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This Isn't Directed At foo In Particular

In the preface of The Fabric of Reality, David Deutsch writes,

For this book is not primarily a defense of these theories: it is an investigation of what the fabric of reality would be like if they were true.

This seems to me to be a very good approach. If we spent all our time defending the theories we have, we wouldn't have time to come up with even better ones.

But look at my previous post. It's devoted to defending TCS! What gives?

Well of course defending theories sometimes is fine, and I could try to write it off as just a coincidence. But it's not; virtually all my interaction with readers comes in the form of attacks on my ideas and my defense of them.

Now, I could ignore these attacks, and sometimes I do, perhaps I should more often, but I think this line of thought misses a more important issue:

Aren't my readers doing something wrong?

Why not, instead of attack, try to understand? Asking questions is a good way to learn about something. So where are the non-hostile questions? Shouldn't they far outnumber attacks? I think there's a moral failing here.

To be very clear, the point is not "don't criticise" but rather "don't focus on criticising something you don't understand". How can you tell it's bad if you don't understand it?

And what's especially frustrating is this flaw is exactly one I find myself often accused of. Even by the very people who commit it here. This is frustrating because anyone who understands the flaw enough to accuse me of it, ought to consider it a flaw and not do it.

As to the accusations, dare I defend myself? Hum. I don't do it. Stop underestimating how much I know and how fast I learn. That is all.


At the risk of offending Dan, here's an example:

When the quality of objections deteriorates to the level of stuff like:

- demeaning the importance of winning WWI or the Cold War
- saying the Soviets weren't much of a threat
- attacking the importance of Israel not being destroyed as just making one little part of the world a bit better

then maybe it's time to tentatively accept some new ideas to try out.

And notice that even if I slightly overestimated the importance of those things ... so what? That wouldn't ruin the logic of any of my arguments. So attacking that point is kinda an irrelevant distraction that doesn't further understanding the issues.

Elliot Temple on February 16, 2004

Comments (22)

"anyone who understands the flaw enough to accuse me of it, ought to consider it a flaw and not do it"

The problem is, people aren't good at *identifying* which things they know less about than other people. One reason it's difficult is that it's boring to find out all about some field unless you think it's interesting, which usually means having a conjecture that it might help you with your own problem-sets.

Alice at 7:37 AM on February 16, 2004 | #833

if u think X is boring, and thus don't learn about X, wouldn't you notice?

Elliot at 8:00 AM on February 16, 2004 | #834

You might think X is boring because it's *wrong*, and not notice at all.

Alice at 8:23 AM on February 16, 2004 | #835

Actually, I think that the general concept of taking children seriously makes obvious sense. I believe that modern schooling is a travesty on many levels. I believe that many forms of parental interaction that don't involve overt violence are still psychically dangerous and hurtful to children.

It is because I agree with many of the premises of TCS and with its goals that I argue. I wish to make the arguments stronger. There are clear needs to change how we view the raising of children and the schooling of children. But to adopt a language that is so open to attack is to weaken our own stance.

I have a big problem with Utopianism. It is what's wrong with much of the Left's stance--a belief that if we just did things right, all problems are solvable; that if we just changed how people viewed things, everyone would be happy.

I'd rather our own arguments didn't depend on this kind of unreality.

I will now address your individual points, because I did intend them as questions, not as sarcasm. There is value in working through the ideas, especially if where we get to demonstrates hidden assumptions on either side of the argument.

foo at 1:03 AM on February 17, 2004 | #836

Rereading this post, I clearly do not agree with your distinction of "attack" and "trying to understand". I asked copious number of questions--I didn't see them as endpoints. I saw them as really trying to understand. You saw them as an attack. They were, in my opinion, attacking the weak points of your argument, yes. But these two things aren't at odds with each other "Attack" doesn't preclude "trying to understand".

I don't understand why in the world I shouldn't criticize what I thought I understood. I can be wrong, but I will learn a great deal if your responses address the criticisms. re: TCS in particular, I've read a great deal about it. I don't feel I understand in detail, but I thought I understood certain things, and the questions I had are continually the questions that no one is answering whenever I read more about it. So, my attack is an attack on the dearth of understanding. And lo and behold, it brought out more data.

People can easily tell something is bad that they don't understand. They don't need to have complete understanding to see the flaw. I don't need to understand the whole and complete theory around the Federal Reserve Bank to know that it would be better not to have it (and worse if the govt itself acted as the bank).

The point is, even if they don't understand something, people can find the premises to be false or bad or immoral. They can find logical errors of predication. They can find bad data. All possible.

I don't have to BE someone special to judge something or someone else. I may make mistakes due to ignorance, but even ignorant people can be correct--even if they don't know why they are.

foo at 2:19 AM on February 17, 2004 | #837

Rereading this post, I clearly do not agree with your distinction of "attack" and "trying to understand".

Well, for example, you said common preferences are not possible, and gave one of the most common arguments for that proposition ... one that has been refuted countless times and relies on misunderstanding the idea of CPs. Why not read what we say about it first?

Or you say My issue is with the definition of coercion. The funny part is that the TCS faq doesn't define coercion. but the dictionary does. It defines it as the process of coercing; which it defines as to restrain or dominate by force, or to compel to an act or choice.

Why not start by asking what we mean by coercion if you didn't know? Attacking TCS while you have no understanding of what coercion is seems a bit absurd because so many of our arguments depend on understanding that concept.

And Sarah's TCS Site has a link to the TCS glossary on the sidebar... (I am no fan of that site, and think it's worse than the old one, but the gloassary *is* there.)

But better yet, the new and improved definition is:

Coercion is the state of two or more personality strands being expressed in different options of a single choice such that one cannot see a way to choose without forsaking some part of his personality.

Elliot at 2:31 AM on February 17, 2004 | #838

I posted this on the other post, but i'll follow it up here as well.

by these defns of coercion, your comments about obligations not being coercive are false.

Do you disagree? how do you reconcile that?

I misstyped that TCS didn't have a defn of coercion; that was wrong of me. TCS does; you didn't define it in your post. The defn at http://www.wwics.com/~trapani/TCS_FAQ.html is where I defined coercion from, and how it is clear that obligations can be coercive.

foo at 2:47 AM on February 17, 2004 | #839

how specifically would an obligation cause coercion? are you trying to say this is unavoidable? if not, what's your point?

Elliot at 2:57 AM on February 17, 2004 | #840

yes, obligations are necessarily coercive. if i am required to attend some event simply because I agreed at a time when that seemed reasonable, but now I find that continuing my research or my frisbee throwing or whatever is what I wish to do, then the obligation is coercive, because I cannot see a way to choose to attend the event without forsaking some part of what is giving me fulfillment.

obligation, is by defn, something one is "bound" to do. bound, as in, bind. as in, constrain.

an obligation is coercive because it is not something in one's prerogative to choose or not choose. One is bound to it, regardless of their own preferences in the matter. that means that some part of one's personality must be forsaken in order to go through with the event, because one's wishes must be forsaken. If i view the event that I previously agreed to as something I STILL WANT, then it's not coercive, but then it's not an obligation either. The phenomenology of obligation means being bound to something regardless of current want.

in this way, the persuading of a child to do X when they want to do Y if Y doesn't fulfill the same personality goals as X is coercive. If I persuade them to continue participating in a soccer team by convincing them that later in life they will appreciate the experience when right now they would rather avoid the pain, it's still coercive. I might be correct, and I might be rational, and rationally, they may agree, but i'm still being coercive if they feel the pain is non negligible. The rationale of having to choose to neglect one's desires wrt feeling no pain in order to fulfill the goal of learning teamwork doesn't have a way out of forsaking some part of the personality goals. You might think of "persuade" as to mean "reorder the personality goals"--i'm not sure how that's different. You might think there is a better option--find some other sport where the pain is not present but the same goal may be achieved. okay, maybe there's another option, definitely worth considering, as the X or not X is not all the world contains. but it might be that the two issues in play: e.g. enjoying some aspect of physical activity necessarily requires some unwanted characterstic, in which the two ideas are yet again at odds, and can't be avoided.

foo at 3:17 AM on February 17, 2004 | #841

what if i'm obligated to go to the park, and i want to go to the park. then it wouldn't be coercive. so obligations are *not* necessarily coercive -- they are only coercive if something goes wrong. which won't necessarily happen.

Elliot at 3:22 AM on February 17, 2004 | #842

to expand, trees are also only coercive if something goes wrong.

"X is only coercive *if something goes wrong*" is another way to say X *isn't* coercive (the something that went wrong is the coercive thing).

Elliot at 3:23 AM on February 17, 2004 | #843

actually, that's not the case for most humans. The obligation creates a coercion. Mostly, people when they agree they'd like to do something at a certain time, and then are told they have to do that thing at that time, like it less. (give me a day or two and I'll find you the psych. references for this phenomenon.) The notion that they have no choice automatically sets up a desire to be free, which automatically dimishes their enjoyment of said task, by creating a separate personality thread that cannot be fulfilled at the same time.

foo at 3:35 AM on February 17, 2004 | #844

are you saying it's not possible to wholeheartedly want to do something one is obligated to? so, for example, writing every last frontpage post here coerced me? (b/c i promise to post every monday).

you'll need more than a psych reference for that one. you'll need to detail the two conflicting personality strands (groups of theories if you prefer). for example, prima facie i'd expect you'd say something like A) have to write post B) want total freedom to do anything at a moment's notice for no reason

except that holding theory B such that i can't meet people at the park or write my blog would be totally irrational, and umm I don't hold theory B, and it's certainly possible not to hold theory B. you might, say, recognise that wanting such freedom would actually limit what you could do. for example if you could never meet people at the park how much would that suck?

Elliot at 4:23 AM on February 17, 2004 | #845

well, the "except I don't want to do B" isn't part of this issue. nor is the irrationality of the desire.

A) I want to be posting to my blog now.

Then, externally, by fiat, am obligated to post to blog now.

suddenly, B) want to go to park occurs to you. Which didn't occur when you wanted to be posting (or was considered and dismissed in favor of A) but now that you can't do B, B seems more highly favorable than it did when you picked A. And so does "what if I were in Paris" now. In fact, all sorts of things that had no value before are of higher value now that you are obligated, including irrational things.

why is that hard to grasp?

Do you REALLY think that people in the world say to themselves " but my wanting X isn't rational, so i'm not going to want X" as a general rule? do you REALLY think that? Or do you just speak that way because you think people SHOULD think that way?

imagine a child who loves multiplying numbers together. Loves it. adores it. does it for fun. does it everywhere he can. then, mom says "now you must do this page of multiplication." do you think that the child will adore doing this just as much as if the mom said "would you like to do this page of multiplication?" if not, why not--because your argument is that the obligation to do what one already wanted isn't coercive, right?

if you imagine that situation, what's wrong with the mom doing that then---creating an obligation?

Will you now say that the problem with the obligation was that it wasn't entered into by the child's consent?

if it were then phrased as mom saying "son, would you be willing to do this page of multiplication today?" and the son said yes, promptly forgot, and then mom later said "weren't you going to do that page of multiplication?" , to which the child sits down and does it, are you positive that the child would enjoy that page precisely as much as if the mother had only said "would you like to do this page of multiplication?"

foo at 4:39 AM on February 17, 2004 | #846

Yes, people really do deeply want to do what is most right. They really can get their heads round that so it doesn't coerce them. They just often don't believe that, so don't bother doing it.

The existence of only one person with the ability to approach life in that calm, thoughtful, moral and enlightened way is proof that it is possible. I've met a few.

Alice at 5:17 AM on February 17, 2004 | #847

Possible, of course. It's possible. But that it happens in anything like a non-negligble percentage of the population? I completely disagree. The existence of a few individuals who are sane in no way indicates that most people have ANY desire whatsoever to bring their own irrational wants into line with rational actions.

Most people might want to do what is "right", but their basis for determining what is "right" doesn't tend to be a rational one. It's based on making others feel good, or limiting people being upset with them, or destroying others so they don't feel so bad about their own misery, or a priorly-given moral system that they haven't thought through or questioned. The Left claims that what's right is egalitarianism and they'll use coercion to get it, when egalitarianism can't be satisfied unless 0=0. Many people want to actually eradicate themselves and others because they don't like their own worthlessness. Where is rationality going to come for them?

foo at 5:31 AM on February 17, 2004 | #848

sometimes i want to do something else instead of write a post. so i do! monday is 24 hours long, and i often write posts sunday evening. so if i feel like doing something else i just delay a bit. sometimes i even sleep before writing. i've never come close to running out of time before I wanted to write my post(s). so it *is* possible for things to work out fine.

some people are able to change their wants rationally very well; some are less good at it; and some are pretty damn bad at it. maybe most people aren't very good at it, but if just a few are that proves it is a possible way of life. TCS only claims to be a possible and better way of life, and that it's beneficial for all people to try their best at it, not that it's something everyone could do on a moment's notice without having to learn stuff.

i agree being forced to do math sucks. but there is a difference between external force and choosing something. what if i choose to join a laser tag game. then i have an obligation to play out the *whole game* or I'd let my team down (which would be fine in an emergency, but in general would be a bad thing to do). are you against laser tag?

or what about joining a sports team? being on the roster for a sports game? playing a boardgame? isn't it true that the vast majority of the time people do these without any coercion?

that promise shouldn't be enforced b/c A) it seems like child never meant it and B) even if he did, so what? why shouldn't he change his mind? he won't be harming his mother if he breaks the promise, so there is no reason not to.

Elliot at 5:53 AM on February 17, 2004 | #849

you didn't address anything I said. Your answers are pretty close to non-responsive. If "Forcing" math on a child sucks, when the only "Force" was the obligation, then again, your obligations are coercive.

Forcing a child to play laser tag because they said they would is the issue i'm getting at.you say "Forcing" the child is bad, but stating that they should live up to their obligation isn't--so where on that continuum does making them live up to their obligations fall? Under what conditions is it coercive and under what conditions is it not? Again, when is stating that they should do something coercive? you say the mother isn't hurt--okay, but the teammates are. does that mean they get to coerce?

I thought it was moral to do things one should do. If the promise shouldn't be enforced, is it immoral to make the promise?

I have no idea why the vast majority of people do X, Y, or Z. But if it's so easy not to be coerced, why in the world do people have a hard time choosing a job they like, smiling around their children, being happy about their errands, etc? Doesn't their unhappiness betray the fact that they feel coerced--even if it's self coercion? Do you think people take tons of medications for mood stability because these people are so happy with the non-coerced choices they are making? They choose to coerce their own neurochemistry. I'd say they don't particularly know a different way.

I'm so tired of arguing "but it's possible for things to work out fine!". Yes, and it's possible that gravitons will be found. talking about such a possibility doesn't build the apparatus. You haven't demonstrated at all that such a case usually works out for children, other people, and their dependence on the child's obligation. possibly, yes. in certain circumstances, yes. But there's no theory here about which are which.

foo at 11:53 AM on February 17, 2004 | #850

you didn't address anything I said. Your answers are pretty close to non-responsive.

why don't you try shorter, clearer posts, with just a few very precise questions, and then you'll get more focussed answers more in line with what you were looking for.

you didn't address anything I said. Your answers are pretty close to non-responsive. If "Forcing" math on a child sucks, when the only "Force" was the obligation, then again, your obligations are coercive.

umm, the force was the parent with the baseball bat standing over the child forcing him to do the math.

where on that continuum does making them live up to their obligations fall?

making people do stuff = putting a gun to their head = force

if someone really has an obligation to do something, it will be "enforced" naturally (breaking it will have consequences). parent need not add extra ones.

I thought it was moral to do things one should do. If the promise shouldn't be enforced, is it immoral to make the promise?

If child has perfect parents he will never have occasion to make promises he doesn't want to keep, and any he does will likely be mistakes.

In real life, people make promises they don't mean to keep all the time to get someone to leave them alone. This isn't immoral, it's a perfectly valid defense mechanism.

As to the rest, I never said it's easy, I said it's a *possible* way of life. What are you trying to argue? That TCS is hard to get right? If so, yeah, sure, I concede, what's your point? Or are you trying to say these things are *impossible*? Wait, you can't be, you conceded it's possible. So what are you trying to argue?

Elliot at 1:52 AM on February 18, 2004 | #851

I said in response to you posing yet again something I didn't say, --If "Forcing" math on a child sucks, when the only "Force" was the obligation, then again, your obligations are coercive.

you said:

umm, the force was the parent with the baseball bat standing over the child forcing him to do the math.

I posed no such hypothetical. Do you usually put up straw men in your arguments? Do you take children as seriously as you take adults?

making people do stuff = putting a gun to their head = force

That is flatly false. Making someone do something by saying "honey, i'll be disappointed in you" is NOT EQUAL to putting a gun to their head. you may think it's wrong. You may think that all force or persuasion is about power, and that ultimately power is the power to kill, but they are not EQUAL. they are NOT THE SAME. you can argue "but that's not what i meant by making someone do something" but again, that was what i was trying to get AT. is it or is it not coercive to say e.g. "honey, i'll be disappointed in you." you've said yes; now you say that's equivalent to threatening to kill someone with a gun.

Not having consequences to a broken obligation means it wasn't really an obligation? If there's no such thing as an obligation without it having consequences, isn't then an obligation, by defnition, a coercion? Where is the world does your notion of morality fit into that?

If child has perfect parents he will never have occasion to make promises he doesn't want to keep, and any he does will likely be mistakes.

This is absurd. you state it absurdly. you say "they will never do X, but if they do, it was a mistake." try for some consistency.

If children make promises at all, then they will clearly make promises they don't want to keep, since they are without perfect knowledge, just like the rest of us. If you think that with perfect parents, children don't ever make promises, you're again absurd, because children make promises numerous times when they interact with others--promises to show up, to participate, to respond, to act morally, even. I know, I know, you'll call those mistakes. Again, move the goalposts. Got it.

foo at 2:41 AM on February 18, 2004 | #852

Are you familiar with the idea of exaggerating something to make a point?

"Hitler was a bad man! He killed 50 billion people!"

"No, he only killed XXXX number"

"oh, much better"



"you shouldn't threaten your children with a baseball bat"

"i don't. i use humane threats that are actually so scary as to be more effective too!"

"oh, much better, threats even more effective than a baseball bat"

Elliot at 2:49 AM on February 18, 2004 | #853

the disappointment line isn't force.

it's not persuasion either, btw. just a nasty sort of mind game/manipulation.

if someone never has an occasion to do X, it doesn't mean he will never do X.

how do you get the idea that consequences = coercion. jumping has consequences (landing) and they don't need to be parentally enforced b/c they are actual consequences not made up ones, but jumping isn't coercive.

Elliot at 2:52 AM on February 18, 2004 | #854

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)