Ozy (and others) talk about fundamental value differences as a barrier to cooperation.
On their model (as I understand it) there are at least two kinds of disagreement. In the first, people share values but disagree about facts. For example, you and I may both want to help the Third World. But you believe foreign aid helps the Third World, and I believe it props up corrupt governments and discourages economic self-sufficiency. We should remain allies while investigating the true effect of foreign aid, after which our disagreement will disappear.
In the second, you and I have fundamentally different values. Perhaps you want to help the Third World, but I believe that a country should only look after its own citizens. In this case there’s nothing to be done. You consider me a heartless monster who wants foreigners to starve, and I consider you a heartless monster who wants to steal from my neighbors to support random people halfway across the world. While we can agree not to have a civil war for pragmatic reasons, we shouldn’t mince words and pretend not to be enemies. Ozy writes (liberally edited, read the original):
From a conservative perspective, I am an incomprehensible moral mutant…however, from my perspective, conservatives are perfectly willing to sacrifice things that actually matter in the world– justice, equality, happiness, an end to suffering– in order to suck up to unjust authority or help the wealthy and undeserving or keep people from having sex lives they think are gross.
There is, I feel, opportunity for compromise. An outright war would be unpleasant for everyone…And yet, fundamentally… it’s not true that conservatives as a group are working for the same goals as I am but simply have different ideas of how to pursue it…my read of the psychological evidence is that, from my value system, about half the country is evil and it is in my self-interest to shame the expression of their values, indoctrinate their children, and work for a future where their values are no longer represented on this Earth. So it goes.
And from the subreddit comment by GCUPokeItWithAStick:
I do think that at a minimum, if you believe that one person’s interests are intrinsically more important than another’s (or as the more sophisticated versions play out, that ethics is agent-relative), then something has gone fundamentally wrong, and this, I think, is the core of the distinction between left and right. Being a rightist in this sense is totally indefensible, and a sign that yes, you should give up on attempting to ascertain any sort of moral truth, because you can’t do it.
I will give this position its due: I agree with the fact/value distinction. I agree it’s conceptually very clear what we’re doing when we try to convince someone with our same values of a factual truth, and confusing and maybe impossible to change someone’s values.
But I think the arguments above are overly simplistic. I think rationalists might be especially susceptible to this kind of thing, because we often use economic models where an agent (or AI) has a given value function (eg “produce paperclips”) which generates its actions. This kind of agent really does lack common ground with another agent whose goal function is different. But humans rarely work like this. And even when they do, it’s rarely in the ways we think. We are far too quick to imagine binary value differences that line up exactly between Us and Them, and far too slow to recognize the complicated and many-scaled pattern of value differences all around us.
Eliezer Yudkowsky writes, in Are Your Enemies Innately Evil?:
On September 11th, 2001, nineteen Muslim males hijacked four jet airliners in a deliberately suicidal effort to hurt the United States of America. Now why do you suppose they might have done that? Because they saw the USA as a beacon of freedom to the world, but were born with a mutant disposition that made them hate freedom?
Realistically, most people don’t construct their life stories with themselves as the villains. Everyone is the hero of their own story. The Enemy’s story, as seen by the Enemy, is not going to make the Enemy look bad. If you try to construe motivations that would make the Enemy look bad, you’ll end up flat wrong about what actually goes on in the Enemy’s mind.
So what was going through the 9/11 hijackers’ minds? How many value differences did they have from us?
It seems totally possible that the hijackers had no value differences from me at all. If I believed in the literal truth of Wahhabi Islam – a factual belief – I might be pretty worried about the sinful atheist West. If I believed that the West’s sinful ways were destroying my religion, and that my religion encoded a uniquely socially beneficial way of life – both factual beliefs – I might want to stop it. And if I believed that a sufficiently spectacular terrorist attack would cause people all around the world to rise up and throw off the shackles of Western oppression – another factual belief – I might be prepared to sacrifice myself for the greater good. If I thought complicated Platonic contracts of cooperation and nonviolence didn’t work – sort of a factual belief – then my morals would no longer restrain me.
But of course maybe the hijackers had a bunch of value differences. Maybe they believed that American lives are worth nothing. Maybe they believed that striking a blow for their homeland is a terminal good, whether or not their homeland is any good or its religion is true. Maybe they believe any act you do in the name of God is automatically okay.
I have no idea how many of these are true. But I would hate to jump to conclusions, and infer from the fact that they crashed two planes that they believe crashing planes is a terminal good. Or infer from someone opposing abortion that they just think oppressing women is a terminal value. Or infer from people committing murder that they believe in murderism, the philosophy that says that murder is good. I think most people err on the side of being too quick to dismiss others as fundamentally different, and that a little charity in assessing their motives can go a long way.
But that’s too easy. What about people who didn’t die in self-inflicted plane crashes, and who can just tell us their values? Consider the original example – foreign aid. I’ve heard many isolationists say in no uncertain terms that they believe we should not spend money to foreign countries, and that this is a basic principle and not just a consequence of some factual belief like that foreign countries would waste it. Meanwhile, I know other people who argue that we should treat foreigners exactly the same as our fellow citizens – indeed, that it would be an affront to basic compassion and to the unity of the human race not to do so. Surely this is a strong case for actual value differences?
My only counter to this line of argument is that almost nobody, me included, ever takes it seriously or to its logical conclusion. I have never heard any cosmopolitans seriously endorse the idea that the Medicaid budget should be mostly redirected from the American poor (who are already plenty healthy by world standards) and used to fund clinics in Africa, where a dollar goes much further. Perhaps this is just political expediency, and some would talk more about such a plan if they thought it could pass. But in that case, they should realize that they are very few in number, and that their value difference isn’t just with conservatives but with the overwhelming majority of their friends and their own side.
And if nativist conservatives are laughing right now, I know that some of them have given money to foreign countries affected by natural disasters. Some have even suggested the government do so – when the US government sent resources to Japan to help rescue survivors of the devastating Fukushima tsunami, I didn’t hear anyone talk about how those dollars could better be used at home.
Very few people have consistent values on questions like these. That’s because nobody naturally has principles. People take the unprincipled mishmash of their real opinions, extract principles out of it, and follow those principles. But the average person only does this very weakly, to the point of having principles like “it’s bad when you lie to me, so maybe lying is wrong in general” – and even moral philosophers do it less than a hundred percent and apply their principles inconsistently.
(this isn’t to say those who have consistent principles are necessarily any better grounded. I’ve talked a lot about shifting views of federalism: when the national government was against gay marriage, conservatives supported top-down decision-making at the federal level, and liberals protested for states’ rights. Then when the national government came out in support, conservatives switched to wanting states’ rights and liberals switched to wanting top-down federal decisions. We can imagine some principled liberal who, in 1995, said “It seems to me right now that state rights are good, so I will support them forevermore, even when it hurts my side”. But her belief still would have ended up basically determined by random happenstance; in a world where the government started out supporting gay marriage but switched to oppose it, she would have – and stick to – the opposite principle)
But I’m saying that what principle you verbalize (“I believe we must treat foreigners exactly as our own citizens!”) isn’t actually that interesting. In reality, there’s a wide spectrum of what people will do with foreigners. If we imagine it as a bell curve, the far right end has a tiny number of hyper-consistent people who oppose any government money going abroad unless it directly helps domestic citizens. A little further towards the center we get the people who say they believe this, but will support heroic efforts to rescue Japanese civilians from a tsunami. The bulge in the middle is people who want something like the current level of foreign aid, as long as it goes to sufficiently photogenic children. Further to the left, we get the people I’m having this discussion with, who usually support something like a bit more aid and open borders. And on the far left, we get another handful of hyper-consistent people, who think the US government should redirect the Medicaid budget to Africa.
If you’re at Point N in some bell curve, how far do you have to go before you come to someone with “fundamental value differences” from you? How far do you have to go before someone is inherently your enemy, cannot be debated with, and must be crushed in some kind of fight? If the answer is “any difference at all”, I regret to inform you that the bell curve is continuous; there may not be anyone with exactly the same position as you.
And that’s just the one issue of foreign aid. Imagine a hundred or a thousand such issues, all equally fraught. God help GCU, who goes further and says you’re “indefensible” if you believe any human’s interests are more important than any other’s. Does he (I’ll assume it’s a he) do more to help his wife when she’s sick than he would to help a random stranger? This isn’t meant to be a gotcha, it’s meant to be an example of how we formulate our morality. Person A cares more about his wife than a random person, and also donates some token amount to help the poor in Africa. He dismisses caring about his wife as noise, then extrapolates from the Africa donation to say “we must help all people equally”. Person B also cares more about his wife than a random person, and also donates some token amount to Africa. He dismisses the Africa donation as noise, then extrapolates from his wife to “we must care most about those closest to us”. I’m not saying that how each person frames his moral principle won’t have effects later down the line, but those effects will be the tail wagging the dog. If A and B look at each other and say “I am an everyone-equally-er, you are a people-close-to-you-first-er, we can never truly understand one another, we must be sworn enemies”, they’re putting a whole lot more emphasis on which string of syllables they use to describe their mental processes than really seems warranted.
Why am I making such a big deal of this? Isn’t a gradual continuous value difference still a value difference?
Yes. But I expect that (contra the Moral Foundations idea) both the supposed-nativist and the supposed-cosmopolitan have at least a tiny bit of the instinct toward nativism and the instinct toward cosmopolitanism. They may be suppressing one or the other in order to fit their principles. The nativist might be afraid that if he admitted any instinct toward cosmopolitanism, people could force him to stop volunteering at his community center, because his neighbor’s children are less important than starving Ethiopians and he should be helping them somehow instead. The cosmopolitan might be afraid that if he admitted any instinct toward preferring people close to him, it would justify a jingoistic I’ve-got-mine attitude that thinks of foreigners as subhuman.
But the idea that they’re inherently different, and neither can understand the other’s appeals or debate each other, is balderdash. A lot of the our-values-are-just-inherently-different talk I’ve heard centers around immigration. Surely liberals must have some sort of strong commitment to the inherent moral value of foreigners if they’re so interested in letting them into the country? Surely conservatives must have some sort of innate natives-first mentality to think they can just lock people out? But…
Okay. I admit this is a question about hard work and talents, which is a factual question. But we both know that you would get basically the same results if you asked “IMMIGRATION GOOD OR BAD?” or “DO IMMIGRANTS HAVE THE SAME RIGHTS TO BE IN THIS COUNTRY AS THE NATIVE BORN?” or whatever. And what we see is that this is totally contingent and dependent on the politics of the moment. Of all those liberals talking about how they can’t possibly comprehend conservatives because being against immigration would just require completely alien values, half of them were anti-immigrant ten years ago. Of all those conservatives talking about how liberals can never be convinced by mere debate because debate can’t cut across fundamental differences, they should try to figure out why their own party was half again as immigrant-friendly in 2002 as in 2010.
I don’t think anyone switched because of anything they learned in a philosophy class. They switched because it became mildly convenient to switch, and they had a bunch of pro-immigrant instincts and anti-immigrant instincts the whole time, so it was easy to switch which words came out of their mouths as soon as it became convenient to do so.
So if the 9/11 hijackers told me they truly placed zero value on American lives, I would at least reserve the possibility that sure, this is something you say when you want to impress your terrorist friends, but that in a crunch – if they saw an anvil about to drop on an American kid and had only a second to push him out of the way – they would end up having some of the same instincts as the rest of us.
Is there anyone at all whom I am willing to admit definitely, 100%, in the most real possible way, has different values than I do?
I think so. I remember a debate I had with my ex-girlfriend. Both of us are atheist materialist-computationalist utilitarian rationalist effective altruist liberal-tarians with 99% similar views on every political and social question. On the other hand, it seemed axiomatic to me that it wasn’t morally good/obligatory to create extra happy people (eg have a duty to increase the population from 10,000 to 100,000 people in a way that might eventually create the Repugnant Conclusion), and it seemed equally axiomatic to her that it was morally good/obligatory to do that. We debated this maybe a dozen times throughout our relationship, and although we probably came to understand each other’s position a little more, and came to agree it was a hard problem with some intuitions on both sides, we didn’t come an inch closer to agreement.
I’ve had a few other conversations that ended with me feeling the same way. I may not be the typical Sierra Club member, but I consider myself an environmentalist in the sense of liking the environment and wanting it to be preserved. But I don’t think I value biodiversity for its own sake – if you offered me something useful in exchange for half of all species going extinct – promising that they would all be random snails, or sponges, or some squirrel species that looked exactly like other squirrel species, or otherwise not anything we cared about – I’d take it. If you offered me all charismatic megafauna being relegated to zoos in exchange for lots of well-preserved beautiful forests that people could enjoy whenever they wanted, I would take that one too. I know other people who consider themselves environmentalists who are horrified by this. Some of them agree with me on every single political issue that real people actually debate.
I think these kinds of things are probably real fundamental value difference. But if I’m not sure I have any fundamental value differences with the 9-11 hijackers, and I am sure I have one with one of the people I’m closest to in the entire world, how big a deal is it, exactly? The world isn’t made of Our Tribe with our fundamental values and That Tribe There with their fundamental values. It’s made of a giant mishmash of provisional things that solidify into values at some point but can be unsolidified by random chance or temporary advantage, and everyone probably has a couple unexplored value differences and unexpected value similarities with everyone else.
This means that trying to use shaming and indoctrination to settle value differences is going to be harder than you think. Successfully defeat the people on the other side of the One Great Binary Value Divide That Separates Us Into Two Clear Groups, and you’re going to notice you still have some value differences with your allies (if you don’t now, you will in ten years, when the political calculus changes slightly and their deepest ethical beliefs become totally different). Beat your allies, and you and the subset of remaining allies will still have value differences. It’s value differences all the way down. You will have an infinite number of fights, and you’re sure to lose some of them. Have you considered getting principles and using asymmetric weapons?
I’m not saying you don’t have to fight for your values. The foreign aid budget still has to be some specific number, and if your explicitly-endorsed principles disagree with someone else’s explicitly-endorsed principles, then you’ve got to fight them to determine what it is.
But “remember, liberals and conservatives have fundamental value differences, so they are two tribes that can’t coexist” is the wrong message. “Remember, everyone has weak and malleable value differences with everyone else, and maybe a few more fundamental ones though it’s hard to tell, and neither type necessarily line up with tribes at all, so they had damn well better learn to coexist” is more like it.
In the cases where there are surmountable value differences (and maybe even where there aren’t), it seems like one useful technique in coming to peaceful resolutions (and perhaps leading to something like the moral version of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem) is having better models of the actual moral reasoning and feeling going on in an opponent’s head; turning moral mutants from black boxes that output strange values into people we can emulate, understand, and empathize with.
Scott mentions this with murderism and the example of abortion – you’re in a better position, both for political strategy and reasons of social cohesion, if you can model pro-life activists (provided you’re pro-choice) with the human motivation of “holy crap, babies are dying we need to do something about this” rather than as weird back boxes that output actions which aren’t conducive to women’s reproductive freedom.
I’ve definitely gotten a lot of mileage out of having these kinds of models; as a cis by default person, one recent tool that I found somewhat helpful was modeling a felt sense of gender as somewhat analogous to intelligence, as a characteristic of myself that is pretty central to my identity and interactions with people and which I’d feel deeply wrong in inhabiting a mind without. But I think I’m still missing a lot of these tools. I still have no clue what it actually feels like internally to be in the mind of a person who, when seeing an argument for effective altruism, doesn’t respond morally in the way they would to a worked-out multiplication problem demonstrating a fact of arithmetic (and that lack of a model has definitely impacted my ability to communicate about EA with people not already effective altruists).
Any commenters have useful ways of thinking about how to model and empathize with others’ value differences, either in general or with specific ways of understanding particular moral viewpoints?
doesn’t respond morally in the way they would to a worked-out multiplication problem demonstrating a fact of arithmetic
I don’t think I’ve ever had a moral response to an arithmetic problem 🙂
I find the best way to empathize is to remember that I’m probably wrong. I start with my understanding of molecular biology, which is incredibly complex in the most ridiculous ways, and then ask whether other systems might also be complex in unpredictable ways. Given that most political interventions – or non-interventions – produce at least some unintended effects, and often don’t produce intended effects, let’s assume they fit into the ‘complexity’ category. I then try to think of some of the unintended effects my preferred policies might cause. (Often this is done for me by my opponents.)
Let’s take the example of refugees/immigration:
– Additional refugees will likely cause increased tribalism within the nation that accepts them; in the EU, the most generous nations have recently seen strongly nativist political parties take control based on a “winning our country back” mentality. It is likely that allowing large amounts of refugees/immigration will follow a similar pattern in the US, and result in major electoral victories for the fringe Right. How much additional suffering might this cause?
– Mexico does not have a strong resistance movement capable of opposing the corruption and de facto rule of the drug cartels. Is it possible that immigration contributes to this? For example, anyone who strongly objects to the current system is more likely to risk their life crossing the border to the North in search of a better life, instead of taking up arms and risking their life fighting the cartels for a much less certain benefit. A friend in Mexico recently related an account of a lawyer who represented someone he didn’t know was acting against the cartel in his region. He got shot three times and ended up in the hospital in critical condition (I saw pictures, it was pretty bad). Last I heard, he was on the mend and making plans to move to the US – where his legal credentials probably won’t transfer and he’ll end up doing manual labor of some sort in the blistering heat. I’d agonize if I had to personally tell him not to immigrate to the US. But what would happen if a million such people didn’t have that option? Would Mexico actually have to do something with their political detractors if they couldn’t just get rid of them? Is the opt-out emigration option in Mexico the reason millions of people are currently suffering under a corrupt regime? Perhaps I’m putting my personal sympathies for this lawyer I know ahead of the suffering of millions more people and future generations of Mexicans.
– None of the above might be true, but borders are literally a Chesterton fence that I don’t fully understand. Removing them might have dire consequences. Are there other ways of helping potential immigrants and refugees that don’t include trans-national migration? Do I have to accept the left/right solutions as the only possible approaches? (The right’s preferred approach of ‘humanitarian war’ seems equally fraught in the complexity of unintended consequences analysis.)
– Finally, which political intervention (from the left or right) in the last five decades has unambiguously ‘solved’ the problem it was purported to solve? Was this an absolute any outside observer could agree with, or a case of “if you look at it right, and ignore the counter evidence of the opposing side, it looks like we’re maybe making progress”? Or, as I see most often, a case of “no difference, but that’s because we didn’t implement it fully.”
I see most political ideals as having a poor empirical track record. Therefore, I don’t really care what your intervention is, I want to include provisions to measure the impact, with pre-registered claims and plans to implement it in phases in a way that approximates controlled variables. Ideally, let’s include a sunset clause that’s triggered by not meeting your primary objective. Because in my experience in the lab, most hypotheses are wrong, and it’s not until we test them in a controlled way that we discover anything new.
I try to avoid tribalism by remembering that both sides are almost certainly wrong and nobody learns anything new in politics the way we do things now.
sclmlw, have you read Uncontrolled, by Jim Manzi? I think you’d like it.
It’s on the reading list, thanks!
This may be a crazy idea, but how many Mexicans actually want to get to USA? Maybe it would make sense for them to coordinate, move to the same region, declare independence from Mexico, and join the USA.
A Mexican “free state project”?
My understanding is that:
1. Mexican border states are some of those most heavily controlled by cartels; the rest of Mexico would look poorly on secession of part of their territory to the US (especially given historical context), and it’s unclear the new state would be welcomed into the US anyway.
2. Lots of people don’t like the current system in Mexico, but the people who are most motivated to change the system keep leaving. That doesn’t mean lots of other people wouldn’t support a popular uprising. It just means the people most motivated to make a change, who leaders of some putative uprising, never assemble – at least not in Mexico.
3. Say millions of Mexicans formed a new state of Aguascalientes and joined the US. Now Aguascalientes is like the new Arizona, and we have people arguing about deportations and border walls, but with a shift in territory, as it becomes easier for other Mexicans who become disaffected to flee.
4. Maybe it works.
Say millions of Mexicans formed a new state of Aguascalientes and joined the US.
What about skipping the step where they leave Mexico and join the US, and the US does . . . something to enforce good government on that state?
This idea will sound nuts, and it should set off alarm bells for many reasons. But ignoring the ways it’s stupid, is there any way that it’s smart?
I’m an economist who works for government in a research capacity, and what you’re describing (with the possible exception of the sunset clause) is considered best practice for policy evaluation. The reason it’s not done that way is due to political incentives, I recommend Adapt by Tim Harford for a good treatment of the topic, but the short version is that voters don’t like politicians who change their minds, so politicians don’t like seeing things that might cause them to have to change their mind.
As a somewhat reluctant EA member with no strong principles, and also as a person with a PhD in applied probability, I can perhaps suggest at least one interpretation of why EA equations may not look black-and-white. Many of the EA arguments I have seen focus on expected value as the thing to optimize, explicitly positing the equivalence of “100% chance of saving 1 person” and “10% chance of saving 10 people”. I have a lot of trouble seeing why mean is the thing you ought to be maximizing: why not mode, or median? (Both of these prefer certainty.) Why not posit risk aversion, so that high variance comes in as a penalty? (Again, prefers certainty.) Or maximizing the second moment, which would look like excessive fondness for risk? (That would prefer the chance of saving 10 people.) I think that you can get at least some of the way in modeling why someone might not be fully on board with the EA programme if you can model an intuitive preference for optimizing something other than the mean.
If you look at the overall effect of all aid, it will make very little difference which of those you choose for one group of 10 people. All the various aid efforts will average out overall, and the total variance will not substantially increase even if individual efforts take an all-or-nothing gambit. In that sense “risk” matters very little. It’ll only really matter if you’re talking about some truly massive single project, or want to be able to say “I personally saved this one particular life” (and saving ten lives doesn’t make you feel particularly better than saving one life, but saving zero would make you feel worse).
Those kind of objections make sense to me; how to handle risk aversion and Pascal’s Muggings is something I’m still unsure about. Someone with those concerns is still displaying the underlying mindset of trying in every situation to do better, and would prefer to donate to the AMF over the Society For Grooming Cute Kittens.
I think “not being on board with the EA program and its existing institutions or charities” is a different (if well-correlated) beast from not being on board with the philosophy itself. If I learned tomorrow that none of GiveWell’s charities did any better than random ones, x-risk concerns were unimportant, none of the research that’s come out of EA efforts has been of any use, and the thing you’re supposed to target is the mode squared minus 7, it wouldn’t change my underlying moral reasoning one iota, I’d just redouble the effort to find out which interventions were the best. (This relates to a common response when talking about EA, in my experience; someone will say “but what about continent fact X” when in the least convenient possible world they still wouldn’t donate a penny.)
I assume what you mean is not “fails to see that this is an implication of the assumption that we should act to maximize world utility” but “fails to see that this is how you should act.”
Consider anyone who believes in obligations. Your dying friend hands you an envelope full of money with instructions to pass it on to his absent son. Do you find puzzling the idea that you should do so, rather than giving it to whomever you think it would be of most use to?
If not, consider someone who views the world in terms of a network of obligations, implicit as well as explicit–part of what the social contract metaphor implies.
That’s helpful, thanks; it would explain a fair bit. (And yes, although sometimes I encounter a weirder failure mode of “yep, your reasoning makes sense, this is definitely how we should act” followed by zero change in action. Maybe this is the moral equivalent of akrasia, or people have unconscious objections that they don’t know how to voice?)
Moral-epistemic learned helplessness.
“Yes, your argument that this is how we should act is very convincing. I will now proceed to change nothing about the way I act, because the fact that a moral-philosophical argument is convincing to me is not at all indicative of that argument being correct.”
Edit: See the example about terrorists in the linked post.
“I still have no clue what it actually feels like internally to be in the mind of a person who, when seeing an argument for effective altruism, doesn’t respond morally in the way they would to a worked-out multiplication problem demonstrating a fact of arithmetic (and that lack of a model has definitely impacted my ability to communicate about EA with people not already effective altruists).”
The tl:dr is something like, “that person sees your worked-out multiplication problem as only one of the many components that go into thinking about the stated problem.”
“Some rationalists have a reductionistic and mechanistic theory of mind. They see the mind made up of a patchwork of domain-specific biased heuristic algorithms which can be individually outsmarted and hacked for “debiasing”. While the mind is ultimately a reducible machine, it is complex, poorly understood, very clever, and designed to work as a purposeful whole…
We can’t really replace common sense and intuition as the basis of reasoning. Attempts to virtualize more “correct” principles of reasoning from math and cognitive science in explicit deliberative reasoning are unrealistic folly. We can learn useful metaphors from theory, and use mathematical tools, but theory cannot be the ultimate foundation of our cognition.”
That’s the postrationalist view. But for the contrary view in general you can read any decent argument against utilitarianism. As just one example, Alisdair McIntyre’s arguments about trying to measure incommensurable things. Saying that it’s impossible to understand, from a utilitarian perspective, rejecting utilitarian conclusions is begging the question.
>I still have no clue what it actually feels like internally to be in the mind of a person who, when seeing an argument for effective altruism, doesn’t respond morally in the way they would to a worked-out multiplication problem demonstrating a fact of arithmetic…
EA (thinking of Peter Singer mostly) seems to rest on an assumption that the moral interests of all sentient beings are equal. I do not share Singer’s idea that capacity to feel is what gives an entity moral worth. I think I am the most valuable entity in my universe, followed by other humans I care about, and the interests of strange humans, let alone strange animals, are not only less valuable but hardly even show up on the same chart.
So the math just doesn’t work. I understand the argument for giving to Against Malaria rather than to the local opera, but both of those causes are going to have to wait until I’ve achieved all of my financial goals and ensured that I have a sizable legacy to leave to my children. Because my interests are what matter.
Good post. I quite agree.
However, I would like to state that even if there were two different groups with irreconcilable value differences, it is not obvious to me that we’d all be morally obligated to wipe each other out by whatever means possible. Morals are a product of the human brain. They have no actual reality beyond the fact that some people feel them. Given that, why would the morals produced by your brain be inherently more valid than the morals produced by someone else’s brain? They are both subjective, just another case of people wanting different things.
The question of what to do when different people want different things is hardly a new one. Throughout history, the answer has frequently been, “we’ll kill everyone who wants something different than us! Then we’ll do what we want to do!”, yes. But in later years we have come up with these things called “democracy” and “tolerance” and “an open society.” Is there any particular reason why we should stop using them now? Is there any reason why we shouldn’t just say, “I and roughly half of the population want X. However, the other half of the population want not-X. They are allowed to want that, just like we are allowed to want X. We should try to find a compromise of some-X, or possibly one where we give up X in order to get Y”?
I suppose you could claim that those things – tolerance, democracy, compromise – are themselves values. Perhaps so… but I would like to point out that they are values that do not require me to deny anyone the right to exist. If you find that not denying anyone the right to exist is a value you share, then I think you should at least consider my approach. Yes, even when faced with baby-eating aliens or paperclip-crazy AIs.
Though again, I agree with Scott that we have yet to encounter any baby-eating aliens or paperclip-crazy AIs, so even if you don’t agree with me there’s no reason to cry “THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!” just yet.
Tolerance is good and all, but in real life, morality matters to us.
If you think that e.g. cops in your country are dragging Jews and Muslims into the street and summarily executing them, you’re not going to say “Oh well, these Jew-killers have irreconcilable different values, I guess I’ll just have to leave them be as long as they don’t get into my half of the country.”
You can say that violence is an exception and we should respect other’s choices otherwise, but there are other things we care about. Arranged child marriages, abortion, euthanasia, torture, due process, social safety nets, job equality, etc.
In that case, we should be able to agree on a minimum necessary set of values that everyone has to agree to to allow live and let live. ‘Tolerance, democracy, compromise’ is a good starting point for discussion. In fact, you could probably get away with tolerance alone as long as you can work in the necessary paradoxical exception, but it has to be of the form ‘I may hate you and everything you stand for (and you may return the favor), but I’m going to allow you to enjoy the same social rights as everyone else as long as you do the same for me.’ As soon as you go beyond that level, such as by physically assaulting people who you think are being intolerant in the name of tolerance, live and let live breaks down.
Interesting thing there that you draw a line at the national boundary. In what way are you obligated to correct the violently wrong morals of those across the continent but not those across the world? Is it based on kinship or a sense of identity or a utilitarian calculation of how costly it would be to effect?
I agree with your object level example. If you towards much more ambiguity it gets a lot more complicated and coalition building is much harder.
Some moral rules, when acted out at scale and across time, will tend to produce better results than others. If Person A and Person B want similar outcomes but believe different moral values will help them achieve those outcomes, then the set of morals that when acted out better produce the desired outcome they both prefer could be considered more ‘valid’.
You’re begging the question rather by assuming a desire for outcomes as the foundational moral preference.
“Better produce the desired outcome” is also problematic – one might reasonably argue as to whether actual outcomes, mean expected outcomes, modal expected outcomes, some more complicated function of expected outcomes or something else entirely ought to be the target. You’ve just kicked the arbitrariness one step back.
Epistemic status: Still working through these ideas a bit.
I’m not assuming a desire for outcomes as the foundational moral preference, just noting that actions that more reliably lead to preferred outcomes are more ‘valid’ than actions that less reliably lead to preferred outcomes. If you’re preferred outcome is sustained happiness for yourself and your family, then when deciding what actions you ought to take you should follow moral rules that more reliably lead to sustained happiness for yourself and your family. It may be a process to discover these rules, but luckily we have thousands of years of accumulated wisdom as a nice starter pack.
This does raise some issues about what outcomes people ought to prefer and what happens when people prefer conflicting outcomes, e.g., Person A achieving their goal means Person B can’t achieve theirs. I think there’s some resolution here as I think we ought to prefer moral rules that lead to our desired outcomes at scale and across time. People may achieve certain outcomes they thought they preferred, only to have it occur and find it not satisfying, and then may change their outcome preferences. Or people may prefer an outcome that conflicts with another person’s preferred outcome and find that the unanticipated consequences of trying to achieve their preferred outcome, say by battling the other person pursuing their goals, makes them no longer prefer the original outcome.
Life is a series of games and we ought to prefer rules that lead to success within the games as well as across games over time. For generalizability, we want rules that work not only when you follow them but when everyone follows them. Out of these constraints emerge universal morals like the Golden Rule and prohibitions against theft and murder. There’s other moral rules that may be more context dependent, and as circumstances change the rules need to change. E.g., some moral rules that work within hunter-gatherer tribes may not work so well within modern nation-states.
What I’m saying is that you haven’t actually eliminated the arbitrariness – at best, you’ve kicked it back a step. You say things like “more reliably lead to sustained happiness” which at first blush sound like they might be basic, but actually admit of a bunch of different meanings. What function do we use to combine happiness across people and time into a single metric? There are several plausible simple answers, and it’s not even obvious to me that the answer need be simple; there are an infinity of plausible complex ones. And I can’t see how the determination between them is other than arbitrary.
‘Morals are a product of the human brain. They have no actual reality beyond the fact that some people feel them.’
I think that assuming this meta-ethical claim in the context of talking about fundamental value differences is begging the question. An enormous amount of normative-ethical disagreement is downstream of precisely disagreements about what morals are.
I, for one, emphatically do not think that ‘morals are a product of the human brain’. 🙂
I agree that the meta-ethics are both important and disputed, though I suspect we would come down on different sides of that dispute.
A lot of otherwise intelligent and reasonable rationalists/EAs seem to have an inexplicable unstated attachment to a very naïve kind of moral realism.
Even when we have conflicting values in some places, we usually have *some* shared goals. Rival companies, countries at war with one another, competing players in a soccer game, and rival criminal gangs all have some shared goals–they’re in a game with one another that is not entirely zero-sum, and they can find some room to negotiate/coordinate to make things better for both of them.
Just about every citizen and resident of the US has some shared goals surrounding keeping the US a nice place to live–we can all agree that civil war or the literal collapse of the government and economy would be bad things, even if we disagree on whether abortion should be legal or whether private citizens should be allowed to own handguns.
At another level, personally, hearing someone express utter certainty that their way of thinking about moral questions is obviously superior to everyone else’s makes me extremely uneasy about the quality of their reasoning. All models lie; some models are useful, and that applies to models of morality, as well as models of reality. Your system of moral reasoning is pretty-much guaranteed to have some places where it leads you off a cliff (the repugnant conclusion, Pascal’s mugging, etc.). If you don’t know that, then you’re going to walk off a cliff, in much the same way that someone who doesn’t know that his statistical model of reality isn’t reality is going to be *very* surprised the day he sees an event that’s ten sigmas out from the mean of his assumed normal distribution.
Exactly. Most people aren’t abstract enough to allow others the freedom to do things they oppose because they view it as inherently good to exchange ideas. They do it because the alternative is worse – being controlled by or crushing/be crushed by the other. Even if you are convinced you are right, forcing your belief to triumph is in most circumstances not worth it. Life is too complicated, with too many disagreements. Of course, there are exceptions. But the default was tribalism on most things, and there’s a reason why many societies tried to opt out of that.
If you try to explain freedom of religion to an isolated, old-fashioned religious community, they would probably think you were crazy. Why would you allow others to insult your religion, be obnoxious, set a bad example, etc? But once you live in a relatively diverse society for a little while, you generally get sick of the constant fights it would require to crush out all dissenters or defend your way of doing things, and over time societies become liberal on these things. It’s not that it’s never occurred to them that they could refuse to compromise and focus on winning – it’s just generally not a good long term strategy for a vibrant community. If the community is barely holding together, then enforcing norms and solidarity and brutally culling outsiders makes more sense. But it’s probably not ideal.
Separating into facts in one corner, and values in the other seems like a useful distinction. After all, facts can be determined from evidence and rational discussion. For me, the advent Wikipedia and smartphones was fantastic, since discussions to a much smaller extend revolves about differences in opinion about facts – we can just look it up, and move on to the interesting stuff. Perhaps this is a better distinction than the conflict/mistake theoretical one?
But I wonder about those “factual beliefs” (hypothetically) held by the 911 hijackers. I agree that if you hold the beliefs that (arguably) are prescribed by religion, blowing up airplanes can be a reasonable thing to do. But it seems to me that those “factual beliefs” are qualitative different from facts in that, like values, there is no way of reaching any agreement. The existence of the supernatural – by definition – cannot be proven.
So perhaps there is more of a spectrum here? From simple facts that can be looked up (how many immigrants came to your country last year?), to complex facts that are more difficult to ascertain (is Piketty right that wealth accumulates due to interest paying more than work?), to mere articles of faith (God wants me to punish the wicked atheists of the west). With the latter being closer to values.
I think this has a lot of explanatory power. It reminds me of another group that sometimes sounds like they’re on a different planet to me – conspiracy theorists. We agree on the easily observable facts – two planes flew into the towers, JFK was shot, etc. – but they’ve somehow rearranged their web of knowledge so that all of those facts are explained by another, unobservable fact, like the Deep State or the Illuminati. And now that they’ve worked their way around to that perspective, further evidence gets taken as proof of the Deep State’s power rather than the mundane explanation. Narratives are a lot harder to change than facts.
Also consider how Trump supporters recently started saying “Well, obviously Trump isn’t going to call out Russia over the election interference, that could start a war!” As if Trump has ever cared what other countries think about us. They don’t dispute the observable facts, but they’re fitting them into a narrative of “Trump is a 5D chessmaster, so he must have been making the right decision.”
(And lest I be accused of making exactly the same error, the Left immediately ran with the narrative of “Trump is owned by Russia” and skipped over less exciting explanations like “Trump is a fan of strong-man leaders and spoke without thinking.”)
I’m not sure if anyone has come up with a foolproof way of arguing against this sort of logic. You can’t really think about facts without forming them into a narrative, but narratives have some pretty well-known and exploitable issues.
You are definitely correct in that narratives strong, facts weak. The same people who explain their opposition today by saying that Trump will start World War 3 with Russia will explain it tomorrow by saying that he is in the KGB.
Whether this is good or weak depends on whether you think the prior or the likelihood ought to be more informed.
“If Trump literally shot Putin on stage in Helsinki, leftists would find a way that it was a 12 step masterplan for Putin to take control of the United States”
“Trump could literally hand Russia our entire stockpile of nuclear weapons, and Trumpists would figure out a way to claim that this was part of a masterplan to Lock Her Up”
The most interesting part here is that the types of people saying these things are using it as a critique of the other side. But when they hear the critique of their own side they mostly say “yeah you’re probably right”. So even when people are *aware* they are doing at least a little bit of twisting the facts to fit the narrative, they are still prone to do so.
Some have, maybe? For me, I see a disconnect between the epistemic status for Russian interference stated by the intelligence community and my own epistemic status for Russian interference. I don’t trust the IC (WMDs in Iraq, Gulf of Tonkin, etc), they say Russia DEFINITELY hacked everything and the media reports this uncritically,* but as an electrical engineer with a long history of system administration experience, I don’t see how they can possibly say that given the nature of the attacks and the resources available (the FBI/CIA/etc never even got to examine the DNC server or Podesta’s laptop). And Wikileaks, which has a 100% record of telling the truth says they didn’t get the emails from Russia or any state actor.
I’m not saying Russia didn’t do, or wouldn’t do it. It sounds like something they would do. I’d say there’s a 40% chance someone in Russia did it, and a 20% chance it was done on Putin’s orders. That’s not enough to justify reading someone the riot act over.
And when it comes to the virtue of non-interference in the politics of other nations, the US is probably the most depraved entity on the planet, violently toppling government after government after government.
Demanding someone denounce to his face the leader of a nation that has lots of nuclear weapons and with whom I would like to have peaceful relations over accusations made with an extreme lack of epistemic humility by organizations with a long history of telling malicious lies about matters of great consequence over minor crimes that pale in comparison to our own seems unwise.
* Another bizarre casualty of Trump Derangement Syndrome: I think if you went back to the ’60s and ’70s and told the journos of the day that, in the future, major American news sources would present press releases of the CIA as fact and host senior officials of the intelligence agencies on their programs as unimpeachable witnesses they would laugh in your face. And yet here we are.
“And Wikileaks, which has a 100% record of telling the truth says they didn’t get the emails from Russia or any state actor.”
A “100% record of telling the truth” is an extraordinarily bold claim to make about any kind of long-running organization, particularly a high-profile one that deals with matters of state intrigue and espionage. Since this seems to be the crux of your argument, and also the most falsifiable evidence you present for your 40%/20% estimate, I would like to present some material that hopefully changes your mind:
1. Julian Assange has expressed a desire to facilitate the “total annihilation of the current U.S. regime and any other regime that holds its authority through mendacity alone.”
2. WikiLeaks has exchanged private messages with Donald Trump Jr. in which they clearly demonstrate a strong desire to help get Trump elected (so they have an incentive to protect him from the Russian interference scandal).
3. WikiLeaks has promoted stories about clearly false right-wing conspiracy theories like PizzaGate and Democrats conducting Satanic rituals. This is proof that they are either capable of lying, or too gullible to be trusted.
4. WikiLeaks have also parroted the Russian lie that the Ukraine is not being invaded by Russia, but is simply undergoing a rebellion by Ukrainians who want to see the nation succumb to Russian control.
5. WikiLeaks have also claimed that the chemical weapons attack in Syria in 2013 was staged. Like number 4, this is a lie that directly takes its lead from Russian propaganda, and suggests that WikiLeaks (at least since 2013) is extremely pro-Russian and not to be trusted as a source when it comes to Russia.
Wikileaks is not the crux of my argument, just one piece of supporting evidence. Regardless, I don’t see any lies in the things you posted.
Again, I think there’s a decent chance Russians were behind the hacking, and also there’s a decent chance it was the Russian government, specifically. But I have reasonable doubt based on the evidence I’ve seen. And hey, right now, the Russians have been indicted by our criminal justice so as far as the government should be concerned, they’re innocent until proven guilty. Why demand the President treat them as guilty until proven so in a court of law?
The smoke alarm goes off. You smell smoke. You get out of the house.
The you call the fire department, not the insurance company.
“Innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t mean you can’t draw inferences about the state of affairs.
I’m not very familiar with Wikileaks. Following one of your links, it is to a signed article. Is there a distinction between what Wikileaks claim about their sources, under their own name so to speak, and what they publish from others, with no guarantee from them that it is true? That link, at least, seemed to be going to something in the latter category–I didn’t check the others.
Some of your links (Ukraine, Syria) do not point to WikiLeaks, but to a web page called “WikiLeaks Party”. According to their own description, they are a political group in Australia.
What I am trying to say is that, in general, an organization called X should not be held responsible for an organization on a different continent called X Party, unless the former organization endorses the latter.
For example, if I create a “Slate Star Codex Party” in Africa, Scott Alexander should not be held responsible for opinions expressed on my official blog.
Or is there a deeper connection between the two?
Okay, I guess I was excessively paranoid. Yes, Assange is a member of the WikiLeaks Party. Or at least was.
On the other hand, your first link suggests that Assange said “he had nothing to do with the party’s overnight embrace of Putinism”. So the possible charitable interpretation is that other people took control over the party and deviated from the original goals. — But of course, maybe that was actually the plan from the beginning.
(I am still confused, but I give it maybe 70% probability that yes, Assange is pro-Putin, and 30% probability that there is some other explanation.)
Denouncing the EU, Canada, and Mexico to their faces sounded like a pretty unwise move to me as well, but I didn’t see Trump being so cautious when any other nation was involved. That’s why the current response sounds like rationalization to me.
Suppose Trump had instead said “I believe Russia was meddling in our elections, and we’re going to investigate and put whoever was responsible in jail,” would you say that that was a bad idea? Or would you be proud of him for standing up for the US and putting pressure on Russia, like you were proud of him for standing up to everyone else?
No, I think that would be fine, but that’s not what the media, the Democrats and the neocons wanted. They wanted Trump to cancel the summit, apply still more sanctions, maybe bomb Russia, who the hell knows. Really what they want is Trump gone, and I don’t think it would matter what Trump did or didn’t do the response would be the same. Trump accuses Putin, Putin employs the Shaggy Defense and what do you do?
But I think we have important things to discuss with Russia, like the future of Syria (another one of those foreign governments we kind of meddled with. A little bit. Only half a million dead but who cares!), and phishing for email passwords is really small potatoes in comparison.
Yup. This is the terminal value.
They want Trump, himself, on the record, saying “Russia meddled” so that they can use that sound byte as ammunition against him either in an upcoming impeachment hearing, or in campaign ads in 2020.
And for all his other faults, Trump isn’t so stupid as to not understand this, and is understandably reluctant to hand his sworn enemies the exact sort of ammunition they are requesting.
He would be, correctly, accused of lying, since we don’t have the power to put foreign citizens in jail unless they are so careless as to come somewhere that we can grab them.
Speaking as a Democrat, impeachment is a nice-to-have rather than an end goal. The wheels of justice turn slowly and steadily, Mueller is keeping things close to his chest, all I can do is wait and see what comes out. I’ve played enough XCOM to not pin all my hopes on a low-percentage shot.
But in the meantime, I’d like Trump to at least pretend he’s not ignoring the problem. A slap on the wrist, an announcement about some cybersecurity project, literally anything would have looked better than this flimsy “Gosh, we just don’t know” denial.
A lot of people (including a lot of people who are likely to vote for him) are unconvinced a problem exists.
Podesta’s password was password, and the end result was the public learning about how corrupt Hillary and the DNC really were and how they rigged the primaries against Bernie.
You’ll have to forgive red-tribe for not crying a river over this supposedly egregious offense.
Nope. (Gmail doesn’t even let you use “password” as a password.)
You’re not concerned, even in a “The next Republican after Trump probably won’t be as sympathetic to Putin, which means they could come after the RNC next if we aren’t prepared”?
My pre-existing assumption going in was already “everyone who is at all capable of working with computers is already actively trying to do this sort of thing.”
And that assumption will hold true regardless of what silly things Trump attempts to threaten Putin with.
Those are both terrible examples. Even the most skeptical and rigorous experts said that they couldn’t be sure either way, but that they could probably restart the program quickly. In hindsight, it looks like the army was lying to Saddam because it was easier than actually building the weapons. And as for the Gulf of Tonkin, I’ve read accounts by participants on the ships which have me fairly convinced that there was something going on, and the current consensus is essentially the result of a hit job to discredit the basis for war.
I was all for bombing the hell out of Afghanistan, but when Bush said he wanted to invade Iraq I said “what the hell? They had nothing to do with this.” I was completely against it. Then Colin Powell appeared on my TV screen, in front of the UN, and he showed the pictures of the aluminum tubes (that were the wrong size) and held up the anthrax vial and I hung my head. I trusted Colin Powell. He wouldn’t lie to me. If Colin says we have to do this or we’re going to wake up to mushroom clouds over New York or Tel Aviv, well there it is.
And it was all a sham. He lied. As the wise man said, “fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
Is it clear that he lied? The alternatives there are:
a. He was misled by advisors/colleagues/underlings he trusted, who lied to him.
b. He was misled by advisors/colleagues/underlings he trusted, who got the facts wrong by honest error.
In either case, I think there is a pretty strong case for recognizing that even confident pronouncements from the intelligence community are often just going to be wrong. That can be intentionally lying for political reasons, but it can also be getting things wrong because figuring out what the weapons program of a dictatorship on the other side of the planet is hard, or getting it wrong because of many levels of people shading the truth toward what they think the boss wants to hear.
I don’t know if it is clear that Powell lied. But it is clear that the Director of National Intelligence lied, testifying to Congress under oath, when he said that the NSA did not intentionally collect any sort of information on millions of American citizens.
Will that do?
Yep. I’m not remotely interested in defending the honesty of US intelligence agencies, I’m just asking if we know that Powell knowingly lied or not.
it can also be getting things wrong because figuring out what the weapons program of a dictatorship on the other side of the planet is hard
Wasn’t the joke at the time “How do we know the Iraqis have WMD? Because we kept the receipts!”
Only because the USSR is no longer around. They were a serious competitor for the prize.
But I agree that the level of moral indignation over the claim that someone working for the Russian government engaged in mildly criminal acts in the hope of influencing U.S. politics is bizarre, especially coming from people with a history of complaints about the U.S. doing more extreme things along similar lines.
It’s not like Putin is being accused of funding an armed rebellion against the existing government. Not anything the U.S. has ever considered doing, of course.
I’m particularly concerned about the part of the narrative that claims the election was illegitimate because of the influence of Russian propaganda during the campaign, apparently because some of us aren’t able to properly discern the truth.
If the voicing of wrong views in a campaign can’t be tolerated, then free speech and democratic elections are incompatible. And I’ll put up with a lot to avoid that conclusion, because that would signal the failure of liberal democracy.
Yeah, no kidding. If free speech during campaigns for chief executive makes elections illegitimate, it’s time to crown a king with an adorable fetish for the Bill of Rights (but doesn’t think the First Amendment requires a flood of Muslim immigrants).
I wouldn’t say “The election was illegitimate because Russia distributed propaganda”, but I would say “If Russia can hack the DNC and distribute private information that makes one of the parties / candidates look terrible, then what’s to stop them from swaying elections by hacking & leaking info on whatever party / candidate they don’t like?”
I remember that after the DNC hack, many Republicans were celebrating the leak that made Hillary and the Dems look terrible, but Marco Rubio came out and said “Be careful, because they could easily do this to us next time, if they haven’t already”. +1 to my respect for Rubio
They could only “do the same to us” if their e-mails also detailed vast corruption and the rigging of primaries.
The country is better off for knowing this information, however unseemly it may have been obtained.
If the Republicans have equally reprehensible dirty laundry, I encourage anyone out there to hack and release it as well.
I agree. I’m unconditionally against the Democrats unless they get over beliefs like “freedom of information is evil because our hereditary enemy Russia gave it to you!”
I similarly don’t really get the complaints about the hacking. Supposing it took Russia to do the investigative journalism necessary to expose the rot in the DNC, I’m not feeling particularly inclined to complain about the source of that apparently truthful information.
If the RNC is engaged in similarly awful activities, I’d be happy to know that too.
The notion that foreign actors will refrain from actions intended to influence US elections if Republicans and Democrats both agreed to complain about this instance is also crazy to me. Corporations have to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, and political organizations aren’t going to escape the focus of hackers either. Besides, it’s not like the CIA is hiring all those computer science grads to set up printers. Even if Trump complained directly to Putin’s face about the alleged Russian hacking, what’s going to change? Russia isn’t going to dismantle their state-sponsored hacking programs any more than we are (or China or any other major country).
I mean, I’m not gonna complain about the transparency, but I think it’s fair for Dems to feel salty that we got our dirty laundry exposed and yall didn’t. If anyone’s gonna hack and release info about politicians, be fair and make it non-partisan.
Of course it’s fair for partisan Democrats to be upset about this. I’m not begrudging that at all.
What I’m questioning is the demand that *I* be upset about it. Or that Trump be so upset about it he chastises Putin on live TV. That makes little to no sense to me.
First, the fact that only a tiny percentage of Americans care about the sort of factual information that might be leaked about one candidate or another. There isn’t much room to sway an election by “leaking” information on one candidate or the other, and if you’re going to pursue that marginal return you’re better off with custom-tailored lies than with laboriously-hacked true facts.
And second, any candidate or campaign that does have True Facts that might swing an election if they fell into the wrong hands, always has the option of not putting that information on hackable computers. Anyone who insists on putting potentially election-losing information on the internet, trusting that no one else will peek because That Would Be Wrong, is too fucking stupid to be trusted with supreme executive power in the greatest democracy in history.
Of course, this time around, we had two candidates who were too stupid to be trusted with the presidency, along with a guy who didn’t know where ‘Aleppo’ was.
The guy who didn’t know where Aleppo was got my vote, as he honestly seemed like the least bad choice. I figured there was a fighting chance that if he didn’t know where it was, we might not end up in a war there.
That’s a lot harder to do than you think.
Firstly, not all True Facts are supplied by the person who desires to secure them. Most of the time, True Facts take the form of emails, text messages, and even Facebook posts that are made by well-meaning yet security-illiterate third parties. If you have an email address, chances are someone will inadvertently email you some incriminating info at some point. I know, I know, the obvious solution is to encrypt all your public communication — but in practice, that would prevent most people from communicating with you; and you probably can’t afford that, especially if you are running an election campaign.
Secondly, it’s hard to tell True Facts from ordinary facts sometimes, because everybody lies. Not only that, but perfectly innocent information can become heavily incriminating at the drop of a hat, as the socio-political climate changes.
And finally, I’m sure you know this, but it bears repeating: there’s no such thing as an unhackable computer, or an uncrackable vault for that matter.
Agreed. I typically use “values differences” as a stand-in for “beliefs that would be very hard to reconcile”. Among these I would count many views baked in by ambient culture and upbringing, where it would take prolonged exposure to other ambient cultures to change. Religion is a specific example: it’s not like believing in a specific mythology is a fundamental characteristic of personality, but still, often, it’s very hard to change. Much harder than checking Wikipedia.
Heck, I’d even go further and be skeptical of Scott’s account of an argument with his ex-girlfriend. I think sometimes protracted arguments aren’t effective at reconciling beliefs. For a more widespread and practical case — though not unrelated to that argument — consider abortion. I don’t know if a view about whether abortion is/isn’t murder is fundamental per se, but I’ve never had much luck tackling it in discussion.
There’s a deeper question about the identity conditions of an individual: if what it takes to change someone’s mind is plucking them out of their native culture and making them live in a different culture for 10 years — are they the same person after that process? If not, maybe the difference really is fundamental? But then many differences will be “fundamental” by this definition.
The web is an open medium. Having looked up the answer, you still have to decide whether to believe it. Wikipedia is pretty good, but not nearly as good as your statement implies.
Proof is a high standard, for the supernatural or the natural, but one can have evidence for the supernatural. If a believer prays for something very unlikely to happen and it does, that’s evidence–a reason to increase his confidence in his religion.
What does that even mean? How can anything that actually exists not be a part of nature, and hence be “supernatural”?
Suppose we’re all part of a simulation. Suppose this simulation encodes a set of physical laws which describe the consequences of all actions or events in the reality we live in. Suppose also that there’s a programmer who can alter the simulation whenever he pleases, but normally doesn’t.
It makes sense to say that there is a Law A for the rules governing when the programmer doesn’t intervene, and a Law B for the rules governing reality when the programmer does intervene.
Traditionally speaking, we called Law A “natural” and Law B “supernatural.” Not because we’re confident that there’s no Law B governing what the programmer does, but because his actions are outside of the “normal” or “natural” way the world works, and it’s useful to have specific terms for Law A and Law B.
We might go further. It’s by no means clear that the “reality” in which the “programmer” exists need be comprehensible to us at all, not merely in the sense in which our world would be unimaginable to Pac Man, but to the extent of having different laws of logic and maths, or of the very concepts of laws, logic and maths not being applicable at all. There is room for whatever is outside the Matrix to be very strange, and considerations around consciousness (in the Chalmers hard problem sense) lead me to suspect that it is.
I think you can easily defuse this suggested example of the supernatural by simply watching the Matrix. No one thinks of the Matrix as a movie about the supernatural, even if we see many things that would be seen as supernatural if we didn’t know the explanation.
I don’t think that changes even if you tell a story about living in a Matrix that has different laws of physics.
@The Web is an open medium-
There’s an old Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr remark about spying to the effect that lots of espionage is about as immoral as looking out your window and seeing your neighbour’s laundry, but covert action is different. Russians on the Web see the US Secretary of State’s emails on her personal server, okay. Debbie Washerman Schultz gives Pakistani spy agencies DNC info to whoever, okay, maybe Russians were whoever. Covert action would be different.
It is a big jump, but a lot of that will surely be aging. At time periods where the general moral consensus about immigration etc. is changing, young people’s core beliefs are formed based on those changes, and they are getting into the political sphere(/starting to get calls from pollsters) while older people with older beliefs are aging out of it.
There’s a very similar effect from 1994 to 2000, but spread across both D&R. This could be the exact same thing, but unlike current times young people who were more pro-immigration than the norm didn’t overwhelmingly join the Democrats.
I agree this can’t be the whole effect, just based on average life expectancy, so some minds were also being changed by the aforementioned changing consensus(/actually were the origin of the changing consensus).
I think urbanization might also be playing a role. I saw (unable to link) several studies that basically showed that the people with the most negative attitudes toward immigration were the ones who had the least contact with immigrants. Perhaps as more people are moving into cities and coming in close contacts with immigrants they are starting to feel more positive about them?
How confident are you that that’s the direction of causation? Maybe people who don’t like immigrants avoid cities where lots of immigrants live. Maybe whatever causes antipathy to immigrants also fosters a preference for living in smaller communities.
You could be correct, but I have a hard time believing that there are many out there who think to themselves “I’d really love to live somewhere more populous, but that means having to be around all those foreigners, so I’d rather forgo all the benefits of living in cities that I firmly believe in and continue to live out in the middle of nowhere”
Eh, not foreigners specifically, but a non-trivial part of my decision to live in the suburbs is that most of the people I’ll be living with are wealthy, upper-class, unlikely to commit crimes, share my values, etc.
It doesn’t have to be as simple and direct as that. All it has to do is have some impact – not necessarily even conscious – at the margin. Someone feels less comfortable due to the frequency of hearing conversations in languages they don’t understand. Perhaps they aren’t even aware that that’s contributing to their general feelings of anxiety and not belonging. And those feelings lead them to move out of the city.
I’m playing Devil’s advocate here, to be clear. In reality I suspect all three relationships are in play.
I can’t help wondering if there isn’t a distinction be made between ‘values’ and ‘actions’. We tend to judge people by what they do, not their motivation.
So… flying an aeroplane into a skyscraper is ‘wrong’ because I wouldn’t do that. Why I wouldn’t do that might well involve my ‘values’ but I rather suspect my ‘values’ are formed out of what I do and what I see other members of my social networks doing.
I suspect many of the value differences are not value differences at all, but differences of ‘language’ or categories — think the worst argument in the world or the categories were made for man.
It’s easy to feel as though you’re talking past one another when you’re accidentally arguing about definitions. ” ‘Life’ begins at conception!” “No, ‘Life’ begins at birth!”
I think that’s true for abortion, but not other issues. Disagreements over foreign aid are not disagreements over definitions.
Abortion I think is a unique case.
I dont think the abortion debate is about the definition of life. Everybody understands that biological life begins at conception, and that sentient life begins later.
The abortion debate is about sexual morality, and the tension between the value of a foetus (zygote/whatever) and the value of sexual liberty.
The ultimate cause of arguments about abortion may be wrapped up in notions of proper sexual behavior that existed to promote social order.
But even if one accepts this as the ultimate cause, you can’t just fail to mention the proximate, and far more specific, argument over ensoulment.
yes but for people who believe in ensoulment, that just means that the value of a foetus increases dramatically.
Mmmmm, only for some definitions of value. We are really taking about state/type change, not more or less of a quality. (and yes, I recognize that arguments about “at what point in the continuum does the phase change occur” are going to look like arguments about quantity and not type).
Slightly orthogonally, I’ve yet to see an argument that it is a religious requirement for a parent to given up their kidney or liver to save a child. Or that they must run into a burning building on likely death even if they see their child is already engulfed in flames.
Having been raised in a catholic household, I can tell you that while abortion is definitely forbidden on religious ground, there is absolutely no religious requirement to give up a kidney or run into a burning building. At the same time, catholic teachings do provide that the mother should be saved if the pregnancy could kill her.
As to the earlier point I was just trying to formulate the abortion argument in a way that captured religious and non-religious opposition to abortion. I think “value of the foetus” does that reasonably well.
I think the argument over ensoulment and the argument over personhood are the same argument, using different language.
Look at the quicunque vult‘s description of Jesus Christ as
The “reasonable soul and human flesh” is a definition of “Man”.
Definitely a Murder by Action vs Murder by Inaction difference between abortion and not-donating your kidney.
I willing to bet that the word could there is a big overstatement of the position.
For instance, here is a statement from the Diocese of Phoenix:
ETA: I acknowledge the Murder by Inaction distinction is sound. But I was trying to draw out that this isn’t actually a question of “value of ensouled foetus vs. sexual liberty”. That’s not how they look at it.
If we believe that a fetus is entitled to the same right to life as an adult, this seems to be a completely consistent and reasonable position.
You cannot intentionally end an innocent life because it might, at some probability lower than 1, save a different life.
You probably mean the word “should”.
My source for catholic doctrine is my father, which I realize is not authoritative in this context, but in any event I suspect that his source is probably some pronouncements from John-Paul II. The diocese of Phoenix may be correct, I dont know, but they are certainly phrasing it in a bizarre way. In the context of pregnancy, when the life of either the mother or the child is at risk, you typically have to make a choice, and if you dont, probably both die.
I submit that the vast bulk of the laity of the U.S. is a poor source for Catholic doctrine. Better than the average non-Catholic, but that’s about it.
Wikipedia (Quoting the Vatican directly):
human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.
I agree completely. Unfortunately for my childhood my father is not “the vast bulk of the laity of the US”. We are French-Canadian, my father happens to be a member of Opus Dei, is a lifelong anti-abortion activist, and in his retirement decided to be the editor of a French language catholic journal.
I totally get that you wont take my word for it, but on the topic of catholic doctrine on abortion, he is an authority.
It seems that either you or he is mistaken? I think you may be misunderstanding something he has said.
I’m absolutely sure you can find Catholic scholars that argue that abortion can be used to saved the life of the mother. As you can see from my links, the Vatican even allows for something like removing the Fallopian tube which “indirectly” kills the embryo implanted ectopically.
This indirect vs. direct distinction is key (as already raised).
Thus, when dealing with ectopic pregnancies, methotrexate, or even surgical removal of the embryo, is not considered “morally acceptable”.
Perhaps you think that means abortion is OK if the life of the mother is threatened, but the Vatican seems to think not:
Yes, the Vatican really does not support abortion. Now by holding life sacred they also hold the mother’s life as sacred. I’m not sure where the line is, or to what extent the mother’s life needs to be threatened for abortion to be allowed, but if you have to essentially choose to save one or the other, you can choose to save the mother’s life.
Where are you getting that from? You seem to be simply asserting it without evidence.
An ectopic pregnancy will kill the mother. Nonetheless the Catholic church views using methotrexate or surgically removing the embryo from the fallopian tube as abortion. Only removing the fallopian tube itself is allowed (the action/inaction distinction).
The “double-effect” principle dictates that the you can take steps to save the life of the mother if the death of the baby is only an unintended consequence of saving the life of the mother. You aren’t allowed to choose between them. If the condition that resulted in the death of the mother would allow the baby to survive, you wouldn’t be allowed to save the life of the mother. If it is possible to save the life of the baby by further endangering the mother, that is the course of action that should be taken.
You may think this is splitting hairs, but theological arguments frequently are about splitting hairs.
Upon further research, you are correct that it depends on the type of intervention.
This article talks about a pregnant woman with uterine cancer, and says that the moral choice is to save the mother. But that is because the intention is not to kill the child but to get rid of the diseased uterus.
I dont know enough about medicine to think of relevant situations where the abortion would save the mother’s life but kill the baby “directly”. I suppose maybe the “ectopic pregnancy” you were talking about. I’m not sure what that is.
Anyhow, these distinctions the catholic church makes really seem like hair splitting to me. I did not know about the direct/indirect distinction, so thank you for that.
FWIW, my cousin’s late wife explicitly made the choice to delay treatment of her cancer until her baby could be delivered safely. I think her son is in college now, but she didn’t make it, and that’s a tradeoff she was personally willing to make. (I don’t know how much difference the delay in treatment made, but I do know that the medical advice she got was “Have an abortion and start chemo ASAP.”)
Taking chemo, even if it would result in killing the developing child, would not be prohibited by the Catholic position. The death of the child would be as a result of attempting to treat the cancer. Hysterectomy as treatment for cancer is also permitted.
What wouldn’t be allowed would be inducing an abortion because (say) the hormonal flood was accelerating the growth of the cancer. Nor would inducing an abortion to prevent later complications caused by the treatment.
Gay marriage was definitely presented as an argument over definitions. Is marriage defined by its central example– one man and one woman– or is it defined as two unrelated adults having their lives together recognized officially?
They partly are. The label, after all, assumes that the money actually aids foreigners. If it goes into the ruler’s Swiss bank account, does that fit the definition of foreign aid?
A good deal of the difference is between people who assume the default case is money being spent helping the population and corruption is a special case which doesn’t really count as foreign aid and people who believe the normal case is the money being grabbed by the local elite in one way or another, sometimes used to pay the costs of staying in power and providing an additional incentive to do so.
Anything good done with it being window dressing.
It seems like you’re over in the factual question. It’s quite possible to be in favor of treating foreigners as exactly equal to citizens in your moral calculus, but still to oppose foreign aid because you think it’s unlikely to help, or unlikely to be the best use of the money, or it violates some other important principle or rule.
Really? I don’t think it’s unique at all. I chose abortion as an example because, strangely, I think it might be the least culture-war-related of the strong examples. Trying not to send things too far off topic, but just as examples, consider these debates:
Is an act ‘censorship’? How do you feel about ‘free speech’?
Is sociology a ‘science’?
Are trans men ‘real men’?
Can an immigrant ever become a ‘true American’?
Is ‘gay marriage’ inherently contradictory?
Scott has also highlighted how terms like Capitalism fit this problem:
Four planes, not two.
Well, if we’re picking nits, I believe it’s still up for debate whether they crashed Flight 93 or whether it crashed as a result of the struggle with the passengers. Can we compromise at three and a half?
I had a similar reaction to reading “two planes”. This was quite obviously not an intentional minimization, but even so it did read jarringly. Earlier in the same article Scott block quotes Eliezer saying “four planes.” And, when you think about it, actually each hijacker’s personal involvement was in crashing one plane, not two, 3.5, or 4.
No. If a police officer saves 5 out of ten hostages by taking the officer’s best available effort to save all 10, it’s the kidnapper who killed the 5 hostages who died, not the officer. The people on the plane did not choose “crash 1/2 a plane” or “crash a plane” rather than “crash no planes”. They chose “try to prevent crashing the plane into a building” and, in the struggle against hostile intention, they did not get what they wanted.
Maybe (nearly) everyone has a different prioritization of the same values and, to simplify, say that their values are opposed?
Like, for abortion, I dont think anyone is in favor of “killing babies” or “oppressing women”, its just that their “let people dispose of their bodies as they want” and “protect unborn fetuses” values are on top or at the bottom of their value pyramids.
ETA: And saying that the pyramids are inverted is different from saying that the values are opposed, I think. Saying to your opponent that you agree with the values he’s currently defending but simply think that we should invest less in them and more in some other values is making the debate closer to the “how to solve poverty” argument.
What if the problem is that the priorities exist more at the level of social signalling than actual feeling, though I think group-level (to say nothing of individual) differences in calibration of actual moral intuition likely exist?
For example, take two values:
1. People have the right not to be attacked, coerced, or expropriated so long as they aren’t bothering anyone else.
2. It is bad that some smart, hard-working children will still never be very successful because of the circumstances they were born into.
I feel both of these moral intuitions, but my libertarian intuition is that 1 is more fundamental than 2, so I’m not going to sacrifice 1 to achieve 2. It seems simple enough to guess that people in favor of e.g. higher taxes to spend on social programs for poor children must actually have an opposite set of intuitive priorities.
But do they really? It’s hard for me to tell, because, to my mind, if they really cared about poor children more than signalling, they’d advocate for the objectively best poverty alleviation measure in the world, e.g. for the third world to be ruled by the British Empire. But since I don’t see them advocating neo-colonialism, and I do see the social programs they advocate backfiring all the time, I’m left with the impression that their real top priority is to signal their enlightened attitude to their social circle and/or express their envy of people wealthier than themselves.
At the same time, if you say to me “we can give poor children around the world a lot more economic opportunity by only a small increase in taxes on first worlders like yourself,” I would have a hard time rejecting that moral tradeoff if I were confident it would actually work, so maybe my priorities aren’t as strong as they seem either?
This introduces a different complication, which is that maybe base-level intuitions shape the sorts of solution one is predisposed to latch onto. For example, maybe if you are a true 2>1er, your prior is that, as a pure moral good, 2 should be easy to achieve if only the 1>2ers would stop being evil, whereas 1>2ers see easy solutions to 2 as probably envy-based utopian schemes, thinking 1 should be easy to achieve if only we’d stop expropriating and micromanaging people. But maybe, as a 1>2er, I am predisposed to think the problem of reducing infringements on liberty (which leads to prosperity) is easy, if only the 2>1ers would stop being evil, whereas the 2>1ers think my ideal of personal and economic liberty is hopelessly naive and much harder to achieve than just building new schools for poor kids.
tl;dr: real differences in priorities probably exist, but are complicated by the fact that they probably predispose us to accept different sets of facts and interpretations, as well as the fact that morality has a big social signalling component, making it hard to trust our ideological opponents’ stated priorities are his real, even conscious priorities.
A great deal of rhetoric tries to undermine the intuitions behind your #1, usually by saying that whoever it’s targeting is in fact bothering other people — typically either by compromising the assumptions holding society together (if you’re a rightist) or by perpetuating structures of class oppression (if you’re a leftist).
I think this is basically right. I think people don’t usually have good mental models for this sort of value difference disagreement, and when they disagree with someone seesaw between “obviously they believe the same thing as me REALLY” and “OMG they are TOTALLY ALIEN”.
And *usually* there’s a lot more overlap than it looks like, in humans caring about humans the way most humans care about humans, even if they SAY they don’t.
But sometimes there really isn’t. Ethics about things other than humans is a good example: biodiversity or “more people” is something where we have no good underlying framework for how much it matters. And maybe “the afterlife” — in theory “is there a god who dictates morality” might be a factual question, but in practice, it’s very difficult to treat it like that.
Isn’t this a specifically left-wing behavior?
I mean, there is the stereotype that “right-wing people believe that left-wing people are stupid; left-wing people believe that right-wing people are evil“, and although I don’t like such simplistic stereotypes, please God forgive me, but sometimes it’s as if people try as hard as they can to actually live according to this stereotype.
I mean, it’s repeatedly left-wing people coming up with theories about why right-wing are fundamentally different morally — whether it’s described in a tolerant and sympathetic way, e.g. by Haidt; or as “they are repulsive monsters”, e.g. by Ozy. (So, we should sing kumbaya with people from the opposite side of the planet, and perhaps accept their widow burning and female genital mutilation as equally valuable ways of life, lest we commit the horrible sin of cultural supremacism; but our church-going members, those are the true paperclip maximizers and we have no common ground with them.)
Meanwhile, right-wing people are okay to admit that people from different cultures are kinda different, duh, and perhaps people with different gender or different IQ are also different, duh; but they explain the left-wing people from the same culture as deficient in either intellect or character traits, depending whether they criticize their economical or social ideas (i.e. that the economical ideas of the left typically ignore second-order effects, e.g. increasing minimal wage may also increase unemployment and ultimately hurt poor people).
(My wife says that I am biased here, because as a non-American, I am only exposed to the smart members of American right wing online. I am not sure whether it is really my fault that only American left-wing craziness succeeds to pass my online filters. But I guess she has a point.)
tl;dr — in general, when someone comes with a psychological theory “my political opponents are stupid / economically uneducated / lazy / unable to delay gratification” there is big chance the speaker is right-wing; when someone comes with a psychological theory “my political opponents are evil / monsters / mutants” there is big chance the speaker is left-wing. This is a falsifiable hypothesis, which should be relatively simple to test.
Can’t you imagine that there exist some right wingers who might call the left immoral, or evil?
They might say that the left dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. even? Fundamentally opposed to Western Civilization? Perhaps even the cause of many natural disasters, brought on by our wickedness?
Dude, put at least some effort into thinking.
I imagine someone actively rejoicing in denying a person a fair trial because they deserve to be in prison
Speaking as Your Neighbourhood Conservative Bigot No-Good Meanie Hates Love And Kitties –
God damn it. This is what makes me think liberals/progressives have no brains between their ears (and usually I think Ozy is quite sensible).
Yeah, when I’m sitting here curling my Snidely Whiplash moustache, rubbing my hands together in glee and laughing my evil laugh, my exact thoughts are “I want to deny them a fair trial!”
I’m not thinking about how loopholes are used to game the system, about ambulance-chasing lawyers, about “my client has 563 previous convictions which we ask the court to take into consideration” or anything else, I’m thinking “yes, there is the system and process of a fair trial and the presumption of innocence but I am deliberately going to junk all that because I want to throw this guy in the slammer. If I let him have a fair trial, why, he mght get away! And then what would I do, with nobody to throw into a dungeon to languish in chains on mouldy straw? Away with fair trials!”
Imagine this crazy possibility: I want a fair trial, but I want one that is fair – one that does not rely on “if you convict my client, you are all racists!” to get the guy off the hook.
Now, if this is meant to depict the Imaginary Conservative of Progressive Fears (they want to scrap due process and fair trials to throw non-white non-Christian non-cis non-straight non-male non-rich non-Republican people into jail!!!) as a counterpart of the Imaginary Progressive of Conservative Fears (they want rapists and murderers to run free to be able to rape and murder!!!!), then congratulations, well done.
But I really do not think left-wing people who are all “this poor guy who only killed six people during a spree of committing robberies should get parole after six months” do want rapists and murderers to run free to commit crime; I may think they are bleeding-hearts who are being taken advantage of by clever lowlifes, but I don’t think they want bad means and bad ends. In the same way, I would rather appreciate that even if the left-wing think I’m stupid for wanting the letter of the law applied hard, they would not go straight to “the only reason you could possibly think that is because you’re evil”, please thank you goodnight.
As a fellow kitten-and-love-hater, I had a similar emotional reaction to the following line:
“However, from my perspective, conservatives are perfectly willing to sacrifice things that actually matter in the world– justice, equality, happiness, an end to suffering– in order to suck up to unjust authority or help the wealthy and undeserving or keep people from having sex lives they think are gross.”
There’s a necessary third element somewhere between facts and values, which, for lack of a better word, I’ll call ideals. I think it’s the easiest to see in the abortion debate, in the form of ‘when does human life begin’ (from the pro-life side, I think there are other formulations). These are not values in and of themselves, and they are also not something that can be established as a fact.
I believe most people, conservative and liberal, value “justice, equality, happiness, [and] an end to suffering”, but due to different ideals, both sides see those values different ways. To me, although I value equality, it’s an ideal that equality of outcome is impossible based on observations of human nature (facts), therefore equality of opportunity is the expression of the value I place on human equality.
Greetings, my fellow curmudgeon!
I admit, what grigged me in that was the “conservatives don’t care about justice” line when I’ve been banging on everywhere for years about the importance of justice.
Plainly I am evilly engaging in evil lying about my true evil motives, and when I say “justice is imperative and foundational” what I really evilly mean is “bwah-ha-ha, lock all the poor brown people up – forever!!!!”
Just like the Evil Catechism of the Evil Catholic Church (the most conservative, and hence evil, organisation knocking around) when it evilly quotes St John Chrysostom:
Plainly we don’t mean that stuff about justice, we just want to oppress the gays/women/minorities.
Ozy is here in the comments, so it may be fruitful to engage them directly.
However, for someone who really bangs on (for example, right in this comment) about what poor form it is to fail to understand people, you might try taking the path of charity here and trying to understand why they are stating things as they are.
you might try taking the path of charity here and trying to understand why they are stating things as they are
Yes, I would be very interested to know what is the rationale behind “I think you are evil, I think your beliefs are evil, I think you hold them not out of any principle but out of the evil desire to relish the suffering of others, and I wish your worldview to be exterminated (and you to die off along with it) so that evil may perish”.
This. I’m curious to see what a charitable interpretation of that argument would even look like.
Look, I know you are in your “high-dudgeon” character right now, but as near as I can figure out no one is saying this. This isn’t a direct quote. You are paraphrasing something you seem to have misinterpreted, and that misinterpretation seems to be further misinterpreting a misinterpretation by Scott.
I certainly understand the “We all know what they were saying” argument, I just think it’s misplaced here.
my read of the psychological evidence is that, from my value system, about half the country is evil
So tell me where I’m not reading this correctly? Look, I read their original post and was nodding along with “okay, don’t 100% agree but can work with this” and then this concluding paragraph hit me like a sock with a half-brick in over the head. And I read it before Scott mentioned it on here.
Rhetorical exaggeration? I’d like to think so, but the rest of the post was not written in such a style. So yeah, I’m having to think Ozy says people with my views are evil, they mean people with my views are evil. Not mistaken or wrong or fundamentally well-meaning but dumb, EVIL.
The context is twofold.
1) This is in a post where Ozzy very explicitly stated that they empathize with conservatives that find them evil:
These are the given examples of what makes them evil in the eyes of the imagined conservative. Not “murderer”. Not even being non cis-gendered (which I think they identify as). As examples of “evil” go, that is pretty anodyne.
2) This is a post on the context of a psychology paper whose title is “Liberals and Conservatives Rely on Different Sets of Moral Foundations”. General speaking, having different “moral foundations” means that you are in moral conflict. I don’t think the “psychologically speaking” is non-consequential in that sentence. It’s a specific reference to the paper and it’s findings.
Specifically this part of your caricature “I think you hold them not out of any principle but out of the evil desire to relish the suffering of others” is VERY much missing the point of what they said. They are not saying that conservatives are without principle. It is the principles themselves which appear to be at odds.
In a context of a world where conservatives are frequently specifically calling Ozzy and people like Ozzy evil doers, this seems pretty mild to me.
As an aside: many years ago, when the blogosphere was a new thing, I saw a handful of links to articles written by a doctor from England.
He wrote under the nom de plume of Theodore Dalrymple.
These articles decried the criminal and self-destructive behaviors of certain social classes that would regularly appear in Dalrymple’s medical practice. These cultural and social practices were markers of lower-class membership…and the kind of behavior that many Americans complain about among the non-white underclass of the United States.
Yet it was hard to escape the fact that these social behaviors were all present among white-skinned people in that area of England.
(I don’t know whether the same observation can be made in Ireland…I’ll let the denizens of the Emerald Isle make their own comments.)
This made me question the discussions of race and the Justice system in the United States. What if the problem is not caused by society’s response to skin color, but by society’s response to the mis-behaviors of a certain social class? What if both problems are present, and liberals only see one of them…but conservatives only see the other?
It made me doubt the narrative about crime, racism, and the Justice System of the United States.
I feel like you might be the first person ever to read Dalrymple and become more concerned that the problem might be society’s response. That’s kind of the opposite of his message.
It’s sort of the opposite. But it’s not like he’s claiming morality just fell apart out of the blue. Presumably there are ways for society to encourage “proper behavior” whatever you think that is.
My memory of Dalrymple’s writings contains a heavy dollop of why is the Welfare Agency subsidizing self-destructive behavior among the extremely poor?
I choose to call the actions of the Welfare Agency a significant part of “society’s response to this particular set of poor people.”
The thoughts about how such people interact with the Justice system are mostly my own, I suspect…though they might also be the result of me reading the works of Thomas Sowell, especially the book mentioned by @MasteringTheClassics.
This distinction is exactly what Black Rednecks and White Liberals is focused on. It’s a lens that really needs to be more common, for the sake of everyone’s sanity.
We did have some people in the recent Border Wall threads who fairly explicitly stated that one could incarcerate illegal immigrants without a trial on account of it being obvious from the facts that they were guilty of a crime.
But you are right that this is more commonly a factual disagreement over the definition or requirements of a fair trial, that one side annoyingly misrepresents as “you don’t agree with my facts, so you are Against Fair Trials and a mustache-twirling villain”.
Incarcerate, or deport? I love a good fair trial (it’s kept me out of jail in the past) but cast through the lens of Spain’s border problems with Morocco it did become pretty clear that the system could be abused. If you watch someone climb your border fence and immediately shove them back out through the nearest gate then you’ve clearly denied them the right to a fair trial, but that’s hardly a moral outrage.
No, this was specifically about incarceration.
I missed that – link?
If you’re talking about me, I don’t want border jumpers incarcerated, I want them deported.
I think some are being detained (which is different than being incarcerated) unnecessarily awaiting asylum hearings and would like some system to expeditiously deny such hearings or rule against them because the asylum claims are almost certainly bogus given the context. i.e., Guatemalans caught illegally crossing the border from Mexico who claim asylum. Guatemala isn’t oppressing anyone in any way that qualifies for asylum, if they’re fleeing Guatemala they’re already safe in Mexico, and if they wanted asylum from the US government they should be seeking out government officials rather than fleeing from them. My goal is not “gleefully deny someone a fair trial” but “prevent abuse of the asylum system Americans provide out of the kindness of their hearts to the legitimately oppressed.”
Speaking as a fellow member of the Evil Legion of Evil Evildoers:
Word, brother. Word.
1) Do you agree that there are people out there who don’t care whether a particular trial was fair as long as they like the outcome? (I personally would say they’re majority or close enough.)
2) Do you agree there are people who don’t care about due process for the vaguely defined ‘criminal underclass’? (A minority view in my experience, but not uncommon)
3) Do you agree there are people who excuse the police lying or planting evidence to secure convinctions for the guilty? (Rarely expressed IME, but I’d guess it’s around 5% of the population)
4) What difference do you see between someone who happily trades an unfair trial that produces the ‘correct’ result according to their moral intuition against a fair trial with a ‘wrong’ result to Ozy’s description? I.e., someone who would take that deal gladly and consider it a good thing to have done so.
5) Do you think people who would take the trade in (4) are rare? (I’d guess they’re roughly as common as the people in (3) with substantial overlap.)
Do you agree that there are people out there who don’t care whether a particular trial was fair as long as they like the outcome?
Yes. And I don’t care what their political affiliations are, they should be punished if they are in a position where they can affect such trials (e.g. police who fake evidence and beat confessions out of suspects they know are guilty but ‘we can’t prove it but he definitely did it’). That is not 100% of all conservatives and every conservative would rather a packed jury, a hanging judge, and a biased trial to send the plainly guilty (well, he must be if he was arrested, right?) suspect to jail. The left wasn’t behind the door when it came to show trials!
That is unjust, immoral, illegal and against the tenor of the community as we have enshrined in our current laws the presumption of innocence – I am very, very against any governments that try to junk this, e.g. the messing about British law has done – or how the US is not holding open trials of those held in Guantanamo Bay. Either they are enemy combatants or they’re civilians, either way there are rules about this.
There may well be court cases that end out not how you like them. The whole wailing and gnashing of teeth over the seat on the Supreme Court is the exemplar of this: oh no, their side will get a judge who decides in their favour, instead of our side getting a judge who will decide in our favour!
I don’t know what the fuck you call that, but that is not justice. Justice is ruling on the law, not “I’m a Republicrat/Demolican nominee and I rule for the west/east wing of the matter, so gay cake for everybody/nobody!”
I would point out, however, that justice is not what it is perceived in the popular imagination to be. Justice is not necessarily vindication, still less “putting a thumb on the scales to make things fair because of the unfairness otherwise”. Justice is the sword that Astraea holds, and it punishes as well as protects. Charity is what tempers justice, and mercy is the middle way between justice and charity. Calling for justice when you mean mercy is the confusion here.
Imma quote the Dumb Ox here:
Rendering his due may indeed mean sending the black defendant to jail for ten years, and that is not racism.
+100. Best post I’ve ever seen by D, and she’s had a bunch.
I think that this basically describes to small amount of the people involved in the process!
There is no platonic ideal of due process; make sure you aren’t confusing disagreements with what the process should be with disagreement that we should have a process. Personally I only care about a particular process in as much as it is the best local maximum of achieving actual justice, that is, determining and punishing guilt of serious offenses.
I think the number of people who want people they don’t like indiscriminately thrown in prison is negligible, but any belief is likely held by someone.
It isn’t quite the same thing, but in a long ago dispute over an article I coauthored (arguing for a voucher system to provide defense for indigent felony defendants) one participant argued that innocent indigent defendants were rarely convicted—that although some of them might be innocent of the crime they were convicted of, the ones who were convicted were guilty of something, since the police knew who the criminals were.
He was a judge.
The judge was almost certainly correct. But this is because our legal system criminalizes morally innocent behaviours, including “disturbing the peace,” vagrancy and disobeying a law enforcement officer. Also, see Harveyt Silverglate, Three Felonies A Day (which is probably overstated, but fundamentally correct).
On the other hand, it also seems likely that there is a tension between procedural fairness and substantive innocence. It is axiomatic that authorities will try to maintain public order (modulo different culture’s tolerance for different levels of order). To the extent that maintaining public order becomes more difficult by making procedural fairness harder to achieve (as has been the thrust of much of the federal apellate criminal law since the 20th century), it is entirely predictable that public authorities would respond by widening the substantive criteria for what constitutes a crime.
@the ones they convicted were guilty of something-
The ex-cons I’ve met who said they were convicted of something trivial- after driving down a country road bordered by wild pot they got a marijuana seed through an open window, meth-addict girlfriend who jumps out of a moving car because you won’t kill her for being a meth addict says you beat her, your friend looking to keep his girl out of jail narcs on all his friends, so forth- all said the cops had known they were dealers for a years and were looking to bust them. Macho bullshit? Sure. Untrue? Less sure.
Still sounds like a bad judge.
I’d like to request you not use @ this way. It’s for directing the comment to the attention of a specific person/commenter name, and so it’s confusing if you try to use it as a mean of indicating the topic.
If you want to specify a subject heading, I’d suggest using Re:
Re: @: Works for me. No, I mean I’ll shift to Re:
To be fair, he was an appeals court judge, so making decisions about the law not about factual guilt or innocence.
Suppose Alice murders Bob. The police arrest Alice, but they can’t quite get enough information to convict her, so one of the policemen plants the evidence, and this leads to Alice going to prison.
At one level, you can say “Yay, justice was done!” We can all agree that Alice should have gone to prison for the murder.
The problem is that a policeman can be convinced that Alice is guilty when, in fact, she isn’t. Even though in this particular hypothetical case, we can agree that the police planting evidence will lead to justice being done, if the police plant evidence to solve crimes where they’re almost certain they know who’s guilty, they will probably send a fair number of innocent people to prison over the years. They won’t know when this happens, either, so they’ll just keep doing it.
Despite seemingly being on the opposite side in a similar issue in the other thread, I do agree with albatross11 here. In a hypothetical where you can be absolutely certain, the same standards don’t apply; in the real world that will never really happen.
Re: cops planting evidence, innocent people going to jail-
I’ve never heard anyone say they were framed or innocent. I’ve heard people say the cops lied about police violence. I’ve heard that drunks in Missouri jails inevitably get their wallets stolen by cops, and a beating.
But nobody says ‘I was framed’. Everyone says, ‘there I was doing my three felonies a day like everyone else, and the cops busted me for trivia because they knew I was a big deal crook they couldn’t catch. Sob story for the system, macho blather for your bros, intended to be understood as both by everyone.
The US has a long nasty history continuing into the present of very unfair trials, of faked evidence, of forced confessions, of a legal system which fights hard to keep falsely convicted people imprisoned after the evidence comes out….
I don’t know what the people involved in this are thinking. I suspect it’s closer to thinking that their intuitions are right and they don’t want to endure the effort of reconsidering– and they certainly don’t want to be punished for getting things wrong– rather than a conscious hatred of fair trials.
If we start with an assumption that there are both trials which are grossly unfair to innocent defendants and criminals who are members of what are usually considered to be victim groups, where do we end up?
There’s a category of people for which I’m not certain there’s any solution which is both pleasing to the emotional as well as logical reasoning for the resolution. As an example, consider the serial spouse abuser. The neighbors frequently hear fighting, screaming, crying. The wife often has new bruises, black eyes, and possibly the occasional broken bone. She refuses to leave, claims her husband loves her, and refuses to testify against him, denying that anything happened. Husband is a loud, miserable person who belittles his wife in public, but has never been independently witnessed striking his wife. In-short, a textbook case of severe spousal abuse.
How do you deal with this situation? The logical approach, following the rule-of-law is to not do anything until there is crime which can be successfully prosecute it. But emotionally, you know that poor woman is going to be beaten over and over again until the husband manages to slip up, or (likely) until she dies.
The emotional response is the falsification of evidence/planting crack/lynching approach. It solves the problem in the way that the community can agree is “right”. But it throws everything like due process out the window.
That sort of thing may happen, but sometimes the suspect who’s railroaded in chosen almost at random.
As for communities with high criminality, I suggest that they especially need fair trials. It’s important that people in them who chose not to be criminals get credit for them.
I’m not convinced the criminal justice system can do anything really useful about very high crime communities at all. I’d be more (though still cautiously) optimistic about an approach along the lines of “knock down the estate, distribute the former residents widely, hope that better environments and separation from one another lead to improved behaviour from all but the most incorrigible and that locking up the most incorrigible is then a realistic proposition”.
As a member of both the Evil Evildoers League and the LGBT+ community, thank you so much for bringing this up. I’ve found that the mental mapping of both the motivation and the opposition to things like gay and trans rights (insofar as they’re rights, I think the definition being used by these communities is overbroad but I don’t want to signal that using scare quotes) by people in these circles is more on the side of “people who don’t think like I do are cartoon villains”.
Another comment by a certified card carrying Evildoer –
This expression is directly calling for a soft war through deliberate repression of an entire group of people. Especially gross is implying that it comes from innate psychology too while doing so. This is a vote in direct support of oppression based on innate genetic characteristics.
At least to me, what I am getting is “I think you are a cartoon villain, therefore I am justified in behaving like a cartoon villain.”
That exact race to the bottom seems to me like the sort of thing we invented stuff like “democracy” to avoid. It’s to encourage people to actually ask each other “do you really think we should have the police running around beating up gay people?”. Most of the time when I ask these kinds of questions of people that I talk to (in a space where the social utility of tribe-signaling is limited) what I find out is that these “fundamental value differences” only exist because I am woefully wrong about what goals the Outgroup is pursuing.
I realize that’s far from obvious because of Scott’s use of ellipses, but that wasn’t me saying you oppose fair trials: that was me empathizing with you. We both have fairness as a value. In addition, some people have values I don’t. To conservatives, me saying something like “in a trolley problem, it is right to kill my husband to save five strangers” no doubt seems just as horrifying as a pure-utilitarian “we denied this evil person a fair trial and now they won’t hurt anyone ever again!” does to me.
I may have misunderstood the flow of your argument. I’ve deleted that section until you tell me it wasn’t misleading to include it the way I did. Let me know if there’s anything else I got wrong.
I don’t object to the inclusion of that passage as you quoted it and generally feel like your post very fairly represented my view. Deiseach just has particular difficulty with following the flow of an argument as opposed to free-associating off whatever sentence fragment happens to catch her attention, and I think the use of ellipses perhaps made it even more difficult for her to follow it. It’s up to you whether you’d prefer to do a longer quote in order to make it harder for Deiseach to misinterpret things, although since she also seems deeply confused by my clarification, probably it’s not an accommodation that’s worthwhile.
a pure-utilitarian “we denied this evil person a fair trial and now they won’t hurt anyone ever again!”
But pure-utilitarians are not all conservatives (which is the bone of contention here: ooh those awful
orcsconservatives versus the pure knights and dames in shining armour liberals); I don’t know any conservative utilitarians in real life, all the feckin’ utilitarians I know about are you guys who are liberals, libertarians, progressives, etc!
Maybe it would help if I did an SAT-style analogy?
Pure utilitarians : Ozy :: Ozy : conservatives.
How do you feel about the case where the individual actor reasonably believes that he knows with confidence that the defendant is guilty, but can’t prove it? I see you commit a murder and since I’ve known you for years there is no risk of mistaken identification. You deny it, and my testimony won’t be sufficient to convict you.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) I happen to have something you have handled, almost certainly with your fingerprints on it, that I have an opportunity to plant at the crime scene. Should I do it? If not, why?
Is “fair trial” a terminal value or only an instrumental value?
I think this is in sort of “fantasy land” territory. The human brain doesn’t work this way.
You simultaneously assume that you can be 100% certain of ID, are also sure that no case can be proved against the perpetrator, and that you can reliably plant evidence. This simply doesn’t occur.
I think this belongs in the “uniform spherical fat men are always capable of instantly stopping trolleys when pushed from bridges” section. It doesn’t tell us anything about actual commitment to fair trials, just pushes at the boundaries of our ethical heuristics.
Probably instrumental. The way I see it, the “fair trial” is important for two reasons.
1. To reduce the risk of being incorrect about the person’s guilt
2. To set a standard to encourage responsible behavior by police, investigators, DAs, etc.
If the good lord came down from Heaven and personally guaranteed me that a certain suspect was guilty, and that my behavior would in no way impact the behavior of other police in other circumstances, I would absolutely plant evidence in order to ensure a conviction.
Nice Matt. This matches my thoughts exactly. Fair trials are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. If we really know who is guilty without a trial, there is no point in worrying about fair trials. I certainly get the impression the cops are often pretty darn sure about who is guilty even when they can’t prove it, but I don’t believe the cops are as smart as they think they are. And of course cops being so sure who is guilty is also mixed up with cops being pressured to catch and convict SOMEONE for various crimes. How often are these frames because of a cop looking out for the good of society and how often they are looking out for the good of the cops?
A fair trial is the tool we have to determine guilt or innocence without relying on the best judgment of the cops. I have my own complaints about the trial system too, but I think it’s better than relying on police judgment.
At a slight tangent, it’s worth noting that only a small fraction of the people convicted of a felony have had a trial, fair or otherwise. Most have agreed to a plea bargain, accepting a certainty of conviction on a less serious charge for a risk of being convicted on a more serious one.
It’s at least arguable that one of the costs of trial rules that result in long trials is a system where most defendants don’t get a trial at all. See chapter 18 of my current webbed manuscript.
But now you’re placing too much faith in your fallible human ability to be 100% certain that you can correctly identify the good lord, or in which direction heaven is located.
Also this is presumably the first time you met the good lord face to face, and yet you instantly trust his motives and judgment.
Yes, I think it is wrong to frame people even if the person is obviously guilty. (I can imagine a situation in which it is the lesser of two evils, although in real life you absolutely should never ever ever ever ever ever ever frame a person for a crime no matter how certain you are that they did it.)
In my private life, if I knew someone was guilty, I would not hesitate to frame that person for the crime they truly did, if I was sure I could get away with it. But I would have pretty high standards for deciding that I knew the did the deed, before I did the frame.
I really don’t think this makes me either liberal or conservative. Maybe arrogant in making these decisions myself.
Ok, that makes sense, but are immigration courts (that is what we’re talking about here, right?) all that friendly to immigrants? Are judges really so afraid of being labeled racist that getting a trial is almost as good as getting away? My impression is that the exact opposite is true.
I am not an American, but I imagine that if I lived in USA, I would probably vote for Democrats (except for the last election, where in protest I would waste my vote on the Libertarian party), and I agree with most values the American left professes as their values, but…
When I read the Ozy’s article (and I have followed the link, so it’s not like I merely made an opinion based on a quote possibly out of context), my reaction was: “what the fuck!???”.
I mean, if someone else would write the same thing and say “this is what the American left actually believes“, I would tell them “hey, this is a really uncharitably strawman; if you really believe they believe that, you are horribly mindkilled, and you need to stop reading about politics for a few months to regain your sanity”.
So now I believe it’s Ozy who is horribly mindkilled and who would benefit from spending a few months without thinking about politics. Or perhaps from turning off the internet, and going offline to gather some new experience… like spending a few weeks as a volunteer in a Christian charity for poor kids, and afterwards checking whether it still feels like they are all monsters who enjoy making the poor suffer.
(Funny thought: now when I will tell people in my social circle that in USA there really exist left-wing people with opinions like Ozy, they will most likely tell me that I am horribly mindkilled and need to relax.)
Seriously, as a rule of thumb, whenever you conclude that too many people around you are inhuman… you really need to take a break.
This is charitable and true advice.
I agree with all of this. The fact that it comes from somebody claiming some mantle of rationality makes it even more absurd. “I’ve used the power of reason to determine the outgroup is evil and needs to be annihilated.”
In general, I suspect that in long term the rationalist community is in less risk from people who openly embrace irrationality (such as religion), than from people who would like to “embrace, extends, and extinguish” the movement. I prefer people who openly disagree, to people who walk next to me only to gradually push me sideways.
I already feel a bit nervous hearing words like “rationality-adjacent”. I am sorry, but (modulo the fact that everyone is imperfect) there is no such thing as being rationality-adjacent — you are either striving to become more rational (i.e. moving along the same path, with different people being at different places), or you just like hanging out with this type of people but don’t want to make the sacrifice yourself. When someone says “2+2=5”, we do not call them “math-adjacent”, just because the result is close enough.
Also, this. Hanging out with rationalists, without sharing their core motivation, can actually make you less rational.
What about issues where the distribution of opinions is (say) bimodal instead of normal?
Yes, this is exactly what I wanted to ask.
If the distribution is bimodal, and if our moral judgements stem from innate instincts rather than some chain of reasoning — then our world starts looking a lot less like Scott’s world, and a lot more like the world of his detractors. Debate can’t change instincts, so indoctrination and warfare (be it social or physical) are the only options.
A few of thoughts.
Even under the same values facts are not known. An issue may theoretically have a factual answer but the knowledge does not exist to answer it factually. I think most issues lie in this area.
If I want the Patriots to win the Super Bowl and Joe wants the Falcons to win there may be no difference in our values at all. We probably both just want our tribe to win. Associating more closely with our own tribe as a shared value is creating the conflict. The whole reason for different politics may simply be this issue to begin with. The reason immigration became more popular with democrats probably isn’t because they associate immigrants with their tribe, but they associate people who support immigration as their tribe.
Plotting the differences on a bell curve may show we are all different but it also shows some are more different. The people on the other end of the scale may be intolerable to me and vice versa, the closer ones just annoying. We don’t actually have to get along. We could just separate politically and geographically. Or we could kill each other until one tribe wins and the curve isn’t as wide. I’d say that’s why nations exist.
My last point which gets away from the article a bit is that it’s possible that thinking in terms of shared value is completely unproductive. Even if we have the same values just in different amounts or disagree on certain facts the real world implications do not support trying to understand each other. The us vs them model is more useful. Most of the population won’t engage in that understanding exercise, and if they did peace isn’t necessarily the conclusion they would draw. If tribe A wants to compromise and tribe B wants to conquer than the world will quickly fill with Tribe B. You’re better off labeling people different than you as “other” because that’s likely how they see you. Even if it’s not how they see you it’s how you would win. If the people who see others as having different values are technically wrong they’re correct in acting in that way since their beliefs will cease to exist very long if they act another way.
However, from my perspective, conservatives are perfectly willing to sacrifice things that actually matter in the world– justice, equality, happiness, an end to suffering– in order to …keep people from having sex lives they think are gross.
Great, so you capture the culture, indoctrinate all the baby conservatives so they imbibe your values, and thirty years down the line have the liberal paradise.
Then what do you do with/about the people protesting you are keeping them from having sex lives you think are gross, be that paedophilia or bestiality or whatever other paraphilia/perversion you personally even as a liberal think is icky disgusting gross bad wrong? Are you discarding justice in order to keep the laws against zoophilia on the books, or do your principles require you to accommodate the new ‘love is love, stop being a species chauvinist’ movement? Where does it end? Or are you the only principled people and while those horrid conservatives were unjustly abusing the law to get results they wanted, you are acting with pellucid morals and ethics to enforce eternal verities so it’s entirely different if you write laws about “no snoo-snoo of this type”?
Deiseach, if you’re demanding the other side be more charitable to conservatives, how about you do the same? “If we allow gay marriage, where does it end? Pedophilia, zoophilia? Checkmate, homosexuals!” is probably the third-most-common argument against gay marriage ever. So consider the possibility that yes, they have considered that problem, and come up with a general principle that allows gay marriage but not pedophilia.
(The usual answer is that human adults are able to consent, and human children and animals are not. I’m sure that if you try hard enough, you can come up with edge cases where the rules of consent also cause problems, but don’t pretend that the liberals have exactly the same dogma as conservatives minus one sex act.)
1. Are there sex acts that you think are morally wrong?
2. In your liberal utopia, will there be laws against these acts?
3. In your liberal utopia, will there be a contingent of people who enjoy these acts, and who make arguments of the form conservatives are perfectly willing to sacrifice things that actually matter in the world– justice, equality, happiness, an end to suffering– in order to …keep people from having sex lives they think are gross?
If yes to all three, then your principled reasons for opposing those specific sex acts will be worth diddly squat. Yes, you think those principles are sound, but conservatives thought their principles were sound, and look what happened there. What makes you so sure your current frame won’t be obliterated with similar panache as the wheels of progress roll?
Exactly. There may be principles that can be argued from to draw the sexual line liberals support, but those aren’t evident in the argument Scott quotes. The cheap shot, argument-from-assumed-malice of “you just hate people enjoying themselves” Ozy employs can be turned against her just as easily. So it behooves that side to not even load such a bullet into the chamber.
Is it actually possible to make those arguments of form #3 with equal convincingness regardless of the thing that’s being banned and the reason for banning it?
For instance, suppose the liberal principle for banning pedophilia is “It’s harmful to kids and makes them unhappy.” Now our hypothetical future liberal is saying “Conservatives are willing to sacrifice equality, happiness, an end to suffering… in order to prevent further suffering and unhappiness.” Not nearly as convincing a case.
But wait, you can apply that reasoning to gay marriage too, right? Not everyone is saying “because it’s immoral!” or “because God said so!” You sometimes hear things like “Kids with a mother and a father have better outcomes than kids with two dads.” Against those arguments, today’s liberals can’t say we’re evil mutants, right?
And my response is “You’re welcome to make those arguments! Please make them!” I would much rather debate how to optimally raise kids, something that we can bring data to bear on, something that centers around a much-more-universal principle of preventing harm, rather than debate what God does or doesn’t want us to do. If everyone did that, the discourse over gay marriage would look very different.
Many conservatives object to things for exactly the same reason. It’s extremely common for the argument against masturbation/porn/casual sex/BDSM/polyamory/etc to be that it’s harmful to people and makes them unhappy.
How can something be called a principle when people typically seem to quite arbitrarily choose to apply it or not to apply it?
Isn’t that better called a rationalization?
beleeter didn’t say that “harmful things are bad” is a uniquely liberal argument, merely it is the one that liberals use to condemn paedophilia (presumably conservatives do too).
“Porn causes harm than banning it would, things in that category should be banned, therefore porn should be banned” is certainly a valid argument, the point is that liberals disagree with the premise and therefore do not think it is sound.
beleester, what about people who unironically refer to their pets as their children and themselves as mommies/daddies? The whole animal rights argument over the moral equivalence of humans and animals? Why, if people are arguing that dogs/horses/pigs have a level of intelligence and self-awareness high enough that they should be treated as moral entities and that humans should not be cruel to them (where “cruel” covers a lot of territory), is the notion that dogs can consent to sex somehow absurd?
Reducing an argument to “you think this sex act is icky and that’s the only objection you can find to something perfectly harmless” is every bit as simple-minded and extreme as the argument you ascribe to me, viz “Legalising gay sex will lead to bestiality!”
Which is not the argument I made; I made the argument that there are acts we all find icky or immoral, regardless of whether we’re perfect progressives. I think there are very, very few progressives who are “no, no sexual act, inclination, or philia at all is offensive or disagreeable or immoral as far as I’m concerned”; everybody has some limit.
The shibboleth of consent, for instance, which gets trotted out yet again here. And what makes consent such a big thing? Isn’t there an argument about “if X is unconscious, has no memory of the event, will not contract an STI/become pregnant, and is otherwise physically unharmed or marked such that when they wake up they have no idea they have been raped, is it really rape if Y has sex with them?” If a boy and his dog have good clean fun*, why do you say that’s wrong or Bowser can’t consent? Get your icky purity bans off my right to do what I like in the privacy of my bedroom!
Again, this is pushing to absurd extremes, but the caricature conservative evil widow-evicter and orphan tears-drinker in the quoted post was just as absurd. I’m just sharing the love.
*Please don’t, it seems there are people out there contracting animal STIs from such ‘fun’. No such thing as consequence-free sex, which I will permit beleester to admonish me is a horrible conservative attitude!
You have it backwards. The animal rights argument over the moral equivalence of humans and animals is much more likely to end proscribing of pet ownership than permitting people to have sex with their pets.
When progressives discuss “which of our current beliefs is most likely to be seen as abhorrent by our more progressive grandchildren”, pet ownership and meat eating are common suggestions.
So consider the possibility that yes, they have considered that problem, and come up with a general principle that allows gay marriage but not pedophilia.
And previous societies had worked out rules as to why gay sexual relationships were wrong, but then the cultural change reduced that to “that’s not a moral principle, that’s just your opinion”.
Give it thirty and fifty years, and how much of the same will apply to “this is a definite eternal principle nobody will disagree with re: how old you have to be to meaningfully consent to sex with somebody older”? If people are seriously talking about pushing the voting age down to sixteen, on the grounds that sixteen is mature and practically an adult for all purposes, how solid will the prescription about “a fourteen year old should not be sleeping with a thirty year old” be? Societal disapproval, sure, but that’s just based on personal disgust feelings not eternal morals – the same way disliking seeing two gay men holding hands and kissing in public is based on personal disgust feelings and not eternal morals.
I think you will be surprised how large a chunk of ground goes from under “of course this is a principled moral objection” when the ceaseless tide of increasing liberalisation over personal choices keeps eating away at it. Look at people like Andrew Sullivan – a few years back, at the forefront of liberal attitudes to sexual freedom and personal choice and comfortably “not one of those conservatives”. Still holding the same attitudes on trans rights means he’s fallen behind the times and is now “one of those conservatives”.
And ten years down the line, you (still holding the “thirty year olds should not be fucking fourteen year olds” attitude) may be “one of those conservatives” who is plainly wrong, evil, and acting out of disgust and purity modes, not eternal moral and ethical principles.
I think this is proving too much – who’s to say that, in 30 or 50 years, murder won’t be seen as just your opinion rather than a principled moral wrong? Maybe all of the principles we hold are just opinions and all of moral philosophy is founded on sand!
…or maybe we occasionally do develop principles that we can apply more broadly than the present day.
Like, I’m not saying that the current sexual mores are pillars that will last until the end of time. But I’m against you saying that it’s exactly the same as the conservative position minus one sex act. I think there’s a qualitative and not merely quantitative difference between “Things I find immoral should be banned” and “There are things that I find immoral or icky, but others seem to enjoy, so I’m unwilling to ban them except for some specific cases that we know are harmful.”
Yes, that means that the age of consent might slide up or down a year or two as we gradually refine our definition of “harm” or “understanding,” but that’s not changing the principle, it’s applying the same principle to new data.
“I know are harmful” is a statement about your beliefs, not the truth. How solid do you think the evidence is that sex with a partner below the age of consent is harmful? That it can be harmful is surely true, but also for sex with a partner above the age of consent. Is there good evidence for more than that? If so, do you yourself know that evidence?
Mohammed’s marriage with Ayesha was apparently consummated when she was twelve. Under Jewish law, a woman could marry without parental permission at twelve and a half, considerably younger with. Age of consent in the U.S. was ten or twelve in most states through most of the 19th century, seven in Delaware.
I have no difficulty believing that, with a substantial change in views over fifty years, age of consent could drop by six or seven years.
Actually, incest is a better comparison here. It’s possible for there to be incest between consenting human adults. What principles are you going to have that can’t justify incest?
Consensual non-procreative incest is obviously intrinsically fine, but it (and zoophilia) differ from gay sex in that they are a lot less popular (AFAIK) and therefore less harm is done by banning them.
I have a factual disagreement with you that that is obvious based on it being a near universal taboo.
I disagree. (And wrote about it earlier on this thread!)
To Scott’s point, I think that I examined my initial taboo reaction and concluded that it presents too much of a risk to participants and society to have incest available as an option, but it’s also possible that I just rationalized my existing purity reaction. I don’t think I did, but I wouldn’t, so it’s hard for me to judge.
Obvious for intelligent people (by whom I mean those who share my very specific other moral beliefs).
@Randy M: I love the scientific basis of the incest taboo. “Look! A moral law actually written on our depraved hearts! Science proves it!”
Male homosexuality comes pretty close to being a universal taboo. At least one ancient civilization practiced incest within the ruling family, and the definition of incest in others varied enough so that some examples that would be illegal in our society would be legal in theirs.
@DavidFriedman: “At least one ancient civilization practiced incest within the ruling family,”
But other than that, every tribe’s incest taboo can be scientifically understood as “the Westermarck effect + any biological nuclear family you weren’t reared with” with an optional second + that’s culturally mutable.
Yet another example of “fuzzy boundaries does not invalidate the concept of categories”.
Also, “At least one ancient civilization’s ruling family” is an exception proving the rule. If it wasn’t a “near universal taboo”, I’d think you’d have a more widespread example.
David’s probably thinking of the later Egyptian dynasties, but the Inca (see for example) and a couple of Chinese dynasties did it too. And a few Roman emperors, but those guys would fuck anything that was warm and concave.
I’ve never heard of an example outside the ruling class of a centralized empire, though, which suggests to me that the exceptions have less to to with broader cultural attitudes towards incest and more to do with narrow cultural attitudes towards power or bloodline or ritual purity.
Something doesn’t become a taboo unless some significant fraction of people would do it otherwise.
I’m not sure that’s true. A lot of taboos seem to crystallize around disgust intuitions, which are somewhat culture-bound but also at least partly innate. It’s possible to imagine a version of American dietary taboos where French restaurants served horsemeat, but it’s hard to imagine one where lots of people would happily eat their household pets.
And when you believe you have achieved a divinity or at least demi-divinity, it makes sense to take another of your bloodline to produce an heir rather than a mere mortal/peasant.
But I think absolute power is toxic to a host of moral intuitions.
Wallowing in faeces is pretty taboo, but I don’t sense widespread repressed interest in it.
Also, incest etc. being on average harmful is necessary but not sufficient for banning it; tobacco and alcohol are legal.
Incest (even when we know absolutely for sure, 100%, that both participants are sterile) is problematic because of consent.
Let’s start with the case of incest between a father and a stepdaughter (no biological relationship). Any consent from her part will be twisted by his power over her; he feeds her, provides housing and protection; she could lose all that if she refused that. How can she refuse him safely? How can even verbal consent be true? In the same way a prisoner has no safe way to safely deny consent to a prison guard, a daughter cannot deny her father.
Even in cases where there is no material relationship, you have to take into account that kids love their parents, even really abusive ones. This love makes any consent really suspect.
In a lot of cultures, older brothers/sisters kind of fullfill the roles of fathers/mothers. For example, in Spain, the oldest son of a widow would not be drafted because he was supposed to fulfill the role of the patriarch (without the sex part, of course). This was just 20 years ago. In Kazakh, the word for sister is the same for sister and grandmother. A lot of cultures expect the eldest son of a widow to be the father to his family, or the orphan eldest daughter to be the mother.
Without touching your broader point, I, uh, think taking the line that love renders consent suspect is going to bring you to some places you don’t want to go.
Indeed, hence the first word in my original comment.
My first reaction to the claim that wallowing in faeces is universally disgusting is this – have you ever raised small children? They really do need to be taught not to do that. Nonetheless, humans really do have an inborn aversion to wallowing in faeces. Culture (we don’t do that with poo) and biology (eww) can go hand in hand. Sometimes culture is set against a biological impulse – and for good reason.
I understand what you mean, but I think that sexual love is different from other types of love.
Children of abusive parents who are removed from their care frequently say they want to go back, even if they were hit daily. These kids are consenting to being beaten out of love. Would you not say that consent is suspect?
Insofar as we can talk about this in terms of blanket consent, I’d call that consent suspect not because they love their parents but because they’re kids and kids are dumb. But I’m not sure it makes sense to infer consent to the beatings from a kid wanting to go home after they’ve been brought into foster care. If a child is screaming “no, Daddy, not the jumper cables!”, that’s not consent, whether or not that child would prefer living with their dad to with a stranger.
And I’m not sure it makes sense to be using a consent frame here at all: I doubt many kids consent to eat their peas or to stay in time-out or to go to school, but no one kicks up a fuss when they’re forced to. There’s a line between that and child abuse, but consent isn’t it.
And I am saying that you cannot ever have consent that is not tainted somehow between people who have grown together as a family.
As a society, we have rules (or should have them) about prison guards having sex with inmates, cops with arrestees, prosecutors with defendants, adults with minors, and other cases when consent is tainted.
Now, if a brother and sister who never knew of their relationship, and start having sex together without knowing they are brother and sister, there may be true consent there. But that is a separate case, and I view it as a less bad form of incest than people who grew up as a family having sex with each other.
I think you are confusing love and Stockholm syndrome. People suffering from the latter may claim the former, but that doesn’t mean we take it at face value.
Children in every home would be damaged by any societal acceptance of incest. How can a brother and sister have a normal, healthy, safe, loving relationship if “out there” is the idea that a sexual relationship between them is on the table should they so choose (even if they may only so choose in the future, as adults)?
Kids need to grow up in a home where it would cross no one’s mind ever that they may be of sexual interest to, or develop a sexual interest in, their mother or father or brothers or sisters. I cannot believe I even have to say this.
The OP has said consensual incest is obviously fine given their moral beliefs.
I think I could show it’s not obvious for most moral beliefs I can plausibly imagine, but can’t rule out all of them. It’s possible the OP is an extreme libertarian, or somehow sees sex as a moral end justifying the overall risks presented by incest.
I mean, to be *completely* fair to Deiseach, I’m not sure that there’s a harm- or fairness-based justification for permitting farmers to jack off boars if and only if they aren’t enjoying the process. Since few people seem to boycott pork because the pork production process involves raping animals, I think our objections to zoophilia are actually purity-based.
I can probably accept that. I went with “consent” because that’s the usual response I hear, but if you really dig down it’s probably a harm or fairness-based standard for which “consent” is an approximation.
And then when you dig down further, “harm” ends up cashing out to “purity” again.
I think it is a little more complex than this. Consider the questions:
Should cheetahs in the wild be allowed to eat meat? Do we consider it improper for them to eat meat?
Yes, there are some people on the extreme fringe who seem to think the correct answer to this the first questions is “no”, but let’s ignore them for this conversation.
If we found a Cheetah copulating with a pig, however, we would find this to be somehow improper. Compare this to how we might feel about a dog humping someone’s leg. We might find it distasteful, but not particularly improper for the species.
The word improper there is probably not the best one. I am grasping at some intuitions here, not laying out a fully thought out thesis.
It’s a little bit circular. If as a conservative, I assume there’s a good reason for a taboo until presented with very strong evidence otherwise, then harm and purity are pretty closely overlapping.
Pulling down any fences that I can’t see a justification for will pull down too many fences, and leaving any up that were there before will leave up too many.
There was an ethics guy a while back who liked the question “A brother and sister have sex. They use foolproof protection against procreation, they both enjoy it, and no one suffers any ill effects. Was it wrong, and if so why?”
You can answer: (a) No, it was consensual and there was no harm; (b) Yes, it presented a risk of harm, so it’s wrong in the same way that shooting into a crowd and missing is wrong; (c) Yes, because the social value would harm others if it became widespread, so it’s wrong in the same way that advocating for harmful values is wrong; (d) Yes, because it’s icky/God said not to do it.
It’s possible that (b) and (c) are crypo-(d)s who are dissembling or rationalizing, or it’s possible that the (d)s are naive (b)s and (c)s who we should steelman to those values. I don’t know how to tell.
I think both are about equally improper, though the animals are probably too stupid to realize it.
Your use of improper here seems to imply some misalignment with the teleos of the action. The animals sexual impulse exists to encourage it to reproduce. It is satisfying that impulse in a way that forestalls it’s reproduction.
Unless you think that the Cheetah would be wrong to eat the pig, or the pig would have consented to that, this impropriety can’t be related to consent.
Sure, that tracks.
Too simplistic and reductive, especially when applied broadly across all animals and all sexual acts.
In other words, I admit to an argument that looks like it could condemn, say, onanism or birth control, but I reject that condemnation. Sexual impulses don’t exist in a vacuum. That’s why I compared cheetah-pig sex to dogs humping legs, to attempt to illustrate the need for a distinction.
But in that case you didn’t make the distinction, just sort of implied a sense of one. I’m still wondering about how the line falls between those two examples. (I’m assuming that the owner of the leg doesn’t appreciate it terribly much, mind. If they do, we might have to talk about whether they are being improper)
Yeah, that is why I acknowledged that I was attempting to draw the distinction, that I thought it was obvious that the situations were not the same, but that I couldn’t fully define it.
Part of that obvious distinction is “Dogs hump things all the time. It’s bog standard. You may not find it pleasant, but it’s really normal behavior for the dog.” If we found that only some dogs humped legs (without being trained out of it), and others did not, we would still conclude that both the humpers and the non-humpers weren’t “improper”.
Perhaps that’s true about our intuitions, but if I can turn near agreement into a pedantic argument, I don’t think that we usually use the term “proper behavior” or “propriety” to refer to that which is most commonly done.
There is a difference between “natural” and “proper.” (There may be theological implications)
Again, I already acknowledged that “improper” wasn’t really a good word here, and have been putting it into scare quotes for that reason.
You aren’t engaging with the substance of my statement, but simply pointing out that which I have already acknowledged.
I think that “natural” and “proper” are words that trip my “we’re talking about purity intuitions” sensors.
“It is unnatural for a pig to have sex with a cheetah” is not a harm- or fairness-based argument.
At a slight tangent, my understanding is that the genetic risks of incest are not very large. I remember one Heinlein story where the paternal figure trying to persuade a brother/sister pair not to have sex had to rig the experiment (involving cards) to persuade them.
I’m pretty sure that the probability that an unrelated couple having unprotected intercourse will produce a child with a birth defect is higher than the probability that siblings having protected intercourse will.
Yeah, I agree they are related.
But, I don’t think that noticing ants infected by Cordyceps are behaving very weirdly necessarily triggers “impurity” as a reaction (although, I guess technically they are impure).
Perhaps more relevant, look at the behavior exhibited by monekys subjected to Harry Harlow’s studies. I think we could say they are behaving unnaturally, abnormally, improperly … but not impurely.
What do you think “I can turn near agreement into a pedantic argument” means, exactly?
edit: Animals behavior being affected by parasites is nightmare fuel for me. Not on a moral level, but in as much as one can ascribe moral judgments to nature (ie, not at all) that is is twisted.
Heh, that would include me. 😀
Also, whoever wrote Isaiah 11:6.
Since few people seem to boycott pork because the pork production process involves raping animals
And see now, this is part of what I’m going on about. I don’t think it’s rape, because rape is something that happens to humans. Using an emotive, heavily-loaded term like “rape” in such a context is stacking the deck.
If a tiger cannot be held to be a murderer when it kills a human, because the whole moral and ethical level there is so completely unbalanced, neither is it rape when ducks have forceful sex with female ducks to the point that they might kill them. There is no mallard notion of informed consent, no “I got that cute duck in the next pond drunk so I could fuck her” – the minds involved (if we can even speak of minds) are so far below the level we require for the idea of conscious and deliberate crime that it’s ridiculous to use such terminology.
Except if you want to induce a “boo-hoo, the poor widdle fluffy animals!” response in your readers/listeners, at which point you’ve lost any amenable-to-persuasion people who know what farm life and animal husbandry entails, because you’re talking about teddy bears and stuffed plushies, not real animals, and the people who are listening to you are those convinced their cat is the same equivalent of a human baby and every bit as much a part of their family as their blood relatives. The kind of people who get their wildlife knowledge from the likes of the Brother Bear movie with the cute cub scared of the “real monsters” (read: humans) when in reality a cub in the company of an unrelated adult male bear is in much more danger of being killed by that bear.
If AI is rape, then every human woman who has ever become pregnant via donor insemination at a fertility clinic has been raped. The course in nature is why people have their pets spayed/neutered, which is primarily for the convenience of the owners. Because elsewise, if you have an unneutred animal, and you don’t keep them locked inside 24/7 away from all contact with their own species (which, I contend, is every bit as cruel as solitary confinement for humans), then you are looking at a litter a year, and unless you’re a commercial breeder you don’t want the hassle of that (and the kittens/pups, when they get old enough, then going on to whelp their own litters etc etc etc).
Even humane humans who agonise over wild animal suffering exert a huge amount of control over their companion animals sex and reproductive lives primarily for the convenience of the humans, so let’s drop the attempts to arm-twist the conversation in the direction of “oooh the cruel and awful rapist murderer carnist-bloodmouths!”, shall we?
EDIT: Though to be fair, this throwaway smartness did remind me of the love scene in The Revenge of Billy The Kid (a 90s British horror comedy so low-brow it’s no-brow) which I will not link to but which can be found very easily and is on Youtube. If anybody does search it out, be warned for about as offensive as possible – the clip starts with a rooster being blown away by a shotgun and descends into the midden from there).
You are missing the forest for the trees here.
IF we did consider this rape, if anyone did, then we can conclude that no one thinks this is rape. Thus it is rejecting referring to it as rape. No histrionics about “stacking the deck” required.
Thus it is rejecting referring to it as rape.
Thank you for clearing that up for me, HeelBearCub. So when someone says “pork production involves rape”, they don’t mean “rape”, they mean “breeding sows using technology rather than relying on the natural method”. When someone says “all Mexicans are rapists”, they don’t mean “rape”, they mean “Oh those Latin Lotharios with their suave charms can steal away the hearts of our American girls!”
So nice of you to extend such a charitable reading to what some have taken as the bare literal meaning of the words!
I would submit that if “rape” is not meant to be taken as the usual understanding of the term, then it is better not to use it. Stupid idiots like me are so easily confused by this kind of sophisticated verbal wit, you see.
Deiseach, here is my argument:
1. Artificial insemination of pigs often involves farmers using a sort of pig fleshlight on boars.
2. People think it is wrong to use fleshlights on animals for your own sexual gratification.
3. People think it is fine to use fleshlights on animals as part of farming.
3a. People do not generally believe it is rape to use fleshlights on animals as part of farming.
4. Therefore, we believe that zoophilia is wrong if and only if the human involved enjoys it.
5. Therefore, our taboos on zoophilia are not justifiable within a harm- and fairness-based framework.
6. Therefore, Deiseach’s argument is right and not a strawman.
Okay, HeelBearCub, apologies. My reaction was coloured by the fact that I have seen people unironically, unrhetorically, arguing as factual, that farmers rape animals (via artificial insemination).
Thus I took it that Ozy intended it in that sense (“people still eat pork and bacon despite the rape and murder involved in meat production”) and not the other (“people eat pork and bacon and nobody thinks this involve rape when breeding sows”).
Ozy, I apologise for flying off the handle, but it is an emotive term. As for the argument you advance:
(a) the purpose for which semen is gathered from animals is not primarily for sexual gratification and pleasure (either of the animal or the AI technician), it is for the purposes of breeding and reproduction
(b) this then falls within the natural telos of the sexual instinct, unlike sterile and gratification sex for humans using sex toys etc
(c) animals are not humans and certain moral requirements are not binding on them; since animals do not have the intellect, will or ability to freely choose to deliberately do a known wrong, moral laws about rape, masturbation and the like do not apply to them anymore than we arraign tigers as murderers (a man-killing tiger may be hunted and slain, but it is not put on trial as knowing it was committing homicide)
(d) perhaps some people involved in semen collection may indeed derive sensual/sexual gratification from it, but that is not really zoophilia, and does not address the “is your objection to this really founded on a strong moral base or is it just ‘ugh, icky’ disgust reaction?” question that other redefinitions of sexual activities have been exposed to. Persons with zoophilic tendencies may go into AI work, as persons inclined to be sexual abusers/rapists may go into gynaecology, but we do not construct the argument “grab ’em by the pussy is wrong unless you’re a gynaecologist” anymore than we construct the argument “bestiality is wrong unless you’re an AI tech” because we understand that in both instances, that is not what is the primary purpose of the act or the motivation of the persons involved.
Yeah, but there’s already people knocking on that door. “Ackshually hebephilia is different than pedophilia!” is guaranteed upboats on reddit. It’s not too hard to find thinkpieces sympathetic to “non-offending pedophiles.” I’d post them but I really, really don’t want to google that.
Milo got cast into the outer darkness for saying it wasn’t rape when an older man had sex with him when he was in his early teens, because he was “ready for it.” But George Takei said the same thing about the 19 year old camp counselor who raped him when he was 13. It was okay because the counselor was “hot.” I think the difference between Milo and George was the left likes George and hates Milo. Note to gay pedos: just make sure you’re hot and the kid is ready and it’s okay!
I don’t see any indication that gay marriage is the schelling fence for deviant-but-not-beyond-the-pale sexuality.
The Catholic Church believes that homosexuality is disordered and that homosexual acts are an abomination, but considers gay people who don’t participate in same-sex sexual activities to be displaying a high amount of virtue. I don’t exactly know how the Church feels about non-offending pedophilies, but I can’t see why it’d be any different from the position on homosexuality. (Edit:) To logically complete my argument, Catholics are the last people I’d say are knocking down sexual schelling fences.
But I agree that our schelling fences for deviant sexuality are probably weaker than we think. (As the Church found out with birth control & gay marriage)
You’re right, but I guess I have a suspicion (bias?) that the people writing such articles are not doing so to encourage compassion but acceptance. That seems to be the pattern.
When Jesus stopped the crowd from stoning the prostitute, he told her to go forth and sin no more. I have the suspicion that the writers of the articles I’m talking about would have preferred Jesus lecture the crowd about how natural and wonderful prostitution is.
Same. Sympathy for non-offending pedophiles is one of those things I think is correct but dangerous to say too loudly.
I think that this is a conscious strategy used by people who are outside the normal schelling fences in any way shape or form.
They will first claim that they are not asking for respect and acceptance, merely toleration to live as they please as long as they aren’t hurting anybody.
20 years down the road lack of acceptance, respect, and in some circles admiration for the same act that was once considered deviant is now considered a signal of being a bigot.
This is really obvious when it comes to the gay rights movement. I’m relatively uncomfortable with the “you don’t immediately worship at the feet of gay people therefore you must hate them you bigot” attitude coming from people who will then immediately retreat to their motte of “we just want to be treated by everybody else and homophobia hurts a lot of people”.
People often voice strong opinions on immigration, but I suspect its mostly posturing and virtue signaling. One response is to ask exactly how open or closed our borders should be. Usually they don’t have any answer, or even a coherent idea, they just want to signal their opposition to the other camp – who are obviously evil, of course.
I know a googler who is passionately pro immigration. They will wax eloquent about how vital it is to allow the impoverished and destitute their chance.
They also live in a gated community. When a homeless person approached us outside of a restaurant they said they “don’t carry cash”.
People don’t mean what they say. They want to bash the other side, and virtue is a heavy stick. But don’t take their protestations seriously. Scott has the right of it, that the intuitions come first, and the reasoning comes afterwards, if at all.
Giving cash to homeless people is not a great way to “allow the impoverished and destitute their chance”.
I don’t know if that’s true, certainly on the right/Republican side. How much illegal immigration do we want? Zero. How much regular immigration do we want? Well, there’s the RAISE Act which I think is pretty good. I only want immigrants who are self-sufficient and want to assimilate to American culture, leaving behind their old culture. You can keep some aspects of your old culture as window dressing, like food and festivals or something. But that’s it. Oh, and the H1-B visa system is a sham to suppress the wages of tech workers.
The other side though I think is far more incoherent. I think once they’ve adopted the moral position that people should pretty much be able to go where they want and that immigration is good and diversity is our strength, this basically rules out any real objection to open borders, but they won’t just say they want open borders.
“Do you want open borders?” “No, of course not!”
“Okay, so can we have a wall on the border?” “No, that’s cruel and wasteful and wouldn’t work anyway.”
“So can we put the military on the border to stop illegals?” “No, that’s monstrous.”
“Increased Border Patrol?” “No. Also we’re going to leave out caches of food and water to help people cross the border and you’re a fascist monster if you try to destroy them, and we’re going to promote apps to help migrants dodge Border Patrol.”
“Can we deport people once they get into the country?” “Not if they’ve been here for a long time and haven’t committed crimes! They deserve amnesty and citizenship!”
“So can we deport them if they commit crimes?” “Ugh. Well. Maybe. I guess. But now we’re passing Sanctuary City laws and refuse to allow local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE. Also abolish ICE.”
“So you want open borders then?” “No, of course not! Where did you ever get this crazy conspiracy theory idea ha ha!”
Much as I disagree with Conrad on what to do about it, I think he’s pretty much dead on here. The left generally, and I suspect most liberals, want something that as implemented will be asymptotically close to open borders, and they resist any attempt to change the details of implementation away from that unless maybe you do it by arresting capitalists. If they’d just be open about the fact that their goals are open borders and/or arresting capitalists, we could have a much more productive discussion.
And I don’t think most people on the right care about the specifics of walls vs. enhanced border patrols, as they do about that lack of openness on the left.
I think most “de facto open borders” people believe they have a boundary condition – that at some amount of immigration, they would be comfortable with limits, but that we aren’t close to that number.
I think this take is too simplistic.
Compare this to arguments about speed limits and other traffic laws. We can all (most of us) agree speed limits have both value and basically positive outcomes.
I drive at least 10 miles over the speed limit about every single day I drive. Occasionally I run a red light.
Actually red-light cameras are perhaps a really good example. Many places are removing red-light cameras because they are shown to be a net-negative in terms of safety. Being against red-light cameras and super strict (and draconian) enforcement of red-light laws is not the same thing as being against stop lights specifically or against traffic laws in general.
As a further analogy, if every car that ran red lights illegally was an Uber, but the only people ever punished were the passengers, and almost never the driver or the company, and people thought the key to safer intersections was even harsher punishments for passengers, I think we would be right to say this seems like a poor idea. ETA: reversing passenger and driver might make more sense in the analogy, but either way works in some respect).
Yes, right now its hard to have really honest, productive conversations about immigration, but laying it at the feet of the left makes no sense. It was only 13 years ago, no wait, 5 years ago, that there were plenty of people on the right against the Kafkaesque situation that is our current policy.
I think that some progressives have a huge bleeding heart, which results in such an extreme assumption of good faith and such an unwillingness to accept bad or mediocre outcomes, that while they theoretically are able to police the borders, in practice pretty much everyone who is not a Canadian millionaire or a mass murderer qualifies as a legitimate refugee in their eyes and/or someone as someone who can’t be deported because the consequences would be too bad.
@Aapje: it’s literally Nazism to detain single parents suspected of a crime or couples with a child who are suspects at the same time.
I disagree with current policy at the border on Christian and utilitarian grounds, but the Left has just publicized a big obvious loophole for future criminals.
@Le Maistre Chat:
The left didn’t publicize it. The Trump admin has been talking about the “loophole” and how good it would be to take children at the border as a deterrent since the beginning of the administration. The outsize spread of this knowledge is on them.
@HBC: Well that was foolish, then.
Compare this to arguments about speed limits and other traffic laws. We can all (most of us) agree speed limits have both value and basically positive outcomes.
Your basic argument seems to be that it’s OK to have laws that are only very rarely enforced, and that that’s how we should treat immigration laws (i.e., the way we currently treat speed limit laws). I strongly disagree.
In fact, your proposed analogy with speed limits goes pretty far to proving the point you were saying was “too simplistic”. Most speed limit enforcement is really disguised revenue collection for localities. If governments were actually open about why they really want speed limit laws, we could have a much more productive discussion.
“Most speed limit enforcement is really disguised revenue collection” =/= “The real reason the government wants speed limit laws on the books is disguised revenue collection”
I think you’re missing HeelBearCub’s point, which is that an unjust enforcement method doesn’t necessarily tell you about the just-ness of the rule itself.
Many of my object-level positions on immigration are driven by the mendacity of my political opponents.
If I was in a spherical-cow type world, I’d actually be in favor of amnesty. Yes, handling the millions in the country now is a massive pain in the ass. However, we, one time only, just grant amnesty to sweep away the whole problem and go to rigorous policing of illegal immigration to prevent the problem from reoccurring, I’d be behind an amnesty proposal as a compromise.
However, all the nattering about how “nobody can be illegal!” and the continual frustration of immigration enforcement tells me that if I make that compromise, my opponents on this issue will just continue to frustrate immigration enforcement, then come back all teary-eyed in 15 years with another block of 10 million illegal immigrants and demand another amnesty because “how can you be so heartless–look at these waifs that you’ll be putting out?”
What I say to the other side on immigration: “Dude, Regan did an amnesty as a compromise for clamping down on illegal immigration, and here we are. Your side shows me the money first.”
I don’t think amnesty (an Idea that I’m in favor of, at least in some versions) can fully solve the problem. I think the economic/cultural/circumstance pull that brings people here is stronger than the authority our government can exercise to stop it. I think it’s stronger than the authority any government can exercise. I use authority in the way that I understand its used in aviation (where the the pilot can only apply so much in order for the plane to go in the direction he wants, and sometimes other factors can apply more in different directions in which case the plane doesn’t do what the pilot wants).
Even if you granted legal status to all illegal immigrants (preferably, with a considerable fine) attempting to reduce the number of people allowed will create considerably more illegal immigrants, and all the walls in the world aren’t going to have a huge effect on these numbers.
If you go on leftist message boards right now, they’re talking about the very same things about your side. They’ll say they need to frustrate illegal immigration enforcement because they suspect that your side just wants fewer immigrants, so they just want to frustrate everything you do to slow down your “nativist agenda” (real words you will read, no lie). Why do they suspect this? Because right wing immigration proposals tend to combine illegal immigration enforcement (“okay, with you there”), with skills based legal immigration priority (“yep, seems good”), with large cuts to the total number of legal immigrants accepted per year (“wait, wait, where did that come from”). How might the world look different if a right wing proposal had those first two tenets but then said, hey, under this skilled based immigration system, we want twice the number of immigrants every year?
I feel like this system would actually be opposed mainly from the left. The right wouldn’t love it, but I know a lot of right-wingers who would grudgingly support it, so long as they really genuinely believed they would actually get the first two tenets.
I think the left would attack it as racist and wicked, as they did the second Trump even floated the possibility of a “merit-based” points system.
Right-wing single data point: I’d be OK with doubling the number of skilled immigrants as long as there was a real (presumably informal because of the Free Exercise clause) mechanism to keep out skilled mujahideen like Osama bin Laden the construction executive.
Any Islamic immigration is a huge problem.
Somewhat-right-wing second data point: I love that idea. Yes, please, give us more legal immigrants vetted for skills and merit, as long as the border is enforced.
The problem is that a skills based immigration system that sets the skill threshold high enough to be called “skills based” is necessarily a long term immigration reduction. Even if in years 1-5 there is an influx of all the backlogged doctors, nurses, and accredited engineers that have wanted to come, after that, the poor countries are depleted and only a tiny trickle would qualify. So skills based cannot be called skills based without reducing immigration. Because if it didn’t the “skills” would be so unskilled as to make the term a nullity.
@idontknow: Well I’d be fine with a 5-year tripling that plummets after that, too.
Are you really sure about that?
There are 8 million Chinese people graduating every year, 1.5 m of them in STEM subjects. Are you sure that if you establish the bar at *have college degree and is able to get a job* you won’t be flooded with Chinese people? A lot of them will be really talented.
China has 1.5 billion people. Around 1% of that population will have an IQ higher than 140. This is still 15 million Chinese people.
I think the limiting factor will probably be the job offers. But if employers don’t have to go through the H1B visa requirements, and it only takes them a bit more paperwork to get a worker, wouldn’t there be employers who switch from American workers to foreign workers?
We could have a points system with an upper limit on each skill category. We could say for each year, max 5,000 engineers and computer scientists, max 7,000 medical professionals, max 3,000 unskilled laborers, etc. (My numbers are entirely made up, don’t read into them.) And within each tier we give points for things like English fluency, employer sponsorship, close family in the US, etc. There’d be a lot of debate over the numbers and the point weighting, but I think that’d be a huge step up from the current immigration debate
Absolutely. The notion that there wouldn’t be enough skilled workers seems crazy to me. As it stands today, every year we tell tens of thousands of partially-assimilated, fully-fluent in English foreigners who recently graduated from American universities to get lost because they aren’t allowed to stay at a place they’ve already been living for 2-4 years being highly productive citizens.
We could just stop doing that.
Sorry, I missed this one earlier.
That just proves my point about the mendacity! “We can’t get what we want at the ballot box, so we’re going to use extra-legal methods to short-circuit the democratic process.” This is basically telling those of us who favor increased immigration enforcement “If you agree to give us half of what we want now, we’ll steal the other half later.” I’m generally in favor of expanding legal immigration, but my counterparties are going to have to give something up, and as @Matt M said I don’t believe that I’ll see the promised compromise.
I don’t think that’s true. It’s a big world, and it could send a million or two immigrants a year with sufficient skills to make a reasonable living in the U.S. for a very long time. Not just physicians and computer programmers but cooks and plumbers and small scale entrepreneurs and … .
Two million people is about .03% of the world population.
Let me try to offer a morally coherent counter:
We shouldn’t be focused on how many immigrants, but who those immigrants are. We can debate the exact qualities we find acceptable/desirable/punishable. Most would be perfectly ok with not accepting immigrants guilty of serious crimes (definition required). But whatever qualities we end up settling on, be it cirminal record, age, or credit score, it seems wrong to accept 99 people who qualify and then reject the 100th simply because of his place in line.
I’m told that any system that doesn’t contain numerical quotas fits under an open borders definition.
In that case, I’m for “open borders”–and I’m so far from open borders that you can’t see me from there.
(I’d admit any, and only, immigrants who are self-supporting from the perspective of government spending, and require someone to post bond or insurance to cover the difference if they are not. That means “will pay the average per-capita government spending of $20k annually in taxes OR pay the difference between taxes and that amount, for self and dependents”.)
I could be fine with that? The problem is that when we try to enforce whatever rules we have against the people who try to come anyway when they don’t meet the qualifications we get all the different responses I mentioned above. Say we agree on MartMart’s immigration qualifications, the next step is “so, to stop the people who don’t meet MartMart’s qualities from coming in anyway, can we put a wall on the border…?” and go from there down the list.
What are we allowed to do to stop people from coming into the country who have not followed the proper procedures?
The most practical solution, although perhaps not politically practical, involves none of the proposed enforcement mechanisms. Anyone can come, but new immigrants can neither vote nor collect any form of welfare for the first ten years after they come, with some provision thereafter for the naturalization process. If you want to be really strict, their kids are not entitled to go to the public school unless they pay for it–but even without that, the amount the parents pay in taxes, direct or indirect, probably covers that cost.
So that’s a fairly common argument which I’ll roughly summarize as “if we aren’t willing to enforce law x, what’s to say we would be willing to enforce law y?” sometime that’s followed by “I don’t care how backwards/improper/counter productive/immoral law x is, why must enforce is 100% before we can even talk about fixing it”. Which, to me, is Syth sort of thinking.
The argument about the wall isn’t specifically about the wall. The people in favor really want to do something about immigration, and so are the people against.
Which brings up to what the qualifications are in my earlier proposal. My personal opinion would be something along the lines of “are they a decent human being”, however that’s defined, but I’ll happily accept some version of “they are not likely to become a drain on society”. Thing is there are going to be some people who oppose foreigners for cultural reasons. Some portion of them are going to demand some very difficult to meet requirements whose whole reason for existence is to be very difficult to meet (only a phd, must put up a 1 million bond, speak fluent english, play baseball) It’s basically a variation on the old voting literacy tests. Assuming we don’t let those people win (not a safe assumption, unfortunately) and end up with a set of qualifications which most people find reasonable and unobjectionable, and the people who fail to meet them are pretty plainly “not decent people”, I think you’ll find that the opposition to deporting those will be substantially reduced.
Many people are willing to accept the compromise that giving today’s illegal immigrants some legal status may result in a small portion of them that are violent criminals also receiving the same status. I don’t think there are many who will demand that we give status exclusively to violent criminals.
But, @MartMart, that condition’s impossible to meet. The problem is that more than 150 million people want to move to the United States. Presumably the vast majority of them are “decent people” by the popular standard. So, unless you want to instantly increase our population by 50%, there are going to be tens of millions of decent people who want to come here but can’t. We need to find some system that somehow works in that world, because that’s what we will be getting.
The Dutch central government tried to do this for illegal immigrants several times, but the major cities keep providing food and shelter for these people, to keep them from doing the unpleasant things they would otherwise do.
US culture is a bit more accepting of those unpleasant things, although often the burdens are taken up voluntarily by a subset of the population, through soup kitchens, food banks/pantries, etc.
I would classify those things as informal welfare and argue that one cannot keep this from being provided, other than creating such high demand that the burdens become too great; at which point many citizens will become highly dissatisfied with the results.
Evan: Even if we accept the 150million number, that doesn’t mean impossible, just difficult. The US population density is very low 33ppl/sq. km. Even doubling that would still leave us at less than a thirds of Switzerland 199, Germanys 225 or UKs 265. Culturally and economically, Israel has experienced several population doublings thru immigration in short period of time, and while that country has it’s share of problems, it has managed to thrive.
But there are reasons not to accept the 150m number. Consider what immigrants face:
1. Cost of living and exchange rate decimate life savings. What may have been a respectable nest egg in their home country, often changes into something considerably more modest. You don’t have to reach all the way into the third world for this to happen, just imagine what a 30% reduction to your own saving would look like, and that you have no equity in a house.
2. Social capital is hugely reduced, often completely eliminated. There is no family who would be able to help should you hit a financial tight spot. There is likely to be no family who would be able to say watch your child for a few hours.
3. You are likely to face some degree of discrimination everywhere you go.
4. You are likely to have a language barrier for the rest of your life, unless you are either young, or from an English speaking country.
5. If your career is based on licensing and certifications, those will not immediately transfer, and may not transfer at all.
6. You will have no real professional network to speak of.
As a result, your career is likely to take a serious hit and will never come on par with the native born. The full benefits of immigration will only be experienced by your children, if they are very young, or possibly grand children.
This is obviously not enough to stop immigration. But those are real factors. So I strongly suspect that there are many who would like to live in the US on some theoretical level, but would not be willing to move.
This sure seems like a strawman to me. Those on the left who oppose open borders do not oppose border patrol, basically by definition. I’ve never met anyone whose position is THAT incoherent. Also, sanctuary cities still deport undocumented immigrants who have committed violent crimes or felonies.
What remains of your characterization of the left is a consistent and morally reasonable position on immigration, i.e.
*We should increase legal immigration and asylum quotas
*We should use a robust but non-militarized police presence to protect the borders from illegal activity
*The wall really is a wasteful and idiotic idea
*We shouldn’t deport people if they’ve lived in the country a long time and haven’t committed crimes
*We should deport undocumented immigrants if they commit violent crimes or felonies
*We should abolish the branch of ICE whose job it is to round up and deport undocumented immigrants regardless of whether they’ve done any harm
Q: “Do you want bike theft to be legal?”
A: “No, of course not!”
Q: “Okay, so can we build a wall around our garages to protect our bicycles?”
A: “Seems like an ineffective waste of money. The majority of bicycle theft occurs after people have already removed their bikes from the garage.”
Q: “So can we put the military to work stopping bicycle theft?”
A: “Are you feeling okay? I’m starting to get concerned.”
Q: “Can we throw otherwise lawful people in prison for stealing a bike thirty years ago?”
A: “Just to be vindictive? Seems kind of unproductive. Isn’t that why we have statutes of limitations?”
Q: “So can we arrest them if they commit a different crime?”
A: “Uh, yeah? Was that in question?”
Q: “So why aren’t you cooperating with ICE*?” (Illegal Cycle Enforcement)
A: “Well, it’s kind of weird that you’ve set up not just one but two separate enforcement agencies focused solely on bicycle theft, with a collective budget larger than the entire FBI, and we’re kind of concerned with the rate at which they’re committing human rights violations. Are you sure this is all necessary?”
Q: “So you want open bicycles, then?”
People can disagree about the lengths to which we should go to enforce a law without opposing that law. If you want to commit to a campaign of scorched-earth zero-tolerance enforcement, you need to present compelling evidence that an equivalent harm will be prevented. Instead, you get Trump yelling about Mexicans bringing rape and drugs.
Fifteen years ago, the Border Patrol budget was $1.5B. As of 2016, it was nearly $4B. Since roughly 2007, the net flow of illegal immigrants has stabilized. As of 2014, 66% of adult illegal immigrants had lived in the US for ten years or more. (Note that much of this shift happened under a Democratic president. That doesn’t mean it was all Obama’s doing, but at the very least it is hard to paint him as a radical open borders fanatic.)
How much border security is enough? When will you be satisfied? There does not seem to be any correlation between the actual status of the border and the volume of complaints about illegal immigration. If you’re going to froth at the mouth no matter what happens, then I don’t see why anybody should bother bargaining with you.
I’m sympathetic to the idea that it’s not worth the expenditure to ensure that there are literally zero people in the US unlawfully.
But we’re a long way away from that point. Exact numbers are hard to get, but I’ll settle for Factcheck.org telling me the number exceeds 11 million. I hardly think it’s “froth[ing] at the mouth” to complain that the number of people whose very presence in this country violates the law hits eight digits.
So we should be concerned simply because it is a large number? Just of the top of my head, the number of people who violate the law with regard to say, speeding and drug use is much higher, likely by an order of magnitude. In order to justify anything close to the current attitude we’d need to believe that people who are willing to work without permission at low wages are over an order of magnitude more harmful to society than other, more common types of violators.
As an aside, I would be 100% in favor of increasing all speed limits by 5-10 mph, but enforcing them vigorously.
The current system of “the posted limit is 55 but everyone knows you can go 60 and nobody cares and you can probably go 65 unless a cop is having a bad day” is completely asinine.
Getting into the details would take more time than I can devote right now, but my point is simply that it is unfair to claim the other side is “going to froth at the mouth no matter what happens” regarding the prevalence of illegal immigration based on their complaints when there are over ten million people present here illegally right now.
As just an easy example, if that number were lowered to six figures, I’m sure that some people would still complain, but I expect the issue would lose the vast majority of its political pull. If you agree that that would be the result, then I think that’s sufficient to rebut the “froth[ing] at the mouth” characterization.
Obviously there’s some degree to which we have to evaluate the seriousness of the harm. Regarding speed limits, I’m with Matt M that our current system is stupid. And I’d be happy to legalize marijuana (and potentially more) to decrease the extent of that lawbreaking. Part of the underlying argument here is that permitting millions, or tens of millions, of people to routinely violate the law with no punishment undermines the rule of law.
There are also plenty of object level arguments for why illegal immigration is bad (e.g. worse than going 55 in a 50mph zone) or fine (e.g. dependency of current American farming system on cheap labor). I’m going to refrain from getting into that debate, but I will express that even if you find the latter view more persuasive, I don’t think it’s crazy for people to want our nation to exercise control over who comes into it, which necessarily involves attempting to prevent people from entering and residing in the US without authorization.
It’s not the stock that matters; it’s the flow. The net flow of illegal immigrants over the last decade has been zero. Two-thirds of your 11 million have been around for over a decade. Roughly half of those illegal immigrants would qualify under either DACA or DAPA, both of which require a clean criminal record: no felonies, no significant misdemeanours, and less than three other misdemeanours.
If you really want to bring down the number of people in the country illegally, an amnesty for immigrants brought into the country as children has 87% support among Americans and 79% support among Republicans.
“As just an easy example, if that number were lowered to six figures, I’m sure that some people would still complain, but I expect the issue would lose the vast majority of its political pull. If you agree that that would be the result, then I think that’s sufficient to rebut the “froth[ing] at the mouth” characterization. ”
I don’t agree, even if I somehow agreed with the whole “let reduce the number of immigrants by an order of magnitude” being a remotely reasonable goal post (which can only be accomplished thru an amnesty).
I think illegal immigration shortcuts the logical portion of a huge portion of the population the same way many outrages do. It’s an issue that riles people up simply by being raised. I think that in no small part because the opposition rose up during a period of time where net migration was zero or negative.
If there was some super aggressive enforcement program that reduced the number of illegal immigrants by even 2 orders of magnitude, but did so in highly visible ways (lets say workplace raids so routine that most people would see one each month, paperwork checks on the streets and most major venues, etc) opposition to illegal immigration, and the political power it brings would actually rise.
I think what’s happening here is that political reaction to anything is very often a lagging indicator. I think there was a huge inflow of illegal immigrants (as well as refugees and legal immigrants) into the US for a couple decades, I think approximately corresponding to the housing bubble and lots of instability in Central America and Mexico. There were visible changes in American demographics as a result–for example, construction sites in 1970 and construction sites today look quite different. But it took *decades* for this to lead to a popular movement to push back on it, and by then, the problem had largely been resolved–a little tougher border enforcement under Bush and Obama, plus the end of the housing bubble, managed that. However, the political movement created by people angry about these visible changes to the country has finally gotten organized and has built up some momentum. And now, various politicians are riding it.
 Which, to be fair, were pretty-much not a major political issue and weren’t widely discussed for many years, despite being quite substantive changes being made to the country that will affect our future in important ways.
… I assume you mean “Iain”, not “Brad”?
In any case: your story seems plausible, but I don’t know how to evaluate its accuracy. If it is accurate — if the people complaining about illegal immigration really are just belatedly fighting yesterday’s battles — then it seems to reinforce my point. Why make harmful concessions to a movement that won’t notice or appreciate them?
I would be 100% in favor of increasing all speed limits by 5-10 mph, but enforcing them vigorously.
You can’t enforce speed limits vigorously. At least, not without either drastically increasing the number of highway police (and therefore the cost of policing) or drastically increasing the use of cameras to convict people of speeding without human intervention.
The first solution strikes me as unworkable and the second strikes me as unacceptable for a supposedly free country. If I’m driving down the highway causing no harm to anyone, the government has no business imposing a fine on me and putting points on my driving record simply because I’m going faster than the number on a sign.
Be that as it may, the implied analogy you are making here with immigration is not really valid. The total number of illegal immigrants in the US is large, but that number has built up over many years. The numbers coming across the border in any given year are much smaller. So the fact that speed limit enforcement would be unworkable on a national scale does not necessarily mean immigration enforcement would be unworkable on a national scale.
The analogy does, however, illustrate that our current legal immigration system could use plenty of improvement. There’s no reason to have draconian systems in place to prevent people coming here who will be able to support themselves.
When I say “enforce vigorously” I’m basically thinking “any time a police officer notices anyone going even 1mph over, they pull the person over and write them a ticket, unless they are involved actively pursuing another criminal, etc.
I’d think the same idea for immigration. Any illegal who is noticed by the authorities is captured and deported. No warnings, no ifs and or buts. No “he’s not really harming anyone.”
The reason speed limits aren’t vigorously enforced is probably because gas pedals and speedometers are not precision instruments. It’s really easy to think you’re going 40, but look down and see that you’ve crept up to 44 or 45. And with analog speedometers, it can be really hard to see the difference between 40 and 41 to begin with.
I think it makes sense to set the speed limits 5~10 lower than what the safety calculations suggest, and only enforce against the most egregious offenders (the one going 53 in a 40) because you’re taking human error into account. This does have the downside of enabling a cop with a grudge to ticket basically anyone. But given human error and imprecision, you still have that problem with a “The limit’s 50, we’re ticketing everyone at 51” standard, unless everyone intentionally drives at least 5 under (sounds unlikely).
Also, @PeterDonis, I absolutely think the government has a right to tell you not to drive way over a certain limit, since even if you yourself don’t get into an accident, your reckless driving can cause OTHER people to get in accidents. If you cut in front of me, and then I have to slam the brakes and I get rear ended, you’ve still caused an accident even if you get away.
We might have different principles about the government’s authority to prevent easily foreseeable harms though. (Sounds like you’d also oppose laws against drunk driving)
This is what’s truly incoherent, to me. From a government’s perspective, the only question you can really answer is, “What percent of GDP should we tax from the resident population in order to spend towards policies that reduce illegal immigration? And what level of violence should the government exercise in order to reduce illegal immigration?” If the answer to both those questions is “unlimited” (and I presume your answer to both those questions is indeed “unlimited”), we’ll definitely get illegal immigration to zero. But don’t frame the debate as “leftists want illegal immigration, I don’t”, that is absurdly uncharitable and bordering on “my opponents are literally moral mutants that believe sin is virtue”. Leftists have more restrained answers to one of the above two questions – either they want to spend less, or they are willing to exercise less violence, or more likely both. Those two are sometimes tradeoffs, too. I think there are a lot of policy proposals would very cost effectively reduce illegal immigration, but leftists think inflict too much violence (these tend to be the more deterrence-focused proposals, or strong forms of self-deportation policies such as denying emergency medical care to illegal immigrants). Another set of policy proposals are humane, but require a massive commitment of resources that leftists typically think are better spent elsewhere (I’d guess you would say “spent wastefully elsewhere”, but for the sake of charitable reading perhaps you can think of it as “resources that could instead be retained by residents in the form of lower taxes”).
Try reading the leftist responses you have above from a charitable framework of “I have two values that often trade off, and I’m unwilling to give up either of these values because I don’t see the harm as being so high.”
As for a border wall, yeah, the strong opposition to something that would cost very little in the grand scheme of things and who knows how much it would reduce illegal immigration, but it basically costs nothing so might as well try.. best I can say is that it’s become a tribal issue after the 2016 election and I suspect there’s not a lot of signal there, just noise, both sides cheering their team onward. I liken it to the fraction of Republicans that would respond to surveys that they thought Obama might be a Muslim / born outside the US / etc during those years.
I don’t think “Zero illegal immigration” was stated there as a requirement for acceptable policy. Just as a sort of aspirational thing. IE: “I would like for there to be no illegal immigration.
It however, doesn’t give us a good intuition as to exactly how much (in terms of violence, cost, or oppression) he would be willing to accept in order to prevent illegal immigration some amount.
I personally (if I could wave a magic wand) would be fine with doubling, or even tripling “official” immigration numbers if it meant illegal immigration numbers dropped to zero.
The costs of enforcement being a reality however – I promote policies that use violence at the border instead of oppression of illegal immigrants currently inside the United States. Simply because I think that violence towards people doing the illegal crossings creates less gray areas, costs less, and doesn’t create a weird underclass of people who are afraid to act normally in modern life because they don’t want to get pinched by ICE.
For reference, this is basically Obama’s policy (minus your weird bit about “violence”): focus on dangerous criminals and people apprehended while crossing the border, with a secondary emphasis on less dangerous criminals and recent arrivals. If people have been here for a while and haven’t committed any crimes, they aren’t a priority.
Dollar for dollar, this maximizes the deterrent effect on future illegal immigrants and minimizes the incidental harms of having an underclass terrified of getting pinched by ICE. It is the sort of policy that reasonable anti-immigration voices should be able to get behind.
(Narrator voice: they did not get behind it.)
I was trying to create a differentiation between the type of violence often associated with true violence “guards with guns, fences, etc” and other forms of violence commonly used but not thought about, say – a regulation that puts absolutely ridiculous fines on any employer caught employing an illegal immigrant. An advocate for migrants rights would certainly term those as “violence” as well. I guess the term is explicit violence versus implicit violence, but I used oppression instead.
As to Obama policy – I don’t seem to remember lots of scathing critiques and getting up-in-arms over his current policy. For my part, I remember having some objections on the margins, like the way we handle asylum seekers (or rather, “asylum-defenders”) but nothing serious enough to claim something like “Obama is a weak borders president who I hate because he made our borders so WEAK”.
I remember, in fact in the You Are Still Crying Wolf article that Obama approved about 700 miles of extra border fencing under the Secure Fence Act.
I can also see that Trump probably won points on this as a signaling issue alone, not based on substantive policy differences.
Answering from the Left: most people’s ideas around immigration are pretty incoherent, from all sides. People know they don’t like certain things on a kneejerk level (the rhetoric from the right right now focuses on lawbreaking, the rhetoric from the left focuses on visible human suffering), but most people are, as you said, hard pressed to come up with a coherent immigration policy. That being said, most people have lives to get to and don’t have the time to dream up immigration policy, so it’s hard to blame them for expressing a range of general opinions and leaving it to their elected representatives to turn that into policy – that how a Republic is supposed to work.
Here’s a roughly coherent (but not very detailed) plan on immigration. I’m not claiming to speak for the entire American left, but I’m a liberal democrat and I’ve thought about this from liberal principals a bunch.
1) Immigration makes us stronger, on the whole – diversity of culture and of thought is a good thing we should strive for, although this isn’t absolute. For example, there’s such a thing as bad cultures, and immigrants from there shouldn’t make American more like their culture – they are instead expected to import some of the good things from their culture, shuck the bad ones, and mostly acculturate to the American way of doing things. This has generally worked out in the past – each successive wave of immigration has brought things to the country, and many of those waves of immigration were barely controlled and we didn’t implode because, say, the Italians and Irish brought Catholicism (which Americans were incredibly afraid of at the time, for some reason) or the Russians brought a history of terrible government.
2) We shouldn’t have any illegal immigration, by definition, but to the left illegal immigration from the south is not a big deal. We’re willing to accept quite a bit of it for advantages elsewhere. That having been said, a ton of illegal immigration is due to it being incredibly difficult for people to legally immigrate when their legal immigration would not hurt existing US citizens, particularly seasonal manual laborers. Most of the problems with illegal immigration are because it’s so difficult to immigrate legally.
3) Immigration makes us richer. An immigrant is both a potential producer and a potential consumer. Adding an immigrant is roughly similar to adding a new American, except we didn’t have to have the expense of raising them from (economically worthless) children for 18 years, and we also get the weed out anyone that already has a substantial criminal record. Specific types of immigration might make certain people or groups poorer (mostly in some situations where immigrants directly compete for jobs where there are already more job seekers than jobs). I’m not going to try and solve this in immigration policy – I favor a strong social safety net to make this less of an issue. That having been said, if you aren’t a fan of a strong social safety net, the issue of the benefits of immigration being diffuse but the harms being specific is an issue you have to handle somehow – I just don’t think that being protectionist is a good way to do so.
Given the above, here’s some general policies:
1) Make it easier for people to immigrate legally for the purposes of manual labor. Practically, this mostly means immigration from Mexico (but not always from Mexicans – it involves a lot of people from further south). Track these people, make sure they and their employers pay taxes, and make sure the process for immigrating is not too expensive or difficult for either the potential immigrant or the sponsoring company. Allow for easy temporary visas, but for people who aren’t simply trying to do seasonal work and who want to move here permanently, give them green cards and put them on a path to citizenship.
2) Make it easier for people to immigrate for the purposes of skilled labor. SE Asia and India have a ton of talented white-collar professionals that would love to make several times what they do now by moving to the US. Currently, we have a system of visas that serves no one expect large companies, who (as you pointed out) get to keep wages down). Stop this sort of nonsense except for actual temporary workers and give people green cards and a path to citizenship instead. No more H1-B visas that lock people to one company, no more people on visas when they’re basically staying in America as long as possible. Just given them permanent resident status and put them on a path towards citizenship. If they aren’t interested in being citizens, then they aren’t invited long term – no one is allowed to move here long term without buying in to the American ideal.
3) Make sure people don’t overstay visas, which we’re currently terrible at. Some 40% of illegal immigrants came here legally and overstayed their visas.
4) Kick people non-citizens out if they commit serious crimes. We already do this, obviously, but it’s worth stating. We have to take born citizens that commit serious crimes, but we definitely don’t want to import people that will make America worse.
5) Ensure that immigrants are either integrated in to American culture, or that they stay for as short a time as possible to do whatever job they’re needed for and them go home (see 3). Again, giving people a path to citizenship gives them a stake in America. I don’t think this is a hard sell to immigrants, given how many want to move here. The details of this would take a ton of experts to hash out, but at the very least, some sort of English classes are going to be required for non-native speakers. If people can’t speak the de-facto official language, integration is much harder and immigrants are likely to be taken advantage of because they won’t know their rights. I’d expect English classes to be both free and mandatory for aspiring citizens unless they test out of them (by already being fluent in English). This would be tax supported – we can afford it, particularly since legal immigrants themselves pay taxes. This is mostly an issue for immigrants from Mexico, as the largest group, and thankfully as the largest group there’s already tens of millions of Americans that speak both English and Spanish fluently.
6) Side point, but heavily push anyone that comes here on a student visa to get on a path to citizenship, and make that easy. We currently have a process that often ends up giving people fours years of expensive college education to have the gain valuable skills and then making it a huge pain to stay in the country. This is ass-backwards – these are exactly the people we want more of.
7) Cut down on illegal immigration. A lot of this will be through making currently illegal immigration legal – instead of hiring millions (hundreds of thousands? I don’t know the order of magnitude off the top of my head) of illegal immigrants to do manual labor along our southern border, those people will be legal. This also means that we can lower the demand for illegal (untracked, non-taxed, often abused) immigrants, and enforce laws against employers that hire illegal immigrants. Some of this will be due to better enforcement of current laws, although again I don’t think illegal immigration is currently that big of an issue so I’m not for putting many resources into stopping the “crossing illegally from Mexico” sort of illegal immigration. The border fence did a good job of cutting that number down, but any further significant gains are going to have to involve patrolling thousands of miles of border and I just don’t think it’s worth it.
8) Don’t deport people who entered American illegally but have committed no other crimes. Instead, give them a path to citizenship, and get them into the American bureaucracy as soon as possible so they can pay taxes, call the police, etc. Again, if you’ve been here for several years and haven’t done anything bad, but have worked, you’ve already proven you’re the sort of person America wants. There needs to be some penalty for coming here illegally, but I’m not certain what it should be, although I lean strongly towards it being economic – some higher tax, or fine, or something that means the incentive is strongly to come here legally and that will make people self-select. You could perhaps have the option, if you’re caught being here without a valid visa or green card, of either entering the system to stay for permanent citizenship (and paying the penalty) or being deported and being allowed to reenter American for some time, like 5-10 years. This obviously isn’t perfect. Most of this issue should be solved by making it easier to to immigrate legally. I think we need to be harsher on people who overstay visas, though, likely just deporting them, as otherwise it’s just too easy for them to bypass the whole system – and in the system I’m envisioning, if you have a visa instead of a green card, there’s a reason you aren’t going to be a citizen. Visa holders could apply for a green card, of course.
tl;dr: more legal immigration, less illegal immigration but mostly by making a lot of economically useful immigration into legal immigration, more immigration overall, more immigrants who become citizens and less long-term visas. This approach focuses rather heavily on having more immigration, again because I think it’s an overall good and that the benefits of immigration are spread out to most Americans. If I thought either of those weren’t true I’d change my mind.
Very high-quality comment on an often-inflamatory issue. I’m not 100% in agreement with you, but you’ve stated your position rationally and well.
Two immediate things that comes to mind w.r.t. your position:
a. How many people do you think would like to come to the US, if they were able to come? It seems to me that if the number of people who want to come is much larger than the number we’re willing to accept, then we’re going to have a problem with illegal immigrants and/or immigration enforcement that costs money and hassles people in ways we don’t like.
Right now, we’re close to zero net illegal immigration thanks to increased border enforcement and fewer construction jobs. But there’s not some law of nature that says this will always be so. You are on board with exercising some control over who comes here, but I think you also need to have some control over *how many* people come here.
b. With much less restricted immigration, I think you run into a problem with social safety net programs. A big part of the benefit of those programs is that we don’t have third-world-level poverty in our streets. We have a lot of programs like public education and public health that we fund so we can reap benefits as a society over time–fewer illiterate people, fewer epidemics.
All that costs money, and bringing in a lot of people who will mostly be working bottom-tier jobs at low wages doesn’t look like it’s going to be able to pay for those programs. Making the immigrants ineligible means that you lose lots of the benefit of those programs–you have hungry kids on the street, or worse, immigrant kids not getting an education. Making them eligible means that you need to worry about people coming in hopes of living off the American safety net programs. (And this isn’t nuts–if I were very poor and sick and I could starve in Nigeria or live on public assistance and get some level of free medical care in the US, I’d come to the US, too. But maybe we don’t want to provide a safety net for the whole world.)
 But in practice I think everyone lets/requires immigrant kids come to the local public schools. Doing anything else would be nuts.
I don’t disagree. But it strikes me as interesting. A citizen who commits a serious crime is subject to prison time, but an immigrant gets the do-over of being sent home? I’m not sure that seems fair even for a legal immigrant, let alone an illegal one. Is the idea that an immigrant is sort of a child, who can’t be expected to live up to normal standards of behavior?
I’ll grant you that anything else is politically untenable. Still, though.
I, too, like Zeno’s post. Not that I agree but it’s a position that can be engaged with.
One issue with letting in more unskilled labor is that they compete with the native unskilled labor who don’t have a good political voice. I am a professional, and I think I’ll do fine with the importation of people like my job skills, but if it ever isn’t, me and people like me are capable of lobbying for what we want.
I can cite papers that shows that local unskilled labor isn’t really hurt by importing of labor, but 1. this isn’t a given, 2. if I’m wrong, I’m not the one who pays the price, and 3. it turns out that people’s identities are more closely tied into what they produce than getting everything in their life for 2% cheaper. The wishes and perceptions (true or not) of unskilled labor are easy to ignore until a demagogue comes along and says “hey forgotten man, vote for me and I’ll set you free.”
Point 3 is good. So why aren’t we checking on visas when they expire? It seems like a straightforward paperwork exercise and doesn’t involve driving through the desert in a humvee so it’s a good use of the marginal border enforcement dollar. What gives? I asked before and still don’t know and hope someone here does.
I also wonder what the flaws in E-Verify are. A number of states require E-Verify for all employers. So what’s going on? Again, I honestly don’t know.
@DoctorMist: I assumed that meant, “as an option, kick them out.” The prosecutor can still decide to imprison the person if the crime is serious enough, but for some levels of crime — particularly if proving it beyond a reasonable doubt is expensive — it’s more efficient to just kick them out. Of course, if it’s serious enough to imprison, upon release they’d be deported.
I know illegal immigrants who get convicted of serious crimes get sent to prison first, and are deported when they have served their sentence. But I think more minor stuff (drunk driving, domestic violence) is more likely to be handled by just deporting the guy and assuming he’s some other country’s problem now.
I think the idea is that being (poor) in Mexico for life is worse than being in prison in the US for 20 years then free in the US thereafter.
Or perhaps instead, if we can find a way to get rid of you, we don’t need to worry about deterring you.
For the record, I endorse basically all of Zeno’s post.
(My only quibble: Knowing English is a huge advantage. I think making English-language classes easily accessible would get most of the benefits of making them mandatory, without the costs of forcing every 85-year old abuela who’s going to sit in the kitchen watching telenovelas all day to take useless classes.)
Say somebody overstays their visa. How do you determine whether they’ve left the country? How do you find them? The paperwork is easy, but that doesn’t help you when it comes to physical enforcement.
At the very least, you can have the person give you a forwarding phone number and address, and contact them there to see what they’re up to. This can be faked in many ways, but it requires an active act of deception instead of lying through inaction.
Okay, now you’ve deported the dumbest 5% of the visa overstays. What’s your next move?
Bear in mind that any restrictions you put in place to prevent visa overstays will also be applied to people here on visas with no intent to overstay, because you can’t tell them apart in advance.
There are relatively few points of mandatory contact with the government. The courthouse is one, which is why deporting criminals is feasible. Your place of employment is potentially another, which would point to E-Verify as a valuable tool, but that applies just as much to border-hoppers as visa overstays.
It’s not clear to me that visa overstays are low-hanging fruit.
I think I only have a strong disagreement on point 8. Marginal disagreements on claims 1 and 5.
My strong disagreement with point 8 is on the order of:
Any penalty strong enough to deter illegal immigration is likely to raise the same moral objections as deportation. However I don’t think deportation should affect your chances of immigrating in the future (after a time period, maybe 2 or 5 years?). I think deportation is easy to administer and has a nice little moral symmetry to it “you were here when you weren’t supposed to be. Now you’re not. The problems that resulted in your life from that are not ours”.
My disagreement with point 1:
This creates a backdoor citizenship method that I intuitively don’t like. Sort of the way certain Asian families pass businesses between each other in order to immigrate their families. I have a feeling putting these seasonal workers on the “path to citizenship” wouldn’t really benefit us much (these are not the high tier workers we want to be inviting in). Which sort of ties in to my disagreement with your point 1 about immigration in general. The part of diversity that makes us stronger is the ability to select out the ones we don’t want. We are “cultivating our garden” and I think allowing a path to citizenship for seasonal farm workers that aren’t through the normal process is counteprroductive.
My disagreement with point 5:
I am pretty sure that the only ways we could do a sort of forcible assimilation of newcomers is through methods that roughly pattern-match to the way the Irish were treated when they first came here. I don’t object to that at all, but I suspect it would be pretty unpopular in left-circles.
The key difference comes down to “what principles form the basis of the rules?”. On one side, the principle is consent/autonomy and not engaging in sex with those who cannot or do not consent, which seems pretty much the minimum you can have without legalizing rape. On the other side, the principle, as near as I can perceive it, is “No sex that I find icky or that my imaginary friend whom I have no evidence of says is icky, even if it’s fully consensual and harms nobody”. I’m being somewhat mean, but that’s because it’s a stupid position to hold – I’ve had a LOT of debates on this with people from the opposing side, and never once have they been able to show me any basis beyond personal dislike or forcing others to adhere to their religious views. Obviously the latter is a strong argument if you are a true believer, but since the law of the land specifically prohibits you from forcing others to live according to your religion’s rules, it’s a moot point anyway.
Some views simply are stupid.
Try starting here for the other side’s principles:
Sex is about relationships and children. The changes in sexual mores since 1960 have resulted in (relatively) many fewer children with two parents who live together for their whole childhood, much less stable relationships among sexual partners (and the average relationship is not better in any important way), and many more children being raised by one parent. All these changes are undesirable.
I don’t see how that is relevant to gay marriage.
To go a bit further, marriage as a relationship seems to exist as a means for society to encourage the long term growth of families, with parents providing for their own children (rather than someone elses), with two parents able to divide the workload of a household and raising children, and children with an incentive to take care of their parents as they get older. Marriages were often arranged rather than formed on the basis of romantic love because the marriages affected multiple generations. A marriage that doesn’t (or can’t) produce children has none of those advantages to society, and the church granted annulments based on that very logic.
The acceptance of sex as recreational pleasure has had the other consequence of people entering into relationships based not on long-term prospects but on short-term attractiveness, social status, or sexual prowess. It also has the problem that those that can’t get into a sexual relationship when sex is supposed to be available to all for whatever reason tend to have different psychological issues as a result. For some people, sex as recreational pleasure won’t cause any obvious long-term problems, but the people most at risk of serious, long-term consequences by the numerous things that can go wrong are typically those most at risk in other areas, such as those at the bottom of the economic or social hierarchy.
I have a good friend of mine that is one of the people I most respect despite disagreeing with his politics on just about everything. He had a number of superficial relationships, and one of the women he was with lied about her use of birth control as a way to entrap him with a pregnancy. He was able to get shared custody of their kid, and has since been a devoted dad, and he’s since met a single mother and is acting as a surrogate dad to her kid as well. Some people would say that when the first woman got pregnant, he should have married that woman, but the order should be ‘establish long term compatibility – get married – have kid’, and by trying to entrap him, the woman clearly failed the first part. He’s doing well now, but the revelation that the woman had lied to him and the tough choices he had to make clearly took their toll for a couple of years, and he got very lucky on the legal side.
Sure, I still don’t see how that is relevant to the gays. The church may grant annulments on the grounds of infertility, but it is not forced to, and heterosexual marriages aren’t forcibly dissolved when the woman reaches menopause. Also, adoption/surrogacy exist.
It seems to me that building good structures around procreation might be one purpose of marriage, but it is not the only one.
heterosexual marriages aren’t forcibly dissolved when the woman reaches menopause
Because at that point, the purpose of the marriage becomes mutual support (with the help of the now-adult children). It’s an attempt to work in enough productive capability to support a household, by having everyone contribute what they can. People who are too old to work a full time job get by on the work done by their adult children, while still helping in some ways such as doing less-strenuous household tasks and looking after the grandchildren, and the adult children have an incentive to keep the process going because they’re going to one day be to old to work and dependent on their children. Society still has to come up with a communal way to deal with the old single folks, but that’s manageable because most old people are taken care of by their family.
This also raises part of my point. If you’re married with the expectation that you’re going to raise a family (not just make babies), then even when you hit menopause, you’ve still got that family. If you’re married because it’s a steady source of sex, then there’s a decent chance that at some point, your partner is going to age and be less attractive and less energetic and frankly somewhat stale, and at that point, what point does the relationship serve?
Yes, adoption and surrogacy are an option for those that can’t reproduce, but I don’t know of anyone that got married for the purpose of forming a family to adopt kids, it’s either ‘we tied the natural way and couldn’t’ or people that got married for other reasons and look at adopting a child as a lifestyle choice (a lot of the celebrity couples that prominently adopted look like this).
I still don’t see how that is relevant to the gays
Either sex for recreational pleasure is socially acceptable or it isn’t (although it’s always going to be more acceptable for the socially connected ‘beautiful people’ than the general population). On some level, the horse is already outside the barn, and closing the doors won’t help, but the discussion is that there is a rational reason to disapprove of a hedonistic approach to sex even if it disadvantages an entire class of people, and that reason can be summed up more charitably than “No sex that I find icky or that my imaginary friend whom I have no evidence of says is icky, even if it’s fully consensual and harms nobody”.
I might be wasting my time but I will bite.
I assert the following as facts of the world. God exists. God made the universe. The universe has physical laws (e.g. every action has an equal and opposite reaction). The world has moral laws. In general, when someone follows the moral laws, by being moral, life is better and more meaningful. In general, when someone does not follow the moral laws, by being immoral, life is worse, more frustrating, and less meaningful. Morally, sex is suppose to be between a man and a women in a lifelong, committed relationship, intended to produce children (i.e. sex in marriage). When you deviate from this you are being immoral. Since the 60s people have been advocating for sex outside of marriage. The LGBT community also advocates for sex outside of marriage. This wide scale advocating has increased immoral behavior and people have reaped the consequences from their immoral behavior. It is a moral action to advocate against immoral actions. If I advocate against sex outside of marriage, I will decrease its rate and less people will have it and will have less immoral behavior and will lead better lives.
To put it simply, I do not think “No sex that I find icky or that my imaginary friend whom I have no evidence of says is icky, even if it’s fully consensual and harms nobody” I instead think that when people have sex outside of marriage, they exchange short term pleasure for long term harm to their lives.
A couple disputable facts that support the simple view is the negative outcomes associated with increase pre-marital sexual partners and the fact that being LGBT increase suicide risks.
Hopefully this help you better understand the conservative side. Any thoughts?
I think Natural Law makes sense, and I respect it even if I’m not 100% with it. But to push back — hasn’t the suicide rate of gay people dropped dramatically as the stigma against it decreased? Is it really “Being gay makes you suicidal” or “Being ostracized makes you suicidal”? If the argument is just that following the moral law leads to a much happier, more fulfilled life, then how much should we weight that gay couples and their children seem mostly alright as far as I can tell. *Maybe* there’s some evidence suggesting kids raised by same-sex parents aren’t quite as well off, but I’m willing to bet that the difference between “kids raised by straights” and “kids raised by gays” is much smaller than, say, “kids raised by people making $250k/year” vs “kids raised by people making $25k/year”
(Edit: I notice that you did say “disputable” facts, so you somewhat allowed for my objections)
Do you have any pointers to information on changing suicide rates among gay people, preferably with values as well as percentages. (I’m too busy/lazy to look.) I thought they had been stable, allowing for the change in the proportion of people identifying as gay.
Similarly, I think kids raised (for some portion of their childhood) by same-sex couples are generally much worse off (the Regnerus study); it’s only if you control for relationship stability that the impact is small. And from my perspective, that’s like comparing the relative strength of men and women controlling for testosterone levels.
I googled for “have gay suicides gone down” and found a bunch of outlets reporting on a study that teen suicides went down ~7% in states that legalized gay marriage, but I’m wary of one study, and I don’t think that brings suicide among homosexuals down to the same rates of suicides among heterosexuals.
The stigma has been dropping for decades, regardless of what the government has done. Is there any study that shows suicide rates falling as tolerance/acceptance has increased?
I will echo Conrad Honcho sentiment that the stigma has been going down for decades. If you can find a matching trend for suicide I am willing to update my belief of facts.
I would agree that the difference between kids raised by people making 250k/yr and 25k/yr is probably bigger than straight vs gay. That said, that fact does nothing to change my view that the best way to raise a child is by one man and one women in a committed long term relationship.
Also, would you be willing to voice your thoughts on the following statement?
I had thought that the suicide rate among LGB people had dropped over the past decade or two. But google isn’t pulling up any rates over time, so maybe my belief is unfounded.
I’d discourage casual sex in favor of long term relationships, hopefully aspiring towards marriage. (“No sex before marriage” isn’t a realistic standard.) Masturbation can be a vice, but rarely an actual problem. I can’t get with natural law saying “Contraception, non-procreative sexual acts, and IVF are inherently bad”. Stable two parent households are going to do much better than single parents (single parents get an A for effort though), and putting a ring on it actually helps with stability. Gay people / families might do slightly less well than straight ones, but nowhere near enough ban / stigmatize gay marriage or adoption. Let them have their monogamy and associated tax & healthcare benefits.
I’m not sure if the rate has dropped in recent decades either, but I remember a study from the 80s or 90s that showed that the suicide rate was pretty steady regardless of how accepting the country or culture was of homosexuality.
How do you measure “harm?”
Except that your “cannot consent” is bringing in a lot of “sex with young people/drunk people/sufficiently stupid people feels wrong to me.” Children consent to things all the time, as any parent observes. When a child buys a candy bar and eats it, he doesn’t get to have his money back on the theory that he didn’t consent to the transaction.
What’s special about consent to sex isn’t the consent, it’s the sex.
I don’t think so.
Or rather, there isn’t anything particularly special about sex, other than it is is quite consequential. Although the continuum is not smooth, nor necessarily clearly elucidated, we generally recognize that the ability of minors to consent scales with the stakes at hand.
As a “minor” for instance, 17 year olds can join the military, but they require parental consent. 16 year olds apparently can’t, not even through deferred enlistment.
Eh, I think there’s a whole lot of people who strongly disagree with this.
In the context of “what can minors agree to”?
On the one hand, yeah, sex has a special place in the pantheon of things society, and especially many more religious societies, feel the need to protect children from.
But, it is by no means the ONLY thing, and generally speaking there many things that we don’t think minors can consent to, or can only consent to in limited ways.
Let me put it this way – even if science discovered a foolproof, free, consequence-free way of preventing both pregnancy and STDs, available instantly on command, most people would not change their minds about age of consent policies.
Preventing pregnancy and STDs does not change the emotional consequences of sex, which can also be significant.
When human beings are forced to have sex or endure continued harrassment against their will. And even that only as long as these rights are reciprocally respected for me. When you look at how society treats my suicide/euthanasia rights, they clearly signal they don’t respect my bodily autonomy and my right not to suffer against my will. At that point, it becomes hard to argue why I should respect the consent principle for others, especially those who don’t respect it for me.
As for zoophilia, I don’t even care about consent. I eat animals every day, there is no reason why I should want them not to be sexually used. If others have this preference, let them have it.
As for pedophilia, I do think children can consent. Babies and toddlers can’t, for preschoolers, it’s dubious. But older preteens and teens are perfectly capable of understanding what sexual acts are and how to communicate yes or no. I want it to be legal and socially accepted, so we can all have more sexual options. Same for consensual prostitution and pornography.
For those who sincerely feel that consensual sex acts should be illegal, I recommend you honestly ask yourself how much you value that illegality. Do you just value it because it makes you feel/look righteous and you have no personal cost? Or would you sincerely accept hidden personal costs to prevent one marginal act of pedophilia/prostitution/zoophilia in the universe, all else equal?
If you had a magic box that could prevent one such sexual act at $x if you put cash from your personal income into it, how big could x be for you to still be motivated to pay? How much of your income would you put into it? I would pay zero. The reason why this question matters is because reducing other people’s sexual choice set is not a free action. The more you attack other people’s personal preferences, the more people will hate you and want to harm your values and personal preferences.
I oppose incest and zoophilia because human beings normally have instincts against doing such things and there’s a very high chance that someone who wants to engage in those to the point where it overcomes those human instincts is messed up psychologically and dangerous.
“I oppose gay sex and heterosexual sodomy because human beings normally have instincts against doing such things and there’s a very high chance that someone who wants to engage in those to the point where it overcomes those human instincts is messed up psychologically and dangerous.”
Well, maybe! A better one would be:
“I oppose being extremely virtuous and self-sacrificing because human beings normally have instincts against doing such things and there’s a very high chance that someone who wants to engage in those to the point where it overcomes those human instincts is messed up psychologically and dangerous.”
If being gay was associated with being messed up in other ways that resulted in the person becoming gay, that would be correct reasoning. Of course, it’s not. The principle is fact-dependent and these facts can be false for gay sex and true for incest.
And there certainly are varieties of being self-sacrificing that are signs of mental instability. In this very blogpost, Scott points out that people who claim to value all humans equally really don’t. I would look askance at someone who actually does.
If “mental instability” means deviating from the norm, then it’s trivially true that extreme virtue (or indeed extreme anything) is a cause of it. But the question is whether that deviation is bad. I certainly don’t “oppose being Mother Theresa” (at least not on the grounds that she was suspiciously virtuous).
The problems with Mother Teresa are by now well known, having been popularized by Christopher Hitchens before he went out of favor with the left.
But I think the problems with Mother Teresa are expected, precisely because actually devoting your life to helping others as much as possible is a sign of being messed up in general. I would expect that such a person is messed up in other related ways, and Mother Teresa did not disappoint.
I hear you, but that still seems like a bit of a non sequitur. I can think of a couple of things that might be fair steelmen of what you said:
1. Zoophilia may be unobjectionable in and of itself, but someone so far from “normal” that they would engage in it is probably dangerous in other ways. So it’s better to forbid it, so that we can put such a person away before they do something positively harmful.
2. Zoophilia may be unobjectionable in and of itself, but someone so far from “normal” that they would engage in it is probably dangerous in other ways. We should encourage them to keep a damper on their deviancy, by forbidding even this extreme but essentially harmless perversion; otherwise they may progress from zoophilia to something positively harmful.
In either case, I think you need a little more argument for drawing the line on one side of zoophilia rather than on the other — unless you actually think zoophilia is objectionable in and of itself. But you seemed to be taking pains not to make that claim, so I’m still missing a step.
To me it sounds like you’re providing a perfect example of what Scott described. You feel intuitively that zoophilia is wrong — and as I said, I hear you — and then you’re constructing the words that might make sense of that intuition, in the idiom of the people you’re talking to. (Mind you, I’m no paragon either; I’m just making conversation here.)
A combination of those, plus the related idea that it’s not a good idea to indulge people’s delusions. Someone engaging in bestiality probably either 1) thinks the animal is like what we would consider a consenting person (indicating an inability to understand consent) or 2) thinks the animal like what we would consider an easily manipulated, vulnerable person (indicating both an inability to understand consent and a propensity for committing abuse). Those attitudes have bad implications towards relations with actual people, and we should discourage them.
I think that is a much more cogent statement of principle on the matter.
I believe there is evidence that what triggers the instinct against incest is not genetic relationship but being brought up together. How do you feel about incest between siblings brought up separately, or parent and child when the child was not reared by that parent? Are you opposed to marriage between siblings by adoption, brought up together but unrelated?
One test of the justification offered for a conclusion is whether the pattern of the conclusion maps to the justification.
I think you could plausibly argue that such incest is not associated with mental instability, so I would have less of an objection to it, but it’s an edge case. There’s still the problem that there’s a conflict of interest between the way family members are supposed to act towards one another, and the demands of a romantic relationship. There is less of this if they are raised separately, but it’s still an edge case.
The parent-child relationship, I would find strange, mostly because I find relationships with a big age difference strange.
But in the siblings’ case, if they don’t ever intend to have kids, or are willing to adopt/be artificially inseminated/use a donated ovum in order to have a child, I would not object to it, if we can guarantee 100% that they would never, ever get pregnant by each other. A male vasectomy would be a good way to do this.
But then, isn’t substantial majority of condemnations of various illegal and immoral acts done at such zero personal cost? How many of you really think about the personal cost caused by not being able to steal from other people when you profess “stealing is bad and should continue to be illegal”?
Upholding a moral standard and living up to it despite suffering a tangible, direct personal cost because of it is remarkably rare.
I would … have to think about it very carefully. Much depends on the specifics of how the box works. If it works on the margin, a person who’s on the borderline of making a decision, makes it the other way … instead of, say, horribly crushing them under a tree or striking them with a lightning … it could be very tempting opportunity because the effect would stack: enough people not making certain kind of decisions, and suddenly the whole culture is different. And reduction of a certain class of activities would influence the current sexual cultural norms to the direction of my personal liking. But at some point the cost-benefit ratio just isn’t there and Maslow’s hierarchy takes precedence (I value my immediate need to eat; I would have use the machine repeatedly … probably by many orders of magnitude … to cause any observable effects).
But preventing some sexual acts might still be worth it. If I’d manage to prevent a marginal act of adultery that breaks a relationship that otherwise might have been a good one for many decades? (And not just moving the eventual breakup by some weeks?) One wonders, especially if the existing relationship involves kids … and if the machine would produce proof that convinces me it did exactly as I willed … possibly a significant portion of my monthly salary.
I disagree that 14 year olds are capable of real informed consent, but even putting that aside, I don’t think “informed consent” is the minimum standard. I think there’s also some kind of obligation to not manipulate or exploit people. I admittedly don’t have a rigorous definition of those words, but as a start I’d suggest that you need to see and respect the other person as roughly your equal, that both people should have similar footing in the relationship. A 30yo cannot be on similar footing with a 12yo. There’s no way that relationship is any kind of balanced, so the older person is inevitably exploiting the younger one here.
A step in the right direction would be to replace the current step function (i.e., a switch flips on one’s eighteenth birthday) with a ramp function (e.g., Age_younger >= (1/2)*Age_older + 7 years (standard creepiness rule)); you can’t have edge cases when there aren’t edges.
Some states now have “Romeo and Juliet” laws, where they make an exception to statutory rape if both participants are within a year or two, in order to handle that edge case.
The question of whether people far away are equally morally valuable as people close to you does seem to be a fundamental moral cleavage, and has been since ancient times. The examples in this post seem to introduce a lot of other issues, such as to what extent a person is obligated to act altruistically or what the role of the government is. But one could easily believe that all people have equal moral value while supporting no foreign aid and giving no money to foreign charities because one doesn’t believe in redistribution or altruism, so I would not call it a defect in cosmopolitanism to not support moving the Medicaid budget to Africans or helping one’s own family (with whom one has a strong self-interest in having a good relationship) over strangers.
And while the distinction between localism and cosmopolitanism is a matter of degree, the gap is so large that it may as well be a difference in kind. I see many people support immigration restrictions that may increase American workers’ wages by 1% but will definitely reduce prospective immigrants’ wages by 90%, or military operations that kill thousands of foreign civilians to possibly marginally reduce terrorism risk in the US. I weigh Americans and foreigners equally but I could compromise with someone who thinks a foreigner has 50% of the moral value of an American, whereas it’s harder for me to see common ground with the many people who put the value of a foteigner at 1% or less of an American; at some point the percentage is low enough that it may as well be zero.
I covered a lot of this over at LessWrong.
Two points here. First of all, the conservative/liberal thing doesn’t seem to be so much a matter of different moral foundations, as instead the need of “liberals” to regard themselves as ultra-nice, super-special, hyper-decent – and all their opponents are horrible evil monsters:
There you have it folks: conservatives are against justice, equality and happiness and for suffering. They want to hurt people because they are mean and greedy.
Is there anyone here – anyone at all – who does not see that this is self-serving and dishonest?
Then there’s part two, which is the other peculiarity of US liberals, who believe that basically everyone is just a misunderstood person reacting to Root Causes, and there are no fundamentally bad people – not the Taliban, not al Qaeda, not the commies.
(Except, of course, American Republicans. They are obviously completely evil alien monsters.)
I had this surreal experience posting on LessWrong. It wasn’t just the number of people who refused to believe that Al Qaeda was driven by religious motivation, it was the number of people who refused to believe that the Nazis were driven by racism. Seriously, go look. In the same way that there are some people who just can’t get that other people are motivated by religion, there are those who can’t understand that there are people motivated by racial frenzy.
And I do think this is the worst among US lefties, for reasons above. If you spend all your time convincing yourself that people who vote differently from you are Monster Aliens from the Dark Dimension, you’ll be stuck when you meet people who really are from a different moral universe.
Yeah, there are people who think foreign aid is good and there are people who think foreign aid is bad. There are also people who think slavery is good.
There are people who think war is bad, but sometimes necessary, and there are people who think war is bad, but very rarely necessary. There are also people who think war is a glorious, sacred duty.
There are people who think that law should be 100% secular, and there are people who think religious groups are allowed to lobby, just like anyone else, for laws they want. But there are also those who say that any law not authorized by God is utter heresy mandating death
There are people who think that integration should be forced, and there are people who think that people should associate freely. But there are also those who think that total, eternal war, war to extermination between the races is a Good Thing.
This is where Scott goes off the rails with his abortion comparison. If you talk to pro-life people, they all, – all – talk about the value of life and how that’s their motive. They evade the infringement of women’s rights this entails, but that is not the same has having oppression of women as the terminal goal.
But if you read, say, Dabiq, or any real Wahhabi tract on the matter, they do indeed say that the oppression of women is the terminal goal.
There really are people whose views on all the big questions are utterly different from yours.
In fairness, this isn’t unique to liberals or progressives, I’m pretty sure you could find similar sentiments in the other camp about the cultural elites who just want to flood the country with immigrants and destroy our culture and employment for their own perverted pleasures.
Isn’t this just basic conflict theoretic modus operandi? My group stands for truth, justice and the American way, their group is evil and selfish and greedy.
Not really, no. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a decent rightist try to discuss things honestly with lefties to be rewarded with this sort of bad faith.
Conversely, consider this: I’m an anti-theist, and I get far more respect and assumption of decency from conservative Christians than I ever do from U.S. lefties.
For that matter, I’ve seen strong pro-life people treat pro-choice people with respect – which is quite something considering that, by pro-life views, the pro-choice are supporting one of the worst mass murders in human history.
But go to a U.S. lefty and say that, say, given the Clintonian record, Trump was the lesser of two evils (say) or how you think that a small government and free market is the solution to poverty – look at the response. It cannot be that you are honestly concerned about the slaughter of the Tutsi or the devastation of Libya, or in favour of helping the world’s poorest. You absolutely, completely, 100% have to be possessed by an evil mind-virus that makes you mean. Or, if the lefty is feeling generous, you are just too dumb to know better.
The Ozy post doesn’t say that. It says that conservatives are willing to trade those good things off against other values that, to a liberal, are dead weight.
The rest of your post is interesting, I’ll have to mull it over.
The way Ozy puts it is a little bit worse that “dead weight” – I’d argue that describing authority, loyalty, and purity values as wanting “to suck up to unjust authority or help the wealthy and undeserving or keep people from having sex lives they think are gross” is a weakman.
(Ozy might say that it’s necessarily implied by saying that loyalty etc are important considerations in deciding whether something is right and wrong, but liberals also say that those values are important, albeit not as much as conservatives.* Can we conclude from this that liberals recognize a moral imperative to “help the wealthy and undeserving” that is somewhat weaker than the one conservatives supposedly have.)
* Technically, a lot of Haight’s results show that there isn’t much difference between liberals, moderates and conservatives – what’s going on is that extreme liberals value
helping the wealthy and undeservingloyalty less than the middle three and extreme conservatives value it more.
And I would disagree with that conclusion too.
Conservatives aren’t “willing to trade justice for other values.” They think their preferred policies are, in fact, the most just.
To push back on Scott’s foreign aid example, there is no fundamental value misalignment between someone who wants lots of foreign aid and someone who wants none. Because “foreign aid” is not a value. Let’s call the value “justice” or perhaps “fairness.” The person favoring lots of foreign aid believes it is fair and just for those with lots of resources to give a small fraction towards those with little. The person opposed believes that it is fair and just for people to keep possession of what they earn through legitimate trade and labor. Neither side believes they are behaving in an unfair or unjust manner, but both believe their opponents are doing so. They agree on the need to pursue fairness and justice as terminal values.
Ozy is dramatically mischaracterizing the right-wing position here, indicating a profound lack of understanding of what most right-wingers actually believe.
That sounds like a values debate masquerading as a definitional debate.
Said A thinks it is right to take from Americans to help poorer Africans. Side B thinks it is not. They both call their position fairness, say they value fairness, and argue about what fairness means because they think if they can define fairness they can say “gotcha!” and enact their value because the other side values fairness.
The labels we give our values are a cover for a somewhat amorphous grouping of goals and restrictions.
I guess the real question is, at what level of specificity do you distinguish between “values” and “policy positions”
The point is, you could ask both people “Why do you believe we should/shouldn’t have foreign aid” and both could plausibly answer “Because that is the most fair and just solution.”
Yes. And a disagreement about what constitutes “fair and just” is a disagreement about values, not about facts. Or do you think that a person who uses “fairness” for a justification will even think about reversing their position if someone opens a dictionary and shows them that they are using the word wrong? No, they’ll say, like Humpty Dumpty in Wonderland, “What I mean by fair is helping people who need it, not letting billionaires hoard wealth.” They take their values–enforced sharing vs letting people keep what they have–and slap on the closest label with positive affect.
The fundamental disagreement isn’t about whether the label is good or bad, but about whether the actions they want to group under it are.
More precisely, be forced to give. Nobody on the other side thinks it is unjust for a rich person to choose to give money to help the poor.
Part of the difference, suggested by the way you put it, is between people who see consent as individual and people who believe that the government is entitled to “consent” on behalf of its citizens. Given the latter view, the distinction I just made vanishes.
There’s also a serious argument that foreign aid hurts, rather than helps, and that it’s a way of transferring money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
Maybe you disagree – fair enough, but what is so depressing is people like Ozy not even seeing this point of view.
I think the word ‘justice’ is confusing things here, because you can use it as basically a synonym for ‘moral rightness’ (as you are) but also as narrower thing that’s nice to have but does have to be sacrificed sometimes. If I say something like “taxation is unjust, but I support it because it’s necessary to maintain a functioning state”–I think you understand how I’m using the word, even if you wouldn’t use it that way?
I wrote a comment on Ozy’s blog saying this, and, to my absolute lack of surprise, it was never published. Go figure.
Let me say that I don’t think lefties (liberals) are committed to justice at all. Specifically:
– They didn’t seem to care for justice for the victims of Saddam Hussain
– They weren’t much interested in justice for the victims of the Rwandan genocide, nor in the fact that Bill Clinton, American Liberal Hero, greenlit that horror
– They have been remarkable silent on justice for groups like the Yazidi; it’s only my fellow right-wing maniacs who seem to give the slightest damn about them.
And so on. I can keep doing this, going right back to their ability to find excuses for the horrors of communism etc. etc.
And this applies across the board. Let me take this idea that rightists are in favour of suffering – on the contrary, I would say that we are defenders of the one system that has done more to erase the main cause of suffering – poverty – namely capitalism. From where I’m standing, leftists are perpetuating misery.
I’d go further – I’d say that this mischaracterization is the left-wing position. That the fundamental ideology on the left is If you’re left-wing, you’re automatically pure and decent. That’s why it is so freakin’ hard to get a decent discussion there.
All of those things are overseas. Have you considered that most people in general, but Lefties in particular, don’t closely follow foreign policy unless American soldiers are involved, and don’t particularly favor foreign intervention to begin with?
Do you deny that there are people on the Right who care very much about modesty and chastity and monogamy, yet still made plenty excuses for serial adulterer Donald Trump? And don’t forget Roy Moore. Do you not think in-group bias is a normal human flaw?
Just to that last point: Vietnam.
But I’d agree that U.S. lefties don’t care what happens abroad, and the adjective for that attitude isn’t “just”. “Parochial chauvenism” is closer to it.
To be fair though, isn’t that the ideology of pretty much any tribe ?
And this is where I think liberals have it wrong with their values. That loyalty, authority, and purity are dead weight. I think they’re basically a form of Chesterton’s Fence, which is definitely useful to prevent one from getting gored by bulls you can’t see or forgot were there. Sometimes, yes, the fence is still up long after the bull died, but more often than not that bull is still kicking.
@Conrad. It sounds to me that you think of loyalty, authority, and purity as instrumental values, that is really means of achieving values and not ends. IS this true? If so, I don’t think you these three factors are truly values you hold in the sense that everyone in this discussion is defining values (as the ultimate ends important to be achieved).
If other conservatives have this belief system that it appears to me you have, then this whole discussion is ass backwards. The discussion is then not about values but facts. You (and maybe other conservatives) believe that loyalty, authority, and purity are necessary to achieve values, not the values themselves.
Okay, ozy doesn’t say that. Ozy only says that conservatives are willing to destroy justice, fairness and happiness in order to suck-up to evil rich people.
I would like to see the distribution of reactions after reading your comment on the scale from “this is totally obvious, but thanks for saying it explicitly” to “this is utterly wrong and evil; opinions like this should be eradicated without mercy”.
Lots I want to address here but I’ll start with the immigration plot. Yes, there has been some value change but you also can’t assume that the democrats in 1994 are the same people as the democrats in 2017. Over that time period there has been substantial switching between parties and large scale generational replacement.
I can admit that the 9/11 terrorists were almost certainly convinced of their own rectitude.
However, am I allowed to condemn the actions of the 9/11 terrorists? Am I allowed to say that, no matter how they may have felt at the time, what they managed to convince themselves of, their actions were morally reprehensible?
I think your post doesn’t adequately wrestle with another kind of repugnant conclusion, the kind that conservatives like to use to caricature liberals, the conclusion of complete moral relativism. I reject that conclusion, while acknowledging that you can use common moral tenets to argue for the conclusion. I continue to maintain that moral systems ultimately have their tenets in tension with each other for precisely this reason, that any one of them taken as absolute leads to disaster.
Yes, everything exists on a distribution curve (not necessarily bell shaped), but it doesn’t mean that we can’t characterize parts of the continuity. If you tell me that the left tail is the same as the right tail, I will laugh at you, and rightly so. You seem to be making the “I can’t move at all because I always have to go halfway there” kind of argument that depends on a misunderstanding of continuity.
Careful, because “they” aren’t the same people that were answering the same polling questions ten years ago. A fair number of the ones from ten years ago are now dead; an even greater number of the ones answering them now were children ten years ago, or foreigners, or leaned towards voting for the other party.
That’s going to be particularly relevant re immigration, because we had a thing recently where millions of people who used to lean Democrat on account of labor-vs-management tribal politics were inspired to go hard Republican once they were offered immigrant-vs-nativist as a live political issue.
As someone who has been a consistent proponent of the idea that ideological sorting has played a big role in the politics of the last 70 years, I certainly agree that ideological sorting over the last 20 can explain some of this.
However, as should be clear from where I am drawing the “start” point, I don’t think the change we see in the two parties answers to the question starting in about 2005 can be adequately explained by ideological sorting. Rather, what we have is a process of crystallization. George W. Bush made immigration reform part of his campaign promises based on an ideology of “compassionate conservatism“. When he pushed for that reform to be enacted, and it was defeated with fairly vehement opposition from within his own party, we saw that become a marker, a signal, of membership in the party. We first see the bills being put forward in 2005, the McCain-Kennedy Secure America and Orderly Immigration Act being the first.
In other words, it became Republican party dogma that things like “amnesty” were anathema to the party. More immigration was generally opposed and less immigration favored. Now everyone knew what the “proper” answer to various questions were on immigration in order to be within the mainstream of the party. The same process plays out among Democrats.
When put the question, people are simply answering “I am a member of X party and this is what we believe.”
You have argued in the past that a similar dynamic played out with regards to questions like “Was Obama born in Kenya?” You maintained, IIRC, that the overwhelming “yes” answers to this question was more about expressing that, yes, you are a Republican and fuck you for asking the question. It was not actually expressing a true belief that Obama was born in Kenya.
Conversely, we might see a similar dynamic on the Democratic side play out on questions like “Is nuclear power too dangerous to use?” Although, that’s probably not perfectly analogous (because you are going to see big spikes driven by nuclear events). I think there are similar “not at all grounded in reality” answers on the Democratic side, but I can’t come up with a good one at the moment.
Agreed, there are definitely polling questions that are mostly going to be interpreted as tribal-loyalty queries regardness of the nominal object-level subject, and the polarization of political opinion over the past decade or two means almost anything immigration-related is now probably in that class.
I think all those explanations kind of ignore how stable conservative support of immigrants (generally with a small dip recently, but still higher than the 80s) has been while there has (also generally) been a spike in progressive support for it.
What this indicates is that immigration is actually just a proxy battle for political control to progressives while conservatives are of many shifting minds about it free economy vs. ingroup vs. voting vs. etc. And this model is actually a very good predictor when you look at voting patterns, and it also explains how Democrats can be so extremely pro-immigration when immigration by people making less than $80k a year blows up all their other social programs.
I think a very good example for insurmountable value differences is the justifiability of Hell. Many religious people believe, that God (good, moral and just by definition) will damn people to eternal suffering for finite (and often quit insignificant in my book) crimes. While this causes varying degrees of cognitive dissonance for some religious people others are completely fine with this idea. According to my moral intuitions this stance is completely incomprehensible and evil beyond measure. Some of this might be explained by these people not really understanding the concept of eternity but I don’t think that this is the complete explanation. Also lets say a thousand years of torture (I think most people can conceptualize a thousand years) as retribution for basically any crime would, according to my intuition, still be well over the top and thus, while a little more understandable, quite evil and unjust.
Thinking a little more about this any form of retribution that does not serve another purpose (getting the offender to stop, deterring others) feels kind of evil to me. But even if I try to imagine an intuition of repaying like for like, what I can do to an extent, infinite retribution still feels cartoonishly evil to me.
I don’t know how you define “many”, but I’d wager that the percentage of such true believers is fairly low (at least, among Christians in the USA).
Most Christians pay lip service to the idea of Hell, but what they truly believe is that God will punish you if you do bad things, but if you keep your head down and do the best you can, it will all work out all right in the end. Some of them would agree that Hell is a real place, full of infinite suffering — but they also believe its population to consist of Hitlers, Stalins, and other historical monsters, and not people like their next-door Hindu neighbours. Only a few hard-core extremists have fully internalized the Biblical notion of a literal Hell that awaits — let’s face it — the majority of humanity after death.
It’s worth pointing out there is very little about Hell in the Bible. Most of the narrative of hell is pseudo-Christian fan fiction. John Milton and Dante Alighieri authority on the topic is no greater than Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, Holly Lisle, or Tom Kapinos. Or even Jack Chick.
I would say that most hard believing Christians in the US have a view of Hell that it is more like Lewis’s “hell is the absence of God, where you are now free to spend the next billion years becoming as unhappy and selfloathing as you want to be”, than anything with lakes of fire and weird monsters with pitchforks.
More precisely, such stories are not “pseudo-Christian fan fiction”, they are “pseudo-Manichaeism fan fiction”.
The Christ narrative and belief system is usually completely absent in most stories about hell.
CS Lewis said that on the one hand there was very little about Heaven or Hell in the Scriptures, and that was because it just doesn’t matter to Christianity whether either exists compared to ‘believe Christ is God’ or ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. He didn’t especially believe in Heaven or Hell himself. But he also said the vast majority of good Christians through history believed in Heaven and Hell, and who was he to judge.
Totally false! C.S. Lewis very strongly believed in both the reality and importance of Heaven and Hell, and wrote about these topics far more frequently than almost any other 20th century Christian author.
If you don’t believe me, read his sermon on The Weight of Glory.
(In his fictional treatments of the afterlife, he did take care to emphasize that the details were his own invention and not to be taken literally.)
Re: Aron Wall- totally false!
Yet Scripture ‘contains only two pages on Hell and only one page on the new heavens and the new earth’.
I think I overstated, but not totally false. I reread your recommendation, thanks, and ‘in our present state-‘ jumped out at me to support my intellectual vanity. Agree that CS Lewis’ fiction was fiction.
I did a Google search for your quoted phrase “contains only two pages on Hell and only one page on the new heavens and the new earth”, and found a webpage where this phrase occurs exactly, but in this essay it refers not to pages of Scripture, but to pages in a certain systematic theology textbook by a guy named Louis Berkhof!
The essay I just linked to in this comment (which is not by C.S. Lewis, although C.S. Lewis is named in the title) goes on to say that there is considerably more than 3 pages of material on these subjects in the Bible.
@Aron Wolf- woo- you are totally right and my ‘two pages etc-‘ quote was totally wrong. You win this argument.
+1 to this, with the additional subtlety that Hell is a place that people send themselves to – the idea of God-as-judge being then somewhat misleading, and owing as much to Roman judicial procedure as anything.
In my anecdotal experience, the people who just kind of don’t think much about the inconvenient facts are (as with most things in life) the majority, but I can recall at least one example of someone who very definitely agreed that Hell is a real place, full of infinite suffering (and not just separation from God, but at least as bad as fire and brimstone), to which anyone with the possible exception of young children who wasn’t a Christian would go, and I didn’t get the impression that this was particularly unusual.
Admittedly my sample is biased – the person in question was particularly intelligent and analytic, and likely had much more of a talent than usual for taking axioms to their logical conclusions. But a cursory Google search turns up something which says that 40% of Americans agree with the statement “Hell is an eternal place of judgment where God sends all people who do not personally trust in Jesus Christ.”
I think the line you’re trying to draw is complicated by how a substantial number of Christians (including me!) believe that eternal separation from God is, in itself, at least as bad as fire and brimstone.
Normal brain: Hell is being burned alive forever and ever.
Expanding brain: Hell is being separated from God
Galaxy brain: … and being free to plumb the full depths of your depravity on into eternity, which is an even worse fate than being burned forever.
But if eternal separation from god is at least as bad as fire and brimstone, we get back to the problem of being content with eternal and terrible punishment for finite (perhaps even trivial) crimes.
If infinite torture is mind-bogglingly cruel and unjust, and the real Hell is even worse than that, then the real Hell still seems mind-bogglingly cruel and unjust to me.
I think the problem with your argument is you have not well defined the term “just” or “unjust”.
Assume for the argument that the Lewisian Hell is the case. Hell is that you get to keep on the arc of your mind, forever. You call that “unjust”. In that universe, by your standard, what would be the “just” thing to happen instead?
God keeping you in his presence for that billion years, after you’ve decided you didn’t want that? Is that just? For either of you? I don’t think it would be.
God reaching into you against your stated wishes, and rebuilding your soul so that the arc of your mind bends somewhere else instead? Is that just? Is that want you want?
(And in some theologies, that is something that God can’t do, because reasons.)
In most variants of this hypothetical, you can ask God to help cause the arc of your mind to change. You apparently and demonstrably at present don’t want that.
Or, feel free to reject the hypothetical entirely, at which point, why discuss the justice of the hypothetical?
I could go with a bit of God telling me what the alternatives are, directly, without going through spokesmen who so perfectly pattern-match the last hundred charlatans who tried to bend the arc of my mind to their purposes.
Or as an alternative: God can keep being coy, but judge me with the understanding that I’m doing the best I can with radically incomplete information. That requires only an ordinary human level of charity; I though God was supposed to surpass us in that department.
@Paul Zrimsek, according to some theologians such as Lewis himself (cf. the character Emeth in Last Battle), that’s exactly what God will do. However, we shouldn’t be complacent in thinking we’re doing the best we can – in a lot of respects, I know I personally am not.
Would you mind explaining why that is?
Yeah, honestly, as far as the “hell” thing goes, if it comes down to it, just destroy me.
I don’t want a billion years of torture, certainly, nor a billion years of boredom. If we’ve reached a place where the options are “punish me forever” or just “annihilate my soul”, I’ll take the latter.
I would disagree with your characterization. The crimes are infinitely bad because you have offended a perfect God. It much like in math when you start considering infinity things get weird (e.g. Gabriel’s horn). When it comes to morality it gets weird since God is perfect/infinitely good. While the crimes might seem somewhat bad to you, they are infinitely bad to God.
I know this rationalization and I don’t buy it at all.
offend… you will be…
Stalin => tortured and shot in the face
your local ruffian => beaten up
normal person => sternly admonished
saint => kindly taught about the errors of your ways
perfect God => tortured for all eternity
Something is off here. Of course the next rationalization is, that my puny human mind just cannot comprehend His Mysterious Ways and how dare I to judge Him at all, at which point there is nothing I can meaningfully say.
But this does not change that at least according to my moral intuition this God is heinously evil and so are people who believe in Him AND endorse Him.
Yeah, you might think that God is “like a saint but more so” but actually it turns out He’s “like Stalin but more so”…
I think “good” and “evil” are nonsensical in the way they’re normally intended, but I hope I would be willing to go to war against such a god, even at the risk of such a hell. Boo! to hell-inflicting gods. Fuck that putative guy.
Correct. The “like a saint but more so” option goes like this:
perfect God => offered forgiveness through him forgoing his divine advantages so as to allow himself to be mocked and tortured by humans, precisely in order to prevent you from suffering moral deterioration with consequent eternal unhappiness.
If it turns out that, even after all that, some people still genuinely prefer moral deterioration even at the price of eternal unhappiness, well then some hard choices will have to be made. But that’s different from God wanting people to be tortured.
I had a sinking feeling when I read Ozy’s post. It felt like someone on the other side from them would read it, agree, and then do something vile, since after all they are in favor of indoctrinating children and have pronounced themselves beyond cooperation.
Then I remembered you read the same blog, and would no doubt come out with a rebuttal. Good stuff. Please keep on posting in favor of niceness and cooperation. The world could use a lot more of that right now.
Yes. So much this idea. I’ve long noticed that you don’t really learn much about people’s actual values (in the sense of the rules which generate behavior) by listening to their verbally stated values. I also have noticed that a lot of things ascribed to values differences are cleanly explained by factual differences. Thanks for this post it lays things out very cleanly.
I work in government, and I get to see a lot of opinions thrown around regarding what I do, very few of which are well-researched, and ever fewer of which are well thought out. But I have thought a bit about how to think about these opinions.
My first thought is that while people think they’re all about principles (it makes you look and feel principled after all), it might be more useful to think of them as having goals. One goal could be to lift the Third world out of poverty. A lot of people share this goal.
The first observation about goals is that people differ on implementation. Even the far-right-wing people Scott referenced above might share the goal of improving the lot of Third-world people, but their preferred implementation does not involve the government.
One of the problems about arguing about implementation is that you can choose preferred implementations for a variety of reasons. Those reasons do not have to include the fact that it works well for achieving your goal e.g. advocating abstinence education as an implementation for reducing the incidence of teenage sex. Also, people a) conflate the goal with the implementation; and b) assume that because they prefer a given implementation, then it must be the most effective way to achieve a goal.
The other observation about goals is that people can have a lot of them, and if they aren’t outright contradictory, then they probably have opportunity cost issues. So you have to prioritize. Nobody is an outright environmentalist. You have to balance that with your desire to drive places, to eat tasty things, and to keep breathing (turning oxygen into CO2). A personal set of priorities and tradeoffs will result in a very complex space of expressed beliefs.
“If I believed in the literal truth of Wahhabi Islam – a factual belief – I might be pretty worried about the sinful atheist West. If I believed that the West’s sinful ways were destroying my religion, and that my religion encoded a uniquely socially beneficial way of life – both factual beliefs – I might want to stop it. And if I believed that a sufficiently spectacular terrorist attack would cause people all around the world to rise up and throw off the shackles of Western oppression – another factual belief – I might be prepared to sacrifice myself for the greater good. If I thought complicated Platonic contracts of cooperation and nonviolence didn’t work – sort of a factual belief – then my morals would no longer restrain me.”
I kinda suspect there are value differences hidden in this …
If you write your values into a book, of course you can encode your values as a factual belief about the literal truth of that book. Still values though. Also, “sinful” has values hidden in it.
Some of the most bitter and bloody conflicts are between people who share almost all their values.
People are often less bothered by baby eating aliens that are genuinely completely alien than they are by the guy identical to them in every way except that he has a different favorite color.
I’ve imagined something like this as Purity by Exponential Decay. At the start of every year, a population divides itself across some issue, there is a struggle, and at the end of the year one half of the population is thrown into the gulags. I suppose the above would be what the terminal year looked like.
Also known as “The History of Khmer Rouge in Cambodia”. Though for them, it was always the same issue: “how fervently can you pledge fealty to the Khmer Rouge and how enthusiastically can you torture your neighbor?”
And frankly, when you haven’t eaten in two years, it becomes to muster that same enthusiasm as you once did for torturing that neighbor.
I need to digest this a while longer, but my immediate reaction is to quote you from Conflict vs Mistake:
ETA: After thinking about it a bit, I was wrong to imply that it’s not worth engaging conflict theorists in mistake theorist terms. Something I should have taken away from this post sooner is that C vs M is possibly not fundamental or bimodal, and that there is probably a huge group of people in the middle of the curve who are executing Conflict tactics because of a Mistake, and are capable of recognizing that.
I suspect values are fundamental as well as nuanced. Researchers such as Haidt et al have examined “conservative” and “liberal” values. While there is not yet a consensus, values such as authority, conformity, law and order, and loyalty score highly among conservatives, while compassion, fairness, peace, and freedom score highly among liberals. Most people (though not all) have all of those values, just to varying degrees of emphasis. Granted, Trump is at one extreme with a demonstrated lack of compassion and empathy (due to extreme NPD), but most conservatives do have compassion, they just subvert it to other values.
Combine this with two other traits common in politics: 1. lack of knowledge of basic political facts and the lack of incentives to obtain knowledge, leading to a vulnerability to propaganda targeting their values (and propaganda is more effective with the Internet). 2. group identity and tribal dynamics – a desire to elevate one’s status within one’s tribe, however that is defined. This leads to most individuals being impervious to persuasion.
In my experience, libertarians fall into two camps: they have a sophisticated understanding of economics, and therefore are very well educated but otherwise lean liberal or conservative. Or they reject the dominance of government authority but are otherwise right-wing conservatives.
You might consider much of the “conservative” vs “liberal” study conclusions can be biased by the political leanings of those doing the studying and reduce your confidence in the conclusions listed in your first paragraph.
As an American Libertarianism flavored anarchist, who would pick “right wing” over “left wing” if given only those two options or death, I object to this assertion all over the place that “fairness” has no place in my heart.
I place a high value on fairness, in fact. It’s just that my fairness is about how it’s bullshit to give all 100 people who participated in a race the first place trophy unless they really did all cross the finish line in lockstep.
That it’s not fairness, when there are two people, and one of them works, and the other doesn’t, and the one earns money and the other doesn’t, and the one buys food and the other can’t, and then someone comes along and says “that’s not right” and takes half the food of the guy who worked and gives it to the guy who didn’t.
It’s not that I don’t believe in fairness, it’s that my definition of what is “fair” is different.
The way I see it, morality evolved in a pretty basic environment to facilitate pro-social behavior small groups of human tribes, where Dunbar’s Number of 150 was really about all the people you’d actually interact with. Fundamental moral values like “don’t steal” and “don’t murder” and “keep promises” were very useful in this context, and not coincidentally they seem intuitive and obvious to pretty much all the ancestors of those people, that is your friends and family. But in this ancestral environment, questions like “is it ok to have an abortion” were not relevant to day-to-day life, so evolution did not bless us with an intuitive answer. Today, when we extrapolate out ancestrally inherited 150 person village-level morality in to complicated global questions, it’s not surprising we get divergent results that are paradoxically both intuitive-feeling (because they derive from fundamental morals) but malleable (because they are not fundamental themselves)
I kinda agree with your basic thesis, except “abortion” sounds like a bad example as population / family size control sounds quite much like one of those things that always have been an issue (even moreso in times when there might have been a realistic chance that too many mouths could not be fed).
I think we have written accounts about women seeking “herbs that make the menstruation start again” (or similar euphemisms) since the times we have written accounts the deal with such medical topics? And then there was the option of infanticide. (Judeo-Christian tradition prohibits it, but many of their contemporaries practiced exposure of unwanted infants.)
Yet we don’t appear to possess a “natural” shared moral intuition what to do. (Yes, everyone probably has their own intuition. I wrote several hundred characters about mine, until I decided it wasn’t relevant to the discussion.)
I do a lot of historical research, and if you read newspapers from the 1800s, they are full of very obvious abortion-inducing substance advertisements. They use euphemisms like “restoring your monthly period,” etc. It really was not viewed as a big deal until later, though it was obviously not encouraged.
Most cultural traditions actually have beliefs that make it pretty clear fetuses are not considered people with full rights. Killing a pregnant woman has not historically resulted in a murder charge. I think non-chemical abortion probably caused some controversy from the beginning, because it is more shocking to witness and the fetus is probably more developed.
My main point is that I think our intuition is that fetuses do not have the full rights of personhood. This is largely because miscarriage/stillbirth used to be so incredibly common, and having a child you really couldn’t feed was as well, so investing so much interest in such issues was completely impractical. Additionally, encouraging adoption was much harder, because the infant had to be nursed (also a problem if the mother is sickly). For the same reason, many cultures allowed infanticide, ignored neglect of infants, or, more recently, discouraged the naming of a child until it was months old.
I think the general point is correct, but I agree that issues involving the ethics of pregnancy were implicated pretty early.
Do you mean that it only resulted in one murder charge, not two?
Yes, I apologize for the poor wording.
I’m pretty sure those are embyros you are talking about, not fetuses. If the cultural traditions don’t exactly match the current medical definition, the approximate sentiment is still pretty clear and e.g. the drugstore remedies you are referring to were meant for early-term abortions.
The average person had no concept of an embryo until recently. It’s not something visible, and ethical concerns re: IVF/egg donation did not exist yet. Yes, they were probably less protective of early-term fetuses, but that’s still not an embryo. There’s still not a history of charging the murderer of a pregnant women with two murders. That is a recent thing. I believe Islam traditionally teaches that abortion is okay up until quickening (when the fetus starts moving perceptibly). There is some information here: https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/quickening
Life begins at conception was a hard concept to grasp before embryology was well understood.
I’d like a citation for this, please, and a definition of “recently”
So, the argument is that until recently people were too stupid to deduce the existence of unseen things?
Because, no. St. Augustine of Hippo, writing in the 5th century AD, uses the term “unformed fetus” to describe the thing that exists for the first 40days of pregnancy, that it is analogous to a seed and that it is not murder to destroy it. Aristotle, writing seven hundred years earlier, describes embryology in fanciful but specific detail including the attachment of a “vegetative” soul at conception, animal soul some time thereafter, and a human soul at 40 days – but with a material thing, however small, present from the start to receive these souls.
And Aristotle isn’t presenting his embryology as a wholly new concept that will startle the audience with its bold assertion of invisibly small things. People have understood that since about the beginning of recorded history, and probably ten thousand years before that. It’s not a great and insoluble mystery that required the invention of the microscope to resolve.
I would have interpreted St. Augustine as talking about an early fetus. People certainly had the concept of that. I thought the word embryo no longer applied shortly after implantation, but after looking it up, I now know it can be used to describe what exists between the “fifth and the eleventh weeks after fertilization.” The definitions vary as to the time frame. It may not be considered a fetus until around the 9th-11th week. But what is it before week 5? Looking it up, I think it is called a blastocyst? Evidently I did not understand the proper definition of embryo, but I also don’t think that is how most people use the term. When people talk about IVF, they talk about embryos. An embryo can split into identical twins, so it isn’t even individualized. Past that stage, I don’t hear many people use the term. And I never hear them refer to a blastocyst.
I was thinking it meant something closer to a fertilized egg, and my point was they couldn’t parse out the stages enough at that point to have rules that applied to fertilized eggs versus ones that had been implanted for a few weeks. The implication is that life was not assigned full value at the point of conception – the pro-life movement takes a huge interest in discarded IVF embryos. Pro-life people who want to restrict full rights to late term fetuses have much more historical precedent.
People knew that life existed from day one in some form, but had no concept of these finer distinctions as to when it counted as “formed.” They were not differentiating between the definitions of fetus and embryo as doctors understand them (or even approximating them). The line was arbitrary unless it was drawn at quickening/viability, as it often was, at which point the correct term would be fetus.
Christians distinguished themselves in Roman times by caring for abandoned infants.
(emphasis added) Any sources that show ancient Christian support for infanticide/exposure, even in times of scarcity?
I think this is an over-complication of simple ingroup/outgroup dynamics. You can define someone as friend/enemy based on skin color, religion, favorite sports franchise, affinity for an operating system on a handheld telecommunications device that didn’t exist 12 years ago, and subtly imagined racial distinctions (Hutu/Tutsi). Political affiliation has long been on this list.
The only thing that’s somewhat new here (to US political discourse) is the insistence that the entire outgroup is fundamentally fixed. You can’t change someone’s mind because “I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.” Which mostly translates in my experience to, “I’m really bad at persuading people in political debates, so I believe it can’t be done.”
Take the example of the 9/11 hijackers. I think the calculus there ends somewhere in the neighborhood of, “Those people are my enemies because they are part of the outgroup. The ingroup/outgroup dichotomy I have imagined is immutable. I want to kill them, so they must also want to kill me, or otherwise destroy me in some fundamental way. I will strike first, before all is lost.” How many steps removed is this from someone who defines ingroup/outgroup dynamics based on political philosophy and swears to wipe out that political philosophy?
The problem here is not that people disagree. As Scott points out, people will always disagree, and form ingroup/outgroup dynamics based on it. Same as with racial differences or anything else – case in point the almost entirely indistinguishable Hutu/Tutsi ‘racial differences’. People have a fundamental desire to form ingroups and oppose the outgroup. The problem is in thinking that any ingroup/outgroup dynamic requires you to destroy the outgroup.
Seriously? If there’s anything we can universally agree future generations will scoff at it’s the notion you should take your tribalism to that level. Even if you win, future generations will eventually label you a monster.
I am entirely on-board with your distaste for extreme tribalism, but why should we accept a Whig theory of morality that requires us to be concerned with the views of posterity?
I did not make the absolutist argument that we should only be concerned with the views of posterity as a fundamental guide to morality. Are you asking about this as a tangential, unrelated question?
To answer your question: Obviously we should not. But we shouldn’t assume that means we can’t learn from past experience regarding current myopic political trends.
What I mean is that I don’t see why we should view our grandchildren’s moral preferences as somehow superior to our own. I see the moral preferences of others as only instrumentally important. Those of the unborn are relevant only insofar as they will affect me in the future (perhaps as a carnivore I will some day be put on trial for crimes against animals) or change things about the future I care about (I would prefer humanity to prosper even after my death, for example). But they’re not a reason to update my own moral preferences in the present.
The history of moral preferences looks to us like an improving trend only because they have (almost by definition) tended to become more similar to our own over time. Insofar as the future will be less similar, it will be “worse” by our lights, and why should we care about any others?
This reminds me of Solzhenitsyn:
The Solzhenitsyn quote taken out of context loses half of its meaning. Here is some more context:
If I get it correctly, the usually quoted paragraph suggests that there are no good people or evil people, that everyone is a mix of both. But the following paragraphs clarify that while there are no good people, there are people who have crossed a threshold and became truly evil. And they got there by being ideologically mindkilled.
“Of all those liberals talking about how they can’t possibly comprehend conservatives because being against immigration would just require completely alien values, half of them were anti-immigrant ten years ago.”
This does not seem to me to be correct. There were (and still are) liberals who are anti-immigration, on the grounds that immigration drives down wages. But, that is not the same as being anti-immigrant. The distinction between the two is evidence in support of Ozy’s distinction between fact-based and value-based disagreements. The former is a fact-based objection to immigration, while the latter is a more often a value-based objection (eg, based on ideas of nationalism, or visceral discomfort re cultural difference, or cultural change).
All judgements must be value based at their core.
The facts of immigration are whether or not immigration
1. drives down wages 2. increases crime 3. reduces social capital and national unity [however defined]
4. increases support for subversive political movements
So long as definitions are agreed to in advance [easier said than done] these questions are answerable.
Cultural change is harder to measure but it’s not an intangible thing. Whether or not the people that live in America, France, Canada, etc. identify with that country and share characteristics has tangible sociological benefits just as having green spaces (trees and plants) and clean air has tangible benefits. And obviously insofar as
The ‘Values’ thing comes in where you decide whether or not and to what degree your decisions are based on these facts. As there are people who could answer “Yes” to each of these questions and still support open borders on the grounds that these issues are relative to the harm of the native population whose well-being is less valuable then the immigrants.
I’ll give you an example. I am 100% willing to concede [if only for the sake of expediency] that abortion is infanticide. Yet I am not in favor of prohibiting abortion as I consider infanticide worse than; 1. proliferation of black market abortions 2. A large number of unwanted births.
Values and facts tend to clash when people are unable or unwilling to concede that their values when acted upon create circumstances that either are less ideal then they otherwise could be, or actively harm others. (Depending on your point of view, not having open borders may or may not be an aggressive act)
So going back to our abortion example, someone that is pro-choice not being willing to concede that what’s being killed is capable of feeling pain. (or visa versa, I haven’t researched abortion enough to know what the reality is)
Being against immigration while holding the set of factual beliefs that a liberal holds would require completely alien values. Equivalently, being against immigration while holding the set of values that a liberal holds would require a completely alien set of factual beliefs.
However, if you change _both_, say 10% of the facts and 10% of the weightings of conflicting values, then you explain the observed difference.
IMHO, Ozy overreads Haight to mean that conservatives believe that authority, purity and loyalty or a substantive moral value substantially more than liberals. I don’t think Haight supports that – conservatives respond that those issues are relevant more often than liberals do, but I don’t think you can separate how many conservatives view those values as ends in and of themselves and which view them as means to another end.
On the gripping hand, if I understand correctly, Ozy’s ultimate question in that thread is whether conservatives can be brought around to Ozy’s values through argument or whether other practices, such as shaming or child indoctrination are superior.* If conservatives don’t care much about the suffering of birds and mice in the wild, then the question for Ozy is how to make them. I guess from Scott’s perspective, if conservative values are a mishmash philosophy created from their incentives, then the argument way to go is either (a) appeal to their incentives, (b) appeal to values that they have identified, or (c) train them to be rationalists (or Buddhists or something) by appealing to their incentives.
* Note: Ozy is a deeper thinker than I am, so I am sure I got some details wrong.
How about befriending them? Could perhaps that create the right psychological incentives?
Ozy is or was in favor of being friends with people whose beliefs you find abhorrent. Not going out befriending them, mind you, which they call “condescending as fuck,” but rather not dropping them like a hot rock because you find out they believe something you think is horrible. Ever since Ozy posted the conservatives-as-moral-mutants post I’ve been wondering how they reconcile the two, but I haven’t asked.
Won’t epistemic bubbles make divides immutable? It seems to me people will just adjust their local realities to make the divisions permanent rather than come together; it will be easier. Pick a random false bubble-fact these days and it will probably be about demonizing the local Other, after all.
The idea of a value bell curve ignores tribalist flag waving. As Scott noted, people take rather extreme positions in order to signal their allegiance to their tribe. (This is something that no one admits doing, yet sees everyone else doing it). This may not be interesting, but it drives politics, which in turn drive government decisions, which in turn has a huge influence in how our society ends up being structured.
If it was just a value bell curve, most of today’s thorniest issues would disappear.
The agent-neutral (my moral duties are to everyone equally) vs. agent-relative (I have special moral obligations to some people that I don’t have to others) moral distinction maps badly onto the left/right political divide. I think Scott is right that the left/right thing is much more tribal than principled, and that appeal to principles is often post hoc confabulation. But a big part of our willingness to switch between agent neutral and agent relative justifications is that our innate moral intuitions are themselves inconsistent. We’re wired up with both sets of intuitions, and evolutionary psych supports that contention.
Kin selection builds agent relative intuitions. There’s a lot of empirical evidence that the more genetically similar organisms are, the more they are liable to help each other even at a personal cost. Of course we can’t tell who we are biologically related to, so natural selection uses frequent interaction and proximity as the marker. If I live with you, we’re probably related, and so I’m going to treat you uncommonly well.
Game theoretic reciprocity builds agent-neutral moral intuitions. For example, natural selection will build cooperation in iterated prisoner’s dilemmas, which is how we get birds cleaning the teeth of crocodiles. I think some of our instincts about altruism, deception and punishment, helping, reciprocity, and cooperation are the result of evolved game theoretic strategies. So we all wind up with two competing moral instincts: (1) help my friends/family/countrymen more than others, and (2) treat everyone the same. Then these can get primed and manipulated in various ways, and so we love immigrants one year and hate them the next, or spend heavily on foreign aid one year and cut it the next.
Reputation management and reciprocal altruism are good reasons to spend some resources on helping other nations, if it is cost-effective. US and Japan are both trading partners and NATO allies. Relationships like that are egoistically useful.
I think this might also fall under the general category of something Scott mentions, but then quickly glosses over:
“Having a civil war” isn’t the only thing we can agree on strictly for pragmatic reasons. Things like “not attacking foreign aid in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy” seems to be another. Someone who is against all foreign aid choosing not to denounce tsunami aid to Japan might be the evidence of some sort of hypocrisy, or of the fact that they aren’t really as extreme on the issue as they might claim to be, sure. But it might also be evidence of pragmatism – that questioning aid in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is “bad form”, considered impolite, and likely to harm the long-term prospects of the campaign to eliminate foreign aid.
Scott himself has the “three day rule” on this site about discussing tragic events. Is that supposed to imply that his commitment to free speech and spirited debate over controversial issues is significantly less than he leads on? No – I see it as a very pragmatist sort of solution to keep us relatively peaceable towards each other, and to not attract undue attention from any larger outlets that might choose to attack us over the perception of inadequate sensitivity towards victims – a terminal value most of society holds quite highly.
Obligatory nitpicking: Japan is friendly with the West and the US, but unless the island has been fitted with spindizzies and moved when I wasn’t looking, is not a member of NATO (which is, recall, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
What do you think maintains the tribal nature if not value differences? Or are the tribes themselves more malleable too?
Despite considering myself a leftist, I can’t stand most leftist hangout spaces on the Internet. I think the problem is that I fundamentally disagree with their core values, so we end up talking past each other…whereas I think my core values align more closely with many here on SSC. I simply disagree with most SSC commentators regarding the descriptive appraisal of reality. But that is ultimately a more tractable and enlightening conversation to have.
My core value is egoism. I don’t mean that in the sense that I think it is “right” to be an egoist. I don’t particularly cherish that as an “identity.” I’m basically amoral, so I feel no particular self-righteousness about happening to be an egoist. I’m just an egoist in the sense that I don’t know how I could be anything else.
Note: being an egoist means that other people’s well-being might be (and often is) instrumentally useful to your own happiness. It doesn’t mean that you are a sociopath. I would still feel bad about stealing from someone—not because I think it’s “wrong,” but because I’ve been conditioned by my culture to feel bad about doing that (even in the absence of witnesses, and even with complete conscious assurance that I would never be caught), and my brain is not malleable enough for me to consciously change that about myself. So I just have to take it as a given for myself that not-stealing is a route towards pleasure and away from pain in the same way that drinking coffee is a route to pleasure. Yes, egoism does mean that other people ultimately boil down (no pun intended) to being a means towards an end (your happiness) rather than an end in themselves with intrinsic worth.
Where I disagree with most SSC commentators is that I happen to conclude at this moment that, as far as politics go, communist revolution is the most effective path for promoting my own happiness. I happen to conclude that Black Lives Matter and LGBT rights and all that jazz is in my interest as a way to set up the preconditions for proletarian solidarity. The longer the proletariat remains divided and unequal along all of these other lines, the more time it will take for revolution.
But these are all descriptive notions. In principle, I could be convinced otherwise. But I don’t see how I could be persuaded to intrinsically care about black people, or gay people, or even white people, or anyone else. I have zero interest in “getting to know my inner African-American” or whatever as an end in itself. Although I don’t happen to despise African-Americans or gay people, or find them aesthetically displeasing, even if I did, I would have to grudgingly admit that, as a practical matter, it is in my interest to work for their interests as well.
Unless you are Fender Tremolo (video link), I think you are realllllllyyy off base. Revolutions are not pleasant.
The unpleasantness of revolutions is overstated. Few people die in revolutions. And if they bring about a sea-change in your way of life that is liberating, it is great! Who here honestly thinks that the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 was a bad idea? That was about as clean as you can get, and if it had just stayed at that, it would have been a liberal’s wet-dream.
The thing to avoid is civil wars, which often follow when a vanguard attempts to set off a contrived putsch-ist attempt at revolution when the material conditions and consciousness have not yet ripened sufficiently. (*Cough*Lenin*cough*…yeah, Petrograd might be ready, but step outside your urban bubble, you dolt, and tell me that Russian peasants with one foot in the Middle Ages are ready to skip capitalism!)
And even if you don’t have an all-out civil war, if there is a large enough contingent of lingering counter-revolutionaries who don’t rise up immediately but who continue to scheme and plot and sabotage the revolution afterwards (let’s say, greater than 33% of the population), you court disaster if you attempt a revolution at that point because the sorts of measures that you will inevitably have to adopt to deal with the counter-revolutionaries will have a chance at creating paranoia, poisoning the atmosphere, and inviting abuses of power among the revolutionaries themselves. And then you get the backlash. Because, like that old Chinese proverb, if the penalty for being a reformed Kulak is death, and if the penalty for being a rebellious Kulak is death, then why not hatch assassination plots, sabotage things, collaborate with invading Germans, etc.?
Even the Stalin-era prosecutions cannot be understood outside of the context of the earlier Russian Civil War and the fact that Soviet society remained riven by conflicts of interest between nostalgic old-regime revanchists (like Ayn Rand’s family), Kulak peasants, and workers. If old-regime experts and Kulaks had made up a smaller portion of the population, fewer drastic measures would have been needed. Capitalism needed to run its course a bit longer, concentrate capital further, and throw more Kulak peasants and old-regime people into the ranks of the proletariat. Then they would have blamed their separation from the means of production not on the political regime, but on capitalism itself.
It is a fine line to walk, and even bourgeois revolutions struggled with it. The American Revolution had unpleasant mob terror against Tories and slaves (understated in importance by mainstream scholarship), the French Revolution had the guillotine (overstated in importance by mainstream scholarship), there was the English Civil War, etc.
In hindsight, I would have been a Menshevik up until the point that the Bolsheviks went all “Leeerooooy Jenkins,” at which point I think the best course of action is to give the attempt a good ol’ college try (just as the guild mates of Leeroy Jenkins reluctantly try to salvage the ill-timed World of Warcraft raid rather than backstab their teammate for making a dumb move).
I like how the Socialist Party of Great Britian (not the SWP, but the SPGB) handles this dilemma by advising that it is a good practical idea for a revolution to be preceded by some sort of referendum or at least reputable polling indicating that a large majority of workers are on your side, so that you can have some confidence that the revolution will be more decisive and cleaner than most.
Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could somehow institutionalize this idea? Say, by polling everybody at regular intervals and asking them whether they would like to have a new set of people in power with different views?
The set of revolutions that don’t result in a civil war and the set of revolutions that could be accomplished much more cleanly through normal democratic action are, if not identical, then at least very closely related.
For the record and in case in the past I was overly general in this area, I do notice and appreciate that the left-wing commenters are pushing back against the idea of a violent communist revolution.
I’ll one farther, and oppose “Communist Revolution”, violent or otherwise
Hell, I’ll go even farther and oppose Communism full stop.
But … I’ll also ask you (the general you) to stop calling things “Communist” or “Marxist” that simply are not.
It would be nice if communists could just reform the constitution by amendment (getting 2/3rds of Senate and 3/4ths of state legislatures onboard), and they should at least make the attempt, although I think it would be wise to have a contingency plan in case their parties get banned even despite trying things peacefully at first. Somehow I doubt that people with a lot of property will allow it to just be peacefully voted away, and won’t put up their own fight.
And what should the Communists do when they try that and simply lose the vote?
(Or when they don’t even win the elect enough congresscritters would would consider such an amendment?)
Not a proverb, a purported historical incident leading to the fall of the first Chinese empire. Possibly invented as propaganda by the second Chinese empire.
Uhm, anyone who knows what happened in the following years and decades?
If you honestly have no idea, perhaps it’s time to read The Gulag Archipelago to see what happens when Communists get the power.
I’m talking about the February Revolution — when the Czar abdicated and the Provisional Government assumed control, headed at first by liberal Prince Giorgy Lvov, promising elections to a constituent assembly within the next year. That’s a liberal wet-dream right there.
@citizencokane, I think @Viliam might’ve been talking about how the February Revolution and the extremely unstable Provisional Government paved the way for the October Revolution. I agree they needed a better plan before overthrowing the czar.
My younger self was always dumbfounded at the inability of leftwingers to see the obvious correctness of being rightwing, and I came to view all of them as one of liars, idiots, and virtue-signaling narcissistic cowards. I know longer hold that view but I see many on the left now have a mirror image of rightwingers.
Im still conservative, but I’ve lived long enough to realize that no matter what, my perspective, while presumably valuable and correct on some level, is incomplete and insufficient, and leftwingers have valid concerns.
Jordan Peterson was most helpful in expressing this idea, with his whole take on hierarchies being inevitable and useful, and hierarchies leaving out some people. The right’s job is to maintain the hierarchy (because it is productive and useful), and the left’s job is to promote the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy. There is no permanent solution to this problem, just a constant tension that requires people both on the left and the right pulling for their side.
The need for this tension may be why we evolved with some people fitting nicely in each camp.
I also note that political views are not a “choice” anymore than sexual orientation is, and oppressing people based on their political views is analogous to oppressing people based on their sexual orientation.
Which is why the greater good is achieved, not by having the right winning, or the left winning, but by ensuring that the political debate is conducted in a manner which is fair and proper, and why sins against the political arrangement are orders of magnitude worse than mere incorrect policy positions. Such sins include:
-disrupting conservative speakers on campus
-twitter/facebook applying its ToS selectively against conservatives
-actively modifying a country’s demographic for electoral gains
-harassing administration officials in restaurants or at their homes
Im sure there are also plenty done by the right but my bias likely blinds me to them.
I tried to leave this comment earlier, but for some reason it was swallowed by the spam filter.
I’m a committed leftist and I found your comment thought-provoking. While I ultimately disagree, it certainly prompted a little self-reflection, which is refreshing. I will note that the only point on which I strongly disagree is your claim that “political views are not a choice in the same way sexuality is not a choice” – I’d argue people have far more often been observed to change their politics than their sexuality. But I’d be willing to accept that “ease of changing your mind” is a spectrum, and political views fall on the “very difficult” end of the bell curve.
Anyway, in the Scott Alexander spirit of collaboration, here’s my counterbalancing list of what I see as “sins against the political arrangement” that are committed by the right:
-gerrymandering of political districts to favour right-wing politicians, in both the UK and US
-introduction of onerous voter ID/voter registration laws, designed to deter left-leaning voters, coupled with a disingenuous attempt to amplify the statistical significance of voter fraud
-unwillingness to grapple with the implications of foreign interference in the election because it favoured your side
-twitter/facebook applying its ToS selectively to avoid angering conservatives (our biases are particularly obvious here!)
Thanks for your comment.
It is of course much easier to change your politics than your sexuality, but even when you change your politics, it shouldn’t be a choice. It should be because you have matured, have learned new things, or things like that. It shouldn’t be a matter of ordering the beef instead of the chicken.
Also, I would point out that political views are partly heritable, and that you can predict political views (not perfectly, but with some success), based on some seemingly unrelated measurements, like for example sensitivity to disgusting things (conservatives are more easily grossed out).
The point is you dont choose your politics. I hold my views sincerely and if I were forced to change them at the point of a gun I would feel violated and my new views would not be sincere.
That is why I view discrimination based on politics as being equivalent to discrimination based on sexual orientation, or discrimination based on religion.
Thanks for your list of sins against the political arrangement. I completely agree with gerrymandering belonging in that list, and my limited understanding of this issue fits with the fact that this is mostly done by the GOP. Im less inclined to agree on voter ID, as in Canada where I live you need voter IDs everywhere and it’s just seen as common sense not a way to disenfranchise voters but then again we dont have the same racial issues as the US.
By foreign interference, you probably mean Russia, and so I need to ask, what did Russia do exactly? They bought some facebook ads? They published Podesta’s emails? There has to be more than that.
“The point is you dont choose your politics. I hold my views sincerely and if I were forced to change them at the point of a gun I would feel violated and my new views would not be sincere.”
Of course! And I agree politics is often hereditary. But consider this example: If some angry liberal held a gun to your head and demanded you change your politics, you would only pretend to do so for as long as it took for the gun to go away. But if (and my tongue is firmly in my cheek here) this incident prompted you to become much more concerned about the availability of guns to angry liberals, you might be prompted to *actually* change your stance on gun control and move to the left. Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible. However, people’s sexualities almost never change in response to external stimuli like this.
(I’d agree that discrimination based on politics is broadly analogous to discrimination based on religion.)
As to your Russia question, they did buy Facebook ads and published Podesta’s hacked emails. They also did other even more egregious things to influence the election, including:
-Set up propaganda bots to post targeted right-wing news articles and comments across Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, etc
-Supply funds to the NRA through a female spy, which was then used in the NRA’s election donations, essentially laundering Russian money directly into the GOP’s pockets
-Stole at least 500,000 people’s information from an Illinois state board of elections and funneled that data to the GOP
-Russian military intelligence carried out a cyber-attack on at least one US voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than a hundred local election officials days before the election, suggesting there is a possibility (though this is certainly the most speculative of my claims, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you discount this one until more evidence comes out) that voting machines may have been directly compromised. This would have been eminently possible for them to accomplish in states like Georgia, whose election servers had serious security vulnerabilities during the 2016 election.
To clarify, those bots did not just post right-wing articles like you phrasing implies, but also stuff in support of Bernie, Black Lives Matter, and other such left-wing causes. Basically, anything that would stir the pot.
And the article about info theft from Illinois doesn’t say anything about the data being funneled to the GOP.
Yeah, I think the Russian operations were much less targeted at particular electoral outcomes than they were at throwing a big handful of sand into the gears of the US political system. (Though I think Facebook and Twitter and clickbait journalism had already set the stage for that, and I’m not sure how much better US politics would be if the whole Russian operation had never happened.) And this makes sense, because there is absolutely no reason to think that the Russians could make better predictions about likely voting patterns in the US than US pollsters working for the campaigns, or for that matter than 538. Most informed people did not expect the election to be close, so the Russians probably were hoping to give Hillary some extra hassles when she took office.
Anyway, in the Scott Alexander spirit of collaboration, here’s my counterbalancing list of what I see as “sins against the political arrangement” that are committed by the right:
-gerrymandering of political districts to favour right-wing politicians, in both the UK and US
OK, I dunno about the UK, but in the US, both sides do this. It seems to be much more about “who has power and wants to keep it” than “left vs: right”.
-introduction of onerous voter ID/voter registration laws, designed to deter left-leaning voters, coupled with a disingenuous attempt to amplify the statistical significance of voter fraud
I genuinely do not understand the leftist objection here. It is almost certainly the case that my view on things is skewed by having been a military brat and therefore having had a military dependents ID card since I was 6, but I just don’t see the requirement to have an ID as all that arduous. You need a driver’s license or other state ID to do almost anything else already, including having a job, buying cigarettes or beer or lottery tickets, and so on.
And the payoff seems obvious. Ensuring clean elections seems like a nonpartisan goal. Elections people can actually believe in seems like a clearly good thing.
I mean, even as a “taxation is theft” libertarian flavored anarchist, I’m willing to concede that IFF there is going to be a state, then elections are a valid part of that state’s function, and allocating tax dollars to provide “free” ID cards to voters, if they have no other valid ID already, is a legitimate use of such funding.
I will admit, that coming from the other side of this debate, my instinctual response is that the only reason someone could object to being identified before voting is because they want to cheat. So that’s my stated bias.
This post really brings to mind something Scott posted earlier (possibly in a Link Roundup post?) regarding a study that found conservatives had a better perception of liberals than liberals had of conservatives (i.e., that conservatives did better at explaining/anticipating why a liberal would believe x than liberals did at explaining/anticipating why a conservative would believe !x).
My thought is that this finding is not necessarily so much about liberals/left-wingers/blue tribe being any less perceptive than the conservatives/right-wingers/red tribe as it is about the blue tribe being much more fluent in their own emotional expression, and far more willing (some red-tribers, I’m sure, would say irritatingly willing!) to delve into their own motivations, especially the touchy-feely aspect of them, in front of all and sundry.
The stereotypes of the “‘sensitive’ lefty smoking weed at the Quaker-esque Kumbaya talking-stick feelings-share group-cry pow-wow, where those with ‘too much’ emotional reservation put everyone else at slight unease”, and the “‘rough-and-tumble’ conservative swilling beer at the American Legion-esque sea shanty man-couch fisherman-story-share group-grunt shin-dig, where those who get a bit ‘too’ soft-and-feelsy put everyone else at slight unease” come to mind, and may have more than a nugget of truth in basis.
Or, to be a bit more succinct, it’s not surprising that a coder who uses Windows at home might know more about Linux source code than a coder with a Linux setup at home would know about the Windows source.
It’s one of Haidt’s studies. Note that the result was actually “Liberals have less accurate understanding of conservative views than conservatives or moderates have of liberal views.” Moderates were able to model both sides pretty well.
I think there are some significant issues with Haidt’s Moral Foundations work, but this result seems more solid.
Note that the changing political leanings of professors is usually similarly misunderstood. It’s not true that the percentage of conservatives is going down relative to moderates and progressives, it’s that progressives are going up relative to moderates and conservatives.
I think part of it is that liberals (or rather the Blue Tribe) are in control of the media and the institutions we interact with on a daily basis (school, the HR department, etc). If I’m a Red Triber I don’t have to go on an anthropological expedition to find out what makes the Blue Tribe tick. I can just turn on the TV. Watch any movie. Read any newspaper. There’s their values presented in every way possible. I have to go out of my way to avoid been inundated with Blue Tribe culture.
But if you’re a Blue Triber and you want to know what the Red Tribe thinks, you turn on the TV and it shows you how Blue Tribe writers imagine Red Tribers think (i.e., “like nazis”).
“So with my hiking boots, camera and notebooks, I traveled to the jungles of small-town America to find out if Trump voters are really Nazis…”
I’m surprised by this assertion that the Blue Tribe controls the media (and other institutions). I’m not from the US and I think the tribes I’m familiar with are somewhat different from yours. Do you think that Blue Tribe Americans would agree that their tribe controls the media or would they claim that the Red Tribe does?
Their response would be: “Yes, some media outlets are blue tribe, but the red tribe has FOX NEWS!!!” combined with “Most media outlets are centrist and neutral, the fact that the New York Times isn’t actively red tribe like you want it to be doesn’t make it blue tribe.”
That said, I think there have been studies done showing that some 90% of professional journalists support Democrats in their personal lives – so, you figure it out.
My explanation is that the biggest difference between the Blue and Red Tribes is Big City vs Small Town (suburbs are often purple). All the Big Media organizations are in the Big Cities, because that’s where the Big Companies and Big Politics are, where the highest concentration of people and resources are. If working at places like the New York Times requires living in places New York City, then it’s inevitable that they’re going to disproportionately pull Blue Tribe people, even if they didn’t have any deliberate bias at the start.
One more data point, among the 100 largest newspapers in the US, only two endorsed Trump (one of which was owned by a major Trump donor). Four endorsed Gary Johnson (who got less than 2% of the vote), and four specifically bothered to endorse “Not Trump” basically saying “We don’t like Hillary and don’t endorse her, but Trump is even worse.”
As far as I can remember, the media didn’t hide from this fact. They reported on it gleefully. They saw it as evidence of how awful Trump was, not as evidence of any particular media bias.
So, newspapers were about 10x more likely to reject Trump than the average American voter.
Counterpoint: Many of those newspapers were placed that had endorsed the Republican nominee every election for the past 50, 100, 148 years, and yet suddenly refused to endorse either party this time around. If it was just the baseline level of news media bias against Republicans, then that would be one thing, but if people who haven’t wavered in their support for the GOP in a century and a half suddenly back away while saying “This man is uniquely bad”, then maybe “This man is uniquely bad” is a plausible interpretation. It’s at minimum strong evidence that Trump was… unconventional.
Trump ran against the bipartisan consensus that we need to maintain a semi-legal helot class of illegal immigrants to hold wages down and provide D party voters. Never Trump Republicans opposed his threat to low wages. Of course they refused to endorse him. He is by this standard uniquely bad.
How do you square your “helot class” theory with the largish set of both Democrats and Republicans pushing for a path to citizenship, or the relatively large set of people who’d really like amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants? Whatever else you may say about their motivations, neither policy is consistent with trying to keep a permanent underclass of too-cowed-to-unionize low-paid workers hanging around.
We can also listen to what the Trump-opposing Republicans said their reasoning was, and it wasn’t always or even often “We don’t want to enforce the border”. The Union-Tribune (which was the example of a paper that hadn’t endorsed a Dem in 148 years) says they did so because Trump was “vengeful, dishonest, and impulsive”, among other things. Not that Trump’s break with the traditional GOP on policy played zero role, but it was far from the only thing that turned people off about him.
Even enthusiastic Trump supporters often admit that he’s not exactly the perfect vessel for their preferred policy agenda, and I believe Matt M has said as much in the past. My point is that what Matt is calling “media bias” here can also be explained with “Even Matt himself has some reservations about Trump’s character and temperament, so it’s entirely possible that someone with the same policy preferences as Matt could oppose Trump simply by placing more weight on those qualities”. Which is a kind of bias I guess, but not a neat ideological or political one.
For the record, I did not vote for Trump.
Although the amount of TDS I’m seeing on a daily basis has gotten me pretty damn close to the point of self-identifying as a “Trump supporter” despite the fact that I probably disagree with at least half of his policies, and a whole lot of his personal qualities.
The question asked above was not “is the media dominated by democrats and republicans” but rather “is the media dominated by blue tribe or red tribe.”
The Trump campaign proved, conclusively, that “republican” and “red tribe” are NOT, in fact, the same thing. Trump is solidly red tribe.
Any paper that refused to endorse him on the grounds of his being impolite in his manner of speech was strongly exhibiting blue tribe behavior. Red tribe saw his manner of speech as a virtue.
Those people chanting “LOCK HER UP” are real. They probably represent about 20-40% of the populace in general. What percentage of professional journalists do you think they represent? I’d say 5% or less
Trump is a reaaaaalllllyyyyy weird person to call “solidly red tribe”.
Why? Because he’s wealthy and from New York?
Red Tribe isn’t blood and soil – it’s An idea! 🙂
I try not to let myself be influenced in either direction by people who are behaving irrationally. The fact that lots of people find it worthwhile to say Trump is Hitler every time he turns on a light switch doesn’t really change whether Trump is a good president, anymore than the fact that some people found it worthwhile to claim Obama was a secret Muslim with a forged birth certificate changed whether he was a good president.
As best I can tell, right now, we have both:
a. An unprepared and temperamentally unsuited guy serving as president.
b. A largely unhinged media environment in which this unusually-bad-but-not-Hitler president keeps getting attacked in crazy ways by crazy people.
The net effect of (b) is to make it harder for people who aren’t riding the crazy train w.r.t. Trump to figure out when he’s actually doing something really bad or dumb vs when he’s just doing standard stuff every president does, or every Republican does, only somehow when he does it he’s Worse Than Hitler. The constant outrage about everything drowns out reporting about actual screw-ups or bad policies or inept management of departments.
It’s worth remembering that there were people saying awful stuff about Reagan and Clinton and both Bushes and Obama, too. I think one major difference now is that the media environment really amplifies the most outrageous voices. Another is that a lot of the ruling class, however you think of it, is really uneasy about Trump for lots of (IMO both good and bad) reasons. And probably the biggest reason is that Trump absolutely uses the media’s outrage addiction to keep himself in the headlines 24-7. That’s how he won the presidency, and that’s how he’s serving out his time in office.
 Actual reporting on this stuff tends to be kinda boring unsexy stuff that doesn’t make for good clickbait/outrage farming stories. It’s less “Trump’s latest outrageous tweet proves he’s a fascist, click here for why!!!” and more “The VA system is screwed up in various ways and whistleblowers tend to get fired while wrongdoers get promoted.”
Can you imagine Trump actually getting his hands literally dirty? Sitting in a deer blind? Spending a day ice fishing? Going bowling? Drinking Budweiser? Having a favorite sports team? It’s not (just) that he is the wealthy son of a wealthy man who grew up in one of the largest Metropolises in the country going to elite private schools. It’s that he rejects large parts of the broad ethos that supposedly characterize red tribe.
And he isn’t blue tribe or grey tribe either. At best he’s new money that wants to be old money, but mostly he is just deeply weird.
Re: mdet: ‘How do you square your ‘helot class’ theory with the largish set of both D and R pushing for a path for citizenship, or the relatively large set of people who’d really like citizenship for long-term illegal immigrants?-
I’d like citizenship for long-term otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants myself, but every amnesty for fifty years has accompanied more illegal immigration holding wages down. Never Trump R agreeing with D is part of the ‘theory’ in fifty years of practice.
I imagine there are devout Christian Red-Tribers who were deeply concerned about Trump’s lack of virtue, as well as bougie Blue Tribers who consider him crass and vulgar. So no, I don’t think objections to Trump’s temperament actually tell us about the Blue Tribe / Red Tribe affiliation of the speaker. There’s also more to the personal-character complaints than just “He doesn’t speak professionally” — I don’t think you forfeit Red Tribe credentials by pointing out that Trump’s businesses seem just as shady and corrupt as the Clinton’s.
There’s definitely some qualities that separate Republicans in newsrooms from general Republicans, but I don’t think it’s strictly a Red Tribe / Blue Tribe distinction. Not sure what it is.
I think more of the UK press serves the UK’s red tribe than would be the case in the US (most notably the Sun) but the broadcast media here are even bluer than there, thanks at least partly to the dominance of the bluer-than-blue BBC.
I also think the really important part of this dominance lies in entertainment media rather than news. What is the red tribe equivalent of Doctor Who? Who would make it? Who would broadcast it?
I agree that there’s a big difference between UK TV and UK papers.
Do blue tribe and red tribe make any sense in the UK? (For one thing, the colours are the wrong way around…) I see the BBC as being fairly firmly neoliberal, but it certainly gives more of a platform to conservative nationalists than to social democrats, so I’m not sure where “bluer than blue” comes from.
But yes, I agree that entertainment is different again. BBC shows are far to the left of their supposedly-unbiased news coverage.
The Sun, Mail, Express and Telegraph are all firmly conservative. I’m not sure whether things like the Times or Independent would count as “blue tribe” as you’re using it, but the Guardian probably does.
Blue and Red aren’t about who you vote for, and in particular they aren’t about your economic policy preferences. Lots of Labour voters, especially older Labour voters, are Red tribe (and yes, the Transatlantic colour inversion is confusing, but I’m trying to apply Scott’s original labels to their nearest UK equivalents).
If there is a political issue that maps reasonably well with tribe it’s Brexit (Red leave, Blue remain). Older Blues are mostly neoliberal, younger ones often democratic socialist. Reds might have almost any views on the economy, but are more likely to be socially conservative. Blair’s Blue. Cameron’s Blue. Thatcher was Red. Tony Benn was Red. The Times is pretty blue; the Telegraph leans Red.
But none of that’s foundational. Blue likes Radiohead, Red likes Oasis. Blue lives mostly in big cities, Red mostly not. Blue drinks craft IPA and new world wines, Red real ale or Guinness and old world wines. Red likes its steaks medium-well, Blue medium-rare. Ayckbourn is Red, Rowling is Blue.
Does that come close to a comprehensible sketch?
One thing with the BBC is that its entertainment wing is overwhelmingly lefty but its current affairs coverage seems mostly to be done by Tories – although fairly wet ones. The older ones are mostly one-nation patrician types (think Paxman) and the younger ones pro-business technocrats. I’m not sure whether this makes them full-bore red tribe in this taxonomy, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.
I think that it’s not true that the blue tribe controls the news media. Fox News exists.
I think it’s more that while both wings have their media bubbles, that people from the other wing regard as absurd performance art, it’s the non-media that are mostly part of and/or have a strong preference for the blue tribe. So blue tribe news percolates through society much more than red tribe news.
For example, let’s say that you like cooking shows and/or drama and watch Top Chef. You will then hear pro-gay marriage arguments/beliefs, but not anti-gay marriage arguments/beliefs.
When Roseanne came back, it was considered remarkable that it was a large audience red tribe show. No one would ever consider it remarkable for a large audience blue tribe show to exist.
The mainstream left has more control of big corporate media than the mainstream right, but isn’t this somewhat balanced out by in the past, talk radio, and now with the contrast between left biased big internet sites, and a huge decentralized net of right wing sites? The right also have a much bigger presence than the left in the political quarters of Youtube.
I wonder if this also isn’t a US-centric thing. I think that the mainstream left and right have more parity in the UK when it comes to big newspapers (Daily Telegraph and the Financial Times are neoliberal right wing), if not TV media. Most of the rags (insultingly patronizing “working class” papers with dumbed down reading ages) are also right wing, like the Sun, and the Daily Mail. I think the Daily Mirror is one of the few left wing rags.
Local television stations are also increasingly right-wing. I’m sure you’ve seen the video of all the local anchors reading the Sinclair script as if it were their own opinion.
Please stop referring to polls about “immigrants” as if they mean anything. People have different attitudes towards different subgroups of immigrants.
Asking questions about “immigrants” is a tactic often used by the open borders crowd to deliberately blur the difference between illegal immigrants, low-skilled immigrants similar to illegal immigrants, and high-skilled immigrants.
If you don’t take it seriously or to its logical conclusion, maybe you should stop saying it? If you make arguments about maximizing utility among all human beings and about how there is no moral difference between helping Americans and helping foreigners, people will take you at your word and act as though you actually believe those things.
Certainly if you yourself speak like that, you can always stop. And if your ingroup speaks like that, don’t blame everyone else for assuming they are telling the truth.
Also, rationalists have this habit of actually believing weird things that everyone else only claims to believe. Most concern for “animal suffering” is signalling, but then you get rationalists who actually believe it and come up with weird ideas about wild animal suffering, preferring whales to chickens because there are fewer animals killed per pound of meat, etc. It is not surprising to find such rationalists actually believing the things that other people claim to believe about immigration too. And of course there’s a high population of them both here and on Ozy’s blog and people respond to them.
So, my academic background is in ecology, and there’s an assumption in here that doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like saying, “If you offered to keep samples of historically significant strains of yeast stored in little tubes in a museum, while eliminating all other yeast, in exchange for lots of delicious beer and bread that people could enjoy…”
The forests that you enjoy are shaped by the interactions of organisms with their environment. If you take out lots of species, you won’t have even the same aesthetics of the forest, not to mention other important aspects of ecosystem function. For example, in Yellowstone, we killed off all the wolves in the 1930’s. This took some pressure off the elk, which started boldly eating willow shoots along riverbanks. Over a couple of decades, this made the banks of the rivers start eroding — messing with both the scenic value, and with the capacity of the river system to process nutrients effectively. (Mess with river systems too much and you get the coastal anoxic dead zones with no tasty fish, etc.)
Anyway, they reintroduced wolves in the 1990’s, the elk stopped eating so much willow, and the riverbanks recovered. (Here’s some more background.)
You can look up “ecosystem engineers” or “keystone species” to find more examples of this kind of thing.
(And okay, if you didn’t have elk, they wouldn’t eat the willow. But if you take out all charismatic megafauna, you’ll end up with other weird effects over time because those animals aren’t moving seeds around, spreading fertilizer around, eating tons of mice, pruning other plants, etc.)
Since for some reason we’re debating this, the forests I loved most are in Ireland, where the megafauna are pretty thoroughly dead. I’m sure they would look slightly different if the megafauna were still around, but I don’t think my thought experiment is incoherent.
Personally, I love both the forests and the megafauna… but… I can’t make any kind of a consequentialist case for their continued existence. If you had a plan to pave over all the forests in the world Coruscant-style, and replace them with compact fusion-powered life-support units, I could not bring up a logically justified case against you. This is either a weakness of consequentialism, or of my own thought processes.
Well, we’d have to have the compact fusion-powered life support technology in the first place. There’s an awful lot of details we’d have to know to make a decision even if there was no aesthetic value to a forest. And I think there is a lot aesthetic value to the outdoors- even if you ignore the value of things we use it for that we can’t replicate- and aesthetic value does matter.
Why does aesthetic value matter ?
Maybe I’m using the word “aesthetic” wrong, but why does anything that evokes an emotion matter? Or something that engages other parts of the human brain. It’s similar to why pleasure or pain matter (even if those pleasures or pains leave you whole physically and mentally).
Aesthetics is about beauty, and while you could assign a value of 0 to beauty I suspect at the minimum a lot of pleasure would be lost. That’d be bad for any sort of positive utilitarian.
Ok, but that brings up many other questions:
* While it is true that some people experience pleasure from natural beauty, such people are in the minority. Most people either don’t care, or are content with reproductions and simulations, not the actual physical nature. Should we really under-utilize huge areas of land just for the transient pleasure of a few people ?
* What kind of beauty are we talking about here, anyway ? I like megafauna, Scott hates it (or is indifferent, perhaps). Some people genuinely like deserts. Should we indulge everyone ?
* Suppose we could re-train people to derive no pleasure from natural beauty. Would this be preferable to keeping beauty around, sitting there doing nothing ?
Because utils are a measure of emotion. Why would anything else matter?
Isn’t this an argument for total wireheading ?
How do you feel about the crew leaving Odysseus tied to the mast, despite his (at the time) desire to be free to go to the Sirens?
Well, the sailors knew they’d all be dashed on the rocks (IIRC) if they succumbed, so that’s not an analogous situation. If the sailors had proof that they’d live out the remainder of their natural lifespan in perfect bliss… Well, then I would still hope they would be strong enough to resist, on a purely emotional basis. I could not justify any action other than relenting immediately, on a purely utilitarian basis.
I believe that Odysseus merely would have thrown himself into the sea trying to reach the sirens.The sailors, having wax in their ears, would have been unaffected.
This isn’t about the sailors, it’s about being able to have emotions about future states, which Odysseus clearly did.
I think I’d want to see a survey before buying that this is a minority view. We can’t currently make anything vaguely close to a reproduction so I’m not sure why that matters. But even if possible, it might matter for the same reason we reject wireheading.
I think that there will be more development and it will probably be good since the world population is still growing, but I also don’t think that “pave everything” is an obviously correct future state.
Depends how much we’re giving up. But lots of people like lots of different things so this will typically mean that lots of stuff appears pointless to a majority of people. Not a bug.
Not sure how re-training people to derive no pleasure from natural beauty is obviously different from training people to love hydrogen, so maybe it comes down to how you view wiredheading? Seems too abstract to me.
I suspect much of what we call “innate values” for a wide range of values are strongly connected to aesthetic impulses. Many notions of the ideal society are predicted on the looks and feel of a place. The USSR has an aesthetic. Nazi Germany has an aesthetic. Galt’s Gulch has an aesthetic. Neo-Monarchy has an aesthetic. The conservative utopia is probably an actual place somewhere in Texas. The progressive utopia looks like an idealized San Francisco. The connection between values and aesthetics are most explicit in that a huge portion of neo-traditionalist complaints about modern society are architectural. This is very important for propaganda because it hits people at a level below rationality and empiricism.
On the other hand, large parts of Europe are almost totally lacking in large predators (and lots of other things) but Europe is a pretty nice place to live.
If the issue is lack of big predators to control prey populations, humans can easily step in to fill that ecological role if they want to. It’s probably the easiest role for humans to fill. Humans can’t digest grass or photosynthesize, but they can kill stuff pretty well. You have to somehow prevent humans from killing too many prey because of their habit of driving prey extinct. It’s not like the wild environment is anywhere near optimized for human life either. Maybe it’s cheaper to let wolves roam free or maybe it’s nice to have wolves 1000 miles away from human cities, but maybe not.
Should be something more like: “…and the fact that it’s confusing and maybe impossible to…” or something similar.
It is not the existence of a difference in values that matters, but how strongly you feel about that difference — that is, how willing you are to act on that difference. You’re right that our individual n-dimensional moral value surfaces will never map completely onto someone else’s. But there is a reason why we don’t turn to violence over these (virtually infinite) disagreements we have with everyone we encounter: we are not so self-righteous about all our values that we think someone should be directly harmed for opposing them. Maybe this is the sign of a meta-value, call it Civility, that allows us to coexist with people who hold different values, so long as I don’t weight those particular values where they differ from me too highly.*
A question I may have posed in this post is why people do not accurately portray how strongly they hold their values. Everyone is a hypocrite in some way. I think it is a combination of tribal virtue-signaling and rhetorical effectiveness: a person who appears more certain in their beliefs can at once solidify their standing in the tribe and act as a better evangelist for it — not to mention they can deflect suspicion off themselves for defecting from the tribe’s values.
But there are people who are committed to their values, which they show by having skin in the game.^ They are willing to sacrifice themselves for their values. Something which you are willing to give your life for must be something you must care about a lot. You may say that we cannot know with certainty what the 9/11 hijackers held as a terminal value, but we have some clues that allow us to draw a reasonable guess. We know that they were part of a Wahabbist organization. We know that they conspired to kill thousands of Americans – an activity that is consistent with their professed ideology – and they gave their lives by doing so. That’s commitment to the cause.
One of the great things about you is that you are extremely charitable to opposing viewpoints. But do you really think that this is true? This is a poor hypothetical – we already know that the hypothetical hijacker has killed Americans, so we have good evidence that, in his case, his zero-valuing of American lives is not something he says to impress his terrorist friends. And what conclusion could you draw if he did push the kid out of the way? Maybe he has a big operation planned for tomorrow and doesn’t want to spend time in the police station getting interviewed as a witness, and they might bring him in and say, “Hey, that’s suspicious, you didn’t push that kid out of the way, why didn’t you do that? What is your business here in America?”, etc. etc. etc.
* Alternately, one can think of a meta-value associated to each value, which determines how closely held a particular viewpoint is. Or you can think that each value has two axes: your ideological position on the subject and how strongly you hold it.
^ Thanks to NN Taleb for pointing this out. Taleb also points out that religion’s dogma and myriad rituals are a way to make people have skin in the game. You have to sacrifice some convenience to be part of the tribe.
I had trouble with your post because you seemed to equate ‘helping people in foreign countries’ with ‘foreign aid provided by the US government’. Those are not the same thing. Anyone who wants to help people in foreign countries can do so, either directly, or by contributing to an organization specifically set up to do that. These are called charities. I don’t think anyone, anywhere on the spectrum that you described is going to object to people doing that. It’s their money. If they want to spend it on helping little kids in Africa, good for them.
But I think most people would disapprove of that same person going out and holding up random strangers in the street with a gun and forcing them to donate all the cash they happen to have on them to UNICEF. At least I hope so.
When you talk about people objecting to the government spending money on foreign aid, I feel like we are, morally, talking about the same thing as holding up people and stealing their money and then using it ‘for a good purpose’. No matter how good the purpose is, you method of getting the money is still wrong.
Since taxes are non optional, and you HAVE TO pay them, or go to jail, the only things they should be spend on is things that almost everyone who pays taxes agrees with. Like, say, 90% of the population agrees they are necessary, not a bare majority of 51%. If you use the government to fund any kind of spending that doesn’t have support in the 90% level you inevitably end up robbing Peter to pay for Paul’s wonderful charitable impulses. But no matter how wonderful Paul’s charitable impulses are, forcing other people to pay for them is bullying. Because Peter has wonderful charitable impulses of his own that he wants to spend his money on, and it is his money.
If Paul can’t get other people to voluntarily donate money to support his charitable impulses, then he has no moral right to force them to contribute, either by robbing them in the street, or by convincing some Senators and Congressmen to ‘donate’ some of someone else’s money to his worthy cause. In either case it is theft.
People who think that ‘majority rules’ covers all sins think that it isn’t theft if a bare majority of 51% think taking the money is a good idea. But the government isn’t some divinely ordained body, it’s just an ad hoc bunch of people who got together and started making agreements with each other. It’s just like any other ad hoc bunch of people doing the same thing, except the ad hoc group called ‘the government’ have also decided that they can make rules for EVERYONE else, too. A little bit of government is a very useful thing, but it has no intrinsic moral authority. It ultimately bases its authority on force : it is saying ‘there are more of us than you, and we’ve got all the guns so do what we want or we will [beat you up/put you in jail/fine you/fill in the blank]. Unless the purpose it is working for has almost universal support, it is morally equivalent to highway robbery. Anything with so weak a level of support that large numbers of reasonable people line up on different sides of the issue, should, if humanly possible, not be decided by force. They should be decided by each autonomous human being making up their own mind. Now how much assistance the 400 million individuals living in the US want to contribute to starving children in Africa is something that can be decided by each one of those 400 million individuals making up their own mind. My donating or not donating has no impact on how much anyone else can donate. It isn’t intrinsically a group decision, thus, it shouldn’t be decided by majority rule.
I don’t think anyone, anywhere on the spectrum that you described is going to object to people doing that. It’s their money. If they want to spend it on helping little kids in Africa, good for them.
I think you’re being insufficiently imaginative. It’s like Rule 34 or Poe’s Law, once you use the power of the internet to poll everyone, you’re going to find at least one freak out there.
I do not for a second doubt that there is someone out there, possibly in this very country, who does not think that it is immoral to donate one’s personal funds to a foreign person who is starving in favor of a local person who is starving.
I mean, this is actually perfectly in line with the ideology which would be reasonably referred to as national socialism. “How dare you give food to a stranger when your cousin is starving?”
As for the rest of your comment, I agree. (But I’m a market anarchist, so, I would.)
Wasn’t there an episode of House, MD about this? A patient who came in exhibiting odd behavior in that he was giving away his whole family’s savings to African charities, to the dismay of his wife and kids?
The right-thinking progressive-doctor supporting cast insisted that this guy was simply heroic and doing the thing that all of us know is right but aren’t brave enough to do. House insisted he had something medically wrong with him.
And of course, House was right, found some sort of tumor or something, and ultimately “cured” him of this belief.
Yes, there was. It had the added moral twist of the patient also wanting to donate money to help House fund the reestablishment of his diagnostic department (in disarray due to his recent prison sentence) – but if the patient was charitable only due to his medical condition (as House believes) then it would run afoul of hospital ethics to accept the money.
Interesting article. I’m trying to figure out why it feels like e.g. the theology of someone whose religion I don’t share – perfectly logical from its premises, maybe, but screamingly wrong nonetheless.
I suspect the problem is that the idea of evil people is a convenient – but mostly wrong – shortcut for people-who-must-be-opposed. Most of the time they must be opposed because they are dangerous to the person opposing them, or to those relatively close to the opposer. Sometimes the opposition can be political, and within the local norms of appropriate discourse. But that probably means they aren’t very dangerous, or aren’t directly dangerous to the opposer themselves, or those extremely close to them. Sometimes the opposition has to be covert, and/or consist mostly of trying not to become a target – that’s when there’s an extreme power differential. And sometimes the appropriate reaction involves lethal force.
We’re wired to find it easier to shoot people classed as “evil,” and to respond to pseudo moral arguments (one “should” oppose “evil” people, so if I can convince you that those dangerous to me are “evil”, you become at least somewhat an ally, regardless of whether they are actually dangerous to you).
All this is entirely seperate from when (or whether) people who vote differently from you ought to be opposed at any very fundamental level, or whether that opposition should consist primarily of attempts to change their minds. The truth is, for most of us foreigners we’ve never met don’t rate as very close to us. For some, fellow citizens we’ve never met fall in the same category; for others, not so much. Differences over foreign aid are likely to invole low levels of perceived danger.
In other cases, there’s some level of direct threat, or perception of direct threat. I don’t want to use examples from either side of the US political chasm, so let’s invoke Godwin’s law. If you are Jewish in Europe in the 1930s, the German National Socialist party is a threat to your life. It doesn’t matter whether they are “evil”; they are out to get you, and your family. It doesn’t matter whether you have pride in your nationality (as a German), and favour an expansionist foreign policy (lebensraum). It doesn’t matter whether it’s still at an early stage – orchestrated riots within Germany itself, and a subset of party faithful (the brown Shirts) committing the violence.
Were the Nazis actually “evil” – presuming you aren’t Jewish, aren’t Slavic, aren’t a soldier in a nation at war with them, or a civilian in range of their bombers, or a member of any other minority targetted by their “eugenic” policies? Well, the average German citizen probably wasn’t; they may have been caught up in the propaganda, or keeping their heads down, or both – but killing Jews – or fighting other Europeans – probably wasn’t of major importance to them, and their attitudes could relatively easily change with time. On average they didn’t much like Jews, and were angry and probably scared about their own economic situation. And they may well have liked other things the National Socialists offered, and sometimes provided. Plus of course after a certain point it wasn’t safe to be an opponent. But does any of this matter, until after the National Socialists, and their government, have been well and truly trounced, at a cost of many million deaths?
Is the question of value differences actually relevant here, except to the extent that one person’s values favour them acting in ways that threaten another person, or those close to them? The threats in modern US politics are less extreme than in my example – very few people are actively attacking others, though some are, and I don’t think there’s any major politician favouring extermination or enslavement of any particular group of people. But it’s easy to find people who think the other side favours policies that will directly harm them, or put them at increased risk, sometimes in major ways. Even more perceive the other side as favouring policies that potentially harm groups they care about. and we can argue all day long about the strength of the threats, and the accuracy of the perceptions, wihout touching on the fundamental question. If there is a real threat, what kind of compromise is possible? How strong and direct does the threat need to be? (Minor threats to people’s pocket books aren’t in the same category, except perhaps for those already living hand to mouth…)
Let’s take another contrived example – a classic “zombie apocalypse”. Large numbers of humans are, due to illness, committing frequently-lethal attacks on random uninfected humans. Let’s make this zombie virus one where the victims will recover after 6 months to perfect sanity, to make the moral questions more interesting. And it’s not possible to successfully capture them all with trank guns and confine them for the 6 months it will take for them to recover.
Compare that with a disagreement about who to aid (among those who don’t need that aid themselves!) ;-(
I think Scott, and those he is speaking to, have low expectations of being harmed by either side in the current US divide, except in affordable ways. That allows him to think about values. We’ve also got a lot of people expecting to be harmed, either with current policies, or if their opponents entirely get their own way. Or expecting people that matter to them to be harmed. It’s a jumbled mix of soft harm (being mocked, having schools teach things they don’t like), mild harm (less chance of getting the job they want, affordable financial costs), severe harm (no job, deporation) and worse (getting shot/raped/incarcerated, etc.) The actual odds are sometimes low enough to be laughable – and sometimes not – and people are mostly pretty innumerate in any case. Put another way, they are scared.
Thank you very much for writing this. I read Ozy’s post and it made me feel bad. In addition to the tribalism-eque* concerns you pointed out, it seemed like they were severely underestimating the virtue and practicality of cooperating in the prisoner’s dilemma. At the risk of delving into ad-hominem, I think that the underperformance of their essay might be attributable to the stressful/mind-killing political climate.
*Don’t blame me for using the word tribalism, that’s just how it seemed to me at the time. Obviously Scott’s response puts it in better words, not words like tribalism which some might argue should be tabooed.
Rationalists would be a lot less confused about peoples motives if they remembered that most people actually do see a difference between an act an the avoidance of it’s opposite–that is, few will agree with you that not donating to malaria nets is equivalent to strangling a child in the streets.
Also, just because all people have equal moral worth, does not mean I have equal duties to all of them. I have more duty to my children, wife, parents, siblings, in-laws, neighbors, countrymen, & fellow Christians than I do complete strangers across the world–and they to their equivalents!
That doesn’t mean zero duty to them, and my duty not to harm a stranger is higher than my duty to help myself–raid and plunder is wrong, regardless of who would enjoy it more.
This applies to immigration, and also to abortion. Not only is abortion taking a life, it is taking the life you have the highest duty towards. A non-utilitarian sees that as worlds apart from “not donating to starving children”.
this is so basic and obvious that making the point seems condescending and insulting, but clearly some people think they can virtue signal by suggesting they have equal responsibility towards all 7 billion people, so thank you for pointing out.
also telescopic philanthropy has a very bad record in terms of results. it’s more of a way to virtue signal than to do good things.
Like oppressedminority said, this seems like condescendingly stating the obvious, but somehow it’s not.
I owe very little to Muslims who aren’t American citizens, and Muslim oil tycoons owe very little to the poorest African-American Catholics. When my father suddenly died, a government didn’t assign random humans to take care of the funeral; my nuclear family took care of it with my paternal uncle and his wife. This sort of inequality is just, and any inequalities of outcome either represent moral failures of particular Burkean platoons of global society, or have to wait to be fixed by the supernatural intervention of the Good, Who is omniscient.
I wonder if immigration only seems likes a common fundamental value difference for the majority of people because the sort of rationalist/libertarian/skeptic circles has a number of vocal immigration restrictionists who embrace the idea that one should be more partial towards one’s own countrymen that towards foreigners.
I don’t think most immigration restrictionists actually believe that. Indeed, I think most of them would probably find it horrifying if stated baldly (especially since conservatism tends to overlap with Christianity, which has explicitly universalist moral principles). I think most of restrictionists instead believe that immigrants have criminal/political tendencies that will cause them to inflict terrible suffering upon the native population, suffering that will exceed whatever benefit the immigrants receive. Many of them also appear to believe in a “kill the goose that lays the golden-eggs” type argument; which states that while open borders might benefit immigrants in the short run, in the long run it would destroy the institutions that allow those benefits, harming everyone. These are both beliefs about the facts, not disagreements about values.
It’s telling how rare explicit defenses of partiality towards fellow citizens are compared to attacks on immigrant behavior. Human beings just can’t bring themselves to not be at least a little universalist. When they have instincts against universalism they have to come up with a factual reason for why their partiality in this case is justified. Even those who explicitly embrace partiality usually have limits; they might want to deport illegal immigrants to prevent them from competing with natives, but they wouldn’t endorse enslaving illegals and forcing them to work for natives.
It seems extraordinarily rare for people to be truly anti-universalist. Pretty much every attack on a group of people primarily focuses on negative behavior by that group against which defense is justified. No one ever says “these people haven’t done anything wrong, but I prefer my group to them so I’m going to hurt them.” Southern racists didn’t say that, they instead accused African Americans of lawlessness. Bolsheviks didn’t do that, they instead accused kulaks of oppressing the poor. The Nazis didn’t do that, they instead accused Jews of oppressing Aryans. Most people just can’t bring themselves to truly be partial.
This guy gets it. Look at how the conservative Parties in Hungary and Poland say “we’ll take in Christian immigrants, but Merkel will have to remove us from office before we let in any Muslims.”
That’s because the trade pidgin of ethical debate is consequentialism with a bit of common virtue ethics on the side. Very few people actually are utilitarians, but almost everyone understands that it is pointless to engage in an ethical debate with an outsider on the basis of, e.g. “you should obey My Tribe’s Rules because they are the Only True Rules”. If there’s a dispute, and they aren’t going to just denounce the other side as Pure Evil, they have to step outside the comfort zone of their own beliefs and their own ethical language and find something in common.
Usually, that’s a consequential appeal to broadly-held values like “people starving to death is an undesirable consequence”. If someone is going to be deliberately helped or harmed, common virtues like “they totally deserve help because they are single mothers raising a dozen adopted orphans each” or “they totally deserve harm because they are thieves, rapists, and murders”, usually has broad appeal in a way that “me and mine are more important than you and yours” doesn’t.
But don’t mistake the peripheral beliefs that people know they can use as a shared basis of communication with outsiders, with the core beliefs that drive people’s decisions.
John, that’s poetic in its efficiency and aptness.
+1 yes, poetic and memorable.
True, but easy to take too far. Lots of people out there convinced that the only real reason anyone opposes the minimum wage is hating poor people.
We might say two things are certain about any political position: That its supporters will provide a consequentialist justification, and that its opponents will claim that it’s not the real motive.
I think you have touched on this part of immigration vary well. And IMO you don’t go far enough. Conservatives fear that immigrants will dismantle the institutions that make the country worthy of immigrating to; progressives hope immigrants will dismantle those institutions, and also don’t think those institutions are what makes a country worthy of immigrating to.
If you look up, in the comments, you can find where John agrees that the consensus on immigration currently is mostly signalling of tribal solidarity, and that this signal is of very recent vintage. The second part of your statement is, well, false.
In what way is the 2nd part false? Which of the institutions do Progressives support? Certainly not the Constitution, progressive thinkpeices these days come fast and furious about how the Supreme Court will be intolerable for generations, merely because it will have 5 justices that follow the amendment process proscribed in the text, rather than some other progressive ideal. Certainly not churches. Nor do they appear to be a fan of other intermediary groups like the boy scouts as they constantly engage in attempts to fundamentally change them. They generally oppose the free market system and meritocracy, a common critique of both being that they foster white supremacy and the patriarchy.
So what institutions in America are what make America immigration worthy other than its general wealthiness, which the standard progressive argument holds is stolen?
I think you can be more charitable than this.
Norn, charity is not a virtue when it leads to inaccuracy.
I would extend to you the same opportunity to present a cohesive list of institutions conservatives value, that immigrants vote against, which progressives generally also do not want to dismantle.
Um.. I am furious about how the Supreme Court will be intolerable FOREVER, because it has become a political tool where members are appointed for their policy positions and expect to use their judicial authority to make those policies happen.
Read the Full Faith and Credit clause (A4S1), and then tell me if a state or the federal government has the right to not recognize a legal marriage performed by another state.
But I have to say that I hope some of the lefter folk here will make an effort to answer. I don’t want to be rhetorical or hyperbolic, but I really do despair sometimes at how little the left and right seem to have in common these days. It would be very reassuring to me to hear them list a few things that are important to them and that they think are important to me.
Even something as pablum as “We are all Americans and we should respect each other” seems to be slipping away, as evidenced by Ozy’s post.
I think the number of liberals who actually hate the Constitution, churches, the free market*, etc is a small minority. Like, I know a lot of social justice type people, and I can count on my hands the number who say things like “The Constitution is nothing but patriarchal white supremacy”. And the Social Justice types aren’t even the mainstream of the Democratic party, just a block that’s really vocal on social media. Do you really think your Dem-voting auntie wants to dismantle the Constitution and the church?
As for hating the Supreme Court, everyone hates it when they have to share control of the government with The Other Side. Have you seen Congress’ approval ratings lately?
*I do not consider something like “Supports Obamacare and some environmental regulation” to be “Hates the free market”.
No, so long as the constitution doesn’t stand in the way of the things she does want. And if it does, she doesn’t much care, she wants what she wants anyway.
Moderates who want “common sense gun control” are probably the best example here. It’s not that they actively hate the constitution. It’s not even that they are demanding to repeal the second amendment. They just want Congress to enact gun control, and the idea that this might be unconstitutional is considered irrelevant – because saving the children is more important.
Are there any other examples? Because I think even 2nd Amend supporters should be able to concede that the Right to Bear Arms means something totally different in 2018 than it did in 1789. I think a reasonable person can agree that the Founders had incredibly valuable insights about rights and liberties and the structure of government that they put down in the Constitution, and yet there’s a significant difference between muskets and AR-15s. And it does say “A well-regulated militia”, and IIRC even in the early 1800s many places had some pretty strict gun laws, so while I’m not a Constitutional scholar, I feel like there’s still an Originalist case for gun control.
I don’t think supporting gun control is beyond the pale from a Constitutional perspective. (I have pragmatic reservations about gun control, I’m not convinced it would do very much to reduce shootings)
No. I do not concede that at all. I consider it obvious that the intent of the second amendment was to allow the citizenry to be sufficiently armed in order to wage war against the government, in the event that it became tyrannical (as the founders themselves had just done, personally).
By that standard, existing weapons regulation already goes too far.
Let me get this straight…
Idontknow comes in with poorly argued clap trap about how “liberals want to destroy what makes America great by letting in immigrants”, and your complaint is that liberals won’t agree with you on things?
… in a conversation about immigration of all things?
Look, if there is one thing “everyone” used to agree on it was that America was a “nation of immigrants”. Not long, long ago, but always in constant renewal. My grandfather grew up speaking Italian at home. My great grand parents came over from Sicily on a boat.
That Statue of Liberty is practically the symbol of liberty. It’s on Ellis Island. For a good reason.
If anyone has a right to complain about abandonment of a commitment to what has made America great on the subject of immigration, it’s liberals.
Is immigration an unalloyed good? No. Do I recognize that having the home country much closer than it was in the past represents some new problems for the assimilation? Sure.
But damn, my buddy’s Polish grandmother couldn’t even speak English. It’s not like this stuff is new or insurmountable.
The intent of the 2nd Amendment to rebel against the government doesn’t make sense to the typical 21st century mindset because we don’t violently oppose governments anymore, and can change government policies in other ways. Most liberal democracies have bought into this, and a sizable number of Americans as well.
As an aside, I typically think “American values” is just whatever the speaker wants to implement. Is allowing the burning of the flag an “American” value? Because it was barely overturned by the Supreme Court, majorities of Americans historically want it banned, and super-majorities in Congress have regularly voted to ban it via Constitutional Amendment (though never enough to actually get it passed).
So, if I was going to put on my anthropologist hat, I’d say that the actual American value is to ban flag burning, but they are merely frustrated by their broken institutions. Yet if I put on my libertarian-esque ‘MERICA hat, I’d say this is a great example of our values.
One thing I agree with the left on: The only valid reason to own an AR-15 is to be prepared for an eventuality where you have to shoot a lot of people.
The fact that so many people own them, many of which clearly aren’t gang members or school shooters, would suggest that this is your own personal opinion – and that many disagree.
The fact that armed revolution against the government hasn’t been attempted since the 1860s is not evidence that it will never be attempted again.
This isn’t a personal opinion, it’s a majority opinion. If you ask the typical person if a private citizen should be allowed to own a military-style assault weapon, the typical person will say “no”: either hard no or soft no. This number will become lop-sided when you add in citizens from other high-income liberal democracies.
It’s also why the US had an assault weapons ban.
The idea that we absolutely need the 2nd Amendment so we can have weapons to defend against government intrusion is almost definitely a minority view. It doesn’t matter if it is right or wrong, it’s still a minority.
Oh wait that isn’t what I said at all. I said
Which boils down to, conservatives fear that progressives want to dismantle institutions conservatives think make America great, and want to enlist immigrants in doing so.
Indeed, despite a so far fruitless discussion of the 2nd Amendment (which I don’t really think any Progressive has argued for strengthening/expanding), no progressive in this thread has identified an institution highly valued by conservatives that they also value highly and would try to preserve. Particularly if it conflicted with bringing in more immigrants, and thus threatened their perception of demographic victory.
I am generally a libertarian, but I am pragmatic on this question of immigration. Go and read the anti-immigration screeds of the late 1800s. They talked about how immigration was fueling machine politics and the progressive movement. They predicted things like the US’s involvement in WWI (and how that would destabilize the region) WWII, the New Deal, prohibition, and the like. They sound like seers. For what would happen in the US 1910-1940.
Is America richer and more prosperous than in 1900? Yes, but its institutions are much worse.
Oh, anti-immigration sentiment is also very traditionally American. Right down to portraying the current wave of (Irish) immigrants as swarthy monkeys.
Nonetheless, I stand by the statement that, as far American values go, “Nation of Immigrants” has been relatively uncontroversial and the kind of thing that generally crossed the left-right boundary for the better part of the last century (although things like Operation Wetback mean that antipathy to Latino immigration isn’t particularly new either).
As to “you want to import immigrants to destroy the institutions that make America
greatworth immigrating to” … yeah, that really amounts to the same statement.
But you are being too clever, because you also claimed that liberals/progressives don’t support the Constitution. Spare me. I can just as easily claim that conservatives don’t support the Constitution. Both of these statements are wrong. The framers understood that politics and governance is fundamentally process that involves disagreement, both about meaning and policy. The Constitution isn’t immune.
As to the rest of your list, I’ll simply ask you to google “Moral Mondays” and “Paul Krugman”. Your list is bunkum.
“no progressive in this thread has identified an institution highly valued by conservatives that they also value highly and would try to preserve.”
If I as a progressive listed institutions in the U.S. that I value and the ones I actively support every day, would that constitute evidence to the contrary and persuade you that progressives do value U.S. institutions? This is not a rational discussion the way it’s framed here — just a very broad and wild accusation. To what end?
When you look at the sweep of U.S. history, do you recognize people on the more left end of the political spectrum who have served as judges, attorneys, city council members, teachers, school principals, union leaders, church members, directors of charities, soldiers, scientists, doctors, social workers, city planners, public works engineers, post office workers, shop keepers, loan officers, tax accountants, real estate agents, auto assemblers, truck drivers, journalists, software developers, polling place volunteers, homeschoolers? The conservatives and progressives that I know value the institutions that all these kinds of people are part of. We are bathed in institutions everywhere we go, and most of us are engaged to one degree or another in changing these institutions even as we preserve them.
If there’s another point you’re trying to offer evidence for, I think it would benefit from being made rather more precisely.
Section starting on 183
A long winded one about urbanization and immigrants
Another long one
One need only read a few sections including Chapters IV and conclusion.
Importance of immigrants to the socialist movement in the US
Here a pro-immigration person contends it took “only” 120 years for Irish immigrants to assimilate.
It is also important to note that following WWI 2 restrictionist acts in 1921 and 1924 were enacted, vindicating the fearmongers.
Most of the times I come across these things is in books, and sadly it is usually accompanied by large scoops of racist language
@HBC Krugman? Really? You are citing the walking example of this:
It would certainly depend on the institution you cited because I am talking about things cons value that you also support. Do you support the NRA? FIRE? Other 1st Amendment groups (ACLU no longer counts here after their recent debacle)? 4th Amendment advocacy (no racialization allowed)? Federalism dating before Nov. 2016?
Maybe I’m violating a burden of proof standard, but do you have evidence for how many progressives DON’T value these institutions? As Cuke pointed out, even in deep blue cities people still say the Pledge of Allegiance, celebrate the 4th of July, still go to church (in fewer numbers), still volunteer with charities, still serve on the school board, go to City Council meetings, still serve in the military (although also in fewer numbers), still become entrepreneurs, still join organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, etc, etc, but you’re saying that they don’t respect American institutions because many of them want gun control and a handful of SJWs call the Constitution a tool of white supremacy? As if the America that survived slavery and Civil War and Jim Crow and lynching of racial and religious minorities and the Espionage & Sedition Acts and Watergate and presidential assassinations and the violent radicals of the 60s & 70s, etc, etc, is going to be threatened because the Democrats might bring in more voters who think the minimum wage should be a little higher? THAT’S the kind of thing that destroys America’s great institutions?
(Shoutout to Conor Friedersdorf for inspiring this argument)
Maybe you don’t think it applies now, but surely there’s some level of firearms / weapons technology where you would say “Ok, I know we have the 2nd Amendment and all, but this is way too dangerous to be in civilian hands”. Even if you have to go sci-fi and imagine a future where we can produce hyperplasma handcannons at a price the average American can afford. I’d find it strange if you really think there is no firearm that the 2nd amendment wouldn’t allow.
I absolutely support First Amendment advocacy, and I think anyone who comes to this blog, which regularly hosts debates from people outside the normal political spectrum (sometimes *far* outside), does too. I don’t know any prominent civil liberties organizations other than the ACLU and FIRE, but that means I don’t oppose them either. I don’t know why you put “no racialization allowed” on Fourth Amendment advocacy (even if these liberties are advanced specifically in the cause of one group, they still apply to everyone once implemented), but if you bring up how suspects’ and defendants’ rights are abused by law enforcement among progressives, you’re preaching to the choir (I’ll admit that many abandon this cause when it comes to sexual assault, but on every other count it seems to me like it’s conservatives who are too deferential to law enforcement authority). And I’m hardly the first to point out that Federalism is incredibly opportunistic on both sides. The party outside the White House always cries Federalism and then abandons it once they’re in power. Go talk to Jeff Sessions about Federalism and Marijuana, or Federalism and Sanctuary Cities.
Hey, guess what, asinine arguments don’t need good rebuttals, as they are nearly self refuting. You are the one who asserted that “progressives” generally oppose the “free market system”. I don’t care if you don’t like Krugman, don’t like his preferred monetary policy or even think his overly bombastic style is risible. He neatly refutes your claim.
Lazy arguments are lazy.
@mdet I think your reply is most helpful, although I do think you might be an example of a break between liberals and progressives, which is why I generally use the latter when describing people who I find engaging in the activities I talk about in my OP.
I do think the few that you caveated with “in fewer numbers” is important, but also under-representative. All the institutions besides school boards and city councils (both being political and intrinsically related to taxes) you cited are declining. The pledge/4th can be rationally seen as related to the NFL anthem protests, for instance. And mostly, I think you just generally underrate the numbers of the “handful of SJWs”. I am out of college and the rhetoric/silencing remains pervasive within professional work environments, and this is coming from someone who has been a sole prop for 3 years now.
To be honest none of those things you cited ever represented great threats to American institutions other than slavery/the Civil War, and a person who lived in 1850 America would not have recognized 1900 America, so the idea that it was preserved is not very well founded. But yes, minimum wage (and related ideas like UBI, welfare, and medicare) are a much greater threat to our institutions than Jim Crow. Social cohesion increased 1920-1960, and African-American prosperity relative to whites caught up significantly despite Jim Crow. OTOH, post-Johnson the gap in key things like intergenerational mobility, wage gaps, unwed motherhood rates, etc have gradually increased between groups, including between Blacks/Whites.
In addition we have a voterbase that now doesn’t understand the consequences of actions. Vietnam was an easier to win war than Korea, Iraq easier than Vietnam, Crimea (if we so desired) even easier. But there is no stomach for such wars, yet there is a thirst for rhetoric advocating for them. I’d say the quintessential example of this in modern times is the number of politicians that voted for the Iraq war in 2002, but by 2004 already opposed it.