertym says:

I love all three, truly innovative remarkable games that do something entirely new in the industry. I feel kinda bad for Pyre for being the most original but also weakest (yet still awesome in its own way).

• Bugmaster says:

Agreed; I think that Pyre suffers a little from trying to be too many things at the same time. It’s a visual novel RPG eldritch combat basketball. The fact that it works at all is already a minor miracle; the fact that it’s actually good is nothing short of amazing.

• Robert Liguori says:

Definitely! Really good visuals and incredible music, too.

I also concur fairly strongly with one of your footnotes. Specifically:

As much as I love Transistor, the game is too opaque for its own good. If it had taken some time to slow down and lay out some basic rules about the game world at this point, the game would have been much improved

My own feeling is that Transistor has a bunch of really interesting ideas, but that much of the opaqueness is meant to conceal some parts where the developers had a really rich vein of theme but not enough coherence, and so just threw a bunch of cool stuff out and let the players make connections (or not).

ETA:
I also really like your analysis of the Man and what he represents in Part 4. Again, I think that Transistor is structured to be ambiguous entirely so that people can find their own readings of it, but that is a really solid and interesting one.

• fahertym says:

Thanks!

And I agree on your analysis of the game’s themes>execution. I wonder if the developers originally wanted to explain much more but ended up cutting a lot of content. The early marketing material barely resembles the finished game. I remember one trailer said something like “5 assassins hunt Red and the Transistor down.”

• Forge the Sky says:

Haven’t read it yet, but just based on the games being mentioned in this thread: have you tried ‘Braid’?

• Vorkon says:

Braid is a pretty fun little puzzle/platformer, but as far as story and theme goes, it seemed to think it had way more to say than it actually did.

It pretty much doesn’t hold a candle to any of Supergiant’s stuff. Bastion and Transistor (still haven’t played Pyre, unfortunately) both weave a complex (if sometimes obfustaced) narrative with deep themes into an aesthetic and gameplay sensibility that match those themes. Braid, on the other hand, presents a simple narrative, with a simple theme, and purposefully obfuscates it to try to make it seem deeper than it actually is. The time manipulating mechanics do a good job of reflecting that theme, though.

• Bugmaster says:

Agreed; Braid was way too pretentious for its own good. I also enjoyed The Fall, though again, it can’t hold a candle to Supergiant Games.

• fahertym says:

Bought it long ago on sale and unfortunately it has has it my Steam library unplayed ever since. Never quite got around to it.

• Forge the Sky says:

Well, it likely won’t change your life or anything, but it’s an interesting use of aesthetics blended with mechanics, so I thought I’d bring it up.

I agree with the commentators above that it tries to be a bit more than it delivers. Still good tho.

Anyways, thanks for making me aware of Transistor! I think I’ll give it a whirl before reading your whole thing, seems like the sort of thing best read post-facto.

• Winter Shaker says:

I loved Braid (though it was too short, and the difference in difficulty in completing the regular game and collecting all the stars was a ridiculously huge gulf). Sure, the story was a bit pretentious, but I’m standing here from the perspective of someone whose first computer was a ZX Spectrum, wondering why the hell you would play a computer game for the story.

• Loquat says:

I think I got partway through and then reached a boss I was not skilled enough to beat, and wound up abandoning it. It’s a shame, since I really loved Bastion and wanted to see the end of Transistor, but that boss fight was way tough and apparently the designers thought it was a good idea to punish you for failing by taking away another one of your combat skills every time, which does not exactly make the fight easier.

10. Wrong Species says:

I keep forgetting what the spoiler code is that people here use often. What is it called again?

• johan_larson says:
• Wrong Species says:

Thanks. I have to start memorizing this. It’s impossible to Google.

• CatCube says:

I find it easiest to remember by recalling that it’s short for “Rotate 13”, which is just a substitution cipher where you rotate 13 letters through the alphabet (i.e., “ABC” is “NOP”). ROT4 would go from A>E, ROT5 A>F, etc. If you use 13, however, encrypting and decrypting is the same.

11. Mary says:

Fun fact:

Play the didgeridoo can help with sleep apnea.

study here:
http://www.bmj.com/content/332/7536/266

• Well... says:

I wonder if this also works if you practice circular breathing on other instruments (there’s a bassoon professor at Arizona State who taught all his students to circular breathe). Or if you practice didgeridoo without the circular breathing.

Circular breathing isn’t that hard, it’s a bit like learning to pat your head while rubbing your stomach. Maybe one step more complicated.* If learning that is what helps with sleep apnea, then this is a pretty huge deal.

*I got circular breathing down in the first few hours, and got it down smoothly within a week. From my several years playing the didgeridoo, I’d say the really hard part of that instrument is learning how to make and integrate all those weird barks and huffs and other noises, and of course keeping a steady interesting dynamic rhythm going for a long time without screwing it up.

• Lillian says:

Wait, wait, wait, patting your head while rubbing your stomach is something people have to learn? Like i just tried it and it took me all of three seconds to figure it out. Circular breathing on the other hand, does seem like a thing that would take a few hours of practice to get down.

• quaelegit says:

I definitely had to consciously practice for a while to be able to do it — although I was pretty young at the time (I want to say 5ish), so “a while” might have been several tries practicing for a few minutes each time. Even now I have to stop what I’m doing and think carefully and set up the motions right.

(Possibly related — can you tap out a hemiola rhythm at a steady tempo? I think that’s a similar “need to learn” skill, although possibly hard to separate that from the “tap at a steady tempo” skill — from my experience in music people are actually really bad at keeping a steady tempo if they don’t practice with a metronome or something.)

• Lillian says:

i can tap out the heartbeat of a Time Lord for a bit but the tempo wavers a little and eventually i trip myself up. After looking up what a hemiola is, and looking at a couple of demonstrations, i tried it a few times. Wound up always getting tripped up after the second or third loop. It’s harder because it feels like trying to keep two different tempos in your head, rapidly switching between the one and the other in quick succession.

• Winter Shaker says:

Loop the words ‘nice cup of tea’ which, in normal speech, tends to fall into a 3/4 rhythm. Have one hand tap on nice/cup/tea and the other hand tap on nice/of. That’s how it was explained to me.

Though that does privilege the hand that is tapping the three beats. The other hand kind of needs to be thinking ‘NICE kaPOVty’.

Then for extra points, try to keep your bearings at the point where this sounds like it changes tempo but actually doesn’t.

• Well... says:

Wait, wait, wait, patting your head while rubbing your stomach is something people have to learn? Like i just tried it and it took me all of three seconds to figure it out.

I didn’t say that learning to circular breathe is a comparable level of difficulty to learning how to pat your head and rub your stomach. I said learning the one was a bit like learning the other. What I meant was basically what you said: you have to think about it and do it a few times.

My point is it isn’t this weird process that hardly anyone could learn to do.

12. RavenclawPrefect says:

This is a bit of an odd question, but I’m turning 18 in a few weeks and I assume that there are some interesting, useful, or amusing things which (in the US) are best done as a minor; anyone with interesting ideas of things they did or wish they’d done with their days of not-yet-being-a-legal-adult, feel free to share! I often wish I could get advice from a future version of myself another decade down the road, and the SSC commenting population is about as close a substitute as can be found. (More generally, any advice or information that you feel would be useful to an SSC-reading math-oriented college student is welcome.)

• Bugmaster says:

I assume you’ve already tried the obvious things, such as having sex and voting ? Hopefully, not at the same time…

• anonymousskimmer says:

Image flashed through my mind of the person awkwardly reaching over their partner’s shoulder trying to put the ballot into the box. 🙂

• Bugmaster says:

If scantrons weren’t part of someone’s kink, they surely are now, by the power of the mighty Rule 34 🙂

Really stuffing the old ballot box there, eh?

The virgin informed voter vs the hanging chad

• AG says:

Spoiling the ballot (ew…)

Punching the candidate’s ticket

Filling the bubble

Checking their box

• Bugmaster says:

I will never be able to look at those “I Voted !” stickers the same way. You maniacs.

Just think of us next time you’re pulling the lever for your candidate.

• Lillian says:

Most of the stuff fun stuff that’s best done as a minor are illegal, and if you’re only a few weeks from being 18, they can and will try you as an adult. You already missed your window man.

Personally, one of my few regrets is not pressing the buttons on the jetway control pannel when i was a little kid. It was fairly common in a certain airport i used to fly out of for the operators to just leave the key in the panel, with all the lights beckoning me to reach out and touch. Just one push on the lever and the whole thing would have moved with a great big shudder, giving a great fright to everyone boarding the plane. It would have been amazing. Alas, i never got the guts to do it, and eventually i realized that i was too old to get away with it.

As for advice, well are you the kind of bright student who tends to ace tests without studying too hard? Because if you are, you’d should start brushing up on your note-taking and study skills. You can only go so far just by being smart, at some point you’re going to have to start putting in work, and if you haven’t reached that point yet, it’s going to hit you like a wall. Best be ready.

• The Nybbler says:

As for advice, well are you the kind of bright student who tends to ace tests without studying too hard? Because if you are, you’d should start brushing up on your note-taking and study skills. You can only go so far just by being smart, at some point you’re going to have to start putting in work, and if you haven’t reached that point yet, it’s going to hit you like a wall.

That’s another reason (besides finances) to go to a state school. No wall, no need for nootropics or stimulants (other than caffeine) to keep up, same degree.

• toastengineer says:

No wall, no need for nootropics or stimulants (other than caffeine) to keep up, same degree.

I went to a state school and, well, when I said “do they actually expect you to be on modafinil to go here” I was joking to myself, but with all the people who keep saying stuff like this…

• fortaleza84 says:

When I was 17, I hid in a museum at closing, spent the night there with my friend, and left the next morning with other visitors.

Obviously I don’t advise murdering or raping someone you hate, but if it’s some crime that doesn’t actually harm anyone, the time to do it is when you are under age and the authorities will probably write you off as being “young and foolish.”

• liskantope says:

I am a future version of an US-residing about-to-turn-18 math-oriented college student 10 years down the road (well, a little more than 10, and SSC didn’t exist at the time, so I can’t say “SSC-reading”…). Anyway, I’ve racked my brains and I honestly can’t think of a single awesome thing that one stops being able to do at the cusp of legal adulthood, unless you value the thrill of doing something illegal, or want to save some money by entering some attractions more cheaply as a minor. Seriously, young adulthood is a time when a bunch of doors are opening and I can’t really think of any that are closing. So congratulations on reaching that point, enjoy yourself, and happy birthday!

I will say one thing in terms of indirect general advice to a decade-younger version of myself: if you’re interested in getting into a relationship or even just casual dating, there are a lot more attractive singles in one’s peer group at college age, and there’s far more leeway for people who don’t really know what they’re doing where navigating the dating game is concerned. And I wish I’d found a way to take better advantage of that. Take that as you will. (I imagine a similar thing is true about socializing in general, but my perspective is different there because I did manage to take advantage of that.)

• johan_larson says:

When I was growing up, in Ontario, there was a special legal exemption in the laws about sexual consent. The general age of consent was 16. But in cases where there was no more than two years between the partners, and neither was in a position of authority over the other, the age of consent was 14. So, if you wanted to have legal sex with a very young partner, you needed to do it while you yourself were young.

I expect there are similar laws elsewhere.

Before you book a flight to Toronto, let me mention that the law in Ontario may have changed since those days. I have no reason to stay current on these matters.

• dndnrsn says:

I think it’s a federally-set thing, and those are the current laws. Until 2008 it was 14 with no restrictions except a position of authority exception (in which case it was 16, I think). Best thing the Harper government did: 14 is way too young, and a decent chunk of sexual assault cases involved grown men having sex with 14 or 15 year olds; today they are a lot easier to prosecute.

13. Error says:

I asked this last open thread, but too late to get many opinions: What is the current least-sucky dating site?

I find myself semi-on-the-market, have never bothered using one, and don’t know where to start. I’m poly, do not intend to marry or have kids, but don’t have much interest in purely casual sex either. I have one girlfriend, but we don’t expect it to be permanent. I am Grey Tribe.

The only sites I know anything about are Tindr (which may not suit, given the lack of interest in casual sex) and OkCupid (which I’ve heard has gone downhill in recent years).

• Anonymous says:

I can’t point you at specific sites, but the general idea is a) something free to use or cheap, b) with lots of users. Online dating is a statistics game, so finding something you can automate and data-mine is good.

• Aapje says:

@Error

Tindr seems to be more and more used for regular dating. My theory is that due to how gender differences impact dating, as well due to many people desiring both casual sex and a relationship, it is pretty much inevitable that both sites that initially focus on casual sex and those who focus on long term relationship, move over time to a mixture of the two. So, if you are decently good looking, Tindr seems like a fine option to find relationships.

Supposedly, OKCupid is better for nerdy people and/or people whose looks are their worst feature. However, looks seem to still be very important there.

So my advice, from a person who has traits and a lack of experience* that means you should not take this very seriously, is to try/use both (at least until Luna becomes available and you can buy a girlfriend**).

* and who in fact does not even have the option to examine the US dating ecosystem up close

• Anonymous says:

Luna?

• Winter Shaker says:
• Matt M says:

CMB worked the best for me.

I’m not sure how its algorithms work, but it purports to reward you for “good behavior” which seems to mean some combination of logging in every day, actually messaging your matches, and not being a jerk to people. I got some pretty decent matches with real women willing to actually date pretty quick. It seems to achieve the elusive goal of being a “female friendly” app that isn’t overtly feminist (like bumble, which is a cesspool)

• manga3dmann says:

I’m in a similar situation, but I feel that online dating is a colossal waste of time (assuming you’re cis straight male). I do agree that taking it seriously can be very discouraging. I would instead encourage going out to visit people in the Poly community (like going to a potluck or discussion group).

14. Doctor Mist says:

(Sorry for duplicating this, which I just sent out on the hidden open thread; my timeout waiting for the public one was just a little too short.)

My wife and I will be on the JoCo Cruise next week for the first time and would love to connect with any other SSCers who might be attending. I can be reached (before we go, at least) at ImDoctorMist (at) g mail dot com. I had one reply on the other thread, but it was pretty late in that thread’s life.

• BBA says:

I think it’s just you and me, dood.

• Doctor Mist says:

No on two counts.

First, my wife has injured her foot so we aren’t going. Alas.

But I did get another response via email from a mostly-lurker who will be there. I’ll leave it to this individual to decide whether to reply to you in public, but it means there will be another SSCer on board. I’d be very curious whether the two of you find each other.

Have a great time!

15. Sniffnoy says:

So, on the predictions thread, I described why I might potentially find reciprocity.io useful, if only more people were on it. Today I realized why despite such reasons it is seriously unlikely to remain useful to me in the near future. Now in that comment I assumed (as Scott basically does above) that it’s useful only as a dating site; while that’s not necessarily true and I can indeed potentially see the other boxes having potential uses too, those cases are substantially less likely to come up so as Scott does I’m going to below just go with the dating-site assumption.

So, Scott’s statement above that

It does require your Facebook friends also use the site, but if you’re socially exposed to the rationalist community many of them will.

made me curious; just how many Facebook friends from the LW-sphere do I have, anyway? What I found was:
1. In fact the number is small, and
2. Applying the assumption above, we can exclude most of those from “people who would constitute a reason to use reciprocity.io” for reasons of sex/gender, and
3. Of those people not excluded in 2, all of them are already on the site. (And, as you might infer, are not people who fall under any of the cases that would actually make it useful — which, remember, requires that there be some reason that some amount of indirection be required rather than me being willing to just ask normally).

In short, no amount of promotion of this site within the LW-sphere will make it useful to me! In order for it to be useful, something like one of the following would have to be true:
1. It would have to become known and used outside of the LW-sphere;
2. I’d have to move to the Bay Area or something (except that probably wouldn’t actually produce many cases where it would be useful because once again why not just ask directly?);
3. We’d have to get a bunch more people at meetups here in Ann Arbor (which aren’t actually going at the moment but no I don’t think I can host one sorry :-/ );
4. I’d have to be substantially more inclusive with who I add as a friend on Facebook… or add people specifically for the use of the site, which, uh, I don’t really think so… even if we ignore the awkwardness of such a thing, I’m not entirely sure there’s a scenario where that makes sense (I mean I can imagine one but I wouldn’t expect it to come up).
5. Something else?

So, uh, yeah. :-/ I stand by what I said about the main problem being not enough people (well, to the extent that the problem isn’t the fundamental workings of the site, like it being tied to Facebook and the restrictions that brings with it), but, contrary to what Scott suggests above, just promoting it within the LW-sphere is not going to solve that problem in a useful way, at least not for me.

• Bugmaster says:

I think the marketing and/or the internal culture of that site is really working against it. I’m not even sure who the site is for. Is it for everyone, even the dreaded “normies” ? Well, then it has no chance against entrenched competitors. Is it for people who like to think rationally sometimes (or, preferably, most of the time) ? Then it’s a niche product, and while it can succeed, it’s going to be an uphill battle all the way — there just aren’t that many people who are looking for rationalist dates. Is it for capital-R Rationalists ? Well, then it’s pointless, because they all live the the Bay Area and are already all dating each other; plus, their numbers are rather small. You’d be better off just moving to San Francisco and dating them in person.

• Aapje says:

there just aren’t that many people who are looking for rationalist dates.

Not to mention the horrible gender ratio.

• Anonymous says:

What are the sex ratios of mainstream dating sites?

• Aapje says:

They seem to be close to 50/50.

Of course, due to gendered behavior, it’s probably not going to feel that way to men or women.

• Fossegrimen says:

I thought the concept of “friend” implied someone you already know and that the whole point of dating sites is to expand the dating pool beyond people you know, so once again I just don’t get the point.

• Lambert says:

You’re on to something. If you measure reciprocity.io as a dating site, you won’t see the point.
But it’s not a dating site, and should not be judged as such.

Dating sites solve the issue of ‘I don’t know anyone I want to date’.
Reciprocity addresses ‘I’m an awkward nerd who fancies someone I already know, but am too shy to ask out.’
The only situation it prevents is two people mutually crushing on each other. While limited, this failure mode is much more tractable than dating in general.

• toastengineer says:

It’s not so much a question of shyness and more that asking friends for dates tends to leave you with +0 dates and -1 friends.

• Sniffnoy says:

• Aapje says:

@Sniffnoy

One way to potentially improve the site is to allow multiple check boxes for each person, including one that is “I’d like to hang out with you in real life.”

This would increase the usefulness beyond dating & also allow for plausible deniability when you harangue your friends into using it.

• Sniffnoy says:

That is… already on the site. It is, as mentioned above, not very useful, because there’s not many cases there when one would be unwilling to ask directly. Only case I can think of is if the person lives far away and I don’t actually know them very well (in which case it is unlikely though certainly not impossible that I’m friends with them on Facebook).

I hadn’t thought of using it purely for plausible deniability of the sort you mention, but I think it would fail pretty badly at that. I’m not about to do such a thing one way or another.

• Aapje says:

Oh right, I just looked at the image on the site.

I didn’t want to give them access to my fake facebook account just to take a look 😛

16. CheshireCat says:

I posted this late in the last open thread and a few people recommended reposting it early in the next one, so here it is again.

I’ve been posting here occasionally, talking about my journey to try and fix my lack of emotions. I recently had a very interesting and bizarre experience involving a weed edible giving me feelings back for a short time, and I was looking for some commentary on it from some of the smart people here, because I really don’t know what to make of it. Here’s my last comment, for reference & symptoms.

So a while back I received an edible from a friend. It was a miniature cupcake containing ~50mg of THC. On a whim I decided to take half of it, let’s say 25-35mg. (

It’s worth noting that I’ve already tried weed, usually edibles, and took everything from 10 to 60mg. Once I even accidentally took roughly 85, which ended up causing a sort of catatonic state, spiraling thought patterns and vomiting for several hours. Not fun)

After taking this relatively low dose, I started to get the ordinary “tiredness and inability to concentrate” thing that normally happens when I take a certain amount of weed, and also the strange uncomfortable feeling/emotion in my chest that I’ve experienced before with shrooms and weed. I got into bed, and the uncomfortable feeling started getting worse and worse. I wouldn’t say it was painful necessarily, but it was more intense than it usually is.

After a while of this, something really odd happened. The uncomfortable feeling gave way to a completely new sensation when I breathed. I don’t normally feel much of anything when I breathe other than the natural refreshment that comes from getting air. But here I could almost feel the breaths cascading through my lungs, filling them and feeling like I could breathe more deeply than ever before. It felt totally different, very hard to describe. It was several times more refreshing than breathing normally is.

Soon after that, I began to feel emotions that I haven’t felt since I was a kid. Things I haven’t really felt since before I became numb. It literally felt like circuitry in my brain that hadn’t been used in decades had suddenly activated.

Imagine food tasting like nothing but styrofoam for years, and then you buy a hamburger and for some reason it’s the first delicious, real food you’ve had in so long. That’s what it was like. I was buffeted with emotions which I’ve felt maybe 3 times in the past decade. It was overwhelming but entirely positive. I was sobbing tears of joy, alone in my bed.

Eventually the edible began to wear off, and though the majority of the emotional experience began to wear off, I was still feeling things! For the next 24 hours or so, I experienced emotions the way I imagine normal people do: As these flitting things that bubble up and coalesce around you during your day-to-day. Somebody would say something to me and it might stir these little ambiguous feelings, whereas before I would have felt nothing. I even lost a minor debate with my mom, because emotions caught me off guard and threw off my rhetoric!

Another strange thing to note is that, during and for few days after the trip, I caught myself not breathing. I don’t think it was anything dangerous, but it’s perplexing. It may have just been due to how much more refreshing breathing was for a while, but I’m not sure. It was kind of like my unconscious breathing process was being interrupted, but I had no issues with sleep regardless.

After about a day, everything had pretty much worn off, and I was more or less back to normal. But I’m left kind of lost about what to do with this information. I could understand if it were shrooms which caused it, but weed? I don’t think it’s the kind of thing I could necessarily use as a long-term treatment, but it’s a clue. What about weed could cause something as strange as this to happen? Something to do with cannabinoid receptors? I’ve never heard of weed having much effect on emotional experience, but I need to research more. I just don’t know enough about psychopharmacology to be able to draw any reasonable conclusions on my own.

All this has done for sure is reaffirm my suspicion that there’s something wrong with my brain, but I don’t know how to proceed. I tried to talk to my psychiatrist about this particular event, but he basically refused to discuss it with me because it’s weed. It’s understandable but deeply frustrating, because I feel like I have few other places to turn. I tried to get in contact with the company that made the edible but they never responded. I’ve spoken to my doctor about my emotional symptoms but he didn’t have much to offer me in the way of assistance. So what’s next? A neurologist?

TL;DR: I took a weed edible, it made breathing feel totally different and cured my emotional numbness for a while, and I have no idea what to do with that information.

• outis says:
• CheshireCat says:

Hah, wasn’t exactly what I expected but got a good chuckle out of this. Despite not actually caring much for weed I’ve seen pretty much every single one of these goddamn videos lol

You might consider trying CBD. It seems unlikely to work, but it’s completely legal–you can just order it online–and generally non-impairing, so it’d be a pretty feasible long-term treatment.

(If you don’t know what CBD is, see here for an overview and a rosy view of its possible benefits. I wouldn’t bet too hard on these, but as a low-risk option it’s worth a shot)

If trying a different psychiatrist is an option, that might help–my impression is that many would be willing to discuss this.

Otherwise–I don’t want to push this on you too hard, there are lots of valid reasons you might not want to, but I do know multiple generally-law-abiding functional people who regularly use weed for mental health issues, taking enough to help their issues but not enough to be visibly high all the time.

• CheshireCat says:

CBD oil is a good idea, I haven’t given that a try. And weed is legal here in California now, but I’m not sure if I like the idea of regularly taking a somewhat expensive drug that I don’t even like. If it works it works, but I’ve never hand that kind of experience before, and it didn’t last very long. I’ll have to experiment with it more.

• temujin9 says:

1) Get a better psychiatrist. One who is unwilling to discuss your full experience is one who cannot help you process your full experience. Organizations like NORML may have resources to connect with more suitable professionals.

2) Marijuana is known to occasionally have hallucinogenic effects. This is not atypical, though it is rarer.

3) There are definitely case studies of psychedelics being used in psychiatric treatment. MDMA started life that way, if I remember correctly.

Keep at the breathing, by the way. It’s good for you, and 100% legal in all American states.

• CheshireCat says:

I actually like my psychiatrist, the above is frustrating but generally speaking he’s pretty decent. I’m on state-provided health insurance for low income families, too, so my psychiatrist options are limited to a small handful.

• Irascible_Op says:

I am not a professional. But here’s what I think is going on with you: there are some mental structures inside of you, deep beliefs about yourself / your place in the world / other people / etc., which make feeling emotions unacceptable. When you took the weed, these mental structures got jumbled out of place, and so emotions were acceptable again, for a little while.

For an example of the kind of way these structures can work: someone might believe that anger is extremely dangerous, because angry people unpredictably destroy things and hurt others. This belief probably arose from early experiences with other people’s anger. The person holding this belief, if they also believed it was very bad to hurt other people, would then conclude that it was dangerous and bad for themselves to feel anger, and so would suppress any anger they felt. And this all happens at a very low level, so, just naively introspecting, this person would simply see themselves as mysterious unable to feel anger.

A couple other patterns that work like this: “I am inherently bad” → unacceptable to feel joy; “I can’t let anyone know that things are bad” → unacceptable to feel sadness.

These kinds of deep beliefs may not stand up to rational, outside-view criticism, but my understanding is that such criticism is not sufficient to change them: you have to go inside and meet them on their own terms to effect change. Doing this is tricky but absolutely possible.

You’ve already discovered some of the emotion-body connection. It’s possible to use this connection to work with emotions, their blockages, and the underlying beliefs around them via the body. I think the most powerful tool for this Focusing, a psychotherapeutic technique that involves sensitively attending to emotional responses manifested in the body as you probe your issues. You can read the book and just try it yourself, or find a therapist to help. Many other kinds of therapy, too, will be helpful in getting at the cause of emotional blockages.

Also, often people who practice flexibility or relaxation, say with yoga or some kinds of meditation, find that this opens up emotions locked up in parts of the body that had been stiff and numb. Tai Qi did a similar thing for me (but you need a good teacher, who talks about the flow of qi). So you might try something like that and see what it does for you.

Good luck! What I’m talking about entails a long journey, but it’s really worth it. Feel free to ask follow-up questions.

• CheshireCat says:

While I appreciate the comment, I don’t have a lot of respect for these kinds of theory of mind. They treat the mind as some kind of semi-mystical black box, instead of making falsifiable predictions about an ordered – if extremely complex – system.

On a more personal level, I’m already very introspective and in tune with my wants and needs. I attended therapy for about a year but encountered little in the way of genuine revelations about myself, because most of amounted to just telling my therapist how my mind works. I find it hard to believe that there’s some sort of deep, inaccessible emotional mechanisms that are holding me back.

It’s worth noting that *nothing* has jumbled my mental structures like the time I took 3.5g of magic mushrooms, and I didn’t have anything resembling an emotional epiphany, despite the scenarios being pretty much identical. I mostly just did & thought insane shit and got stuck in thought loops for a while.

• Irascible_Op says:

Fair enough. I can’t really convey all the personal evidence I have which makes me believe these kinds of theories. And I don’t have explanations for why drugs would sometimes change things and sometimes not.

But I stand by my recommendation, if you’re interested and have space in your life, to try some kind of practice that involves paying a lot of attention to your body. Bodies are interesting! And you may find unexpected feelings in there.

• MrApophenia says:

Just read your last thread, chalk me up as another person finding it to echo my own experience to a degree that is almost eerie.

I don’t have what could probably be considered any super useful advice, but I am someone with what sounds a lot like similar symptoms, and also someone who, ah, let’s say thoroughly explored the effects of weed for several years.

I never experienced any significant change in the emotional situation as a result. On the plus side, like you, my sense of humor/enjoyment seems fine, and it certainly helped with that. But in my case at least, it always stopped there, at the normal things you expect from weed (ie, being cool with sitting on the couch all day and considering Sealab 2021 the greatest comedy achievement of the decade.)

• CheshireCat says:

If nothing else, I’m glad to know that I’m not alone in this. We’ll all fix ourselves someday. If I ever happen upon a solution, you can bet I will post it in an open thread, and I’ll try to track down anybody who’s mentioned experiencing the same thing.

Thanks for chiming in with your experiences regarding weed, it helps fill in the gaps, large as they are. Maybe this is something unique to me, or to that particular event.

I’ve tried researching weed and its effects on emotions several times, but I can’t find much in the way of legitimate inquiry. Probably because scientists can’t or won’t run causal studies on a drug that’s schedule goddamn 1 for some reason. The damage the War on Drugs has done to the field of psychopharmacology is immense. We’re only just now starting to explore areas which should’ve been explored decades ago.

The only article I found that was even slightly relevant was one that examined a cannabinoid’s influence on the salience of fear stimuli and hippocampal response. I think it’s time for Cannabis: Much More Than You Wanted To Know

Edit: Turns out that Marijuana: MMTYWTK was actually the first in the entire series. That’s useful.

17. fahertym says:

I recently learned that it is generally socially acceptable (or at least not greatly frowned upon) for wealthier Chinese men to cheat on their wives, have mistresses, and even multiple families.

This got me thinking about the relationship between wealth levels and infidelity in the US. Is there a correlation? I would guess that generally wealthier people have less infidelity, but intuitively I think there could also be a barbell distribution. Any insights?

• Mitch Lindgren says:

• fahertym says:

China subreddit. I’ll throw out that it was a bunch of random Redditors commenting on a few threads, but there was a strong consensus.

• Deiseach says:

If true, I’d be inclined to say that wealthy men have always been able to support several families, the social cost to a man having multiple partners/casual partners/children outside of wedlock has generally been much less than for women, and ‘romantic marriage for love alone’ is a very recent invention. Marriage was about making family alliances, inheritance, crossing another step on the journey of adulthood, keeping the family name going by having descendants, and settling down to be a citizen with a stake in society; mistresses were for fun and status; casual sex was available for those who could pay for it.

Chinese society may retain more echoes of cultural mores of the days when well-off men could have several wives and children by them, and romance was a pastime but nothing to do with making a good and proper marriage, so being socially open about having side families is not seen as undesirable. All of which is to say I don’t think there is a striking difference in the basic drives between “would wealthy people in the US be more/less/the same level of infidelity?” except that perhaps more discretion is expected and visibly cheating on your spouse would be expected to generate outrage and repercussions. Though nowadays mostly repercussions are of the “get divorced, while waiting to divorce say your mistress is your fiancée and then marry her once it goes through” kind than the ostracism of days gone by.

Cons: a wealthy man having an affair that is discovered by his wife is risking losing a good chunk of his wealth in a divorce settlement

Pros: that’s what pre-nuptial agreements are for, so she can’t get a chunk of your assets if the marriage ends

• fortaleza84 says:

For what it may be worth, that is consistent with what I have seen, i.e. I knew two successful Chinese men who fairly openly had multiple wives. I haven’t known anyone else like this, but presumably the practice is pretty common in Saudi Arabia.

Anyway, I am pretty confident that for men in the US, extra-marital relations increase with rising wealth/income. On the theory that having money makes a man more attractive to women and that in general, men are about as faithful as their options allow.

For women, I think it’s a good deal more complicated since women have two-track sexuality and are also very sensitive to social pressure compared to men. But if I had to guess, I would guess that wealthy women are less likely to have extramarital relationships since it’s more likely that their husbands are their best romantic option and also they are afraid of the social stigma that might result in their nice neighborhood if word got out.

• albatross11 says:

It seems like the more common pattern (at least the visible one) in US the upper-middle class[1] is serial monogamy–the wealthy guy divorces his old wife and gets a younger, prettier one, and maybe iterates this process a few times. But I have no idea how common it is for married men to keep a long-term mistress.

[1] I don’t really know what the society of the very rich in the US looks like in this regard, since I don’t really spend much time in such circles.

I haven’t known anyone else like this, but presumably the practice is pretty common in Saudi Arabia.

N=1 observation, but when I was in Egypt my driver was extremely open with me about the fact he had a wife and a woman on the side. I think he was bragging, essentially “I’m well enough off I can keep two women.” Don’t know how common this was, though.

• outis says:

I met a Chinese girl in the US who was the daughter of the mistress/unofficial wife.

• Matt M says:

How historically accurate is Mad Men?

Because 100% of wealthy males on that show were cheating on their wives.

• John Schilling says:

Hollywood has a very strong incentive to portray people as having more sex (and with more attractive partners) than they actually do.

• Matt M says:

Well yeah, but even if we assume they’re exaggerating by quite a lot, that still leaves plenty of room for “cheating is very common and socially accepted”

• Incurian says:

• fahertym says:

Nah, Immortan Joe was poly.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

But evil poly, not good poly.

• The Nybbler says:

Qualitativey, there’s certainly cheating at all wealth levels in the US. I suspect it’s highest among the very poor (the Henry’s of the world, from Radicalizing the Romanceless), but I have no data. Googling around reveals not much, one study claiming the powerful cheat more and one working paper claiming impoverished women (but not men!) cheat more.

• yodelyak says:

If I were to stereotype my network (which, do to a life that’s spanned several classes/wealth brackets, cuts a wide swath)… fidelity goes up with a college degree or a low-status/wealth-boost graduate degree (such as an masters in forestry or a not-so-lucrative engineering degree) but then goes down with a high-status/wealth-boost degree like a high-powered mba or law degree.

Or, yeah, it’s a barbell. To the point that 2 of 2 of the ministers I know (both with a high amount of experience with middle and upper-middle class segments, and nearly no experience with labor class, underclass, or elites) have *very* strong negative feelings about lawyers and doctors and mbas–they just take it as a given that those people have to work harder to make their marriages work.

YMMV. Seems like causality is obviously very muddled here–high-risk-taking people will somewhat over-represent in high pay-off professions, and for anyone you already know, the fact that *you* know them is at least potentially much more important than the fact of their particular career/income/etc.

• Douglas Knight says:

What is the effect of the one child policy? Are children by mistresses a loophole?

• Anonymous says:

No idea, but you can pay a fine to have more children than permitted. Shows your affluence pretty well.

There’s a two-child policy since 2016, too. And rural vs. urban regions have different rules. Previously, you could get an exception to one-child if your first was a daughter. And non-Chinese officially recognized minorities have additional children limits, due to affirmative action.

18. axiomsofdominion says:

https://dynamicdemocracy.net/2018/02/11/what-is-and-can-go-right-not-what-is-going-and-went-wrong-lessons-for-insurgent-campaigning/ This post describes a strategy for campaigning as well as one example of the strategy and the potential cumulative effects. I’m curious if people agree with either of the halves of the article. The second one may be more interesting to this community given the nature of the claims made. I did speak to a relevant policy expert on Twitter regarding the federal jobs aspect but he had little comment on the secondary effects regarding culture, social cohesion, and high trust societies.

19. anonymousskimmer says:

Do Irish people use the phrase “beyond the pale”, and if they do, does it mean the same as in other english speaking lands?

• axiomsofdominion says:

Luckily we have our resident irish person to answer this. I am curious as well. Perhaps it stands for a glorious utopia beyond the laws of Little England.

• Deiseach says:

Given that the “Pale” referred to in “beyond the pale” is this one, yes we do 🙂

• Matthew S. says:

Welp, I’ve learned something today. Not being particularly familiar with Ireland, but being very familiar with Ashkenazi history, I had always assumed that it was a reference to this Pale.

• They use it with reference to the same historical institution, but do they use it with the same meaning?

Here’s an online definition:

outside the bounds of acceptable behavior.

That only makes sense on the assumption that the parts of Ireland that were not under effective English rule–which at the time was most of them–were uncivilized. I wouldn’t expect modern Irish to share that assumption.

• anonymousskimmer says:

After reading the comments here it suddenly occurred to me that a pale (line of fence posts) has two sides. And that the Irish could use “beyond the pale” as referring to the English side of those fence posts. The English were obviously uncivilized at that time.

• Mitch Lindgren says:

Why wouldn’t they?

• quaelegit says:

Because language is weird. Why do English people refer to the back of the car as the “boot” while Americans say “trunk”?

And apparently in beyond the pale “the Pale” refers to a specific place in Ireland? So history and politics could play into it… although it’s also possible that the idiom is sufficiently it’s own thing that’s its been adopted in Ireland on its own.

[Edit: ninja’d by Deiseach above]

• Nornagest says:

Americans say “trunk” because early cars had a literal luggage trunk bolted to the back of the vehicle or placed on a specially designed shelf. “Boot” was originally used to describe outside areas on horse-drawn coaches where people (usually attendants) could ride, and which eventually developed into storage spaces, but I don’t know how that word came about. (Google suggests that coachmen rode on a “boot locker” containing literal boots, but that smells a little too pat to me.)

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Really? Because I thought it would smell like feet, not pat.

• Lillian says:

The reason why the English call it the boot seems pretty obvious to me given they call the front the bonnet. What do you wear on your feet? What do you wear on your head? Boots and bonnets.

• quaelegit says:

Heh, my question was rhetorical, but thank you for finding out and explaining! I actually was a bit curious, but not enough to look it up myself 😛

The rhetorical point was that etymology can be good at explaining the “how” of language change but often not the “why” — but that’s kindof beside the point b/c it seems anonymousskimmer actually had a hypothetical “why” and was working from that.

@Lilian — I’d forgotten about the bonnet! Are there any other car-parts that get named after clothing in a corresponding way? (So not like the literal belt that’s part of the drive system.)

• Incurian says:

Brake shoe? Headlights are a reverse example.

• quaelegit says:

@incurian — hadn’t heard of brake shoes before, thanks!

• John Schilling says:

In American English at least, “Beyond the Pale” means (archaic) the part of Ireland not ruled by the English, and (colloquial) that which is so unseemly and improper as to not be spoken of in polite society.

There are a number of ways that this apparent equivalence could be interpreted, or misinterpreted, from the perspective of the Republic of Ireland.

• Nancy Lebovitz says:

I’m surprised that “beyond the pale” is generally assumed to be about Ireland. I always assumed it was about Jews and Russia, and I’d never heard about the connection to Ireland.

• Incurian says:

Because of their skin tone, pale may have a more positive valence.

https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2012/12/beyond-the-pale.html

As for the relationship between the two expressions, the OED has this to say:

“The theory that the origin of the phrase [‘beyond the pale’] relates to any of several specific regions, such as the area of Ireland formerly called the Pale … or the Pale of Settlement in Russia … is not supported by the early historical evidence and is likely to be a later rationalization.”

• anonymousskimmer says:

Thanks for the info.

I’d assume that later rationalizations still have an impact on contemporary word usage, especially if that later rationalization is the cause of the popularizing of a particular word or phrase invented earlier.

20. axiomsofdominion says:

What are everyone’s thoughts on FiscalNote and Quorum?

https://fiscalnote.com/

https://www.quorum.us/

Two more chips out of the wall of safety from automation in my mind.

• fr8train_ssc says:

Either is good. The main issue though, is not necessarily what the public will prefer, but just getting (The American) governments/legislatures (At least) off using DOORS and that a more modern transparent database for most day-to-day functioning is in their interest.

A thought exercise I’ve been posting to libertarian groups lately: You live in an alternate reality where, instead of Republicans and Democrats, the American political landscape was divided between the two political parties described below. Both of these parties combine some elements of modern conservatism and modern liberalism, but not in a particularly libertarian way, and they’re very anti-libertarian in some regards. Assuming that you *have* to support one of them (voting is legally required in this world, and third parties don’t exist), which would you choose?

Populist Party: Combines Trump-style right-populism with Bernie-style left-populism. Protectionist (supports high tariffs and subsidies for American companies that employ American workers), isolationist (anti-war, wants to pull out of foreign conflicts and greatly defund the military, wants to pull out of trade organizations and agreements like NAFTA and the TPP), anti-immigration (wants to deport all illegal immigrants and make it harder for them to get in, and greatly reduce legal immigration, especially from ‘dangerous’ countries), pro-welfare but only for “real Americans” (supports universal healthcare and guaranteed basic income, but only for natural-born American citizens), strongly favors a states’ rights approach to social issues (e.g. abortion, LGBT issues, drug policies), supports some restrictions on free speech to prevent the spread of “anti-American” sentiments (e.g. criminalizing flag burning, regulating mass media that challenges traditional American/Christian values, monitoring people who support Marxist or Islamist ideologies).

Globalist Party: Combines Republican-style neoconservatism with Democrat-style neoliberalism. Favors free trade (low tariffs, no tax penalties for companies that outsource work to other countries, heavy involvement in trade organizations/agreements like NAFTA and the TPP), supports heavy military spending, encourages frequent military interventionism for the sake of “promoting democracy” and securing American interests, pro-immigration (wants to make it easier for people to immigrate here legally and for illegal immigrants to become citizens), wants to cut funding to social safety net programs (e.g. welfare, social security, public healthcare), very socially liberal on women’s issues and LGBT Issues (pro-choice, supports gay marriage, etc.) but vehemently opposed to drug legalization, supports some restrictions on free speech and free association to prevent discrimination against marginalized groups (e.g. outlawing hate speech, preventing businesses from refusing to serve/hire people based on race or religion or sexual orientation).

• Bugmaster says:

I’m not a libertarian, but still: I find your question confusing. What’s the point of listing all those clauses ? I understand that you’re trying to present some dichotomies, e.g. between economic vs. social liberties, and between nationalism vs. globalism, but I’m not sure why you are confounding them together.

Also, I believe that a true libertarian would refuse to vote at all, and go live in the hills at the first opportunity. Being forced to vote for positions you disagree with goes against the very core of libertarian beliefs (ok, less so than taxation, but still).

What’s the point of listing all those clauses ? I understand that you’re trying to present some dichotomies, e.g. between economic vs. social liberties, and between nationalism vs. globalism, but I’m not sure why you are confounding them together.

Libertarians are widely seen as being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” and the Populist Party is meant to be the inverse of that. It’s also something that I’m honestly a little surprised doesn’t exist already, given how socially conservative people tend to be poor and would seemingly benefit from more left-wing economic policies, at least in the short term. We may be seeing the beginnings of such a movement now, given that a lot of modern conservatives seem to be moving toward the center on economic issues while simultaneously moving further right on social issues.

• John Schilling says:

Libertarians are widely seen as being “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” and the Populist Party is meant to be the inverse of that.

I don’t see the fiscal conservatism in either of your parties. One of them wants to spend lots of money on welfare and subsidies, one of them wants to spend lots of money on foreign wars, neither of them wants to raise income or other revenue-generating taxes. Can you guess what happens when these two parties sit across the table and negotiate a budget they can both agree to?

Hint: You’ve seen it in action recently. Also,

Assuming that you *have* to support one of them (voting is legally required in this world, and third parties don’t exist), which would you choose?

The ruling party of the country most likely to fire thermonuclear missiles at the capital of the one you posit?

OK, that’s a bit harsh, particularly given that you’ve pretty much guaranteed the country will destroy itself in the long run. But mandatory voting is an abomination that ought to be seen only in communist hellholes; AFIK the only respectable nation that actually enforces such a mandate is Australia, and they at least let you turn in a spoiled ballot if you’re not satisfied with any of their dozen formally represented political parties.

• Aussie here, the days of us not understanding what all the fuss is about are certainly coming to a middle. Here its a policy supported by majority of aussies left or right.

• anonymousskimmer says:

I can’t answer this question unless I saw the policies in action.

• deluks917 says:

Based on the above information I would vote for the anti-war/anti-intervention party. However it would be useful to know how things work in practice (for example Republican Presidential candidates claim to want to lower the deficit but they usually raise it substantially more than Democratic Presidents. It seems the deficit may climb again under Trump).

George W. Bush promised “no nation building” when he was running in 2000 and I was really looking forward to that after chaffing at Clinton’s interventionism in the Balkans.

• hyperboloid says:

chaffing at Clinton’s interventionism in the Balkans.

Why?

Bosnia, and Kosovo seem to be the best possible outcomes for US intervention. We stopped a pretty odious regime from slaughtering a lot of people, and headed off what was likely to turn into a very serious Jihadist insurgency. All in all, an easy nearly zero cost win for the good guys.

Don’t care? Not world’s police.

• John Schilling says:

…and headed off what was likely to turn into a very serious Jihadist insurgency.

I’d wager that insurgency would have been crushed into something of minor and local significance if NATO had stayed out of it, left the Serbs and their Russian allies to deal with it.

As you say, we did a great deal of local good at low cost on that occasion. But we also set the precedent that Europe can effectively decide to start wars that the US has to fight. That didn’t work nearly so well in e.g. Libya, and I’m not sure we’re done with it yet.

• quanta413 says:

The first party, if I think it really won’t engage in scads of foreign wars or initiate arms races. On almost every other topic you listed, I find the second party’s position better or at least only equally bad. But the military issues are that important.

In practice, I might end up changing my mind about how bad foreign interventions are if after observing a U.S. that stayed disengaged for ~15-20 years it turned out world order obviously collapsed and clearly wouldn’t have if the U.S. kept engaging in wars. But I find that pretty implausible. And even then I’m not sure. I’m not a utilitarian.

Also in practice, I don’t expect to see a serious militarily isolationist party in power in the U.S. during the next 20 years probably much longer.

• anonymousskimmer says:

For those saying anti-war: Is this because of the benefit to those in other lands, or the benefit to the US people?

I was considering the pro-immigration one as more likely to have reciprocal treaties making it easy for me to emigrate to a better country, and contrasting this to the anti-way party as better for others and maybe I should take the hit to the personal freedoms I care most about out of duty to the greater good.

• ilikekittycat says:

Both/I don’t really see how you separate them?

I spent time in Berlin during the Bush administration, and being in college at the time, I expected all the tips about travelling to Europe to be true, having to pretend you are a Canadian, all the scorn, barely acknowledged by service workers who think you are a fat hamburger, etc.

What I found when I got there, even as I was hanging out with far left art studio kids? They hated Bush, but had a far less cynical view of Americans than I did. John F Kennedy might as well have given the “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech the year before for how much they genuinely believed America was a force for good, with good people, who sometimes ended up with idiots in charge.

American hard power sometimes works for us, but frequently blows up in our face. American diplomacy/persuasion/culture is a 10x better weapon at making people like us and want to be like us, and benefit our status. I am flabbergasted every time I think about how it took America 10 years to go from “Wow, we brought down the Iron Curtain with soft power and finally achieved the impossible” to “actors in international relations respond to only two things: economic incentives and force”

• SamChevre says:

For me, both. My father (Vietnam draftee veteran, very much an ex-hippie) commented after 9-11 “we’ve done so much to so many–why are we surprised if when someone does something to us.” Leaving other people alone is better for them and for us.

• The Nybbler says:

How do these parties feel about suicide? Because with those choices, I think it’s an option I would want to keep open.

They’re both terrible on free speech, obviously. Which is worse depends on implementation details; both “hate speech” and “challenges traditional American/Christian values” can be blank checks.

The Populists win on social issues, mostly because of drug legalization (though the culture war shows us that being liberal on women’s issues and LGBT issues can be very anti-liberty also).

The Globalists are a clear win on economic issues, except for the military spending.

For the military, I think the Populist stance is probably not tenable. The US still has enemies. The Globalists are far too hawkish, but better to have an empire than to be weak.

So I’d go for the Globalists. Especially if they’ll let me keep my .45 just in case. With the caveat that I’m not sure either party has a consistent position as you’ve described it. For instance, in the real world, public healthcare is often claimed to be part of “women’s issues”.

• SamChevre says:

I’d choose the “Populist Party” without even having to think hard. Less military-based global policing/bullying, states rights on the key social issues, and freedom of association are central for me.

Just freedom of association might be enough.

• Fahundo says:

Where are you getting freedom of association from the populist party? They explicitly monitor and suppress groups that are seen as anti-American.

• SamChevre says:

I see the options as posed as Populist “supports some restrictions on free speech” while Globalist “supports some restrictions on free speech and free association“.

I’m assuming that “monitor people in anti-American groups” means similar monitoring as pro-contraception groups faced under the Comstock Acts or tobacco sellers face today under PACT.

• Matt C says:

Congratulations on an imaginary society where your political choices are just as unappealing as they are in the real world. Very believable!

I honestly don’t know which of these I’d pick. How big is the Globalist war machine? How actually-effective is the Populist federalism? The other guy said you’d need more context. I agree with that.

Absent context, I’ll take a position of always voting against the incumbents (if that’s allowed).

• Nick says:

Congratulations on an imaginary society where your political choices are just as unappealing as they are in the real world. Very believable!

Seconded. 😀

I think between the two of them I could stomach voting for the Populist party, though. Especially if the states’ rights were given a fair amount of latitude, or if there were principled populists who don’t care much for banning “anti-American” speech.

• ilikekittycat says:

I’m not a libertarian anymore, but my answer from when I was would be the same as it is now, the Populists, easily. Imperialism is the #1 problem with the United States, and one that doesn’t respond to the populace’s desires to curtail it, and it has been that way since Eisenhower. All the things about free speech and liberal social rights I don’t like I’m fairly certain would be addressed over time by protests and voting, or in the worst case, just waiting for the older generation to die, but military adventures and military Keynesianism are the lodestone around our neck dragging us down that We the People seem to have no power to dispute whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge. Even Bernie Sanders, who is played up as an impossibly idealistic leftie, supported Kosovo and Afghanistan and said he would use drone strikes in our war on terror if elected

22. DunnoWhatToDo says:

My best bud has a birthday this weekend. I don’t know the other people there; what are some good strategies for establishing a social connection with the people there?

• Bugmaster says:

If you’re like me, stand in the corner and sip out of your red plastic cup dejectedly.

But you could also ask your bud to introduce you to some people, if lurking is not your style…

• Anonymous says:

1. Approach random stranger.
2. “Hello! I’m Jimbob, Bud’s friend.”
3. Smalltalk from there.
4. Go to 1.

• Bugmaster says:

I don’t think you fully appreciate how difficult point #3 is for some people. Myself included.

• Anonymous says:

What exactly are you having trouble with concerning smalltalk?

• phil says:

On Marginal Revolution Tyler Cowan has made a couple of references to trying to organize knowledge according to place, with one of the benefits being that nearly anyone you come across can teach you something about the places they’ve been, so that makes for good small talk fodder ( see #5 http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/01/tyler-cowens-12-rules-life.html and #2 http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2018/02/advantages-organizing-knowledge-terms-country-place.html)

Personally I find ‘So have you seen any interesting movies lately?’ to be a good neutral conversation starter that works across a large cross section of the population (it has a lot of natural follow up questions, you can ask them to describe the movie to you if you’re not familiar with it, you can segue to topics that seem related to the plot of the movie, of similar movies, or other movies in the general genre, it gives you a fair amount of conversational optionality.

I find small talk hard as well though.

• Parfay says:

Huh. This breakdown makes me realize it’s #1 and #2 I find abjectly terrifying, the actual conversation is usually fine.

Here’s my smalltalk advice, for what it’s worth:

-To me, most of the purpose of smalltalk is to find your way to a topic both people find interesting. Seemingly mundane talk about the weather or such can get you there, it’s a game where each question or answer has some chance of giving you a clue about something you have in common or something that would be fun to discuss in more detail. Some kinds of questions have a higher information return than others but generally if you can keep it moving and express interest, you can often make your way there.

-Sometimes I can’t tell if someone who’s not picking up conversational openings really doesn’t want to talk to me and is trying to end the conversation, or if they are just “bad at smalltalk.” If I had a way of knowing they did want to talk to me but were just having a hard time with conversation flow, I wouldn’t mind working a bit harder at keeping it going. So expressing enthusiasm/interest even if you don’t know what to say next is helpful.

FORM. Family Occupation Recreation Motivation. Follow up the FOR questions with an M question, because those are open-ended and can get people to ramble on.

“Where is your family from?” “Oh, why did you want to move here/there?”

“What do you do for a living?” “Oh, why did you want to get into that?”

“What do you do for fun?” “Oh that’s neat, how did you get started with that?”

At some people they should mention something you have in common and can jump off from there. If you get through a dozen of these questions and don’t have anything in common, well maybe it wasn’t meant to be and you should try somebody else.

• James says:

if we’re really doing smalltalk for Absolute Beginners, then some more good stock lines are:

“So, how do you know [mutual friend]?” or “So, who do you know here?” (then ramble about their connection, or mention how you know them, and ramble about that)
“What part of [city] do you live in?” (then ramble about that area, what’s good about it, what’s bad about it, how it compares to other areas)
“What do you do?” (then–you guessed it–ramble on that topic for a bit)

(edit: beaten by Aapje on some of these)

Spending most of the conversation asking questions is kinda like easy mode: it probably won’t make you seem unusually interesting or charming, but it probably won’t bore people or (worse) make them think you’re a boor, either. (Easy mode isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s what your socials skills levels are at.)

Some people use ‘deep’ questions to bypass smalltalk and try to jump straight to forging a deep connection. (A few weeks ago someone I just met asked me what I’m most afraid of, for instance.) Some people can pull this sort of thing off but I wouldn’t suggest it to someone who’s socially unsure of themselves.

• Aapje says:

@DunnoWhatToDo

The easy part is that, unlike with long term acquaintances, you have lots to discover about each other.

The hard part that you and they may not like what they discover and so information management (what to divulge and what to ask) is not so easy.

So my first advice is to analyze the ‘opposition.’ Your first clue is that these people like your friend, which suggests that they are in some way like him. So topics that you like to talk about with your friend may be productive. However, keep in mind that other people may not like your friend for why you like your friend & they may interact with him differently than you.

So what you can do is analyze your friend (both his traits that you like and don’t you don’t particularly like). Then at the party you can try to categorize people, based on this information. Then you may be able to determine topics that are likely to be productive (for example, based on physique and/or dress, you may be able to identify the people who do sports with your friend). The optimal outcome is to find a topic that is mutually interesting, but if you want to sacrifice your personal enjoyment to make yourself be liked, you can find a topic that only the other person likes. This can be a very good strategy for people who have trouble with social contact. Many people are very willing to talk your ears off about their favorite topic with minimal prodding.

A bit of research into interesting tidbits about topics that your analysis indicates would find an audience, can enable you to (re)start conversations by means of anecdote (‘Have you heard about…’).

A simpler strategy that is generically useful, even no prior analysis/information, is to ask about ‘default’ topics, like:
– What do you do?
– Where do you know my friend from?
– Were you born here? (may not be an appropriate question for some crowds)

Of course, the trick is then to ‘riff’ off the responses, which is non-trivial.

• fion says:

I think this is pretty good advice. With regard to ‘riffing’ off the responses, a strategy I find effective is to concentrate on asking things, and not worrying about whether or not I’m saying much. Most people like talking about themselves. Of course, thinking of questions is still non-trivial.

A little bit of nodding/smiling/”oh yeah?”/laughing/”sure”/etc. depending on the tone of what they’re talking about goes a long way in keeping them talking.

And if you can, try to actually be interested in them/what they’re talking about! That way you don’t have to act. 😛

• Bugmaster says:

Don’t get me wrong, it is good advice, but executing correctly on it is still difficult (unless you’ve been blessed with extraversion from birth). When executed incorrectly, this protocol can easily turn into an interrogation, which can make people instantly hate you.

• andrewflicker says:

You’d be surprised- most people love talking about themselves, so even if you end up asking the questions interrogation-style, it’s rarely a faux pas.

• liskantope says:

I find in these situations that asking “So how do you know [the birthday boy]?” is a pretty good icebreaker. After all a priori the only thing you have in common is knowing him, and conversation can start from discussing how you came to know him and/or what your impressions about him are.

• Ketil says:

Explain the situation to your friend, and ask if he could introduce you to people – e.g. someone you have a shared interest with. It’s what a host is supposed to do anyway, IMO.

• AG says:

Second this. I visited a family member for a holiday they were spending with a friend’s family. They introduced me to the one other person at the gathering that was into geeky topics.
Otherwise, I spent a good amount of time petting the family dog and shamelessly using that as my conversation springboard for anyone who came by. Since it was a potluck situation, praising the food/cooks was also a good springboard.

• veeloxtrox says:

General small talk tip: People like talking about themselves, let them. If you are lucky they mention something you are interested in and you go from there, if not… idk

• AG says:

My trick to smalltalk is piggybacking. I let the extroverts of the group start the conversations. Then, I lurk and eavesdrop on the various groups until I find one that I can contribute to, and then just jump in with said contribution. Usually people won’t side-eye the jumping in, unless it’s a very personal-gossip topic, in which case I probably won’t have anything to contribute, anyways. Often I can get knee-deep into discussion this way, without ever learning anyone’s names or introducing myself.

Given that your party is this weekend, the Olympics will be topical and interesting from any variety of talking angles. Ask if they’re following the games, and if so which sport, and then voila. If they’re not following the games, then you can ask what they’re following in lieu of the games, and then voila.

23. Deiseach says:

And for those of us who for whatever reason don’t date/experience sexual or romantic attraction, Happy Ss Cyril and Methodius Day on February 14th!

Also a reminder that this year, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, so no pigging out on chocolate and romantic dinners when you should be fasting and abstaining, you heathens. But! Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday, and you all know what that means –

PANCAKE TUESDAY! 😀

• Bugmaster says:

Oh wow, I had no idea. Saints Cyril and Methodius are pretty much the only saints that I can unequivocally respect (granted, there may be lots of saints I just don’t know about). They were canonized not for getting martyred, or for advancing their version of religious dogma, or for conquering territory; but for essentially uplifting an entire people into full sapience. Few individuals throughout history have that honor.

• Anonymous says:

I don’t think literacy has anything to do with sapience.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Yeah, I didn’t think Cyril and Methodius were the patron saints of talking animals…

• Bugmaster says:

I disagree. The ability to durably accumulate information in places other than your brain is one of the things that separates humans from animals (though, admittedly, not the only thing).

• Winter Shaker says:

Well, into full literacy, at least 🙂
But the cool / weird factoid that is not so well known is that the alphabet that they invented is cool and complicated, with lots of little loops, but is not used today. When later scholars devised a simpler, largely Greek-based script for the Old Church Slavonic language, they named it in honour of Cyril, with the odd effect that he is an actual inventor-of-an-alphabet who is today best ‘known’ as the inventor of a particular alphabet he probably didn’t actually invent.

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

I promise I will try to eat fish instead of meat on Friday. I’m not particularly good at this “Catholicism” thing :/

Chicago is a heavily Polish city, so tomorrow is Pazcki Day. Company brings in pazckis for us. Really looking forward to that!

• Anonymous says:

>pazcki

Swap the c and z. Paczki (boxes). Pączki (donuts). Pronunciation approximation: pohn-chkee.

• AlphaGamma says:

Also there’s the common US-English-speaker issue of assuming that a foreign plural is the singular and adding an -s to the end. “Pierogies” is fairly common and sometimes simplified further to “perogies”, and I’ve also heard “gnocchis”.

I did once see the reverse (in a video game which should have known better)- the writers assumed that the Russian word strelets, referring to a type of early modern infantry soldier, was plural and invented the nonsense singular “strelet”.

• Sniffnoy says:

Oh yeah, that’s a known phenomenon. See e.g. the etymologies of “cherry” and “pea”.

• Igon Value says:

There are many related hyper-corrections of the same type, from people who know enough Latin to form the following plurals, but not enough to realize they are all erroneous: agendae, virii, octopi (from Greek), operae, etc.

Drives me nuts.

• Nick says:

agendae

I always used to ask my Latin teacher when our daily agenda was looking sparse, “Is it really an agenda if there’s only one thing to be done?”

I used to jokingly hypercorrect sometimes just to throw people off.

• quaelegit says:

@Igon Value — Do you remember the context of ‘virii’? I’m wondering how one makes that mistake…

Anyone know if Americans are particularly prone to make this pluralization mistake, compared to other native English speakers?

You used to see virii all the time on slashdot with an inevitable follow up post involving a discussion on declensions. Haven’t seen in much in the past decade and half or so.

• Winter Shaker says:
• No signal says:

I think pączki are not homeomorphic to donuts, are they?

• quaelegit says:

Depends on the donut.

In preparation, ingredients, and eating they are pretty similar I think. [Edit: and that seems more important than topology in conveying the meaning of pączki.]

• Lambert says:

Great. Now I’m craving fried Klein bottles.

• skef says:

“Crispy on the outside, chewy on the … uh … well”

• AG says:

You’ll just have to settle for a mobius bagel. You could mobius-slice a donut, too, but I don’t know what purpose that would serve.

• gbdub says:

Traditional Paczki are richer and denser than typical yeast donuts. A good paczek should be heavier, darker, and a bit crisper on the outside than a Berliner.

They tend to have more egg and fat in the dough, plus a bit of grain alcohol that keeps the oil from penetrating quite as deep. The idea was they’d have a lot of everything you weren’t supposed to eat during Lent, to use it up.

But that’s just like my opinion, man – this is one of those things where everyone’s grandma has a slightly different recipe so there’s no “right” answer. They are special donuts, but they are still donuts.

• SamChevre says:

They are somewhat homeomorphic to jelly doughnuts, but the dough part is as good as the jelly part.

They are a yeasted dough, so not that sweet–and the jam filling is most commonly prune/plum or rose jam (sometimes it is made with both rose hips and rose petals/rosewater, sometimes just one or the other.) I brought prune, rose, and apricot from the local Polish hole-in-the-wall bakery.

Imagine a really good jelly doughnut, with relatively little filling. (I’d say a pączki the size of a flattened tennis ball has maybe 2 tablespoons of jam.)

• A Definite Beta Guy says:

My mistake.

Regardless of spelling, I have 3 in my belly right now.

• Matt M says:

For a brief moment today, I was wondering about those black Xs on foreheads thinking “What is this – some sort of new straight edge thing for people being celibate on valentines day?” until I remembered this post…

24. Helaku says:

Pardon, maybe I’m stupid but how exactly https://www.reciprocity.io/ works? I mean I’ve logined there. There is a button saying “Submit selections” but I cannot select anything (I don’t even see from what I can select in the first place). Does it mean that I cannot select because of absence of my friends on reciprocity.io? What am I doing wrong? Or is it something wrong with a browser? I’ve tried even IE though.

• aldel says:

I had that problem for a long time. It just means none of your Facebook friends are on Reciprocity. The UI is terrible in that case. If you have friends there it makes a lot more sense.

I still have only one friend on Reciprocity (even though I have quite a few friends who read SSC). Makes it not very useful to me.

25. Aapje says:

In an OT in the past, we discussed whether Bill C-16, which adds gender identity and expression to the Canadian Human Rights code, could be used to suppress (supposedly) trans-critical speech or such.

Back then we didn’t discuss a case that Peterson points at as evidence, which I’ve recently become aware of, which is the Lindsay Shepherd case (I was aware of the case before, but not of the C-16 link). In her class, teaching assistant and grad student Lindsay Shepherd showed a Jordan Peterson clip that was earlier shown on Canadian public television.

She was subsequently invited to a meeting with 3 people:
– two professors, one of which was her supervisor
– an acting manager for ‘Gendered Violence Prevention and Support’

She was admonished in the meeting for showing the clip and partway through the meeting, decided to tape it. The full transcript of what she taped is here. The relevant part to C-16:

Supervising Professor (SP): So the thing is about this, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating. These arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code, and I know you talked about C-16. Ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression. So bringing something like that up in class, not critically, and I understand that you’re trying to-

Shepherd: It was critical. I introduced it critically.

SP: Howso?

Shepherd: Like I said, it was in the spirit of debate.

SP: Okay, “In the spirit of debate” is slightly different than “This is a problematic idea that maybe we want to unpack”

Shepherd: But that’s taking sides.

SP: Yes.

So the demand was that teachers may only use such clips, if they declare that they are wrong and explain their wrongness, instead of allowing students to come up with arguments in favor and against & then to come to their own conclusions. So this means that they want to disallow Peterson’s point of view from being advocated for in the classroom, by students.

Furthermore, given the reason that was given, one can assume that this point of view would also not be acceptable outside of the classroom, in places where college authorities have power to decide what is unacceptable. After all, the claim was that the point of view is “counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code” and that the viewpoint is “targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression.”

So I think that we can then conclude that this case was an example where at a college, people in a position of power compared to students/teaching assistants, attempted to stifle free speech using Bill C-16.

However, this of course does not mean that their interpretation will be upheld by the courts, nor that the entire university supports this reading, especially since one of these professors from the meeting (was probably forced to) write a letter of apology. This suggests that the university as a whole does not support this interpretation. However, it does suggest that this interpretation has non-trivial support at this college (after all, 2 professors and an acting manager supported this interpretation). Given Cthulhu, one can see why some people, like Peterson, may worry that more and more people will interpret the law this way, perhaps including judges.

In the US, we see that Title IX, which seems totally benign if one reads the law, has resulted in Title IX panels. These are outside of the judicial system, resulting in people being tried by people without legal training, resulting in trials with absurd rules that often withhold important rights from the accused (and sometimes also from the accuser). When convicted people appeal to the (real) courts, they seem to often get a verdict in their favor, suggesting that some/many colleges over-interpret the law. However, I see no evidence that a correction is happening at universities, to act more in line with the judicial interpretation.

Furthermore, even if students get a judicial verdict in their favor, this generally merely means that they get monetary compensation, while their education has still been severely disrupted, at an age where such disruption may be very damaging. Students may also not always have the cultural baggage or means to fight back, especially since Title IX cases seem to target minorities very disproportionately. So many people may continue to be harmed, especially when reasonable improvements are resisted due to culture war reasons.

So I would argue that it is equally possible for colleges or other places where certain ideologies are common to wield power against those in a weaker position, based on C-16 type laws, even in the absence of judicial support for an interpretation of Title IX that bans such things as:
– Not using a pronoun that a person wants to be used
– Arguing that two genders exist, which have somewhat different biological properties on the group level
– Arguing that people who don’t fit in a gender binary are abnormal relative to normal human development
– Being critical whether certain trans identities are ‘real’
– Arguing in favor of Blanchard’s transsexualism typology

I fail to see the problem. It’s perfectly fine for universities to take sides, and prohibiting teachers from expressing certain points of view (e.g. that a particular race is inherently superior or inferior) is well within their rights. Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from the consequences of that speech, such as getting reprimanded or fired, nor does it entail a positive right to a public platform (and certainly not one with official institutional backing like a university podium). As long as people aren’t getting sued or going to jail for expressing offensive opinions (or otherwise being punished by the government, or by extra-governmental entities using violence or the threat thereof), then the libertarian principle of free speech is not being violated.

Now, you could argue that even if universities could prohibit their employees from expressing certain views, that doesn’t mean they should. But I would argue that the entire purpose of universities is to teach facts that – to the best of the modern academic establishment’s collective knowledge – are empirically correct, and thus preventing their representatives from spreading misinformation is exactly what they should do. If there was a university that allowed science professors to teach young Earth creationism and hard climate change denialism, then I wouldn’t consider it to be performing its function well. (And yes, I consider Blanchardism to be just as empirically wrong as creationism and climate change denialism, just like I consider “trans people’s gender identities aren’t valid” to be as offensive and inaccurate as “non-whites are physically and mentally inferior to whites.” If you disagree with me on those points, then at least you can start engaging me about those object-level issues instead of making this about free speech.)

And as for the pronoun issue, people like Peterson make it sound trivial, but the fact is that deliberately misgendering someone on a frequent and consistent basis amounts to harassment. They like to argue that trans people shouldn’t be so sensitive, but cis people would consider it harassment too, and that’s obvious if you actually stop to consider the scenario. If someone kept insisting that one of their cis male co-workers was a woman, and exclusively referred to them by female pronouns, that would be seen as extremely rude and unprofessional behavior, and could easily get that person fired if they continued to do it. But since the gender identities of trans people aren’t seen as valid, the same behavior is somehow considered more acceptable when aimed at them, at least in the eyes of people like Peterson.

• The original Mr. X says:

If you disagree with me on those points, then at least you can start engaging me about those object-level issues instead of making this about free speech.

I’d love to, but my university would fire me for hate speech.

Then it’s a good thing the SSC forums aren’t your university.

No one is saying that all discussion of this topic should be completely banned. I was saying that universities should not endorse something like Blanchardism as the correct theory or even as a possible correct theory, not just because it’s offensive, but also because it’s just plain wrong (at least according to the vast majority of the modern scientific and medical establishment). It’s the same reason that universities shouldn’t endorse creationism as correct or possibly correct.

So yes, I would be fine with a professor getting reprimanded or fired if he proposed “trans women are all just either repressed gay men or autogynephiles” as a valid theory (or worse, the only valid theory) of transgenderism. Professors should only teach Blanchardism in the context of being an obsolete and discredited worldview, in the same way that they should only teach flat Earth theory in the context of being an obsolete and discredited view.

Now, I don’t think a student should get in trouble just for bringing it up those ideas in class, since students aren’t acting as official representatives of the university’s views and should have more freedom than professors to question the academic establishment. But I would expect a psychology student’s grade to suffer if he continually insisted that Blanchardism was correct in class discussions and on tests/essays, just like I would expect a geography student’s grade to suffer if he continually insisted that the Earth was flat.

• The original Mr. X says:

Does anybody actually think that professors act as “official representatives of the university’s views”? Usually having a range of opinions in the faculty is considered a good thing, so unless the university’s official views are schizophrenic, I don’t think you can say “This professor endorses X, therefore the university endorses X”.

So yes, I would be fine with a professor getting reprimanded or fired if he proposed “trans women are all just either repressed gay men or autogynephiles” as a valid theory (or worse, the only valid theory) of transgenderism. Professors should only teach Blanchardism in the context of being an obsolete and discredited worldview, in the same way that they should only teach flat Earth theory in the context of being an obsolete and discredited view.

That is an extremely inaccurate presentation of “Blanchardism”. Maybe Blanchard’s terminology for type 1 (“homosexual transsexuals”) may be misleading, but not only don’t Blanchard & Bailey say that type 1 transwomen are repressed homosexuals, but Bailey is closer to saying that homosexuals are repressed type 1 transwomen. He says in his book (and there are many studies that say the same) that most of the feminine little boys become gays, not trans, as adults, and that some gays were feminine in childhood, but as adults they are embarrassed by remembering that, because femininity is perceived as unattractive by the other gays.

Far from “Blanchardism” being “an obsolete and discredited worldview”, an important part of Blanchard’s theory was repeatedly confirmed by research: Blanchard’s hypothesis about the fraternal birth order effect on gays – that the more older brothers a man has, the more chances he has to be gay (or type 1 MTF trans):

Fraternal Birth Order, Family Size, and Male Homosexuality: Meta-Analysis of Studies Spanning 25 Years

Meta-analyses were conducted on 30 homosexual and 30 heterosexual groups from 26 studies, totaling 7140 homosexual and 12,837 heterosexual males. […] The Older Brothers Odds Ratio was significantly >1.00 in 20 instances, >1.00 although not significantly in nine instances, and nonsignificantly <1.00 in 1 instance. The pooled Older Brothers Odds Ratio for all samples was 1.47, p < .00001.

The third finding was that the FBOE occurs in different cultures and in widely separated geographic regions. The FBOE has been demonstrated in Brazil (VanderLaan et al., 2016), Canada (Blanchard & Bogaert, 1996b), Iran (Khorashad et al., 2017), Italy (Camperio-Ciani, Corna, & Capiluppi, 2004), The Netherlands (Schagen, Delemarre-van de Waal, Blanchard, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2012), Independent Samoa (VanderLaan & Vasey, 2011), Spain (Gómez-Gil et al., 2011), Turkey (Bozkurt, Bozkurt, & Sonmez, 2015), the UK (King et al., 2005), and the U.S. (Schwartz, Kim, Kolundzija, Rieger, & Sanders, 2010).

Male homosexuality and maternal immune responsivity to the Y-linked protein NLGN4Y

Plasma from mothers of sons, about half of whom had a gay son, along with additional controls (women with no sons, men) was analyzed for male protein-specific antibodies. Results indicated women had significantly higher anti-NLGN4Y levels than men. In addition, after statistically controlling for number of pregnancies, mothers of gay sons, particularly those with older brothers, had significantly higher anti-NLGN4Y levels than did the control samples of women, including mothers of heterosexual sons. The results suggest an association between a maternal immune response to NLGN4Y and subsequent sexual orientation in male offspring.

• albatross11 says:

How would we determine whether Blanchardism was right or wrong? What evidence would prove his theories wrong in a convincing way, and do we have that evidence?

• I was saying that universities should not endorse something like Blanchardism as the correct theory or even as a possible correct theory, not just because it’s offensive, but also because it’s just plain wrong (at least according to the vast majority of the modern scientific and medical establishment).

I know nothing about Blanchardism beyond what I can deduce from the discussion here, but I am curious as to the basis for your confidence. Are you a professional in one of the relevant fields? Have you made an effort to find and argue with intelligent supporters of Blanchard’s views and found that you are familiar with all of their arguments and what is wrong with them, while they have obviously never seen your arguments or the evidence you offer?

In part, my reaction to the confidence of your statement reflects my experiences long ago in another field. When I was an undergraduate at Harvard another undergraduate commented that he couldn’t take an economics course at Chicago because he would burst out laughing. That attitude, by a student who had been exposed to one side of an academic controversy, is what your confidence reminded me of.

Within a decade or so, the Chicago view on some of the controversial issues, such as the meaning of the Phillips Curve, had become the orthodoxy. At this point, Chicago has accumulated more Nobel prizes in economics than any other university.

I note that your comment was followed by a response by someone arguing in some detail that you are mistaken. I await with interest your crushing rebuttal. Since Blanchardism is, according to you, not merely wrong but so clearly wrong that a professor ought to be punished for teaching that it might be right, it should be easy.

@a reader: The part of Blanchard’s work that I find the most objectionable is his concept of “autogynephilia” as an explanation for trans lesbians, and the psychiatric establishment has basically rejected that theory wholesale.* As a trans lesbian myself, I find the idea extremely dehumanizing (and no, reciting the litanies isn’t going to make me change my mind).

I also strongly dislike the fact that he refers to straight trans women as “homosexual transsexuals,” since it’s implicitly rejecting the idea that they’re actually women. But I’m willing to cut him some slack for that, given the time period that he was writing in.

Also, if all gay men are repressed trans women (which is not an interpretation of Blanchardism that I’ve ever heard before, but I’ll take your word on it), then why are there so many masculine gay men? Are they all just embarrassed of their femininity? Do they engage in sexual activity with other guys simply because they want to feel like women, rather than out of any genuine attraction? I find that all very unlikely. And what about cis lesbians, straight trans men, and gay trans men? How do they fit into the equation? Is “autoandrophilia” a thing too?

More to the point, regardless of which direction the causal chain goes, why does one’s sexual preferences have to be tied to their internal sense of gender identity in the first place? I’ve known plenty of cis homosexuals/bisexuals and plenty of trans people of every orientation, and that makes it very hard for me to believe that sexual orientation and gender identity exist on the same axis. If that was the case, wouldn’t at least some of those combinations not exist?

And yes, Blanchard was completely right about the fraternal birth order effect on cis male homosexuals. He’s also made a lot of valid contributions to the study of sexual paraphilias. Scientists can be correct or partly correct on some things and still be egregiously wrong on others. When I denounce Blanchardism or “Blanchard’s theories,” I’m referring to his ideas on trans people, most specifically his transgender typology (which he actually distanced himself from in his later years).

*The DSM-5 does mention autogynephilia, but it’s considered an isolated sexual paraphilia that’s unrelated to gender dysphoria.

@albatross11:

I don’t think that there is definitive evidence yet and I am not sure how such evidence could be obtained. Maybe by studying the brains – and also testing the psychological similarities/differences – of a large sample of both types of MTF transsexuals before starting taking hormones, compared with control groups of (cis) hetero and gay men and women?

There was a study about the brains of MTF trans before starting hormones, but it seems to have a conservative bias: they seemed to want to prove that MTF transgenders are men, so they restricted their sample to “gynephillic” MTF trans (that would be type 2 “autogynephiles” according to Blanchard&Bailey typology):

Sex Dimorphism of the Brain in Male-to-Female Transsexuals

Gender dysphoria is suggested to be a consequence of sex atypical cerebral differentiation. We tested this hypothesis in a magnetic resonance study of voxel-based morphometry and structural volumetry in 48 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW) and 24 gynephillic male to female transsexuals (MtF-TR). Specific interest was paid to gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) fraction, hemispheric asymmetry, and volumes of the hippocampus, thalamus, caudate, and putamen. Like HeM, MtF-TR displayed larger GM volumes than HeW in the cerebellum and lingual gyrus and smaller GM and WM volumes in the precentral gyrus. Both male groups had smaller hippocampal volumes than HeW. As in HeM, but not HeW, the right cerebral hemisphere and thalamus volume was in MtF-TR lager than the left. None of these measures differed between HeM and MtF-TR. MtF-TR displayed also singular features and differed from both control groups by having reduced thalamus and putamen volumes and elevated GM volumes in the right insular and inferior frontal cortex and an area covering the right angular gyrus.The present data do not support the notion that brains of MtF-TR are feminized. The observed changes in MtF-TR bring attention to the networks inferred in processing of body perception.

Of course “The present data do not support the notion that brains of MtF-TR are feminized.” if they exclude by design the ones whose brains are probably feminized – and the sample is small (24 trans) but anyway, this is the only study I know about the brains of the supposed type 2 “autogynephiles” without mixing them with type 1.

For the psychological traits, maybe some evidence can be found by analyzing Scott’s survey (the one from 2016 had an unexpectedly big sample of transsexuals).

• Winter Shaker says:

I get the impression that Peterson is not objecting to using a transgender person’s normal masculine or feminine pronouns, especially if they personally ask you to (i.e. referring to a female-presenting person as she/her and a male-presenting person as he/him) but to having it punishable by the government not to use whatever neologism a particular person wants used (ze, zer and things of that ilk).

And this particular case, as far as I can tell, was not about Shepherd being censured for expressing her point of view (in the sense of siding with Peterson in the debate clip she played – she says she didn’t) but rather for failing to take sides against him. Not sure if that makes a difference to your argument, but if Peterson’s argument was that Bill C16 would have a serious chilling effect on freedom of expression (afraid I’ve not actually watched the clip in question yet, and am not on a machine with sound right now), then I wouldn’t have thought that that could be reasonably compared to espousing creationism in a biology class.

He’s also made the argument elsewhere that he considers the law to be likely to do more harm than good to the gender-fluid / non-binary people it purports to protect, by making potential employers extremely wary of hiring them, if they could be held criminally liable if any of their employees inadvertently fail to use the correct neologism for the person in question. Again, you can argue that he’s overblowing things, but I don’t think you can reasonably claim that he is obviously, young-Earth creationist level wrong.

To clarify, I didn’t think Peterson’s views on this law were akin to creationism. I think the object-level idea that trans identities aren’t valid (i.e. that trans women are just delusional cis men and trans men are just delusional cis women) is akin to creationism. Over the past two decades, there’s been an enormous amount of hard scientific evidence confirming that trans people have noticeably different neural structures and hormone levels than cis people, to the point where gender dysphoria could basically be considered an intersex condition.

• Anonymous says:

Over the past two decades, there’s been an enormous amount of hard scientific evidence confirming that trans people have noticeably different neural structures and hormone levels than cis people, to the point where gender dysphoria could basically be considered an intersex condition.

That doesn’t mean that their condition should be encouraged, rather than treated and hopefully, someday, cured.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I am skeptical that the studies we have provide epistemic certainty that everyone who identifies as trans has biology-based gender dysphoria, because of experience with West coast male hipsters putting extremely little effort into passing and then hitting on women.

• Iain says:

That doesn’t mean that their condition should be encouraged, rather than treated and hopefully, someday, cured.

I think Scott’s response to this argument is definitive:

Imagine if we could give depressed people a much higher quality of life merely by giving them cheap natural hormones. I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist in the world who wouldn’t celebrate that as one of the biggest mental health advances in a generation. Imagine if we could ameliorate schizophrenia with one safe simple surgery, just snip snip you’re not schizophrenic anymore. Pretty sure that would win all of the Nobel prizes. Imagine that we could make a serious dent in bipolar disorder just by calling people different pronouns. I’m pretty sure the entire mental health field would join together in bludgeoning anybody who refused to do that. We would bludgeon them over the head with big books about the side effects of lithium.

Really, are you sure you want your opposition to accepting transgender people to be “I think it’s a mental disorder”?

• Matt M says:

But the surgery/hormone route is pretty radical, compared to other potential discoveries, is it not?

What if we could just give someone a pill that would cause them to “forget” they were trans and immediately be happy and content identifying with their biological sex?

How do you think people would react to such a discovery? Could anyone even get money to start research on such a thing?

• CatCube says:

@Iain

Scott’s response is definitive only if you already agreed with it. I, and I’ll bet everybody on my side, agrees that you shouldn’t misgender people. The issue our sides disagree on is which direction the “misgendering” arrow points.

I’m not going to use female pronouns for somebody born male. (Or vice versa) The farthest I’m willing to go is to compromise by avoiding the use of pronouns entirely. Having a doctor chop off your hoink and give you a counterfeit vagina doesn’t change the fundamental facts. I’m willing to feel bad for people so afflicted; I’m not willing to be browbeaten into dishonesty. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.”

I think we are all familiar with the very selective compulsion to never speak an untruth. Funny how that tic works.

“Here’s a picture of my new baby. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“No, actually she looks like an alien.”

Surely you aren’t willing to be browbeaten into dishonesty, right? Something, something the gulag! Four lights!

• The Nybbler says:

Having a doctor chop off your hoink and give you a counterfeit vagina doesn’t change the fundamental facts.

Suppose the technology improved to the point where you couldn’t tell without a genetic test that the person was “born male”? Would this change your feelings? Where does the fundamental fact lie?

• Over the past two decades, there’s been an enormous amount of hard scientific evidence confirming that trans people have noticeably different neural structures and hormone levels than cis people, to the point where gender dysphoria could basically be considered an intersex condition.

That may, for all I know, be true. But it doesn’t follow that someone who is biologically male and has gender dysphoria is really female, hence that anyone who thinks that person is male with dysphoria is objectively wrong, which seems to be what your argument requires.

@DavidFriedman: Even by a strict biological definition, sex is not purely defined by chromosomes or visible genitalia, it’s a classification that encompasses a lot of different traits (e.g. internal genitalia, secondary and tertiary sex characteristics, hormone levels, neural structures).

If gender dysphoria is indeed caused by endocrinological and neurological factors (and there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that it is), then someone who was assigned male at birth but feels gender dysphoria isn’t biologically male or biologically female, they’re biologically intersex. If someone has a Y chromosome and a penis, but they also have developed breasts and high estrogen levels and low testosterone levels and neural structures that resemble those of cis women more than cis men, then I wouldn’t consider them male by a strict definition of the term, and the medical community would agree that they should be classified as intersex.

It is, in fact, objectively wrong from a biological perspective to say that trans women are exactly the same as cis women. My point is that it’s also objectively wrong from a biological perspective to say that trans women are exactly the same as cis men.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@LadyJane: My working hypothesis is that some “transwomen” have intersex brains and other body parts, and some don’t. I think some biological males in areas of leftist hegemony are performing a role to get better treatment (“I’m not a cishet dude, I’m a lesbian! Look how I wear my hair (while making no other effort to pass!)”
I think there’s a very low rate of background gender dysphoria, 0.2% tops, and a society can increase gender-bending among females by being rigidly patriarchal or among males by being absurdly Blue.

@Le Maistre Chat: Sure, but who cares? Some people pretend to be disabled to get government benefits, but it would be ridiculous to use that as evidence that no one is really disabled, or to subject all disabled people to rigorous scrutiny in all social situations because they might be faking it. And I’m sure there are a lot less people pretending to be trans than pretending to be disabled, since there are a lot fewer concrete benefits to being trans.

I’d rather assume good faith, wouldn’t you?

• CatCube says:

@The Nybbler

Still being deceived. I mean, obviously I wouldn’t know that I’m being deceived, by the terms of your hypothetical. However, even a deception that you can get away with is wrong.

I think we are all familiar with the very selective compulsion to never speak an untruth. Funny how that tic works.

Which statements of mine are you thinking of? I’ll be happy to clarify. I try to be consistent, but humans can be inconsistent, and I’m human, so therefore I’ve done it in some of my posts. Post a link and we can talk.

“Here’s a picture of my new baby. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“No, actually she looks like an alien.”

1) A small social white lie to get through a one-off conversation is a little different than an ongoing demand. I generally try to be honest but noncommittal (see 2), but if I can’t avoid it I’ll bite my tongue a couple times. However, if they keep waylaying me with pictures of the kid and demanding to know if she’s beautiful, the truth is eventually going to come out. As tactfully as I can, but there’s a fuckin’ limit.

2) Tapdancing to technically tell the truth is my preferred solution. I’ve been lucky to not be presented with a baby or pictures thereof that isn’t cute, so I’ve not been faced with this exact situation. However, “Wow, she is something!” are words to consider–the parents can take them as they will. I’m not a superstar in tact, so if suddenly confronted with this situation I might not get a technically-true but noncommittal statement mentally put together before reaching for the social lie, but putting in the effort is often worthwhile.

3) Most everybody would agree that the white lie is, well, a lie. If I were to turn to a compatriot after the parents leave and say, “Whoa. That kid is going to have a rough time of it,” I would expect agreement. Here, however, the debate is about what the truth is. I mean, unless you’re willing to acknowledge that we’re all just lying by calling a woman “he” to make transsexuals feel better. I’d be willing to talk, if you’re saying that’s the case, since I would consider it an improvement over the status quo.

Surely you aren’t willing to be browbeaten into dishonesty, right? Something, something the gulag! Four lights!

Yeah, I went back and forth on including the Solzhenitsyn quote. I’ve never actually been confronted with this issue in real life, so I can’t claim there’s some kind of oppression I’m personally fighting here. I went with it because it’s the most concise statement of the necessity to be honest, even in the face of a dishonest world. It also ties in with the Lutheran conception of adiaphora in the Formula of Concord, and the necessity to stand firm in what would otherwise be unimportant details when you’re being forced to make a change.

However, it’s better to fight it before it becomes oppression, and it feels like we’re heading in that direction. The demand that we acknowledge that men are really women and vice versa is absolutely bonkers on the order of “four lights”, though nobody is threatening the things I care about to try to make me acknowledge it. Yet.

• Nornagest says:

The fraction of AMAB people I know that wound up having what Tumblr used to call “genderfeels”, leading to social transition in most but not all cases, is as best I can figure somewhere north of 2% — so one or two orders of magnitude higher than the old estimates for intersex conditions or GID. Now, I don’t think any of them were or are consciously faking it for attention or to gain special treatment, but I also have a hard time believing that they’d all have lived the rest of their lives in gender misery if they’d been born twenty or thirty years earlier. That seems like the kind of thing that would’ve been noticed, by Freud et al. if no one else — 2% is about the prevalence of most personality disorders.

Also, it just occurred to me that most, maybe all the transwomen I know not only live in extremely Blue environments, but also grew up in Red ones or in non-Western countries. We aren’t talking “moved to somewhere that’ll accept their real self” either, though — in every case I’d known them for years as men before they transitioned. Granted, it’s not exactly rare to move like that, but it’s uncommon enough that this probably isn’t a coincidence. Not sure what to make of it though.

• It is, in fact, objectively wrong from a biological perspective to say that trans women are exactly the same as cis women. My point is that it’s also objectively wrong from a biological perspective to say that trans women are exactly the same as cis men.

The question isn’t whether they are exactly the same–no two people are. It is whether, given a grammatical structure with only three options–male, female, neuter–which makes a better imperfect fit for the trans woman.

The answer is not obvious. So far as my intuition goes, it can be either male or female depending on which the person comes across as–which is a statement about external appearance and behavior, not what someone thinks of him/her self as.

Other people might draw the line in other ways. But your position seems, if I correctly understand what you have been posting, to be that everyone has an obligation to draw the line in the way you prefer, to classify someone who self-identifies as female as female, someone who self-identifies as male as male.

• Anonymous says:

Suppose the technology improved to the point where you couldn’t tell without a genetic test that the person was “born male”? Would this change your feelings? Where does the fundamental fact lie?

If technology improves to the point where SRS actually produces a fully functional person of the opposite sex, there’s no pronoun problem – that person would actually be of that sex.

Surely you aren’t willing to be browbeaten into dishonesty, right? Something, something the gulag! Four lights!

You forgot Havel’s greengrocer and the purpose of communist propaganda.

“In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
― Theodore Dalrymple

• Aapje says:

Many people see two distinct groups of transwomen, those who generally transition early and those who generally transition late. Many in the latter group seem to describe their trans feelings as having increased over time, which is peculiar and which suggests a possible cultural cause (or a combination of nature & nurture).

I’ve seen several trans people argue that the ‘I always felt that I was my new gender’ is a false narrative that they use for expediency, because people cannot understand their true feelings.

I’ve heard quite a few people argue that they have autogynephilia.

We also see that a fairly large percentage of kids stop feeling transgender later in life. So apparently, these feelings can both increase and decrease over time.

In very blue tribe environments, there also seem to be subcultures where gender non-conformance is seen as being trans. I wonder if these people are not just being confused by a broken subculture that assumes an overly strong link between traits and sex, so they think that having traits that are less common for one sex, means that one is
(partially) of the other sex.

I think that some blue tribe environments are highly misandrist, so it makes sense that some people would try to escape that oppression by claiming to be trans. I would seriously think about doing so if I were forced to live in such an environment. When being ‘oppressed’ is seen as legitimizing bad behavior towards the ‘oppressors,’ it is crucial to stay out of the latter group.

Finally, lots of the research and other information around this subject seems tainted by advocacy, where people reason towards conclusions that they think will help them/transgender people.

So this leaves me wary of drawing strong conclusions right now, including dismissing or accepting Blanchard’s transsexualism typology, believing or not believing that transitioning is helpful for everyone who at one point in their life has dysphoria, believing that there is a single cause or not, believing that there are a substantial portion of people who claim to be trans who are honestly or dishonestly faking it, etc, etc.

When the evidence is so weak, I also believe that professors/teachers should be allowed to have and espouse their own beliefs, preferably while noting that the evidence for their beliefs is highly imperfect and that there are other beliefs.

Ultimately, universities are not just about teaching, but they are about generating knowledge. This requires that professors can have heterodox views.

@CatCube

3) Most everybody would agree that the white lie is, well, a lie. If I were to turn to a compatriot after the parents leave and say, “Whoa. That kid is going to have a rough time of it,” I would expect agreement. Here, however, the debate is about what the truth is. I mean, unless you’re willing to acknowledge that we’re all just lying by calling a woman “he” to make transsexuals feel better. I’d be willing to talk, if you’re saying that’s the case, since I would consider it an improvement over the status quo.

I wouldn’t say lie because I don’t think the group of people for which the pronoun ‘she’ should be used is the kind of question for which there is a fact of the matter in the first place. Your side of this debate seems to implicitly transform each usage of ‘she’ into some kind of creedal statement.

But to the general point, yes, I would expect you to say ‘she’ under the same reasoning that you would say ‘what a pretty baby’ and for much the same reason. LadyJane may not be happy with me for saying so, but that’s my position.

• Iain says:

@CatCube:

Scott’s response is definitive only if you already agreed with it. I, and I’ll bet everybody on my side, agrees that you shouldn’t misgender people. The issue our sides disagree on is which direction the “misgendering” arrow points.

This is a non sequitur. Did you read my entire post, or did you just see “Scott’s response is definitive” and start typing angrily?

I am not claiming that two paragraphs from Scott destroyed every argument against recognizing trans people. I am claiming that Scott pretty conclusively refuted the specific argument that Anonymous made and I quoted. Note that your post says nothing at all about the effective treatment of mental disorders.

• Anonymous says:

@Iain
@CatCube

I am claiming that Scott pretty conclusively refuted the specific argument that Anonymous made and I quoted.

News to me. When I read that argument, I ignored it as a non-sequitur of some sort. Now I think it’s a strawman, but it’s not Scott’s fault, obviously.

Really, are you sure you want your opposition to accepting transgender people to be “I think it’s a mental disorder”?

I don’t oppose accepting transgender people any more than I oppose accepting schizophrenics or people who believe they are Napoleon. I think their plight – dysphoria – is real, and unfortunate.

What I oppose is:
– Regarding the condition as perfectly normal, or deserving of normalization, as opposed to a delusional state like other mental disorders.
– Attempting to solve the issue via means that cannot possibly work with the current medical technology, most notably SRS.
– Propagandizing and privileging the condition so much that people who are not afflicted pretend to be to gain bennies.

• CatCube says:

I wouldn’t say lie because I don’t think the group of people for which the pronoun ‘she’ should be used is the kind of question for which there is a fact of the matter in the first place.

If it’s a question that you think can’t be answered one way or the other, then why do you care which I use? If you happen to think that it’s a trifling matter about which we can’t really know the truth anyway, then why the issue with me using the ones that I feel strongly about?

Your side of this debate seems to implicitly transform each usage of ‘she’ into some kind of creedal statement.

Just as your side of the aisle transforms the use of “he” in that situation into a creedal statement.

But to the general point, yes, I would expect you to say ‘she’ under the same reasoning that you would say ‘what a pretty baby’ and for much the same reason. LadyJane may not be happy with me for saying so, but that’s my position.

You’re trying to use the language of politeness as a lever to enforce your policy prescriptions. FWIW, I think you’re sincere, but incorrect. If I don’t agree with your policy prescriptions, saying “Oh, just suck it up. You don’t want to be rude, do you?” is a hell of an imposition.

That aside, I actually do not agree that politeness demands that I use the pronoun “she” for a MtF transsexual (or vice versa). I think the maximum that I’m obligated to do is to not use the pronoun “he”, which is a real stretch, but one I’d be willing to make.

As I said, I’ve not been faced with this situation IRL, but if it came up my objective would be to avoid having anybody notice I’m not using pronouns for the individual in question. Given that the Pronoun Police would be out in force at that point (the only place I could see this coming up is work, since I’d probably drop a personal relationship or group that required it), I doubt I could keep it unnoticed for very long, but I’m damn sure going to make somebody look for it. I’m certainly not going to announce it, and evade to the maximum extent possible if asked about it. However, what I will not do is actually use “she”.

• The Nybbler says:

Still being deceived.

OK, then where exactly does sex/gender reside? A person with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome may always have appeared outwardly female, despite the XY genotype? Are they (perhaps accidentally) deceiving people about their gender? A person with Swyer syndrome (also XY) will appear female as a child, but fail to develop secondary sexual characteristics without hormone therapy… are they deceptive if they take the therapy?

Is it just that they once were anatomically male?

• As I said, I’ve not been faced with this situation IRL, but if it came up my objective would be to avoid having anybody notice I’m not using pronouns for the individual in question.

That is the solution I try to use in real life for a situation where my perception of a person’s gender and that person’s self identification are different.

I think putting it as my perception is more accurate than putting it as “what the person’s gender is.” The one MTF post surgery transsexual I know comes across to me as a woman, if a somewhat odd looking one, so I would be more uncomfortable using “he” than “she.” The one person who I know self-identifies as female while having an apparently male body and behavior I think of as male, so try to avoid using gendered pronouns when referring to.

If I knew that someone was genetically one gender but morphologically the other, as I gather very occasionally happens, I’m pretty sure I would go with the morphology.

The reason using the “wrong” pronoun feels to me like lying is that my speech expresses my thoughts, so if I don’t think of someone as female it is dishonest to use feminine pronouns for him.

• Iain says:

If it’s a question that you think can’t be answered one way or the other, then why do you care which I use? If you happen to think that it’s a trifling matter about which we can’t really know the truth anyway, then why the issue with me using the ones that I feel strongly about?

Words are just tools that we use to communicate. Some languages use separate words to refer to light blue and dark blue; others, like English, use only one and modify it. Is the sky the same colour as my blue jeans? What is the truth of the matter?

Pluto is no longer a planet; plenty of people argued against the change, but as far as I’m aware nobody did so on the basis that denying the planethood of Pluto would be a lie, and that would violate their moral convictions.

Words are just Schelling points. If you refuse to acknowledge Mrs. Rockefeller as Nelson’s wife, you aren’t falling back to some immortal truth about what the word “wife” really means. You are making a political claim about how you think society should be organized, and what the institution of marriage should look like, in an attempt to shift the Schelling point. Similarly, if you refuse to use somebody’s preferred pronouns, that’s not a heroic commitment to the truth. It’s an assertion about what the word “she” should mean. It’s a claim that society is better when we think about gender in terms of birth sex than when we think about gender in terms of a person’s self-conception.

Now, maybe that claim is right, and maybe not. We each have our own opinions. But it’s not the sort of claim where either side can just say “We are defending the truth, and you are asking us to lie”. The entire debate is about where we should draw the boundaries of a category. When you claim that your preferred boundary is the truth, you aren’t making an argument; you’re just stating a conclusion.

• CatCube says:

@The Nybbler

Is it just that they once were anatomically male?

Bingo.

• CatCube says:

@Iain

You are making a political claim about how you think society should be organized, and what the institution of marriage should look like, in an attempt to shift the Schelling point. Similarly, if you refuse to use somebody’s preferred pronouns, that’s not a heroic commitment to the truth. It’s an assertion about what the word “she” should mean. It’s a claim that society is better when we think about gender in terms of birth sex than when we think about gender in terms of a person’s self-conception.

Now, maybe that claim is right, and maybe not. We each have our own opinions. But it’s not the sort of claim where either side can just say “We are defending the truth, and you are asking us to lie”. The entire debate is about where we should draw the boundaries of a category. When you claim that your preferred boundary is the truth, you aren’t making an argument; you’re just stating a conclusion.

You have it exactly correct. I very much do believe that “that society is better when we think about gender in terms of birth sex than when we think about gender in terms of a person’s self-conception.” The reason I originally commented (and I normally scroll by all arguments of this type here because they’re uninteresting–this one is boring, too, but I’m trying to avoid throwing a grenade and then leaving) was because of your claim that Scott’s article was “definitive”, where it really requires a bunch of left-wing assumptions.

@CatCube

If it’s a question that you think can’t be answered one way or the other, then why do you care which I use? If you happen to think that it’s a trifling matter about which we can’t really know the truth anyway, then why the issue with me using the ones that I feel strongly about?

For myself it’s a non-issue. I’m not trans and I don’t have any friends or family that are trans. But some people really care quite a bit.

I don’t think they especially care whether or not you “really” believe that they are a woman. I think using the desired pronouns is good enough. More like Judaism than Christianity in that sense. That’s frankly where I am–more orthoprax than orthodox.
(N.B. I have low confidence in this understanding, it could be that most trans people really do care.)

You’re trying to use the language of politeness as a lever to enforce your policy prescriptions. FWIW, I think you’re sincere, but incorrect. If I don’t agree with your policy prescriptions, saying “Oh, just suck it up. You don’t want to be rude, do you?” is a hell of an imposition.

What policy prescription exactly? I usually think of that as something having to do with governance.

Anyway, I do think it is a matter of rudeness. I acknowledge that “it’s rude” isn’t the be and end all of the discusison. I chimed in here to makes the points that a) I don’t think ‘lie’ really captures what’s going on and in any event b) most people lie all the time for reasons of politeness. Maybe not you, but most people. If there is something unusually objectionable here I don’t think it suffices to just say “you are forcing to choose between being polite or lying”.

That aside, I actually do not agree that politeness demands that I use the pronoun “she” for a MtF transsexual (or vice versa). I think the maximum that I’m obligated to do is to not use the pronoun “he”, which is a real stretch, but one I’d be willing to make.

Given sufficient charisma and grace to pull it off, this seems like a very good compromise. The ideal from a politeness perspective is that no one walks away with hurt feelings.

• Thegnskald says:

Iain –

I feel like you are missing an important element:

Nobody is demanding that other people stop using preferred pronouns for transgender people. (Well, nobody here I have seen, and I have zero interest in trying to steelman that position anyways)

There is literally only one side behaving as if their preferred definition is Truth here. Only one side is demanding the other capitulate and use words the Right way.

Can you guess which side it is?

Also, I am tapping out as translator after this. Somebody else can try to convert heat to light. This whole debate is kind of dumb, and I am getting just a little annoyed that I am spending it defending a position I think is kind of dumb because the opposition can’t put forward an actual argument.

So, the actual argument, stepping outside my neutral zone:

You change word definitions all the time, your language constant adapts and changes. Your objection is not to the change in language, which you accept without thought in 99% of cases, but the sense that the change in language is being forced on you. But the assholes pushing the change aren’t the people who actually want it – they are pushing the change exactly because they know you will resist it, so they can paint you as antisocial, anti-trans neanderthals.

This is not the goddamned hill to die on. There is no useful principle here. This is a wasteland battlefield of their choosing, not yours, over a situation that doesn’t actually matter to you except that the enemy has chosen to fight you on it. Because ten years ago we weren’t having this freaking debate, because almost nobody actually cares, except as some bullshit to hate the other side for.

• albatross11 says:

The Nybbler: +1

Perhaps it’s just too much science fiction at a young age, but when I see trans people, I mainly see people being screwed over because our medical technology sucks. They want the Donna->Donno transition from _A Civil Campaign_, but they get the hack job we can do with modern medical technology.

• Fahundo says:

“Here’s a picture of my new baby. Isn’t she beautiful?”
“No, actually she looks like an alien.”

If someone told you your baby was ugly would you:

A: push for them to be professionally reprimanded
B: stop showing them baby pics

@Matt M: If there was a pill that relieved all feelings of gender dysphoria, then I’d imagine that some people with gender dysphoria would be extremely grateful, and many others would reject it. Personally, I view a person’s fundamental identity/sense-of-self as being a product of their mind (i.e. brain/nervous system) more than their body (i.e. outwardly visible sex characteristics), so I would consider altering their mind to actually be more radical and invasive than altering their body. Either way, it wouldn’t fundamentally make a trans woman suddenly become a cis man, no more than transitioning via hormone therapy and sexual reassignment surgery will fundamentally change a trans woman into a cis woman.

You’re looking at the narrative as if it’s “[Biological Male] who wants to be [Biological Female] uses drugs and surgery to become [Biological Male Resembling A Biological Female],” and your alternative is “[Biological Male] uses a cure to stop wanting to be [Biological Female].” In actuality, it’s more like “[Biological Intersex Person Who Resembles A Biological Male But Feels Closer To Being A Biological Female] uses drugs and surgery to become [Biological Intersex Person Who Resembles And Feels Closer To Being A Biological Female]”, and your alternative is “[Biological Intersex Person Who Resembles A Biological Male But Feels Closer To Being A Biological Female] uses a ‘cure’ to become [Biological Intersex Person Who Resembles And Feels Closer To Being A Biological Male].”

• Anonymous says:

1. You appear to be ignoring that there may be people who are not “intersex” but still want to be the opposite sex. And you can’t reliably determine which are which.

2. The state of the art SRS is little more than cosmetic surgery with a side of mutilation.

• Aapje says:

It is absolutely normal to alter the mind. In fact, most of the West forces children to go to mind altering institutions (schools).

You seem to believe that it is crucial to preserve people’s mental traits, but this very belief may be a broken mental pattern.

Suppose that we have a person who is so pessimistic that he doesn’t participate in life beyond the bare necessities and that this person is resentful of the more optimistic. He doesn’t want to be like those privileged people who take their abilities for granted, etc, etc. Basic ego-protection by resenting those with a better life.

Now suppose that we give him a pill to remove that extreme pessimism. Now the person can have a job, partner, social life, etc. Do you think that this person will now resent himself or do you think he will alter his views because the resentment was merely a crutch? I think the latter.

People are great at rationalizing. Why should we avoid helping people who are in agony to preserve their mind, when the way that their mind works is part of their agony? Doesn’t the same logic prohibit helping anyone? ‘That missing leg is part of who you are and how you relate to the world, so no prosthesis for you.’

Isn’t this just cruel?

• publiusvarinius says:

@Aapje

If pre-pill-person states that he’d prefer not to become post-pill-person, then post-pill-person’s experiences are not going to be very relevant in the debate.

Suppose that we have a person with normal human emotions. He repeatedly states that he does not wish to engage in the usual behaviors that a robot only experiencing pure bliss would engage in.

Now suppose that we replace the person with a robot only experiencing pure bliss. Do you think that robot will now experience resentment or do you think that it will experience pure bliss? I think the latter.

@Anonymous: Regarding your first point, you’re right insofar as we can’t ever be 100% certain that someone claiming to have gender dysphoria actually has it. Some might be lying, for whatever reason. Others might genuinely believe they have it when there’s actually a different reason for their feelings. Nonetheless, I would much rather assume good faith, since there’s no real harm in a false positive, but a lot of harm in denying an honest person’s claims about their psychological state and sense of identity. (Obviously if I was a certified gender therapist, I’d apply more rigorous standards to my patients, but I’m talking about day-to-day personal interactions here.)

@Aapje: It’s a difficult question, and I don’t proclaim to make any judgments on the “correct” answer, if such a thing even exists. All I can say is that I personally would much rather change my anatomical structure than my mental state, given a choice between the two.

Your first example doesn’t quite match the situation, because the dichotomy there is “alter your mind or keep suffering,” whereas the trichotomy here is “alter your body, alter your mind, or keep suffering.” And even then, the choice still isn’t as black and white as you make it out to be, as publiusvarinius demonstrated.

As for your example about the person with a missing limb, I’d say that’s more of an argument for physical transitioning than against it. Having gender dysphoria is like having phantom limb syndrome, and hormone treatments and/or sexual reassignment surgery are like the prosthetic limb used to treat it. If you were missing a limb, what would you prefer: a pill that would cure all feelings of phantom limb syndrome, or a replacement for the actual limb?

• The Nybbler says:

Nonetheless, I would much rather assume good faith, since there’s no real harm in a false positive

Yes, there _is_. Demanding I refer to e.g. a bald guy with a beard as “she” is _messing with my head_. If it can be harmful to a trans- person to be referred to by pronouns they feel don’t match their identity, why can it not be similarly harmful for a cis person to be required to refer to others by pronouns the cis person feels are inappropriate?

• Iain says:

Demanding I refer to e.g. a bald guy with a beard as “she” is _messing with my head_.

And this happens to you often?

• Thegnskald says:

Iain –

Personally, of the three trans people I have known, two were quite earnest, and the third wanted to both be referred to using female pronouns while also sporting a magnificent beard.

So… I can say that it happens. Couldn’t guess at the frequency.

I waver on the optics of the situation. On the one hand, normalization. On the other, obnoxious special snowflakes might just make people angry.

Granted it is out of my control even if I cared overmuch, but I do wonder whether people who do care should be forwarding the idea, pushing back on it, or continuing to ignore it.

• Aapje says:

Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.

Also:

It should therefore come as no surprise that studies have found high rates of depression,[9] and low quality of life[16], [25] also after sex reassignment.

Now, my argument is not that we should ban or remove funding for hormone therapy and/or sexual reassignment surgery, but rather that it is dangerous to idealize it, just because being in favor is seen as the way to support trans people, because criticizing it is seen as handing the political outgroup ammunition, etc.

Furthermore, the fairly rapid increase in trans diagnoses may consist in (large) part of people with different characteristics than those who were diagnosed and/or treated in the past. So we should be open to the possibility that the same treatment is less effective for them, for example because more people seek help with less severe dysphoria or because people see transitioning as the best way to gain respect and/or support from their (hateful) subculture.

• Iain says:

Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population.

Comparing to the general population is not particularly meaningful. It’s not hard to see why trans people might still have problems, even post-SRS — particularly since this data is from 1973-2003.

If you saw a study saying “Depressed people using SSRIs have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidality, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population”, would you take that as an argument against SSRIs?

• Aapje says:

@Iain

I explicitly said that my objection was not to having the treatment, but to those who idealize it. Perhaps you read my comment too quickly, not grasping what I argued?

In my opinion, your criticism* of the study merely supports my argument that we should be willing to recognize that the treatment can work differently for different year groups.

* And I also think that it is too dismissive, because a 30 year study is not nothing.

@Aapje: I’d agree that the findings of a 30 year study are significant. In this case, they proved that trans people (or in this case, the subset of trans people who’ve medically transitioned) have higher rates of depression and lower overall life satisfaction than the general population, which I don’t think should be surprising to anyone.

My point (and Iain’s point) is not that the study is insignificant, but that it doesn’t offer any proof that it’s the hormone treatments or surgery that cause depression and lower life satisfaction, which seem more likely to result from simply being trans in the first place. In order to prove that, there would have to be a sample group of trans people who haven’t medically transitioned. So I don’t see how this is evidence against HRT/SRS, or even really evidence that we shouldn’t “idealize” it, whatever that means. (Unless you’re just saying “we shouldn’t let trans people think HRT/SRS will automatically solve all of their gender-related issues instantly,” in which case you’re correct but also stating the obvious.)

On the object level, I find it very likely that trans people who undergo HRT/SRS tend to be less depressed and have higher life satisfaction than trans people who don’t. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was by a huge margin. (Whether they’d be more or less depressed than trans people who took a hypothetical dysphoria cure is debatable, since no such cure exists and real-life conversion therapies tend to be both barbaric and ineffective.)

@The Nybbler: Quite frankly, the ‘harm’ caused by the fact that using someone’s preferred pronouns “messes with your head” is almost laughably trivial, to the point where I can’t even seriously consider it any real kind of harm. Especially compared to the much more severe psychological and social consequences facing the trans people whose identities are being put into question.

At worst, you’re being forced to confront the fact that one of the categorical lenses through which you view the world is only ~98.5% accurate and not 100% accurate, and sometimes there are exceptions that don’t fit neatly into one of your pre-existing boxes. Sorry if that makes you feel uncomfortable, but in the grand scheme of things, I really can’t bring myself to care that much.

It also says a lot that you had to resort to such an extreme example to justify your feelings of discomfort. Most trans women do not look like bald men with beards.

• The Nybbler says:

@The Nybbler: Quite frankly, the ‘harm’ caused by the fact that using someone’s preferred pronouns “messes with your head” is almost laughably trivial, to the point where I can’t even seriously consider it any real kind of harm. Especially compared to the much more severe psychological and social consequences facing the trans people whose identities are being put into question.

OK, then the ‘harm’ caused by the fact that someone used what you consider the wrong pronouns in referring to you is laughably trivial. I dismiss those psychological and social consequences thus (waves hand).

Once you’re simply arbitrarily dismissing the concerns of one group, you open up yourself for them to do the same.

@The Nybbler: You’re a group now? Because there are plenty of cis people who have absolutely no problem using trans people’s preferred pronouns. If the group in question is “transphobes and stubborn confused people who feel uncomfortable about things they don’t understand,” then yes, I’m fine arbitrarily dismissing their concerns.

Considering the amount of discrimination and dehumanization that trans people face on a regular basis, it’s really hard for me to take “it makes me feel uncomfortable” seriously as an argument. Does it honestly make you feel uncomfortable to the same degree that being actively harassed on a frequent basis would make you feel uncomfortable?

Hell, even without comparing it to vastly more severe wrongs, it still seems very trivial in its own right. It’s exactly the sort of “my feelings are more important than scientific facts/social norms!” attitude that conservatives love to make fun of social justice warriors for.

• Robert Liguori says:

Goddamnit.

You know what helps? “Look, I understand that when you look at me, your first and entirely non-malicious inclination is to refer to me with this pronoun set, and believe me, no one wants to remedy that confusion more than I. I understand that doing this might be confusing, that is a significant ask for some people, and in fact, too much for some. So, because this is legitimately and deeply important to me, I’m asking you to work with me on this, with the understanding that you doing this is effort, and I’ll accept slip-ups and confusion that arises in good faith.”

The point where you say “I’m fine dismissing the concerns of people who have issues using preferred pronouns.” is the point where quite a lot of people with those issues shrug, nod, and become equally fine dismissing your concerns, and the concerns of a lot of trans people, in turn. And no matter where you think the weight of moral suasion lies, that’s a really, really bad tactic when you are a tiny minority, because if you get coordinated action with two teams, one being trans people and the other people being people with a notable discomfort with using preferred pronouns which contradict someone’s apparent or historic gender presentation, the second group is going to be a hell of a lot larger.

• The Nybbler says:

OK then. If the answer to you feeling uncomfortable is that I must change my terminology to make you feel comfortable, but the answer to me feeling uncomfortable is to say I’m a transphobe whose feelings don’t matter… then we’re just down to a pure power struggle, as with no reciprocity it seems unlikely there’s any true moral component. And while there is thankfully only one of me, I would bet there’s a lot more people who don’t want to be bullied about their pronouns than there are trans people.

Hell, even without comparing it to vastly more severe wrongs, it still seems very trivial in its own right.

The point is I’m not comparing it to vastly more severe wrongs. I’m comparing it to a rather similar sort of wrong. One is creating a sort of mental dissonance in you, the other is creating a sort of mental dissonance in me.

• Matt M says:

I would bet there’s a lot more people who don’t want to be bullied about their pronouns than there are trans people.

Probably, but this isn’t the right comparison.

I would bet that it’s pretty close to there being a lot more people who want to bully you about pronouns than there are people who don’t want to be bullied about it. And the balance tilts farther in their favor every day.

That group includes the host of this blog. Which is low stakes enough. But I definitely wouldn’t recommend intentionally “misgendering” someone at school or at the workplace. That’s more likely to end very poorly for you than it is for them…

@Robert Liguori:

You know what helps? “Look, I understand that when you look at me, your first and entirely non-malicious inclination is to refer to me with this pronoun set, and believe me, no one wants to remedy that confusion more than I. I understand that doing this might be confusing, that is a significant ask for some people, and in fact, too much for some. So, because this is legitimately and deeply important to me, I’m asking you to work with me on this, with the understanding that you doing this is effort, and I’ll accept slip-ups and confusion that arises in good faith.”

You mean like this?

“I know that it’s not uncommon for people to misgender a trans person they just met, and I understand that slip-ups can happen from time to time, especially if the trans person in question isn’t particularly passable.”

“If someone misgendered me or another trans person I knew, I would politely correct them. After that, if they made an effort to use the correct pronouns (or neutral pronouns, or no pronouns), but still slipped up from time to time, I would ignore the periodic slip-ups. If it became too frequent, I would correct them again, still politely but a little more firmly.”

I’ve said more or less exactly what you recommended at two separate points in this very thread. The reason I was so flippant with The Nybbler is because I’ve spent a good deal of time writing detailed arguments for why trans identities are valid and should be respected, and his response basically amounted to “but it’s weird and I don’t wanna!”

• AnonYEmous says:

If the group in question is “transphobes and stubborn confused people who feel uncomfortable about things they don’t understand,” then yes, I’m fine arbitrarily dismissing their concerns.

It’s exactly the sort of “my feelings are more important than scientific facts/social norms!” attitude that conservatives love to make fun of social justice warriors for.

how do you manage to go from “picture-perfect SJW rhetoric” to “You’re the real SJW!!!11!!” so easily?

Seriously, I’d make a good-faith response here, but you’ve demonstrated your complete lack of good faith via the picture-perfect SJW rhetoric already. I’m fine with arbitrarily dismissing your concerns, and I bet President Trump is too. Sad!

• If the group in question is “transphobes and stubborn confused people who feel uncomfortable about things they don’t understand,”

On the evidence so far, I’m not the one here who feels uncomfortable about things I don’t understand–unless your definition of “understand” is “Agree with Lady Jane about.”

I discussed the fact that the binary model of gender is only an approximation, in print, and some of the issues it raises, nine years ago, partly inspired by a student paper in a course I taught some years earlier (Future Imperfect, Chapter XIV). I know at least two people who are in one sense or another transsexual, and get along with both of them.

What I am uncomfortable with is the idea that I am obligated to either believe something or pretend to believe something on someone else’s orders. The claim that a true statement of my beliefs will make someone uncomfortable does not strike me as close to justifying that.

As far as I know I have never met you, so I don’t know whether, if I did, I would see you as male or female. But whichever it is, I am not prepared to pretend differently in order to make you feel more comfortable.

@The Nybbler: No, I don’t see it as being purely a power struggle between competing preferences, because I firmly believe that a trans person’s discomfort at being misgendered is both more severe and more valid than someone else’s discomfort at using their preferred pronouns. More severe, because I know trans people who’ve questioned their own identities and self-worth over being misgendered, sometimes to the point of being depressed or even suicidal. More valid, because they have an actual reason to feel upset (they’re being told that they’re something they aren’t, and nothing they do can convince people otherwise), whereas you haven’t explained why using their preferred pronouns would upset you, and I’m rather doubtful that you have any real reason beyond an instinctive knee-jerk reaction.

Honestly, the real question here is why so many people feel “uncomfortable” with the idea of using a trans person’s preferred pronouns, and more broadly, with the idea of accepting trans identities as valid.

I’ve been going back and forth in this thread for a while now, and from what I can tell, there are four main reasons people might reject the validity of trans identities:
1.) They’re highly devoted to a religion and/or a culture in which trans identities aren’t considered valid. I feel some sympathy for these people, just like I feel some sympathy for creationists. At the same time, I don’t think their personal religious/cultural beliefs should take precedence over social norms in secular settings (as I said in response to Friedman’s example below, I’d consider it incredibly rude if a Catholic refused to call a remarried woman by her new surname).
2.) They believe that the gay/trans agenda is part of some postmodernist left-wing feminist Cultural Marxist conspiracy, and they think they’re defending free speech and fighting (or at least spiting) the SJW establishment by being aggressively contrarian about issues like preferred pronouns. These people are misinformed at best and completely delusional at worst, and I find them to be morally repulsive, to the point where I refuse to engage or associate with them at all.
3.) They earnestly believe that “transgender identities aren’t real” (i.e. that there are no meaningful biological differences between a trans woman and a cis man (or between a trans man and a cis woman), that gender dysphoria is caused purely by societal factors and has no biological basis, and that the best treatment for gender dysphoria is to get people to stop wanting to change their apparent sex rather than entertaining their delusions), and they refuse to deny what they see as Truth by “pretending” that people are things they aren’t. These people are the reason I’m posting about this topic. They’re rational and genuinely well-intentioned and they tend to be fairly open-minded, and I’m hoping my arguments will change the minds of at least a few of them. For what it’s worth, I used to be in this category myself.
4.) They have no real reason that they can articulate or explain in any meaningful way, beyond the fact that it clashes with their intuitions and makes them uncomfortable in some ineffable fashion.

There also seems to be another group that believes only *some* trans people’s gender identities are valid, while other trans people are either delusional or simply pretending to be trans for the sake of some perceived benefits. (For what it’s worth, I live in an ultra-liberal enclave city, and even in social circles comprised mostly of socially progressive 20-somethings, trans people are still very much treated as barely-tolerated token minorities, or as outcasts altogether. The idea that there’s any social benefit to being trans – outside of a few extremely small and insular queer groups – is laughable.) There’s probably some low percentage of people claiming to be trans who are just confused or lying, but I doubt they comprise more than a small fraction of the already small trans population. At any rate, I don’t know why so many random cis people think they’re qualified to judge whether or not someone’s really trans at a glance, considering it can take professional gender therapists weeks or months to figure it out. In the spirit of good faith, I would much rather err on the side of caution and take people at their word.

@DavidFriedman:

We are used to taking it for granted that each of us is either male or female. For a long time that was quite a good approximation. But not for much longer.

Well, at least we can agree on that.

It’s going to be an interesting century.

And that.

• Aapje says:

They have no real reason that they can articulate or explain in any meaningful way, beyond the fact that it clashes with their intuitions and makes them uncomfortable in some ineffable fashion.

People have argued that having to use a pronoun that mismatches with their pattern matching causes mental dissonance and/or high mental load.

From what I’ve heard, it is common for people who have known a trans person before the transition, to have built up a mental model based on the pre-transition gender. It can then be extremely hard to alter that mental model, especially since gender is so fundamental to how most people categorize & make sense of people and their behavior. So it’s not a mostly unconnected fact at the edge of the mental model, that can be fairly trivially altered, like to update the model when someone gets a new haircut, but one that has a neural connection to many parts of the mental model. Updating the model so extensively is hard and updating it fully or partially may be impossible for many/most. This can cause accidental misgendering. Many people fear being attacked over this as if they intended to do harm, when their behavior is unintentionally offensive. Such a fear can mean that a person is permanently stressed while near the trans person and scientific research suggests that being stressed for long periods is extremely harmful.

A separate possible cause of mental dissonance and/or high mental load is that most people have pattern matchers used to categorize people into male and female. This is important because of gender roles. Treating a man as a woman or vice versa by default is generally a socially unsuccessful strategy. So people who encounter a non-perfectly transitioned person will then logically have conflicting perceptual information, causing mental dissonance. This can mean that they will then escalate to a higher cognitive system, which causes a high mental load. However, their more base cognitive systems may also decide on their own, especially if the person is already under high mental load, causing misgendering without any ill intent or even intent at all (since the base cognitive systems made the decision, below the level what we generally call ‘intent’). Again, people may fear being attacked over this and may experience high stress while near the trans person.

To be blunt: SJ people have not been particularly empathetic with male nerds in the past, mostly demonizing the common mental traits of this group and the consequences thereof. Or to put it in SJ parlance: they have been extremely ableist. In general, SJ people seem very prone to stomp all over the rights and needs of those whose issues they have trouble recognizing & worse, the ideology is full of rationalizations why cries of pain from certain groups should be ignored (or even taken as evidence that the stomping is helping to create a better world). So my standard assumption is that SJ people will generally not try to find a balance between the needs and limitations of various groups, but that they will implement extremist policies that causes immense harm to their outgroup whenever possible, even if their rhetoric is merely about helping the ingroup. This is the logical consequence of severely under-appreciating the needs of the outgroup, made worse by an ideology that tends to see resistance by the outgroup as a desire for oppression, rather than fighting for their own needs.

• Thegnskald says:

You say you see four types of people.

But your “four types of people” looks more like the category you had before you entered into this discussion than anything that arose from it – who here has argued on religious grounds against trans identities? Conrad is the only person I am certain is religious who has spoken up here, and his basic attitude is pretty clearly “Make an effort at passing and I’ll make an equal effort at trying to recognize you as the gender you want to be”.

You have quite the closed mind there. Since you don’t seem to realize this, let me impress something upon you: You are asking people for something. Shitting on them when they negotiate for anything other than exactly what you want isn’t how you convince people you are working in good faith at arriving at a world which is better for everybody.

Doubly so when you say their complaints are illegitimate and don’t matter. If you have a good argument why their complaints are less legitimate, make it. Don’t just assert it like they are subhuman garbage for having complaints.

I’m on your side. I’m fucking on your side. Quit making me regret being there.

• Thegnskald says:

Also, on number 4, I have given you an explanation.

You just don’t understand the explanation.

So, let me drive this a little deeper:

When most of us grew up, “Gender is evil” was the dominant social narrative. Believing “he” and “she” referred to anything other than sexual characteristics was regarded as SEXISM. There were two freaking decades dedicated to the idea that “man” and “woman” is just a way of describing physical characteristics, and insisting on any deeper meaning is sexist. This was drilled into two generations of people’s brains.

So when somebody who has zero interest in presenting as a woman comes along and insists on being referred to as “she”, it makes us really fucking uncomfortable, because what the fuck is this insistence supposed to convey? What are you saying about yourself? What are you saying about the role you want to play in society?

Clearly you are saying there is something to “she” other than what your physical sex characteristics are. It sounds like that sexism thing we spent the 90s shutting down. It sounds like you are saying there is something to that kind of sexism, that it is something meaningful. It sounds like you are saying something about women. And the fact that you keep insisting on the word “gender” rather than “sex” really, really doesn’t help.

And I don’t give a shit, because it pattern matches to “punks playing polka”, which is to say, people doing uncool things because they are uncool because fuck society. But I do understand why the other people do, and you aren’t trying to understand why they are getting upset, you are just insulting them for it.

They have a legitimate reason to be upset. You just don’t understand that reason because you apparently didn’t grow up in a society in which “she” meant you weren’t supposed to play with Legos, and you literally seem incapable of understanding what all this pattern-matches to. You are welcome, by the way.

• If it can be harmful to a trans- person to be referred to by pronouns they feel don’t match their identity, why can it not be similarly harmful for a cis person to be required to refer to others by pronouns the cis person feels are inappropriate?

The baseline assumption is that pretty much everyone is required to be polite, and that politeness involves saying things you don’t necessarily believe. Inasmuch as you are saying you can’t play the game, you are effectively claiming to be in some special category yourself.

People have argued that having to use a pronoun that mismatches with their pattern matching causes mental dissonance and/or high mental load.

Is that supposed to relate to transness specifically? Because otherwise these people are going to be socially disabled.

@Thegnskald
Eh. There are certainly parts of trans culture and advocacy that are in significant tension with second wave feminism, but I don’t think pronoun choice is especially one of them.

In some alternate universe where at the same time mailman was becoming mailperson and chairman was becoming chair, gender neutral pronouns could have started taking over. If that had been the case, and we were 30 years downstream from it, then sure insisting on gendered pronouns for and only for trans people would be retrograde and cause dissonance. But we aren’t in that universe. If a staunch second wave feminist is okay with using he/she on the basis of largely meaningless dangling bits than he should be okay with also using them on request. And singular they, along with the entire concept of gender non-binary, should be enthusiastically embraced as the unfinished work of the 70s.

To sum up, I agree there’s a horseshoe between “I love to shop because I have a woman’s brain” and “Woman are natural nurtures and don’t belong in competitive fields” but I don’t think pronoun debates invoke much of those problematic aspects.

• SamChevre says:

The baseline assumption is that pretty much everyone is required to be polite, and that politeness involves saying things you don’t necessarily believe.

This is only unusefully true. Politeness requires saying things you don’t necessarily believe, and that everyone knows you don’t necessarily believe and that have no real consequences. Politeness may well include addressing the guy with the sign on his bike “King of Germany” who’s shadow-boxing with a telephone pole as “Your Majesty”; it doesn’t include addressing Charles Stuart as “Your Majesty”, or inviting the crazy guy to the reception for the German ambassador.

• Matt M says:

and that politeness involves saying things you don’t necessarily believe

Is it “polite” to loudly and abrasively insist people call you a woman when you look like a man?

Or, even worse, to loudly and abrasively insist they refer to you by some made-up, non-existent term like “xhe”?

• Thegnskald says:

I am pretty sure the whole TURF thing is pretty explicitly second-wave.

(Autocorrect keeps trying to turn that into second-rate. I am half tempted to leave it.)

At any rate, my point isn’t that the pronouns fit neatly into that horseshoe. The new definitions are built on self-identity. The problem comes in because the identity that somebody is identifying with – the category they are asking to be placed in – isn’t the same category for other people it is for them.

1.) They’re highly devoted to a religion and/or a culture in which trans identities aren’t considered valid. I feel some sympathy for these people, just like I feel some sympathy for creationists. At the same time, I don’t think their personal religious/cultural beliefs should take precedence over social norms in secular settings (as I said in response to Friedman’s example below, I’d consider it incredibly rude if a Catholic refused to call a remarried woman by her new surname).

The Catholic position on transgendered individuals is that they’re individuals who need empathy and compassion. Some may have a mental problem where they believe they’re a sex they’re not, others may have a physical problem where their genitals don’t match their mind. Either way, we are called to empathy and compassion for the sick.

The divorce thing is a bit trickier. No one would gleefully refuse to acknowledge a remarriage, and would probably do so with some internal turmoil. I’m going through this right now. Two of my married Catholic friends are going through a divorce, and she’s dating a new guy. She is wonderful 10,000% wife material. I’ve never met such a wonderful person and homemaker. And her ex-husband is the biggest fool on the planet. No idea what the hell he’s doing. Perfect wife, two adorable children, and he’s all “naw I’mma go bang younger chicks.” It’s very awkward. I hung out with the woman and her new boyfriend this past weekend and I was super friendly but yeah I kept thinking “JESUS DOESN’T LIKE THIS WHY DID EVERYTHING GO WRONG HERE THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.”

• Is it “polite” to loudly and abrasively insist people call you a woman when you look like a man?

People don’t like playing the politeness game with people who aren’t playing the politeness game. That works both ways.

• quanta413 says:

And singular they, along with the entire concept of gender non-binary, should be enthusiastically embraced as the unfinished work of the 70s.

To sum up, I agree there’s a horseshoe between “I love to shop because I have a woman’s brain” and “Woman are natural nurtures and don’t belong in competitive fields” but I don’t think pronoun debates invoke much of those problematic aspects.

But LadyJane is not just talking about using pronouns for politeness. Her position is not yours, but also about

more broadly, with the idea of accepting trans identities as valid.

There can be implications for accepting gender binaries if you also accept trans identities as valid. Mostly if you’ve come from the angle LadyJane has about how their are clear biological differences in the brain separating trans from cis people and that these are a sign that trans people’s identities are scientifically correct. Less so if you come from an angle like “do whatever you feel best, gender is make-believe anyways”.

• Randy M says:

I am pretty sure the whole TURF thing is pretty explicitly second-wave.

I think that’s TERF, but perhaps you are actually more correct with turf.

The baseline assumption is that pretty much everyone is required to be polite, and that politeness involves saying things you don’t necessarily believe.

Generally, in social situations or cultures which have elaborate politeness rules, there are also elaborate rules to make sure you don’t put somebody in a place where it is hard for them to be polite. If I say “your baby is ugly” I’m the asshole. If you keep pestering me to tell you if I think the baby is cute why haven’t you said anything yet isn’t the baby cute I notice you haven’t commented on its cuteness, you’re the asshole. Making up new pronouns or changing the definitions of existing ones and insisting everybody who doesn’t obey your new rules is rude seems much more like the latter to me. It’s not saying we won’t play the game. It’s saying you’re not the referee, and you don’t get to change the game on the fly.

Anyway, arguing over who is being most impolite reminds of arguments over who has the burden of proof. It’s just an attempt to sidestep the real argument and win by rules-lawyering.

• @David

What I am uncomfortable with is the idea that I am obligated to either believe something or pretend to believe something on someone else’s orders.

So do you not follow any social norms, or do you just not perceive the other 99% as forced on you?

The equivalent of forcing someone to be rude would be inventing new pronouns but not saying what they are. Which is not happening in our reality (although it is in Royston Vasey).

• Matt M says:

or do you just not perceive the other 99% as forced on you?

Speaking for myself, probably this.

If I call your baby ugly, you may consider me rude and be less likely to be my friend… but you won’t haul me in front of some sort of human rights tribunal with the power to fine me and/or send me to jail. You won’t organize massive protests trying to get me fired from my job, etc.

The reaction to “misgendering” is completely and entirely different in scale than to virtually all other examples of simply being impolite. If the only reaction to it was that people who were more blue-tribe minded whispered to each other that you were kind of a jerk – I don’t think we’re having this argument in the public square.

• Nick says:

The divorce thing is a bit trickier. No one would gleefully refuse to acknowledge a remarriage, and would probably do so with some internal turmoil. I’m going through this right now. Two of my married Catholic friends are going through a divorce, and she’s dating a new guy. She is wonderful 10,000% wife material. I’ve never met such a wonderful person and homemaker. And her ex-husband is the biggest fool on the planet. No idea what the hell he’s doing. Perfect wife, two adorable children, and he’s all “naw I’mma go bang younger chicks.” It’s very awkward. I hung out with the woman and her new boyfriend this past weekend and I was super friendly but yeah I kept thinking “JESUS DOESN’T LIKE THIS WHY DID EVERYTHING GO WRONG HERE THIS WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN.”

Yeah, this is an interesting case*. One thing I probably should have brought up in my original response to the Rockefeller case David brought up, and which I think Anonymous may have been gesturing towards, is that maybe our norms about what it is and isn’t polite to say aren’t the best, and so as a friend maybe you should be able to counsel them on their marriage and faith, and the seriousness of what the husband is doing here, and the wife too by now dating another man. Of course, this is pretty far afield of the Rockefeller case, and I’m a lot less sure the norms in the Rockefeller case need to change.

*I don’t mean to downplay their suffering by speaking clinically here, so sorry if I come across that way.

• The reaction to “misgendering” is completely and entirely different in scale than to virtually all other examples of simply being impolite.

It’s pretty explicitly in the same bracket as using a derogatory racial epithet in the workplace. Do you think that sort of thing should go unpunished?

• Randy M says:

It’s pretty explicitly in the same bracket as using a derogatory racial epithet in the workplace.

This is the an assertion. I don’t think there’s a convincing argument that “he” carries the same negative affect as any common racial slur.

Part of what is being reacted against is the privilege to declare common speech as offensive on subjective reasoning.

• Matt M says:

Is that even the assertion though? Because I’ve heard very little “misgendering someone is like using a racial slur” in this thread, and a whole lot of “misgendering someone is like calling a baby ugly”

• Nick says:

Making up new pronouns or changing the definitions of existing ones and insisting everybody who doesn’t obey your new rules is rude seems much more like the latter to me. It’s not saying we won’t play the game. It’s saying you’re not the referee, and you don’t get to change the game on the fly.

A number of people have made the argument that not calling someone by their preferred pronoun is, if not dehumanizing, at least extremely distressing to some trans folks. My trouble here is, what do we do about cases like that? It’s not like we can cleverly avoid the use of pronouns all the time, not the way we might skirt around other differences, so it seems inevitable that by sticking to your guns here you’re sometimes going to cause someone extreme distress.

I want to say the solution is just for people to develop a thicker skin à la Haidt or Peterson, but 1) I’m not sure that’s practical, and 2) I’m not sure how that generalizes, and 3) I guarantee that proposal in this case has terrible, terrible optics.

• This is the assertion. I don’t think there’s a convincing argument that “he” carries the same negative affect as any common racial slur.

I don’t know how you *argue* about affect, but I’ve heard *reports* that it causes significant negative affect to some people. As not using it does for others, apparently.

• Protagoras says:

I’ve been avoiding this because I don’t mind using people’s preferred pronouns as long as they don’t get offended if I mess up accidentally, but I have to register some agreement with one of Thegnskald’s points. Gender essentialism makes me uncomfortable, and a lot of trans people seem to have pretty strongly gender essentialist views. Not all of them, of course; Ozy clearly doesn’t, to take a well-known example. And, yes, gender essentialist views bother me when they come from people who aren’t trans as well; I read Maggie McNiell’s blog because I support the sex worker cause and she’s a good source to keep updated on news related to that, but she’s pretty strongly gender essentialist and it always bothers me a little bit when that comes out in her discussions too.

Anyway, as a result the rhetoric of “everyone has a real self that is gendered” which LadyJane is pushing makes me a little uncomfortable, and I am not happy at feeling like I’m pandering to gender essentialism in going along with it. I go along with it anyway, because I don’t think gender is a big deal and I do have a strong streak of live and let live and people can be what they like, but I still always dislike the rhetoric when it comes up.

• Randy M says:

I don’t know how you *argue* about affect

For instance, you say “The n-word is associated with centuries of oppression of African-Americans, and for that reason using it clearly communicates disregard.” Or you say, “Calling a woman the archaic name for a dog is dehumanizing because it is literally a reference to a non-human, therefore it is emotional abuse in most context.”
In this case, the argument is “Using the pronoun of the human gender a person appears to be or has been in the past is dehumanizing because … ”
Fill in the blank with something reasonable or you look like a utility monster.

It looks like the argument is “because determining one’s own identity is a fundamental human right” but this is not currently the case for most contexts.
You cannot unilaterally declare yourself Japanese, a doctor, a member of a random family, or any number of things.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Randy M: I think you hit the nail on the head by mentioning utility monsters. It seems like society is facing a threat where people who have, or pretend to have for personal advantage, a certain brain or hormone disorder get to say “call me by the pronouns I want or it’ll hurt my feelings so bad it violates my human rights and I’ll call down the power of the state to have you dragged before a human rights tribunal!”
My goodness, I certainly hope for the sake of overall human utility that 1.7% of the population hasn’t always and everywhere been this fragile, suffering incalculable stress because the police werent swooping in to protect their feelings…
It makes me embarrassed to have ever had gender dysphoria. I never want to be one of Nietzsche’s Last Men.

• More valid, because they have an actual reason to feel upset (they’re being told that they’re something they aren’t, and nothing they do can convince people otherwise)

Happens to me all the time. People have been claiming I am a utilitarian for thirty years or so, despite the fact that the relevant index entry in my first book is “Utilitarian, why I am not.” I see lots of other misrepresentations of what I am, ideologically speaking.

I don’t think I have any right to have people only believe true things about me, although it would be nice. Their beliefs are in their heads, which belong to them. Certainly I have a right to feel upset, although mostly I don’t, but “it’s wrong for you to do anything that upsets me” strikes me as an unreasonable moral rule.

I just put up a post on my own blog discussing, among other things, a historical claim made by the Rabbi who officiated at my son’s wedding that I believe is clearly wrong. She is unlikely to read the post, but I have also made the point, in slightly weaker form, in email correspondence with her. She seems to be someone willing to be argued with, so it’s possible that being told that she was publicly saying obviously false things about the subject she is supposed to be expert in won’t upset her–but if it would, am I obliged to refrain from pointing out the error?

I’ve been going back and forth in this thread for a while now, and from what I can tell, there are four main reasons people might reject the validity of trans identities:

As best I can tell, none of those four describes my reasons for declining to use pronouns for people that don’t fit my perception of what those people are. That supports the point I made earlier, that I’m not the one failing to understand the views on the other side.

Could you be clearer about what “accept the validity of trans identities” means? As I think I made clear in the passage in Future Imperfect that you read, my guess is that at least some people who see themselves as having female minds in male bodies (or the reverse) are correct. I don’t know which.

Does “accept the validity” mean “believe that anyone who claims to be female really is female”? Does it mean “pretend to believe that …”? Does it mean “revise my concepts of male and female so that ‘male’ means ‘claims to be male’ and ‘female’ means ‘claims to be female'”?

• Thegnskald says:

(Also, completely unrelated to this topic, but my apologies if you are feeling dogpiled LadyJane. I think you are the only representative of whatever view it is you hold here. Let me know if you are and I’ll drop out of the discussion; I’m just engaging you because I try to play translator, and don’t need to be adding to it.)

• @The Ancient Geek:

So do you not follow any social norms, or do you just not perceive the other 99% as forced on you?

I can’t think of any social norms I obey that require me to pretend to believe things I don’t believe. The closest I can come to it was, a few days ago, reciting a blessing at my son’s (Jewish) wedding which clearly implied the existence of God. Doing that bothered me a little, but it was obvious that I was reciting an existing text–the Rabbi first recited the text in Hebrew and I then gave the English translation–so I thought it was closer to an actor speaking lines than someone saying what his own views were, so was willing to do it.

Confronted with a baby–I like babies–I am likely to say something positive, but I wouldn’t describe a baby as beautiful if I thought it was ugly. In the sort of social situation where you are expected to say something false I generally find evasions that don’t require me to do so.

Can you offer an example of a situation where I would be following a social norm that required me to say something false?

On another point you make … . Someone who uses a racial slur is doing it in order to offend, which is under most circumstances something you shouldn’t do. Someone who perceives an mtf transsexual as female but uses “he” in order to offend is similarly acting badly. A more plausible example would be someone who calls a man “she” in order to imply feminine behavior, as an insult.

That has nothing to do with someone who refers to an mtf transsexual as “he” because he perceives that person as male.

• One point that I don’t think has been raised in this discussion but should be …

A is talking to B about C, not present. C is a transsexual who self-identifies as female but appears, at least to A, to be male. A refers to C as “he.” A is, in Lady Jane’s language, “misgendering” C. Is there something wrong with doing so? What?

@Le Maistre Chat:

It seems like society is facing a threat where people who have, or pretend to have for personal advantage, a certain brain or hormone disorder get to say “call me by the pronouns I want or it’ll hurt my feelings so bad it violates my human rights and I’ll call down the power of the state to have you dragged before a human rights tribunal!
My goodness, I certainly hope for the sake of overall human utility that 1.7% of the population hasn’t always and everywhere been this fragile, suffering incalculable stress because the police werent swooping in to protect their feelings…
It makes me embarrassed to have ever had gender dysphoria. I never want to be one of Nietzsche’s Last Men.

Nice strawman. Yes, I believe that if someone accidentally misgenders someone, they should be arrested by heavily armed men and dragged to the Hague and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, without trial. Is that what you’d like me to say?

All I’ve argued is that 1.) intentionally misgendering someone is extremely rude and should be considered a violation of social norms, on par with using racial epithets, and 2.) constant misgendering directed at a specific person amounts to harassment, and is valid grounds for expelling or firing someone, just like constantly directing racial epithets at a fellow student or co-worker would be.

You all keep acting as if trans people are demanding special treatment, when in fact we’re just asking to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. If you’re walking down the street and say “hey, miss!” to the person in front of you, but they turn around and it turns out they’re actually a cis man (and very visibly so), you’re probably not going to get upset or feel like you’re being oppressed if they correct you, and you’re probably not going to stubbornly keep referring to them as a woman. And if you did continue to call them “miss” for whatever reason, then I don’t think most people would blame them for getting upset with you. Why should it be any different for trans people?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@LadyJane: To the best of my knowledge, it’s not a strawman, it’s how state power works in Canada. If you want to argue that Canada is a weakman of the LGBT rights position, with the American LGBT defenders who outnumber them 10-1 disapproving, that’s fine.
Because that’s what’s at stake in my mind: that “transgender” means “utility monster” and they want state power to be their nanny protecting them from the incalculable disutility of hurt feelings. This is nothing against the brain or hormonal problem, which is entirely sympathetic, and all about choosing to serve the Left in a dialectic that will lead to the Last Men, unreasoning utility monsters who think all of human history was nothing but oppression until their mores invented happiness. (blink)

• Nick says:

Le Maistre Chat, I did a double take too, since Aapje’s original post was about C16 and the Shepherd case, and LadyJane’s first comment was “I don’t see the problem,” but, looking back, she’s never actually defended the use of state power. Rather, her focus has been on the right of universities (and organizations more broadly, I take it) to regulate such things among its employees; that the professors said Shepherd was violating C16 doesn’t appear to factor into her argument.

@DavidFriedman:

Does “accept the validity” mean “believe that anyone who claims to be female really is female”? Does it mean “pretend to believe that …”? Does it mean “revise my concepts of male and female so that ‘male’ means ‘claims to be male’ and ‘female’ means ‘claims to be female’”?

If you want to get really technical, I suppose it would mean 1.) revise your concepts of male and female to acknowledge the fact that people with male ‘minds’ (i.e. neuro-hormonal systems) and female ‘bodies’ (i.e. outwardly visible sex characteristics) exist, and vice-versa, 2.) accept people with male minds as being male, and people with female minds as being female, even if their bodies don’t match, and 3.) believe that someone who claims to have a male/female mind is both correct and honest.

Honestly, an argument could be made that all trans people are really just intersex, and thus aren’t truly male or truly female. If you referred to all trans people with gender-neutral pronouns on that basis, or refused to describe them with any gendered pronouns at all, I would be fine with that and wouldn’t consider it misgendering. Other trans people might disagree, though.

On another point you make … . Someone who uses a racial slur is doing it in order to offend, which is under most circumstances something you shouldn’t do. Someone who perceives an mtf transsexual as female but uses “he” in order to offend is similarly acting badly. A more plausible example would be someone who calls a man “she” in order to imply feminine behavior, as an insult.

If you continually insist on misgendering a trans woman – even if you’re just using the term that seems most intuitive to you, and your intent isn’t to offend them – you’re still effectively making an object-level claim that they are not a woman (which is debatable, depending on how exactly you define “woman,” but I would strongly disagree), and furthermore that they actually just a delusional cis man (which is objectively false). Does that adequately explain why they would take offense to it?

A is talking to B about C, not present. C is a transsexual who self-identifies as female but appears, at least to A, to be male. A refers to C as “he.” A is, in Lady Jane’s language, “misgendering” C. Is there something wrong with doing so? What?

The claim that C is male is wrong on the object level.

In terms of social etiquette, I don’t think A is necessarily being rude; manners, unlike morality, only apply when people who care about them are around. But I also don’t think it would be rude for B to correct them, or get upset with them if they continued doing it, or tell C that A really thinks of her as a dude.

If A was talking to B in a professional context (for instance, if the three of them were all co-workers), then I don’t think it would be appropriate at all, and I wouldn’t blame B for reporting A to their boss.

• Randy M says:

Honestly, an argument could be made that all trans people are really just intersex, and thus aren’t truly male or truly female. If you referred to all trans people with gender-neutral pronouns on that basis, or refused to describe them with any gendered pronouns at all, I would be fine with that and wouldn’t consider it misgendering. Other trans people might disagree, though.

Is the standard for employability going to be set by the average transexual advocate, or the most disagreeable?

But more importantly, here you very nearly reach a point of agreement with the opposition with which I would align.
Other than this concession above, you are wanting “female” to be defined entirely by the mental experience, ostensibly verifiable by brain scans (but the trans individual is not required to present any evidence beyond the subjective, right?). Not “socially classed as female” but “actual female”. As in, no essential difference between transsexual person claiming female and median representative of the category.

I can accept with compassion that there are individuals exhibiting a regrettable mismatch between brain and body. I will agree decency requests we treat these people kindly. I will entertain the notion that they are distressed by word choices and attempt to minimize this.

The broader ideological claim, though, that the category of woman should contain both the woman-brain man-body and the woman-brain woman-body, and there is no reason for a linguistic distinction beyond bigotry or ignorance–this claim is attempting to alter reality through naked force of will and is bound to failure and smacks of forcing people to admit to a falsehood in order to show your power over them.

Of course, this is all well trod ground around here by now. I thought Scott’s Tumblr post from a year or so back outlined the disagreement clearly, but little chance I could find the post I’m remembering.

@Le Maistre Chat: Even the Canadian law doesn’t make it illegal to misgender someone. It doesn’t even regulate what universities can teach like Aapje was claiming. The university in question decided to set a standard, as it has every right to do; it wasn’t legally obliged to do so.

The C16 law prohibits discrimination against people on the basis of gender identity and gender expression (i.e. refusing to serve or rent to trans people, expelling or firing someone for coming out as trans), and it expands hate crime laws to cover instances where the victims were targeted for their gender presentation. The idea that someone’s going to get arrested for accidentally misgendering a trans person is ridiculous, it’s just another paranoid conservative fantasy.

In principle, I don’t disagree with your stance. In practice, I think your particular concerns are very far removed from the actual reality of the world, and worse, they make you apathetic if not outright hostile towards the very real struggles facing trans people today. You’re tilting at windmills and running through peasants in the process.

While I do worry a lot about the ever-increasing power of the state and the rising trend toward authoritarianism, I really don’t think the main threat to liberty is going to come from trans people or gay rights activists or feminists or any other SJW boogeymen. If anything, it’s a lot more likely to come from their ideological opponents. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, you’re running around looking for a fire extinguisher while the ship is sinking.

@Randy:

Other than this concession above, you are wanting “female” to be defined entirely by the mental experience, ostensibly verifiable by brain scans (but the trans individual is not required to present any evidence beyond the subjective, right?). Not “socially classed as female” but “actual female”. As in, no essential difference between transsexual person claiming female and median representative of the category.

No one claims or believes that trans women are physically identical to cis women. The claim is that both groups fall under the broader classification of “women.”

The broader ideological claim, though, that the category of woman should contain both the woman-brain man-body and the woman-brain woman-body, and there is no reason for a linguistic distinction beyond bigotry or ignorance–this claim is attempting to alter reality through naked force of will and is bound to failure and smacks of forcing people to admit to a falsehood in order to show your power over them.

First off, no one is claiming that there should be no linguistic distinction between cis women and trans women, that’s why the terms “cis women” and “trans women” exist. I don’t think I’m cis, or even particularly want to be cis.

But getting to the meat of the issue: Maybe you’re right that categorizing that trans women as women requires a redefinition of the word. But by that logic – and this is basically the key point I’ve been making this entire time – categorizing trans women as men would also require a redefinition of the word.

The traditional definitions of male and female don’t take intersex and trans people into account at all. According to the traditional definitions, male refers to “male brain, male body” and female refers to “female brain, female body” and anything else wouldn’t fall into either category.

So when some conservative says that Caitlyn Jenner is just a dude in a dress, he’s trying to “alter reality through naked force of will” every bit as much as the trans activist who says that Caitlyn Jenner is actually a woman in every meaningful way, whether he realizes it or not. Both sides of the debate are trying to redraw the boundaries to suit their agendas.

That’s why I find it very hypocritical and self-serving when the anti-trans people claim to have science and objective truth on their side. The only thing they actually have going for them is a classification system that – while less accurate overall – matches a lot of people’s immediate intuitions better than the alternative, since it exclusively prioritizes the most obviously visible traits (as evidenced by The Nybbler and Aapje’s claims about how trying to use trans people’s preferred pronouns causes mental dissonance). But as increasingly more people accept the validity of trans identities, and as the social and aesthetic lines between men and women blur together even among cis people, the conservative model of gender categorization will lose even that one advantage.

• Iain says:

It looks like it is once again time for me to link to the actual text of Bill C-16, the justification for all these horrible Canadian atrocities.

LadyJane’s characterization is correct. Le Maistre Chat’s interpretation of Canadian law is not. Consider, for example, the Canadian Bar Association’s statement on the Bill:

Recently, the debate has turned to whether the amendments will force individuals to embrace concepts, even use pronouns, which they find objectionable. This is a misunderstanding of human rights and hate crimes legislation.

Equivalent laws to Bill C-16 have existed at a provincial and territorial level in Canada since 2002. If utility monsters demanding protection from the nanny blanket of the state were a real problem, you would expect to be able to find examples from the Canadian legal system. Where are they?

• Randy M says:

when some conservative says that Caitlyn Jenner is just a dude in a dress, he’s trying to “alter reality through naked force of will” every bit as much as the trans activist who says that Caitlyn Jenner is actually a woman in every meaningful way, whether he realizes it or not.

But, if you don’t lead with the brain scans and instead lead with the feels and the rights and the self-identification, it is a very fair assessment of the situation and perfectly expected to not realize it–given that Bruce Jenner acted very much like a dude, being a competitive athlete and father, and looked unfeminine for much of the time he was feted for wearing a dress.

Both sides of the debate are trying to redraw the boundaries to suit their agendas.

It is very obvious that almost all people fit cleanly, on a physical level, into male or female categories. Behavior has considerably more variance, and only correlates with gender on net (that is, biological women have fewer masculine traits than feminine, but not always all or nothing) so it is not readily apparent that there is easily identifiable mismatch between biological mental inclinations and biological physiological function. Given this, I think one side is clearly pushing for a change in understanding. Reality lies at some point in between the prior understanding and the rhetoric of the advocates; but that doesn’t make it the case that both sides are advocating a change.

The traditional definitions of male and female don’t take intersex and trans people into account at all. According to the traditional definitions, male refers to “male brain, male body” and female refers to “female brain, female body” and anything else wouldn’t fall into either category.

Yes, that is what the words do and should mean; it is more sociologically useful to have terms that mean “male/male” and “female/female” and then clarify in the <1% of cases of mismatch than to strip the terms of meaning and be forced to clarify in the majority of cases or risk misunderstanding.

3.) believe that someone who claims to have a male/female mind is both correct and honest.

If “someone who” means “some people who,” that is already my belief, or at least my best guess, as I said in Future Imperfect.

If it means “anyone who” then I can’t believe it and you probably don’t either. Some people are dishonest and some people are mistaken in their beliefs about themselves. You might as well ask me to believe that two plus two equals five.

you’re still effectively making an object-level claim that they are not a woman (which is debatable, depending on how exactly you define “woman,” but I would strongly disagree), and furthermore that they actually just a delusional cis man (which is objectively false).

You insist on treating your interpretation of the meaning of my choice of pronouns as if it meant what you want it to mean instead of what I have repeatedly explains it means. My referring to someone as “him” is making the claim that I perceive that person as male.

We all have to operate with maps that are simpler than the territory. Since I am speaking a language that only recognizes three categories, one of which (neuter) is inappropriate, I have to sort people into two categories, grammatically speaking. Some people don’t make a very good fit for either category. You insist that I have to speak as if I was sorting those people in the way they prefer instead of the way in which my mind actually sorts them. But my speech represents the contents of my mind, not of theirs.

But I also don’t think it would be rude for B to correct them, or get upset with them if they continued doing it, or tell C that A really thinks of her as a dude.

It would not be rude for B to point out that he sees C as female and try to persuade A to do the same. It is not so much rude as unreasonably arrogant for B to insist that A is making a mistake, that the only way it makes any sense to classify C is the way B does it.

It isn’t rude for B to inform C of A’s position, but I would have thought that you would be strongly against B doing so. You, after all, have been arguing that it badly hurts C to know that some other person regards C as male. If so, isn’t B being needlessly cruel by passing on the information?

• albatross11 says:

This is just an aside, but I want to let you know how much I appreciate you being willing to stay in this conversation and explain your position in calm and rational terms, against what probably feels like a dogpile at times.

• John Schilling says:

It’s pretty explicitly in the same bracket as using a derogatory racial epithet in the workplace.

No, using a gendered insult in the workplace would be explicitly in the same bracket as using a racial epithet in the workplace.

“Misgendering” transgender indviduals is pretty explicitly in the same bracket as calling Rachel Dolezal white. There is a very big difference between calling Rachel Dolezal white, and calling her [racial epithet]. And grotesquely exaggerating the degree of insult associated with what is ultimately a factual disagreement, is not arguing in good faith.

@Randy M:

Yes, that is what the words do and should mean; it is more sociologically useful to have terms that mean “male/male” and “female/female” and then clarify in the <1% of cases of mismatch than to strip the terms of meaning and be forced to clarify in the majority of cases or risk misunderstanding.

Fine. But that’s not the argument that the social conservatives and the TERFs and all the other transphobes are making. Aside from a handful of people in a few intellectual playgrounds like the SSC forums, no one is saying “trans women aren’t women because they’re some other type of person that’s not truly male or truly female,” they’re saying “trans women aren’t women because they’re delusional cis men.”

And if you want proof, you need look no further than this very thread for a myriad of examples. For instance, CatCube said that “the demand that we acknowledge that men are really women and vice versa is absolutely bonkers,” which doesn’t exactly indicate a nuanced view of the limits of traditional gender classifications. And most of the posters in this thread seem to be taking his side.

If our culture and our language were different, and better acknowledged the existence of people who fall outside of strict definitions of ‘male’ or ‘female’, then I wouldn’t find it so objectionable to be classified in a different category than cis women. But if people are going to insist that you can only be a man or a woman, and deny that any other possibilities exist, then you’re forcing outliers like me to round ourselves off into one of two imperfect categories. And if you’re going to force us into boxes like that, you’d better believe that we’re going to fight tooth and nail to at least be in the box that fits us better.

@DavidFriedman:

You insist on treating your interpretation of the meaning of my choice of pronouns as if it meant what you want it to mean instead of what I have repeatedly explains it means. My referring to someone as “him” is making the claim that I perceive that person as male.

I understand. But I was explaining why so many trans people feel so offended and invalidated by misgendering. I wasn’t trying to misinterpret your intent, I was explaining how misgendering is likely to be interpreted by any given trans person.

Other people can’t read your mind, and most of them are not going to understand the very subtle distinction between “I’m making a claim that this person is objectively male” and “I’m making a claim that my mind perceives this person as male,” especially when there are so many people out there who actually do argue against the validity of trans identities on the object level. You can explain your thought processes to them, as you’ve explained them to me, and maybe some of them will be less offended after hearing your reasons. But I hope you can at least understand why they’d be so upset in the first place.

• Nornagest says:

most of them are not going to understand the very subtle distinction between “I’m making a claim that this person is objectively male” and “I’m making a claim that my mind perceives this person as male,”

If I point at a rock in the river, and say “check out that rock”, and it turns out to be a crocodile, I think most people are going to understand pretty well what I meant.

• Aapje says:

Even the Canadian law doesn’t make it illegal to misgender someone. It doesn’t even regulate what universities can teach like Aapje was claiming. The university in question decided to set a standard, as it has every right to do; it wasn’t legally obliged to do so.

That is not what I claimed! I noted that Title IX also seems to not make it legally mandatory to have an amateur legal system at universities, especially given that the courts seem to generally rule against the universities when people who are convicted by Title IX seek judicial redress and that a sane reading of the law does not require it.

Nevertheless, there was political coercion of universities to make them have Title IX panels, based on a claim by politicians that the law did require Title IX panels. Furthermore, there seems to be no move towards ending/fixing this travesty. At this point, a certain reading of Title IX laws, which makes little sense to me, has become very popular among many on the left. When certain beliefs are dominant, this can result in institutional oppression when people act on their beliefs, even if this is not legally mandated or allowed.

So at this point, I cannot trust that people will not go far beyond what is currently described as the clear meaning of C-16, because we’ve already seen people go far beyond the clear meaning of Title IX law and not be stopped.

Good faith in the absence of evidence is necessary to be able to cooperate. Good faith in the face of strong evidence of bad faith just makes you a victim.

In practice, I think your particular concerns are very far removed from the actual reality of the world

Title IX panels are actual reality. There are many horror stories about them that seem to check out. How can I believe you if you claim that something that already happened once, is unlikely to happen again?

While I do worry a lot about the ever-increasing power of the state and the rising trend toward authoritarianism, I really don’t think the main threat to liberty is going to come from trans people or gay rights activists or feminists or any other SJW boogeymen.

Title IX panels don’t seem to register as a major threat to individual liberty to you, nor do you seem to see them for what they are. This makes me doubt your ability to recognize actual threats.

You seem to worry about LGBT issues, but it seems clear to me that in the West, policies are moving in the direction of things becoming gradually better for LGBT. You have some hiccups and last minute backlash, which is temporarily unpleasant & unfair to individuals, but it’s not a permanent worsening.

Perhaps you should explain what (out)group you think will be the true threat? Alt-right? Conservatives? White men? Capitalists? Some other group?

PS. AFAIK feminists are the largest self-identified group in the West who commonly believe in a conspiracy theory blaming the oppression of some identity groups on other identity groups. History shows that such an ideology is extremely likely to result in abuse of power against the groups that are claimed to be oppressive.

• John Schilling says:

I’ve been going back and forth in this thread for a while now, and from what I can tell, there are four main reasons people might reject the validity of trans identities:

1.) [Arbitrary religious belief]
2.) [Conspiracy theory]
3.) [Deny reality of trans-identities]
4.) [Arbitrary intuition]

If that’s really all you’ve come up with, you haven’t been trying hard enough. Here’s a few more.

5. They don’t like the unfairness of one group being asked to do all the work, for the sole benefit of another group who won’t even meet them half way on the issue. The issue of pronouns and misgendering rarely comes up when a trans-man or trans-woman makes a consistent and good-faith effort to publicly present as their preferred gender, because nobody even thinks to ask for a blood test or genital exam before saying “her” about Sue-with-breasts-in-a-dress. But people are being told that they have to use “Sue’s” preferred pronouns even if “Sue” is sporting a beard.

The bit you complain about not understanding why some transgendered individuals are being treated differently from others, I’m pretty sure this is why. And the number of Sues-with-beards may be tiny, but if that’s the hill you all are willing to die on…

6. While accepting that transgender identities are real in the sense that cis-male. cis-female, trans-male, and trans-female are four different things, they believe that the word “Woman” and its synonyms and associated pronouns best encompasses cis-female + trans-male, rather than cis-female + trans-female.

7. Given that traditional gender roles are increasingly seen as being arbitrary and archaic in every context other than “usually it’s one guy and one girl pairing up for sexyfuntimes”, they don’t like the cognitive dissonance associated with being told that now it’s really important that they get the right traditional gender label for this particular group of people. Particularly when this demand is coming from the same people who told them to drop the traditional gender roles already.

8. They feel that, given the one remaining role for traditional gender labels as noted above, they are being asked to signal e.g. “I as a penis-bearing person hereby proclaim this other penis-bearing-person as a member of the class of people I like to have sexyfuntimes with”, when this is A: not true and B: well beyond the sort of white lie one can be asked to tell in the name of politeness. And I’ve seen too many trans-women seeking validation of their sex appeal to cis-hetero men to discount this one.

9. If they don’t feel they are being asked to lie about their own sexuality, they see this whole apparently meaningless and arbitrary demand as an imposition of power for the sake of power, a means of establishing dominance and submission. And yes, if one person gets to decide what words another person is allowed to use and with what meaning, dominance and submission have been established. Which leads to,

10. There Are Four Lights, and they absolutely reject demands that they should see a fifth light no matter how pious the cause.

I think your attempt to model the whole of the opposition to your cause in this matter as religious fanatics, conspiracy theorists, and various sorts of fools, is leading you badly astray.

• Nornagest says:

AFAIK feminists are the largest self-identified group in the West who commonly believe in a conspiracy theory […]

As much as I dislike patriarchy theory, I don’t think “conspiracy theory” quite fits. Even the least sophisticated versions seem closer to theories of class struggle, where there’s no centralized conspiracy to advance class interests but there doesn’t need to be, because everyone defaults to doing that anyway.

@Aapje: I don’t think the real threat is any particular group, but rather a systemic trend toward immediate authoritarian responses to complex large-scale problems that require more subtle long-term solutions. The Trump campaign’s strongman rhetoric is certainly an example of that, but I’m a lot more concerned with things like the War on Drugs and the War on Guns and War on Terror and foreign interventionism and police militarization and the surveillance state. I definitely don’t think any major threats to liberty are going to come from either side of the culture wars; I find the more extreme SJWs to be obnoxious and the more extreme social conservatives to be utterly reprehensible on every level, but I don’t think either group has enough real social, political, or economic power to seriously threaten people’s civil rights. Furthermore, I think the people who are overly worried about either group are ignoring the real problem.

As for Title IX panels, universities can do whatever they want. That doesn’t mean they should, or that I necessarily approve of what the Title IX panels are doing (I don’t know enough about these cases to make a judgment either way), but I don’t think you can say they’re violating freedom of speech/expression/association, since the universities don’t have the force of the state behind them. In fact, the universities in question are exercising their own freedom of association by refusing to hire or serve people who don’t meet their standards.

• And if you’re going to force us into boxes like that, you’d better believe that we’re going to fight tooth and nail to at least be in the box that fits us better.

If I required everyone to treat you as male, and made rules saying that no restaurant could allow you into the ladies room and no bar could treat you as a lady on lady’s night and you had to wear male dress and you could be punished for fraud if you told anyone you were female, you could legitimately claim that I was forcing you into a box.

But it isn’t forcing you into a box if I choose to treat you as male rather than female, still less if I let you know that I regard you as male rather than female. What you are is not defined by how I see you.

@John Schilling:

5. To me, this comes across as somewhere between “women only deserve to be treated with respect if they’re attractive” and “black people only deserve to be treated with respect if they act white.” Maybe that’s assuming bad faith, and you just find it a lot easier to refer to people with pronouns that match your initial appearance-based assumption of their gender (which is basically what David Friedman and Matt M and The Nybbler all said). But in practice, that tends to mean that the only trans women who are treated with respect are those lucky enough to naturally look passable or wealthy enough to afford extensive cosmetic surgery.

If given a choice between making a moderate amount of people slightly uncomfortable because they don’t want to change their default mental heuristics, and making a small amount of people extremely uncomfortable just for existing, I’m going to favor the latter option.

6. At that point, you’re basically asking for “male” and “female” to be defined solely by chromosomes and/or genitalia. I don’t see any good reason for that. Unlike the previous example, you can’t even argue that it’s more intuitive this way, because you can’t tell what chromosomes someone has just by looking at them, and you usually can’t tell what genitals they have from a cursory glance either. Hell, for most of history, people didn’t even know what chromosomes were. And if you’re going by genitals alone, would trans people who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery be grouped together with cis people?

7. This is the kind of argument I’d expect from one of those goofy memes with the guy struggling to choose between two buttons. I already repeatedly explained why gender identity isn’t the same thing as societal gender roles. There is no conflict between accepting gender identities and rejecting gender roles, it’s a false dichotomy.

8. So what about trans people who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery? If you’re attracted to women with vaginas, then a post-op trans woman would fit that description too. Speaking more broadly, I’d agree that it’s probably a good idea for people to specify their genital configuration to potential sex partners, but I don’t see why that should prevent trans people from identifying as their preferred gender in public.

9-10. I’m not even going to bother responding to these.

• Controls Freak says:

1.) revise your concepts of male and female to acknowledge the fact that people with male ‘minds’

…and that’s where I get off the train. We didn’t get very far. My queer theory coursework taught me to be quite suspicious of gender essentialism without a significant amount of evidence. I’ve seen the brain scans; they don’t suffice. I don’t think this is quite captured by (3), but I think you intended it to.

(Aside: How would you respond to someone who reacted to this statement by saying that they reject Cartesian dualism?)

@DavidFriedman:

If I required everyone to treat you as male, and made rules saying that no restaurant could allow you into the ladies room and no bar could treat you as a lady on lady’s night and you had to wear male dress and you could be punished for fraud if you told anyone you were female, you could legitimately claim that I was forcing you into a box.

You mean like states making laws forcing people to use the bathrooms corresponding to the genders they were assigned at birth? Or not allowing trans people to change their legal gender marker? Or declaring trans people’s marriages null and void because their assigned birth gender doesn’t match the gender on their marriage license, even in states and countries where gay marriage is legal? Or denying trans people the option to start hormone treatments unless they live as their preferred gender for two years beforehand, as is the case in some European nations?

@Controls Freak: If you think my view on trans people requires a belief in Cartesian dualism, then you’re seriously misinterpreting my arguments.

• Controls Freak says:

I didn’t say your argument requires belief in Cartesian dualism. I asked how you would respond to a statement. This sounds like “go away”, in which case, I would go away, and I wouldn’t really have much chance to be convinced by anything you have to say.

@Controls Freak:
If someone earnestly asked me that, I would try to explain that when trans people talk about having a female mind in a male body (or vice-versa), they’re using the term ‘mind’ to refer to their neurological structure and the sex hormones that influence it, and they’re using the term ‘body’ to refer to their outwardly visible physical characteristics. It doesn’t require one to believe in the concept of an immaterial soul.

As I already explained earlier in the thread: I’m effectively using the word gender to refer to the neurological and hormonal traits that determine someone’s internal sense of gender identity (i.e. whether they see themselves as male or female or both or neither, not in terms of societal expectations and gender roles, but on a purely somatic level; to be even more specific, what sex their internal ‘map’ of their body views itself as).

• Controls Freak says:

they’re using the term ‘mind’ to refer to their neurological structure and the sex hormones that influence it

It doesn’t require one to believe in the concept of an immaterial soul.

Suppose they respond, “I’m not talking about a ‘soul’. I’m talking about a ‘mind’. I reject your ability to use to term ‘mind’ to describe biological structures.”

to be even more specific, what sex their internal ‘map’ of their body views itself as

Now is probably as good a time as any to note that you only responded to the aside in my comment, not the main comment.

Then I’d start to feel like they were arguing in bad faith, since that seems like quibbling over semantics in a deliberate effort to ignore my actual point. I suppose I would reframe my statement as “trans women have some physiological traits associated with cis women and some physiological traits associated with cis men, and the former have a greater impact on their psychological state even though the latter are more obviously visible.”

Leaving aside that hypothetical, your actual argument seemed to be “I’ve seen all the evidence and I’m not convinced,” which makes me feel like there’s little point in trying to persuade you otherwise.

• Douglas Knight says:

Iain, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has since 2014 explicitly listed misgendering (and dead-naming) as harassment, thus discrimination. In 2016-12, during federal debate and probably in response to Peterson, they issued a clarification that they really mean it, but there are some disclaimers, such as not all of society is covered by discrimination law, and they’re not sure about new neutral pronouns.

Of course, the federal Commission can do whatever it wants, but the original plan was to copy Ontario.

The CBA has an abysmal record on human rights law.

• The Nybbler says:

If given a choice between making a moderate amount of people slightly uncomfortable because they don’t want to change their default mental heuristics, and making a small amount of people extremely uncomfortable just for existing, I’m going to favor the latter option.

The rationalist jargon for this argument is “utility monster”. In this case a negative utility monster, but it’s equivalent.

You mean like states making laws …

followed by a long list of things that does not include “individuals failing to use the gendered pronouns that correspond to the self-identification of transsexual persons.”

Which was what we were talking about.

@TheNybbler: By that logic, I’d imagine it would be quite easy to label a lot of minority groups as ‘negative utility monsters’ for wanting equal treatment. “Refusing to let black children attend the same public schools as everyone else would cause them harm… but allowing them in would cause some white families to be uncomfortable, so it’s more ethical to keep them segregated.”

@DavidFriedman: And where do you think these laws come from? The state, obviously, but why do you think politicians are so inclined to pass them? Who do you think wants them? I’d imagine there’s a very large overlap between “people who deliberately misgender trans people” and “people who support anti-trans legislation.” (That’s not to accuse you of supporting any of the laws I described; I don’t know your position on them and I don’t like to make assumptions about specific individuals’ views. I’m just making a broader point that these two issues aren’t entirely unrelated.)

• The rationalist jargon for this argument is “utility monster”. In this case a negative utility monster, but it’s equivalent.

There might be an objection from negative utility monstering, but if you are going to go down that route, you should not also go down the route of saying that using “she” or xhe” causes you mental anguish, because that is itself negative utility monstering.

• Aapje says:

@Nornagest

As much as I dislike patriarchy theory, I don’t think “conspiracy theory” quite fits. Even the least sophisticated versions seem closer to theories of class struggle, where there’s no centralized conspiracy to advance class interests but there doesn’t need to be, because everyone defaults to doing that anyway.

I would call Marxism a conspiracy theory as well. I see a claim of extremely aligned behavior by an ‘oppressor’ group that causes extreme harm to another group, where the actual evidence is extremely divergent with this claim, as the relevant criterion for what makes such theories truly dangerous*. This danger is even greater when it is combined with a strong dismissal, strongly divergent from the evidence, that significant harm is done collectively and/or individually by the other group to members of the ‘oppressor’ group.

At that point you have the basis for extremist solutions being implementing that are not justified by the evidence. When those who implement these solutions also blind themselves to the negative consequences to the outgroup, there is then no mechanism that prevents a spiral into ever more extremist solutions, when the less extremist solutions don’t work (and they generally don’t, because those are based on falsely accusing the outgroup, so oppressing the outgroup generally won’t help).

Merely believing that the ‘oppressors’ themselves must be oppressed because they are naturally disposed to oppress and assuming extreme bad faith on their part that results in their needs being framed as illegitimate, seems little different from the perspective of the ‘oppressors’ to being treated badly because of a claim that they follow ‘protocols’ or do other explicit coordination.

AFAIK, there is no overarching category/term for both the kind of theories that argue that there is explicit coordination with the intent to do harm and those that claim that certain people cannot help but oppress. So either I have to put effort into going into detail, like the above, or I have to make do with terminology that confuses some.

* And yes, I realize that my opposition to most feminism (most strongly the political, scientific and activist forms) is seen as the same by some, but I think that my claims are relatively well supported by the evidence.

• Aapje says:

The Trump campaign’s strongman rhetoric is certainly an example of that, but I’m a lot more concerned with things like the War on Drugs and the War on Guns and War on Terror and foreign interventionism and police militarization and the surveillance state. I definitely don’t think any major threats to liberty are going to come from either side of the culture wars;

On the one hand I agree with you that there are dangerous mechanisms that are problematic in themselves, because people can grab the levers of the machine and wreak havoc.

However, I also believe that ideology greatly influences how willing people are to grab those levers, make sure that their political opponents don’t get to keep the levers from being pushed too far and blind themselves to the evidence of the havoc that they are causing. The machine doesn’t just operate itself, someone has to run it. If a more moderate person operates a dangerous machine, that person will not maximally take advantage of what the machine can do. However, if extremists gain control, they will not restrain themselves.

So the way I see it, it is critical that extremists do not gain power over the machine, which depends on the ability of moderates to recognize and resist it. My impression is that the left is currently far less able to recognize and resist their extremists than the right. This is in no small part because the kind of dumb pattern matching that people tend to do to recognize evil, is based on object level comparisons, rather than judging ideas by more abstract principles. In other words, people can recognize unfair treatment of black people, women, gays, etc; far, far more easily today than they can recognize unfair treatment of white people, Asians, men, straight people, etc.

As for Title IX panels, universities can do whatever they want. That doesn’t mean they should, or that I necessarily approve of what the Title IX panels are doing (I don’t know enough about these cases to make a judgment either way), but I don’t think you can say they’re violating freedom of speech/expression/association, since the universities don’t have the force of the state behind them.

When the regulatory environment makes it unrealistic to not depend on federal funding, which in turn requires compliance with certain rules, you have ‘force of the state.’ In practice, it seems that it is almost impossible to run a university without federal funding, which is logical, because doing so effectively means that those who fund the attending students have to double pay: both for the federal funding of the universities they don’t attend and for the one they do. Such an environment is inherently coercive (which doesn’t make it wrong, but which does not allow freedom of association to work as you claim).

I think that it is very dangerous to pretend that people have a choice, when they don’t actually do in a realistic sense. I don’t consider ‘of course you have the option to opt out, you just have to accept a severe decrease in your ability to compete with others’ an acceptable outcome.

• Anonymous says:

9. If they don’t feel they are being asked to lie about their own sexuality, they see this whole apparently meaningless and arbitrary demand as an imposition of power for the sake of power, a means of establishing dominance and submission. And yes, if one person gets to decide what words another person is allowed to use and with what meaning, dominance and submission have been established. Which leads to,

10. There Are Four Lights, and they absolutely reject demands that they should see a fifth light no matter how pious the cause.

9-10. I’m not even going to bother responding to these.

Why shouldn’t you?

• Randy M says:

Fine. But that’s not the argument that the social conservatives and the TERFs and all the other transphobes are making. Aside from a handful of people in a few intellectual playgrounds like the SSC forums, no one is saying “trans women aren’t women because they’re some other type of person that’s not truly male or truly female,” they’re saying “trans women aren’t women because they’re delusional cis men.”

Feel free not to respond, the thread is long and plenty of others are raising their own points. But I think the explanation of this is that the activists aren’t leading with brainscans and hormone measurements to prove the case, but emphasizing identity, feeling, and rights. People understand that mental defects are beyond an individuals control and are legitimately deserving of treatment if they can be objectively established. People can understand that there are individuals that don’t fit the categories.
Many people will react strongly against being told that a manly man who felt like wearing a dress, seemingly out of the blue, is an “actual woman.”

So what about trans people who’ve undergone sexual reassignment surgery? If you’re attracted to women with vaginas, then a post-op trans woman would fit that description too.

Does sexual reassignment surgery give a woman who until recently had a man’s body a working womb? Because sex actually has a purpose, and if Transexuals are going to get offended by people who use the concept of gender to screen for potential mates, they lose out.

• Iain says:

@Douglas Knight:

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has since 2014 explicitly listed misgendering (and dead-naming) as harassment, thus discrimination. In 2016-12, during federal debate and probably in response to Peterson, they issued a clarification that they really mean it, but there are some disclaimers, such as not all of society is covered by discrimination law, and they’re not sure about new neutral pronouns.

Sure, there’s a bunch of stuff on that list that would be troubling given blind enforcement. Getting arrested for “comments or conduct relating to a perception that a person is not conforming with gender-role stereotypes”? Going to prison for “Intrusive comments, questions or insults about a person’s body, physical characteristics, gender-related medical procedures, clothing, mannerisms, or other forms of gender expression”? Terrifying!

But that’s not how the Canadian justice system works. Canadian law is big on case-by-case balancing of rights. See, for example, the OHRC’s three-stage process for evaluating competing rights claims, or this 2012 Supreme Court decision about wearing the niqab while testifying. Judges are routinely expected to evaluate the reasonableness of claims, and balance various rights against each other.

Le Maistre Chat’s nightmare scenario can only come to pass if judges throw their principles out the window and go all-in on anti-discrimination law. That is prima facie implausible; if you want to make that claim, pointing at proclamations from the OHRC isn’t enough. You dismiss the caveats as mere disclaimers, but the Canadian justice system is very serious about those caveats. The burden of proof here is on the people who claim state power is being wielded as a protective blanket for trans people to find a real-world example. It it’s as bad as they say, it should be easy.

PS: This case is the closest I’ve been able to find. I’ve read through the decision, and it seems careful, thoughtful, and proportionate. For example, consider pages 52-53: the Vancouver jail has a policy for determining whether claims of being transgender are legitimate, and the judge explicitly declines to call that policy discriminatory.

• Aapje says:

@Randy M

In general, I think that SJ is heavily people-oriented, which rubs thing-oriented people very much the wrong way and vice versa.

• The Nybbler says:

@Aapje

SJ adherents like to use thing-orientedness as a bludgeon, mostly because it’s effective. Thing-oriented people know they’re thing-oriented, so you have a good chance of snowing them by asserting that the reason they don’t accept your claims is your thing-orientedness results in a blind spot. This is not the same as actually being people-oriented.

@Iain

But that’s not how the Canadian justice system works.

Apparently some people are very confused about the distinction between Canada and the United States.

• Douglas Knight says:

Iain, OK, maybe, maybe Chat’s vague claims are false. Indeed, the decision of the OHRC to spell this out, both in 2014 and in response to Peterson is almost the opposite of her concerns about vague powers. But there is a big gap between her being wrong and Jane being right. I don’t mean to pick on Jane, since she seems to have been dragged into the Canadian topic, but you specifically defended her reading. Moreover, you said that it was useful to read the law, when that is exactly where she went wrong. For example, her failure to know that “discrimination” includes “harassment,” although that is hardly original to Canada.

But the unconscionable error is in the CBA document. The content of any particular law hardly matters when the CBA is lying to you.

• Controls Freak says:

“trans women have some physiological traits associated with cis women and some physiological traits associated with cis men, and the former have a greater impact on their psychological state even though the latter are more obviously visible.”

This sounds vague enough that we can likely swap in almost any condition which affects psychological state. It certainly doesn’t come with anything remotely close to the same rhetorical force of, “A person has the ‘mind’ of a male/female,” which is why it seems like saying the latter is cheating.

your actual argument seemed to be “I’ve seen all the evidence and I’m not convinced,” which makes me feel like there’s little point in trying to persuade you otherwise.

Not really. It’s that I’ve seen the brain scans. I’m not convinced by them. That means that you can either proceed to explain why I’ve insufficiently understood the evidence from brain scans, or you could also point to additional evidence aside from brain scans which you think make the point as well. If I were teaching someone about aerodynamics, and they said, “I don’t think you can show lift over an airfoil via Bernoulli, because the flow doesn’t have to meet back at the trailing edge at the same time,” that doesn’t mean that they’re simply convinced that lift doesn’t exist and there’s not point in continuing. Instead, I have to go through the process of actually bothering to explain the details of the argument. Not doing so (especially when one suspects that his interlocutor is cheating, as above) is a pretty surefire way to not convince anyone.

• Controls Freak says:

My standard question when someone spams links to me goes like this: In your own words, what portions of the argument (which you ultimately find persuasive) do you think that each of your sources brings to the table? I live in the academic world; you make a list of references to go along with a written literature review section; it does not simply stand alone.

• Nick says:

I get the impression that Peterson is not objecting to using a transgender person’s normal masculine or feminine pronouns, especially if they personally ask you to (i.e. referring to a female-presenting person as she/her and a male-presenting person as he/him) but to having it punishable by the government not to use whatever neologism a particular person wants used (ze, zer and things of that ilk).

This is tangential to your point, but I think Peterson has evolved on this. Peterson said in the now-infamous Channel 4 interview a few weeks ago that he would use a person’s pronouns if they asked him to, but no one ever has. However, I’ve now seen some older clips where he’s said he wouldn’t. Either he had different cases in mind and the older clips failed to capture that (say, and I’m just speculating here, he’s personally opposed to using various coined pronouns but would use he, she, or they if someone asked him to), or he’s changed his mind about this.

That aside, I think you’re right both that his objection to that Ontario is framed in terms of free speech and that he has actual, cogent, perhaps decisive or perhaps weak arguments for his position.

I have met two transpeople in my life (one transitioned and one transitioning). I referred to them by their preferred pronouns because they were nice people, clearly had put in/were putting in the effort to be their “felt” gender, and I’m not that big of a dick.

Now you want to make a law that forces me to say their preferred pronouns and we’re in tree of liberty is gettin’ thirsty territory.

• Matt M says:

I feel like there’s a big difference between doing something nice for someone after they’ve politely asked you to do so – and doing something because you accidentally messed it up and someone yelled and screamed at you and threatened to have you locked in jail if you did not accommodate their request.

I’m sure the guy in Tianamen Square would have gotten out of the way of the street for a little old lady who was trying to cross – but that doesn’t mean he’s changed his mind on whether or not blocking the street is an acceptable thing to do in other contexts…

• Douglas Knight says:

I don’t think that there has been much change. My memory of his earliest statements is that he would take things on a case by case basis. Here is a recent video in which he says something similar. That’s not as definitive as his answer to Newman, but I suspect that he didn’t intend that answer to be so definitive, but to include gricean caveats. The assumption is not just a student, but that this is all relevant information, as opposed to a stunt intended to create conflict. (Of course, such a stunt would not have occurred before he was a celebrity.)

Whereas here is an old clip in which he says that he would accept new, gender-neutral pronouns if they were accepted by society, and not just promulgated by activists.

• Nick says:

Since we’re discussing person practice now: I’ve long considered using someone’s preferred pronouns a matter of simple politeness. I don’t think I’m committing myself to the belief that they “are” that gender by using the pronoun they ask me to, so I don’t feel any objection to so respecting their wishes.

Of course, if someone does think he’s committing himself to the belief that the trans person is that gender by saying it, or that in some important way he’s compromising his beliefs, I don’t see how I can say that view is empirically wrong and should be punishable by law. As several people have pointed out, analogies to various slurs don’t hold because he doesn’t necessarily mean anything disrespectful or harmful about it. I think this sort of approach to one’s speech is murky at best—most people, for instance, address priests and popes by their titles even if they think religion is nonsense—but I don’t think it’s grounds to call it hate speech.

Douglas, I’m at work right now but I can take a look at the clips later. I’m basing my conclusion he changed his views on an old clip from him talking to a Senator, I think? But yeah, I didn’t cite my sources here, so I’ll be checking clips!

• lvlln says:

Of course, if someone does think he’s committing himself to the belief that the trans person is that gender by saying it, or that in some important way he’s compromising his beliefs, I don’t see how I can say that view is empirically wrong and should be punishable by law. As several people have pointed out, analogies to various slurs don’t hold because he doesn’t necessarily mean anything disrespectful or harmful about it.

I’ve definitely heard the claim that he would be “denying their humanity” by refusing to use whatever pronoun they declared to fit them, with the implication that “denying” someone’s “humanity” is at least as bad as calling them slurs. And that “denial” of their “humanity” doesn’t get all affected by whether he meant to be disrespectful or harmful, and is entirely determined by the judgment of the person being described with the pronoun.

• Douglas Knight says:

FWIW, I found those clips by typing “jordan peterson pronoun” into youtube and watching the shortest clips. Since then I tried “jordan peterson senate.” The three short clips I found didn’t seem relevant. One of them starts with like «Why don’t you just use the pronouns?» but Peterson doesn’t really concede that he doesn’t.

• Nick says:

Douglas,

Home now. I’ve rewatched the stuff and you may be right. From a clip on the news:

Newscaster: But would you use alternate pronouns if a student asked you to?
….
Newscaster: Would you use alternate pronouns?
Peterson: No.
Newscaster: And why not?
Peterson: Because I don’t believe that other people have the right to determine what language I use, especially when it’s being backed by punitive legislation, and when the words that are being required at the constructions—they are artificial constructions of people I regard as radical ideologues whose viewpoint I do not share.

So, pace Peterson I don’t think his position is clear just from this. It sounds like he might be saying he’d refuse gender neutral pronouns like ze/zir, or he might be saying he’d refuse to use a person’s preferred pronouns entirely; it didn’t touch on the latter case, so we don’t know.

In another one, he says, “… I regard these made-up pronouns, all of them, as the neologisms of radical PC authoritarians….” Again, it sounds like he’s taking issue with made-up pronouns.

And he seems to say the same thing around 4:30 in the first video you linked. So okay, I suppose this was his view all along, and I overinterpreted his rejection of the neologisms. Mea culpa.

• Aapje says:

I think that his position is that he would use ‘she’ for a sufficiently transitioned transwoman and ‘he’ for a sufficiently transitioned transman, but not alternate pronouns.

• Douglas Knight says:

I don’t think he’s taking issue with neologisms, per se. He puts a lot of weight on it, but it’s not the point.

• Douglas Knight says:

Here is his first statement. I dunno. Maybe it is all about the neologisms.

• subject all disabled people to rigorous scrutiny

Oh, you haven’t heard of ATOS..

• AeXeaz says:

Stop lying.

• The original Mr. X says:

Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from the consequences of that speech, such as getting reprimanded or fired

I don’t think this argument really works when you’re the one doing the reprimanding or firing.

• liskantope says:

You make some reasonable-sounding points but I’m a little skeptical of classifying misgendering someone via pronouns as “harassment”. (Disclaimer: I lean in favor of a workplace/campus rule forbidding misgendering someone.)

Harassment refers to direct and deliberate targeting of another person. That certainly does apply to some forms of misgendering (e.g. repeatedly making remarks about how (wo)manly someone is), but using pronouns is a semi-conscious aspect of communication that’s hard to avoid and usually doesn’t involve deliberation.

That’s why I specified “on a frequent and consistent basis.” I know that it’s not uncommon for people to misgender a trans person they just met, and I understand that slip-ups can happen from time to time, especially if the trans person in question isn’t particularly passable. That’s different from actively making an effort to misgender a trans person every time you talk to them or talk about them, as a deliberate statement that their gender identity isn’t valid.

• Thegnskald says:

Your central example doesn’t extend well to SCC, where as far as I can determine, the median position is “Gender is a made-up category”.

Which is to say, there is a position outside of pro-trans and anti-trans, which is that transgender isn’t referring to anything. (As distinct from transsexual, which does exist in their framework, and which I won’t be getting into here.)

For this subset of people, “gender” doesn’t refer to a meaningful concept. So, for an only somewhat related example I may regret, a man who wants to wear a dress isn’t violating gender norms, but rather sexist rules.

The distinction is both subtle and important, because it underlays a significant percentage of the angry debate on the matter. To this group of people, “gender expression” and “gender conformance” is a kind of fundamental error in thinking, in treating a conceptual framework for understanding the way society interacts with sex (gender-sex, not the act) as if it is referring to a real and meaningful concept.

From this framework, gendered nouns refer to sexual characteristics, not to gender. They are literally incapable of misgendering anybody because they don’t have any concept that maps to “gender” in their brain; it isn’t a characteristic they assign to people.

The “gendering” argument literally sounds to them like you are insisting they pretend people have different genitals, because that is literally what the words mean to them.

Some go along with it, even though they don’t actually understand it, because they understand that other people feel hurt by it.

Others, who prioritize Truth, fight the whole thing tooth and nail, because from within their framework, you are demanding they be dishonest.

(I lean towards the old-school framework of “Gender is something we ought to be tearing down, not building up”, because I think gender conformance is stupid, and I find many trans people incredibly frustrating because they just switch which role they are performing to, which looks to my perspective like escaping one prison by hiding in another. But I don’t feel strongly enough about it to yell at the kids that they are doing it wrong. At least they are experimenting with the boundary conditions of societal expectations, and maybe along the way they’ll figure out that they don’t have to fit into any box.)

@Thegnskald: You’re making the same mistake a lot of well-meaning liberals make (including me, back during my teen years), which is to confuse gender roles/expressions with gender itself. Gender roles and expressions (e.g. that men wear pants and women wear dresses, that men are more assertive and women are more passive, that men like video games and women like shopping) are societal norms, and I would agree that they could be considered made-up categories. But gender itself is distinct from those, and refers to one’s internal sense of self, their own feelings about their mind and their body. Gender roles and expressions are subjective, but gender itself is just as objective and ultimately just as rooted in biology as sex (i.e. visible anatomical sex characteristics).

If we took your rationale to its logical conclusion, then it would follow that in a world with no sexism and no gender roles, people would no longer suffer from gender dysphoria at all, and trans people would no longer exist. I find this highly doubtful, given the myriad of hard evidence showing that there are observable biological differences between trans and cis people. There’s even some (admittedly inconclusive) evidence that animals can suffer from gender dysphoria.

The fact that many trans people don’t actually conform to the norms and expectations of their ‘chosen’ gender is also evidence that gender is not the same thing as gender roles. I’ve known plenty of masculine trans women and feminine trans men; the fact that they still felt the need to transition despite matching the expectations of their assigned birth gender indicates that there’s definitely something to gender beyond just societal norms.

• Thegnskald says:

Gender, as the word was developed, is a way of describing the societal protocol that is both performed and experienced by an individual within that role; it carries with it expectations and privileges.

Sex, as the word was used as distinct from gender, is the physical sexual characteristics of an individual.

What, exactly, is gender, as you describe it? Because this:

“and refers to one’s internal sense of self, their own feelings about their mind and their body. Gender roles and expressions are subjective, but gender itself is just as objective and ultimately just as rooted in biology as sex”

is nonsense. It’s a subjective experience that is objective? No. Insofar as we are describing the body, we are describing sex; dysphoria about one’s body, insofar as sexual characteristics are concerned, is what we used to label “transsexuality”, although the labels tend to be used pretty imprecisely anymore.

Gender dysphoria, as described by those who experience it, appears to be a social dysphoria – which is why it is so important to those who have it that they be gendered correctly. It is literally the social protocol; it is the gender role. Insofar as you care how other people gender you – insofar as your concerns are socially rather than internally rooted – we are talking about a social protocol, which is to say, the gender role.

Now, I am quite willing to admit to the possibility that there is yet another category, that I’ve been lumping into one of the others, but you’re going to have to describe it a little more precisely than “subjective objective experience having to do with the mind and body”, which just sounds like a combined category including elements of both gender and sex, because if you want other people to incorporate this categorization, you have to actually be able to explain what the categorization is and why it is important. Don’t expect to convince them that this categorization is uniquely important and should supersede their own, however.

Gender roles and expressions (e.g. that men wear pants and women wear dresses, that men are more assertive and women are more passive, that men like video games and women like shopping) are societal norms, and I would agree that they could be considered made-up categories. But gender itself is distinct from those, and refers to one’s internal sense of self, their own feelings about their mind and their body. Gender roles and expressions are subjective, but gender itself is just as objective and ultimately just as rooted in biology as sex (i.e. visible anatomical sex characteristics).

This seems a bit hard to swallow. I don’t think that mental phenomena are in any sense fake, but they are certainly messier and less objective than gross anatomy. It shouldn’t be at all controversial that our own feelings about ourselves are shaped by our upbringings and cultures.

If we took your rationale to its logical conclusion, then it would follow that in a world with no sexism and no gender roles, people would no longer suffer from gender dysphoria at all, and trans people would no longer exist. I find this highly doubtful, given the myriad of hard evidence showing that there are observable biological differences between trans and cis people. There’s even some (admittedly inconclusive) evidence that animals can suffer from gender dysphoria.

Both the brain and the body are extremely plastic. There’s every reason to believe that environmental effects (e.g. how people are treated) can feed back into observable biological differences. That means that the presence of observable biological differences between groups of people does not imply that those groups must not have socially constructed definitions.

If you want to look for human universals you have no choice but to study people from as disparate cultures as possible. Unfortunately, most of the contemporary scientific establishment is very bad at doing that.

To put my cards on the table, I do think that in a culture with no sexism or fixed gender expectations that gender dysphoria would at the very least be significantly reduced in prevalence.

• as a deliberate statement that their gender identity isn’t valid.

How about routinely using the pronoun in the way consistent with how you actually view that person?

Part of what bothers me about the whole “misgendering is harassment and should be preventing” idea is that it amounts to a claim by someone else over the inside of my head, a claim that I am obliged to think about someone in whatever way that person wants me to.

If I view someone as male, requiring me to use female pronouns in referring to him is requiring me to lie about my views, or alternatively requiring me to change my beliefs on someone else’s orders. Both of those strike me as ugly and objectionable things to do. I have no objection to using female pronouns for someone who I know is genetically XY but who I actually view as female, but that doesn’t describe all mtf transsexuals.

• But gender itself is distinct from those, and refers to one’s internal sense of self, their own feelings about their mind and their body.

That may be what you mean by the term, but it isn’t what I or, I think, most people mean by it, so you are demanding that other people change the meanings they assign to words to fit your preferences.

It also isn’t a very sensible way of using the term if the purpose is for me to decide what pronouns to use in referring to people, since your definition depends on facts not externally observable. If I refer to someone as “she” I want that to convey information about who I am referring to to whomever I am speaking to, which it doesn’t do if gender is a statement about what’s inside someone’s head.

It doesn’t work perfectly in a world in which conventional gender markers, such as clothing, don’t perfectly correlate with biological gender, but it works a lot better than your alternative.

@Thegnskald, @Brad, @DavidFriedman: I realize my wording in the previous post was vague, and I understand how that can be confusing when dealing with loaded words like ‘gender’ which lots of people define in lots of different ways.

So, to (hopefully) clarify: I’m effectively using the word gender to refer to the neurological and hormonal traits that determine someone’s internal sense of gender identity (i.e. whether they see themselves as male or female or both or neither, not in terms of societal expectations and gender roles, but on a purely somatic level; to be even more specific, what sex their internal ‘map’ of their body views itself as).

I apologize if that’s still not clear, but it’s very hard to describe gender dysphoria to someone who doesn’t personally experience it. It’s more akin to somatoform disorders like phantom limb syndrome than to psychosocial or psychosexual disorders.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@LadyJane: … huh, I think I’ve experienced both gender dysphoria and a somatoform disorder.

• So, to (hopefully) clarify: I’m effectively using the word gender to refer to …

That’s fine as a description of how you use the word. But you seem to have been arguing that everyone else is obligated, morally if not legally, to assign pronouns to people on the basis of gender defined in that particular way.

As I already argued, that makes less sense than assigning pronouns on the basis of appearance and behavior, since those are externally visible and internal self-image is not.

If we all went around naked, it would make sense to assign pronouns on the basis of visible genitals, with a very few ambiguous cases. If we all went around with a list of chromosomes written on our foreheads, it would make sense to use “he” for XY, “she” for XX, again with a few ambiguous cases. But since the function of grammatical gender is to convey information to the listener, it makes no sense to base it on something observable only to the person being referred to.

• liskantope says:

In response to LadyJane’s original reply to my comment: Yeah, I guess that’s fair, as long as it’s an “active effort”. This gets a bit muddy when it comes to repeatedly misgendering someone because one has to occasionally use pronouns and doesn’t want to cater to a viewpoint of transness that one doesn’t believe in — rather than going out of one’s way to use the wrong pronouns in order to make one’s point — but yeah. I tend to believe that a trans person’s pronoun preferences should trump other people’s comfort in using them anyway, however we use the term “harassment”.

• John Nerst says:

It’s more akin to somatoform disorders like phantom limb syndrome than to psychosocial or psychosexual disorders.

Is this the standard view among researchers and trans-activists? I was of the impression that leaning heavily on the biological perspective wasn’t particularly popular and that self-identification was supposed to be the only standard?

(Also, what you call gender would probably be a lot less confusing if it was called “psychological sex” or something – because that’s what it appears to be. “Gender” is not a good word for clear communication.)

• Aapje says:

@John Nerst

I think that the beliefs range all the way from ‘it’s a hard biological mismatch between the mind and the body’ to ‘It’s a mismatch between the traits of the person and the gender role.’

The irritating part is that these very different beliefs all tend to get referred to with the same term: gender dysphoria. Even worse & confusing is that many of those who see gender dysphoria as biological, see gender as referring to the gender role. Confusion guaranteed.

• Thegnskald says:

That sounds like an elaborate restatement of “transsexual”. So what’s the difference between a transgender person using that definition and a transsexual person?

ETA:
To reiterate my understanding of the categories, so we are on the same conceptual page: Sexual dysmorphia (transsexuality) is a feeling of discomfort centered around your body. It is associated with hormonal and brain structure differences, and is usually, but not always, helped by surgery/transitioning.

Gender dysmorphia is a feeling of discomfort centered around how other people perceive you, and in the gender-mediated social interactions everybody engages in. It is sometimes, but not always, associated with sexual dysmorphia – and in the last decade or so in particular has become much more common as an independent issue, whereas previously it was largely correlated. It isn’t particularly helped by surgery/physical transitioning, and although social transitioning can mitigate the symptoms, it remains strongly comorbid with other illnesses such as depression, suggesting that in many cases there is an as-yet unidentified root cause separate from gender itself.

(I’d suggest at least some of the modern increase in gender dysmorphia is caused by a negative perception of the gender role one is born into – for example, a perception that male gender role conformance requires being sexually abusive – but that is pure speculation.)

@Thegnskald: As far as I can tell, the term transsexual refers to someone who’s actively taken steps to physically transition. It’s also a rather outdated term that I don’t really hear people using much anymore.

What you call “sexual dysmorphia” is what I’ve been referring to as gender dysphoria. What you call “gender dysmorphia” is a symptom that results from having gender dysphoria in a world with a strict binary gender classification. In a hypothetical world where there were no gender norms at all – to the point where everyone had gender-neutral names and exclusively referred to each other with gender-neutral pronouns, and the only time sex/gender came up at all was in regards to situations and issues where the actual physiological differences mattered – there would be no such thing as gender dysmorphia at all, but there would still be people with sexual dysmorphia.

And yes, the language on this topic is confusing and inconsistent and often loaded, which makes it difficult to discuss with people who aren’t familiar with the terminology. As John Nerst suggested, “psychological sex” would probably be a more accurate term for the concept that I’ve been describing with “gender.” When psychologists and trans activists say that “sex doesn’t always match a person’s gender,” what they really mean is “outwardly-visible physical sex characteristics don’t always match a person’s psychological sex.”

• Thegnskald says:

Not to be a linguistic prescriptivist myself, but we developed the specific language for a reason, which was to avoid specifically this kind of confusion.

Bloody kids on my bloody lawn.

@DavidFriedman: Well, that’s kinda my point, you can’t know someone’s true biological sex just by looking at them, since biological sex includes not only their visible sex characteristics, but also their “psychological (i.e. neuro-hormonal) sex” as well as genetic and anatomical sex characteristics that aren’t externally visible. There are people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome who are physically and psychologically identical to cis women, yet still have a Y chromosome; many probably go their entire lives without ever realizing that they’re intersex.

Since true biological sex is basically an unknown quantity (at least short of extensive medical testing), it’s best to simply refer to people the way they want to be referred to. If you don’t know what their preference is, then judge based on their presentation until you find out.

• Matt M says:

Since true biological sex is basically an unknown quantity (at least short of extensive medical testing), it’s best to simply refer to people the way they want to be referred to.

This does not logically follow.

True biological sex correlates with “what gender do you appear to be” with at something approximating 0.99. Why isn’t it “best” to simply refer to people based on what gender they appear to be?

@Matt M: As I said, if you don’t know what pronouns someone would prefer to use, then it’s perfectly reasonable to judge based on their appearance. I’m not saying that we should always use gender-neutral pronouns for everyone unless they specifically say otherwise, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with accidentally misgendering someone. But I do think someone’s personal preference should take priority over their appearance, where the two conflict.

In general, you’re correct, there’s about a 98-99% chance that any random person you see is the biological sex they appear to be. Among someone actively claiming to be a different gender than they appear to be, however, that chance decreases very sharply.

As of the most recent statistical estimates, 0.6% of people are trans and another 1.7% of people have other intersex conditions. Assuming there’s some overlap there, that’s roughly 2% of people who are neither biologically male nor biologically female. But if you see someone who looks like a man but claims to be a woman, the odds of them having gender dysphoria and/or another intersex condition is a lot higher than 2%, it’s probably closer to 99.2%.

A lot of these arguments seem to be built around this weird implicit premise that huge swaths of people are just pretending to be trans for attention or whatever, despite not actually having gender dysphoria. I find this assumption extremely bizarre and unlikely.

Also, even saying “we should judge people based on their appearance and presentation” is a big improvement (in my eyes) from the position a lot of others seem to be taking here, which is “we should always treat people as if they’re the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.” Your view wouldn’t result in misgendering a passable trans woman (and depending on how charitable you are, it might not even result in misgendering an unpassable trans woman who was clearly trying to present female), whereas someone like CatCube objects to ever referring to trans people by their chosen pronouns as a matter of principle.

• The Nybbler says:

A lot of these arguments seem to be built around this weird implicit premise that huge swaths of people are just pretending to be trans for attention or whatever, despite not actually having gender dysphoria. I find this assumption extremely bizarre and unlikely.

I don’t. There’s this place called tumblr, you see. And…

• Matt M says:

I don’t. There’s this place called tumblr, you see. And…

Seconded.

I’ll also note that I’m prone to take someone seriously who makes a great deal of effort to pass, considers hormone therapy, surgery, whatever… as opposed to the people who call themselves “genderfluid” and basically do nothing but occasionally crossdress and browbeat anyone who doesn’t treat them as a beautiful and unique snowflake.

I feel the same way when it comes to homosexuality. One can usually tell the difference between serious people who make a big commitment to live as openly gay – and the college girls who are “bisexual” to the extent that they’re willing to make out with other girls at frat parties if boys are watching – but that’s about it.

• Nornagest says:

People say all sorts of stuff in the weirder corners of the Internet. I used to know a guy who swore up and down that he was living out the plot of a harem anime — and not just any harem anime, but one of the ones with a highly specific ridiculous gimmick. And that’s not even the strangest identity-as-performance-art bit I’ve come across, just the easiest to explain.

But on the other hand, I think that while “pretending… for attention or whatever” is probably gonna be vanishingly rare among emotionally stable adults, it leaves out whole swaths of possible motivations that have nothing to do with classical gender dysphoria. It also leaves out the possibility of gender dysphoria arising (or at least being greatly amplified) for socially mediated reasons, which I would have scoffed at a few years ago but I now think is a real possibility. And there are plenty of people out there who aren’t adults or aren’t emotionally stable.

• lvlln says:

I used to know a guy who swore up and down that he was living out the plot of a harem anime — and not just any harem anime, but one of the ones with a highly specific ridiculous gimmick.

I hope it wasn’t School Days, for his sake.

• Nornagest says:

No, Hayate the Combat Butler.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

OK, we’re too deep in this subthread for me to respond to everyone…

@Nornagest: Hayate the Combat Butler?!

On passing well: some people do it, so I call them as I see them. The problem I keep encountering is males who put minimum effort into passing and bring down the power of hegemonic leftist social pressure on anyone at the party who doesn’t treat them as the special snowflake they want to be. As far as I’m concerned, they’re straight dudes who want the privileges West Coast cities and college towns give to lesbians.

On prevalence: I don’t buy that 1.7+ percent of the population is neither male nor female. Since the Agricultural Revolution, typical humans have lived in villages of Dunbar’s Number people, and there weren’t multiple intersex people in each village. There might be one “two spirit” per numerous villages, or males who wanted to be women might leave their villages and link up as the hijra jati (occupation/caste), but it wasn’t that common.
This “empirics of history” argument is the same reason I don’t believe that 10% of men have always and everywhere been homosexuals. There’s got to be a socialization factor.

• Nornagest says:

Hayate the Combat Butler?!

I know, right?

• Le Maistre Chat says:

@Nornagest: Yyyeah… I at least hope this was someone you knew from the internet who claimed to live in a developing country where having a house servant is still actually a thing.

• Nornagest says:

Nope. He eventually revealed he was living in the suburbs of Seattle, although he was pretty cagey about nationality most of the time — I got the impression he wanted people to think he was Japanese, but didn’t know enough about Japan to actually say so.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

I had a friend from the internet who claimed to have a hot nudist wife but didn’t bring her when we met in person, then went on to claim she gave birth to twins and the camera broke when they tried to take a family photo, but that’s mild in comparison.

• Randy M says:

After years of marriage, he realized his wife was a secret nudist when she gave birth to naked babies.
Shocking twist–she actually cheated on him with a nudist.

@Le Maistre Chat: Which do you find more likely: that a lot of gay/trans people pretended to be straight/cis when there were extreme negative consequences to being openly gay/trans? Or that a lot of straight/cis people are now pretending to be gay/trans, despite there being no real benefits to doing so, because the negative consequences for being openly gay/trans are no longer as extreme as they used to be?

Not to mention, trans people living in a society where there wasn’t even a concept of “transgender” would probably have a great deal of difficulty figuring out how to even contextualize their feelings of dysphoria. Also, plenty of intersex people aren’t actually aware that they’re intersex, even today, and I’d imagine that it would’ve been a lot less likely for them to find out without modern medical testing.

• Matt M says:

despite there being no real benefits to doing so,

Disagree. There are definitely some social circles in which identifying as gay or trans increases ones status significantly. And plenty of non-social situations as well (college applications, job applications, diversity in procurement requirements, etc.)

And these spheres seem to be increasing, not decreasing.

• Also, plenty of intersex people aren’t actually aware that they’re intersex, even today, and I’d imagine that it would’ve been a lot less likely for them to find out without modern medical testing.

If I understand you correctly, you are using “intersex” to cover a bunch of different things. A short list:

1. A hermaphrodite–someone with both male and female genitals.

2. A transsexual–someone whose body is unambiguously of one gender but who identifies as the other.

3. Someone with non-standard genetics. XXY is the most common but, as you probably know, others exist. Mostly such people appear as somewhat atypical males or females.

There may well be more I haven’t thought of. I should probably include a Tumtum, since the ancient Jews did (along with hermaphrodites–both raised puzzles for the application of religious law). But I’m not certain what one was and it probably is due to a problem that can be eliminated by modern medicine.

These different categories raise different issues, so lumping them together makes discussion more difficult.

• liskantope says:

There’s this place called tumblr, you see. And…

Not sure what is meant to be proven through the link on “And…”, unless I’m not reading enough of the website.

• Aapje says:

@liskantope

This video may be illuminating. Danielle often wears a beard, has a super low voice, is balding and otherwise presents 100% like a man, but claims to be a transwoman. You can also see an apparent non-effort to appear female in the photos at the bottom of this page.

As you can see at Danielle’s site, this person seems to use the trans/female identity to get to speak on behalf of trans people/women in a way that a man would often not be allowed to, in the blue tribe. In fact, this seems to be Danielle’s career.

• Barely matters says:

despite there being no real benefits to doing so

So, this is both exactly the kind of story that this account is for (Ridiculous, probably offensive to some, and definitely of the stripe that I know better than to tell at work), and relevant here.

A partner that I dated for roughly 4 years recently came out as nominally trans. They’re still entirely physically female and have said they have no plans to physically or hormonally transition at all. All of this comes on the heels of an official borderline diagnosis while having plunged deep into the fetlife scene. Extrapolate at your leisure.

Where it gets interesting is that they say they’ve always been trans, but are only coming out with it now, which means I was retroactively in a gay relationship for several years. I presume they’re telling me this because they think it’ll get under my skin, cithet hegemonic scum that I am, but let’s be cereal for a moment here: This is absolutely fucking hilarious!

Since then, I’ve been able to preface points with “As a gay man, I feel that…” in discussions with my other friends who’ve frequently pulled out this gambit in the past. Whereas previously it would shut down discussion, because who am I to contradict the lived experience of my more fabulous compatriots? But now it lets me meet that particular powerplay with an equivalent and continue speaking as an equal. It’s eye opening.

Having never experienced the ability to make arguments that are privileged by virtue of the disprivilege of the speaker before, I can see the appeal! At this point I can safely say that anyone claiming that there are not real social power benefits to having a dispriviliged identity in modern society is lying, full stop. The power involved becomes apparent seconds after deploying it for the first time. And while I’d prefer we all just ditched identity based power games altogether, I’m flexible, y’know?

• liskantope says:

@Aapje: I’m listening to the video you linked to, ~18 minutes in (probably won’t watch the whole thing). While I don’t doubt that some people who call themselves trans don’t actually have gender dysphoria, I don’t see great evidence from the video that Danielle Muscato, who claims to have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and making small changes with the advice of a therapist but to be unable to go through hormones and full transition for health reasons.

• Aapje says:

@liskantope

That sounds like BS to me. Is there a health condition that makes it impossible to use hormones AND impossible to smoothly shave and impossible to grow out your hair or wear a wig and to wear a little makeup and …

Muscato also makes conflicting statements, for example, claiming to be prevented from transitioning due to expenses and difficulty getting hormones, 6 months after claiming to have medical reasons to not be able to transition.

It seems extremely unlikely that one would announce in 2014 to want to gradually transition entirely without mentioning any medical issues that may prevent that and then know in December of 2016 that one cannot take hormones due to medical reasons, without actually trying to transition by taking hormones in the meantime. However, in that case it makes zero sense to claim in May of 2016 that one does not have access to hormones for multiple reasons. Are we supposed to believe that those multiple reasons all dissipated in less than 6 months?

The evidence that I see suggests insincerity much more than another explanation.

Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from the consequences of that speech, such as getting reprimanded or fired […]

Yes, it does, otherwise it’s not freedom of speech. “You’re free to criticize the regime, comrade, but that doesn’t free you from the consequence of being sent to the gulag.”
What is your definition of “freedom of speech”, then?

just like I consider “trans people’s gender identities aren’t valid” to be as offensive and inaccurate as “non-whites are physically and mentally inferior to whites.”

How can you reach a public consensus for that idea when you censor all debate on that topic? Because there’s certainly no broad consensus that “trans people’s gender identities aren’t valid” is a false statement.

• Ketil says:

I think the interpretation of “freedom of speech” is one which applies to government suppression of speech only. Employers are free to fire you (and your children can be kicked out of school, stores can refuse you service, etc, etc) if you express (or are suspected of subscribing to) undesirable views – or in this case, fail to express the views deemed correct.

Obviously, this kind of lynch mob mentality can be just as stifling for political discourse and debate as governmental censorship, but by using this definition, we can still claim “free speech”.

• The original Mr. X says:

I’d be much more sympathetic to such arguments if the people proposing them used them across the board. E.g., “Freedom from discrimination only covers government discrimination; as long as the government isn’t passing laws discriminating against a certain race, private businessmen should be free not to serve them.”

(And, on a more quibbling note, I think “your children can be kicked out of school” would still count as government suppression of free speech, at least if you’re one of the vast majority of people whose children go to state schools.)

• Murphy says:

That becomes a little more awkward when the employer is the government. (as in this case since she’s an employee of a public university getting government funding)

Should the government be allowed fire employees for publicly campaigning for the opposition party in their free time?

How about for failing to criticize the opposition parties position in a video shown to a class while on the clock?

“Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from the consequences” becomes vastly vastly more worrying when the state employe a sizable fraction of the working population and can suddenly inflict “consequences” on employees who don’t toe the party line hard enough.

• SamChevre says:

I would agree, and would strengthen what you said: free speech applies to government suppression of speech, direct or indirect.

Direct: blasphemy laws, anti-sedition laws, etc.

Indirect: “if you hire people who hold those views, or won’t hire people who hold these views, you can be punished–you may find it difficult to get business licenses, or be fined, or…

I’m very OK with any private business deciding that it doesn’t want employees who refuse to use its customers preferred pronouns working there: but if the government requires it to ensure that it’s employees do so, that’s not free speech. (I’m similarly OK with private businesses only hiring people who think the whole notion of transgender is nonsense. Or only people who think the only proper breakfast is congee. It’s not the government’s business.)

@Adrian, @Ketil: I’ll freely admit, I’m exactly the kind of libertarian that Scott complains about in http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/29/against-signal-boosting-as-doxxing/. He thinks it contradicts the spirit of libertarian ideals, if not the letter. I think his view unfairly favors the people making unpopular arguments, and limits the freedom of speech and freedom of association of the people responding to them. The marketplace of ideas is exactly that, a marketplace, and there are (and should be!) consequences to failure there. Those consequences just shouldn’t be enforced by the state at gunpoint.

And among the scientific and medical establishment, there is indeed a broad consensus that “trans people’s gender identities aren’t valid” is a false statement, as I explained in my reply to Winter Shaker above. That consensus might not exist among the general populace, but who cares? 42% of Americans don’t believe in evolution either, that doesn’t mean the issue is still up for debate in any serious academic context.

@The original Mr. X: If it makes any difference, I think anti-discrimination laws should only apply to government agencies and contractors.

@Murphy: I would say that, as a general rule, government employers should not be allowed to fire employees for not supporting the current political establishment. I would also say there should be exceptions for cases where not supporting the current political (or academic/scientific establishment) would directly interfere with the function of the job. For instance, I would expect a press secretary who publicly denounced the politician he was supposed to be representing to be fired in short order, and I wouldn’t expect a government-funded climate research institute to hire a climate change denialist. Likewise, I think it’s acceptable for a government-funded university to punish a professor who taught outdated psychological theories like Blanchardism.

@SamChevre: I mostly agree. Although, as I explained above, I think deliberately and constantly misgendering a specific individual is tantamount to harassment, and I would consider that valid grounds for a civil suit.

• And among the scientific and medical establishment, there is indeed a broad consensus that “trans people’s gender identities aren’t valid” is a false statement, as I explained in my reply to Winter Shaker above.

What is a valid gender identity is not a question on which the scientific and medical establishment has any special expertise. If what I mean by “gender” is genetic gender then their gender identity is not valid. If what I mean by “female gender” is “does not think of self as male” (etc.) then it is.

• Murphy says:

It’s a tad suspicious that all the exceptions you carve seem to favor one political ideology while all the things you take a hard line of disfavor it’s opponent.

It’s like a chirstian who claims to be all about areligious principles and tolerance but happens to support laws that happen to ban the traditional garb of other religions but carves out exceptions for any times when their own religion calls for wearing things that would otherwise violate the rules.

• honhonhonhon says:

I don’t think that kind of personal attack is fashionable here Murphy.

• Murphy says:

@honhonhonhon

Is there a nicer way to express that someone seems to be carving carefully around their own ideology or markers for their own social group?

deciding that saying things [popular with their own social group] and unpopular with [ideological group popular with the other 50% of the population] are where free speech is right and proper to apply

but that saying things [unpopular with their own social group] and popular with [ideological group popular with the other 50% of the population] is where we need to take and stand and suppress things.

• honhonhonhon says:

No, because the thing you’re trying to express is itself not nice. You’re assuming that the other side is intentionally favoring unprincipled solutions. A lot of people instinctively prefer rules that favor them in the moment, but that’s different in intent from “yeah I’m carefully making unprincipled rules here so my side wins”. The instinctive group is engaged by building a thought experiment where the rules apply against them, the intentional villain group is engaged by discussion about the futility of villainy, but you only engage the audience by announcing “you unprincipled villain!” (a real villain wouldn’t care or would think you a loser, and someone unintentionally doing it would be discouraged from maintaining the same good faith and civility in debate as before the allegation)

• Aapje says:

You seem to view my framing of the issue as a free speech issue to be a disingenuous attempt to argue for the right to harm a person.

However, what we see in the Shepherd case is that she was not reprimanded for misgendering anyone, nor for showing a clip where a person was misgendered, but rather for showing a clip where Peterson argued on the meta level. I agree with you that, at the object level, certain behaviors should be outlawed/punished/etc. However, I believe that it is crucial for a free society that one should always be allowed to argue that the law is wrong.

Fundamentally, arguing that a law is wrong, without breaking the law, does no direct harm, except the offense that is taken. For example, while a person who is denied a job for her race is harmed in the opportunity that she has been denied, merely hearing someone advocate for the right to deny her a job does not in itself cause direct harm. Indirect harm, like other people being convinced that the law is wrong and undoing it, is something that in my view best handled by having the opponents make their best case and having society make a democratic decision. Abandoning that solution generally leads to a ‘benevolent dictatorship’ (in the eyes of those who rule), which is often not considered very benevolent by the ruled.

As such, my worry about the implication to free speech is not (just) a way to resist a certain object-level policy, but rather, it is what I care about most. In fact, it is the conflation of the object level with the meta-level, which we see in the Shepherd case, in your comment and among a certain portion of society, which makes me far more wary to extend protections. What I see is exactly the opposite of what you worry about: that arguments at the object level are used to push through bad changes on the meta level.

A second issue is that I don’t believe that protecting people is as black & white as you claim. For example, let’s take your claim that we should ban people from arguing that a particular race is inherently superior or inferior. The problem here is that this can be counter to the scientific evidence and (therefor) make it harder for us to help people.

I believe that my light skin makes me objectively inferior at living in places where the sun shines very brightly, while it makes me objectively superior at living in places where the sun shines less. Disallowing me to argue this, effectively makes it impossible for me to argue that people with light skin color should more often use sunscreen & that people with dark skin color should more often take vitamin D supplements, even though such race-based advice seems appropriate.

Another example that demonstrates the difficulty in making general rules, is that people in some black subcultures like to call each other by the n-word. People are diverse, with different culture, different relationships to each other, etc; so it is hard it make good rules. Perhaps transwoman 1 never wants to be called a ‘he,’ but transwoman 2 actually prefers that transphobes call her that, so she knows to be wary of them, rather than have the prejudice affect her in more subtle ways that are hard for her to see, but which do much harm. So instead of top-level rules, it may be better to push such rules to the communitarian level as much as possible, based on the self-organizing ability of people.

I also don’t particularly trust authorities, other than judges, to properly navigate these nuances, especially since (significantly) erring in the direction of a stifling environment tends to be the most pleasant to them (easier and requiring less effort, at least, at first).

While I agree with you that it is not necessarily wrong for organizations to pick a side, it is important that we then allow multiple sides to exist in separate organizations. Where this is not possible, we should demand neutrality (or at least, democratically backed decisions) as much as possible. This is true in particular for public and semi-public organizations, because there is only one state. I consider colleges to be semi-public organizations, given that even ‘private colleges’ tend to get much of their funding from the state & that we see in practice that the state leverages this to force the colleges into adopting certain policies.

• albatross11 says:

In the US, the first amendment also applies to government-run schools (state universities, for example), so a state university probably could get in first-amendment trouble for imposing rules restricting what viewpoints were welcome on campus. I have no idea how that works in Canada, though.

On the object-level questions you mentioned, I think you are making a tradeoff, and you should be open about that tradeoff.

a. On one side, some discussions, questions of fact, or intellectual inquiries will offend the hell out of some people.

b. On the other side, suppressing those discussions, questions of fact, or intellectual inquiries will probably block off some paths of learning new things about the world.

As a pretty simple case of this, consider the theory of evolution. To advocate for this theory was to call into question the most deeply held beliefs of a big chunk of the population, including most of the students at any university at the time it was beginning to be taught and researched. A lot of authorities wanted to suppress these discussions and inquiries, either to avoid offending these people, or for fear that undermining traditional beliefs about religion and morality would lead to a lot of social problems. But if those efforts had been successful, we would be enormously worse off right now.

• Thegnskald says:

And it is important to remember that the people trying to suppress speech about evolution thought they were doing the right, socially responsible thing.

It isn’t enough to think you are right, this time, and they were wrong. Nobody thinks that that doesn’t apply to them.

• dndnrsn says:

Bah, I posted something about this, but you got to it first. Most Canadian universities are public; Wilfred Laurier is. We have fewer speech protections than the US; the hate speech type laws in Canada would never fly in the US. I believe Peterson is on the record as saying he supports the current Canadian system – he’s OK with banning speech, but not with compelled speech, I think.

So, rather amusingly, a “free speech crusader” in Canada holds basically the same opinion as someone against free speech in the US.

• Matt M says:

If someone kept insisting that one of their cis male co-workers was a woman, and exclusively referred to them by female pronouns, that would be seen as extremely rude and unprofessional behavior, and could easily get that person fired if they continued to do it.

Because if they did that with one person and with no one else, it would be seen as bullying (and it would be).

Someone who adopts, as a general framing of the world, the idea of “gender is not a social construct” and chooses to refer to everybody based on the pronouns of the gender they were born with is doing no such thing.

The former is a bully who is picking on one person and deserves to be punished. The latter is someone who simply has a different worldview.

If someone adopts, as a general framing of the world, the idea of “non-whites are subhuman inferior races who are undeserving of respect,” that doesn’t make it socially acceptable for them to start insulting every African and Asian person they meet.

You’re free to believe whatever you want, and to express those beliefs, but when you start treating specific people disrespectfully because of those beliefs, then you’re engaging in targeted harassment. (There’s a reason that this forum prohibits misgendering specific posters, despite allowing debate over the validity of trans identities in general.)

• Matt M says:

You’re introducing an analogy of inferiority and disrespect where none exists.

If my general policy is to identify people based on their biological sex – that is not claiming they are inferior in any way, nor is it treating them disrespectfully.

Unless you’re going to do chromosomal testing on everyone you meet, that doesn’t really hold water.

• Matt M says:

Sure. I suspect that people who make a great deal of effort to pass are very rarely misgendered by complete strangers.

But if you’re unwilling to put in that level of effort. If you still appear, to most people, to be a man, then don’t be surprised if you get called and treated like a man.

• You’re free to believe whatever you want, and to express those beliefs, but when you start treating specific people disrespectfully because of those beliefs, then you’re engaging in targeted harassment.

So if you treat people who don’t believe in evolution disrespectfully because of your beliefs about the subject–make it clear that you think they are scientifically ignorant–you are engaged in targeted harassment?

If you treat people who believe that gender is defined biologically disrespectfully, insist that they are ignorant people defying a correct scientific consensus–which is pretty close to what you have just been doing–that too is targeted harassment?

I am not entitled to have people respect me. The inside of their heads, which is where their view of me resides, belongs to them. Nor am I entitled to have people lie about their beliefs to keep me from being offended by them.

If I had a co-worker who didn’t believe in evolution, and I kept referring to him as “creationist” in every single interaction with him, and prefaced every statement about him by saying “he’s a creationist,” then yes, that would count as targeted harassment and most employers would agree. That might seem like an extreme example, but if you’re misgendering someone on every single occasion in which you talk to or about them, then it’s every bit as relentless and pervasive as the situation I described.

People are not entitled to respect. But I would say that they’re entitled to being treated respectfully, or at the very least, entitled to not being treated with active disrespect on a constant basis.

• Jiro says:

If you kept calling the guy a creationist whenever you were going to use a word related to him being a creationist anyway would it be harassment?

Pronouns come up a lot more in conversation than “creationist”.

• Le Maistre Chat says:

Public universities are at least a de facto part of the government, so being fired or in any way punished for exercising free speech by them should be unconstitutional.

Are you a rationalist? If yes, pls say with me:

If Blanchard’s theory is right
I desire to believe that Blanchard’s theory is right;
If Blanchard’s theory is wrong,
I desire to believe that Blanchard’s theory is wrong;
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.

If there are genetic IQ differences between races,
I desire to believe that there are genetic IQ differences between races;
If there are no genetic IQ differences between races,
I desire to believe that there are no genetic IQ differences between races;
Let me not become attached to beliefs I may not want.