Gender Role Symmetries

lots of gendered interactions involve roles for both the male and female, which go together.

for example a female dresses sexy and a male looks at her.

sometimes people complain about one half of the interaction, but not the other half, even though they are an integrated whole.

e.g. females complain "why was he staring/leering at me??? who gave him permission???" and then continue to dress sexy. (btw, if she does not complain and shut it down immediately, it's harder to resist later.)

the same female will not complain when a guy looks at her and she's single and finds him attractive. she does not object to gender roles in principle, nor to this one when it benefits her.

another example is flirty touching, which i'll call kino, for kinesthetics (PUA terminology, and shorter). this is another stereotyped behavior pattern involving both male and female roles. "blame men" is a stupid response to a mutual interaction.

people pretend like the woman didn't do anything because her role is more passive, and the man is responsible and blamable because his role is more active. if anything this is backwards, since initiative is a virtue and passivity is a sin. but really it's stereotyped behavior, they are both just playing social games, they are equal participants.

it doesn't really matter what the specific content of the male and female roles are. Are you really going to condemn someone for the happenstance of being born a particular gender (and therefore being pressured into the corresponding gendered behavior, which s/he had no choice about the content of)?

the only person with a moral high ground would be one who rejects social games. in which case he'll be rejecting the stereotyped behavior patterns done by both sexes, rather than taking sides (feminists take sides).

kino is part of courtship (including marriage-track dating, one night stands, flings, etc). if a guy likes a girl but doesn't do kino, he puts their relationship at risk. she may reject him, even though she likes him enough that she would have continued the relationship if he did kino. if he does kino especially well, she may even especially like him, significantly more than she would if the kino issue didn't exist and wasn't a factor.

guys are under pressure to do kino. some guys do kino even though they don't want to. they may be scared of it, and force themselves to do it anyway. it's a mistake to see them as aggressors who are touching innocent women without consent. many guys are just trying to conform to gender roles and play social games well, so they can get somewhere with women.

there are some bad apples. i don't deny that. there are overly-aggressive men. there are flawed women too. i'm focusing here on most people.

kino is, as far as physical touch goes, not a big deal. people routinely get touched in crowded places, and don't really care. and they get touched in kino ways by other people and like it.

when people react negatively to kino, it's because of the social meaning of the touching. it's not really, actually the touching that's very important, it's the attached social meaning. people don't like being touched in a courtship way by people they don't like to court. make sense?

women touch their own breasts. they check for breast cancer, or adjust them in their bra, or wash them. and they think nothing of this. b/c the physical touching really isn't important at all. these examples involve the same physical touching a woman would freak out about, but without the social meaning. and kino doesn't even involve touching breasts. it's milder than that.

the thing is, sometimes people will say they were being sexually harassed or abused by being touched. receiving initial courtship attempts from a guy you aren't into – even if they involve mild touching – is not abuse or harassment. it's just a normal behavior pattern which he's a victim of as much as the female is.

whenever you encounter gendered behavior you don't like, try to be fair and considered any corresponding behavior from the other gender. you (or the person you think is a victim) may be an equal participant in the gendered interaction too!

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Objective Standard's Horribly Stupid Blog Moderation

I liked the article Kudos to Israel for Taking Steps to Defend Its Citizens Against Hamas from The Objective Standard.

It ended by saying:
Israel deserves not only our moral blessing for defending its citizens, but our unequivocal encouragement to do whatever it can to destroy Hamas once and for all.
Seeing it with zero comments, I figured I would offer moral blessing and encouragement to Israel. I didn't want to see an article of this nature have no positive comments. So I quickly posted this comment:
I agree and support Israel too.
Then I noticed they moderate comments, and I thought it was sad that a bunch of readers would miss my comment due to moderation delay. And I thought it was lame because there might already have been positive comments I didn't see. Then I checked back a bit later and saw my comment was no longer pending moderator approval. Nor was it posted. They deleted it. So I posted this:
You guys say Israel deserves our encouragement but then block my encouraging comment saying I support Israel? I don't get it.
Which they also blocked. The article still has no comments as I write this.

What an awful experience and awful approach to moderation. I've never before found a blog where you couldn't post "I agree". Let alone where you couldn't post "I [...] support Israel" in reply to a blog post which concludes by saying people should support Israel.

If you're going to have a moderation policy that violates user expectations and surprises them by deleting what they write, you should at least clearly explain what the policy is and warn people. But they don't do that. They just write:
Comments submitted to TOS Blog are moderated. To be considered for posting, a comment must be fewer than 400 words in length. If accepted, it will be posted soon.
This fails to communicate the comments are super serious, let alone explain what standards are used. Nor does it link to some explanation of what's going on, or how to write comments that will be approved. And it actually communicates the comments aren't very serious by imposing a length limit which is pretty incompatible with serious discussion.

Oh, and they made me register an account before I could comment have my comments deleted. (At most blogs I've seen, including my own, you don't have to deal with registration to post comments.)

What a horrible experience. But I liked the article and think the content is important. They could do a lot more good if they wouldn't mistreat friendly people so badly.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Explicit Preferences

If you ask people what their preferences are, and follow those, often they won't like you. Because what they say their preferences are doesn't match their real preferences. They have some preferences which they don't want to say, and others they don't understand well enough to say.

If you not only ask people their preferences, but also ask "Why?" when you get answers, then what they say will match their actual preferences less well. Because they will be less willing to say preferences if they don't have followup reasons prepared. Because they have some reasons for preferences which they don't want to say, and others they don't understand well enough to say.

(If you follow only preferences which people volunteer to tell you, without being asked, that will match their real preferences even worse.)

You might expect that if you ask people their preferences and follow them, you're being super nice and treating everyone wonderfully. And then find they don't think so. I think it's an interesting issue.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Social Rules for Discussion

people don't argue whether to have an affair. to prevent one they shut down discussion. "you can't say that, we can't discuss that, i won't think about that, i'm so offended, go away."

if someone allows it to be a topic of discussion, and says no, that's a lot of the way to them giving in.

there are other social rules where you're not supposed to do something, and a lot of the social mechanism to stop you involves refusing to think about or discuss the issue in the first place.

once the ice is broken, once there is a foot in the door, it's much harder for ppl to resist the social sin. they don't have actual arguments to resist with, and the social rules don't give them much help cuz they focus on blocking things off at the start without considering the issue.

it's sorta like if you say something taboo, then if you aren't immediately shut down (e.g. told to STFU) then just having said it makes it less taboo. even if you're just like "i wonder if the taboo about X is a good idea" and then you consider some args on both sides and end up concluding it's a rational taboo, that still kinda messes up the social prohibition that makes it a taboo.

an example is sending an elderly parent to an old folks home. that's not exactly taboo but there's pressure not to do it or even consider it. it's hard to bring up. it could offend ppl. when you say it, ppl might react immediately negatively, like "oh we could never do that". if no one reacts immediately negatively, then it's just become socially acceptable to consider it, and that's already a bunch of the way way to doing it (even if u merely wanted to consider it, u've now helped it happen, esp if you don't have all the relevant decision making authority).

or consider ppl who are shy about sex. if someone asks "do you want to have sex?" and the other person isn't immediately offended, and is actually willing to discuss the topic, then they're already a lot of the way to having sex. breaking the ice is one of the hardest parts – or in other words lots of the pressures are front-loaded.

or it's similar with sexual fetishes. if you ask your spouse to do one of those, then the way it works socially is s/he has to be like "no way" immediately without thinking about it. otherwise it gets significantly harder to resist and say "no". even if they think about it and discuss and say "no", now that the topic has brought up you can just keep asking and giving reasons or whatever and wear down their resistance. their resistance isn't as effective once past the initial reaction.

or doing an intervention for someone. that's really awkward. and if you suggest it, ppl might say immediately "no, that's too drastic and mean" and shut down the idea. but if no one shuts it down then it's become socially acceptable your little group of friends who were talking, and it's got a good shot of happening.

or committing someone to a mental hospital against their will. this might be a thing some relatives are considering but no one wants to say. and if someone says it outloud too early, ppl will shoot it down like "no way". but if someone manages to suggest merely considering it, without getting the idea immediately shot down, then they are a bunch of the way to actually doing it.

another example: pulling the plug on a spouse in a coma at the hospital.

one that is NOT an example is atheism. maybe it was in the past? (or is now in some countries like Iran?) but now questioning God's existence in the West is so well known and socially acceptable that allowing it to be a discussion is not dangerous to God believers. believers have developed knowledge of how to deal with challenges from non believers. they don't just rely on avoiding the discussion or maintaining some sort of taboo.

or both capitalists and socialists can socially-safely treat the other side as legitimate to discuss. they don't rely on just refusing to discuss. they're used to debate and don't consider the other side's ideas taboo. their resistance to switching sides is not front-loaded. breaking the ice like mentioning capitalism could be false doesn't really matter.

environmentalism, like recycling or global warming, is more front-loaded. they try to shut up debate more than socialists or capitalists, though not entirely. there's a lot of effort currently going into trying to make environmental skepticism an unthinkable taboo.

what are other examples and non-examples?

btw this stuff doesn't just affect discussions outloud with other people. it works fairly similarly with self-discussion. like if the example is an affair, just making pro and con lists in your own head is damaging to your ability to say no to the affair. it stops feeling like a taboo or illegitimate non-option, and starts becoming more possible to think about, discuss, maybe even do. or like consider if you've made pro/con lists in your head and then the other person suggests an affair. now it's harder for you to be like "wtf? no way! don't ever ask that again. how dare you?" cuz if you say that you're lying. and the person might guess that (or just hope it on general principles – nothing to lose for trying this tactic even if mistaken) and be like "you've thought about it, i can tell, don't pretend this is just my own deviant idea that never crossed your mind". if that's true, it's much harder to just be like "omg you're a deviant, what a bad idea" and block discussion entirely.

The Fountainhead illustrates the affair example:
“Your wife has a lovely body, Mr. Keating. Her shoulders are too thin, but admirably in scale with the rest of her. Her legs are too long, but that gives her the elegance of line you’ll find in a good yacht. Her breasts are beautiful, don’t you think?”
“Architecture is a crude profession, Mr. Wynand,” Keating tried to laugh. “It doesn’t prepare one for the superior sort of sophistication.”
“You don’t understand me, Mr. Keating?”
“If I didn’t know you were a perfect gentleman, I might misunderstand it, but you can’t fool me.”
“That is just what I am trying not to do.”
“I appreciate compliments, Mr. Wynand, but I’m not conceited enough to think that we must talk about my wife.”
“Why not, Mr. Keating? It is considered good form to talk of the things one has—or will have—in common.”
“Mr. Wynand, I ... I don’t understand.”
“Shall I be more explicit?”
“No, I...”
“No? Shall we drop the subject of Stoneridge?”
“Oh, let’s talk about Stoneridge! I ...”
“But we are, Mr. Keating.”
Keating looked at the room about them. He thought that things like this could not be done in such a place; the fastidious magnificence made it monstrous; he wished it were a dank cellar. He thought: blood on paving stones—all right, but not blood on a drawing-room rug....
“Now I know this is a joke, Mr. Wynand,” he said.
“It is my turn to admire your sense of humor, Mr. Keating.”
“Things like ... like this aren’t being done ...”
“That’s not what you mean at all, Mr. Keating. You mean, they’re being done all the time, but not talked about.”
“I didn’t think ...”
“You thought it before you came here. You didn’t mind. I grant you I’m behaving abominably. I’m breaking all the rules of charity. It’s extremely cruel to be honest.”
“Please, Mr. Wynand, let’s ... drop it. I don’t know what ... I’m supposed to do.”
“That’s simple. You’re supposed to slap my face.” Keating giggled. “You were supposed to do that several minutes ago.”
Merely allowing a discussion of the topic is a large social concession. Slapping is the kind of action which can shut this down, socially.

If the discussion were more rational, with serious arguments, it wouldn't change the social meaning of being willing to consider the topic in a discussion.

merely treating a topic as discussable has social meaning.

the social rules block paths forward. you can choose: follow the social rules, or block the discussion.

you may doubt that affair discussion is an important path forward, b/c you have a low opinion of affairs. but i bet you have a higher opinion of something else which involves similar social dynamics.

also even if no affair is ever a good idea (past or future), discussion of affairs would still be an important path forward. because sometimes people want to have affairs, or think it's a good idea. even if they are always wrong, discussing it is still good. they could learn they are wrong and why, and then be happy to not do the affair. (but the social game rules are incompatible with this approach.)

one question is: how do you have such discussions without the social meaning? if you just want to talk/think about it but not change the social landscape. can you? it could be impossible since social rules are flawed, so they may not be compatible with this; the only solution might involve rejecting some social rules stuff. but maybe there's other solutions. post your thoughts in the comments!

on tangent, what do you think of Ayn Rand's affair? one notable thing is it wasn't secret. on TV affairs are usually secrets. (one reason is if you ask your spouse if having an affair is OK, that's one of those things where the socially acceptable response is to freak out and immediately shut down discussion)

Rand's affair was secret from the public, but not from her husband. I wonder how common non-secret affairs actually are in real life. Or affairs where a spouse knows about it without being told but doesn't say anything.

another issue is Rand was mistaken about how good a thinker Nathaniel Brandon was. is that a coincidence? did lust play some role in this mistake? or was she not mistaken at the time, and he changed later? (btw just merely raising the possibility that lust played a role in the mistake – not a nice thing to consider – has social meaning. it's harder to bring up that unkind possibility initially than it is to discuss it afterwards. the resistance is somewhat front-loaded.)

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

IDF Public Relations Analysis

IDF Strikes Houses in Gaza Used for Military Purposes is an IDF (Israel Defense Forces) blog post. I support the IDF, but want to criticize their communication. The IDF does an amazing job militarily, in tough circumstances. I offer this criticism in friendship, hoping to help the IDF better deal with those who would do harm to Israel.
When houses are used for military purposes, they may become legitimate military targets under international law.
Talking about houses being used for military purposes is good. That's something more people should know about before condemning Israel. But this statement grants authority and legitimacy to "international law". International law is a vague concept often used to attack Israel. It's mentioned again towards the end:
The IDF will continue to conduct its operations in full accordance with international law, including by attacking only legitimate military targets, and will continue its efforts to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians.
This statement treats "international law" as a higher authority, above the IDF, which the IDF has to obey. That's a dangerous position because the international community of nations contains some irrational, unelected, unaccountable and even anti-semitic actors which the IDF should not obey. After all the ridiculous United Nations condemnation of Israel, the IDF should understand that it must not give any control over its military defense to (often hostile) international outsiders.

Many of Israel's detractors demand the IDF follow international law. What they want from the IDF is suicide. They are trying to use international law as an authority to pressure the IDF into sacrificing Israel's interests. The proper response is to deny the legitimacy of international law in general. It has no authority and the IDF should use its own moral judgment to protect Israel.

There are some international laws which are good ideas, which the IDF rightly follows. Name and explain those. But do not promote the authority of international law as a vague abstraction, and diminish the IDF's legitimacy to act independently.
On July 8, the IDF initiated Operation Protective Edge in order to restore security to Israel’s civilian population under constant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. During the operation, the IDF has struck a number of houses throughout Gaza that were being used for military purposes.
Using the operation name reads a little like evasive corporate speak. Some people are going react like, "You mean you blew stuff up and don't want to call it that." That's bad. The IDF should be proud of what it's doing and say so more clearly! Any hesitation, evasiveness or defensiveness conveys shame over misdeeds, or suggests socially illegitimate actions that are hard to defend in public.

The phrase "restore security" is a noble goal. But it also reads as a possible euphemism referring to violence. The IDF has nothing to hide, so it should communicate accordingly: avoid euphemisms.

The second sentence is better, it's upfront about striking houses which were valid military targets. But it's still lacking pride. The IDF is making the world a better place! Say that!

The IDF is using amazing technology, and hard (and dangerous) work from brave people, to improve the world. Hamas is a blight on the world, a curse. These are not just military targets (meaning it's justified to shoot them), they are Hamas targets (meaning it's good to shoot them). The IDF is not just striking "valid" targets, it is destroying weapons caches intended to be used for hateful anti-human destruction.

Everyone should be thanking the IDF. But the IDF does not communicate as if it believes it should be thanked, and receives little thanks from non-Israelis. (But I, for one, am grateful to the IDF for the good work it does. Although I'm American and live far away, I still value IDF actions. Thank you.)

And, why start on July 8th? This fact is introduced, but not explained. July 8th wasn't chosen because of "constant rocket fire", that doesn't explain why not July 4th or 10th. And when did this constant rocket fire start? It doesn't say. How many rockets were fired before the IDF decided to take action, and why was that amount chosen? By explaining issues like these, the IDF could better persuade readers about its ability to make good decisions.

The start of the blog post also sets the tone. Leading with a date and operation name is a boring tone. Avoiding any direct references to people dying, when that's the topic, sets a tone of not speaking frankly. I know the IDF is speaking frankly, I just want them to communicate it to everyone else too.

An alternative way to introduce the issues would be to say that Israel is under violent attack by thugs who do not respect human life, people are dying, and here is what the IDF is doing about it. By presenting the issues as if the IDF is clearly in the right (which is true), and acting and speaking accordingly, the IDF will be more persuasive.
Furthermore, when an IDF commander determines that an attack is expected to cause collateral damage that would be excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated, the attack will not be carried out.
What does this mean? How much military advantage justifies how much collateral damage? What's excessive?

The facts on the ground are the IDF bending over backwards to be humanitarian, to the point of fighting less effectively. And that lowered combat effectiveness implies more rockets fired at Israeli civilians. The context is the IDF fighting to stop Hamas from murdering Jews. Any lowering of combat effectiveness therefore, logically, puts Jews at greater risk.

(That is a truth that some people find uncomfortable. Hamas does not merely want to slaughter Israelis, it wants to kill Jews. Say this and deny the discomfort. It shouldn't be uncomfortable for the IDF, because the IDF has done nothing wrong. If even the IDF doesn't want to look at the issues this way, few other people will.)

Meanwhile, as the IDF does everything it can to promote human life, Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields, on purpose. They do this because they do not respect human life, they want to disrupt IDF military operations so that more people die, and they use it in (very cynical and disgusting) public relations.

Israel takes actions to protect Palestinians and Hamas takes actions to get them killed.

This is a good-and-evil conflict with clear facts. The IDF has done nothing wrong and should be proudly explaining how moral it is (and how evil Hamas is, but that's secondary to the IDF being good). The IDF should not be making any vague, defensive comments about avoiding "excessive" "collateral damage" (which is a euphemism for dead Palestinians who aren't the intended target the IDF wanted to kill).

The IDF should not minimize offense to people who don't like the IDF and cannot be pleased by any reasonable IDF actions or communications. Don't let opponents have any control over how the IDF presents issues. Instead, explain issues clearly and objectively (even though the IDF's enemies will complain). Do not leave out any moral facts just because opponents don't want to hear them.

If the IDF won't clearly state the moral facts and assert its own virtue, who can be expected to? If even the IDF doesn't consider itself 100% pure good – and have the confidence to look people in the eyes and say it with a straight face – then no wonder the IDF's detractors think they have legitimate complaints. Better, bolder communication can make a big difference.

In the short run, moral clarity is hard. It can get negative reactions from opponents who would have reacted somewhat more nicely if appeased. But in the long run, making the moral case for Israel is the only possible way to end the violent conflicts and fully protect Israelis (and innocent Palestinians). Until enough people are persuaded of the Israel's morality, violence will recur.

Overall, I think the IDF blog post uses too much of a factual tone, avoiding moral statements. That's bad because it's defensive and indirectly implies that the IDF doesn't want to have a moral discussion. That indirectly implies that moral discussion would go badly for the IDF, and the IDF is scared of moral discussion (because it does immoral things). That's false, so I think the IDF should adjust its communication strategy.

Hamas is immoral. Showing a video of a Hamas leader asking civilians to get on rooftops to serve as human shield is good. But if the IDF won't state the moral conclusion (that Hamas is evil), how can they expect others to understand a conclusion the IDF shies away from?

Israel is moral. Explaining how Israel protects Palestinian civilians (many of whom are not innocent bystanders) is good. But again, state the moral conclusion. Israel is virtuous and moral because it respects human life in ways Hamas does not. If the IDF won't say it, it will be difficult to persuade anyone else of it.

Trying to avoid (irrational) controversy makes things worse, not better. It partially concedes the moral high ground in the debate when people righteously condemn Israel, thinking themselves moral crusaders, and the IDF blog doesn't want to talk about what's right. If the IDF is so good, why don't they confront these issues head on? The IDF is good, and should communicate more assertively about moral issues.

The IDF blog post explains some important truths. That's great. But for IDF communications to persuade people about the key issues, it's important to directly discuss the right conclusions. (For example, that every other military in the world should wish they had the integrity of the IDF, and that Hamas is evil.) A blog post which doesn't say these things will not persuade people of them. By being defensive not proud, the IDF actually helps damaging, false narratives spread.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

How Feminism Helped Men Become Better Than Women

This is a philosopher's history of feminism. I didn't do historical research (I do know a little about this history). I'm going to talk mostly about ideas, and use philosophical methods to understand the issues.

Once upon a time, feminism was a pretty good idea. Women were oppressed. Women were considered inferior to men, by everyone, and were treated badly. Women were mistreated a bit like children still are. They couldn't vote, they couldn't work in most jobs, and no one expected them to have good ideas. In any disagreement between a man and a women or child, the man was presumed correct.

Men could intimidate their wife and children. And even hit them. Obedience was expected. Even the legal system was unfair. Up until 1993, some U.S. states had special exceptions in rape laws so that raping your wife wasn't a crime.

Eventually, feminism won (in the U.S. but not in Iran). Not 100%, but pretty close. Women are no longer an especially notable victim group. The situation (in the West) isn't perfect, but there are lots of other things that are worse (like the treatment of children or the "mentally ill"). The treatment of women, by society, doesn't stand out. Women are no longer oppressed, much.

Lacking oppression to criticize, feminists today complain about non-problems like the fictitious campus rape epidemic. They created this "problem" by saying if a women regrets sex later, or had one beer, then it's rape. And they put a lot of money towards encouraging females to come forward with rape accusations along those lines.

Women can vote. Women can be top executives or scientists or politicians. It's hard for feminists to find legitimate things to complain about. Women aren't being externally oppressed.

Feminists claim women are paid less for doing the same job. But they compare different jobs. For example, a women who takes time off from work to have a baby isn't offering the same services to her employer that a typical man would. 2.3 lengthy vacations (which the employer may or may not have to pay for) make her service less valuable (due to having to hire and train a part-time replacement, or other downsides). Another difference is that women, on average, put less effort into negotiating for a higher salary. In that case, a company which pays people partly according to their salary negotiation efforts would pay women less. Whether that's a good system or not, it's pretty common and is applied equally to men and to women.

Not everything is equal, but feminists don't want to address the main remaining issues. No longer are women particularly oppressed by men or by society. But women are often more passive, less persistent/tough/responsible, more emotional, worse at negotiating, worse at math, and have worse job skills. And plenty more. Why?

Some people believe women are genetically inferior (as a matter of unfortunate scientific fact, not sexism). I'm not going to argue about that topic here, but I will say I don't believe genetics are the issue. I think it's a cultural issue.

A big part of the issue is women, on average in aggregate, have different priorities than men. They put more effort towards parenting, socializing and appearance. They place a higher value on emotional sensitivity, tact and certain kinds of relationships. What feminists don't want to face is that you can't have it both ways. Neither men nor women have the magic ability to be really good at everything. Lots of women are worse at math because they put less effort into being good at math, preferring other skills instead. Lots of women have worse careers than men because they put more effort into other things besides their career. That isn't oppression, it's choice.

Another part of the issue is that women are encouraged, at a young age, primarily by their mothers, to pursue a female-appropriate lifestyle (e.g. not math). Men are also encouraged, at a young age, to pursue a male-appropriate lifestyle. Everyone is under tremendous social pressure to conform to gender roles. This is primarily from first their parents and early teachers, and then themselves and their peers. It's not enforced by the authorities, by business, by scientific leaders, by university teachers, or by men. Feminists aren't very happy with this perspective because it's not the fault or men or authorities. It's the fault of everyone pretty equally including all the women, and it hurts men too.

Women can be, and often are, oppressors of little girls. Women especially are the oppressors here because they are more often the active parents and teachers of young children. This is not compatible with feminist blame-men-as-oppressors ideology.

If a women deviates from her social role, she'll be punished socially. People won't like her or want to date and marry her. But that's basically it. There's no real oppression of women. The same thing happens to men, they're also socially punished for role deviation. That's bad in both cases, but it's not what feminism is about.

The gender roles in our culture are not equal, feminism doesn't want to take a frank look at them and how to change them. Instead, it blames men. It's criticized a lot of flaws of the male gender role. And it's had a lot of success. Men have changed, the male gender role has improved. Result? Men are now better than women. Feminism helped men improve while shielding women from the criticism that could be the source of their own progress. And feminism doesn't want to take on gender roles themselves in a serious way because it's committed to defending some amount of feminine behavior as non-bad.

Feminists want to retain lots of the female social role and then blame the consequences in reality on oppression by others. Ideas have consequences, living particular lifestyles has consequences. Women aren't paid less for being women, they are paid less for living a lifestyle that's less productive and assertive in terms of career. (There are always exceptions. Some individuals are sexist. But most people find sexism offensive and horrible.)

Feminism wants a lot of special treatment for women. Women can follow their gendered role of dressing up sexy, but then if a man follows his gendered role of how to respond to sexy outfits, he might be accused of sexual harassment. Feminists want women to have this weird hybrid of reason and femininity, in whatever way their whims decide, while men aren't allowed to do an arbitrary hybrid of reason and irrational masculinity. They don't blame the woman for initiating and participating in that gender role interaction by dressing sexy. Instead they pretty much set things up so the women has, at her whim, the choice to name you an attractive suitor she wants to date, or a harasser she wants to sue. She can do this in response to identical behavior just because of a man's appearance, with no regard for the fact that the "harasser" was just doing normal courtship behavior like everyone else, male or female.

There is also such thing as real harassment, which is different, and not especially common. Many of the worst cases I read people yelling about involve a woman encouraging lots of it, playing along in lots of ways, never being clear to stop, then complaining later. Note that statements like "omfg stop" are things women often do as part of flirting, they are not clear communications to stop. If you really want to tell a guy to stop, you need to be clearer than that. For example, use a cold tone of voice and boring repetitive language. If you say, "Stop, I do not consent, I want you to stop" in a monotone voice, several times, people are going to realize this is not in good fun. If you squeal "omfg stop, what if we get caught? no no you can't do that, omg, this is so intense" then that isn't actually telling him to stop.

Lots of women routinely say a half-hearted "no" in order to avoid responsibility (in their own minds, not in fact) for what happens next. In that context, actually saying no requires substantial clarity. Saying "no" should be a clear confrontation, if it really means "no". Many women try to avoid confrontation by saying "no" in unclear ways that won't offend anyone, then later say "well i told him no! he abused me!". If you aren't willing to say "no" in a confrontational way, you played along. Bullshit harassment claims are a big problem.

Anyway, gender roles often conflict with reason. Feminists selectively use reason to criticize when men pursue gender roles contrary to reason, but not when women do. They want men to change, but women don't have to change. This is sexist against women. Why shouldn't women make changes to improve? Why should they be told they are fine the way they are, and don't worry about changing? Feminists are now on the side of preventing the progress of women by saying women aren't ever to blame for anything bad.\

Feminism identified external oppression as the problem women face. 200 years ago, there was a lot of truth to that. There was a lot of oppression of women. Today, there isn't much oppression of women. And it turns out, oppression was never the whole problem. The female gender role has plenty of problems that have nothing to do with oppression. So feminism is trying to solve the wrong problem while actually denying the real problem exists. Feminism is now part of the problem.

The male gender role also had lots of flaws. However, feminism had a lot of success pointing out some of those flaws. So feminism managed to improve the male gender role. It still has flaws, but less so.

Big picture, the feminists complained about men and got them to reform a lot (not completely). So, feminists helped men improve. Meanwhile feminists did not help women improve. The results is men are now, on average in aggregate, better people than women. Long ago everyone sucked. Now men have improved a lot (thanks partly to helpful feminists), but women keep saying they don't need to change anything, they want reality (and men) to do all the changing to improve the lives of women. That is a big mistake.

So to summarize, feminism criticized some problems with men. Thanks to the helpful criticism, men improved. Meanwhile feminism denied women have flaws and should make any changes. Then feminism is mad that men are now better than women. (What did they expect? Criticism is helpful. Encouraging people to see themselves as helpless victims is not helpful.)

Feminism demanded more responsibility from men, and less obedience to their flawed gender role. But for women, feminism defends their irresponsible obedience to their own gender role. (With superficial exceptions like feminists often dislike makeup, which they incorrectly blame on men.)

Feminism got men to be less like assholes and reduce some other flaws. It meant to help women. This did help women some. But it helped men more. Men being assholes was worse for men than it was for women. Feminism doesn't understand.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comment (1)

No Path Forward
Therefore, I now announce that Eugine_Nier is permanently banned from posting on LessWrong. This decision is final and will not be changed in response to possible follow-up objections.
I thought this was notable for how explicitly it goes against the path forward idea. There is no path forward for any issues with the decision to be resolved.

He's specifically saying that this decision will not be changed even if it turns out to be a mistake. And this open irrationality is from a moderator at a community that claims to care about reason. If the community in general thought this was grossly irrational, this guy wouldn't have status there.

The decision is "final" meaning infallibilist.

They don't understand reason or paths forward.

I tried to explain reason to them a few years ago, but it didn't work because they reacted irrationally. That's a common problem. Does anyone know how to deal with it? How do you explain reason to people who don't understand what you're saying because they discuss irrationally?

By the way, the guy was banned for clicking voting buttons using the site's user interface. That does not impress me. I don't think you should give people vote buttons, but then say certain voting choices aren't allowed (especially when what will get you banned or not is a bit vague). You can't just vote your conscience, you have to consider whether your intended voting decisions will get you banned or not.

He was banned for downvoting too much. As a user with negative 702 karma (at time of this posting), I wonder why the people who downvoted me so much didn't get any bans. (I think some people didn't like a few things I said, then downvoted a bunch of others.)

No one would ever get in trouble in US elections for something like "mass downvot[ing]" all Democrats. Or mass downvoting everything to do with a specific person you dislike, such as Obama. You're allowed to do that. It's fine.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Bad Scholarship by Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) doesn't care about scholarship like accurate quoting. They write:
According to an abstract of the study, "for people who had positive content reduced in their News Feed, a larger percentage of words in people's status updates were negative and a smaller percentage were positive. When negativity was reduced, the opposite pattern occurred."
They link the study and the abstract doesn't say that. They made that quote up. It's a paraphrase, not a quote, but it's in quote marks. And more confusing, the ending words, "... reduced, the opposite pattern occurred.", are a quote.

It's cool that they are linking a source, but they need to learn to actually take quotes from the source, instead of fabricating them.

Instead of misquoting the study, the WSJ should have tried thinking about the study. For example:
Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial.
The WSJ could have questioned the wisdom of letting these researchers toy with hundreds of thousands of users in order to produce a paper with a grammar error in the abstract. There should be a comma after "period". This isn't a minor point. The sentence would be confusing enough with the comma, and is harder to understand without it.

On the one hand, I wouldn't expect a publication that misquotes papers (which they could trivially copy/paste from correctly) to notice this. But on the other hand, I don't think they should report on things they don't understand.

Or here is a part of the study that maybe the WSJ would understand:
As such, it was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.
Instead of misquoting, the WSJ could have accurately quoted this part (it's not very hard, I used copy/paste) and questioned whether it's really "informed consent" when most of Facebook's users have never read Facebook’s Data Use Policy.

How can people give informed consent to something they haven't read? That's the sort of issue newspapers are often better at discussing.

Or maybe the WSJ could put their efforts towards useful commentary on this part, instead of lying about what the study says:
First, because News Feed content is not “directed” toward anyone, contagion could not be just the result of some specific interaction with a happy or sad partner.
The WSJ could have pointed out something interesting and useful here. They missed the opportunity to mention that this is completely false – some News Feed posts are directed at specific individuals. I rarely read Facebook, but I've seen people post stuff directed at a specific individual (this shouldn't be particularly surprising). (How many? I don't know. The study doesn't know either, they just stupidly assumed none are. Apparently Facebook is too far away from their ivory tower to ever read anyone's News Feed.)

There's so much great stuff to discuss here, but the WSJ would rather destroy their own credibility than provide useful commentary.

The WSJ did try to say something worthwhile, but they messed it up. They wrote:
The emotional changes in the research subjects was small. For instance, people who saw fewer positive posts only reduced the number of their own positive posts by a tenth of a percent.
Looking at how big an effect we're talking about is important, and helps put the study findings in context for readers. However, this is factually incorrect and not what the study says. It's bad scholarship again. The study actually said:
When positive posts were reduced in the News Feed, the percentage of positive words in people’s status updates decreased by B = −0.1% compared with control [...]
People who saw fewer positive posts reduced their own positive posting by 0.1% more than the control subjects did.

The WSJ should try hiring people who know how to read and understand studies – and who don't fabricate false quotations – if they want to report on studies.

Note: The article provides a contact email. On 2014-07-02, I explained the two clear factual errors (fabricated quote and misunderstanding of what paper said) and asked about fixing them. No reply. (I'll update my post if I receive a late reply.)

Providing a contact email implies being open to discussion and correction. It implies there is a path forward. If one isn't actually willing to make corrections, it's dishonest.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

People are Wrong then Ignore Criticism

In my linked comment, I specifically replied to an important idea Scott Aaronson had put in bold. He himself identified it as a key idea of his, and I quoted it for clarity. I then pointed out a (large) problem with it.

I also brought up how his approach was in conflict with a book (The Beginning of Infinity) which he's familiar with and thinks he understands, likes and agrees with. This way he can't just be like, "Some commenter on my blog disagrees with me, who cares?" (which would be irrational because it's not truth-seeking. If the commenter is right, he never finds out and changes his mind). Even if he doesn't care about someone disagreeing with him that his blogs posts weren't good enough to persuade, I brought up a conflict between two of his own ideas. Most arguments bring up a conflict between an idea you have and an idea I have, and if you don't care about my idea maybe you ignore this conflict of ideas. But when an argument points out a conflict between two ideas of one person, that's harder for him to ignore. So I was working around a common issue.

I made my comment extra interesting for Scott Aaronson by replying specifically to what he emphasized in bold as a key point (and pointing out how his key point was wrong!), and by bringing up a conflict with another idea of his own.

I received no answer. Scott Aaronson did continue posting plenty more in the discussion after my comment. Some people who agree with Scott Aaronson also continued discussing, and my argument applied to them too (the main part, maybe not The Beginning of Infinity aspect, though they could wonder how and why they are coming in conflict with that book and if maybe the book could have a good point or at least a point worth refuting).

How can/should this problem of non-answers be dealt with? (The issue also comes up in my Paths Forward essay, which has some answers.)

Fundamentally I think a lot of people have no real answer to the question, "If you're mistaken, how will you learn better?" And since they have no methods set up for error correction, it's really hard to do anything about any of their mistakes. That is what irrationality is.

(BTW it's a pattern, I've posted several other comments which also went unanswered.)

(Also, to be clear, I don't really mean to pick on Scott Aaronson in particular. He's just a convenient recent typical example. Alex Epstein did similar, as have others. I see these as pervasive problems, not problems with a few bad apples. In comparison to his peers and colleagues, I don't think Scott Aaronson is particularly bad about the issues I'm criticizing here.)

I also tried emailing Scott Aaronson who I've spoken with a bit in the past. I brought up a different topic there, which is that I disagree with his approach to climate change issues. I wondered if he was open to debate and criticized his approach of saying the debate was already over. Declaring a debate already over is a common irrational approach that blocks off any further learning. About the debate already being over, he wrote: "Within physics and chemistry and climatology, the people who think anthropogenic climate change exists and is a serious problem have won the argument—but the news of their intellectual victory hasn’t yet spread..." Then true to the idea of the debate being finished, as you'll see below, he didn't want to address criticisms of his position.

He replied to me to assert he was open to debate while subtly blowing me off, then didn't respond to some questions I sent him in reply. I think he's more interested in convincing himself that he's rational – which required dealing with a direction question about his openness to debate – than he is interested in actually discussing the issues.

After some questions, I concluded my reply, "If you don't wish to answer all of these questions, could you tell me where to get answers to my satisfaction which would persuade me about the climate consensus and related issues? (If there is nowhere, what do you suggest?)"

He didn't answer that either. When people don't answer something like that, isn't it disturbing? He says climate change is a settled debate, but he won't answer questions about it, and he won't even refer people to anywhere they can get their doubts answered. (Presumably because there actually isn't anywhere, which means the debate isn't actually settled in a reasonable way. Which is an important enough problem with his side's "victory" on the issue that he ought to have some comment.)

This is a common problem where people are more interested in the social role of a rational intellectual than truth-seeking discussion. They're more interested in feeling smart than being smart. They're more interested in self-image than action. They care about popular opinion and socialized legitimized status, and only feel much need to address arguments with some kind of (social) authority behind them. They look at the source of ideas and then wonder whether, socially, they can get away with ignoring the ideas (ignoring arguments is something they seem to treat as desirable and try to maximize).

It's not about, "Have I already written an answer to this argument? Has someone else written an answer to it that I can endorse? If yes, I'll give a link/cite. If no, maybe I or someone else better write something." That'd be rational but few people think that way.

Instead it's about, "If I don't answer this, will other people think it was a serious argument I should have answered? Am I expected to answer it? Do I have to answer it to protect my social status? Do I have any excuses for not engaging with the argument that most people (weighted by their status/authority) will accept?"

What is to be done about these problems?

I followed up with Scott Aaronson to check if maybe he was on vacation or something. I explained I was trying not to misinterpret. It seemed like he had claimed to be open to debate, then immediately acted the opposite way. But silence is ambiguous, so I wanted to clarify what was happening and not misinterpret. He replied clarifying (indirectly) that he isn't open to debate and doesn't care about answering my questions or criticisms.

I replied explaining why that's a bad idea, and he ignored me. I also showed him my Paths Forward essay which covers these issues, and he didn't want to answer that either.

One thing I said to Scott Aaronson is that no one ever won the climate change debate against me. So in what sense is the debate concluded? Do I not count? He replied that no one had ever won it against him either. I believe him. But isn't this a great opportunity to discuss? At least one of us would learn a lot. At least one of us could lose the debate and learn better. Doesn't it make tons of sense to get people on both sides who've had lots of debates, and won all of them, and then have them debate? Then some people will lose their undefeated streaks and change their minds, that'd be awesome.

(It'd be tricky though because people usually debate too irrationally for the debate or discussion to actually resolve disagreements or reach a conclusion. That's another problem that needs addressing.)

I'm open to discussing it with Scott Aaronson or anyone else. I take on all comers and am undefeated about this particular issue (global warming). Scott Aaronson on the other hand achieves his undefeated status by ignoring critics like myself. He implied symmetry, but actually my undefeated status is a badge of honor, while his is a badge of irrational evasion. I see a great opportunity for learning, but he's too busy being a professor or "intellectual" or whatever to spend his time engaging with criticism.

(No doubt he will claim it's a matter of priorities. So, there's this climate consensus but no one prioritizes answering criticism? If Scott Aaronson wanted to refer me to something he already wrote, or someone else wrote and he endorsed, or another person who'd answer questions/criticism, that'd be fine as long as there is some way I can follow up if the thing he refers me to is mistaken. I want answers, but I don't care if they come from another person or are pre-written or whatever, as long as they are actually answers. He claims he doesn't have time to give answers, but why aren't there any answers for him to refer me to? Isn't that a huge problem with his side of the debate? But he doesn't approach things this way, instead he's content to simply block criticism with no followups or answers, so that even if I'm right he never ever finds out.)

What is to be done when respected "intellectuals" evade intellectual challenges, and ignore real intellectuals?

And, by the way, I'm not some completely random nobody to Scott Aaronson. I don't think it would matter if I was. But for example, he's written to me in the past at different times that, "I basically agree with your analysis" and "Thanks so much for the Godwin ref -- I'll take a look!" But despite recognizing some things I said as good, he still won't engage in a serious discussion or deal with criticism or hard questions from me.

If you won't even consider criticism from people with a track record of good analysis and good references (in your opinion), then ... what the fuck? What else could you want from a potential discussion partner than some previous discussion that you think went well? What are people supposed to do to get his attention? Get a PhD or otherwise get socially sanctioned as having authority? What a hoop to jump through! One that many of best people will not want to jump through. If that's how it works, he's blocking criticism from many of the best people. (And if it works some other way instead of that cultural default, then he'd need to advertise that somewhere. He'd need to tell people his criteria. But he doesn't, implying he does use the cultural default social-authority approach for allocating his attention.)

There is a legitimate concern that people overestimate how good their points are. If someone thinks they have amazing ideas and contacts you, they could easily be wrong. It could be time consuming to explain it all to them. But I don't think that's what's happening here, and if it was he's handling it wrong. (I don't think it's happening from his perspective because I have a demonstrated past ability to say things I think are good points and have him agree that they are good points. Also, I focused on asking questions rather than making bold claims. It's way harder to go wrong with overestimating your knowledge when you ask questions.)

If it was what was happening, he should simply state that he thinks that is the situation (I'm overestimating my knowledge) and link to something explaining the issue that I could learn from. But he doesn't handle it anything like that. He handles things to block off future progress, block off resolving disagreements, block off error correction, rather than allow any paths forward.

Why don't people handle stuff so there is a way forward, a way for progress to happen, a way for disagreements to actually get resolved instead of lasting forever? Why do they block off problem solving? What is to be done about this?

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (2)

Paths Forward: Additional Thoughts

Have you read my Paths Forward essay yet? Read it first. It's more polished writing. If you like it and you want more, then read this.

These are some additional thoughts about paths forward. They're a little bit disorganized, but that shouldn't stop you from learning. This post has additional points and different ways to look at the topic. It covers some issues with a lot more detail. But seriously do read the Paths Forward essay first.

When two ideas conflict, either or both could be mistaken. Resolving conflicts of ideas is the key to learning, problem solving, and progress. It's one of the big topics in epistemology (the study of knowledge and ideas).

If both ideas are mine, then I must be mistaken about something. I should try to resolve the conflict. I can resolve the conflict by coming up with some better ideas. These ideas will need to solve the same problems as before (or else explain why some of those problems are misconceived), while fixing the conflict. A simple case is if I figure out a conflicting idea is mistaken, then I can replace it with a better idea to resolve the conflict.

Sometimes both ideas are pretty good, and I'm mistaken that they conflict. That's important too. Neither idea was good enough to explain why there wasn't a conflict. There's still something to learn.

Commonly, my idea conflicts with your idea. That's called a disagreement. This is a learning opportunity too. At least one of us is mistaken. And if neither of us knows enough to persuade the other, then we each have more to learn, even if our idea is correct.

It's important to look for conflicts between ideas (disagreements) and resolve them. If we don't do that, then our bad ideas won't get fixed; we won't learn new things and make progress.

Every disagreement (conflict of ideas) involves at least one mistake somewhere. Resolving conflicts of ideas means correcting errors. Correcting errors is how progress is made. It's how things get better. It's the best thing in life.

There are several important topics here. One is how to resolve conflicts between ideas (the answer involves using criticism, among other things). Today, I want to talk about openness to critical discussion (which is one of the important ways to resolve conflicts between ideas in order to find and correct mistakes).

People say things like, "I'm too busy" or "I can't debate everyone". They block off discussion. Then they miss out on learning opportunities, stagnate and die.

Everyone has a time limit of 24 hours per day. Being busy is not some kind of special exception. No matter how empty your schedule is, you still wouldn't have time to debate everyone on the internet or everyone in a big city. Time management is an issue everyone faces and saying you're busy doesn't address anything.

The philosophical issue of how to be open to discussion, while having limited time to talk with everyone who might wish to discuss, has basically the same answer whether you're busy or not.

Bad Approaches

Sometimes people decide who to discuss with by social status or authority. They figure they can't talk with everyone who disagrees with them, so they'll try to pay attention to the best people. But what if they are mistaken about who is the best? Or what if the guy who comes up with a great new idea isn't one of the best people? By looking at the speaker of an idea, instead of the idea itself, they are acting irrationally. Ideas should be judged by stuff like whether they make sense, whether they are logical, whether they give helpful explanations or whether they solve problems. Judging ideas by the social status or authority of the speaker is no good. (Authority actually is a kind of social status.)

This is a "who should rule?" approach as the philosopher Karl Popper called them. It's deciding who (or what) gets to make the decisions, who (or what) matters more than who, which sources of ideas get special privileges, and that kind of stuff. Instead, what we should be doing is making it easy to fix mistakes. People with high social status have enough advantages already, we should be trying to minimize that so reason can operate, rather than reinforce it so if they're wrong they keep their status anyway.

Second bad approach: Sometimes people have a disagreement and they skim over the other guy's conflicting idea. They take a quick look. Then if it seems amazing, they will try to resolve the disagreement. But if they aren't impressed, then they ignore it without resolving the disagreement. This is irrational because an idea that doesn't seem awesome to you immediately could still be true. This approach will miss opportunities to correct your mistakes.

A Path Forward

The rational approach to disagreements involves what I call a "path forward". It has to do with setting things up so there is some way that, if you're mistaken, you could find out and get your mistake corrected. This way progress and learning are never blocked off.

Note the goal here isn't just any path forward. It's a good one. What does that mean? Well, if you ignored every critic in the world, you still might happen to think of your mistakes yourself. Figuring out everything yourself is a path forward that's theoretically capable of correcting any mistake and allowing for unbounded progress. But it's not very realistic. We want a path forward that works better than that.

Thinking of everything yourself is too hard. You have blind spots. Other people can be a source of good ideas including criticisms. (It can work kind of like comparative advantage from economics, because other people have different stuff they are best at than you.) What we really want is to be able to make progress whenever we have a good new idea, or whenever someone else does. That'd be optimal. If no one thinks of something, oh well, what can you do? But if someone else figures something out and we block off that progress instead of learning it, that's bad!

It's important that good ideas can spread. It's important that if I'm wrong, and someone else knows I'm wrong, then I can find out.

But lots of times when someone thinks I'm wrong and tries to tell me, he'll actually be wrong. Just discussing with everyone who disagrees with me – who thinks they have a good idea I should learn – isn't going to work. We all have limited time, and there are a lot of people in the world.

So we need ways for good ideas to be able to reach me, even though I don't personally talk with everyone.


There are some things set up to help spread ideas. Books and other publications help. A decent amount of the good ideas people think of get published via books, journals, magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites, radio or TV. If I read some books, I can find some good ideas there and learn about some of my mistakes.

But how do publications work, exactly? It used to be that it was hard to get published unless you had high social status or a gatekeeper thought you had a good point. This kept the amount of published work manageable, but it also prevented some good ideas from being published.

Today, anyone can publish online. That's great because now everyone with a good idea can share it. Few important ideas go unpublished, if the author wants to share them. However, so much stuff gets published that no one can follow a thousandth of it. It's easy to miss out on good ideas that would be easily available if only you knew the right webpage.

There's a fundamental problem here. If you limit communication and block off some ideas then that will include some good ideas. You'll miss out on opportunities to learn things that someone knows. But if you don't limit communication and block anything off, then there's too much stuff and we run out of time, so we still might miss an opportunity.

There are hard problems here, but there's a lot you can do to deal with it well. And almost no one is handling these issues very well. People routinely ignore those with lower social status without realizing that's irrational. People routinely look at the ideas that make it through gatekeepers or curators and naively think they aren't missing out on anything good. No! Gatekeepers are fallible! Don't assume something is good because a curator liked it, or bad because a curator disliked it. Start thinking for yourself, and with effort and skill you could learn to notice lots of mistakes by curators.

A Path Forward Example

Let's look at an example of a good path forward. This is pretty generic and illustrates the main concepts.

A critic disagrees with me. I point him to something that's already written. It can be by me, or it can be something I endorse by someone else. Either way, I'm responsible for any mistakes in it. Now there's a path forward. It may persuade him. He can learn. His learning isn't blocked off (while his life isn't exactly my problem, I think it's really great if you leave your critics with a path forward too!). If he finds a mistake in it, he can tell me, and then I can learn.

He may be mistaken about what he thinks is a mistake. If his point is new to me, I should talk with him and we can try to figure out what's true. If I already know about his idea and disagree, I can refer him to something that addresses his misconception, which again I'm responsible for.

This process can repeat a lot with very little time investment on my part. If he's unwilling to deal with pre-written answers to his points, and wants me to write new stuff, that's irrational. What's wrong with pre-written material? If he won't address things I refer him to, he's blocking progress, at which point there's no path forward.

If he blocks the path forward, there isn't a lot I should do about it. That's sad, but some people are irrational and you can't lose sleep trying to help them all. You should try to be forgiving and give people several chances because there could easily be a misunderstanding. But if someone is actually putting their effort towards blocking progress instead of making progress, and they don't want to cooperate for mutual benefit, then let it go and deal with people who care about reason.

The path forward discussion process uses people's time roughly according to how much they already know (that's relevant). If I refer a critic to some argument and he isn't familiar with it, he'll have to put time and effort into studying it. If he doesn't want to do that, he's in no position to correct my thinking on this topic. On the other hand, if he already is familiar with the answer I gave him, then he'll be able to answer me much more quickly. (Note it doesn't matter if the answer is pre-written or not, nothing really changes.)

If he knows a bunch of things I don't, I might find myself being the one spending a bunch of time learning things to continue the discussion. But that's OK if I spend lots of time in the cases where the other guy knows more about the topic than I do! What we wanted to avoid was me spending a lot of time dealing with lots of people who know much less than me. (But without just ignoring them, in case someone I think knows less is actually right about something. Even if I think someone doesn't know much and their idea sounds dumb to me, it's important there be a path forward so potential progress isn't blocked.)

What if I haven't already written an answer to something? Well if I've never addressed a topic before, maybe it'd be good to write an answer. Then if I think my answer is good enough, I can reuse it later to save time. I can and should consider topics in the first place. And I should write down what I think so that it's exposed to criticism and I can reuse it instead of complaining I'm busy.

Writing about every topic would be a lot though. Material written by others works fine too, if I agree with it. As long as someone wrote it down, then people who disagree can learn from it, and it's exposed to potential criticism. But the important thing is, whether I am using my own writing or someone else's, I have to take full responsibility for it. If I use a book to speak for me, I have to be just as concerned with any errors in the book as if I wrote it myself. If the book contains errors and isn't good enough to stand up to criticism, then I can't use it to speak for me. I'll have to find a webpage with better answers or write my own, or write some extra material to fix the problems with the book (or change my mind).

Suppose there is nothing written by you that answers a person's criticism or question. And nothing written by anyone else which is good enough for you to endorse and take personal responsibility for. And nothing in other mediums like an audio recording of a lecture. (Writing is overall the best medium for learning, and I usually use it as my example, but other mediums have some advantages and are OK too.) Then it's really important to deal with this disagreement. If you don't, there is no path forward. If you ignore this, and he's right, you won't find out.

Saving More Time: Agreers

Even referring people who disagree with you to pre-written material could be time consuming if you're popular enough. How can that be handled? Let's look at another example.

When you're a beginner, you talk with many people, and encounter both agreement and disagreement. You read many books and webpages, and decide a few are good enough to speak for you and start referring to them. You write many ideas yourself. Many are refuted by critics and you improve your thinking. Some things you reference get refuted, others don't. Because you change everything that gets refuted, over time you build up a collection of ideas that is harder and harder to refute.

And because you (or others) write things down to expose them to criticism (instead of just thinking of them in your head and deciding they are awesome, without others getting a chance to review them for errors), you build up a collection of difficult-to-refute written material which you can refer new people you meet to, as relevant. Over time, as your collection builds up and you become one of the best intellectuals, you find that when you talk to new people, usually they have nothing to teach you, and you already have material to refer them to which covers all their arguments.

Because example-you is so amazing and so much better than most people, you get popular, and attract people who wish to learn from you. At first you personally help some people learn, but then later on there are too many of them. And now you have so many critics, who so rarely surprise you, that even sending them links to answers is not something you want to be doing anymore.

OK, great, so example-you's time is super valuable. But now you have a bit of a following. These generally go together. If your time is super valuable, normally some of your great material will be public and will impress some people. It's not guaranteed. You could be right but unpopular, or you could do confidential secret work; I won't address those special cases today.

Now what you do is create a discussion place online (if you haven't already). Or you can use a discussion place that someone else created, if you're willing to take personal responsibility for it being good enough. Then what you need is for your fans/followers/students to start answering critics for you. I'm going to call these people agreers, in contrast to the people with disagreements we've been considering how to deal with.

(Don't take these categories too seriously, you should treat people's ideas identically whether they are agreers or disagreers. And people can switch which one they are acting like frequently. They're just rough labels to help explain.)

If someone asks a question that you already have an essay answering, one of your agreers can link him to it. If someone has a question about your essay, one of your agreers can answer it. That saves you time!

In general, if you have agreers who want to learn more about your way of thinking, they will act like you did when you were a beginner, less popular and less awesome. There are people getting started learning what you now know. They can deal with critics similar to how you did when you were initially learning it yourself. They are in the situation you used to be in, and they can deal with the stuff you used to deal with.

You mostly directly help the people who know the most, which isn't too time consuming since that's a smaller group. If your agreers are unable to answer a critic, they ask you, and you deal with it (by explaining an error or learning something or whatever is appropriate). Most things are answered by your agreers. The more awesome and popular you get, and the more valuable your time, then the more agreers you'll have to answer things. Get more awesome, get your time more sheltered; it all works out. This way, all disagreeing ideas can get answered, but your own limited time is conserved.

The big point here is you can save a lot of time while making sure all issues get answered. As long as you take responsibility for every issue having a path forward, then compatible time savers are fine.

If you can't attract any agreers who want to learn the stuff you know about, maybe you're overestimating yourself. If you can, the business problem is solved. If you think you're too busy, apparently you don't have enough agreers of high enough quality (why hasn't your material explained enough to them to make them high quality?) That's your fault and your problem. You think you're busy when actually you're overestimating how good your ideas are. (And possibly you're doing some other mistakes like sharing too few ideas in ways the ideas can be spread around without you repeating yourself. If so, you should get better at teaching and also place a higher value on exposing your ideas to critical examination from the public).

There's a few things to keep in mind, though. What if your agreers think they answered a critic but they're wrong? They have to be good enough that you can take responsibility for what they are doing. To the extent you can't take responsibility for their judgment, you need to be monitoring what's going on.

Monitoring your discussion place lets you understand what's going on there, and if you should answer something. If something gets a lot of attention, take a look. If something's different than you've answered before, take a closer look.

And about your agreers, remember you can't really trust someone else's judgment until there's been a huge amount of communication, which most people never do (they are too "busy", and ineffective at persuasion, to ever have serious intellectual relationships that actually resolve tons of differences). If you've seen how someone deals with a particular issue several times, that helps. If you've criticized their thinking on dozens of issues and seen how they deal with criticism, that helps. If you've given them a book to read and then discussed it with them to see how well they understood it on their own, that helps. Stuff like this. You really have to know all about your agreers or you shouldn't be trusting them with much of anything. And you still need to do some ongoing monitoring no matter what, or else you're irresponsible.

Note that even if your agreers aren't all that amazing, they can still do things like answer a question so you don't have to. Just monitor it. Check that the link they gave is a good answer to the question. Check that you agree with the answer they wrote themselves. Comment if you disagree with something. You can cut down on writing stuff yourself a lot even with some beginner agreers.

When you handle discussion this way, then if you're good enough you can shelter your time enough, and any good idea can still reach you. Answers about your ideas will be available in some way, and people who disagree can learn from and/or criticize those answers. If you know something they don't, they can find out. If they know something you don't, you can find out. That's what rationality is all about – setting things up so there is a path forward, so mistakes can get fixed, and so learning and progress can happen.

Multi-Step Paths Forward

You might write something yourself. You might refer a critic (or agreer!) to something you already wrote. This may itself contain references. You might have an essay that references a book. And that book might footnote another book which footnotes another book. It's OK if a path forward involves lots of steps. It's fundamentally the same thing as long as each step connects and there really is a path the whole way.

(Note, by the way, that it doesn't really matter if you're dealing with a critic or an agreer, the methods stay the same. This is very important because basically everyone and their ideas need to be treated equally, fairly, objectively. All people, regardless of your fallible judgment of their (social) status, are one category. All ideas, regardless of source, are one category. You should be acting with principled methods that deal with the whole categories, not making special exceptions.)

And if you have agreers answering questions for you, there might be multiple steps there too. A critic might have a discussion with your newer agreers. When he raises some issues they don't know how to answer, some intermediate agreers might take an interest and comment. If he manages to bring up questions or criticisms they aren't able to resolve, then some advanced agreers could comment. And if that doesn't settle things, you should have noticed the issue. If you know the answer but no one else does, you ought to explain it. It doesn't hurt anything for the critic to go through several steps. If he knows a lot and his time is valuable, it's OK, he'll be able to say very little and get past the agreers who don't know how to deal with it. Or his own agreers might talk to yours.

These multi-step path are potentially necessary for protecting your time if you're awesome enough. And the structure of knowledge gets complicated as enough good ideas build up. That's fine, because they still allow a path forward. Nothing is being blocked off.


You don’t have to know if you're an agreer, a disagreer, at the top of the pyramid, or whatever. And you can be all of them for different topics. The thing is, you should act the same no matter which place you have. And you should treat people the same. People are people. Ideas are ideas. Treat them rationally and objectively, not according to your prejudgment about who knows a lot (or their social status or whatever else). You don't really know who is who until after the discussion, and even then hindsight is fallible.

Paths forward not only don’t make assumptions about the status of people, they are also better in every way than status-based approaches. They are better if you turn out to be right because acting in the rational paths forward way gives other guy a path forward too, and makes for more rational discussion. And if you help people learn your ideas u can gain agreers who may get awesome enough to teach you stuff or work productively in your field. And not acting like Mr. Awesome is way way better if you're wrong. Don't ever be the asshole who is mistaken, and is going around saying how much of a big authority he is while pompously ignoring criticism. Don't ever do anything that risks being that guy.

Other Paths Forward

The concept of a path forward is useful in multiple ways. We've talked about how setting up a path forward is a good standard for being open to discussion or debate. It makes sure good ideas can spread to you (in case you're mistaken and someone else knows better), and also it's important that there's a path forward for others to learn what you know (in case you aren't mistaken).

It's also important when having a discussion to make comments that leave a path forward. If you are confused, you have to make some clear statements about what the issue is (preferably about the topic, but failing that say that you're confused and not sure how to proceed and ask for help with your confusion). If you don't do that, how will progress happen?

If someone asks questions and you give a vague reply that doesn't actually answer his questions, you're blocking off a path forward. What if his questions were leading to some good points? You won't find out. (If he's particularly patient he might repeat himself, but you shouldn't rely on his patience for your path forward to exist!)

If someone says something long, commenting on one disagreement leaves a path forward. Commenting on the whole thing isn't necessary to keep the possibility of progress. Resolving disagreements one at a time is a multi-step path forward, it's fine. It makes all the difference from not answering even one point, which leaves no path forward.

Final Thoughts

Reason involves a kind of back-and-forth (you can do all the steps yourself, though). When confronted with something, you point out an issue (or concede). Then the issue gets answered and now the ball is in your court again. Or it doesn't get answered, in which case they better concede or else they are irrational and don't understand paths forward.

When dealing with rational people, there's always answers to any doubts you may have. Whenever you can't get answers to your doubts, people are either mistaken or irrational. Tell them about paths forward. Give them the benefit of the doubt at first. Maybe they don't understand reason. Maybe they lost your email. Try a few times to make it clearer what's going on. If they openly refuse to give answers or concede, then you know they are irrational.

Finally, consider that paths forward depend more on how you think about discussion and learning – on your rationality – than on your ideas about specific topics like farming, chess or painting. They are an epistemology issue. To be rational, you should apply them to all discussions about everything.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (4)

Paths Forward

I've added a new essay, Paths Forward, to Fallible Ideas. Read it. Comment here or at the Fallible Ideas Discussion Group.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)

Starting Anew by Angela Ahrendts

Starting Anew by Angela Ahrendts discusses some thoughts about her new job as Senior Vice President, Apple Retail.
In honor of the great American poet Maya Angelou, always remember, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I would argue this is even more important in the early days.
She would argue it? why doesn't she argue it instead of saying she would? will she actually be arguing this in a future post, anywhere, ever? does she actually think she is arguing it?

shouldn't part of her job as an executive/leader/manager be to organize things so she can say stuff it's remembered and acted on? And shouldn't she aim for lasting achievements?

would it make more sense to hire people who care more about thinking than feeling, rather than cater to (often illogical) emotions?

would it be better to have a company culture more focused on how people rationally evaluate your decisions and actions? have people judge with reason rather than via feelings.

don't companies face large problems that don't feel like problems, but need to be solved anyway? aren't some things that feel like problems, actually important solutions to the problems presented by reality (not by arbitrary emotions)?

how will Angela Ahrendts cater to the often conflicting feelings of different people she works with? how will conflicts between feelings be resolved? what about conflicts between feelings and reason?

what good will this focus on feelings do that a focus on reason wouldn't do?

will Angela Ahrendts respect everyone's completely arbitrary feelings? that would allow them to make basically unlimited demands on her. or will she only respect feelings she and her social group consider socially legitimate? if she thinks your feelings are illegitimate, unreasonable, not something you should be feeling, how much effort will she still put into bending to your whims?

will she be doing what she thinks you should feel good about, or what you actually feel good about? the first isn't really caring about your feelings, it's just assuming you already are similar to her (presumably by both being socially-culturally normal). but the second would mean your feelings get to control her, which is not realistic for how an important executive leader would operate. what's going on?
Also, trust your instincts and emotions. Let them guide you in every situation; they will not fail you.
This is mysticism.
create positive energy
This is a vague metaphor. Why doesn't she say what the actual thing is, clearly? What is it?
And don’t be afraid to ask personal questions or share a few of your personal details. Talking about weekend interests, family and friends can give you a more complete view of your peers and partners, their passion and compassion. Building a relationship is also the first step in building trust, which quickly leads towards alignment and unity.
Is a major part of her job to socialize with others and get them to like her? Is this something like a popularity contest from high school? Should companies function that way? Is this like a subtle more nice-seeming version of cutthroat corporate politics?

Is she setting things up to say "I was always very respectful of his feelings and reached out to him by asking about non-work stuff, but I felt disrespected when he didn't run that decision by me"? Is that how she wins disputes? If so, this method doesn't depend at all on whether her ideas in dispute are good or bad. This kind of contest isn't truth-seeking.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Comments (0)