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Fallacies Of Reversed Moderation

A recent discussion: somebody asked why people in Silicon Valley thought that only high-tech solutions to climate change (like carbon capture or geoengineering) mattered, and why they dismissed more typical solutions like international cooperation and political activism.

Another person cited statements from the relevant Silicon Valley people, who mostly say that they think political solutions and environmental activism were central to the fight against climate change, but that we should look into high-tech solutions too.

This is a pattern I see again and again.

Popular consensus believes 100% X, and absolutely 0% Y.

A few iconoclasts say that X is definitely right and important, but maybe we should also think about Y sometimes.

The popular consensus reacts “How can you think that it’s 100% Y, and that X is completely irrelevant? That’s so extremist!”

Some common forms of this:

Reversed moderation of planning, like in the geoengineering example. One group wants to solve the problem 100% through political solutions, another group wants 90% political and 10% technological, and the first group thinks the second only cares about technological solutions.

Reversed moderation of importance. For example, a lot of psychologists talk as if all human behavior is learned. Then when geneticists point to experiments showing behavior is about 50% genetic, they get accused of saying that “only genes matter” and lectured on how the world is more complex and subtle than that.

Reversed moderation of interest. For example, if a vegetarian shows any concern about animal rights, they might get told they’re “obsessed with animals” or they “care about animals more than humans”.

Reversed moderation of certainty. See for example my previous article Two Kinds Of Caution. Some researcher points out a possibility that superintelligent AI might be dangerous, and suggests looking into this possibility. Then people say it doesn’t matter, and we don’t have to worry about it, and criticize the researcher for believing he can “predict the future” or thinking “we can see decades ahead”. But “here is a possibility we need to investigate” is a much less certain claim than “no, that possibility definitely will not happen”.

I can see why this pattern is tempting. If somebody said the US should allocate 50% of its defense budget to the usual global threats, and 50% to the threat of reptilian space invaders, then even though the plan contains the number “50-50” it would not be a “moderate” proposal. You would think of it as “that crazy plan about fighting space reptiles”, and you would be right to do so. But in this case the proper counterargument is to say “there is no reason to spend any money fighting space reptiles”, not “it’s so immoderate to spend literally 100% of our budget breeding space mongooses”. “Moderate” is not the same as “50-50” is not the same as “good”. Just say “Even though this program leaves some money for normal defense purposes, it’s stupid”. You don’t have to deny that it leaves anything at all.

Or if someone says there’s a 10% chance space reptiles will invade, just say “No, the number is basically zero”. Don’t say “I can’t believe you’re certain there will be an alien invasion, don’t you know there’s never any certainty in this world?”

But I can see why this happens. Imagine the US currently devotes 100% of its defense budget to countering Russia. Some analyst determines that although Russia deserves 90% of resources, the Pentagon should also use 10% to counter China. Since no one person can shift very much of the defense budget, this analyst might spend all her time arguing we need to counter China more, trying to convince everyone that China is really very dangerous; if she succeeds, maybe the budget will shift to 99-to-1 and she’ll have done the best she can. But if she really spends all her time talking about China, this might look to other people like she’s an extremist – that crazy single-issue China person – “Why are you spending all your time talking about China? Don’t you realize Russia is important too?” Still, she’s taking the right strategy, and it’s hard to figure out what she could do better.

I am nervous titling this “reversed moderation fallacy” because any time someone brings up fallacies, people accuse them of thinking all discussion consists of identifying and jumping on Officially Designated Fallacies in someone else’s work. But I’ve gone years without talking about fallacies at all, so when this inevitably happens it’s going here as Exhibit A.

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357 Responses to Fallacies Of Reversed Moderation

  1. Pingback: TheMoneyIllusion » Is populism popular? Has it peaked?

  2. cuke says:

    Okay, having re-read Scott’s post and re-reading descriptions of “splitting” in psychology, aka black-and-white thinking, this reversed moderation fallacy is looking like another way of describing that kind of reaction. Can anyone fill me in on how it might be different?

    This doesn’t seem like a fallacy in the same way that fallacies are described in rhetoric — more, it’s a form of emotional reactivity that leads listeners to jump to the most extreme interpretation of what a person has said to the point that it’s no longer what the person said.

    This is the same to me as when a person says, “I think I’d like a little alone time this weekend,” and their friend responds, “You must hate me because you never want to spend time with me.”

    In my experience, the roots of this style of engaging are often rage, self-loathing, and fear. It’s a problem of emotional reactivity. I find it useful to distinguish this from logical fallacies in rhetoric because those occur more from not having learned the basic building blocks of logical reasoning, and could be corrected through pretty straightforward education about rhetoric. Splitting, however, requires training people to develop tools for emotional regulation, and that’s a somewhat harder task.

  3. Galle says:

    This is something I see constantly. Like, with almost monotonous regularity. I’m convinced that it’s responsible for at least 50% of all pointless internet arguments.

    Really angry arguments about the Star Wars prequels, for example, are often examples of reversed moderation of the subjectivity of preferences (anyone know a word that means “accepting that not everyone likes the exact same things you do”?). Some people really, really dislike the Star Wars prequels. Some people like them. Both groups, in principle, accept that preferences are subjective, and that the other group isn’t somehow objectively “wrong” for having different preferences from them. Yet when the two interact, you get conversations like this:

    Anti-Prequel: That was the worst thing since the Star Wars prequels!
    Pro-Prequel: Hey, I actually liked the Star Wars prequels!
    Anti-Prequel: Well, just because you did doesn’t mean that everybody did.
    Pro-Prequel: Yeah, but that doesn’t mean they’re objectively bad.
    Anti-Prequel: So are you saying that I don’t have a right to my opinion?
    Pro-Prequel: No, you’re saying that I don’t have a right to my opinion.

    …and so on and so on.

    At least in the case of people arguing over movies, I see this mostly through a mistake theory lens. The reversed moderation fallacy isn’t a rhetorical weapon used by people who know they’re misrepresenting the opposition, it’s what people actually think the opposition is like.

    I think the ultimate cause has to do with motivated cognition. In my experience, when someone makes a statement that’s in any way ambiguous, people will interpret that statement based on how they feel about the person who made it. If they’re on the same side of the argument, the statement will get passed through a sort of “reasonability” filter – if its literal meaning is obviously outrageous, they’ll look for a metaphorical or metonymic meaning, or treat it as humor. Meanwhile, if they’re on the opposite side of the argument, they won’t apply that filter – after all, someone who likes the Star Wars prequels is probably a level-headed person who would never think that people with different preferences are objectively wrong, but who the hell knows what those nutty prequel-haters think, right?

    The end result is that someone on the pro-prequel side will say, “The Star Wars prequels are good,” and the two sides will interpret that statement completely differently. The pro-prequel faction will hear “I like the Star Wars prequels,” because that’s the sort of reasonable thing a pro-prequel person would say, and the anti-prequel faction will hear, “The Star Wars prequels are objectively good, and if you don’t like them, you’re wrong,” because that’s the sort of outrageous thing a pro-prequel person would say.

    • Statismagician says:

      Having witnessed this exact argument like, I don’t know, at least dozens and plausibly hundreds of times, this was very helpful to me.

      Unrelated; has anybody ever looked at what the correlation is between liking the prequels and liking the new mainline movies?

  4. entognatha says:

    I suspect both are coming from overestimating how much other people are like you.

    For instance, in terms of reducing meat consumption, I value top down solutions (like regulation of farming practices, taxation of meat, and the promotion of lab-grown meat and other meat substitutes) over convincing meat-eaters to stop eating meat, because I’m a meat-eater that hasn’t stopped eating meat, despite having been convinced that eating less meat is a good thing.

    Similarly, as someone who is convinced of global climate change yet hasn’t changed their behaviour, I’m similarly convinced that if we can achieve them technological solutions will beat political (which have largely failed thus far) or convincing people to use less carbon.

    Meanwhile, people who are vegan and cycle to work every day are convinced that everyone can become like them because *they* did it.

    (Of course in the carbon case, part of the reason I am convinced we need carbon sequestration is, simply put, the damage has already been done and we’ve lost the window for reducing it rate of output to slow enough increases to not cause a problem. The numbers just don’t work out for ANY of the current solutions people have proposed – it’s just a massive amount of CO2.)

  5. dragnubbit says:

    Seems like this is mixing in two entirely different phenomena and muddling the difference rather than separating it. By taking two very different effects and classifying them as one thing it looks like a whole new beast but it is just a pasted together mash up of two existing and familiar fallacious animals.

    One is a failure to perceive moderation in an opponents/others words/actions because as an opponent/other your attention is focused on differences and you miss the similarities. We amplify differences in ‘others’ and similarities in our ‘tribe’. Mistake theory (perceptual/knowledge issue).

    The other (especially the China example) is a deliberate effort to use extreme positions to reframe the debate/shift the Overton Window/negotiate from strength/your-preferred-term-here. Conflict theory (tactical/outcome oriented).

  6. wanda_tinasky says:

    Sounds akin to “I don’t practice what I preach because I’m not the kind of person I’m preaching to.” Course corrections aren’t the same thing as destinations.

    I think this is an interesting way of framing a common rhetorical failure mode, but is it meaningfully different from just saying that public discourse is unnuanced?

    • Hyperfocus says:

      Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think it hurts to identify that this is A Thing, and maybe identifying it will lead to some kind of insight down the line on how to deal with it better than we are currently.

  7. Philosopher here. The general sort of fallacy you are talking about, of course, is Straw Man, misrepresenting a person’s argument or claim for the purpose of making it easier to refute. I’m not sure I’m persuaded that this is an interesting type of straw man, in the way that we have, e.g., interesting types of ad hominem (personal, circumstantial, etc.)

    Even so, here is another, very touchy, example of reversed moderation. Someone claims that the victim of a crime is 100% morally blameless and 0% morally blameworthy. Someone else says, well, really they were acting stupidly, provocatively, etc. so it is more like 80%, 20% morally speaking, even if legally speaking it is 100, 0%. The obvious rejoinder: You are 100% blaming the victim.

    A background fact here is that people with deontological predispositions resist quantification. So the only two possibilities or 0, 1 and 1,0.

  8. kevin says:

    We little monkeys are just not wired for statistical thinking. You can see the evidence everywhere even in articles in refereed journals. You can definitely see the evidence in casinos. We have a great deal of difficulty seeing things along a spectrum which makes sense in a wild environment when survival decisions must be made instantly. But it no longer makes sense in a culture rich in data, complexity and nuance.

    Nobody wants to say, I’m about “75% sure about this” because it weakens our position. Nobody wants to hear “There’s a 25% chance you’re wrong.” Nobody wants to change their mind because then they seem inconsistent, a huge social sin. And heaven forbid you should change your opinion 180 degrees because your degree of uncertainty changes. Then you’re a hypocrite or worse.

    I try to base all my thinking about non-creative issues on data, statistics and the scientific method. But it’s difficult to get most people to even see the value of this unless it reinforces what they already think they know.

    Hence “reverse moderation”. Any introduction of doubt into your certainty is threatening.

    Then there’s the negativity bias which amplifies the apparent amplitude of the introduction of uncertainty.

    The rule of thumb is that negative feedback is given 3-5 times the weight of positive feedback. So if a person disagrees with you 25% they may appear to be disagreeing with you 100%. This is another area where I get in trouble in conversations.

  9. zstewart333 says:

    I don’t think this phenomenon is about moderation in any significant way. All cases are simply where the established side views the challenging side’s entire stance on the issue as consisting only of that which differs from the established side. I.e. “I only want some funding for Y” becomes “I only want some funding for Y”. None of the specific numbers Scott shows are relevant and so it’s not about being immoderate. If I want 50% political solutions to climate change and 50% tech it’s just as incorrect to characterize my position as tech-only as if I only wanted 10% tech or 10% political.

    We should refer to this as something like the fallacy of “Substitution of difference of position as whole position”.

    Scott does come close to the root cause when he points out when arguing against an established position for X you’re going to be “the guy that only talks about Y”. But this is just a specific example of the general lazy thinking that is the whole answer – it’s simply far, far easier to subtract the common elements from any two options and focus only on the difference. This is compounded by the common political concept that a small grant to the challenger could be used later as a slippery slope or trojan horse towards 100% takeover, as in the US gun rights debate where any form of increased gun control is inevitably portrayed as a frontrunner for the revocation of the second amendment.

  10. cassander says:

    Interestingly enough, I’ve seen this fallacy reversed a fair bit lately. I’ve run into a number of people who, when I balk at the expense of the nuclear re-capitalization that the US is going through, will respond with something like “but it’s only a couple percent of the defense budget for the next 10 years.” This is true, but irrelevant. It’s still hundreds of billions of dollars, and the efficacy of ideas can rarely be meaningfully defended by saying “but we’re spending so much more elsewhere, what does it matter if we waste some here?”

    • albatross11 says:

      Yeah, this line of argument is a fully general justification for any spending whatsoever. I mean, why would you object to the Endless Hookers and Blow for Albatross11 Act of 2019? It’s a tiny drop in the bucket of the federal budget, and the money would just be wasted on something else if the bill didn’t pass….

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  12. Paul Brinkley says:

    Part of this seems to be an attention-gathering problem. If you have a risk you think requires 1% of the total resources devoted to risk management, you end up having to take up 50+% of everyone’s attention getting that risk on the books, which makes you look like you’re calling for 50+% of the resources. And if you explicitly state you think it’s worth only 1% of everyone’s resources, people wonder why you’re making so much noise about it in that case and then look at you like you’re Chicken Little.

    And so we end up with a system where our risks include world hunger, civil rights, education, health care, the opioid crisis, the Y2K crisis, the deficit, the Ukraine, the Gambia, the Amazon, the deep fryer, asteroid impact, AI, grey goo, spotted three-toed Arabian frog beetles, and thirty-seven flavors of cancer, every one having a group tasked to “raise awareness”, and most of us are now undergoing awareness fatigue, when what people really probably need is to just set up a hedge fund for risk and go back to bed.

    • Mr. Doolittle says:

      /snark

      Welcome to the Libertarian Party!

      /s

      In all seriousness, this is exactly the reason why there are people who prefer non-centralized systems. If it only needs 1% of the resources and there are 1% of the people who see that and put their resources that way, problem solved! You don’t need to raise awareness or reach 50.1% of the population, and most people will probably never realize it even happened.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I think the problem is that, in practice, almost everyone underestimates the importance of projects that don’t affect him directly. So, for example, if some rare form of cancer can only be cured by investing 1% (or more) of the resources, then this cancer can never be cured, because only 0.01% of the population (the ones who have this cancer) will care about it (and they probably don’t have a lot of money, what with all the cancer). The correct Libertarian solution in this case might be “ok, just let those people die, because every other alternative is worse”; but this doesn’t work for major risks, such as e.g. natural disasters or military invasions.

        I like Paul Brinkley’s suggestion of creating a hedge fund for general, diffuse risks of this type. Of course, such a fund will need someone to manage it, in order to decide how much money goes to cancer vs. frogs. Also, there will need to be some easy way for people to pay into that fund; perhaps as a recurring annual subscription. Naturally, the managers of the fund will need to be made accountable in some way, and there should be some dispute resolution mechanism for people who prefer cancer to frogs or vice versa… I think you can see where I’m going with this 🙂

  13. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    Here’s another version of the problem– saying that the outgroup is bad, bad, nothing but bad, and anyone who says anything good about the outgroup is just as bad– such people are obviously at war with the ingroup.

  14. deciusbrutus says:

    “Some analyst determines that although Russia deserves 90% of resources, the Pentagon should also use 10% to counter China. Since no one person can shift very much of the defense budget, this analyst might spend all her time arguing we need to counter China more, trying to convince everyone that China is really very dangerous; if she succeeds, maybe the budget will shift to 99-to-1 and she’ll have done the best she can.”

    Doesn’t this analyst get more change done if she just tries to convince everyone that China deserves ‘10% of the budget’, rather than trying to argue that it deserves ‘more of the budget’?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Is this how change works?

      I see a lot of people saying eg that we should work harder to fight climate change, but nobody outside a few technocrats talking about “fighting climate change should use 2% of GDP, but 3% would be too much and 10% would be absurd.”

      • Aapje says:

        That’s not how it works. Firstly because most people merely evaluate the current situation, and don’t consider all possibilities. Secondly because most people like the good feeling of an uncompromised position. They want to feel good about fighting climate change, not feel bad that their aliefs are actually less noble.

        Finally, it’s destructive to coalition building, because if you want more spending than now, you want to build a coalition with everyone who wants that, whether that is 2, 3 or 10%. Making these things explicit causes infighting.

  15. VivaLaPanda says:

    I think this has more to do with what you’ve written before regarding expert scientific consensus and the popular view of such. Namely, the top people who actually advance these positions (researchers, investors, Elon Musk-types) start advancing the “maybe we should divert 10% of our resources to this other facet”. However, a lot of layman see that as a “free thinking people defy the consensus” and join up. You end up with a lot of not super informed people holding the reverse position for contrarianism reasons that say they are on the same side as the informed people.

    That group is the one that people are more likely to interact with

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  17. Eponymous says:

    In general, most people have a preference for solutions that they consider “moderate” (i.e. give people three options, and they tend to pick the middle one), and so framing matters a great deal. Thus, while almost any reasonable policy debate takes place at the margin (i.e. should we have somewhat more X at the expense of Y), a lot of rhetoric involves painting your opponents as extremists while you are moderate, that is fighting over framing and who gets to hold the “middle ground”.

    Now of course everyone involved is engaging in the fallacy you are pointing out. However, simply pointing out that this is a fallacy doesn’t solve the underlying problem: you just give a new argument for both sides to use, i.e. they can accuse the other side of engaging in “reversed moderation fallacy” as they try to claim the mantle of the True Moderates for themselves.

    I think the real solution to the defective argument dynamic at work here is to label the whole thing (maybe “moderation debate”), and say that both sides should stop trying to argue about who is “more moderate” or “more extreme”, and focus on debating the relative merits of *marginal* changes in X and Y.

    Shorter version: I’m concerned that (as it is now) this post will lead people to make arguments like, “I’m not extreme! You’re extreme! I’m the moderate here!”, rather than, “Let’s stop arguing about who is more extreme.”

    • deciusbrutus says:

      The only way to fix the emergent results of the perverse incentives is to change the incentive structure.

      It is more effective to make policy changes by framing opposing alternatives as more extreme than it is to make policy changes by advocating for the best policy and improving everyone’s ability to measure the quality of proposed policies.

      • Eponymous says:

        It is more effective to make policy changes by framing opposing alternatives as more extreme than it is to make policy changes by advocating for the best policy and improving everyone’s ability to measure the quality of proposed policies.

        This appears to be true (I find such arguments unpersuasive, but I’m not the median voter). But I do think that argumentative norms do exist, and can be changed. This is part of the value of blogs like this one; “raising the sanity water line”, I think EY called it.

        I think that, “Don’t argue about who is being moderate/extreme” is a good norm.

  18. vV_Vv says:

    Reversed moderation of certainty. See for example my previous article Two Kinds Of Caution. Some researcher points out a possibility that space reptiles might be dangerous, and suggests looking into this possibility. Then people say it doesn’t matter, and we don’t have to worry about it, and criticize the researcher for believing he can “predict the future” or thinking “we can see decades ahead”. But “here is a possibility we need to investigate” is a much less certain claim than “no, that possibility definitely will not happen”.

    • acymetric says:

      Well, we definitely need an ability to respond to “here is a possibility we need to investigate” with “no we shouldn’t” which is what this amounts to. How to determine when to say “no we shouldn’t” is the tricky part.

  19. Rack says:

    I think I experience something like this – and I participate in it – at the secondary school where I teach. Everyone at the school agrees that academics, activities, athletics, arts, etc. are all important factors in the education of the students and the overall life of the school. However, I find myself advocating for the importance of academics harder than I sometimes truly believe because I feel like I’m in a tug of war with other factions within the school community who are pushing their own agendas. If I only speak up with a volume proportional to what I actually believe, I’m afraid I’ll be run over by other factions. Maybe they believe the same thing.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      If a lot of extremists are actually just crypto moderates with the same reasoning as you, then that would be quite hilarious.
      Probably a reason, why there’s always infighting in revolutionary circles.

      Is there a fancy economic term for that?
      I guess having moderate preferences, but pretending to be an extremist is a ‘defect’ strategy in a prisoners dillema?

      • AG says:

        It’s a bravery debate.

      • baconbits9 says:

        The fancy economic term is “talk is cheap”.

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          @baconbits9
          I guess, but you might want to join the radicals, because they seem to be the only ones doing something. Like Georg Elser mingling with the commies, but merely having the humble goal of wanting to murder the top 100 German leadership (which he almost would have done single-handedly, no thanks to those cheap-talking commies), with no particular revolutionary leanings. Really just good, old-fashioned moderate patriotism taken seriously. He wasn’t even all that deep about it.

    • Eddie says:

      Even worse, always advocating for one position makes it harder for a person to see how moderate they really are. We don’t just mis-characterize the position of others. We mis-characterize our own position too.

  20. baconbits9 says:

    I think what you are really referencing is a necessary compression algorithm that works in smaller groups but not larger. Last week someone said “nice day today” to me, if I took it literally I would think that he preferred 45 degree, slightly overcast days. The context of our relationship makes it clear that he was saying something like “I’m glad its not colder, windier and rainier like it has been on the past few Sundays, its really not as much fun to play frisbee in those conditions. Given that it is December this is about as good as you can hope for.” Even mundane comments have a large amount of subtext to them built into the shared experiences of the speakers.

    This isn’t something that we can dispense with, you cannot go up to someone at a funeral and give a complex and nuanced explanation of the nature of life and death and expect it to go over well. You certainly cannot have every person in attendance do that, instead almost everyone goes up and gives the bereaved a hug and a variant of “I’m sorry for your loss”. So it doesn’t matter how mundane or profound the situation, information compression is a core part of communication between people to the point of it being a deeply ingrained habit.

    Compression falls apart on the large scale, when you are talking with people from across a country with 300+ million residents the shared cultural landscape is thin. Politicians speak in platitudes because nuance is incredibly difficult across masses of people, and so politics and topics approached like politics devolve very quickly.

  21. Icedcoffee says:

    This feels related to the old SSC “motte-and-bailey” problem. Left to her own devices, Alice only seems to advocate for X, but when directly confronted, Alice retreats to acknowledging the importance of Y too.

    • stationarywaves says:

      You got it.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      It’s really stupid to make Alice do that. Because people ought to be allowed to specialize in Y and just admit that they don’t give a shit about solution X, because it’s boring and stale and they have no opinion on it, that wouldn’t be just stolen from some random, credible seeming X-pert.

      One of the more sensible things I still remember from Atlas Shrugged:

      “Don’t you ever think of anything but d’Anconia Copper? ” Jim asked him once.
      “No.”
      “It seems to me that there are other things in the world.” “Well, let others think about those, then.”

  22. AG says:

    This situation is why I’ve shifted from Moloch being my favorite SSC post to thinking that “All Debates are Bravery Debates” is the most important insight that could be spread from SSC.

  23. Jiro says:

    Consider the scenario where someone claims to not want to ban abortions. However, they keep supporting measures which are trivial inconveniences to people who want to get abortions. When questioned, they will tell you “I don’t really want to ban abortion. I just think that X is an important consideration that needs to be balanced against abortion.” For instance, if they want a 24 hour waiting period before any abortions, they could claim that there is some nonzero rate of women changing their mind, and they are not trying to stop abortions, they just are balancing Y (preventing regret in abortions) against X (the right to abortion).

    In other words, on the face of it they are doing what Scott says. They’re not against abortion, they just think it’s not 100% important compared to everything else. You are mistaking their advocacy of 24 hour waiting periods for opposition to abortion. Sure, it’ll be inconvenient for poor women who need to take a second day off from work, but they’re just balancing abortion rights against regret.

    Should you believe them? Maybe not. How do you recognize this tactic and distinguish it from people who actually just think X isn’t 100% important? Well, nobody ever said politics was easy–you do it the same way you make inferences about motives in other cases. Inferring people’s motives is hard, but you can’t just give up and not do it. And from the outside, it’s going to look like “Oh, no, he’s being uncharitable to his opponent and mistaking not-100% X for not believing in X at all!” But sometimes that’s what you should conclude.

    (This happens with the left too, of course. Some more obvious examples are gun control and open borders.)

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Is there anyone who supports a waiting limit on abortions who doesn’t also want to ban abortions? I don’t think they make a secret of that. It’s just that they can’t ban abortions, but they can try to minimize them or minimize the harm they cause.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        In theory there could be a large group (90s era Democrats certainly “Safe, legal, and rare”) that advocate for abortions to require more thought and planning, in order to keep them at a more reasonable level, or only used in more reasonable circumstances.

        A very high percentage of people believe that abortion should be legal for a woman who was raped. A much smaller percentage is comfortable with abortion as first level birth control.

        In practice, most of the politicians pushing for 24-hour waiting periods would prefer even more restrictions. The people who support those politicians? They might just like the idea of people giving more thought before doing it.

      • Mark Atwood says:

        I don’t want to ban them. I do want the clinics that perform them to be as inspected as often and as rigorously as, say, a piercing and tattoo salon. (As often and as rigorously as, say, a barber shop or even a dentist office is apparently somehow unthinkably impossible.)

        • Don_Flamingo says:

          Why though? Are crappy abortion clinics spreading blood-borne diseases or regularly killing their patients?
          They’re still doctors, not a bunch of hippies, who smoke pot a lot and are really into art and not so much into hygiene (not all tatoo artists, but almost no doctors at all of that sort).

          I’d think the front loaded safety measure of the credential system is sufficient.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I dont know how prevalent they are, but crappy abortion clinics do exist. Aren’t regular clinics regulated? I would suspect that they are, maybe I’m wrong. But it does seem odd that the regulation-happy side of the culture war is opposed to regulating abortion clinics. It’s equally odd that the anti-regulation, anti-abortion side favors regulating abortion clinics, but it’s obvious that they’re doing it because they want to ban abortions.

            Are you actually suggesting that abortion clinics are in the unique position, according to the view of progressives, of not benefiting from regulations? Or is it that imposing a regulatory framework on abortion clinics would allow pro-lifers to reduce access to abortion too easily?

          • Deiseach says:

            Are crappy abortion clinics spreading blood-borne diseases or regularly killing their patients?

            Short answer? Yes.

            Longer answer: Back in 2011-13 the case of Kermit Gosnell. Finally taken down because the law was investigating him for running a pill mill, once they got inside the clinic and saw conditions they went “Holy fuck“, there was a big investigation, and basically the Usual Suspects were all “but if you regulate clinics based on this case, poor women of colour can’t get abortions at all/so easily!” Never mind that he was killing and infecting poor women of colour, unfettered abortion access was the most important thing.

            Probably not the only one out there, just the most egregious, but again, the calls for inspections of abortion clinics (and pointing out that hairdressing salons have tougher conditions to meet to be licenced) and requirements that the operators/physicians associated with them have attending rights at a local hospital in case of medical emergency got caught up in the abortion wars, with one side saying that this was only an excuse to shut down clinics by imposing way too restrictive and difficult requirements on them, and admittedly probably the other side engaging in some of that.

            I’d think the front loaded safety measure of the credential system is sufficient

            Gosnell had credentials and apparently decent ones, even being famous locally as a benefactor of the community for setting up a rehab clinic for drug addicts in his early career. But running clinics was profitable, and hiring unqualified staff (including, allegedly, the fifteen year old daughter of one of his staff to help give anaesthesia to women before the abortions were carried out) was cheaper and less hassle. Whatever about his motives starting out, he got greedy and corrupt.

            For whatever reason, his clinic was not inspected or, if inspected, nothing more was done about it. There have been allegations that this was done in reaction to Bob Casey, the governor who was staunchly pro-life, leaving office at the end of his second term. The Pennsylvania Department of Health was alleged to be pro-abortion and once Casey was gone, they deliberately backpedalled on investigating abortion clinics in order not to discourage them. Complaints about Gosnell were supposedly ignored because he was perceived as providing a necessary service for poor women, immigrants, and women of colour. How true all this is, who knows, but there does seem to have been a series of complaints about him over years that went nowhere (even an abortion providers association refused him admission as a member due to the state of the clinic:

            A spokesperson for the National Abortion Federation, an association of abortion providers, noted that Gosnell had been rejected for membership following inspection, because his clinics did not meet appropriate standards of care, but that “they’d cleaned the place up and hired an RN [registered nurse] for our visit. We only saw first-trimester procedures.”

          • Nick says:

            My favorite piece on Gosnell was this one by Mollie Hemingway.

          • Andrew Cady says:

            the regulation-happy side of the culture war is opposed to regulating abortion clinics […] Are you actually suggesting that abortion clinics are in the unique position, according to the view of progressives, of not benefiting from regulations?

            I don’t think you find much opposition from progressives to requiring medical licenses, malpractice insurance, and so on for abortion clinics. The standard progressive position seems to be that abortion should be just as regulated as any medical practice (which is to say, highly regulated).

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            @Deiseach, Nick
            Well, that sounds dire indeed. Guess, I might have been too optimistic.

            @jermo sapiens
            I have libertarian priors, so for me, if regular clinics or hair salons are regulated, doesn’t mean even more stuff should be. For me, something not being regulated might actually be a model for more stuff being not regulated. Not the other way around.
            So I can’t tell you what a progressive stance here would be.
            They’re all nuts, who gives a shit.

            Things is, your medical system is a mix between socialistic entitlement program, guild, dumpster fire, cartel, racket and a government bureaucracy. Plus a healthy dose of corpocratism and some very broken IP-law. And routine billing practices, that in any other settings would probably be classified as ‘insurance fraud’, but hey, this is medicine. You can’t have a free market, here. Because it would create some number of obvious corpses, whereas the current system probably creates many times more in hidden corpses (opportunity cost, waiting times, drug availability, chilling effects, research discouragement…).

            And your regulatory state is known for being downright malicious creating all kinds of legal dark matter. And creating non-binding ‘guidance documents’, that companies feel compelled to comply with, anyway. And even more binding rules. And warning letters. And gag orders. And statutes. And half another dozen things, that only nerds know about, but are probably even more insidious.
            I think sometimes it’s ideological, sometimes it’s out of ignorance and often your technocrats are just on a power trip.
            I wouldn’t be surprised, if some companies are routinely in a situation, where they, if they follow one reg, they’re automatically break another reg from another agency.
            If everybody followed or even took the time to read (forget understanding, nobody does, least of all the creators of any rule), then I doubt anything in your beautiful country would ever get done.

            Even your bloody tax collection agency is partisan.
            And your ATF apparently sold guns to Mexican cartel and forgot to keep the receipts. That wasn’t even them being corrupt, that was just them being incompetent!

            So even if somebody could say, that yes, in an ideal world some oversight would be appropriate…
            I think it’s highly likely, that the added overhead actually does end up shutting down lots of abortion clinics, that are doing a satisfactory job (as in only killing babies, not women), instead of only weeding out all the bad apples.
            I also think your regulatory state is so very bad at it’s job, that there probably would still be some bad apples.
            The Gosnell thing just shows me another example of you guys not being good at this regulation thing, because apparently doctors manage to not even hold each other accountable. But maybe this time 🙂

            Maybe some progressive leaders know that, since they routinely use bureaucracy to exert all kinds of extralegal control? (though, not just progressives, also companies trying to outregulate competitors and probably conservatives, too; it’s a free-for-all, and most progressives/conservatives are idealistically deluded and don’t know how all of this stuff works, neither does any mortal probably)
            From their perspective they might just hand the next biblethumping Republican another weapon to make some ‘executive order 666 for the safety of the mothers [safety of mothers is a national security issue]’ that doesn’t quite ban abortion, but creates loads of malicious and unnecessary burdens.

            Even things that aren’t malicious and seem reasonable on the face might just be worth more than they save, because they break existing business logic. It’s this ‘What is seen and what is not seen’-thing.
            In your system, you’d probably need dangerously advanced AI to even understand half the mess your regulatory state is creating every single day.

            So, I get that people don’t share this perspective and this wasn’t meant to sound like an angry, ranting Libertarian [sorry about that, it’s more surreal and absurd to me, like a Kafka novel 🙂 ].
            I’m German. I actually trust my government not to fuck everything up, that they come in contact with.
            And I want to work in Silicon Valley one day, it’s just sometimes I worry, that by the time I’m good enough for that, the State government of California, the US government or some other bullshit power faction has killed it already and I’ll have to learn Chinese after all.
            Case in point, you can’t even live there, without burning through stacks of money in a satanic ritual.
            Another case in point: I think you guys used to have a car industry, too. But in my lifetime, I think I’ve ever seen more than two dozen or so American cars on the street, and most of them were Teslas.

            So maybe I’m totally deluded and brainwashed by those sexy Austrians, Friedmans (Hi!), Hayeks, von Miseses, Tyler Cowens, Bryan Caplans, Cato institutes and Reason magazines, but…
            the idea that US regulation could be good for something, that you don’t want killed is a claim that requires extraordinary evidence to me.

            [to be fair, I don’t really need convincing or trying to challenge anybody here.
            Or rather a proof would have to be so complex and convoluted, that a somewhat comprehensive single regulation scheme would be a net-benefit, that I’d need several lifetimes to even understand it, let alone judge it.
            In the end it all boils down to trust.
            And your governement/deep state + whatever other Illuminati-wannabes, that probably have hand in some decisions are neither trustworthy, competent nor impartial.
            And I don’t quite understand, how anybody could think that it is any of those things, ever.]

            Does anybody here actually trust US policy decision making farther, than they could throw Conor McGregor?
            If so, I’d actually like to hear the case for that.

            Because I don’t get a lot of the policy debates, here,
            because the obvious answer is always “No, it’ll only make it worse.”. And people discussing things like “What should the US strategy be for nation building in Afghanistan.”, as if the US could be trusted to implement it, let alone to tie their shoes.
            Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely like the United States and it’s culture. I’m not Anti-American. It’s just Americans seem to be their own worst enemy. And it’s not even because your leadership is particularly stupid.
            You have the smartest people around. Most of them are even decent human beings, I’m sure.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            Seriously, I don’t get the US sometimes.
            It’s like you’re using the worst possible government as a perverse kind of countersignaling strategy.
            Hey look at us! We are so smart and capable, we can afford to be this fucking stupid!

            If any US citizen has the misfortune of having a deep-seated need for having trust in the system, they basically have the choice to either be deluded or start having a drinking problem and the cheerful disposition of “The Last Psychiatrist”. Possibly both.

          • cassander says:

            @Don_Flamingo says:

            It’s like you’re using the worst possible government as a perverse kind of countersignaling strategy.
            Hey look at us! We are so smart and capable, we can afford to be this fucking stupid!

            It’s not deliberate, but there’s truth to this. When you face basically no competitive pressure, you’re bound to get flabby. It’s partly why california is the worst governed state in the country, because the combination of luck, climate, and size mean that people will put up with an enormous amount of pain in the ass to keep on living there. The same isn’t true for Maine. As with so many other areas of human endeavour, government is as bad as its environment allows it to be.

      • Jiro says:

        I’m pretty sure that if you ask someone who wants a waiting period on abortions why, they won’t respond “Because I want to reduce them as much as possible and a waiting period is a step towards that.” They’re going to claim that the 24 hour waiting period is justified by balancing the greater difficulty in getting an abortion with the benefit from avoiding regret, or preventing women from being unduly influenced to get abortions. They won’t admit that the greater difficulty is the whole point (except maybe in private).

        But most of the time, that’s what it is. And again, this applies to left-wing examples too. Few activists will say “we want to take away your guns”–they’re just balancing the greater inconvenience to gun ownership against something else. Even if, and especially if, they do want to take away your guns.

        Scott’s idea about moderation completely fails here. You can also think of it as a version of Goodhart’s Law–once you decide to accept claims of this sort, people take advantage of that and accepting claims of this sort becomes less useful.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          No, I think if you ask that person, “do you want to ban abortions” they’d say “Yes. However we’re not able to do that, so for now we’ll settle for the greater difficulty in getting an abortion with the benefit from avoiding regret, or preventing women from being unduly influenced to get abortions.” I just don’t think the “person who wants a waiting period on abortions but isn’t pro-life” exists. And people who are pro-life don’t hide it. So you’re never going to find the person who answers “yes” on the waiting period and “no” on banning abortion, regardless of truth value.

          I’d guess pro-choice outnumbers pro-life on SSC. Are there any SSCers who are pro-choice and also support a waiting period for abortions? Are there any pro-lifers who support a waiting period, but if asked if they were pro-life would lie about it?

          I think with guns it’s a little different. Some of the people who want a waiting period for gun purchases would also like to ban all guns, but many don’t want to ban guns and want a cooling off period in case someone was thinking of doing something rash with their new gun.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        I don’t know what they’re thinking, but there are a lot of European countries (eg, Germany) that require a waiting period and have had that as a stable compromise for decades.

        • Jiro says:

          I should have restricted that to the US; I don’t know about European opposition to abortion. If there isn’t a sizable contingent of people who oppose all or almost all abortion, it may indeed be true that most arguments of this type are sincere.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think there are a large set of people who favor some restrictions on abortions, but not a complete ban. There are also plenty of 100% ban-abortion-now people who are happy to play salami-slicing games until it turns out that abortions are, in practice, unattainable in the state of Kansas, say. The same is true of gun control, free speech, freedom of religion, immigration reform, etc.

        But if you want to have an actual conversation with anyone with a different view, at some point you need to accept at least temporarily the idea that their stated views are their actual views.

        • Jiro says:

          Accepting it temporarily, though, is not the same as accepting it permanently. There has to be some point at which you can say “yes, they really are 100% against X, even if they claim to just be balancing X against Y”. And this point will be reached with the accumulation of evidence, not with logical proof, since you don’t have logical proof of someone’s unstated motivations.

          Scott seems to want to accept it permanently in all cases.

          • albatross11 says:

            It’s possible to listen to an argument or some evidence without accepting the speaker’s belief system.

    • How do you recognize this tactic and distinguish it from people who actually just think X isn’t 100% important?

      By finding cases where they support a policy that makes X more difficult but doesn’t actually do anything for Y.

      A year or two back I attended a city council meeting where they were discussing a proposed gun regulation. Lots of people spoke in favor of it, with arguments about bad effects of guns. None of the problems they were talking about would be affected by the regulation (it required guns to have trigger locks or be in locked cases when the owner was out of the house).

      One person on the pro-gun control recognized that fact, pointed it out, argued for stronger regulation. Everyone else ignored it. I concluded that the real motive for the regulation was to make gun ownership a little more inconvenient.

      • Eponymous says:

        One person on the pro-gun control recognized that fact, pointed it out, argued for stronger regulation. Everyone else ignored it. I concluded that the real motive for the regulation was to make gun ownership a little more inconvenient.

        Another interpretation is that they were arguing for the proposition “guns = bad”, which is the side that advocates for more regulation of guns, including this case. I suspect most political debate takes place at this level (and this applies to both sides).

      • Andrew Cady says:

        There are two separate motives: (1) people’s motives for supporting or not supporting a particular policy; (2) a person’s motive for standing up at a city council meeting and making a public statement.

    • Viliam says:

      If the popular consensus is “100% X and 0% Y”, and my real opinion is “0% X and 100% Y”, it may be politically smart to present my opinion as “90% X and 10% Y”. (With the long-term plan to switch to “80% X and 20% Y” as soon as my previous opinion becomes a boring mainstream; etc.)

      Actually, there are already smarter strategies invented, such as let some of your allies scream “0% X and 100% Y”, and then come as the voice of reason and say “both sides have a point; it is actually 50% X and 100% Y”. (Again, with the long-term plan to switch to “both sides (the 50-50 and the 0-100) have a point; it is actually 25% X and 75% Y”; etc.)

      In other words… when the popular consensus is “100% X and 0% Y” and someone says “actually, it’s 90% X and 10% Y” is makes sense to suspect that their real opinion could be “0% X and 100% Y”.

  24. stationarywaves says:

    I’ve noticed Scott does this a lot. He tries to limit the ways people can disagree with him by disqualifying certain kinds of objections. Rather than trying to disqualify certain kinds of disagreements by creating technical-sounding names for them, Scott should either ignore objections that he doesn’t consider serious enough, or spend more time asking himself what it was about his own weak argument that made someone else respond as though he had said something else.

    • AG says:

      The thing Scott is noting is that people aren’t actually engaging with his arguments as stated. This is often because people are bingo-carding to an extent, and assuming their opponents are gunning for 100% positions (because slippery slope/extrapolation is a popular way to counter-argue), so even when encountering a nuanced argument, they default to arguments against the 100% position.

      This doesn’t mean that Scott’s original argument was weak. Most people are just bad at actually reading their opponents’ arguments. This is also why Scott has advocated for charitable readings. The OP is outlining a particular way people tend to default to uncharitable readings.

      • stationarywaves says:

        If this were the only post in which Scott had ever made an argument like this, I would be inclined to agree with you. I might even be more inclined to agree if he had chosen examples of arguments that he doesn’t necessarily espouse, rather than making quick examples of all his political hobby-horses. Unfortunately, neither is the case.

        It’s easy to say, “I’m juuuuuust saying that people aren’t listening to my arguments carefully!” It’s always easy to recede into the weakest form of any argument. But when a person has a persistent pattern of doing this then it becomes more than a single post in isolation.

        More importantly, it’s highly objectionable to me for someone making an argument to define the terms of allowable responses to the argument they’re making. Make your case and respond to objections, fine. But don’t complain that people aren’t objecting in precisely the way you want them to. That’s insufferable and mildly controlling.

        • acymetric says:

          I might even be more inclined to agree if he had chosen examples of arguments that he doesn’t necessarily espouse, rather than making quick examples of all his political hobby-horses. Unfortunately, neither is the case.

          You are being a little more antagonistic than is probably necessary, but I agree that this took away from the post a little bit. It is pretty easy to tell where Scott stands on these issues just from his examples (of course regular readers already knew that) which obstructs the actual point he is trying to make.

          I think it would have been helpful to include examples that don’t share his worldview to paint a better picture of what he was trying to get at. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the best example was the Russia/China one which is pretty clearly presented differently than the first several in the post.

          • stationarywaves says:

            You are being a little more antagonistic than is probably necessary

            Yes, you’re probably right. I guess it just got my goat because I’ve seen Scott do this a few times now and it’s become irritating to me.

    • Nick says:

      I’ve noticed Scott does this a lot. He tries to limit the ways people can disagree with him by disqualifying certain kinds of objections. Rather than trying to disqualify certain kinds of disagreements by creating technical-sounding names for them, Scott should either ignore objections that he doesn’t consider serious enough, or spend more time asking himself what it was about his own weak argument that made someone else respond as though he had said something else.

      I’m pretty sure that’s what this is:

      But I can see why this happens. Imagine the US currently devotes 100% of its defense budget to countering Russia. Some analyst determines that although Russia deserves 90% of resources, the Pentagon should also use 10% to counter China. Since no one person can shift very much of the defense budget, this analyst might spend all her time arguing we need to counter China more, trying to convince everyone that China is really very dangerous; if she succeeds, maybe the budget will shift to 99-to-1 and she’ll have done the best she can. But if she really spends all her time talking about China, this might look to other people like she’s an extremist – that crazy single-issue China person – “Why are you spending all your time talking about China? Don’t you realize Russia is important too?” Still, she’s taking the right strategy, and it’s hard to figure out what she could do better.

      Would you like to suggest ways the hypothetical analyst could do better?

      • stationarywaves says:

        No, because I’m not talking about persuasiveness, so it’s irrelevant to my point.

        I’m talking about Scott’s tendency to invent “fallacies” when people disagree with him, so that he can dismiss the arguments by way of dismissing the fallacies.

        Imagine you come home late from work one day and your wife tells you, “I never see you anymore! You work so much!”

        Now imagine you told her, “That’s not what you should be saying. You obviously do see me; in fact, you’re looking at me right now! This is a fallacy. You should be making a different argument.”

        How well do you think your wife will respond to that?

        • wysinwygymmv says:

          Hopefully she’ll think about what she means and articulate her needs more clearly, at which point a mutually beneficial compromise can be reached. (“It’s true that you spend almost all your free time with me, but it doesn’t make me feel special to just do chores and watch TV together. Would you take me out on dates more often?”)

          Analogizing to your object-level complaint, when Alice says “We should pay 90% attention to X and 10% attention to Y”, and Bob responds “Why are you so fixated on Y?”, pointing out to Bob that he’s not engaging fairly with Alice’s statement gives Bob the chance to articulate clearly why he doesn’t think we should spend 10% of our attention on Y instead of forcing Alice to defend a belief she doesn’t hold (100% attention on Y).

          • acymetric says:

            A badly phrased counter-argument is not a fallacy. Pointing out badly phrased arguments is important, but labeling them as fallacies to dismiss them is not the helpful solution.

          • stationarywaves says:

            Acymetric gets it.

            But there’s another element here. Alice isn’t listening to Bob. Alice is defining her relationship to Bob entirely by her own position. (“I didn’t say that.” “You missed my point.” “You should respond differently.”)

            Alice might want to ask herself why Bob responded the way that he did. If Alice’s best explanation is that Bob committed some dumb fallacy, then Alice isn’t thinking any more critically about the discussion than Bob is.

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            But there’s another element here. Alice isn’t listening to Bob. Alice is defining her relationship to Bob entirely by her own position. (“I didn’t say that.” “You missed my point.” “You should respond differently.”)

            Alice: “I argue that X.”

            Bob: “Whoah, get a load of crazy person over here arguing that Y!”

            How is Alice supposed to respond (if at all) other than by pointing out that Bob has ignored her actual argument (X) in favor of some other argument that she never made (Y)?

            Alice might want to ask herself why Bob responded the way that he did. If Alice’s best explanation is that Bob committed some dumb fallacy, then Alice isn’t thinking any more critically about the discussion than Bob is.

            I think in most cases, Alice would conclude that Bob is probably arguing in bad faith. This is because Bob ignored her actual argument, accused her of making a different argument, and then tried to create doubt about her credibility by virtue of having made an argument she never actually made.

            Although Bob is almost certainly arguing in bad faith in a situation like this, Alice might not want to accuse him of doing so for tactical reasons. In which case, the obvious way to go would be “Bob has made a mistake by accusing me of arguing for Y when I am actually arguing for X”.

            I agree we don’t need a new name for this. It’s already called a straw man argument.

          • stationarywaves says:

            You’ve gone from this:

            when Alice says “We should pay 90% attention to X and 10% attention to Y”, and Bob responds “Why are you so fixated on Y?”

            to this:

            Alice: “I argue that X.”

            Bob: “Whoah, get a load of crazy person over here arguing that Y!”

            You’re proving my point for me. In every re-telling of this story, Bob is increasingly more unhinged, irrational, unreasonable, and uncharitable. Your argument essentially boils down to “people like Alice are good, and people like Bob are jerks.” If you’ve already defined Bob as a big dumb jerk, then sure, I agree that Bob is a big dumb jerk.

            On the other hand, if you try to make an argument, and people respond to you in a really unexpected way… maybe you ought to think about your own argument from their perspective to see there were any problems on your side of the debate.

            That’s my approach, anyway. Whenever I encounter a really unexpected response, I take a few moments to consider what are the explanations for why I got the response I got. I can usually come up with better explanations than, “That’s a logical fallacy!!!”

          • wysinwygymmv says:

            You’re proving my point for me. In every re-telling of this story, Bob is increasingly more unhinged, irrational, unreasonable, and uncharitable.

            I think we are having a misunderstanding. Let’s go back to the original:

            Popular consensus believes 100% X, and absolutely 0% Y.

            A few iconoclasts say that X is definitely right and important, but maybe we should also think about Y sometimes.

            The popular consensus reacts “How can you think that it’s 100% Y, and that X is completely irrelevant? That’s so extremist!”

            I can see why you think my latest formulation is different from this — I confused things a bit with by using the same variable names for different concepts. Please allow me to rephrase.

            Popular consensus = 100% attention on X, 0% attention on Y

            A = 90% attention on X, 10% attention on Y

            B = 100% attention on Y

            Alice says: “I argue for A”

            Bob says: “How can you argue for B? That’s so extremist!”

            Yes, the content of A and B are related in a complicated way, but that does not give Bob license to conflate A and B as though they are identical. Fundamentally, the problem in this argument is that Bob is mischaracterizing Alice’s argument.

            If Bob can articulate specifically what’s wrong with A instead of conflating it with B and accusing Alice of extremism for advocating for B, then we can hold Alice responsible for listening to Bob’s carefully articulated and sensible argument.

            But if the disagreement completely stems from Bob’s mischaracterization of Alice’s argument, then we can hold Bob responsible for understanding Alice’s actual argument and responding to that.

            ETA: And you’re right! Alice could go above and beyond and try to read Bob’s mind to understand his real objections to A! but I would argue that there’s no ethical obligation for her to do so in the same way that there’s an ethical obligation on Bob to get Alice’s argument right before responding to it.

          • stationarywaves says:

            I agree with you that Alice has no ethical obligation to do what I suggest, AND I agree that Bob does have an ethical obligation to get Alice’s argument right before arguing with her. So I think we agree for the most part.

            I’m tempted to bandy about a few minor details… but… seeing as how we mostly agree, I think I’d rather end with concord rather than discord. 🙂

          • cuke says:

            stationarywaves, this makes total sense to me when you say this:

            “Whenever I encounter a really unexpected response, I take a few moments to consider what are the explanations for why I got the response I got. I can usually come up with better explanations than, “That’s a logical fallacy!!!””

            Strawmanning is a kind of logical fallacy, though, yes? So insofar as Scott seems to be describing a variant of strawmanning, that part is about a fallacious form of arguing. And I could see if I made an argument and someone threw back an objection to a strawman version of my argument, that I would consider that an unexpected response insofar as I always hope my interlocutor is listening in good faith to what I’m saying and insofar as bad faith responses are often surprising if you’re not coming from a bad faith place.

            The part you object to is that you feel in addition to talking about a fallacious pattern of arguing, that Scott is also importing a content-level bias into his examples, is that right?

          • stationarywaves says:

            The part you object to is that you feel in addition to talking about a fallacious pattern of arguing, that Scott is also importing a content-level bias into his examples, is that right?

            This comes very close to it. What I am actually suggesting is that pointing out your interlocutor’s fallacies, rather than attempting to find common ground or locate the point of disagreement, is a type of bad-faith discussion.

            So, first Scott imports content-level bias, and then rather than arguing on content, he drops the content-level context and discusses a fallacy.

            The overall result is one that gives the impression that the fallacy is incidental to his real point. The fact that Scott routinely uses the same examples whenever he discusses fallacies — climate change, abortion, veganism, immigration — strongly implies that all this talk of fallacies is really just a defense mechanism he’s using to dismiss whole swaths of people arguing on the other side of his pet issues.

            So, I don’t see the point. If Scott wants to argue for his pet issues, more power to him. If he wants to ignore bad arguments, again I say good for him. But to invest so much time in explaining why he should ignore bad arguments against his pet issues seems more like he is trying hard to dismiss those who disagree with him.

          • cuke says:

            stationarywaves,

            This is well said: “pointing out your interlocutor’s fallacies, rather than attempting to find common ground or locate the point of disagreement, is a type of bad-faith discussion.”

            I don’t have a sense of whether Scott uses these examples often because they’re easily accessible in his brain and that’s all that is or whether he’s trying to argue his preferences while also doing meta-level analysis of rhetorical fallacies. I don’t myself feel manipulated while reading his post. I feel like that’s maybe what you’re saying your experience is.

            I agree with you that if you’re trying to have a discussion with a person about X and the person keeps interrupting you to nitpick about your rhetorical style rather than engaging with the content, that’s pretty bad faith. On the other hand, if your argument hinges on a logical fallacy, then it seems like the person needs to have some way to say “part of our disagreement seems to be that you think I’ve said something I haven’t said.”

            In general, assuming good faith, taking someone’s words in the most generous light possible, and looking for common ground are all really important. I also think there’s a really basic step of listening that few people do well and that’s to say back what they genuinely think the person means to be saying to them and asking “do I have that right?” before proceeding. That level of listening and reflecting requires not lining up one’s nitpicks and disagreements while the other person is speaking. Arguing in good faith requires listening in good faith, and not many people are taught to do this, though it’s really pretty easy to learn.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Can you give an example?

      • stationarywaves says:

        This very post is one example, but here’s another:
        https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/yCWPkLi8wJvewPbEp/the-noncentral-fallacy-the-worst-argument-in-the-world

        I wish you wouldn’t try to delegitimize genuine disagreements by calling them fallacies. It’s clear from this Less Wrong post that in some cases you’re actually ignoring the meat of the disagreement so that you can dismiss what you’ve heard as logically wrong. But, no, that’s not it.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          @Stationarywaves

          I think Scott does an okay-ish job of trying to understand the motivation of his bad-faith interlocutors. Which is better than most people. And better than vast majority of rationalists, who have the default mode of ‘accept my opponent believes the argument he claims to believe’.

          I recognize that calling something a fallacy can be used as a way to dismiss an argument, but my intuition is that Scott has a reasonable hit rate.

          Can you do some of the work you think Scott should do for him?
          What is an example of him saying that someone made a dumb argument, when really he didn’t understand the argument being made, that he can learn from?

          • stationarywaves says:

            Maybe I don’t understand the request. My first example is the current post under which we’re commenting. There is further elaboration in the comments above the present comment, where I make my case and come to a reasonable agreement with my interlocutors.

            But Scott wanted another example, so I gave another one; yet another post in which he defines as a fallacy things that aren’t fallacies.

            So… two specific examples. What additional work would you like me to do here? Do I really need to explain further? Well, I will try.

            Take, for example, Scott’s attempt to argue that the phrase “abortion is murder” is fallacious:

            “Abortion is murder!” The archetypal murder is Charles Manson breaking into your house and shooting you. This sort of murder is bad for a number of reasons: you prefer not to die, you have various thoughts and hopes and dreams that would be snuffed out, your family and friends would be heartbroken, and the rest of society has to live in fear until Manson gets caught. If you define murder as “killing another human being”, then abortion is technically murder. But it has none of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style. Although you can criticize abortion for many reasons, insofar as “abortion is murder” is an invitation to apply one’s feelings in the Manson case directly to the abortion case, it ignores the latter’s lack of the features that generated those intuitions in the first place.

            The claim that abortion “has none of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style” is an odd claim. Indeed, people who oppose abortion think that abortion has all of the downsides of murder Charles Manson style. That Scott would try to compartmentalize it somehow, as though abortion is “not that bad” might make sense if we’re on the pro-choice side of the argument, but it is a totally foreign concept for pro-lifers. That Scott doesn’t know even that much about the pro-life position is forgivable, but the that he would try to dismiss their core belief as a logical fallacy is completely unreasonable.

            And before we get drawn into a debate about abortion: No, I’m not a pro-lifer. This is not about the position itself, it’s about Scott’s tendency to dismiss as logical fallacies what are really just arguments with which he disagrees. That’s the issue for me.

            So… have I explained enough yet? Do I need to elaborate further?

        • Hyperfocus says:

          I couldn’t reply to your abortion example post, so I’m replying here. Forgiveness please.

          What should your response be instead? Take the following example conversation:

          (Hypothetical) you: We should move the maximum allowable term for abortions from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. Historical data suggests [blah blah blah] and therefore it would be a net benefit for society.
          Opponent: I can’t believe you hate babies so much! How could you want them all to die?
          Hypothetical you: [insert response here]

          How do you respond to this, if you’re not going to say “You’re attacking a straw man; I don’t hate babies and I certainly don’t want them all to die,” followed a clarification of your original argument?

          Do you agree that this opponent is not engaging your argument?

          • stationarywaves says:

            There are a few issues here.

            First, it’s worth noting that there is no need to respond at all. One of the first things our parents ever taught us was, If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If you can’t patiently engage with someone in a debate, because they’re not giving your argument a fair hearing or for any other reason, it is perfectly fine to decide not to respond.

            In fact, opting not to respond is probably a better option than coming up with some fancy name for what kind of fallacy they’re making.

            Second, it’s important to note that someone who thinks pro-choicers are baby-haters is having a very different discussion than someone who thinks 24 weeks is better than 20 weeks for abortions. These two people aren’t even arguing about the same thing. So, if I wanted to respond to the pro-lifer, I’d try to figure out what stasis they’re arguing on, drop my point about 24 vs 20 weeks, and address their point, whatever it is.

            After all, that person won’t much care about the difference between 20 and 24 weeks. Since I have no chance of having the discussion I originally intended, it makes more sense to me to seek a new discussion rather than to come up with technical jargon for why the other person should be having the discussion I really want.

            And it’s not like any of this is hard. Most of the time, it’s as simple as smiling and saying, “Maybe our opinions are just too different to find common ground.”

          • cuke says:

            stationarywaves, is it mainly the use of the word fallacy that you have a problem with because it seems to import an opinion as to content-level stuff? In several other places Scott refers to what he’s talking about as “a pattern” — I assume he means “pattern of arguing” or “pattern of relating” in which a person distorts his interlocutor’s argument to an extreme position so they can argue against that extremity that was not originally being argued for, but is more easily dismissed. This is just a form of strawmanning, right?

            In the hypothetical abortion/murder dialogue you discuss with Hyperfocus, it sounds like you’re saying there’s no value in having that conversation because of how the person responds. That seems totally fair to me. And also, it seems like one could pursue a conversation in good faith in various ways, including just asking more questions to find out more about what underpins that other person’s viewpoint. I guess it depends on what one’s intentions are in having the conversation — if it’s to convince the person that they’re wrong, that does seem fruitless as a one-time conversation. If it’s to understand that world-view better, then the conversation could be entirely fruitful just taking off from “I understand from what you’re saying that abortion at any week of pregnancy is murder to you and therefore is never okay. Tell me about how you came to that view…”

          • ze2 says:

            @stationarywaves

            This seems even worse to me than saying some argument seems to match the pattern of a fallacy, because if all level-headed people — the people who at least have some chance of engaging in productive discussions — acted this way, it would lead to ever increasing polarization.

            Instead, I would respond with something like “That argument seems superficially similar to [fallacy] [maybe try to explain why it seems similar here]. Could you rephrase it so it doesn’t sound similar or explain why the fallacious example is different?”.

          • Hyperfocus says:

            @stationarywaves Right, if you’re talking one on one, or you’re on SSC, or if you’re otherwise talking with people you trust to seek the truth rather than score tribe points, then that’s fine. I don’t think many of us here have much difficulty when our opponents argue in good faith.

            But what about when the stakes are higher, and you can’t just walk away? When you can’t assume good faith, or when you can safely assume bad faith? When you have to rebut and reply, or else you’ll suffer reputational or career damage (I’m not talking about the abortion discussion here, BTW)?

            That’s where I think splitting a more general fallacy like strawman into more specific sub-fallacies can be useful; if you’ve seen a specific kind of strawman before, and discussed it with others, you will (hopefully) be able to come up with an effective counter in the moment, rather than 15 minutes after the fact.

            And before you ask, I haven’t yet thought of a particularly strong counter to the fallacy Scott is talking about, but then again, I only read about it this morning, so it may take some time and thought.

          • stationarywaves says:

            cuke, ze2, Hyperfocus, I’m going to reply to all three of you in the same comment to try to keep the thread tidy.

            cuke:is it mainly the use of the word fallacy that you have a problem with because it seems to import an opinion as to content-level stuff?

            I’ll put it this way: the study of fallacies and argumentation is interesting, but incidental to any actual disagreement. If Scott didn’t spend so much time arguing for X,Y, and Z, then I could take his discussion of fallacies as merely intellectually interesting. But because he mixes his advocacy with his discussion of fallacies, it looks to me like all this treatment of fallacies is really just a defense mechanism against having to argue in good faith with people who aren’t as good at logical argumentation as he is. I admit, it’s difficult to have a debate with someone who’s bad at debating; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

            cuke: it sounds like you’re saying there’s no value in having that conversation because of how the person responds. That seems totally fair to me. And also, it seems like one could pursue a conversation in good faith in various ways, including just asking more questions to find out more about what underpins that other person’s viewpoint.

            Exactly! This is precisely what I’m getting at.

            ze2: This seems even worse to me than saying some argument seems to match the pattern of a fallacy, because if all level-headed people — the people who at least have some chance of engaging in productive discussions — acted this way, it would lead to ever increasing polarization.

            I’m not sure how you came to that conclusion, but I disagree. I think social media is a good example of how, when people have less disincentive to walk away from an argument, polarization increases.

            Hyperfocus: But what about when the stakes are higher, and you can’t just walk away? When you can’t assume good faith, or when you can safely assume bad faith? When you have to rebut and reply, or else you’ll suffer reputational or career damage (I’m not talking about the abortion discussion here, BTW)?

            To be honest, I’m struggling to imagine such a situation. Most of us do not have reputations or careers that hinge on our ability to win a single debate. My advice to anyone in such a situation is to either (a) channel Socrates and start asking your interlocutor as many probing questions as you can, rather than trying to defeat their argument, or (b) quickly close down the argument and start trying to slowly win converts over to your position one-on-one, when emotions aren’t quite as hot.

            It’s important to remember that simply saying, “Hey, man, that’s a logical fallacy!” isn’t convincing to anyone I’ve ever met. It’s good being able to recognize fallacies when you see them, because that should help you think of an effective rebuttal. But saying, “That’s a fallacy!” isn’t an effective rebuttal. Peter doesn’t care that Paul committed a logical fallacy if Mary doesn’t have a better argument queued up.

          • Hyperfocus says:

            @stationarywaves Of course it’s uncommon for your career to hinge upon a single debate. However, in (for example) a corporate environment, arguing against other department heads is an iterated game. Ideally, you’d both cooperate and engage in good faith, but if not, you need a way to punish defection. You can’t just make a habit of walking away (which will come across as backing down) every time someone strawmans you, or you can bet that they’ll start doing it every time.

            And yes, I agree with that part about simply pointing out the fallacy being the least effective way to argue against a fallacy. IMO, the reason to try to pin down sub-fallacies is to understand how to craft counter arguments of a form that are particularly effective against a particular sub-fallacy, but aren’t fully general counterarguments, and “you committed fallacy” is the crudest and least effective form of that.

          • stationarywaves says:

            @Hyperfocus – it sounds like we’ve triangulated on some good common ground here. Thanks for the discussion.

  25. wysinwygymmv says:

    A recent discussion: somebody asked why people in Silicon Valley thought that only high-tech solutions to climate change (like carbon capture or geoengineering) mattered, and why they dismissed more typical solutions like international cooperation and political activism.

    Another person cited statements from the relevant Silicon Valley people, who mostly say that they think political solutions and environmental activism were central to the fight against climate change, but that we should look into high-tech solutions too.

    I think the explanation for this specific issue is actually a little different.

    Before I get too culture war-y I want to mention my politics are solidly left. I believe global warming is happening and is human-caused, and has a decent chance of having catastrophic effects that kill millions or even billions. I think industrial society has been an ecological catastrophe.

    That said, I think most people who are vaguely committed to environmentalism by affiliation to left-leaning politics have not put in enough time or effort to understand energy issues at an intellectual level. It’s become a little cringey for me to listen to people talk about global warming. Last time I listened to a podcast on the topic* I realized that they’re not talking about global warming like people confronting a problem that needs to be solved.

    They sounded more like religious people talking about sin.

    For the vaguely-but-not-earnestly environmentalist left, “global warming” is just the same thing as “hell” in traditional Christianity: the divinely-allotted punishment for sin.** From this perspective, solving global warming is actually a bad thing because it allows people to sin without feeling bad about it. Any amount of effort put into technological solutions to global warming must be opposed because it might actually work.

    *Specifically about these scientists studying coral islands who found that they haven’t been shrinking as sea level has risen, but that they have mostly been changing in shape instead (and caught flak from global warming alarmists for accurately reporting their scientific findings that were not quite convenient enough for the CAGW narrative).

    **Sinning in this case is using more than you need/deserve. You can get from point A to point B just fine in a smart car; if you spend more money and fuel to make the same trip in an SUV it’s obviously because you’re selfishly trying to wring some enjoyment out of the trip. You can really see the similarity to seventeenth century American puritanism in this framing.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      I agree with this, and I did not find your post culture-wary, even though my politics are solidly right, and I dont believe in global warming, to the extent that global warming means atmospheric CO2 levels drive global temperatures.

      That said, I agree with your analysis that:

      most people who are vaguely committed to environmentalism by affiliation to left-leaning politics have not put in enough time or effort to understand energy issues at an intellectual level. It’s become a little cringey for me to listen to people talk about global warming. Last time I listened to a podcast on the topic* I realized that they’re not talking about global warming like people confronting a problem that needs to be solved.
      They sounded more like religious people talking about sin.

      This is normal in a sense and we shouldn’t expect sophisticated discussions on a complex issue like climate science by those whose main interest is politics. A lot of politics is signaling to your tribe and unfortunately climate science has been politicized so that your view of it is now a signal to your tribe. This inevitably devolves into holiness spirals where more extreme views signal more intense belonging to the tribe and to the scenario where the rhetoric takes on a religious-heretic dynamic.

      For the vaguely-but-not-earnestly environmentalist left, “global warming” is just the same thing as “hell” in traditional Christianity: the divinely-allotted punishment for sin.** From this perspective, solving global warming is actually a bad thing because it allows people to sin without feeling bad about it. Any amount of effort put into technological solutions to global warming must be opposed because it might actually work.

      I agree with this somewhat but I’m more cynical in that I believe people who claim to be terrified by the prospect of global warming object to common sense solutions (e.g. nuclear power) because their job/prestige depend on global warming being a problem. I dont know the size of the global warming industry but it is very large, employs 1000s (100s of 1000s?), and if global warming was “solved” (i.e., declared not a problem anymore), their salaries and prestige would vanish instantly.

      Like Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth, quoting Upton Sinclair “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

      Bjorn Lomborg recently demonstrated that by far the most effective way to fight climate change is to invest in alternative energy sources. And this is something even people who dont believe CO2 drives climate, like myself, can easily support. But his proposal was strongly criticized by the environmental left who prefer a carbon tax model. The criticism was noteworthy because it did not address the merits of Lomborg’s case, but his motivation, his funding, and his morality. So this is a case where both Lomborg and the environmental left share a goal, Lomborg proposes a solution (showing his work, quantifies the cost/benefits) which is at odds with the preferred solution of the environmental left, and he is attacked for it.

      I dont know if the environmental left (this is too broad a descriptor, apologies, Im using this as shorthand for those who attacked Lomborg) is committing a fallacy in attacking Lomborg. In my view they are revealing their true intentions, namely taxing people and not solving the climate change problem.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        I dont know the size of the global warming industry but it is very large, employs 1000s (100s of 1000s?), and if global warming was “solved” (i.e., declared not a problem anymore), their salaries and prestige would vanish instantly.

        It is not large. It is entirely negligible compared to the fossil fuel industry or industries directly dependent on it. Calling it an “industry” at all seems a little strange to me — like grouping together ethologists and wildlife charities and calling them “the wild animal industry”. Climate scientists are the center of the Venn diagram for “statistician” and “earth scientist”. It seems exceedingly unlikely to me that they’re especially greedy or politically influential.

        Let me use a few actual human beings as exemplars of those who benefit from global warming alarmism:
        -Al Gore: as a politician, is aware of and can help shape policies that redirect money from one industry (e.g. coal power production) to another (e.g. wind power production), and has an opportunity to get in on the ground floor to siphon off a share of that flow of money; also, sells books
        -Warren Buffet: can make a lot of money from carbon trading schemes
        -Elon Musk: direct recipient of subsidies for so-called “green” energy

        These guys seem a little more greedy and influential than the middle class earth scientist statisticians that usually get placed at the center of the global warming conspiracy. I think the climate scientists are mostly not jaded, cynical opportunists (otherwise they would probably use their statistical skills on Wall Street rather than in academia) but true believers. Literally true believers, because global warming alarmism is a form of religious belief.

        Lomborg is a great example of what I’m talking about — he treats global warming like a problem that should be and possibly could be solved — and that is exactly why his solutions are dismissed. If you eliminate hell, there is no reason not to sin. If you eliminate global warming, there is no reason to be “green”.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          When I was talking about the global warming industry, I didn’t mean just climate scientists, I meant to include all the activists, NGOs, and government employees whose work is related to global warming. It’s still obviously dwarfed by the fossil fuel industry, but it’s much bigger than just climate scientists.

          On Gore, Buffet, and Musk: yes absolutely agreed.

          I also agree with your conclusion on Lomborg but for different reasons, as I described in my first comment. I think practical considerations like money and prestige outweigh religious notions of hell, even in true believers. I may be wrong for a minority of true believers, but I doubt that I am wrong for most of them.

          Here in Canada we are about to be hit with a carbon tax, courtesy of our woke PM, Trudeau. We are told that we will receive an income tax rebate such that the carbon tax is revenue neutral* and that you can come out ahead if you live a low carbon lifestyle. This is exacerbating existing divisions within the country between regions with carbon-heavy industries and others.

          This is ideal for the set who want global warming to be a perpetual problem. As mentioned, I dont think it’s even a problem, but assuming it is a problem, the carbon tax seems specifically designed to feed on the perception there is a problem while not doing anything to fix it.

          *VATs will apply to the carbon tax, and therefore the revenue-neutral claim is unlikely to be true

        • Eponymous says:

          That said, academics are not exactly immune to forming conformist clusters around particular ideas. This is a consequence of the various self-reinforcing processes built into the system — i.e. young academics are taught be existing academics, their advancement depends on pleasing existing academics (who are mentors, letter writers, referees, and editors), they all get funding through the same channels, etc. Indeed, I think that this is the natural outcome of the academic system (and indeed any human system where promotion operates in a similar way), in the absence of strong pressure from external evidence to correct this tendency.

          Shorter version: an academic field is an “industry” whose currency is status within the field, which is determined (mainly) by the high-status members of the field.

      • cassander says:

        I dont know the size of the global warming industry but it is very large, employs 1000s (100s of 1000s?), and if global warming was “solved” (i.e., declared not a problem anymore), their salaries and prestige would vanish instantly.

        I think david friedman’s favorite cartoon is a better explanation. People are predisposed to certain types of problems and certain types of solutions. If an issue rolls around that is at least (A) massive and (B) theoretically solvable by global governance, elimination or reduction of fossil fuel usage, and huge investments in solar and wind power then we shouldn’t be surprised if it’s eagerly taken up and amplified by who believe that environmental issues are important and already want global governance, elimination or reduction of fossil fuel usage, and huge investments in solar and wind power.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Fair point on people who believe in global governance, etc., but the point remains. These people benefit from the existence of the crisis, not from solving the crisis. Whether it is for salary, prestige, or the ability to advocate for global governance, the crisis is to be used, not solved.

          As for that cartoon it is an extremely uncharitable and intellectually dishonest attempt at flattering global warming alarmists and insulting skeptics. If the solutions to global warming are so awesome on their own, I dont see why they wouldn’t be the subject of advocacy on their own. Tying them to the global warming alarm means they are now part of the culture war and subject to political partisanship.

          For example, the first point is energy independence: every conservative is in favor of this, and this has been achieved by fracking. Of course environmentalists oppose fracking. Energy independence by renewables? Sure, let’s do it. Spend every penny of every green initiative developing a nuclear fusion reactor instead of on videos of kids blowing up, and humanity will be much better off for it.

          • cassander says:

            As for that cartoon it is an extremely uncharitable and intellectually dishonest attempt at flattering global warming alarmists and insulting skeptics.

            Yes, that’s the point. I didn’t mean to imply that David Friedman (or I) thought the cartoon’s message was well crafted. The opposite, in fact.

            Tying them to the global warming alarm means they are now part of the culture war and subject to political partisanship.

            I think that’s backwards. Those programs were already part of the culture war, they’ve been left wing goals since the 1970s. Tying them to global warming didn’t make them culture-warry, they made global warming culture-warry.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Yes, that’s the point. I didn’t mean to imply that David Friedman (or I) thought the cartoon’s message was well crafted. The opposite, in fact.

            Ok, thanks.

          • Speaking for myself, I took the cartoon as evidence that the people who created it and those who like it are so confident that their policy views are correct that it doesn’t even occur to them that some might disagree, and that for anyone who does the implication of the cartoon is that their views on global warming cannot be trusted. They are publicly announcing that it is in their interest to support those views whether or not they are true.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            the people who created it and those who like it are so confident that their policy views are correct that it doesn’t even occur to them that some might disagree

            That is definitely correct. But I would add that the cartoon lies in suggesting that the solution to global warming are all positive things we’d want to do anyway. Which of course is not true. Proposed solutions to global warming are going to be painful, and typically involve much higher costs for fossil fuels.

            And the cartoon also suggests that people who are skeptical of AGW are in fact motivated by a desire to prevent having “livable cities” and “healthy children”. So I think the cartoon is actually designed to pour gasoline on the culture war fire.

            I’ve been subjected to AGW awareness campaigns since I was a kid in the 80s. We’ve been told countless times that “things are worse than we thought”, “we only have 5 years left”, and “in 10 years the arctic will be ice-free”. Here we are 30+ years later and the winters here are just as cold as when I was a kid, and the summers are just as warm as when I was a kid. This itself is not a reason to completely reject AGW theory, but it seems to me that skepticism of a theory with such a long record of failed predictions is healthy, and not the sign of mental illness and evil disposition this cartoon suggests it is. In fact, such cartoons only reinforce my view that the alarm is more political than scientific.

      • Loriot says:

        “Proponents of X secretly don’t want X to happen” seems like a fully general counterargument, so it is not useful unless you have evidence that this is true for specific people. And no “Proponents of X don’t really care about X or else they would do Y”, doesn’t count, as has been addressed here before.

        As for the specific example, scientists aren’t exactly known for rolling in money, and their jobs usually aren’t tied to the popularity of specific fields of inquiry either. I think you would have a stronger case when restricted to activists and politicians, but even then I am skeptical. Consider the case of a popular cause that was suddenly and unexpectedly “solved” – the legalization of gay marriage in the US. Gay rights activists didn’t just go “oh woe is me, my life is meaningless now”.

        I don’t doubt that you could find some people who are just in it for the money, because that is true of any large group, but I do not think it is enough to be of any practical significance. To be charitable, even the quasi-religious ideas of “pollution = sinning” or whatever are just heuristics that people apply and promote to achieve their ultimate goal, since you need heuristics to live everyday life.

        I am a programmer, and you might argue that “I don’t really want my company’s projects to succeed because then I’d be out of a job”. But people would rightfully look strangely at anyone arguing that. If there is somehow no more work to be done, I’d just move on to a different project.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          “Proponents of X secretly don’t want X to happen” seems like a fully general counterargument, so it is not useful unless you have evidence that this is true for specific people.

          That’s a good point, but I wouldn’t use it to accuse any specific people without specific evidence about these specific people. OTOH, it is a useful heuristic for generating a hypothesis for the motivation behind large groups acting seemingly in contradiction to the group’s stated goal.

          As for the specific example, scientists aren’t exactly known for rolling in money, and their jobs usually aren’t tied to the popularity of specific fields of inquiry either.

          The prestige and influence of many climate scientists today is orders of magnitude greater than what you would expect for a practitioner of what used to be a rather obscure academic discipline. This is because of the AGW problem. I’m not saying that every climate scientist is motivated by this, I believe most climate scientists are honestly trying to help the world with their work, but that doesn’t mean that they are oblivious to the effect the AGW problem has on their prestige.

          Consider the case of a popular cause that was suddenly and unexpectedly “solved” – the legalization of gay marriage in the US. Gay rights activists didn’t just go “oh woe is me, my life is meaningless now”.

          The cause of LGBT rights wasn’t solved, only one aspect of it was. They knew that after gay marriage it was going to be trans rights pushed to the forefront, as we are seeing now. I went to law school in Canada from 2003-2006. Canada legalized gay marriage in 2004. During my last year of law school one of my classes hosted a gay rights activist to talk about the fight for gay marriage and when he was taking questions I asked him what was next on his agenda, and he answered quite straightforwardly trans rights. I dont know to what extent he was giving his informed opinion or a fact he knew for certain, but turns out he was absolutely correct. The gay rights movement was ready for a new project as one project was winding down. I dont see a parallel with the AGW crowd, where they will have another project to work on if AGW was solved or shown to be a non-problem.

          I am a programmer, and you might argue that “I don’t really want my company’s projects to succeed because then I’d be out of a job”. But people would rightfully look strangely at anyone arguing that. If there is somehow no more work to be done, I’d just move on to a different project.

          Exactly, assuming your employer is well managed, they will have a new project waiting for you as soon as your contribution to the first project is complete. I used to be a programmer before law school and when a new version of the software went out, we had a team designing the next version, another team fixing bugs of the software that just went out, and when those bugs were fixed that team was moved to start developing the next version. In that sense, programming is more like gay rights than the AGW problem. We can imagine gay rights 2.0, 3.0, …, but if somebody was able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that CO2 does not drive climate and the current warming trend is mostly all natural, it’s not at all clear where all the resources devoted to AGW would go.

          • Loriot says:

            but if somebody was able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that CO2 does not drive climate and the current warming trend is mostly all natural, it’s not at all clear where all the resources devoted to AGW would go.

            On the contrary, it is pretty clear that the resources would go towards geoengineering research. Just because a trend is natural doesn’t mean it isn’t an existential threat to civilization, so proving that reducing atmospheric CO2 won’t help merely means we need to start working on different approaches. After all, the Earth was once naturally covered in ice, but noone’s itching for a repeat of that. (There’s also the separate issue of ocean acidification, but I expect that to receive much less attention in your hypothetical).

            I suppose an analogy would be if an asteroid was discovered hurtling towards earth. Nobody’s going to say “the asteroid is not a result of human action and therefore nothing needs to be done”. Or at least, they would be looked at as a lunatic fringe.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            On the contrary, it is pretty clear that the resources would go towards geoengineering research. Just because a trend is natural doesn’t mean it isn’t an existential threat to civilization, so proving that reducing atmospheric CO2 won’t help merely means we need to start working on different approaches.

            I suppose that’s possible, but I doubt it very much. The current warming trend is not particularly scary looking, and it’s reasonable to expect it to become a cooling trend at some point, like the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period before this. But I suppose the need to employ everybody currently working on AGW might create an incentive to keep the alarm going.

          • Loriot says:

            > The current warming trend is not particularly scary looking

            I’m surprised by this comment, because the graph you link appears to show a warming of around 0.6C in the last 40 years, though this is slightly obfuscated by drawing the baseline of the graph through the midpoint instead of the start. Still, it seems like main effect towards making it look “non-scary” is omitting the context of how significant a half degree rise in global temperatures is. What do you think about this version of the graph?

          • On the contrary, it is pretty clear that the resources would go towards geoengineering research.

            I don’t think so. It would be the rational response, but you cannot assume that large numbers of humans interacting through political mechanisms will produce the rational response.

            If you watch online arguments over AGW, one of their striking features is that much more attention goes to the question of “is it our fault” than to actual arguments about costs resulting from warming or costs to slowing it, which would seem much more relevant. However irrational, a lot of people seem to feel that if we are responsible we have an obligation to stop it, if we are not responsible we don’t.

            An oddity I discussed in an old blog post.

    • Walter says:

      I’m not engaging with the object point, but I can definitely sympathize with you on the vibe of:

      1: Sees discussion
      2: Some of these folk agree with me, excellent
      3: Listen to em
      4: … do I still agree with me?

    • Deiseach says:

      I think some people (not all!) have latched onto global warming because it serves to buttress their “capitalism must be destroyed” politics. “Global warming is all the fault of industrialised big business Western capitalism, to save the planet we have to tear down this deadly system and build [some form of socialism/communism] in its place!”

      They’re not interested in “we can solve the worst by applying these solutions under the existing system” because the solution they want is “tear down the existing system”, not “sort out climate change”.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        In general terms, for problem P, solutions X and Y are proposed by A and B respectively. Where X >= Y in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, opposition to X strongly suggests B’s motivation is implementing Y, not solving P.

        Obviously reasonable debates can be had about the effectiveness and efficiency of X and Y, but the above holds well where the effectiveness and efficiency of X and Y are well established.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        Great insight. This actually makes my theory a lot more sensible. Consumerism under capitalism is the sin that global warming is supposed be a punishment for. And capitalism itself would be the devil I guess.

    • The Nybbler says:

      From this perspective, solving global warming is actually a bad thing because it allows people to sin without feeling bad about it. Any amount of effort put into technological solutions to global warming must be opposed because it might actually work.

      I am no fan of environmentalism in most of its forms, and a lukewarmer to boot, but I think this is going too far. I think the main reason technological solutions (aside from “burn less”) are opposed is the fear that we’ll screw them up and make things worse. There’s still a quasi-religious connection, but it’s more about hubris about being able to fix things than some sense that it’s wrong to avoid punishment for sin.

      There’s also an effect where there are sufficient environmentalists of various factions (plus others) to oppose any large scale solution, so you have to solve global warming without wind (kills birds, transmission lines disrupt environment, ugly), solar (disrupts delicate desert environment, mining for materials is environmentally harmful), dams (kills fish, ruins ecosystems), nuclear (glows, heats rivers, waste, accidents), etc. If you point this out you tend to be told to put on a sweater and drive less, which is another quasi-religious element: asceticism. But it still doesn’t mean they don’t want to solve the problem, only that they want the solution to be painful.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        I think the main reason technological solutions (aside from “burn less”) are opposed is the fear that we’ll screw them up and make things worse. There’s still a quasi-religious connection, but it’s more about hubris about being able to fix things than some sense that it’s wrong to avoid punishment for sin.

        This is certainly the argument people will make, but I think that’s just because they don’t have any better rational arguments. I admit that I am ascribing unconscious motives to greens here. I usually wouldn’t, but I feel justified since I was one of them until I started looking more deeply into energy issues. I got here by asking myself “wait, why am I so opposed to nuclear?”

        But it still doesn’t mean they don’t want to solve the problem, only that they want the solution to be painful.

        I think this is really just a rephrasing of what I’m saying. Seventeenth century puritans would all publicly avow that hell is terrible, but at the same time the threat of hell was vitally important to their religious beliefs. Likewise, greens will publicly avow that global warming is terrible, but the threat of it is an important part of the gospel of sustainability and Priuses.

        • Loriot says:

          I think it can be perfectly rational to oppose nuclear power, even if you think it is important to fighting climate change, thanks to the coalitional nature of politics.

          If you want to get X done and think Y and Z will help with that, and there’s another group that wants to get X done and thinks Y will help and Z is a bad idea, then as long as not doing Z is not actively harmful to X, it is better to ally with them and accomplish Y than to maintain ideological purity and get nothing accomplished at all.

          It’s sort of like in Scott’s example, the people who think we should spend 10% on Chinese defence will ally with the people who think we should spend 20% or 50% or 100%, at least until the status quo reaches somewhere near 10%.

          • albatross11 says:

            How you feel about nuclear power is mainly about whether you think the operators and regulators will be up to the job of keeping the risk of disasters acceptably low. If you think the operators are inept and the regulators incompetent or suborned, then you should oppose it.

            In that sense, the Fukashima disaster should probably make most of us a little more skeptical of nuclear power–because Japan is a pretty well-run and high-functioning society, but still had their disaster. OTOH, the reactor disaster’s impact was a tiny, tiny fraction of the impact of the huge earthquake and tsunami.

          • Loriot says:

            One concern I have about nuclear power that I rarely see addressed is the actual cost. Pretty much all the nuclear plants in operation date back to the 70s, so estimates of the cost of nuclear power are based on old pre-cost disease plants. But it seems likely that modern plants would be a lot more expensive and take longer to build.

    • most people who are vaguely committed to environmentalism by affiliation to left-leaning politics have not put in enough time or effort to understand energy issues at an intellectual level.

      Also true of most people on the other side. A couple of years back I concluded, from the responses to a post I made on a FB climate group, that almost nobody on either side of the argument understood the greenhouse effect.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think this is broadly true, in fact. The set of people who have strong opinions about how the deficit is a danger to the country is much, much larger than the set of people who have any idea about the scale of the federal budget, or what makes up most of it. (Geezers and guns, mainly.) Thus you can have people who really passionately think we should eliminate foreign aid and farm subsidies to address the deficit[1], which is like putting a band-aid on a spurting arterial wound.

      [1] Eliminating them as part of large scale cuts to the federal budget might make some sense, but they’re roundoff error in the medicare or defense budget.

    • Nicholas Weininger says:

      FWIW, as a libertarian-ish person who believes that AGW is a real and serious problem, I think that unless you are unusually skilled at politics and/or unusually unskilled at evaluating engineering solutions, there is a strong political economy argument for focusing much more of your effort and resources on engineering solutions than political activism. Namely, political activism is extremely unlikely to work because the incentive for political institutions to respond to this sort of threat is so weak and easily defeated by short-term costs of action; whereas engineering cleverness, while certainly still risky to pin one’s hopes on, has a much better shot at bailing us out.

      It is unfortunately all too common to disparage this sort of realism about political institutions as defeatism and believe that if we (for some value of “we”) just politicked harder, and/or were more virtuous, of course government would do the things we consider desirable. This isn’t just true of those on the left, btw; libertarians tend to have a weakness for it in e.g. debates about theoretically-possible-but-utterly-politically-hopeless schemes for constitutional reforms to restrain government.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        That’s pretty much what Bjorn Lomborg concluded. In a recent podcast with Jordan Peterson he explains how we can spend about 2% of GDP/year on reducing our consumption of fossil fuels, and by doing that in 100 years we will have achieved very little in terms of expected temperature change, be significantly poorer, and be no closer to a complete solution.

        Meanwhile if we spend on engineering solutions, we can hope to solve the problem completely for a lot cheaper and become richer as a result. There are no guarantees an engineering solution will be found, but it seems particularly pessimistic to think that in 100 years of efforts we wont make significant progress that would dwarf the benefits of the “reduce fossil fuel use” solution.

    • Galle says:

      I don’t think people lying about their goals is necessary to explain people accusing Silicon Valley of being too focused on technological solutions to global warming and ignoring political ones. It looks to me like it’s just Humanities Versus STEM, Round 817.

  26. HeirOfDivineThings says:

    Maybe it should be called something that sounds technical like “Removing the Conjunction Fallacy”? E.g., political and tech solutions can be used to fight global warming, but people remove the conjunction and claim that Silicon Valley only cares about tech solutions.

    I call it the “Peanut Butter Sandwich” fallacy.

    Person A: I really want a peanut butter & jelly sandwich

    Person B: Here’s a jelly sandwich

    Person A: What about the peanut butter?

    Person B: Why do you only care about peanut butter?

  27. Walter says:

    I have definitely also seen this pattern. Good work addressing it explicitly. I’ll watch out for this in the future.

  28. JulieK says:

    I think this is just a specific instance of people misunderstanding their ideological opponents and attributing the worst motives to them.
    “If you don’t support X as strongly as I do, it must be that (best case scenario) you don’t understand how important X is or (worst case scenario) you hate X and want X-ers to suffer.”

    It also reveals a dimension that was lacking in your “scissors statement” post. We can imagine the above speaker and her opponent having a long debate over how important X is. But that debate would not really get to the heart of the disagreement, which also concerns how important is Y (the cause favored by the opponent).

  29. In the case of superintelligent AI, the core claim can be presented as a low-probability risk that is worth looking into, but it’s difficult to make any progress on the problem without making significantly more detailed predictions. The accusation that these researchers think they can predict the future is on more solid ground when they do this.

    • Eponymous says:

      More generally, the correct answer to, “So you think you can predict the future?” in this case is, “yes.”

      (More precisely, there’s a set of models of the world, to which one should assign reasonably high probability, in which something within the set “AI-caused existential catastrophe” occurs within the set of timeframes reasonably labeled “soon”, with high probability.)

  30. nameless1 says:

    Your defense analyst reminds me of what I call tea theory. A cup of Earl Grey on its own is bitter, lemon is too sour, and sugar is too sweet, but mix them and you get a tasty drink. So there is something that works well as a part of a larger mix but not on its own. And yet of course the mix misses that thing, you have to advocate it, which sounds like you are telling people to suck lemon. Eww.

    But what can you do? You can talk all day how a bit of lemon makes sugary tea taste better, but it does not have a big loud emotional impact in an age overloaded with information bombardment. You have to simplify the message to “lemon is awesome, the best thing you ever had” and then people will try, suck on a lemon and go ewww.

    Real moderates rarely change anything. Radicals effect moderate changes by pushing for crazy changes and then willing to compromise…

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Or moderates come across as extremists when extremists have hijacked the conventional wisdom.

    • Don_Flamingo says:

      That’s not true. Moderates can change the fact that extremists and reactionaries (or the other extremists) are about to fuck everything up, because they can’t see eye to eye at all.
      E.g. Bismarck was a moderate, by making concessions to the German labor movement and took out the fuse of a powder keg.
      For a while at least.
      But he was hardly a lefty.
      No revolution, no bloody civil war. Change: angry, unstable Reich to Happy Reich (or realistically, angry, unstable Reich to merely grumbling Reich).
      Moderates deescalate so that all the extremists stay reasonably unhappy. But not too unhappy to do anything.

      Even if they’re not changing much themselves, ideally their mere presence provides inert mass to the whole democratic process and prevents “interesting things” from happening.
      Political change is rarely good.

  31. eric23 says:

    BTW, when people like David Icke talk about secret reptilian overlords who manipulate world affairs, I’m pretty sure “reptilians” is just a codeword for “Jews” that allows the conspiracy theorist to escape public outrage.

    • LadyJane says:

      Which is why it’s hilarious whenever some poor sap doesn’t hear the dog whistle and takes all these crazy Satanist/Illuminati/Grey/Reptilian theories at face value. (See: Ben Garrison)

      • Aapje says:

        I’m quite offended that people hate dog whistles so much. How else am I to train dogs?

        • Nick says:

          I’m fine with dog whistles, as long as I don’t have to hear them.

          • Eponymous says:

            Almost by definition, you won’t! Unless you’re the dog in this case. (I keep waiting to hear a candidate use a EA/SSC/LW dog whistle.)

            Probably there are many successful dog whistles out there; just not the ones the media latches onto.

          • Jiro says:

            Almost by definition, you won’t! Unless you’re the dog in this case.

            This doesn’t follow. You won’t hear a perfectly working dog whistle, but the dog whistle may be slightly imperfect. An actual dog whistle may produce a bit of audible sound, and a metaphorical dog whistle may be slightly recognizeable to non-audience members.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          You do know who invented the dog whistle, don’t you?

          Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s evil cousin.

          • albatross11 says:

            Galton was basically a mad scientist. Reading about all the stuff he did in his life is kinda depressing (“so what am *I* going to accomplish this year?”), but also kinda science-fictiony. He’d make a great character in a steampunk novel.

          • Darwin had conjectured that inheritance was somehow through the blood. Galton tested the conjecture empirically, by doing blood transfusions between rabbits of different colors and observing the offspring, concluded that the conjecture was mistaken.

            Galton wondered if inheritance was more through one parent than the other. He made lists of people who had accomplished a lot in various fields–for instance judges for the field of law–and investigated how they were related. At the first stage, he concluded that inheritance was more through the father.

            It occurred to him that his data was biased, because last names are inherited through the father, making it easier to spot paternal than maternal relationships. He reported that the more careful he was to trace both, the more nearly the result approximated equal inheritance from both parents.

            A very impressive man.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Galton came up with the idea of wisdom-of-the-crowds at age 85. He went to a county fair where there was a prize for guessing the weight of a steer. He figured this was a good source of data to prove how wrong people were. But then it turned out that the average guess was quite accurate, so he realized that averaging away random errors could be a good technique. That’s a pretty nimble intellect for age 85.

            A big question about Galton’s ridiculously long list of accomplishments: was a he a genius, like, say, Gauss, or was he just in the right place at the right time to ask a whole bunch of questions that hadn’t been asked before. A lot of Galton’s accomplishments came later in life than is normal for theoretical breakthroughs, suggesting to me that answering the questions were less hard than asking the questions.

            And if the latter, that Galton was just the right man at the right time (I sort of think that way about Darwin, too), why didn’t the human race ask now seemingly obvious questions about things like regression toward the mean and nature vs. nurture before Galton?

          • albatross11 says:

            Being the kind of guy who looks at some situation, asks the right question, and works out what the answer must be by analyzing the data seems like a kind of genius. I kind-of wonder whether this kind of genius correlates as strongly with IQ scores as the brute-force-brilliance kind of genius. (And this also makes me think of Greg Cochran’s thick vs thin problems.)

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I’m just always amazed how great the left is at hearing right-wing dog whistles when I, a right-winger, cannot.

        • NoRandomWalk says:

          @Conrad Honcho
          I think it’s because they spend more time/effort discussing language, and creating a social consensus within their tribe that certain words are loaded.

          For example, when the republican governor used the phrase ‘monkeying around’, or when Trump insults people of a certain race as ‘low IQ individuals’ I can, intellectually, be convinced it’s not a dog whistle but identifying bad faith is an emotional process – it has to be, because social signaling games are too difficult to track with the left brain.

          I personally find it very difficult to know what is and isn’t a dog whistle to a tribe whose linguistic culture I haven’t grown up in, so I understand folks on the left without friends on the right they trust to tell them the truth to make honest mistakes.

          For example, I read most anti-zionist statements as anti-semitic dog whistles. Intellectually, I know it’s possible that I’m wrong. But I don’t know any anti-zionists I trust to tell me when I am.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Aren’t there Jewish anti-zionists? I thought there was a decent contingent in the diaspora who don’t like the state of Israel.

            For the record, I’m not entirely certain what “zionism” is. I’ve seen it characterized both as simply the existence of a Jewish state, but also as some kind of Jewish supremacist movement extending beyond the state. I honestly don’t know how a “zionist” would describe “zionism.”

          • vV_Vv says:

            For the record, I’m not entirely certain what “zionism” is. I’ve seen it characterized both as simply the existence of a Jewish state, but also as some kind of Jewish supremacist movement extending beyond the state. I honestly don’t know how a “zionist” would describe “zionism.”

            The neutral definition of “Zionism” is “Jewish nationalism”, but when the term is used by its critics it can include an additional sense of “Jewish supremacy”.

            This is not unique to Zionism, it’s a common ambiguity of the term “nationalism” and of nationalist ideologies. Consider, for instance the term “white nationalism”. In principle it may be different than “white supremacy” but in practice they are used mostly as synonyms.

          • acymetric says:

            Isn’t Zionist also used sometimes to describe Christians who support the state of Israel for primarily apocalyptic/Revelations related reasons (not saying all Christians who support Israel support them for that reason, only that some do)? I could swear I’ve heard it used in that context but maybe I’m mistaken.

            In other words, Zionism isn’t quite “Jewish nationalism” or “Jewish supremacy” because non-Jewish people can be described as Zionist.

          • Randy M says:

            The neutral definition of “Zionism” is “Jewish nationalism”, but when the term is used by its critics it can include an additional sense of “Jewish supremacy”.

            Critics of nationalism generally believe it inherently conveys a sense of supremacy.

          • I take “zionism” to mean support for a Jewish homeland in the territory that was occupied by the kingdom of Israel, usually combined with the idea that many or all Jews should move to that homeland.

          • albatross11 says:

            In general, if I turn to your ideological opponents to interpret your beliefs, I’m likely to find out about all the ways you’re secretly Hitler (or Stalin, depending on the sides).

          • Aapje says:

            My understanding is that zionism was far from an ideology held by most Jews for a long time and it seems to me that both many of the fans of Israel and many detractors engage in revisionism when Jews are portrayed as universally supporting a Israel and especially when they are portrayed as universally supporting this Israel (as in, the specific policies of the state).

            I think that those who dislike anti-semitism more than they favor (this) Israel (as in a state with the specific policies that are being implemented now) are well advised to strengthen this distinction, rather than obscure it, because doing so makes it far easier for fairly mundane and reasonable disagreement about the policies of Israel to turn into a dislike of Jews generally.

          • JulieK says:

            Aren’t there Jewish anti-zionists?

            Meaning, might a Jewish anti-zionist be an anti-semite?
            I mentioned my family’s political divide in the “culture as a branch of government” thread. My sister stopped talking to my husband after he called her an anti-semite on account of her extreme anti-zionist views (as in, thinking Israel’s pre-1967 and post-1967 territories are equally illegitimate).

        • L. says:

          It is quite fitting that the topic of dog whistles should come up in this thread, as so much of dog whistling that the Left sees is literally just them being the Left version of reptile conspiracy theorists.
          So much of “logic” seen among those who call things dog whistles is word for word “logic” employed by people who believe those outlandish conspiracy theories.
          A while back here there was in one of those links post, a story about how a bunch of Leftists thought that a document about border security (I think) that was released by DHS was a dog whistle to white supremacists based on the number of points in the document. This is word for word the same logic I have seen employed by one those “world is run by people who literally worship Satan” Christians, only they used it to prove a document released by UN on climate change is secretly about devil because it had 6 chapters.
          Even better example was that recent controversy about O.K. sign at Kavanaugh hearing, because that was literally the Illuminati pyramid hand sign type of reasoning.

          • mdet says:

            The accusations of “dog whistling” along the lines of “This White House document secretly praises Hitler!” seem very different in kind to the way I used and understood the term “dog whistle” prior to 2016.

            The way I understood the term was more like “That old lady is constantly complaining about urban youth with names like D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty, who wear baggy pants and all want to be thugs while their baby mommas are on welfare! And she probably doesn’t think very highly of black people either!” In that example, it’s not that there’s some kind of secret code that only certain people understand, it’s that she’s using euphemisms that avoid explicitly saying “lower class black people”, but still strongly imply to anyone with a passing familiarity that she’s talking about lower class black people.

            Maybe this is an atypical interpretation because it doesn’t match the literal meaning of “dog whistle”, but in the days before NYT articles about the alt-right and white nationalists, I want to say that all the uses of the term “dog whistle” that I knew of fell more in the above category than “Nazis are leaving cryptic messages that only they can decode!” category (which is paranoid).

          • acymetric says:

            @mdet

            This is definitely how I was accustomed to seeing the term used for a long time as well. I also think there are a lot of people who still use or interpret it this way, which makes conversations about dog whistles confusing with a lot of people talking past each other.

          • albatross11 says:

            ISTR the origin of the term was talking about Republicans appealing to racist voters without alienating non-racist or anti-racist voters. I’m certain politicians do this (for every issue, all the time), but also think that the “dog whistling” idea makes for a *great* tool with which to bash your political opponents–most people speaking off-the-cuff will say something that can be interpreted as a dog whistle for whatever you want to claim they believe.

            A fun example of this is the way the crazy end of the right was able to find all kinds of “evidence” that Obama was a secret Muslim. They were basically finding dog whistles. Of course, these were almost certainly nonsense[1], but they got clicks and ratings, which was what actually mattered.

            [1] It’s not physically impossible that Obama is secretly a Muslim, but there’s basically nothing in his life since he came back from Indonesia to the US to suggest it, and lots of evidence (regular attendance in a Christian church, drinking, etc.) against it. But there’s always some ambiguous evidence which can be portrayed as a smoking gun if you’re willing to omit evidence to the contrary and take enough stuff out of context.

    • L. says:

      As someone who has in the past argued with some of these people and read/watched some of their work, I can tell you that you are wrong about a large percentage of them.
      While the similarity between their conspiracy theories and the “The Jews” conspiracy theories support your claim, when they start arguing that Maya where ruled by the Reptiles and showing videos allegedly showing Michael Jackson morphing into a reptile, the claim is no longer tenable.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        Maybe they saw a video of Lenny Kravitz and thought it was Michael Jackson morphing into a Jew?

      • Freddie deBoer says:

        Yes the Ickies really, truly believe in lizard people.

      • albatross11 says:

        I think the best thing about this is that it’s the lizardman constant, but with real believers in lizardmen.

        • John Schilling says:

          Real believers in lizardmen are <<5% of the populations, which is the point of the whole concept. Asking about belief in lizardmen gets you, A: the infinitesimal population of actual Icke-followers plus B: the ~5% of the population that will answer in the affirmative to basically any survey question.

          The "lizardman constant" refers to the latter, not the former. It – and the survey results – will remain ~5% even if David Icke gets a huge charisma buff and increases his number of believers by an order of magnitude.

    • Murphy says:

      honestly… I think it’s very likely that he’s simply mad as a box of frogs.

      I’ve seen people play the same game with timecube. because it’s a game. Jumble the words up until you find something you can call a secret message.

      Sometimes… sometimes you don’t need to try to find the secret hidden message. Sometimes the guy who thinks that the queen of england is a secret reptile… is just nuts and we don’t need to figure out how he’s secretly sending a message that the queen of england is … jewish

      Because all the secret antisemites find it so much more respectable to declare that they believe that secret lizards are hiding in underground tunnels listening to them.

    • Deiseach says:

      I’m pretty sure “reptilians” is just a codeword for “Jews”

      I’m not so sure. I’ve always thought David Icke was slightly bonkers, but anti-Semitic? Maybe he is and maybe “the Queen of England is a shape-shifting lizard” is indeed coded dog-whistling for “the Queen of England is Jewish”.

      Or maybe he really does believe in non-human reptile overlords.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      From Icke’s Wikipedia page:

      “In this more recent conceptualization, the rings of Saturn (which Icke believes were artificially created by reptilian spacecraft) are the ultimate source of the signal, while the Moon functions as an amplifier. He claims that frequencies broadcast from the hexagonal storm on Saturn are amplified through the hollow structure of our artificial moon keeping humanity trapped in a holographic projection.”

      If you really think this is all just umptillion layers of misdirection to cover that he doesn’t like Jews, I think you might have been kind of burned by our society’s weird dog whistle obsession. See Against Dog-Whistlism

      • Steve Sailer says:

        the hollow structure of our artificial moon

        America’s greatest vice president, Richard Johnson, introduced a bill in Congress in the 1820s to finance an American expedition to explore and conquer the Hollow Earth.

    • Galle says:

      When people like David Icke talk about it, maybe. But in the particular case of David Icke he really does believe in literal shapeshifting alien lizard people. That or he thinks Jews have slit eyes and forked tongues.

  32. BobCatP says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the AI safety example. Maybe it’s just I’m too focused on the EA movement, but a lot of arguments I see for it are “funding or working in AI safety is literally the most ethical thing you can do.” Whilst I agree it’s a problem to look at, I object to the level of confidence these people have in their claim that it’s the best thing, although I understand that is partially based on ‘neglectedness’ rather than just the potential threat.

    • Elena Yudovina says:

      That seems to me to be a false contradiction. I think the EA argument runs something like “we estimate that there’s a 10% chance that AI will turn out to be a paperclip maximizer, that would be horrendously bad, therefore reducing the probability of AI turning out to be a paperclip maximizer is the most important thing ever”. (Possible counter-arguments might be that the 10% is too large, or that “horrendously bad” isn’t as horrendous as all that, or that you shouldn’t think about it in terms of expected values and so can’t combine the 10% probability and the 10x damage in quite this way.) That is, it’s possible to have a perfectly coherent position where you’re nowhere near certain that AI will turn out to be a paperclip maximizer, but are nowhere near certain that it won’t, and given the (estimated range of) danger level of a paperclip maximizer, it’s extremely worthwhile to be reducing the risk of it happening.

      • John Schilling says:

        Possible counter-arguments might be that the 10% is too large, or that “horrendously bad” isn’t as horrendous as all that, or that you shouldn’t think about it in terms of expected values and so can’t combine the 10% probability and the 10x damage in quite this way.

        Or that the proposed countermeasures are extremely unlikely to be effective.

        • albatross11 says:

          Yeah, AI safety research now seems like meteor defense research in Victorian England. It’s a reasonable thing to want to worry about, but you don’t come anywhere close to having the right tools to deal with it yet.

        • dragnubbit says:

          Or that the proposed countermeasures are extremely unlikely to be effective.

          Bingo. Rapid, efficient and ubiquitous pattern matching and inference algorithms are already affecting society as they are widely deployed in surveillance, criminal justice, education, commerce, social relations, etc. If we haven’t even figured out how to ethically manage human use of these capabilities yet, why are we planning how to manage or prevent a super-intelligent AI from doing so?

      • vV_Vv says:

        I think the EA argument runs something like “we estimate that there’s a 10% chance that AI will turn out to be a paperclip maximizer,

        This is not what the AI risk people claim tough. They estimate an approx. 100% chance that AI will turn out to be a paperclip maximizer unless some major breakthrough in our understanding of intelligence happens before AGI is created.

        Their argument rests on Omohundro’s “basic drives” thesis, which argues that becoming a paperclip maximizer is the default outcome for a sufficiently advanced agent with arbitrary goals, and Bostrom’s orthogonality thesis, which argues that creating such an agent without a good understanding of how to control it is possible and likely.

    • Eponymous says:

      but a lot of arguments I see for it are “funding or working in AI safety is literally the most ethical thing you can do.”

      In general, there will only be one thing that has the highest expected marginal value at a given moment (unless society’s allocation of resources is 100% optimal). Since individuals will generally not shift the social marginal values much by their own allocation of resources, this is a pretty general feature of these kinds of problems, and not specific to AI.

      Like, in any moment in history, in any society, there was probably one “best use of marginal dollar”, that an EA should have put all their spare money into.

      Note that this is different from claiming that “Society should direct the great majority of its resources to cause X.” Though EY seems to think this applies to AI right now, and I’m not sure he’s wrong.

  33. Baeraad says:

    I would personally suggest that the reason why this happens is because people don’t necessarily believe others are arguing in good faith. And I can’t say I blame them. In fact, for each of the four situations you list, my immediate reaction is, “I don’t trust you to be honest about this.” I suspect, as it were, that I’m being motte-and-bailey-ed.

    If you say that of course political action is important but why aren’t we looking into technological solutions also, then I immediately suspect that what you actually believe is that the problem has a cool, sexy technological solution that will make you feel good about being human and which will completely remove the need for those icky, demoralising political solutions that force you to confront the fact that humanity is essentially a virus in shoes.

    If you say that of course human behaviour is partly learned but why won’t we admit that it’s partly genetic, I immediately suspect that you’re secretly pushing to have all behaviour recognised as genetic, thus escaping responsibility for your own behaviour (it’s programmed, nothing to be done about it!), getting rid of all kinds of annoying social conditioning to be better, and declaring the less fortunate to have been a lost cause from day one and therefore not worth devoting any effort to helping.

    If you’re a vegetarian who say that you care about human well-being but also animal well-being, I… Actually, then I might actually believe you, because if you weren’t a moderate you’d be a vegan and you’d be proud to declare that humans were scum who deserved to suffer. But if a vegan who did constantly declare that humans were scum claimed to care about human well-being when pressed on the issue, I’d be skeptical to that, too.

    And as for AI risk, there I don’t believe you for the simple reason that I’ve never heard anyone concerned with AI risk, including you, be anything less than 100% convinced that the AIs were totally going to appear and immediately conquer us all through their superior smartness. It’s never “we should look into this possibility out of sensible caution.” It’s always, “we are DEFINITELY heading for a world ruled by paperclip-maximising machine overlords, and the only reason you don’t realise that is because you’re not as smart and rational as me!”

    And the funny thing? I entirely agree with each of the four positions as stated. Of course we should look into green technology, of course genes play a significant role in how we behave (and it’s annoying that a lot of people genuinely seem to think otherwise), of course we should care about the animals, and of course we should look at the possible consequences of things we are inventing so that we don’t invent ourselves into a heap of trouble! I’m one hundred percent down with each of those moderate positions. But when I hear someone else espousing them, I still immediately smell a rat.

    • Aapje says:

      The problem with strongly assuming bad faith by the other is that it ossifies your beliefs, as they are immune from challenge. Any dissent will be nitpicked to death. Dissenters’ arguments will always have some simplifications, errors or such that can be use as evidence of bad faith, while it’s always possible to come up with excuses when ‘one of us’ is wrong or does wrong.

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Right. For example, I’m amused by the surprisingly common belief that the millions of words I’ve published over the decades are really just a facade for the horrible things that I must truly believe, as if I have the time to construct a front and the will power not to hit the Publish button.

        • LadyJane says:

          As a steelman to that criticism: Let’s say there’s a certain view that a few people take at face value, but a lot more people use as a cover for some of the most evil-wrong-bad views possible. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to at least suspect that someone advocating that view might be likely to fall into the latter category? Furthermore, even if you know for a fact that someone is being genuine, couldn’t it still be a problem if the evil-wrong-bad people were taking their arguments for the view in question and using it to persuade others of their related evil-wrong-bad ideas? Especially if there’s a very long and very consistent historical precedent of the view in question being used to justify evil-wrong-bad policies that always led to suffering on an enormous scale?

          • Aapje says:

            Such criticisms are very sensitive to a false outgroup homogeneity perception, as well as (selectively) holding moderates accountable for the opinions of extremists (in fact, these are related).

            I doubt whether there are any views that can survive your standards if applied strictly and equally.

            Any argument that involves regulation is on a spectrum towards an authoritarian state, so lets taboo any demand for regulation, no matter how limited.

            Any defense of socialism/redistribution is on a spectrum towards communism. Communism has led to suffering on an enormous scale fairly consistently.

            Any opposition to discrimination between people can lead to a total lack of concern for the less abled, condemning those who cannot care for themselves to death.

            Is anyone safe from such an accusation or can anything be framed as being a moderate form of an oppressive idea?

            Or is your argument only going to be applied selectively, like your argument almost always seems to be in practice? So perhaps we should go meta, where your argument itself is on spectrum with oppression at the far end. So the claim that we should ban claims with oppression at the extreme end should be banned, because that claim has oppression at the extreme end.

          • AG says:

            @Aapje

            Sorry to get a little CW, but haven’t you yourself used the mechanism LadyJane posted in your criticisms of a certain ideology, whenever proponents try explaining the mottes they themselves hold?

            Which isn’t an indictment of you, but to say that this mechanism seems to be an intuitive one that most people apply to their pet outgroups, and often due to personal experience.

          • Eponymous says:

            Let’s say there’s a certain view that a few people take at face value, but a lot more people use as a cover for some of the most evil-wrong-bad views possible. Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to at least suspect that someone advocating that view might be likely to fall into the latter category?

            As stated, this is just Bayes’ Theorem, so yes. Though I think that charity is warranted in this case. And of course you can always just stick to debating the merits, which is the real solution to all the meta level stuff.

            Furthermore, even if you know for a fact that someone is being genuine, couldn’t it still be a problem if the evil-wrong-bad people were taking their arguments for the view in question and using it to persuade others of their related evil-wrong-bad ideas?

            This is quite a different concern, and I think invalid. It proves too much: any argument could be misused by others. Advocating for restricted speech on this ground seems highly dangerous.

          • albatross11 says:

            LadyJane:

            How do you know how many people expressing that view are actually supporters of some super-evil view? There’s a kind of self-re-enforcing thing that happens:

            a. “Everyone knows” that anyone who supports gay rights is secretly gay.

            b. Someone makes a principled and measured argument for treating gays properly.

            c. They are immediately ostracized and ridiculed as being gay, and are eventually pushed out of their schoolteacher job on the widespread rumors that they’re gay. Ultimately, they leave town in disgrace.

            Iterate this process, and observers will see tons of social proof that anyone who expresses a positive view of gay rights is, in fact, secretly gay. They will seldom see anyone express such views without their being widely rumored to be gay and facing all kinds of bad social consequences as a result. The belief is self-re-enforcing even if it’s complete nonsense.

            Concretely, I’ve spent the last 30 years or so watching any number of prominent respectable people and publications talk about what Charles Murray believes. Unfortunately, he’s also written a bunch of books and articles and given a lot of talks and interviews, so his views are easy to find out, and they have very little to do with his public image. Neither I nor the prestigious respectable people can read his mind or know the state of his soul, but it’s hard to see what incentive he has to lie about his beliefs at this point, so it seems pretty likely that he’s telling the truth about his beliefs. Which aren’t remotely what is ascribed to him.

            Now, for people who haven’t bothered reading his writings and listening to his talks, which is almost everyone, Murray’s public image is further evidence that people who talk about IQ are usually some kind of Nazi. I assume this is the way this usually works. Linda Gottfriedson and Arthur Jensen apparently faced the same treatment. Once you’ve got this social view established, you’ll almost never see contradictory evidence.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Now, for people who haven’t bothered reading his writings and listening to his talks, which is almost everyone, Murray’s public image is further evidence that people who talk about IQ are usually some kind of Nazi.

            Also, whichever side is able to successfully pull this off reveals itself as the culturally dominant side. Your example of being pro-gay rights and being gay could be believable in the 80s, but definitely not today.

            The Charles Murray example is much more relevant to today’s climate. And it also reveals that the left sees Murray, and IQ science, as existential threats they are unable to counter in good faith. Using their cultural dominance to tar anyone talking about IQ as nazis is risky and will probably backfire horribly (e.g. Sam Harris v. Ezra Klein), but it’s better than engaging honestly.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think outrage and ostracism is used as a tactic at times, but I also think it’s an emergent phenomenon that doesn’t need anyone trying to use it as a tactic. Once everyone knows that ugly old women with black cats and an ugly mole on their nose are witches, it turns out that every time you see an ugly old woman with a black cat, she’s being burned or run out of town as an obvious witch. Even on the rare occasions when the ugly old woman’s family is powerful enough to protect her, the rumors will all be about how she’s a witch. The social proof will re-enforce the belief, whether it’s true or not.

            This is made much more powerful when there are social consequences for refusing to go along with the witch-burning mob. If anyone who refuses to take part in burning the ugly old lady at the stake risks being suspected of some kind of involvement in witchcraft, or maybe being under the witch’s magical influence, then the social proof will by like 99% in favor of the “ugly old woman with black cat = witch” model. An occasional well-intentioned nobleman or priest who tries to push back against it will either be dismissed as objectively pro-witch or will be excused as being too kindhearted and trusting.

            This doesn’t need anyone trying to run a campaign against friendless old ladies with black cats–it will naturally re-enforce, the way someone can be famous for being famous.

          • Aapje says:

            @AG

            One of my main criticism of Social Justice/feminism as a group is that there is actually an extremely strong homogeneity in the sense that people who want to argue about gender but reject certain tenets get aggressively attacked/deplatformed/etc and that the more moderate people don’t police this effectively. So from the perspective of a critic, the entire group behaves in an oppressive way.

            I think that people have a responsibility to either police those in a community or clearly set themselves apart, so they are not regarded as giving weight to these behaviors. The person who stands silently at the back of a mob during a lynching, empowers the lynchers.

            However, of course, others may believe that they do set themselves apart sufficiently, while, for example, MRA’s don’t set themselves apart from misogynist PUAs enough.

            There is a high level of subjectivity here about what homogeneity actually exists, what slippery slopes exist, whether some beliefs will inevitably cause many people to come to noxious conclusions, how many people hide their true beliefs behind less offensive beliefs that are intended to break open the Overton Window for their more offensive beliefs, etc, etc.

        • Andrew Cady says:

          as if I have the time

          It is no extra expense of time to “hide your power level,” and it’s neo-fascist standard practice.

          • albatross11 says:

            How do you know that, though? Where did you get the data needed to determine that “hide your power level” is neo-fascist standard practice? How would you know if you were wrong?

      • Jiro says:

        The problem with strongly assuming bad faith by the other is that it ossifies your beliefs, as they are immune from challenge.

        But never assuming bad faith has its own problem–being taken advantage of by people with bad faith. And by Goodhart’s Law, never assuming bad faith makes it worse to never assume bad faith.

        What you need is to not have a universal principle. Whether someone is engaging in bad faith is a case-by-case decision. You can’t reduce it to “never assume bad faith” or “always assume bad faith”. Whether someone engages in bad faith is something you have to figure out, and you need to figure it out using inferences and pattern-matching, the same way that lots of other social skills work. You won’t have a strictly logical set of steps that will lead you to the correct conclusion all the time.

        • acymetric says:

          Sure, but this proposed fallacy seems much more predisposed to assuming bad faith than to assessing on a case by case basis (it certainly doesn’t encourage assuming good faith or charitable interpretations).

        • dragnubbit says:

          Echoing a comment I made elsewhere – the steps generally start with an assessment of whether you can detect a common set of values and objectives. You need to feel that there is a larger common ground (patriotism, commitment to rationality, basic human empathy, etc.) from which you can safely assess the differences of opinion and fact, and which provides a value system for testing statements.

    • albatross11 says:

      Baeraad:

      So maybe the solution is to find people who actually do seem to be engaging with evidence and contrary views in good faith who hold those positions and try to work out what they actually believe. The alternative seems to be to just maintain an information-proof shell around yourself on certain issues.

      As an example of this, I suspect most people I see questioning AGW to be motivated by ideology rather than honest inquiry. But when David Friedman or Bjorn Lomberg question some of the claims of AGW activist types, I’m inclined to listen, because both seem to be honest and serious thinkers.

      • dragnubbit says:

        A precondition for most people to consider arguments in good faith is a prior belief that they and the one presenting the argument share values and objectives. If I am convinced or strongly suspect my interlocutor has values/objectives that are not sufficiently close to mine, there is rarely value in even engaging other than an anthropological study. Shields stay up and all information and facts are considered potentially faulty. The internet is particularly effective at camoflauge.

        So no matter how rational someone presents their arguments and how civil they are, if I am convinced their values may be very different than mine (perhaps by not being sufficiently concerned about the issues of my ingroup, or overly concerned about the issues that animate my outgroups), then I have to start from an assumption of bad faith. A chain of intermediate moderates can link two extremes but those extremes cannot engage meaningfully.

        Someone whose hobby horse is knowing and sharing the real truth about racial IQ differences, or supporting those who wish to make this a topic of public debate, however nuanced and objective their presentation of the data, is up against this assumption of bad faith.

        • albatross11 says:

          dragnubbit:

          It seems to me that you’ve constructed an evidence-proof shell around yourself on certain issues–if I talk about issue X, then I must have value Y which you oppose, therefore you shouldn’t listen to me (or anyone) talk about issue X. Applying this generally just means never listening to anyone who disagrees with you. It’s hard to see this strategy making you any smarter or helping you understand the world. But hey, that’s probably just my evil values talking. Better tune this message out.

          • dragnubbit says:

            That is one way to interpret what I said. But I think you characterized my statement as a binary position.

            If you talk about issue X, the fact that issue X and perceived fallacies regarding it were important to you is a subtext to that discussion whether you intend it or not. You can dispel that notion by how you frame X. But some issues have such strong signalling value that it can overwhelm any minor facts being discussed. Even if you have a superior command (by volume) of facts on a particular topic the selection process for those facts was based on premises I didn’t share.

            It is only a shell if I focus on reinforcing my existing beliefs instead of probing adjacent thinkers for why they are different (Sowell and Pinker have been very beneficial reading material, for example). Personal intellectual development does not depend on open and honest debate with all parties, just with parties whose views can move yours, even if only incrementally. And those who have the best chance of changing my conclusions are those who share a significant portion of my values already. Internal debate can still be healthy as long as all of our bubbles overlap – I think that is still very much the case despite recent polarizations.

  34. Steve Sailer says:

    One interesting implication is that the very moderate dissident is particularly likely to be tarred as an extremist. Take Scott’s example of where the US defense budget is 100% devoted to the Russian Menace and 0% devoted to defending against China. A lone dissident defense analyst wants to move that to a more moderate 90-10 balance.

    She is more likely to be tarred as a crazy extremist if she’s objecting to a 100-0 split and wants to move it to 90-10 than if the current balance were 50-50 and she wanted to move it to 10-90. If Washington were currently split 50-50 on this issue, there would be think tanks devoted to playing up the Chinese Threat as well as the Russian Menace, there would be friendly reporters and politicians.

    But if the current split is 100-0, there’s unlikely to be much institutional support for her. Moreover, the current 100-0 split is probably motivated by something scandalous, such as the Chinese embassy buying off official Washington with cash or ethnic betrayal. That makes anybody dissenting extremely dangerous to the powerful.

    • nameless1 says:

      Tarred or not tarred, the moderate dissenter achieves nothing, while the radical dissenter, if he manages to look powerful – can be a bluff – can allow himself to be talked into a moderate compromise.

      • nameless1 says:

        Sounds like a systemic flaw: instead of having a system akin to zero based budgeting i.e. what would be the best policy on the absolute level, it is more like last years budget based budgeting: in which direction should I take the existing system in order to get more votes than my opponents. So it is always based on the existing state of things, which is a serious flaw. We know in business zero based budgeting is better, because that way nothing gets justified with “we’ve always been paying this”.

        I suppose I may have found something important. The root issue of politics is that the liberalism ten years ago gets seen as conservatism, the old way we’ve used to do things. And one group defends it, the other proposes a relative change. Don’t do this. If you are conservative, defend the kinds of things that are truly eternal, like anthropological human universals, not last years liberalism. If you are a liberal and are okay with change, don’t push a relative change, push redesigning, rebuilding something from the ground up. But both sides basing everything on their relationship of the changes of yesteryear which is now seen as something like tradition pretty much ensures running on autopilot.

        • arlie says:

          If you are conservative, defend the kinds of things that are truly eternal, like anthropological human universals, not last years liberalism.

          Hmm – doesn’t that depend on which definition of “conservative” you use. I.e. if you are of the “what we have is basically working, don’t mess it up” school (=? Burkean?) then what you want is not to change the present/recent set up very much. Trying to roll some things back to what you think of as “universal” while leaving others alone means trying out an all new combination, in conditions where it’s never been tried before. You’d want to move a small amount, stop, see how it works out, readjust, see how that works, and then maybe move farther

          OTOH, if you are of the “here are The Rules” and nothing else will do school (on either side of the culture wars), then of course you want revolutionary, start-from-zero change. Likewise if you are from the “my group uber alles” school of politics, whether that group is straight male WASPs or some minority currently favoured by liberals/that you happen to be a member of.

          • Don_Flamingo says:

            I’m fond of Samzdat’s interpretation, that both sides of the culture war consists exclusively of the ideologically possessed. (the alt-right as a ‘social tax’ revolt against identity leftists I found very elegant)

  35. Atlas says:

    This is very true and important, and it tracks with a conjecture about rhetoric I had recently:

    It’s depressingly common for people (and I have certainly done this on occasion) to caricature and exaggerate for comedic/argumentative effect the beliefs of opponents who are conveniently not present to represent their own views. This happens a lot with, for instance, libertarians—“libertarians believe in the legalization of carnal relations with minors, that it doesn’t matter if everyone dies of fentanyl overdoses and that we should just not have roads.” (Some examples of outlets that routinely describe their opponents in such uncharitable and hyperbolic terms would be Chapo Trap House on the left and the Daily Stormer on the right.)

    But, at least for me personally, this actually tends to make me more sympathetic to the views of the unpresent interlocutor being attacked. I don’t know that they’re correct, but I doubt that they’re as cartoonishly evil and stupid as their opponent is making them out to be.

    By contrast, when someone like Scott Alexander or Ezra Klein describes a disagreement in more measured terms—“I think my opponents are really, really concerned about [x], and I get that, but I think that the evidence suggests that we should really be concerned about [y] instead”—I’m a lot more likely to credit their view of the matter, because their reputation for honesty and charity in debate makes me think that they’ve already done their best to represent and evaluate their opponent’s arguments.

    I’m still willing to read an argument by someone who begins by saying something like “Those damn environmentalists are all opposed to the industrial revolution in its entirety and think we should all just go back to the paleolithic age. Anyway, here are some anti-environmentalist arguments about the recent pipeline…”, but I’m a lot more likely to look up a response by someone on the other side after I finish reading it.

  36. zinjanthropus says:

    Also, it would be strange for Silicon Valley not to consider high-tech solutions to climate change at all, since presumably Silicon Valley thinks about high-tech solutions for everything.

    That’s probably too obvious to point out.

  37. acymetric says:

    I get that these examples are somewhat intentionally contrived to demonstrate the point, but it kind of reads like a strawman of how other people strawman their opponents/people who disagree with them more than anything else to me. The paragraph about China vs. Russia defense hit the mark and made a lot of sense, but doesn’t really jive with the rest of the post, such as

    A few iconoclasts say that X is definitely right and important, but maybe we should also think about Y sometimes.

    Which is quite different from the only realistic scenario provided, where the contrarian really is focused on the contrarian position at the expense of the popular one.

    this analyst might spend all her time arguing we need to counter China more

    This seems like a very useful train of thought that needs a different framing.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      No, I see this happen all the time. Every time I get into a fight about illegal immigration on SSC (i.e., every open thread), someone says that I/Trump just want to hurt brown people and if we really cared about illegal immigration we’d support e-verify or crackdown on illegal employers instead of focusing on a border wall / border security. But e-verify was on Trump’s immigration whitepaper, I and many other support this, and workplace raids (which include arresting illegal employers) are way, way up in Trump’s administration. But since e-verify doesn’t do anything about drugs, crime, birthright citizenship, etc, it’s not enough, nor is it that controversial, so nobody’s really going to harp on it.

      • acymetric says:

        I definitely don’t disagree that this happens, but it sounds more like getting No True Scostmanned by the outgroup than the new fallacy Scott is trying to define.

        I guess what I’m saying is that it would be hard to differentiate a real example of reversed moderation from a situation where the opponent is just not clearly stating their 90/10 position such that it really does sound like they are in favor of 0/100 and it will be hard to remove personal bias from affecting how you evaluate which it is.

        Also (I mentioned this in another thread), I’m not sure how useful this fallacy is for debate. I think mostly if someone were to realize they might be falling victim to this fallacy they would rephrase their position in a more clear way but not actually change their approach to the problem or their opponent.

        Example:
        “you care more about animals than people”

        would become

        “you overvalue the importance of animal welfare relative to human welfare”

        after being called out for this fallacy. I guess it is at least more clear what is being said, but I think it just made the language clearer (which has value, I admit), but it didn’t change the argument or even really move it forward at all.

        • ze2 says:

          “I think it just made the language clearer (which has value, I admit), but it didn’t change the argument or even really move it forward at all.”

          In my experience, “just” making the language clearer is the main issue with debates about controversial topics, so this is really valuable.

          • acymetric says:

            Yes, and I’ve noted elsewhere that I do think this is an interesting/useful topic of discussion. I’m arguing against calling this a fallacy as a tool to dismiss arguments as fallacious, not against finding ways to clarify arguments.

            In other words, I agree that the subject of the main post is important, but also think that the labeling (as a fallacy) and the presentation (which reads mostly as venting about bad counter-arguments directed at Scott) are not good ways to address it.

  38. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I think this is what is usually called black and white thinking, or at least is closely related to it.

    • skybrian says:

      Yes, I agree. It’s a special case of the tendency to simplify debates to (what I call) binary thinking. Often accompanied by hyperbole. I’m not sure what to do about it. Memes that incorporate binary thinking and exaggeration are more likely to spread, and people tend to imitate them if they seem clever.

  39. e_w says:

    Surprised that your post didn’t include the Overton Window.

    this analyst might spend all her time arguing we need to counter China more, trying to convince everyone that China is really very dangerous; if she succeeds, maybe the budget will shift to 99-to-1 and she’ll have done the best she can.

    is a great example of shifting the Overton Window to over slightly by taking on extreme positions. I know of a few people like this who take these positions that I disagree with, but I admire their tenacity in trying to get a populace to move to a new norm.

    • Murphy says:

      Ya, it’s something i notice with many American libertarians.

      most don’t believe a close-to-totally libertarian society would be good… but do believe that slightly-more-libertarian-than-now society would be good.

      • Garrett says:

        I’d note that sometimes people mistake the opposition to the transition of a particular position with the opposition of that particular example. I run into this as a libertarian.

        As an example, I’m generally opposed to most of the major entitlement programs (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid). Whatever.

        Some opposition to such a world focuses on the end-state, such as inquiring about what such a world might look like, how to handle disabilities, and so on. These are useful inquiries to have.

        Others assume an abrupt transition and argue that instead. For example, arguing that it would throw everybody in a nursing home out on the street to die and therefore the proposed goal is terrible.

        • woah77 says:

          I’ll admit to falling victim to that. But frequently my objection is “IF you did X suddenly, it would be really bad for Y and Z reasons” which is then taken as “I think X is bad” which wasn’t my point in the first place. So, yes, I often assume that someone declaring broad changes intends for them to happen quickly, but I state that in my challenge of their ideas. If they respond with “No, I meant this is a 30 year plan” then I can adjust my arguments to match if I still disagree.

    • Bermanid says:

      Does shifting the window actually ever happen when people test the edges, though, or does it just widen?

      Especially lately on political issues, the response to people on the right shifting rightwards is reliably that people on the left shift further left, and the window grows, and vice versa. Instead of “what is the best way to strike a bipartisan deal on taxes and health care?” we’ve basically progressed all the way to “Are white people or black people the ones that should be exterminated from America because they’re pure evil?” as things that are on the edges, but not completely unspeakable.

      Kind of a joke, but only kind of – the odd thing is that the Overton window as perceived on each side individually *does* seem to shift, as in the mainstream left is less tolerant than they used to be of racism, and the mainstream right is less tolerant of SJWism. But for society as a whole, things balance out directionally and get shittier overall because more extreme voices rule the debates.

      • vV_Vv says:

        The problem is that the Overton window hasn’t widened, but it has fractured in at least two windows with little overlap.

  40. Joy says:

    Couldn’t find it on any current fallacies list, but I’d call it the Seesaw Fallacy.

  41. This reminds me of a related fallacy I have seen. An economist argues that one result of increasing welfare payments available to unmarried mothers will be more children born to unmarried mothers. The response is “do you really believe women have children to get the money–isn’t it obvious that a child costs more than even generous levels of welfare?

    The response is attributing to the economist a unicausal model in which the only reason to have a child is money. His actual model is multicausal. The decisions that lead to becoming an unmarried mother involve balancing a large number of costs and benefits. Increase one benefit or decrease one cost and the balance shifts for women who are on the margin.

    What you are describing is a similar error.

    • Bamboozle says:

      Doesn’t this just boil down to being charitable when arguing with people? For example, the comments in the Reverse Trumpism thread were most largely uncharitable towards each other and the thread had a relatively large number of bans.

      • onyomi says:

        I don’t think most people have a good, intuitive grasp of the ideas of fungibility of financial benefits nor of marginal decision making. Maybe it sounds like I’m being uncharitable to “most people,” but it’s a super common mistake in my experience. If you point out to people that e.g. money saved on child care is money you can use on your car payment they won’t disagree with you, yet that is not how most people intuitively think most of the time (there is a tendency to think of money and financial benefits as belonging to discrete “pots” and decision making factors as non-cumulative/all-or-nothing).

        These cognitive biases may exist for good, practical reasons*, but they also cause problems.

        *Taleb (yes, I’m on a Taleb jag lately) points out, for example, how it’s not necessarily irrational to bet more aggressively when “playing with house money” (on a winning streak) because the chance of total ruin is ruled out. Even though there’s no difference between “house money” (I’ve already won) and “my money” (I brought with me to the casino), thinking in terms of such non-fungible “pots” may be a useful strategy.

        • Bamboozle says:

          Yeah i see people make these compartmentalisation errors all the time. There’s whole apps dedicated to this with things like Monzo letting you make separate savings pots for different items (i.e. car savings, flat deposit) even though its all still savings.

          The problem relating back to what David is saying is that the politician who is wrong but tells you it’s all really simple is gonna win over the one who is right but has to convey nuance with every statement. People go for what they wanna hear, and so interpret others uncharitably because they wanna hear that.

          • Aapje says:

            Well, for money management purposes it makes a lot of sense to set aside some funds to be used for, for example, paying the rent, where you don’t use that money to buy something a lot more optional instead, even though the rent is only due next week and you feel like getting drunk tonight.

            It also makes sense if you move from a rental to buying a house, to not spend the money you save by no longer paying rent on booze, but instead to allocate it to mortgage payments.

            However, just like with most heuristics, there are situations where they are wrong to apply.

          • Joseph Greenwood says:

            Seconding Aapje. I divide my money into buckets based on what I am going to spend it on (food, rent, whatever I want, etc.) in full knowledge that money is fungible and none of the dollars I work with know where they live. But I would argue this is a totally correct way to do things because what I am actually doing is figuring out how much money I can afford to spend on some things, and how much money I have to spend on others. It is important not to be a slave to the model (in edge cases like my apartment burning down, maybe I should move money between buckets) but I have taken steps to avoid needing to mess up my buckets as well (by establishing an emergency budget for unexpected necessities). All my buckets are fictitious but my needs and the finiteness of my resources are not, so they are an extremely useful fiction.

          • The Nybbler says:

            The fact that money is fungible doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t allocate it. It just means that no particular dollar is wedded to any particular bucket.

    • nameless1 says:

      Why doesn’t anyone tend to offer the compromise to increase welfare to mothers io kids already born and born in the next 12 months, but not to the mothers of kids born thereafter? A trivial way to increase welfare without malincentives. Is it because treating people in equal situations inequally is unpopular, because it violates a spirit of equality?

      A French friend of mine has this view that the welfare state of France does not run on a spirit of equality, but various groups having various special privileges largely based on how loud they can protest and strike. Railroad workers may have earlier retirement, or larger pensions, or stuff like that and so on. I think you could do this in France, but America has truly a spirit of equality, so not.

      • Murphy says:

        Repeated games: If you do it once… no problem.

        if you do it regularly then people know you’re gonna keep doing so in future so they only miss out on 1 iteration.

        Also you’re not the only one playing the game… so even if you commit to only raise it this once… next year someone very like you will be there to make the same commitment for “just this once”

      • Deiseach says:

        Why doesn’t anyone tend to offer the compromise to increase welfare to mothers to kids already born and born in the next 12 months, but not to the mothers of kids born thereafter?

        Because once the stigma is removed, some people will be more likely to have children outside of wedlock/with multiple partners, and they’re going to do it regardless of the government payment, and then other people will argue along the lines of “think of the children” and your “only for your existing two kids, have a third kid and you’re on your own” regulation will die in the face of photogenic cute moppets in news stories about sympathetic struggling mom doing her best versus cruel faceless bureaucrats going by the letter of the law and tangling her up in red tape.

        The government here in Ireland in 2015 brought in changes to the One-Parent Family Allowance that it would only be paid up to when the (youngest) child turned seven. Funnily enough, some people on the social housing list got pregnant again accidentally as soon as their kid turned seven. Imagine that!

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Also people are innumerate. Some just hear “I can get money for a kid so it’s not a big deal.”

  42. Said Achmiz says:

    Reversed moderation of interest. For example, if a vegetarian shows any concern about animal rights, they might get told they’re “obsessed with animals” or they “care about animals more than humans”.

    If Alice says that some resources ought to be diverted from causes that benefit humans to causes that benefit animals, or argues for changing policies such that humans will now benefit less and animals will benefit more, and Bob says that Alice “cares about animals more than humans”, then it seems to me that Bob’s accusation is entirely fair. (Because if Alice cared about humans more than she cared about animals, she wouldn’t say and argue such things.)

    • I don’t think that’s right. Suppose Alice is proposing a change that will make one human slightly less happy and greatly improve the lives of many animals. She believes the welfare of animals has some weight relative to that of humans, but that does not mean that she cares more about animals than about humans.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Yes. This is true.

        … in the hypothetical world where humans have it so great that the marginal dollar (or whatever unit of resource allocation) can only slightly raise human happiness, from its already high level to a slightly higher level.

        In the actual world, and also in any world we can plausibly expect to inhabit within any of our lifetimes (excepting various “FAI builds heaven in a day” scenarios), the marginal dollar instead saves human lives, alleviates human suffering, etc. Any change that redirects resources away from humans, and to anything else, requires caring more about those other things than about humans.

        And there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but let’s be honest about what it is.

        • Michael_druggan says:

          Currently $1 can alleviate X amount of human suffering and Y amount of animal suffering. If you support directing resources to animals rather than humans you must think X amount of human suffering is less important than Y amount of animal suffering. That is to say, the ratio by which you care about human suffering relative to animal suffering must be less than Y/X. If Y/X 1 there is still a possibility that you care about people more just not enough more to make up for the efficiency of helping animals.

          You seem to be claiming that because X is large in our world someone who supports directing resources to animals must care more about animals but as you can see the absolute value of X is not what matters. What matters is the ratio Y/X

          • acymetric says:

            This is correct. The real disagreement between these groups (on average, of course there are outliers on the edges of both sides with more extreme positions) is the distance between the value of human suffering compared to animal suffering. For people who think animal suffering is zero or approaching zero it is nearly impossible that allocating money to animal suffering over human suffering would be the right thing to do no matter how much more efficient it is.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            (The following example is not original to me, but was suggested on IRC. Its originator may step up and take credit if he so desires.)

            Suppose Carol and Dave have an argument. Dave is a collector of rocks, you see, and his obsession with his rock collection has been taking a toll on his relationship with Carol. “You care about your rocks more than you care about me!”, Carol exclaims.

            Now suppose Dave protests that, no, this isn’t true, he absolutely cares about Carol more than he cares about rocks! Quite a lot more, actually! It’s just that there so many rocks, that, well, it adds up… and spending time, money, and attention on rocks is so efficient

            Dave’s rebuttal won’t fly, nor should it. If Dave directs resources—that could, and should, have gone to Carol—to his rocks instead, then Carol’s accusation is fair.

          • @Said Achmiz

            Not sure if serious, but I’ll bite. if Dave’s rocks had moral weight – i.e. they had their own preferences and desires, independent of Dave’s – then of course he should care about them more than Carol. But they don’t. Because they’re rocks. What am I missing here?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Richard Meadows:

            Just so. And thus also with animals.

            Edit: I should expand on this, as my comment could be taken misleadingly (i.e., to imply a more conventional position than I intended it to represent). In fact I (to reverse an old Lesswrongism) agree connotationally, but object denotationally.

            Specifically, I agree with the general sentiment of Richard’s comment—that the crux of the matter is whether rocks, or animals, have independent moral value (a.k.a. if they are moral subjects). It’s clear to me that the answer is “no” in both cases, making the analogy indeed analogous.

            However, I disagree with both of the following:

            1. That Dave should care more about the rocks, in the hypothetical scenario where rocks have independent moral value. This conclusion is not warranted.

            2. That having “preferences and desires” is what determines whether or not an entity has independent moral value. This is both too vague, and also misses much of what’s important.

            To state it clearly: in the “rock collection” case, no number of rocks adds up to being more important than a person, so in order to justify prioritizing rocks over people, you have to care more about rocks than about people, period.

            And the same with animals.

          • Bamboozle says:

            @said

            At the risk of being uncharitable here myself, what point are you trying to make? If you’re just trying to get people to agree with you that humans are worth more than animals then fair enough. If you’re trying to prove that all humans care/or should care more about humans than animals in all situations you’re out of luck. Animals aren’t rocks and the vast majority of people don’t believe they are.

            I reckon for almost every human there would be some level on a trolley problem where X number of dogs is worth more than a human life. It may be 5 dogs are worth more than a human or 5000 dogs but i seriously doubt anyone would sacrifice all animals on the planet just to save 1 human.

          • @Said Achmiz

            OK. It would be helpful if you said more, but I think I see what you’re getting at: in a certain sense, it’s fair to say that people really do ‘care more about X’ (at the margin) and this is entirely independent of whether they are correct to care more about X (Alice is probably right, Dave is probably misguided).

            Edit after your edit:
            Damn. It looks like I interpreted your comment too charitably – you really are arguing that non-human animals have the moral equivalence of rocks. No interest in participating any further in this one.

          • Deseret says:

            This (the rock thing) is a very bad argument, and I would discourage the originator from claiming the credit they’re due. If you think animals are morally equivalent to rocks, just say so, and let your audience judge you as they will; no need to spend three paragraphs and drag poor Carol and Dave into it.

          • Deseret says:

            Incidentally: if you discovered that your neighbor tortured animals recreationally – many animals, all the time, and they legitimately seemed to enjoy it – would you heartily approve of this behavior? If I reacted with something other than hearty approval, would you be forced to conclude that there’s something wrong with me? Genuinely curious, since utility-wise this seems like a free lunch to you, and how many of those are there lying around?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Bamboozle:

            If you’re trying to prove that all humans care/or should care more about humans than animals in all situations you’re out of luck.

            Well, those are two vastly different claims you’re cramming together into one sentence, which makes me suspect that you’re not really clear on what we’re discussing, here. (As it happens, I am not trying to prove either of them.)

            I reckon for almost every human there would be some level on a trolley problem where X number of dogs is worth more than a human life. It may be 5 dogs are worth more than a human or 5000 dogs but i seriously doubt anyone would sacrifice all animals on the planet just to save 1 human.

            You’ve got that “almost” in your first sentence, there; but then in your second sentence, you step up to “seriously doubt anyone would”. So which is it? Do you think this is true of all humans, or merely almost all humans? And just how almost is “almost”? (99.9%? 95%? 90%?)

            In any case I think you’d be surprised. People vary. What you say may, possibly, be true of WEIRD people, but beyond that, it seems increasingly unlikely.

            Now, the “sacrifice all animals” scenario is tricky. I wouldn’t sacrifice all animals on the planet just to save 1 human. (Then again, perhaps it depends on which human. Do you have children? I don’t, but I have friends who do, and I strongly suspect they’d answer “yes” to this scenario, if the human in question were their child.)

            But let’s call it a randomly selected human, guaranteed to be no one particularly close to me. Then my answer is definitely “no, I wouldn’t sacrifice all animals on the planet for a single stranger”. But I wouldn’t sacrifice all music on the planet for a single stranger, either; nor all paintings; nor all trees; nor every flower, every computer program, every book, or every dessert recipe…

            Do you conclude from this that paintings are moral subjects? That books have feelings, that the Mona Lisa loves life and fears death, that an orchid matters, morally speaking, in the same way that a human does?

            No. Of course not. The fact is that we, humans, value all of these things. That is why I wouldn’t sacrifice them all, to save the life of one stranger—because they matter to the rest of humanity. And so with animals. A hummingbird is fascinating, a Siberian tiger is beautiful, a cow is valuable. But that doesn’t make them moral subjects, in the way that people are.

            But you mentioned trolley problems. I will take that as license to propose a hypothetical scenario—an outlandish one, but not much more so than most philosophical thought experiments.

            Suppose that on the other side of the Sun there is a planet which is inhabited entirely by dogs. No humans at all; just dogs. Millions of dogs. Billions! We can’t interact with the dogs of Counter-Earth (what with the orbital opposition), nor they with us. (And they’re not intelligent dogs, or mutant dogs, or strange alien dogs; just plain ol’ Canis familiaris. Nothing scientifically interesting about them; and even if there were, we can’t observe them.)

            Now you’ve got a magic button that kills a dog of Counter-Earth, and in exchange saves the life of one random human (from a terminal disease, from an accident, etc.). Press it again, it saves another life, but now it “costs” two Counter-Dogs. Press it a third time, it “costs” four Counter-Dogs, then eight, and so on. (Keep pressing it, and eventually Counter-Earth will run out of Counter-Dogs, and the button will go dim, indicating that there’s no more dogs to power its terrible life-giving magic.)

            How many times would you press the button?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Deseret, re: animal torture:

            But of course the question is irrelevant, because it’s confounded. (Not to worry; I’ll answer anyway, lest you accuse me of dodging; but don’t let my answer distract you from the fact that the question’s a bad one!)

            It is a known fact about human psychology that anyone who enjoys torturing animals is probably not a very nice person, nor safe to be around—as far as other humans are concerned, not just animals. This empirical (if merely probabilistic—but quite reliable!) fact is entirely orthogonal to any moral claims about whether torturing animals is ok, or not ok.

            Now, disapproving of animal torture per se on that basis would, of course, be silly (it would, basically, be an application of evidential decision theory, and I hope I don’t need to go into the problems and absurdities of EDT in this crowd). What I would actually disapprove of would be the fact that my neighbor is, apparently, a sociopath; who wants to live next to a a person like that?

            There are, of course, other reasons to disapprove; for instance, one might (and indeed I would) disapprove because there are laws against animal cruelty, and the hypothetical torturer would therefore be breaking those laws. Or, one might (and I quite likely would) disapprove because torturing animals causes distress to nearby people.

            But if you’re asking whether I would disapprove on the basis that animals matter morally and torturing them is wrong thereby, then the answer is no, of course.

            Now, what you actually asked is not whether I’d disapprove (though I’ve just answered that), but whether I’d heartily approve. If I’m reading you correctly, you’re suggesting that the animal-torturer derives some sort of “utility” from torturing animals, and since he matters and the animals do not, therefore what we have is an “overall gain” in “utility” (which, one supposes, is good—or at least, you impute this view to me).

            But I am not a utilitarian; so I have no particular reason to approve (heartily or otherwise) of this scenario on any sort of utility-maximization basis.

            Finally:

            If I reacted with something other than hearty approval, would you be forced to conclude that there’s something wrong with me?

            Not really, no. I’d conclude that you’re merely an ordinary person, probably mentally healthy, probably more or less mainstream in your ethical views. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that—even if I disagree with said views.

          • Bamboozle says:

            @said

            If you reacted with anything other than disapproval i’d say there’s something wrong with you. If you were indifferent to your neighbor torturing animals or even disapproved only so much as to be annoyed by it then i’d ask if you were psychopathic.

            For example one of the top stories right now on the BBC is about how someone decapitated 6 baby seals in New Zealand, all the way on the other side of the world. People obviously do view animals as moral beings.

          • Jliw says:

            This rock example of Said’s friend is not worth taking credit for, as someone else has said.

            When Carol says “you care about rocks more than me!”, she means, in this example, “you care about rocks *immoderately*”. This even had to be specified in the example: if it hadn’t included the detail that Dave’s interest is damaging their relationship, the accusation would lose force. If Dave values Carol much more than rocks but still likes to take a little time to look at rocks, even if he *could* be looking at Carol, we’d all agree that he doesn’t care more about rocks in any meaningful sense — so it’s not that any amount of rock-loving would justify the accusation.

            But let’s grant that premise: it’s hurting their relationship, so any amount of rock-loving Dave does is meaningfully detrimental to Carol. Even so, this example doesn’t justify the accusation in the animal activist context; in that context, most people would mean something different than the above interpretation of Carol’s accusation.

            In the way people might accuse an animal activist, it generally means a direct comparison between the value of A human and the value of AN animal — something like “you care about [each] animal more than [each] human!” If someone is saying “I think the lives of a hundred million dogs are worth barely as much as that of a single human”, most would find this person to have rebutted the accusation of caring “more about dogs”, I think — even if they do something to benefit dogs over humans at this ratio.

            But finally, we don’t need to really care about all this fine detail. In the end, it doesn’t matter if you find the example analogous or not — so long as it’s applied consistently. That is, if we accept that *any* amount of caring about rocks or animals means you “care more” about them than Carol/humans, we can say the same for just about everything. Do you ever do anything except serve mankind? You care more about leisure than human lives! “But the ratio–… the efficiency–…” No, sorry, these considerations are not relevant.

            I think, in fact, by this reasoning, Said himself cares more about dogs than humans: he wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice them all to save one human, after all; and as we see from Carol’s accusation, it’s justified no matter how much Said-Dave talks about ratios and efficiency.

            Whether the accusation even matters — to Said or anyone — in this extremely specific and unintuitive sense is another question entirely.

          • gmaxwell says:

            How many times would you press the button?

            Once per the doubling rate of the dogs reproduction. What kind of monster would press it more often and consign untold numbers of humans to death?

            (Complex hypotheticals tend to be buggy…)

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Jliw:

            I think, in fact, by this reasoning, Said himself cares more about dogs than humans: he wouldn’t be willing to sacrifice them all to save one human, after all

            Please re-read what I wrote. This does not accurate characterize my views at all.

            If someone is saying “I think the lives of a hundred million dogs are worth barely as much as that of a single human”, most would find this person to have rebutted the accusation of caring “more about dogs”, I think — even if they do something to benefit dogs over humans at this ratio.

            I don’t think this is right. Consider what happens when we substitute “mosquitoes” or “bacteria” for “dogs”. Someone who thinks that the lives of a hundred million bacteria are in the same ballpark, value-wise, as the life of one human, clearly cares more about bacteria than humans. Why is it different for dogs?

            When Carol says “you care about rocks more than me!”, she means, in this example, “you care about rocks *immoderately*”. This even had to be specified in the example: if it hadn’t included the detail that Dave’s interest is damaging their relationship, the accusation would lose force. If Dave values Carol much more than rocks but still likes to take a little time to look at rocks, even if he *could* be looking at Carol, we’d all agree that he doesn’t care more about rocks in any meaningful sense — so it’s not that any amount of rock-loving would justify the accusation.

            No, this too is wrong.

            There is an amount of caring about one’s significant other beyond which returns (in satisfaction, happiness, pleasure, provided to the partner and to oneself) on additional resources spent on said partner diminish, to zero and further. Having reached that point, you may of course care about whatever you like with what remains to you.

            But prior to that point, if Dave cares about rocks instead of about Carol, then he cares about rocks more than he cares about Carol.

            This is the point I was making in my earlier reply to David Friedman.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @gmaxwell:

            Just so! Ah, but it’s not so simple as that: after all, you don’t actually know how many dogs there are on Counter-Earth, nor their rate of reproduction. How to deal with this? As you suggest, we ought to maximize total life-saving benefit from the magic box over time, but we lack the information to do so deterministically… presumably, we’d have to draw up some plausible models, and calculate what rate of button presses is expected to yield the best expected life-saving over time…

            (Of course, as far as the point of the scenario goes, once you go down this path, you’ve already established your allegiance to the “n humans > m dogs, for any n,m” priciple.)

          • kingnothing says:

            @Said Achmiz
            So is the following a correct description of your view?
            First tiebreaker: Human utility
            Second tiebreaker, only if first is equal: Animal utility.
            If there exist any state where A>B according to the tiebreakers above, but a person believes B>A, then it is correct to say: “He cares more about animals than about humans.”

            While this in itself is a consistent view, this is not practical for communication.
            Because it implies one of two things: Either it could be mutually correct to say “He cares more about humans than about animals” and “He cares more about humans than about animals”. I assume that is not how you use it. Or the question about which of the two sentences is an accurate description of that person’s moral view depends on some true moral values. Since there is no agreement on the true moral values, there is cannot be a universally accepted language to talk about a persons moral standpoint.

          • L. says:

            I don’t think this is right. Consider what happens when we substitute “mosquitoes” or “bacteria” for “dogs”. Someone who thinks that the lives of a hundred million bacteria are in the same ballpark, value-wise, as the life of one human, clearly cares more about bacteria than humans. Why is it different for dogs?

            Because humans outnumber dogs.

          • wanda_tinasky says:

            @Richard Meadows

            Damn. It looks like I interpreted your comment too charitably – you really are arguing that non-human animals have the moral equivalence of rocks. No interest in participating any further in this one.

            I contend that this is neither necessary nor kind. I hate to go all Rhetoric Police here, but this is a response that I’ve been seeing with increasing frequency and it really bothers me. Its intention is both to demean the other participant (your position is unworthy of response) and to virtue signal (I’m too good to engage with such thoughts). If you really must withdraw from a discussion, there are more graceful ways of doing so (including saying nothing).

          • Mark V Anderson says:

            @wanda

            @Richard Meadows

            Damn. It looks like I interpreted your comment too charitably – you really are arguing that non-human animals have the moral equivalence of rocks. No interest in participating any further in this one.

            wanda discussion:

            Its intention is both to demean the other participant (your position is unworthy of response) and to virtue signal (I’m too good to engage with such thoughts).

            I’m not Richard, but I think his point was that there is no point is further discussion since their terminal values were too far apart. That sounds perfectly reasonable to me, and I also find it more polite to explain why one is leaving the conversation than just leave. It is true that Richard could have been a lot nicer about it and basically explained it the way I just did. Maybe I am being too charitable and Richard was just virtue signalling. But that is how I read Richard.

          • @wanda_tinasky

            My bad, wasn’t my intention. I like Said and enjoy his comments – as Mark suggests, I just didn’t realise our terminal values were poles apart, and there was nothing to be gained from engaging further. Should have been more clear on reasons for tapping out, and perhaps substituted “optimistically” for “charitably”. Thanks for calling it to my attention, and apologies to @Said for any offence caused.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Richard:

            Apology accepted!

            Truth be told, I do find this sort of comment to be somewhat dismissive, in general—but seeing as you didn’t mean it that way, no harm done. (Though for what it’s worth, I am considerably less annoyed by “welp, guess you’re actually evil, oh well” than by misrepresentations of my views. As long as we’re clear on what we each think, we can discuss, or not… it’s the misunderstandings, caricatures, and straw-men that really grind my gears.)

          • @ Said Achmiz

            Ha, good to know. From my perspective, I guess the belief you hold really is pretty close to “evil”, if such a thing could be said to exist. Even though I obviously think you’re disastrously wrong in this specific instance, I don’t think you personally are “evil” – I’d happily share a beer with you or whatever, although I have to admit that would change rapidly if I saw you actually kick a dog (and think I’d be entirely justified in doing so).

            This seems like a very fine line to walk – I’ve rewritten this comment a dozen times, and I still don’t know how to phrase it right. I guess the most important thing is that SSC is one of the only places where people can talk about these kind of things dispassionately, and that’s a norm I’ll try to uphold more carefully.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Richard Meadows:

            Even though I obviously think you’re disastrously wrong in this specific instance, I don’t think you personally are “evil” – I’d happily share a beer with you or whatever, although I have to admit that would change rapidly if I saw you actually kick a dog (and think I’d be entirely justified in doing so).

            Indeed, you certainly would be!

            As I said elsethread, it is an empirical fact about humans that anyone who enjoys harming animals, who does it for fun, is almost certainly not a safe person for other humans to be around. This is a fact about humans, which is entirely orthogonal to any facts about animals (such as whether they are moral subjects, whether they are in fact harmed by any particular human actions, and how much, etc.). And so it would be quite foolish (and imprudent!) of me, and certainly logically unjustified, to reason from a moral claim about animals and how we ought to treat them, to a denial of the aforesaid fact about humans.

            So I agree and share your attitude toward people who enjoy kicking dogs (for example); I, too, would not be eager to share a beer with such a person. In fact it seems likely to me that I’d be distressed at the sight of a dog or cat being harmed. (Thankfully, no such thing has ever happened in my presence, so I haven’t had that supposition confirmed through experience. Perhaps I’m wrong, and could, in fact, witness such an act with equanimity; this wouldn’t change my view of people who enjoy doing such things.)

            I guess the most important thing is that SSC is one of the only places where people can talk about these kind of things dispassionately, and that’s a norm I’ll try to uphold more carefully.

            Hear, hear!

          • @Said Achmiz

            I don’t find these sort of caveats all that compelling (although I’m glad you’ve confirmed my initial belief that you’re not in fact a sociopath!). Even mere indifference would be a red flag: imagine a Hell-like planet full of trillions of cute puppies and kittens, being tortured endlessly. Humans don’t know about this planet, and never will. If animals have no moral value, you’d be utterly indifferent to the planet’s existence. I honestly struggle to believe this is true. Perhaps you’d say that you find it upsetting even in the abstract, purely because you’ve been conditioned by the chain of caveats relating everything back to human affairs – at which point I’m kind of curious how closely you’ve examined those intuitions.

            Since the can of worms is well and truly open, and if you have the time to respond any further:

            1. What makes you think one particular species definitely has moral value, but all the others don’t have a solitary shred of it, despite being similar in many ways? I could understand if you thought no-one and nothing was worth a damn, but the 1 and 0 delineation is bizarre. Even among humans, there are arguably “bigger and smaller souls”, as Hofstadter might say. Two conveniently discrete categories doesn’t seem to reflect reality in any way.

            2. The obvious follow-up question would be: how certain are you of your beliefs? If you’re right, OK, no worries. If you’re wrong, you’re not only at risk of committing atrocities yourself, but actively trying to spread your harmful beliefs to others.

            Again, I hope this comment hasn’t come across as combative. I’m merely curious how you arrived at this position, even if I have no hope of changing your mind.

          • albatross11 says:

            Said:

            I’ve always heard this claim (that people who harm animals are sociopaths who don’t mind hurting people, either), but I don’t know what evidence there is for it.

            Three datapoints:

            a. Both traditional and modern farming practices w.r.t. animals are pretty cruel. I have not seen any reason to think farmers are especially sadistic or sociopathic people.

            b. Lots of cultures have some kind of animal fighting sports that are pretty hard on the animals involved–dogfighting and cockfighting are both popular spectator sports in some cultures and some circles; bullfighting is a big deal in Spain; etc. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to think that everyone in Puerto Rico or Spain is a sociopath, or even that they have unusually high rates of being sociopathic.

            c. Various bits of scientific research involve quite a bit of cruelty to animals. Some of the experiments people have done on animals are pretty cringe-inducing, but I don’t think there’s an indication that the people doing these experiments were/are sociopaths or a particular danger to humans.

            So I’m curious if anyone knows the origin or evidence of this claim. It seems plausible enough, but so do all kinds of false statements, especially those which confirm our moral intuitions.

          • acymetric says:

            @albatross11

            I’ve always heard this claim (that people who harm animals are sociopaths who don’t mind hurting people, either), but I don’t know what evidence there is for it.

            Your point is missing an important part of the claim, which is that people who harm animals for fun. That solves the question with points a and b (farmers and scientists).

            That leaves animal fighting. This is admittedly tricky. You could argue that a lot of people involved in animal fighting are in it for profit, not for fun, since there is a huge gambling element but that is pretty weak. Probably some form of caveat for culturally accepted practices, but I’ll point out going to your local dogfighting ring may not get you a room full of sociopaths but it won’t be a place you necessarily feel 100% safe either.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Richard Meadows:

            Re: Hell-For-Puppies-And-Kittens Planet: indeed, I’m indifferent to its existence. That you struggle to believe this is true is, of course, no argument one way or the other… since there isn’t any practical way I can convince you that I have this particular belief, I suppose you’ll just have to take my word for it, or not.

            Even among humans, there are arguably “bigger and smaller souls”, as Hofstadter might say. Two conveniently discrete categories doesn’t seem to reflect reality in any way.

            Well, quite right. I never said that I thought all humans were morally valuable to exactly the same degree (your “1”) while all animals have no moral value at all (your “0”). To take a trivial example, it’s clear that a fetus has no moral value, yet we’d hardly call it anything but “human”; meanwhile, though I’ve been saying simply “animals” for convenience, I actually do think some animals plausibly matter—octopuses come to mind as an example, as do corvids.

            I do want to note that when you express incredulity that I can consider (most) animals not to matter “despite being similar in many ways”, this seems to me to be a fairly silly objection. Sure, “many ways”, but not any of the relevant ones! A person is similar “in many ways” to a mannequin, but that hardly makes us consider that perhaps mannequins have moral value—because all the similarities are morally irrelevant.

            The obvious follow-up question would be: how certain are you of your beliefs?

            I’m always rather baffled when people ask this question about moral views. What does it mean to be uncertain of them? Or are you asking about my certainty in some factual beliefs, which are relevant for determining my moral views? If so, to which factual beliefs do you refer?

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            Said Achmiz says:
            December 18, 2018 at 7:20 pm

            Dave is a collector of rocks, you see, and his obsession with his rock collection has been taking a toll on his relationship with Carol. “You care about your rocks more than you care about me!”, Carol exclaims.

            1) Obviously Dave cares about himself more than he cares about Carol, as his attention to rocks gives him more pleasure than his attention to Carol (otherwise he’d be spending more time on his relationship with Carol than he does with rocks, assuming Carol is a reliable witness).

            How are you and the first few respondents in this thread making such an elementary logical mistake in conflating objects of pleasure (or attention) with subjects of caring?

            2) Perhaps Dave needs time to space out, and knowing that spacing out when interacting with Carol would hurt her, so he spends some attentive time with rocks, and much more spaced out time with rocks. He’s not fully conscious of this motivation, or if he is it seems evident enough to him that he can’t communicate it with Carol, but regardless this would make Carol wrong in her statement.

            Underlying motivations matter, and it’s worth the time to suss them out.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @anonymousskimmer:

            How are you and the first few respondents in this thread making such an elementary logical mistake in conflating objects of pleasure (or attention) with subjects of caring?

            It is not a conflation on my part, but a confusion on yours!

            Whether animals ought properly to be thought of as objects of pleasure, or subjects of caring, is precisely the issue at hand. My point is that they are the former, just like rocks.

          • albatross11 says:

            If hell-for-puppies-and-kittens upsets you, you probably should not become a serious student of animal behavior and survival strategies in the wild.

          • @albatross11:

            I don’t think people who watch cockfights or bullfights are doing it mainly because they think it is fun to watch animals in pain but because they think it is fun to watch animals trying to win—and, in the case of bullfights, humans trying to defeat animals. Similarly, I don’t think the main reason to watch boxing matches, or view war films, is taking pleasure in pain.

            Where is there a sport of watching animals being tortured with no opportunity to fight back against their attacker?

        • Bamboozle says:

          @said

          You’ve got that “almost” in your first sentence, there; but then in your second sentence, you step up to “seriously doubt anyone would”. So which is it? Do you think this is true of all humans, or merely almost all humans? And just how almost is “almost”? (99.9%? 95%? 90%?)

          I don’t think arguing over a specific number is worth either of our time. Take it that i mean the vast majority. Obviously a psychopath who grows up torturing animals would disagree and i’ve seen estimates suggesting 1-3%?? of people are psychopaths or sociopaths to some degree so who knows.

          But let’s call it a randomly selected human, guaranteed to be no one particularly close to me. Then my answer is definitely “no, I wouldn’t sacrifice all animals on the planet for a single stranger”. But I wouldn’t sacrifice all music on the planet for a single stranger, either; nor all paintings; nor all trees; nor every flower, every computer program, every book, or every dessert recipe…

          (full disclosure i understand that people value those close to them over strangers, but in my opinion people who would sacrifice a >3 strangers (just pulling a number out of air) just to save their loved one are bad people) The difference between music, paintings, books, and to a lesser extent trees, and dogs is that dogs have nervous systems that make them capable of feeling pain and other emotions and are aware of their surroundings. This makes them moral subjects. A siberian tiger is a moral subject. If you captured and tortured siberian tigers i think it would be fair for us to put you in jail to stop this and you would be immoral. And i believe the vast majority of people would agree, its why we have laws against animal cruelty.

          • anonymousskimmer says:

            This makes them moral subjects agents.

            They are moral agents, that we, fellow moral agents, interact with.

            The definition of a moral agent has to include the ability to make value judgements. And non-catatonic dogs meet this criteria.

            On googling I see that philosophers have made particular definitions. I probably wouldn’t agree with them as personally for me any sub-division of the basic moral agent is undesirable, but fine, go with it. I don’t want to take the time to discuss this subject. (Reifying abstract relationships – which is what value judgments are in my opinion – by labeling an entity, external to the mind that creates those abstract relationships, as a “moral subject” screws up the issue from the get-go.)

        • nameless1 says:

          I think – especially with your Carol and Dave – argument you entered the territory of diamonds vs. water. Early economists were wondering: water is necessary for life, diamonds not, why are diamonds more expensive than water? The fallacy was this. What is the unit of measure? We are buying three water. Three cups? Three cubic miles? Three Amazonas? If it was about all the water in the world vs. all the diamonds in the world, water would cost more. It depends of how high a % of the total supply (yes, diamond supply kept artificially low) you want. Marginal utility.

          So it is possible to care about the total sum of all humans more than the total sum of all animals, but sacrifice one human for a hundred deer.

          Your Carol and Dave example does not really fit this mold because they are obviously talking about all rocks and all of Carol.

        • Murphy says:

          This feels like an attempt to pick the most optimal way you *could* spend the money regardless of how it was actually going to be spent.

          If Alice diverts 1 million bucks from a charity that would be providing bednets into something that means 100 million battery hens have a less miserable life that’s a very different tradeoff that if she diverts a million from a fund allocated to buy ice sculptures for trumps yacht parties.

          Much resources are spent in such a way that they provide extremely marginal utility to very few.

          Hell, many resources get spent in ways that generate net-negative utility for humans in general but it’s a stable equilibrium as long as it benefits a subset.

        • A1987dM says:

          By that standard, anyone who spends $100 on a concert ticket which they could have donated to GiveWell instead “cares about music more than about humans”, but I expect them to be very seldom called out for that, especially not in those words.

        • Freddie deBoer says:

          yeah no, this does not follow at all, and you’re switching between arguing about the fallacy and arguing the specific point

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Helping animals tends to also help humans, unless you think that humans don’t get pleasure and a generally improved life from interacting with animals, watching them, or just knowing that they’re doing all right. And unless you think that the resources which are channeled to help animals don’t end up in human hands (through paychecks, contracts, etc…).

          And heck, sometimes the animals themselves help humans through their effects on the environment.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Didn’t you, yourself, just chide me for “conflating objects of pleasure (or attention) with subjects of caring”? I was not, in fact, guilty of that epistemic sin—but it seems that you are!

            I said elsethread that humans have many reasons to care about animals instrumentally. The question is whether we should care about animals terminally, i.e., for their own sake.

          • albatross11 says:

            This is true in the same sense that donating $1 million for ice sculptures for Trump’s yachts helps malaria-ridden third-world babies–I mean, there’s more wealth in the world so somehow it’s all going to circulate around.

        • @Said Achmiz
          Sure, I’ll take your word for it on the Hell-planet scenario. I’m surprised, but that does explain a lot about the gulf between us.

          […] Meanwhile, though I’ve been saying simply “animals” for convenience, I actually do think some animals plausibly matter—octopuses come to mind as an example, as do corvids.

          …and then again, maybe we’re not so different! So, what are the characteristics you consider relevant?

          I’m always rather baffled when people ask this question about moral views. What does it mean to be uncertain of them? Or are you asking about my certainty in some factual beliefs, which are relevant for determining my moral views? If so, to which factual beliefs do you refer?

          You’ve examined some set of facts, or made some observations about the world, and formed the belief that (many/most) animals have the moral equivalence of rocks (with octopuses and corvids as plausible exceptions). Your actions are informed by this belief. The fate of beings possessing intrinsic moral value (or not) hangs in the balance. How sure are you that you’ve reached the right conclusion? Especially given that many smart people* with relevant expertise have reached the opposite conclusion?

          *I was going to say “almost everyone on the planet”, but I guess both our theories could fit the observed evidence for the general population (love for pets, grief when they die, support for charismatic megafauna, a child’s instinct to nurture a bird with a broken wing, a hunter’s desire to make a quick and painless kill, etc).

          EDIT: crumbs. posted under the wrong parent comment, sorry.

    • Michael_druggan says:

      I strongly disagree. You can’t ignore base rates. It doesn’t imply she cares more about animals than people it implies her ratio of caring about animals relative to people is greater than the base rate. Of society’s consumption reflects caring about people 10x as much as animals and Alice cares about people only 8x as much as animals she will support redirecting resources from people to animals but she still cares about people 8x as much. You literally just made the exact mistake Scott was highlighting in this post

      • Said Achmiz says:

        No. I’m saying that—in the “animal rights” case, at least—it is not, in fact, a mistake.

        See my reply to your other comment for more.

        • SamChevre says:

          I think I agree with Michael–in the original reply, should is doing all the work.

          Let’s propose two versions of the hypothetical:
          V1: tl;dr Carol thinks being interested in rocks is really stupid.
          Dave spends a half-hour most Saturday mornings organizing and cataloging his rocks. Once a month, he goes to the local rock club meeting. He spends two hours hearing about rocks, and often spends $10 buying some new or interesting rock. He spends 4 hours a day with Carol the rest of the time.

          V2: tl;dr Dave spends most of his time with rocks.
          Dave spends all weekend most weekends rock hunting. He spends a couple hours every evening sorting and organizing the rocks he collected. He tries to spend a half-hour with Carol every day, but at least half the time he only spends 5 minutes with her because he’s trying to catch up on organizing and labeling his rocks.

          Now, in both cases, Carol could say “you care more about rocks than about me”; and in both cases, she could feel neglected in favor of rocks. But the base time spend on Carol vs rocks makes the cases different.

      • acymetric says:

        Ok, I kind of see it. Maybe this specific example doesn’t work well because understanding how this proposed fallacy applies to the argument isn’t likely to cause anyone to rethink their views, only to rephrase their objection.

        There is a difference between

        “you care more about animals than people”
        and
        “you overvalue the importance of animal welfare relative to human welfare”

        but I’m not sure it is a significant one and seems more semantic than anything else. I guess hearing the second argument is less frustrating for the recipient, but I’m not even confident that is true.

        • anonymousskimmer says:

          Yeah, I like the second. The second is a declaration of personal values from one person to the other based on the actions or speech of the other. The first makes a claim on the internal state of the other, and the internal balancing of values of the other (where humans < animals).

          A person's actions or speech generally don't explicitly demonstrate how one prioritizes values, except when said speech is explicitly saying that X should always be preferenced over Y.

    • Bamboozle says:

      This is loaded in that you are assuming the only reason someone could want to allocate more to animals instead of humans is because they value animals over humans.

      If i just value marginal utility gains, and believe that helping vastly more animals a smaller amount would be better overall than a smaller amount of humans a larger amount, i could want this redistribution to occur without valuing animals more. I value an overall reduction of suffering for all living things.

    • Hyzenthlay says:

      So let’s leave animals out of it and say that there are Type 1 and Type 2 humans. This can mean whatever you want it to, but let’s say these two groups have comparative levels of need.

      Type 2 humans are currently receiving 90% of the funding for aid programs. Alice says “we should direct at least 5% more funding toward Type 1 humans,” and people react by saying, “clearly you care about Type 1s more than Type 2s. After all, directing even slightly more funding toward the 1s will have a negative impact on the 2s.”

      I mean, it’s true that taking funding away from any group and giving it to another will have a negative impact on the first group, because they’ll be getting less. But in that scenario is it really fair to say that Alice cares less about Type 2s?

      You seem to be making the argument that absolutely any change in an allocation of resources means you must care more about the group you’re advocating for, because that will negatively impact the other group. Which just seems like a really bizarre way of looking at it.

      Edited to add: obviously in this case, your stance is that one group of beings has moral worth and the other doesn’t, but all your arguments rely on question begging, and none of them have anything to do with the actual crux of the disagreement.

      In the Carol vs Dave example, if Dave believes that each rock has the same moral value as a person, then they have a fundamental disagreement about the nature of rocks (and of moral value itself, probably), and Carol saying “you care about them more than me!” kind of misses the point.

      • Unirt says:

        Right. Or put it another way: let’s say I have two kids, Mary and Annie. Both are hungry and I give Mary a bowl of soup. Now I notice I don’t have any more soup, so I take half of Mary’s soup and give it to Annie so Annie wouldn’t starve. Even though Mary would have had good use for both halves of the soup. I claim that this doesn’t imply that I care about Annie more than I do about Mary.

        The animal welfare activist feels that humans have incredibly larger quantities of soup than factory-farm animals, and if we care some non-zero amount about animals we should give some to them.

        • Deiseach says:

          The animal welfare activist feels that humans have incredibly larger quantities of soup than factory-farm animals, and if we care some non-zero amount about animals we should give some to them.

          But this is not dividing one bowl of soup between your two daughters, this is taking half your child’s bowl of soup and giving it to the dog. I say you may be fond of Rover and he’s a wonderful specimen of doghood and very clever and affectionate, but if it comes down to taking food from your child sorry doggie, you go hungry.

          Now if there’s plenty of soup in the pot, giving Rover the dregs is no problem. But if it’s one bowlful, then it’s not a difficult question at all: the child gets fed before the pet.

          • ayegill says:

            Suppose you have a child and a dog. You don’t have the resources to give both as much food as they want (suppose they need roughly the same amount of food). You give your dog 40% of the soup, which leaves it malnourished but alive, and feed your child 60%, which leaves her nourished but hungry.

            Would you say that you care more about your dog than you care about your daughter, or just that you care too much about your dog relative to your daughter? (Or is this tradeoff okay?)

            Just to be clear about the tradeoff, your daughter doesn’t like your dog, and wouldn’t feel bad if it died.

    • Deiseach says:

      Reversed moderation of interest. For example, if a vegetarian shows any concern about animal rights, they might get told they’re “obsessed with animals” or they “care about animals more than humans”.

      I’d be more convinced if the real world examples of “some concern” I’ve seen weren’t all along the lines of “IF YOU ARE NOT WEEPING GUILTY TEARS DAY AND NIGHT OVER THE PLIGHT OF CUTE FURRY BEINGS YOU ARE A CRUEL MONSTER WHO DELIGHTS IN THE TORTURE OF INNOCENTS!!!!”

      Gimme some “okay so you eating meat does not mean you are Hitler and Stalin combined into an even worse more evil package, but consider these few simple small steps” and I’ll stop equating “animal rights” with “preaching and judging”. I’m sure there are moderate vegetarians out there, but they seem to be drowned out by the evangelical vegans for whom even vegetarianism is squishy mushy compromise with Unadulturated Evil Animal Murder And Cannibalism.

      • wysinwygymmv says:

        Gimme some “okay so you eating meat does not mean you are Hitler and Stalin combined into an even worse more evil package, but consider these few simple small steps” and I’ll stop equating “animal rights” with “preaching and judging”.

        Eat more shellfish. They’re incredibly easy to farm, and don’t suffer from health issues like a lot of other farmed animals (e.g. salmon, cattle). Farming them can also have a positive ecological impact because they’re filter feeders. Also, they’re probably not quite as sapient as cows and chickens, so there’s less ethical murkiness involved.

        Sick of bivalves? Try squid or octopus. They have big populations and reproduce quickly. They’re fairly sapient, but they also tend to have short lifespans so maybe about a wash in terms of utils.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          They’re also tasty!

          • Deiseach says:

            Unfortunately I dislike shellfish and would rather eat an entire head of raw broccoli than squid or octopus 🙁

            I do like fish, though. No problem eating more fish instead of cow or chicken or pig!

            On a side note, having grown up by the seaside and seen limpets on rocks and mussels and periwinkles, as well as having some slight experience with cows and chickens, I did have to laugh at “probably not quite as sapient”.

            Yes, just the tiniest bit not quite as much! 😀

          • jermo sapiens says:

            start with popcorn shrimp at Red Lobster, move on to clam linguine, and then you’ll be ready to try more grown up stuff like oysters and octopus.

          • CatCube says:

            I’ve only recalled eating shellfish twice in my life, and ended up violently ill both times. Once when I was very young, and then once a couple years back when I was in Louisiana for a work-related funeral.

            I shared a hotel room with my First Sergeant for that second one, and that’s when I learned he was a sympathy puker.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        In any area of morality, moderate voices are frequently drowned out by the zealots. This is partly because zealots scream louder in general and therefore get more attention (especially now, when media is so driven by clickbait outrage and polarization). Like, people tend to pay more attention to the Evangelical Christians who say outrageously homophobic things than the many who don’t, and then claim there are no moderate Evangelicals, when the issue is more that moderates are just quietly living their lives rather than going on talk radio to say homophobic things.

        It’s also because zealots often actively work to intimidate moderates into silence and keep them out of their communities, because zealots want to be the single authoritative voice on the issue; they don’t want more nuanced voices cluttering up their grand Good vs. Evil narrative. I experience this a lot in SJ circles. There’s a lot of issues that I actually agree with them on and would be willing to work together on, but when I try to talk to people in that camp, the impression I get is “unless you’re willing to repeat the phrases ‘white supremacy’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ 800 times a day and to see these things in every mundane interaction, then you’re one of the enemy.”

      • carvenvisage says:

        I’d be more convinced if the real world examples of “some concern” I’ve seen weren’t all along the lines of “IF YOU ARE NOT WEEPING GUILTY TEARS DAY AND NIGHT OVER THE PLIGHT OF CUTE FURRY BEINGS YOU ARE A CRUEL MONSTER WHO DELIGHTS IN THE TORTURE OF INNOCENTS!!!!”

        Was this on tumblr? just checking

    • Scott Alexander says:

      If a politician supports more than 0% foreign aid, does that mean they “care about foreigners more than our own citizens”?

      And if foreign aid started at zero, and they support more than zero, wouldn’t there have to be some point at which they recommended switching some money from non-foreign-aid to foreign aid?

      • Said Achmiz says:

        This is a poor analogy, Scott, because politicians (in a democracy, anyway, which I assume is what we’re talking about) are supposed to represent their constituents. So if a politician supports more than 0% foreign aid, that presumably means that (at least, as far as the politician knows/believes) some of his constituents support non-zero foreign aid. In which case his position is good, from those constituents’ perspectives; and bad, from the perspectives of those of his constituents who oppose any foreign aid. In short, a politician generally both should, and does, care about anything only to the degree that his constituents do. (Or, in the real world, more properly we can say that a politician cares about anything to the degree that it will get him (re-)elected, which should be a proxy for “constituents care” but often isn’t. In any case, there’s no “native” caring going on.)

        However, it’s easy enough to ask a better (i.e., non-confounded) version of this question—namely, by asking about those constituents (i.e., ordinary citizens) themselves! So let’s rephrase it:

        If an ordinary citizen supports more than 0% foreign aid, does that mean they “care about foreigners more than our own citizens”?

        And the answer is yes. Yes, of course it does. It means exactly that. Obviously.

        … unless, of course, the motivation for supporting foreign aid is strictly “selfish”. In other words:

        Alice: We should give foreign aid to Iran.
        Bob: Iran?! But there are people here who need help!
        Alice: Indeed, Bob, but helping Iran will help us keep Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries, under control, which helps us by helping to prevent terrorist attacks, keeping the price of oil down, and so forth; and thus it helps Americans.
        Bob: Oh, good points! Huh, yeah. Heh, I thought you meant that you cared about Iranians, and helping them!
        Alice: Haha! No, no.
        Bob: Yeah, you’ve got my vote.

        (We can make this as indirect as you like: perhaps Alice thinks that providing foreign aid to country X (and possibly also countries Y, Z, etc.) will raise America’s prestige, which will boost our economy or something; perhaps she claims that giving foreign aid will help stabilize country X, which will result in its citizens producing consumer products which we can then buy; etc., etc. But the principle remains the same.)

        This, of course, exactly parallels what I said elsethread about instrumentally valuing animals: if you propose to kill all the chickens in the world, I will protest quite strenuously—because chickens are delicious. Neither do I support killing all lions, tigers, and bears, because I, personally, enjoy their presence in the world, as do many others.

        But if Alice supports foreign aid for its own sake, then it follows that she endorses taking money that could help her own countrymen, and instead using it to help foreigners. It is thus entirely fair to say that she cares about foreigners more than about her countrymen.

        • ayegill says:

          Suppose I have $1000 dollars left over at the end of the year. I decide to spend this on charity. I donate $900 to a local homeless shelter, and $100 to malaria prevention in Africa.

          Does it follow that I care more about the destitute of Africa than about homeless people close to me? After all, I spent $100 on them rather than on homeless people.

          Now suppose I donate $900 to malaria prevention and $100 on the homeless shelter. Does it follow that I care more about the homeless people? After all, I spent money on them which could have been used preventing malaria.

        • Rm says:

          @ Said

          You say you enjoy the presence of wild animals in the world (some species, but, I expect, not all of them) instrumentally. This means such a species must have an imaginable, and “noticeable”, impact on the world, which makes it for you a better place. Do I understand you right?

          But species on the brink of extinction don’t have a “noticeable” impact on the world. They might recycle some organical matter. They might trample some ground. But there is no “noticeable” and “sufficiently unique” impact only they are capable of executing. I will even say that beyond a certain threshold, species-specific, you do not care about having a species in the world, if I understand what you are saying. (Unless you care about news articles or hunting trophies or other such things.)

          Obviously, there are more cows in the world than there are northern white rhinos. Therefore, you care about cows more than you care about rhinos.

          So… how exactly do you do that? What actions do you take? Instrumentally?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            Obviously, there are more cows in the world than there are northern white rhinos. Therefore, you care about cows more than you care about rhinos.

            I’m… afraid that your logic seems so bizarre that I don’t quite know how to rebut it. Certainly nothing remotely like this resembles my beliefs or values.

            I suspect that what’s happening in some of these comments, yours included, is that people are assuming that I hold some sort of utilitarian views, and are then trying to interpret what I’ve said I believe and value in terms of that those utilitarian views. (Or something like that… I’m not at all confident in this, simply because the positions that people are tentatively ascribing to me are so weird, and so far removed from anything I believe or even anything I consider it at all reasonable to believe, that I have a hard time imagining what sort of mental model could generate that sort of output.)

            To be clear: I’m not actually a utilitarian. I don’t believe in “utility” (either in the evaluative sense or the decision-theoretic sense—though the two are unrelated concepts!). Does that dispel the confusion, Rm? I’m happy to comment further, but I don’t quite know what else to say; I suspect the misunderstanding/miscommunication runs deep, here…

          • Rm says:

            (replying to my own comment, because I do not see the reply button under yours) That’s not what I’m saying. Utility implies “utility to whom?” and “when?” and so on, & it’s hard (for me) to speak about the utility of a European bison. Yet I do believe that some things execute stronger influence on the world than other things do, and people react to the world proportionally to the things’ impact.

            Your “instrumental caring about at least some species of animals” has to be based on something, on some thing in the world; and it has to be executed as something, as some thing in the world. So again, what is it that you have done that can be called caring?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Rm:

            (replying to my own comment, because I do not see the reply button under yours)

            This commenting system has a (fairly low) maximum comment nesting depth, and once a comment thread gets that deep, you just have to reply to the last parent comment, and tag the person you’re replying to (as I’ve done at the start of this comment).

            Yet I do believe that some things execute stronger influence on the world than other things do, and people react to the world proportionally to the things’ impact.

            First of all, just because “people” do a thing, doesn’t mean that I also have to do that thing. If literally everyone in the world, except me, valued things proportionally to their impact, that would impose upon me no obligation whatever to also value things proportionally to their impact; I would remain free to value things in inverse proportion to their impact, or according to the number of letters in their name in English, or on the basis of the output of a random number generator, etc.

            But in fact I just don’t think that the quoted bit is at all an accurate portrayal of how most people think and act! People routinely care about things in utter disproportion to those things’ impact on the world (unless, of course, you count that induced caring as part of “impact”—but that would be double-counting and cheating).

            Your “instrumental caring about at least some species of animals” has to be based on something, on some thing in the world

            Naturally. But that “something” can be anything. I am entirely free to care about an obscure species of tree frog merely on the basis that it exists, and that I find frogs cute. There’s no rule, anywhere, that says that I must base my level of caring about something on anything so pedestrian as “how many there are”.

            and it has to be executed as something, as some thing in the world. So again, what is it that you have done that can be called caring?

            Well, there’s a couple of answers I could give, here. Here’s one:

            What have I done that can be called caring? Well, just the other day I went to the supermarket and bought a package of chicken breasts, thus supporting and sustaining the chicken industry, and ensuring that chickens, which are delicious, continue to exist. And last week, I likewise gave some of my hard-earned money to the beef industry (in exchange for a slab of steak), thus ensuring that cows, too, remain with us!

            So that’s one answer. Here’s another, which is no less true:

            What have I done that can be called caring? Not much! I care about many things more than I care about most animals; and so acting on those values takes up most of my time (as, indeed, it does for most people). But when the opportunity arises to act on this particular value of mine, I do it. That’s all. I am certainly not interested in proving how much I care about animals.

            There are other answers I could give, but they’re more or less in a similar vein. Take your pick, really.

          • Rm says:

            @ Said.

            Re: … disproportionately.

            Well people have world models that don’t correspond to the entirety of the world, but why do you think, based on observations of their acts, that they do act disproportionately to their models? It’s all they have.

            In my world model, people execute much pointless destruction, just because they can; and these people are not psychopaths, they are totally ok. Cute schoolchildren playing hockey with hedgehogs as pucks are not psychopaths. Good old villagers driving seventeen wild bison out onto thin ice to watch them drown are not psychopaths. As I understand them, they are just bored, and care about fun. What they do has nothing to do with actual hedgehogs, in their models of the world – they would do it with rocks, only rocks aren’t alive.

            Re: …number of English letters.

            Is your system any more consistent than other people’s? Because there are trends in “how cute people view certain species of animals”, and I do think the trends apply to you. (Tree frogs are a dead give-away.) And really, if you meant that you cared about uninterrupted supply of food, why didn’t you just say so in the first place?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Rm:

            Well people have world models that don’t correspond to the entirety of the world, but why do you think, based on observations of their acts, that they do act disproportionately to their models? It’s all they have.

            It has been my observation that, first of all, unrealistic models have little to do with this, and, second of all, that most people don’t even have “world models”. But we’re on quite the tangent now, and I propose we drop this line of inquiry, at least for now.

            Is your system any more consistent than other people’s?

            Are you talking about my actual values, or any of the hypothetical ones I presented as examples? Either way, maybe it’s more consistent and maybe it’s not. What does it matter? When did “consistent” come into it?

            (Tree frogs are a dead give-away.)

            To be clear, I don’t actually care particularly much about tree frogs; I use them as examples precisely because they’re stereotypical.

            And really, if you meant that you cared about uninterrupted supply of food, why didn’t you just say so in the first place?

            This is a ludicrous reading of what I wrote. Please do not start straw-manning my views; if you disagree, or think that my values are dumb and evil, by all means say so, but “oh, what you meant was [manifestly absurd mischaracterization]” is very annoying.

          • Rm says:

            @ Said.

            No, I don’t think you’re evil. Me thinking someone is evil is a thing that just… seldom happens. I tried to do it on purpose, once, and it made me ill, so you might actually be evil and I would not know it either way.

            Consistency was always there. Carol was mad because Dave was consistently more interested in rocks than in her. Dave said he wasn’t, and in your opinion it shouldn’t fly. But in my opinion, if Dave says “Because rocks!” it shouldn’t fly, either. So what should fly? (Speaking as Carol here, who had five more years of rocks in her life after that. And shouting at David, too, let’s not forget shouting at David. But at least I didn’t complain. We both married other people and brought some rocks into their lives with us!)

            I think “I care about chickens because they are tasty, and pay for them to be farmed” means “I care about having this particular food whenever I want it”. No?

  43. Gregor Sansa says:

    I think this needs a better name.

    • ‘false dichotomy’ seems to cover all of these scenarios. But maybe not specific enough.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      Seconded. I don’t know if this was your issue, but I read “reversed moderation” and assumed it had something to do with applying Aristotle’s golden mean idea somewhere that it makes no sense (“the truth is somewhere in the middle”). I was completely wrong.

      But I do think this sort of thing happens and deserves a name.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I thought it was going to be about posters on SSC moderating Scott’s comments. Little did I know it was really just a vehicle for Scott to subvert our defense spending in service of his space reptilian masters. I’m on to you, Alexander. I’m on to you.

        • Deiseach says:

          Or if someone says there’s a 10% chance space reptiles will invade, just say “No, the number is basically zero”. Don’t say “I can’t believe you’re certain there will be an alien invasion, don’t you know there’s never any certainty in this world?”

          To be fair, to me “AI risk” is on about the same level as “invading space reptilians”. Large concerns from private industry to government will put all their eggs into the baskets of “this algorithm can’t fail” to make big decisions on policy and it screws up (see current Tumblr kerfuffle)? That seems realistic. God-tier intellect AI that will save or damn us because it’ll cross the barrier into becoming conscious (or as good as) so we’d better make sure it’s ‘friendly’? Look friend, can you tell me there are positively no other intelligent species in this entire universe other than ourselves? No? Then why couldn’t they be space lizards? And what about all the stories of people making contact with aliens? Draw me up a plan to deal with invading hostile space lizard forces!

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            So what you’re saying is Scott is a shill for Big Space Lizard, harping on AI alignment to distract us from the real threat until it’s too late? I can believe it.

    • arlie says:

      Ditto. it’s obviously a variant of a strawman – my opponent suggests “some X” so I claim (and believe) they demand “all X”.

      I suspect, like many other strawmen, it’s often the result of sloppy thinking – and only sometimes the result of deliberately making the opponent look bad.

      • acymetric says:

        It can also result from bad (or dishonest) communication on the part of the opponent such that it can be interpreted as “all X”.

        It would also be fairly easy to accuse someone (correctly) identifying a motte and bailey statement as committing this fallacy to defend the motte/bailey against appropriate criticism.

        This seems like a combination of a few different things that already exist (strawman with some extra frills), but in a way that makes it much easier to abuse. I see this getting used by [ingroup] to attack criticism from [outgroup] regardless of merit more than I see it as a useful tool in rational discussion, and that seems to be pretty much exactly what happened in Scott’s examples other than the Russia/China one. And this is someone who shares (or at least leans towards) Scott’s position in all of those examples.

        Maybe call it the inverted strawman 360 twist?

        • Galle says:

          It can also result from bad (or dishonest) communication on the part of the opponent such that it can be interpreted as “all X”.

          Or a combination of those factors. I think the most common cause is something like this:

          Alice tell Bob, “Next time I see Eve, I’m going to wring her neck!” This sentence has two possible interpretations: either Alice is saying that she’s angry at Eve, or Alice is saying that she plans to murder Eve. Alice doesn’t bother to clarify which, because she trusts Bob to know that she’s far more likely to be angry at Eve than she is to want to murder her.

          Unfortunately for Alice, Bob holds her in pretty low regard (or possibly thinks Eve is such a wonderful person that it’s inconceivable that anyone could ever be angry at her) and so thinks both interpretations are equally likely. He therefore winds up interesting this expression of anger as a threat of physical violence.

          This happens all the time. And not just with reasonable errors like taking a hyperbolic threat literally, but with errors so utterly absurd you’d think nobody would ever be capable of making them.

          I suspect there’s less potential for abuse here than you might think. Even a lot of uses you’d expect to be obviously abusive are actually probably just cases where you were really, genuinely committing the fallacy.

  44. Said Achmiz says:

    But what if:

    1. Your opponents spend all their time talking about how Y is correct, and X is useless.

    2. When directly asked by you, their opponent, who, as they know, believes that X is important, they say “of course X is very important, but we should consider Y”.

    Is the accusation valid then?

    • idontknow131647093 says:

      This is most of public debate.

      Scott is unfortunately dueling with strawmen.

    • Aapje says:

      @Said Achmiz

      The problem with Scott’s examples is that in reality people tend to have multi-floor opinion ‘buildings.’ So you have axioms and facts (not necessarily true) at lower levels, with conclusions drawn from them on higher levels, which then form the basis for more conclusions, etc.

      Quite often, even the correct conclusions built on falsehoods. So when falsehood A results in a belief in favor of X and against Y, then pointing out that (Y is false because) A is false threatens their belief in X being true and Y being false and thus looks like opposition to X, not just support for Y.

      This despite it also being possible to argue for X based on other facts/opinions, that may be far closer to the truth. However, that I know and believe these truths doesn’t mean that they do. Especially if the other person has derived lots of conclusions from a falsehood, eliminating this falsehood causes an large crisis, where a large part of their building collapses and they have to rebuild it. Quite a chore. Of course, people tend to resist this rather strongly, even if the falsehood is very wrong and damaging.

      For example, if someone’s justification to themselves for strongly desiring to help raped women is derived from (or rationalized with) the idea that men oppress women through rape, then if an MRA points out that the best statistics shows that men experience coitus against their will almost exactly as often as women, this will threaten their larger view on male-female interactions that underlies many of their opinions. So challenging this will then often be seen as being against all their opinions that are based on this belief, including their desire to help raped women. Even though that isn’t logical from the perspective of the MRA at all, as his mental constructs are very different. His reason for helping raped women is not based on the idea that men as a group oppress women as a group, but probably based on a model where people of either gender need to be protected from bad behavior by people of either gender.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        So challenging this will then often be seen as being against all their opinions that are based on this belief, including their desire to help raped women.

        One of the most frustrating things to me about feminism and similar ideologies (and the source of many misunderstandings between them and alternate ideologies) is their belief that the moral right of way should always be given to the more oppressed group, that the person from the more oppressed group should always be believed over someone from a non-oppressed group, etc. They’ve set up their morality so that it’s existentially essential to be oppressed, because in their framework that’s the only way your rights or opinion count at all.

        I mean, they wouldn’t put it in those terms, I’m sure; they view it as leveling out the playing field. But when you create an environment where the default rule is “morality should be defined by the oppressed” and where men or white people are discouraged from even expressing an opinion about gender or race, respectively, the inevitable result is that people start to tie basic rights to oppression-status. The narrative becomes “rape is bad because it’s a tool of the patriarchy” rather than “rape is bad because it violates the bodily autonomy of a human being.”

        And therefore, if you criticize someone’s framework of defining the world in oppressor/oppressed terms, they view it as an attack on their basic rights and personhood.

        • Mark Atwood says:

          as an attack on their basic rights and personhood.

          And the next step is apparently to demand that “attacks on their personhood” (as defined by them) be carved out from permissible speech.

          You can’t tell me that’s not happening. Even the “reasonable” people seeking “compromise” are starting to say “well, attacks on someone’s right to exist sound like a reasonable thing to ban as illegal ‘hate speech’, so okay”.

          No. Not okay.

        • arlie says:

          I’d like to see a better term for people who do that than “feminists” or “feminsts and similar ideologies”. As you recognize, you don’t have to particularly care about the oppression of women to take this position, and that set of opinions that fit within “feminism” may be almost as broad as the set that fits within either “conservative” or “liberal”.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Yes, feminism is a notoriously vague and broad concept, and there are people who identify as feminists but don’t subscribe to the ideas and tendencies I described. Heck, I used to identify as a feminist. These days I prefer terms like egalitarian because I think that’s better at signalling what I actually believe.

            In this case I’m using “feminist” as a shorthand to mean people who believe in patriarchy theory and who define women as a unilaterally oppressed class, relative to men.

          • albatross11 says:

            Most political labels seem to have a maximally inclusive definition used for coalition building (“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people”), and much more exclusive definitions used internally to decide who the real X are, where X = {feminists, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, Christians, etc.}.

            It’s completely routine to hear people identify themselves as “not a feminist” who actually support as huge number of policies that are major objectives of the feminist movement. (Things like equal pay for equal work, no employment restrictions on women, relatively easy-to-get divorce, complete equality before the law, laws against domestic violence, etc.)

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            Sure, but very often feminists conflate support for a certain outcome with believing that the injustice that they claim exists, actually does.

            For example, I support equal pay for equal work, but I believe that the vast majority of earning differences are due to unequal work*. Note that this can be logically attributed to male and female gender roles, as men are traditionally expected to provide and thus to sacrifice to earn money, while women are traditionally expected to care and thus to sacrifice in that way. So one would then expect men to be more rewarded for work sacrifices and thus sacrifice more, as they follow their incentives, but not to care as much for their children. One would expect the opposite for women.

            This is not discrimination by employers who refuse women equal pay for equal work.

            Anyway, this disagreement on the extent to which women receive unequal pay for equal work, is taken as opposition to having women get equal pay for equal work.

            I think that in general, people often treat the goals that people have and the facts they believe in as being the same, because the combination determines actual behavior and/or support for policy.

            * I have fairly high confidence in a minimum, given the evidence, but can not even give a decent low confidence guess to the maximum. The average discriminatory element may even be negative at this point (so in favor of women).

          • albatross11 says:

            I often feel like a lot of feminism and social justice more generally involves coming to some mostly reasonable ideas about how to behave or what policies to have, based on some utterly implausible and unfalsifiable model of the world. (And then with some extrapolation to terrible or crazy policies / standards of behavior.)

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            The problem I find with social justice advocates is that they lack a foundation. They know, “racism is bad”, “sexism is bad” etc, but don’t really come to those conclusions from a fundamental underlying principle. So its just an assortment of totems that happen to be related today.

            OTOH, the old abolitionists may seem quaint to us because they said slavery is bad because god mad all humans equal and free. That sort of underlying idea is easier to extrapolate to a coherent worldview. So even if you are an atheist, its easier to get along with them, or at least to understand them.

          • cuke says:

            When people say “what I find frustrating about feminists is…” and “what I find frustrating about SJWs is…” without reference to a text or action or policy or specific argument, I find it’s pretty hard to engage with. So a thread like this reads to me as venting, not discussion.

            It feels akin to me to saying “I find it frustrating that Christians think non-believers are going to hell.” The fact that some Christians believe this and many Christians don’t seems obvious. And so the conversation seems like can’t go anywhere until someone gets more specific in some way. That way could be “I don’t know how to respond to my friend/uncle/father-in-law when he expresses his fear that my daughter is going to go to hell because I refuse to have her baptized in X church. I wonder how to deal with this.” Or: “I find it frustrating when Christians argue in support of X social policy based on their reading of God’s teachings when I disagree with their beliefs and don’t think their religious faith should be considered a legitimate basis for secular social policy.” Or: “hey, check out this article from a self-identified Christian senator advocating for a different approach to restricting abortion. What do you think about the part where he says…?”

            Feminism is like Christianity is like capitalism is like democratic socialism … is like so many broad ideologies that to complain about them and their supporters in general terms without reference to some specific policy or experience or text is to say very little it seems to me. It seems it’s just to express distaste about people who have different views from you.

            I come to the comments section in large part to understand the views of people who see the world differently from me and I would love to understand those views better, but sometimes I feel frustrated by the volume of what seems like simple venting.

            So when I read a sentence like, “They’ve set up their morality so that it’s existentially essential to be oppressed, because in their framework that’s the only way your rights or opinion count at all,” I think to myself, “where do you see that? Can you give me examples?” And by examples I don’t mean a random comment on social media or one thing a person said to you one time. What’s the evidence this claim is true about feminism? It’s inconsistent with my understanding of feminism, but I know my view is limited and partial.

            As a feminist I do not think that morality should be defined only by the oppressed or that it’s existentially necessary to be oppressed in order to be “right” in any sense at all.

            And this one here: “In this case I’m using “feminist” as a shorthand to mean people who believe in patriarchy theory and who define women as a unilaterally oppressed class, relative to men.” I think there are many many feminists across history and the globe who have an analysis about what constitutes patriarchy, who also absolutely do not see women as a unilaterally oppressed class relative to men. Tons of women thinkers and writers and leaders on the left historically had a fairly nuanced understanding of how class differences complicate gender oppression; same goes for feminist voices throughout the civil rights movement and other minority rights movements all over the world, as well as feminists who have a global perspective (in this case, beyond the US).

            And this: “I often feel like a lot of feminism and social justice more generally involves coming to some mostly reasonable ideas about how to behave or what policies to have, based on some utterly implausible and unfalsifiable model of the world. (And then with some extrapolation to terrible or crazy policies / standards of behavior.)” What are you referring to here? What are the mostly reasonable ideas and what’s the utterly implausible unfalsifiable model and what are the crazy policies?

            Or this: “the old abolitionists may seem quaint to us because they said slavery is bad because god mad all humans equal and free.” Are you saying that “because god says” is a better model than all the other models you see being discussed by feminists? If so, what are those other models and why are they worse than “because god says”?

            And: “Sure, but very often feminists conflate support for a certain outcome with believing that the injustice that they claim exists, actually does.” It seems your concern is that a feminist might mistake your agreement about an outcome with agreement about the overall analysis or ideology. Can you offer some examples? How does this matter? It seems all across the political spectrum that “odd bedfellows” is a common dynamic — look at the lefter wing of the Democrats aligning with the Trump admin and Senate Republicans over criminal justice reform. I don’t think Cory Booker is confused that suddenly Mitch McConnell agrees with him about everything.

            “Republicans are either dumb or greedy” or “Democrats want open borders” or “Republicans don’t care about families” or “Democrats don’t care about families.” What’s the contribution of such general statements except to rally the troops who are already on your side or to vent frustration that a big part of the world holds views different from yours?

            Insofar as Scott’s post is essentially about the problems of strawmen arguments and black-and-white thinking, this “what’s wrong with feminists and SJWs” thread here strikes me as ironic.

            Anytime we run into people whose world view differs from ours, we’re likely to have some part of us feel that that person is unreasonable and that their views are grounded in nonsense. Okay, now what? We can just repeat that accusation using different words or we can try to engage with their ideas at a deeper level. But that means engaging with specific expressions or manifestations of their ideas as expressed in real world things we can point to and use as a shared basis of discussion. And I think too it means being willing to refrain from cherry picking extreme examples to justify continuing to avoid engaging with ideas we disagree with more deeply.

            Part of the implied commitment I hear Scott trying to advance is one where people who disagree about important subjects discuss those subjects in good faith based on a charitable reading of other people’s views (ie, steelmanning) and with reference to real world evidence.

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Or this: “the old abolitionists may seem quaint to us because they said slavery is bad because god mad all humans equal and free.” Are you saying that “because god says” is a better model than all the other models you see being discussed by feminists? If so, what are those other models and why are they worse than “because god says”?

            I said it is easier to engage with even if you are a nonbeliever because you can identify the principles being applied and therefore either agree with them and say, “well we should also apply them to situation X” or disagree with the principle and say, “well maybe you should reconsider this because Y.”

            When someone comes to you with the patriarchy theory, they have simply decided that something is true (men oppress women) and all evidence can be shoehorned into this theory. So you can not engage with it. You disprove the “77 cents on the dollar” with profession stats, and they say, “well the reason engineers make more is because its a male profession.” You bring up mortality statistics and you are hit with, “men are also victims of the patriarchy.” There is nothing to do because it is unprincipled, its just a position that the patriarchy exists. And you can’t then say, “well shouldn’t we fight for boys in school who are falling behind because sitting in chairs hurts them more?” Because they believe in patriarchy for patriarchy not because they think all humans are inherently equal and imbued with equal dignity.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @cuke

            Talking about any ideology or set of ideas will necessarily involve some generalizing, and there will always be exceptions to point to.

            And I do think it’s important to acknowledge that those exceptions exist. I try not to make assumptions about someone’s specific beliefs when I deal with individual people who identify as feminist or Christian or libertarians or whatever. Because yes, there are people who identify as feminists and also believe, for instance, that misandry is real and systemic and coexists alongside misogyny as a social force. But I do think that it’s important to be able to talk about trends, and about beliefs that are common within movements.

            And by examples I don’t mean a random comment on social media or one thing a person said to you one time. What’s the evidence this claim is true about feminism?

            Feminism has no single foundational text or set of texts that define it. It’s a movement made up of people who identify as feminists, and they are the ones who define what it means as a social force. So if quotes from actual feminists don’t count as evidence that a belief exists within the movement, I’m not sure what would count.

            On what basis would you accept a criticism of feminism as real and legitimate? What types of evidence would you consider valid? From your standpoint, what would a good argument against feminism look like?

            You gave an example for Christianity, but that consisted of something that someone said, and you just said that quotes from random people in the movement shouldn’t count, so…I really don’t know.

            Where do you see this idea of privilege as necessarily invisible expressed? That is not my idea of privilege or consistent with writings I’ve read on privilege.

            “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is a pretty famous and foundational essay on privilege, and has “invisible” right in the title. Though it’s about race rather than gender in this case.

          • cuke says:

            idontknow131647093, you say: “There is nothing to do because it is unprincipled, its just a position that the patriarchy exists. And you can’t then say, “well shouldn’t we fight for boys in school who are falling behind because sitting in chairs hurts them more?” Because they believe in patriarchy for patriarchy not because they think all humans are inherently equal and imbued with equal dignity.”

            So I hear you saying that feminism is unprincipled. I assume most people come to their views based on some principles, as well as likely some evidence or base of experience. It’s a pretty big claim to dismiss an entire field of scholarship and inquiry that’s been going on for several generations as unprincipled. You are certainly entitled to your opinion. I mean, I have passing knowledge of libertarianism — I’ve read some articles and books over the years — and I would not presume to call it unprincipled. Nor Christianity, nor conservatism, nor Buddhism, nor Jungian psychology, etc.

            I don’t understand what you mean when you say “you can’t say that we should fight for boys…” Who says you can’t say that? I mean, I get that a lot of political/social wrangling involves conflicts over what are seen as limited resources and therefore involves contests over whose problems matter more or need more attention. This has been going on forever.

            So it seems to me one can’t take as evidence that an idea has no principles because some people respond to “we should fight for boys” by saying “but these girls’ needs over here aren’t being met.” Like that’s just history, people arguing over whose needs are more urgent and important.

            I personally feel that boys are always worth fighting for. I love boys, I’m raising boys (as well as girls), and I care a lot about boys and men and their needs and the ways they suffer. My life as a “feminist” person has a lot of room for boys’ needs. Indeed, I’d say most of the hours of my waking life for two decades have been devoted to attending to the wants and needs of the people who are dearest to me, who happen to be several white boys and men.

            I absolutely definitely believe that all humans are imbued with equal dignity, and I think that’s well said. The feminists I have known and read in my life would agree with that statement. If you have run into people calling themselves feminists who believe that you are imbued with less dignity than they are then I feel sorry about that. It’s a shitty thing when people are treated as if they have less inherent worth.

            I think being made to sit in chairs is shitty and I tend to agree that some classroom experiences are easier for center-of-the-bellcurve girls generally, if we’re making broad generalizations. There are other ways that education for a long time undervalued the contributions of girls and I was a girl in elementary school at a time that that was the case and it had a real impact on my career trajectory. There’s plenty of suffering to go around and I think it’s all worth attending to.

            My sense is there are difficult, self-serving, sloppy-thinking, unprincipled, un-self-aware people of every ideological stripe. It’s not clear to me what is gained by focusing on those people rather than on the ideas, policies, arguments that are under the banner of whatever field is being discussed.

            How is this entire thread not an example of strawmanning which is what Scott is speaking against in the post?

          • idontknow131647093 says:

            Cuke

            What you are describing to me seems very similar to an older, feminism that people like Susan B. Anthony and Christina Hoff Summers espouse. But people in that vein that are still alive have been generally cast out of “mainstream” feminism, in that the people leading it now are very different, and espouse different theories and different positions.

            Very few people object to the old school equality feminism, but its not the active political force on campuses and on TV that people most often are forced to engage with.

          • Skivverus says:

            @cuke
            There’s a bit of history/residual trauma involved here, I suspect.
            “Weakmanning” might be a closer term than “strawmanning” – there are, as you say, different kinds of feminists, and some of the ones who exist really are that bad.
            How many is a different question, and I suspect one that varies wildly based on the locale, for roughly the same reason that some police departments are full of basically decent people and others make the news for terrible reasons.

          • cuke says:

            Hyzenthlay,

            It’s been a long time since I’ve read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Here’s a quote from it:

            “Describing white privilege makes one newly accountable. As we in women’s studies work to reveal male privilege and ask men to give up some of their power, so one who writes about having white privilege
            must ask, “having described it, what will I do to lessen or end it?””

            The process of education she’s talking about is one of becoming aware of privilege that was previously invisible to a person. The privilege still exists even once it’s no longer invisible. Even though the wheelchair-navigable curbs make me more aware of the needs of wheelchair riders and my privilege as a walking person, my privilege still exists. Your argument depended on conflating privilege and invisibility in order to catch feminists in a logical contradiction. Because the word “invisible” is in the title of the article doesn’t mean that the author considers the definition of privilege to require invisibility. You can totally disagree with the arguments she’s making, but that privilege is necessarily invisible is not one of them.

            “Feminism has no single foundational text or set of texts that define it. It’s a movement made up of people who identify as feminists, and they are the ones who define what it means as a social force. So if quotes from actual feminists don’t count as evidence that a belief exists within the movement, I’m not sure what would count.”

            Yes, true, not like the Bible say. This is also true of many other ideologies. There are some widely shared works and a body of research as well as a documented history. Quotes from actual feminists is totally fine. My point was more that cherry picking some things a random cranky person said in order to dismiss an entire field doesn’t really feel like discussing in good faith. But as far as I can tell, this discussion didn’t quote anyone, cranky or otherwise.

            Let’s imagine an ideology you identify with partly. I don’t know what it would be. Let’s call it libertarianism just for the sake of conversation. Let’s imagine a thread where the discussants started sentences by saying “Libertarians are unprincipled…” “Libertarians are just attached to their victimhood,” “Libertarians are annoying because they hate everyone who’s not them and doesn’t agree with them” and “Libertarians think everyone else is worth less than them.” And so on, without reference to examples or experiences or policies at all and without showing the most basic understanding of core ideas of libertarianism.

            If I were the person saying those things and you said to me, “what’s your evidence for these claims?” Let’s imagine that I responded not by quoting an article or book written by a libertarian or even one of the articulate libertarians who have spoken in this comments section here, but instead by saying, “Well, when I go on reddit, or tumblr, I notice a lot of angry libertarians suggesting I’m not as smart as they are and they talk to me condescendingly and dismissively.” Now, no one here offered that much “evidence,” but let’s say I said that, how would you value the merits of that kind of evidence? Me, I would not consider that very good evidence to support my general claims.

            If you let the unpleasant interactions you’ve had online or with random people in college who you disagreed with define what you understand of an entire field, it’s going to really limit your capacity to grasp people with different views. That’s everyone’s individual call to make. What I was saying here is that I come here to learn about other people’s views and in that process I would love it if people would vent in generalities less and engage with specific instances and ideas more, while using evidence that we can look at and talk about together. Otherwise, doesn’t it seem rather like a waste of time?

            I think any criticism made of feminism is real and legitimate. I think my point was more that “I’m annoyed by feminists because…” and then a very general statement with no evidence at all didn’t really constitute a criticism but rather a complaint or a vent in the same way that “Republicans don’t care about families” is a vent rather than a criticism. It serves no conversational purpose that I can tell. It’s either just blowing off steam or it’s performative to rally one’s troops.

          • cuke says:

            Skivverus,

            I think your analogy to police departments is a good one. So then this discussion thread to me is akin to saying, “God, police departments suck!” And my question would be: how is this useful?

            Thank you too for those links to earlier posts of Scott’s. I hadn’t read them in awhile. I can understand people feeling burned and even traumatized by difficult interactions with shaming groups of people. It’s a form of bullying and a lot of us have painful personal experience with that.

            Do you think it’s possible for people to have a rational conversation about various ideas if they are associated with that kind of trauma?

            Like, I’ve worked with a number of people who had traumatic childhoods inside of various fundamentalist religious upbringings and I’ve watched people re-form a relationship to that ideology they were raised by, to come to be able to appraise its pros and cons more objectively and take away what they want and leave behind what they choose to.

            To me, if someone is so traumatized by an ongoing argument online that they can’t engage with those ideas at all at any level anymore, then maybe they should not engage with those ideas anymore or tend to the injury some other way. But ranting online about how feminism and feminists are this or that across the board, without providing any evidence to support those generalizations, says to me people are re-enacting their hurtful experience rather than tending to it.

          • Aapje says:

            @cuke

            It seems it’s just to express distaste about people who have different views from you.

            My distaste is more on the meta-level (how people structure their arguments) than the views themselves. I often respect traditionalists more, because I more often see them express consistent beliefs, where they accept things that harm themselves because it logically follows from their worldview. Of course, their overall worldview can still be (very) self-serving, but on the detail level there is very often a decent amount of consistency.

            It actually makes it almost impossible to engage in good faith productively when no or very few general principles seem to exist. I have had so many debates where a broad claim was made, I countered with a situation where the person did apparently agree that the broad claim was wrong, but instead of reducing the broad claim, which is the productive way to debate, the claim was simply abandoned in favor of a different argument. At that point no progress is made.

            What are the mostly reasonable ideas and what’s the utterly implausible unfalsifiable model and what are the crazy policies?

            It’s reasonable to want equal pay for equal work. When debating this and pointing out the strong scientific evidence that at least 2/3-3/4s of the earnings gap is demonstrably due to unequal work, I’ve seen lots of feminists shift from a claim of discrimination by employers to a claim that women are forced by the patriarchy to make decisions that hurt them. This is unfalsifiable and extremely subjective. It’s clearly true that female choices in this regard have upsides and downsides. Having shorter commutes is generally considered desirable, but getting more pay is as well. There is no clear preference for either extreme (no commute and no pay or an enormous commute and relatively high pay). So apparently there is some vague optimum in between, which assuredly is itself highly dependent on other factors (including personal ones and potentially biological gender differences as well). So there is no objective optimal choice here, nor can one assume discrimination because choices differ.

            Typical behavior that I see is that claims that are provably wrong get abandoned and then the argument shifts to a claim that can neither be proven or disproved. Yet the explanation that fits feminist theory is then taken as true, by virtue of not being disproved, even if it is the less likely explanation. For example, when women make different choices than men, it is commonly taken as true that this is not only forced on women, but also that this harms women, even though both interpretations are mere possibilities.

            The other common response I’ve seen to giving strong scientific evidence that at least 2/3-3/4s of the earnings gap is demonstrably due to unequal work, is to claim that the other 1/3-1/4 must be due to discrimination, even though it seems more likely to me than not, that at least part of this gap is due to unequal work that is not and/or cannot be measured. So again, there are multiple possibilities, where the one that is consistent with dogma is favored, even when it seems the less likely explanation.

            The crazy policy here is that even though some feminists keep writing slightly more sensible articles that explain that the earnings gap is not due to unequal pay for equal work, policies that presume strong discrimination by employers keep being adopted when feminists get to make policy.

            It seems your concern is that a feminist might mistake your agreement about an outcome with agreement about the overall analysis or ideology. Can you offer some examples? How does this matter?

            I gave an example (disagreement on the extent to which women are unequally paid for equal work) being taken as opposition to equal pay for equal work.

            It matters because it makes a factual claim into an ideological shibboleth. Many feminist researchers have resisted good science that don’t show the ‘right’ facts, using various forms of coercion and stacking the deck to get facts that are supposed to be true.

            It also matters because the fact becomes as hard to debate as a terminal value.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @cuke

            The process of education she’s talking about is one of becoming aware of privilege that was previously invisible to a person. The privilege still exists even once it’s no longer invisible.

            Yes. And from the very first paragraph, she presents the concept of privilege as something that men/white people are resistant to or don’t properly understand even after they’re introduced to it–so her argument is that if a man or white person rejects this model of reality it’s probably because their privilege prevents them from seeing it clearly. This is pretty much exactly the view that I was complaining about in my earlier posts.

            And, while I appreciate the long and detailed response, this is a frustrating issue I run into a lot in these types of discussions. When I brought up that whole “invisibility of privilege” concept as a thing I found troubling about feminism, your response was “I’ve never run into anyone who thinks like that.” I presented the clearest possible example of a famous and influential article describing exactly the viewpoint that I was critiquing, and your response seems to indicate that you think I’m misunderstanding the article’s point somehow. I’m not. (And to be clear, I am very familiar with its contents–I just found it ironic that the title itself contained the word in question.)

            The issue of invisibility comes up in response to the invalidation or denial of the difference or difficulty by people who are seen as having the good end of the deal.

            Which, again, is exactly the mode of thinking that I was critiquing. A lot of people object (correctly, I think) to the notion that just belonging to a large, vaguely-defined demographic like a race or gender inherently confers certain privileges. And if they happen to belong to one of those demographics, they’re often criticized on the basis of being too privileged to properly understand the issues. The assumption that they’ve had the good end of the deal isn’t always warranted.

            Quotes from actual feminists is totally fine. My point was more that cherry picking some things a random cranky person said in order to dismiss an entire field doesn’t really feel like discussing in good faith.

            I’m not just thinking of a few isolated examples or some random person I had an argument with on Reddit, I’m thinking of ideas that I’ve heard stated over and over, over the course of years, by many different people, some of whom I know personally–several of whom, in fact, are very close to me–and have had long, detailed discussions with about these topics. I’ve spent a lot of time in communities where social justice thought is very pervasive.

            When I talk about the aspects of it I disagree with there may be some element of venting, so perhaps I tend to describe these beliefs in less flattering language than their advocates would. But I’m pretty confident that I’m not misunderstanding the ideas themselves, or cherry-picking.

            Let’s imagine a thread where the discussants started sentences by saying “Libertarians are unprincipled…” “Libertarians are just attached to their victimhood,”

            Which is why I usually say “feminism” instead of “feminists.” I’m criticizing a body of ideas, not individuals. There are many SJ-oriented folks who I think are basically good and reasonable people, but I still think there are gaping flaws in their ideology.

          • arlie says:

            –I hope this posts. I posted it once, and it appeared at the wrong place in the hierarchy. I copied it, deleted it where it ahd been, and made 2 attempts to repost in the right place. Neither appeared. I suspect the repost was made “too fast” or was “too similar” to the deleted post, and nothing I post will go through for some hours – maybe nothing *at all* in response to this blog post. I’m adding this text and waiting a while before hitting “post comment” in the hopes that either potential mechanism will be disarmed, but if this doesn’t work, I’m just going to stop reading any responses to this post.—

            @cuke – You’ve said what I wanted to say, and so much better. When someone disagrees with an underspecified straw man, I learn nothing from their venting. When the name they use for that straw man is a name sometimes used of me, I’m farthermore annoyed.

            @idontknow131647093 – I don’t understand why you find someone who bases their beliefs on some interpretation of Christianity easier to understand or argue with than someone who bases their beliefs on some interpretation of patriarchy theory.

            You say:

            I said it is easier to engage with even if you are a nonbeliever because you can identify the principles being applied and therefore either agree with them and say, “well we should also apply them to situation X” or disagree with the principle and say, “well maybe you should reconsider this because Y.”

            And I say – huh? What principle? We do have a specific quote at the root of this example

            slavery is bad because god mad all humans equal and free

            I guess that’s a principle. It’s possible to argue that either most Christians don’t believe this principle, or don’t think it applies to how humans should treat humans. Maybe most currently believe it in the case stated – literally buying and selling human beings is inconsistent with god’s intent. But all kinds of slightly lesser inequality remains OK with most of them, making it hard for me to see any actual principle. And plenty of Christians have owned slaves, approved of others owning slaves, etc. etc. Some of them insisted that enslaving non-Christians was especially virtuous (not neutral) because of the opportunity to bring those slaves to Christianity.

            And as for

            simply decided that something is true (men oppress women) and all evidence can be shoehorned into this theory

            Just substitute something like “that god created humans” or “that the bible is in some (particular but probably unspecified) sense true and reliable” and you have an equally stereotypical Christian. And in what way is “patriarchy” any less clearly defined than “god”, or any less falsifiable?

            Now if members of either group (feminists or Christians) are citing a belief that “all humans are inherently equal and imbued with equal dignity” (and either group has members who would do that, and believe it consistent with, or even required by, their group membership) – then you have a principle you can argue about – though still one that’s ethical rather than scientific, and hence nonfalsifiable.

            But “god says so” seems to me to be even woolier than “patriarchy must be opposed”.

          • albatross11 says:

            cuke:

            Maybe it would make sense to look at a couple of high-profile examples of feminist rhetoric. How about the reaction to the Damore memo as a starting point? Lots of people read the memo and the various think pieces about it. How would I go about finding a mainstream feminist response to it? What would that look like?

            One thing that was striking in the response to the Damore memo that I saw (which may or may not have been representative of mainstream feminist perspectives) was a pretty widespread idea that even asking the questions he was asking was such destructive behavior that it was wrong for him to raise the issues and right for Google to fire him. (Much the same pattern happened with responses to Summers’ speech many years ago.)

            I’ll admit that the pattern of argument that says “I assert X, and nobody should be allowed to argue against X because of the number of people whi will be upset by those arguments or the social consequences that might follow” seems deeply unconvincing to me–it’s kind of a superweapon.

          • Skivverus says:

            @cuke
            I’m a bit partial to Hyzenthlay’s approach for using “egalitarian” as an alternative or adjective to “feminism”; it seems like a term that will be more resistant to misuse through ambiguity. Ozy’s approach over on Thing of Things is also good, though that’s a whole blog, not necessarily a commenting approach.
            I’m less partial to using adjectives to indicate objectionable subsets of feminism; that’s what the rest of the rant is for, and frequently it cannot be condensed down into a single word. One exception comes to mind, “carceral feminism”, coined by Freddie DeBoer to describe feminism that implies as a corollary drastic increases in imprisonment, so it’s evidently not a complete impossibility, but there’s always going to be a risk that your audience is going to interpret the adjective as a summary, not a specification (see also: “creepy nerds”).

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            @cuke

            I could have said instead “I’m no feminist but…” and then raised the same questions and concerns that I did. I’m not interested in proving anyone’s anti-feminist beliefs to be wrong. I am very interested in improving the level of discussion in the comments section so that my experience here is better.

            Fair enough, and I do think you’re correct in that some of the initial comments were vague and didn’t cite much in the way of specific examples or evidence. But after you pointed that out, I did see people citing specific examples to illustrate the sort of trends they’re talking about.

        • Aapje says:

          @Hyzenthlay

          One of the most frustrating things to me about feminism and similar ideologies (and the source of many misunderstandings between them and alternate ideologies) is their belief that the moral right of way should always be given to the more oppressed group, that the person from the more oppressed group should always be believed over someone from a non-oppressed group, etc

          I think that this is incorrect. While the ideology does theoretically mandate that the viewpoint of the ‘oppressed’ should be held as true (as privilege blinds people to their unearned advantages*), this is obviously untenable when two ‘oppressed’ people disagree. Furthermore, always favoring the ‘oppressed’ would make it fairly easy to trap SJ people, by countering a white/male/cis/etc SJ advocate with a black/female/trans/etc person. Finally, feminism specifically always had to deal with very high percentages of women who rejected feminism (and even worse, the lower class and thus supposedly most oppressed women reject(ed) it more strongly).

          So the movement came up with various arguments by which the viewpoint of a member of oppressed groups can be dismissed, as the ideology is unsustainable without them. For example, a woman can be accused of internalized misogyny. This is why it hasn’t helped MRAs and those sympathetic to their cause that a substantial number of their more prominent members are women.

          In practice, an accusation of internalized misogyny is a superweapon whose power is based on limiting the range of tolerated ideas (Overton window). There is no way to objectively measure someone’s internalized misogyny, so there is no objective way to argue in favor or against it. So it is often based on irrational forms of persuasion, like shaming and punishment, not reason.

          What I consider most frustrating about SJ is that typically, the various parts of the ideology are applied selectively, where the desired outcome seems to determine what reasoning is applied and is considered applicable. This results in an unfalsifiable ideology, because whenever a part of the ideology results in either obviously false conclusions or undesirable conclusions for a specific situation, this is part of the ideology is usually ignored when discussion that situation, in favor of using another arguments. However, in other situations where using the argument results in the desired conclusion and no obvious defects, it will be used.

          * Of course, the weak point of that claim is that if it is true and if female privilege exists, women would fail to recognize their privilege. Also, the claim begs the question.

          • Nornagest says:

            This is why it hasn’t helped MRAs and those sympathetic to their cause that a substantial number of their more prominent members are women.

            I’d argue that it has helped them; whether they’ve been very successful or not (spoilers: not), a woman standing up and making an impassioned pitch about men’s plight is a better pitch in our culture than a man standing up and whining about his own plight. It just hasn’t helped them enough.

            Less, I think, because of the epicycles in feminist theory than because they’re running what’s basically just a gender-swapped oppression narrative, and that doesn’t play nice with what feminists like to call patriarchy, viz. the cultural assumption that men are and should be moral agents capable of fending for themselves, whatever their self-appointed spokespeople say.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            For example, a woman can be accused of internalized misogyny. This is why it hasn’t helped MRAs and those sympathetic to their cause that a substantial number of their more prominent members are women.

            Oh yeah. Women who try to counter feminist narratives are often dismissed as Phyllis Schlayfly types who want a return to 1950s cultural norms (even though that’s very much not what many of them are, or what they want). Or if someone points out the existence of women in their life who don’t agree with feminist ideas, they’re accused of taking a kind of “I have black friends” approach. I’ve also heard the perspectives of female MRAs dismissed on the basis of, “Well, most of them are white” (which is not even necessarily true) as though their race invalidates their perspective on gender. Though of course those same people are usually happen to use the perspectives of white women when they support the feminist narrative.

            I think the “always believe the oppressed person” is a flawed approach to begin with, but you’re correct in that they don’t even hold to that consistently. If someone from an “oppressed” identity doesn’t fit into the narrative, they’ll find a way to edit them out.

            Of course, the weak point of that claim is that if it is true and if female privilege exists, women would fail to recognize their privilege. Also, the claim begs the question.

            Yup…the whole concept of privilege is that it is invisible to those who have it, so of course privileged groups (according to their definition) would see themselves as non-privileged or even oppressed. And yet their entire ideology is (theoretically, at least) based around the idea of, “listen to people who are oppressed,” where the oppressed group gets to define what oppression means. Seems like a pretty glaring contradiction there.

          • cuke says:

            “Yup…the whole concept of privilege is that it is invisible to those who have it, so of course privileged groups (according to their definition) would see themselves as non-privileged or even oppressed.”

            Where do you see this idea of privilege as necessarily invisible expressed? That is not my idea of privilege or consistent with writings I’ve read on privilege.

            That some people, including me, may not be aware of all my privileges at any given moment, or that I can’t fully 100% understand the experience of people who had different experiences, doesn’t mean that the idea of privilege itself is that it’s invisible to the person who has it.

            I’m sure we all know people who act as if they are totally unaware of certain aspects of advantages they’ve had vis a vis other people and how those advantages make certain aspects of life easier for them — people whose parents paid for college vs. those who now have to pay off debt with their salaries; people who are just naturally good at calculus vs. people who had to bust ass to get a passing grade, people who have never experienced major depression vs. people who live with it, and so on.

            The rub usually comes when the person on the more favorable side of the equation says something that suggests that there’s no difference between them or that the difference is irrelevant to anything or that the less fortunate person just needs to “try harder” or that they have nothing to complain about.

            The issue of invisibility comes up in response to the invalidation or denial of the difference or difficulty by people who are seen as having the good end of the deal. Arguments over privilege are often arguments over the legitimacy or significance or impact of a particular privilege. So like before towns made curbs that wheelchairs could roll down, some group of wheelchair riders may have said, “you know, we pay taxes too and it’s a huge inconvenience and even hazard for us that curbs are made this way and here’s another way to make them.” So until the new curbs, walking people’s privilege vis a vis wheelchair riders may have been invisible to walking people, and then at some point it became less invisible to some larger group of people such that change happened. But the privilege and the invisibility of that privilege are two different things. And yes, there will always be this struggle over “how much do we have to accommodate this difficulty and at what cost?” A lot of history is taken up with such conflicts.

          • Aapje says:

            @Cuke

            Peggy McIntosh introduced the concept of privilege in SJ, where it was immediately asserted that white people and men are blind to their privilege. See “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” and the article that set off the list making of cherry picked ‘privileges’: “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.”

            Note that my experience is that this kind of sexism and racism is endemic in feminist theory. I’ve heard claims that it’s only popularized feminist theory that is unreasonable, but my experience is that the unreasonableness goes to the roots of the field, where the papers and books of the core contributors are heavily informed by racism and sexism (in the form of not applying the same reasoning and standards to different genders and races).

            The way that SJ advocacy commonly operates is by not having a reasonable discussion about the costs and benefits, but by ignoring the costs and treating the benefits as a right, no matter how burdensome to others. This is unreasonable in my opinion. It’s immoral to be willing to accept enormous burdens on ‘privileged’ people for relatively small benefits for the ‘unprivileged.’

            This is even aside from the issue that the world is not that simple and burdens that are supposedly on the privileged often harm the less privileged.

            Now, it’s not just SJ that try to get their way by delegitimizing the interests of others. However, it is also very effective at preventing opposition from organizing effectively, through authoritarian methods.

            In itself, policy can be decided well using a conflict model, as long as the balance of power is good, so that people with legitimate interests don’t get steamrolled by the other side. However, SJ culture is designed around trying to to dismantle the power of the opposition.

            That’s why I see it as a very oppressive culture, especially as it ironically tends to take advantage of the remaining gender roles to prevent men from advocating for their interests.

          • cuke says:

            Re-reading the posts of Scott that Skivverus linked to above using the word trauma, I came across this:

            “When feminists write about this issue [“entitled nerds,” in this context I think], they nearly always assume that the men involved are bitter about all the women who won’t sleep with them. In my experience and the experience of everyone I’ve ever talked to, we’re bitter about all the women who told us we were disgusting rapists when we opened up about our near-suicidal depression.”

            Scott is speaking about everyone he’s ever talked to (I assume men in this context). If the experience of “feminism” had by the commenters in this section is represented by Scott’s description, then it puts into considerable context for me the tenor of these comments and the lack of what I would consider “rational” discussion with reference to evidence for the very broad claims being made.

            Evidence is helpful in that it gives people who seem on different sides of an issue something to talk about that brings it out of the realm of the kind of immoderate strawman fallacies Scott’s referencing in his post above and that I felt was displayed in a lot of these comments.

            If that’s what feminism has meant in your lives — contact with that kind of massively shaming, hurtful, and even traumatic kind of relating — then I can imagine a person saying, “yeah, no I don’t want anything to do with that shit in my life or the people who associate themselves with it.”

            For some people (men and women both), encountering feminism produced insight and welcome change; for others it seems to have produced trauma, because of the dark corners of it they met. I guess one of the questions swirling behind this discussion is how representative are these dark corners of feminism overall, across time and space. It sounds like many of the commenters here would say “that’s feminism, that’s the whole thing, all the way down.” It would be interesting to know to what extent “anti-feminism” as it shows up in places like here is a product of these kinds of very personal shaming experiences.

            I get confused sometimes when I stumble into discussions on this blog that seem the opposite of rational. Expressing strong feelings of distaste in broad terms and without evidence in a discussion below a post about immoderate strawman arguments caught me up. I think now maybe I stumbled into a sub-thread of mildly triggered humans and it took me awhile to recognize that. I will steer clear of it next time, in recognition that what was going on here was maybe mutual comfort rather than rational discourse. And that of course is totally fine too.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I get confused sometimes when I stumble into discussions on this blog that seem the opposite of rational. Expressing strong feelings of distaste in broad terms and without evidence in a discussion below a post about immoderate strawman arguments caught me up.

            I realize this tangent has gotten long and unwieldy, but I will suggest that–while this space does tend to be very SJ-critical–most of the people commenting don’t abjectly hate feminism in the way you’re suggesting. I mean, I stated in one of my earlier posts that I used to consider myself a feminist, and I would never have called myself one if I didn’t think there was anything good about the movement. Feminism helped normalize things like birth control, abortion rights and more flexible gender roles, which I believe was a net positive.

            I run into a lot of feminist rhetoric and ideas these days that I find more negative than positive. But saying “there are significant problems with feminism as an ideology” is a far cry from saying “feminism is horrible and nothing good has ever come from it,” and my own stance, at least, is far more the former than the latter.

            There’s a general human tendency to interpret comments you disagree with as being more angry and vitriolic as they actually are. That effect can cause some uncharitable interpretations on both sides of any issue. My experience in feminist spaces suggests that it’s normal there to criticize patriarchy and certain forms of male culture in a pretty broad-brush way, but to the contributors (some of whom are men) this is coming from commonly understood principles and doesn’t feel like misandry or anger to them. But an outsider coming in might see this and interpret it as obvious hatred of men.

            Similarly, I think coming here and seeing some pretty blunt criticism of feminism can feel like “everyone here hates feminists” when the reality is more “this is a space where many people have disagreements with feminism and talking about that is pretty normal.” There are certainly some people who have had bad experiences and are angry as a result, but that’s not everyone. In the same way that criticizing patriarchy (even in strong terms) does not always imply a seething hatred of men, criticizing feminism (even in strong terms) doesn’t always imply seething hatred of feminists or women.

            And, in any space, I do think it’s healthy to have alternate viewpoints so things don’t get too stagnant. I’ve been in your shoes many times, from the opposite standpoint, because I’m always the person in SJ spaces who points out where they’re generalizing or failing to cite evidence for their views. And then they tell me in exasperation to “just Google it, this is 101 stuff!” or “it’s not my job to educate you” or accuse me of concern-trolling, etc.

            I do find that people here are pretty willing to engage with opposing viewpoints; you’ve gotten some pretty long responses, and no one has called you an SJW (yet). But it is never fun to be the one getting flooded with criticisms for presenting an opposing viewpoint, so kudos for attempting it.

          • Aapje says:

            @cuke

            I see mainstream SJ as a conspiracy theory akin to theories that claim that Jews have taken control of ‘the system’ to their own advantage and to the detriment of gentiles.

            The many fallacies that people who believe in that use to justify their claims to themselves and to others are very common in SJ literature/theory. To name a few:

            – Assertions of a coordinating mechanism between the ‘oppressors’, without solid evidence (patriarchy, toxic masculinity, whiteness) and without limit, while it is simply asserted that similar mechanisms don’t exist the other way around. This despite the existence of similar or even the same (weak) evidence for coordination amongst the ‘oppressed’ against the ‘oppressors,’ as what is considered good evidence of coordination by the ‘oppressors’ against the ‘oppressed.’

            – Focus on behaviors that are harmful to the group that is claimed to be a victim, while ignoring the beneficial behaviors and/or only presenting the negative aspects of certain interactions. For example, men who provide for women allow women who want to spend a lot of time with their children to do so, allow women to avoid unpleasant workplace experience while still getting (part of) the compensation for enduring this (from their male partner, who bears these burdens), allow women to choose more pleasant workplaces over more high paying ones, etc. Of course, there are also quite a few downsides. Feminist literature/theory typically focuses exclusively on the downsides to women and the upsides to men and ignore the upsides to women and the downsides to men.

            You can make buying ice cream seem like exploitation this way: “he took my money after I ordered and got an ice cream!”.

            – Cherry picking and simplifying situations, so situations where both groups have some benefits and some downsides seem extremely unfair. For example, gender differences in the workplace are commonly reduced to pay and promotions, because an exclusive focus on that makes women seem worse off. The gender differences where women come out ahead are generally ignored, like men having longer commutes, working more overtime, having a greater gap between hours worked and desired work hours than women, suffering more injuries, etc.

            For this specific example the cherry picking is especially unfortunate, since there is strong evidence that these differences are interconnected, in the sense that there is an inverse correlation between commute times, overtime, long work weeks, etc and pay. So it seems that there is a trade off, where women tend to get certain benefits at the expense of less income. This is not obviously more unfair to women than men or vice versa.

            – In the absence of hard evidence, the explanation is often adopted that is least generous to the ‘oppressors’ and most generous to the the ‘oppressed’. This is most evident when exactly the same evidence, where only the group is different, is interpreted completely differently. For example, it is generally claimed that high arrest and conviction rates of black people is in large part or even entirely due to discriminatory policing. However, I have never seen the high arrest and conviction rates of men be explained by discriminatory policing. This despite scientific studies strongly suggesting that discriminatory policing of men is greater than of blacks.

            I oppose conspiracy theories that are biased on race, gender, etc more than those that have a bias against ideologies, because I think that the former are more likely to result in abuses.

            I personally experienced abuse where authority figures refused to intervene based on gender norms, both explicitly and implicitly teaching me to employ ‘toxic masculinity’ (aka fight back). Yet girls who were physically abused were protected. Most of these authority figures were women, in contrast to the common explicit or implicit SJ claims that it’s largely or exclusively a male responsibility defeat ‘toxic masculinity.’

            I truly turned on feminism when I learned that feminist scholars and organizations are responsible for hiding the overwhelming scientific evidence of large scale abuses against men by women & the (related) denial of support to large groups of male victims. In this way, SJ is complicit in leaving men only two options: bear the victimization or adopt very damaging solutions (the negative consequences of which are then used as arguments to deny better solutions to men). The best solutions, that are offered to women, get denied to men by both traditionalists AND SJ organizations, so the latter is – on the whole – not working to achieve gender equality.

            Even worse is that there are very aggressive feminists/SJ advocates who seek to silence and harm those with non-feminist views. For example, Cassie Jaye made a documentary where MRAs could present their case. Militant feminists tried and succeeded in preventing her to get funding. When she managed to make it with crowdfunded money, militant feminists got her film pulled from some theaters using false claims and threats. When she went on talk shows, hosts treated her extremely unfairly.

            I don’t blame feminists as a group for having these militants in their midst. However, I do blame them for not speaking and acting out against these abuses. I have literally seen zero explicitly feminist writers or organizations defend Cassie Jaye or James Damore).

            God demanded 10 innocents to not destroy Sodom. I merely ask for 1 (prominent) innocent to not judge feminism harshly. That makes me a lot nicer than God, no? 🙂

            Seriously though, I think that it’s fair to judge an activist movement by the actions of the activists or their theories, when the (implicit) context is the impact of the activism on society and/or how valid/just/etc their theories are. I think that I am being reasonably fair by judging SJ and/or feminism first and foremost by the actions and words of organizations, scientists, and writers who claim that their actions and words reflect SJ/feminist ideology.

            cuke, after reading your comments, it’s not clear to me why you consider yourself a feminist. What exactly is your reason for adopting this label? Do you agree with the mainstream advocacy, on topics like equal pay, metoo and/or Title IX, etc? Do you attribute major problems in society to men wielding too much power? Do you believe that mixing the genders more is beneficial? Is it because you support changes done in the name of feminism in the past? Something else?

            You’ve complained about us being vague, but you’ve not offered us clarity on your own views, IMO. If you do so, we can discuss whether you might have beliefs that I consider to be based on a false perception of reality and/or that I consider based on double standards or another unfairness, whether you have beliefs that are very heterodox for feminism or not so, etc, etc.

          • albatross11 says:

            Aapje:

            I’m not any kind of expert here, but Christina Sommers self-identifies as a feminist, but seems, in the limited bits of her writing I’ve read, to be pretty sensible. I don’t have a good sense for whether she’s at all in the mainstream of feminism, though.

            A major problem I have is that the feminist views that I commonly see, especially in high-profile media outlets, are probably optimized for outrage and clicks, like that embarrassingly awful editorial in the Washington Post awhile back. I don’t have a good sense of what the mainstream view is, but I do keep seeing people who seem like they have a claim to be mainstream thinkers in that movement saying things that seem pretty awful (that editorial) or playing very fast-and-loose with facts (pay equality day). On the other hand, this is in a media environment that spends all its time and energy trying to find controversy to drum up[1].

            This is one thing I like about the trend toward podcasts that are actually a sit-down conversation between sensible and smart people–it’s much less inclined toward the outrage fest/anything-for-clicks model.

            [1] And activists spread misleading figures and claims to support their side all the time. Since the average journalist is innumerate and thinks statistics are a branch of the dark arts, this tends to go right by them even when they care about getting the facts right (rather than driving clicks).

          • Aapje says:

            @albatross11

            Sommers is extremely heterodox. Her main output on feminism is criticisms of mainstream feminism. For example, her books: “Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women” and “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.”

            To quote Wikipedia:

            In Who Stole Feminism, Sommers outlines her distinction between “gender feminism”, which she regards as being the dominant contemporary approach to feminism, and “equity feminism”, which she presents as more akin to first-wave feminism. She uses the work to argue that contemporary feminism is too radical and disconnected from the lives of typical American women, presenting her equity feminism alternative as a better match for their needs.

            I’m not aware of gender/women’s studies professors or large explicitly feminist organizations that are based on ‘equity feminism.’

            As far as I can tell, her opinions are much closer to the typical MRA than the typical (influential) feminist*.

            * I’m not aware of any studies on the opinions of non-public feminists, so I base myself on the prominent feminist writers, scientists and organizations, since I can actually tell what they believe.

          • cuke says:

            Hi Aapje (and others),

            I often appreciate your comments in this space generally, just as an aside.

            On this that you write:
            “You’ve complained about us being vague, but you’ve not offered us clarity on your own views, IMO. If you do so, we can discuss whether you might have beliefs that I consider to be based on a false perception of reality and/or that I consider based on double standards or another unfairness, whether you have beliefs that are very heterodox for feminism or not so, etc, etc.”

            I wanted to stop by to respond to that because it shows I’ve not communicated my intention effectively. My intention in commenting on this thread was not to engage in an argument with anyone about the pros and cons of feminist theory, the movement, history, etc. Indeed to do so here, as I understand it, would be to violate the no-CW rule for this post and is totally outside the topic Scott wrote about. I was trying to engage with the methods of argument being employed here.

            As I was reading through the comments to Scott’s post — which is essentially a post about a fallacious way of arguing using a variant of strawmanning — I encountered a CW-heavy thread that seemed to be engaging in the very same pattern that Scott was calling out. I found that baffling and ironic. So I asked a series of questions intended to see if the people posting had awareness that they seemed to be enacting what Scott was critiquing or if they had a different view of what they were doing.

            It doesn’t matter what kind of feminist I am, what I believe about feminism, or whether you feel I have a false perception of reality when it comes to my views on feminism. It doesn’t matter that I’m a feminist at all. I could have said instead “I’m no feminist but…” and then raised the same questions and concerns that I did.

            I’m not interested in proving anyone’s anti-feminist beliefs to be wrong. I am very interested in improving the level of discussion in the comments section so that my experience here is better.

            I appreciate Scott’s standard that the comments be true, necessary, and kind. A bunch of hand-wavingly vague venting about what people find distasteful about some other people, without any specifics at all, doesn’t to me meet that standard. As I said before, it’s like having a thread on here where one person says “Republicans are arrogant,” and another person adds “Conservatism is anti-family” and another person says, “yeah, I used to be a conservative until I learned they were all crazy conspiracy theorists,” and so on.

            So, when you say I’ve not offered any clarity about my own views, those are my views. They are entirely about process and the standards of discussion in this space and not at all about the contents of “feminism” or “anti-feminism.”

            My intentions seem to have been misunderstood and I apologize if it was unclear. People mostly seemed to get hooked by my questions as if I meant them to be answered right then — like, okay fine then, let’s talk about wage gap or let’s talk about Damore’s memo, or okay, I’ll tell you what I mean by crazy! My questions were meant to be rhetorical. What I really was inquiring about was what’s the level of self-awareness here about what we’re doing having this rant in this thread below Scott’s post about immoderate strawmanning. I didn’t intend to drive people deeper into the weeds of the CW topic at hand.

          • AnonYemous2 says:

            A bunch of hand-wavingly vague venting about what people find distasteful about some other people

            This whole thread got started because of the criticism that feminism confers the moral right of way to the more oppressed group, which…look, that’s basically how intersectionality functions in practice, and most feminist activists are intersectional. I don’t find this to be a particularly radical claim, and if anything I’d imagine many feminists would outright defend it as the right thing to do.

            But there’s the issue – feminist activists, or garden-variety liberals who still identify with the word feminist even after it left them well behind? I mean, you acknowledged that boys have trouble sitting in chairs, but if gender’s not real, then boys don’t have trouble sitting in chairs. So you believe in gender, unlike feminists. Why call yourself a feminist? Because you believe in gender equality? Most people do that anyways, at least in the West. Not exactly a reason to stick yourself with a label!

            …of course, in all these arguments, there’s a possibility that basically all feminist activists represent almost none of the actual beliefs of non-activist feminists. But really, if that’s the case, then one side or the other needs to ditch the label.

          • Aapje says:

            @cuke

            Firstly, I don’t believe that there is a ban on CW topics on all but the threads explicitly saying so, which currently is the visible OT thread. AFAIK, comments on non-OT threads should be more or less on topic, which can be CW, as long as it relates to the issue at hand.

            Some fallacies merely address a calibration error to one side. ‘We’ call the slippery slope a fallacy, but that merely reflects that the accusation is sometimes overused relative to the actually slippery slopes that exist. And they do exist!

            Both being oversensitive and being undersensitive to reality is a mistake.

            Pointing out the dangers of undersensitivity (directly or by example), in response to Scott warning about oversensitivity, or vice versa, is common at SSC. I don’t see this as ironic or a sign that we ignore the teachings of our master (just kidding, sneer club), but rather, that one is already going beyond the argument, to investigate how it can be abused.

            My opinion is that feminism/SJ is one of the most hypocritical ideologies around, at least, when it comes to the most read/cited/etc papers, articles, opinion pieces, etc that explicitly are advertised as feminist/SJ.

            It is truly extremely common for such writing to be based on noxious double standards or implied claims, which when pointed out, almost always result in strong denial that these implied claims exist or are intended, yet without willingness to alter the claims to be more modest and fair.

            This is especially blameworthy because it is quite common in the movement to point out the negative impact of things that are (or may be) implicit. For example, micro-agressions.

            If this wasn’t the case, one could imagine that these people don’t have the tools to understand these things. However, they clearly do, yet usually refuse to apply them to point out the negative implied claims about ‘oppressors.’

            In fact, it is not uncommon for the writing to contain justifications for such double standards/bias, based on race, gender, etc (aka racism, sexism, etc).

            Furthermore, a decent argument can be made that people who don’t subscribe to this get ejected from the movement. For example, the aforementioned Sommers left university and now works for a conservative think tank. When she does talk at colleges, it is common that attempts are made to prevent and/or disrupt the talk. Many attempts to address gender issues from a non-feminist point of view (as deemed so by the mainstream of feminism) have been suppressed.

            Also, a good argument can be made that many feminists/SJ activists misrepresent their movement as being far more unbiased, open, tolerant, etc than it actually is.

            So then, if the public’s perception is, let’s say, 40-60, but the actual reality is 20-80, then being less moderated than the public seems correct to me.

            Furthermore, if the moderate feminists stand by and do nothing when bad things happen in their name, it may be best to conflate them with the bad apples to force them to take a stand, one way or the other.

    • FeepingCreature says:

      Likewise, if I believed that Y is correct and X was useless, but there was no respectable person who thought that but there was a respectable person P who took Y somewhat seriously, I might consider that person “a movement leader” and the media might associate them with me, and then if you only met non-respectable people who all thought “oh yeah Y is the way to go, read P”, and P said “Y might be a viable possibility”, you might be confused. But I suspect influential, mainstream-visible visible people just tend to moderation – that doesn’t mean there aren’t influential-but-too-crazy-for-mainstream people in the background who are true believers in Y originating the actual concepts.

    • Joseph Greenwood says:

      The scenario you provide sounds like motte and bailey. In this case, Scott’s fallacious reversed moderation is your (correct) calling people out on their bailey. Right?

    • Kid8415 says:

      Can this be fixed by operationalizing the debate? If all parties agree with the division 90% X – 10% Y, there’s no further need to accuse anyone of anything.

      • Mr. Doolittle says:

        I would think so, but we might never agree on whether “suggested solution K” is actually 10%, 2% or 40%, and be right back where we started. For similar reasons, it would be exceptionally difficult to come up with a clear 90/10 plan in the first place.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the China example I gave would involve someone “spending all their time” talking about Y.

      I agree if someone comes out and says “X is useless”, and then later they say “X is very important”, they’ve either changed their mind or are lying one of these times.

    • Galle says:

      Sure, if your opponents have indeed spent all their time talking about how Y is correct, and X is useless.

      But odds are that they haven’t. Odds are, you’re probably like the people who saw Phil Robertson come up with a thought experiment that involved atheists being tortured, and immediately came to the conclusion that Phil Robertson therefore wants to torture atheists. This is an absolutely brain-dead, moronic interpretation of Robertson’s thought experiment, but it’s one that people managed to come to anyway. And interestingly, all of those people didn’t particularly care for Robertson to start with.

      Language is not precise. Pretty much every single English sentence ever written is ambiguous. And people will interpret an ambiguous sentence differently depending on what they think of the person it’s coming from. If it’s from someone they respect, they’ll put it through a sort of “reasonableness filter”, automatically rejecting interpretations that are obviously ridiculous or outrageous. If it’s from someone they see as an opponent, they won’t bother with that – in fact, they’ll probably home in on the most outrageous interpretation possible.

      So I’d say that even in that situation, you probably aren’t actually in that situation, and the accusation isn’t valid.