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Fundamental Value Differences Are Not That Fundamental

I.

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.

II.

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.

III.

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.

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707 Responses to Fundamental Value Differences Are Not That Fundamental

  1. perlhaqr says:

    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.

    I see you’ve had conversations with other libertarians about who is really a libertarian! *Groucho Marx eyebrows*

  2. Tom Paynter says:

    Let’s look at the idea of different values with an eye toward the different psychological processes and subjective experience at work. Sam Harris has discussed the actual writings and video testimonials of various Islamist terrorists and people who have gone to fight for ISIS. He talked about several attractive features of adopting the radical Islamist mindset. 1) Unearned expertise. With a little religious reading and listening to some radical sermons, you get to feel as though you have the Truth, the secrets of the cosmos. You are smarter and wiser than all the non-Islamist politicians, moral philosophers, even physicists. 2) Justification for hate and violence. You can give in to your most violent impulses, to rage, you can be sadistic, completely self-centered, you can glory in your sex slaves and burning people alive, and feel not just ok about it but absolutely good and self-righteous.

    It seems there is a fundamental value difference at work between the person who chooses radical Islam and the person who doesn’t. Not at the level of “burning people alive: good or bad?” But at the level of “Would you rather do the hard work of achieving real expertise, real understanding, living with character, getting along with others, and accepting your place in the scheme of things, or would you rather take a shortcut, not do that hard work in favor of easy power and exalted self-righteousness?” The same dynamic would be at work in a committed communist, social justice warrior, Nazi, etc. Each was confronted with a complex world, with the hard work of growing up, the reality that he isn’t always right and other people aren’t always wrong, etc. And by choosing ideology rather than maturity, each showed that in his value system, self-righteousness, power, and smug superiority ranked above real understanding and maturity.

    • And by choosing ideology rather than maturity, each showed that in his value system, self-righteousness, power, and smug superiority ranked above real understanding and maturity.

      Don’t you think that describes how most people behave, not just the groups you mention? Profundity on the cheap seems to me to be a very common pattern, with or without ideological backing.

  3. Rm says:

    No, you just aren’t an environmentalist.

    It’s fine, many people make that mistake about themselves.

    What depth of rigor do you think is appropriate for making decisions like that? Imagine saying something like this if the subject were psychiatry. Imagine hearing someone else do it.

    How do you think forests work without megafauna? The Yellowstone park didn’t stop existing without wolves; but when they were reintroduced, it began to be restored. And what’s megafauna anyway? It’s a slippery slope, you free up a resourse and suddenly, it gets eaten by somebody else. Some cosmopolitan, like the rat. And as your megafauna gets smaller, it gets more difficult to kill, more dangerous, less predictable. Try eradicating domestic cats gone wild (cough in Australia cough).

    You think protecting single species does much good? The trend is to protect ecosystems exactly because focusing on single species doesn’t work, the living things are too tightly co-dependent. People have tried it for half a century, it failed, and you still think you can get rid of “a random snail” without paying for it down the line?

    How many dimensions do you pack into “species A looks like species B”? How about invasive weeds like Solidago canadensis and its close relatives. It’s one thing to know their subterranean rhizomes emit allelopathically active substances. It’s another thing to know the amount of the substances depends, to an extent, on the plant’s ploidy! The species is (are, depending on how narrowly or widely you define one) aggressive invader(s), adapting to new territories, it’s happening right now, and it’s happening on a level that your distinction doesn’t see. Good luck wrestling Asteraceae as a whole into “species A looks like species B, so I don’t care which one stays and which one goes”!

    So no, you aren’t an environmentalist, you just want “to do the right thing”.

  4. linkhyrule5 says:

    I don’t know. Personally speaking, while I am aware that I do not, in general, abide by all my principles, I consider my failure to do so to *be a failing*, something that ought to be corrected – either by changing my principles or my actions. It is possible for my principles to be poorly-considered and lead to bad consequences, and it is possible for me to be a hypocrite, but both are places where I as a fallible human being have *screwed up*.

    Insofar as that sort of belief leads me into conflict with, literally, the entire rest of the world… well, yes. I’m fine with that. There is a reason we semi-joke about taking over the world, you know; and there is no particular rule against making friends with peoples you’re eventually going to try to conquer. (In fact, rather the reverse.) The only reason I do not, in fact, loudly advocate for the war of all against all is that I am well aware that I’m likely to have embarrassing errors in sufficiently fundamental places that even were I able to state a wish on the Holy Grail and have it granted, I could not reliably conjure a utopia.

    (It is for this reason that I label all such moral questions as “to be solved by the ender of the world,” but this is the wrong site for that :P)

  5. Ogre says:

    “Do immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work and talent” is a deeply flawed question.
    One person might interpret is as a generalised, abstract “immigration good or bad?”, but another person might take as a given that of course in principle immigrants can strengthen the country. The latter group would likely interpret this as a question about the current reality. As in “are Mexico sending their best people, or are they sending a disproportionate number of bad ombres?” The actual immigrants you get are a heavily filtered subset of all possible immigrants.
    If asked this question of my own country I would say that, yes, definitely immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work and talent, and that’s precisely why I would be against further liberalisation of immigration policy. We’ve clearly found a sweet spot, and we should aim to stay there. But if the question was “immigration good or bad” and you answer yes, then it seems to follow that the more immigrants the better.
    All the survey respondents were American, and it’s possible that American culture provides a common frame for this question, such that all the respondents interpreteted it the same way, but that wouldn’t be my default assumption.

  6. Edge of Gravity says:

    Passively professed preferences are not actual values. The real ones are like revealed preferences in economics. Your ex said that more lives are better is an absolute, but did she go out and actually do it?

  7. Theresa Klein says:

    This means that trying to use shaming and indoctrination to settle value differences is going to be harder than you think.

    I think you have this wrong. Shaming is not used because people think there are fundamental value differences. it is used because people think that the other side actually doesn’t have fundamental value differences. Shaming presumes that the other side actually shares some fundamental value with you, which you think they should feel bad about not living up to. If the disagreement in question is rooted in fundamental value differences, then shaming isn’t going to work. You can’t shame someone for something if that person doesn’t fundamentally think he ought to be ashamed of that thing.

    • Ogre says:

      Wouldn’t that be guilting, rather than shaming? Granted, in the existing debate on shaming, the term is not precisely defined.

  8. albatross11 says:

    When Scott points out that voters move a fair bit on a lot of issues when the political rhetoric changes, I think the most important reason is that most people don’t care that much (or think that much) about most issues. Suppose you’re a Republican because of where you live and some part of your identity, and you care a lot about not having your guns taken away and not getting clobbered by new taxes, but not so much about most other issues. When torturing captives or throwing out the illegals becomes a big tribal issue, and your team takes one side of that issue, it’s likely you’ll broadly go along, simply because you’ve never really thought about it before, and the arguments from people you identify with sound much more sensible (for the normal mental bias reasons) than the arguments from people you think of as the outgroup.

    That’s not true for everyone–some people have strong beliefs or issues that don’t rely on party affiliation. Someone whose deepest beliefs involve, say, support for Israel or opposition to abortion is unlikely to change those beliefs if their party shifts to the opposite side of the issue. But most people who support Israel or oppose abortion don’t have such strong beliefs or feelings on the matter, and so they’re susceptible to being shifted in position by changes in the positions of the parties.

    • Matt M says:

      Agreed. This is a point I was trying to make above, that a lot of people essentially “outsource” their political beliefs to the larger tribal cohort, and that it is the battle between cohorts that ultimately drives political outcomes.

      If I’m solidly red tribe, and someone else is solidly blue tribe, it simply doesn’t matter that we might actually not disagree that much on one particular issue. What matters is that blue tribe and red tribe solidly disagree in general, and that we’ve hitched out respective wagons to those tribes.

  9. Le Maistre Chat says:

    BTW, “we want to shame you and take your children away from you with indoctrination” is a strong case that the Culture War has to be fought at universities (as that’s where primary and secondary teachers are educated), something no Republican President ever does. Losing is fun!

  10. Humbert McHumbert says:

    I’m flabbergasted by the presumption that one can shame people and indoctrinate their children while still doing well by the lights of the “fairness and reciprocity” value. But I suspect I approach that value with a more deontological bent than Ozy does.

  11. Urstoff says:

    tfw you’re a non-cognitivist or error theorist and you see people talk confidently of moral truths

  12. Gazeboist says:

    Utility functions (direct mappings from a world state to an unbounded numerical value) are useful tools in a lot of ways, but they don’t (seem to) describe how people reason about the world, partially because they go directly from world state to utility (which makes them impossible to usefully compute) and partially because they are hypothetically unbounded (which creates utility monsters and other, similar problems).

    Agents can’t reason about the world they exist in using world state directly except as a means of refining their model of the world, for fundamental mathematical reasons. Instead, they use descriptors – summaries of the world state that compress it down to manageable form. To avoid having to entirely recompute everything when the model is refined, descriptors are usually recursive. Low level descriptors feed into high level descriptors, and each level has its own associated dynamic model, so the agent can select which to use based on the scale of the action being considered. The descriptors can be described by a directed hypergraph with a source node representing the world state. Each edge of the hypergraph is a function that computes output descriptors from its input descriptors, but the hypergraph as a whole is not assumed to be a function with respect to any descriptor it contains – the agent’s computed value of each descriptor is (or may be) path dependent. Contradictions in the hypergraph allow model refinement, by one of three means: recalculation of underlying descriptors, refinement of descriptor state calculation functions, or refinement of the relevant dynamic model(s). In general though, the hypergraph is not fully computed when new data is received due to the opportunity cost associated with doing so; this means implicit contradictions can persist for some time.

    Consider the idea of “approval relations” as a generalization of utility functions under this model. To the modelling hypergraph described above we add a sink node called “approval”. Each edge entering the approval node maps a set of descriptor values to a binary output representing approval or disapproval of the universe state associated with the input descriptors. Each such edge is called an approval function; the approval relation is the entire structure mapping underlying universe state to approval/disapproval. An approval function is trivial if it maps all possible inputs to the same value. Trivially approved functions are discarded as irrelevant, and trivially disapproved functions are discarded as impossible (or incorporated into conditional approval functions, but I don’t want to get sidetracked into a discussion of counterfactuals). The approval relation describes the agent’s goal states, which are the set of states that map to approval (or, rather, that do not map to disapproval). In general the agent attempts to adjust the universe’s state towards (an) approved state(s) or away from (a) disapproved state(s), increasing its confidence that the value of the approval node is positive. Because of the path dependence of descriptor values, any actual universe state may be both approved and disapproved by the agent, in which case it must perform the refinement operations discussed above in order to determine what action to take, but only if the agent is aware of the contradiction. It is also possible for an agent to pause refinement in order to take action, if the refinement process is determined to be less relevant than some limited opportunity action.

    (Yes I have decided to write a paper because people are wrong on the internet. No, you can’t see it yet, I have not yet begun the process of writing proofs. It is not even fully outlined.)

    In general I think values differences are more likely to amount to differences in the descriptors feeding into the approval node (either their estimated values or which ones feed directly into the approval node) rather than fundamental differences in the output of two agents’ approval functions with the same domain.

    edit:

    WOLOG, the modelling hypergraph can be treated as acyclic.

    e2: While the work this is a part of aims at people who are wrong on the internet, this particular piece is more relevant to people who are underspecified on the internet.

  13. Nootropic cormorant says:

    I’m sorry but my only fundamental value is tribalism and anyone who can candidly enunciate symbols of the opposing tribe is literally Hitler.

  14. MB says:

    “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)”.
    Not an original observation here, but this obsession with dividing people into exactly two groups seems a consequence of the US and British electoral system, where you need a plurality of the votes in each district to gain a delegate there. This makes for strange political bedfellows.
    In other countries it’s completely fine to think that your small minority group, 10% or 7% or whatever gets you safely into Parliament, is right and everyone else is wrong. Then you can have the integrity of your opinions without compromise and leave the coalition-building to the professional politicians, who are paid to do it.
    In other countries, most of the population has absolutely no voice in the political process, further decreasing the importance of coalition-building and compromise (both for the oppressors and for the oppressed).
    So, were it not for the peculiarities of the US electoral system, perhaps the author would feel happier in his assurance of his political tribe’s superiority.

  15. Alliumnsk says:

    How do people (e.g. Chomsky) who say that intelligence&race differences should not be investigated, and any of such knowledge is of no use, fit in here? Wouldn’t knowing more increase our ability to help African countries?

    How do people who like Mesoamerican human sacrifice fit in here?
    Encyclopedia Dramatica people who write stuff like category: “FPS, Single Player / Bomberman/ Microsoft flight simulator” in page about killers?

    • LadyJane says:

      The people who oppose the study of race and intelligence believe that inherent racial differences in intelligence don’t exist, or are so negligible that they wouldn’t have any real effect on life outcomes anyway, with statistical IQ differences being attributed to various environmental factors rather than genetics. In their eyes, the science is already settled, and anyone who wants to reopen that can of worms is probably acting in bad faith in the hopes of ‘proving’ that racial minorities are inferior and thus justifying racist policies and attitudes. They see this as dangerous because even if significant genetic differences don’t actually exist, studies can be misinterpreted and abused to make it seem like they do.

      For the most part, I agree with these people. I genuinely think the science is already settled for the most part. I’m not categorically opposed to all efforts to study the issue further, but I do think that scientists and science journalists need to be very careful about how their findings are presented, mostly so we don’t end up with sensationalist news articles on far-right websites with inflammatory titles like “Research proves that whites are the most intelligent race!” every time a study shows any statistical IQ difference between ethnic groups.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        What the those sites tend to publish is “Research proves that Asians are the most intelligent race!”, which tends to cause all sorts of hilarious problems for your worldview.

        • LadyJane says:

          That doesn’t make a difference, the focus is always about how racial minorities (i.e. black and brown people) tend to be less intelligent, so that their relative lack of success can be attributed to genetics rather than the effects of past or present disenfranchisement. The argument goes: “We already have equality of opportunity, and if that doesn’t translate to equality of outcome, it’s because those groups are just less intelligent.” Of course, that conveniently ignores the fact that we only have de jure equality of opportunity, rather than de facto; it also ignores the fact that we didn’t have either until a few decades ago, and there are still lingering effects from that.

          • Viliam says:

            You have a point, but the argument actually goes more like “yeah, black people were oppressed, but so were the Chinese, and somehow that didn’t stop them“.

            (To which an obvious counter-argument is that Chinese were oppressed in different ways than blacks, and for a shorter period, so maybe the difference of outcome is there.)

          • That doesn’t make a difference, the focus is always about how racial minorities (i.e. black and brown people) tend to be less intelligent

            Does “brown people” mean people partly of sub-Saharan Afrixcan ancestry–which describes most African-Americans—or hispanics? The latter are mostly a mix of European and native American, and I don’t know of any evidence suggesting that native American IQ is lower than that of Europeans. Native Americans are ultimately of east Asian ancestry, which would suggest the opposite.

            Why, by the way, don’t you count east Asians as a racial minority?

          • LadyJane says:

            By “brown people” I was referring to Hispanics as well as racial groups that are technically Caucasian but generally aren’t considered white (e.g. North Africans, Middle Easterners, South Asians).

            I never said I don’t consider East Asians a real racial minority, and I certainly didn’t mean to imply that they don’t face challenges in modern Western society. But if someone with white supremacist leanings reads an article that says “Studies Prove: Asians Have Highest IQs, Blacks Have Lowest,” his focus is going to be on the latter part of that headline. He’s not going to say “I guess I was wrong, white people aren’t the Master Race after all, I should accept that I’m inferior to East Asians.” But he is going to use it to affirm his suspicions that black people are inferior to him.

          • the focus is always about how racial minorities (i.e. black and brown people) tend to be less intelligent

            Now that you have defined “brown people,” the question is what studies suggest that Hispanics, North Africans (presumably Berber and/or Arab), etc. have a lower average IQ. The comparisons I’ve seen are sub-Saharan African ancestry, European ancestry, East Asian ancestry–I think with Amerinds sometimes included and more or less fitting the East Asian pattern.

      • For the most part, I agree with these people. I genuinely think the science is already settled for the most part.

        Proving a negative is hard. Can you point me at the evidence that supports your view?

        In arguments I have observed, I have seen a total of one piece of evidence that average black genetic IQ is the same as average white genetic IQ (children that American soldiers had by German mothers after WWII), and that pretty weak evidence.

        There are lots of arguments critiquing the evidence that average black genetic IQ is lower than average white genetic IQ, but the implication of such arguments is not that the conclusion is false, which is what you are claiming, but that we don’t know that it is true.

      • In their eyes, the science is already settled, and anyone who wants to reopen that can of worms is probably acting in bad faith in the hopes of ‘proving’ that racial minorities are inferior and thus justifying racist policies and attitudes.

        In my eyes, for reasons sketched above, the science is not settled in the direction they are claiming and, given the limits to our ability to set up experiments, probably cannot be. There is no a priori case for their position, since we know of other heritable characteristics, such as height and skin color and frequency of heritable diseases, that correlate with race. Insofar as there is empirical evidence on the question most of it is against their position, although not conclusively so.

        I conclude that people who make the claim you made are probably acting in bad faith, motivated by ideology not science. The best of them know that they are lying but believe, not unreasonably, that they are lying in a good cause.

        • LadyJane says:

          If someone claims that the difference in intelligence between racial groups is so severe that it can explain the difference in life outcomes between racial groups, then the burden of proof should be on them for making such a heavy claim.

          Let’s say you’re right and there’s a 5 point difference in IQ between two racial groups, even after confounding factors like socioeconomic class and education quality and nutrition are accounted for. That still wouldn’t be a good explanation for why different racial groups have different life outcomes, because it’s an almost trivial difference. If you took two groups of random people, one of which was entirely comprised of people with IQs of 100 and one of which was entirely comprised of people with IQs of 105, I wouldn’t expect there to be any significant difference between them in terms of life outcomes. Now if the groups were split between IQ 100 people and IQ 130 people, or between IQ 100 people and IQ 70 people, I would expect significant differences in how successful the people in each group were. But I don’t know of any study showing a ~15-30 point IQ difference between any two mainstream racial groups after adjusting for non-racial factors. (I specified mainstream because I do remember a study showing that the IQ of the average Bushman was about 70, although a lot of that can probably be explained by the extreme cultural and linguistic differences involved.)

          • If someone claims that the difference in intelligence between racial groups is so severe that it can explain the difference in life outcomes between racial groups, then the burden of proof should be on them for making such a heavy claim.

            The position you earlier said you mostly agreed with was:

            inherent racial differences in intelligence don’t exist, or are so negligible that they wouldn’t have any real effect on life outcomes anyway

            .And you said about that position:

            I genuinely think the science is already settled for the most part.

            You can’t defend that by saying that people on the other side haven’t proved their position–If neither position is proved the science isn’t settled.

            The distinction between “we have shown that innate differences are not important” and “we don’t know if they are or are not important” matters, since the latter is a reason to support research, not to try to suppress it, and you are using the former claim in defense of suppression, arguing that since we know it isn’t true, anyone studying the question can be presumed to have bad motives.

            But I don’t know of any study showing a ~15-30 point IQ difference between any two mainstream racial groups after adjusting for non-racial factors.

            Checking the Wiki article on the subject, the first study they cite gives a 15-18 point black/white difference. It then refers to a number of other sources giving similar figures.

            Where did you get your figure from?

            So far as the effect of differences, my memory of what I read of The Bell Curve is that a good deal of what it was about was the correlation between IQ and various outcome measures, mostly I think calculated from data on whites. You might want to look at that to get a feel for how much effect 15 points, or 5 points, might plausibly have.

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: I was mistaken on several fronts. I concede your point.

            I still believe a good portion of the racial differences in IQ can be explained by environmental differences, largely owing to the fact that those same minority groups tend to be significantly poorer on average. But I haven’t been able to find any study of race and intelligence that accounts for socioeconomic class.

          • I still believe a good portion of the racial differences in IQ can be explained by environmental differences, largely owing to the fact that those same minority groups tend to be significantly poorer on average

            Certainly possible. On the other hand, there are lots of cases of immigrant groups who came in poor and in a generation or two were at or above the national median.

            One of those groups, I believe, is West Indian immigrants, who are black–blacker than the average Afro-American. Thomas Sowell uses that case, in Ethnic America, to argue that the bad outcomes of Afro-Amerians are due to neither genetics nor discrimination, both of which should apply more strongly to the West Indians, but to culture.

            The next question is whether discovering that your views on this particular issue were based on a mistaken view of the facts has led you to reevaluate your strategy for gaining information about the world and, in particular, the sources of information you relied on. From both my standpoint and yours that’s a bigger payoff than correcting a particular error.

  16. LadyJane says:

    I think there’s an important distinction to be made between purely factual/methodological disagreements and disagreements over terminal values, though I also think the two are more like opposite points on a gradient spectrum rather than a simple binary.

    Imagine a speaker explaining, “I believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because that will result in poor people having better lives, which will increase the total amount of happiness in the world, which is desirable according to my utilitarian moral compass.” Now imagine five people, all of whom disagree with his proposed policy, explaining their reasoning:

    The Utlänning: “I don’t believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because I think it will actually result in poor people having worse lives (since it will become harder for them to find jobs at all).” (Purely methodological difference, based in differing predictions about the consequences of an action)

    The Främling: “I don’t believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because even though it will result in poor people having better lives, it will decrease the total amount of happiness in the world (since it will hurt consumers and employers to a greater degree than it helps minimum wage employees).”
    (Largely methodological difference, possibly along with a very slight difference in worldview, based in analyzing the situation differently and placing different levels of emphasis on various aspects of it)

    The Raman: “I don’t believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because regardless of whether it helps the poor or increases the total amount of happiness in the world, it violates people’s freedom of choice in matters of employment, and protecting freedom of choice is more important than increasing the amount of happiness in the world according to my moral compass.”
    (Partial difference in worldview, rooted in differing prioritizations of mutually shared values)

    The Varelse: “I don’t believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because I don’t believe that poor people deserve to live better lives; according to my moral compass, poor people deserve to be poor because they don’t work hard enough, or because they don’t have the skills or talents or aptitudes required to do valuable work.”
    (Difference in worldview, rooted in differing terminal values)

    The Djur: “I don’t believe the government should increase the minimum wage, because I think it will help poor people and increase the amount of happiness in the world, and I’m a reverse utilitarian who believes that the amount of suffering in the world should be increased.”
    (Total difference in worldview, rooted in diametrically opposed terminal values)

    Maybe there is some level on which all of these stances could ultimately be traced back to a difference in opinion over facts: the Raman and the Varelse and perhaps even the Djur might simply have very different understandings of how the universe works, which influences what outcomes they would expect from various actions and what outcomes they would consider desirable. But the further you go down the list, the deeper you would have to delve into their psychological framework – their fundamental assumptions about themselves, other people, society, the world, and the nature of reality itself – to find the point of factual difference between them and the Speaker. And if that point of difference is deeply rooted enough, it may simply be inaccessible, such that it could never be detected or altered by any amount of discussion – in which case, saying it’s not a “fundamental value difference” is effectively just splitting hairs.

  17. edanm says:

    Here’s something I find really ironic. Ozy seems to be saying that (American) conservatives don’t put the same value on other people as they do on Americans (because they prioritize their ingroup), as opposed to Ozy and “their side” which tries not to prioritize their ingroups [1].

    This belief makes them “moral mutants”. Which makes them completely different from “Ozy’s side”. Which makes them (and therefore half of America) seem evil. Which makes them a group that it is in Ozy’s self-interest to shame and stop from expanding their values.

    In other words, it makes conservatives Ozy’s outgroup. And they believe that they should treat this outgroup in much the same way that “conservatives believe” we should treat non-Americans!

    I mean, even the language and justification seems the same – immigrants will spread toxic views, other countries are not founded on the same Judeo-Christian (i.e. “good”) and democratic values, etc.

    I believe that in this way, Ozy and conservatives are more alike than they’d think, just that they see different groups as outgroups. And of course, this is not really an original observation to me: Scott had a whole post about exactly this topic (which I’m surprised wasn’t mentioned. Key quote: “[…] my hypothesis, stated plainly, is that if you’re part of the Blue Tribe, then your outgroup isn’t al-Qaeda, or Muslims, or blacks, or gays, or transpeople, or Jews, or atheists – it’s the Red Tribe.” https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/)

    [1] From Ozy’s post: “I imagine a conservative feels the same when I say “from a moral perspective, an American is worth no more than an African.” From their perspective, I don’t simply have different values, I actively rejoice in evil. I tell cute childhood stories about replacing “Respect Authority” with “Question Authority” in the Girl Scout Law. I urge people with all the eloquence I can muster not to prioritize their ingroups over other groups of people. “

  18. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Excuse me if this has already been covered, but there are (at least) two meanings to “irreconcilable differences”.

    The differences can almost certainly be reconciled in a sufficiently abstract system, possibly something like “everyone should pursue what they care about”.

    This is not the same thing as reconciling differences between two people. The abstract approach *might* help with getting people to get along with each other, but I’d have to see it done.

  19. blankmisgivings101 says:

    One partial answer to the clash of values problem is to formulate a meta-value which both sides to a debate can agree on and ‘work backwards’ from there. For example, let’s posit a meta value ‘the survival of the human species’. Now we ‘work backwards’ from that contingent transcendental value to the smaller debates that are nested inside it. At the very least it might provoke more interesting arguments than when you’re stuck at the level of supposedly ‘primary’ moral values.

    For example, take the debate on foreign aid / whether the Medicaid budget should go to Africa. Instead of being stuck in a sterile undergrad debate (Rawls, blah blah) about the moral value of foreigners versus one’s fellow citizens the debate would be about the long term ‘human species survival implications’ of maintaining nation state borders, versus the same long term survival implications of a borderless world. The latter would be more complex but not empirically unanswerable – we would be thinking about the long term value of competition between national entities, versus the value of cooperation, but in terms of the implications for the meta value of human species survival.

    • fion says:

      You might struggle to find a meta value that can be agreed upon. I, for example, disagree with the value of survival of the human species.

  20. sharper13 says:

    I wonder how many other people (probably not many?) read the second section and thought, “Wait! Those aren’t necessarily mutually contradictory principles.”

    So in regards to the country should not send money to foreign countries and we should treat foreigners exactly the same as our fellow citizens, what if you believe the country shouldn’t send money to our fellow citizens nor to foreigners? That we should treat them the same, which means voluntary charity only and the government isn’t legitimate in redistributing money to either of them?

    Anyway, I suspect if you start with a basic vague principle in mind of “People want themselves and others they like to be better off”, then you can turn everything else into a factual argument about how to implement that principle, right down to the atheist arguing belief in God is inherently damaging vs. the religious arguing it’s inherently beneficial and this supposedly principled and moral argument really about the facts of which is more accurate.

    But 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.

    First, Ozzy needs to take social sciences studies on topics like “My outgroup is way different than me in these ways.” with a much larger grain of salt.

    Second, as a general rule, if you consider half of your fellow humans to be evil whose legacy needs to be destroyed and values eradicated a result of your philosophical analysis, than you should probably reconsider the chain of reasoning which got you to that point rather than deciding that’s the right conclusion. I’m not sure exactly where the proportion there is (Maybe if it was only the values of 1% of the country, max?), but it should take a much larger dose of certainty (as in, you can literally read minds) to conclude that for half of the nation’s population.

  21. HowardHolmes says:

    This comment is likely too far off the subject to be relevant, but whenever you start talking about value differences I think like my dad used to say when someone asked him for directions, “you can’t get there from here; you need to go somewhere else to start.”

    You actually suggest that people might not differ as much in their values as one often thinks. At least you are heading in the right direction. People do not differ in values AT ALL. All humans are value clones. Actually humans just like all living things have one and only one value: to maximize reproduction. Every act of every non-human living is clearly and undeniably for the purpose of maximizing reproduction. Why in the world would evolution come up with some other motivation for humans.

    It did not and cannot. If any mutant acts according to some other value, he will be outcompeted by humans with the universal value. So if you want to understand human behavior, understand that no human has ever acted for any reason other than to maximize his own reproduction. Start applying that principle and the world will suddenly take a turn up Consistency Lane.

    • ec429 says:

      [N]o human has ever acted for any reason other than to maximize his own reproduction

      Adaptation executors, not fitness maximisers.

      • HowardHolmes says:

        Granted the taste buds as designed are not as effective for modern man as far our ancestors. But this has no bearing on the reason for the action. We eat chocolate for only one reason: to maximize our personal reproductive success. A deer might go to a deer feeder and eat some corn. This action might result in his death by a deer hunter. Nonetheless, the deer’s action is still motivated by one and only one reason: to maximize his reproductive success.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          You are giving motivation to something that is not motivated. You are anthropomorphizing evolution.

          The limit of evolution is maximized fitness. Individuals themselves act in ways that reflect this, and their motivations also reflect this, but that is not their motivation in and of itself.

          Otherwise we wouldn’t ever see people killing their own children and committing suicide.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            “we wouldn’t see people killi

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Are you saying that evolution has nothing to do with motivation. My point was that all actions of all living things is motivated by maximizing personal reproduction. If that is not correct then what is the reason non-human living things act?

          • albatross11 says:

            HowardHolmes:

            Our brains were shaped by evolution, and evolution runs on each gene being selected for maximizing the number of copies of that gene in the next generation. But that doesn’t mean that humans usually behave with that as their motivation.

            Sex in the state of nature means kids. So we evolved to really like sex. But once we invented birth control, we ended up with the evolved-in drives not necessarily leading to lots of offspring. The modern world is so different from the environment in which most of our ancestors lived that this kind of thing is probably the rule, rather than the exception. (Think of how delicious sweet and fatty things taste–bad for you now, but good for your ancestors, so you have a drive to eat boxes of donuts that decreases your fitness.)

            Further, this is true of animals. There are tons of interesting animal behaviors that don’t look obviously like they’re optimizing for current fitness. We know they all evolved under selection (and drift and mutation), but that doesn’t mean that a current-day bluebird’s actions can be predicted very well by “what would be the current thing that bird could do to maximize the expected number of its genes in the next generation?” Indeed, there are plenty of things animals do that are pretty damned puzzling to folks who study it.

            [ETA:] What would a human who was really trying to maximize his or her fitness look like? Maybe that fertility doctor that gave all his patients his own sperm? Or some family patriarch in a polygamous society with a dozen wives, each with six or seven kids? Or maybe a really hot guy who spends his days seducing women who then end up going on public assistance with his kids, when he inevitably leaves them for the next baby mama?

          • HowardHolmes says:

            This is in reply to albatross11

            Thanks for the very thorough explanation. I’ll use your examples to make another run at my point. Sex is fun. All animals have sex because it is fun. Other than humans living creatures do no know there is a connection between having sex and reproduction. In fact no animal or plant ever reproduced because “he wanted to reproduce.”

            However, just because sex is fun does not mean that the reason rabbits have sex is for fun. The REASON rabbits have sex (the reason sex is fun) is in order to reproduce. It is the same when applied to humans. Long before we had effective birth control humans had sex. They had sex for the same reason rabbits did. On a conscious level one can argue they had sex because it was fun. However, we all know the real reason (the reason it WAS fun) was to maximize personal reproduction. There can be only one real reason for doing a thing. If humans or rabbits REALLY did things for fun, they would be outcompeted by others who did things to maximize reproduction. Evolution has no interest in our having fun. Fun is never a reason for action; it is merely the way nature fools us into, for instance, having sex. No successful evolved living form is here because they wanted to maximize pleasure.

            I have not argued at all that we are optimized for maximizing reproduction, but when I talk of reason for actions, I am not at all talking about effective of those actions. I am not saying every action is the best for maximizing reproduction. But the reason for the action is still this.

            Take your bluebird. I agree he is not optimized for today’s world. The same is true for humans in many, many ways. But when a bluebird lays its eggs in the wrong spot because of confusion from modernity, he STILL is laying eggs for the purpose of maximizing reproduction. When a human overeats on sweets and becomes grossly obese, he is STILL doing it because of the value of maximizing reproduction. Following his appetites worked much better 20,000 years ago, but this does not change the reason that the appetites exist and hence the reason for his action.

            One point of confusion for humans is that 1) they think they control their actions and 2) they think they know why they act. As a general rule humans are clueless as to their real motivation. And as a hard and fast rule, a human no more controls his actions than a rabbit. All actions of both were set in stone at the big bang. So just because it feels like I am giving to Effective Altruism for the purpose of helping others, I am really giving in order to maximize my persona’ reproduction.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Are you here using “reason” to mean approximately “cause” or approximately “motivation”?

          I think you’re wrong in either case, but for different, uh, reasons.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            I see no difference. The reason we act is the cause of our action and also the motivation for our action

          • Tarpitz says:

            I guess I would say that it’s plausible that all motivations are causes but certainly not that all causes are motivations. Motivations are immediate, psychological, probably conscious. I eat because I’m hungry. Hunger is a motivation. And yes, somewhere in the causal bundle for my hunger, and for that hunger leading me to eat, are evolutionary matters. But those are not themselves motivations, nor are there no non-evolutionary causes for this particular instance of me eating (maybe I’m hungry because I got home late because there was an accident on the motorway, so I just shove in a ready meal instead of taking the time to cook).

            Just because A is a cause of B (or part of the causal bundle for B) doesn’t mean it is the only cause of B.

          • HowardHolmes says:

            Tarpitz,

            Do you eat because you are hungry or because you want to maximize personal reproduction (MPR). You would not even be hungry if eating did not MPR. Hunger exists for one and only one function to MPR. It is merely a means to an end and is not the reason for your action.

  22. RalMirrorAd says:

    I apologize in advance if what i’m about to say comes across as backhanded;
    I am reasonably confident I can put myself in the mind of a leftist. I’m not confident a leftist can do the same. (Unless they have kids of their own and they start thinking like a right-winger)

    The main thing you need to do to get more than half of the way to left wing thinking ( at least if you are a white person) is to internalize the idea that all human lives are equally valuable.
    The main thing you need to do to get more than half of the way to right wing thinking is to internalize the idea that all human lives are not equally valuable.

    The typical conservative or liberal self described would probably agree verbally with the idea that ‘all human lives are equally valuable’ but the conservative doesn’t internalize this view, and doesn’t carry this idea to its logical conclusion (unlimited interpersonal and intertribal redistribution of wealth, prestige, land, etc.) . The conservative can’t get themselves to accept the morally counter-intuitive notion that he/she is as responsible for a random african child than his or her own child. Whereas the leftist can’t conceive that anyone wouldn’t regard all human lives as equally valuable unless they were a monster.

    Libertarians occupy an unusual ground here where they internalize the idea that all human lives are equally valuable, but they generally either morally subordinate that view to a moral framework [of, say, private property and voluntary contract] that prohibits most of the extreme leveling policies from being implemented, or they adopt some kind of reasoning to show how their policies are the best even if you treat all lives as equally valuable.

    Also, I say white leftist because if you’re a person of color, or if you simply don’t consider yourself part of the society that is allocating said society’s resources, more often then not ethnic group benefits directly from policies that are motivated on the grounds that all human lives are equally valuable. As such it’s not immediately clear whether accepting the policy means you’re genuinely internalizing the idea that all human lives are equally valuable or if you’re simply seizing on an opportunity presented to you to advance the interests of your ethnic group.

    A black person who opposes affirmative action on the grounds that all ‘people’ should be treated the same regardless of race is probably more left-wing in a certain sense then someone that reflexively supports it.

    • Bugmaster says:

      but the conservative doesn’t internalize this view, and doesn’t carry this idea to its logical conclusion (unlimited interpersonal and intertribal redistribution of wealth, prestige, land, etc.)

      Do leftists, though ? I often see them spending money on things like Starbucks coffee, posting on Facebook (or SSC, even !), buying and driving cars (especially expensive hybrids or electrics), etc. All of that money and effort could (theoretically) be used to rescue a significant number of African children from poverty, starvation, and death. Even if that number is just “1”, a leftist who is as committed to African children as he is to his own, would surely forego his next nonessential purchase in favor of that one child.

      And yet, I don’t see too many people devoting themselves to a life of near-poverty so that their less fortunate brethren could be elevated to the same status (“poverty” means something different in the West). I think that, in reality, both the Right and the Left are are committed to supporting their own family and tribe over the faceless masses at large. They just disagree on who their tribesmen are.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        Think globally. Act locally.

        This is an aphorism, but it’s evidence of how the typical person in the left thinks about these issues.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Think globally. Act locally.

          I don’t really understand what this means in practice.

          • Matt M says:

            As far as I understand it, the intent of the statement is to encourage people to take small individual actions within their control in an attempt to solve large problems, even if their own individual action doesn’t even come close to moving the needle.

            I first heard it in the context of recycling. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it probably makes zero difference to the planet whether you, as one individual, recycle or not. But you should do it with the thought that if everyone did it, it would make a difference.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            It also means, literally, to do things at a local level.

            Want to help the environment, why not work on stream/river buffers in your local community? It’s an acknowledgment that you are more able to affect change the closer you are working to your own local community, and that this is the change that is most impactful.

            The “think globally” part is a is simply the knoweldge that it’s all part of a broader whole. Problems don’t respect political borders.

          • Bugmaster says:

            As far as I understand it, the intent of the statement is to encourage people to take small individual actions within their control in an attempt to solve large problems

            How small are we talking ? If you are truly committed to helping all of humanity everywhere equally, does it not make sense to focus your resources on the places where they are most needed ?

            why not work on stream/river buffers in your local community? … you are more able to affect change the closer you are working to your own local community, and that this is the change that is most impactful.

            What do you mean by “impactful” ? How many African children can you rescue from imminent death, for the price of cleaning up one local river ?

            I get the “act locally” part, but I don’t see the “think globally” part here.

          • Jaskologist says:

            This feels like when people nitpick the Golden Rule with “but what if I’m a twisted sadist?” Of course the 4-word aphorism doesn’t enumerate all edge cases. But this one still strikes me as a pretty good rule of thumb. Localism, but not the detriment of everyone else. First clean your room, then you will see clearly enough to clean your brother’s room.

          • Bugmaster says:

            First clean your room, then you will see clearly enough to clean your brother’s room

            To me, this sounds like the exact opposite of “treat all people as being exactly equally valuable”. If your room has a stack of old comics you’ve been meaning to throw out, and your brother’s room is covered in pigeon droppings and is also on fire, which room do you clean up first ?

          • Viliam says:

            Think globally. Act locally.

            I don’t really understand what this means in practice.

            Write on Facebook about starving kids in Africa, spend money on your own kids? 😛

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        Something something heath ledger’s joker “Their code is a bad joke” etc. etc.

        Ok more seriously. Well here’s my bias; Part of the reason I am not a leftist is in part because the morality itself is impossible to follow to the letter when the rubber hits the road because it’s so contrary to our basic mammalian instincts. (Namely, self preservation, pecking orders, kin loyalty, etc. etc.) — And because if you had two groups of equal power and strength and one of which adhered to egalitarian universalism and another of which practiced opportunistic ethnocentrism, the former group would get destroyed in short order. Any ethical system that puts its practitioners in such a precarious position is a non-starter for me. Morality is an evolutionary trait and is therefore must compete for survival just as all genes must compete for survival.

        But a similar issue exists with other paradigms; for instance, the fact that individual leftists when given the opportunity to take legal or even illegal deductions on their taxes will do so and nobody uses this fact to argue that leftists support lower taxes. A right winger who conceivably wants lower taxes might actually be less likely to engage in aggressive tax avoidance because they feel more emotionally connected to the country as a tribal entity and therefore regard tax avoidance as unpatriotic, if not merely because they live in a state where their taxes are lower or less complicated making such actions less profitable.

        Another example, you’re a leftist that supports open borders politically. You live in a neighborhood that is 95% NW European, but over the course of a few years it becomes 10 to 20, to 40 to 70% Afro-arab as the result of a refugee program. You worry about things that are happening to your child in school and you find yourself increasingly paranoid when it comes to home security. You decide to move to a nearby neighborhood that is still 90+% Northwest European, but you don’t necessarily internalize the fact that you’re favoring a less diverse community over a more diverse one. Would you call this person a white supremacist? An Ethnostatist?

        So yeah, you buy that sugary star bucks drink instead of donating every dollar you earn above subsistence to africa, because frankly you are not programmed to regard to genuinely treat every human life equally.

        It’s worth pointing out though that it’s a spectrum. There are a handful what we might call left wing saints who volunteered either for Africans or Arab refugees and were subsequently raped or murdered. They would then go on to say, or in some cases their parents if they didn’t survive, that they didn’t hold their assailants morally responsible for what happened.

        To a leftists that’s pure dedication. [The outcome might be kind of embarrassing]
        To a right winger it’s a frustrating tragedy that someone who probably would have made an amazing mother [or father but these people are usually women] was ostensibly brainwashed and sacrificed to a group of people who will never understand that level of empathy.

        Right wing morality in its more idealized form is hard in some areas to follow to the letter but far easier in my opinion; Put your own children’s welfare first, then your extended family, then your village, then your nation, and put humanity last. Right wing sexual restraint and monogamy (actions taken for the good of the tribe but not necessarily for the enjoyment of the individual) have always had defectors, particularly among the wealthy. However until very recently venereal disease, the difficulty of determining fatherhood, and the difficulty of carrying out abortions made licentious sexual behavior dangerous and impractical. That’s to say nothing of the psychological issues with adultery.

        Now let me back off of my right wing bias and say that right wing morality isn’t perfect or complete. A bit of counter-intuitive humanitarianism is still useful and necessary and our instincts alone don’t necessarily provide enough of it to operate successfully in the modern world. (A modern world of wide networks of trade and nuclear weapons) Similarly nepotism if carried too far breeds corruption.

        • Bugmaster says:

          if you had two groups of equal power and strength and one of which adhered to egalitarian universalism and another of which practiced opportunistic ethnocentrism, the former group would get destroyed in short order.

          This is exactly the same logic that leftists use to justify their purges: “do onto others before they do onto you”, and since minority groups are already being oppressed, anything goes. The problem with this strategy is that it gets you permanently stuck in a local optimum. Yes, you have ensured your group’s survival; however, in exchange, you have to keep spending an ever increasing amount of resources on warfare.

          Getting everyone to at least consider clicking “Cooperate” instead of “Defect” in such situations is an extremely difficult problem, but IMO the first step to its solution would be to at least stop dismissing the problem out of hand.

          However until very recently venereal disease [etc.] made licentious sexual behavior dangerous and impractical.

          This is one of the things that makes me dislike conservatives: they are (by definition) slow to adapt to new technologies. In the modern Western world, all of the problems you’ve mentioned are pretty much solved; however, conservatives still condemn “licentious sexual behavior” on the grounds that it is deontologically evil, end of story.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            I’m a bit unsure of how to read your first paragraph. I don’t see the connection between arms races and purges. [I guess it depends on what people are being purged for?]

            In an interative prisoners dilemma, If you’re unconditionally altruistic you will be almost certainly punished for it. If you’re unconditionally treacherous you might benefit for awhile but unless you’re well protected (perfidious albion?) you’ll probably also eventually be punished for it. If you reciprocate [conditional altruism] you’re not guaranteed to be successful but you’re odds of success are probably higher than either of the other two methods.

            “licentious sexual behavior” on the grounds that it is deontologically evil, end of story. — Technology has made the sexual revolution feasible, but feasible is not the same as desirable.

            Contraception is not perfect, abortions and infidelity are traumatic, STD treatments expensive, and IIRC fair portion of people that have sex out of marriage when polled later regret it. Women do not report greater levels of happiness, etc. etc.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @RalMirrorAd:

            I don’t see the connection between arms races and purges.

            The modern radical Left is well-known for using increasingly more severe social pressure to destroy those opposed to their causes. Right-wing speakers get no-platformed, insufficiently left-wing employees get fired, businesses who cater to the wrong crowd are shuttered, etc. The tactics used to exert this pressure are continuously ramped up to compensate for rising opposition (as well as media fatigue); we are now at the point where they are crossing over into physical violence.

            In an interative prisoners dilemma…If you reciprocate … you’re not guaranteed to be successful but your odds of success are probably higher

            Agreed, but this means that both participants must be willing to cooperate, and that they can’t start off by hitting the “Defect” button “just in case”. This seems contrary to your original statement re: egalitarian universalism vs. opportunistic ethnocentrism.

            Contraception is not perfect, abortions and infidelity are traumatic, STD treatments expensive…

            Ok, let’s assume, hypothetically, that tomorrow all of those issues get fixed. Naturally, nothing is perfect in this world, but let’s say contraception and abortion are as safe and reliable as driving a car (actually, more so, one would hope); infidelity is extremely rare; most people who have sex only after marriage poll as having regretted not trying it out freestyle first; etc. Would you change your opinion on licentiousness ?

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            @bugmaster

            1. In an arms race each party ups the ante in response to their perceived need to have greater force available than the other, and since only one can be stronger at any given time both sides are genuinely ‘racing’ against the other.

            Contemporary purges are a wholly one sided affair, more akin to US Government – native American relations where one side is nipping away at the space of another with no real counterplay (To be clear I’m not dealing in the realm of victim/oppressor, just that one side is unambiguously growing in strength and another is unambiguously shrinking — If left wingers were literally gassing conservatives on college campuses I still wouldn’t call it a victim oppressor relationship because I refuse to deal in that paradigm)

            So again I don’t see the parallel

            2. Explicitly putting your in group’s well being before the well being of humanity doesn’t mandate committing to ‘defect first’ and depending on the response of the counterparty may be a self-defeating act.

            But it does at minimum authorize you to defect when you perceive the counterparty is defecting or generally not acting in good faith, since you have nothing more to lose from doing so.

            The “all humans are equally valuable” ethos might mandate someone uphold what they perceive to be a parasitic relationship simply because the counterparty represents a larger contingent of humanity, and therefore that counterparty’s well-being takes precedence.

            3. I hesitatingly say yes with three caveats;
            – It’s viscerally counter-intuitive that a lack of personal discipline wouldn’t give a person or society a lot of trouble, but if I were living in that hypothetical world I probably would be ok with it, since my view of sexual conservatism used to be more liberal to begin with, and only soured after getting more data on what the effects actually were. [Also realizing that people are not rational and routinely jump into things they later regret]
            – Modern sexual morality is made possible by technology but is not justified by it. People who support modern sexuality [speaking in generalizations] look back at past attitudes as having been *necessarily* wrong, and are extremely defensive about the risks that did or continue to exist that result from choices people make.
            – Finally, putting 1 and 2 together, I think if someone said “We can accept any lifestyle which by current technological standards is compatible with social harmony, stable families, and public health” they would probably be decried as a reactionary [or at least a conservative] even if compatible lifestyles potentially included things currently still outside the realm of acceptable behavior. This is in part because the focus isn’t on the individual ego or individual self expression.

        • Jiro says:

          Another example, you’re a leftist that supports open borders politically. … You decide to move to a nearby neighborhood that is still 90+% Northwest European, but you don’t necessarily internalize the fact that you’re favoring a less diverse community over a more diverse one. Would you call this person a white supremacist? An Ethnostatist?

          To answer this question, you ask the question “would he call someone else who avoids refugees (including opponents of open borders) a white supremacist?” If he does, then you can say “by his own standards, he is a white supremacist too”. The fact that he doesn’t internalize it doesn’t matter–he didn’t check to see if those opponents of open borders internalized it, after all.

          I’m not willing to accept the argument “it’s a spectrum” if there are different standards for “not all the way at the end of the spectrum” between your side and the other side.

        • mtl1882 says:

          However until very recently venereal disease, the difficulty of determining fatherhood, and the difficulty of carrying out abortions made licentious sexual behavior dangerous and impractical.

          This was so for the women, but not the men. Of course, there were men who were absolutely faithful, in part because of fear of STDs. Men were terrified of syphilis. But I don’t think we’ve ever gotten an accurate picture of the number of men who infected their families with syphilis due to pre/extramarital sexual behavior, dooming them all to miserable lives and deaths. Prostitution was rampant in the 1800s. It was impractical to be having an affair with a woman in your town, but not to use a prostitute. The thing that was discouraged above all was actually masturbation, which they believed caused a deterioration worse than syphilis. So if that hadn’t been such a focus, perhaps the problem would have been significantly reduced. It also would probably have been better if female sexuality had been acknowledged, because the wives may have been more receptive. But despite the risks, many people were not deterred.

          In many communities, the rate of brides being pregnant was extremely high. It was way more common than people think – they just got married. My parents were surprised to find out it was true of their aunts and grandmothers when they looked at the wedding date. And where multiple men “dated” the same local girl, one would bite the bullet and marry her if she got pregnant – usually the one without a fiancee, or the stupidest/most easygoing one. They may or may not have been the father, but that’s just how it went. President Cleveland did this but didn’t marry her – just took responsibility for the child that may have been his. It was a controversy during the election.

          There is no question women were much more careful than they are today, but I don’t think men were, on the whole. They didn’t “date” much, but they were licentious. Benjamin Franklin, paragon of discipline and virtue, talks in his autobiography about his use of prostitutes, his fear of diseases, and his luck at not catching one. He raised a child he had by a prostitute, though it seems he couldn’t have been sure it was his. That son grew up and also had a child by a prostitute.

          It has been proposed that Abraham Lincoln gave his whole family syphilis with the exception of one son, accounting for the other sons’ early deaths and his wife’s deterioration. But I think this is sensational and lazy reporting. I don’t think Lincoln or his sons displayed syphilitic symptoms. Mary Lincoln’s symptoms did track it fairly well, but she deteriorated over a period of several decades, far longer than someone with syphilis would be expected to live, and there are other good explanations for her issues. However, there is pretty strong evidence that Lincoln believed for some time before marriage that he had caught syphilis from a prostitute, and agonized over it. And he’s another paragon of self-restraint and logic. What must it have been like for the average man?

          • In many communities, the rate of brides being pregnant was extremely high.

            I’ve seen figures for several European cities in the late 19th century suggesting that about a third of brides were pregnant. I’m not sure that was the result of licentiousness. The alternative is that engaged couples slept together on the assumption that when and if the woman got pregnant they would get married. If she didn’t get pregnant that might mean she was barren, which would be a reason not to marry her.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @DavidFriedman

            I agree that it may not meet the definition of licentiousness, at least as used now. But it was still a big risk for the woman if the guy bailed, with no paternity testing available. But they took the risk, and fortunately many men took responsibility. There also was a fair amount of marrying the nearest nice guy after getting pregnant by someone else, particularly in western/rural/poor communities. I think there have been some weird cases involving situations where the woman’s husband is legally presumed to be the father, causing issues even when she has admitted infidelity and the biological father wants to acknowledge parentage. The old laws on the books tend to provide that whatever children a wife has, they are considered her husband’s. This was in part to cover such situations, and provide the best outcome for everyone involved. Scalia wrote an interesting opinion on a guy who tried to get custody of a child a while ago. He argued that biological fatherhood did not give the father, if not married to the mother, any natural rights based on historical precedent. That’s kind of a tangent but I thought it was interesting.

            I would also like to point out that archive.org has interesting 1800s pamphlets on sex etc. They describe some very “modern” behavior, quite frankly.

          • John Schilling says:

            But it was still a big risk for the woman if the guy bailed, with no paternity testing available.

            Less big if the entire community knew what was going on and was tacitly pretending not to notice only so long as the guy doesn’t bail. If the penalty for abandoning a mother is that the father gets run out of town, then it isn’t marriage that is the relevant benchmark, it is being recognized as the girl’s lover.

          • The old laws on the books tend to provide that whatever children a wife has, they are considered her husband’s.

            Lord Mansfield’s rule:

            “…the law of England is clear, that the declarations of a father or mother, cannot be admitted to bastardize the issue born after marriage.”

            Common law not, so far as I know, laws in the books.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @DavidFriedman

            You are right, but some states also codified it (sometimes adding exceptions).

            https://caselaw.findlaw.com/md-court-of-appeals/1446715.html

    • ec429 says:

      Libertarians occupy an unusual ground here where they internalize the idea that all human lives are equally valuable, but they generally either morally subordinate that view to a moral framework [of, say, private property and voluntary contract] that prohibits most of the extreme leveling policies from being implemented,

      I think the way this works is that we say that all humans are equally protected in the sense that all are entitled to their natural rights (e.g. the NAP), but that one of those rights is an individual right to value some humans more than others in supererogatory matters. That is, it’s OK for you to buy your friends takeaway rather than donating to African charity (you’re allowed to value your friends more than some starving African child), but it’s not OK for you to violate, say, some African’s legitimate property rights, just because you value him less.
      So a racist shopkeeper who refuses to serve ethnic minority X (because he does not think them equally valuable) is behaving within the bounds of the NAP, and while we may criticise, shame, boycott him, if we deploy force to make him serve them then we have crossed those bounds (because now we are considering not him, but his rights as less valuable than others’ desires).

      Even the burden of protecting another against aggression from a third party is supererogatory (this may in fact be what distinguishes anarchist libertarians from minarchist libertarians, but I’m not sure because, despite having been one in the past, I don’t understand what minarchists are thinking). So one is not required to go and overthrow some TPLAC’s government that’s violating its citizens’ natural rights.

      Thus I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a libertarian internalises the idea that all human lives are equally valuable. The hypothetical racist shopkeeper could be a libertarian in good standing, as can those of us who (quite naturally) value the lives of those we know closely more than the lives of (to us) anonymous inhabitants of distant nations unlike to our own.

    • Alliumnsk says:

      Do leftists actually believe all human lives are equally valuable? Hillary called millions of people ‘deplorables’.

      • fion says:

        Is Hillary a leftist? I thought she was more of a liberal.

        • PeterDonis says:

          @fion:

          Is Hillary a leftist? I thought she was more of a liberal.

          What’s the difference?

          That actually isn’t a snarky comment, it’s a serious question. If we’re going to throw around these very general labels, we should at least make sure we all have the same understanding of what they mean.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Leftist tends to be used to mean “towards the tail end of the left wing coalition” and tends to imply things like “thinks communism might actually be workable”.

            But you are correct that it isn’t used very consistently. The term left-wing and leftist tend to be easily confused for each other.

          • fion says:

            @PeterDonis

            I would say that the big difference between liberals and the left is how they feel about free markets. Liberals believe markets are, on the whole, good, but they might believe in some small amount of taxation and welfare, like there is in the US. The left believes in more redistributive taxes, with more state-funded services, and perhaps even nationalisation of some industries (rail, mail, health, education, energy and water seem like popular ones).

            Most of the democratic party are probably liberals. In the UK, where I’m from, “liberal” means (obviously) the Liberal Democrats, and also I’d say about half of the Labour party (although it’s a shrinking ‘half’). Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton, Emanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, perhaps even Angela Merkel are all what I would call “liberals”. In the UK, the people who say the EU is unambiguously good and leaving it was the worst thing imaginable are mostly liberals, although actually many on the left agree with them.

            The Left is more Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Yanis Varoufakis, Noam Chomsky, perhaps even people like Francois Hollande and Pablo Iglesias. They’re mostly social democrats, with some socialists, anarchists, communists etc.

            Now, for me, “leftist” means “person on the left” means “left-winger”. HeelBearClub points out that “leftist” is often reserved for the more radical fringe of the left. The perhaps-slightly-uncharitable version of this is the college campus campaigners holding placards and shutting down speaking events by right-wingers. It might include Chomsky and maybe even Varoufakis, but I don’t think it applies to any of the other “left” examples I gave above.

            Having said all that, I guess it makes sense that in a given country, you’ll divide it roughly down the middle, calling half the politicians “left” and half “right”. So I think that’s why a lot of USians refer to the Democratic Party as “the left”, even though, in the wider Western political tradition, they’d probably be considered “centrists”.

    • arlie says:

      I think you are halfway to my position here. For some of us, it’s not about values – it’s about our own value, and perceived threats.

      Even if I agree that a hierarchical society is more stable, and better for all, than one that allows opportunity to everyone (think “caste system”), it’s absolutely rational of me to oppose one that relegates me and my closest friends/family to the bottom of its heap. Ditto if I simply believe that inequality and injustice are natural parts of the human condition. If I’m ultra rational, I’ll calculate the costs (to me and mine) of opposition vs the costs of compliance; if I’m a normal young male I may simply rebel in spite of likely worse consequences.

      So as a right wing person, you believe that not all lives are equally valuable. If I’m in the set that you believe less valuable, I don’t want you in a position of power with respect to me. That has nothing to do with values.

      FWIW, I’m white. But I’m also a member of several groups that are popular targets for right wing rants/action, or have been such in my lifetime. I can indulge in debates about specific values, and I often have more in common with a specific right winger than a specific left winger. But bottom line – I only have 2 viable political choices, with no nuance. So I’m “blue tribe” as long as I live in the US.

      And FWIW, I believe that this equal value/unequal value divisions is a bit oversimplified. Does everyone have an equal right to justice? To poliltical representation? To peaceful enjoyment of their property, etc.? Of course. (But not to a right winger?) Do they contribute equally to society – not likely. Are some of them a danger to those around them, and need to be treated differently because if that, in spite of equal rights? Yes. Where I part company with right wingers tends to be on who qualifies as dangerous, and what it’s OK to do about that. And also on whether/how much people with resources have some minimal positive duty to help those in significant need. The list goes on after that – I’m somewhat of a natural left winger, even without feeling personally threatened by red tribe agendas.

  23. ellmersg says:

    I’m wondering if anyone noticed how immediately after asserting the fact/value distinction, the article renders that distinction incomprehensible?
    Scott writes:

    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….

    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.

    These seem more alike than different. I would love to know how “a sufficiently spectacular terrorist attack would cause people all around the world to rise up and throw off the shackles of Western oppression” is a factual belief, but “American lives are worth nothing [and] striking a blow for their homeland is a terminal good” is a value? What’s the distinction? What’s the clear, unambiguous switch that is flipped crossing from one to the other?

    • ec429 says:

      I think it’s very clear: the first is about what the consequences of an act would be (once you ignore loaded words like “shackles of… oppression”), while the second is about what ethical affect to assign to consequences (in the case of American lives) or even to actions (“striking a blow”). Seriously, it even has the phrase “are worth” in it, that seems pretty unambiguously about values.

      “Action X would cause Y” is a fact claim. “Y is worth Z” is a consequentialist values claim. “Action X is a terminal good” is a deontological values claim. I honestly don’t see how this is hard.

      • ellmersg says:

        I honestly don’t see how you think this is easy.
        The first assertion _presupposes_ that a terror attack is morally justified by the presumed effect. Without this presupposition the factual belief is invalid or pointless; it has no deliberative weight without a premise that is inherently a moral judgment. So is that moral presupposition about the worth of certain human lives a factual or values belief?
        The second statement asserts that American lives are worth nothing. But if this is based on a “factual” article of faith, viz. that infidels deserve to die (see Scott’s previous paragraph on faith-based “factual” beliefs), is this a factual or values belief?
        I can’t establish a clear distinction. Your refutation just repeats Scott’s assumptions without defending them. Again: the premise that infidel lives are expendable for the goals stated — fact or value?
        Throwing in the word “worth” doesn’t really establish anything.

        • ec429 says:

          The first assertion was

          a sufficiently spectacular terrorist attack would cause people all around the world to rise up

          The truth-value of this is unaffected by whether such an uprising is a good thing, whether it justifies the deaths, etc. Consider the assertion “If I stab this baby, it will die”. This is a factual claim about the consequences of an act; I can believe it without any implication or presupposition that stabbing babies is morally justified. Turning assertions of this kind into moral judgements requires adding premises about values, but that doesn’t make the fact-claim “pointless” — one could just as easily claim that (consequentialist) values are “pointless” because, without the addition of fact-premises, they don’t determine what actions will bring about the valued consequences.

          However, in the second statement case, the structure of the argument is different, something like this:
          – P1: Americans are (all) infidels
          – P2: The lives of infidels are worth nothing
          – ∴ C: The lives of Americans are worth nothing
          Now P1 is a fact claim, P2 is a values claim, and C is entailed by categories (it is an a fortiori application of P2); this has nothing to do with claims about the consequences of actions. In this case it is neither a factual nor a values belief, but since it is not a premise, classifying it in this way is unnecessary (it can be changed either by a change in factual beliefs — deciding Americans are not infidels — or by a change in values — deciding that infidel lives are of some value). However, it would also be possible for someone to believe C as a values belief, not caring about infidels but hating Americans per se.

          Really there are three types of premise in the two examples. The first is the values-neutral fact claim, “Action X would have consequence Y”. Neither deontological rules about X nor consequentialist valuations of Y have any bearing on the truth-value of this claim. The second is the deontological claim, “Action X is a terminal good”. This is assigning moral weight to an action rather than its consequences. The third is the consequence-value claim, “Z lives are worth nothing” (more generally, “consequence Y has utility U”).

          Both the second and third claims are value claims. The second can render a judgement with no other premises; the first and third each require the other in order to imply a judgement (which judgement would find that action X is an instrumental good, because it serves the terminal value that approves of Y).

          “Worth” is a signifier for claims of the third type, i.e. statements about the utility function.

          • ellmersg says:

            I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to reply. And everything you say is correct, as far as it goes. But I think we are talking past each other.

            You are focusing on the logically validity of a hypothetical syllogism. I am talking about decision making. I believe Scott’s discussion was also about how people make decisions, not about formal logic.

            If your boss asks you how you are getting to work the next day, the answer, “If I had a car, I would drive,” is not adequate (and will make you look like a smart aleck). Your boss is not interested in “if p then q” discussions; he wants useful practical information. If you need money, you might mention to your friend, “If I rob that gas station, I could get $200.” When you ask his opinion, you are not looking for a logic-check on the integrity of your syllogism. You want to know if he thinks it is justified, or a good idea, to rob a gas station.

            Scott’s discussion was not about logic games, but about how facts and values play into making decisions among people with certain ideological beliefs. I am trying to understand where the line is between so-called facts and so-called values in decision making within that belief system. So a purely hypothetical syllogism has (as I mentioned) no _deliberative_ weight, because it prescinds precisely from what we want to know: is the major premise true or not?

            In terms of how terrorists make decisions, Scott’s distinction between facts and values remains as muddled to me as ever, despite everything you said about formal logic being true, because you never answered my main question:

            In the context of Scott’s discussion, is the premise that infidel lives are expendable for the sake of the stated goals a fact or a value?

          • ec429 says:

            In the context of Scott’s discussion, is the premise that infidel lives are expendable for the sake of the stated goals a fact or a value?

            A value. It is the belief that the gain of the stated goals exceeds the loss of infidel lives (or in the original form, that there is zero utility cost to the destruction of those lives). This is precisely a statement about the utility of a world-state (or the Δutility between two possible world-states), which is a value statement. It is a premise which does not correspond to anything outside the terrorist’s skull: there is no physical measurement you can make of an infidel that will tell you whether or not his life is of value.

            Another way to look at this: Facts are in the territory. Values are what colour the map is drawn in.

          • ellmersg says:

            ec439 – thanks again for the reply. I really am grateful for your thoughts. I am clear where you stand. I’m still unclear about Scott, though.

            The sentence we are arguing about occurs in a sentence where he is postulating various “factual” beliefs held by terrorists, based on their ideology:

            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.

            Scott is not attributing to them some abstract, hypothetical, syllogistic logic. He is proposing a serious of “factual” beliefs held by the terrorists, which includes concepts like “the literal truth of Wahhabi Islam,” “sinful,” “socially beneficial way of life,” “Western oppression,” etc. In that context, do you think that Scott agrees with you?

            I agree with your logic, but I don’t think Scott does.

          • ec429 says:

            ellmersg: I agree that Scott is unclear here. But to take e.g. “socially beneficial way of life”, I think ‘beneficial’ is meant to be understood in terms of what a Westerner like Scott would consider beneficial. That is, the hypothesis is that the “way of life” leads to improved outcomes as judged by Scott’s current values. (Conversely, if you want to argue a Wahhabist out of his position, you need to show him that the way of life will lead to outcomes that he considers worse; you can’t change his mind about which outcomes are good or bad. Though he might be labelling as “outcomes” some internal nodes of the causal graph — that’s instrumental values — and you can change his mind about those by showing him what’s downstream of them.) “The literal truth of Wahhabi Islam” would be a statement about things like whether Allah exists and has these characteristics, and so on. “Shackles of Western oppression” is a loaded term, but if you ignore the connotations its actual rôle in the sentence is just to identify that-which-would-be-thrown-off. Similarly “sinful” can be interpreted to merely mean “contrary to the precepts of Islam”, which in the absence of any values beliefs about Islam is just another factual descriptor.

            So I think Scott has (unhelpfully) muddied the point by using loaded terms in the “factual beliefs” examples, but under a strictly denotational reading the argument is being correctly put. And it’s hard to entirely avoid loaded phrasing; to a Wahhabist the phrase “contrary to the precepts of Wahhabi Islam” will still sound like a values claim even though it isn’t.

          • ellmersg says:

            Thanks, this conversation has been very helpful. I hope you won’t be offended if I say that you have persuaded me that I have been correct all along. Scott’s fact/value distinction is untenable. The reason you have to contrive a strained re-interpretation of the plain meaning of the words in Scott’s paragraph, and why you concede that it’s quite hard to avoid “loaded phrasing” in this context, is because for the adherent of Wahhabi Islam, his values _are_ facts.

  24. P. George Stewart says:

    Oh for heaven’s sake, the immigration stuff has nothing to do with morals or principles, the tail that’s wagging the dog is that the Democrats have been aware for some time that the jig is going to be up in the not too distant future with Blacks voting solidly Democrat (and they’ve already pretty much lost the interest of Whites) so they’ve been pushing for open borders in the hope that they can bring in more grateful immigrants who will vote Democrat, and the Republicans will never get a look in again. It’s as shallow as that.

    The rest is just Dark Arts nonsense from the mass media. There isn’t a moral principle in sight.

    The irony is that the “Latino” vote isn’t going to be as quite as compliant as they think either, it’s going to go the same way as the White vote went and the Black vote is going. The simple fact is that the masses are and have been for a long time, gradually losing interest in the Left. It’s a failed political experiment, as should be obvious by now.

    The Democrats are a dead party walking, Trump is just helping them along to their grave. (And that, of course, is what all the hysteria is ultimately about: permanent loss of the power to ever be able to usher in the hoped-for Imagine-like utopia.)

    • Nornagest says:

      Black voters go something like 90% Democratic. Latino voters go something like 60%. In what world does it make sense for Democrats to be importing Latinos because they’re scared of losing the black vote?

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        A 60-40 advantage with new voters still makes increasing the voter base seem like a hill worth dying on, no?
        I’m skeptical about “scared of losing the black vote”, but still.

        • Nornagest says:

          Yeah, it’s specifically the “losing the black vote” thing that tips this over into nonsensical territory for me. The whole “importing voters” meme is a little too conspiratorial for me to take seriously, but it would be internally consistent if you wanted to do it to expand voter rolls full stop, or to compensate for losses among white and Asian voters, or to counter the wave of nativism that everyone seems to think is happening.

          But the black vote is the most consistent bloc in American politics over the last thirty years. It’s down a point or two for [D] in 2016 relative to 2012 and 2008, but it would take some real paranoia (or some real wishful thinking) to read that as an impending collapse of affiliations rather than an electing-the-first-black-President thing. And most of the stuff I can think of that would hurt long-term Democratic prospects among black voters would hurt them among Latino voters first.

          Could still happen, of course. I’ve been saying for a while that the [D] coalition is more fragile than it looks. But it’s not what I’d bet on.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The whole “importing voters” meme is a little too conspiratorial for me to take seriously,

            I hope there’s an implicit “in the US”, because a British Labour MP basically admitted that importing voters was a private plot most Labour MPs were aware of.
            Otherwise fully agreed.

          • Nornagest says:

            In the US, yes. I don’t know a lot about British internal politics.

          • brmic says:

            @Le Maistre Chat

            Could you please provide a link to that? My quick google was unsuccessful.

            Alternatively, is this different from interpreting Lindsey Graham saying “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” as something like ‘A Republican admitted to a plot to keep white males angry so that they vote Republican.’

          • Randy M says:

            The whole “importing voters” meme is a little too conspiratorial for me to take seriously

            There was a recent thread where this idea was quite explicitly supported by (some) left wing commenters here. I can’t say if it is a prime motivation for those Democrats actually in office or not.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @brmic: Here. Andrew Neather, adviser to Tony Blair, Jack Straw and David Blunkett, publicly admitted that Labour threw open the borders as a semi-secret plot to make Britain so diverse the Tories would be irrelevant, and that it was semi-conspiratorial because voicing the plan would cause the native-born working class to turn against Labour.
            It’s not a full-blown stereotypical conspiracy theory, but it was a conscious betrayal of trust by Labour MPs/ministers and a glaring example of the principal-agent problem.

          • Yakimi says:

            The whole “importing voters” meme is a little too conspiratorial for me to take seriously

            How is it any more “conspiratorial” and implausible than the accusation that politicians engage in gerrymandering to manipulate electoral demography to produce a favorable outcome? Are we supposed to believe that gerrymandering is a common occurrence but the same politicians responsible for it are above crafting immigration policy to achieve the same ends?

            (Also, implicit in this denial is the tacit admission that there is something unethical and sinister about using immigration to transform the politics of a nation.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            (Also, implicit in this denial is the tacit admission that there is something unethical and sinister about using immigration to transform the politics of a nation.)

            Indeed; they either feel guilty about how unethical it is (unlikely) or see the old voters as dumb animals who can and should be lied to because they the elected rulers have to deal with them to get into power for the Greater Good of transforming the politics of the nation.

          • Nornagest says:

            Are we supposed to believe that gerrymandering is a common occurrence but the same politicians responsible for it are above crafting immigration policy to achieve the same ends?

            I find it less plausible because of the time horizons involved. If we’re talking about looking the other way toward illegal immigration, then the beneficiaries of the policy can’t vote. Their kids can, but that’s eighteen years out at minimum: an eternity in political terms. I hear less buzz about legal immigration, but even for that, or for some sort of mass amnesty that would grant documented status to the people under it, there’s at least five years before permanent residents can apply for citizenship, and many never do.

            Gerrymandering on the other hand takes effect in the next election cycle.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            If you’re going to cite Neather, you should link to the the man’s actual words, rather than interpretation.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            The whole “importing voters” meme is a little too conspiratorial for me to take seriously

            In the past two weeks there was a guy here who said that importing a better class of voters was his explicit goal for immigration, and that it was moral because those new people voted better, and it was okay to do something that preferred Democrats over Republicans because more people in the country self-identify as Democrats than self-identify as Republicans.

            To be fair, he got a lot of pushback from his own side, and not just (IMO) because he accidentally said the secret plan aloud.

          • Randy M says:

            To be fair, he got a lot of pushback from his own side, and not just (IMO) because he accidentally said the secret plan aloud.

            I will have to review that, I only remember the support.
            Do you mean here?

          • Iain says:

            For reference, the comment in question, from Guy in TN:

            On the object-level, it’s a little late in the thread for me to make a robust case for why I support illegal immigration. But the run down is:
            1. Diminishing marginal utility of money; immigration transfers wages from the wealthier to the poorer (average Mexican in Mexico makes ~$10,000 a year)
            2. It is good for people to escape gangs and corrupt governments
            3. It erodes U.S. nationalism. Lots of reason why this a good thing, makes war more difficult, diminishes the ability of whites to position themselves a the “true Americans” to the exclusion of others
            4. Our current enforcement apparatus involves building concentration camps, separating children from parents, and building an environmentally-destructive border wall. Even if I thought the immigration was bad (say, if they were Nazi-immigrants), the cure is worse than the disease.
            5. This enforcement is also turned against U.S. citizens. Mandatory checkpoints dotted across U.S. highways, surveillance, getting thrown in jail until you can “prove your citizenship”. An excuse for the police to continue to expand their powers. [I recognize that this and #4 are arguments for supporting legalized immigration, rather than illegal immigration per se]
            6. Mexicans have better voting habits than the average U.S. citizen. This is evidence of better moral character. I make no apologies for supporting people who make America a better place.

            Summarizing this as “importing a better class of voters was his explicit goal for immigration” is uncharitable. It’s more accurate to say that he believes significantly increased immigration is a moral good for a bunch of other reasons, and he was honest enough to admit that it would probably also be beneficial from an electoral standpoint.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            @randy M: my memory may not be so good 🙁 I think that’s when I bailed on that thread because there was nothing left to say in response and filled in the rest.

          • brmic says:

            Thanks! I read the links and as far as I can see there is nothing there.

            … earlier drafts I saw also included a driving political purpose: that mass immigration was the way that the Government was going to make the UK truly multicultural.

            I remember coming away from some discussions with the clear sense that the policy was intended – even if this wasn’t its main purpose – to rub the Right’s nose in diversity and render their arguments out of date. That seemed to me to be a manoeuvre too far.

            Ministers were very nervous about the whole thing. … there was a reluctance … to discuss what increased immigration would mean, above all for Labour’s core white working-class vote.

            But ministers wouldn’t talk about it. In part they probably realised the conservatism of their core voters: while ministers might have been passionately in favour of a more diverse society, it wasn’t necessarily a debate they wanted to have in working men’s clubs in Sheffield or Sunderland.

            1) There is no mention of importing voters. So please retract that statement or bring evidence.
            2) There is no evidence the ‘labour market case’ wasn’t the primary goal.
            3) There is no evidence of a cover up in the usual sense of the word. Just politicians reluctant to make a hard sell to their constituents. Which is no different from say Republican politicians hoping that a tax cut for their rich donors will result in donations. Or Republicans leaning heavily on fairness and us vs. them arguments when defending tariffs and de-emphazising negative economic consequences. Or really anything else any politician anywhere ever does. They never list all the pros and cons. For a cover up you need either secret information (i.e. not arguments available to anyone with a brain) or a much stronger contrast between stated and actual goals.

            Concerning the matter itself: I favour a more diverse society. The fact, that this slightly helps ‘my side’ in elections is not particularly relevant, but is one among several factors I consider. For instance, it makes me a bit more willing to take the risks associated with my preferred immigration policy. I’d still be in favour of more legal immigration if immigrants voted against me, just as I now consider their greater social conservatism a downside I’m willing to accept. But at the margins, sure, I’d be less outspoken in some cases, maybe, if immigrants voted ‘against’ me.
            I don’t see this as any different from anything else, where I weigh the pros and cons. Last time I checked ‘it would be electoral suicide’ was still a valid argument, so I don’t think there is some ethical norm against considering political implications I’m violating.

  25. Alex Page says:

    I agree with your point that e.g. pro-life people don’t just have a terminal value of being anti-female-bodily-autonomy. But l think you’re overstating the weakness of value differences, although there isn’t One Great Value Divide either.

    I think you’ve muddied the water for yourself a bit by treating values and beliefs as necessarily separate things. Alt-Jihadi-Scott isn’t exactly like Real-Scott but with different beliefs – the differing beliefs lead to differing values. He obviously cares about things you don’t, would optimise society in a different way.

    Just because an alt-rightist and me might hypothetically end up with the same views on migration if we somehow had Full Objective Truth pumped into us doesn’t mean we ‘really have the same values and just disagree on facts’. Maybe we’d still disagree due to different values after the Fact Infusion, and at the same time it’s also the case that our current values to some extent come from our current beliefs.

    And differing values needn’t mean utterly diverging binary sets of values – it can involve a different level of priority placed on the same values. Take a pro-life person who rates ‘potential human life’ above ‘female bodily autonomy’, and that difference is significant even though a pro-choice person also has those values in their philosophy.

    Tl;dr you and Ozy are both onto something, but I lean more towards Ozy overall.

  26. pjs says:

    > 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 …

    That ‘one’s religion encodes a uniquely socially beneficial way of life’ could be a factual belief seems very wrong to me, so much so I struggle to even see a case for it. If we can’t have true value differences about what is socially beneficial, where can we?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m thinking of this in utilitarian terms, but even easier would just be something like “People are happier, more stable, and more likely to pursue X fixed conception of human flourishing within Islam” vs. “People are happier, more stable, more likely to pursue X fixed conception of human flourishing outside Islam”

      • pjs says:

        But this hardly helps me at all, and my puzzlement is not just limited to the mysterious ‘X’ – really, this is supposed to make your claim (about
        factuality) ‘even easier’ ?!

        What if “X” includes – as a terminal, not instrumental value, obedience, worship, and submission to (a conception of) $CHOSEN_DIETY; indeed as its highest value and something that vastly trumps, e.g., mere happiness or (to the extent ones religious texts direct otherwise) utilitarian beliefs about equality and fairness.

        Perhaps you don’t think such an ‘X’ is often sincerely held, or have some clever argument in mind as to why it doesn’t really matter anyway.

        You (in the 9/11 example) clearly raise religious beliefs at length.
        And yet later, when you challenge yourself to find an unequivocal case of value-ethics differences, your best example concerns esoteric utilitarian though-experiments. Suggesting you just don’t see religion as a cause of (material?) value differences; is this in any way fair?

  27. Orwell's Ghost says:

    This speaks to something that’s been bothering me for a long time. Being a cognitivist about ethics, I don’t think that the problem is that at certain point upstream you get to a point where there’s simply no conversation to be had, but that the conversation becomes extremely theoretical, and — to the extent that a whole bunch of practical questions are downstream of it — very repetitive very quickly. And what holds for philosophically thoughtful and knowledgeable people holds even more true for everyone else.

    To give a more concrete example, I’m a Kantian, and I often have a very hard time discussing particular ethical questions with my Utilitarian friends. Our only options are 1) have the foundation-level moral theory argument *again* or 2) try to argue that the other person is wrong even on their own theoretical assumptions (Jeffrey Stout’s ‘immanent criticism’). Option 1 is, as I said, very abstruse and gets repetitive very quickly. Option 2 is all the rage, but it’s much harder and less practical than people give it credit for. For me, trying to convince Utilitarians that they’re wrong about a particular question is extremely difficult because A) very often, I think that they are in fact right on Utilitarian assumptions, B) I’m simply not very good at Utilitarian calculi, being a Kantian, and C) I find it literally nauseating to play at being a Utilitarian. And I think my Utilitarian friends feel similarly. This is a real problem.

    At what is perhaps an even more foundational level, I think we need to take seriously the question of whether people with very different meta-ethical beliefs can even be said to disagree at all on normative-ethical questions. (Derek Parfit’s last work is very enlightening on this question.) I’m someone who believes that reasons to do things are real, agent-independent, and irreducibly normative (like Parfit). That is, the question, ‘How should I live?’ I think is completely conceptually primitive and not explicable in terms of anything non-normative. Now take someone like Bernard Williams, who explicitly thinks that the question, ‘How should I live?’ can only be meaningful understood as, ‘What do I basically want?’ When I say that act X would be wrong and Williams says that act X would be right, I don’t think we’re really disagreeing — I don’t think that ‘wrong’ has anything to do with what Williams basically wants, and Williams doesn’t think that there *is* such a thing as ‘wrong’ in an irreducibly normative sense.

    So it looks like we’re stuck either having very ground-level normative-ethical or even meta-ethical debates, or just clunking along with flailing attempts at immanent criticism.

    Of course, most people don’t have explicit normative- or meta-ethical theoretical convictions. But I do think that their intuitions do tend to commit them implicitly to the same fundamental rifts that theories mark out. And that makes talking with them even harder.

  28. deciusbrutus says:

    >”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?”

    Zero deal at all, because you phrased it precisely and accurately.

    You haven’t tried to reconcile your fundamental values or factual beliefs with the 9-11 hijackers, so you don’t know if you have fundamental value differences or fundamental fact differences. You have discussed values and facts with people you are close to, so you know whether some of your differences with them are due to fundamental values or facts.

    But it is also wrong to say that all fundamental value differences are equally different. Not everybody who disagrees with me on the moral weight of a scallop is Literally Hitler.

  29. ec429 says:

    Very few people have consistent values on questions like these. That’s because nobody naturally has principles.

    Very few neurotypicals even try to have consistent values. That doesn’t mean no-one does. That, I would suggest, is why those of us on the autistic spectrum are rarely ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, but are instead primarily either dogmatic libertarians or unrepentant Marxists. (Mentally picture a gathering of either of those political tendencies. Then compare to your mental picture of aspies. I think the stereotypes are very similar.)
    Just because all the rest of y’all are broken, don’t go assuming that this is part of the human condition. Some of us naturally do take ideas seriously.

    Yes, my position is somewhat tribal — Us autistic types versus Them neurotypicals — but it’s also one of Mistake rather than Conflict theory: it’s not that neurotypicals are Bad People, not even that they can’t think; it’s just that they mostly don’t, and that’s fixable. Also, not all of Us are on my side — I don’t think I’m at much risk of feeling tribal affiliation and solidarity with the Marxists.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      I think you are making a mistake here.

      Just because all the rest of y’all are broken

      Yeah, you are making a huge mistake.

      • Wrong Species says:

        It’s a reasonable point. Imagine you’re an alien and you see two groups of people. One of them has consistent beliefs on morality. The other has a giant mess of incoherent beliefs that has very little logic and is often subject to arbitrary whims. Who would you think is the broken one?

        The problem is that if most of us followed coherent morality, we would be horrified by the result and what’s the point of morality if everyone hates it?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think consistency really describes autistic thought patterns very well either.

      I did a lot of thought and decided utilitarianism was right about everything, which seems kind of autistic. Then I heard some situations where utilitarianism produces very unexpected results, and instead of accepting those unexpected results as true, I said “screw it”, and now I’m some sort of vague contractarian that I try not to think about very much.

      I predict even autistic people who think they have very strong principles would do the same, which means their principles are secondary to their intuitions.

      • ec429 says:

        Scott, my understanding (which may be wrong, I’m hardly an expert on the neurotypical mind!) is that a neurotypical faced with that situation will decide to just rely on their intuitions (and “try not to think about [it] very much”), whereas an autistic cannot accept the, for want of a better term, unneatness of lacking a coherent worldview. So they will either accept the unexpected results (rejecting their intuition), or they will accept the intuition as evidence against their principles and then not settle until they have found a new theoretical basis which can account for the intuition. (Of course this is by no means always an advantage; when none of the ideas one has can account for one’s data, this dissatisfaction can be deeply disturbing.)

        So it’s not that we never change our principles, it’s just that, having once had principles, we are deeply unwilling to go (back?) to doing without them. And once you distil (some coherence-admitting subset of) your intuitions down to a set of moral principles, you don’t have a continuum, because the possible principles are discrete, while the ‘coefficients’ in the ethical calculus come from somewhere else (in my market-oriented libertarian approach, for instance, I think the analysis is an essentially Coasian one, that we put rights where they can be most frictionlessly traded should a sufficiently inconvenient possible world show up — thus I don’t need, in my system of morals, to claim a particular exchange rate between the lives of neighbours and of foreigners, to take one of your examples of a continuous-valued parameter).

        Of course, I am not really an expert on the autistic mind either; my direct evidence comes from a sample size of one, although I have had dealings with quite a lot of other inhabitants of the spectrum, and I recognise that I am arguing with a psychiatrist about mental health. But I think my account is at least plausibly consistent with the predictive-processing model of autism (narrow confidence intervals, surprisal cascades on model failure, etc.).

  30. ksvanhorn says:

    Scott writes: [Discussion of possible motivations and beliefs for the 9/11 hijackers].

    How did you manage to write all of that without ever mentioning the elephant in the room — decades of U.S. bombing of the Middle East, with massive casualties among ordinary people? Or, say, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s callous remark that half a million dead Iraqi children was “worth it” to achieve U.S. policy objectives?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      He did mention the elephant in the room: their religious beliefs. That’s a big step forward from what leftists consider worth talking about.

    • Civilis says:

      This is so blatantly uncharitable as to require me to call it out, especially given it’s placement in a thread dedicated to looking for common shared values among disagreeing groups. I’ve been critical of people on the American right who’ve taken an uncharitable view of Scott for his sympathy towards the 9/11 terrorists, and applying that mistaken belief towards the ‘gray tribe’ as a whole, and this does not help.

    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      decades of U.S. bombing of the Middle East, with massive casualties among ordinary people?

      That wasn’t bin Laden’s reasoning, although it may have been the leftist-caricature of him (like the rightist-caricature was “they hate us for our freedumbs”). He didn’t seem to care much about the USA until Bush set up camp in Saudi Arabia to kick Hussein out of Kuwait.

      You’ve got 4 stated reasons from his mouth: Israel, western immorality*, US presence in Saudi Arabia, and the sanctions. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motives_for_the_September_11_attacks#Stated_motives

      * He doesn’t mean “decades of US bombings” as immorality. He means “fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling’s, and trading with interest.”

    • John Schilling says:

      Decades of U.S. bombing of the Middle East, with massive casualties among ordinary people? Or, say, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s callous remark that half a million dead Iraqi children was “worth it” to achieve U.S. policy objectives?

      You may note that neither Osama Bin Laden nor any of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis. They were mostly Saudis, and prosperous Saudis at that. You know, the people that the United States bombed Iraq to protect.

      As Edward Scizorhands notes, OBL was fairly specific about what his grievances were, and “half a million dead Iraqi children” were not among them. And “The Middle East” is not a monolith where everybody calls everybody else brother and if the United States kills one it makes an enemy of all. You might as well blame the Cold War on the US having spent 1941-1945 bombing “Europeans” (with massive casualties among ordinary people) so obviously Russia as a European nation became an enemy of the United States.

      • Martin says:

        As Edward Scizorhands notes, OBL was fairly specific about what his grievances were, and “half a million dead Iraqi children” were not among them.

        It’s in the very Wikipedia article Edward Scizorhands links to:

        In the 2004 Osama bin Laden video, Osama calls the sanctions “the greatest mass slaughter of children mankind has ever known”.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Ah, it just wouldn’t be an SSC comment thread without people hijacking my examples to debate object-level questions.

  31. Douglas Knight says:

    I’ve talked a lot about shifting views of federalism

    Where?

    What is more federalist than DOMA? If Hawaii wanted gay marriage controlling inheritance, custody, and visiting rights in local hospitals, then DOMA allowed that. DOMA only addressed irreducibly national issues, namely whether the federal government would recognize gay marriage and whether other states would recognize HI marriage.

    I don’t think the two sides had very different views on federalism. They both pursued state laws on the matter. The main difference was legislative vs judicial, but it was clear from the beginning (ie, HI) how those aligned and they never flipped.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      When DOMA was anti-gay, liberals were anti-federalist. When DOMA was repealed and the federal government recognized marriages without regard to the sex of the couple, liberals became pro-federalist.

      Article 4, section 1 applied at all times regardless of Acts of Congress or Acts of State Legislatures.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What do you mean by “federalist”? In your first paragraph, you seem to be using it to mean “in favor of the federal status quo.”

        Neither does “federalist” mean “allowed by the Constitution.” If the Constitution limits federalism to the point of disallowing DOMA, that’s a statement about the Constitution, not the federalism of DOMA.

  32. Le Maistre Chat says:

    “Both of us are atheist materialist-computationalist utilitarian rationalist effective altruist liberal-tarians”

    And yet it turned out that one of you supported the Atheist Rationalist Judean People’s Front and the other the Atheist Rationalist People’s Front of Judea.
    You could have written a much shorter and funnier (I won’t say “punchier”) warning about how some people think they have irreconcilable value differences when it’s really a continuum.

  33. enye-word says:

    I agree with you that the people you’re disagreeing with are egregiously wrong and approaching this the wrong way, and over all I liked this article.

    However, you’ve made two missteps, as far as I can see:

    If I believed in the literal truth of Wahhabi Islam – a factual belief

    Really? You don’t think Wahhabi Islam includes any value judgements at all? As I understand it, a religion is half supernatural beliefs and half value beliefs.

    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.

    I agree with you in that I don’t value biodiversity for its own sake, but you did not include enough caveats in this section; biodiversity is instrumentally useful to sustaining our ecosystem, even if it’s just random unimportant-seeming creatures.

    • Randy M says:

      If you argue with a moral realist, all disagreements are factual. Perhaps the inverse is true with a complete subjectivist.
      Maybe the better distinction is between goals and predictions?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Really? You don’t think Wahhabi Islam includes any value judgements at all? As I understand it, a religion is half supernatural beliefs and half value beliefs.”

      I think if I believed that an all-powerful being called Allah created the universe and wrote the Koran which was literally true, I would want to think really really hard about my value system and maybe just throw it out entirely in confusion. I think it’s unlikely I would end up settling on “Well, Allah created the Koran and it is literally true about all factual matters, but I’m still right about the whole homosexuality thing.”

      • yodelyak says:

        Edit: on re-reading, I’m not sure it’s right to say I agree with Enye-Word, or that I’m even really responding on-topic to this thread… just off in left field a bit. These things are not easy to talk about. Oh well. Maybe what I said is interesting.

        I’m with enye-word here. I read it as a weird-but-functional kludge to use “factual belief” to describe what goes on in religion.

        In some ways religion is more like what you do when you train a dog or condition a toddler away from being physically aggressive–a well-trained dog doesn’t “believe the fact that” there are treats forthcoming if it obeys. It simply wants to obey. A toddler that is proud of being potty-trained doesn’t have factual beliefs about the objective value of that. It just feels like achievement.

        A person with a religion that taught them to be optimistic, generous, candid, and happy, and to credit their happiness to a messiah figure, and to enjoy a particular worship service and defend those who prefer it–that person’s feelings/training is more basic than their beliefs. The factual beliefs (e.g. the semantic content of the Apostles Creed) may anchor the person from being pulled out of the training program by argument or convenience, but the beliefs aren’t what makes a person religious.

        For example, we can imagine a person who believes the apostle’s creed to be true, but believes themselves personally to be damned anyway, who consequently makes no effort to participate in the training program, and so is not any different than they would be if they didn’t think the creed were true. Or someone who believes in the training program, but privately is pessimistic about ever fully buying some parts of the Apostle’s creed… who nonetheless is changed by the program.

  34. helloo says:

    Regarding Ozy’s post- (tried posting it there, but guessing need to register or spam filter or whatnot)
    I’m not really understanding the flip in the last few paragraphs.

    Ozy admits that war is bad in of itself. So why then does the “fundamental” differences matter? Don’t war as it’s bad!
    (Unless one feels one’s interests are more important that the bad that come from the war. Which might be so, but given that one of the examples is an artistic piece, something people probably aren’t willing to go to war for.)
    And with that, shouldn’t one first think about whether shaming and indoctrination (the other side) are good things in themselves first? Is it that much better than war?
    Is there that much of a need to “finalize” things?

    The answer might not be to try and straighten certain facts on the assumption that everyone is working towards a common goal, but it does not have to be attacking or eliminating other people’s values either.

  35. Matt M says:

    “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.

    I think the issue with this statement is that it doesn’t acknowledge that yes, while we are all beautiful and unique snowflakes with a myriad of different opinions on different issues, many people have consciously and voluntarily decided to, essentially, grant their proxy in political battles to political parties, tribes, etc.

    It’s a classic principal-agent situation. Most people have decided that they have neither the time nor the expertise to advocate for the implementation of every possible policy they might want across the board at all levels of government, media, culture, etc. So they essentially sign up to add their voice to one or more groups designed to do just that.

    Given that most political battles are fought at the group level, and not at the individual level, the individual differences quickly become irrelevant. The battle fought is not me vs some random mostly-but-not-uniformly blue tribe person. No, the battle is between red tribe and blue tribe. Individuals either side with a tribe, or get lost in the shuffle. And like any other principal-agent situation, when you choose to obtain the benefits of an agent, you lose a little bit of individual autonomy.

    So, while I agree that between any two individuals there might not be issues that are impossible-to-reconcile disputes over terminal values, that might not necessarily be true at the tribal level. And that is where the most significant battles are fought.

  36. I agree with your basic point contra Ozy, and I think it is useful to make it in two different ways, both of which appear in your essay. One is to point out implications of the stated principle that the person stating it doesn’t believe–your “spend all medicare money in Africa.” The libertarian version, probably due to Bill Bradford, is the libertarian who falls off his 8th story balcony, catches hold of the flag post of the apartment below him, is about to climb onto the balcony when the owner tells him to let go of his flagpole. For believers in abortion rights, apply their arguments to infanticide.

    The other, which you start with, is to show how someone could reach his conclusion from your values. Consider the conservative who doesn’t want a dollar spent on foreign aid. He could be someone who believes that the lives of foreigners are just as important as the lives of Americans but that those particular dollars were collected for a specified purpose and the collection justified by that purpose. For an analogous case, consider someone handed an envelope containing ten thousand dollars by his dying friend, to be passed on to the friend’s son. Even if you believe all lives are equally valuable, you don’t hand the money to whomever in the world you believe it will be most useful to.

    At a slight tangent, I don’t think your position is inconsistent with moral realism. It could be that there exists a set of true moral principles, that all of us imperfectly perceive them, but we disagree on the implications. Almost all of us believe in physical realism, after all–there really is a world out there acting according to scientific laws–but we can still disagree about AGW or the effect of minimum wage laws.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      but we can still disagree about AGW or the effect of minimum wage laws.

      I don’t want to be rude or digress from your point. I just wanted to say I know we have unresolved discussion on this topic. Just haven’t gotten to the long effort post on it.

    • Tarpitz says:

      It is very far from clear to me that either moral or physical realism makes sense, much less is true.

      • PeterDonis says:

        @Tarpitz:

        What would it mean for physical realism to not be true?

        • Tarpitz says:

          Well, my point is rather that I’m not sure what it would mean for it to be true.

          How would one distinguish between a world consisting only of rules for producing sense-data and one really containing physical objects? If there’s no functional difference, what’s the putative metaphysical difference? Why should we imagine one?

  37. Lawrence D'Anna says:

    Bravo!

    People are way too enamored with applying ideas like axioms and utility functions to human beings. Axioms and utility functions are perfectly good analytical tools in mathematical logic and economics and decision theory. But the idea that actual human beings work that way is laughable.

    “But I have a theorem and it says if you don’t have a utility function your choices will be inconsistent!”

    Humans are inconsistent, silly.

    • Tarpitz says:

      I completely agree, and would add that even for whatever people do in fact have consistent preferences such that they could in principle be modeled as a utility function, said function would not be clean and appealing but dementedly long and complicated, full of ad hoccery, to the point where it could never for practical purposes be laid out.

  38. James Miller says:

    A key moral difference among people is their willingness to let math influence their morality. For people like me, of course you kill one person to save five, and of course you compare the benefits per dollar generated by competing charities. Most other people, however, (and I don’t know how to put this charitably) think their morality should be mostly math-free.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Eh. “Kill one to save five” arguments are almost never actually plausible. They may be useful for purposes of examining our own intuitions, but they aren’t actually math based.

      Why do I say this? For one, because they usually specifically eliminate the “and what happens in a world where you decide that individuals are justified in being judge, jury and executioner” consequences. In the real world, there are downstream ripple effects.

      • James Miller says:

        The “Kill one to save five” moral logic is used to justify military attacks that have collateral damage, and by government “death panels” that decide in socialist medical systems how to allocate scarce resources.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          Let’s ignore the first one for a second.

          Why did you us the phrase “death panels”? I think those who are arguing against death panels who are either:

          a) arguing merely for individual right to access the best medical care (the conservative position), or

          b) desiring an increase in overall budget for medical care, perhaps combined with a reduction in profit or income for providers of medical care (the liberal position).

          Yes, there are those who argue that access to “medical care” is a right, and the weakest of those arguments do look like a highway towards completely unchecked spending that crowds out other goods, including perhaps more efficient medical spending. But I think it is straw/weak manning to say those arguments are simply not understanding math.

          ETA:
          Position (a) has nothing much at all to say about overall efficiency of outcome, unless you wan’t to include arguments about innovation and “quality” of care. But again, those aren’t simple math arguments.

          • quanta413 says:

            In practice, even if most arguments aren’t obviously that dumb it kind of does look like the healthcare market is partly fucked up because it is unpopular to state the obvious about tradeoffs.

            The modal Americans loves guaranteed issue and hates mandatory insurance coverage (or socialized medicine or however you’d like to guarantee a flow of money from the healthy), but those two things have to be taken not at all or together if you want a functioning system.

        • mdet says:

          The “Kill one to save five” moral logic is used to justify … government “death panels” that decide in socialist medical systems how to allocate scarce resources.

          What do you think private, non-socialist health insurance companies with finite revenue do? What do you think hospitals with finite staff and budgets do?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            I think you have missed his point. He was agreeing that they do this, it is inevitable, and not immoral.

            I was simply pointing out that I don’t think it means what he thinks it means.

        • deciusbrutus says:

          As opposed to military attacks with no risk of collateral damage, or deciding who has access to finite medical resources by means other than death panel?

          It’s not “kill one to save five”, it’s “Do X harm to prevent >X harm”, and people disagree about the magnitude of the harms- in the classic case, they say that the harm done in the killing of the one is greater than the harm prevented by the five living.

          And THAT is a values difference.

    • Orwell's Ghost says:

      I suppose I agree with you, but I should point out — as a deontologist — that I don’t find characterising my take on morality as ‘math-free’ to be uncharitable.

      It is, however, kind of weird. I mean, in the divide between deontologists (and, I suppose, consequentialist egoists) on the one side and (non-egoist) consequentialists on the other, the math questions are downstream of the fundamental arguments, no?

  39. Nate the Albatross says:

    I feel like a lot of “value differences” revolve around huge numbers of people being resistant to facts. As soon as people roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, they shift their thinking almost unconsciously and most never atone for their early mistakes they simply imagine themselves wiser and more experienced now that they finally have a basic grasp of the situation.

    It never ceases to amaze me that people who can write pages of heartfelt pleas for people to take in very old abandoned pets can fire off a rant about turning away a boat filled with hundreds of refugee women and children. If a boat with an elderly dog and some women and children capsized right in front of them while they were vacationing in Italy, not only do I expect them to help the people in precisely the way they advocated against, but I suspect they will save the dog last possibly letting it drown. I would also expect that they would continue to advocate against immigration but with the caveat that authorities assure everyone’s safety.

    • Jiro says:

      I would expect that if a boat of people capsized in front of them, they’d help the boat.

      I’d also expect that after a continual stream of boats capsized in front of them, at some point they would say “I can’t do nothing but save people from capsizing boats for the rest of my life, and saving people from boats is causing such a hit on the ability of me and my family to live our lives that I’m going to stop doing it”. And a governmental policy about saving refugees is a lot closer to this than it is to the case of saving one boat.

      If someone is willing to save a small number of people, you cannot properly deduce that they have principles that extend to a large number of people.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        The same principles apply to an unending number of capsized boats as to one.

        But one of the principles in the case of one boat is “And I am not likely to capsize my boat assisting them”.

        When it stops being the case that you can safely help others, stop helping them.

        There is some factual difference involved in the question of whether it is safe to help refugees, which I attribute to motivated reasoning on the part of people who disagree with me. But if some of the danger levels that people who disagree with me claim to believe about immigration were true, that factual belief would change my policy position without a change in my values.

        • Jiro says:

          But one of the principles in the case of one boat is “And I am not likely to capsize my boat assisting them”.

          That doesn’t help. The analogy is not “am I going to capsize my boat by assisting them”, the analogy is that each of them only is a 0.00001 chance of capsizing your boat, but after assisting enough of them the chance adds up. At each individual step, you could make the argument “It helps people and the increased chance of capsizing your own boat is so small it can be ignored!”

          But if you don’t want your own boat to be capsized, you have to say “I’m going to accept a 5% chance, but I’m not going to accept a 5.00001% chance. There’s never going to be a point where just one more rescue takes your own chances of survival to unacceptable without putting an arbitrary limit on how many boats you are willing to rescue.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            Maximize U(S(N)), where U is your utility function and S(N) is a distribution equal to N+1 with probability (1-X)^N and 0 otherwise, X is equal to the chance that rescuing one more distressed person will kill everyone on your boat, and N is the number of distressed people that you will attempt to rescue in a row. U(0) is the Utility of “die trying”, and U(v) generally is the utility of v people surviving, including yourself.

            I’m pretty sure that’s defined well enough that U(S(N)) has a forward difference with respect to N. From there it is trivial to find the number N which maximizes your personal expected utility.

            If you change the scenario, you also change the math, but as long as you can force the math to admit that there is a utility function that has a derivative (or forward difference and discrete input), it is proven that there is either a global maximum or that utility increases without limit.

          • Jiro says:

            That doesn’t work, because calculating the risk of capsizing your own boat is difficult. And it’s going to be more difficult if the risk is not literally capsizing a boat, but rather “if I spend a lot of time rescuing people from boats, I will no longer have a life”. The 5.00001% is for purposes of illustration; you won’t actually be able to calculate it like that and you’re pretty much stuck putting the breakpoint at an arbitrary numger of rescues.

      • ec429 says:

        I think a stronger argument is that at some point you say, “My willingness to rescue people from capsizing boats increases the number of people who put to sea in unseaworthy boats, and it seems like the extra drownings from the boats that capsize where I cannot reach them exceed the drownings I prevent in rescues from boats that would have put to sea anyway.” This, as I understand it, is why the Australian government changed its policy on refugee and migrant boats — by processing them offshore and repatriating those without a genuine claim to asylum, they discourage more boats from attempting the crossing. It is the EU’s failure to do the same that has caused the latter’s migrant boat crisis, since the migrants know that if they are rescued from their sinking ship by European boats, they will be landed in Europe and not repatriated.

        You may disagree with the above, but if so I trust you accept that it is a disagreement over facts, rather than values — of how to save the most refugees, rather than of whether they are worth saving.

    • Alliumnsk says:

      There is no such a thing as fact resistant people. There are only fact resistant ideas. Even delusional schizophrenics would usually reconsider some of their “normal” ideas wrong, but their psychotic idea would need to be cured by meds. Your “huge numbers of people being resistant to facts” probably refers to people with ideas you don’t happen to like, rather some objective merit of how fact resistant these people are.

      BTW, most anti-immigration people believe that most of so-called refugees are able-bodied middle age males.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        The whole rationality movement is built on the idea that humans tend to be fact resistant in greater and lesser ways. There are ample examples of the kinds of cognitive mistakes we tend to make.

  40. Ghatanathoah says:

    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.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      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.”

    • John Schilling says:

      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.”

      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.

      • Randy M says:

        That’s because the trade pidgin of ethical debate is consequentialism with a bit of common virtue ethics on the side.

        John, that’s poetic in its efficiency and aptness.

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        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.

        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.

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      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.

      • HeelBearCub says:

        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.

        • idontknow131647093 says:

          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?

          • Nornagest says:

            I think you can be more charitable than this.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            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.

          • deciusbrutus says:

            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.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            I think you can be more charitable than this.

            Probably.

            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.

          • mdet says:

            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”.

          • Matt M says:

            Do you really think your Dem-voting auntie wants to dismantle the Constitution

            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.

          • mdet says:

            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)

          • Matt M says:

            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

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            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.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            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

            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.

          • A Definite Beta Guy says:

            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.

            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.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @HeelBearCub

            “liberals want to destroy what makes America great by letting in immigrants”, and

            Oh wait that isn’t what I said at all. I said

            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.

            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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Go and read the anti-immigration screeds of the late 1800s.

            Got links?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Jaskologist:
            Oh, anti-immigration sentiment is also very traditionally American. Right down to portraying the current wave of (Irish) immigrants as swarthy monkeys.

            @idontknow131647093:
            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 great worth 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.

          • cuke says:

            “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.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @Jask

            Section starting on 183
            https://books.google.com/books?id=ZKsmAAAAMAAJ

            A long winded one about urbanization and immigrants
            https://study.com/academy/lesson/our-country-its-possible-future-and-its-present-crisis-by-josiah-strong.html

            Another long one
            https://www.amazon.com/Protestant-Crusade-1800-1860-Quadrangle-Paperbacks/dp/B00085YQA2

            https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=moa;idno=AHM4910

            One need only read a few sections including Chapters IV and conclusion.

            Importance of immigrants to the socialist movement in the US
            https://www.jstor.org/stable/40401319?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

            Here a pro-immigration person contends it took “only” 120 years for Irish immigrants to assimilate.
            https://www.amazon.com/New-Americans-Melting-Work-Again/dp/1596980265

            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

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @HBC Krugman? Really? You are citing the walking example of this:
            https://arcdigital.media/a-vision-of-rationalia-ccf68e12591a

            @cusk

            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?

          • mdet says:

            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.

            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)

            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

            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.

          • mdet says:

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @idontknow:

            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.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @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.

            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?

            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.

            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?

            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.

          • cuke says:

            I find this thread ironic. Both Scott and Ozy in their own ways were exploring the problems of demonizing people at the other end of whatever ideological spectrum we’re looking at. They are raising questions about how to engage in good faith vs bad faith, about whether we can trust, befriend, have productive conversations with people who hold views different from ours, and what are the consequences if we take ourselves too seriously or assume we know more than we do.

            And into this comes a series of comments that broadly accuse a group called “U.S. progressives” of wanting to destroy the U.S. institutions that “U.S. conservatives” value, without presenting evidence or a coherent argument — basically an exemplar of bad faith arguing. When people responded with examples, it’s said that those don’t qualify, or that those people supporting them don’t count as progressives.

            It feels to me like nothing more than a grievance post. And if you want to air grievances here, I would rather they be said straight out, honestly. “I feel mad at the people in my work environment who make me feel judged for not having their political views” or “I get mad when self-identified progressives argue for gun control because I feel like they want to destroy our Constitution by doing so and here’s how I think it will destroy the Constitution if we institute any form of gun control…”

            Human institutions change over time, all of them. How those institutions look at any given moment is the product of a whole bunch of negotiation between people with myriad different views on what constitutes “better” and how to get there. Some institutions disappear and new ones arise, some are remarkably stable across time. This is literally history.

            People who have a different idea about which direction they want some institutions to change in do not want to destroy those institutions just because you disagree with their preferences. If they are putting their energy into building different institutions, or not putting as much energy into the institutions you are putting energy into, it still doesn’t mean they want to destroy your institutions.

            The NRA is one advocacy organization among thousands. They are a tiny piece of civil society made possible in a democracy. I’m not going to make a grand argument about conservatives wanting to destroy American institutions because they don’t donate to NARAL or Greenpeace. This is what I mean by not arguing in good faith. I don’t know if you see what you’re doing here. I find it to be quite destructive, myself.

          • John Schilling says:

            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

            I believe it was at least as important, if not more so, to ensure that government never became tyrannical in the first place because tyranny basically requires a standing army to work and it’s much harder to justify a standing army if the people who are told they have to pay for and put up with it can say, “But we’re not at war, and if the Indians get too pesky or whatnot we can handle that ourselves because check out the guns, so, No”.

            In modern terms, “standing army” maps more closely to “militarized police force”, so it’s somewhere between frustrating and annoying that most of the people so concerned with an excessively-militarized police force also seem to be opposed to the obvious alternative for making people feel safe in a world where street gangs take the role once filled by pesky indians.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Stay calm.

            The idontknow comment I was responding to didn’t mention immigration policy at all; it just asked what properties of America a progressive would consider attractive to a potential immigrant.

            And, at least in my particular comment, I am trying not to complain “that liberals won’t agree with me on things”. I am instead worrying that there may be too little that we do agree on for us to be able to support an ongoing society. Maybe you’re correct and it’s all because conservatives have suddenly steered hard right, while the progressives have sedately and calmly struck to their original course. (But I refer you to Scott’s graph.) For this conversation, I don’t care — I was honestly hoping against hope for a short list of nontrivial American Universals, propositions that unite almost all of us, because I’m really having trouble coming up with any.

            Perhaps it’s just availability bias, because I hear most about the crazies, at either end, and it’s not as dire as I fear.

            You’ve read and replied to enough of my comments over the years. What do you think you and I both believe about the fundamental nature of America?

            [Edited: But hell, maybe I’m just hijacking Scott’s thread. He certainly didn’t intend for me to assert/worry that America is rent by irreconcilable differences in fundamental values; his point is precisely that such an appearance is probably mostly an illusion. I follow his argument, but it doesn’t seem to hold enough power to let me drastically reinterpret what I think I see.]

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:
            Fair enough, I just think you picked a really bad sub-thread on which to make your complaint.

            But, as long as we are here:
            – Liberals support the Constitution as a generally pretty damn good. We especially like a bunch of the amendments.

            We tend not to revere it, recognizing that nothing people produce is perfect and that the also Constitution happens to enshrine values that are (mostly) universally regarded as repugnant. We also don’t think that decisions made by the Supreme Court are right merely because they make them.

            – Liberals are trending towards (agnostic) atheism, but hardly in yet overwhelming numbers, and the coalition on the right doesn’t seem immune to this trend either. Regardless, most liberals tend to support churches and other faith communities as agents who push us towards the moral treatment of others. The objections that those on the right seem to think is directed at “churches” generally is a essentially a figment of imagination, the thought that your church is the only church.

            -Liberals by and large accept that the free market is a good and necessary part of a vibrant economy. This doesn’t mean that liberals think that an unregulated free market is good, nor that free markets are unalloyed goods, nor that every problem is solvable by the free market.

            – Liberals think youth social organizations are a necessary and good part of communities. The (hated) HRC wrote a book called “It takes a Village” after all. That does not mean we think every single youth social organization is a good one, nor that good ones can’t change into bad ones over time.

            … but I suspect that you could have actually written all of that yourself, if you simply allowed yourself to.

            ETA: These were the specific complaints OP made, that I found to be self-evidently false. If that doesn’t at least partially address what you meant, then you need to clarify

          • mdet says:

            I’ll admit that there’s a difference between the average Democrat and social justice progressive, and that the latter can be more hostile to American institutions. If idontknow wants to go on a project spreading patriotic sentiment and support for longstanding American institutions among the Left, I’ll join them because I do think civic values and unity are important. But I don’t think the desire / threat of progressives dismantling America is that large. Change is inevitable in history, and we’ve survived worse.

            @John Schilling
            Rapper Killer Mike, who campaigned for Bernie Sanders, did a video with the NRA a few months back talking about the intersection between 2nd Amendment gun rights, Black Lives Matter, and past black civil rights activists. Was really interesting to hear someone combine BLM rhetoric & NRA rhetoric in the same sentence.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            Thanks. Food for thought.

            It is a symptom of the polarization I am disturbed by that my gut reaction to your list is that it was false-flag rhetoric, like the folks who say publicly that they are for “sensible gun control” but admit to their cronies that complete elimination is the long-term goal.

            But perhaps it’s better to say that this brings us back around to Scott’s point about definitions. “Revere” would be a strong word for my thoughts on the Constitution, but I do consider it The Rules and consider it cheating to change it without going through its own prescribed change mechanism. I think many leftists believe otherwise, and are perfectly willing to violate the plain meaning of the words for some alleged greater good.

            Regarding the church, I’m an atheist and so don’t have much dog in that hunt. But it also strikes me as cheating to approve of churches as “agents who push us towards the moral treatment of others” but then deny a churchmember his own freedom of conscience regarding the teaching of his church — especially when, as in the notorious bakery imbroglios, the cost to society is so very low.

            Regarding the “unregulated” free market, I just want to sputter and point at the utter impossibility of having a grasp of even a small fraction of the regulations currently imposed on businesses. I’m sure you feel that the current “free market” is pretty close to adequately but not excessively regulated, but I think we mean different enough things by the term that I’m not positive it really represents common ground. We probably agree that there is probably a certain amount of valid information being communicated by prices, in certain domains.

            I think that overall, while your list is a good one, it is nevertheless flawed by the fact that for both sides the things on it are considered instrumental values — as they should be — but I still have my doubts that there is much agreement on the terminal values that they enable. Maybe it was always thus.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Doctor Mist:

            [I] consider it cheating to change it without going through its own prescribed change mechanism.

            I’ll just say that arguments about what exactly the “right way” is to interpret the Constitution goes all the way back to Marbury vs. Madison. Hell, if the law and Constitution were so plain, we would not need a Supreme Court at all. Arguably Jackson’s “they have made there ruling, now let them enforce it” was correct.

            Let me put the shoe on the other foot and say “if you don’t like how the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution, why don’t you change the Constitution to make it clear how it should be interpreted?”

            deny a churchmember his own freedom of conscience regarding the teaching of his church

            You seem now to be in territory of “unless you agree with me on everything, you don’t agree with me on anything” (I think you also already recognized this, so I won’t harp on it).

            Let me put it this way, I don’t think your stand here is likely to be all that principled. You would probably find it reprehensible for an establishment to say “We don’t serve blacks.” But you offer no appropriate remedy. Even publishing the fact that the establishment won’t serve blacks gays you likely find to be inappropriate.

            But, just so we are clear, what do you think the appropriate remedy is for people who won’t serve conservative administration members is in their establishment?

            I’m sure you feel that the current “free market” is pretty close to adequately but not excessively regulated

            Actually I think the current regulatory market is a mess. The absence of an agreement on the basic framework that regulation is appropriate, plus things like the general antipathy among conservatives for things like direct aid, taxation, or government function means that attempting to form a coherent regulatory framework is highly fraught. In that kind of environment, good faith efforts to address overall complexity are extremely tough.

            That said, I think this is extremely patchy, and depending on what you are actually doing regulations are more or less onerous.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            Let me put the shoe on the other foot and say “if you don’t like how the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution, why don’t you change the Constitution to make it clear how it should be interpreted?”

            Seriously? If my observation is that leftists take the Constitution as a mere guideline, ignoring the text when there is an overriding consideration, why would I imagine it would make a difference to change the text?

            But, just so we are clear, what do you think the appropriate remedy is for people who won’t serve conservative administration members is in their establishment?

            Ideally, shaming. Practically, perhaps boycotting, even peaceful protest.

            As with the cake-seeking couple, it’s not like Republicans are going to starve.

            But that we have come to a situation where the question even arises is yet another indicator that things are bad. If 95% of the people hate and oppress the other 5%, one can hope for the arc of history to eventually improve things. If 50% hate the other 50%, history won’t get the chance.

          • PeterDonis says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            arguments about what exactly the “right way” is to interpret the Constitution goes all the way back to Marbury vs. Madison.

            The argument about that decision was very different from arguments about Constitutional interpretation for at least the past century or so.

            Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison simply pointed out the obvious fact that, if you have a law passed by the legislature that says one thing, and the Constitution says another thing that contradicts the first thing, you can’t uphold both, so you have to decide which to uphold. And since the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, in such cases, the Constitution has to prevail over the law passed by the legislature. And the obvious way to have that explicitly decided and made a governing precedent is for the Supreme Court to say so. The reason Marshall had to spell all that out was that, in 1803, the whole system was so new that nobody had explicitly spelled it all out before.

            Arguments about Constitutional interpretation today are about whether or not the Supreme Court can basically make stuff up when there is *no* explicit statement in the Constitution or statute about some issue (e.g., the whole trimester system in Roe v. Wade, which was nowhere in any of the statutes under consideration, and of course the Constitution says nothing at all about abortion). Or whether the Supreme Court can adopt interpretations of Constitutional language that no reasonable person reading the plain language of the Constitution would ever adopt (e.g., Wickard v. Filburn).

            “if you don’t like how the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution, why don’t you change the Constitution to make it clear how it should be interpreted?”

            So I should have to amend the Constitution to, for example, spell out explicitly that a farmer growing food on his own land for his own use doesn’t count as “interstate commerce”?

          • PeterDonis says:

            @HeelBearCub:

            I think the current regulatory market is a mess.

            I agree 1000%. My preferred solution is to reduce the amount of regulation, since it’s obvious (for the reasons you point out as well as others) that most regulation won’t accomplish its stated objectives.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            the whole system was so new that nobody had explicitly spelled it all out before.

            Yeah, the Constitution doesn’t explicitly spell that out. Funny that.

            reduce the amount of regulation

            This doesn’t actually mean anything. If you think it means something, it’s because you are smuggling in assumptions about what you want the end state to be (you seem to favor “unregulated”).

            No, I want regulations that accomplish their goals,and I also want them to be as efficient as practicable. Regulations can absolutely accomplish their aims. This is easily demonstrable. If you think they can’t, well, I’m not sure it’s worth debating with you. The world is rife with examples of problems that industry does not solve until they are forced to do so.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Let me put the shoe on the other foot and say “if you don’t like how the Supreme Court is interpreting the Constitution, why don’t you change the Constitution to make it clear how it should be interpreted?”

            I have to agree with Dr. Mist that you are being rude to assume this would work.

            Assuming a 28th Amendment that said something like this (which IMO would have no different meaning than the 2nd Amendment):

            Section 1: The right to bear arms enshrined in the 2nd Amendment is hereby affirmed.

            Section 2: The right to bear arms being necessary to a free state and for the deterrence of imposition of a tyrannical government, foreign or domestic, Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of citizens to keep and bear state of the art arms.

            Section 3: That no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States as recited in the 14th Amendment is hereby affirmed. These privileges and immunities include the rights enunciated herein.

            Maybe this amendment would be taken seriously for a generation. But by 2070 again anti-gun activists would be clamoring not only for its repeal, but that it doesn’t mean what it says.

            And this gets me to a bigger point about the ignorance about how almost everything in the Constitution + Bill of Rights, and its original public meaning is a but-for condition for the existence of the US. Opposition to the Constitution was strong, and if modern interpretations were applied, we would not live in the United States, some of us would live in New England, some would live in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Carolina, etc. These would all be countries not states.

            Its not like the 2 senator per state rule is all that modern. But the country could not exist without it. The Bill of Rights is no different. Without it there would be no Constitution other than as a historical document akin to the League of Nations charter. When you interpret any part of it, without an official amendment, in a way that would not have been ratified at the time of ratification, you make the entire government illegitimate.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            You’ve missed the point.

            The Constitution says the Supreme Court gets final say on what the Constitution means (and this only unclearly). It took Marbury vs. Madison to actually establish this. It neither prescribes nor proscribes any particular way to do this. If you say they are doing it “wrong” according to the provisions of the Constitution, you need to point to something in the Constitution that says this.

            In fact we have precedent for this, which is when the states decided that Chislholm vs. Georgia was wrongly decided. What did they do? They passed the 11th amendment expressly forbidding that which the Suprem Court had allowed.

  41. Randy M says:

    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”.

    • oppressedminority says:

      just because all people have equal moral worth, does not mean I have equal duties to all of them

      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.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      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!

      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.

  42. cvxxcvcxbxvcbx says:

    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.

  43. arlie says:

    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.

  44. Zephalinda says:

    I think almost all the descriptions of “values” here are way too high-level, and thus create the illusion of difference where there’s actually an underlying commonality.

    For getting down to the universal fabric of human values, I really like Jonathan Haidt’s set of foundational moral instincts: Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation. (Viewed in this light, the immigration debate is just a conflict between different flavors of Caring, for instance.)

    But I suspect you can also get still more analytical and just boil it down to a minimal set of basic instincts that look like:
    — a nearly-universal drive toward a particular moral behavior or attitude
    –plus diverse substrates or stimulus cues for that behavior that are more environmentally determined (imprinted/ learned/ culturally conditioned)

    (A good structural example would be parent imprinting in baby ducks: the ducks have the instinct “follow $ADULT-LIKE FIGURE,” but who becomes the object of that instinct for any individual duck is largely a matter of circumstances.)

    In the case of Care values, the structure seems pretty clearly to be: act to safeguard the welfare of yourself. Additionally, act to safeguard the welfare of things similar to or identified with yourself, with diminishing urgency as you get farther from the center of “me” and closer to “not-me.” As far as I can see, this is 100% the underlying structure of all Care-based values right across the political spectrum. BUT that inner circle of assigned objects for your Care drive is always going to be a random mishmash of figures imprinted on your consciousness by experience– particularly experiences that encourage you to perceive the object as like-yourself, and personal experiences raising emotional salience.

    So maybe you spend community time bonding with blue-collar neighbors (they’re like-me!), and see your town devastated by unemployment (emotional salience!) and develop a Caring value “Defend my neighbors’ jobs!”. Or maybe you attend university with plenty of international students from exactly the same class background (they’re like-me!) and read sad articles about immigrant children in The Atlantic (emotional salience!), and develop a Caring value “Welcome suffering foreigners!”. The key to not over-valorizing those positions is not to see them in isolation, but to notice the ways in which each person’s Care instinct always expresses itself in other “values” that’re mutually inconsistent. For instance, many immigration advocates also donate perfectly good money to no-kill animal shelters, because my Kitty is a member of the family (like-me!), and also super cute (emotional salience!), so we gotta Care for her. And a lot of immigration opponents, as Scott points out, will also donate to foreign aid when the target group is somehow aligned with them (Christians in the Middle East, like-me!) or sufficiently emotionally salient (have you seen all those sad pictures of the Japanese flood victims?). Plus all of us, per Hume, would honestly be a lot more upset about the 100%-me, highly emotionally salient prospect of our having a finger painfully amputated tomorrow than about an oncoming Indian earthquake killing 300 unknown people.

    I’d nominate Disgust and Status/Respect as the other two basic moral instincts, I think, but Care seems like a particularly transparent and predictable one. I’d be pretty interested to know, actually, if anyone can nominate a care-oriented value that’s not clearly (a) self-centered and (b) mediated by emotional salience, where both “identified as Self” and “emotionally salient” are clearly constructed by specific individual experiences and/or culture-specific beliefs.

  45. Matt M says:

    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?

    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.

    • IsmiratSeven says:

      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?

      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.

  46. dlr says:

    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.

    • perlhaqr says:

      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.)

  47. J.R. says:

    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.

    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.

    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.

  48. albertborrow says:

    Typo:

    …and confusing and maybe impossible to change someone’s values.

    .
    Should be something more like: “…and the fact that it’s confusing and maybe impossible to…” or something similar.

  49. Fractalotl says:

    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.

    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.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      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.

      • Bugmaster says:

        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.

        • quanta413 says:

          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.

          • Bugmaster says:

            Why does aesthetic value matter ?

          • quanta413 says:

            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.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @quanta413:
            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 ?

          • John Schilling says:

            Maybe I’m using the word “aesthetic” wrong, but why does anything that evokes an emotion matter?

            Because utils are a measure of emotion. Why would anything else matter?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @John Schilling:

            Because utils are a measure of emotion. Why would anything else matter?

            Isn’t this an argument for total wireheading ?

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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?

          • Bugmaster says:

            @HeelBearCub:
            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Bugmaster:

            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.

          • quanta413 says:

            @Bugmaster

            * 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 ?

            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.

            * 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 ?

            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.

          • aesthetic value does matter

            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.

    • quanta413 says:

      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.

  50. Jiro says:

    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.

    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.

    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.

  51. IsmiratSeven says:

    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.

    • Jaskologist says:

      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.

      • Aapje says:

        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.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      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”).

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        “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…”

      • fion says:

        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?

        • Matt M says:

          Do you think that Blue Tribe Americans would agree that their tribe controls the media or would they claim that the Red Tribe does?

          Neither.

          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.

          • mdet says:

            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.

        • Matt M says:

          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.

          • mdet says:

            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.

          • engleberg says:

            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.

          • albatross11 says:

            engleberg:

            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.

          • mdet says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            Mdet,

            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

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Trump is a reaaaaalllllyyyyy weird person to call “solidly red tribe”.

          • Matt M says:

            Why? Because he’s wealthy and from New York?

            Red Tribe isn’t blood and soil – it’s An idea! 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            Matt:

            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[1].

            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.

            [1] 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.”

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • engleberg says:

            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.

          • mdet says:

            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.

          • 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.

            Yes.

        • Tarpitz says:

          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?

          • fion says:

            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.

          • Tarpitz says:

            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?

          • Koken says:

            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.

      • Aapje says:

        @Conrad Honcho

        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.

  52. oppressedminority says:

    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.

    • Harry says:

      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!)

      • oppressedminority says:

        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.

        • Harry says:

          “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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            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.

          • albatross11 says:

            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.

      • perlhaqr says:

        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.

  53. 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.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      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.

      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.

        • Iain says:

          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.

          • Randy M says:

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            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?)

        • 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.?

          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.

        • Viliam says:

          Who here honestly thinks that the February Revolution in Russia in 1917 was a bad idea?

          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.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @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.

  54. alwhite says:

    What do you think maintains the tribal nature if not value differences? Or are the tribes themselves more malleable too?

  55. Andaro says:

    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.

    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.

    • Matt M says:

      I think this might also fall under the general category of something Scott mentions, but then quickly glosses over:

      While we can agree not to have a civil war for pragmatic reasons

      “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.

    • rmtodd says:

      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).

  56. Nietzsche says:

    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.

  57. MartMart says:

    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.

  58. Corey says:

    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.

  59. J Mann says:

    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.

    • Viliam says:

      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.

      How about befriending them? Could perhaps that create the right psychological incentives?

      • Nick says:

        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.

  60. gdanning says:

    “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).

    • RalMirrorAd says:

      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)

    • 1soru1 says:

      Of all those liberals talking about how they can’t possibly comprehend conservatives because being against immigration would just require completely alien values,

      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.

  61. rrherr says:

    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 … It’s value differences all the way down.

    This reminds me of Solzhenitsyn:

    If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

    • Viliam says:

      The Solzhenitsyn quote taken out of context loses half of its meaning. Here is some more context:

      If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

      […] is it that even blackness must, every so often, however rarely, partake of the heavens? It would be beautiful to think so. […] We would prefer to say that [truly evil] people cannot exist, that there aren’t any. It is permissible to portray evildoers in a story for children, so as to keep the picture simple. But when the great world literature of the past—Shakespeare, Schiller, Dickens—inflates and inflates images of evildoers of the blackest shades, it seems somewhat farcical and clumsy to our contemporary perception. The trouble lies in the way these classic evildoers are pictured. They recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black. And they reason: “I cannot live unless I do evil. So I’ll set my father against my brother! I’ll drink the victim’s sufferings until I’m drunk with them!” Iago very precisely identifies his purposes and his motives as being black and born of hate.

      But no; that’s not the way it is! To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.

      Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble—and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.

      Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations. Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.

      […] Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.

      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.

  62. sclmlw says:

    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.

    • Tarpitz says:

      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?

      • sclmlw says:

        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.

        • Tarpitz says:

          Tangential, absolutely.

          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?

  63. bkennedy99 says:

    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)

    • nimim.k.m. says:

      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.)

      • mtl1882 says:

        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.

        • Killing a pregnant woman has not historically resulted in a murder charge.

          Do you mean that it only resulted in one murder charge, not two?

        • John Schilling says:

          Most cultural traditions actually have beliefs that make it pretty clear fetuses are not considered people with full rights.

          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.

          • mtl1882 says:

            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.

          • John Schilling says:

            The average person had no concept of an embryo until recently.

            I’d like a citation for this, please, and a definition of “recently”

            It’s not something visible,

            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.

          • mtl1882 says:

            @JohnSchilling

            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.

    • Randy M says:

      Christians distinguished themselves in Roman times by caring for abandoned infants.

      it happens to be consistent with the way a Christian living in our age of plenty would think and so people think that’s always been the default position across Christendom

      (emphasis added) Any sources that show ancient Christian support for infanticide/exposure, even in times of scarcity?

  64. dcarroll002 says:

    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.

    • sharper13 says:

      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.

    • perlhaqr says:

      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.

  65. Incurian says:

    I need to digest this a while longer, but my immediate reaction is to quote you from Conflict vs Mistake:

    What would the conflict theorist argument against the Jacobite piece look like? Take a second to actually think about this. Is it similar to what I’m writing right now – an explanation of conflict vs. mistake theory, and a defense of how conflict theory actually describes the world better than mistake theory does?

    No. It’s the Baffler’s article saying that public choice theory is racist, and if you believe it you’re a white supremacist. If this wasn’t your guess, you still don’t understand that conflict theorists aren’t mistake theorists who just have a different theory about what the mistake is. They’re not going to respond to your criticism by politely explaining why you’re incorrect.

    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.

  66. Murphy says:

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. I immediately ran over and said “Stop! Don’t do it!”

    “Why shouldn’t I?” he said.

    I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”

    “Like what?”

    “Well … are you religious or atheist?”

    “Religious.”

    “Me too! Are you Christian or Jewish?”

    “Christian.”

    “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”

    “Protestant.”

    “Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?”

    “Baptist.”

    “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”

    “Baptist Church of God.”

    “Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”

    “Reformed Baptist Church of God.”

    “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?”

    “Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!”

    To which I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and pushed him off.

    ~Emo Philips

    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.

    • Ryan Holbrook says:

      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.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        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?”

        • perlhaqr says:

          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.

  67. BlindKungFuMaster says:

    “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.

  68. Kushana says:

    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.

  69. Quixote says:

    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.

  70. Walter says:

    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.

  71. EGI says:

    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.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Many religious people believe, that God … will damn people to eternal suffering for finite … crimes.

      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.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        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.

        • yodelyak says:

          Agree!

        • Mark Atwood says:

          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.

          • engleberg says:

            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.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @engelberg

            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.)

          • engleberg says:

            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.

          • Aron Wall says:

            @engelberg

            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.

          • engleberg says:

            @Aron Wolf- woo- you are totally right and my ‘two pages etc-‘ quote was totally wrong. You win this argument.

        • spkaca says:

          +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.

      • RavenclawPrefect says:

        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.”

        • Evan Þ says:

          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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            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.

          • fion says:

            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.

          • Mark Atwood says:

            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?

          • John Schilling says:

            In that universe, by your standard, what would be the “just” thing to happen instead?

            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.

          • Paul Zrimsek says:

            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.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @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.

          • Fahundo says:

            eternal separation from God is, in itself, at least as bad as fire and brimstone.

            Would you mind explaining why that is?

          • perlhaqr says:

            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.

    • veeloxtrox says:

      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.

      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.

      • EGI says:

        I know this rationalization and I don’t buy it at all.

        Let’s see,
        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.

        • fion says:

          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”…

        • Tarpitz says:

          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.

        • Aron Wall says:

          @EGI

          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.

          As surely as I live, declares the Lord YHWH, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. (Ezekiel 33:11)

          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.

  72. John Schilling says:

    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. [ditto conservatives]

    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.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      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.

      • John Schilling says:

        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.

      • idontknow131647093 says:

        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.

  73. HeelBearCub says:

    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.

  74. jonm says:

    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.

  75. Prussian says:

    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:

    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 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.

    • Ketil says:

      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:

      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.

      • Prussian says:

        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.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      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.

      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.

      • J Mann says:

        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 undeserving loyalty less than the middle three and extreme conservatives value it more.

      • Matt M says:

        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.

        • Randy M says:

          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.

          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.

          • Matt M says:

            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.”

          • Randy M says:

            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.

        • 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.

          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.

          • Prussian says:

            DavidFriedman,

            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.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          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?

        • Prussian says:

          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.

          Matt M,

          Ozy is dramatically mischaracterizing the right-wing position here, indicating a profound lack of understanding of what most right-wingers actually believe.

          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.

          • mdet says:

            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?

            If you’re left-wing, you’re automatically pure and decent

            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?

          • Prussian says:

            ave 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?

            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.

          • Bugmaster says:

            That the fundamental ideology on the left is, If you’re left-wing, you’re automatically pure and decent

            To be fair though, isn’t that the ideology of pretty much any tribe ?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        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.

        • Mark V Anderson says:

          @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.

      • Prussian says:

        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.

        Way better.

    • Viliam says:

      +1

      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”.

  76. zima says:

    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.

  77. Deiseach says:

    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”?

    • beleester says:

      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.)

      • MasteringTheClassics says:

        Three questions:

        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?

        • Randy M says:

          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.

        • beleester says:

          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.

          • Aapje says:

            @beleester

            For instance, suppose the liberal principle for banning pedophilia is “It’s harmful to kids and makes them unhappy.”

            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?

          • rlms says:

            @Aapje

            my response is “You’re welcome to make those arguments! Please make them!”

            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.

      • Deiseach says:

        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!

        • Saint Fiasco says:

          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.

      • Deiseach says:

        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.

        • beleester says:

          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 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.”

            “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?

            Yes, that means that the age of consent might slide up or down a year or two

            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.

      • Jiro says:

        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?

        • rlms says:

          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.

          • Randy M says:

            I have a factual disagreement with you that that is obvious based on it being a near universal taboo.

          • J Mann says:

            Consensual non-procreative incest is obviously intrinsically fine

            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.

          • rlms says:

            Obvious for intelligent people (by whom I mean those who share my very specific other moral beliefs).

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Randy M: I love the scientific basis of the incest taboo. “Look! A moral law actually written on our depraved hearts! Science proves it!”

          • @Randy M:

            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.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @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.

          • Randy M says:

            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.

            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.

          • Nornagest says:

            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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Something doesn’t become a taboo unless some significant fraction of people would do it otherwise.

          • Nornagest says:

            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.

          • Randy M says:

            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.

            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.

          • rlms says:

            @Jaskologist
            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.

          • ana53294 says:

            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.

          • Nornagest says:

            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.

            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.

          • rlms says:

            @ana53294
            Indeed, hence the first word in my original comment.

          • marshwiggle says:

            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.

          • ana53294 says:

            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.

            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?

          • Nornagest says:

            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.

          • ana53294 says:

            Indeed, hence the first word in my original comment.

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • JustToSay says:

            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.

          • J Mann says:

            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.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        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.

        • beleester says:

          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.

          • Jaskologist says:

            And then when you dig down further, “harm” ends up cashing out to “purity” again.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • J Mann says:

            @Jaskologist

            And then when you dig down further, “harm” ends up cashing out to “purity” again.

            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.

          • Randy M says:

            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.

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Your use of improper here seems to imply some misalignment with the teleos of the action.

            Sure, that tracks.

            The animals sexual impulse exists to encourage it to reproduce.

            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.

          • Randy M says:

            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)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            But in that case you didn’t make the distinction, just sort of implied a sense of one.

            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”.

          • Randy M says:

            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)

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @Randy M:
            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.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            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.

          • Yes, it presented a risk of harm

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • Randy M says:

            You aren’t engaging with the substance of my statement, but simply pointing out that which I have already acknowledged.

            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.

          • Viliam says:

            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.

            Heh, that would include me. 😀

            Also, whoever wrote Isaiah 11:6.

        • Deiseach says:

          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).

          • HeelBearCub says:

            Using an emotive, heavily-loaded term like “rape” in such a context is stacking the deck.

            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.

          • Deiseach says:

            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.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            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.

          • Deiseach says:

            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.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        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.

        • mdet says:

          It’s not too hard to find thinkpieces sympathetic to “non-offending pedophiles.”

          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)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            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.

          • mdet says:

            Same. Sympathy for non-offending pedophiles is one of those things I think is correct but dangerous to say too loudly.

          • cryptoshill says:

            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”.

    • Ketil says:

      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.

      • Walter says:

        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.

        • Dacyn says:

          Giving cash to homeless people is not a great way to “allow the impoverished and destitute their chance”.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        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!”

        • John Schilling says:

          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.

          • J Mann says:

            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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • Aapje says:

            @John Schilling

            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.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @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.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @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.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @HBC: Well that was foolish, then.

          • PeterDonis says:

            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 don’t.

            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.

          • mdet says:

            “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.

        • CatCube says:

          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.”

          • MartMart says:

            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.

          • Temple says:

            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?

          • Matt M says:

            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.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            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.

          • Evan Þ says:

            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.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            @Temple

            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.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @idontknow: Well I’d be fine with a 5-year tripling that plummets after that, too.

          • ana53294 says:

            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.

            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?

          • mdet says:

            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

          • Matt M says:

            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?

            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.

          • CatCube says:

            @Temple

            Sorry, I missed this one earlier.

            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”).

            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.

          • 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.

            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.

        • MartMart says:

          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.

          • SamChevre says:

            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”.)

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            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?

          • 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.

          • MartMart says:

            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.

          • Evan Þ says:

            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.

          • Aapje says:

            @DavidFriedman

            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

            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.

          • MartMart says:

            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.

        • Eigengrau says:

          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

        • Iain says:

          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?”
          A: “…”
          _______________________________________________

          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.

          • Alphonse says:

            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.

          • MartMart says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            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.

          • Alphonse says:

            MartMart,

            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.

          • Iain says:

            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.

          • MartMart says:

            Alphonse
            “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.

          • albatross11 says:

            Brad:

            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[1] has finally gotten organized and has built up some momentum. And now, various politicians are riding it.

            [1] 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.

          • Iain says:

            … 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?

          • PeterDonis says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            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.”

          • mdet says:

            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)

        • Temple says:

          How much illegal immigration do we want? Zero.

          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.

          • cryptoshill says:

            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.

          • Iain says:

            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.)

          • cryptoshill says:

            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.

        • Zeno of Citium says:

          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.
          General principles:
          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.

          • albatross11 says:

            Zeno: +1

            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[1]. 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.)

            [1] But in practice I think everyone lets/requires immigrant kids come to the local public schools. Doing anything else would be nuts.

          • Doctor Mist says:

            4) Kick people non-citizens out if they commit serious crimes. We already do this, obviously, but it’s worth stating.

            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.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            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.

          • albatross11 says:

            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.

          • Randy M says:

            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.

          • Iain says:

            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.)

            @Edward Scizorhands:

            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.

            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.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            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.

          • Iain says:

            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.

          • cryptoshill says:

            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.

    • Cerastes says:

      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.

      • SamChevre says:

        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.

        • rlms says:

          I don’t see how that is relevant to gay marriage.

        • Civilis says:

          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.

          • rlms says:

            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.

          • Civilis says:

            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”.

      • veeloxtrox says:

        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.

        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?

        • mdet says:

          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)

          • SamChevre says:

            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.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            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?

          • veeloxtrox says:

            @mdet

            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?

            when people have sex outside of marriage, they exchange short term pleasure for long term harm to their lives.

          • mdet says:

            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.

            @veeloxtrox
            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.

          • briguybrn says:

            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.

      • Jaskologist says:

        even if it’s fully consensual and harms nobody

        How do you measure “harm?”

      • 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.

        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.

        • HeelBearCub says:

          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.

          • Matt M says:

            there isn’t anything particularly special about sex, other than it is is quite consequential

            Eh, I think there’s a whole lot of people who strongly disagree with this.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            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.

          • Matt M says:

            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.

          • Dacyn says:

            Preventing pregnancy and STDs does not change the emotional consequences of sex, which can also be significant.

    • Andaro says:

      Where does it end?

      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.

      • Jiro says:

        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?

        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.

        • IsmiratSeven says:

          “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.”

          • rlms says:

            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.”

          • Jiro says:

            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.

          • rlms says:

            @Jiro
            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).

          • Jiro says:

            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.

        • Doctor Mist says:

          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.)