ITT Reminder

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We are approaching the end of the Transgender Intellectual Turing Test submission period! Remember that submissions will not be accepted after March 1st. If you’re considering participating, please finish up your submissions soon!

In addition, I’m uncertain about whether the polls should allow the participants to specify whether they believe in gender identity, the Blanchard-Bailey theory, or neither. In the previous ITT, social justice people and anti-social-justice people generally agreed on their assessments of any given post, which is a point in favor of not bothering. In addition, while many of my readers legitimately do not believe in either theory and would be excluded if I didn’t have an “other” option, y’all are a bunch of special snowflakes and whenever I offer an “other” option for anything you will take it even if you are J. Michael Bailey himself. On the other hand, if we don’t divide up the categories, a post might win on the basis of catering to the stereotypes of one particular group, even though it isn’t actually a good impersonation of that point of view. So discuss what I should do in the comments.

Plasticbrains

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Plasticbrains is a term invented by Promethea to refer to a particular cluster of people who are disproportionately likely to be transgender. “Plastic” is a joking reference to BPAs, an endocrine disruptor in plastics, which some people have hypothesized is linked to transness. (There is no evidence that this is true, and “plasticbrains” is a joke.)

Common Traits of Plasticbrains

Plasticbrains people, as you can guess from the joke in the name, are disproportionately likely to be trans. However, not all plasticbrains people are transgender! While plasticbrains people are much more likely than baseline to be trans, many plasticbrains people are not transgender. It seems likely to me that half to two-thirds of plasticbrains people would not qualify as definitely cis, if you include “would transition in the glorious transhumanist future and but doesn’t want to now”, “happily only out as nonbinary to a few trusted friends”, “girl in the streets and dude in the sheets”, “socially dysphoric in very gendered spaces but otherwise fine”, “on hormones but not socially transitioning”, “I do not want to see or be seen by gender”, “??????”, and so on.

Plasticbrains people are most comfortable in situations with clear rules, consistently applied, which one can optimize within. This is probably why plasticbrains people are disproportionately represented in programming and math. Plasticbrains people often come up with clear and consistent rules for situations that don’t have them and then loudly insist that these rules are objectively correct. For instance, plasticbrains people often adhere to a specific philosophical school of ethics (egoism, utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics) instead of relying on intuitive morality. They often have odd political beliefs which they have worked out from first principles. (Anarchocapitalists and communists are both quite common. Even centrist liberal plasticbrains can generally explain to you why centrist liberalism follows from the basic principles of uncertainty and respect for experts.) But plasticbrains rules can apply to everything from programming languages (“Haskell is objectively correct”) to grammar (“prescriptivism is wrong and evil”) to social rules (“it is never morally wrong to make a request of anyone”).

Plasticbrains people often have a strong interest in optimization. Once they come up with a set of rules and goals, they will often try to optimize for their goals within their rules. Again, this probably explains their affinity for programming. This often leads to very strange behavior: for instance, plasticbrains people may adopt a variety of more or less evidence-based strategies for self-improvement, live on Soylent because that is the optimal way to save time and avoid cooking, or believe it is morally wrong to donate to the Red Cross because other charities use that money better.

There is no consensus among plasticbrains people what rules are actually the objectively correct rules. One would think that the fact that other plasticbrains people are going about saying “anarchocapitalism is obviously correct!” would make the plasticbrains communists think a bit, but as far as I know this has never happened. While in general plasticbrains people are pretty self-aware about their mental health issues, plasticbrains people are usually not self-aware about their rules. They can easily recognize that other plasticbrains people are adhering rigidly to their rules even in situations where there is more nuance, but then they will turn around and say “actually, lying is morally wrong and never justified and if you lie to people I will never interact with you again.” Occasional examples of plasticbrains people having nuance about their rules have been observed, but upon closer inspection these universally turn out to be plasticbrains people who have adopted “nuance exists!” as a rule. (I myself as I was typing this attempted to give “people in the developing world are exactly as important as people in the developed world, and the low level of foreign aid from developed countries is probably as bad as the Holocaust” as an example, but then my soul rebelled. Obviously, my own personal rules are just true.)

Plasticbrains people generally have engrossing and obsessive interests. These tend to be fairly intellectual interests, such as programming, linguistics, and history; however, obsessions with particular pieces of media are also common. The happiness of a plasticbrains person is directly correlated with how much time they spend talking about, collecting information about, or participating in their interest. Plasticbrains people often find other people’s interests to be just as interesting as their own interests, which leads to many happy plasticbrains friendships.

Plasticbrains people often have a hard time interacting with people who aren’t plasticbrains, although if they put time into developing the skill they can sometimes get pretty good at it. If a plasticbrains person has not put effort into the skill, then non-plasticbrains people will generally find them strange, off-putting, and uncomfortable to be around. This is possibly because plasticbrains body language tends to be unusual: for instance, they may come off as emotionless or robotic, or flap their hands when they’re happy or distressed. Plasticbrains people generally have a hard time understanding the behavior of non-plasticbrains people, but usually understand each other fairly well. That said, they have two consistent theory of mind failures which apply even to other plasticbrains people: “My Interests Are Interesting To Everyone And If They Aren’t Then I Clearly Have Not Explained Them Well Enough” and “My Rules Are Obviously Correct And If You Do Not Follow Them It Is Because You Are A Bizarre Moral and Intellectual Mutant.” If a plasticbrains person has adopted social rules that don’t work very well, this may also cause social failures.

Plasticbrains people tend to be introverted, but their level of social motivation ranges widely. Some plasticbrains people feel little to no desire to interact with anyone, while others enjoy regular social interaction. Some plasticbrains people may find interacting with certain people stressful and overwhelming in the same way they find loud noises stressful and overwhelming. Many appreciate quietly reading or writing in the same room as other people. Many plasticbrains people are very lonely, because their difficulties interacting with non-plasticbrains people makes it hard for them to fulfill their social needs.

Plasticbrains people usually have unusual sexualities. They are disproportionately likely to be bisexual. They are not disproportionately likely to be attracted the other assigned sex at birth, but the number of trans people means that many are lesbians or gay. Many plasticbrains people are asexual or low-libido or experience periods of asexuality. Plasticbrains people are often kinky. Many plasticbrains people enjoy and seek out casual sex. Some find touch much more rewarding than most people do, while others find it upsetting or painful.

Plasticbrains people typically find text-based interactions easier than verbal interactions. They like books. They are averse to phone calls. They may have entire relationships conducted solely over the Internet. While savant skills seem to be uncommon, hyperlexia is the most common.

Plasticbrains people combine neophilia with a strong aversion to change. Neophilia is the tendency to loathe tradition, easily become bored, and seek out novelty to the point that it becomes an obsession. Common areas for plasticbrains people to experience neophilia include art, literature, science, ideas, drugs, sex, and personal projects.

Interestingly, plasticbrains people also tend to dislike change. The specific ways in which they dislike change are very individual. For instance, one plasticbrains person may eat the same things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, while another plasticbrains person may object to working anywhere other than their home office which has been set up to their specifications, and a third plasticbrains person may have a strict daily routine and be distressed by disruptions.

Plasticbrains people typically have difficulties with executive function. However, their difficulties span a wide range. Some may have relatively ordinary problems, such as procrastination, difficulty planning how long tasks will take, constantly forgetting why they walked into this room, and never knowing where they left their cell phone. Others may have deeper executive function problems, such as “sometimes I can’t stand up because standing up has too many steps.”

Plasticbrains people are typically quite smart and do well in academic fields. Many of them are autodidacts.

Plasticbrains people often have sensory issues. For instance, plasticbrains people may have trouble following a conversation that takes place in a noisy room or when the television is on. They may find car alarms, fireworks, the sound of people chewing, or other noises to be viscerally upsetting. They may be easily distracted by small sounds. They often find weighted blankets comforting.

Plasticbrains people fidget. They may chew on their fingers, their clothing, or random objects. They may pace. They often enjoy playing with Rubix cubes, tossing balls hand to hand, or playing with a toy designed for fidgeting. They sometimes move around a lot.

Possible Plasticbrains Traits

A high number of plasticbrains people I know are Jewish, but I am uncertain if Jewish people in general are more likely to be plasticbrains.

Anecdotally, it seems like many plasticbrains people tend to suffer from generalized shame disorder, but this trend may just be because people who have excessive shame tend to talk to me about it.

Plasticbrains people often experience anxiety and depression. It is unclear to me if this is a product of the underlying brain difference or the fact that plasticbrains people often have awful childhoods because children are much more likely to express their discomfort with plasticbrains people through bullying and assault.

I am uncertain whether plasticbrains people are disproportionately likely to have mood disorders other than depression and anxiety. While I certainly know many plasticbrains people who go through hypomania-like episodes, I am not sure if that is a central trait.

Plasticbrains and Autism

It is very common to refer to plasticbrains people as being autistic, and many of us have autism diagnoses. I tend to agree with the excellent Rethinking Autism (piratable here) that it doesn’t make sense to think of autism as a single condition, or even as a bunch of related conditions. Instead, we should think of autism as being something like fever: a symptom cluster with a wide variety of underlying causes, some of which lead to different associated symptoms. While some ways of treating fever work for all fevers, regardless of cause, it wouldn’t make sense to research fever as a single thing with a single etiology or call the flu a “fever spectrum condition”.

Not all plasticbrains people qualify for an autism diagnosis, or even any sort of diagnosis at all. Many autistic people are not plasticbrains. Even so-called high-functioning autistics are often not plasticbrains: for instance, Temple Grandin is definitely not. However, I expect that this cluster will turn out to have a single underlying cause. I expect (in spite of the name) the cause will turn out to be genetic, because it seems to run in families.

Melania Trump

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My husband Topher Brennan has written an article about Melania Trump’s libel case and has asked me to signal-boost it, which I’m doing.

Excerpt:

Furthermore, there appear to be good reasons to think the part of the story about Melania violating US immigration laws is true. One of Melania’s former roommates confirmed that she was in the US in 1995 in an interview with Politico reporter Julia Ioffe, and the quotes where Melania appears to admit to illegally working on a tourist visa are on video tape. According to Politico, these kinds of immigration violations were common in the modeling industry in the 90s.

I have a copy of Pojar’s book, and it cites two sources by name to support its claim that the official story about how the Trumps met is not the real story. It also gives an account of Melania’s years as a model in New York that sounds a hell of a lot like a euphemistic account of an escorting career—”dating” rich men and making up to $1500 per day while simultaneously being frustrated with her inability to get kinds of modeling work she really wanted.

On top of all this, my own instinct is that whenever I hear about a celebrity abusing libel laws to suppress embarrassing rumors about themselves, I tend to assume the rumors are true. Most people realize that the smart way to deal with false rumors is to ignore them, especially when you’re famous.

If that was all there was to the story, though, I wouldn’t be bothering with it. I personally don’t care if Melania was an escort—in fact I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sex work and it should be decriminalized. And the hypocrisy angle falls a bit flat given that even without this story it would be perfectly obvious that her husband’s stance on immigration has nothing to do with immigration per se but is instead an expression of thinly-veiled racism.

Even the libel angle wouldn’t be terribly interesting, if Melania had merely sued the Daily Mail in a British court. British libel law is an internationally famous dumpster fire. If Melania had merely sued a British publication in a British court for repeating nasty rumors about her, she’d be joining the ignominious company of the Church of Scientology and anti-vax frauster Andrew Wakefield, but there wouldn’t be much of a story beyond that.

However, there are some twists to the story.

5Calls

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Many of my readers are interested in opposing the Trump administration. I’d like to suggest they look into 5calls.org.

Calling your representatives is one strategy for influencing their votes. If a representative gets a lot of calls about an issue, they’re likely to believe that their constituents care a lot about it. They are afraid to go against what their constituents want, because that means that you might vote for their opponent (either in the primary or the general election). Phone calls are generally considered better than emails, because they are difficult.

5calls.org makes calling your representatives very easy. You enter your address, and then it provides phone numbers for your representatives. There are a variety of issues on the sidebar: for instance, you might be interested in calling about a proposed bill that puts more limits on the President’s ability to engage in a nuclear first strike, a Senate investigation of Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia, or calling your governor to encourage them to protect immigrant rights. For each issue, it provides you with a script. All you have to do is say the script. For me, this reduces my phone anxiety a great deal.

Personally, some of the issues seem to me to involve rather poor prioritization skills: for instance, I am not particularly opposed to the nomination of Scalia II: The Scaliaing to the Supreme Court, and a while back one of the issues you could call about was public lands potentially being given to the states. However, you do not have to call about those issues! I think they try to do scripts for a wide variety of issues that people who oppose Trump could potentially be concerned about, so that people with a lot of different political opinions can use the website. Just ignore the things you don’t care about. Fortunately, the Trump administration does enough ridiculous things that you aren’t going to run out of phone calls.

I suggest doing some research on the issue you’re calling about to make sure that you really care about it and agree with 5calls.org’s position. In my experience, 5calls.org has done a pretty good job of highlighting the most urgent Trump-related issues, so this is also a sustainable way of staying updated on the news without being burned out by the continual stream of “Trump is an authoritarian dictator destroying America!” accompanied by no concrete action one can do to help. It might also be a good idea to look up your representative’s opinion on the issue, so that you can thank them if they have a good opinion. (Representatives like positive feedback too!)

The name “5 Calls” comes from their proposed goal of five calls a day. However, you definitely don’t have to do five calls a day! Personally, I have set a goal of one voicemail or conversation with a staffer daily. (This is slightly different from a phone call because Senator Feinstein’s staffers never pick up the damn phone.) I find that, including research, this usually takes me five or ten minutes.

Questions About Intuitive Eating

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[Content warning: weight and calorie numbers.]

I have a lot of sympathy for intuitive eating, a strategy in which you respond to your inner body cues about food. For instance, you eat when you’re hungry, and you stop when you’re full; if you feel a craving for avocados or cheese or celery or bread, you eat the thing you’re craving; at each meal, you ask yourself “hmm, what sounds good?” and then eat that.

A point in favor of intuitive eating is that people are naturally absurdly good at regulating their own eating. Now, I know that some people are going to the comments to go “obesity epidemic! Obesity epidemic!”, but think about the facts. A weight gain of 11 pounds over six months– a remarkably quick rate of weight gain– only requires a one percent mismatch between your energy expenditure and your consumption of food. (This fact I got from Nutrition: A Very Short Introduction.) Most people– even overweight or obese people– have a stable weight, naturally eating about as much as they burn; even people who gain weight typically gain it relatively slowly, as the product of a tiny difference between their energy expenditure and food consumption. This is a truly remarkably effective system.

On the other hand, intuitive eating is expecting a lot of your body’s signals.

I can imagine about four ways that food self-regulation can work.

First, there’s the way that water works for me. Most of the time, water is vaguely unappetizing. When I’m thirsty, water is suddenly the MOST DELICIOUS SUBSTANCE IN THE UNIVERSE, until I’ve had a glass or two, at which point it mysteriously transforms back into being vaguely unappetizing. If I drink water when it is vaguely unappetizing (which I’ve done under the instruction of gym teachers), it sloshes around in my stomach and I feel uncomfortable. My body is capable of correctly indicating when I’m deficient in an important nutrient (water) and creating a plan to no longer be deficient.

Second, there’s the way that pica works. When people feel a craving to chew ice, it’s often a sign of deficiency in certain minerals, particularly iron, even though ice doesn’t contain any iron. A desire to chew ice is a fairly reliable indicator of a mineral deficiency, but chewing ice will not give you any minerals. In this case, my body is capable of correctly indicating when I’m deficient in an important nutrient, but it does not create a viable plan to no longer be deficient.

Third, there’s the way that B vitamin deficiency worked for me. When I first became vegan, I didn’t take a B vitamin supplement. I felt fine, but I mysteriously acquired this sore near the side of my mouth that wouldn’t go away. I shrugged it off until a horrified friend said, “you have a serious B vitamin deficiency! Get a B-complex NOW!” In this situation, my body did not indicate that I was deficient for months after I was seriously deficient.

(Although now that I think about it I did have bizarre near-sexual cravings for cheese, so maybe my body was indicating it and I didn’t listen.)

Fourth, there’s the way that sweet things work for me. While my body does eventually tell me it no longer wants to eat sweet things, it tells me that well after a nutritionist would have said “maybe you should eat fewer Tootsie Rolls.” In this situation, my body drives me to eat a particular nutrient (sugar) even though I am not remotely deficient in it and in fact I am probably consuming an excessive amount. Presumably, this is because Tootsie Rolls did not exist in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness and thus there was no need to fear excessive sugar consumption.

So I think the question about whether intuitive eating is a good idea probably depends on which of the four kinds of food self-regulation is the most common (either for people in general or for a specific person). If most things work like water, then intuitive eating works great. If most things work like pica, then intuitive eating is still a good idea, but requires a little more thought and care. If most things work like B vitamins or sweet things, then intuitive eating is probably a bad idea.

Thoughts on Wild-Animal Suffering

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[All views are my own and are not those of my employer.]

I think that animals matter morally, and I think that wild animals matter as much as domestic animals do. These are pretty controversial statements, but they’d take many blog posts to address, so I’m mostly going to be talking to an audience that agrees with me about both points.

One common objection I want to examine a little more closely is the “naturalness” objection– that it is ill-advised to interfere with the natural order of things, perhaps because there may be consequences that you are not capable of foreseeing. It’s true that interactions with nature often have unforeseen consequences. If you let your fertilizer run off into a lake, snails will have more to eat; the snails are a secondary host for a parasite that infects frogs; the parasite causes leg deformities in frogs. You wouldn’t guess that one of the consequences of fertilizing your crops is deformed frogs, but in reality it is.

The problem with this objection is that all landscapes are touched by humanity. The heaths of Scotland are a product of human intervention going back thousands of years. Human beings in the Pleistocene played a vitally important role (along with climate change) in the extinction of megafauna such as the mammoth. To get these ecosystems to return to an untouched state, one would have to wind back the clock not decades but millennia.

Furthermore, today in the United States, if something is untouched wilderness, it’s untouched wilderness because someone decided that that particular tract of land needed to be untouched wilderness and another tract over there could be safely transformed into condominiums. Natural parks and reserves are usually managed to allow outdoor recreation like hunting, fishing, wildlife photography, and hiking; national forests often allow logging and livestock grazing. And of course all areas– not matter how untouched– are affected by climate change, pollution, and other global changes that humans have wrought.

There just isn’t a natural wilderness unaffected by humans. It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make sense to argue about whether it would be a good idea to leave untouched wilderness alone, because there isn’t any. Because of our power, humans are already the stewards of nature. The only question is whether we will care about our charges’ happiness or neglect them. And the same management principles that are used to handle things like eutrophication can be used to handle issues of wild-animal suffering as well.

Unlike many anti-wild-animal-suffering advocates, I currently do not support destroying habitat. Partially, this is because I am not sure whether I care about insects. If you think insects are sufficiently morally important, there is an open-and-shut case for habitat destruction, because insect lives suck a lot and they are too tiny and numerous to manage. Since I have a high degree of uncertainty about whether they matter at all, and I wouldn’t care about them very much even if they did matter, I don’t view this as an open-and-shut argument.

I am very uncertain about the quality of life of the average wild bird or mammal. On one hand, they typically experience disease, fear, stress, and a painful death. On the other hand, they get a lot of opportunities to explore, play, engage in social interaction, and perform natural behaviors. I don’t think anyone really knows for certain; it’s simply not been studied enough. I’m also uncertain about the quality of life of the average bird or mammal, given predator removal, addition of food during winters or famines, population management through contraceptives or pain-minimizing hunting, vaccination programs, etc. With an ecologically informed, humane management strategy, is it possible to make wild animal lives worth living in a cost-effective way? I’m not sure.

Humans get a lot of benefits from the continued existence of wild ecosystems, ranging from wild food to climate regulation to their aesthetic value. These benefits disproportionately affect the global poor, who are more likely to eat bushmeat, more likely to be victims of climate change, and who get to look at nature like all the time. I am concerned that habitat destruction will cause grave harm to human beings. (This is a really good paper about the economic and well-being consequences of environmental damage, and I encourage interested people to read it.)

I am concerned about the effects of habitat destruction on currently existing animals. Habitat destruction often hurts the animals that live in the habitat: being burned alive because someone is doing slash-and-burn agriculture on your forest is not a pleasant death. Among animals who live in new, smaller habitats, there are edge effects, which are often harmful to the animal: for instance, edge effects increase the risk of fires in the Amazon rainforest, and they can also make animals more vulnerable to predation.

It is difficult to undestroy a habitat: once a species is extinct, it’s gone; a sufficiently small species will often go extinct even if conservation efforts are made to preserve it; destroying a habitat may involve physical changes that are difficult to reverse; many habitats are a product of decades if not centuries of succession which would have to be repeated. For this reason, I feel it is best to err on the side of not destroying habitat.

I think that in the long term the right attitude for anti-wild-animal-suffering advocates is something like conservation biology. Conservation biology successfully shifted US land management policy from “we care about things that benefit humans, like timber and hunting” to “we care about things that benefit humans AND biodiversity.” I think the end game for anti-wild-animal-suffering advocacy is to shift it to “we care about things that benefit humans AND biodiversity AND the wellbeing of the animals under our care.”

I think this might be the least difficult sell from a public-relations perspective. I think it triggers the whole “leave nature alone” intuition less if we advocate for the well-being of animals to be considered as part of land management, that is, in decisions about nature that humans are already making. I also think that this might enable us to ally more closely with hunters. Assuming that a hunter’s bullet is one of the least painful ways to die (which is not always true, but often is), anti-wild-animal-suffering advocates should promote a massive increase in hunting. Hunters also support some policies, such as providing supplemental food during winters, which conservationists typically disapprove of and which anti-wild-animal-suffering advocates might like.

I also think it might be one of the most effective ways of using activist dollars to help wild animals without destroying habitat, because we’d be focusing on changing the way that the US government spends its money. A single lobbying dollar can influence many more dollars of US government spending.

I have only looked into the history of conservation biology a little bit, but I think one of the key points of their success is combining activist energy with mainstream academic credibility. Conservation biology, in its early days, had many tenured professors whose research had had a lot of influence on the science of ecology, such as E. O. Wilson. Anti-wild-animal-suffering advocacy is distinctly lacking in academic credibility; the few academics interested in it are usually in unrelated fields like economics (Tyler Cowen, Yew-Kwang Ng) or philosophy (Oscar Horta). This is not only a problem for our ability to influence policymakers but also for our ability to understand what we want to influence them to do, which would probably involve a lot of careful ecological research that simply isn’t being performed.

Unfortunately, it may be more difficult to get biologists to be interested in animal welfare than it is in biodiversity, because the loss of biodiversity is a direct threat to the thing they’re studying. Nevertheless, I think that outreach to academic biologists is quite important. I also suggest that students who care about wild animal suffering and have an interest in biology strongly consider a career as an academic biologist specializing in wild-animal welfare.

Effective Altruism For Broke People

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I know a couple of people who would very much like to be effective altruists, but they’re poor and busy and in jobs which aren’t high impact, so they feel like they can’t.

So I have a couple of thoughts. First, you don’t have to be an effective altruist. A lot of people doing effective altruist outreach have more-or-less explicitly targeted rich people. If someone makes $200,000 a year, getting them to donate 10% to the Against Malaria Foundation saves about six lives, and the only cost is that they go on a slightly less nice vacation. If someone makes $20,000 a year, getting them to donate 10% to the Against Malaria Foundation saves about half a life, and the cost is that they might have problems paying rent or getting health care that they need. The former is an obviously better situation.

Even if you are an effective altruist, it’s okay not to donate. It’s unsustainable in the long run to sacrifice your financial stability, health, or happiness to donate more money. If you can’t afford to donate money, but you fully intend to donate when you’re in a less precarious financial situation, then you’re an effective altruist in my book. (Well, unless by “precarious financial situation” you mean “I can barely afford my fourth yacht”.)

But I do think it’s a good idea to get yourself in the habit of giving, even if your financial situation is a mess. Think about what you can do. Can you set aside twenty dollars a month? Ten dollars? One dollar? Can you put your spare change in a coffee mug and then when it’s full take it to the Coinstar machine and give it to UNICEF? (Sadly, Coinstar machines do not have the Against Malaria Foundation.) Whatever is possible for you is fine. If your financial situation becomes more stable, you can up the amount you give.

Finally, no less an authority than Peter Singer himself has said that donating ten percent of one’s income is unreasonable for most people. He suggests that people under the US poverty line ought not donate; for people making more than the poverty line but less than $105,000, he suggests a donation of between 1 and 5% depending on exactly how much you earn. You can plug your income into the calculator here. The suggested donation for a person making $20,000 a year is $206, which is about $17 a month. For some people, that’s still going to be way out of reach, and that’s totally fine– I suggest, well, giving what you can. But if that sounds a lot easier to you than giving ten percent, maybe give Singer’s pledge a shot instead.

Transgender Intellectual Turing Test

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My last intellectual Turing test was quite popular, so I am organizing another one!

The Ideological Turing Test, invented by Bryan Caplan, is a test of how well people understand other people’s viewpoints. The regular Turing test is a test for programmers: can you write a computer program which a human being cannot tell apart from another human being? The Intellectual Turing Test is a test for people who believe things: can you explain your opponent’s viewpoints in such a way that your opponent cannot tell it apart from someone who legitimately believes the opinion? If you can, it shows you understand your opponent’s positions on a deep level.

One of the big criticisms of the last Turing test is that it was hard to judge anti-social-justice entries because anti-social-justice people believe a lot of different things. Therefore, this Turing test will feature two specific groups of people.

The Gender Identity category consists of people who believe trans people are motivated to transition because of their gender identity, gender dysphoria, or both. Gender identity is an inner sense of oneself as male, female, or nonbinary, which can be separated both from one’s conformity to gender roles and one’s biological sex. Gender dysphoria is a sense of dissonance because either one’s social role or one’s physical sex does not match one’s preferred gender.

The Blanchard-Bailey category consists of people who believe that trans women can be divided into two groups. Homosexual transsexuals are androphilic, feminine, and transitioning because it is easier to be a passing woman than a feminine man. Autogynephilic transsexuals are gynephilic, masculine, and transitioning because of their sexual fetish for and/or romantic attraction to the idea of themselves as women.

(If you have some different viewpoint on trans people, then this is not the ITT for you.)

The questions you have to answer are the following:

  1. How do you define woman/man?
  2. What are your opinions on the cotton ceiling?
  3. Why are trans women disproportionately likely to be programmers?
  4. a. [If answering for the Gender Identity side] Why do many trans women experience sexual fantasies about being or becoming a woman?
    b. [If answering for the Blanchard-Bailey side] Explain trans people assigned female at birth.

Last time, there was a problem of too many submissions, some of which were boring or low-effort. If you would like to participate, sometime before March 1st you should write and send me your answers to both sides, as well as which side you are actually on. I will read your answers and tell you whether I will run them.

Things that are more likely to get your answers accepted:

  • Humor.
  • Being clearly well-thought-out.
  • Answers longer than a paragraph for each question.
  • Unusual or bizarre opinions.
  • Being on the side that is unpopular or bad at writing.
  • Being sufficiently locally famous that I’m curious how people will respond to you.

As always, I am happy to use a pseudonym for anyone, so you do not have to be afraid that people will disapprove of you for confessing to thinking Blanchard-Bailey is correct. I am also happy to link to any Tumblrs, Twitters, blogs, works of fiction, manifestos, etc. that you would like to promote.

Please email me your submissions at ozyfrantz@gmail.com. Submissions sent in other ways may not be seen.

Why I Support A Welfare State

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I am fairly libertarian-leaning, but I have qualms about going full libertarian.

Prices are really great. Prices are a really great thing about markets. For instance, consider flow restrictors (example chosen for being extremely unimportant and having a delightfully pissed off article written about them). Most showers in the US have flow restrictors, which means that their showers use less water, but also are less enjoyable, at least to some people.

Prices are a much better way to solve this problem than requiring flow restrictors is. If the price of water reflects the costs of water– either due to the Magical Free Hand of the Market, or because the government has put a tax on it equivalent to the externalities of using too much water– then that guy who wrote that delightfully pissed off article can have as unrestricted a shower as he pleases. If he pays for it, that is prima facie evidence that the shower is more valuable to him than the cost of the water. On the other hand, if you’d rather spend your money on hookers and blow, you can install your own flow restrictor, or take a shorter shower, or some other method of conserving water. Since people have different preferences, this lets everyone satisfy their own preferences.

At least, as long as everyone has the same amount of money. If we both make $20,000 a year, the fact that I take that shower and you don’t is a pretty good sign that I care more about the shower and you care more about hookers and blow. If I make $20,000 a year and you make $200,000, it might just mean that you can’t be arsed to install a flow restrictor to save an amount of money that is comparatively meaningless to you.

Of course, you don’t actually want to require that everyone make the same amount of money. Some jobs are more desirable than other jobs. If your job is soul-crushingly mind-numbingly boring and my job is taste-testing ice cream, then it makes sense that you earn more money. We can model that as you and I working the same job, except that I paid a $180,000 Getting To Eat Ice Cream For A Living fee.

(Totally worth it.)

The same thing goes for jobs with longer hours vs. shorter hours, jobs working with nice people vs. jobs working with complete assholes, jobs that help people vs. tobacco company executive, etc. If your job has good traits other than money, then– all things equal– one should expect you to make less money at it.

But all things are not equal. In fact, you can observe that the jobs that make the least money are often the worst in terms of working conditions. Fast-food employee, retail clerk, guy who holds up a sign telling you that there’s a “sale!!!!!!” at the jewelry store– these jobs are ill-paid and also terrible.

The reason is that people have different abilities. Through no fault of their own, some people are smart, hard-working, and charismatic; other people are dumb, lazy, and in possession of voices so soporific that Pfizer is considering marketing them as a sleep aid. Some people have parents who are willing and able to pay for them to get training or the $100,000 conscientiousness and intelligence certificate; other people don’t. Some people have friends who can tell them about well-paying jobs and vouch for their good qualities; other people have friends who can tell them about the fact that the McDonalds down the street is hiring; still other people don’t have friends at all. Some people inherit billions; other people grew up on the street. None of these have anything to do with your desires: if you’re in the fifth percentile in conscientiousness, you probably really want to be more hard-working, but as it happens you were born with a lazy brain and you’re probably not going to become as rich as an effortless workaholic.

The most striking case of this is disabled people. Many disabled people– including myself– are incapable of working a job that will support ourselves. Many others require significant and potentially expensive accommodations to work a job.

What this means is that the market will tend to oversupply the preferences of some people (those that have skills and abilities that mean they have a lot of money) and undersupply the preferences of other people (those that don’t). From many moral perspectives (including utilitarianism, contractualism, and veil-of-ignorance Rawlsianism) this is unsatisfactory. It is unfair that society cares less about someone’s preferences just because they were born stupider than other people.

Of course, it’s often hard to distinguish impairments and preferences. It is hard for a government or society to tell apart “I am low conscientiousness but would prefer to be able to do more work than I am capable of” from “I don’t like working that much and am gladly taking a lower salary so I don’t have to.” (Hell, it’s hard for an individual to tell those two apart.) We want to care about group #1’s preferences as much as we care about everyone else’s. But we also want The Magic of Prices to allow group #2 to make an informed decision about how much they should work.

I think the least distortionary way of dealing with this problem is by transferring sufficient cash to poor people that they can maintain a reasonable standard of living, gradually phasing it out as people earn more money, such that people will always earn more money the more they work. That isn’t perfect. Some unimpaired people will not pay the full social cost of their desire to work less. And it isn’t treating impaired people completely equally; they still won’t have the option to work $200,000/year jobs. But I think that that is the least imperfect tradeoff. It makes sure that impaired people can fulfill their most important needs, while minimizing the distortion to prices.

I also think it makes sense to transfer cash to disabled people, with more money to more severely disabled people. Most disabled people are impaired, not people with unusual preferences. Of course, any attempt to give something to disabled people and only disabled people creates gatekeeping problems: wherever you draw the line, some disabled people will not be able to take advantage of it and some people who probably aren’t that impaired will be able to. But the other option is undervaluing the preferences of all disabled people, which I think is worse.

On Romance Novels

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It always makes me cringe when people say romance novels are porn. I mean, some romance novels are, in fact, porn. There is a wide range from “paper-thin plot wrapped around scenes of genitals being combined with other body parts in a variety of inventive fashions” to “the characters kiss a shocking three times.” But the latter category exists, and it is not because women as a whole get off on chaste confessions of love.

In my opinion, the purpose of a romance novel qua romance novel is to elicit in the reader the emotion of new relationship energy (or NRE, because I hate typing), in much the same way that porn elicits in the reader the emotion of sexual arousal. Naturally, these go together quite well (as do sexual arousal and NRE in real life). But they are separable and often separated.

A romance novel plotline goes through the entire process of new relationship energy: meeting someone; discovering their good qualities; wondering if they’re into you; finally having them commit to you. However, romance novels heighten the NRE by including lots of ludicrous things that do not generally happen in real life, e.g. billionaire cowboys, secret babies, conversions of troubled atheists by the power of your steadfast love and wholesome beauty. (This is, of course, similar to porn: real life contains extremely few reverse gangbangs consisting solely of conventionally attractive nineteen-year-olds.)

Romance novels also offer a sense of safety. You know that– no matter how dark the climax seems– the heroine and the hero are going to get together. Real-life NRE is full of uncertainty: sadly, many people fail to recognize your many charms, and those that do sometimes turn out, upon reflection, to be mean or boring or prone to cutting off people’s heads and storing them in the basement. However, a happily ever after is a genre convention of romance novels; if there’s no happily ever after, it’s not– by the Romance Writers of America definition– a romance. (Yes, this does mean that Romeo and Juliet is not, technically speaking, a romance.) You know that the hero’s commitmentphobia will turn out to be a misunderstanding, his gruffness will turn out to be caused by his dark and troubled past, and the fact that he doesn’t seem to be into the heroine will turn out to be because she smells so good that he’s constantly on edge trying not to suck all her blood. The sense of safety means that a lot of things that are wildly unpleasant in real life– such as being rejected– instead enjoyably heighten the suspense.

One thing which puzzles me very much about romance novels is that there doesn’t seem to be a version with men as the target audience. After all, there is a version of porn with women as the target audience (page 98-101 of the romance novel, or chapter three of the fanfic). I understand that there is significant stigma around men consuming romantic media, but capitalism is really good at the thing it does. Why hasn’t capitalism produced a genre of romances festooned with enough dead bodies and half-naked women that men can feel comfortable consuming it without it impugning their masculinity?

(Okay, the movie Deadpool. But why aren’t there, like, five hundred thousand versions of the movie Deadpool?)

Perhaps men as a group do not desire to read romance novels? I’ve seen people express this belief but I think it’s incorrect. First of all, men do experience NRE and find it quite enjoyable, so presumably men would also enjoy simulated NRE. Second of all, I know lots of men who claimed not to be interested in romances, but became passionately invested in them once they found the right sort of romance. For instance, they might have believed that they didn’t like romance because they think romantic comedies are kind of boring and stupid, but show them Hermione/Luna fanfiction and suddenly they’re awake at four AM going “but I HAVE to see how this fake marriage fic is going to turn out!”

Of course, this makes perfect sense. People find that different things trigger their simulated NRE. Continuing the porn analogy: if you’re vanilla and the only kind of porn you were ever exposed to was Kink.com, you’d probably think porn was repulsive and mean and maybe you’d say you don’t like porn at all. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t enjoy the hell out of loving, affectionate lesbian porn. I myself find that the average romance novel leaves me cold: the heroes are often a hypermasculine alpha male archetype that I find approximately as sexy as a potted plant, and I sometimes feel too much of an urge to slip the heroine a domestic-violence hotline number to be really invested in the relationship. Fortunately, I have also read Pride and Prejudice, which stars Darcy The Socially Awkward Penguin, and (on a less highbrow note) a truly mind-boggling number of fanfics starring shy coffeeshop employees who can’t confess their feelings to each other.

In conclusion: men, if you think you don’t like romance, consider the possibility that you have been reading the wrong romance, and maybe you’d enjoy the hell out of the movie Deadpool or Jane Austen or A Civil Campaign or something.

(If you do like A Civil Campaign, it’s a pastiche of Georgette Heyer IN SPAAAAACE, so you would probably like her books too.)