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Respectability Cascades

I.

I don’t know much about gay history, but the heavily mythicized version of it I heard goes like this:

At first open homosexuality was totally taboo. A few groups of respectable people with hilariously upper-class names like The Mattachine Society and The Daughters Of Bilitis quietly tried to influence elites in favor of more tolerance, using whatever backchannels elites use to influence one another. They had limited success, but they comforted themselves that at least they were presenting a likeable and respectable face for homosexuality that was improving the lifestyle’s public reputation.

Then a few totally-non-respectable outsiders with nothing to lose – addicts, drag queens, men with lots of chest hair who dressed in leather and called themselves “bears” – publicly came out as gay, held pride parades, shouted things about “WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER”, et cetera. They were very easy to dislike and most people easily disliked them. But once they did this enough, people who were maybe 10% of the way to being respectable – people not addicted to quite so many drugs, men without quite so much chest hair – felt comfortable joining in. Once enough of them were out, people who were 20% of the way to being respectable felt comfortable coming out, and so on. Then 30% respectable people, then 40% respectable people, all the way up to the present day where there are a bunch of openly gay members of Congress.

I know there are lots of debates over whether this kind of “respectability cascade” is the way it really happened, but it’s a neat model of a way that these things can happen.

II.

And it’s especially interesting because it’s the opposite of the way I usually think about these things.

When I did pre-med in college, I learned physiology from a distinguished professor whose focus was herpetology – the study of reptiles and amphibians. His pet issue was endocrine disruption – hormone-like pollutants that were changing the sexual maturation of frogs and other animals, and which were suspected to have deleterious effects on humans. He made us read a bunch of papers on this, all of which demonstrated a clear scientific consensus that this was a well-known environmental problem and all the respectable environmentalists and herpetologists were concerned about it.

After college I went about a decade without thinking about it. Then people started making fun of Alex Jones’ CHEMICALZ R TURNING TEH FROGZ GAY!!! shtick. I innocently said that this was definitely happening and definitely deserved our concern, and discovered that this was no longer an acceptable thing to talk about in the Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand And Whatever. Okay. Lesson learned.

We can imagine a world where endocrine disruptors proceeded the same way gay rights did. A few distinguished scientists sounded the warning in acceptable elite language to other elites, but they were a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Then 0% respectable conspiracy theorists took to Twitter to make all-caps posts about TURNING TEH FROGZ GAY!!! At first they were roundly despised, but a few 10%-respectable people saw the taboo was broken and joined in, and then 20% respectable people saw the taboo had weakened even further, and so on. Finally, the cascade catches up to members of Congress, who ban the polluting chemicals. The distinguished scientists thank God for sending Alex Jones to accomplish what they could not.

But in this world, my impression is that the scientists were making slow-but-non-zero progress, doing really good work, and then Jones’s adoption of the cause destroyed it. Now it’s much harder for the scientists to convince anyone to care, because caring has become a signal that you’re a conspiracy theorist or otherwise a disrespectable person. Jones hasn’t just failed to contribute to the fight against endocrine disruptors, he’s shot it in the foot. My professor should send him a private email asking him to shut up for the good of the cause, and to leave the issue to people who can wage it non-counterproductively, ie 100% respectable elite scientists.

This is the worldview I was trying to get across in Trump: A Setback For Trumpism. Polls show that ever since Trump entered the national stage, support for tariffs and border control have fallen. Probably this is for the same reason that concern about frog hormones would have fallen if anyone did a poll on it – the issue became associated with disreputable people, so the respectable people fled from it lest they be contaminated with low status.

It’s also related to the point I make about Voat here. Reddit makes some unpopular moderation policies. It has all sorts of users, from 0% respectable racist trolls to 100% respectable academics in AskHistorians who will answer your oddly specific questions on medieval Swiss dentistry. Maybe all of them have some concerns about the new moderation, but the 0% respectable trolls have the most concern and are vocal in the fight against it. This leads to opposing the moderation policies getting coded as “racist troll”, and means the other discussion sites that spring up as possible alternatives are so disreputable that nobody with any kind of a reputation dares to go there. Again, the 0% respectable people taking up a theme discourage anybody else from following, lest they be associated with toxic people.

III.

So we have two opposite lessons.

In the first, 0%-respectable-people taking up a cause is a good and necessary first step, and means that soon 10% and 20% respectable people will take it up. It is the beginning of a respectability cascade that will redeem the cause from the pit of taboo-ness permanently.

In the second, 0%-respectable-people taking up a cause dooms it forever. It is the beginning of a disrespectability cascade that will make the cause too toxic for anyone above that respectability level to ever dare associate with.

So what does one do?

I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism. My strategy so far has been to let Stephen Pinker and Jonathan Haidt do all the talking, and only talk myself if I feel like I can speak with the same level of dignity, respectability, and scientific backing they do. As for random people on Twitter who are likely to speak in ALL CAPS, on the rare occasions when they seek my opinion, I give them the advice of the great poet John Milton, who wrote “They also serve who only stand and wait and keep their idiot mouths shut”.

Yet I can’t help but notice that this is pursuing the same kind of strategy as the Mattachine Society and all of those other elite groups who never made more than the tiniest contribution to gay rights. “Get your most respectable members to serve as public spokespeople, and keep your least respectable members quiet so they don’t ruin your image” sounds like a good strategy. But it’s the opposite of the respectability cascade theory, and that theory is convincing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since that New York Times article on the “Intellectual Dark Web”, because those people seem like the second level of the respectability cascade. None of them are Congressmen yet, but all of them are a step beyond Milo Yiannopoulos. This has made me wonder if maybe there’s something to this after all?

Even beyond the strategic perspective, it’s just sort of embarrassing to have two good theories of how society and politics work that make opposite predictions from each other. What are some heuristics for when one would work rather than another?

Homosexuality started out as already maximally taboo; endocrine disruptors and immigration started out as merely under-discussed. Maybe disrespectable people can’t hurt an already-maximally-taboo cause, but can harm an under-discussed one?

Gay people – even 0%-respectable drug-addicted gay people – seem more sympathetic and likeable than Alex Jones or his fans, so maybe their visibility was more of a positive. But is this just me projecting my 2010s post-gay-victory values back on the past?

People leaving Reddit went to a specific alternative community – Voat – whereas people coming out as gay kept some of their existing relationships intact. Maybe socializing in a specific community made up of disrespectable people is a hard sell, but admitting to a lifestyle practiced by disrespectable people is easier?

Gay people had no choice but to be gay, whereas environmentalists (and conservatives) could pivot from caring about endocrine disruptors and immigration to some other environmental or conservative cause that might have mattered just as much to them. Maybe respectable people with lots of equally good alternatives are more likely to be repulsed by disrespectable people rather than throw their lot in with them?

But keeping all that in mind, what advice would you give Jonathan Haidt? Should he tell random disrespectable anti-SJW Twitter trolls to shut up? Or should he tell them to shout even louder? It still seems like a hard question.

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742 Responses to Respectability Cascades

  1. alec says:

    Isn’t a difference that with gay rights, the initial respectable people weren’t open about being gay themselves, but the initial endocrine scientists were fairly open about what they were claiming?

    • onyomi says:

      Nassim Taleb would probably say something like “social proof only works to the extent you have ‘skin in the game'”… says the pseudonymous guy with anime picture.

  2. shneddly says:

    I feel like the history of these issues might be more newsworthy because it so rarely happens. Are there examples of controversial topics that slowly became more respectable over time through slow social change or through the efforts of elites?

    • Murphy says:

      There’s enough differences in society over the last hundred years.

      Social views on gays have yoyo’ed a few times through human history.

      Cancer and many serious health conditions in the family used to be basically taboo to talk about.

      Views on sex and consent tend to yo-yo. Views on nudity yo-yo.

      Girls wearing trousers is a bizarre one but used not be socially acceptable.

      Stigma associated with having tattoos just isn’t what it used to be.

      Inter Racial Marriage probably gets a mention.

      Premarital sex went from taboo to viewing people who do something as serious as marriage without learning if you’re even vaguely sexually compatible as weird and/or foolish.

    • quaelegit says:

      Atheism

  3. drethelin says:

    Are you sure the backlash against Alex Jones isn’t actually an important part of the steps toward respectability?

    To me it’s plausible that PUBLIC backlash against something, rather than distributed/private/etc condemnation and punishment is actually a part of the process by which it can become mainstream. It may seem like a step back to acceptance, but the powers-that-be publicly talking about something is an ENORMOUS boost in it being well-known and potentially gaining millions more advocates. The loud homosexuals trigger a horrible backlash and a lot more persecution, but this has the long-term result of homosexuality becoming a salient concept and potential life option. It seems like this will feel awful and like a giant step back to the ones that are kinda quietly co-existing without trying to change the status quo, or the scientists quietly studying a topic, but will end up doing more in the long term.

    • melolontha says:

      This would fit with the Gandhi theory — specifically, taking the step from ‘ignored’ to ‘laughed at’.

      • Simon_Jester says:

        I mean, the narrative can run either way.

        “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

        OR

        “First they ignore you, then they notice you, then they turn the Contempt Beam upon you with the blazing fury of a million sons, then you are blown away by the terrible power of the Beam and no one outside your little community ever takes you seriously again.”

        UFO sighting enthusiasts would seem to fall into the latter category, for instance. At some point it seems to have become quietly accepted that no, we’re actually not being visited by hundreds of flying saucers a year. Probably because so many people carry cell phone cameras these days that the sheer mountain of absence of evidence becomes Bayesian evidence of probable absence.

    • onyomi says:

      This sounds right to me. I don’t have a strong opinion on endocrine disruption in reptiles, but it’s probably only thanks to Alex Jones that I even know it might be a concern at all.

      Related might be anti-vaxxers: it seems obvious to me they are mostly cranks, but having a lot of loud cranks and public backlashes about a thing is still probably better for long-term acceptance of a thing, as seen by the increased number of people not vaccinating (apparently resulting in some scary come-backs for e.g. measles). And even though I don’t think of them as respectable I’m more likely to think twice or ask questions about what the doctors are doing wrt vaccinations as a result of their existence.

      I’m reminded of a joke by a comedian I can’t remember at the moment on Dr. Katz, something to the effect of: “my buddy is always so trusting. The other day he told me that he had met the pope. I said, ‘Bob, I’m pretty sure that was just that homeless guy who hangs out on your block.’ He says ‘okay, well if he’s not the pope I’m pretty sure he’s at least a bishop of some sort.” Scott Adams or Robert Cialdini would probably have a name for this, maybe something like “oversell” or “anchoring.”

      • Walter says:

        Anti-vaxxers are fascinating, because the vaccination rate falls a lot faster than they gain membership. They aren’t increasing membership in the ‘publicly anti vax’ group, but they are blowing up the ‘free ride on herd immunity’ group.

        • quaelegit says:

          Can you link the source for that claim? I’m curious how to measure A-v membership numbers to compare.

  4. astaereth says:

    These are different situations and the principle seems at odds because you’re trying to apply a broad heuristic to three very different problems.

    The question, “Why does outspoken but disreputable support for an idea encourage others to respect that idea in one instance but disrespect it in another?” is like the question “Why does 400 degrees of heat for 30 minutes turn a living human into a dead human in one instance but in another instance, turn these ingredients into a cake?”

    The gay rights movement made progress because the barriers to it doing so included bigotry founded on ignorance; the more people who came out, the more people who suddenly knew someone in their life who was gay and discovered they didn’t mind having a gay friend or family member. Your respectability cascade is more or less true, with the addition that homosexuality itself became less disreputable over time.

    The barrier to more people worrying about frog chemicals wasn’t how absurd and low status it sounded so much as how unimportant it sounded (Save the Frogs doesn’t have the same ring as Save the Whales, does it?). When a lying idiot starts proclaiming that this is an important issue, it signals to people that it probably isn’t. When it comes to minor questions of science such as these, progress of the issue doesn’t seem to be about respectability at all (maybe for scientists who might scoff at outlandish theories and refuse to hold conferences on them, but not for the general public).

    The reddit/VOAT thing is likewise probably more about social media inertia and the way it’s very hard to start a smaller party next door from a party that’s already much bigger. A real migration from, say, myspace to Facebook probably requires a big push all at once, many people flocking in the same direction, to avoid the “but all my friends are still on myspace” issue, and so needs to move faster than a disreputable cascade can happen.

    The general principle I’d say is that even disreputable people can improve public reaction to a group or idea by being outspoken about it, if the barrier for that idea is that not enough people are being outspoken about it. But that is not always the case.

    • melolontha says:

      The reddit/VOAT thing is likewise probably more about social media inertia and the way it’s very hard to start a smaller party next door from a party that’s already much bigger. A real migration from, say, myspace to Facebook probably requires a big push all at once, many people flocking in the same direction, to avoid the “but all my friends are still on myspace” issue, and so needs to move faster than a disreputable cascade can happen.

      I’m not sure that voat’s biggest problem is being disreputable, but I don’t think it’s just network effects either. From what I have seen (admittedly briefly and not very recently) it is simply a nasty, uninteresting and generally unpleasant place that most people would steer clear of, regardless of the fear of tarnishing one’s own reputation or the lack of motivation to get an as-yet-unpopular forum off the ground.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      So would you suggest that Jonathan Haidt should tell random anti-SJW Twitter trolls to shut up, or that he should tell them to be even louder? Or do you think it’s a hard problem?

  5. melolontha says:

    Another dynamic occurs when the disreputable and reputable streams don’t cross — the disreputable people effectively act as foils for the reputable ones, by forcing the issue into the public consciousness and doing it in such an extreme way that the reputable people look very moderate and non-threatening by comparison.

  6. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    This is awfully rich coming right on the heels of exiling the Culture War containment thread from the subreddit.

    If you’re going to be pragmatic and manage your respectability, fine. That’s a reasonable personal choice and one that most of us here make in our own private lives. Nobody is obligated to martyr themselves in the name of truth. But you can’t have it both ways: brave martyrs are only respectable in retrospect, in the here and now their respectability is the first thing they’re expected to sacrifice.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        If “respectability cascades” are real, then pushing the loudest and least respectible proponents of your viewpoint out of the spotlight is counterproductive. Their high visibility is exactly what allows more respectible people to openly adopt similar views.

        If, on the other hand, respectability cascades aren’t real, then openly flirting with the idea of embracing the loudest and least respectible proponents of your viewpoint is counterproductive. Their association with the viewpoint is exactly what prevents more respectible people from openly adopting similar views.

        That is, your hybrid position makes no sense from the perspective of your stated goals. You turn down the visibility on your disrespectible fans… and at the same time conspicuously muse that, hey, these disrespectable fans of yours might have the right idea! That can’t work under either model you laid out in this very post.

        It’s like your post on Kolmogorov. If you publicly announce that you’re bravely keeping your heretical beliefs secret, they’re not a secret anymore. It doesn’t fool anyone who matters: even their greatest critics grant that Twitter users and journalists are literate. Whether or not it’s the intention, the effect is of empty self-congratulation.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          You seem to think I’m doing something a lot more strategic than I am.

          Right now I’m operating off a combination of the anti-respectability-cascades model, plus ethics and truth-seeking. I haven’t been using the respectability-cascades model at all until I thought about it more last week, which is why I’m making this post now.

          • Bugmaster says:

            At the risk of being banned, I’d argue that people — yourself included — tend to build the worlds they want to see. You are slowly and cautiously building a world where you are perceived to be respectable, at the expense of suppressing huge chunks of your intellectual opposition; all in the name of suppressing the craziest elements of such opposition who are not even endorsed by their own side.

            I think this goal is achievable and perfectly reasonable from your individual point of view; however, I also think that if everyone behaved in this perfectly reasonable and efficient manner, our social commons would fully collapse.

  7. orin says:

    This post is ignoring some pretty important context to the Alex Jones statements, which is his assertion that the chemicals turning frogs gay are an intentional act of government conspiracy aiming to develop and disperse chemicals that turn people gay.

  8. Picador says:

    “In practice ideologies seem to put much less effort into encouraging their least respectable members to stay quiet than I would expect; I’ve been interpreting this as a failure, but maybe they know something I don’t?”

    This sounds like the Malcolm X / MLK problem. I think the conventional wisdom these days is that, rather than alienating white folks from the cause of civil rights, Malcolm instead drove them into the relatively unthreatening arms of Martin. Pincer maneuver. Not sure if the conventional wisdom is correct, but I think that’s what people say.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      That seems to work only if white people feel like they need to support some kind of civil rights.

      I don’t think Donald Trump is driving people into the arms of moderate conservatives, because people have the option of just not being conservative at all.

      (I also don’t think that eg Nat Turner drove any whites into the arms of Frederick Douglass, or whatever the analogy back then would be).

      • DeWitt says:

        I don’t think Donald Trump is driving people into the arms of moderate conservatives, because people have the option of just not being conservative at all.

        Possibly true in America, but Europe’s far right definitely drives the success of the moderate right a lot.

      • Aging Loser says:

        Donald Trump is a moderate Progressive — he is a Feminist, Egalitarian, and Diversitarian who merely strives to decelerate the inexorable crappification of America.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Would you mind defining the terms ‘egalitarian,’ ‘feminist,’ and ‘diversitarian’ as you used them in the above comment? I’m not sure the words mean to you something recognizable compared to what they mean to me.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        Look at the rehabilitation of John McCain and George Bush as heroes of large swathes of Democrats.

        • Evan Þ says:

          That’s shallow praise when neither of them are running for office. If they praise any moderate-conservative current candidate, I’d be astonished.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            Yeah, they’re still not going to vote for John Kasich.

            Moderating doesn’t really do you any favors. Your opponents still don’t like you, and your supporters stop liking you. A left-wing atheist friend of mine told me how much he likes Pope Francis because of his various progressive sounding political statements and nice comments about gays and the like. I said, “Oh, great, would you like to come to Mass with me then?” He did not respond in the affirmative.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I reckon an awful lot of centrist Democrats would switch sides if the Republicans had a centrist, relatively socially liberal candidate up against Bernie Sanders. Likewise Democrat Hawks if Tulsi Gabbard got the nomination. Probably a good chunk of Trump supporters would go the other way though.

        • John Schilling says:

          So, the only good Republican is a dead Republican?

    • Aging Loser says:

      Malcolm was a moron and nobody felt threatened by him. This is a guy who is praised for converting to an insane worldwide psychopathic religion that he knew nothing about from an insane science fiction cult. This is a guy who told the ghostwriter of his biography that pigs shouldn’t be eaten because they’re crosses between rats and dogs (which may have been a joke; if so, I give him credit for that one.) MLK was immediately accepted as saint and prophet because everyone already embraced everything that he said. His antagonists were simply cartoon Bad Guys who might as well have been written by Stan Lee.

      • Enkidum says:

        “Nobody felt threatened by” Malcolm X? Huh.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Based on this, other posts in this thread, and other posts no longer in this thread because they got auto-deleted when they reached the maximum report limit, Aging Loser is banned indefinitely

        • Ghillie Dhu says:

          …auto-deleted when they reached the maximum report limit…

          Even if this is a necessary policy, acknowledging its existence seems unwise.

          Also, what happens to children of deleted posts?

          • Nornagest says:

            Also, what happens to children of deleted posts?

            They are also deleted. If the offending post was at max depth, though, posts replying to it are considered children of the post at max-1 depth and not the offending one, so they’ll stick around.

  9. Palamedes says:

    This doesn’t seem very mysterious to me, because the endocrine disruption idea HAD to come from the top- it’s hard to have a viable scientific idea about frogs without being a frog scientist. On the other hand, gay people existed in every stratum of society, but initially only those with no status to lose were willing to risk being gay openly (in your model of it, which is also my vague understanding). Anger at leftist ideas and their increasing prevalence and power is likewise probably shared among multiple levels of respectability already, and has had to work its way up somewhat.

  10. pdbarnlsey says:

    I suspect a big part of the difference is that remaining closeted is really costly, while remaining silent on frog homosexuality is pretty cheap.

    The former group is going to be actively searching for permission to relax a major constraint on their sex/social lives, so they’ll be willing to take the hit associated with joining a group slightly below them on the societal totem pole.

    Endocrine truthers, even otherwise pretty disreputable ones, are more likely just to let it slide when faced with the alternative of pointing out “actually, Alex Jones has a point”.

    • Michael Watts says:

      I suspect a big part of the difference is that remaining closeted is really costly, while remaining silent on frog homosexuality is pretty cheap.

      I find this highly plausible. But I wanted to point out that we can’t have a respectability cascade in gay rights at the same time as we have a respectability cascade in curing gay frogs, because those two causes are directly opposed.

      You can’t argue against chemicals turning the frogs gay without being prepared to argue that making frogs gay is bad. And it’s a short step from “being gay is bad, but only for frogs” to “being gay is bad, for frogs and also for people”. Nothing makes gay activists madder than suggesting that being gay is an environmental disability that should be dealt with by curing it, and demonstrating that that’s true for frogs won’t make them less mad.

      • ksvanhorn says:

        Um, somebody has to reproduce. Isn’t that what the concern is, not that 3% or 10% of frogs are turning gay, but that so many are getting altered that reproduction is seriously hampered?

        On the other hand, I don’t think anybody is worried that the human race will die out because 3% or 10% are gay.

        • Michael Watts says:

          Do you think anyone is worried that their family line will die out because their only son is gay?

          Do you think that the message “homosexuality in frogs is a developmental disorder that needs to be fixed” might promote the message “homosexuality is a developmental disorder that needs to be fixed”? In a Darwinian sense, this is one of the most indisputable claims you can make, but try mentioning it in polite company.

          • eyeballfrog says:

            Problem is, fixed how? If we go by the frogs analogy, the fix is preventing it from happening in the first place. Which is a little late for the son who’s already gay, and there’s still the issue that the cause of homosexuality is still unclear.

            Also I suspect most gay people realize that, had they been given the option, they would haven chosen to be straight. So this isn’t exactly news.

          • Michael Watts says:

            If we go by the frogs analogy, the fix is preventing it from happening in the first place.

            This has some obvious policy implications:

            – Recognize that homosexuality is a scourge and needs to be stopped.

            – Investigate what’s causing it, so we can stop it. It may be too late for some unfortunates, but it’s not too late to protect everyone else.

            Again, there’s no reason to stop something unless you think it’s bad. I suspect many people would find those policies unpalatable. As far as I’m aware, most gay activism is specifically devoted to contradicting point #1.

          • hydro says:

            Also I suspect most gay people realize that, had they been given the option, they would haven chosen to be straight. So this isn’t exactly news

            This is a very surprising claim to me. A lot of my social circle (both irl and online) is queer in some way, and I’ve never in memory heard this sentiment expressed. Admittedly these are millenials, and maybe there’s more wish to have been straight among older people.

            Why do you think your claim is true?

          • This. A lot of liberals are sincerely confused by conservatives’ desire to “police people’s sexuality” (as liberals might put it). While I don’t support the policing of people’s sexuality in the current context, I can easily imagine a context in which it would serve a functional purpose:

            1. For some reason some people really really want biological descendants. I don’t personally understand this, but I recognize that this is important for some people, and your son happening to be one of the 3% of gays might interfere with that (unless you can reinforce a norm that gays should somehow enlist surrogate mothers to have sex with one of the gay partners and then give birth to a child that the gay couple can then adopt).

            2. If we were living in Ancient Sparta, and we were worried about a more-populous foreign tribe conquering and enslaving us, then it might be logical to encourage tribe members to have as many children as possible…which might, under certain social arrangements, only be practical in a context of very few people practicing gay sexual acts (for the reason alluded to in point #1 above—while, theoretically, nothing prevents one member of a gay couple from impregnating someone else, the social ramifications of that could become…complicated…and could sow drama and discord within the tribe).

            I just happen to not believe that we are in one of those contexts. I see my tribe as the global working class, and we are already enslaved. We do not need more numbers, but greater consciousness of our enslavement. Workers having more children does not help us, and actually may hurt our cause by making labor-power more plentiful on the world market. If even 30% of workers around the world were gay, and global birth rates plummeted, that might actually help our cause. It would kind of be a bloodless way of replicating the Black Death, and the resulting Europe-wide wage increases that resulted from the shortage of labor-power in Medieval Europe.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            While I don’t support the policing of people’s sexuality in the current context, I can easily imagine a context in which it would serve a functional purpose:

            No need to conjure up Spartan tribal warfare to explain this. Basically every culture that survived up until 1950 placed strict restrictions on sexuality. It provides a clear evolutionary advantage over cultures that dont do it. Regulated sexuality provides paternity certainty (or the appearance thereof) and nuclear families are better at raising kids and therefore surviving than single moms, specially in the pre-industrial era.

            I’m sure plenty of cultures dabbled in unregulated sexuality in the distant past, they’re just not here today, they died out.

            Sex is fun (citation needed) and if it’s unregulated people will do it regardless of consequences and without the pill and enough societal wealth to support single moms, these consequences are dire.

            Now we have the pill, enough wealth to support single moms, and sexuality is being deregulated as a result. We dont know the long term consequences of this, but unlike 60-70 years ago, it’s not a certainty that the long term consequences will be disastrous.

          • AG says:

            Citing ancient cultures about their lack of homosexuality is bizarre. Sure, there was regulated reproduction (aka it has to happen), but that was hand in hand with “as long as you also reproduce, go wild with same-sex sex on the side.” Nobody was allowed to prioritize modern conceptions of romance, not even the straights, so there was probably even more same-sex sex going on than extra-marital het sex.
            For that matter, we’ve seen that this is also the case in the animal world, where a whole lotta same-sex intercourse is happening alongside the reproductive intercourse as the normal course of things. So the evopsych argument doesn’t hold much water, anyways.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I think “turning the frogs gay” is shorthand for “doing weird sexual things to frogs that make them unable to reproduce in general”. I think most of them are intersex or have deformed genitalia or something.

        • Walter says:

          Yeah, the worry is not, like, ‘frogs morals won’t get them into heaven’ it is ‘screwfly solution’ stuff. No baby frogs means no frogs.

      • jm says:

        You can’t argue against chemicals turning the frogs gay without being prepared to argue that making frogs gay is bad.

        It is possible to argue that population diversity is good, and messing with the rates of various traits in a population through putting chemicals in the water is bad. I. E., a certain natural rate of homosexuality is good, possibly representing some sort of evolutionary equilibrium, and messing with that without really knowing what you’re doing is bad, either to increase or decrease it.

        I don’t strongly hold this opinion, just pointing out that it’s an opinion that one can logically hold, which allows you to say we shouldn’t be putting stuff in the water that messes with the homosexuality rate, without taking the position that homosexuality is bad.

      • martinw says:

        I don’t have anything against left-handed people (I am one myself).

        But if I learned that in a particular region the number of left-handed people was much higher than normal, and it turned out that this was caused by some chemical being dumped into the groundwater by a nearby factory and affecting the pregnant women at the local maternity ward, then I would say that that’s probably a bad thing and we should do something about it. Not because I think that increasing the number of left-handers is inherently bad, but because if these chemicals can have that effect, then who knows what else they may be messing with?

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        I think the argument is that humans dumping chemicals in the water that significantly alter wildlife is bad. Very few people will have a problem with that. In the interests of hyper contrarianism, I now declare my terminal value is homosexual amphibian maximization.

    • aristides says:

      One problem with this theory, is it should imply that there should have been a respectability cascade for celibate pedophiles after NAMBLA was founded, but I’ve seen no such thing. Maybe being in the closet was more costly for LGBT, since it made it harder to pursue relationships, and maybe being out of the closet is more costly for celibate pedophilies, since the police and CPS seem more willing to investigate every lead than police were willing to investigate gay sex? In truth there are probably 100 factors that affect a respectability cascade, and LGBT probably got lucky.

  11. Jay Searson says:

    It seems like there are a lot of differing variables even in just the examples you give. For one thing, the argument that gays are people too is pretty obvious and accessible; on the other hand, what’s up with frogs is complicated and hard to understand. Gay acceptance took a long time, and there were probably setbacks from time to time; Alex Jones’ comments on gay frogs are recent and might just represent a small setback in the long struggle to keep kermit kermit or something.

    I’m not even super confident that respectability cascades are a real thing — didn’t basically the opposite strategy get vaccines used when they were first developed? Stuff funneling down through the elites? Do we actually have like, any other examples? And are those examples distinct from like, a bunch of data coming out?

    • Baeraad says:

      For one thing, the argument that gays are people too is pretty obvious and accessible; on the other hand, what’s up with frogs is complicated and hard to understand.

      Logged in to say the same thing.

      There is also the fact that gay people are something like 10% of the population. That’s a lot of people of varying levels of respectability who might conceivably want to jump on the bandwagon as long as someone else gets it rolling. In comparison, the frog thing interests a tiny number of very serious scientists on one end, a tiny number of feverish conspiracy theorists who think that it fits their narrative on the other end, and in between those… what? Most people won’t have even heard of it, and most people who have heard of it don’t care very much. There’s no sleeping giant to wake here.

      • Radu Floricica says:

        Did a quick google to check, and the only numbers that came close to 10% are for “acknowledge at least some same-sex sexual attraction”, with 2.5-3.5 for “identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual”.

        • Yosarian2 says:

          An interesting note here; about 4.5% of the general population is gay, but it’s much higher among millennials, above 8%.

          https://news.gallup.com/poll/234863/estimate-lgbt-population-rises.aspx

          My best guess is that there’s a lot of people who have some homosexual feelings who are more willing to identify as gay now that it’s more acceptable?

          • Aging Loser says:

            If you would like to take it up the ass or suck someone’s cock you’re homosexual; if not, you’re not, regardless of how often you find men beautiful. Men are often beautiful, duh. The question is — do you want them to fuck you? If your answer is No, you’re not homosexual.

          • March says:

            How about if the answer is No but you still want to fuck THEM?

          • Radu Floricica says:

            A great deal of that is openness to experience and cultural shift. In the current climate it’s fashionable to test your orientation, and once having tested it, it’s quite possible you’ll label yourself as bisexual (because, well, you did the deed or at least went pretty far and didn’t absolutely hate it) but still prefer the opposite sex. Think of “I kissed a girl and liked it” type of thing.

            If I’m allowed to be optimistic I’d say in the future the whole concept of strict orientation will be less relevant, since most people will have experimented, and the current preferences will be considered mostly a matter of well… preference and context.

          • aristides says:

            @Aging Loser One problem with your definition. I would have been willing to suck someone’s cock when I was single, as long as they were a beautiful woman. Trans individuals have confused this issue. I identify as heterosexual, but it’s the gender expression I’m attracted to, not the genitals.

  12. wavedash says:

    I think the link to a post about Voat in section II might be going to the wrong address, it’s pointed at the Trumpism article.

  13. vaniver says:

    I have heard it supposed that Alex Jones was paid by Syngenta to discuss turning the frogs gay as part of a general plot to discredit Tyrone Hayes, who seems to be one of the more prominent scientists studying the issue. There is, to my knowledge, no hard evidence to support this claim, but it seems worth including in the hypothesis space, and could explain some of why the low-respectability approach is not working (because the principle actors aren’t trying to make it work).

    This doesn’t explain why Trump is decreasing the support for border control–unless one thinks Trump is a false flag, but that seems fairly hard to square with what we’ve seen. I also think I would have predicted Trump winning to broadly increase the respectability of pundits arguing for border control, which we haven’t seen, and so I’m somewhat confused about what’s going on here, except to the degree this can just be explained by an elite-populist split and elite opinion isn’t shifted much by populist victories.

    • Radu Floricica says:

      Trump is mostly explained by polarization of media. Most of it was slightly left of center before, so now it went all the way to the left – so no respectability for border supporters.

      Trump is still hovering around 40-50% approval, which means his voting base is still with him. In private discussions border control is probably equally polarized, with plenty of supporters – but proportionally fewer visible ones, because of the media distortion.

      • ManyCookies says:

        He’s been sticking around 40% approval for his presidency so far (highest 43%, lowest 37%), does that not represent a small cut to the 2016 voting base?

        • deciusbrutus says:

          Add in the people who disapproved more strongly of Hillary and/or the DNC nomination and refused to vote third party, and you have MORE than the 2016 voting base.

          Hard to tell how much, given that support of Trump and disapproval of Hilary aren’t independent.

    • carvenvisage says:

      I have heard it supposed that Alex Jones was paid by Syngenta to discuss turning the frogs gay as part of a general plot to discredit Tyrone Hayes, who seems to be one of the more prominent scientists studying the issue. There is, to my knowledge, no hard evidence to support this claim, but it seems worth including in the hypothesis space, and could explain some of why the low-respectability approach is not working (because the principle actors aren’t trying to make it work).

      I doubt this because crashing+videotaping bohemian grove strikes me as the antithesis of calculating self-interested behaviour.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Trump isn’t decreasing support for border control. People who would’ve said “Yeah I support it” before Trump and now say “Nope I don’t support it” never really supported it.

  14. Caf1815 says:

    I’m pretty sure the “mythologized” account if how gays gained acceptance is inaccurate. To take an example from France, just before gay marriage was going to be be legalized in 2013, which was expected to happen quite uneventfully, a right-wing newspaper, Minute, ran a front-page story showing two guys marching in the previous Pride parade. Both were outrageously hairy, and clad in leather belts wich made no attempt at covering what would usually be excpected to be covered. The caption ran: “Would you trust these people with raising children”? The paper was promptly sued, but it turned out no charge could be made to stick: their lawyers argued that by participating in a parade, the guys had signalled that this was the image of themselves they wanted to project.The front page was partly instrumental in ginning up such an outrage at the proposed legislation that hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against it. The government rammed it through parliament anyway, so that each side has remained bitter and vindictive against the other ever since, as people are apt to do in France.
    My point being, letting 0% respectability people bear the standard of a cause is 100% counterproductive in any situation I can think of.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      I mean, the 0% respectable propagandists working at Minute almost blocked legislation that was considered inevitable. It wasn’t counterproductive for them.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I don’t think that’s a good example. That the hirsute gentlemen were counterproductive in the final stages of the gay marriage debate does not prove they were counterproductive at the very beginning of the “here and queer” push.

  15. ManyCookies says:

    So did you watch TURNING THE FROGS GAY in full context (not judging if you didn’t)? Alex Jones’ controversial claim was not that atrazine could change a frog’s gender, he went way way further and claimed that it was evidence of a U.S government plot to turn its citizens homo by drugging the water supply with gay chemicals. Turning the Frogs Gay(/Sterile) was actually the motte of Alex Jones’ rant!

    I dunno, were you just like “Well actually atrazine can cause gender changes in frogs” without further qualification? Because that could reeeeally easily come across as “Well vaccines do have some worrying side-effects” concern trolling if you didn’t acknowledge the crazy/bailey part.

    • eh says:

      There’s a pattern where
      – fact A has moderate to high supporting evidence
      – an extremist reads fact A
      – they make crazy claim B and hold fact A up as proof
      – everyone mocks and debunks claim B
      – some people mock and “debunk” fact A using the argument against claim B
      – nobody believes fact A anymore

      This pattern of weakmanning happened with the gay frogs, but also with climate change (extremists claimed the earth would be an uninhabitable wasteland by 2020), a genetic basis for IQ (extremists extended this to the idea that racial crime rates were totally fixed), etc. If you’re interested in fact A for its own sake or for the sake of plausible claim C then it’s frustrating to be ignored on the basis of concern trolling for a concern you believe is legitimate.

      • ramora says:

        I think ManyCookies is denying that the pattern is so widespread. Maybe the people objecting to the “turning frogs gay” narrative are totally on board with the endocrine disruption theory, and just think they are objecting to the government homo drug theory?

        And indeed, where are all these people who don’t think endocrine disruption in amphibians is a real thing because they think Alex Jones is silly? Have any of us met one?

        • Michael Watts says:

          It sounds like Scott met a few:

          people started making fun of Alex Jones because apparently he believed CHEMICALZ R TURNING TEH FROGZ GAY!!! I innocently said that this was definitely happening and definitely deserved our concern, and discovered that this was no longer an acceptable thing to talk about in the Year Of Our Lord Two Thousand And Whatever. Okay. Lesson learned.

        • eh says:

          My experience has been that everyone I know who ran into the meme found it funny because “chemicals in the water turning the frogs gay” seems like a ridiculous conspiracy theory. I was even talking to someone about possible environmental origins of obesity and at one point they laughed and said the quote, which was a bit weird.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        And worse, people who try to support reasonable claim C using true fact A get attacked as though they were making outrageous claim B.

        And this is an intentional tactic being used to discredit inconvenient fact in broader political discourse.

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        The respectability-thing for the IQ debate is somewhat revisionist.

        “Intelligence is real and heritable” has been the consensus amongst most psychologists since the 90’s. That fact didn’t stop a very tame, and very polite tome like the “Bell Curve” from being slandered up and down endlessly. It’s *possible* that the acceptance of the position has grown since then but looking at popular media it’s hard to tell.

        And certainly many laws as they are written still reflect the assumption that the blank slate is still fundamentally correct and we simply haven’t tried hard enough to bring about equality of outcome. Perhaps **more so** now then 20 years ago.

        In the gay rights case the ‘counter-reaction’ or ‘reactionary’ forces became weaker [generally speaking] in their actions and in their convictions over time. This is not true of behavioral research. The same thing might be said of USSR reactions to color revolutions in the 1980s vs the 1950s.

        One difference is that the sort of person who is mildly intolerant of homosexuals can see the difference between an Alan Turing and an activist stereotype. I believe that A typical journalist writing on an academic topic lacks the self-control to the difference between Charles Murray and Voldemort, or Stephen Pinker for that matter. We might ask why they’re so dishonest, but it’s not dishonesty, it’s something much more frightening then dishonesty. And if they can’t see the difference, their readers who are perhaps less zealous and potentially more perceptive won’t either.

        • JPNunez says:

          Eh, it’s hard for the Bell Curve to be taken seriously due to its recommendations; whatever you think of the science part of it, it’s hard to deny that their conclusions are p on the right wing side. Reducing immigration, ending affirmative action sounds p much standard GOP policy. Leaving the complex issue of immigration out, it seems to me that if you were worried about a certain part of the population having lower IQ for whatever reason, the correct course would be for them to receive _more_ education, in hopes you can fix at least the environmental and even genetic factors -simply because of the chances people mate with other people in their college-. The Bell Curve prescriptions only sound like trying to keep the problem growing and sinking one side down to benefit the other.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            TBC had recommendations but the ones that people allude to were read into the text of the journalists who reported on it, and people since then have assumed it to exist somewhere in the text.

            This is the most controversial recommendation I can find:

            We are silent partly because we are as apprehensive as most other people about what might happen when a govemment decides to social- engineer who has babies and who doesn’t. We can imagine no recommendation for using the govemment to manipulate fertility that does not have dangers. But this highlights the problem: The United States already has policies that inadvertently social-engineer who has babies, and it is encouraging the wrong women. If the United States did as much to encourage high-IQ women to have babies as it now does to encourage low- lQ women, it would rightly be described as engaging in aggressive manipulation of fertility. The technically precise description of America’s fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution. We urge generally that these policies, represented by the extensive network of cash and services for low-income women who have babies, be ended. The government should stop subsidizing births to anyone, rich or poor. The other generic recommendation, as close to harmless as any government program we can imagine, is to make it easy for women to make good on their prior decision not to get pregnant by making available birth control mechanisms that are increasingly flexible, foolproof, in- expensive, and safe.

            Did those who claimed that Roe v Wade was eugenically lowering crime rates get their names dragged through the mud like TBC did?

            Recommendations for dealing with low IQ people were far far more sympathetic then the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” line that has been adopted by the so-called center right. But the bootstraps and educationists camps might find common ground simply because both policies share similar foundations.

            Now, In terms of what you propose;

            1. Gains in Raw IQ from education fade over time and are generally not g loaded. and Gains in Raw IQ matter less than gains in ‘G’ as far as the academic skill -> income earning profession pipeline is concerned.
            2. A student who goes to a university who is unqualified and liable to fail is likely worse off then one who never attended. Best case scenario is a certain number of years of life are squandered and the only loss is the opportunity cost of unearned wages and ungained useful job experience, assuming all university costs are covered. More realistic is that the government only covers some of the costs and so the student is indebted with no corresponding benefit.
            3. Lowering standards to accommodate for #2 perpetuates the credentialism arms race, pushing bachelors into masters and doctoral programs, does no more to intermingle high-low IQ people, and raises the financial barriers to enter the middle class.
            4. As far as assortive mating goes, men who get married to women expecting a middle or upper middle class lifestyle and can’t obtain the kind of work needed

          • albatross11 says:

            JP Nuñez:

            If his factual claims are true, it seems like that’s worth taking seriously even if you disagree with his policy proposals. As a parallel, suppose someone makes a convincing case that global warming is real and serious and going to cause huge oroblems, and proposes responding by banning fossil fuels. I might think his solution wrongheaded but still want to find a solution I would consider workable.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            3. Lowering standards to accommodate for #2 perpetuates the credentialism arms race, pushing bachelors into masters and doctoral programs, does no more to intermingle high-low IQ people, and raises the financial barriers to enter the middle class.

            This is one of my major hobbyhorses. I remember helping to correct a paper my brother in law had written for his degree in criminology. Not knowing a thing about criminology, I was confident the paper deserved an F. I corrected his basic grammar mistakes without making a fuss about the complete lack of scholarship in the paper, and he was glad to tell me later he got a C. He’s not a dumb guy, today he has a good job working hard in an office. But to force him to go through 4 years pretending to study criminology in order to be eligible for that job is a crime against reason and society.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            As a parallel, suppose someone makes a convincing case that global warming is real and serious and going to cause huge oroblems, and proposes responding by banning fossil fuels. I might think his solution wrongheaded but still want to find a solution I would consider workable.

            I also thought of climate change when reading JP’s comment. The recommendations people draw from climate change science are standard Democrat/left proposals: more taxes, more regulation, more central planning, more government control of the economy, more redistribution of wealth. May I therefore dismiss all of climate change science because I don’t like the proposals its proponents make? That would be nice because it would make this whole thing much easier.

          • JPNunez says:

            @RalMirrorAd: I think dragging credentialism into this is far too much. I mean, it’s a valid objection and a real problem, but if you ended with credentialism, you’d still want a way for, say, black people to have access to equivalent jobs to white people and you’d have to address this somehow. Current system with affirmative action is trying to get disadvantaged people the educations, contacts and yes, credentials necessary for better jobs, but if credentialism wasn’t in place, something else would be necessary. Prolly quotas in companies or something.

            Just cause college loans exist that’s not a reason for disadvantaged people to not get education; if anything the loans themselves should be solved out somehow. Opportunity cost is real, tho.

            @Conrad Honcho: Global Warming evidence is waaay clearer than the issues treated in the Bell Curve, and yet the GOP is home to the denialists. Anti Vaxxers are more probable to be republicans than democrats.

            So if suddenly there’s a book about race and intelligence, and its conclusions somehow line up neatly with GOP policy, well, I am going to be suspicious.

            It’s not out of the question that its policy recommendations were decided -probably unconciously- a priori by murray and hernstein, and the truth value of the data and investigations in TBC are just independent of them.

          • it’s hard to deny that their conclusions are p on the right wing side. Reducing immigration, ending affirmative action sounds p much standard GOP policy.

            That got me curious, so I looked up immigration in the book’s index. It’s two paragraphs on p. 549, just after the discussion of policies that encourage low status women to have children.

            Nowhere in it does it suggest reducing immigration rates. What it argues for is

            to shift the flow of immigrants away from those admitted under the nepotistic rules (which broadly encourage the reunification of relatives) and towards those admitted under competency rules, already established in immigration law

            It does suggest modifying affirmative action (pp. 475-477), but explicitly not ending it.

            Two questions:

            1. Can you offer quotes from The Bell Curve to support either or both of your claims?

            2. Did you get those claims from reading the book, or from reading what other people said about it?

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            In one model, intelligence is something you are born with a certain random amount, and you can add to it with education.

            In another model, what you are born with randomly isn’t intelligence but a willingness to go through the rote of education, where some people can pull a lot more from it than others.

            If the second model is more accurate than the first, especially for people who are currently not succeeding, then throwing more schooling at that group does not accomplish anything, and is likely to piss them off, and have them walk away from you while you wonder why they are voting against their interests as would be true if the first model were accurate.

            Bicycles are a great way to improve transport speed for lots of people, but if someone has a broken leg, it won’t do any good to notice how well bicycles work for the most ambulatory people.

            ETA If I come up with a categorization of equalizers (things that make most people perform about as well, shrinking gaps) and amplifiers (things that improve the abilities of the less-gifted, but drastically improve the abilities of the more-gifted, widening gaps), the two easiest example I have for equalizers are Guns and Cars. The two examples for amplifiers are Schooling and Bicycles. I suspect it is not a coincidence that those things have strong cultural affiliations with each cultural side, but I haven’t sat down for an hour to think of counter-examples to disprove this match-up.

          • JPNunez says:

            @DavidFriedman

            A POLICY AGENDA We urge that affirmative action in the universities be radically modi- fied, returning to the original conception. Universities should cast a wide net in seeking applicants, making special efforts to seek talent wherever it lives-in the black South Bronx, Latino Los Angeles, and white Appalachia alike. In the case of two candidates who are fairly closely matched otherwise, universities should give the nod to the ap- plicant from the disadvantaged background. This original sense of af- firmative action seems to us to have been not only reasonable and fair but wise.

            I tend to think that “radically modified” is functionally equivalent to “ending”, even if you keep the ‘affirmative action’ name. Affirmative Action is not just any policy with the Affirmative Action name. For purposes of this discussion, it is the current group of policies existing between TBC publication and now. Radically modifying it _is_ ending it.

            With respect to “ending immigration”. Yes, Murray does not say to end _all_ immigration. But I also said it fit current gop policy, you know, forbidding immigration from certain countries, ending nepotism rules, etc. Today, this coallesces into the building of The Wall, which obviously Murray could not have foreseen.

            But simple Google says

            https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/22/us/politics/immigrants-green-card-public-aid.html

            Mr. Krikorian does not contest that view.

            “This isn’t a moral issue,” he said. “A Honduran with a sixth-grade education level isn’t morally flawed, but he works three jobs and still can’t feed his family. Immigrants with low levels of skill are a mismatch for a modern society like ours.”

            Which seems very similar to the part you quoted.

            to shift the flow of immigrants away from those admitted under the nepotistic rules (which broadly encourage the reunification of relatives) and towards those admitted under competency rules, already established in immigration law. Perhaps our central thought ahout immigration is that present policy assumes an indifference to the individual characteristics of immigrants that no society can indefinitely maintain without danger.

            So

            1) yes, I can quote to support both claims.

            2) nope. I rely on summaries and articles, but my book backlog is already long enough that I won’t drop everything to just read whatever book is in discussion today.

          • RalMirrorAd says:

            RalMirrorAd: I think dragging credentialism into this is far too much. I mean, it’s a valid objection and a real problem, but if you ended with credentialism, you’d still want a way for, say, black people to have access to equivalent jobs to white people and you’d have to address this somehow.

            I wasn’t framing the push to send [more people or everyone] to college in terms of white vs. non asian POC job access, at least not initially.

            1. AA in college without AA in hiring is an ineffective policy, as employers can simply discount the validity of a degree held by a member of a particular group. [Indeed they have already done so as many racial advocates have pointed out that employers discriminate against POC applicants with equivalent education credentials]
            2. AA in hiring makes AA in college largely pointless for the reasons i already described in my last comment. The only tangible benefit would be as a confidence booster.
            3. AA in hiring insofar as it is genuine and not make-work involves assigning people to economically desired tasks for which they are not capable of performing at the same standard as an employee not subject to AA protections. The costs involved extent beyond simply transferring salaries from one person to another but the change in the quality of the work performed.

            Now if you’re [theoretically] opposed to the idea of intelligence as a concept you probably operate in a world where job performance is a function of education which is a function of parental financial [and/or social] investment. AA in education will necessarily level the gap in job performance and AA in employment is simply a tool to correct the bias of racist employers. So none of what I’ve said applies.

            If we take for granted that POC and Whites should have equal earnings in a given country. Direct transfer payments would be less disruptive to the economy. The only problems are;

            1. We basically admit that the presence of POC in a country is a tax on white people
            2. The overtness of it might lower job satisfaction/self-confidence of POC.

            Also on the question of equal earnings [This is getting a bit off topic]:

            1. Do we want equal earnings between POC and whites because of some appeal to historic injustice? Because another problem is that the cognitive ability argument itself means you can’t infer equality of outcome would have been the outcome of a USA that never had slavery.
            2. Do we want equal earnings between POC and whites as a general principle? In that case we have the issue of intra-ethnic income differences between whites, and also the issue of international income differences [USA blacks making more then non USA whites in some cases]

            [An aside – TBC doesn’t actually specifically recommend abolishing AA; it documents the costs of the policy and casually recommends having universities select by region and not by race. Abolishing AA was inferred from the book simply because, i think, on some level people are aware of the impact of ‘cognitive ability’ on the education paradigm]

            Current system with affirmative action is trying to get disadvantaged people the educations, contacts and yes, credentials necessary for better jobs, but if credentialism wasn’t in place, something else would be necessary.

            Just cause college loans exist that’s not a reason for disadvantaged people to not get education; if anything the loans themselves should be solved out somehow. Opportunity cost is real, tho.

            Setting aside the question of whether schooling is overpriced [or whether what is being taught is of any value regardless] College loans, or any loans, starts with the question of “Does what I’m buying generate a benefit that exceeds the cost of principal and interest” — We’re operating in a realm where cognitive ability is a real thing. The loans don’t ipso-facto render the decision to go to school a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

            If someone borrows money to receive instruction in genuine college level material, is unable to retain or use that information, fails the course and drops out 1-3 years later, their job prospects haven’t changed, the “Benefit” is zero. My point was that even if college was payed for 100% by someone else, sending someone to college who is not qualified, without changing the standards, will not help them at all. The fact that debt is associated with the decision only makes the costs higher; but I’m really trying to call attention to the [lack of] benefit.

            And I also explained what would happen if standards changed as well.

            The fact that 1. Anyone can do college material 2. College material is causally related to the source of economic success is taken for granted by people who oppose IQ. The rationale for using college as a social mobility mechanism for the bottom half of the distribution in IQ falls apart pretty quickly when those assumptions are lifted.

            Now if we define education as “Any form of instruction of economic value” then the formula changes. But typically when people say education they mean formal education.

            Also i disagree with you on IQ/Climate change. If we judge science by the ability to make predictions, A climate scientist can be 100% confident in the qualitative relationship between CO2 and global temperature, but quantifying that relationship and then converting global temperatures into sea level changes and other tangible harm done to the earth and to humans is a much harder task.

            IQ researchers aren’t smarter or more ethical/rigorous, necessarily, but the task of building a model that can predict aggregate life outcomes using IQ is easier than building a model that can predict global temperatures based on CO2 output. If for no other reason then the fact that the IQ researcher has the benefit of large cheap sample sizes. [Speaking in relative terms]

          • albatross11 says:

            JP Nuñez:

            If you start out with the idea that you will reject any information that comes from someone who proposes policies you disagree with, or that you associate with the other side, then I think you’re voluntarily blinding yourself. Sometimes, people whom you don’t agree with on everything have useful things to tell you.

            Even worse, if you decide whether to accept some factual claim based on whether or not you like its implications for policy, you’re blinding yourself to any evidence that might change your mind on your preferred policies.

            Both of these seem like terrible mental errors, if you want to understand the world and make good decisions.

          • albatross11 says:

            There’s a kind of fundamental moral break between people who are primarily interested in justice at an individual level and at a group level. My sense is that almost everyone in modern western societies usually thinks in terms of individual-level justice, but it’s very easy to slide into group-level justice, and when you do, you often support pretty awful things. (This is basically the “Yeah, let’s bash that kid’s head in–after all, those bastards did it to one of ours last week.” school of morality.)

          • @JPNunez:

            You wrote “ending affirmative action.”

            Here is the final bit that you did not quote of their conclusion on affirmative action:

            What does “closedly matched” mean in terms of test scores? We have no firm rules, but as a guideline, admissions officers might aim for an admissions policy such that no identifiable group (such as a racial minority) has a mean that is more than half a standard deviation below the rest of the student body.

            That is making affirmative action less extreme, but it is not ending it.

            You wrote “Reducing immigration.”

            Nothing you quoted implies less immigration, merely a different pattern—something more like the Canadian point system.

            The quotes you offer provide some support for the conclusion you were arguing for—that some positions in The Bell Curve fit better with right wing than left wing positions. They provide no support for the factual claims about the contents of the book that you made and I have just quoted.

            You concede that you had not read the book you were making statements about. There is no particular reason you should have read it—there are a lot of books and a limited amount of time.

            But when the question is whether the contents of a book have been misrepresented, claiming that they have not without having read the book—claiming it, in other words, on the basis of representations of it—makes no sense at all. When the claims turn out not to be supported by the text—reducing the scale of affirmative action is not ending affirmative action, changing who is allowed to immigrate is not reducing immigration—your claim provides evidence that the contents of The Bell Curve were being misrepresented.

            To you.

          • JPNunez says:

            @DavidFriedman

            It’s sad that you gotta reduce this to just taking my words in the most literal of senses; the same paragraph where I said “reduce immigration” I said “fitting the standard gop policy”. If you leave that part out, sure, my argument is bad.

            You yourself setup the standard of getting quotes from the book that support my position, and you yourself admit they do fit, so I think that, based on your test, my position on the book is justified.

            But I cannot defend against being misquoted and misrepresented, so whatever, bro.

            @RalMirrorAd

            Those are all good points. But in the end if I had to decide priorities, I’d go with college loans first, credentialism second, AA third if there was evidence that, after solving the other two, some kind of AA was necessary. Trying to solve AA first without addressing the others feels like solving a symptom instead of the sickness, even if we admit that AA may make credentialism and college loans worse.

            Altho gotta disagree that direct transfers would be more desirable; there are other benefits to college than total lifetime earnings. Networking, friendships, access to academia, and obviously, the education itself. At the same time I do not think that being ‘less disruptive to the economy’ should be a primary consideration here, more of a tertiary one.

          • But I cannot defend against being misquoted and misrepresented

            How did I misquote you? I explicitly said that the evidence you offered provided some support for your conclusion, while pointing out that it provided no support for your factual claims, which I quoted.

            Either you were told that The Bell Curve argued for eliminating affirmative action and reducing immigration, which is what you said it did, in which case the people who told you that lied to and you should not trust such sources in the future, or you exaggerated in your mind accurate accounts of what the book argued for, in which case you should be more careful to check your beliefs against the evidence you base them on before publishing them.

            Or, alternatively, you do not care whether factual claims you make are true as long as they support what you believe is the correct conclusion.

          • 10240 says:

            it seems to me that if you were worried about a certain part of the population having lower IQ for whatever reason, the correct course would be for them to receive _more_ education, in hopes you can fix at least the environmental and even genetic factors -simply because of the chances people mate with other people in their college-.

            That’s not really an argument for giving more education to whatever demographic group that is less intelligent on average, but to give less intelligent people more education than more intelligent people. Phrased that way, it makes little sense: there are obvious reasons universities try to admit the smartest people rather than the dumbest people, i.e. it’s likely to benefit them more (or at all).

            It’s only an argument for giving more education to the group that is less intelligent on average if your goal is to make the average outcomes of the groups equal — even if that means ensuring better outcomes for an unintelligent member of the less-intelligent-on-average group (or at least his children) than an equally unintelligent member of another group.

            It’s unclear intermixing to reduce differences is a good idea. Assortative mating increases variance, intermixing decreases it. A disproportionate part if technological progress is due to the very smartest people, Thus higher variance is probably beneficial to everyone, even if it means slightly more dumb people.

            The technically precise description of America’s fertility policy is that it subsidizes births among poor women, who are also disproportionately at the low end of the intelligence distribution.

            This (poor people/people of ethnic group X make babies for the benefits) is a common claim of right-wingers/racists in many countries, but do the benefits that come with parenthood actually exceed the cost of raising a child, at least in a poor lifestyle?

            1. Do we want equal earnings between POC and whites because of some appeal to historic injustice? Because another problem is that the cognitive ability argument itself means you can’t infer equality of outcome would have been the outcome of a USA that never had slavery.

            If the US never had slavery, black people would instead live somewhere in West Africa, in much worse conditions. (Well, of course the exact same people wouldn’t exist. Also, at the time when slaves were removed from Africa, I guess Africa was populated pretty much to carrying capacity, so if x million people weren’t removed as slaves, then x million more people would have died of hunger in Africa at some point.)

          • albatross11 says:

            To be fair, if you changed history enough that slavery never happened in the US, none of us would be around by now. The world would be unrecognizably different, in ways I don’t think anyone can predict with much confidence.

          • albatross11 says:

            JP Nuñez:

            But I cannot defend against being misquoted and misrepresented, so whatever, bro.

            I think you win the unintentional irony award for this thread.

          • albatross11 says:

            10240:

            First, group differences never are going to mean shunting all of one group to a different kind of education than all of another group. We know about group IQ differences by giving individuals IQ tests, and doing that is really cheap and easy (like half an hour with a paper and pencil in a classroom). So what you’re really talking about is giving different people different kinds of education based on what’s likely to pay off for them and for the world.

            Now, that leads to a practical question: what kind of education is going to work best for different people? Only some of that is IQ–a lot is interest, work ethic, etc. (If you are brilliant but lazy, you probably won’t like medical school much. And if you hate the sight of blood, going into medicine would be a huge mistake.). That’s an empirical question that I think is very important–there’s probably a huge literature about it in the educational psychology world (maybe Freddie can comment?), but I don’t know that literature.

            Because of group differences, if we try to track students into stuff that fits their abilities and interests, we won’t see everyone end up in the top track/college prep classes/magnet schools equally. But that’s about the only place where group differences matter here–each student is an individual, and if there’s one thing our current educational system is good at doing, it’s making every student sit for a lot of standardized tests, so we can track people according to individual ability and interest.

            Every mechanism we have for estimating what/how much education would benefit you is flawed, so it’s also important to allow for changes of path when mistakes are made. I think it’s really valuable to have multiple paths into high-end education and jobs–community college, going back to school after working or serving in the military for a few years, etc. I would like to see education of some kind become a standard thing that people continue with over time, tailored to their interests instead of to hoop-jumping and certificiations, but maybe that’s me assuming my own tastes are more common than they are.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            When we ask gym teachers what to do about the scrawny kid who gets winded after running 500 feet, they suggest making the kid attend gym class all day.

            And for some reason, the scrawny kid resists this. What’s wrong with him? We are trying to help him! Idiot.

    • bullseye says:

      I think most people aren’t this well informed. I think most people are totally unaware of the scientific concern about atrazine, and also totally unaware of Jones’ full argument. Their only awareness of the issue is “Known crackpot Alex Jones is worried about frogs turning gay.”

  16. If a town believes that a lake is holy, and a kid from out of town comes in and spits in it, following which the townspeople believe that the water is forever poisoned, who is really to blame for the situation, the kid or the town? Likewise, if the story about Alex Jones and the scientists and the frogs is true, if reflects poorly on the whole society much more than one huckster. There will always be people like Alex Jones, who surely doesn’t care whether he helped the “cause” or not, he’s just out to make a buck. The question is, how do you respond to him? Do you think he shouldn’t matter? Ok, then act like it.

    The gays didn’t win by doing the gay pride parade stuff. They did win by “respectability politics,” but crucial to their victory was also the fact that they did this from a position of strength. They dressed and acted “respectable” but also stood on their own two feet, they didn’t kowtow to mainstream society. Their attitude was that, yes, they wore suits and ties, but because they wanted to, not because society forced them to. What they didn’t do was endlessly tone-police their own side or “purge” so and so because he was at a conference with so and so who was a member of NAMBLA or beg Fox News for a column as the token liberal. If someone brought up some radical, they said he didn’t matter, and eventually they convinced society he didn’t matter. But they would never have convinced society of this if if was obvious that they themselves did not believe it.

    If the story about the scientists, the frogs, and the Current Year is true, I would ask the scientists involved this question: why’d you let yourselves be pushed around by people with IQs 30 points lower than you? Perhaps I’m being unfair, I really don’t know anything about the scientists’ response. But I’m thinking of a certain archetype here, the guy who’s smart but whose default response to those who step on him is to say, “this is all a misunderstanding, here’s a 5,000 word blog post explaining how we agree on 99.9% of it, and if you’ll just consider this one thing….” Nobody respects that kind of behavior, even if they agree with the meat of the 5,000 word blog post.

    • Aging Loser says:

      Homosexualists didn’t win through respectability-politics — they won because every aspect of respectability everywhere simply evaporated. They won because every structure collapsed. (Note that I say “homosexualists”, not “homosexuals”; homosexuals, like heterosexuals, have Lost. No more great poetry and painting — just Instagram-flouncing. That’s Loss.)

      • AG says:

        No more great poetry and painting

        The fuck corners of the internet are you hanging out where there’s no more great poetry or painting?
        There’s too much of it rather. We’re all spoiled for choice.

        • Bugmaster says:

          To be fair, “great poetry and painting” is a matter of perspective. For example, is Malevich’s Black Square one of the greatest paintings of its generation, or a symptom of terminal decline in the arts ? Opinions differ, and vehemently so.

      • Lambert says:

        19th century poetry and painting were killed by the gramophone and the camera.

        And i’m sure gay people in the 80s spent all their time trying to convince immunologists that no, the real problem is Cubism.

        • albatross11 says:

          If they’d just stopped assuming those T-cells were cubes, progress would have been *much* faster.

    • Walter says:

      “What they didn’t do was endlessly tone-police their own side or “purge…”

      Uh, we might remember different civil rights movements.

    • Bugmaster says:

      why’d you let yourselves be pushed around by people with IQs 30 points lower than you?

      Probably because those people control their access to the wider society, their ability to share their findings, and — most importantly ! — their funds.

  17. ramora says:

    Identities experience respectability cascades, beliefs experience disrespectability cascades. People like to get along with the people around them, so just coming out as an identity will make people around you favor that identity more. This happens with political identities, sexual identities, etc.

    But it doesn’t happen with political ideologies or sexual ideologies. Exposure to a claim shouldn’t make that claim seem more plausible, and in some cases seeing people espouse a claim for transparently crappy reasons is evidence that the claim is false.

    IDW will experience a respectability cascade because it is explicitly an identity, not a system of claims.

  18. Reasoner says:

    I think you have to look at the derivative too. I do think people pay attention to factors like “is it becoming more respectable to say X” or “is it becoming less respectable to say X”, and these observations can be self-fulfilling prophecies.

    I think a big part of the reason Trump won was that people saw him going up in the polls. (Perhaps an effective move for opposing regressive leftism would be to publicize the results of anonymous polls asking senior scientists what their opinions are on various topics?) One poll result I’d very much like to see spread: You’d never know it from the media, but apparently, your average American thinks that both racism and political correctness are problems, and that politics is too polarized in general. (“The majority of Americans, the Exhausted Majority, are frustrated and fed up with tribalism. They want to return to the mutual good faith and collaborative spirit that characterize a healthy democracy”)

    Even pattern matching on previous cases of respectability increases can be a factor. Example: If I say “it’s $CURRENT_YEAR and I don’t have time for your transphobia”, I’m implicitly referencing the success of the gay rights movement to suggest that in the same way acceptance for gays gradually went up, the same will happen for trans folks. Similarly, some on the right try to paint themselves as young people taking on a tyrannical establishment, as an analogy to successful youth movements in the 60s.

    Pattern matching is useful if it upgrades society’s “memetic immune system” to resist bad things like nazism and communism. Your average person can’t be bothered to follow complicated arguments for why communism fails, so the “communism = bad” meme probably serves a useful purpose. At the same time, pattern matching has some serious problems: see How Politics Becomes Toxic or your own The Influenza of Evil.

    Politics is a funny business, because you have to balance victim messaging (“$HATED_ENEMY is taking over! We’ve got to do something before it’s too late!”) with the victor messaging (“$HATED_ENEMY is on the way out! Our team is the future! Join us!”) Some mixture might be best: “People are starting to see the problems caused by pattern matching. But misfiring pattern matchers are still a huge problem!”

    And then of course there’s the strategy of making reasonable and evidence-based arguments, which I actually think is highly underrated. When was the last time you changed your mind in response to anything BUT a reasonable argument?

    (Maybe if I say that often enough, belief in the effectiveness of evidence-based arguments can be a self-fulfilling prophecy?)

  19. A1987dM says:

    One thing is that whether homosexuality should be tolerated is a thing that most people could have an opinion about, whereas whether pollutants are disrupting frogs’ endocrine systems is a question you’d need to be an expert to meaningful help answer. 10% of the general population being adamant that pollutants are disrupting frogs’ endocrine systems would be way way way weaker evidence that pollutants are disrupting frogs’ endocrine systems than the analogue for 10% of the general population being adamant that homosexuality should be tolerated.

  20. michaelg says:

    I’m surprised you don’t mention AIDS in your “gay history”. Having lived through that period, it seemed to be a real turning point. A lot of formerly closeted gays were suddenly out in order to support AIDS research. That included a lot of “100% respectable” people. And you only had to look at parents mourning their lost children to suddenly realize that hey, gays are people too. Perhaps without AIDS, gays would have been “normalized” eventually, but I think the plague gave it a huge push.

    • Murphy says:

      Which is also weird since a sudden deadly plague that makes the group even more taboo and vaguely matches the belief of religious nutters who believe god is issuing punishment: you’d think it would make the group even more taboo.

      There’s also the possibility that individuals who contracted HIV were pushed out of the closet which suddenly meant people at all echelons of society simultaneously being made aware of people in their social circles being gay along with family members.

      • Walter says:

        That was what I was thinking. The closet filled up with poison gas.

      • Conrad Honcho says:

        Also made them sympathetic, though. People tend to have sympathy for people with illnesses, and sure you can say it’s an illness they contracted through their behavior, but they didn’t know their behavior could result in something that awful.

      • Enkidum says:

        In the 80’s there were numerous people who claimed that AIDs was god’s punishment for f*gs, both public figures and randos on the internet or in real life. I met plenty of them. This was certainly unpleasant to hear, but the nice thing about it from an epistemological standpoint was that it immediately revealed the speaker as someone so toxic that anything they said could justifiably be treated as inherently suspicious, simply because they said it.

        So among the truly awful, AIDs certainly did help increase the taboo against gay people. But this process also, I think, ultimately helped the cause of gay respectability because it increased the taboo against the truly awful.

    • Uribe says:

      Yes, I think that gays becoming respectable mainly had to do with AIDS, for the reasons you mention. Attitudes toward gays changed very rapidly from the mid 80s to the early 90s.

      As someone else mentioned, it also mattered very much that this occurred downstream from the Sexual Revolution.

      The reason AIDS didn’t make homosexuality even more taboo due to being in line with what religious nutters had been saying about god issuing punishment, as Murphy suggests, is that respectable society believed in scientific explanations for diseases not religious ones. (Although perhaps such group-specific plagues in the long-ago past are part of the reason it became taboo in the first place?)

    • Garrett says:

      When AIDS was still a mystery, there wasn’t a test for it and its relationship to HIV wasn’t understood it might have been that was essential.

      What surprises me now is that in the US, where all of this is understood, 20% of gay men are HIV positive. Now that PrEP is becoming widely available and reducing the spread of HIV, the rate of drug resistant gonorrhea in gay men is growing rapidly.

  21. jp says:

    As, lamentably, most everyone knows by now, humanities professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote in the NYT about how Mary Poppins is racist because she tolerated a bit of soot on her face when singing a duet with a chimney sweeper. The first intuition is that this is hurting the cause of racial equality because it makes its proponents look like maniacs, decorating their ivory towers with lampshades made of the skins of red blooded white working class males. But maybe what Pollack-Pelzner is effectively doing is sacrificing his own reputation for the sake of shifting the Overton window ever so slightly in the direction of anti-racism? Sure, his argument is ridiculous, but maybe when we observe him saying something so ridiculously slanted, it recenters the world so that there is now even less of a doubt any high ranking politician caught in blackface costume in a decades-old photo must step down. Would that not make Pollack-Pelzner a master persuader, who deserves the admiration of Scott Adams?

    It might be that proposing Pollack-Pelzner intended to do anything like that is a conspiracy theory and deserves mockery much like Alex Jones’ implication that it is malice underlying the frog stuff, rather than that being an unintended side effect of people who actually do not care about frogs all that much trying to make money. But then, Pollack-Pelzner has in fact admitted to essentially doing just that: https://twitter.com/pollackpelzner/status/1090019769539940352

    It’s 3D chess rather than madness for as long as it’s working, right?

    • Walter says:

      It feels like the point of this whole thing is conspicuously being a maniac and not getting sacked, yeah? Like, dude remains a professor, presumably charged with applying the same sensibilities behind that article to doing science and molding young minds.

    • albatross11 says:

      Oh, look, someone figured out how to get lots of attention by making an ass of himself in public!

  22. marxbro says:

    I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism. My strategy so far has been to let Stephen Pinker and Jonathan Haidt do all the talking, and only talk myself if I feel like I can speak with the same level of dignity, respectability, and scientific backing they do.

    Don’t you rail against the left pretty often though? I’m reminded of your infamous review of Peter Singer’s book on Marx where you, for some unknown reason, characterized Marxist philosophy as:

    You are basically just telling us to destroy all of the institutions that sustain human civilization and trust that what is basically a giant planet-sized ghost will make sure everything works out.

    Only when a lot of people made fun of your complete misunderstanding did you add a note wherein you backtracked (while demonstrating you still didn’t understand Marxist politics)

    I suspect that for a lot of readers you are appearing as one of those 0% respectable trolls and are, thankfully, pushing more people towards Marxism.

    Leftism has gained ground lately in the US political sphere, I imagine there’s something of a cascade at work here and hopefully you wont find Marx so taboo in a year or two.

    • Murphy says:

      I’ve tried talking to committed marxists about that one.

      They come back with what is effectively synonymous but phrased to try to sound more respectable.

      “it’s not that marx had no plan and hoped that things would just work out”

      “Oh, ok, so what was his plan?”

      “He maintained that it was impossible to predict so it was foolish to make plans about what you couldn’t predict”

      “Ok, so he just kinda hoped that everything would just work out?”

      “NOOOO! YOU’RE JUST AGAINST US AND TRYING TO MAKE HIM SOUND STUPID!”

      They didn’t exactly do a good job showing it to be a misrepresentation. Of course they could have just been bad at representing their cause.

      • marxbro says:

        He talked about his plan in multiple places. You can look at Chapter 2 of his most famous work (The Communist Manifesto) for an example.

        https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch02.htm

        The key is that this plan is to remain flexible, these aren’t timeless demands. As Marx himself explains in a later foreword:

        The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded today.

        You might also be interested in “Demands of the Communist Party in Germany” and “Critique of the Gotha Program” too.

        • jp says:

          I’m not sure you’re making your cause well by saying Marx’ proposals were essentially to be Bruce Lee – no way as a way, be like water, empty your mind, be formless, like water!

          But in the passage you’re quoting, there’s this:

          1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
          2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
          3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance.
          4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
          5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
          6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
          7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
          8. Equal liability of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
          9. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.
          10. Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

          I guess that’s quite specific.

          • marxbro says:

            I didn’t say Marx’s politics was to be “formless”, it was to be flexible. Those are two very different thing. What was important for Marx was the technological/political conditions of the society, laying down concrete goals would be counter-productive.

            You can read his criticisms of the Utopian Socialists (Proudhon etc) to get a sense of this.

          • theredsheep says:

            Well, if the system of Communism involves that, I’d like to know, at a minimum, what group of people is going to decide what happens to all the stuff people used to own, how that group will be selected, and who’s going to keep those people honest. Did he address that? Because if not, that’s a really remarkable oversight and he created an ideology with enormous potential for abuse.

          • I’m just going to keep posting this video by Paul Cockshott until it gets acknowledged by all of the people saying, “Marx had no plan for communism!”

            Going beyond money – Paul Cockshott

            And this:

            Getting down to details of communism – Paul Cockshott

          • Murphy says:

            @citizencokane

            From a quick scan through that “beyond money” recording it seems to be less about marx and more about other people post-marx working out potential systems based on more modern tech like marxbro mentioned with references to how the later work fits with marxist doctrine.

            What did I miss that indicates that Marx actually had a plan?

          • I’ll boil down for you for what Marx had in mind for “Socialism” or what Marx called somewhat confusingly called the “Lower stage of Communism.”
            1. Virtually all workers are employees of the state (in the Communist Manifesto, Marx calls for the formation of “agricultural and industrial armies.”)
            2. The state’s spending and investment priorities are broadly decided by the working class as a whole through elections that include the voice of workers but, for a period of time, exclude former capitalists and their determined allies (what Marx called the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a whole).
            3. State managers calculate the most efficient methods of producing society’s desired priorities by keeping track of the direct and indirect labor-time costs of producing these goods and services by various methods. (This was only feasible for about 3,000 products without computers, but is now trivially easy to do for millions of distinct products with computers). It was important for Marx to show, in “Capital” vols. I through III, that this is already the basis on which capitalist society already organizes production, albeit in a non-conscious, indirect, and exploitative manner.
            4. In “Critique of the Gotha Program,” Marx lays out the following system for keeping track of consumer demand: workers get personalized labor-time certificates with which workers buy things for personal consumption. The amount of labor-time on workers’ certificates equals how long they work, minus taxes for state investment, pensions, and other publicly-funded things. Importantly, these labor-time certificates (or credit card credits nowadays) are destroyed upon collection and do not circulate (and perhaps expire after a period of time if not used to prevent accumulation—this is important to make sure that these labor-time certificates do not start functioning like money capital, which would allow private individuals to start accumulating capital, and thus their own private social power, again). This consumer demand, in addition to consumer surveys and political conventions, serves as a feedback mechanism to tell state managers whether they are actually producing what society wants. If state shops have to decrease the labor-time prices of these things below their actual direct and indirect labor costs in order to get the market to clear, then that is a signal that the state is devoting too much labor-time to producing these things. And vice-versa if these things sell-out quickly and there are shortages and/or longer than average waiting lists for that good or service. In that case, state investment should be relatively re-apportioned towards the production of that good or service.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @citizencokane

            As far as I can tell (haven’t bothered watching them through from start to finish) that appears to be someone expounding their view of how a workable form of communism could be developed under contemporary circumstances using contemporary technology. It takes its point of departure in various clues or vague guidelines in Marx’s writings and attempts to develop them into a, by no means exhaustive system, that’s more relevant to the present day. This is entirely in keeping with what marxbro’s arguing: Marx did not offer a specific prescription for how a communist system should be organised but he also didn’t leave no ideas whatsoever.

            Edited to add: Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your point and I’m actually largely agreeing with you.

          • Murphy says:

            Honestly? It feels like those lectures where people start trying to slot stuff into bible verses.

            Playing at searching for something, anything that might or could fit into anything from the reams of texts left by their prophet then declaring their bible verses to be prophetic and a source of deep wisdom … after carefully hiding all the countless degrees of freedom they had available.

            Such that a verse along the lines of “look north for water!” gets counted if someone was able to find a water source somewhere in the northern hemisphere.

            And it still feels like trying to avoid admitting that the plan was “there is no plan! Use the force! Be flexible! “

          • Bugmaster says:

            @citizencokane:

            that this is already the basis on which capitalist society already organizes production, albeit in a non-conscious, indirect, and exploitative manner.

            I find this phrasing a bit disingenuous. It’s like saying that “gravity already organizes all the macro-scaled matter in the Universe, albeit in a really inconvenient manner”. That is true, but if you want to abolish gravity, you need to explain how you’re going to manually move every single bit of dirt floating out there in space. The fact that such organization is fully distributed and automatic under the current system is a rather important point in its favor.

          • I don’t really understand what level of specificity you want. The lack of open accounting books at the vast majority of firms deprives us of the detailed information we would need to compute the direct and indirect labor-time costs for specific products and services. Plus, we cannot even take the labor-time currently expended on different things as a given because:
            A. capitalist accounting (rather than accounting by labor-time) systematically over-estimates the labor-time cost of capital-intensive methods of production (because capitalists on average pay for the full labor-value of capital but only pay for the labor-value of the workers’ consumption-basket rather than for the labor actually performed by workers themselves) and thereby dis-incentivizes the least labor-intensive methods of production, so we cannot take it as a given that the current methods of production in use make the most efficient use of human labor.
            B. Currently society’s production priorities are warped by the fact that a typical CEO has 10x (or more!) of the voting power (i.e. purchasing power) of a typical worker. It is not easy to predict what society’s production priorities would be if each person received the same purchasing power (say, 0.8 labor-hour credits) per every hour worked or spent in training for work (which is how to account for the labor-time cost of “complex labor” as opposed to simple labor).

            (Why might a worker only be paid 0.8 labor-hour credits for each hour worked? It is because only 80% of society’s labor-time might be going to the production of marketable goods, while the other 20% might be going to things not “sold” back to workers, such as military defense or new state enterprise investment. In order for aggregate purchasing power in terms of labor-hours to balance with the aggregate labor-time “prices” of marketed goods, some of the worker’s labor-time will only be paid back indirectly (through the freely-provided services like the military or state investment) rather than directly).

            What if workers are lazy, though? I work part-time as a rigger (machinery mover), so I’ll use an example from my line of work that I know. Let’s say my boss, who also happens to be the sole proprietor of the business, knows, through experience, that it “should” take about 8 person-hours, plus a forklift and some other equipment, to unload a 30,000-lb tarped-up lathe from a flatbed trailer and skate the machine on dollies on a level and even surface into an adjacent factory building. Let’s say I and another guy go out onto the job, and it actually takes us 5 hours, so 10 person-hours total. Let’s say we do a bunch of jobs like this over time.

            Under capitalism, my boss/owner will face higher-than-average costs. Either my boss responds by keeping a constant percentage mark-up, in which case he inevitably loses market share as he is under-bid by his cheaper competitors, or takes the loss on the chin and now obtains a lower-than-average rate of profit. In the latter case, he would be smart to either change our behavior to get us to do these jobs with 8 person-hours, or go into another line of business where he can hope to obtain the average rate of profit. In either case, the inefficient business will either be reformed to be more efficient, or will go bankrupt or be dissolved and make way for the more-efficient businesses.

            Or, perhaps my co-worker and I do a decent job and habitually get the job done in 8 person-hours, but new state-of-the-art techniques come out that allow other businesses to get the same thing done with the same capital costs (i.e. the same indirect labor-time costs) plus only 6 person-hours. My boss will have an interest in copying these new state-of-the-art techniques, or coming up with his own even-better techniques, or else he will obtain a lower-than-average rate of profit.

            Under socialism, what happens? First, if we are operating by the principles set down by Marx in “Critique of the Gotha Program,” my lazy co-worker and I receive labor-time credits for 5 hours of work (or more likely, slightly less than 5 hours of labor-time credits to account for the provision of public goods). Awesome, right? What about my managers? They do not personally profit any more or less if the job should take 10 person-hours or 8 person-hours, just like salaried middle-management under capitalism do not stand to personally profit either way. However, just like middle-management under capitalism, my managers will have to answer to shareholders for why the managers are allowing 10 person-hours to be spent on a job that has been known to be doable with the same equipment in 8 person-hours. After all, because we worked and got paid for 10 person-hours instead of 8, this raises the aggregate labor-time expended in the entire economy and means that every other person’s unit of labor-time credit now buys ever-so-slightly slightly less real output. And under socialism, the “shareholders” are the public as a whole, and in particular the political administration that represents the public on a day-to-day basis in between elections.

            Now, under socialism, what incentive do I or my managers have for discovering more labor-efficient means of accomplishing our work? As a partial “shareholder” of the state-owned means of production, I have a tiny interest in making my work (and everyone else’s work) more efficient, but I have a much larger and more direct interest in making my work less efficient. My managers likewise as partial “shareholders” in the state-owned production have a tiny material interest in making all of the society’s work more efficient, but otherwise don’t really stand to gain materially from persuading me and my co-worker to work harder or smarter.

            Here’s where the Soviet Union departed from Marx’s “Critique of the Gotha Program.” The Soviet Union basically took existing “work norms” and calculated piece-rates that would enable workers to obtain 8-hours of pay with 8-hours of socially-necessary work (i.e. work of typical skill and intensity). This gave workers (and to a certain extent, managers) an incentive to work more efficiently; they might be able to fulfill their quota in 6 hours rather than 8 but still be paid for 8. However, every now and then the piece-rates would ratchet down (i.e. the expected output per time would ratchet up) so that workers were again paid for 8 hours of work for 8 hours of labor of expected skill and intensity (the workers themselves having just proven the new, updated meaning of “expected skill and intensity”). Most workers decided, after figuring out the system, that it was not worth it to exert themselves to an unsustainable extent to meet their quotas in shorter hours, lest they be expected to keep up that unsustainable rate later on! But that’s only fair! It actually does society no good if workers exert themselves unsustainably and sustain injuries or make mistakes due to being too hurried or mentally/physically fatigued. The piece-rate system still provided an incentive for productivity to gradually increase in an “organic” way (i.e. in ways dependent on workers and managers discovering cleverer techniques of production that did not require any additional mental or physical effort). Plus, there were always the occasional “Stakhanovites” who were greedy for the honor of being commended as a “hero of socialist labor” and who could help discover the “true” expected pace of work in each line of work. And there were always engineers and scientists who liked to figure out neater, better ways of doing things, even if it gave them only a minuscule material profit (as a “shareholder” of state production in general).

            Edit: If all of this talk of being under managers sounds like the opposite of “freedom,” then I would say that there is absolutely no hope of “freedom” within any division of labor. A wage-worker under capitalism is obviously under his/her own type of managers. Even a self-employed worker under capitalism is under the thumb of managers, except this management does not appear as flesh-and-blood managers. Instead, this management takes the form of “consumer demand” or “the market,” and if “the market” says that society doesn’t give a hoot about your literary commentary, but instead wants a bunch of dildos made and made quickly…well then, you better figure out a way to make some dildos and make them quick!

            True “freedom” as libertarians conceive of it only resides in the life of a self-sufficient Jeffersonian farmer, producing objects and services of utility for his/her own direct consumption and enjoyment…except one would probably be more oppressed by nature and fate (disease, natural disasters, plundering pirates, etc.) in that circumstance. And if you own slaves, or just employ wage-workers, you have to worry about their revolts, and depend on the state to protect your property and reinforce the proper ideological constructs. Everywhere, “man is in chains”…but only if you perceive being partially at the mercy of, and dependent on, other humans as being “in chains” (an affliction historically unique to classical liberals and libertarians).

            I am reminded of some lines in the film “The Last Emperor”:

            “Emperor Pu Yi : [sighs] Why can you not leave me alone? You saved my life to make me a puppet in your own play. You saved me because I am useful to you.

            The Governor : Is that so terrible? To be useful?”

          • Bugmaster says:

            @citizencokane:
            I think your long post lays out a few of the most prominent problems with socialism (and I also think that SSC’s comment threading layout is needlessly oppressive and we should lead a revolution against it).

            Firstly, you list a lot of issues that prevent optimal economic planning due to incomplete knowledge: capitalist ledgers are hidden, etc. However, socialism doesn’t somehow grant you complete knowledge automatically. How much demand is there for bread in Tmu-Tarakan’ Oblast this week ? How much rye should you provision to fill this demand ? What if the people decide that they really like wheat and dislike rye ? The strength of the capitalist system is that such calculations happen automatically, and are distributed over the entire economy. There’s no need for a central Bread Provisioning Authority, because individual actors decide how to spend their money and how to set the prices in their own local region of space-time. In the absence of the Singularity, this method will always prove to be more efficient.

            Secondly, you talk about “work-hours” a lot, but it’s not totally clear to me how much a work-hour should be worth. If it takes one work-hour to move a couch, and one work-hour to bake a loaf of bread, does this mean that I can get a loaf of bread for moving your couch ? Who’s going to give me the bread ? Is it you, or the state ? What if I don’t want bread, but I do want a gold ring ?

            What’s worse, you (together with Marx) are assuming that all work-hours are interchangeable. My work-hour of moving the couch is equivalent to the work-hour of a neurosurgeon operating on your brain. In reality, though, the neurosurgeon’s work is much more valuable, because it is scarce. Most (though not all !) people can move a couch, whereas very few can become neurosurgeons, and fewer still put in the excruciating effort to become proficient at it. Under capitalism, such people are incentivized to try, and very strongly incentivized to succeed.

            Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that capitalism is perfect. I favor a mixed economy, because it solves most of the problems inherent in monopolies, as well as alleviates some tragedy of the commons. However, total socialism is way less efficient than a mixed economy — which is probably why it had failed in every country where it’s ever been tried.

          • Murphy says:

            Point of technical curiosity…

            3. State managers calculate the most efficient methods of producing society’s desired priorities by keeping track of the direct and indirect labor-time costs of producing these goods and services by various methods. (This was only feasible for about 3,000 products without computers, but is now trivially easy to do for millions of distinct products with computers).

            I’ve heard about this theoretical system before, on SSC I believe.

            But I’ve never heard of any implementation. Which seems surprising since most large companies operate largely as command economies internally and such a system would seem invaluable to them if it worked well.

            It also feels like if it worked it would be isomorphic to any supply-demand problem. For example the issue of planning packet routes on the internet should map to it (indeed much more simply than mapping the whole economy) substituting latency, bandwidth and queue length for lead time, logistics and demand. The internet also having orders of magnitude less major nodes than the US has citizens.

            Which, if the claims were true would imply that all routing for the internet could be processed on, if the claim is true about the amount of compute required, something about as powerful as a single high-end graphing calculator.

            Which doesn’t seem to be the case. And that’s with a toy problem countless orders of magnitude less complex than all resource allocation in the economy.

            Do you know of any implementations? has anyone trialed a real build of such a software system in some small community?

          • The Nybbler says:

            @Murphy

            You’ve probably heard of the system before because it was the Soviet one.

            Even if the complexity of the problem didn’t sink it, the issue of providing sufficient information to the planners in a timely manner would, I suspect.

          • @Bugmaster:

            How much demand is there for bread in Tmu-Tarakan’ Oblast this week ?

            How much bread leaves the shelves? Capitalist managers already have to keep track of inventory in two ways, “in-kind” quantities and monetary value. Is it so different to keep track of in-kind quantities and labor-values?

            The more pertinent question would be, in what way did the labor-time price of the bread in Tmu-Tarakan oblast need to deviate from the bread’s actual labor-value in order to sell all of the bread inventory and clear the shop queues for it? If the shop owners found that there was still a queue for the bread after they already sold all of it, or if they needed to raise the labor-time price of the bread above its actual labor-value, then that is a sign that Tmu-Tarakan needs more bread shipped to it…which might mean that more bread needs to be produced, unless there is a happy coincidence of another region needing less bread (which would be evidenced by bread rotting on shelves or being sold for less than its actual labor-value).

            What if the people decide that they really like wheat and dislike rye?

            If the people change their minds in this way as a spur-of-the-moment decision, then the above process applies. Rye bread will either go unsold or have to be sold at below its labor-value to clear the market, which will tell planners after the fact that Tmu-Tarakan needs less bread. This is not so dissimilar from supply & demand under capitalism.

            However, if the people can manage to give some advance notice of their changing tastes, perhaps through yearly consumer surveys, then the state planners might be able to anticipate this demand, adjust distribution and/or production accordingly, and avoid the slight waste that results from consumers not initially getting what they want and having to signal that to state planners after-the-fact by those things either going unsold or having to sell for less than their direct and indirect labor costs. In theory, I suppose capitalist firms could take advantage of this sort of thing, but the problem that most of them face is that they are not a monopoly, so if they hear from consumer surveys that American consumers think they will want 20% less wheat bread next year, is it logical for any small company in a competitive market to therefore reduce their wheat bread output by 20%? No. The aggregate supply curve looks flat to any particular company in a competitive market. Their ability to meaningfully influence that curve is minimal. They would just be giving up market-share. So instead the competitive wheat producers are pushed to collectively overproduce, drive the price down, drive some of them out of business, and thereby adjust for the lower wheat demand after-the-fact.

            Secondly, you talk about “work-hours” a lot, but it’s not totally clear to me how much a work-hour should be worth.

            Labor-time is the metric of value. As such, labor-time has no value. Asking how much labor is worth is like asking, “How long is length?”

            Labor-power, on the other hand, has a value. It is the labor-time necessary to produce the basket of consumption goods that reproduces that labor-power, which means the basket of consumption goods needed to reproduce that laborer as-a-willing-and-able-for-that-job laborer and a child to eventually replace that laborer. Some jobs require training, so that cost (of both the trainer and the trainee having to labor) goes into the value of their eventual labor-power. Under capitalism, workers typically get paid nothing during the training (education), but then get paid more later on to compensate for this hidden cost.

            Under socialism, I think the more straightforward way to account for this cost would be to pay people full wages during a generous period of education and training (say, the first 8 years of higher education, which could be focused on one intensive field like medicine or multiple less-intensive fields), and then continue paying them that same rate once they actually start working, as the labor-time costs of their participation in the construction of their own skilled labor-power have already been accounted for. (But if workers want additional training beyond these 8 years, then I would say they should not get paid for that additional training, as they already got paid for their first 8 years of training under the assumption that the cost of their participation in the construction of their first types of labor-power were going to be amortized over a lifetime of applying those skilled labor-powers. If someone gets trained as a doctor for 8 years, and gets paid for their help in constructing that skilled labor-power, and then that person never ends up working a day in their life as a doctor, then society never actually gets to use that labor-power, and has paid for nothing).

            If it takes one work-hour to move a couch, and one work-hour to bake a loaf of bread, does this mean that I can get a loaf of bread for moving your couch ?

            If you work one hour for the state baking bread with typical skill and intensity (your manager might devise piece-rates to enforce that, or might just hound you if you are noticeably slacking), then yes, you will obtain 1 labor-hour credit with which you will be able to get a state moving company to move your couch for you. What other people will want to move your couch for will be up to them. I suspect there will always be these sorts of small-scale informal trades. If they don’t use any significant capital equipment or make use of desperate, extortionary circumstances for trade leverage (such as a guy promising to supply a junkie with heroin if he helps move a couch), then a socialist state should care less what small-time favors people do for each other, and on what conditions. If the state sector has a high-enough level of productive forces to guarantee everyone food, medicine, housing, etc., then there will be very few truly desperate people out there for any would-be informal entrepreneurs to exploit, unlike under capitalism, where we must do such favors for others in order to live a decent life. (The Soviet Union did not have productive forces that were well-developed enough, and slacked off during Gorbachev on finding and prosecuting state managers who embezzled and re-sold state goods on the black market, which created shortages in the state stores and which made people desperate to do black-market favors for goods, in effect supplying their labor-power for mafia-like entrepreneurs).

            What’s worse, you (together with Marx) are assuming that all work-hours are interchangeable.

            Different types of concrete labor-power and labor are not interchangeable in their production of use-values. They produce very different use-values. Computer coder labor-power requires its own distinct type of training. The employment of computer coder labor-power results in computer-coder labor, which results in computer code. Neurosurgeon labor-power, on the other hand, is employed as neurosurgeon labor to produce healthier brains.

            However, capitalism treats all types of labor (as long as that labor is socially-necessary, i.e. as long as it results in commodities that fetch an average rate of profit on the market) as equally value-creating. Marx did not just assume this. Marx painstakingly showed, in four volumes of “Capital,” that this is already how capitalism functions. Not how it should function, but how it actually does function. It’s a descriptive argument, built upon the work mainly of Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

            And in fact, Marx explains why any social division of labor must, in order to reproduce itself, take some account of the amount of abstract labor required to produce various things, whether those things are use-values produced on a desert island by Robinson Crusoe for his own enjoyment, or whether they are commodities produced for sale. While Robinson Crusoe’s livelihood is not so dominated by this Law of (Labor-)Value, he must take some account of it. He can choose to sustain himself by fishing for 8 hours a day or perhaps by trapping mice for 10 hours a day if he finds mice-trapping more enjoyable, even if he is not very good at it and most people can trap enough mice to feed someone in 2 hours. (Under capitalism, such an incompetent mouse-trapper would be under-bid by the competition and go bankrupt, regardless of how much he liked to trap mice). But he cannot, say, shoot eagles for 26 hours per day, if that is what it would take to sustain himself, and still live.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @citizencokane:
            Once again, I can’t help but feel that you are desperately trying to solve some problems that have already been solved.

            In order to make sure supply matches demand, you propose that suppliers should adjust their prices dynamically to keep up with the buyers. But this is already the basis of capitalism; the difference is that, under socialism, such price adjustments must be cleared with a central authority, who must in turn aggregate all available knowledge in order to make the right decision. This makes socialist price adjustments slow and unwieldy, with response times (as you have pointed out) measured in years. Capitalist markets are, by contrast, extremely agile, since they only have to respond to local demand — and also because aspiring enterpreneurs can start their businesses much faster, without clearing their ideas with the government. If you want your couch moved, you can just pay me to move it, you don’t have to submit a work order to the Bulk Freight Administration.

            Thus, if people want wheat, or fidget spinners, or whatever, they’ll be on the shelves in months if not weeks. If people lose interest, the only places still selling fidget spinners or wheat-Os will be giant unwieldy monopolies; everyone else will clear shelf space for some new item.

            You do acknowledge that “some jobs require training”, but I think you fail to take into account just how vastly jobs differ from each other. Working a cash register at McDonalds requires training; so does neurosurgery. But the amount of training differs dramatically; what’s worse, most people simply don’t have the talent to be neurosurgeons. Even under ideal socialist conditions, striving for an advanced degree is a huge investment for any individual. Capitalism rewards such investments, should they prove to be prudent; your proposed socialist system kind of handwaves the risks away, I think. It also seems like you’re assuming that anyone can be trained to perform any job, which is totally unrealistic.

            But perhaps the worst issue with your (well, and Marx’s) proposed system is that it creates really perverse incentives. You bemoan corrupt managers and so on, and they obviously do exist under capitalism; however, your system actually incentivizes corruption. Who decides which labor is “socially necessary” ? Who is in charge of deciding how many programmer-hours one neurosurgeon-hour is worth ? Under competitive market conditions, managers can be as corrupt as they want, but not so corrupt that they sink their company. Under socialism, it seems like the sky’s the limit.

          • I can’t help but feel that you are desperately trying to solve some problems that have already been solved.

            I’m sure it looks like I’m desperately trying to reinvent the wheel, but it is only because the previous wheel is broken. And I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, but merely repair its broken aspects. Marx has some very nice things to say about the capitalist market:

            This sphere [of exchange]…within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

            But then…

            On leaving this sphere of simple circulation or of exchange of commodities, which furnishes the “Free-trader Vulgaris” with his views and ideas, and with the standard by which he judges a society based on capital and wages, we think we can perceive a change…He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding.

            In other words, the relationship between the buyer and seller of labor-power is no ordinary exchange relationship. Whereas other exchange relationships exhibit freedom, equality, etc., the buying and selling of labor-power leads to something very different:

            …the social dependence of the labourer on the capitalist…is…an unmistakable relation of dependence, which the smug political economist, at home, in the mother-country, can transmogrify into one of free contract between buyer and seller, between equally independent owners of commodities, the owner of the commodity capital and the owner of the commodity labour.

            This occurs even if we assume that workers are not systematically cheated—i.e. if we assume, as Marx assumed in Chapter 6 of Capital, Vol. I, that “equivalents are exchanged, and the commodity [labor-power] is paid for at its full value.” I.e. Marx was willing to assume that workers are paid exactly what their labor-power is worth.

            The problem is that workers are paid for their labor-power, but labor-power is like an ear of corn that, when placed in the right conditions, produces more than its own reproduction. It produces not just one offspring of corn, but many. Likewise, 8 hours of labor-power employed in the right conditions produces more than is needed to reproduce those 8 hours of labor-power.

            The self-interested struggle of workers is to discover what those “right conditions” are (the use of capital being the biggest ingredient of those “right conditions”) and what they can do (keeping only the objective constraints of game-theory (i.e. the interests of other workers) in mind and disregarding the human-contrived, historically-contingent, and changeable constraints of “law” and “morality”) to gain access to those “right conditions” for themselves. That way, instead of selling the ear of corn and “only” getting its equivalent in value, they may have access to the right conditions to plant the corn and harvest the surplus for themselves.

            Marx reminds workers that, once upon a time, they had access to these “right conditions,” and they might yet do so again…

            For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power. The question why this free labourer confronts him in the market, has no interest for the owner of money, who regards the labour-market as a branch of the general market for commodities. And for the present it interests us just as little. [As a temporary assumption in this section of Capital, Vol. 1] We cling to the fact theoretically, as he does practically. One thing, however, is clear — Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

            Although Marx was no believer that we could combine modern technology with a simple, reactionary return to the (never-actually-existing, but analytically intriguing) “Paradise Lost” of simple commodity production, where every man (and nowadays we would say, woman) being a sole-proprietor of his(/her) own business, owning his(/her) own means of production.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @citizencokane:
            Your first few quotes almost sound like a moral argument. True, if you (or rather, Marx) believe that money is inherently evil and labor is inherently good, then capitalism — a system based around money — would surely be evil as well. But morality is rather subjective, so I’d rather keep the argument focused on the consequences of capitalism vs. socialism; i.e., the extent to which each system allows everyone to satisfy their preferences, as well its overall efficiency.

            I also find your argument regarding “planting an ear of corn” rather bizarre, since we have plenty of quite successful examples of that under capitalism — Silicon Valley is entirely built on such planted corn, for example. If I have money, and you have a good idea and are willing to contribute labor, then it is in my best interest to loan you some of my money in exchange for a share of profits. If your labor is genuinely worthwhile and your ideas are sound; and I’m being obstinate for some reason; then you’ll just find someone smarter, make millions of dollars together, and price me out of the venture capital market. This process happens automatically across the entire economy. We don’t need to lodge an appeal with the Board of Financing; we don’t need to convince random bureaucrats that our contract has merit; we just need to convince each other.

            Note that it doesn’t matter what type of product I, the capitalist, personally enjoy consuming. It only matters what the public at large finds valuable, and that I understand what that is. Competitive capitalism leverages our personal incentives (mine and yours) in order to satisfy the preferences of the entire society as efficiently as possible. Of course, pure unregulated capitalism soon devolves into socialism due to monopoly formation, and thus I’m in favor of a regulated market, but I’ve never claimed that capitalism was perfect — merely that it’s better than your system.

        • Murphy says:

          After reading that chapter you linked I’m still not seeing much in the way of plans for how things would work post-revolution. Even the 10 points at the end seem mostly for instantiating the revolution rather than a plan for post-revolution.

          Could you highlight any sections I missed?

          Saying “the plan is to remain flexible” appears to be a synonym for “the plan is to work it out when we get there” or “the plan is there is no plan” or, if the speaker is being uncharitable “The plan is we’re gonna hope it works out OK”

          • marxbro says:

            Marx didn’t have a detailed plan for the “post” revolution because the Communist movement at that time was relatively small and there’s no real use spending that much time and effort to do something that’s going to be outdated immediately anyhow.

            One does wonder how detailed he would have to be to satisfy people like Scott Alexander who aren’t communists. Was Scott expecting to read detailed schematics for organisation of urban planning under communism? If Marx was too detailed I think people would be complaining that he was a micromanager.

            Thankfully these days we have plenty of communist governments that we can draw practical administrative experience from.

          • Murphy says:

            OK, so some modern people have worked out their own plans. But I’m still not seeing how the unflattering summary of marx’s unwillingness to make plans is actually inaccurate.

            If you were working at a logistics company with a crap software system and someone kept insisting that the system was crap and needed to be destroyed, that could be entirely accurate… but you wouldn’t be terribly impressed if they or someone listening to them took a wrench to the server rack without any solid plans for the replacement system worked out .

            Defending wrench-guy with “well the plan was to be flexible” isn’t the greatest defense.

          • marxbro says:

            But I’m still not seeing how the unflattering summary of marx’s unwillingness to make plans is actually inaccurate.

            Because Marx didn’t believe that some magic/religious element would work out the finer details of communism, as Scott Alexander so uncharitably described. Marx thought that it was the responsibility of the communist movement to do this as the revolution progressed – not himself as an individual.

          • Marx laid out the principles by which a plan might be formulated in the future. Marx thought it would be silly to waste his time forming a detailed plan for something that might happen tomorrow or might happen 100 years later because in the intervening time, technology would change, consumer tastes might change, etc.

            Marx’s principles were clear enough to implement. Edward Bellamy put together a quite-detailed plan of how his principles might be implemented in “Looking Backward” in 1887. And I happen to think that the Soviet Union fairly faithfully implemented Marx’s principles up until the 1960s when monetary profit incentives for managers were re-introduced, which began to wreck the whole system of central planning. And Marx’s principles worked! They did more to raise the standard of living of the Soviet people and provide for their defense, with greater popular participation and less hardship, than Russia would have done as a pseudo-democratic colony of British and French finance capital (which is the only counter-factual alternative to which we can compare the USSR). While popular participation through the soviet councils was not decisive (alas), their concerns and demands were considered by the levels above them. There are plenty of academic sources that attest to this. For example, “State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s,” J. Arch Getty, Slavic Review
            Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 18-35.

            The fact that so many people are convinced that the Soviet Union didn’t achieve good outcomes relative to what was materially possible just shows how badly the likes of Robert Conquest and Richard Pipes have mangled the historical record on the Soviet Union. People should read Grover Furr and Ludo Martens.

          • A funny excerpt from J. Arch Getty’s article above that illustrates the following two points:
            1. The Soviet Union was more democratic than people realize.
            2. The cult of personality and illiberal attitudes about justice were popular demands “from below.” In carrying these things out, the Soviet state was just following the popular will.

            “What did ordinary citizens have to say about the [draft of the 1936 Soviet] constitution? The press and archival collections provide access to their remarks. The press accounts, while revealing, are less satisfactory because they reflect passage through the filter of the editors…The archival collections of citizen comments, used with care, can bring us closer to the intentions and actions of the leadership. They also represent the only thing resembling survey research from the entire epoch and provide the closest thing we have to sources about “public opinion” in the Stalin period. In a limited sense, they are something like the cahiers de doleances of the Stalin revolution…Although many of the comments were critical of the constitution, citizens hostile or indifferent to the soviet regime might
            not have bothered (or dared) to speak up. These weaknesses notwithstanding, the thousands of comments are a valuable source…

            Many of the comments collected were confused, and some betrayed a misunderstanding of the constitution. Quite a few thought that the new constitution meant a return to private property, that peasants would “live as before” or that kulaks would return to claim their farms. One peasant woman thought that the secret ballot meant that the
            identities of the candidates were to be secret. The naive suggestions of others must have amused their Moscow readers. G. I. Kurkov of Romny submitted an elaborate electrical voting scheme (complete with diagram). The voter would insert his or her hand into a machine and vote. All voting machines in the country would be connected in parallel and the total voltages measured to determine the winner. “I would be
            glad to do it if you are interested. I live in Romny; let me know. (If I am on vacation, I will be in Sochi. Here is the address.” Some participants had ideas about changing the capital to Leningrad, about renaming Moscow “Great Stalingrad,” about substituting busts of Lenin and Stalin for the hammer and sickle, about putting tractors on the national flag.

            The majority of the collected suggestions, however, were serious and programmatic. A majority of all suggestions from Leningrad and Smolensk, and apparently from across the Soviet Union, was critical of the constitution. The most common suggestion was a complaint: that the draft did not guarantee social benefits (pensions, access to sanatoria, sick insurance) to collective farmers; one-fourth of all suggestions from Smolensk and one-third nationally were on this
            point. Peasants were clearly aware of their interests in this regard; they frequently voiced the demand that they receive “benefits as workers” and were brave enough to speak up about it. They were also obviously concerned about the rural educational system, land use rights of collective farms, and popular control of kolkhoz chairmen. Crime and the administration of justice were also strong concerns (see table). Roughly one-tenth of all suggestions demanded for villages and kolkhozes the right to arrest and detain suspicious persons without waiting for the approval of the procurator. Another 5 percent to 7 percent requested more frequent and democratic election of judges…

            Although citizens were concerned with bread and butter issues and popular control of local affairs, they were not worried about individual rights or civil protection. Workers and peasants who were not party members displayed a distinctly unliberal attitude on personal freedom. One speaker in Leningrad voiced a common sentiment when he said that “all citizens receiving education and not working without good reason should be charged with a crime.” Another thought that “loiterers and bureaucrats should be regarded as enemies of the people and charged.” One peasant thought that “using free speech, meetings, and so forth to oppose the Soviet state constitutes a betrayal of the country and should carry heavy punishment.” Still another said that “relatives having connection with traitors should face the full severity of the law,” and one of his neighbors thought that “any citizen of our country can arrest persons who wreck socialist construction. ” Whether or not such statements were the simple parroting of regime policies is open
            to question, although it is worth remembering that these suggestions were inherently critical of the proffered Stalin constitution.

            A strong but perhaps unexpected sentiment concerned voting rights. Those responding to the discussion took a hostile attitude toward the 1936 Constitution’s extension of the franchise to priests and members of alien classes. In rural regions like Smolensk, and indeed across the Soviet Union, around 17 percent of all suggestions represented a protest against allowing such persons to vote; it was the second most popular suggestion in Smolensk. In an internal TsIK memorandum of 15 November 1936, complaints about Article 135 (the voting system) outnumbered those on all other points except the rights and benefits of citizens…”

          • Viliam says:

            The cult of personality and illiberal attitudes about justice were popular demands “from below.” In carrying these things out, the Soviet state was just following the popular will.

            That’s why it was so important for the Soviet gestapo to arrest people at night, so that no one would know how many people were actually arrested…

            (Following the popular will, secretly, to prevent people from finding out that they already live in the perfect democracy. What a wonderful plan! And people still fail to realize that Stalin did nothing wrong. /s)

    • marxbro says:

      This seems to be nothing but insults so I have reported your comment. I’m sorry it came to this. If you can edit your comment to have some sort of value I will reply to it constructively.

    • RC-cola-and-a-moon-pie says:

      I would not be too quick to distinguish the two movements so categorically. Have you read “Was Marx a Satanist”?

    • Eponymous says:

      @marxbro:

      No time to reply now, but I just wanted to mention that, although your hobbyhorse is well ridden, I appreciate having a real marxist around here. I’m in favor of intellectual diversity. Maybe you’ll even convince me to read Marx at some point 😉

      • Bugmaster says:

        I had to read it when I was young (what with living in a Soviet country and all that). It’s super boring 🙁

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Is there even a single example of Marxist politics being implemented not resulting in a massive clusterfck of poverty, misery, and death?

      • The baseline of comparison should be with “bourgeois” (liberal capitalist) revolutions. Mishaps that occur under capitalism are considered to be “external shocks” or anomalies that do not originate from within capitalism’s own social tensions, whereas all mishaps that occur under socialism (including natural disasters!) are automatically assumed to stem from things intrinsic to socialism.

        The English Civil War was kind of a clusterfuck of war and mutual persecution.

        The American Revolution had patriot mobs terrorizing loyalists. And the aftermath of the American Revolution had massive misery and death from the continuation of slavery and theft of land from Native Americans. Just because the misery is directed outwards doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. (The same could be said for the Soviet Union’s kulaks. They were not an alien race, but instead an “alien class,” and they did pay a hefty sacrifice in terms of losing their property and, if they resisted, their freedom and/or their lives).

        Edit: There was also America’s “Second Revolution” a.k.a the Civil War, which finally brought it fully into the epoch of liberal capitalism. Needless to say, that event and its aftermath was not without misery, persecution, and death….

        The French Revolution was, needless to say, not a straightforward affair.

        Germany’s period of transition to liberal capitalism from 1918 to 1945 was…”problematic.”

        I think the Soviet Union and China managed just fine by comparison, especially if you disregard the made-up “Black Book of Communism” nonsense.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          I’m not willing to disregard the “Black Book of Communism” just like that. It seems to me that communist atrocities are well established historical facts. 30+ million deaths by the soviets, 60+ million deaths by the maoists, etc…

          I also dont think you can baldly state that the USSR and China “managed just fine”. China is doing well right now, just as it allowed free enterprise. I’ve known plenty of people who lived in the USSR and all of them agree that it was horrible. And this cant be blamed on revolutions being dirty affairs. None of them were alive at that time and all of them lived 60+ years after the Bolshevik revolution.

          There’s also the fact that capitalist democracies created standards of living orders of magnitude greater than anything else in the history of humanity. Slavery and the fate of Native Americans are valid criticism, but they are not integral to capitalism in the sense that capitalism could have happened without those things. However it’s not clear at all that communism can happen without mass death and mass misery.

          • Hoopdawg says:

            they are not integral to capitalism in the sense that capitalism could have happened without those things. However it’s not clear at all that communism can happen without mass death and mass misery.

            I see this kind of sentiment very often and I think it’s really disingenuous.

            First of all, it’s actually the other way around.
            Forget murders and wars and repressions for a moment, we agree they’re valid accusations, we can assumedly agree they’re inessential to economics, and everyone does them anyway. Let’s concentrate on another big part of the Black Book, famines.
            One thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that Soviet economy was centrally planned. You could be honest and admit it’s antithetic to communism and end the discussion right there, but even assuming you won’t, the obvious follow-up argument is that, rather than some impersonal “communism”, the starvation deaths can be blamed on a particular group of policymakers who decided that the lives of their citizens are less important than profits from grain exports. This is obviously and undeniably horrible, but it’s clearly a failure mode of the absence of democratic checks on power rather than of an ideology under which they weren’t even supposed to have that power in the first place.
            The thing is, no such group can personally shoulder the blame for capitalist famines. Nobody unilaterally made a choice to keep exporting food out of Ireland, because nobody was in a position to do so. Rather, the famine really was caused by the internal logic of the system, constructed under an ideology that posits that it’s enough that individuals have the fullest possible control over goods in their property and use them to pursue self-interest (again, coupled with lack of democratic checks on it and the resulting government inaction). They did, millions died.

            Second, as per the above, allow me to posit that it’s the democracy part (along with ongoing technological progress and government intervention) that improved our standards of living. Capitalism merely hangs on and periodically complains about how it’s not allowed to wreck people’s shit again like it did in the golden age of economic freedom in the XIXth century.

            PS: Soviet Union under Stalin did not merely “manage just fine”, it was the fastest growing economy of the period and turned from poor backwater into a world superpower in a few decades. Sure, it was a horrible place to live in, but once I remember all the horrible-to-live-in capitalist places getting defended by capitalism’s supposed future beneficial effect, complaints about that ring pretty hollow.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            One thing pretty much everyone agrees on is that Soviet economy was centrally planned. You could be honest and admit it’s antithetic to communism and end the discussion right there, but even assuming you won’t, the obvious follow-up argument is that, rather than some impersonal “communism”, the starvation deaths can be blamed on a particular group of policymakers who decided that the lives of their citizens are less important than profits from grain exports.

            Are you saying that a centrally planned economy is antithetic to communism? I thought it was the defining aspect of communism. If I am completely wrong here, I would love to see evidence to the contrary.

            My understanding of the famine in the USSR is that it occurred because the bolsheviks encouraged the poor to kill/steal from the wealthiest (i.e. most productive farmers) aka the Kulaks. And that any grain that was produced was not owned by the farmer but taken by the party to give to supporters. I heard stories of people being shot for picking up whatever few grains were left behind in the fields after harvest. So they simultaneously got rid of the most productive people while removing any incentive for farmers to work hard and be productive.

            Rather, the famine really was caused by the internal logic of the system

            If the internal logic of capitalism led to famine, you wouldnt be spending your time promoting communism on the internet. You would be scrounging for food in dumpsters, like people do in Venezuela.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @jermo sapiens:

            Are you saying that a centrally planned economy is antithetic to communism?

            As far as I understand (and I could be wrong), under communism there would be no economy whatsoever, because people will simply work for the joy of working and helping out their fellow men. There definitely won’t be any private property, since everything will be communally owned.

            Regarding the famines in USSR, the consensus (or at least partial consensus) among historians is that at least one of them — the Holodomor — was deliberately engineered.

          • As far as I understand (and I could be wrong), under communism there would be no economy whatsoever, because people will simply work for the joy of working and helping out their fellow men.

            Yes, that’s what Marx called the “higher stage of communism,” which would be possible with superabundance of wealth. Marx predicted that we would no longer, in such a scenario, need a state to protect and regulate the use and consumption of wealth, that we would no longer need a division of labor or any incentive to do certain things at all, etc.

            …in communist society…it is possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

            .

            Marx did not think that this would be true of the “lower stage of communism,” which the Marx-inspired social-democratic parties and later communist parties came to (confusingly) call “socialism.” (Nowadays, social-democratic parties mean something like a “mixed economy capitalist welfare state” when they say socialism, not a workers’ state controlling nearly all of the economy and building towards superabundant communism).

            Marx’s “lower stage of communism” would still retain “bourgeois right” by which he meant, an individual’s ability to consume being contingent on his/her work, and a public authority or state to assess and regulate this.

        • whereamigoing says:

          “The baseline of comparison should be with “bourgeois” (liberal capitalist) revolutions.”

          Sure, but the question is not which system always succeeds. We know there are at least some examples of capitalist countries without massive suffering. Are there any such communist countries? Or are you claiming the Soviet Union and China are such countries?

        • Bugmaster says:

          @citizencokane:
          I’m not sure what your metric is for “doing just fine”.

          Economically speaking, Soviet Union was doing fairly well at the beginning, but its economy failed to keep up with demand from its citizens. There was widespread rationing, bread lines, and ultimately starvation. Modern Russia does quite a bit better, due to a combination of a more mixed economy and petrodollars.

          China nearly tanked the entire country during the Great Leap Forward, but managed to recover by, once again, introducing free economic zones into the mix. Modern China does quite well, economically speaking, and probably better than the US, partially due to exploiting intellectual property theft and sweatshop working conditions at the state level.

          However, both USSR/Russia and China really stand out in terms of repression. Both countries — China much more so than Russia — practice brutal censorship; maintain concentration camps for political dissidents (note that most forms of religious worship count as rebellion in China); and are continuously working on increasing surveillance of their citizens (again, China leading the way by a large margin). This conversation we’re having could land one of us in jail (or, more likely, get him disappeared), were we stupid enough to hold it over an unencrypted link from within one of those countries.

          I admit, however, that the previous paragraph is my weakest point, because personal liberties are a matter of perspective (unlike economic metrics). What one person sees as expressing political opinions, another person could genuinely see as subversive propaganda or outright insanity — or, in most cases, simply as irrelevant.

      • Plumber says:

        @jermo sapiens

        “Is there even a single example of Marxist politics being implemented not resulting in a massive clusterfck of poverty, misery, and death?”

        Admittedly very much stretching the definition of “implemented”, but maybe The Republic of San Marino from 1945 to 1957?

        The state of Kerala in India?

        Not so much “Marxist” as ‘socialistic’, but if I recall correctly, the largest percentage of votes for an explicitly ‘left’ platform in a large multi-party nation-state was the 1945 United Kingdom general election, which resulted in the victory of the British Labour Party and the establishment of their National Health Service.

        Also the administrations of Roosevelt and Truman in the U.S.A. were called “twenty years of treason” by Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, who claimed that they were communist/Marxist, so maybe throw that in.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      After a bunch of people (including you) either misunderstood or deliberately pretended to misunderstand a perfectly comprehensible metaphorical criticism as a bizarre literal misunderstanding and spread this across the whole Internet to ruin my reputation, I decided to add a disclaimer stating the obvious to ruin your fun.

      Also, haven’t I banned you like a hundred times? How are you still here?

      • Nornagest says:

        I can’t believe I’m defending someone named “marxbro”, but I don’t recall you banning him. Maybe on the subreddit (which I don’t really read, but I remember hearing about some Marxist drama by osmosis), but not here, or at least not with the red text.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Just playing Devil’s Advocate here, could the same “lack of a concrete plan” critique be said of the Founding Fathers? The Declaration of Independence was a list of grievances, not a plan for how to fix them. They had a lot of political theories expressed in the Federalist Papers. But they started the smashing of things long before they had a Constitution, or even the Articles of Confederation.

      “We don’t like the King, so we’ll overthrow his government and then we’ll figure out the freedom thing later!”

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        The states at that time were each individually capable of governing themselves, and had been doing so under prior Kings and parliaments for over a century in some cases. One of the big causes of the revolution was Britain reversing its previously hands-off policy and stepping on the toes of the state governments.

        The Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution were necessary as a way of figuring out how the United States of America could stay united and not get swallowed up one-by-one into European colonial empires. The federal government at that time was explicitly limited to interstate and international concerns, so that the states could continue to govern themselves.

        So here the plan was “stop these meddling MPs from telling us how to run our own states, then negotiate a mutual defense pact that Virginia and New York will both agree to.”

  23. entognatha says:

    I can only speak for myself, but I’ve had a “Trump” like reaction to the intellectual dark web folks. I think it’s gone in a bad direction that makes me *more* wary of speaking openly about my sympathies. I don’t know if that’s a failure of the intellectual dark web folks, an external pressure, or both. I only openly support Alice Dreger, who made a concerted effort to not be included in the article.

    https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-I-Escaped-the/243399

    Worth reading her article about why she didn’t join, I think.

    • whereamigoing says:

      Hmm, I certainly find it encouraging that these people are speaking publicly, or at least some of them — e.g. Sam Harris seems level-headed enough to have a positive effect — though I agree that grouping them together and the IDW label itself might be negative.

      That’s an interesting link though. Alice Dreger has some practical experience and advice for activists.

      Also, reading this, I wonder if Scott should call himself a feminist. There are relatively few people in the West today who don’t match any definition of feminism (believing in gender equality of some sort and not wanting to return to the gender norms of a century ago). Furthermore, Scott thinks there are important changes to gender-related social norms that could improve equality — that sure sounds like feminism just looking at the definition. So the question of whether to call himself a feminist seems to be purely one of signalling value.

      • albatross11 says:

        The IDW isn’t really an intellectual movement, it’s just a set of very different people who associate with one another and have slightly-out-of-mainstream ideas. Sam Harris, Steve Pinker, Bret and Eric Weinstein, Charles Murray, and Jonathan Haidt are all serious thinkers who should be engaged with because they’ve got worthwhile things to say. Ben Shapiro is a partisan own-the-libs type, but he’s reasonably bright and somewhat entertaining to listen to. Dave Rubin is a Larry King/Charlie Rose type interviewer–good at letting the interviewee talk and drawing them out, but not himself a super deep thinker[0]. Jordan Peterson is somewhere on the smart, philosophical end of self-help gurus. I don’t really know Joe Rogan or Steve Molynieux’s work, but the little I’ve seen from the hasn’t impressed me much. Quillette is a think-piece publication which is sort-of associated with the IDW, and from the relatively few articles I’ve read, is somewhere in the Vox range in terms of depth of treatment and quality.

        [0] Or maybe it’s just his style not to bring a lot of his own thoughts to the interview, but I find interviews by Tyler Cowen (Conversations with Tyler) or Russ Roberts (EconTalk) to be immensely better, because the interviewers are smart people who have read and understood the interviewee’s work. OTOH, Rubin is good at letting you hear the thoughts of his interviewee–something the smarter and more thoughtful Sam Harris often fails at.

        • whereamigoing says:

          “The IDW isn’t really an intellectual movement, it’s just a set of very different people who associate with one another and have slightly-out-of-mainstream ideas.”

          I agree. That’s why I wrote that grouping them together under the IDW label might be negative.

          Thanks for the overview though. 🙂

      • entognatha says:

        I personally have a narrower definition of feminism. I think to be a feminist you actually have to care about women’s rights in a relatively active way, not just passively support gender equality.

        For instance, I don’t identify as environmentalist. I don’t hate the environment, and I believe in global warming and what not, and I want the earth to stay healthy, but I simply don’t spend any money or time doing environmental advocacy. So, not I’m not an environmentalist, because I’m too passive about the issue.

        I do spend money helping women in the third world access reproductive health care (midwives, C-sections, contraception, fistula repair, etc.) I also care deeply abortion rights globally. Ergo, I’m a feminist because I spend time and money on an issue that mainly affects women, namely reproductive healthcare.

        So, I don’t think Scott is feminist by my definition, because it’s pretty obvious that’s not where his concern lies. However, the aura of anti-feminism he carries definitely doesn’t help his image, because even I sometimes read that as actually being against women’s rights. So if he wanted to call himself a feminist as per Alice’s definition that *would* probably help his image.

      • 10240 says:

        IIRC Scott wrote somewhere that he’s on board with approx. 20% or 30% of feminism (I don’t remember which, and I’m not sure it was qualified which meaning).

        Feminism doesn’t have a universally accepted definition. Many people claim it just means equal rights or opportunity, but in practice it’s often used to mean something more narrow. Almost everyone is feminist by the broader definition but not by the narrower one, so the narrower one carries more information, so it is used more. Making it clear that you are a feminist by the broader definition can be useful, but only if it’s very clearly qualified that you are a feminist only by the broader definition, otherwise you are contributing to the perception that almost everyone is a feminist by the narrow definition (at least in intellectual circles), and thus criticizing feminism [narrow definition] will get you hated.

        Also, “gender equality” is too vague a term to be useful: it can mean equality of rights, opportunity, outcome, moral value, characteristics etc., and one can believe or support some of these but not others.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          feminism seems to me like the ultimate motte and bailey:

          Motte: feminism is the idea that men and women are equal

          Bailey: Believe all women

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I know. It’s just so blatant and the “Believe all women” is a new #MeToo era bailey.

          • AnonYemous2 says:

            honestly the bailey is just “women and men are the same”, which can be seen in the fight against Google (and, more recently, the protest against the exclusion of transgender women from women’s sports). So apparently women and men are equally interested in being engineers and equally good at sports, and if you disagree with either of those propositions you are sexist (maybe just transphobic for the second one).

  24. rhobarII says:

    Scott, you mention “the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism” as your hobbyhorse. Reading through the comments, I only found this book review on Singer (link text) cited as an example. Please, could you or anyone else post the main SSC posts where this issue is being discussed?

  25. Aging Loser says:

    Movements trending in a Progressive/Chaotic direction could be initiated by scary people while Movements trending in a Traditionalist/Orderly direction can’t be because Progressivism has been the Spirit of the West since 1700.

  26. carvenvisage says:

    gay rights came in on the back of civil rights, people were extremely primed to accept the demands of people aggressively marching and demanding change in general, and particularly accomodations for themselves. It would have been hard to say “I’m not sure if gays are quite like blacks here…” without associating yourself with the anti-marching faction.

    And has it really been good for them in the long run? Even if you discount the possibility of outside-but-disastrous risks like like fascists being given power or free reign to deal with them as they see fit (in which case it’s “picking up pennies in front of steamrollers”), wasn’t sexual libertinism/non-moralism going to be ascendant anyway?

    As for trump, he was in large part a vote against the political establishment in general and hilary clinton in particular, so it’s natural that there is some backlash once he gets into office, seeing as for many voters it was a ‘lesser of two evils’ price they were reluctant but willing, -but still reluctant, to pay.

    I don’t think frogs turning gay is a good example because alex jones backlash was probably less about his lack of respect and more the (outlier) viral meme potential a of hysterical swamp-person southerner squawking “they’re turning the frogs gay!”. -a rout in the meme war, not a reflection of people reacting to respectability, way more people were laughing at this idea than heard of alex jones at the time. Also, I think the right might have been more associated with anti-science reactionaryism at the time, with creationism and all that in the media.

    TL:DR I don’t think any of these cases are explained by overarching principles so much as local conditions and mechanics

    • Baeraad says:

      And has it really been good for them in the long run? Even if you discount the possibility of outside-but-disastrous risks like like fascists being given power or free reign to deal with them as they see fit (in which case it’s “picking up pennies in front of steamrollers”), wasn’t sexual libertinism/non-moralism going to be ascendant anyway?

      Being told “you’re filthy and depraved, but don’t worry, you’re allowed to do any filthy, depraved thing you want!” is not what most people are hoping for, oddly enough.

      And even from a completely practical standpoint, libertinism is a fashion that can’t be counted on to last. Sooner or later, the fashion will shift and society will go through another cycle of stingy moralism – and then you’ll really want to be seen as being morally acceptable. Isn’t that pretty much what’s happening right now?

  27. 4bpp says:

    Based on pre-gay-rights morality, the respectable gay activists appeared respectable despite being gay, and the non-respectable once appeared non-respectable “because of” (for reasons people perceived as closely related to) being gay. On the other hand, the respectable frog endocrine disruption theorists appeared respectable “because of” (for reasons (…): namely, doing science) believing in frog endocrine disruption, and the non-respectable ones appeared non-respectable despite of it(?).

    So maybe we need to let acceptance causes be championed by people whose identity is tied up with the cause in question.

  28. peepeepoopoo says:

    Alex Jones is not ‘concerned about endocrine disruptors’ or whatever, he literally thinks the American government is putting gay chemicals in drinking water for the purpose of turning everyone gay. He uses the existence of actual endocrine disruptors as support for his insane conspiracy theory. ***That’s*** why people make fun of him. I’m astonished that you feel like you’re in the position to create pseudo-sociological theories while you don’t even understand the very examples you use.

    • seladore says:

      Right. This is such a bizarre false equivalence I’m not even sure what to make of it.

      Millions of people – from all walks of society – asked not to be discrimated against, and eventually their ideas became widely accepted. But, on the other hand, an insane conspiracy theorist ranting about mad secret goverment plots gets completely ignored.

      Now, let’s speculate about what deep sociological principles are guiding the differing reactions to these two situations.

    • Bugmaster says:

      Technically, Alex Jones is just a character that is being played by an actor who coincidentally is also named Alex Jones, but broadly speaking you’re correct. However, Scott is also correct: regardless of Alex Jones’s motivations, his performance had indelibly tainted the idea of endocrine disruptors, to the point where the very concept is now permanently linked to the field of “insane conspiracy theories”, not “herpetology”.

      • seladore says:

        regardless of Alex Jones’s motivations, his performance had indelibly tainted the idea of endocrine disruptors, to the point where the very concept is now permanently linked to the field of “insane conspiracy theories”, not “herpetology”.

        I’m not sure whether this is actually true though. Even Scott didn’t provide any evidence that this topic is actually being suppressed in any real sense… just that he “tried to talk about it”, and “discovered that this was no longer an acceptable thing to talk about”. Like, I don’t think an anecdote about a handful of Scott’s friends being dismissive one time constitutes proof that an entire field of research is being suppressed.

        Just googling the subject (“amphibian endocrine disruption”) throws up plenty of new research being done (like this, or this) and plenty of research from the 2000-2010 decade that is still being cited – suggesting that there is still an active research community.

        I get that that for Extremely Online people the phrase “They are turning the frogs gay” conjures up images of Alex Jones rather than of scientist in a science lab, but this shouldn’t be taken as any kind of evidence relating to the real world.

        • AnonYemous2 says:

          even my mildly online friends are aware of “They are turning the frogs gay”, just to let you know

  29. Lancelot Gobbo says:

    “Gay people – even 0%-respectable drug-addicted gay people – seem more sympathetic and likeable than Alex Jones or his fans, so maybe their visibility was more of a positive.”

    Seems to me you are simply reflecting the fact that pretty much any group is more likeable than Alec Jones, and not remembering that any group will have its attractive members, and its monsters, while most members fall somewhere in between. Gay people are no more saintly than anyone else; they are just people after all.

  30. onyomi says:

    Maybe it works sort of like how I imagine exposure therapy to phobias is supposed to work, or as I seem to have heard some treatments for allergies work: you want the maximum dose of the thing you’re trying to increase tolerance of that you can administer without prompting a reaction/backlash. In the case you go overboard and cause a backlash you actually make things worse for yourself.

    This is why, if I were giving advice to progressives right now, I would actually advise them to scale back, as my impression is they are lately pushing too hard on various culture war causes where inertia was in their favor anyway. Similarly, if I were the altright strategist I might suggest secretly funding the most radical local chapters of BLM I could find.

    On the “increasing innocuous exposure” side of things, create media like Will and Grace that make [whatever you’re hoping to see more of/more acceptance of] seem wholesome, normal, and non-threatening.

    Maybe this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t necessarily buy the “respectability cascade” concept, though I can accept the idea that more and more provocative exposure will accelerate acceptance so long as it doesn’t go so far as to prompt a big backlash. A few conservative columnists doesn’t count as a backlash; if most people can turn the newspaper page and go ho-hum, you’re probably within the safe zone.

  31. mussgr says:

    Seems to me public sentiment is key for respectability to cascade, i.e. the ideas should genuinely matter to enough people. LGBT issues mattered to LGBT people, clearly, and Trumpist hot button issues cooled off once the Donald had his go. But if you have something nuanced enough that would only matter to specialists, like the endocrine disruptors, one negative association might be enough to sink it. Of course, the border is always moving: fair treatment for people with mental difficulties would have seemed far too nuanced once too.

  32. Deej says:

    I’m not sure Haidt is super respectable anymore. He’s become a crusader. I guess it’s hard not to arguing with the folk he’s arguing with all the time…

    • Walter says:

      I feel like if the dude who wrote The Righteous Mind isn’t respectable the game may be up already, right? Like, dude has a top flight brain.

      • Quixote says:

        Just as a check for my own knowledge, have you actually reviewed a published dataset behind any of his studies to convince yourself he is doing good work, or are you signal boosting an editorial or blog post you read at some point in the past? Ie is this post your personal testimonial as to the quality of his work based on your own work checking it?

  33. JPNunez says:

    I think the main lesson here is to not let the crazios like Jones get ahold of whatever it is your hobby horse.

    So if you worry that whatever scientific issue will be pushed against by leftist SJWs, your best bet is to make sure the alt-right doesn’t pick it up, not try to cozy up the leftists.

    edit: which is funny given how many people are going “actually alec jones is saying that…”

    • Fair enough, but I wonder what one can do to prevent other undesirable people from getting a hold of your idea and popularizing a low-status, unconvincing, exaggerated strawman-version of it? Do you hope that the crazies don’t notice your idea? Do you have to obsessively trawl through the internet for every time your idea is mentioned, and in case it is being taken in a crazy direction, you must write a rebuttal carefully explaining how your original version of the idea differs from this crazy strawman-version?

      For example, as an Orthodox Marxist who has very little patience for all of this identity politics and twitter-shaming regressive-leftism on the Left, it pains me to see leftism increasingly associated with all of that. But I can’t control the behavior of all twitter users, and I can be everywhere at once to write my rebuttal…

      • JPNunez says:

        Hard to say.

        I guess that if you show public disdain to AJones, he may not be as liable as to pick your hobby horse and put it into his rants -favorably at least-, but that will probably only work for Jones and not for the alt-right in general.

        It’s probably easier to make people hate you than love you, so cozying up and trying to explain with long blog posts to the leftists ain’t gonna work. It’s probably easier to denounce, say, Alex Jones and Trump from time to time to signal your allegiance.

  34. nemo says:

    Seems to me these case apply to different domains.
    In the first case, a taboo is a well-known, low-status idea, homosexuality is distributed throughout the population independent of status, and there are costs to being in the closet. So, there are people at all status levels who stand to gain from being able to break the taboo if the cost is low enough. Some 0% status people notice that the taboo is no longer enforced as strongly and they don’t have any status to lose, so they break the taboo. Then, some 10% status people notice these 0%ers getting away with it and trade off a small loss of status for the benefits of not being in the closet. The 20%ers notice the now-9%ers getting away with it and do the same. And so the status penalty for being out of the closet decreases and then vanishes.
    In the second case, the herpetologists are trying to sell a unknown idea. Unknown means weird means low-status. This is only somewhat offset by the high-status of the herpetologists. The herpetologists then try to sell the idea to the higher-status people who can actually do something about the problem, the politicians. The politicians see some lower-status herpetologists trying to sell an even lower-status idea and don’t buy it. However, some very low-status conspiracy theorists happen to see the high-status herpetologists selling this idea and buy it, seeing an opportunity to raise their own status. This gets the idea exposure, but associates it with very low-status people, dropping the idea’s status through the floor. The herpetologists then see that they stand to lose a substantial amount of status by holding on to the idea and drop it.

    In Haidt’s case, the idea is unknown, not a taboo, and there are not already people at all status levels who stand to gain from it. So this fits the second pattern. The right thing to do here, I think, is to tell the low-status trolls to shut up and instead try to sell the idea to people who are slightly lower-status than Haidt as they’re more likely to buy it than higher-status people but won’t substantially lower the status of the idea. This both gets the idea numbers, which increases it’s status, and gets rid of the unknown idea status penalty. Then, Haidt will be in a better position to sell the idea to the people who can do something with it.

    • Tenacious D says:

      distributed throughout the population independent of status

      Isn’t this more or less how cascades work in general? You’ve got to have a scale-spanning distribution that puts the system in a near-critical state for a cascade to have potential.

    • jermo sapiens says:

      The right thing to do here, I think, is to tell the low-status trolls to shut up and instead try to sell the idea to people who are slightly lower-status than Haidt as they’re more likely to buy it than higher-status people but won’t substantially lower the status of the idea.

      I wish this was a viable solution but I doubt that it is. The low-status trolls arent going to shut up and the high status people are already engaged in a purity spiral. I dont think Haidt is likely to make significant gains until the purity spiral crashes, which it will, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  35. Eponymous says:

    It’s worth asking whether your short “gay rights” history is actually correct before we struggle to explain it.

    Here’s an alternate theory: In 1950 America was very religious, and even people who didn’t practice religion had a worldview influenced by religion. More specifically, Christianity, which is very much anti-gay. Then throw in traditional views on gender and sexuality apart from Christianity.

    Over the 20th century this changed dramatically. I don’t want to get too CW here, but I think it’s reasonable to say that American culture shifted to the “left” on a lot of social issues. Some of this seems pretty directly related to declining religiosity, though not all of it. Part of it is something like radical individualism: people get to decide who or what they are, rather than their identity being determined by their roles within a traditional social order.

    In this view, there wasn’t a cascade. It was just that as the Overton Window shifted, more and more people felt able to come out of the closet. This started with the people who cared least what people thought of them, and then continued. One could even argue that the effect you mentioned slowed things down (the short-lived Reagan counterrevolution in response to overreach of the left); and then we had a sort of respectability cascade in the late 90s through 00s that got us out of that irrespectability trap (Will and Grace and all that).

    Here Alex Jones and Trump are hurting because they’re pushing more right-wing views which are already moving out of the Overton window. They’re accelerating this movement.

    Admittedly, I’m not sure that endocrine disruptors fit this theory. I don’t see them as politically-coded right. If anything I might think they should be coded left, since such concerns are environmentalist in nature. [joke suppressed here to avoid CW].

    • jermo sapiens says:

      I agree that the gay rights history cannot be seen in isolation from the general culture of sexual liberation that happened in the mainstream. You identify the decline of religiosity, but I think the most likely culprit is the contraception pill. With the pill allowing straight people to have sex without constraints, it was alot easier for them to accept giving that right to gays also.

      That said, what Scott has identified is most likely an important factor that should not be overlooked, but it had to happen on fertile ground, and the sexual liberation following the invention of the pill created that fertile ground.

    • zinjanthropus says:

      Yes, that’s a good point. If you were writing a history of women’s rights, you wouldn’t start with The Feminine Mystique or The Second Sex. You’d probably want to start with legal changes beginning hundreds of years ago concerning the right to inherit and hold property, to sue and be sued, and then you’d go through Mary Wollstonecraft, the Seneca Declaration, getting the right to vote, and so on.

      Similarly, starting the story of gay rights with the Mattachine Society doesn’t make a lot of sense. The status of gays and homosexuality, and even how we think about such things, has varied enormously by time and place, but the modern story of gay rights, in Anglo-American society at any rate, would properly start not more recently than the criminalization of (male) homosexuality in Victorian England and trace the long path away from that. And there would be a lot to talk about. Supposedly people at Oscar Wilde’s trial went outside and vomited, they were so disgusted by what they’d heard. That had to change before anything else could change. And it did. It’s my impression that people tended to write about Oscar Wilde in a very different way in 1930 than they wrote about him in 1900. The Wolfenden Report, urging the decriminalization of homosexual relations, came in 1957, and in Great Britain sex between two men in private was actually made legal in 1967 — before Stonewall. The Mattachine types were not wholly ineffectual. Also, social movements partake of their times (as jermo and others have pointed out). Nothing like Stonewall could have happened in 1955, or if it had, the demonstrators would have had their heads beaten in and no more would have been heard about them.

      Someone in this thread described gay liberation as a group of millions of people asking for their rights. That’s how we see things today. But before that view was even possible, it was necessary to conceive, not just that homosexuals had rights, but that they were a group, like blacks or women, as opposed to a bunch of individuals who were degenerates or who had been brought up wrong or (the enlightened view) were the unfortunate victims of mental illness. That conceptual change is a long and complicated story that isn’t captured by a facile dichotomy between The Mattachine Society and Stonewall’s drag queens. Both were steps on the same road.

    • I don’t see them as politically-coded right. If anything I might think they should be coded left, since such concerns are environmentalist in nature.

      It’s the right wing version of environmentalism because it’s fundamentally about gender integrity, in the same way that right wing arguments that immigrants take jobs aren’t left wing simply because they are economic and aimed at the downtrodden. The left detects the core principle at work there and alarm bells go off.

  36. Walter says:

    I always thought the gay folks getting more respectable deal was due to the dynamic where a small group of people who won’t back down on an issue tend to get their way, plus the closet meaning that the movement had secret allies everywhere.

    As far as Haidt and co, I feel like they should just keep on doing what they do. The anti-SJW trolls aren’t going to take their orders anyway, so communicating with them feels like a loss, and possibly an own goal. (Noted disgraced scientist Haidt’s secret communications to violent white supremacist movement unearthed!)

    My pet theory is that change happens via shame. Ultimately, it isn’t shameful to lose an argument to an Intellectual Dark Web guy, but if they keep talking eventually their stuff will get made into a ‘born this way’ style argument that buffoons will repeat. People can’t tolerate losing arguments with buffoons, and will change their views to avoid it.

    • Murphy says:

      plus the closet meaning that the movement had secret allies everywhere.

      Though the number of hardcore-antigay legislators putting out anti-gay legislation who ended up getting caught with rentboys, secret boyfriends or having anonymous sex in mens bathrooms kinda implies this one may not be so reliable since some of the closeted people have some seriously messed up levels of self-hate going on.

      Also pray-the-gay-away gay-conversion people who end up falling for other same-sex gay-conversion people since it turns out that people obsessed with other people’s homosexuality may be obsessed for a reason.

      So you get some allies but also some seriously messed up and committed enemies.

      • Walter says:

        Sure, but, like, all attention is good attention? Like, Alex Jones may be low status, but he is way higher status than Blex Jones and Clex Jones, who say the same things but started a month later and no one has ever heard of them.

        Like, even the pray-the-gay-away crowd are talking about gay people, and being maniacs they presumably make the people near them at least a little more kindly disposed towards their victims. Froggers WISH they had dedicated haters. Contrast anti-vaxxers and flat earthers.

      • Squirrel of Doom says:

        The fact that so many gay haters turns out to be gay is interesting.

        Sometimes I wonder if any straights really do hate gays, or if gay hating is mostly just an internal gay thing?

        I mean, that’s very likely not so, but I’d love to see hard real numbers.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          It’s “man bites dog” news so you hear more about the gay-hating closet gay. When I was growing up boys universally used accusations of homosexuality as insults. Many grown men as well. I find it unlikely they were all closet gays.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            i dont think accusing others of homosexuality as an insult is equal to hating gays. it’s disrespectful towards gays, obviously, but “hating” requires a higher bar in my view. and whenever I encountered whatever meets the bar for hate, it’s usually accompanied with the bizarre idea that homosexuality is a choice. as being straight was not a choice for me, i can only conclude that anyone who thinks being gay is a choice is actually gay and chooses to live in the closet.

          • i can only conclude that anyone who thinks being gay is a choice is actually gay and chooses to live in the closet.

            This is the conclusion I would have made too looking at the West, but there are entire societies with extremely high levels of mainstreamed gay hatred in Africa and the Middle East, mostly motivated by religious arguments that cast it as a sin that people engage in and not some biological outcome. I don’t think most of them are closeted.

            Probably, a lot of people worldwide who use the “it’s a choice to sin” argument aren’t taking it to the logical conclusion that would imply they chose to be straight. They may simply not have thought of it. In Western (mostly American) culture, the battles between fundamentalists and secularists have become mainstream enough that this has become a stock response that everyone is aware of.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            @Forward Synthesis I am not entirely sure how “It’s a choice to be straight” makes sense in the context of “It’s a choice to sin”. To not sin seems like a default position, one does not choose to not be thief or whatever, either.

            It also seems fallacious to basically rebuke “Homosexuality is a sin” with “But I want to do gay stuff really hard” because Christianity is all about temptation.

          • @ARabbiAndAFrog

            Well, here’s the thing: if we start from the position that sexuality is “hardwired”, then someone who believes that they choose their sexuality is either honestly mistaken for some reason (most of the religious homophobic world) or has something to hide (pop-cultural homophobic pastors).

            I am not entirely sure how “It’s a choice to be straight” makes sense in the context of “It’s a choice to sin”. To not sin seems like a default position, one does not choose to not be thief or whatever, either.

            Because sexuality isn’t really about actions, but about feelings. Someone who thinks that homosexuals are choosing to sin by doing gay stuff is missing the point, and this raises questions about how they percieve their own sexuality. Gays can easily not sin in the technical sense by not lying down with the same kind, just as the Bible commands, but they will still be gay, because they will feel the urge to. This raises questions because a straight person should be feeling urges for the opposite sex, and should recognize that this is what gays are feeling, only with a different target.

            Instead “don’t be gay” seems to be interpreted by many fundamentalists to mean “don’t behave gay”.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            Well, that makes, right? Be a good believer, resist temptation. If you fall to temptation, repent, but for god’s sake to celebrate or promote it.

            However, another point I’d like to make is that “choice” and “not choice” do not seem to correlate with actual properties of a trait. Instead, it’s a code for “OK to judge people by” and “Not OK to judge people by” respectively. It’s not acceptable to judge people by their not-choices, so if you want people judged, positively and negatively, you’d have to call it a choice. With enough imagination, anything can be sorted into either category, beside a few obviously genetic things. We are supposed to tolerate any kind of flaws that people didn’t choose to have, so if we want to judge something, we’d have to declare it a choice.

            Point is “Sexuality is a choice” is a code for “I want people judged by sexuality”. “Sexuality is not a choice” is a code for opposite. Same with, say, “There’s no such thing as laziness” or taboo on racism or judging people by other obviously innate characteristics.

          • albatross11 says:

            ARabbiAndAFrog:

            Everyone anywhere close to mainstream US culture agrees that sexuality is a moral issue, that some kinds of sexual attraction are morally wrong and evil. (Consider how basically everyone feels about pedophiles.) And sexual behavior is absolutely still a live moral issue. Just ask anyone caught up with #MeToo or a sexual harassment charge–even one where the harassment is inappropriate comments/sexually explicit humor.

            What changed was which sexual desires and behaviors were seen as terrible moral failings, and which ones were seen as forgivable missteps. I think happened was something like:

            a. Many people believed homosexuality was evil and found gays repulsive, for religious/cultural reasons.

            b. Over time, lots of people stopped really believing this, but there was a huge cultural norm of pretending to believe it. So most people went along, because we’re social animals.

            c. Eventually, enough people visibly cast aside the norm that the majority of people who didn’t actually find gays offensive or evil also stopped going along with pretending they did.

            d. As the pendulum swung, more and more people adopted a new norm–that saying mean things about gays, or believing gays were offensive or evil, was itself a shameful norm violation.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            I saw quite a lot of visceral reaction against notion that pedophilia might not be a choice for example, as people recognize that should they accept this premise, they would need accept and fasciliatate pedophilia.

            Similarly, I don’t think anyone who support #MeToo movement would claim that harassing women is uncontrollable reflex as opposed to fully conscious choice.

          • @ARabbiAndAFrog

            Be a good believer, resist temptation. If you fall to temptation, repent, but for god’s sake to celebrate or promote it.

            That’s proving the point of “homophobes are closet gays” though. Straight people don’t have to resist temptation because they don’t feel gay urges to begin with. This is the logical conclusion if you think gays choose to sin because normal people are choosing not to, rather than simply not having the same urges to begin with. This is why people assume that vocally anti-gay people who approach the issue from this religious angle have something to hide.

            Like I said though, I don’t think most people are self-interrogating like that, and it would be totally implausible for entire homophobic societies to be filled with mostly closeted gays.

            However, another point I’d like to make is that “choice” and “not choice” do not seem to correlate with actual properties of a trait.

            How so?

          • that some kinds of sexual attraction are morally wrong and evil. (Consider how basically everyone feels about pedophiles.)

            I think almost everyone feels that pedophiles who act on that attraction are morally wrong and evil. But consider someone who is attracted to children and, because he believes sex with them is evil, chooses never to act on that attraction–resists the temptation. I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            The same issue arises wrt homosexuality. I don’t believe that either Islam or Christianity holds that homosexual preferences are sinful, only that homosexual acts are.

          • John Schilling says:

            I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            No, and Yes. In the latter case, because they don’t believe there really is such a thing as a person who has such impulses and doesn’t act on them unless because they’ve been properly locked up forever. Scratch that – their belief that pedophiles are inherently evil is correlated with their belief that there are no pedophile abstainers; causality is ambiguous.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Straight people don’t have to resist temptation

            You should self-interrogate on this statement for a long, long time.

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            I’m not confident of my impressions of other peoples’ views, but my sense is that there’s a widespread revulsion at the thought of someone being sexually attracted to kids, and I think this is not unlike the way a lot of people used to react viscerally to homosexuality (and a few still do), and the way a lot of people still react viscerally to transpeople[1]. I think this is a sexual taboo in our society, and taboos aren’t rational.

            Now, rationally, someone sexually attracted to kids who doesn’t act on it is surely not morally at fault for his desires. But my guess is that like 90%+ of people find the desire alone repulsive even if the person doesn’t act on it. I suspect this is a lot of the actual reason why child pornography is treated as it is–not just the “evidence of child abuse” argument, but the visceral “this person is sick and horrible for liking this stuff.”

            [1] It’s important to remember that while there are various corners of the SJW-sphere that are very pro-trans, transpeople get kicked around a hell of a lot in the big wide world.

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            @DavidFriedman:

            consider someone who is attracted to children and, because he believes sex with them is evil, chooses never to act on that attraction–resists the temptation. I don’t think he is morally wrong and evil–do you? Do most people?

            Well, most people might agree that he’s not evil, but they may well think he’s dangerous, and should not be be around children.

            If we imagine someone with a strong urge to kill people, who tries hard to control it, I would likewise – if this was somehow known – want there to be some security arrangements, though I would also want this person to be able to live a life of freedom as much as possible.

            I guess my practical point is that just because someone so far hasn’t acted on their urge, that is not a 100% guarantee for the future.

            Another logical practical point that follows from that one is that if you do have these urges, and are controlling them, you better keep that to yourself, so people like me don’t start treating you like a danger…

          • @Jaskologist
            lmao im rekt

            I mean straight people don’t have to resist gay temptation, which is what the discussion is about, because they definitionally don’t have gay temptation to begin with by virtue of being straight. Anything to do with temptation here is bizarre.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            One wouldn’t need to have a specific temptation to then say “That thing you have is a temptation that you should resist”.

          • 10240 says:

            a. Many people believed homosexuality was evil and found gays repulsive, for religious/cultural reasons.

            I’m not sure if it’s just religious or even cultural reasons. I find it likely that a significant percentage of people, at least men, are inherently disgusted by (male) homosexuals or their actions. Indeed, this is probably the reason most religions condemn homosexuality in the first place. I’m not sure exactly why; I’d say most straight people are disgusted by the idea of doing homosexual acts themselves, and the sight of homosexual acts involuntarily makes me imagine them being done to myself — in the same way as, being disgusted by the idea of eating a bug myself, the seeing or imagining someone eating a bug also makes me pretty disgusted.

            I wonder if the liberal Western men who express bewilderment at homophobia, or suggest that it’s only a product of religious bigotry, experience this disgust themselves. Have we gone from from closet gays to closet homophobes?
            (Here I used homophobe to mean disgusted with homosexuality, not to be conflated with thinking that homosexuality is immoral.)

            but my sense is that there’s a widespread revulsion at the thought of someone being sexually attracted to kids,

            People are not used to differentiate between pedophiles by desire and pedophiles by action in most discussion. I suspect that if you just asked people if it’s immoral to be attracted to kids, most people would immediately answer “yes”, but if you explained the difference between this and someone who acts on it, made it clear that you mean a person who doesn’t act on it, and reminded them that this person doesn’t cause anyone harm and that being attracted to someone is not a choice, then a significant minority if not a majority would change their answer to “no”.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            I think if you start explaining to most people “the difference between this and someone who acts on it, made it clear that you mean a person who doesn’t act on it, and reminded them that this person doesn’t cause anyone harm and that being attracted to someone is not a choice” the only socially acceptable answer would be “Die in fire pedo apologist”

          • 10240 says:

            @ARabbiAndAFrog I’m not sure about that. But in any case, what the “socially acceptable” answer is is not the question if it’s a confidential discussion, or if we ask what people would think, rather than what they would say.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            I suppose you can say that, although vast majority of actions and legislations are directed to harming pedophiles rather than protecting children. Sure, forcing pedophiles into celibacy would do both, but it doesn’t explain why so many people oppose lolicon. Or hell, even criminality of viewing of child porn would be difficult to explain – the harm is already done.

          • 10240 says:

            @ARabbiAndAFrog The strictest and most salient legislation against pedophiles is the criminalization of statutory rape. Criminalization of viewing child porn is primarily justified to the extent it reduces the incentives to produce it, though the law be too broad for that purpose. Another justification is that most people (even adults) don’t want to be seen naked and having sex by strangers; if we consider this a legitimate preference, then in some sense every time the porn is viewed adds to the harm.

            Note that I did say that most people’s first reaction would be that pedophile attraction is immoral; laws are going to be driven by this knee-jerk reaction.

        • martinw says:

          Scott wrote an interesting post about that (of course).

          • Squirrel of Doom says:

            Oh, wow!

          • Murphy says:

            OK that had me chuckling.

            Chris Hallquist commented:

            I remember hearing once on Dan Savage’s podcast that he gets letters from gay men who grew up in very conservative parts of the country, who didn’t know that being straight was a thing. They assumed all men were attracted to men, but just hid it.

            Martin responded:

            Dr. Paul Cameron, founder of the anti-gay Family Research Institute, is quoted as saying: “If all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get – and that is what homosexuality seems to be – then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist… It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they’ll take enormous risks, do anything.” He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. “Martial sex tends toward the boring end,” he points out. “Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does” So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior. Apparently, some people build their entire lives around not knowing that being straight is a thing.

            Most people don’t care about gay people very much…. they’re simply a part of the universe. Even for most people who subscribe to religions or ideologies under which gay people are sinful or bad, most just don’t care because the universe contains lots of sinful and bad things and they’re mostly not doing much about those things either.

            But then what about the people who really really care. Who campaign . who think about gay men all the time. Who talk constantly about how gay people need to resist temptation, such constant and irresistible temptation…. ya… it’s not exactly shocking that that demographic turns out to have an unusual number of deeply closeted people.

            http://i.imgur.com/hVKK9.gif

        • Jaskologist says:

          People report harder on scandals of politicians they don’t like, whether it’s the people you know on Facebook who like to post political articles, or the press itself. Reporting on these sorts of stories matches the narrative they very much want to spread.

          If they wanted, they could as easily spin a narrative about how many prominent gay advocates turn out to be involved in the “grooming” of minors, they just don’t want to.

          Take an example from this very comments page. It talks about how people were scandalized by Oscar Wilde’s behavior, something which has since “changed.” Wilde targeted boys who were often substantially under 18, sometimes in their very early teens. Is the poster saying we now accept the sexual abuse of minors? How about the commentariat here, none of whom noticed that normalization of that pedophilia/ephebophila?

          Very often we first establish the story we want to tell, and then select that facts that fit it.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            I mean, numerous straight men of the same era sought out or ‘groomed’ teenage girls for sexual purposes.

            I think a case like Oscar Wilde just reflects the intersection between “Oscar Wilde was sexually attracted to males” and “in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was far more common for high-status males to be able to get away with having teenage spouses or sexual partners than it is today.”

            Think about how our old ‘legacy’ laws regarding the minimum eligible age for marriage used to include “but she can get married younger if her parents consent” clauses.

            Anti-pedophilia norms have hardened a lot over the past fifty or sixty years, I think.

          • albatross11 says:

            Also, I think legal age of consent has gone way up in most places. I think a lot of places had 14 year olds able to consent to sex/get married. That’s become a lot more rare. (I don’t know whether that resulted in any fewer 14 year olds having sex, though.).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Harvey Milk. George Takei. Kevin Spacey. The first openly gay mayor of Portland. The first openly gay mayor of Seattle. There are lots of prominent examples from recent times (that last is from last year). Why don’t you know about them? We don’t want to risk connecting the dots in a bad way, so we hide the dots. Jews build a hedge around Torah, we build a hedge around our knowledge.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            @Jaskologist , are you talking about cases of male-on-male pedophilia, male-on-male sexual harassment, or male-on-male consensual sexual relations where one party is of legal age but much less rich and powerful than the other?

            I just want to be clear, because you’re doing the “hint coyly in ways that could be interpreted ambiguously” thing pretty hard with that last post.

            Bluntly, gay men make up 3-5% of the male population. It would be fully expected for them to engage in 3-5% of all male-committed pedophilia AND 3-5% of all male-committed sexual harassment AND 3-5% of all creepy cases where a fiftysomething man is dating an eighteen year old.

            Given that there are probably literally hundreds of fiftysomething men who are vaguely celebrity-ish (movie stars, TV stars, city mayors, elected state officials) and who are sexual harassers, pedophiles, or in creepy relationships with attractive 18-year-olds.

            Assuming that gay males aren’t somehow uniquely more angelic than the common run of men, it is all else being equal to be expected that there will be literally dozens of gay men in similar situations. This is more than enough to craft a Chinese Robber narrative about gay men.

            We could do the same thing for men whose last name ends in an ‘S’ or something. What would it prove? What secret knowledge are we somehow hedging from ourselves by not doing so?

  37. BBA says:

    Someday we’ll figure out how cannabis legalization went from a ridiculous stoner joke ten years ago (I remember newly-elected Obama laughing it off when it was the top-voted issue in one of his online polls) to widely seen as inevitable now and backed by no less an establishment conservative figure than John Boehner. That was so rapid I still have whiplash from it.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Yeah dood, that would be an interesting question to research.

    • Nornagest says:

      This is kind of fuzzy and half-assed, but my theory on that is that since at least the Nineties, no one’s actually bought most of the claims that marijuana prohibition’s nominally been justified with. Supporting prohibition was entirely a purity signal. But then sometime in Obama’s second term, the idpol wing of the Left started colonizing the mainstream role of “moral guardian” that had previously been held by various Christian and parents’ groups, and the Right started shifting to a somewhat more libertine stance to capitalize on the cultural space that left open. Idpol didn’t suddenly start caring about marijuana when that happened, yet it’s getting increasingly inconsistent with the Right’s branding, which is leaving that sort of purity signaling without a target audience.

      These shifts aren’t complete yet — there are lots of people out there talking and acting like the party alignments still look like they did in the Nineties, including e.g. Jeff Sessions — but if they keep going the way they’ve been, marijuana and maybe some other drugs are going to be nationally legal soon.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        upporting prohibition was entirely a purity signal. But then sometime in Obama’s second term, the idpol wing of the Left started colonizing the mainstream role of “moral guardian” that had previously been held by various Christian and parents’ groups, and the Right started shifting to a somewhat more libertine stance to capitalize on the cultural space that left open.

        I’m amused how fast things have moved in the Democratic Party. Tipper Gore was an old-fashioned moral guardian while her husband specialized in ecology and other pointy-headed professor stuff. Now the Party still has moral guardians, but they’re all new-fashioned.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          It turns out that when the Red Party has a lock on the ‘religious fundamentalist’ vote… Well, for a Blue Party politician, being a moral guardian willing to go to bat for black people and LBGT people’s interests is a much more reliable strategy than being a moral guardian willing to go to bat for religious fundamentalists.

          The latter group won’t care if you go to bat for them except in the fringe case of “purple Democrat running in red state.” The former groups will care if you go to bat for them, so it’s a much more rewarding strategy in the long run.

          • Nornagest says:

            Religious fundamentalists might have been the most aggressive group engaging in moral entrepreneurship in the ’90s and early 2000s, but they weren’t the only one. Save-the-children media censorship and the drug war were, at the time, fairly bipartisan enterprises, although justifications varied somewhat between the wings and the right wing tied them into a broader narrative that the left didn’t. But over the last ten or fifteen years the left seems to have dropped the drug war angle and deemphasized saving the children in favor of a different flavor of media censorship, and they’re both getting rarer on the right without any obvious replacements.

          • albatross11 says:

            Simon:

            Note that the same thing is true in the other direction–a Republican politician who knows blacks vote like 90% Democratic has very little incentive to go to bat for blacks in any way that doesn’t also win him some support from the (overwhelmingly white) voters who are actually going to vote for him.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            @Nornagest

            Religious fundamentalists might have been the most aggressive group engaging in moral entrepreneurship in the ’90s and early 2000s, but they weren’t the only one. Save-the-children media censorship and the drug war were, at the time, fairly bipartisan enterprises, although justifications varied somewhat between the wings and the right wing tied them into a broader narrative that the left didn’t. But over the last ten or fifteen years the left seems to have dropped the drug war angle and deemphasized saving the children in favor of a different flavor of media censorship, and they’re both getting rarer on the right without any obvious replacements.

            The thing to remember is that religious sensibilities weren’t quite as strictly partisan 20-30 years ago as they are today. There were a lot more religious/conservative Democrats in 1989 than in 2019.

            @albatross11

            Simon:

            Note that the same thing is true in the other direction–a Republican politician who knows blacks vote like 90% Democratic has very little incentive to go to bat for blacks in any way that doesn’t also win him some support from the (overwhelmingly white) voters who are actually going to vote for him.

            I mean, yes, clearly.

            And this is fine and tenable exactly insofar as it’s fine and tenable to have a major political party in the country that preferentially and exclusively seeks out white votes.

            Whether having a party that exclusively (in every sense of the word) solicits white votes while ignoring- or BY ignoring- black people’s interests is better, worse, or morally no different than having a party that solicits non-fundie votes while/by ignoring fundie interests…

            That should probably be left as an exercise for the reader. Opinions may vary.

      • cuke says:

        I’d be curious to know — not that we can know — how important legalizing medical marijuana in many states was in moving things along. The fact pot helps children with epilepsy and people with cancer and vets with PTSD and people with ulcerative colitis and all kinds of chronic pain conditions that are otherwise very difficult to treat, just as we were also recognizing the huge costs of opioid addiction, seems potentially relevant.

      • albatross11 says:

        Nornagest:

        It’s notable that presidents Clinton, Bush Jr, and Obama were people who had apparently used illegal drugs somewhat seriously at some point in their lives, but who also supported keeping them illegal. None of the three, of course, thought that they personally should suffer any consequences for their prior drug use, or that having used drugs disqualified them from being president.

        One interpretation of that is that they thought they’d been lucky not to wreck their lives and that they thought the continued prohibition of marijuana and stronger stuff was a good way of dissuading other kids from doing dangerous things.

        Another interpretation (which I’ll admit it my inclination) is that they knew marijuana wasn’t really all that bad for anyone, but they preferred the political benefits of being anti-legalization to the social benefits of pushing for legalization.

        • Nornagest says:

          they knew marijuana wasn’t really all that bad for anyone, but they preferred the political benefits of being anti-legalization to the social benefits of pushing for legalization.

          That’s pretty much my take; it’s what I was trying to get at with “…nobody actually bought the claims…” It’s true that a lot of high-profile politicians personally used marijuana and other drugs, but I don’t see any conflict between that and maintaining support for prohibition as a purity signal. It’s not even all that hypocritical; lots of people are happy to admit being less than perfectly pure when they were young, as long as they can credibly claim to have grown out of it.

          Earlier, when it was still credible that marijuana use could cause lasting harm, occasional use when young would have carried more stigma. But it had stopped being credible even by the Clinton era, whatever DARE said.

  38. ARabbiAndAFrog says:

    > Gay people had no choice but to be gay, whereas environmentalists (and conservatives) could pivot from caring about endocrine disruptors and immigration to some other environmental or conservative cause that might have mattered just as much to them.

    Gay people could choose to be celibate which is basically the same thing.

    • rlms says:

      No it’s not.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      The relevant point is that the environmentalists and conservatives have other equally-good options.

      • jermo sapiens says:

        That may seem like a reasonable assumption but it may not be true in every case. Conservatives right now feel that unless immigration is fixed soon the demographics of the country will prevent them from ever winning an election ever again. This is an existential level threat at this point.

        Similarly, if an environmentalist were to believe that global warming will lead to a massive catastrophe, it might not make sense to worry about gay frogs or other less pressing concerns.

        • Star says:

          “Conservatives right now feel that unless immigration is fixed soon the demographics of the country will prevent them from ever winning an election ever again”

          I don’t think this is correct. Some conservatives think that. others are more grounded. If you watch Peter Zeihan when he talks about the Tramp election he makes a rather salient point:

          “When asked in pre-election poling Hispanics were 14 to one opposed to Trump. How do you ever come back from that? But when it came time for voting it was only two to one. The pollsters had failed to ask when acquiring that first statistic weather the Hispanics in question were registered voters or not, Relevant detail!” (pardon the paraphrasing it is not 100% correct but you get the jist)

          Peter is a conservative, he can count, and views the Hispanics as potential allies. It’s not just conservative wonks who can count that have picked on this ether, there are many religious conservatives that see the Hispanics as good Catholics ie virtuous allies through fault of religion.

          As to the the environmentalist thing while I enjoy hanging out with the hippie types, none of the take-it-so-seriously-I-live-off-the-grid ones are that influential, and the ones that don’t make that step have clearly drawn the line on the it’s-not-my-problem side of the fence (assuming you buy the story that the-end-times-are-upon-us)

          • jermo sapiens says:

            My comment was strictly meant to make the point that sometimes conservatives dont have other options to argue for a specific cause, like immigration. Ditto for environmentalists. Just like gays have no other options than to argue for gay rights.

    • arlie says:

      In my youth, it was pretty much socially required to participate in (ahem) appreciative discussions of the opposite sex to avoid stigma. In particular, I recall participating in such discussions at my workplace, to avoid potential difficulties with coworkers. Interestingly, this requirement appeared to be gender neutral – females and males both seem to me to have been hit with it.

  39. DocKaon says:

    I’m sorry, is there any evidence for your frog story? Yes, people mock Alex Jones, but can you present any evidence that has had any impact on either scientific work on endocrine disruptors or environmentalist support for addressing the issue? I’m not required to agree with or welcome the support of someone just because in some distorted retelling of their beliefs it vaguely resembles something I believe.

  40. Quixote says:

    You know. This is a very good question. I feel like this is time to say “I notice I am confused.” I‘m mildly disappointed you didn’t explicitly hat tip that technique. Maybe the story about how things happened is different than we think it is.

  41. rahien.din says:

    What you’re describing as a “respectability cascade” in Scenario I is more accurately described as “exposure therapy.”

    What you’re describing as “Is this [a reversed respectability cascade]?” in Scenario II is more accurately described as “epistemic learned helplessness.”

    • whereamigoing says:

      I don’t think helplessness is a good description. Helplessness might look like confusion or apathy (positive effect turns to zero), but not active backlash (positive turns to negative).

  42. JT_Peterson says:

    This is pretty much what I study at UPenn in the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences program. We use Christina Bicchieri’s social norms framework to study social change. Christina uses the frame work to try and end open defecation and female genital cutting.

    The three ideas you need to understand this dynamic are reference networks, thresholds, and tipping points.

    Reference network: People who are relevant to my decision making.

    Thresholds: The percentage of people in an individuals reference network who need to engage in (or accept) a behavior before the individual join in. Everyone’s threshold is different. (ie Some may need 50% of their friends to do something before they join in. Others only 10%).

    Tipping point: the percentage of people who need to engage in (or accept) a behavior before a chain reaction is started leading to wide acceptance.

    In the case of the acceptance of homosexuality, initially we have the trendsetters, the first to come publicly out of the closet. Psychologically these people are going to be strange and have tough skin. They are almost always at the edge of society rather than the respectable center (respectable center has a large reference network and thus a high absolute threshold). But if the trendsetters are important enough to a certain individuals reference network (call him John), then John’s threshold might be met, and John comes out. Then Johns friend, Steve, feels more comfortable coming out cause John is already out. Then Scott and John’s friend, Greg, sees that his two best friends are out and comes out as well. Etc etc.

    In the case of Voat the reference networks are almost non-existent, and the switch is anonymous. Yes, some people make friends on Reddit, or talk about reddit with real life friends. But the vast vast majority of redditors never post anything at all and never talk about reddit with their friends. This is an extremely weak reference network, and so switching to Voat is largely invisible, noticed by no one but other Voat users. Everyone’s threshold is thus much higher, and the threshold is virtually, “Ill go where the content is.” (Threshold>=50% of quality content makers).

    As for the case of “gay frogs” and “Trumpism”, I do not recall if we covered such backfires. I’ve reached out to see if anyone more experienced than me has insights. But the way I view it is that the out-group is a set of nodes in one’s reference network as well, but the sign is switched from positive to negative. I’ll comment again if someone has some additional insights.

  43. honoredb says:

    Somebody comes forward for a cause and either gets personally attacked for doing so or doesn’t (or does so less than expected). Other people take their cues from that outcome. So what drives whether or not they’re personally attacked? Often, it’s whether anybody has an incentive to go after them. Any powerful person, including someone getting attention in a political sphere, is a target, so anything they say that’s outside the Overton Window is going to be exploited to attack them. Powerless people can mostly speak with impunity, unless either they can be rhetorically linked to an actual powerful person or movement (“this is what X supporters actually believe!”) or people sincerely find what they’re saying abhorrent.

    Unfortunately if whatever you’re saying is harmful to some kind of powerful interest, it’s never completely safe or respectable to say it unless you have overwhelming numbers. One tactic people try is to find somebody untouchable, like a school shooting survivor or a tenured academic, to start the cascade, but this doesn’t work so well these days. And random people, even if they don’t get doxxed, still feel to the hive mind like they’re getting punished when getting a high ratio of quote tweets to retweets is interpreted as harm and humiliation. Maybe it’s just easier these days to start a disrespectability cascade for not-X than a respectability cascade for X.

  44. Icedcoffee says:

    I think the respectability point is mostly ancillary (or at least subsidiary). I’d say most debates are resolved on other criteria: e.g., how much effort does each outcome require of the average person? who stands to profit from either outcome? who has the better argument on the merits? etc.

    The scientific integrity vs. regressive left-ism doesn’t seem primed for a particular side to “win.” Perpetual debate is probably the most profitable outcome; either outcome is fairly low effort for the average person; and I don’t even think the two sides agree on what they’re arguing about. But I only have a vague familiarity with the topic.

  45. chaosmage says:

    One heuristic may be that moves towards wide open discussion raise the status of the issue, while moves towards insularity decrease it.

    If the weird gay people had announced lots of them were going to meet in private to do unspecified things, I hazard a guess that would might possibly have been a tiny bit unhelpful. The openness, the “look, we’re this bad, but at least we’re not pedophiles” made the difference.

    With Alex Jones, he has the conspiracy theorist reputation of being closed to disconfirming evidence, so maybe him picking up the issue seems instinctively like the idea is retreating into where it is safe from falsification, which is what bad ideas do?

    For the voat people, any move away from reddit is a move away from the web’s more intense discussions, but I think if they’d organised a mass migration to 4chan that’d have been less of a move towards insularity so it would have been less of a self-ostracism.

    I was delighted to hear recently that Social Justice is satanic because it is Justice without Mercy – a wonderfully kabbalistic argument that no Steven Pinker could have made. It seems less than maximally respectable voices can add more to an issue than just numbers.

  46. ProntoTheArcherist says:

    I would think it’s audience dependent. If you’re trying to convince low respectability audiences you’ll want a low respectability messenger. You’d send Alex Jones rather than your endocrinology prof. If you’re trying to convince high respectability audiences of the importance of the impact of environmental contaminants on frog sexuality, you probably don’t send Alex Jones. So if you want to convince everyone, you want messengers in every bucket on the respectability histogram. If one messenger, Trump for instance, becomes THE messenger on the topic, you risk losing everyone outside of +/- a certain percentage of respectability.

    I’m not sure if gay rights cascaded, so much as there existed simultaneous messengers in different respectability buckets for those respective audiences, and for whatever reason there was little cross-exposure because none of the messengers were popular enough to set the respectability bounds in the way that Trump has done for immigration.

  47. zacharius says:

    I think a good way mental model for this is potential energy. With gay rights there were a lot of potential energy(i.e. closeted gays). The unrespectable gays were the only ones willing to overcome the social inertia needed to get the ball rolling. Once they started it became easier for others to fight the inertia and push the issue themselves. With gay frogs there is no latent energy so the energy must be instead generated, which only those with social capital or respectability can do.

    Fringe figures have the superpower of overcoming great social inertia, ‘not giving a fuck’, which they can use to unlock issues with latent/potential energy. It takes those with social capital to generate the energy. The energy can also be generated by the human psyche.

    • sandoratthezoo says:

      Yeah, I think this and other comments are correct about the difference. With gay people, there were always more (closeted) gay people living on the margin between “you’re so disreputable that you might as well be openly gay” and “you’re respectable enough that you stay in the closet,” and those people were eager to, ceteris paribus, not live in the closet. So whenever the tide inched up a tiny bit, or even they incorrectly perceived it inching up a tiny bit, they’d come out, and then that in turn made the openly gay population incrementally more respectable.

      So I guess to some extent with respect to the regressive-left science stuff, maybe you have to figure out, which is the greater closeted population: the people who have been waiting to say, “No, science is scary and not real, we should deny it,” or the people who have been waiting to say, “Humanities folks are crazy barbarians, we should suppress them.”

  48. PhaedrusV says:

    It looks like the heuristic is whether there already exist people at each level of respectability who have internalized the issue at a deep level.

    Four examples: being gay, the frogs, pot, and the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW).

    Being gay: Throughout all levels of respectability, there were people who were more or less-secretly gay, and who were willing to stand up and be counted once gayness was, say, 60% acceptable, and help push it up to 70% respectability. Gayness was fully internalized, and even nude druggie bears weren’t going to cause gay people at higher levels of respectability to stop caring about gay respectability growth.

    TEH GAY FROGZ!: While there were several people at high levels of respectability who were concerned about hormonal imbalances in frogs, it was not a broad cross-section of respectability, and the belief was not internalized as being core to the sense of self. Once the belief was degraded by association, it was easy to find other issues to focus on, and to stop caring much about TEH FROGZ.

    Pot: Definitely had a cross-section of respectability, and people who had internalized smoking pot enough to stick with it through societal respectability crises. Jumped up from around %20 public respectability among hippies and libertarians straight to 90% with such moments as “I didn’t inhale”. Odd case, but consistent.

    IDW: Anti-post-modernism attitudes are strong and internalized, and the IDW is a collecting ground for people who are strong in that force. The IDW movement seems like it’s been largely invulnerable to respectability hits administered by outsiders. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few members of congress with IDW roots in the next decade, it’s gaining steam quickly.

    • NotDarkLord says:

      Building on this, another way to look at is whether there’s information that lots of people know, but isn’t common knowledge. “Gay people are ok, like me” became common knowledge in a respectability cascade, more or less. Gay frogs were unknown.

      Not sure if the change from ‘respectability’ to ‘common knowledge’ (common respectability?) is particularly helpful.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      Once the belief was degraded by association, it was easy to find other issues to focus on, and to stop caring much about TEH FROGZ.

      This does not help my level of esteem for these scientists then. I expect scientists to still care about the gay frogs, even if the only other people who care about gay frogs are unsavory.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        Well, if Scott’s at all representative, the ones who were initially concerned about TEH FROGZ probably still are, but are biding their time until the respectability hit dies out.

        What I was getting at in this case, though, is that there isn’t a broad respectability gradient that cares about this issue. You’ve got the 0-10% respectable Alex Jones followers, and then the 80+% respectable scientists, but not really anyone who’s 20% respectable, doesn’t have much to lose, and is willing to tell his friends that Alex Jones is right, and thereby bump the movement up to the next respectability level. The 80% dudes aren’t going to reach down and associate themselves with Alex Jones in order to keep this issue in the popular consciousness.

    • albatross11 says:

      I think the specific thing that makes the IDW work is that they are largely discussing ideas that a large number of people in the big wide world think are perfectly reasonable to discuss. A set of prominent gatekeepers in the academic and media worlds are strongly opposed to those ideas, and want them not to be discussed. But podcasts and Youtube and online platforms of every kind allowed a kind of an end-run around those gatekeepers.

      • PhaedrusV says:

        Agreed, but a general distaste for what those gatekeepers have built is also a big part of how the IDW movement has grown so big so quickly. There was a huge market starving for intellectual arguments that called out the hypocrisies, the culture wars, the nudging oligarchy, and the paternalistic authoritarianism.

        • Simon_Jester says:

          Aaand also for arguments like “women actually are sluts and this is bad and should be controlled by traditional marriage.”

          And “you’re right to feel insecure about mythical race replacement fears.”

          And “it’s okay to not worry when several people say “that guy took sexual advantage of me” and he remains corrupt and powerful and married to your mother anyway.”

          And “society’s economic problems, the ones that are screwing you over, are mostly caused by people you could conceivably get away with punching in the face, not by people who are well protected by law enforcement and private security.”

          Not all arguments that have millions of people secretly craving to hear them are, y’know, unambiguously good arguments. Not in a world where people are predisposed to believe that which reinforces their own sense of their place in the world.

          • albatross11 says:

            Simon Jester:

            Sure, gatekeepers prevent some bad arguments and ideas from spreading, as well as good or reasonable ones[1]. I suppose the question is whether you’d rather have those gatekeepers able to suppress discussions they dislike or not.

            My experience is that the quality of discussions in mainstream media sources about stuff I care about averages pretty low. The science coverage is crappy and often comically inept, coverage of many important political and social issues happens within really restricted ideological bounds, foreign policy coverage relies very heavily on (often anonymous) official sources who are always cheering for the next bombing or invasion, controversial thinkers’ ideas are routinely misrepresented, almost all coverage of everything is innumerate, etc.

            The quality of the best podcasts I’ve found is so much better than mainstream media coverage of similar issues that I would just never want to go back. The quality of discussions on SSC is better than I would expect to see in almost any mainstream media venue, though the format of the discussions is pretty different.

            Along with that, I don’t trust the existing gatekeepers with the power to decide what conversations may and may not happen in public. I see zero reason to think the folks running the top media organizations are wiser or better people than anyone else.

            [1] But I haven’t seen any of the IDW people I mentioned make any comments like the ones you listed. (Though I certainly haven’t read/listened to all of them.). I would be quite surprised to see any of those as the theme of an article in Quillette, say, or to hear them from any of {Shapiro, Rubin, Peterson, Harris, Weinstein}.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I think you’re mixing up the IDW with 4chan trolls. The IDW is people like Jordan Peterson and Brett Weinstein going on the Rubin Report to talk about regressive leftism and such, and I don’t think any of those people advocate the things you say.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            @Conrad Honcho :

            There’s a spectrum, as illustrated by all the paid Prager Youtube ads I’ve gotten bombarded by lately and their contents. The IDW provides considerable shelter for all the things on that spectrum, if not necessarily always in the same place at the same time.

          • whereamigoing says:

            “The IDW provides considerable shelter for all the things on that spectrum”

            So? Any halfway sane worldview will make correct predictions occasionally, so right-wing people will agree with the more moderate “IDW” more often than with left-wing people. That’s a good thing, because IDW at least has a chance of giving right-wing people more nuanced views, whereas interacting with left-wing people is unlikely to.

          • albatross11 says:

            Simon Jester:

            The mainstream media gives cover to people who say it’s okay to hate all men, and people who tweet about how much they hate white people, and people who dox and threaten high school kids because one of them got social-media-mobbed for having a really annoying smirk. (Also a bunch of boring non-hot-button stuff like helping justify us getting into awful wars where we kill thousands and wreck whole countries, but nobody cares about that stuff.)

            Do we blame the whole media for those, too? The NYT and WP have a lot more responsibility for op-eds they accept and editors they hire than, say, Sam Harris or Eric Weinstein have for Prager U’s Youtube ads.

  49. Nicholas Conrad says:

    I just want to point out that Art Bell was years (decades?) ahead of Alex Jones in the gay frog conspiracy reporting game.

  50. blacktrance says:

    I think gay acceptance was also a triumph of respectability. Gay people used to be seen as really weird, diseased, etc. But they pushed for same-sex marriage and other aspects of a normal lifestyle: “We want to raise 2.1 kids in a suburb and work quietly at our jobs. We even think about whether our spouse can get health insurance from my employer – would a crazy person do that? We’re just like you, except we’re attracted to people of the same gender.”.
    Something similar happened with marijuana legalization – when the image was teenagers and shady drug dealers, it was cracked down on, but now your boss might quietly use it as well, so it’s hard to argue for reefer madness.

    • Nicholas Conrad says:

      There is a distinct hockey stick effect in attitudes towards gay marriage in conservative America following the airing of “modern family” which features a minimally catty, committed gay couple with traditional family values. A few seasons of a show depicting gays with ‘conservative’ vales did more for the cause of gay rights than decades of writhing around half-naked on parade floats. The question is: did we need decades of pride parades to get to a world where we could depict family oriented gays on national tv, or was it a respectability dead-end we could’ve cut out completely? My uninformed opinion is that the latter is more likely true.

      • acymetric says:

        I mean, we definitely needed something. Modern Family doesn’t get made (at least not with a prominent gay couple) in 1995, other things had to be done to effect change before it was even a possibility.

        • AG says:

          The question is: did we need decades of pride parades to get to a world where we could depict family oriented gays on national tv

          Most certainly yes. Before we could get to Modern Family, we had to have transgressive-at-the-time productions like Rocky Horror, Rent, The L Word, Queer as Folk. Their producers used these productions to stand out in the pack as edgier than the status quo (and so more hip). The conservative mainstream audience was locked down with the usual crime procedurals on CBS, NBC, etc., so in the 90s, UPN went for the youth demographic, including by allowing the lesbian couple on Buffy. Fox News is the same mechanism in the opposite ideological direction, but you can see Fox’s primetime shows taking the same “edgier shows to get viral attention” tactic, epitomized in Glee. It’s just that right wing is what’s edgy in TV news, so.

          And with each moment of seminal representation, the people who are represented gain new hope and new inspiration. More and more of them decide to go into the entertainment industry, more and more of them decide to be like the characters who look like them on the screen, to be okay with themselves. It’s not just about gay rights, the same is for racial representation. Should hip hop not have had a gangsta phase?
          It’s not just about making allies, it’s also about rallying the ingroup together to survive.

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      I think gay acceptance was also a triumph of respectability

      I think this is an important aspect of it. There were people that we were already on record as respecting – whether that’s Alan Turing, or Freddie Mercury, or Rob Halford, or Tim Cook – and when we learned they were gay, we were kind of stuck with realizing that there must be at least more depth to the question, it couldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

      • Jiro says:

        By this reasoning, a respected figure coming out in favor of the ants should make it impossible to dismiss the ants. This is never the case.

        • blacktrance says:

          The ant controversy is niche, so it’d be weird for a respected figure to take any stance on it. Most people have never heard of it and don’t care, so it’s not a case of trying to overcome widespread social disapproval.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I’d say that most people don’t really know that much about it, but at this point the average person has probably at least heard it mentioned.

          • Enkidum says:

            I’m a fairly regular reader/commenter here, generally well-informed about CW issues, and I have no idea what it is.

          • albatross11 says:

            What’s the ant controversy?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            What’s the ant controversy?

            I tried to answer this but it didn’t post; seems to automatically delete. Which I guess explains why people talk about it in code.

          • Nornagest says:

            It’s a recent controversy revolving around video game journalism, whose name begins with “gamer” and ends with “gate” (and which is filtered because for several months mentioning it in a Googleable form would bring down the wrath of Twitter). The joke is that entomologists use an identical term for reproductively viable worker ants.

          • Enkidum says:

            Huh ok then yes, I know it well.

            I have things I could say but let’s just let those lie for now.

        • Hoopdawg says:

          Please note the difference between “in favor of the ants” with “in favor of the ants’ goals”.

          The reaction to the recent media layoffs pretty much sealed it for me that the ant view of said media is now well within mainstream.

  51. Art Vandelay says:

    I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism. My strategy so far has been to let Stephen Pinker and Jonathan Haidt do all the talking, and only talk myself if I feel like I can speak with the same level of dignity, respectability, and scientific backing they do.

    I haven’t read much Jonathan Haidt but in Pinker’s critiques he steps far outside his areas of expertise to pronounce authoritatively on things that he has an extremely poor grasp of. I’ll stick to anthropology because it’s the area I know best. After accepting a place to study anthropology at undergraduate level I read The Blank Slate and The Language Instinct (and How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen which has a chapter on the “postmodern” takeover of academic departments) and started to think “God, what have I let myself in for? I’m even going to a particularly left-wing university.” During my first year I was reading things like Intellectual Impostures and A House Built on Sand alongside the required reading I had to do for my courses.

    I started off firmly in the Pinker/Sokal camp. I’d approvingly quote Dawkins claiming that difficult writing was a sign that an author didn’t have anything interesting to say — I figured that seeing as marks in my first year didn’t count towards my final degree I may as well get it out my system now, only to find that professors were extremely open-minded and often even sympathetic towards such critiques and they often received good marks. Moreover, I slowly came to the realisation that people like Pinker and Sokal were often embarrassingly out of their depth when discussing perceived opponents of science. They are closer to the guy saying “THEY’RE TRYING TO TURN THE FRICKING FROGS GAY!” than the guy saying “some of these pollutant appear to be affecting the endocrine system of amphibians”.

    This is not to say there aren’t any charlatans or bad arguments pushed by people in the humanities or social sciences (I find an awful lot of work ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating) but that most people like Pinker have not done the sort of deep study necessary to understand the subject matter. His section on anthropology in the Blank Slate relies on quotes that were 50+ years old when the book was written and weren’t very representative of the discipline as it existed at the time. Sokal’s discussion of Bruno Latour completely and utterly misunderstands the point that Latour is making. It’s sad if these are your respectable figures, because there is bad work to be pushed back against, although on the bright side this is being done to some extent by people who are actually qualified for the task (it’s now fairly normal to discuss the time where “vulgar Foucauldianism” or an excessive and unconsidered application of critical theories led in some pretty foolish directions).

    • jermo sapiens says:

      Are you saying you are now convinced that the blank slate hypothesis is correct? If so, I would love to see what kind of evidence you have for that, and to what extent the slate is actually blank. For example, could anybody be nurtured to become a world class athlete or musician?

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I’ve not met many people who actually argue that people are a blank slate, and even in cases when they seem to (this is most common when discussing gender) if you push them on it (in a friendly way that isn’t accusing them of ignorantly denying science) they’ll normally concede that people obviously aren’t a completely blank slate.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Right. That would make sense because the “completely blank slate” view is falsified about 100x a day just going about your daily routine. I think the more contentious issue is when it is applied to groups like races and genders. As in, individuals have different talents and flaws they are born with, but every subgroup should be born with the same average of talents and flaws as every other subgroup, so every observed difference between subgroups is attributable to nurture.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I think the more contentious issue is when it is applied to groups like races and genders.

            I mean, it shouldn’t be. Obviously there have been false racist and sexist claims, but no one can be nurtured into getting pregnant and breastfeeding unless they’re born female. Race is ever so much fuzzier, but we’re getting hard evidence for truth claims like “Give up your dream of holding the world record for a foot race unless you’re a male Kenyan.”

          • 10240 says:

            @Le Maistre Chat Whatever blank slate or equal average claims that exist generally apply to mental traits, not physical ones. Those claims are questionable at best too, but the counter-evidence is not as obvious than with physical traits.

        • j1000000 says:

          But when you say “actually argue,” what’s that mean? Them conceding, after a bit of “friendly” but not accusational prodding in a private conversation with you, that humans aren’t a completely blank slate — that doesn’t seem that helpful. The conversations you describe basically sound motte-and-bailey-ish.

          But a lot of those people you’re talking with are often influenced in their work by the motte, and will, say, be asked for a quote to support the motte in a NY Times article about the latest James Damore or whatever the controversy du jour is.

    • Lodore says:

      I started off firmly in the Pinker/Sokal camp. I’d approvingly quote Dawkins claiming that difficult writing was a sign that an author didn’t have anything interesting to say — I figured that seeing as marks in my first year didn’t count towards my final degree I may as well get it out my system now, only to find that professors were extremely open-minded and often even sympathetic towards such critiques and they often received good marks.

      This is certainly a fair reflection of how the humanities and social sciences (HSS) function in the real world, and it’s unsurprising that it should be: most academics in these fields are ordinary people, and cease to be ideologues outside the pages of Social Text or whatever. However, I query the bigger claim. I started out in a humanities discipline (literature studies, though with a focus on linguistics) and have been getting progressively harder over the course of my career (to the point where I now work in the interface between machine learning and NLP) and the the Pinker et al. criticism of HSS seems to me to be entirely justified.

      This is less to do with the politics of these disciplines, and more to do with the epistemic culture. For the fact is that the HSS are not defined by a set of problems but by set of methods––hermeneutic, critical, interrogative––that simply ignore the possibility that other approaches are possible. This would be fine were it not for the fact that the HSS retain the infrastructure of problem-led inquiry (c.f. Feynman’s cargo-cult science) and distribute the resources available on that basis. The consequence is a culture of rank dishonesty, where the boundaries are policed by a set of implicit codes that have nothing to do with the stated imperatives of that discipline. (Imagine how an ML algorithm for analysing poetry would be received by Stanford English Faculty …)

      For sure, this is no different from many in-group, out-group distinctions, but there is non-negligible amount of public money and intellectual bandwidth invested in this infrastructure, and the money could be put to better effect elsewhere. And for these reasons, I think the criticisms of these disciplines is entirely justified.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I’m not quite sure I follow. Are you saying the problem is that funding is allocated within a system designed for hard sciences that is not suited to being used for humanities and social sciences?

    • dick says:

      Very thoughtful comment. So, what should I take your experience to mean, vis a vis the topic of Scott’s post? If widely-respected alternative voices like Sokal and Pinker are attacking a simplified and straw-manned version of science-denying-leftism, but science-denying-leftism is still a thing that needs pushing back against, are Sokal and Pinker helping or hurting that cause? It seems likely to be the former, in the sense that science-denying-leftism thrives when no one is paying attention to it and suffers when it’s being examined and discussed, even by someone who’s not being very fair or accurate.

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I think that people like Sokal and Pinker generate massive amounts of heat and very little light. The same is true for some of the more extreme figures on the other side. I think one of the biggest problem is that people on the science side have decided that any critique of science coming out of the humanities or social sciences is “science-denying-leftism” and so can’t/won’t distinguish between perfectly reasonable criticisms that would be (at least partially) accepted by an awful lot of scientists if they were coming from a perceived ally and the sort of people who claim that all science is some sort of capitalist, white-supremacist, hetero-sexist conspiracy. People on the humanities side are far too reticent to try to distinguish between constructive sensible criticisms and completely crazy ones and call out the latter.

        These tendencies are much less severe when each side is talking amongst itself. Many in the humanities will criticise people on their side when talking to their own side. Many scientists will readily admit the fallibility of science to other scientists. What’s needed is level heads from both sides reaching out across the divide. I’m extremely doubtful that Pinker is one of those level heads. He may appears so because he comes across as measured and authoritative but is in reality pontificating inaccurately on subjects he has only a vague grasp of.

        • whereamigoing says:

          “Many in the humanities will criticise people on their side when talking to their own side.”

          Could you give examples? I’m genuinely curious.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Well of course they criticise/disagree with each other all the time (that’s largely what they do) but obviously a large proportion of that is not really relevant to the “science-denying-leftism” sort of thing. It’s hard to give that many precise references off the top of my head, but hear are a few that seem fairly relevant:

            Terence Turner has written that many anglophone academics make the mistake of not realising that French post-structuralism must be understood as part of a system centred on Paris where intellectuals compete for who can say the most outrageous thing. I believe it’s in a paper called something along the lines of Bodies and Anti-Bodies. The idea of vulgar Foucauldianism I mentioned earlier was coined by David Graeber — I think it’s discussed in an article called Anthropology and the Rise of the Professional-Managerial Class amongst other places. There’s Tim Ingold, I think in the introduction to either Perception of the Environment or Being Alive, I don’t remember which, that some of his fellow anthropologists need to come to terms with the fact that humans are organism which have evolved. The clearest example that comes to mind is Latour’s Why Has Social Critique Run Out of Steam?

            Criticism of this sort is generally much more common and much stronger in person than in writing. While you see occasional references to the overly obtuse nature of some humanities/social science writing it’s normally veiled in some self-deprecation so I’ve seen things described as so arcane it was hard to follow or someone saying that their linguistic acrobatics were not comparable to some other scholars’. In lectures though, I’ve heard things like professor referring to one of the eminent anthropologists we’d been reading as having an approach to writing that involved throwing up random words onto the page.

          • Aapje says:

            @Art Vandelay

            I’m not very impressed by that kind of debate though. If these people are so divorced from reality that they have to be told that humans evolved, then their ‘science’ cannot but have almost no empirical basis.

            Mistakenly thinking that coming up with hypothesis is science, seems to be an affliction of certain parts of academia.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Aapje

            They’re not scientists.

            Nobody claims humans didn’t evolve, his point is that too often the fact that humans are organisms and therefore in a sense continuous with the animal kingdom aren’t given enough consideration. The attacks on the discipline from sociobiology, evolutionary psychology and their supporters pushed many anthropologists away from giving much thought to evolution, particularly in the 90s.

            Your reply does confirm why anthropologists are reticent to make these criticisms when addressing an audience outside of the discipline.

          • Aapje says:

            I know that’s what you meant, but that doesn’t negate my criticism. In the field of gender I often see that biological gender differences are assumed to be minimal, while one can look at the animal kingdom for very many examples of not just physical, but also behavioral differences that cannot be explained by human enculturation.

            Furthermore, the opportunity to examine the animal kingdom is often ignored.

            Your reply does confirm why anthropologists are reticent to make these criticisms when addressing an audience outside of the discipline.

            If they look bad to outsiders and many people see their work as useless, they can either find a way to explain their work better (which makes it more valuable to society) if the work is actually useful or they can improve their discipline.

            Instead, the common response of isolation, causing all kinds of clique behaviors and pathologies, may work to preserve a cherished status quo, but science should not be about doing that or people protecting their nice jobs.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            You appear to be more interested in point scoring than mutually enlightening discussion.

          • Aapje says:

            Just clarifying my perspective. But the inferential distance between us seems large. Perhaps you reason very much from the humanities, while I reason much more from the hard sciences.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I’m not sure what inferential distance has to do with this discussion. It might be relevant to the discussion below where you seem unfamiliar with the distinction I was referring to between broad strands of philosophy which made it difficult for you to grasp the point I was making. In this discussion you haven’t made any scientific points you’ve held forth on the perceived uselessness of a large portion of academia and what they’d need to do to impress you. Some might call that clarifying your position, others might call it pontificating.

          • Aapje says:

            @Art Vandelay

            The basic critique of Sokal and myself is that the very way in which some fields operate is wrong.

            The issue is not that they have one or more theories that are wrong, which, when replaced with better theories solves the issue. No, the very way in which theories are generated, expressed & adopted is broken.

            So where you (appear to) see a vibrant scientific community that is good at internal critique, but insular and unable to notice good criticism from outside their community; I see a community which does not do science, whose internal critiques don’t address this and who reject criticism of their methods from outsiders.

            You can compare it to the Communist Party of China (CPC). There is (some) criticism of Chinese policies possible within the party, as well as of the people they put in power. They are far less open to criticism from the outside. However, even if they were to improve this, the problem remains that they are undemocratic and that decision making power is in the hands of an elite and thus insufficiently directed by the will of the people. Their poor process for generating policy is a major reason why they have many unjust policies, so improving China requires criticism of their governmental structure, not just their policies. However, criticizing the former is not allowed within the CPC.

            The criticisms of Turner, Graeber and Ingold are all akin to critiques of the policies of the CPC, while the criticisms of Sokal and myself are akin to criticism of the autocratic nature of the CPC & that such criticisms are not acceptable within the CPC.

            Where this analogy breaks down is that policy that is implemented by government is tested by reality. If a government were to mandate that all people fly to their work by flapping their hands, they will find out that this is impossible. If government becomes too delusional, there is a good chance that they will be fired (nicely or not so nicely).

            In contrast, academics do not have an executive role, but are advisers to society. They are also so independent that they are often not fired even if no one ever implements their suggestions or if implementing their policies goes wrong again and again. So were some academics to write that people can fly to their work by flapping their hands, but refuse to test that theory out in practice, they could keep writing paper after paper on the advantages and proposed mechanics of autonomous flight, unhindered by laws of physics (which allow the writing of nonsense on paper).

            You are probably aware of the ‘replication crisis’ where even studies that tried to achieve ‘hard science’ standards were found wanting with immense frequency. This happened to many of the most prominent studies of their fields, which were cited as the truth by many other studies. A house of cards…

            Scientists need very good methodologies to organize their own verification of their theories, if they are to provide the quality work that justifies their claims, status and the money we poor into them. Only by doing that can they build a strong house that will endure, rather than an ephemeral house of cards.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Aapje

            You said (my italics):

            So where you (appear to) see a vibrant scientific community that is good at internal critique, but insular and unable to notice good criticism from outside their community; I see a community which does not do science, whose internal critiques don’t address this and who reject criticism of their methods from outsiders.

            Which is strange because I’d already tried to point out to you that:

            They’re not scientists.

            I’d also already said:

            I find an awful lot of work [in the humanities and the social sciences] ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating

            It’s hard to have a discussion when you’re arguing against the kind of opinions that you assume the sort of person you assume I am would have rather than what I’m actually saying.

            I’m not quite sure what purpose your communist party analogy is supposed to serve so I will ask you something more specific:

            Seeing as you are critical of methods, and seeing as the example of social sciences and humanities under discussion is anthropology, what are your actual critiques of anthropology’s methods?

          • Aapje says:

            @Art Vandelay

            The American Anthropological Association claims that science is part of anthropology.

            When Trump proposed cutting the funding for universities, this was called a “War on Science,” not a ‘War on science and non-science.’

            When academic funding is sold to the populace as being for science, they are getting paid to do science, IMO.

            One doesn’t get to claim to be scientific when demanding/accepting money and then claim not to do science when others make the demand that they deliver what they claimed to offer and/or what they got the money for.

            Otherwise it is fraud.

            Seeing as you are critical of methods, and seeing as the example of social sciences and humanities under discussion is anthropology, what are your actual critiques of anthropology’s methods?

            That it’s typically the development of just-so stories that practically always lack one or more of:
            – strict definitions
            – a defined scope
            – serious attempts to falsify the story or competing stories

            Typically, from a scientific point of view such papers are nigh unreadable, because practically every sentence makes scientifically unjustified claims. So if one goes through them with a red marker to mark all scientifically unjustified claims, the manuscript will look like it was found in a puddle of blood at a crime scene (where presumably, an attempt on the life of science was made).

            I’ll demonstrate with an example. The paper you referenced by Terence Turner is as good an example as any. It starts with the sentence making a claim that bodily-related political movements are currently salient and associated with body-related themes in the culture of late capitalism. The following sentence defines ‘bodily-related’ extremely broadly with no clear limit (is the brain and thus thinking bodily-related?). I see no measurable proxy suggested for ‘bodily-related’ that would allow for scientific measurements. As such, the claim that bodily-related political movements are more common when the paper was written can not be verified scientifically, nor can a correlation be tested with bodily-related political movements and body-related themes. So strict definitions are not to be found here.

            The scope is also unclear. What does the claim that bodily-related political movements are currently salient boil down to. Is it a claim that 100% of political movements are bodily-related? Less? If so, how much less? Or that 100% of the ideology of all political movements of the time is bodily-related? Less? If so, how much less?

            Nowhere in the paper do I see any evidence from the author or properly referenced evidence from others to support these claims.

            So all three of my red flags are present in the first two sentences alone.

            Note that the claims from this part of the paper are far from self-evident. The paper argues that torture and reproductive rights are examples of bodily-related politics and that the body is more subject to such repressive controls when the paper was written. Yet it used to be par for the course to torture suspects in the West. Reproductive rights were also severely curtailed, where it was common for pregnancies for the unmarried to result in forced weddings or locking up the mothers in prison-like institutions. Yet we are to believe that the body was more subject to repressive controls in 1994 than in 1884, 1774, 1664, etc. If we ignore the lack of evidence for the claim and step outside of the scientific evaluation, then it doesn’t even hold up to a mere smell test.

            I find an awful lot of work [in the humanities and the social sciences] ranges from cringe-worthy to infuriating

            Yes, because the definitions & scope what belongs in the field is not carefully delineated, nor are all parts held to the standard of being falsifiable as well as subject to attempts to falsify, the same objections that I have to many of the papers/books are also relevant to a higher level of abstraction: the methodologies that make up the field and their validity.

            It’s not good enough that you reject certain parts of humanities and the social sciences. I demand meta-science: that the definition, scoping and validity of scientific methods is subject to scientific study.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Aapje

            The American Anthropological Association claims that science is part of anthropology.

            They are not claiming that most anthropologists are scientists though. I suspect most biological or physical anthropologists would call themselves scientists because they follow methodology of normal science. This is true for a small minority of social and cultural anthropologists too but they are very far from being prominent in these disciplines. The people with a scientific approach are decidedly not the people that the likes of Sokal and Pinker are criticising. Indeed, Pinker cites more scientifically minded anthropologists approvingly in his criticism of others. The vast majority of the people being criticised do not present themselves as scientists to anyone (and any who do would not be using it in a Popperian sense). Most courses in cultural or social anthropology are BA and MA rather than BSc and MSc and those that offer the latter are often ones where these courses are still fused with archaeology and/or physical anthropology as well as being a relic of a time when “science” was often more broadly defined.

            I’m not entirely clear what you’re arguing regarding methodology. You seem to be suggesting that every academic paper should primarily be made up of falsifiable claims backed up by quantitative evidence but I don’t want to make this assumption because it seems like an oddly extreme position that I’m fairly certain the people you claim to agree with do not hold. Looking at the first page of the introduction to Intellectual Impostures for example we can see that in the Sokal Affair he decided to, “submit to a fashionable American cultural-studies journal, Social Text, a parody of the type of work that has proliferated in recent years, to see whether they would publish it.” It is not clear how they are defining “fashionable” here and they have offered no evidence for the journal’s fashionable status — the parameters to be measured and their values are completely absent. They also do not attempt to determine the numbers of papers that are published each year that fit their category to demonstrate that they are indeed proliferating, they do not even give an indication of whether this supposed proliferation involves a proportional or absolute increase in the papers published in the relevant disciplines.

            Moreover, they do not give any strict criteria by which we might ascertain which academic papers fall into the category of “this kind of work”. They do state in the preceding paragraph that, “Vast sectors of the humanities and the social sciences seem to have adopted a philosophy that we shall call, for want of a better term, ‘postmodernism’: an intellectual current characterized by the more-or-less explicit rejection of the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment, by theoretical discourses disconnected from any empirical test, and by a cognitive and cultural relativism that regards science as nothing more than a ‘narration’, a ‘myth’ or a social construction among many others.” Have these sectors adopted this philosophy or do they only “seem” to have adopted it? The choice of the term ‘postmodernism’ is an interesting one, there definition is very different from the meaning of the term by those who developed it and the way it is employed in the relevant disciplines. This is in my view a quite forgivable move under normal circumstances but this book is to quite a large degree dedicated to criticising others for exactly this sort of re-definition of established terms.

            It is not really clear what they mean by ‘the rationalist tradition of the Enlightenment’, do they mean that all of the Enlightenment was rationalist of that this ‘postmodern’ strand rejects only the parts of it that were rationalist? If one rejects Descartes claim that some of his most crucial ideas were imparted to him by spirits is this enough to qualify one as anti-Enlightenment enough for this postmodernism checklist? It’s not entirely clear what they mean by empirical test — are they referring to replicable studies of falsifiable propositions carried out in the closed system of an experiment (a very strange critique to level at social science, let alone the humanities) or do they mean a connection to more general empirical observation — something like, say, Latour’s extended empirical fieldwork observing scientists in their laboratories? Moreover, their definition of cultural relativism is rather confused — once again it is quite different from the actual meaning of the term which as we know they consider a great sin when committed by others. It is even more confusing because some of the people discussed in their book — let’s take Latour again as an example — certainly do not fit the definition they offer.

            Unfortunately they’ve fallen well short of your definition of scientific (surely a more egregious crime in this instance because they actually claim to be scientists unlike the social and cultural anthropologists who claim no such thing but merely have someone on the internet insist that they must do science to impress him because some newspapers described Trump cutting research funding as a war on science) so it seems you may need to find some new heroes.

            Of course, my main point here is to demonstrate that such exercises in extremely uncharitable reading of academic work using some oddly stringent criteria generally demonstrates very little.

          • Aapje says:

            Continued here with renewed vigor.

        • 10240 says:

          I don’t know what sort of criticism you mean, but I can imagine that if e.g. an accusation of racism can in some cases be significantly career-damaging, then even a reasonable criticism that can be read in such a way that your science may be racially biased will make you get defensive.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            For example, the kind of critique that says that while science has been immensely successful and the scientific method is clearly incredibly powerful it is based on an ontology that privileges static form over process and changing this could actually be beneficial to science’s project. You many disagree with this completely but it’s a far cry from “science is primarily a means for oppressing women/ethnic minorities/the LGBTQ people” etc.

            Even in the last category there are actually far more reasonable, nuanced arguments that bear some similarity to this although they always seem to lead to overzealous academics and particularly students taking the completely crazy position.

          • Aapje says:

            Can you clarify what you mean by “an ontology that privileges static form over process?”

            Preferably with an example of what kind of “process” is ignored or understudied.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Most of them would be tracing an intellectual heritage from Heraclitus and his idea that reality is fundamentally a flux of constant change through more recent figures like Spinoza, Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze while most Western metaphysics stems from Plato and Aristotle influenced by Parmenides argument that static forms are the only reality and change is an illusion.

            For a practical suggestion of how this might be applied, one could argue that the rules governing matter might be better thought of as evolving habits rather than immutable laws that have been fixed since the beginning of the universe. Something like gravity has become incredibly regular through constant repetition but more novel phenomena will be influenced by much less restrictive tendencies which will slowly become more predictable through time as they’re repeated.

            Another argument would be that quantum physics has shown that the alternative tradition was essentially correct in its argument that process is the fundamental nature of reality but science still rests on the metaphysics that privileges form.

          • Aapje says:

            I don’t recognize this at all. A very common application of the scientific method is to determine causal relationships, which is an investigation of change, not of static form.

            However, many scientists correctly realize that it is much easier or even only possible to determine causality by only changing the variable or combination of variables that is expected to be the cause of a certain effect. The actual thing that’s being studied with the experiment is still changing, because while everything else is held constant as much as possible, the subject of study is made to vary.

            Ultimately, science is about creating predictive models, which means finding actual limitations. These don’t have to be immutable laws (of nature), but should have a level of permanence that allows for predictions*. In softer sciences that make models/claims that are more ambitious than their methodologies can cope with, you often see that any outcome can be argued to fit the proposed model. So at that point people’s theories become unfalsifiable and thus not scientific, in my view.

            It seems sufficiently common to me for the hard sciences to question assumptions about how deterministic or static certain things are. Quantum theory is as you said, a good example. Other examples are the theory of relativity or more recently, questions about whether the strength of electromagnetism is constant.

            I don’t believe that physicists are unduly biased towards believing in a static world. Fact is that my nose is still attached to my body in the place where it was yesterday and very many other things don’t change all that much. When they do, we can often explain why, based on scientific research into causal mechanisms (where we sometimes also know the finer casual mechanisms behind the larger causal mechanism**).

            Whenever someone makes a semi-decent case that the existing theories are false in certain situations, physicists seem to be very eager to try to see if the evidence can be verified.

            Ultimately, proper science is not about dogmatically assuming rules in the first place. It’s about rigorously examining what rules hold in what circumstance, harshly questioning assumptions when predictions using the rules turn out to be (sometimes even merely slightly) wrong, figuring out what mechanism cause the rules to hold, etc.

            * Note that predictably changing rules also allow for predictions.

            ** Although this typically harder to study. However, whenever technology is developed that allows for this, scientists of hard disciplines tend to adopt it with fervor.

            I also think that you are being very unfair to hard sciences by linking them so strongly to Aristotle and especially Plato. Both based their methodology heavily on philosophy, with much less empiricism than is now considered sufficient in the hard sciences.

            I would argue that the kind of sciences that I would be most prone to criticize for their lack of scientific rigor (and that you seem to defend) tends to use much more Aristotlean methods, as they often make observations of things that happen complex environments and then immediately come up with just-so stories that supposedly explain these observations, rather than distilling these observations to more testable theories of a relatively limited scope and then doing experiments to verify whether these theories seem correct.

            Also, you ignore Roger Bacon (and thus Ibn al-Haytham), Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper, even though these had an enormous influence on modern (hard) science.

          • albatross11 says:

            I tend to think of science in terms of being able to do stuff. You need to be able to make correct predictions about how the world works in order to do stuff. (“Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”). If you want to make a vaccine against Zika virus, you need to understand something about how the human immune system works, how the virus infects cells, etc. If you want to make a system of satellites that will tell everyone on Earth where they are to within a small tolerance, you need to know a lot about orbital dynamics and rockets and radio propagation and what happens to very precise clocks when they’re moving really fast relative to one another. If you want to make schools that do a good job teaching kids, you need to know something about how kids learn and mentally develop and what environments help or hinder this and what subjects are going to be most useful for kids at a given age to learn. And so on.

            Science as a cool set of stories that explains the universe is wonderful, and I enjoy them, but I can enjoy stories that aren’t right and don’t make correct predictions just as much. OTOH, if I need to do something, I want the stories that let me correctly predict what’s going to happen when I try.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @Aapje

            I don’t recognize this at all. A very common application of the scientific method is to determine causal relationships, which is an investigation of change, not of static form.

            Well I’m not sure that even Parmenides was actually denying the possibility of motion – that an arrow couldn’t fly through the air or that Achilles couldn’t catch a tortoise. The point is that the majority of Western metaphysical systems have taken the fundamental constituent of reality to be some sort of stable matter. In traditional mechanics an apple may fall from a tree but is itself understood and modelled as a stable object. A traditional scientific understanding of planets and stars was that they moved but in a repeated mechanical course that had been set in motion some time in the past. Animals moved and grew but their various types were unchanging, essential forms.

            A great example of the power of the scientific method is that it has been able to demonstrate, in a way that the alternative philosophical tradition was only ever able to argue, that the idea of some sort of ultimate fixity or stability is an illusion. Animal species are actually in a constant but slow process of evolution, our universe was not set up as is to carry out mechanical repetition but is radically evolutionary, the apple and even the atoms that make it up are not at their most basic level static things.

            Ultimately, proper science is not about dogmatically assuming rules in the first place. It’s about rigorously examining what rules hold in what circumstance, harshly questioning assumptions when predictions using the rules turn out to be (sometimes even merely slightly) wrong, figuring out what mechanism cause the rules to hold, etc.

            This is a very admirable aim but extremely hard to live up to and I suspect few scientists would claim that it always is within their community.

            I also think that you are being very unfair to hard sciences by linking them so strongly to Aristotle and especially Plato.

            Yes, I only know of Roger Penrose coming out as a Platonist. I wasn’t trying to claim they’re all getting directly influenced by these old Greek guys, I was telling a grossly simplified story of said Greeks laying the foundations for most Western metaphysics.

            But really this had already demonstrated my point, which was never actually arguing these points but stating they’re more conducive to a productive discussion than other critiques of science. This is a far more reasoned conversation than would have ensued if I’d said that E=mc2 was sexist because it privileged the speed of light over other, more feminine speeds.

    • I don’t think I’ve read Pinker on this, but I did read up on the Margaret Mead/Derek Freeman controversy at one point, and Freeman’s side of it makes anthropology look pretty bad, since he argues that one of the most famous books in the field by one of the most prominent anthropologist was entirely bogus, the result of at best incompetence reinforced by bias. Quite a lot of anthropologists defended Mead, so if Freeman is right that’s a criticism of the field, not just one member.

      What is the current view among anthropologists of that particular controversy?

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I’d say views are rather mixed with most believing Mead’s view of the Samoans was rather rose-tinted but that Freeman’s criticism was massively overstated (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes) but I think there are partisans on both sides, although it seems to me these days not many who’d hold that Mead was completely and unquestionably right. In fact, many high-profile anthropologists who are generally sympathetic to Mead have also voiced concerns about the rigour of her ethnographic study, I’m pretty sure some of them before Freeman’s book came out.

        But to expand a bit more on the ambiguity of the controversy its not entirely clear who gathered the more reliable information. Nobody, as far as I know, denies that there is a norm of premarital virginity for women, or that the young women Mead interviewed told her that they engaged in promiscuous premarital relationships. It’s entirely possible that the young women were having fun pulling Mead’s leg and didn’t engage in any pre-marital sex. It’s also entirely possible that they did but that many years later, after Christian values had become more entrenched in Samoan societies and the women themselves’ social positions had changed as they grew older and got married and had children themselves, they lied to this man they did not know particularly well so as to pretend they had always stuck to the social norms they now upheld. This is a classic problem in anthropology: it is fairly to elicit official accepted norms but far more difficult to get at the realities of what people actually do.

        In terms of the broader point though — that sexual mores and relations between children and parents vary massively across cultures — Mead was entirely correct, and people who have embraced Freeman as showing relatively little variation are misguided. Mead, however, was misguided in believing that these other cultures’ approaches to these things were generally better and freer than in modern Western societies.

        Another thing to point out is that while Mead is one of the most widely read anthropologists by the general public but marginal within the discipline itself. In 5 years of studying anthropology she only came up in courses twice — once as an example of the potential dangers of over-romanticising other cultures and once as an example of anthropological writing that had reached a wider audience. But the issue does point to what I find lacking in people like Pinker’s criticism which is that works from 80+ years ago which are almost never read or cited by anthropologists any more are taken to be representative of the discipline. I believe she’s one of the people Pinker cites and his criticism is largely the same as was presented to me by anthropologists.

        If anything, one of my criticisms of the discipline is that it’s too critical of previous work. While people like Pinker present it as largely unchanging for the better part of the century, the reality is that every 20 years or so some new theory comes along and people claim anthropology should chuck out everything that came before, then 20 years later the same thing happens all over again.

        • (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes)

          Part of his evidence was statistics on murder and (I think) rape rates from Samoa at the time of Mead’s study, which appeared strikingly inconsistent with her picture of the society.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I can’t comment on whether Mead many any inaccurate statistical claims, the debate mostly focused on whether Mead had been hoaxed by one of her informants. This was the point most of her defenders responded to and this is the point Freeman pursued most vigorously. But these statistics are relevant: Mead’s former informant who Freeman tracked down claimed that there was no rape in Samoa at the time Mead was there which Freeman obviously knew to be untrue. Her testimony was riddled with other inaccuracies and inconsistencies but Freeman hid this in his published work claiming she was completely reliable. If you’re relying only on him (or people who’ve taken their understanding purely from him) you’ve been presented a very misleading picture. I believe he also did things like calling up universities of his detractors and demanded they rescinded their degrees. The rush to accept him seems to have been in part because his work appeared to confirm some people’s “scientific” beliefs rather than the quality of his scholarship.

          • If you’re relying only on him (or people who’ve taken their understanding purely from him) you’ve been presented a very misleading picture.

            Actually, I found a book that was a collection of essays on the controversy by people on both sides. The most interesting one was by a friend and I think past collaborator of Mead, whose view was that Mead was deliberately lying and a good thing too–that she was using her misrepresentation of Samoa in order to change her own culture in a desirable way.

            The point about crime rates was that the information was available to Mead–this was American Samoa–and was strikingly inconsistent with her picture of Samoa. If so, she was either incompetent, giving a badly mistaken picture of the culture and not bothering to check what she was told against easily available data, or dishonest.

            I’m not sure why the question of whether Freeman’s informant was accurate about crime rates is relevant–the informant wasn’t a scientist studying Samoa, just a local. She was relevant to Freeman as an expert witness on only one thing—her past interaction with Mead.

            I believe he also did things like calling up universities of his detractors and demanded they rescinded their degrees.

            What is the evidence on which you base that belief? My impression, reading on the controversy, was that most of the people in the field backed Mead, which would make such a tactic unlikely to succeed.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Actually, I found a book that was a collection of essays on the controversy by people on both sides. The most interesting one was by a friend and I think past collaborator of Mead, whose view was that Mead was deliberately lying and a good thing too–that she was using her misrepresentation of Samoa in order to change her own culture in a desirable way.

            This is quite incredible. Without meaning to be rude I find it hard to believe you’re not mis-remembering it to some degree. Do you remember the title of the book and essay? The closest I’ve heard to this is someone arguing that Freeman wouldn’t possibly be able to prove Mead wrong per se because her account is interpretive rather than positivist.

            I’m not sure why the question of whether Freeman’s informant was accurate about crime rates is relevant–the informant wasn’t a scientist studying Samoa, just a local.

            The point being she would certainly have known about the high rates of rape (Mead actually also mentions a particularly common form of rape in her book). Freeman presents her testimony as being definitive and accurate — her testimony was the main line he pursued in a documentary, articles and second book on the controversy.

            Your question actually reminded me I’ve had a book on the controversy, The Trashing of Margaret Mead by Paul Shankman, sitting in my “to read” pile for a while and I’ve been having a look through it. Freeman’s misdeed’s are actually worse than I realised.

            He’s extremely dishonest in his presentation of the woman’s testimony which he offers as definitive proof that Mead was hoaxed.

            He says her memory of events was clearly reliable despite her age. Looking at the unpublished interview though she repeatedly contradicts herself: saying that Mead spoke Samoan poorly then later saying she spoke it well; saying she was close friends with Mead then saying she’d only met her on one occasion. Freeman’s annotations of the transcripts make it clear that he’d noticed these inconsistencies. He claims she confirmed the specific date that Mead recorded the initial conversation despite this not being the case.

            She was being interviewed by a high-ranking chief who told her the interview was an opportunity to show that Mead was wrong. It would have been extremely difficult for her to maintain that Mead was correct, even if this was truly the case. Freeman concealed this from his readers or viewers. Making this sort of thing clear is a basic principle of anthropological fieldwork.

            Freeman first threatened to ruin Bradd Shore’s career and then followed it up by trying to get his PhD rescinded and trying to stop his book getting published.

            Freeman admitted that he was obsessed with Mead.

            Freeman claimed that Mead was a complete cultural determinist who said that biology played no role whatsoever in human behaviour which is simply not true.

            Freeman presented Mead as the most important figure in making culture the most important concept in American anthropology which is, again, not at all true.

            (As a bit of light relief, Freeman also once became convinced that the curator of a museum in Borneo was carving fake, erotic indigenous statues that had a hypnotic power he was using to control the minds of Freeman and the colonial government as part of a Soviet plot to undermine the colonial administration.)

            I’m distinctly not saying that Mead didn’t present an overly rosy picture of Samoan society. The standard view in Anthropology (in Europe at least, I can’t say for sure that it holds in America) is that Franz Boas and his disciples generally tended to romanticise the cultures they studied and their fieldwork was not very rigorous in comparison to today (or the work of Malinowski at around the same time as Mead which became the standard in British anthropology before spreading elsewhere).

            But anthropologists had ample reason to be extremely critical of Freeman’s critique.

          • Without meaning to be rude I find it hard to believe you’re not mis-remembering it to some degree. Do you remember the title of the book and essay?

            Unfortunately not–I read it a very long time ago. It’s possible that I am misremembering the essay, but I don’t think it likely–it struck me at the time as a defense of the idea of the noble lie, an uncommon but not undefensible position.

            I’ve been googling in an attempt to identify the book, but I haven’t found any books that consist of a lot of essays by different people on different sides of the controversy. Perhaps someone else here knows of one.

            On your other points, they seem to depend on accepting the account of someone on one side of the controversy in a book published after Freeman’s death, when he was no longer around to rebut. Much the same point has been made about Freeman’s book, that he published it after Mead’s death.

            In my experience of this sort of controversy–the Cyril Burt case is another interesting example–it’s easy to conclude that one side is obviously wrong and probably dishonest by reading the other.

            Are there any parts of the controversy where we have objective evidence that everyone can agree on? In the process of looking at lots of webbed stuff on it, I came across the following, in an essay criticizing Mead:

            Mead (left) portrayed the Samoans as “one of the most amiable, least contentious, and most peaceful peoples in the world,” adding that “In Samoa love between the sexes is a light and pleasant dance,” and that male sexuality “is never defined as aggressiveness that must be curbed.” Indeed, she claimed that “the idea of forceful rape or of any sexual act to which both participants do not give themselves freely is completely foreign to the Samoan mind,”

            Are the quoted parts of that accurate quotations from Mead? The essay goes on to assert:

            serious assault in mid-1960s Western Samoa was 67 percent higher than in the USA, 494 percent higher than in Australia, and 847 percent higher than in New Zealand, while common assault was 500 percent that of the USA.

            Contrary to Mead’s claims, Freeman reports that rape convictions in 1960s Samoa were twice the level of those in the USA and twenty times those of the UK. Indeed, at the time Mead was in Samoa, rape was the third most common criminal offense

            The essay is obviously arguing one side of the controversy, but one can presumably check the quotes from Mead and the crime statistics from American Samoa. If the quotes and the statistics are correct, then Mead was giving a wildly inaccurate description of the society.

            Do you agree? Is that consistent with the arguments of Shankman’s book? Does he show that the crime statistics are bogus or deny that Mead made such claims?

            One way of making it look as though your side is obviously right is by attacking the parts of the other side’s case that you have good arguments against and ignoring the parts you don’t.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            If the quotes and the statistics are correct, then Mead was giving a wildly inaccurate description of the society.

            Do you agree? Is that consistent with the arguments of Shankman’s book?

            I’m not sure if he mentions those statistics specifically (he focuses on the interviews that Freeman considered his smoking gun evidence) but they are very consistent with points he makes about arguments against Mead often relying on evidence from different time periods.

            Would statistics from the 2000s contradict an observation made in the 1960s that Detroit was a thriving centre of manufacturing? Would statistics on pre-marital sex from the 1960s disprove an observation made in the 1920s? The fact that these statistics from 40 years later are seen as crucial seems rather telling about the quality of the evidence (and would explain why Freeman focuses on the interviews with one of Mead’s informants). I also note you claimed earlier that Freeman offered statistics from the time of Mead’s study. If this was indeed the case, why would the article you link to not cite these statistics rather than ones from 40 years later?

          • I also note you claimed earlier that Freeman offered statistics from the time of Mead’s study.

            That was my memory of Freeman’s book, but I may have been mistaken.

            I’ve just been reading an article by Shankman, responding to a piece critical of his book by Jarvie. In it he writes:

            Freeman countered Mead’s largely positive portrayal of the choices Samoan girls faced in their life cycle with evidence, sometimes from more recent decades and often involving males, demonstrating that Samoan ado-lescence was characterized by high rates of delinquency, conflict, rape, and aggression in comparison with adolescents in the United States, England,

            I would think that if all of the data was from more recent decades he would have said so, but I don’t have a copy of either of Freeman’s books to check.

            If you have access to the Jarvie piece–my link only gets you the abstract–you might want to look at it, since it’s a critique of the book you seem to be basing your view of the controversy on.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I’ve had a bit of a look through Jarvie’s review, but it’s hard to take it seriously. I would say that it’s an object study in the problem you point to of ignoring the other side’s strongest evidence but Jarvie goes further and brings it up only to dismiss it as not being worth looking at. Jarvie says that Shankman’s scepticism that Margaret Mead was hoaxed by this woman’s testimony “smacks of desperation” without mentioning any of the reasons Shankman provides for being sceptical. Turning to the reasons Shankman gives it’s easy to see why Jarvie thought it would be wise not to mention them. Here are a few points:

            All the evidence of Mead’s work and field notes points to the fact that Fa’apua’a (the woman who claimed to have lied to Mead) was an informant of minor importance (although Freeman claim’s that she was the most important), that Mead based her arguments on the issue on the views of many other informants, that if Fa’apua’a did actually lie to Mead then Mead may well not even have believed her. Fa’apua’a is only mentioned in four sentences in the book, referred to as a ceremonial virgin with no reference to sex, Mead states that this ceremonial virginity was closely guarded and never mentions it being broken. There is no piece of information attributable to Fa’apua’a in Mead’s book or even in her copious fieldnotes. If Mead really had believed a ceremonial virgin was sleeping with boys this would have been extremely important information.

            When the interview started, which Fa’apua’a did not know was going to be about Mead, she was told by the Samoan conducting it, who was the son of her friend and a chief of high rank, that Mead had written about Samoan women including her and his mother were “sluts”. This is far from the standards for conducting anthropological studies set by Malinowski that Jarvie approvingly refers to.

            When she was asked if elopement ever occurred in 1926, Fa’apua’a answered that she never heard of any cases of it. It was in fact the most common form of marriage at that time. The only conclusion it seems reasonable to draw from this is that she was giving answers to fit official Samoan moral norms, her memory of the time was extremely poor, or both.

            In Freeman’s notes he questioned this as well as various other aspects of her testimony because it flatly contradicted what he knew of Samoa (and this area of it in particular) in the 1920s but in published materials he didn’t mention them and vouched for the “historical reliability” of her testimony.

            The most damning thing for Freeman’s work is that he keeps all of this concealed. He was made aware of how marginal Fa’apua’a appeared from Mead’s notes but never addressed or mentioned it and continued to refer to her as Mead’s most important informant. He didn’t mention the relationship between the interviewer and Fa’apua’a. He concealed the evidence that her memory was not accurate and baldly stated that it was in his published work.

            It’s ironic that Freeman and Jarvie present themselves as the serious scientists reasonably weighing the evidence in noble pursuit of the truth.

      • I just noticed this:

        I’d say views are rather mixed with most believing Mead’s view of the Samoans was rather rose-tinted but that Freeman’s criticism was massively overstated (particularly as he was conducting fieldwork ~40-50 years later during which time the society in question had undergone drastic changes)

        Many of Freeman’s critics argued that he misrepresented Mead’s views and ignored changes in Samoan society that had taken place in the period between Mead’s work in 1925-1926 and his own from 1941-1943

        Wikipedia
        Freeman’s work in Samoa started only fifteen years after Mead’s ended. The 40+ years is the time to when he went back to Samoa to try to find and interview Mead’s informants.

        • Art Vandelay says:

          Fair point. I hadn’t realised it at the start of the discussion. Does seem it was psychological and archaeological studies but he did live there for a good while and seems to have immersed himself in the culture and taken a great interest in it which are really three of the key elements of anthropological research. It seems he would have had a good understanding of Samoan society just 15 years after she was there.

          I do think the fact he was going back to a study specifically to refute Margaret Mead is relevant though. I don’t know about other disciplines — I’d always assumed that even in the hard sciences replication is more about testing results than specifically setting out to refute them — but in anthropology this is outside of the norms of research.

          I’m actually largely sympathetic to his general points about the weakness and propensity for romantic distortion/exaggeration in Margaret Mead’s popular work and it being unfortunate this became the face of anthropology for much of the public, the theoretical (and in the early years methodological) weakness of much of American cultural anthropology, the difficulty within anthropology more generally to find a place for free-will, the drifting apart from physical and biological anthropology and common neglect of biology and genetics. Some put it in rather choicer terms. The anthropologist Robin Fox summed up his take on the British anthropologists view on her as, “whoring after cheap fame instead of doing a professional job of fieldwork,” although I suspect he’s rather overstating it.

          I think what people objected to primarily was the way Freeman went about it and the way it was embraced by people who already had a bone to pick with anthropology. Freeman dismissed the rest of anthropology as pure cultural determinists who lied when they said they thought biology was important too, held forth about how they couldn’t understand real scientists like him because they hadn’t studied Popper properly, claimed that an unscholarly work by someone who was marginal within the field was the foundational text of this cultural determinism and that by striking it a deadly blow he was undermining the whole discipline. That the supposed real scientist turned out to have engaged in very sloppy scholarship himself it just added insult to injury. The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

          • I do think the fact he was going back to a study specifically to refute Margaret Mead is relevant though.

            As I interpret it, he concluded Mead was wrong because her observations were strikingly inconsistent with his. He went back to find out why she reached incorrect conclusions and, since he knew his criticism would be controversial, to get more evidence to support it.

            The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

            I don’t know where the “castrator” bit comes from–are you describing something you read in Freeman’s books or in a book criticizing him?

            My impression from what I saw of the controversy was that what got the backs up of many anthropologists was that he was criticizing, very strongly, a leading figure in the field, one who many in the field knew or at least admired. And by criticizing her he was implicitly criticizing the field, hence them—how could they be so biased or naive as to praise to the skies work that was easily shown to be incompetent.

            You may well be correct that he saw his criticism as deeper than that, that he claimed the case of Mead demonstrated something fundamentally wrong in the approach of anthropologists. But what I took away, as a casual reader of one of his two books—I’m not sure if the first or the second—was the simpler criticism, and I think that would be sufficient to explain the reaction.

            At a tangent, it occurs to me that the Freeman-Mead case reminds me of the Cyril Burt case. There too you have a leading figure in an academic field who was no longer alive accused of very serious professional misconduct–indeed a more serious accusation than Freeman’s of Mead, since he accused her of error, not deliberate fraud. The striking difference is that most people in Mead’s field seem to have liked and approved of her, whereas an awful lot of Burt’s fellow psychologists disliked him. The result that time was that the charges were largely accepted, on what now looks like pretty weak evidence, until two books came out by people who were I think outside the field arguing that Burt was innocent and had been framed.

            Are there other cases with a similar pattern–a very distinguished academic accused, after his death, of serious misconduct, resulting in a continuing controversy between attackers and defenders? A collection of such, with a discussion of similarities and differences, might make an interesting book.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I don’t know where the “castrator” bit comes from–are you describing something you read in Freeman’s books or in a book criticizing him?

            This is Shankman citing Freeman’s own words (I’ve included the references if you want to check them):

            Mead was known as a castrator; she went for men and put them down. She also had this [sexual] reputation [and] I was not going to be bullied by her.

            page 37
            Barrowclough, Nikki. “Sex, Lies, and Anthropology.” Sydney Morning Herald Magazine, March 9, 1996, 31–39.

            She was a great castrator of men. She had huge power. She did this kind of schoolmarm thing. I mean, there were lots of cases where she would intervene in an appointment and speak against you and you wouldn’t get promoted or you’d lose your job, and the people were really scared of her. I fortunately was outside that system, so I could stand up to her completely.

            page 56
            Heimans, Frank. “Recorded Interview with Derek Freeman, February 12, 2001.” Transcript, Oral History Section, National Library of Australia.

            My impression from what I saw of the controversy was that what got the backs up of many anthropologists was that he was criticizing, very strongly, a leading figure in the field, one who many in the field knew or at least admired. And by criticizing her he was implicitly criticizing the field, hence them—how could they be so biased or naive as to praise to the skies work that was easily shown to be incompetent.

            As I keep pointing out, she was very far from being “a leading figure in the field” and the work he was attacking was a popular best-seller rather than serious academic work — he didn’t attack her actual scholarship because it wasn’t nearly as rose-tinted. Most anthropologists had a relatively low opinion of her popular work, ranging from the view in Britain that she was “whoring after cheap fame” to that of her American colleagues like Alfred Kroeber who said in 1931 that it was an artistic work rather than serious ethnography. You may have been given the impression by Freeman and his supporters that she was a towering figure within anthropology and Coming of Age in Samoa was held in high esteem, but this is simply not the case.

          • @Art Vandelay:

            Thanks.

            The fact he had set out specifically to refute this woman he’d strangely concluded was a “castrator” of men is indicative of the approach that got so many people’s backs up.

            The earliest of the “castrator” quotes you cite is from a 1996 interview, so I don’t see how that can explain the reactions of anthropologists to a book published in 1983.

            Based on the quotes, Freeman thought that Mead tried to put down male anthropologists, injure their careers. I don’t know if he was correct, but I don’t see anything particularly strange about that opinion.

            You may have been given the impression by Freeman and his supporters that she was a towering figure within anthropology and Coming of Age in Samoa was held in high esteem,

            I think I formed that opinion long before I read Freeman, indeed long before his book was published. You may be correct that Mead’s reputation was mainly with people outside the field, that she was the anthropological equivalent of Galbraith, but I’m pretty sure that when I was in college (1961-1965) she was easily the best known anthropologist and her book the anthropological work that undergraduates were mostly likely to be assigned.

            My memory of the stuff I read on the Freeman-Mead controversy wasn’t that professional anthropologists responded with “Very likely Mead was wrong about Samoa–what’s Freeman making a fuss about,” or anything close.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            I am not an anthropologist and can’t speak to how Margaret Mean was viewed by her peers. But she was easily the most famous living American anthropologist and was generally treated as a “towering figure” in the respectable press. She was the wise old woman bringing us a non-parochial perspective.

          • A couple more things on the Mead-Freeman issue.

            An interesting piece about an Australian academic looking over the controversy.

            From reading various things on the controversy, it looks to me as though Freeman’s hoaxing theory was probably wrong. What was probably right is that Mead saw what she wanted to see or, alternatively, told the story she wanted to tell, for essentially ideological reasons.

            One thing I noticed in the Wiki article on Mead is a somewhat similar but much lower profile controversy that fits the same story.

            In brief, her [Mead’s] comparative study revealed a full range of contrasting gender roles:

            “Among the Arapesh, both men and women were peaceful in temperament and neither men nor women made war.
            “Among the Mundugumor, the opposite was true: both men and women were warlike in temperament.
            “And the Tchambuli were different from both. The men ‘primped’ and spent their time decorating themselves while the women worked and were the practical ones—the opposite of how it seemed in early 20th century America.”[citation needed]

            Deborah Gewertz (1981) studied the Chambri (called Tchambuli by Mead) in 1974–1975 and found no evidence of such gender roles. Gewertz states that as far back in history as there is evidence (1850s) Chambri men dominated over the women, controlled their produce and made all important political decisions. In later years there has been a diligent search for societies in which women dominate men, or for signs of such past societies, but none have been found (Bamberger, 1974).

          • I think I have discovered what the collection was I read on the Mead-Freeman dispute, and who the author was of the particular article interpreting Mead’s book as a noble lie, a false account which was intended to have, and did have, good effects. I haven’t yet gotten my hands on a copy of the book to check.

            If I am correct, the book was:

            Caton, Hiram, ed. 1990. The Samoa reader: Anthropologists take stock. New York: Lanham

            And the author of the piece I described was:

            Romanucci-Ross, Lola.

            Both conjectures come from reading a detailed bibliography on the conflict.

            Either or both may, of course, be mistaken. The SCU library apparently has the book, so I plan to go in sometime in the next few days and look at it.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            @DavidFriedman

            Good work on the reference search.

            I think we’re actually fairly close to each other on the issue. Mead certainly had a tendency to see (or at least represent in writing) Noble Savages when she looked at societies that were in reality far more complicated and less exemplary and this is largely because this is what she wanted to see. The difference is the conclusions we are drawing from it, particularly regarding how critical we should be of anthropology. When I was still at university I would sometimes despair of it myself but there has actually been a lot of very good work produced in amongst plenty of dross.

    • whereamigoing says:

      OK. So do you think the main issue is making it common knowledge that most academics don’t believe the blank slate hypothesis / some other coordination problem? It’s hard for me to reconcile your experience with the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views (do you want examples?).

      • Art Vandelay says:

        I’d be interested in your examples of people getting pushed out of academia, although I don’t doubt it’s happened. Particularly when it comes to race and gender. I agree that there are people who do fit the mould of regressive-lefty academic. I would say the issue here is not a co-ordination problem but that people like Pinker make grand claims based on an extremely poor level of knowledge which are then swallowed wholesale by lots of sensible people.

        There are certainly people on the “lefty-regressive” side of the debate making more inaccurate claims based on even less knowledge on Pinker but nobody here is holding them up as respectable, reasoned proponents of their view. In a different comment space I could easily be on the other side of the fence.

        • jermo sapiens says:

          Bret Weinstein is the obvious case.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            That was a batshit crazy situation which did make me worry deeply for American academia and hope those extremes never spreads to the other side of the Atlantic. I think the really crucial thing in this case is the reconfiguration of the relationship between and relative power of faculty, administration and students.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Yes it was. But if you look at the current culture, it might be one of the crazier situations out there, but it all fits a pattern. I originally wrote a bunch of examples of similar events but then I realized that I didnt want to start 20 different sub-threads about CW topics. Suffice it to say that Weinstein’s situation did not occur in a vacuum and similar/worse situations will continue to occur unless the intellectual climate changes drastically.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I guess perhaps some of the conversations have been talking past each other here. Some people are supporting Pinker’s opposition to crazed SJWs, I’m criticising his writing off huge swathes of the arts as blank-slate ideologues based on a very paltry level of knowledge. I think the latter really hurts the former. I suspect there is a far lower level of support for the crazy end of social justice amongst faculty in the humanities and social sciences than many here would expect.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            I suspect there is a far lower level of support for the crazy end of social justice amongst faculty in the humanities and social sciences than many here would expect.

            I totally agree with this. I think a guy like Weinstein is the majority. But the problem remains because those who support the crazy are loud and can take out a guy like Weinstein with the majority remaining silent and scared.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I don’t know how you change the student culture. A friend of mine who in many respects is quite sensible disagreed with me questioning the no platforming of an old-school feminists for criticising Muslim headscarfs because because letting her speak would be “dangerous” for ethnic minority students. When I said it obviously wouldn’t be dangerous unless you completely change the meaning of the term he replied that was easy for me to say as white male.

            My impression is that it’s not even a majority position among pretty far-left students, it’s just that the cost of disagreeing with it is often too high.

          • One possibly relevant datum. My daughter’s experience at Oberlin was that the students were much more politically intolerant than the faculty. She mentioned on incident where a professor said something in class that took it for granted that everyone in the room had the same political views on some issue. She pointed out to him, I think after class, that it wasn’t the case, he apologized to her and, I think, later in class–but this is all from memory.

            An incident I observed in a law school meeting was a faculty member, not I think himself libertarian or conservative, worrying that a particular proposal would make the school look less welcoming to libertarian potential applicants and thus increase a political one-sidedness in the student body that was already troubling. A different faculty member, also not I think conservative or libertarian, deliberately put a libertarian law student in touch with me.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            She mentioned on incident where a professor said something in class that took it for granted that everyone in the room had the same political views on some issue. She pointed out to him, I think after class, that it wasn’t the case, he apologized to her and, I think, later in class–but this is all from memory.

            I definitely noticed something similar when I was at university. It’s not so weird when it’s assumed most people are going to think it’s okay to be gay but when they assume everyone’s going to be anti-capitalist or something it’s quite noticeable. When I’ve seen it pointed out the reaction has always been similar to this. Credit to your daughter for dealing with it in a very sensible way.

          • 10240 says:

            Bret Weinstein is the obvious case.

            I thought that was about that Day of Absence political controversy. Was it related to a scientific debate about blank slate or anything?

            My daughter’s experience at Oberlin was that the students were much more politically intolerant than the faculty.

            That’s interesting because a much larger fraction of young people go to college than become academics — a large enough fraction that it definitely contains a large number of moderates as well as some conservatives. It supports the “loud minority” hypothesis.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            @102040

            I thought that was about that Day of Absence political controversy. Was it related to a scientific debate about blank slate or anything?

            I brought up Weinstein based on @whereamigoing saying:

            the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views

            So Weinstein did get pushed out of academia for expressing the dissenting view that all white people should not be banned from college for a day, not for anything specifically related to the blank slate hypothesis. But the blank slate hypothesis is the keystone of progressive ideology, so it’s never too far away.

          • 10240 says:

            I brought up Weinstein based on @whereamigoing saying:

            the fact that many people do get pushed out of academia for expressing dissenting views

            Ah OK.

            But the blank slate hypothesis is the keystone of progressive ideology, so it’s never too far away.

            I’m not sure, I think it’s a common view that there are innate differences between individuals, but group averages are the same.

          • I’m not sure, I think it’s a common view that there are innate differences between individuals, but group averages are the same.

            Probably true.

            Have you ever heard anyone defend that view–offer arguments for it? The a priori argument seems to require rejection of Darwinian evolution. The claim that there could be group differences but don’t have to be requires evidence, and I don’t think I have ever seen any.

            You can explain away observed differences as due to different environments, but the most that gets you is “we don’t know if the averages are different.”

          • LadyJane says:

            @DavidFriedman: I have two arguments here, and while neither completely dismisses the argument that different phenotype groups may have evolved to have different levels of intelligence, both contradict a lot of modern conclusions about the correlations between race and IQ.

            1. The racial categories that people commonly use today don’t actually map to real genetic phenotype classifications all that well. For instance, there could be more of a difference between two types of Sub-Saharan Africans than between one Sub-Saharan African group and an Caucasian or East Asian group. In that sense, making categorical claims about “the White race” or “the Black race” are bound to produce results that are unclear at best and blatantly inaccurate at worst. It would be almost like claiming that all dogs with black coats constitute a “black breed,” whether they’re Teacup Pomeranians or Newfoundlands, and then trying to make categorical claims about their intelligence, behavior, and health on that basis. (Obviously that’s an exaggeration because humans in general aren’t nearly as genetically diverse as dogs are, but you get what I mean.)

            2. It’s been statistically proven that environmental conditions can have a significant effect on a wide variety of physical and mental traits, from height to physique to intelligence to demeanor. For instance, people who were raised in poverty tend to have lower IQs than people who had a middle-class or upper-class lifestyle growing up. Since many of the racial minorities being discussed tend to be poorer on average, it seems like that must account for some portion of the racial IQ gap. So even if there is a genetic difference, that can only account for part of the gap, not all of it.

            I mentioned this to you in the past and your response was that environmental differences could be pushing the statistics in the opposite direction as genetic differences, and so the genetic gap might actually be larger than the gap we see now. However, while this is technically possible, I find this extremely unlikely, since there are plenty of ways in which environmental factors (particularly those associated with poverty) can hinder physical and mental development, but very few ways in which they can boost physical and mental development. And when you look at the evidence, the IQ gap between the Irish and the British shrank down to nothing when the Irish stopped living in poverty; the IQ gap between Blacks and Whites narrows when you compare groups from the same socio-economic bracket; Israeli Jews (even those of Ashkenazi descent) don’t share the exceptionally high IQs of their American and European cousins; the height difference between Whites/Blacks and Latinos becomes significantly smaller when you limit the selection to Latinos who were born in the United States.

          • @LadyJane:

            I agree that our racial classifications combine several groups into one, and that different groups might well have different mean IQ’s. In particular, I wouldn’t be surprised if the mean Ibo IQ was at least as high as the mean white IQ.

            But I don’t think that matters. Suppose we classify as “black” both group A, with mean IQ of 101, and group B, with mean IQ of 90. Further suppose that group B is nine times as numerous in the population we interact with as group A.

            The mean IQ of the pooled group is 91.1. Assuming we have no easy way of distinguishing members of group A from members of group B, the implications, both for interpreting the distribution of outcomes and for individual decisions that might involve rational discrimination, are pretty much the same as if we had a single group with mean IQ 91.1. The shape of the distribution will be a little different, but that’s all.

            Your second point is an example of the sort of argument I mentioned before, which implies that we don’t know what the differences among different groups are but gives us no reason to believe that they don’t exist.

            It’s the claim that they don’t exist that I am looking for arguments for, and I haven’t seen any.

          • 10240 says:

            @DavidFriedman I held that view for a long time, I’ve commented on it before. Evidence that it’s common is that the heritability of intelligence is much less taboo than racial differences between the averages. I didn’t have arguments for it, I thought it was obvious, it felt implied in my anti-racist upbringing. I see the same attitude in most mainstream discussion about the topic: the possibility is too racist to merit discussion.

            both contradict a lot of modern conclusions about the correlations between race and IQ.

            @LadyJane My impression is we can really say there are conclusions at this point in either direction regarding race and intelligence, based on evidence.

            Regarding your point 1, if the usual racial categories are not a perfect measure of genetic relatedness, that implies that a difference in inherited traits we observe along racial lines should be smaller than what we would get if we used a perfect measure of genetic relatedness, as the measure is noisy. If race was uncorrelated to genetic groups, then of course any apparent difference in inherited traits we observe would be bogus, but this is not the case.

            These questions also come up about sex differences in various traits, and my impression is that the evidence for innate differences is clearer in that case.

          • These questions also come up about sex differences in various traits, and my impression is that the evidence for innate differences is clearer in that case.

            The a priori argument is also much clearer.

            Evolution tells us that we are “as if designed” for reproductive success. Male and female differ precisely in their role in reproduction. It would be a surprising accident if the distribution of traits that was optimal for the male role was also optimal for the female.

            The a priori argument is weaker for races. Males of all races share the same role in reproduction, as do females of all races. We know that environmental differences were large enough to produce the observable differences by which we recognize races, such as skin color, so they might be enough to produce different distributions of traits. Or might not.

        • whereamigoing says:

          I started writing examples and then had the same thought as jermo sapiens that it would be bad to get bogged down arguing about the details of whether someone was “pushed out of academia”. You can look at Gad Saad’s Youtube channel and decide for yourself how many examples there are (I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says — it’s just a convenient list). It would be nice to have proper statistics to avoid the Chinese robber problem, but I’m not sure who could gather them (given self-censorship).

          I agree that Pinker made some ignorant comments about AI (though unfortunately not really more ignorant than many people in even computer science), so some ignorance about the humanities seems plausible. But to respond by avoiding all public criticism seems counterproductive. What makes Pinker popular is not that he criticizes the humanities, but that he criticizes them publicly. There’s an example of self-censorship at the end of this and you yourself mention academics being willing to criticize in person but not in writing — maybe if there was better public criticism, Pinker couldn’t monopolize his audience. E.g. in computer science and physics there is much more criticism in writing, yet it doesn’t seem to have hurt the fields’ credibility.

          Also, if criticism of the fringe was being published, it would likely be harder for students and administrators to dismiss it.

          Personally I would definitely take social science more seriously if there was more evidence against in-group loyalty. After all, much of Slate Star Codex is social science / philosophy and I do think it’s worth reading — it’s just that I think Scott’s writing is more intellectually honest.

          Your experience makes more sense if you’re in Europe, but there is no longer hope to avoid the problem entirely. Barring active diplomacy, I predict Western Europe will get just as bad as the US.

    • 10240 says:

      Is it that they are not actually biased in the way Pinker et al. say they are (or not as much), or just that they don’t suppress criticism?

      • Art Vandelay says:

        The problem is that he’s wading like an expert into a field he has very little knowledge of (I assume he does the same in other fields – I’ve read very strong critiques of his dismissal of AI risks). It doesn’t seem limited to him. The people claiming to be defending reason and science often neglect basic standards of scholarship (see my discussion of Derek Freeman’s work above — interestingly he was a major source for Pinker’s critique of anthropology) or authoritatively make claims far beyond their ability to make.

        The biggest problem is that people like me, who are very critical to many of the problems afflicting the humanities and social sciences are put off and end up defending our side because it turns out the other lot aren’t really any better.

        • albatross11 says:

          I think this is basically the biggest danger in being a public intellectual. Even very smart people can’t know more than a handful of fields well enough to really understand them. Add to that: there’s a lot of nonsense pushed forward in every field, but as an outsider, it’s really hard to distinguish the bullshit from the subtle and hard-to-understand points. Priming is way, way more plausible than relativity–a smart skeptic looking at both is likely to decide the wrong one is bullshit.

        • The biggest problem is that people like me, who are very critical to many of the problems afflicting the humanities and social sciences are put off and end up defending our side because it turns out the other lot aren’t really any better.

          The solution to that is Orwell’s approach–criticize your side when you think it is wrong, the other side when you think it is wrong. In both cases, given limited time and energy, specializing in points that you do not think others are adequately criticizing.

          Currently, one of my standard talks, given twice in the past month or so to libertarian audiences, is “Arguments Libertarians Ought Not To Make.”

          On the other hand, when I was active online in climate arguments, it was mostly to criticize the alarmist position, because mistakes on the other side were for the most part more than adequately being criticized already.

        • cuke says:

          This is an argument for humility to me. Something public intellectuals and most of the rest of us struggle with.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Yeah, it’s definitely something people of every intellectual/political persuasion are guilty of. I guess it’s probably particularly tempting to public intellectuals because they’re by nature normally very intelligent and eloquent and used to winning arguments.

  52. Dan_Devore says:

    I think the anti-male circumcision movement springs from many factors including:
    – A general distain among the “blue team” for things considered traditional or religious
    – A general preference among the “blue team” for things considered “natural” or vaguely “European”
    – Some degree of actual concern for the potential physical pain felt by a baby boy
    – The general anti-medical-intervention bent of some members of the far left. I bet the overlap between unvaxxed boys and uncircumcised boys is huge.

    -I’m totally agnostic about the issue other than finding supposed parallels or analogies to female genital mutilation and cutting as absurd. Each year there are thousands of adult males in the western world who consciously choose to undergo circumcision (under anesthetic) for various reasons. How many adult females hire a surgeon to remove their labia or clitoris?

    • ksdale says:

      I don’t think it’s nearly as much of a body modification as female genital mutilation, but my big objection is it being done to infants.

      It’s more analogous to me to something like cutting off a baby’s earlobes for aesthetic reasons. That’s something an adult might want to do that doesn’t really affect bodily function, but it’s seems very odd to do something like that to a baby for no reason other than that it’s been done to a lot of people for a long time.

      FWIW I’m uncircumcised, and my wife and I decided not to circumcise our 3 boys. I’m not opposed to it as a religious ritual because it does seem long term harmless, it just seems weird to me how casually people do it. They research the hell out of which organic baby food is best, but then they just slice off a piece of baby skin without thinking about it (usually because that’s the way dad is). Growing up, I was the only uncircumcised guy in my friend group, and no one in our group is Jewish.

      • Dan_Devore says:

        I agree that the amount of research and anxiety many parents put into other tiny decisions is vast given the small time input spent deciding to circumcise or not based on tradition.

        I also think it’s a good point to note that infants can’t consent. Obviously parents and to some extent society must choose a number of things for non-consent-able infants, but I do agree that our collective bias regarding permanent body modifications ought be to one of caution.

      • ChrisA says:

        There are many social clustering phenomena that are bi-stable, where when you are in one of two states that state is positively reinforced. Circumcision is one example. If everyone (or nearly everyone) is circumcised then if you don’t do it to your kids, you are odd and the barriers to doing it are low (you have to almost positively resist). So you have countries like the UK where almost no-one is circumcised and then countries like the US where almost everyone is and both countries considering the other one weird for being in that other state. Smoking is another of these – if almost everyone smokes, then the barrier to smoking is very low – so everyone smokes. Flipping sometimes happens to these bi-stable social clustering phenomena. Smoking did that a few years ago in many countries when being able to smoke was made so hard. I think gay hatred did the same as did perhaps racism in the US due to hard work by (yes) social justice warriors (of the old style). Possibly what happened with gay frogs is that Alex Jones flipped the social cluster one way and it would need someone of equal prominence (who doesn’t exist) to flip it back.

      • Hyzenthlay says:

        It’s more analogous to me to something like cutting off a baby’s earlobes for aesthetic reasons.

        I think it’s a bit more serious than that. There are claims that circumcision affects sexual sensitivity (which is hard to verify scientifically but seems pretty plausible). And there are occasionally serious complications even if it’s done right.

    • L says:

      Labioplasty is on the rise though???

    • maintain says:

      It’s pretty useful to compare male and female circumcision. At the very least, it lets you see how the other side views your arguments.

      As an example, imagine that you found out that there are actually thousands of women who voluntarily undergo female circumcision in the western world. Would this change anything about your view of female circumcision? Probably not. If this line of reasoning wouldn’t change your viewpoint, why would you expect it to change the viewpoint of anyone on the other side?

    • Aapje says:

      @Dan_Devore

      You are missing some major reasons:
      – Rejection of and/or anger at the poor reasons used in favor now and in the past
      – Concern over loss of sensitivity
      – Concern over very serious complications in rare cases

      I also want to argue out that some level of anti-medical-interventionism is quite justified given how doctors have historically performed wrong interventions based on hubris and poor science, like routine tonsillectomies, bleeding, mercury treatments, etc. In general, doctors tend to believe their own eyes, which works when the problem is quite obvious, but is subject to a host of biases when it isn’t.

    • Trashionalist says:

      I haven’t looked too deep into the anti-male-circumcision movement, but I’m surprised you pair it with the left and far-left, especially when you include the phenomenon of them comparing male circumcision to female genital mutilation. I’ve always assumed, without really thinking about it, that those people comparing male circumcision to FGM so overtly are rightwing men’s rights activists. Making such a comparison can appeal to their sense that men are oppressed in ways comparable to the oppression of women even on a global scale. And on average it’d be harder for leftists to compare male circumcision to FGM for that very reason. Standard leftwing political correctness would tell them it’s a bad idea to compare something that commonly happens to Western men to something that happens to women in patriarchal foreign societies, that it would inadvertently minimize the suffering of said marginalized women.

  53. arlie says:

    I don’t know whether you are old enough to remember the change in the respectability and acceptability of smoking, in particular smoking in the workplace. At the start of my career, it was polite to ask if it was OK to smoke in someone else’s workspace, but socially frowned upon to refuse permission unless you were e.g. asthmatic. Over a period of less than a decade, probably less than 5 years, it became forbidden to smoke – first in the office building, and then outside it, within some significant distance from its entrance.

    This flip flop happened much faster than the change in the acceptability of homosexuality – that one was slow enough you can almost imagine it’s simply the result of anti-gay generations dying out, and new generations taking over.

    And AFAICT, it didn’t have any kind of pattern of changing respectability – the rules simply changed. But now smoking is generally regarded (outside of tobacco producing areas) as a filthy habit, and the chaneg as long overdue.

    I think any general theory should also account for this change.

    • Walter says:

      I feel like there’s a coefficient in how hard it is to get people to take your gripe as legit to how good you are at linking the thing you hate to sad/dead kids.

      Like, any time you see people dunking on gay folks (in any remotely effective sense, see Russia) they are always doing it in the third person. “Think Of The Children! It isn’t that you or I, dear reader, have a problem with this behavior, but imagine a child who happened to…” Small coefficient, not persuasive.

      Draft dodging was nefarious when you were failing to protect Free Kids from Communist Menace, but much more approved when you were motivated by not wanting to slaughter enemy kids at the behest of your warmonger masters.

      Abortion is, of course, the ultimate example of the power of this. Pro choice haven’t been able to move the dial in 50 years of total domination, because the other side’s coefficient is mad big.

      Smoking had a very high coefficient. “Smokers are trying to give kids cancer” is short and punchy, and very hard to refute without seeming like you hate kids. Second Hand Smoke studies turned out to be essentially fabricated, but by that time it was too late, the smokers had gone from cool to monstrous.

      • Second Hand Smoke studies turned out to be essentially fabricated

        Do you have good cites on this? It was pretty much my conclusion after trying to trace the source of a particular claim, but I don’t know how widely it holds.

        • SamChevre says:

          I don’t have a good cite, but I’ve noted for years that if second-hand smoke was seriously harmful on average, life insurers would use it in underwriting. So far as I know, they do not. (I don’t have access to an underwriting manual in my current role, but that was the case for all the major manuals in 2010 or so.)

          • Simon_Jester says:

            I can think of things that would mask the effect of secondhand smoke exposure from insurance underwriting.

            Firstly, the ubiquity of the effect. Prior to, oh… 2000 or so, maybe 1990, there wasn’t a lot you could do to avoid secondhand smoke if you went into the same kinds of buildings everyone else did. When everyone is being exposed to nearly the same risk factor, then to insurance underwriters it’s indistinguishable from the baseline risks everyone already experiences.

            The only people who got to live lives truly free of secondhand smoke would be, say, people who worked outdoors, didn’t go into nightclulbs or bars or anything, and didn’t smoke themselves… and then their increased health would probably just be attributed to their lifestyle- the idea being that the 10% who aren’t breathing smoke happen to be healthier for some not-directly-smoke-related reason.

            Secondly, the flip side of that: the fact that it’d be hard to isolate from other factors. You can’t directly ask people “do you breathe a lot of cigarette smoke,” because they won’t be able to measure it accurately. So you’d have to get your actuarial data on the risks of secondhand smoke inhalation from things like “do you go to nightclubs and bars a lot” and “does your profession involve being indoors with a lot of stressed-out heavy smokers.” It’d be very easy for someone to miss the common “smoke inhalation is knocking two months off these people’s life expectancy” factor in favor of the arguably more Occam-compliant explanations “being in an office full of stressed out people is bad for you whether they smoke or not, and going to nightclubs and bars a lot promotes a dissolute lifestyle that’s bad for your health.”

          • dick says:

            There are lots and lots of things that are definitely provably bad for you and also not used by life insurers. Is this based on being more familiar than most of us with the underwriting process, or just “it wouldn’t surprise me if it were true”? It sounds totally implausible.

          • SamChevre says:

            I’m a life insurance actuary, and started my career with a carrier that wrote term primarily. (Term is the most underwriting-dependent of the life insurance products.) So I would expect that my familiarity with life insurance underwriting is above average, yes. And a tremendous amount of research went into questions like “which measurements of blood cholesterol are most predictive of mortality” and “how should we measure liver enzyme levels.”

            So if low exposure to secondhand smoke–typical 1980 workplace–was significantly harmful, there would at least be questions about the items that really boost exposure like “do you live in the same household as a smoker who smokes inside.”

          • Jaskologist says:

            @SamChevre

            Are they limited from taking certain factors into account? The specific example I have in mind is religiosity. I’ve seen a lot about how that correlates to longer life span, but I don’t think insurers ask about it. Is that evidence that it doesn’t make a difference, or would that be considered illegal religious discrimination?

          • Ghillie Dhu says:

            @Jaskologist,

            I know of at least one: genes

          • SamChevre says:

            Jaskologist

            I do not know. I know it’s perfectly legal to ask about sex, and definitely illegal to ask about race–but I don’t know if asking about religion is legal or not. It’s certainly been studied–here’s a quick PDF link–but I do not know if it can legally be used.

          • Eugene Dawn says:

            I found this discussion from 1997 on the difficulties of accounting for secondhand smoke in risk classification and underwriting; @SamChevre is almost certainly more likely to be able to draw interesting conclusions from it, but it seems to me that broadly speaking, they recognize that secondhand smoke presents a real risk, but there are enough practical difficulties that most insurance companies don’t bother with it.

            A report from the Society of Actuaries in 2005 seems to agree. They compute about 40,000 additional excess deaths per year due to secondhand smoke; however they also conclude that “The lower magnitude of ETS [Environmental Tobacco Smoke] effects, combined with the fact that exposure to ETS is correlated with criteria already used lead to the conclusion that the value of ETS exposure as an underwriting criterion is substantially less than the value of active smoking”; in particular the sensitivity of the cotinine tests necessary to detect ETS ensure that it is “much more expensive to use cotinine to evaluate exposure of nonsmokers to ETS than to use a cotinine test as a screen for smokers”, but that trying to detect ETS by means of a survey runs a “high risk of evasion on the part of applicants”, and ultimately decide that “it would not seem practical to use ETS exposure as an underwriting criterion”.

          • Simon_Jester says:

            Suffice to say that I think the issue is complicated enough that we shouldn’t take it as axiomatic that “if secondhand smoke were harmful, actuaries would have gotten insurance companies to look for it in their calculations of insurance premiums.”

            “combined with the fact that exposure to ETS is correlated with criteria already used” ties into my second point, which is that in a society where secondhand smoke exposure is endemic, only a relatively small slice of the population has a risk associated with ETS that isn’t captured by other factors like “where do you work?”

            There might have been some extra information to be captured by “so are you related to a heavy smoker who smokes in the house a lot,” but I don’t think the efficient market hypothesis (or its actuarial science equivalent) truly guarantees that the opportunity to more accurately price health insurance or life insurance wouldn’t have been missed.

  54. skybrian says:

    I know little about either these, but it’s my impression that LGBT folks have a lot of practical obstacles trying to live their lives and this is strong motivation to move the needle on respectability in practical ways.

    Meanwhile, almost nobody is doing experiments on endocrine disruptors. Other than the scientists themselves, what is there for most people to do other than talk about it? I guess you could have people who are into really into frog-spotting, or raising frogs as pets, or something? (The closest thing is probably outdoorsy types leading the way on environmentalism.)

    I’m guessing you don’t get a respectability cascade just by talking about things you don’t understand well and don’t have a deep interest in, and this is why it doesn’t really work for non-scientists casually supporting science, but does work for the sort of personally-important issues that sometimes lead to identity politics.

  55. Lyle_L says:

    At the end of the day, doesn’t this largely come down to social status and what movements are considered cool? I came of age in what I think of as the height of the “we’re here, we’re queer” pride parade era – in my fairly mainstream, moderate christian peer group pride parades were seen as counterculture, but in a campy, fun way that generated sympathy rather than hostility. Whereas there are few communities in which being an Alex Jones fan is cool.

    I see the Occupy Wall St movement and the yellow vests as an interesting example of this. At a high level, my sense is that both movements have similar ideological frameworks. But there is a pretty dramatic difference in the cool factor between the two. OWS was seen as led by young, urban trendsetters, while the yellow vests are seen as older, rural folks who have “had enough of modernity” Which leads to OWS being seen more sympathetically by folks on the left, while the yellow vests have more appeal on the right (at least in the US, I think its a bit more complicated on the ground in Europe).

  56. I don’t think it’s at all obvious whether early gay activists helped or hurt the cause.

    If they helped, it was partly because, unlike with gay frogs, some of their message already had close to 50% support, e.g. that gay sex shouldn’t be punished by jail. Gay activists also experimented with messages that failed to cascade, e.g. using “breeder” as an insult.

    See also the book Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification, by Timur Kuran.

  57. MariaD says:

    In the Star Wars universe, a Dark Side character gains the power from the actions that reduce the power of a Light Side character, and vice versa. What if respectability cascades work one way for harsh, ruthless ideas – and the opposite way for ideas centered on care and acceptance?

    • Baeraad says:

      Good point. Could very well be. If your argument is that you should open your heart and embrace people, then it falls natural to also embrace weird, hairy gay guys. But if your argument is that you should be careful about contamination, then it falls natural to be careful not to be contaminated by association with Alex Jones.

  58. To me it looks like respectability matters a lot for how good it feels to be in a movement, but doesn’t have much direct impact on whether the movement succeeds at its goals. To take some nearby examples: the AI safety movement hasn’t been hindered much by lack of respectability (its progress has been shocking, and its biggest liabilities are [1] reliance of esoteric arguments and [2] making recommendations that go against the short-term interests of the major actors in the field, not the fact that it’s championed by a bunch of weirdos). Meanwhile, the EA movement’s large gains in respectability over the past ~5 years haven’t helped it achieve its goals almost at all, and coincided with the end of its previously stunning growth.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      My impression was that the AI safety movement did a great job bootstrapping from 0% respectability to high respectability because as soon as more respectable people got involved, the less respectable people slipped out of the spotlight and let the more respectable people take over.

      It seems to me the EA movement is achieving many of its goals, and I’m interested to hear where we differ.

      • Bugmaster says:

        I guess I’m not sure how you’re measuring respectability in this specific case. Most normies have no idea what the AI safety movement is, and they dismiss any and all discussion about AIs, ems, Singularity, etc. as science fiction (assuming they think about them at all). If you asked the average person to pick his favorite charity to donate to, MIRI would be at the bottom of his list. On the other hand, some high-profile academics do engage with these concepts quite seriously (either positively or negatively).

        Contrast this with the homosexuality situation, where most people have at least heard of the concept, and many more have informed opinions on the subject; as well as with the Alex Jones situation, where most people have simply heard of the meme.

      • I’d say the AI safety movement did a great job bootstrapping from 0% respectability to *low* respectability, and stopped there because that turned out to be sufficient. Most people still think AI risk is crazy sci fi about robots with glowing red eyes and/or incremental self-driving car stuff. Among actual AI researchers, AFAICT the dominant attitude towards AI safety is “exasperation”. Yudkowsky definitely did fade out to make room for Tegmark et al, but those guys quickly got supplanted by Elon Musk as the standard-bearer, and Musk is many things but “respectable” isn’t really one of them. Nevertheless the movement is doing quite well at persuading the relevant decisionmakers because the arguments are hard to refute, and that matters a great deal for its target audience (which is not the general public *or* the median AI researcher).

        I agree that EA is achieving many of its goals. Most notably, it’s doing quite well on “move money to Givewellish causes”, and thereby saves many lives. My point is that it’s not doing *better* at its goals since it made the turn towards respectability. To oversimplify, 2015 was the year when the movement started prioritizing respectability in a big way; e.g. that’s the year when the flagship EA conference was handed from Leverage Research to the Centre for Effective Altruism, and also the year when political pressures from the upcoming presidential election started exerting a mainstreaming influence on EA. IIRC 2015 was also the last in a string of years where EA tripled in size, and I do not think this is a coincidence. It looks like non-Moskovitz donations to Givewell plateaued in 2015 as well (at $40m/year, which is pretty damn good.) As for EA’s other goals, like “change the broader culture of giving” or “figure out the most effective causes and interventions” (remember the search for “Cause X”?), I think it’s fair to say that there’s been negligible progress since 2015.

  59. RalMirrorAd says:

    When public figures make pronouncements about the effects of climate change that fall outside any realistic scenario generated by the most recent IPCC report, does this suppress the findings of climate scientists? I personally take climate advocacy less seriously because so many people have deviated from IPCC, but i don’t get the impression that view is widespread.

    Epistemic status; low

    My answer to this general question you’re posing is a very cynical one and few will be happy about it. [Hence the low epistemic status] But I think there is an innate asymmetry when it comes to unsavory behavior (I hesitate to call it radicalism but radicalism is somewhat related to this) when the cause or actors in question are considered left wing or right wing.

    A right wing extremist engaging in unsavory behavior can do quite a lot of damage because the reaction against it is swift, aggressive, and people in the general vicinity that are on the same side are not as willing to defend the behavior (in the court of law or in the court of public opinion). Left wingers are more tolerant of their radicals and more willing to provide media apologia / legal defenses than right wingers.

    Part of the reason far-right twitter is a thing is because you have a large number of relatively young men who look at left wing radicals and came to the conclusion that offense is the best defense. Never apologize for anything, never criticism your extremists, never purge for respectability. Of course this sort of thing has its limits, because inevitably someone will get hurt and you’ll come into conflict with the law then all that matters is whether the police, courts, and legal profession are sympathetic to you or not.

    ______________

    If any of the above is considered offensive I apologize and I’ll make a more general argument:

    The effectiveness of the respectability strategy, or deviating from it, depends on how effectively the cause is capable of performing damage control and conversely as well how effectively the opposition can capitalize on seemingly outrageous behavior by fringe actors.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Part of the reason far-right twitter is a thing is because you have a large number of relatively young men who look at left wing radicals and came to the conclusion that offense is the best defense. Never apologize for anything, never criticism your extremists, never purge for respectability. Of course this sort of thing has its limits, because inevitably someone will get hurt and you’ll come into conflict with the law then all that matters is whether the police, courts, and legal profession are sympathetic to you or not.

      isn’t this exactly Moldbug’s theory?

  60. fluorocarbon says:

    I like this post in general, but I feel like there’s a misunderstanding about the “gay frogs” conspiracy theory. As far as I can tell, the “gay frogs” meme started with a 2015 YouTube video by Alex Jones called “The Gay Bomb Rant.” In it, he says:

    What do you think tap water is? It’s a gay bomb, baby. And I’m not saying people didn’t naturally have homosexual feelings. I’m not even getting into it, quite frankly. I mean, give me a break. Do you think I’m like, oh, shocked by it, so I’m up here bashing it because I don’t like gay people? I don’t like ’em putting chemicals in the water that turn the freakin’ frogs gay! Do you understand that? I’m sick of being social engineered, it’s not funny!

    Jones is claiming that the government is poisoning the tap water with a “gay bomb” in order to make everyone super gay. I assume that when he prepared that rant he Googled something like “turning gay water” and cited anything he found. He and his conspiracy friends don’t give a damn about the frogs. They think the government is turning people gay and they’ll believe this regardless of whatever’s happening with actual frogs.

    I would argue that it’s not even taboo to talk about. If you were having a conversation with some respectable person and said “industrial waste includes hormone-like pollutants that are changing the sexual maturation of frogs and other animals, and which are suspected to have deleterious effects on humans” they would probably agree with you—most respectable people are at least vaguely environmentalist (in fact, a number of respectable people were quite upset (in a respectable way) with the recent EPA rollback of wetlands protections). If, on the other hand, you cite gay frogs as proof that the government is trying to gayify the population, then they’ll think you’re crazy.

    • Tim van Beek says:

      Parts of the show are still online (e.g. youtube excerpt. As one can see from the excerpt, the froggots are just one comical punchline, the main point is a government conspiracy.

      Nevertheless, the conflation and binary classification of arguments is a phenomenon, meaning that if a set of different points contain one obviously false one, people tend to reject all of them: If there is no Santa, there cannot be a north pole. I don’t get it.

      Anyway, I don’t know if Scott is speaking from experience, but I can confirm that the “Alex Jones believes in a government conspiracy to turn frogs gay” thing is a meme, and trying to engage people in a constructive discussion via “well, about the gay frogs thing…” is futile (mostly).

    • zzzzort says:

      Not to defend Alex Jones, but there is a very fine distinction between ‘the government is poisoning the water’ and ‘the government is knowingly allowing the water to be poisoned.’

      • fluorocarbon says:

        … there is a very fine distinction between ‘the government is poisoning the water’ and ‘the government is knowingly allowing the water to be poisoned.’

        I strongly disagree: there’s a huge massive visible-from-outer-space difference between them. Compare, “the government is printing newspapers telling people bad things will happen if they vote for the opposition” and “the government is knowingly allowing newspapers to be printed telling people bad things will happen if they vote for the opposition.” The first happens in a dictatorship, the second is a normal part of democracy.

        There are a lot of regular non-nefarious reasons why a government would allow agricultural chemicals in the water supply. A few of them below:

        1 – Ignorance: they may be aware these chemicals are getting into the water supply but they don’t know how harmful they are.

        2 – Balancing priorities: farmers get larger yields using these chemicals, is it better for chemicals to get into some rural water supplies or for people in cities to go hungry? A government has to balance these issues and it’s not always easy.

        3 – Unenforceability: governments aren’t all-powerful gods, they have very limited resources. Is it worth it to them to investigate every small farmer for some chemical if it means those resources aren’t used for protecting national parks or taking down drug cartels or whatever?

        • zzzzort says:

          Granted, but implicit was the assumption that the government has the power and responsibility to regulate pollution. As to the other points:
          -Alex Jones shouldn’t know about public health concerns before the EPA. And the standard for widespread public usage of novel chemicals should not be, ‘we’re not sure that it’ll kill you’.
          -Agriculture as a whole is like 6% of US GDP, so it’s almost certainly not worth any serious pollution.
          -The government bans a lot of chemicals, and seems to do an ok job at it most of the time. At the very least if something is a danger to public health, they can ban it and then worry about enforceability.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think this is a misunderstanding in this post, I think it’s part of the point. Jones’ ridiculous, unbelievable frog-related story is poisoning the well (no pun intended) against different, more respectable, frog-related stories.

      I realize that’s slightly different from “Jones is saying the exact same thing as scientists, but he is bad and they are good”, and maybe I should have made that more clear.

      • fluorocarbon says:

        Reading the post, it sounded to me like you were suggesting that Alex Jones really did care about frogs. It turns out the misunderstanding was on my side.

        Whether or not it’s a misunderstanding, I think the rest of my argument stands: that the gay rights and gay frogs movements can’t be directly compared because Jones doesn’t care about the frogs and that it’s not taboo to talk about pesticide impact on amphibians. I did a little more googling research and found that atrazine, the gay frog pesticide, is banned in the EU and that the EPA is currently monitoring its health and ecological effects. Whatever Alex Jones has done to the respectability of gay frog discussion among the general public, scientists are still taking the issue seriously.

        More generally, I think that comparing these two things may lead to seeing a common theme underlying both that doesn’t actually exist. I’m not sure how to explain it except by making up a hypothetical:

        Let’s assume that we live in a world very much like ours except that some geologists came up with a new theory called “instant canyons.” They argue that there are flaws in traditional canyon formation theory and that some types of canyons form in only a few thousand years instead of millions of years, as previously assumed.

        The creationists hear about this new theory and jump on it at once. They’re the largest and loudest group of supporters. Like Alex Jones and his gay frogs, they don’t care about the science. They start with a theory and believe any evidence that supports it while ignoring any evidence that does not.

        Now let’s travel 20 years forward and examine two different futures:

        Future A, instant canyon theory is true: the “instant canyon” theory follows the path of other scientific theories. At first, there’s a small group of supporters and most scientists reject it, then it gains more followers, eventually it’s common knowledge and included in introductory geology textbooks. (It obviously doesn’t prove creationism.)

        Future B, instant canyon theory is false: the instant canyon group correctly identified flaws in canyon formation theory, but it turns out that these are explained better by a new “super slow canyon” theory. The scientific community has rejected instant canyons and now only a few cranks still believe the theory. (The creationists still believe in creationism.)

        Now let’s look at these developments through the lens of respectability. In Future A, it would seem to follow the less respectable to more respectable path with creationists being the Alex Joneses and the drug addicts. In Future B, it would seem to follow the opposite path, where originally it had a small group of supporters, then the low-status creationists jumped on, it became toxic, and now nobody believes it. The reality is that respectability didn’t have much to do with what happened. While it may appear like it did to the outside observer, it followed the same path as most other scientific theories. That’s because there’s a third variable (actual truth) that determines the acceptance of the theory and the whole respectability thing is just a side-effect.

    • Galle says:

      I think part of the problem here is that “chemicals in the water turning frogs gay” just sounds ridiculous. The reason it’s become emblematic of Jones is because, if you aren’t previously aware that in fact there are chemicals in the water actually turning frogs gay, it sounds like the ramblings of a delusional madman. The association with Jones brought it up a level, and now it’s a stock example of the ramblings of a delusional madman. Before the meme, an environmentalist saying that chemicals in the water were turning frogs gay would get filed under “expert saying weird things”. After the meme, an environmental saying that chemicals in the water were turning frogs gay gets filed under “literally Alex Jones”.

      • Trashionalist says:

        Would it kill us to note that the environmentalist would say that chemicals in the water are masculinizing female frogs and feminizing male frogs, and not that the chemicals are making the frogs gayer?

        I mean, I’d guess that masculinization and feminization brings with it a higher incidence of homosexual behavior in the affected frogs, but even then I wouldn’t assume so. I’d guess the more common effect is frogs trying to mate with frogs of the opposite sex but doing so with nonfunctioning gonads and gametes. That’d be the primary attribute, not the gayness, and even then the concept of “gay” has all these cultural associations beyond just “frogmen who have sex with frogmen”.

  61. kevin says:

    Before I start, take a look at this photo. I’ll wait.

    http://screenprism.com/assets/img/article/right_thing_4.png

    This is a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther “I have been to the mountaintop” King Jr. shaking hands with Malcolm “By any means necessary” X. They are both happy in each other’s company. Among white Americans at the time King was at about 65% respectability and Malcolm X was at about 0%. The photo plays a pivotal role in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”.

    Both King and Malcolm X were critical to the fight for civil rights in this country. A kind of revolution. Revolutions are messy, ugly things. You need a lot of people to make a revolution. You need a lot of different kinds of people to make a revolution. King was working for a peaceful revolution, X was going to have a revolution one way or another.

    King and X presented a clear choice to white Americans. The civil rights revolution was coming, it was ineluctable. Whites could have the revolution King’s way or X’s way. Burning cities and riots figured at least as much as peaceful marches in the calculations of white politicians enacting civil rights legislation. The Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers provided a necessary contrast to King’s civil disobedience.

    So my argument would be that you need both the professors and the (figurative) bomb-throwers in a revolution. In effect, you say to your opponents, “Right now you’re dealing with me. I’m reasonable. But if you and I can’t come to a deal then you’re going to have to deal with the crazies over there.”

    Revolutions require that people be affected. The vast majority of us would not inconvenience ourselves over the fate of herps. I think the role of bomb-throwers in removing endocrine disruptors will only be useful when endocrine disruptors in the environment are demonstrated to have direct and dire effects on middle class Americans.

    • Jliw says:

      Was Malcolm X “critical”, relative to other factors (e.g. the obvious)? At least today, he’s vastly less influential than King; I don’t think I ever heard about him as a kid or teenager.

      It’s also not my impression that most of the nation was afraid that the fraction of black males (already only 5% of the population) who were committed and violent followers of Malcolm X were on the brink of conquering or ravaging the land — and if the rest of the nation really wasn’t sympathetic, a few terrorists wouldn’t change its mind.

      I think the fact that a majority of the population agreed with King’s ideals and sympathized with his cause is the main driver here; it would have done it with votes without any threats. Too, “we hate them but just give them what they want!” sounds implausible as a motivator for more than a few. I think being forced into a position that is odious to you is more likely to breed anger than capitulation, especially for a group in a stronger position.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      This still seems to have the “half the time it works this way, half the time it works the opposite way” problem.

      Does anybody think that the existence of violent neo-Nazis is making people more willing to work with respectable establishment nativists and immigration opponents? Or that the existence of Muslim terrorists makes people like moderate Muslims more? If this were true, how come far-left people and far-anti-Muslim people try to cover neo-Nazis and terrorists as much as they can, whereas moderate rightists and moderate Muslims try to pretend they don’t exist? You’d expect the opposite!

      • RalMirrorAd says:

        I don’t think extremists work by generating sympathy, but what extremists can do is either;
        1. intimidate the opposition or otherwise just make life miserable for them (assaulting them at rallies or carving out territory in neighborhoods depending on who we’re talking about)
        2. gain concessions through appeasement

        The question is whether #1 and #2 are worth the risk of a public backlash followed by a legal crackdown. If public backlash is mitigated through PR damage control, and/or the legislature is unwilling or unable to capitalize on the backlash with laws that target the extremists [and non-extremists] then their existence is beneficial to the movement. [for better or worse]

      • John Schilling says:

        Does anybody think that the existence of violent neo-Nazis is making people more willing to work with respectable establishment nativists and immigration opponents? Or that the existence of Muslim terrorists makes people like moderate Muslims more?

        For that to happen, at least per this hypothesis, I think you’d need a respectable-nativist Gandhi, a moderate-Muslim MLK, and in either case of significant public stature. “Good cop, bad cop” is a different thing than “bad cop gets results”.

        It is possible that the reason we don’t have a respectable-nativist Gandhi is that anyone who tries to play that role, to lead a large non-violent protest movement against (illegal) immigration, is ridiculed and/or demonized into irrelevance by the media and other great influencers of society, in which case there’s the problem. We have a somewhat organized power group that can marginalize peaceful civil disobedience when they like, leaving only violent resistance of a sort people will feel good about crushing, and so the media-centric power group wins forever.

        It is also possible that there’s just something about nativism and/or Islam that makes non-violent civil disobedience internally unappealing, so that nobody ever manages to reach MLK/Gandhi levels in those groups, they just keep trying violence at too small a scale and with too little sympathy to avoid being crushed and that’s all on them.

        And it is hard to distinguish these possibilities from the outside, because one of the competing hypotheses includes deliberate distortion of the usual information feeds.

    • albatross11 says:

      The other way you could see this working out is that the Southern policemen bashing heads to enforce Jim Crow get seen, not as norm-violating mistreatment of protesters by the cops, but instead as “the only thing these people understand” after lots of Americans were frightened by cities burning, riots, looting, and terrorist attacks. I don’t think it was at all inevitable that we took the path we took–if the civil rights movement had been violent and threatening to large numbers of the whites who were broadly sympathetic to it in our timeline, violent suppression of the movement “by any means necessary” might very well have been politically acceptable, and then it would have happened.

    • sourcreamus says:

      This is just historically inaccurate. The rioting and city burning did not really happen until 1967 by which time all of the major civil rights legislation had already been passed. MLK was active from 1955-1968 in which time there was the Civil Rights act of 1957, the Civil Rights act of 1960, the Civil Rights act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which was signed one week after King’s death. By contrast the Black Panther Party was founded in 1966, received its first attention in 1967, lasted until 1982 and never achieved anything.

      What actually happened was the leaders of the civil rights movement tried to heighten the differences between them and their opponents so they seemed reasonable and their opponents unreasonable. This is why iconic images are of well dressed peaceful people being attacked by dogs or fire hoses, and primly dressed schoolgirls being screamed at by lunatics.

  62. kerkeslager says:

    Two things:

    1. Respectability isn’t an objective value. Respectability is in the eye of the beholder: it’s subjective. I’d like to separate this term “respectability” into two kinds of respectability: “popular respectability” (you are respectable in a certain percentage of people) and demographic respectability (you are respectable in a certain demographic). I don’t think it’s useful to think in terms of percentages of respectability, but rather in terms of demographics which a) overlap (i.e. a person is a member of both demographics) or b) are respectable to each other (i.e. Jews have some level of respectability with Christians, as compared to other religions, because of the roots of the respective religions).

    I don’t think that looking at popular respectability gives you a good understanding of what’s going on.

    2. Respectability cascades need a “path” to cascade along. Alex Jones doesn’t catalyze a more respectable group to take action on endocrine disruption because the other respectable groups which might take action on endocrine disruption (i.e. scientists, journalists) don’t respect Alex Jones. Alt-right Voat users don’t catalyze more a respectable group to move to Reddit-like platforms which value free speech, because other groups which are concerned about free speech (i.e. social liberals) don’t respect alt-right Voat users.

    This is sort of where looking only at popular respectability (as I defined earlier) gets in the way. It kind of gives you a vague “path” idea (10% respectable people persuade 20% respectable people, who then persuade 30% respectable people, and so on). But looking at the gay movement, it hides the fact that there’s a much more direct path of demographic respectability which gay people have: friends and family members. If we assume 1 in 10 people are gay, with gay people being born in a wide variety of demographics, nearly everyone knows someone who is gay. And out gay people have a sort of respectability with the people close to them: love. If your son or daughter comes out as gay, you’re much more likely to become positive about homosexuality. And that factor exists for gays who would be respected by any percentage of people: drug using drag queens and openly gay senators both have families.

    And note that because homosexuality is an identity belief, it’s much harder for a family member of a gay person to “agree to disagree”. It’s easy to say you love your son if they believe in endocrine disruption and you don’t. It’s much harder to say you love your son if they are gay, and you think homosexuality is wrong. So this makes the “respectability path” between gays and their family members particularly strong with regard to the belief being propagated.

    This “path” I’m talking about was identified by Harvey Milk, and I think was the basis of his campaigning for gays all over America to come out to their friends and relatives. Milk was acutely aware of the effect that someone coming out as gay has on the beliefs of the people close to them.

    • cuke says:

      This strikes me as very well argued.

      This question of the role of respectability perhaps connects to the body of research about what makes a social movement successful. We’re talking about a path of change on a scale larger than the individual. In general, what produces change seems to be poorly understood in complex systems.

      Social change theorists have spent a lot of ink arguing about what are key factors that make change more likely: successfully mobilizing resources, having good leaders, getting elites over to their side, finding historic openings, transitioning to institutional structures, and so on.

      So my contribution here is just to say that anytime you see a change path — which a respectability cascade would be — it seems like the conversation needs to get down to the level of talking about specific factors at play. The “no exit” aspect that @kerkeslager raises for gay people is a powerful one — they can’t just switch issues; they are “stuck” with their identity, and likewise, their loved ones are “stuck” with them as loved ones (though obviously and painfully, not always, as we know). So that’s two powerful no-exit factors working on that path, that can be seen as raising guardrails to keep people on the path.

      On the other side, the evidence that environmental contamination is affecting animals may be an issue that has a lot of exit possibilities — the impact is diffuse and impersonal, there are other environmental issues one could focus on, the sense of urgency and the consequences of inaction are not going to be as evident to the average person (as having a son or daughter who is gay and who has unmet needs and rights claims).

      Perhaps early efforts at bringing gay rights to the forefront of society’s attention also displayed negative respectability cycles. Maybe earlier on the path, there was backwards progress due to the exploits of disreputable people, but that was later overcome by a confluence of helpful factors (civil rights movement creating a template? AIDS crisis producing new militant activists? specific historic advances in local geographies like San Francisco and NYC?).

      When we see contradictory effects, it seems like sometimes it’s guidance to move up or down in the level of generality of the analysis.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think if we were asked to rate the respectability of various people and institutions (not how much we personally respected them, but their vague respectability) we would get very similar lists. I think that’s because respectability is kind of a common-knowledge problem: it doesn’t mean I respect someone, it means I think other people think other people think (…) that other people respect them.

      I respect Eliezer Yudkowsky a huge amount, but I wouldn’t call him especially “respectable”. I don’t have much respect for a lot of the New York Times’ reporting, but I agree they’re super “respectable”.

      If Eliezer were to say that some taboo behavior I engage in is okay, I might feel secretly vindicated but I wouldn’t feel much more comfortable engaging in (except maybe inside the rationalist community where Eliezer is more respected). If the New York Times said it was okay, almost by definition that means society has decided to stop worrying about it and I would feel I could be more open.

    • Null42 says:

      Bit of a nitpick, but the common roots of Christianity and Judaism were actually the cause of quite a bit of antisemitism in the Middle Ages and after. Either Jesus is the Messiah, or he isn’t, so Judaism and Christianity can’t be true at the same time; as Christianity started as a Jewish sect, early Christian writers had to spend a lot of time arguing that Judaism wasn’t true anymore and that’s why you get stuff like ‘synagogue of Satan’ in the New Testament.

  63. J Mann says:

    Public belief in science is probably substantially different, but is the idea that “IQ is a useful predictive measurement” in the course of a respectability cascade? My rough mythology is:

    – 30 years ago, it was politically incorrect to argue that IQ is a valid measurement that predicts future outcomes effectively.

    – Then Andrew Sullivan let an issue of The New Republic argue the point.

    – Then people like Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein moved to “of *course* IQ is a valid measurement with a lot of predictive power, but these other beliefs *about* IQ should be considered morally suspect.”

    • Uribe says:

      And 40 years ago the idea that IQ is predictive of future outcomes was part of popular culture. I can remember watching an early episode of the TV show The Facts of Life from the late 70’s in which the plot of the episode was the kids all finding out each others’ IQ scores. The headmaster had announced confidently to Ms. Garret: “These IQ scores will tell us how these girls will academically perform the rest of their lives.” or something like that. (Now that I tell it I realize perhaps part of the point of the episode was to try to make fun of IQ-determinism, but there was nothing Culture War-y about it.)

      I’m pretty sure the anti-IQ stuff started after the Bell Curve and not because of the claim that IQ was heritable but because it interwove with the race stuff. So to combat the race-IQ stuff, opponents also attacked the heritability angle, just to be sure.

      P.S. In 1983 there was a made for TV movie starring Gary Coleman called The Kid with the 200 IQ. This example pretty well illustrates that society used to have no trouble with IQ as a concept as long as racial differences weren’t part of the concept. CM overturned this orthodoxy.

      • albatross11 says:

        I don’t think so–Linda Gottfriedson talks about having been subject to a lot of social pressure not to study IQ, before The Bell Curve was published. When it came out, a smart and sensible friend of mine compared publishing it to publishing formulas for making bioweapons.

    • mobile says:

      But 60 years ago, it was pretty uncontroversial that IQ was useful, and it was the contrary point of view that had a respectability cascade.

  64. GigaFauna says:

    An example of a “respectability cascade” that doesn’t fit either of these archetypes is that of the “Gravity Research Foundation” essay contest.

    Founded by a rich lunatic who considered the force of gravity to be “Our Enemy No. 1”, it was for a number of years utterly disreputable, its sole entries and sole winners being from the crackpot fringe. Then an essay was submitted by Stephen Hawking, who was awarded 2nd (!) prize. This rendered it respectable in the eyes of the academic community, who did a reverse-takeover, and it has been respectable ever since.

    This seems related to the adage that “only Nixon can go to China”.

  65. Maxwell says:

    This reminds me of the American practice of putting medicine into the public water supply (“fluoridation”). It’s an eccentric idea that you wouldn’t think would appeal to many people. And it doesn’t really. But everyone has heard that bad people (e.g. fanatical anti-communist conspiracy theorists) oppose it, so that settles it, it’s good. Non-respectable opposition, or maybe just the rumor of it, generated stable support for something that would otherwise have none.

    • Enkidum says:

      None? You can’t think of anyone who would support a measure to reduce the overall rate of cavities in a country?

      • Maxwell says:

        The problem in general with putting medicine in the water supply is the dose is poorly controlled, and if you play it safe, will be too low to do anything.

        Plus don’t you find reducing cavities to be a rather frivolous objective given the drastic means? Like if you could put something in the water to prevent a contagious disease, then maybe as an emergency measure it could make sense, maybe.

        • Kuiperdolin says:

          “if you could put something in the water to prevent a contagious disease”

          You can, it’s called chlorination. More or less everyone in the First World does it as an ongoing precaution, not an emergency measure, including, if a two-minute Google search can be trusted, the US of A.

        • Enkidum says:

          I hadn’t ever really thought to check, but reading the wikipedia article on fluoridation suggests that there is some pushback to the notion of its effectiveness. In general the quality of evidence either way seems rather poor, which is surprising to me.

          However I will say that if it’s the case that water fluoridation decreases the rate of cavities without a comparable rise in other issues, then yes I would 100% support doing it, and I am certain that my stance on this is far more common than yours. Without any doubt at all, your claim that it would have no support without the respectability issues due to John Birch morons is just false.

          “if you play it safe, will be too low to do anything.”

          This is an empirical claim which strikes me as pulled out of thin air.

        • Zeno of Citium says:

          Fluoride has an advantage in that the downside to have somewhat too much is low – mild fluoridosis, which is a discoloration of tooth enamel. You need a lot of fluoride in the water, relatively speaking, for this to happen. Actual problems from excess fluoride in the water are basically impossible to get, particularly since it’s easy to figure out how much you need to add. Fluoride in public water isn’t drastic at all, it’s a very safe intervention.

    • The Nybbler says:

      We’re still holding back the contamination of our precious bodily fluids (with added fluoride; hexavalent chromium is another issue entirely) in New Jersey.

  66. TomMustang says:

    This sounds silly to say about Scott of all people, but uh, guys…. Scott isn’t accounting for the flow of incentives.

    In the case of gay acceptance, there is a large group of people, gay people, who have a very strong incentive to remove the taboo around homosexuality. At first, it was too costly for high-status gays to be publicly gay, but once the bears came out of the closet, it became less costly for the more high-status gays to come out of the closet. The high-status gays have innate incentives for gay acceptance so the weirdos made it less costly for them to follow their innate incentives.

    In the case of the frogs though, no one has any emotional stakes. There is no group of highly incentivized people holding their tongues because it’s too costly to come out of the frog closet. There are no incentives in play, so the crazies don’t make it easier for people to come out of the frog closet. No higher status group was incentivized to come out of the frog closest but stayed there because it was too costly. No real group of people have emotional stakes. Why would a cascade happen without preexisting incentives and lowered cost of following those incentives[which is what happened in the gay case]?

    But I’m guessing Scott knew all of this and wanted us to complete the puzzle. In the case of Pinker and Hadit, there are people who are highly incentivized to agree with them[smart people who don’t wanna rock the boat but are bothered], if only it were less costly to do so. Therefore if the Pinker group can get some major names, IDK, Singer, Tao, Knuth, Ed Witten, people who radiate status, it would suddenly be less costly for smart people who wanna say something, but who are afraid, to come out of the closet. The only of these people who seem likely to come out of the closet, or even is in the closet, is Singer. Maybe Aranson + Bostrom or something?

    Before I go on, Scott is the puzzle that you wanted us to solve? Were we supposed to reason to the salient difference between gays and frogs [the flow of incentives] and then apply that reasoning to Pinker and co? Or did I miss the boat, reading too deeply into your blog posts; treating your posts as if you were writing Gemara, and not just jotting down some thoughts when you had a quick break ?

    • Anonymous` says:

      Or did I miss the boat, reading too deeply into your blog posts; treating your posts as if you were writing Gemara, and not just jotting down some thoughts when you had a quick break ?

      His blog has been much more on the latter side of that spectrum over the past couple years.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I am basically never misrepresenting my own epistemic status as a puzzle for others.

      • TomMustang says:

        In that case, aren’t you failing to account for the fairly obvious flow of incentives in the case of gays?

  67. Wency says:

    “What are some heuristics for when one works and the other doesn’t?” asks Scott.

    I feel I have no choice but to say, “Cthulhu always swims left”. I browsed the comments and this seems to align with every example given, yet no one seems to have said it in so many words.

    How do you resist SJW encroachment in science (or anything else)? Well, not via “respectability cascades”, to be sure. On the Jonathan Haidt question, this means they are better off suppressed and ridiculed, not given a megaphone.

    • Bugmaster says:

      This might be a bit off-topic, but doesn’t “Cthulhu always swim left” pretty much by definition ? Conservatives want to preserve the social order in exactly the same state as it exists now (or rather, as it was during their youth). Therefore, any social change whatsoever is a loss for conservatives and a gain for progressives. Given that social change is inevitable, short of some sort of a truly brutal Stalinist dictatorship, Cthulhu is pretty much guaranteed to keep swimming.

      • Le Maistre Chat says:

        Social change could move right. That’s kind of the political definition of “reaction.”
        Any time there’s a “great awakening” in church attendance, that’s social change swimming right.

        • Uribe says:

          Any time there’s a “great awakening” in church attendance, that’s social change swimming right.

          Are you sure? Weren’t the Great Awakenings in the 19th Century closely associated with progressive causes like abolition, education and temperance?

      • Uribe says:

        That’s what I was thinking. Seems like anyone pushing for change is by definition progressive. Weren’t the eugenicists considered progressive in the 30’s? Weren’t the gun rights people considered progressive in the 60’s? Wasn’t both the Temperance Movement and the Anti-Temperance Movement progressive? Isn’t racial segregation on college campuses these days considered progressive?

        Edit: Note that gun rights activists in the 60s actually moved the needle on the “right to bear arms”.

        • dick says:

          I think the “Cthulhu swims left” meme is generally interpreted in the narrow context of modern progressive/feminist/SJW causes. If it included things like taxation and gun control and military spending and union membership and social safety nets then Cthulhu would be doing rather a lot of zig-zagging.

      • You are assuming that “conservative” in the political context has its more general meaning. It doesn’t.

        Consider the conflict between someone who wants to reverse some of the New Deal changes or sharply reduce government spending and someone who opposes those changes. The former is the conservative, politically speaking, the latter is the one who is against change.

        Similarly for “progressive.” Progressives are not people in favor of change, they are people in favor of change in particular directions. The label assumes away the question of whether those particular changes represent progress.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Progressives are not people in favor of change, they are people in favor of change in particular directions.

          I’m tempted to agree with you, but: how do you define those directions, objectively ? You could say, “Progressives support social policy X and vehemently oppose not-X”, but that’s a subjective example that only holds true for the current Progressives of $currentYear. Can you formulate a more general pattern that will hold (mostly) true throughout history ?

          • 10240 says:

            While your question is interesting, I think the “Cthulhu always swims left” statement is understood as left by today’s definitions, not then-current ones.

      • jhertzlinger says:

        One reason the left appears to win is that failed left-wing movements are no longer considered Left. Another reason is that victorious right-wing movements are frequently reclassified as Left.

        You can see these phenomena most clearly in the case of the aftermath of the American Civil War. The losing side engaged in a “long march through the institutions” which first caused a Yankee withdrawal from the occupation of Dixie. It was followed by the growing respectability of eugenics and it then culminated in the capture of the Presidency in 1912.

        Come to think of it, the standard left-wing rhetoric about indigenous movements might have been injected into liberalism by Wilson, who might have been looking for an excuse for Confederate independence.

        On the other hand, after eugenics failed, racism was re-re-classified as right-wing. (Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, comrade!)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Agreed. See also “the parties switched sides after the Civil Rights Act!” No, the Republicans wanted colorblindness before the CRA and want colorblindness after the CRA. The Democrats want power and when they could get that by pandering to whites and demonizing blacks they did so, and when the culture since shifted such that they could gain power by pandering to blacks and demonizing whites, they do so. If this ever reverses they will be the first to advocate reinstating slavery.

          Also, I suspect the Right Side of History will be anti-abortion as we generally move towards more care of the defenseless and away from murdering the defenseless. When that battle is eventually won in 2050 or so the left will cast themselves as champions of the unborn and the right as the monsters ripping infants from their mothers’ wombs.

          • 10240 says:

            First paragraph: I agree about how the “they switched sides” claim is bogus, but the “Democrats want power” (implicitly more than the Republicans) was a needless partisan jab. Every politician wants power, and it’s implausible that being more ruthless in fighting for power is a natural tendency of Democrats through generation after generation of politicians.

            Second paragraph: only if the majority will view fetuses as persons (or at least conscious enough to matter) in the morally relevant sense.

          • Humbert McHumbert says:

            I would say you’re half right: the Republicans didn’t switch sides, but the Democrats did in fact switch sides. It wasn’t as if a group of anti-black Democrats decided to change their specific ideology to being pro-black. There were a few cynical fence-sitters who sort of did that. But the genuine anti-black racists were replaced by different politicians (eg, the Kennedies) whose ideology we would now categorize as progressive. As that process intensified, people like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond changed parties since there was no longer a way to effectively form a racist coalition and the best they could do was join a mostly colorblind coalition. It wasn’t like Helms and Thurmond and their ilk were pure power-seekers who were happy to switch from Jim Crow to affirmative action.

            Also, I suspect the Right Side of History will be anti-abortion as we generally move towards more care of the defenseless and away from murdering the defenseless. When that battle is eventually won in 2050 or so the left will cast themselves as champions of the unborn and the right as the monsters ripping infants from their mothers’ wombs.

            The only way I could see this playing out (but it is a serious possibility) is if we end up with highly cheap and effective artificial wombs by 2050 so that aborting and carrying to term are no longer the only options. It’s similar to the situation with vegetarianism. I could see everyone becoming “vegetarian” if good artificial meat is developed, and then looking back on past generations as evil. But minus the vat-grown meat, there’s no way. People like meat too much, and they like consequence-free sex too much.

            (I say all this as someone who doesn’t believe the fetus is a person, at least not until pretty late in a pregnancy, and is happy with abortion on demand at least until the third trimester.)

          • 10240 says:

            if we end up with highly cheap and effective artificial wombs by 2050 so that aborting and carrying to term are no longer the only options.

            @Humbert McHumbert Or possibly with 100% secure and side-effect-free contraception.

            is happy with abortion on demand at least until the third trimester.

            Mistake? What’s the “at most” then?

          • Humbert McHumbert says:

            Not a typo. I’m certain I approve of abortions prior to the third trimester, and uncertain whether to disapprove of them starting at some point during the third trimester.

          • 10240 says:

            @Humbert McHumbert OK, my bad understanding of English then. I thought “until the third trimester” meant “up to an including the third trimester”.

      • Wency says:

        It might seem to be true by definition, and yet, it seems very true in all the examples in this topic that I saw. Far-left activists are able to make an issue more acceptable to those slightly less far-left. But far-right activists have a way of making an issue anathema to everyone. They certainly don’t bring any more support to a cause.

        This ties into the concept of Salami tactics, which are effective against the Right but not nearly so effective against the Left.

        And indeed, a shift to the Right is possible and by definition reaction. The only real example of this in our lifetimes though would seem to be Eastern Europe, and even there the verdict is mixed once you get beyond the immediate impact of Communism’s fall and the reasserting of Christian identity in some places.

        As for how you define Left and Right in ways that are consistent across all times and places, it mostly breaks down to a personality type and a way of thinking.

        In the past 150 years or so of U.S. history, part of the issue is that modernism is sometimes viewed as a right-wing and sometimes a left-wing cause, depending on who its opponents are. Traditionalism is always on the Right. Nationalism, liberal economic policies, and scientific/technocratic thinking began as modernist ideas opposed largely by traditionalists, so were viewed as being on the Left. Later they largely reconciled and allied with traditionalists to oppose the mutual enemy Communism, and so came to be viewed as Rightist.

        This seems to be shifting again as that alliance has largely broken down over modernists’ support (or acceptance) of LGBT causes.

        • Uribe says:

          As for how you define Left and Right in ways that are consistent across all times and places, it mostly breaks down to a personality type and a way of thinking.

          This makes sense. The only way to know if a cause is truly Left or Right is to find the kind of dudes you know would have to be on the Right side of an issue, then figure out what they support. Then the solution to why Cthulu swims Left would be that more Left than Right personality types are being produced now because Leftism is in the water supply, just ASK TEH GAY FROGS!!!

  68. Bugmaster says:

    Could this simply be a matter of numbers ? About 4% of the population are gay, although I’ve heard claims that the value could be as high as 10% if you count in anyone who’s “bi-curious”. What percentage of the population are honest-to-Jones government chemtrail conspiracy nuts ?

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      According to Wikipedia, before the InfoWars youtube channel was removed it had 2.4 million subscribers. If you assume they’re all American, that’s less than 1% of the population.

      • philwelch says:

        “Percentage of Americans who subscribe to a specific YouTube channel” isn’t really a good comparison to “percentage of Americans who are gay”. A better analogy might be:

        Opinion polls taken in various locations have shown that between 6% and 20% of Americans, 25% of Britons, and 28% of Russians surveyed believe that the manned landings were faked.

        (Wikipedia)

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          I think that’s a more widespread and slightly more plausible conspiracy theory than what Bugmaster described as “honest-to-Jones government chemtrail conspiracy nuts.” I don’t think the moon landings were faked, but at least there’s a plausible reason to do so: beat the Russians at the PR game. With regards to chemtrails, according to Wikipedia that’s a 2.6% belief, because what’s the point?

          At such percentages we’re getting into Lizardman Constant territory. Interrupt me during dinner to ask me if the government is turning frogs gay to stop the coming lizardmen from the hollow earth apocalypse and I’ll probably say “yes” just to screw with you, too.

  69. zzzzort says:

    But is this just me projecting my 2010s post-gay-victory values back on the past?

    Arguably that’s the right way to look at it. As homosexuality became more acceptable, the original supporters became less disreputable. This is an additional positive feedback group to more respectable people joining a more respectable cause; as more respectable people join everyone in the group becomes more respectable. This process transforms the Stonewall patrons from rioting sexual perverts to civil rights heroes. I doubt that any consensus on endocrine disruptors could redeem Alex Jones.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      It’s fun to imagine a few centuries from now Jones gets treated like John Dee is today, some sort of mystical figure whose wrongness about everything means he was larger than life and in touch with deeper truths.

      • philwelch says:

        The fate of Alex Jones and conspiracy theorism in general is interesting. It feels like back in the 90’s, conspiracy theories were treated with a sort of whimsical dismissal by the surrounding culture. There was even a movie titled Conspiracy Theory in 1997, and a ten-year run of The X-Files. Is this just because the conspiracy theorists of the 90’s were less overtly political? Art Bell never got deplatformed.

        • Jesse E says:

          Conspiracy theorists of the 90’s were relatively unassuming, non-political, and were questioning things there were actually questions about – JFK’s assassination, aliens, etc. Some were a little nutty, but they were nutty in a ‘weird uncle’ way, not a ‘let’s take down the government’ way.

          OTOH, more recent conspiracy theorists either are trying to create conspiracies around things millions of people saw on live TV (9/11) or things with no actual connection to reality (ie. most of what’s on Infowars) and it’s more directly connected to politics than in the past.

          • Enkidum says:

            I think we ran in very different circles in the 90’s, but I assure you your memory of the older conspiracy theorists is faulty.

            Jones has been around since the late 80’s. His schtick has barely changed at all. As for not being about ‘let’s take down the government’… the militia movement starts in the early 90’s (and has much longer roots than that) Ruby Ridge, Waco, MOVE, there’s plenty of other examples.

          • albatross11 says:

            The counterexample that comes to mind is the conspiracy theory that the US government had created AIDS to kill off blacks (or maybe blacks and gays).

  70. The Nybbler says:

    I don’t think Alex Jones harmed anything about the cause of endocrine disrupters (such as it was) anyway. Before Jones, a few people knew and cared about them — scientists, environmentalists, and some disreputable types who blamed it for drops in testosterone and a reduction of masculine behavior in men. Now, as far as I can tell, those same people know and care about them, and most of them don’t even connect it to Jones’s “MAKING THE FROGS GAY” thing. It’s not like you can be talking about endocrine disrupters and someone will point and laugh and say “HA HA, YOU THINK THE GOVERNMENT IS MAKING THE FROGS GAY”. Unless they do that in Berkeley?

    I don’t know if I believe in a respectability cascade either. But I do believe it’s better to have something said and heard (even by Alex Jones, some hairy man in a leather G-string, or the Devil himself) than to have it unsaid or said so quietly it is not heard at all. You can build on infamy, not so much on silence.

    And as others have pointed out, on the gripping hand, the Twitter trolls aren’t going to listen to Haidt anyway.

  71. Charlie Lima says:

    It seems odd to me to consider gay acceptance in isolation. Consider what other groups society has come to accept without comment over the years:
    Divorcees
    Men who visit prostitutes
    Couples who use birth control
    Couples who have sex before marriage
    Couples who cohabit before marriage
    Women who have children out of wedlock
    Couples who never marry
    Gay couples
    Polyamorous uples

    A very parsimonious option is that the low respectability gay activists had little positive to do with things. Instead as the dominoes fell on the old sexual order over decades, society cared less and less about people perceived as having trangressive sexuality. Seeing polls like this suggests to me that gays were just a more slowly adopted part of larger trend.

    After all divorce got a leg up with an English king, movie stars, and a bunch of gilded age millionaires. Prostitution had help from all the GIs in WWII. Premarital sex was advocated by all the best and brightest college kids. It seems like people just had more exposure to the first to be accepted sexual transgressions. Looked at from a wider angle, gay rights seem to be just another step along the “more respectable” to “less respectable” continuum.

    The only violations of the old sexual mores I can think of that have become less acceptable have been (maybe) cheating, pedophilia, and MeToo type coercion. The latter two certainly fit into their own long arcs of historical struggle. Childhood has been ever more protected with bans on most child labor, heavy restrictions on corporal punishment, and ever increasing efforts at safety on all fronts; feminism has moved from voting rights to anti-discrimination and on to greater gender equalization.

    Regardless, it just seems really odd to look at gay history in isolation from the other major changes in sexual mores.

  72. John Schilling says:

    A confounding factor in the gay-rights example is that, even before there was any real visibility among the bottom-10% respectability homosexual population, there were top-1% elites from Oscar Wilde to Rock Hudson who were all but openly gay within their social and professional communities but with an informal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to make sure the rubes didn’t know about it.

    The “respectability cascade” up from the bottom 10% is highly visible, but cascades aren’t normally known for going in the up direction. People don’t normally take their status cues from others lower than them on the ladder.

    The bit where “Don’t ask, don’t tell, the rubes couldn’t handle it” evolves through “…but you can nod and wink real suggestively” to “OK, maybe talk quietly about the generic but no names” to “If one of us gets outed we can still be seen with him” and onward to there, is necessarily less blatant in its visibility before the end stage. But it’s happening at the very top of the status ladder, where people are accustomed to looking for such cues and small signals have magnified effect.

    So it’s hard to know which effect is dominant. Particularly if, as you note, there’s real debate over what really happened w/re gay rights. I think we need a few more unambiguous cases, where there was no soft pull from above and only the cascade up from below.

    And I can’t think of any offhand. Anyone else got any candidates?

    • Garrett says:

      One analogy I keep looking at is the open-carry gun-rights people in comparison to the gay-pride parades. They’re all about normalizing what is viewed as deviant behavior, and largely make people uncomfortable in the process.

      • arlie says:

        Now that’s an interesting comparison, particularly given my reaction to people carrying guns. I quite possibly have a similar revulsion to that reported by various people justifiably labelled homophobes – that is, I think they might be dangerous to me, and are surely disgusting. This seems much like the kind of homophobe who sees any gay man as a potential rapist of straight men such as themselves. I make theoretical exceptions for some categories of gun carriers (cops, soldiers, hunters, etc.) – but I’m nonetheless uncomfortable with them too. And I wasn’t at all thrilled when my nephew was considering a career in law enforcement, though I hope I managed to conceal the bad reaction from him.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      And I can’t think of any offhand. Anyone else got any candidates?

      Trans? There’s Caitlyn Jenner and that’s about it on the top end.

      • John Schilling says:

        I’d add the Wachowskis, but I think openly- or quasi-openly-trans elites are a lagging indicator, quite unlike the case with (male) homosexuals.

      • albatross11 says:

        In the more intellectual sphere, there’s Dierdre McClosky. And I think the top female CEO in the US is a transwoman.

      • InvalidUsernameAndPassword says:

        For techies, Lynn Conway should also get a mention.

  73. ManyCookies says:

    I’m particularly thinking here of one of my own hobbyhorses, the fight to protect scientific integrity from regressive leftism.

    Wait I thought “regressive leftism” was an Islamic Acceptance > Progressive Values criticism, isn’t that Sam Harris’ hobbyhorse way more than yours? Or is regressive leftism just being used as a boo-word here?

    • Bugmaster says:

      FWIW, I interpret “regressive leftism” as “a prohibition of certain types of research because they have the potential to cast doubt on accepted leftist political opinions”. By comparison, if conservatives were in charge, Scott would probably be fighting against Creationism.

      • marxbro says:

        By comparison, if conservatives were in charge, Scott would probably be fighting against Creationism.

        Conservatives are in charge though.

        If Scott isn’t just using “regressive leftism” as a sneer word designed to insult his political outgroup he should at least define what he’s talking about.

        • Bugmaster says:

          I believe that, while conservatives are in charge of politics, liberals are in charge of academia.

          • marxbro says:

            Liberals are not the left, though. Liberals are the centre. If you want to talk about regressive centrists then that would make slightly more sense.

            Secondly, I hear people talk about liberals being in charge of academia all the time, I’m not necessarily sure that’s true. Are there relevant studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration? Especially at the high levels (i.e. I’m not interested with who the secretaries or janitors affiliate with).

          • P. George Stewart says:

            Conservatives are in charge of neither.

            Among other things, homosexuals would still be in the closet, and America would still be a largely ethnically White nation, if they were.

            The general trend has been inexorably, incrementally leftward since WWI. And by the looks of things it’s not going to end well.

          • marxbro says:

            @P. George Stewart

            I don’t think looking at just two elements of the political position of conservatives from decades ago is a very good metric to judge if the conservatives of today are in charge or not.

          • Cliff says:

            Liberals are not the left, though. Liberals are the centre.

            In America, liberal and left are literally used synonymously. If you live in Europe maybe you think liberals are libertarianish types? They’re not in the U.S.

            And yes, universities are dominated at least 10-1 by the left. I mean communist professors abound but communists in general are unicorns. The administration is absolutely complicit in all the shenanigans, otherwise you wouldn’t see absurd things like professors being intimidated with violent rhetoric into leaving campus for a day of white retreat.

          • marxbro says:

            @Cliff I consider the left to be communists and anarchists, who are clearly underrepresented in American politics generally.

            I’m sure there’s a handful of communist professors in certain departments at American universities. However, this is not really what I would consider “in charge” of anything. Again I’d like to see a study of the political affiliations of the top brass at universities – everyone always assumes they’re liberal but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen actual numbers.

          • Enkidum says:

            Speaking as someone who has spent virtually my entire life in academia (child of a professor, still pretending I’ll become one), in both hard sciences and the humanities, I’ve met exactly one communist professor, and heard of maybe one or two more. They are incredibly rare.

            It’s certainly true that on average profs are more left wing than society as a whole (although not that much). I have no idea what the administration’s tendency’s are, I would suspect substantially more right-wing.

          • John Schilling says:

            Are there relevant studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration?

            Yes. Yes there are. Many of them.

            I’m certain you can contrive narrow definitions of “liberal” and “academia” that allow you to claim that nobody has ever really studied liberal dominance of academia, but I think this would instead be an appropriate time for you to take stock of the number of people who have told you about this, the weight of evidence they have, the casual nature of your own dismissal(*), and engage in a nice hefty dose of self-criticism. You’re not merely wrong on this, you’re stubbornly foolishly wrong.

            * You couldn’t even be bothered to cut-and-paste “studies of the political affiliations of university/college administration” into a search engine, on this or any of the previous occasions when you’ve heard people talk about the subject.

          • @John Schilling:
            I didn’t read everything at your links, but so far as I could tell they were about the affiliation of university faculty, not of university administrators, which was the question being asked.

          • Nietzsche says:

            John Schilling is absolutely correct. I’ve spent my whole life in academia (SLAC undergrad, Ivy PhD, tenured prof state university). I have a vocal communist in my own department, and my university is middle-of-the-road politically. Which is to say, overwhelmingly dominated by the left, but not stridently so. Deans routinely command affirmative action diversity searches and hires. Not exactly a sign that they are secret conservatives.

          • Cliff says:

            @Cliff I consider the left to be communists and anarchists, who are clearly underrepresented in American politics generally.

            Please stop that. Left means “left of center” and everybody knows that and uses the term that way, so please don’t make outrageous claims based on unique definitions you decided to use to purposefully confuse people.

            I’m not sure why you think they are “clearly underrepresented” either. Are you saying that on average, globally, most countries have a higher proportion?

          • Nornagest says:

            Left means “left of center” and everybody knows that and uses the term that way, so please don’t make outrageous claims based on unique definitions you decided to use to purposefully confuse people.

            To be fair, the “communists and anarchists” definition is the standard one in Marxist circles. Which isn’t too surprising given that Marxists’ view of politics is based on writings anywhere between eighty and a hundred and fifty years old, and communist and anarchism really would have been significant political forces back then; insisting on it here and now is fairly transparently (and somewhat pathetically) a bid for pushing the Overton window back that way, but it’s not like he’s just making it up.

            On the other hand, even if we’re talking about Communists and anarchists, I’m pretty sure they’re overrepresented in (humanities and social sciences) academia. John already gave some of the actual studies involved, but anecdotally, out of twenty or so professors and TAs in those fields that I had in school, maybe half a dozen were some flavor of anarchist or revolutionary socialist. A similar fraction of the far leftists I’ve met since have some kind of advanced degree. Unless a huge fraction of the workers of the world are staying up late to sew hammer-and-sickle banners by the light of a flickering coal grate and just not telling anyone about it, that almost certainly points to overrepresentation.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            I believe that, while conservatives are in charge of politics, liberals are in charge of academia.

            I think there’s something to David Graeber’s that the left (broadly conceived) are in charge of the creation of people while the right (broadly conceived) are in charge of the creation of things.

      • Trashionalist says:

        To me, what makes the phrase “regressive leftism” so promising is what “regressive” implies about “progressive”. If “regressive” is used in a derogatory term, that implies that “progressive” is good. Regressive leftism is to be avoided because it reverses progress, progress in the leftist sense. Regressive leftism is when progressive leftism is made to counter progressive leftism, in the name of progressive leftism.

        Ideally, no one who isn’t a progressive or a leftist should use “regressive leftism” as a derogatory term, because using it implies progressive ends are good. Obviously that didn’t bear out, and rightists use the term constantly as if to say all leftism is regressive, and worse still “regressive” is used as if it were a synonym of “degenerate” as a /pol/ user would use it.

        The annoying part of being an anti-SJW/PC/regressive leftist is convincing the rest of the left that all anti-SJW/PC/regressives claiming to be left aren’t just rightists pretending to be left. They think anyone saying “I’m a leftist, I just feel as a leftist I want to protect the left from its worst elements” today will end up saying “I’ve #WalkedAway from the left, become a classical liberal who wants to leave most things to free markets and build the wall” tomorrow, and with examples like Dave Rubin I don’t exactly blame them. The term “regressive leftist” should have been a fool-proof way to ensure an anti-PC leftism uninfected by rightism, but I guess we need something stronger.

        • The Nybbler says:

          I think you’re overthinking it. The term “regressive left” is an insult; it does not imply that those using it think “progressive” is positive”. Those using it know that the targets think “progressive” is positive; that’s sufficient. Also, “regressive” is a word with negative connotations; even those who would truly go backwards don’t call themselves that.

  74. sorrento says:

    The boring answer is that friendly attitudes in the media and academia helped homosexuality become respectable. The talking heads on the 11 o’clock news tell you about Gay Pride parades. They don’t talk about endocrine disruptors. To your average guy on the street, that makes gay pride parades an important topic, and endocrine disruptors an obscure one. With different media coverage of the Vietnam war or the civil rights era, things might have ended up very differently.

    • cuke says:

      I just want to flag here that there’s a difference between asking “why has this movement for change had successes and this other one hasn’t?” and “what role did perceived respectability have to do with its success or failure?” I feel Scott’s post confuses these two questions.

      There are a lot of factors that go into why an agenda for change is successful. Some of the discussion here is proceeding as if “respectability” is the central factor determining change. Even the term “respectability cascade” suggests that the change itself is determined by this accelerating domino-falling process of some amorphous measure of mass perception.

      Memes might go viral based on this kind of perception dynamic, but actual change in the real world takes all kinds of things — mobilizing lots of people, articulating goals, gathering resources, developing leaders, building organizations that are semi-stable so they can shepherd agendas, filing lawsuits, lobbying politicians, etc. Lived history matters too — what came before that made this change more likely? Lived history isn’t just perceptions — it’s prior movements for change, court cases, protests, things that went terribly wrong and affected a lot of people, and so on. Much of this work and experience doesn’t have a lot to do with respectability.

      Friendly attitudes in the media and academia may help shift perceptions about various issues, and so they have a role in raising or lowering respectability of people and causes. But that’s but one small part of what’s involved in making actual change in the world. Maybe that was already obvious to you, so forgive me for putting this comment here if that’s the case. It seemed to me there were a number of places in this discussion where “changing things in the world” was being reduced to “changing perceptions.” The two things are obviously related, but they are not the same.

      I confess this is a thing I wrestle with in conversations in this space because it seems to me that some folks whose primary contact with “social justice types” is online or in college confuse rhetorical arguments with what it actually takes to shift policy around something like legalizing pot or desegregating schools or winning women and black people the right to vote or getting DDT banned or whatever.

      Like I get that rhetorical fights can spill into the real world when someone like Damore writes a memo and gets fired for it or someone expresses a view some other people don’t like and they get doxxed for it. But by and large for most of history, and still to this day, social change proceeds mainly through actions taken in the real world. Some of those actions are speech acts, yes, but behind and beyond the speech acts is a whole lot of non-rhetorical work (researching, organizing, litigating, campaigning, fundraising, and so on).

      • cuke says:

        Shorter: as if social change could be reduced to a problem of “branding.” I think this is to misunderstand history.

        • albatross11 says:

          cuke:

          It seems like there’s a critical part of that change that comes from a change in social attitudes. If Americans had the attitudes toward womens’ rights that Afghans have, no number of court cases or elite pronouncements or laws would be sufficient to get anywhere close to equality. Imposing that level of social change more-or-less worked with the Civil Rights movement, but this involved a big regional split–lots of non-Southerners okay with sending the FBI or National Guard to force Alabama to integrate their schools. If most Americans had had Alabamans’ racial attitudes, no president would have ordered that, or if he did, he would have been voted out of office along with his whole party in the next election.

          I’m not disagreeing with you that changes in rhetoric and public image and attitude aren’t enough. But i do think they’re pretty important starting points for all kinds of social change.

          • cuke says:

            Yes agreed, a critical part, as you say. My sense is that the critical change in social attitudes happens much later in the change process than is generally recognized by people who haven’t been neck-deep in said change efforts. So that a lot of the non-rhetorical work happens “off stage” for your average person for a long time. Once it bursts onto the stage, is when people who haven’t been part of the prior efforts recognize it as having “started” and so they tend to overestimate the importance of public image/branding. At least in my experience.

          • cuke says:

            Side note: I think this misunderstanding about the centrality of “image” is a factor in some recent movement failures or weaknesses.

            I’m not prepared to argue this really well, but I’d suggest that the Women’s March is having difficulty translating a big mobilization into an effective movement because it was focused on making a big splash without having previously worked through longer-term goals and strategy, not to mention what kind of organizational vehicle to sustain it. It seems to me Occupy had similar problems. The civil rights movement, parts of the environmental movement, and the gay rights movement didn’t have these problems to the same extent, or rather, they built the processes and structures to work through them over time.

            I think it’s a danger of our heavily on-line society that we mistake twitter mobs and viral sharing with organizing — some of it is organizing in a very general way (getting people to contact politicians or mobilizing people for a rally say), but a lot of it is not.

            Movement organizing, like political campaigning or union organizing, is a science/art that people have been developing for generations. It has a knowledge base almost as extensive as the one surrounding the art of war and military strategy. But this knowledge base is often invisible to people who haven’t participated fairly deeply in a social movement (different from being a temporary foot soldier doing some door-knocking or showing up for rallies).

            This is me showing my age, but a little bit I worry about the loss of this knowledge base as a generation of very talented organizers retires and some of the new generation seems only vaguely aware of the depth of knowledge residing there.

            For what it’s worth, I see this happening in other fields, like my own which is counseling psychology. So maybe this is just me being crotchety. Psychotherapy training now, most of it, is pretty narrowly focused on formulaic CBT interventions or other technique/structure-heavy approaches (IFS, EMDR, DBT) without providing much training in the underlying relationship-building skills that all the research shows is central to good outcomes in therapy. These relationship building skills come out of psychotherapy practices one and two generations ago — psychodynamic and person-centered approaches, for instance. So using CBT alone is a little like thinking you can build an effective social movement with a good “message” and yes, it will get you a little ways, but then you have a lot of newly-trained therapists who aren’t even really aware of the terrain they’re missing, that underlies the efficacy of a lot of individual techniques. (I will stop ranting now) 🙂

          • albatross11 says:

            cuke:

            Have you read anything by Zeynep Tufekci? She is a sociologist at (I think) UNC who started out as a programmer, and is very technology-savvy. She has written a lot about exactly the issue you’re discussing w.r.t. Twitter movements vs actual political organizations. (I think the main focus of her research involves sociology in online groups.). I suspect you would find some of her writing interesting. She’s written at least one book, and many NYT op eds; she also has a web presence and is active on Twitter.

          • cuke says:

            No I don’t know her work, thanks Albatross11, I appreciate that. Will go investigate.

  75. Clutzy says:

    I am generally confused by this entire post. Maybe someone else who thinks they really understand it can transform it into a form that makes sense to people that are not Scott.

    Is is a speculative post? Is it normative? Is he trying to think about how to best propagandize?

    • siduri says:

      Scott has been making lots of references to beliefs that he feels he cannot talk about because he would be unfairly dogpiled by liberals. I can’t describe these beliefs because he’s not specific about them, but they seem to be in the realm of IQ and race. So this is another post where he’s dancing around the things he refuses to talk about directly and imagining a path by which maybe someday he’ll be able to talk about them (if Jonathan Haidt and the “disreputables” win, I guess).

      I like Scott’s writing a lot but I find these posts very frustrating, because there’s no way to engage with his beliefs on a truth/fact basis, as he refuses to enumerate them. Instead he indicates support for people like Sam Harris and Jonathan Haidt, and possibly some Dark Web types like Shapiro? It’s hard to know. I got far enough as investigating Jordan Peterson after Scott posted a sympathetic book review before I decided I’d had quite enough of that.

      I think the cumulative effect of posts like this–posts that coyly hint at beliefs that would be considered outside the Overton window by mainstream commentators, but don’t endorse anything specific–is actually worse than if he just said what he believes, because every time he puts up another one I mentally shift him a little bit over to “probably more deplorable than I thought.” I currently have him pegged at James Watson levels which might be completely unfair! But it’s impossible to know!

      • albatross11 says:

        Siduri:

        Are you assuming he’s thinking of race and IQ because he’s implied it somewhere, or because it’s the unacceptable topic/idea you find most disturbing?

        I think one thing you’re running into here is that the existence of a large social movement dedicated to enforcing norms against believing or discussing certain topics makes it hard to know what people believe about those topics. If I know that expressing my views will probably get me hassled at work, I’ll probably be pretty careful about expressing those views. That makes it rather harder to know what anyone thinks.

        It also makes incorrect but unacceptable views a lot harder to counter. If the penalty for saying no women can code or there are no real black scientists is that you get fired and shunned, probably you don’t ever say it, but you still keep thinking it. Now, both ideas are completely wrong–they’re a consequence of not really understanding the nature of overlapping but different distributions. But who’s going to explain that, when to explain it clearly in public for a lay audience is to court an outrage mob trying to get you fired?

        • gettin_schwifty says:

          Scott wrote that race and culture are about equally “real” (I believe the terminology was “statistically isomorphic”). IIRC the post was “Does race exist? Does culture?”
          He compared IQ to a coma scale (Glasgow?) and he believes in coma scales. So, it makes sense to think Scott may have unpopular views on those subjects.

          As for race and IQ, the population-level facts don’t matter in the overwhelming majority of situations. Maybe blacks average 120 IQ, maybe 80, but we don’t interact with populations. We interact with persons. You’ll quickly form an opinion about the person with whom you’re interacting, which (if you’re paying attention) will quickly overrule your preconceptions. I suppose this is SSC so I should say you have your priors and then you update based on evidence, something something Bayes, the evidence of the person in front of you overwhelms any priors.

          • As for race and IQ, the population-level facts don’t matter in the overwhelming majority of situations.

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

            Most discussions of the issue implicitly take it for granted that the distribution is the same, that different outcomes must be due to discrimination. Abandoning that article of faith weakens the argument for policies that most on the left strongly support.

          • albatross11 says:

            David:

            I think one other place they matter is when you’re dealing with someone with little prior interaction or knowledge. You see this a lot in hiring, in terms of looking at what school someone graduated from. Many employers just aren’t interested in applications from new graduates of most state universities–they prefer only grads from top schools. Now, the average IQ, work ethic, knowledge, etc., of a Stanford graduate is higher than that of a University of Maryland graduate. But after you’ve worked with someone for awhile, you’ll know way more than you get from their school (or GPA).

          • jermo sapiens says:

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

            This belief, that unequal outcomes are evidence of discrimination, and the legal doctrine of disparate impact, are why these questions are not only relevant but absolutely need to be investigated. Which by the way is the worst part of these beliefs and legal doctrine. I would much rather to not open this can of worms, but if one side finds “evidence” of discrimination everywhere, and discrimination is the worst evil ever known, we really have no choice.

          • cuke says:

            Scott’s post above does a thing that this conversation also seems to be doing, which is confusing one factor for THE factor.

            If respectability is one part of making social change happen, but there are a dozen other salient factors, wouldn’t we do well to consider all the factors when we talk about what makes social change happen?

            Should we accept lower wages in a group of people as an acceptable outcome of lower-on-average IQ even if we accepted the science on IQ in groups to be settled? Should people’s wages be determined even primarily by IQ?

            By what criteria do we set wages? Or put another way, what list of factors correlate with higher wages? I gather from my research on the psychology side that high conscientiousness and low neuroticism is correlated with better academic and job performance. Childhood adversity/trauma is correlated with poorer academic and career outcomes. How significant are these factors up against IQ? What other factors might be relevant — access to education and training, say? Availability of career mentoring, say? (we know mentoring/role-models have been important for women breaking into scientific fields)

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening. Wouldn’t that alone, without other kinds of evidence that we also have (the history of red-lining in real estate, disparate disciplinary treatment in schools, and so on) suggest that IQ average can’t alone be the whole relevant story? And if it’s not the whole relevant story, wouldn’t that suggest that our work on addressing social factors isn’t done?

          • jermo sapiens says:

            Should people’s wages be determined even primarily by IQ?

            No, and they currently are not. Wages are determined by supply and demand of specific types of labor, and this only correlates with IQ to some degree. Nasseem Taleb recently made the point that 100 IQ entrepreneurs earn alot more than 130 IQ paper pushers, and he’s right. But the 130 IQ paper pusher probably makes more than the 100 IQ paper pusher who makes more than the 80 IQ janitor. Maybe entrepreneur’s income does not strictly qualify as “wages” but this distinction is not relevant here.

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening.

            That’s true. And some of that is due to the fact that many places have “ban the box” legislation. The rest is almost certainly actual bias.

            So IQ alone is absolutely not the whole story. And importantly, neither is discrimination.

          • cuke says:

            I’m sorry jermo I wasn’t clear that I was responding to DavidFriedman’s comment:

            The one place they do matter is in deducing causes from outcomes. If blacks and whites have about the same distribution of abilities, then the fact that blacks have lower wages is evidence of discrimination and suggests that we should do something to prevent it. If the distributions are substantially different, the conclusion doesn’t follow.

          • Clutzy says:

            We know based on studies on testing employers with identical resumes with different racial markers that race-based discrimination is still happening. Wouldn’t that alone, without other kinds of evidence that we also have (the history of red-lining in real estate, disparate disciplinary treatment in schools, and so on) suggest that IQ average can’t alone be the whole relevant story? And if it’s not the whole relevant story, wouldn’t that suggest that our work on addressing social factors isn’t done?

            Actually, this is a common misconception because everyone knows 2 things that are extremely prevalent in our world: 1) There is extreme affirmative action in our education system so there is no such thing as apples-to-apples; and 2) Discrimination lawsuits are extremely common when minorities are terminated, even for cause.

            This means there is never an apples to apples comparison (similar to women in hiring).

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Actually, this is a common misconception because everyone knows 2 things that are extremely prevalent in our world: 1) There is extreme affirmative action in our education system so there is no such thing as apples-to-apples; and 2) Discrimination lawsuits are extremely common when minorities are terminated, even for cause.

            This means there is never an apples to apples comparison (similar to women in hiring).

            One of the most interesting arguments I’ve seen on this point (could well have been here) is that comparing Jamal and David (or whatever nondescript, coded white name they used) is not comparing apples for apples. You need to compare Jamal and Billy-Bob before you can start claiming it’s an issue of race rather than class.

          • albatross11 says:

            cuke:

            I don’t think we disagree here. I’d say:

            a. The existence of group differences in IQ, personality, interests, experiences, upbringing, situation, etc., mean that you can’t just look at few women in physics or few conservatives in sociology and infer discrimination–that may or may not be an important cause, and we’re going to have to dig a bit to figure it out.

            b. The existence of actual discrimination and animus in those fields against women or conservatives provides a reason to suspect that the different outcomes *may* be the result of discrimination or different treatment of some kind.

            My point is that if you exclude knowledge about group differences, you’re missing half the picture, and in fact, that missing part of the picture makes the case for discrimination as a cause of different outcomes look much stronger than it really is. And this is relevant because a lot of people, here and in the big wide world, argue that it is a very bad thing to discuss group differences in public–many even argue that it should be punished as a norm violation.

          • albatross11 says:

            Clutzy/Art Vandelay:

            I think this kind of study has been done a lot of times with many different comparisons. For example, I know it’s been done with professors getting people with Chinese or American sounding names in emails asking whether they’re looking for research assistants, as well as male vs female names. My recollection is that professors responded more often to males than females, and to American-sounding than Chinese-sounding people.

            Now, I don’t know this literature. It’s possible that we’re seeing publication bias or something. But it’s entirely consistent with an awareness of group differences.

            Suppose a professor looking for PhD students very slightly prefers men to women because (say) they’re less likely to drop out halfway through. If that professor knew the woman or man in question, he would likely have a much better sense of which one was likely to drop out halfway through, but when all he has is a name and a resume, it’s not shocking to me that he might be slightly more inclined to respond to the man than the woman. (The study I remember hearing about here showed this effect for both male and female professors.)

            This is actually a good justification for what I think was the original meaning of affirmative action–not quotas or preferences for underrepresented groups, but rather making an extra effort to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            A plea for equal opportunity is a claim of equal ability (Natural inclination to do things and keep doing things and not leaving being a subset of ability). Equal outcome is a stable equilibrium of recognizing people’s equal ability and giving them equal opportunity. Unequal opportunity is also stable equilibrium coming from recognising people as unequal in ability and treating them accordingly. Nobody demands toddlers to be admitted in college for example because they know toddlers lack in ability.

            It’s unlikely equal opportunity for those statistically unequal could be achieved, unless complete anonymity could be achieved.

          • albatross11 says:

            ARabbiAndAFrog:

            I disagree. A plea for equal opportunity is independent of your beliefs (if any) about group equality. Indeed, the best thing about equal opportunity is that we don’t need to know what the group ability/interest distribution is–we just want to make the requirements for becoming a physicist or psychologist or plumber the same for all groups, rather than (say) making it way tougher to enter some of those fields as a woman.

          • Clutzy says:

            albatross11

            I think a very big problem is that there are both pre-employment and post employment trends that make all these comparisons much more difficult. And indeed, those trends might actually even be important for schools.

            Pre-employment I’ve already discussed with regards to AA (and there are other factors). Once employment starts there are other factors. For instance, female doctors are more likely to drop out of the workforce or reduce their hours. Does this mean Medical Schools should not consider this reality when admitting students? Should they knowingly devote the same amount of resources to someone who is likely to be 50, 60, 70% the doctor?

            Females and minorities are more likely to sue if terminated. Should that not factor into hiring choices?

            This is actually a good justification for what I think was the original meaning of affirmative action–not quotas or preferences for underrepresented groups, but rather making an extra effort to recruit candidates from underrepresented groups.

            This has already been shown to be mostly effective. Its why pre-employment Wunderlich (and similar) testing and the like is actually on the rise again (I’ve taken 2 recently), despite Griggs v. Duke strongly discouraging it. There are too many risks once you’ve hired someone, or indeed agreed to a long form interview on the legal side.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            albatross11:

            In theory equal opportunity should not go hand to hand with equal ability, but in practice, how can it not?

            If you are an employer and see that your prospective employee who’s likely going to have babies and stop working as hard, would you bother hiring them or would you try to ditch them in favour of someone with less ovaries? If, say, you are a teacher and you see that your student is going to waste all your effort by growing up a thug, why bother putting any effort in educating them when you can focus your effort on someone whiter? If ideas of difference in ability, if you announce that “Well, we gave them equal opportunity but they wasted it by being subhumans” become an acceptable notion to have, how can equal opportunity persist?

          • In theory equal opportunity should not go hand to hand with equal ability, but in practice, how can it not?

            That depends on whether you have better proxies than group membership. For your example of the woman who might drop out to have children, you may not. For your other example, there are likely to be better proxies for how likely someone is to be a thug than race.

            If ideas of difference in ability, if you announce that “Well, we gave them equal opportunity but they wasted it by being subhumans” become an acceptable notion to have, how can equal opportunity persist?

            If the group difference was a big as human vs subhumans, it probably couldn’t, but it isn’t. Thomas Sowell is not only an African-American, he is, judged by appearance, a pretty dark one. He is also obviously much smarter than the average white. One of my fellow grad students in the theoretical physics group at Chicago was an Ibo.

          • albatross11 says:

            If you think a 10 point difference in average IQ (2/3 of a standard deviation) is the same thing as deciding a whole racial group is subhuman, I suspect we don’t have enough overlap in our worldviews to meaningfully communicate.

            Imagine you have a job that requires a person to be at least six feet tall. You might decide to only hire men (tall men) for the job. But you could also allow equal opportunity for women–any women who are six feet tall or taller can get the job. Six-foot-tall women are rare but nonexistent, so if you open the job up to anyone qualified, you’ll probably get a few women, but mostly men, just due to statistics. None of this requires thinking that anyone is subhuman for being short.

            In fact, for demanding fields, most people just can’t do it. Most white kids will never, regardless of motivation or desire, be able to get through a EE program at a decent university[1]. The classes are just too hard. We don’t respond to this by saying that whites are subhuman because most of them can’t become electrical engineers, we select the subset who are interested and who seem likely to be able to get through the program.

            [1] If you object to EE programs, substitute in a PhD program in physics or math or philosophy. Most people are just not capable of doing the work necessary to get through such a program.

          • ARabbiAndAFrog says:

            What I’m saying is that a lot of risks regarding other people are hidden and prospective. The person with a trait X might seem perfectly qualified now, but, say, we also accept that trait X is indicative of pre-disposition to crime, or dropping out to raise kids wasting all the training or something to this effect. So stopping forcibly ignoring those observations would make things really awkward. But keeping forcibly ignoring them is also awkward because you need to somehow explain how different races, or genders or whatever are performing differently despite having the same potential.

      • Nietzsche says:

        I don’t understand why you are so concerned that Scott is not virtue signaling enough that you can confidently embrace him as a member of your tribe instead of just engaging with the reasoning he offers.

        • siduri says:

          Because I think the reasoning suffers from being unmoored from fact. I mean Scott starts off by saying “I know there are lots of debates over whether this kind of ‘respectability cascade’ is the way it really happened, but it’s a neat model of a way that these things can happen.” So basically he made up a story and then used the story to support a model. But I think it matters that this is not, actually, how it really happened.

          I was involved in gay rights activism from the 1990s, and I agree with kerkeslager below that the model of “0% respectability to 10% respectability” etc. is oversimplified–that’s not how gay rights was achieved. The concerted push to bring people out of the closet was specifically because it relied on the strength of family ties and people unwilling to cast out their own children, no matter what society said. And THAT works because homosexuality is essentially randomly distributed across the population, and–unlike things like religious and political beliefs–is very resistant to being changed through cultural pressure.

          So the unique strength of “coming out” for the gay rights movement was that we had a really compelling message: we only had to convince people that they didn’t need to cast out their own children. It wasn’t that the least respectable people came out first, it’s that some of the people who came out first were disowned and shunned and therefore became unrespectable. But in a lot of cases family ties were stronger than social prejudice, and once the norm of “you really shouldn’t disown your children for homosexuality” was established, we were on a solid path toward full equal rights under the law.

          But other kinds of taboo beliefs aren’t randomly and naturally distributed across the population the same way homosexuality is, so the “coming out” strategy isn’t as powerful for proponents of those beliefs. It’s not going to work in the same way. One thing that’s going to matter an awful lot is *what* the taboo belief is, why it is considered harmful or repugnant, and what evidence for truth it has to support it.

          • albatross11 says:

            siduri:

            Wow, I never thought about the impact of homosexuality being randomly distributed on acceptance, but that makes a lot of sense. It’s sort-of like the way that it’s hard to maintain serious hatred between males and females, because you end up with parents and children and siblings of the opposite sex, and you probably don’t hate them. I suspect that trans acceptance has some of the same dynamic (albeit with a much lower rate of occurrence).

            Again, though, that can’t be the whole explanation, because presumably everyone had gay family members in 1880, too. Probably closeted for self-protection (plenty of gay couples have managed to be “roommates” for public consumption, through the years), but the more perceptive/worldly family members must have caught on. (As a not-very-worldly geeky kid in a small town in the midwest, a lot of this stuff was pretty obvious to me.).

            I guess there was a feedback loop of people coming out of the closet, right? The more people are out, the more can come out without worrying that much. But that could only happen if a lot of people were actually willing to leave them alone. Even absent government persecution, I expect that’s a lot harder to do in a very traditional society where lots of people really believe gays are evil. So it’s interesting to ask why this became possible when it did, or maybe why it didn’t happen in 1890 instead.

          • siduri says:

            albatross11: Yes, it had to be a coordinated, widespread coming out. And this is off-the-cuff and I would want to research it more, but I think it’s possible that the galvanizing factor was gay communities forming in cities–showing that they could take care of their own, and live in their own way, and providing a safety net for those who came out and were exiled from their original communities. Before the existence of those communities, I’m not sure that such a successful push to get people to all come out could have happened. So some ground work definitely had to be laid before the mass coming-out strategy became viable, but it was remarkably effective once it took place.

          • Probably closeted for self-protection (plenty of gay couples have managed to be “roommates” for public consumption, through the years), but the more perceptive/worldly family members must have caught on.

            For what it is worth, one of my parents’ closest friends was a woman who had had one son, got divorced, and throughout the time I knew her, say starting in the early fifties, lived with another woman. Looking back at it, I’m almost certain they were lesbians, but it never occurred to me at the time and, if it occurred to my parents, they never mentioned it to me or in their autobiography, which mentions her—my mother describes her as the best human being she had known, or something similar.

          • @ albatross11

            presumably everyone had gay family members in 1880, too.

            In 1880, the concept of being heterosexual or homosexual was hardly more than an academic discussion. Most people didn’t have language to identify as gay or straight.

          • Enkidum says:

            @Larry Kestenbaum – I’ve always found this linguistic determnation argument to be specious in the extreme. There have always been people who greatly preferred having sex with those of the same sex/gender, and those who greatly preferred having sex with those of a different sex/gender. The terminology “gay/straight” may not have existed, but the concepts they describe did.

            That’s not to say that a lot of how being gay or straight manifests itself is not culturally influenced, but the idea that they didn’t exist because we didn’t talk about them seems like madness to me.

          • albatross11 says:

            Anyone with a minimal classical education would have had the concepts, and there were places that were (in)famous for having a lot of gay sex–the British navy, all-boys boarding schools, etc. So I suspect that at least the more worldly members of the society would have had the concept in their heads.

          • jermo sapiens says:

            The terminology “gay/straight” may not have existed, but the concepts they describe did.

            That’s true of everything. If there isnt a word for “gay” or “straight”, and everybody is in heterosexual relationships, your brain doesnt conceive being gay as a thing. And then when someone develops attraction for the same sex, they cant tell themselves “oh Im gay”. They probably end up thinking they are some kind of mutant abomination. In Untitled, Scott speaks of Aaronson’s desire to castrate himself to avoid what he perceived as illegitimate desires. Imagine being attracted to something when there isnt even a word to describe your condition. You may even conclude you’re the only one with this attraction, because if it was a thing, there would be a word for it.

            Steve Sailer has done excellent work describing how the phenomenon of hate hoaxes is never named by the MSM because if it were, hate hoaxes would become a thing, and the many instances of it in the news would reinforce the concept in people’s minds. But this isnt a concept that the MSM wants to be acknowledged, so they refuse to give it a name.

            So, of course things exist without a name. But naming a thing seems to solidify the concept in people’s brains. It’s very important.

            Jordan Peterson speaks of this too in his discussion of the garden of eden story. God created the world by speaking the truth and naming things. It’s a bit more wishy washy, but it’s the same idea.

          • albatross11 says:

            I think what you need isn’t a word, it’s a concept. It’s like if we’re trying to talk about economics, and you don’t know what I mean by supply and demand. You have the words, but not the concepts. With the concepts, it’s easy to explain why I expect raising the minimum wage to decrease employment; without those concepts, explaining why I think that is possible, but it’s a more complicated argument.

          • Enkidum says:

            Hmmm… I think I was arguing against a point that @Larry Kestenbaum wasn’t making. Apologies. I frequently wish I could turn off my “argue mode” when I come to this website, but there’s something about opening up a comment section that just gets me ready to rumble for no good reason.

            To state what I think is actually being claimed in this thread:

            According to @siduri, because of the random distribution of homosexuality (or random enough distribution), once people started talking about gay rights etc, enough people had gay family members that this became a huge part of why it was accepted, because they didn’t want to disown their kids, etc. I think this is true.

            @albatross11 said this can’t be the full explanation, because there have always been plenty of gay people around but gay rights wasn’t really a thing until 50 years ago or so.

            @Larry Kestenbaum responded that the language didn’t exist for gay/straight to be discussed. I mistook him as arguing for something like linguistic determination of sexuality, but (if I’m not mistaken) all he was saying was that this made it difficult for people to have the realization “my son is gay, he’s not a bad person, ergo gay people aren’t bad”.

            I think I agree with a weaker version of that. There was certainly widespread recognition of homosexual acts, to the point that they were codified into law. There’s also plenty of evidence from literature and the arts that gay lifestyles have been acknowledged and sometimes more-or-less accepted throughout history (cf. virtually the entirety of English pantomime and music hall, Boccaccio’s Decameron, etc). So it seems just false to say that there was just this blank nothingness in the conceptual/linguistic space surrounding sexuality.

            However, it’s also true that that space was a lot less well-defined than it is in today’s world. There certainly wasn’t anything along the lines of a society-level explicit acknowledgement and discussion of the fact that a substantial minority of the population like bumping uglies with people of the same sex/gender.

            And without that explicit discussion, it made it easier to avoid confronting the fact that when someone makes a f*g joke, they’re actually talking about people just like your son/daughter, or whatever. So as I said, I think I agree with a more watered-down and nuanced version of what Larry was getting at.

            Edit: And I think @albatross11 is saying much the same thing in their later comments.

          • Art Vandelay says:

            Just want to say extremely convincing and well-made points.