Link Post for October

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Discourse Norms

The only purpose of redefining past atrocities as mental illness is to try and declaim responsibility as human beings for the darkest moments of our past.

Cass Sunstein on technocracy: “Among people on the left, if it turned out that a regulation on occupational safety would hammer the construction industry and have modest effects on safety, people committed to workplace safety would, behind closed doors, say, “Let’s not do that one.” Often, immersion in the facts often makes value disagreements feel much less relevant.

Benjamin Franklin’s debate rules.

Social Justice

In many teaching hospitals, students perform pelvic exams on anesthesized women who did not consent.

Joshua Harris, author of purity-culture evangelical dating manual I Kissed Dating Goodbye, has apologized and discontinued the book’s publication. I applaud him for having the courage to publicly admit his mistakes; that’s really hard.

Fascinating story about callout culture in hardcore punk music

How restorative justice works in practice.

Just For Fun

Things that are not as good as nicotine gum.

White House issues adorable report about socialism. Sample sentence: “The socialist narrative names the oppressors of the vulnerable, such as the bourgeoisie (Marx), kulaks (Lenin), landlords (Mao), and giant corporations (Sanders and Warren).”

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Armistice Day

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It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.

Armistice Day has become Veterans’ Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans’ Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans’ Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don’t want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.

–Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
–Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

A hundred years ago today, World War I ended. I assume war will end any day now.

Scrupulosity Sequence #1: Don’t Listen To Me

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[Related to: Beware of Other-Optimizing; Generalizing From One Example; What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?]

This post does not contain new material; everything I say in this post is said in the above-linked posts. But it’s important, and particularly important at the beginning of a sequence that gives advice, so I’m going to say it anyway. Bear with me, people who have been around here for a while.

Everyone is different. This is a platitude. You hear it in elementary school classrooms and workplace presentations about diversity, and for that reason it can be hard to understand how important it is.

Everyone is different. There are lots and lots of ways in which everyone can be different. Some people are extroverts; some people are introverts. Some people worry constantly; other people shrug off a cancer diagnosis. Some people can get along with anyone; other people refuse to give anyone a second chance because they already know they dislike the person so why would they give that person another opportunity to be disappointing? Some people have studyblrs full of beautiful photographs of their neatly color-coded notes for all twelve of the college classes they’re taking; some people made a studyblr, got distracted by discourse and memes, and haven’t posted anything to it except a list of the fancy pens they fully intended to buy from Amazon. Some people love beautiful things and museums and daydreaming and poetry; other people… actually I have no idea what low-openness-to-experience people do all day, sorry guys.

We have barely begun to map out the number of ways that people can be different.

What this means is that the advice that works for one person often utterly fails for another person.

We see this in all areas of human endeavor. One person writes in the morning; another in the evening; another gets a hotel room and churns out a novel in a single feverish week. One person finds that running lets them be alone with their thoughts; another likes how yoga connects them to their body; a third finds the social aspect of sports very motivating. One baby thrives with cosleeping, while another needs to cry-it-out, and a third does well with no-cry sleep training.

A further complication is that we don’t have words for all the ways that people can be different. Sometimes scientists have the word but laypeople don’t: many people who have no sense of smell have never heard the word “anosmia.” Other very real distinctions are ones no one has learned to make yet. (There has been little study about what factors cause a person to prefer writing in hotel rooms.) If we don’t know how people differ, then we can’t have any sense about for whom the advice works.

Depression is a condition about which there has been a good deal of research. There are accepted evidence-based therapies (CBT) and medications (SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclics). But you’ll find formerly depressed people swearing by mindfulness, CBT, DBT, behavioral activation, SSRIs, antipsychotics, MDMA, LSD, nootropics, exercise, yoga, vitamins, finding a partner, breaking up with a partner, cuddling a pet, walking outside in nature, acupuncture, green smoothies, and lighting herbs on fire near your toes. All of these treatments likely alleviate depression for some people. (…Maybe not lighting herbs on fire near your toes.) All of these treatments will likely fail to treat depression for other people. And for none of them do we have a good sense of what populations they are likely to work for. All you can do is keep trying things which seem likely to work and have an acceptable risk profile until you aren’t depressed anymore, and try to avoid the “my depression was caused by a vitamin deficiency, therefore SSRIs are a LIE and everyone should take Vitamin D” assholery.

There has been almost no research into scrupulosity and dysregulated guilt and shame, and there are no best practices which I am aware of. Therefore, when I write about my scrupulosity, it is merely one person’s description of what worked for me. It is as credible as one depressed person saying “I became less depressed when I started taking regular walks in nature.” Certainly a useful anecdote; perhaps helpful to some depressed people trying to narrow down the enormous list of things they could theoretically do about depression; absolutely not a universal cure.

Although I hope this is not the case, it is possible my recovery was entirely due to the beneficial effects of time, that I am attributing causality where there is none and this series is the equivalent of the depressed person writing that lighting herbs on fire near their toes cured their depression. That is always a possibility when a person is describing what worked for them.

I believe that what I write will be useful for some people; I believe it will be useless for others, and perhaps harmful. But if the things that work for me don’t work for you, that’s okay. That’s normal. That’s how brains work. People are different. Test everything yourself, and if something doesn’t work, toss it away without a further thought.

Some Representation Is Better Than None

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There’s a bit of a perverse-incentives problem in writing about marginalized groups.

If you write a marginalized character, people are going to criticize you for writing it offensively. This is true whether or not the way you wrote the character is actually offensive, because there is at least one person who thinks any possible depiction of a marginalized character is offensive. You write a nonbinary trans character, someone is going to write a passionate Tumblr post about how you’re catering to the genderspecials. You write the most transmedicalist-approved depressed and dysphoric trans character you can imagine, someone is going to complain about how you’re depicting transness as endless misery. You write a trans character who’s happy and okay with their body, and someone will complain that the character isn’t really even trans if they aren’t dysphoric. If you’re popular enough, it’s going to happen.

What’s worse, some of those criticisms will be right! It is difficult to accurately depict the way dysphoria affects trans people without showing our lives as unremitting sadness and self-hatred, and many writers will err too far on one end or another. Even the most well-meaning person can reproduce transphobic tropes, and even if you get a trans person to be a sensitivity reader sometimes they won’t catch it.

On the other hand, if you don’t write a marginalized character, no one is going to complain. There should be more trans characters in general, but (except in certain unusual circumstances, such as a book that takes place at Stonewall) there’s no reason to believe any specific book should have a trans character. No one is going to write “actually, the Dresden Files should totally have had a trans character in it,” and they’re definitely not going to repeat this for every single book series that happens to not have a trans character in it.

So I see a lot of young writers who are concerned about giving offense just not writing marginalized characters at all. And that’s really bad, because most of the time, an imperfectly written marginalized character is much better than no marginalized character at all.

I don’t mean to say that it’s impossible to write a marginalized character that is worse than no marginalized character at all. For example, you could write Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. (Transmisogyny at the link, and in the rest of this paragraph.) The world would be a better place if the authors of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective had not written a story with a transgender character in it. If you are writing a comedy in which one of the punchlines is a trans woman being sexually assaulted until the protagonist reveals that she has a penis, at which point there is an extended vomiting sequence because of how disgusting it is to have kissed a trans woman, and this is all played for laughs at the trans woman’s expense, I ask you on behalf of trans people everywhere not to write any more trans characters.

If, however, you would not do any of that, because that’s horrible, then you should write trans characters. Even though you’re going to mess up!

By contrast, consider Wanda from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Wanda is, in some ways, a problematically written character. About half her characteristics boil down to “Wanda is trans and faces transphobia.” Her birth surname is literally Mann. She cannot participate in a moon ritual because the universe itself limits certain rituals to people who menstruate. She dies tragically.

But would it be better if she didn’t exist?

Wanda is, after all, a sympathetically written character. She gets to call out the forces of magic itself for not thinking she’s a woman, and the narrative is pretty much on her side. Misgendering trans people is unambiguously depicted as wrong, and the fact that the wrong name is on her tombstone is shown to be a tragedy. She has interests and traits unrelated to being trans. Her body is not shown to be repulsive.

And… as far as I’m aware, Wanda was the first trans female character in a comic published by DC or Marvel. If Neil Gaiman had been like “hm, I guess I don’t know how to write trans people, I should make Wanda cis,” it would not have summoned an unproblematically written character out of the ether. Trans people would continue to not exist in mainstream comics, and once they did exist, they might be written by one of those people who thinks vomiting after you touch a trans person is the height of humor.

I am confident that Wanda made some cis people empathize with trans people who would never have empathized with them otherwise. And I’m sure I’m not the only trans person for whom Sandman was one of the first places we learned trans people even existed.

Of course, you should always try to improve your writing, and working on not perpetuating oppressive ideas is part of that. But the hurdle to clear before writing a marginalized character is better than not writing one is very low. You have to avoid making any particularly glaring factual inaccuracies. You have to not do the vomit thing. Most of all, you have to depict the character as a person, with thoughts and feelings and dreams and fears, someone whom the audience can empathize with (even if they’re a villain). If you do that, it’s okay to screw up on something more complicated. You’re still making life better for marginalized people.

Brent Dill Is An Abuser

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Brent Dill (who goes by the handle Ialdabaoth, and in some cases frustrateddemiurge) abused and sexually assaulted two people I know, Persephone and T. You may find their stories, as well as the story of T’s partner Jonathan, here.

I have been friends with T for many years and can vouch for her reliability and the consistency of her story. Many details of both Persephone and T’s stories have been confirmed by people who were present. Documentation, including text message conversations and “slave contracts”, has been shown to trustworthy people.

This is what Brent Dill looks like:

There is at least one other Brent Dill, who lives in Texas, likes basketball, and tweets here. If you are a different Brent Dill who has not abused anyone, I would be happy to include a description or your photo so that you are not mistaken for the abusive Brent Dill. If you are uncertain whether your Brent Dill is the correct Brent Dill, please contact me.

I thought for a long time about whether I should post this. I am hesitant to link someone’s legal name and photo to their online accounts; I am aware this may cause him to lose jobs, which in our society may mean hunger or homelessness. However, the rationalist community is not the first community where Brent has abused people. He has shown no sign that he will refrain from abusing in the future. I think that informing future victims is more important, at this point, than protecting Brent’s reputation and employability.

Further, Brent Dill’s Google results already include a discussion of his abusiveness. Unfortunately, the discussion is of a sort that, I’m afraid, Brent could easily twist to support his own narrative of persecution. I hope that a factual description of his actions is harder for him to spin as an attack. I also worry about splash damage onto innocent Brent Dills, which I tried to minimize by including a photo of the non-innocent Brent Dill and a description of the innocent Brent Dill I know about. The other discussion also (through no fault of its own) includes no contact person for people who are concerned about Brent’s presence in their community.

If Brent Dill is part of your community, or if you or a friend are dating or considering dating him, please email me at ozyfrantz@gmail.com. I can provide corroboration for T and Persephone’s stories that is not available publicly and talk with you about next steps. If you know about a publicly available story of Brent abusing someone or other reliable information about his abusiveness, please post it in the comments here, email me, or email Mittens Cautious, so that future people can make informed decisions.

Thoughtful and Compassionate People You Disagree With, Full List

From this thread and this thread on r/ssc; feel free to keep making suggestions in the comment thread here. I’ve tried to sort them into categories by political opinions; feel free to correct me if I have a miscategorization. Please note that I included every name that was nominated by a person who did not say they agreed with the nominated person or stan for the Cultural Revolution in the same comment; presence on this list does not mean that I approve of a person or even know who they are. (Decisions about whether the person said they agreed with the nominated person are made by me, and are final.)

Miscellaneous

  • Left, Right and Center (podcast)

Christians

  • G. K. Chesterton (3 votes)
  • C. S. Lewis (3 votes)
  • Mark Yarhouse
  • Melinda Selmys
  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Marilynne Robinson
  • Grahame Greene
  • Peter Blum
  • Samantha Field
  • Guy Consolmagno
  • Tolstoy

Libertarians

  • David Friedman (3 votes)
  • Tyler Cowen (2 votes)
  • Adam Smith
  • Megan McArdle
  • Bryan Caplan
  • Penn Jillette
  • Jeffrey Tucker
  • Kmele Foster

Conservatives

  • Ross Douthat (4 votes)
  • David French (4 votes)
  • Rod Dreher (2 votes)
  • Rich Lowry
  • Charles Murray
  • Niall Ferguson

Feminists

  • Catharine MacKinnon (2 votes)
  • Judith Butler (2 votes)
  • Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Barry Deutsch
  • Julia Serano
  • Zoe Quinn
  • Crash Chaos Cats
  • Jeana Jorgensen
  • Contrapoints

Liberals

  • Harold Feld
  • Kevin Drum
  • Ruth Bader Ginsberg
  • Ezra Klein
  • Yannis Varoufakis
  • u/yodatsracist (on reddit)
  • Liz Bruenig
  • Jane Coaston
  • Bret Weinstein

Leftists

  • Nathan J Robinson (2 votes)
  • Freddie de Boer (2 votes)
  • William Gillis
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Karl Marx
  • Ursula K Le Guin

Effective Altruists

  • Will MacAskill
  • Jeremy Bentham

Rationalists

  • Kelsey Piper (theunitofcaring on tumblr) (4 votes)
  • Scott Alexander (2 votes)
  • Jacob Falkovich
  • Alicorn

Depressing Germans

  • Heinrich von Kleist
  • Philipp Mainländer

Thing of Things Ballot Endorsements (2018)

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[Note: Likely to be of limited interest to those outside of California or, in some cases, Berkeley.]

Politicians

Governor: Gavin Newsom. I really really wanted to vote for Gavin Newsom because as San Francisco mayor he illegally let a bunch of gay people marry and I feel like that’s the kind of person we need in politics these days. Unfortunately, I am a single-issue voter on housing, not a single-issue voter on one’s history of civil disobedience. Fortunately, Gavin Newsom has a moderate position on housing. He supports rent control and other protections for tenants, but also supports expanding housing production, including by withholding transportation funding from communities that don’t build enough housing. Cox appears to have no detailed policy proposals on housing, and also supports building a border wall between the US and Mexico and repealing California’s sanctuary state law. So fuck him. (Was it that hard to find a libertarian, guys?)

Lieutenant Governor: Eleni Kounkalakis says good things about housing, with a strong position in favor of building more homes. Ed Hernandez didn’t even bother to have a page about housing on his website.

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla. If the Republicans want me to vote for a Republican to run elections, they should spend less time trying to disenfranchise black people.

Treasurer: Fiona Ma. I have no strong opinions about this race and am just voting for the Democrat.

Controller: Betty T. Yee. Roditis appears to be running mostly on the issues of repealing the gas tax and defunding high-speed rail. BOO. HISS.

Attorney General: Xavier Becerra. Steven C Bailey is running on an anti-undocumented-immigrant, pro-prison-industrial-complex platform. Xavier Becerra, conversely, has a strongly pro-immigrant record, including taking a leading role on opposing the Trump administration, and seems at least reasonable on criminal justice reform.

Insurance Commissioner: Steve Poizner. Poizner has apparently been endorsed by every California newspaper that made an endorsement. Lara is focusing his campaign on how opposed he is to Trump. I don’t know a heck of a lot about what insurance commissioners are supposed to do but I am pretty sure it doesn’t involve very much opposing Trump.

Member, State Board of Equalization, 2nd District: Malia Cohen. Mark Burns wants to protect and strengthen Proposition 13, which caps property taxes even if the value of your home has skyrocketed. Malia Cohen appears to be against establishing feudalism as California’s preferred form of government.

United States Senator: Kevin De Leon. It’s really an open question what Diane Feinstein’s worst position is– there’s really something about her to hate for everyone. She’s pro-DRM and a regular foe of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She’s a committed drug warrior who chairs the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control. Until 2018, she supported capital punishment. She supported the Iraq War. She called for the extradition and arrest of Edward Snowden. She was the main Democratic sponsor of an amendment to make it unconstitutional to desecrate the flag. She was the original Democratic cosponsor of a bill to extend the Patriot Act. She’s a strong supporter of the NSA. She supports limiting the free-speech rights of animal advocates. She wants to de facto ban strong encryption.

Vote Kevin De Leon. He may not be perfect, but he has never sponsored a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, and I’m proud of him for that.

United States Representative: Barbara Lee. Barbara Lee is great– she supports the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and is strongly in favor of criminal justice reform.

Member of the State Assembly: Buffy Wicks. Endorsed by East Bay for Everyone.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Marshall Tuck. Thurmond and Tuck agree on a lot, and both seem like reasonable choices; Tuck is pro-charter-schools while Thurmond is pro-teacher’s-union, and so it ultimately comes down to whether you’re optimistic about charter schools improving education.

Assessor: Phong La. Johnson wants to concentrate on giving people the lowest taxes legally possible, which seems like a pretty dubious thing to be doing. La wants to help the homeless, which seems like a nice thing to do, even if I’m not sure exactly what that has to do with being a property tax assessor.

Rent Stabilization Board: James Chang, Soli Alpert, Judy J Hunt, Maria Poblet, and John T. Selawsky. The people endorsed by the Berkeley mayor, minus one person who had a kooky statement about rent control in her candidate statement, which I replaced with someone endorsed by most of the city council.

School Directors: Ty Alper, Ka’Dijah Brown, Julie Sinai. People endorsed by the Berkeley mayor.

AC Transit District Director: Joel Young, because his opponent didn’t bother to submit a candidate statement. Whoops, no, I was totally wrong. Dollene Jones, because she has not committed domestic violence or spat on anyone or used her office to enrich herself.

City Auditor: Jenny Wong, because her opponent seems to be under the impression that the city auditor gets to veto any money the city spends, which I’m pretty sure is not true. Also, this is ranked-choice voting! Pretty cool. If only it were for an office people cared about.

Propositions

One: Yes. Bond authorization requested by the legislature because Californians have to approve bonds. I generally want to vote ‘yes’ on things requested by the legislature, because governing is literally the thing I hired them to do.

Two: Yes. Authorizes the legislature to allocate some money that was intended to be spent on mental health services on bonds for housing to prevent homelessness. Housing First programs seem to have robustly good evidence for them, and the legislature thinks it’s a good idea.

Three: No. Bond authorization not requested by the legislature? This seems pretty stupid. I am pretty sure the legislature knows what sorts of things it should spend money on.

Four: No? Newspapers generally seem to endorse it, but again if it’s so urgent that we do a bond authorization to help fund children’s hospitals then why didn’t the legislature ask for it?

Five: KILL IT WITH FIRE. Allows elderly and disabled homebuyers to transfer the tax-assessed value of their old home to their new home, regardless of the new home’s market value (?!?!?!?!). Prop 13 already crippled California’s property tax base; we do not need to make it worse. This is a conditional transfer of wealth from young to old. Don’t do it.

Six: NO. Lowers the gas tax, because it isn’t like we have any CLIMATE CHANGE that is HEATING UP THE GLOBE or anything. That is not something we liberals in California are concerned about, no sirree.

Seven: Yes. Grants the legislature more flexibility in deciding whether to repeal daylight savings time. Does not necessarily state that the legislature will repeal daylight savings time. Daylight savings time is an abomination that kills people and I see no downside to giving the legislature the ability to destroy it.

Eight: No. It’s a complicated policy that might be right or might be wrong– my friend Cliff Pervocracy, a nurse who has worked in dialysis clinics, has said he thinks it’s a good idea, while my instincts are against making the economics of the health care system even more complicated. You know who are the right people to pass laws about complicated policies? THE FUCKING LEGISLATURE.

Nine.

Ten. No. YIMBY groups are really divided on this one. Lots of people think expanding rent control will help tenants, while other people are concerned that it will lead to further distortions in the housing market. And you know who is totally capable of repealing Costa-Hawkins in a way that will let them put it back if it turns out to be a bad policy? THE LEGISLATURE.

Eleven. No, and also fuck you. The primary sponsor is retroactively trying to get out of paying people the wages THEY EARNED for having to work during breaks, because apparently these days when you steal money from people you can just get a ballot initiative to say that you’re allowed to steal money.

Twelve. FUCK YES. If you walk into the polling place on November 6th with the energy to vote for one thing, vote yes on 12. It bans the sale of products from veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying chickens confined in very small spaces. Because California is a large meat market, Proposition 12 could conceivably affect the entirety of the United States. Chickens will be able to spread their wings. They will get nests, perches, and places to dust bathe. These requirements are so absolutely minimal that I don’t know why we’re still debating them as a society. Vote against animal cruelty. Vote for Prop 12.

Measures

I voted yes on O, P, R, and FF, per East Bay for Everyone’s recommendation; I voted no on Q because I think rent control is bad policy. I voted yes on E and G because I am broadly in support of new taxes.

Defeating Scrupulosity

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Six years ago, I suffered from crippling scrupulosity issues. Today, I don’t.

My symptoms were as I discussed in my old post Generalized Shame Disorder, which was based substantially on my own experiences:

Let’s be clear about how I’m using the word “shame” here. Shame is not the same thing as guilt, although many people with generalized shame disorder self-identify as having guilt issues. Guilt is a response to doing something wrong; while sometimes people feel guilty too much or guilty about the wrong things, in general, guilt is useful and healthy. Shame, however, is about fundamentally being a bad person. Guilt is “I made a mistake”; shame is “I am a mistake”. Guilt often motivates people to make amends and change their behavior; shame often doesn’t, because fixing a specific defect is much less daunting than fixing an entire defective self…

Commonly, generalized shame disorder seems to be associated with literal self-destructive impulses. Conventionally, the term “self-destructive” means doing things that have far more negative consequences than positive consequences, such as substance abuse; however, people with generalized shame disorder seem to literally want to destroy themselves. This manifests in a lot of different ways. Suicidal ideation is obvious. Some might have an eating disorder in the hopes that they can waste away until they stop existing. Some people may go to a psychiatrist in the hopes of getting medication that will cause them to be a completely different person. Some people make life choices that make them miserable because the complete opposite of themselves is the only good kind of person to be. I am sure there are others; we are nothing if not inventive.

Regardless of the preferred form of self-destruction (and most people with generalized shame disorder have more than one), the root thought is the same. In fact, if there’s anything besides “lots of shame” that defines this condition for me, it’s that: the urge, in some literal or metaphorical sense, to stop being you. It is very common for people to feel guilt about the fact that they can’t force themselves to be someone else or that they don’t want to.

I am not entirely recovered from scrupulosity. In fact, the evening before writing this post I experienced a minor relapse; I treated it promptly and was entirely recovered within a few hours. I have one relapse every three to six months, none of which last longer than a few hours. This is a level of pain I can live with.

Perhaps the greatest sign of how things have changed is that I’ve forgotten how much my shame and scrupulosity used to shape my entire life. Recently I had a conversation with a person who used to know me quite well, but who has been a distant acquaintance for the past few years. I made an off-hand comment about my self-acceptance and then they said “weren’t you the person who used to spend hours crying every day about how worthless you are?” and I suddenly realized that I don’t do that anymore.

So I am writing a sequence to explain how I recovered. I primarily intend this sequence to be helpful to those struggling with scrupulosity, excessive shame, and similar issues. However, I expect that many of the posts will be of interest to people who do not have similar issues; after all, the original Sequences were about what Eliezer discovered while trying to figure out how to create a friendly AI, and are of interest to many people who were not involved in creating a friendly AI at all. This is the index post and will be updated with links to later posts as they come out.

Open Thread: Thoughtful and Compassionate People You Disagree With

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I’ve noticed there are some traits that one would ideally like in an thinker that are easier to notice if you disagree with them. For example, when authors I disagree with describe viewpoints I hold, some of them correctly describe what I believe, while others’ descriptions are so distorted that it’s like looking through a funhouse mirror. Some authors seem to have compassion for people different from them, while others loathe them or write about them like we’re a zoo exhibit. Some authors lay out the best evidence against their case, while others hide things that might prove them wrong.

I try to pay attention to those traits whether or not I agree with the author, of course. But it’s much easier to notice when viewpoints you personally hold are being misrepresented or groups you’re part of are hated. So I thought I’d create an open thread where people can share authors they disagree with that they respect– authors who avoid strawmanning and have compassion for the outgroup– so that people who agree with those authors know who to check out.

I don’t know the political leanings of every person who comments on Thing of Things, so I can’t enforce this, but I’d like to ask people to list people they personally disagree with whom they respect, and not people they agree with whom they think other people would totally respect if they gave them a chance. To the extent possible, please list people you disagree with substantially about important issues, not people you mostly agree with but have a small handful of minor disagreements with.

When the comment thread has died down, I’ll make a top-level post with people’s answers.

Here’s my list, to get you started:

  • Mark Yarhouse (evangelical Christian whose work focuses on LGBTQ people; consistently thoughtful and compassionate)
  • Catharine MacKinnon (radical feminist; wrote one of the best definitions of liberal feminism I’ve ever read)
  • Melinda Selmys (Anglican, lesbian married to a man)
  • David Friedman (anarchocapitalist; erudite, intelligent, obviously passionately concerned about the poor, and very funny)
  • Barbara Ehrenreich (socialist feminist)

Moderation notes: I’d like this to be a thread where people can share names, not a thread of political arguments. You can feel free to ask questions, but arguments about other people’s beliefs are not appropriate for this thread. “How could you say X is compassionate and intellectually honest, they believe Y!” will be deleted without mercy.

The Iron Mathematics of Day Care

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[cw: child abuse. Might not be a good thing to read if you’re a working parent who can’t afford expensive day care.]

Sometimes I get into conversations about why day care is so expensive.

My friends are Silicon Valley liberals, so their assumption when something is very expensive is that some government bureaucracy is going around making it so. However, in my home state of California, the rules for starting your own home day care are outrageously reasonable. You must be 18, live in the home, have no criminal record, take 15 hours of classes in first aid and CPR, and not have tuberculosis. There are various reasonable and easy-to-fulfill safety regulations: you are not allowed to have a loaded gun or an unfenced swimming pool, and if you don’t have liability insurance the parents have to sign a paper that says they know you don’t. The list of things which you are allowed to have is perhaps the most revealing, as it includes such items as using the same towel for every child, not washing your hands after diaper changes, and having an unlocked liquor cabinet.

I’m not honestly sure what room there is for decreasing prices by decreasing regulation. I am not sure whether there are enough people with tuberculosis dying to go into home daycare that they will have much of an effect.

The problem with home day care is math.

The maximum number of infants a home day care provider can legally take care of is four. Let’s assume your day care provider is making the Californian minimum wage of $11/hour. Let’s also assume that you have a spouse and both you and your spouse have fairly flexible schedules: you go to work late and your spouse leaves work early, so your child is only in care forty hours a week. Let’s also assume the day care has literally no expenses other than staff.

This day care will cost $440/month.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to take away “day care should cost $440/month.” That is the literal absolute physical minimum that a day care can cost. Most day cares have other expenses, such as taxes, rent (a huge expense in the Bay!), utilities, liability insurance, marketing, toys, books, cribs, and so on, which will add costs.

Let’s say you and your spouse both have jobs that demand you get in at 9am. Now you have to add in time for the commute, which means your child is in day care for longer. (Don’t forget to account for the time it adds if your day care is out of the way.)

And then there’s the question of how good care your child is getting for your, oh, probably it’s $650/month by now.

Taking care of babies is not complicated. The average sixteen-year-old can do a fine job at taking care of a baby, with a bit of training. But taking care of babies is really hard.

Sometimes they scream and can’t be comforted. Sometimes they try to stand up in their high chairs and do a backflip. Sometimes their poop explodes out of their diapers and covers their legs, genitals, onesies, and the furniture. Even if nothing goes wrong, they’re extraordinarily demanding– of cuddles, food, attention, play, diaper changes, songs, and being bounced up and down until your arms ache.

You don’t need a lot of knowledge to do well taking care of a baby. But you need spare emotional resources. You need patience and kindness and love.

In line with California’s general outrageous reasonableness on the subject, four babies is just about the maximum a human being can take care of at a time while making sure they’re fed, clean, and happy at least half the time. As the primary caregiver of a parent, taking care of four babies for forty hours a week is one of the most emotionally demanding and stressful jobs I can imagine. And you don’t get lunch or coffee breaks.

Minimum wage is not a lot of money: a person who makes minimum wage (assuming they’re not being financially supported by someone else) probably spends a lot of time stressing about how they’re going to pay rent and bills this month and definitely can’t afford to treat their depression or chronic pain. (Remember, health insurance costs money which we didn’t account for in our calculation.)

Do you really think our stressed, maybe sick person taking care of too many babies is going to do a good job?

I’m not talking about anything fancy here– I’m not saying “will she be able to feed the children a gluten-free vegan lunch all grown less than 50 miles away off golden plates?” I’m talking about things like: will she lose her temper and yell at the baby? Will she consistently notice every time any baby is doing something dangerous? Will she change the baby when they’re poopy or leave them in a poopy diaper until they get a horrible rash? Will she– God forbid– hit the baby, or leave the baby alone in the house for an hour, or shake the baby?

I’m not saying that our hypothetical day care provider is a bad person. If you make a stressed, sick person do an incredibly emotionally demanding job, at some point they’ll snap.

So let’s up the wage to $20/hour (including benefits), which isn’t exactly programmer money, but is enough that the caregiver isn’t constantly stressed about money and maybe can afford to see a doctor sometimes. And let’s say she’s taking care of two babies, which is a reasonable and sustainable number. Again, this is for 45 hours a week. Assuming that all other expenses are about 30% of what the caregiver earns, high-quality day care costs $2340 a month.

Very, very few people can afford $2340 a month, which is why most babies in day care are in day care with underpaid, overworked caregivers, who often don’t do a very good job taking care of them.

A while ago, a friend told me I should apply for a job at her company, which pays $70,000/year. I’d be good at the job, it’s a great environment, and I’d probably really enjoy it. I turned her down because, between day care and taxes (since my husband makes six figures), working a $70,000/year job would cause me to have an extra $15,000/year in my pocket.