Human Harvest/The Bleeding Edge

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[content warning: gruesome violence against innocent people]

In the late nineties, China began to perform tens of thousands of organ transplants annually to rich or well-connected “transplant tourists”. China has very little organ-donation system to speak of, so where are the organs coming from?

The murder of innocent people whose only crime is peacefully practicing their religious beliefs.

The dead include Christians, Tibetans, and Uighurs, but the majority are practitioners of Falun Gong, a Buddhist-influenced religion that emphasizes meditation and qigong.

Recently, Leon Lee, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, has released two films onto iTunes. Human Harvest is a documentary about the harvesting of organs from political dissidents. The Bleeding Edge is a thriller based on the true story, starring Anastasia Lin, the reigning Miss World Canada, who was forbidden by the Chinese government to go to the 2015 Miss World pageant in Canada due to her activism against the persecution of the Falun Gong.

These films are not getting a theatrical release. Not because they’re bad films, but because no theater chain is willing to show the movie. The Chinese film market is one of the largest in the world, and theater chains and distributors are afraid of backlash by the Chinese government hurting their profits. The Chinese government has also threatened Lin’s father into severing ties with her; cast and crew members backed out because they were afraid of reprisals from the Chinese government against their loved ones in China.

The Chinese government knows that light is the best disinfectant. If people from developed countries know that Chinese organs come from the murder of innocent people, far fewer people will travel to China to get organ transplants, because most people are fairly strongly against murder. That’s why the Chinese government is desperately engaging in censorship.

I’m not a big fan of other people trying to tell me what I ought to watch, personally, particularly when they’re doing it to cover up their habit of murdering people for their religious beliefs. I don’t like thrillers or incredibly depressing documentaries, so I probably wasn’t going to watch The Bleeding Edge or Human Harvest otherwise. But I want censorship to fail. If you try to keep me from watching something, I’m going to watch it.

I hope you share my thoughts on this. If you do, watch The Bleeding Edge and Human Harvest. Buy them from iTunes. Tell your friends to watch it too. Don’t let the censors and murderers win.

I’m Not An Effective Altruist Because I Prefer…

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[If I have made an error or bad argument in this post, please correct me in the comments and I will update this post.]

I’ll be honest: I am exactly the kind of globalist, cosmopolitan technocrat you imagine when you read the word “effective altruist.” But I also believe in working with people who have different sets of values than mine on issues that are important to both of us, and given how talent-constrained most effective altruist causes are, I think cooperation and collaboration are much better strategies than yelling at people. And I’m not a fan of making the perfect the enemy of the good: if you’re not going to help eradicate malaria or factory farming no matter what I do, I’d much rather you go about doing whatever other thing you’re doing well. Scared Straight doesn’t help anyone.

So, you’re not an effective altruist, because you support..

…local causes!

Many people believe that they have a special duty to their family, their friends, their city, or their country. That is perfectly fine; your values are your values. However, believing in a special duty to those close to you is not incompatible with being an effective altruist. Most people don’t have literally zero interest in humanity as a whole; if you care about humanity a little bit, you can be an effective altruist a little bit. For instance, some effective altruists who believe in that duty pair each donation to a friend, family member, or local/national cause with a donation to a global cause. You can also decide what percentage of your resources you want to devote to global causes and use those resources.

If you are determined to only care about local causes, I encourage you to take the following steps:

  • Choose a highly important local cause area. For instance, in US policy, many effective altruists believe that land use reform, criminal justice reform, farm animal welfare, immigration policy, and macroeconomic stabilization policy are the most important. If you think existential or global catastrophic risks pose a threat to humanity, remember that you and those close to you are also part of humanity. You might think that another cause area is the most important. Think about tractability (whether you can do something about it), scale (how many people does it affect), and neglectedness (how many other people are already doing something about it).
  • Take an evidence-based approach. Take care to avoid ineffective interventions. Encourage nonprofits you work with to collect information about the good they’re doing or even run randomized controlled trials. When you donate, don’t just consider overhead; think about how much good the charity does per dollar you donate.
  • Consider sharing information you discover with the effective altruism community. There are a lot of world problems, and we really really don’t have enough talented people. If you’re working on a highly important cause area, we need your expertise, even if you don’t 100% share our values.

…anti-overpopulation charities!

I have seen a lot of people argue that they don’t want to save the lives of people in the developing world because they’re afraid of overpopulation. However, there are several options the overpopulation-concerned effective altruist could take.

First, the evidence appears to suggest that averting the deaths of children– as the Against Malaria Foundation does– tends to reduce fertility. If you think that argument’s true, then you don’t have to worry much about overpopulation effects. If you consider the evidence to be fairly weak, consider donating to a deworming charity or Give Directly, neither of which save lives; instead, they help people become richer. Since rich people tend to have fewer children, this also reduces world overpopulation in expectation.

If you’re skeptical about such indirect effects and want to have a direct effect on people in the developing world, consider donating to a reproductive health charity. Population Services International is a former GiveWell standout charity; it’s still believed to do very good work. You can also donate to IPPFAR, which is the Planned Parenthood organization that caters to Africa. If the topic interests you, consider researching other reproductive health organizations; if you can present evidence that a charity is comparable with GiveWell top charities, maybe other effective altruists will switch to supporting it.

…structural change! 

Great! We, too, like structural change. I don’t think anyone’s ideal vision of the world is “everyone in the developed world takes the Giving What We Can pledge; ten percent of the GDP of every developed country goes to the developing world for the rest of time as a sort of international welfare program”.

A lot depends on whether by “structural change” you mean something along the lines of “reform of foreign aid” or something along the lines of “global communist revolution”. If the former: I encourage you to check out 80,000 Hours, which has a lot of advice about how you can use your career to make structural change. For instance, depending on your skills, you can consider joining the civil service, becoming a journalist, becoming a foundation grantmaker, economics research, working for an effective nonprofit, researching structural change charities for an organization like Open Philanthropy Project, or founding a startup like Wave. You’ll probably want to concentrate on advocacy, research, and direct work careers, rather than earning to give.

If you’re not capable of getting work in any high-impact careers, consider donating to charities which may lead to structural change. For instance, GiveWell’s malaria and deworming charities both help with the eradication of their respective diseases, through reducing transmission and infection rates. If that isn’t structural enough for you, I’d like to gently suggest that– whether or not genuinely structural change is the best– we’re not talking about what’s the best thing to do overall. We’re talking about what the best thing to do is for you. There’s no shame in doing the best you can– particularly if the best you can is literally saving the lives of children. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good. It’s much better to help some people– even if you aren’t fixing everything in the world– than to help no one at all.

If by “structural change” you mean scrapping our entire political/economic system and replacing it with a new one… well, you’re definitely ambitious, and that’s awesome. It’s going to take ambition to solve the world’s problems. You’ve probably also noticed that the effective altruism movement is somewhat lacking in people who agree with you.

I don’t think that necessarily means it’s a bad idea for you to participate in effective altruism. Effective altruism is marked by its fondness for super-weird ideas; there’s no reason to believe that effective altruists won’t be willing to adopt your unusual ideas, if you back them up with evidence and reason. And, selfishly, if it turns out that the best thing to do is working on replacing our entire economic and political system, then I really want to know about that! If you can convince me, I want to be convinced!

If you decide not to work with effective altruists, I still think an emphasis on effectiveness is important for prospective revolutionaries. A really common way that leftist groups fail (and probably also rightist groups, although I’ve spent less time around them) is that they wind up wasting all their time in petty infighting, abstruse theorizing, or attempting to figure out whose life choices are the most Problematic. This is, uh, not great. Unfortunately, unlike local causes, this isn’t something where I can point to EA research about the most effective strategies. But I think some of the habits of mind are still useful: an emphasis on quantification; paying attention to tractability, neglectedness, and scale; monitoring whether the thing you’re doing has the effects you think it has, possibly including randomized controlled trials.

In addition, I would be remiss not to point out the existence of AI charities. I encourage everyone who’s primarily interested in structural change to pick up a copy of Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence. While many people (including me) don’t really buy his arguments, you really can’t get much more structural than building a benevolent superintelligence to improve everyone’s lives.

Epistemic Closure Challenge #2

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[content warning: discussion of Naziism, violence, persecution of Christians, racism, whorephobia, Maoism]

People who are not participants are welcome to comment to give book recommendations, talk about what other people are reading, or talk about books that they’ve read recently that they disagree with. If you are confused about what the epistemic closure challenge is, read this.

General Notes: First two weeks of actually only reading things I disagree with.

I’ve been mostly reading books I already own, which has sort of been a problem, because books I already own fall into three categories:

(a) Books About Jesus, either because of my interest in the topic or Topher’s dark past as an atheist blogger
(b) Historically important books (Das Kapital, An Essay on the Principle of Population, Mein Kampf)
(c) Books that I definitely disagree with but that are, in a certain sense, part of my ingroup (Nick Kristof writes for the New York Times, Tyler Cowen is an econblogger).

I think (c) is a good thing to include a little of in the challenge, but if I just did that I would kind of be missing the point. So I’m going to be buying books in the future, and I encourage people to give me recommendations for more books (although I’m good on the Jesus books, really).

I have quit reading two books so far. I stopped reading The Progress Paradox when it turned out I agreed with Easterbrook and I had just been confused about what he meant by the word ‘happiness.’ I stopped reading Nobody Passes when I decided it was written by members of my ingroup, just members of my ingroup who are incredibly annoying. (If you went to an Ivy League school, you are not one of the most marginalized! If you grew up upper-middle-class, you are not one of the most marginalized! Your pain is legitimate even if it isn’t the worst pain in the world, but honestly, check your fucking privilege!)

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense: This is like reading a book written by me in a weird alternate universe in which I don’t believe it is necessary to only believe things that are true. Spufford repeatedly says that “it’s not possible to know for sure whether or not God exists”, even though he MENTIONS THE SEQUENCES IN A FOOTNOTE, so he has NO EXCUSE and should know EXACTLY WHY THAT DOES NOT WORK.

Spufford’s description of a spiritual experience is probably one of the most accurate ones I have read.

I definitely thought I had stopped being emotionally moved by Christianity because of my conversion to I-Do-What-I-Want-Ism but then I read this book and, yep, I’m still Jesus trash. Bleh. I think a key part of why I was moved by it is that Spufford does not characterize original sin as everything humans do being depraved and evil, but simply as humans in general having a tendency to be fuckups. As a fuckup, I relate.

One of the things I really like about Unapologetic is that Spufford winds up characterizing Jesus’s frankly absurd moral teaching as a product of Jesus being God. God is reckless self-sacrificial Love; God understands each person as an individual, and end rather than a means, in a way that humans simply can’t. So Jesus has these frankly weird parables, like the parable of the lost sheep: a shepherd who has a hundred sheep loses one and neglects all his other sheep to search everywhere to find it. The obvious response is “no, you don’t do that, at least not before you make sure all the other sheep are safely locked up in the sheep pen; 99 sheep is, in fact, more than one sheep, and if you don’t sacrifice one occasionally you’ll lose all of them.” But possession doesn’t really make intuitive sense to God, while He is acutely sensitive to loss. I personally think this is a fascinating reframe: a God that thinks in a really truly alien way, the way that, you know, the objective ground of being really would.

I also appreciate a story of the crucifixion that emphasizes Gethsemane and “my god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” This is probably because I’m lucky enough to have never experienced a huge amount of physical pain.

You can tell that Spufford is a Brit because he claims that only a tiny minority of Christians believe in Hell these days. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Disagreement: I am not a Christian.

On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason And Precision: uuuuuuuuuuuggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh

I am really trying to read all the books in this challenge with an open mind, ready to understand other people’s point of view, but Craig’s arguments are SO DUMB.

First of all, Craig claims that it is impossible to avoid despair unless you are immortal and God exists. I feel like this is a remarkable position. Even the strongest anti-deathists I know aren’t going around saying that until the Singularity everyone should be depressed all the time. Also, he says that our actions don’t have any significance unless we are immortal, because eventually there will be the heat death of the universe. To which my response is the following piece of glurge:

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.

“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.

“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”

“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

It is sort of embarrassing when your theology of suffering is less good than Oprah’s.

I do appreciate Craig’s use of Al-Ghazali; not enough people engage with medieval Muslim theology. That said, his arguments about how God must be the cause of the universe fall apart on closer examination. Time is a feature of this universe; there’s no reason to believe that causality applies before the beginning of the universe, no matter how confusing it is for us to understand how something would work without time. “What caused the universe?” may be a question as confused as “what is to the left of the universe?” (Craig dismisses this as the “taxicab fallacy” but offers no reason to believe that the argument is fallacious, except that causality has to extend before the universe because he says so.)

Craig argues that the universe cannot exist by necessity, because individual particles do not exist by necessity, and then a few pages later mentions that the fallacy of composition is a fallacy. Craig also, at one point, makes an argument about quantum mechanics, justifying one of his premises with “it seems obvious that.” Craig also seems to believe that minds are ‘simple’, more simple than laws of physics, so presumably he will have no problem programming us a Friendly artificial intelligence.

I think Craig’s section on objective moral values could use a bit of tabooing the word ‘morality’, ‘right’, and ‘wrong’. He argues that objective moral values exist because even if Hitler took over the world and everyone came to agree that the Holocaust was right, the Holocaust would still be wrong. But taboo “wrong”. It is true that no one would believe the Holocaust itself is wrong. But even if everyone was a Nazi, it would still be the case that the Holocaust involved the torture and death of millions of people, and that this was based on false ideas about the harm Jews cause, which means the torture and death led to no benefit. It is also the case that harm/care is an important aspect of innate and cross-cultural human morality, which means that nearly all humans disapprove of harming others for no benefit. Therefore, the Holocaust continues to go against what people would believe if they had all the facts.

Now, of course, it is possible that Naziism modifies people so that they no longer are moved by the harm/care aspect of morality. Modern liberals typically have weak to nonexistent degradation/purity and subversion/authority aspects, so this is possible. In that case, I would have to say that the Nazis are not doing anything wrong from the perspective of Nazis, but they are certainly doing something wrong from the perspective of me, and my perspective is the one I care about.

Craig argues that the fact that morality evolved doesn’t mean that our moral sense doesn’t reflect objective moral values (however poorly), in the same way that our physical senses reflect objective reality (however poorly). Of course, this is true. But there’s a solid evolutionary reason why our physical senses reflect reality: if they didn’t, we would be eaten. On the other hand, there’s no reason for us to evolve to pay attention to objective moral values, while there is a solid evolutionary reason for any social species to evolve to be loyal to our tribes, distribute goods fairly, not harm people, etc.

Craig’s resurrection argument seems to work from the puzzling implicit premise that Christianity is the only religion with historically documented miracles, which would no doubt be a surprise to Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and practitioners of New Age religions. At no point does he discuss this obvious counterargument.

I can understand why Craig is such a good debater. All his arguments are wrong, but they’re subtly wrong in a way that makes it hard to explain exactly what’s wrong about them. For instance, Craig argues that objective moral values are the same sort of thing that mathematical objects are: just like “seven” exists even though it is not tangible, “goodness” can exist even though it is not tangible. The problem with defending against this argument is that first you have to explain what mathematical Platonism is, then you have to explain that there are alternative theories, then you have to explain why people believe the alternate theories, and by then the entire audience has fallen asleep.

Disagreement: I am not a Christian.

Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality: A Study Guide for Episcopalians: This is an interesting book about how Episcopalians (members of a church that is broadly in favor of gay marriage and connected to a denomination which is mostly not) should think about gay marriage.

One thing I found really interesting was the emphasis on diversity in both senses of the term: both the acceptance of gay people and the acceptance of people with differing viewpoints on LGBT issues. It was striking to me how often criticism of other Episcopalians for not valuing diversity meant not “this person is a homophobe” but “this person is attempting to schism the church because other people think gay people are okay.”

The Episcopalian sexual ethics was described as follows:

This suggests that in evaluating a relationship we must ask which key components are present and whether they are expressed in ways appropriate to that relationship. Mutual regard, respect, and truthfulness are minimums for any relationship. Relationships that are more than fleeting ought also to involve responsibility, loyalty, accountability, attentiveness, and availability. Long-enduring relationships require commitment, fidelity, reciprocity, forgiveness, and generativity.

Which I actually feel is a statement I would cosign as a sex-positive atheist. (However, as far as I can tell from this book, Episcopalians seem to be down on casual sex; they seem to believe that sex is best saved for long-enduring relationships, which I do disagree with. Unfortunately, since the book was mostly about gayness, it did not enlighten me about the crux of our disagreement.)

One of the articles about Scripture brought up polygamy as an example of how the marriage that God approves of is culturally constructed, and I was about to comment on how surprisingly poly-accepting that was until I read the discussion questions and polygamy was listed next to slave marriage as something “we find repugnant in our own day.” Bleh.

The argument that gay marriage isn’t blasphemous, what’s really blasphemous is marrying couples who aren’t really Christian and just want a picturesque wedding, made me giggle.

The article from a South African had a definite air of “Notice how we were RIGHT about apartheid? Notice how we are, like, the only Anglican denomination to play a major role in a civil rights struggle in the last fifty years? Archbishop Desmond Tutu is awesome!” Large parts of it were devoted to passive-aggressively pointing out that nobody schismed the South African church over “some Anglicans engaged in human rights atrocities against black people” and thus Episcopalians can damn well accept that some people are performing gay marriages.

Disagreement: I am not a Christian.

Victoria: A Novel of Fourth Generation War: Recommended to me by an article in the American Conservative; apparently written by one of the intellectual leading lights of the alt-right. The premise of the novel is that America’s cultural Marxist infestation leads to its collapse and division into several subcountries. New England wounds up getting run by alt-righters and therefore is the Good Guy Country. The other regions of the US do not, and therefore have to be nobly righted by Our Hero The General Staff Person. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The author appears to very much overestimate the number of deep greens and radical feminists in the United States. Deep greens not only present a problem for the Northern Confederation (where they are summarily executed) but also wind up running Cascadia (Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia). Radical feminists, conversely, wind up running California, where they ban all sex other than lesbianism and require schools to give women better grades for the same work. I am tempted to write a fanfic in which it is revealed that Our Hero The General Staff Person was extremely confused about everything and in fact California was run by queer theory people. The heterosexuality ban will be because heterosexuality is a social construct and clearly everyone could be gay if they wanted to; most people just decide they’re nonbinary and date as they would anyway. Also, the reason their military is so high-tech is that once they decided only women would run the military all of their military vets were trans women.

I mean, that’s still not great, but it’s at least slightly more plausible.

Muslims in this book are constantly crucifying Christians, which I am pretty sure does not happen? I admit I am not the most up-to-date about Muslim persecution of Christians, but skimming the Wikipedia page on the subject it mostly seems to be “Muslims had very good attitudes about religious freedom in the Middle Ages but have unfortunately kept the same attitudes while Christians were busy having the Enlightenment and thus it now seems really backwards,” which I don’t think implies they are going to crucify people. (I do, uh, appreciate (?) Saudi Arabia’s rules lawyering by declaring every citizen of Saudi Arabia to be Muslim and therefore all non-Muslim religious practice is apostasy.) I mean, Islamophobes are constantly calling people dhimmis, you’d think they know what that means.

Victoria is not exactly in favor of Nazis, but it is nowhere near as down on Nazis as I would generally hope people are. For instance, it is very strongly opposed to deep greens and to radical feminists, but the Nazis (who briefly run Wisconsin) are written as “well, we don’t LIKE concentration camps, but you certainly do have to admire their competence…” The hero’s mentor explains that he doesn’t want to help the Nazis not because he dislikes their anti-Semitism but because Nazis are far too modern.

I also find the racial politics interesting. There is exactly one Jewish character, who appears for one paragraph to assure the reader that he wants to join the Christian Marine Corps because he knows that “Christian” really refers to our shared Judeo-Christian values. The good black characters realize that in order to prevent the scourge of black-on-black crime all crimes committed by black people must be punished with hanging, and it must be illegal for black people to have children unless they are farmers. In general, this book has a strange tendency to trot out members of marginalized groups to explain that Insert Policy That Seems Kind Of Repressive Here is actually the best thing for them. (We also have a woman explaining that keeping a home is actually more important than the jobs people have outside the home. Personally, my feeling is that since keeping a home is such an important job we should free up men to do it if they want to too.)

I am informed by this book that getting the alt-right people to run everything means we will have very good trains, which is honestly giving me so much internal conflict.

Disagreement: Honestly, what DON’T I disagree with this book about?

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: First of all, the title is a Mao quote. Seriously? A leader whose actions led to horrific human rights abuses and the death of tens of millions of people is not an appropriate source of pithy quotes. Hitler said “the frailest woman will become a heroine when the life of her own child is at stake”, so I assume that Kristof is going to write a book about children’s health next and call it The Frailest Woman.

Awful choice of title aside: Kristof’s book is an odd combination of good shit and bad shit. He talks about the importance of evidence and randomized controlled trials in choosing where to give, points out that poorly targeted aid can do more harm than good, and even name-checks Givewell. But his anecdotes feature multiple people who turned out to be frauds, like Somaly Mam and Greg Mortenson, and those are just the ones I recognize. He rarely gives statistics, preferring to list off a mind-numbing array of horrifying stories without giving any sense of how representative they are. When he does give statistics, they are often poorly contextualized; he presents as authoritative numbers which are estimates or simply made up. He talks about the importance of giving Westerners an opportunity to come to Africa and help (ugh) and praises multiple charities which he recognizes are ineffective for the good work they do improving the moral character of Americans (UUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH).

I find it striking that progressives try to ban loans offered to poor people at 20-30% interest in the United States, but in developing countries they’re so fond of them that they donate money to charity to allow the poor to get more of them. Like, surely either 30% interest is exploitative or it’s not. Anyway, I think microfinance sucks and people’s fondness for it is this bizarre Protestant work ethic shit, and you should give money to cash transfers instead.

The big disagreement I knew about going in was about sex work. Kristof supports the criminalization of sex work because he believes that sex work in developing countries is almost always coerced. His preferred charities teach women career skills other than sewing, despite the rejection of this form of charity by many sex workers in the developing world. He discusses the tragedy that ‘rescued’ girls return to sex work. He writes:

It’s enormously dispiriting for well-meaning aid workers who oversee a brothel raid to take the girls back to a shelter and give them food and medical care, only to see the girls climb over the back wall.

I have so many issues with this! Like, first of all, how come the people you’re helping can’t walk out the front door if they don’t want to be there? Why are you making people escape from you? Second of all, if the people you are helping are trying to escape from you, you have a Problem. I am not saying that this is necessarily a “they don’t want to be helped” problem– Kristof blames it on the women being addicted to drugs and afraid of their pimps, in which case it would probably be solvable with bodyguards and methadone– but you have a serious issue if the people you are trying to help are running away!

I think there’s a lot to be done with an intersectional feminist analysis of global poverty and health in the developing world, which comes from a strong background of skepticism, empiricism, and a desire for evidence. I really wish someone would write it. Half the Sky is, unfortunately, not that book.

Disagreement: I am neither a whorephobe nor an ineffective altruist.

The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All The Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will Eventually Feel Better: I thought I 100% disagreed with the great stagnation hypothesis, but I think I just kept arguing about it with idiots. Cowen makes a much stronger case in this book, including arguing with my “but the Internet?” objection. (The Internet is one technology, not many; it creates far fewer jobs than many other technologies, mostly relying on the free labor of its users.)

My one objection is that I would have appreciated it if this book were about ten times more rigorous. For instance, Cowen’s primary thesis– that there have been few technological innovations in the past few decades– is mostly justified by saying “look around you, my grandmother’s life changed remarkably due to technology, but my life has stayed pretty much the same in the last few decades.” While this might be true, I’d prefer a more careful examination of the rate of innovation with, like, numbers and stuff.

That said, it’s an interesting hypothesis and I’d appreciate a more rigorous discussion of it.

Disagreement: when I started this book I did not agree with the great stagnation hypothesis.

Immigration Can Increase The Amount Your Country Is Like Itself

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[Epistemic Effort: I thought of this argument and was so pleased by my own cleverness that I decided to post it.]

A lot of people are worried about immigration because they’re worried that immigration will dilute their culture: instead of being a place full of People Like Them, it is a place full of funny people with funny food and alien values. I actually do think this is a legitimate cost to immigration, but I don’t think that all immigration has this quality.

Every US state has open borders with every other US state. It’s true that the US state example isn’t precisely the same as fifty countries which happen to have open borders with each other, but all the differences function to make US states more similar to each other: for instance, we have a shared federal government that exercises a significant amount of control over our lives. And yet immigration has not served to make Alabama the same as New York.

In fact, immigration has probably made Alabama more different from New York! Queer liberals from all around the United States tend to move to New York City; I assume that conservative Christians from all around the United States tend to move to Alabama. Liberals are so stubborn about moving to big cities in blue states that it was a pretty major factor in this election: if liberals all stayed where we were born, Hillary might have won. I myself come from Florida (purple state), my husband comes from Wisconsin (purple state), and we both currently live in California (blue).

It’s pretty obvious why this is the case. I have absolutely no interest in living in a small town in Alabama. People might look at me funny for not going to church, I might get harassed in the bathroom, and it’s impossible to get socialist vegan pizza. Conversely, a lot of Alabamians don’t want to move to the wretched hive of degeneracy and decadence that is San Francisco. Given that basically no Californians want to move to Alabama, the only thing that closed borders between Alabama and California would do is keep vegans born in Alabama from fleeing, and therefore increase Alabama’s chance of having to put up with a socialist vegan pizza place.

You can recruit people to your culture in two ways: by socializing children born into your culture (vertical transmission) or by recruiting adults who have an affinity to your culture (horizontal transmission). Immigration has little effect on successfully socialized children, who are presumably going to stay part of your culture. But without immigration you’d have to put up with the unsuccessfully socialized children and you can’t engage in horizontal transmission at all.

Of course, this argument doesn’t work for all immigration. As far as I’m aware, there’s only one country that the US has de facto open borders with: Cuba. As the Miami Herald said in its Castro obituary, the US’s de facto open border with Cuba “transform[ed] [South Florida] from the southernmost tip of the United States to the northernmost point of Latin America.” Today, more than three times as many Miami residents speak Spanish at home than English. This is a pretty major cultural shift!

I think what’s going on here is that Cubans are not immigrating to the US because they feel like the US is a better cultural fit for them than Cuba is; they are immigrating to the US because Cuba is a horrible country. While early Cuban refugees might not have been enthusiastic about being surrounded by gringos who can’t speak Spanish, it was definitely a better option than being executed for being a member of the opposition. They are immigrating to a place where they had poor cultural fit because their other options were worse. (And transforming it to a place where they have good cultural fit, natch.)

Of course, this argument does not do a lot for pro-immigration advocates; most of us tend to care most about immigration from horrible countries, because the benefit of immigrating from a horrible country to a non-horrible country is much larger than the benefit of immigrating from a non-horrible country to a non-horrible country with better cultural fit.

However, the economic benefits of immigration still apply to non-horrible-country/non-horrible-country immigration. Increased immigration between non-horrible countries is likely to increase the cultural diversity between those respective countries and the cultural similarity within them. And since we’re only talking about immigration from non-horrible countries, we don’t have to worry as much about assimilation; the immigrants will already have non-kleptocratic liberal democratic norms.

Therefore, I propose that people who are against immigration should advocate for a policy of open borders for all citizens of Anglosphere countries. (Since the US is one of the more conservative Anglosphere countries, this has a further benefit for the average anti-immigration American Republican; the liberals would finally make good on their threat to move to Canada.) If all goes well, we can expand to include other developed countries, such as Japan and Germany.

Bad Outcomes of a Trump Presidency

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[Epistemic status: I know nothing about politics. This post written in the spirit of being wrong loudly.]

Here is my understanding of possible situations in which Trump could be significantly worse than Generic Republican President.

Mitt Romney

Depicted: generic Republican president.

I think Trump is extremely high variance: I think possible outcomes from his presidency range from “better president than Obama or Hillary Clinton” to “nuclear war”. Needless to say, this is a very safe thing to say as a predictor, because if he turns out to be a great president I can say “look! I said he was high-variance!” and all I have to do is give up I-told-you-so points that won’t matter all that much anyway if we’re scavenging in a nuclear wasteland.

Trump is high variance for a couple of different reasons. First, he has not held any political office; this means that we don’t have any sense of how he governs (whether he will listen to advisors, whether he will try to keep his campaign promises, whether his impulsive behavior will be sobered by the power he holds, etc.). Second, he doesn’t know anything about governing, which increases the likelihood that he will make totally random and ill-informed decisions out of ignorance. Third, over the course of his campaign, he has often been extremely vague about his preferred policies beyond “terrific” and “the best.” He has regularly gone back and forth about what his positions are. When he does express policy positions, they are often more symbolic than literal. That is, “I want to register all the Muslims” may mean “I take the threat of Islamic terrorism seriously”, not “I want to create a large database of every Muslim”. All this makes a bit hard to tell what he will actually do.

That said, I think it’s worth trying to figure out what the most likely worst-case scenarios are so we can plan ahead.

Since I’m comparing Trump to the generic Republican president, I am not including policies where I also expect the generic Republican president to be horrible, such as not allowing refugees into the country.

There are several things that people are worried about that I am explicitly not worried about. For instance, Trump is relatively pro-LGBT for a Republican (his Ballotpedia entry has a pretty good overview). While Pence is fairly anti-LGBT, I would view Pence being able to pass anti-gay policies as a positive sign, because it would suggest that Pence has actual power and Pence is way lower-variance than Trump. While anti-LGBT laws are awful, we’re only like four percent of the population, and I would much rather have federally funded conversion therapy than a trade war, which hurts everyone, queer and not queer. (In the long run, of course, Supreme Court justices have effects; we can only hope that Pence will follow in Eisenhower’s footsteps and accidentally nominate Earl Warren.)

I do not care about the president’s personal virtue. I do not think it is particularly important for my assessment of his presidency that Trump has committed repeated sexual assaults; Bill Clinton is a rapist, but I think he did a decent job as president. I also am uninterested in questions about Trump’s personal feelings of racism. I don’t think it would be a whole lot of comfort to a Latino deported from the only country he’s ever known that Trump harbors no personal feelings of animosity to him in his heart.

So here are the scenarios I can think of for Trump being a really bad president:

Trump is incompetent at his job. Several aspects of being president are very complicated and tend to break a lot of things if you do a bad job at them. I’m thinking in particular of international relations and macroeconomics. Macroeconomic policy is fairly complicated and has a large effect on people’s wealth and quality of life. In addition to mismanagement due to incompetence, Trump might mismanage the economy for his short-term political benefit at the expense of long-term fiscal health.

My understanding of diplomacy is that it is extremely important to be predictable and to send clear messages to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to wars; Trump neither has political experience in which he has developed these skills nor has he shown a great ability to be predictable and a clear communicator on the campaign trail. I also worry about Trump being rash and easily offended, which leads to him escalating tense situations. This is where Trump’s largest chance of being an existential risk comes from, I think.

Positive signs: Trump appoints to his cabinet competent people who are not sycophants, preferably including at least one #NeverTrumper; Trump appoints qualified people to the Fed; over his first year in office, Trump has a cool-headed and moderate foreign policy.

(This, incidentally, is why I do not think we should nominate Oprah, or Kanye, or Bruce Springsteen, or the Rock, or any other celebrity. An unqualified Democrat is as much of an existential risk as an unqualified Republican.)

Trump has bad policies. My primary concerns are about immigration, climate change, prisons, and trade.

I think it would be bad if he made a serious attempt to deport a large percentage of undocumented immigrants. Given that undocumented immigrants are three percent of the US population, I’m not sure that deporting more than a small minority of them could be done without serious human rights violations. I also think it would be bad to sharply reduce the number of immigrants the US takes in, because immigration benefits migrants a lot.

I am worried about Trump ending trade deals which benefit people in developing countries. I am particularly worried about Trump’s anti-trade stances and poor diplomacy skills precipitating a trade war, because trade wars hurt everyone but particularly the poorest, and this would lead to an increase in international tension that may lead to a real war.

The United States has about a fifth of the world’s prisoners, which makes our prison policy unusually important. Trump has nominated Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Senator Sessions was one of only a handful of senators who voted against an amendment banning torture of prisoners; while that amendment applied primarily to the Department of Defense, I think it speaks to his respect for the humanity of people who might have done something wrong. He is also well-known for being against marijuana use, going so far as to say last April that good people do not smoke marijuana. I am afraid that Senator Sessions will not pay an adequate amount of attention to the human rights of prisoners and drug users, that he will expand the drug war, and that he may seek to imprison consumers of legal marijuana.

I am also concerned about Trump radically cutting back or even eliminating US policy that is intended to prevent or reduce the harm of climate change, because climate change is predicted to kill lots of people, especially the global poor.

Sessions was a bit of a surprise to me, so I am also worried about Trump choosing other advisors that have remarkably awful positions on important issues.

Positive signs: Trump shows a willingness to break campaign promises; Trump implements some of his campaign promises in a less extreme form (e.g. expanding the border fence somewhat and then claiming that’s a “wall”); Trump appears to focus on relatively innocuous policy positions (e.g. building a lot of infrastructure and naming it after himself); Sessions is not appointed Attorney General; the rest of Trump’s cabinet is non-awful.

Trump is an autocrat. This is the “Trump as Juan Peron” theory, as written about eloquently in this article. In this scenario, Trump causes a good deal of harm to America’s institutions. We might expect jailing of political opponents, punishment of protestors, firing of advisors who disagree with him, disrespect of the free press, and general silencing of dissent. He might be unlikely to give up power once his two turns are up and continue to rule through proxies. An autocratic Trump administration would also likely have batshit economic policy, because autocrats usually do. The autocrat scenario leads to a good deal of harm to America’s institutions, possibly leading to the fall of America as a great power.

Even if Trump’s autocracy is successfully contained by the strength of America’s institutions– for instance, if he tries to interfere with the freedom of the press, but the Supreme Court slaps him down– he may inspire authoritarian and autocratic movements in other countries.

Positive signs: A year into his presidency, Trump continues to be no more prone to jailing political opponents or punishing protestors than the average American president (note that early positive signs may simply be Trump biding his time); early attempts to gain power are met with strong opposition from Republicans.

Thoughts on The Blanchard/Bailey Distinction

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[Epistemic Status: I think my argument in the first half of the post is likely true, and my argument in the second half of the post is highly speculative.]
[Disclaimer: I am using the terms ‘male-sexed’ and ‘female-sexed’ in this post due to the stubborn refusal of the trans community to give me better words. Biomedically transitioning trans people are not female-sexed or male-sexed. Neither are intersex people.]

The Blanchard/Bailey theory is essentially that trans women are divisible into two groups: one group tends to transition early, be solely attracted to men, pass better, be unusually feminine as children, and work in typically feminine professions like hairdresser; one group tends to transition late, not be solely attracted to men, pass less well, be masculine as children, and work in typically masculine professions like programmer. The Blanchard/Bailey theory also comes with explanations for these two groups’ motivation in transitioning. Assuming that Blanchard and Bailey’s research is correct even if their theories are not– that these two clusters exist in the surveys they conducted– what could be the explanation for this?

I feel like the “autogynephilia” and “homosexual transsexual” explanations are very unsatisfactory. Autogynephilia does not work like other sexual fetishes. It is relatively rare for a person to upend their entire life to satisfy a sexual fetish; pretty much the only other example I can think of is 24/7 BDSM, which itself often has a strong nonsexual component. Antiandrogens are a commonly used treatment for sexual fetishism, because they lower libido and thus motivation to engage in fetishistic activity; antiandrogens are also a component of HRT, but we don’t see trans women becoming less motivated to transition after they start HRT.

Autogynephilia’s oddness is often explained by saying that it is a peculiar form of fetish known as an erotic target location error, in which a person is aroused by the idea of becoming the thing they’re turned on by. Other examples of alleged erotic target location errors include arousal at the idea of becoming an amputee, autozoophilia, autoplushophilia, and ageplay. (Ageplay is a bit of a weird example, because as far as I can tell there is no evidence that ageplayers are any more likely than anyone else to want to have sex with children, so maybe it’s actually just three examples.)

First of all, the four specific things that are the subject of erotic target location errors are very strange. Why aren’t redhead fetishists aroused by having red hair or foot fetishists aroused by having particularly desirable feet? Erotic infantilism is common, but given men’s preference for twenty-two-year-old women why aren’t there a bunch of men deeply erotically interested in being twenty-two?

Second of all, it is strange that autogynephilia is the only erotic target location error that causes a significant number of people to wish to transition. There are maybe some people with bodily identity integrity disorder (although far fewer than gender dysphorics) and maybe some otherkin. Why aren’t there a bunch of ageplayers insisting that their soul is really ten years old? Why aren’t there a bunch of people who insist that they really are plushies? Why aren’t foot fetishists demanding attractive-foot surgery?

Furthermore, the autogynephilia theory does not even explain the data it purports to explain. Why are trans women disproportionately engineers and soldiers, instead of being randomly sampled from the male population? Why would a fetish make one transition later? Why would it cause one to not pass as well? Surely fetishizing being an attractive woman would cause one to have a lot of motivation to be an attractive woman.

For some reason, everyone gets outraged at the autogynephile theory, but the homosexual transsexual theory seems to me to be equally offensive: the idea that very feminine gay men transition because gay men are attracted to masculine men and straight men are attracted to feminine women, so by becoming a woman they can get a more desirable sexual partner. While this might make sense as a motivation in relatively trans-positive places, I do not think there are a large number of people who become homeless teenagers doing survival sex work so that they can get laid more easily. In addition, it is unclear to me whether transitioning actually improves trans women’s level of sexual and romantic success. Many straight men who are interested in trans women have homophobic and transphobic beliefs, which make them unlikely to commit to a trans female partner, more likely to freak out after sex, and more prone to committing harassment or violence as a way of resolving their cognitive dissonance.

So if it’s not Blanchard and Bailey’s theory, what is it?

It seems to me that relative level of passability is obviously linked to age at transition. Hormones have effects; a person who has had a testosterone-dominant hormone system for forty years will, all things equal, look more like a man in appearance than a person who has had an estrogen-dominant hormone system for much of that time. So those can be folded into a single factor.

Blanchard’s original studies were conducted in the late eighties and early nineties, long before the current wave of trans awareness. In this context, I think it makes perfect sense that trans women who conform very poorly to their assigned gender and who are solely attracted to men would be more likely to transition young. One of the most important aspects in realizing you’re trans, for many people, is meeting other trans people. It lets you realize that transition is possible, that trans people aren’t the pathetic jokes they’re depicted as in mainstream media but people like you. On a more practical level, knowing trans people helps you DIY hormones or get past gatekeepers.

Trans women who are attracted to men would be far more likely to be connected with the gay community, where they could meet other trans women and wind up transitioning fairly young. The same thing’s true of trans women who conform poorly to manhood, because they might think something along the lines of “oh, I’m a flamer, I guess I’m gay.” The ‘feminine’ professions Blanchard and Bailey discuss are mostly, in fact, stereotypically gay male professions (they include “hairdresser” and “sex worker”, but not “nurse” and “secretary”); this could be explained either by male hairdressers being more likely to meet gay men, or by people in the gay male community being more likely to become hairdressers.

Conversely, a trans women who’s attracted to women and who conforms fairly well to her assigned gender would have far more difficulty meeting other trans people, since she had no community that was disproportionately full of other trans people. (Unless, of course, she found a local crossdressers’ group, but even that is quite difficult, given the shame most crossdressers have about their crossdressing.)

With the rise of public awareness about transition and (especially) the Internet, more people are aware of the existence of trans people. So we should expect trans lesbian programmers to be transitioning younger than they did in the past. Anecdotally, this appears to be the case; trans lesbian programmers of my acquaintance regularly transition as young as nineteen or twenty. I await replications of the Blanchard/Bailey study.

So ignoring social factors, we have one group of feminine straight women, and one group of masculine lesbians, bisexuals, and asexuals. (Of course, these are clusters, and not a binary distinction; there are quite a lot of feminine lesbians and masculine straight women.) Now, there are a couple ways one can respond to this. First, one can point out that this is identical to the pattern among cis women: in general, LGBA women are more likely to be gender-non-conforming than straight women, regardless of birth assignment. There might not be all that much to be explained.

However, my inner Blanchard/Bailey theorist is pointing out that there’s still something to be explained. First of all, trans women are much, much more likely to be lesbians than cis women are. Second of all, trans lesbians’ masculinity is different from cis lesbians’ masculinity: cis lesbians are not bizarrely likely to be programmers or mathematicians, and trans lesbians are not that much more likely than average to have buzzcuts.

(Now we’re getting into the highly speculative bit.)

I’ve long been struck by the correlations between gender-non-conformity, being attracted to members of your assigned sex at birth, and gender dysphoria. As the Genderbread Man points out, there is no necessary relationship between these things. And yet tomboys are more likely to grow up to be lesbians. You could say “maybe they’re signalling that they’re lesbians by being gender-non-conforming!”, but that’s a bit hard to square with the tomboys who weren’t attracted to anyone yet and who fully expected to grow up to be straight.

It is almost as if there are three switches, one of which says Figure Out What People Of Your Sex Are Supposed To Do In Your Culture And Do That, one of which says Be Attracted To People Of The Other Sex, and one of which says Feel Strongly That You Are A Member Of Your Sex. And then some factor– perhaps prenatal?– has something like a 50% chance of flipping over each individual switch. So a minority of the population has all three (that is, they are straight feminine trans women), and a lot of people have one or two, but there’s still a strong correlation between the positions of the three switches.

So that’s our first type of trans woman.

Small but interesting studies suggest a correlation between gender dysphoria and autism, as do the anecdotes of myself and others. Note that when I say “autism” here, I am deliberately being very broad and including people with the broader autism phenotype, as well as so-called “optimal outcome” people who are autistic in childhood but do not meet criteria for autism as adults. With the exception of the military, the specific professions in which trans women are overrepresented are also professions in which autism broadly defined is overrepresented. (Possibly including the military? I am not a military person myself, but I can see the attraction among autistics of clear rules, a chain of command, strict routines, and getting to play with machines.) Perhaps the actual division is between trans women whose transness is caused by autism and trans women whose transness is caused by switch-flipping?

And that’s our second type of trans woman.

Now, the million-dollar question is: where are all the trans male autistics? Why aren’t the trans dudes all programmers too? First, it is very possible that there are more male-sexed autistics than female-sexed autistics; while autism tends to present differently in female-sexed people, leading to their underdiagnosis, it is also possible that some of the difference is that there are legitimately fewer female-sexed autistics. It is also possible that– given that autism is likely to be many many different things— the reason that female-sexed autistics present differently is that they’re likely to have a different kind of autism, which doesn’t happen to be linked to gender dysphoria.

Second, the “people connected to the gay community more likely to transition” argument is even stronger for trans men than for trans women. Until recently, most of the people who transitioned were trans women. Presumably, this is because trans men were less likely to be independent than trans women. In a time period where many gatekeepers required that the trans person cut ties with everyone they knew, trans women would be more likely to have useful skills (engineering!) that could be used to rebuild a career. Trans men would be more likely to be housespouses, which does not teach you very many transferable skills and ends as soon as you cut ties with everyone you know. This might also make trans men more reluctant to e.g. found or join crossdresser groups, because if you’re financially dependent on your spouse it’s much less likely they’ll suck it up and deal with it than if your spouse is financially dependent on you.

Therefore, in historical samples, we should expect the vast majority of trans men to be non-autistic. In present-day samples, if #1 is mostly true, we would expect mostly switch-flipping trans men, while if #2 is mostly true, we would expect a population of autistic trans men. Once again, I await replication.

On the Presidential Election

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There are three questions which I don’t think that people are sufficiently distinguishing between, and I think distinguishing between them will make discourse about the election much clearer. They are:

  • What are the characteristics of Trump’s base, his most fervent supporters?
  • What are the characteristics of the average Trump voter?
  • What are the characteristics of the people who pushed Trump over the edge, the ones that caused him to win?

I’m not sure anyone really knows the answer to #3 yet. I expect in a couple months Nate Silver will write a blog post about it and then I will have the answer. However, I think that it’s unlikely that #3 will provide any earth-shaking revelations for the average political junkie, as opposed to advice like “try to choose candidates people like” and “campaign in Wisconsin.”

Either way, the outcome of this election is embarrassing to both Republicans and Democrats. For Republicans, in an election in which they had every structural advantage, they barely eked out a win against a woman who’s been the right-wing Public Enemy #1 for twenty-five years. For Democrats, they lost to Donald Trump.

As for #2: the average Trump voter is the same as the average Republican voter in any other election. Given Trump’s record unfavorables, they probably weren’t super-enthusiastic about Trump (any more than people on the Democrat side were, as a whole, super-enthusiastic about Hillary). However, they probably didn’t want to waste their vote on a third party. Trump had some good policies, and probably the Republican elite will be able to help him in spite of his incompetence. And they despise Hillary; many Republicans would vote for a paper-bag puppet over Hillary Clinton. So they held their noses and voted for the lesser of two evils.

(A post I can’t find told Democrats to imagine choosing between Kanye West and Dick Cheney, which I think is accurate. [ETA: it’s here, thanks Amelia and Linch.])

With regards to how they could vote for Trump in spite of his repeated sexual assaults: think about your support for Bill Clinton. There you go. That isn’t even hard to understand.

With regards to #1: I believe that the evidence suggests that Trump’s base is motivated by ethnocentrism and white identity politics.

I think it is a problem that Republican voters who care about white identity politics seem willing to elect incompetent people. While identity politics also plays a role in the Democratic nominating process, at least identity-politics-motivated voters on the left seem to favor qualified centrists with a slight penchant for war crimes. I do not know how to get identity-politics-motivated voters on the right to share this preference; I think this is mostly a project for moderate Republicans, because I’m pretty sure Trump’s base is not going to listen to me.

I believe that reducing ethnocentrism is a good idea in general, but I’m not sure how tractable it is, particularly in the next four years. I suspect one possible strategy might be for centrist Republicans to play more explicitly to white identity politics while overall having fairly moderate views, in the same way that Obama played to black identity politics while overall having fairly moderate views. As long as we have white identity politics– which, again, I’m not sure how easy it is to eliminate in general, much less within one presidential term– it’s important to reduce the harm it might cause.

While Trump’s base is fairly upset about anti-racist and feminist activism, I do not think that changing anti-racist and feminist activism is necessarily a good way to get Trump voters not to vote for Trump. I think that Trump’s base’s primary objection to people like me is not to our tone but to our beliefs. No matter how politely we respectively speak, Trump voters object to the presence of large numbers of immigrants, and I object to people deporting my friends, sometimes to places where they’re in danger. These are incompatible goals, and they are likely to be quite angry at me about them (as well as I at them).

Epistemic Closure Challenge Thread #1

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Today is the official start of the challenge!

People who are not participants are welcome to comment to give book recommendations, talk about what other people are reading, or talk about books that they’ve read recently that they disagree with.

Since it is The First One, I haven’t read any books specifically for the challenge yet, but here are my thoughts about the books I’ve read in November that I disagree with:

The Abolition of Man: In Which C S Lewis Discovers The Orthogonality Thesis.

I agree with C S Lewis that minds can be made valuing all sorts of things, and that it is important to create minds which value the sorts of things we value. Lewis’s vision, interestingly, was about genetic engineering and conditioning of a generation of humans, who would then proceed to genetically engineer and condition future generations to follow their values, rather than about Friendly AI. I am less concerned than Lewis is about the former, because I believe that human brains are not actually all that plastic; humans creating minds out of human raw material are likely to create something that is not absurdly evil.

I think Lewis undervalues humans who aren’t moral realists; he argues that without moral realism there is no reason to care more about benevolence to all humankind than about, say, chocolate. But there is a quite obvious reason why I would value benevolence to all humankind over chocolate, which is that I want to. Oddly, this contradicts something he talks about earlier in the book. He points out (quite rightly) that all the logical arguments in the world about the importance of sacrificing the few for the many won’t keep someone– even a moral realist– from fleeing the line of battle. What keeps them from fleeing is emotions: a cultivated sense of courage, loyalty to one’s friends, patriotism, and self-sacrifice. Having a different idea of metaethics does not cause someone to stop being ethical, because metaethics wasn’t the thing that was making you behave ethically in the first place.

Lewis is quite right that it is vicious to ‘debunk’ poetic language expressing the emotions associated with events. But I haven’t noticed very much of that; as I recall my school years, there was a good deal of effort put into cultivating particular virtues (e.g. benevolence, respect for diversity, patriotism), which I highly approve of. Maybe it was more of a problem in the inter-war period after World War II (thanks, Evan)?

Disagreement: I am not Christian or moral realist.

Amends: One of my new favorite books.

A novel about six people going through a reality TV rehab. The thing I love about it is that it’s funny; the entire book is wonderful crazy-person gallows humor which doesn’t shy away from the harm caused by crazy people to ourselves and others. There were shenanigans. More books about mental illness need to have shenanigans in them.

I particularly appreciated the character of Sharptooth, a NEET otherkin SJW. As a former NEET SJW, I very much appreciate this positive representation. Eve Tushnet doesn’t quite get all the shibboleths right. For instance, she has Sharptooth feel guilty about saying that someone who identified as a homoromantic demisexual is ‘really’ gay (realistic!) but has her mention the person’s nonbinary gender identity at the same time (antis do this, but SJWs usually recognize that gender and sexuality are different things). Nevertheless, Sharptooth was written with a great deal of compassion and also very relatable.

My other favorite character is J Malachi MacCool, a writer for First Things. I mean, he’s not actually a writer for First Things, but he is a writer for a magazine that is suspiciously similar to First Things. He is self-consciously traditional from the tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches on down, and described as “an Anglo-Catholic, by which he meant that he liked evensong and sherry”. He is adorably relatable.

Disagreement: I am not Christian.

Lead Me Not: A gay romance novel about a fundamentalist Christian who believes that homosexuality is a choice and decides to prove it by making a documentary about his choice to be gay. In a SHOCKING turn of events which ABSOLUTELY NO ONE COULD HAVE PREDICTED, it turns out that he’s actually gay and then he lives happily ever after with his boyfriend who is a Christian from an affirming church and we all learn that God Loves Gay People.

Super-cute inspirational romance, full of angsty gay men and tropes and Jesus. If this is the sort of thing you like, you will probably like it.

I was mildly annoyed that I have a better understanding than the protagonist of the anti-gay Biblical arguments (he mentioned Leviticus but not Romans! he doesn’t talk about the difference between moral and ceremonial law!).

Disagreement: I think that a careful study of Scripture and Tradition would lead one to approximately Eve Tushnet’s opinion on gay people. I am still not Christian.

General Notes: I think my biggest problem in the challenge is going to be finding books I disagree with that aren’t about Jesus, particularly since my husband is a former atheist blogger and thus our collective Kindle is full of, like, Plantinga and Craig. Also because I am trying to pick books that look interesting and for better or for worse I am interested in Jesus.

So what are your thoughts on starting? Having a hard time thinking of books to read? Looking forward to anything in particular?

Truth Matters

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When I read people talk about the etiology of transness– particularly, but not solely, discussion of the Blanchard/Bailey theory of trans women– I often see a response from cis people that’s along the lines of “Who cares? If you want to transition, I think you should transition. I don’t care whether it’s a fetish or caused by gender-non-conformity or whatever; as long as it makes you happy, it’s fine. You have the right to make decisions about your own body.”

To be clear, this is a really good attitude for people to have! In fact, I think it’s the correct attitude to have about other people’s transitions. It’s really none of your business what people decide to do with their own personal bodies: getting a tattoo, getting cosmetic surgery, not getting cosmetic surgery, or transitioning. Even if Anne Lawrence is a completely and 100% accurate reporter of her own internal experience, I support her right to transition.

But it also matters what’s true.

Even if information about the etiology of transness doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) affect the behavior of cis people, it sure as hell should affect the behavior of trans and gender-questioning people. Transition is a big step; reversing it can be embarrassing (“uh, actually, turns out I’m a girl, sorry about that”), difficult (“welp, time to save up money for my boob job”), or impossible (“I’m never going to be able to get pregnant”). A lot of signs that one might be trans– depression, dissociation, a strong desire to wear clothing associated with a particular gender, glee when you pass– can also be caused by a lot of other things. Right now, really the only way to figure out whether transition is a good idea is trying it and seeing if you like it. If we understood why people are trans, it could provide gender-questioning people more guidance in figuring out whether transition is right for them.

For instance, let’s say that God comes down from on high and says “yep, the Blanchard/Bailey theory of transness is absolutely and 100% accurate, this is definitely how transness works.” In that case, a lot of very feminine gay men and straight men who jerk off to sissification porn should consider transitioning, even if they have no particular desire to be women– empirically, people who are quite similar to them seem to have found transitioning to be the correct choice. Conversely, assigned-male-at-birth people who aren’t solely attracted to men and who find that crossdressing porn leaves them cold should probably not transition: it’s very likely that their condition is actually depression, a dissociative disorder, or similar.

On the other hand, if God comes down from on high and says “actually, gender dysphoria is a neurological intersex condition, and you can identify it through looking at the differences in these six brain regions”, suddenly it becomes very important to get a brain scan before you consider transitioning.

If God says “gender dysphoria is a lifelong condition and if you didn’t have gender dysphoria before puberty you don’t have it now”, it is ill-advised for me to transition. If God says “gender dysphoria in children is linked to but distinct from gender dysphoria in adults, and gender dysphoric children often grow up to be adults without gender dysphoria”, it is ill-advised to put your gender-dysphoric eleven-year-old on HRT.

To be clear, I support the right of any person who wishes to transition to do so (although perhaps not to have their transition covered by insurance). If we knew that transness was a neurological intersex condition, I would support the right of people without that condition to transition; if we knew that the Blanchard/Bailey theory was correct, I would support the right of masculine people without a sexual fetish for being a woman to transition. But that doesn’t mean their decision would be a good one, and people– naturally– want to make good decisions about such an important issue. So the etiology of transness does matter.

SJ and Anti-SJ ITT: The Results!

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On the anti-social-justice side, I am pleased to announce that Toggle, author of SJ #10, has won the Intellectual Turing Test. With an astonishing 91% of voters classifying him as a pro-social-justice person, he beat not only the other anti-social-justice participants but, in fact, all of the pro-social-justice participants. Let us cover him with glory and honor. Our runners-up are blacktrance (63%, author of #14) and my lovely husband Topher Brennan (64%, author of #2).

On the pro-social-justice side, our winner is Daniel, author of anti-SJ #2, with 85% of the vote. Our runners-up are Barry Deutsch (75%, author of #3), tcheasdfjkl (73%, author of #15), al-Aziz (70%, author of #6), Sylocat (70%, author of #11), Carl (61%, author of #10), and Data and Philosophy (55%, author of #17).

No one won the Strawman Award for Poorly Representing Your Own Side.

As you can see, there are two people on the SJ side who only turned in one submission: Data and Philosophy, who only turned in an anti-SJ submission, and Henry, who only turned in a pro-SJ submission. I ran both in the interests of confusing the audience.

By popular demand, about halfway through the ITT I switched the polls to a format that required the voter to identify themselves as pro-SJ or anti-SJ. This was to assuage concerns that anti-social-justice writers who played to the stereotypes of anti-social-justice readers would win the ITT without understanding the other side. The sample is unfortunately small, both because it was an change during the Turing Test and because of my own errors. However, the one disagreement was about al-Aziz, whom pro-SJ people consistently read as anti-SJ in spite of the fact that they are pro-SJ– the exact opposite of the usual concern.

In the anti-SJ Turing Test, there were two cases in which anti-SJ people and pro-SJ people disagreed with each other. Leonard (anti-SJ #7), who is anti-SJ, was read as being anti-SJ by SJ people and pro-SJ by anti-SJ people, perhaps because he is a neoreactionary. Meaningless Monicker (anti-SJ #9), who is pro-SJ, was perceived as anti-SJ by pro-SJ people and pro-SJ by anti-SJ people. In recognition of the fact that Meaningless Monicker won with only 51% of the vote, and it was pr-SJ people who pushed her over, I did not list her as a runner-up.

Full rankings appear below with links to their posts and other identifying information (if provided to me). The anti-SJ participants are ranked based on their score on the pro-SJ posts, while the pro-SJ participants are ranked based on their score on the anti-SJ posts.

Anti-SJ Rankings:

  1. Toggle, togglesbloggle on Tumblr, SJ #10, 91% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #4, 79% anti-SJ.
  2. Topher Brennan, SJ #2, 64% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #13, 84% anti-SJ.
  3. blacktrance, SJ #14, 63% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #8, 78% anti-SJ.
  4. Jossedley, SJ #7, 41% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #12, 78% anti-SJ.
  5. John/Literal Head Cannon, author of Ginny Weasley and the Sealed Intelligence, SJ #6, 40% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #1, 53% anti-SJ.
  6. Alexhard, SJ #12, 35% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #5, 59% anti-SJ
  7. Leonard, SJ #1, 30% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #7, 52% anti-SJ
  8. Meghan, SJ #5, 25% pro-SJ, anti-SJ #16, 87% anti-SJ

SJ Rankings:

  1. Daniel, ITT SJ #17, 71% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #2, 85% anti-SJ.
  2. Barry Deutsch, ITT SJ #15, 54% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #3, 75% anti-SJ.
  3. tcheasdfjkl, tchtchtchtchtch on Tumblr, ITT SJ #16, 84% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #15, 73% anti-SJ.
  4. al-Aziz, blogs at The Reconstructionist BlogITT SJ #9, 54% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #6, 70% anti-SJ.
  5. Sylocat, ITT SJ #11, 83% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #14, 70% anti-SJ
  6. Carl, ITT SJ #8, 80% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #10, 61% anti-SJ.
  7. Data and Philosophy, ITT anti-SJ #17, 55% anti-SJ.
  8. Meaningless Monicker, ITT SJ #3, 74% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #9, 51% anti-SJ.
  9. Katelyn Tempest Ailuros, wingedcatgirl on Twitter and Tumblr, ITT SJ #4, 84% pro-SJ, ITT anti-SJ #11, 15% anti-SJ.
  10. Henry, ITT SJ #13, 65% pro-SJ.