A Day in Utopia

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[Request blog post from Stuart Armstrong, who prompted me to write about a utopia. I interpreted that statement to mean “Ozy’s utopia which is designed for Ozy”; if this really bothers you, imagine that there are lots of other interesting cities doing things differently elsewhere. I am blatantly ignoring scientific plausibility here.]

I wake up on my own when the sun is beginning to turn the horizon pink. We have, of course, figured out how to skip sleep without any penalties to mental and physical health, and many people never sleep, but I enjoy the dreamy feeling of falling asleep and waking up, and so make sure to set aside two or three hours a day for sleep.

I look at myself in the mirror. My body is smooth and hairless, except for my eyebrows and the hair on my scalp; those are naturally silver. Thanks to our awesome transition tech, my chest is flat and muscular, my features androgynous. I make a note that my semipermanent backpiece– a tribute to Lucifer from Paradise Lost– is starting to fade, and I should either get it touched up or decide what I want to replace it with. I dress in blue jeans, a black T-shirt, and a leather jacket (it was, of course, grown in a vat; we don’t eat cows).

I wave at my housemate, who’s eating a muffin for breakfast. I don’t have to eat breakfast, because my NutriPump gives me a steady stream of calories through the night. I woke up comfortably full. I usually set it to turn off during the day, because I like eating lunch and dinner, but when I’m really absorbed into a project I will skip eating entirely. My housemate prefers to get all her calories from food, so she sets her NutriPump just to monitor and correct any nutritional deficiencies.

Our house is designed for group living. We each have our own apartments with a bathroom and a private study/workroom, but the kitchen and living room are shared. Architects designed the house to maximize the possibility that housemates would run into each other in the common areas, to promote incidental socialization. I don’t know exactly how they did it, because I haven’t studied architecture yet.

My other housemate comes down, yawning sleepily. He likes having more money than most people do– I think it mostly goes to hiring a maid once a week and to his habit of leaving hundred-dollar bills on street corners to watch people be ecstatic about finding them. So he works one of the absolutely necessary jobs that most people won’t do for free. He monitors an automated shoe factory. It turns out tens of thousands of shoes a day and has three employees.

I make myself my morning cup of green tea and open my laptop, which has an automatically generated to-do list in the corner of the screen.

My first activity of the day is exercise. We haven’t quite figured out how to do without exercise yet. Honestly, I think it’s just lack of motivation: most people get plenty of exercise from everyday life, such as by walking or biking to and from public transit stops, playing with kids or dogs, and active hobbies like cooking and gardening. (Of course, we also have nifty accommodations for the physically disabled, including those who are tired by walking a long way. No one looks at you funny if you’re using an electric scooter or wheelchair.)

But I personally like the feeling of achieving something I couldn’t before, so I head to my workroom to do some tumbling, gymnastics, and yoga. The nearest gym is ten minutes away and I don’t like having to travel that far, so my workroom is mostly set up for exercise. We have really good soundproofing, so I’m not waking the downstairs neighbors. I enjoy how strong and capable my body is. I’m not as transhuman as a lot of people, but I have been modified for grace and strength.

After exercise, I check in with a friend who’s recently gone through a bad breakup. We haven’t managed to eliminate romantic travails; sometimes you love someone who just doesn’t love you back. But we’ve made it easier in a lot of ways: everyone has friends; our appearances are modifiable enough that you don’t have to be single just because you’re ugly. There’s the safety that you’re probably going to find someone, which eases heartbreak; no one is ever your only chance at love. And it makes me feel good to be able to help someone. I listen to my friend talk about their feelings for a while, then agree to get lunch next week.

I work on my homework for a bit. I’m a bit of a perpetual college student. Right now I’m taking Latin, discrete mathematics, history of medicine, and quantum physics. The class is mostly online, with in-person discussion sections at a coffeeshop twice a week; of course, that’s just what I prefer, and there are a bunch of different classes for people who learn things in different ways.

I do some writing. I’m working on an extremely obscure fanfiction with an audience of four people. But honestly becoming more famous would just be tiring. I’m happy pleasing four of my friends and maybe another person who stumbles across it and finds it wonderful.

I’ve put it off long enough: it’s time to start preparing for the festival. We might not have quite as many holidays as a medieval peasant, but it’s definitely getting close, and our holidays are far more elaborate. Some people do nothing but plan and execute holiday festivals. It seems incredibly tiring and stressful to me, but they just seem to thrive on it.

The upcoming festival is for Geek Pride Day, and I’m signed up to improv a character (they’re from a modern movie, you wouldn’t have heard of it). I run through my spaced repetition deck of obscure facts about my character’s backstory; there’s always one person who takes pride in tripping you up. I note down a few more lines I might want to try using; it’s always a good idea to have some patter scripted out for those routine conversations. My female housemate is making my costume, which is good, because I don’t have a head for crafts.

That evening, I check on my child in the artificial womb. He still kind of looks like a freaky alien, but his vital signs are fine. I pet the glass of his womb; although I know it’s just a reflex reaction, I imagine that he’s waving at me.

Once my son is born, I’m going to set aside a lot of things I currently do to focus on him. That isn’t required, of course; children grow up fine if their parents have lots of hobbies, or even a full-time job of thirty hours a week. But I think it’s really cool to watch a person grow and show him all the good things about the world, and I’d like to be able to focus on that. And it’s not like my projects can’t be put on the backburner. I work a lot because I like to, but most of my work doesn’t pay; I live on my basic income.

Outside the hospital, I meet my girlfriend. She’s a scientist. She’s free to work on whatever interests her, without having to scramble for grant money or p-hack results out of her experiments; all her papers are freely available to anyone who wants to read them. For this reason, we’ve made a lot more scientific discoveries than we did in the past. We gossip about how the crowdfunding of CERN’s latest particle accelerator is going. Particle accelerators are expensive enough that they can’t fund it from their basic incomes, the way my girlfriend buys her chemicals. But it looks like there are enough science fanboys with spare cash that it’ll get funded.

We walk two blocks and go past five or six excellent little restaurants, before eventually deciding we want to go to the salad place. We live in a dense city, so there’s a restaurant to cater to any taste within walking distance. The salad place is owned by a guy who really really likes making salads. There are also automated restaurants with fast but predictably crappy food, produced by machine. Of course you order with an app and pick up the food yourself. Waiters get paid more than my housemate the factory manager does, and thus are only employed at the sort of restaurant where the bill comes to a thousand dollars or so.

I’d love to linger over our salads, but my phone dings to remind me that a movie I wanted to see is out today. My girlfriend and I go to watch it together.

Normally my girlfriend and I would take a late-night walk, but at midnight tonight there’s a show out on the water. It’s pretty crowded, and if you want a good seat you have to cough up a few hundred bucks; people have enough disposable income that inherently scarce things get really really expensive. But there’s always a lot of standing room, and it still looks beautiful from far away.

An orchestra plays. Lights glitter. Fountains shoot water into the air. A mist descends, and rainbow lights dance across it; they resolve into clips of nature, famous movies, the stars. Fireworks explode in the background. The creators are free from worries about hunger, thirst, homelessness, disease; they are free to do whatever they want, and they choose to make beautiful things, to pursue excellence and art for art’s sake, to make things that others marvel at and to marvel at others’ creations in return.

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Hogwarts House Primaries

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[Edited after publication for clarity.]

I used to get into a lot of really frustrating arguments about normative ethics where the person I was talking to and I were just talking past each other. When I found the Sorting Hat Chats system for classifying personality types, I originally just thought of it as being another elaborate fiction-based classification system, which is another one of my guilty pleasures. Sorting Hat Chats is divided into primary and secondary houses. While the secondary houses are just a new gloss on the standard Hogwarts houses, the primary houses are an inexplicably good system for classifying people’s opinions about normative ethics and scrupulosity. Now, instead of going “okay but that thing is wrong, why are you still arguing about it,” I go “ah, Ravenclaw primary” and move on. So I thought I would write up my understanding of the system somewhere more permanent than Tumblr.

(Note: Sorting Hat Chats house primaries only vaguely resemble the Hogwarts houses they are named after, and it is best to put aside your preconceptions about the houses when considering this system. Similarly, no knowledge of Harry Potter is required to understand the system. While this is my personal understanding of the system, I do not claim to know what the creators of the Sorting Hat Chats system intended and may very well be misunderstanding their original intent. I think it is fairly unlikely that this system covers literally all possible orientations towards normative ethics, but as-is it is useful enough that I think it’s worth sharing.)

Ravenclaw Primary. There is an infallible single-question test for identifying Ravenclaw primaries: “is normative ethics boring and/or completely disconnected from any actual moral reasoning you do in your everyday life?” If your answer is “yes”, you are not a Ravenclaw primary. If your answer is “no”, welcome to Team Ravenclaw.

Ravenclaw primaries believe that you should figure out what the right thing to do is through logic and reason. They often have a particular fondness for moral philosophy and ethical thought experiments. Ravenclaw primaries are particularly likely to identify as utilitarians, Kantians, and virtue ethicists. Other sorts of primaries only rarely identify as these categories unless they have to regularly talk to Ravenclaw primaries. For some reason, Ravenclaw primaries have a particular attraction to Catholicism and Judaism; I suspect I would know a lot of Ravenclaw primary Muslims if I knew more Muslims.

Please note that “Ravenclaw primary” is not the same thing as “moral realist.” Many Ravenclaw primaries are not moral realists, although they have a distinct tendency to fall into the “error theorist in metaethics class, utilitarian in normative ethics class” bucket. A Ravenclaw moral non-realist can be recognized by (a) the fact that they really really care about the difference between error theory and noncognitivism and (b) their insistence on trying to come up with some ethical system from first principles anyway.

It is commonly assumed that all effective altruists are Ravenclaw primaries. This is not actually true, although we do have a lot of them.

Gryffindor Primary. Like Ravenclaw primaries, Gryffindor primaries care about principles. Unlike Ravenclaw primaries, Gryffindor primaries tend to follow their hearts and their intuitive sense of what goodness is; they don’t view moral intuitions as raw material for a systematized moral system, but as justifications in themselves.

It is common for Gryffindor primaries to pursue certain values, such as justice or kindness or freedom or the flourishing of others or their family or their own happiness. It is also common for Gryffindor primaries to feel a strong intuitive sense that one should follow certain rules, such as letting everyone speak freely or avoiding blasphemy or being loyal to your friends.

Gryffindor primaries are perfectly capable of systematizing; a Gryffindor primary who intuitively values the greatest good for the greatest number will probably use a lot of numbers to figure out what the greatest good for the greatest number is. However, when it comes right down to it, when asked to justify their beliefs, a Gryffindor primary will go “because it’s WRONG”. When pressed, they will say “because it JUST IS. It’s OBVIOUS.” Occasionally they will engage in circular reasoning like “you should pursue beautiful things because they are beautiful!”

Not all Gryffindor primaries have an ethical system that involves caring about people. Oscar Wilde and Patti Smith are both excellent examples of Gryffindor primaries who are devoted to beauty and art.

I am a Gryffindor primary.

Hufflepuff Primary. Unlike Ravenclaws and Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs care about people. They believe in the inherent worth and dignity of individuals, and want to engage in moral behavior because they have empathy for others. (A Ravenclaw, on the other hand, would start wondering how you could measure worth and dignity, and a Gryffindor might decide they’re pursuing the principle of INHERENT WORTH AND DIGNITY FOR ALL HUMANKIND! without ever really caring about individual humans.)

Hufflepuffs are perhaps best modeled with the idea of circles of concern. Some Hufflepuffs have very small circles: perhaps they care about their family, or their friends, or themselves, or anyone who happens to be personally suffering in front of them at this moment. Some have larger circles: they care about a community, or people who have suffered the same thing they have suffered, or people who also practice their religion, or their country. Some Hufflepuff primaries’ circles embrace all of humankind, or all sentient beings, or ecosystems.

It is common for Hufflepuff primaries to have multiple circles and to care more about people in the inner circles than people in the outer circles. A Hufflepuff primary of my acquaintance occasionally comments that they care equally about their spouse and the entire continent of Africa.

In my experience, effective altruist Hufflepuff primaries often have a formative experience that causes them to have empathy with animals or people in the developing world: for example, they may have visited a developing country, gone to a museum exhibit that included an exhibit of rice equivalent to how much a person in the developing world eats in a day, or viewed a Mercy for Animals factory farm video.

Slytherin primary. Of the house primaries, Slytherins are the most likely to be parsed as amoral. The Slytherin primary cares about individuals: they almost always care about themselves; they may also care about their friends, partners, coworkers, or family. (Interestingly, some Slytherin primaries generalize this and agree that everyone else should care about their families too, sometimes promoting this principle at some cost to themselves; my father, a Slytherin primary, threatened to quit his job if one of his employees was fired for missing work because his child was in the hospital.)

A rough guideline for distinguishing Slytherin primaries from Hufflepuff primaries is that Hufflepuff primaries naturally care about groups (“my family”) while Slytherin primaries naturally care about individuals (“my dad, my mom, my sister, my husband, my child”). Hufflepuff primaries also tend to be more other-centered (“I care about you because you’re suffering”), while Slytherin primaries tend to be more self-centered (“I care about you because you are one of the six people I have chosen to care about”).

Most Slytherin primaries are not particularly altruistic. They sometimes engage in activism or charity donation if it’s in their own interest or the interest of the individuals they care about: for example, a trans Slytherin primary may advocate for trans rights; a Slytherin primary whose partner died of cancer may raise money to fight cancer. A small number of Slytherin primaries may take up altruism for reasons expressed eloquently in the following quote from Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men:

All witches are selfish, the Queen had said. But Tiffany’s Third Thoughts said: Then turn selfishness into a weapon! Make all things yours! Make other lives and dreams and hopes yours! Protect them! Save them! Bring them into the sheepfold! Walk the gale for them! Keep away the wolf! My dreams! My brother! My family! My land! My world! How dare you try to take these things, because they are mine!

It can sometimes be hard to determine someone’s primary. A Ravenclaw primary may behave similarly to a Hufflepuff primary if they’ve been reasoned into it; a Gryffindor primary who believes in the principle of helping people close to you may be difficult to tell apart from a Slytherin. But in my experience, if you question why someone believes what they believe thoroughly, you can almost always classify them into a house primary.

Why is this useful? First, you will avoid frustrating arguments because you are aware that other primaries differ from you. Slytherin primaries can recognize that altruism is psychologically important to other people and, while they don’t have to understand it, they do have to accept it. Ravenclaw primaries can avoid patiently repeating thought-experiment-based arguments to people who respond with “huh, that’s confusing” and then keep doing what they were going to do anyway. Gryffindor primaries can stop having arguments that end in “YOU SHOULDN’T DO WRONG THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE WRONG, WHY IS THIS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND.” Hufflepuff primaries will stop explaining that, you see, these people are people and they suffer and you should have empathy for them.

It can also help you strategize about how to convince someone to adopt your values. In my experience, philosophical arguments tend to only move Ravenclaw primaries. Gryffindor primaries respond best to Secular-Solstice-style attempts to make doing the right thing seem grand and beautiful. Hufflepuff primaries respond best to things that trigger empathy, such as Give Directly Live. Slytherin primaries… look, if you can appeal to their self-interest, do, but most of the time you’d be better off locating a Ravenclaw and leaving the Slytherin to do their own thing.

I also think the primaries have very different kinds of scrupulosity, and tactics that work to address one primary’s scrupulosity issues are incoherent or useless with another primary. Sorting Hat Chats calls scrupulosity issues a “burned primary.” I’ve noticed miscommunication particularly with Gryffindor and Ravenclaw primaries, perhaps because they’re the only ones I’ve seen burning around me.

Burned Ravenclaws lose faith in their ability to find the truth at all. They may be troubled by moral nihilism, the inability to understand everything that’s going on in the world, or the fact that any action has many unknowable consequences and you’ll never be able to know for sure if you did the consequentially right thing. I’d add that Ravenclaws often have guilt issues if they adopt a moral system they can’t live up to; that’s relatively treatable through persuading the Ravenclaw to adopt a more livable system.

Burned Gryffindors are no longer able to trust their own internal compass to point them to what’s right. The burned Gryffindor sometimes develops a coping mechanism, such as relying on a person or a system to tell them what’s right; this can allow them to function, but often makes them feel depressed and soulless, and does not fail gracefully if the person or system abuses their power. Some worry that every moral claim anyone makes is actually correct and spend hours worrying that perhaps they’re doing great evil by watching a movie that at least one person on the Internet disapproves of. In my experience as a recovering burned Gryffindor, the solution is not to try to come up with less demanding rules or force yourself to stop listening to random people’s moral claims by force of will; instead, it is to get in touch with your own felt sense of morality, whatever that is, and fiercely defend your ability to make moral decisions for no other reason except that it is right.

I have not personally encountered a burned Hufflepuff or Slytherin. (The Slytherins do need to cut it out with the “have you considered becoming a Slytherin?” approach to scrupulosity issues though.) According to Sorting Hat Chats, a burned Slytherin feels it is too dangerous to have loved ones or value anyone but themselves, while a burned Hufflepuff aches to be allowed to have a community and care about more people but for whatever reason feels this is not possible. I’m interested in burned and formerly burned Slytherin/Hufflepuff opinions on how correct that is, as well as burned and formerly burned Ravenclaws and Gryffindors who want to add new experiences to my analysis.

Entitlement, Covert Contracts, Social Libertarianism, and Related Concepts

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One of my most unpopular opinions is that “entitlement” is actually a useful concept.

It makes sense that people have a knee-jerk negative reaction to it. “Entitled” is one of those words (like “patriarchy” and “rational”) that it is useful to have in your mental toolkit but if you ever find yourself using it you need to rephrase your argument. More on this later; it ought to show up later in the essay but I wanted to put in “I know that there are good reasons for you to hate the word ‘entitled'” in the forlorn hope that this would keep people from writing angry comments before they read the post.

I think that entitlement is a useful concept when thinking about the interplay between these three concepts:

  1. Basic rights and expectations for any relationship.
  2. Boundaries and needs you have in some specific relationship.
  3. Needs that are completely unreasonable.

There is a very common model of social interaction which you might call “social libertarianism,” beloved by poly people, sex-positive people, and assholes who don’t want to get called on being assholes. Under social libertarianism, people have sets of needs and boundaries, and the goal of social interaction is to find someone who can fulfill your needs and whose needs you can fulfill, without violating either side’s boundaries. The only misdeed is to deliberately violate another person’s stated boundaries. No set of needs or boundaries are right or wrong, but some may be incompatible with other people’s. If you enjoy screaming curse words at other people, then all you have to do is find someone else who likes having curse words screamed at them, and the problem is solved.

Social libertarianism often comes from a good impulse. Many people generalize from “I would be unhappy in this sort of relationship” to “everyone who is in this sort of relationship is unhappy and being exploited and a victim of Insert Cultural Boogeyman Here.” Social libertarianism has built into it the idea that people are different from each other, an insight which is all too often forgotten. If you’re the sort of person whose perfectly happy relationships get accused of being unhappy and exploitative and only existing because of Insert Cultural Boogeyman Here, there’s a natural tendency to embrace social libertarianism.

But I don’t think social libertarianism works as a model, because it is in fact actually possible to be an asshole.

For example, if I were friends with someone and they decided to tell me my hair was ugly, my blog is stupid, I would never fulfill any of my dreams, and all my friends secretly hate me, I would not say “I see I have not set the boundary with you that you don’t get to insult me at all my most vulnerable points; my mistake, in the future please don’t do that.” I would say “never darken my doorstep again.” This is because it is actually wrong to insult your friends. I don’t have to set the explicit “don’t insult me” boundary; it is understood. Similarly, I might specify that a car I’m selling is red, but I wouldn’t specify that it has wheels. All cars are supposed to have wheels. It’s a basic expectation.

There are actually quite a lot of these in relationships. “Don’t share people’s private information without their consent.” “Don’t forbid someone from being friends with someone else just because you don’t like them.” “Don’t tell people they are bad people for having a feeling.” Spend a few hours reading any advice column or relationship advice book and you will discover hundreds of basic rights you never knew you were respecting. (Years later, I remain boggled at More than Two spending at least a page patiently explaining why it is wrong to veto a partner’s relationship because it makes them too happy and that makes you jealous.)

I realize the concept of “unspoken rules that are wrong to break” is going to give some of my more socially phobic readers hives. To which I say, as reassurance: this is literally all stuff you learned in kindergarten, it’s “play fair” and “don’t hit people” and “be nice.” Most people get through life fine without ever being confused about this stuff. Some people are actually ignorant, particularly autistic people and people who grew up in abusive or fucked-up homes: I myself was confused until relatively recently about why I shouldn’t share other people’s private information. But if you are, most people will forgive you if you apologize, explain yourself, and don’t do it again. There’s a difference between a mistake and malice, and “don’t treat people’s mistakes like they’re deliberate attempts to hurt you” is one of the basic expectations for any relationship.

On the other end, sometimes people have expectations that are, in fact, completely unreasonable. For example, if I don’t watch myself, I tend to expect that if I just do everything right then everyone in the whole entire world will like me. So I feel a lot of social phobia: if someone dislikes me, it means I have done something wrong, and I need to self-flagellate about my wrongness and carefully search all of my actions until I determine what horribly wrong thing I have done.

I do think, in a sense, my social phobia is a form of entitlement. (Not everyone’s social phobia is entitlement, of course. Probably most people’s isn’t. But mine is.) You can tell, because sometimes I get fed up with the whole self-flagellating/navel-gazing business and instead start being unreasonably angry. “How dare you dislike me!” I think. “I am a good person and I deserve universal adoration! I should come up with the most cutting insult possible so that you will regret your decision to have any negative opinions about me whatsoever.”

Like most entitled thoughts, this line of thought is a reasonable thing to want. Being disliked feels bad; that’s why we have a bunch of social rules about not explicitly saying when you don’t dislike someone. It’s natural to want to avoid ever having to experience this unpleasant thing. The problem is when a natural desire turns to an expectation that the world should be this way.

Also like most entitled thoughts, when you actually explain it it is balls crazy. Like, pretty much the only way it would be justified to think this is how people work is if you lived on a desert island for your entire life and learned about people solely through your copy of the Sims 2. Everyone has flaws, which means that everyone is going to be disliked for their flaws by someone. Sometimes people dislike each other for silly reasons: some people are going to dislike me no matter what I do because my writing style grates on them, or I remind them of their horrible ex, or they think my name is pretentious. Even if I were absolutely perfect in every way and somehow managed to talk everyone out of disliking me for silly reasons, horrible people exist. I’m not going to get Homophobe McNazi to like me, which is okay, because Homophobe McNazi’s approval would fill me with shame.

One very common form of entitled thoughts is “covert contracts,” a concept which I learned from the Red Pill and intend to rescue from the horrible misogynists who currently own it. A covert contract is when you make up a deal inside your head where if you do something, then in return someone else will do what you want, and then never tell the other person that this is the deal.

Examples of covert contracts: “if I never disagree with you then you will like me.” (This one I am annoyingly prone to.) “If I do the dishes then my housemate will sweep the floors.” “If I refer you to my company, then you’ll do really well on the interview and impress my boss with your good judgment.” “If I spend lots of time trying to solve your personal problems, then you will be my friend.”

The problems of covert contracts are many:

  • The other person might not even want the thing you’re giving them. (Maybe your housemate doesn’t care about the dishes. Maybe your attempts to solve other people’s problems are actually busybody meddling.)
  • The other person has literally no idea that this contract exists, and therefore will only fulfill it by coincidence or telepathy.
  • You didn’t give the other person a chance to say “no” and they might not want to take this deal. (Maybe they aren’t sure if they’ll be able to do well on the interview. Maybe your housemate really fucking hates sweeping.)
  • The other person thought they were getting a favor for free and is going to be really annoyed at you when they discover that you in fact made a deal with them under false pretenses of doing a favor.
  • Sometimes the contracts are just balls crazy. (If someone likes you on the condition that you never disagree with them, you don’t want to be their friend.)

The solution here is twofold:

  1. Do nice things when you want to do nice things for their own sake, not because you expect to get something out of it.
  2. If you want to make some sort of exchange (dishes for sweeping, referral for good interview performance, therapy for friendship), tell people about it ahead of time and give them the chance to say no.

(In Guess Culture, exchanges are often not explicitly discussed, but instead negotiated some other way. I am not Guess Culture enough to give advice about how to negotiate this, but I would suggest that your implicit contracts should definitely avoid the pitfalls outlined above.)

So hopefully at this point you can see why I think “entitlement” is a useful concept which identifies a specific class of distorted thoughts that cause harm to oneself and others. Why, then, is the term “entitlement” so universally despised, at least by the non-asshole population?

Two reasons. First, some people say that people are “entitled” when the thing they are is “sad that they can’t have a desirable thing.” It is true that it’s very unreasonable to expect someone to date you even if they don’t want to, but you still get to be sad that they don’t want to date you! It is okay to be sad about the way the world is! This is an awful misuse of the term and people who do it should be hung up by their thumbs.

Second, and more perniciously, it is used to cover up arguments about which of the three categories– basic expectations, expectations that can be negotiated, and completely unreasonable expectations– something is in.

Recently I was watching an old John Oliver clip about the NCAA’s refusal to pay its players. An NCAA spokesperson characterized the student-athletes protesting not being paid as “entitled athletes”. You notice he didn’t say what the student-athletes felt they were entitled to, because saying that would immediately reveal that his position was bullshit. Student-athletes think they should get paid because they are destroying their bodies to earn other people millions of dollars. No fucking shit they’re entitled to it. This is one of those “basic expectation” things. If someone is profiting off your labor, then you are entitled to a cut of it, and you are certainly entitled to not have all of your possible employers form a cartel for the specific purpose of ensuring you don’t get paid.

But if he just says “entitled athletes,” then everyone is like “ah, yes, entitled athletes, hooking up with cheerleaders without condoms and getting drunk and vandalizing buildings” and they fail to notice the bit where the student-athletes’ complaint is actually totally reasonable.

This happens all the time.

So I would suggest never using the word “entitled” without following it with the word “to”. Very very few people think they are entitled to literally everything they want. “Entitled” by itself should sound to you as strange as saying “in love” by itself: in love with whom? Entitled to what? And given people’s perfectly reasonable objections to the term, even if you personally use it in your thinking, it might be best just to never use the word at all, instead replacing it with something like “so-and-so has a distorted thought that they deserve Thing.”

Creating Welfare Biology: A Research Proposal

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[This idea came out of an ACE research workshop. I would like to thank Zach Groff and Mark Budolfson for brainstorming this idea with me, as well as ACE for offering me the opportunity to think of it.]

Many people in the wild-animal suffering space think it would be a good idea to make a discipline of “welfare biology”– that is, the scientific study of wild animal welfare, the way that animal welfare studies scientifically studies domestic animal welfare. From my perspective, there are two big benefits to creating welfare biology. First, it would probably increase the number of research dollars that go to wild-animal welfare research, while reducing the opportunity cost: welfare biology would be competing with other fields of biology for funding, not with starving Africans and tortured pigs. Second, it would give us academic credibility. In most of the developed world, terrestrial wildlife often live on government land (for example, much of the United States’s wildlife lives on the quarter of US land owned by the government), which means changing government policies towards wildlife is a promising method of improving their welfare. Even in human-inhabited areas, changing government policies may be an effective way of improving wild-animal welfare. Governments are generally more likely to listen to tenured academics than they are to bloggers.

However, it is unclear to me how one creates an academic field. It is possible that people already know how academic fields form; I have not studied the subject in depth, and would welcome links from commenters. But if there is not already an academic body of work on the subject then it seems useful to do a small research project to explore how academic fields form. I think the best method is a series of qualitative case studies exploring how various relevant scientific fields formed.  

I’m aware of two similar research projects in the effective altruist community. Luke Muehlhauser has written a report on early field growth. However, his report concentrates on the role of philanthropists and only touches on what non-philanthropists can do. It also mostly examines fields relevant to artificial intelligence risk research, which has some overlap with fields relevant to welfare biology but not entirely. Animal Charity Evaluators has done several case studies of other social movements; however, its case studies focus on social movements more broadly rather than academic fields specifically.

Histories of academic fields don’t usually have the information I’d want from them. For example, this paper— a fairly typical history of conservation biology– highlights several important milestones, but doesn’t talk about the details. There’s a lot of emphasis on particular research projects and controversies, such as whether large reserves are better than small reserves, but not a lot of nitty-gritty detail about how so many ecologists became interested in conservation and how they created common knowledge that they were all interested in them. Nevertheless, the histories do identify key events and key historical figures.

Many academic fields have formed relatively recently; it makes sense to study recently-formed fields, because academia changes over time. So most of the key historical figures involved in forming a particular academic field may still be alive. The researcher can contact these figures and set up qualitative interviews, focusing on the information that gets left out of histories. How did people get interested in the topic? How did they meet other people who were interested? What steps (journals, book publications, conferences, something else I haven’t thought of) were particularly important in getting the field to be self-sustaining? The researcher should also ask for recommendations of sources written at the time and thus supplement their interviews with archival research (to help compensate for the interviewees’ poor or self-serving memories).

Once several case studies have been conducted, the researcher can look for common themes. For example, perhaps popular attention or an activist movement galvanized academics into forming the field. Perhaps founding a journal gave people a place to submit papers that otherwise would have languished, unsuited for any currently existing journal. Perhaps an exciting book publication got everyone talking about the subject. This can inform wild animal advocates’ strategies in forming welfare biology.

No field is going to be exactly analogous to welfare biology; no one has ever attempted to scientifically study how humans can improve the well-being of wild animals before (although the study of animal emotions explores wild animals’ well-being more generally). However, there are several characteristics that might make a field more analogous. Welfare biology is value-laden: that is, instead of just collecting facts about the world, welfare biology is intended to change the world. People who think wild-animal suffering is just peachy are unlikely to be interested in welfare biology, just as people who don’t care about environmental preservation probably don’t care about conservation biology. The researcher might want to emphasize interdisciplinary fields, particularly fields that grew out of biology or that focus on animals. The researcher will probably want to avoid purely social-science or humanities fields, which may not be generalizable to natural science.  

Fields it may be interesting to study include:

  • Conservation biology (possibly the field most analogous to welfare biology, as a value-laden science that focuses on wild animals and plants)
  • Animal welfare science (grew out of attempts to maximize productivity, thus may not be applicable)
  • Environmental engineering
  • Artificial intelligence risk (interesting because it is a field in the process of forming; advocates for future people, who like animals cannot self-advocate)
  • Environmental ethics
  • Environmental economics
  • Developmental economics (focuses on people in the developing world, who have a limited ability to advocate for themselves in the developed world)
  • Positive psychology

It is important to do case studies of failed attempts to start a field, as well as successful ones. Some of the apparent common ground between successful attempts might actually be common ground between all attempts, whether successful or unsuccessful. However, it is much more difficult to find a list of failed attempts than it is to find a list of successful attempts. I suggest that the researcher should ask their early interviewees for ideas, since the interviewees might have personally witnessed unsuccessful attempts to start an academic field. Luke Muehlhauser’s report on early field growth briefly discusses cryonics and molecular nanotechnology, which may be interesting fields to review.

I will not personally be able to perform this research project, but I think it’s an interesting and important project for someone to take up, and I’d be happy to consult with any effective altruists who want to do it. Ideally, the researcher would have expertise in qualitative research, particularly interviewing. The final report could create knowledge useful not only for wild-animal advocates but for any effective altruists who want to create an academic field.

Book Post for October

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Creating Your Perfect Family Size: How To Make An Informed Decision About Having A Baby: I hoped that this book would, like, give me information about how many children I should have, but instead it was just a long list of different things people think about when they have kids. You mean people who for religious reasons don’t use birth control generally have a lot of kids? I had no idea!

The Breastfeeding Book: Everything You Need To Know About Breastfeeding Your Child From Birth Through Weaning: I continue to have difficulties reviewing the practical advice in breastfeeding books, on account of I have never breastfed. It is inaccurate about the things breastfeeding books are always inaccurate about (yes, some people can’t produce sufficient milk; no, breastfeeding does not have all those benefits you’re claiming it does; yes, parents should be concerned about the iron levels of their exclusively breastfed six-month-olds). However, I appreciate the Sears’s characteristic kindness and empathy, and I wish their commitment to never making parents feel guilty for being unable to do something would extend to the parent blogosphere. I also really liked the chapter on how non-breastfeeding parents can help with breastfeeding, both through supporting the breastfeeding parent (cleaning, shooing away busybodies, giving them time for themselves) and through nurturing the baby (through babywearing, playing, and singing).

Norse Mythology: Neil Gaiman is always at his best when telling short stories, and this is essentially a collection of short stories, covering the major Norse myths. Grand, heroic, and with a sly sense of humor. Gaiman loves mythology and it shines out from every page of this wonderful book. Excellent for reading out loud.

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life: An excellent introduction to the practice of mindfulness meditation. Unfortunately, I only figured out halfway through that it was not actually intended for me, it was intended for mentally well people who want to try meditation, and Jon Kabat-Zinn has a completely different book for us crazies. Oh well.

The New Jim Crow: I feel like I am literally the last person to jump on this bandwagon but THIS IS AN AMAZING BOOK YOU SHOULD READ IT, especially if you have any interest at all in anti-racism and/or libertarianism. I started the book being like “well, mass incarceration is pretty bad, but it seems like a bit much to claim it is literally a racial caste system like Jim Crow” and ended it “welp, I guess mass incarceration is a racial caste system like Jim Crow.”

One point I found particularly insightful was her argument that to end mass incarceration you will need to enlist poor white people and middle-class-and-above black people by explaining to them how ending mass incarceration will benefit them. Poor white people receive the psychological wage of whiteness, which (in our colorblind society) has changed from “I might be poor but at least I’m not an [n word]” to “I might be poor but at least I’m not a criminal.” Middle-class-and-above black people receive benefits such as affirmative action, which ultimately uphold the system by promoting the pretense of colorblindness; if a black man can be President, it must be the fault of individual black people that they keep going to prison. To enlist these groups, a movement to end mass incarceration must explain why it is offering a better deal than the one currently on offer.

I hadn’t realized before how much we cut off people with criminal records from society. People who have committed felonies are not allowed in public housing or to get food stamps. In many states, they can’t vote or serve on juries; in many other states, they can get their right to vote back, but it’s an expensive process with many fees (this is not a poll tax because of reasons). There is massive discrimination against people with criminal records; making it illegal merely shifts the discrimination to black men more generally. Getting a job is often a requirement if you’re on parole. Since various bits of the government don’t talk to each other, people on parole can wind up with literally 100% of their wages being garnished, meaning that licit work is a money-losing proposition. Parolees are also often required not to talk to people with felony records; apparently no one who made this rule thought about the fact that in many neighborhoods a third of adult men have a felony record.Honestly, if I had to put up with all that shit I would probably commit crimes too.

One of the most striking points was the comparison between drunk driving and smoking crack cocaine, both of which were criminalized at about the same time. Drunk driving literally kills people, while smoking crack only rarely harms people other than yourself. The vast majority of people who drive drunk are white men, while crack is usually smoked by black people. Naturally, drunk driving is punished with a misdemeanor conviction, a week or two in jail, mandatory alcohol treatment, maybe your license getting suspended. Smoking crack, conversely, is punished with literally years in prison.

To highlight the scope of the problem: to get the number of people imprisoned down to even 1970s levels, which were already elevated, four out of every five prisoners would need to be released. This would involve perhaps a million people losing their jobs, many of whom are in rural districts that play an outsize role in elections (particularly since imprisoned people count for population size even though they can’t vote).

The argument that gangsta rap is a modern-day minstrel show is interesting. Like minstrel shows, gangsta rap portrays stereotypes of black people aimed at a white audience, although black people often enjoy them in part because it is a major source of black celebrities.

Out of the Darkened Room: When a Parent is Depressed: Protecting the Children and Strengthening the Family: By far the most valuable part of this book for me was the stories about children of depressed parents. Most people who mention that their parents were depressed are people who are fucked up about it. If your dad was depressed for most of your childhood and you’re fine, you don’t generally bring up your dad’s depression very often. But if you were traumatized by it, it comes up a lot. So it’s really easy for depressed people (me) to conclude that depressed people are universally shitty parents who fuck up their kids. And it was really comforting for me to read pages and pages of stories about mentally ill parents whose children were fine. In spite of having a parent who attempted suicide, had manic episodes, or lay in bed all day crying, the kids were happy, got good grades, had friendships, got into good colleges, and generally had perfectly reasonable childhoods.

The steps for parenting well while depressed were:

  1. Discussing depression openly with one’s spouse and other loved ones.
  2. Learning about depression and resilience.
  3. Addressing the children’s needs (for relationships outside the family, success away from home, reflection on and understanding of what they’ve gone through).
  4. Planning how to talk to the children.
  5. Having a family meeting with the children.
  6. Continuing to openly discuss issues of mental illness and the children’s response.

In general, resilient children are realistic about what they’re dealing with (understanding that mental illness will recur and they can recognize it), are aware of and can articulate strategies for offsetting the effects of mental illness on themselves, and believe their actions make a difference and take action based on that understanding.

Note that while the book title says “depression”, it actually covers all mood disorders.

Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential: grrrrrraaaaarrrrrrggghhh

Large sections of this book are not, in fact, “how to help your gifted child with the struggles of being gifted”, but instead “how to help your twice exceptional child with the struggles of being twice exceptional.” That would be great– as a former 2E kid myself I’m all for advice about helping us– except that the authors seem to have no idea that disabled gifted children exist. Clearly, infodumping, impairments in perspective taking, and difficulty making eye contact are just part of being gifted, not a sign that your child has autism at all!

Much of the advice provided in this book seems, to my mind, decent. However, it is interspersed with mind-bogglingly awful advice, particularly on social skills. For example, parents are encouraged to tell children who read at recess that they’re part of the school community (fine) and ignoring community members is rude (what? no it isn’t!). At no point is it mentioned that children might read at recess because they’re being bullied or as a way of managing their emotions during an overstimulating school day. Parents are also told to tell children that correcting teachers who teach incorrect facts is rude (even though it is literally the teacher’s job to teach things that are true). Parents are told to tell children to lie and pretend they like sports even when they don’t to avoid making other children feel bad.

All the goals here are reasonable. Reading at recess is not a very good way of making friends. Correcting the teacher in public is likely not to work as well as talking to them after class. It’s important to be tactful (“sports aren’t really my thing”) instead of blunt and rude (“sports are stupid and boring”). But for children with social impairments (whether subclinical or clinical) it is particularly important to give accurate reasons for your advice. It is not true that you have to hide what you’re interested in to have friends, or that correcting powerful people is always wrong, or that it is rude to ignore people you don’t like or who mistreat you if they happen to be a member of some broadly-defined “community”. While these might cause effective behavior in the short run, in the long run they will cause extremely ineffective behavior: pretending to be someone you’re not, letting your boss make a dumb decision rather than correcting her, tolerating mistreatment or even abuse. With children with social impairments you must tell the truth.

I remain deeply puzzled at the number of times parenting books tell me not to do my children’s homework for them. People, if it has occurred to you to make your kids’ dioramas for them because all the other parents make their kids’ dioramas for them and you don’t want your kid’s to look like it was made by a child (because it was), you are too fucking invested in your kid’s dioramas.

I recommend skipping this book and instead reading Mind in the Making.

Against Equality: Queer Revolution Not Mere Inclusion: This was an uncomfortable read in the best way; it really challenged a lot of my viewpoints and I’m not sure what I believe. Against Equality is an anthology of essays centered around the claim that LGB rights activism actually winds up reinforcing oppressive institutions: the military, the prison-industrial complex, and marriage. On one hand, I’m pretty sympathetic to the idea that it shouldn’t be particularly high priority to advocate for queers to also be able to commit war crimes, murder brown people, and suffer lifelong trauma. Like, why are you advocating for our full inclusion in doing something that no one should be doing in the first place? And it seems like the resources directed towards gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell could have been directed towards abolishing marriage and giving queer people in poverty more non-shooting-related options so the military isn’t their only way out. (Also, HIV healthcare access. The state of access to HIV-related health care is a disgrace.)

On the other hand, there is no requirement that every queer in the world agree with the political opinions of me, Ozy. Even if I choose not to donate towards or advocate for queer inclusion in the military, other queer people think joining the military is a noble sacrifice for the sake of their country, and it really isn’t that reasonable for me to object to their activism because of our shared non-normative gender identity. There are actual, practical, material benefits to military and marriage equality: I have friends whose literal physical safety depends on the legality of same-sex marriage. Why are we, the oppressed people, the ones who have to sacrifice for the sake of ending an oppressive institution.? Straight people first! It smacks of privilege, which was an annoying trend throughout this book (particularly when they talked shit about the rich white cis gay boys at the HRC– guys, choosing to become a performance artist does not magically take away your class privilege). Frankly, some of the concerns people have in this book are even more privileged than the ones they’re criticizing: arts funding? Really?

The HRC could quite reasonably object that they are the Campaigning In Favor Of Gay Legal Equality organization and DADT was obviously an example of gay people not being legally equal. While advocating for economic justice, the rights of sex offenders, open borders, and prison reform is great, none of them are gay legal equality, and the HRC should stay within its area of competence. Anyway, the natural extension of “money is better spent on homeless shelters for queer youth than pro-gay-marriage campaigning” is “money is better spent on African public health than on anything even remotely related to queer people,” so you know.

The weakest section is about marriage, partially through no fault of its own (at the time the book was published it was not clear that legal gay marriage would also help improve attitudes towards LGB people in general). The strongest section is about the prison-industrial complex, mostly because it outlines a mechanism through which hate crime laws strengthen prisons (they put people in prison for longer, mandatory minimums are still bad if you’re woke). I’d particularly like to highlight the excellent section on sex offender registries, false accusations of Satanic ritual abuse, and other abuses directed at people accused of being sex offenders.

The Persian Boy: Tragic gay romance novel about Alexander the Great and his extremely Slytherin boyfriend, the Persian eunuch Bagoas. If this summary makes you want to buy the book, you should. Reading the Persian Boy felt somewhat invasive, like someone had taken my id and spread it across the pages for anyone to see; given that I read it for the first time in middle school, this is probably because it made my id.

The Persian Boy is really an absurdly sexy book given that all the sex scenes are like this:

He really wanted love from me. I could not credit such fortune; nobody ever had before. In the past, I had taken pride in giving pleasure, since it was my skill; never had I known what it was to take delight in it. He was not quite so ignorant as I had supposed; it was just that what he knew had been very simple. He was a quick learner, though. All I taught him that night, he thought that by some happy harmony of our souls, we were discovering together. So, indeed, it seemed at last even to me.

(That is the entire scene.)

Like, that is definitely a sexy passage, it’s just that it is missing such normal aspects of sexy passages as “more than ten sentences” and “a reference to genitals” and “literally any idea of what the protagonists are doing.”

Be sure to read the afterword, in which Mary Renault is wonderfully snarky about all her sources.

The Health Hazards of Homosexuality: What The Medical and Psychological Research Reveals: I don’t recommend reading this book but it was definitely worth my ten dollars for the following paragraph–

The name of the website Feministing makes obvious reference to the practice of “fisting” (insertion of one’s hand into a partner’s rectum or vagina). The website’s banner shows a naked female form with hand upraised in the insertion position.

And also this passage, discussing the DSM’s change to the ‘paraphilia’ definitions so they can only be diagnosed if there is impairment in social or vocational functioning or if the patient experiences distress:

(Was the famous coprophiliac Adolf Hitler’s daily functioning impaired due to this practice, or did he continue to hold down his job – at least for a time?)

Also, it seems to me that if you’re going to spend all that time concern-trolling about the children you shouldn’t take creepy photos of teenagers at gay pride and illustrate your book with them. (I mean, did they consent to being in the homophobe book?)

Intersectionality: Key Concepts: I am the sort of person who buys books about intersectionality to read for fun and I was bored by this book. It’s basically all about the definition of intersectionality? Which, okay, fine, there are lots of people who are confused about that point, but surely you could knock out the definition in one chapter and then spend the rest of the time on an intersectional analysis of prison or agriculture or sex or something actually interesting.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting: Definitely a parenting must-read. Children make parents unhappy: they take away sleep, make it harder to engage in flow (one of the most pleasant human experiences), force you to spend large amounts of time with a person who doesn’t understand niceties like “clothes” and “not screaming,” reduce your freedom, make it harder to advance in your job, and aren’t even that fun– studies consistently show that interacting with children is generally less enjoyable than e.g. folding the laundry. Childrearing particularly tends to worsen marital satisfaction, in part because women tend to do more childcare, especially boring childcare (like toothbrushing, not playing catch) and watching the children while doing other tasks. (Interestingly, fathers experience more work/life conflict than mothers, perhaps because they want to feel like evolved parents.) Childrearing leads to social isolation and lack of sex, neither of which are exactly good for a marriage.

Parents feel like they must engage in “concerted cultivation,” driving their children from extracurricular activity to extracurricular activity, entertaining them when they’re bored, hoping to make them well-rounded adults; this is stressful and unpleasant. If you don’t do this, you feel like a bad parent who is dooming your child to never get into college and who will probably get kidnapped when you tell them to go play in the front yard. In the American colonial era, children made an economic contribution to the household from a fairly young age (even five-year-olds can pick weeds) and were mostly ignored before then. Now children are useless from a family perspective; their work is about improving themselves. The new uselessness of children is particularly grating on adolescents, who developmentally want to start contributing to society. This is part of the reason why parenting adolescents makes people really really unhappy. (Another part is that they keep getting into stupid fights about their children’s hair or music taste. Parents of adolescents: the research suggests you will be a lot happier if you commit not to fight with your child about anything other than issues of morality or safety, on which adolescents are generally much more likely to listen to their parents.)

Then why do we raise kids? (Other than a combination of ignorance, optimism, and the fact that in most states one cannot drop the child off at a safe haven once they are older than a few weeks.) Young children can yank parents out of their preoccupations, inhibitions and routines, allowing them to be more present in the moment rather than wrapped up in their anxieties and achievements. Young children can connect you to the physical world and encourage you to ask deep questions. And they offer an opportunity to give love without any return. While the experiencing self typically doesn’t enjoy parenting, the remembering self does; our relationships with our children are among the most important relationships in our lives, and being a parent consistently increases one’s sense of meaning. In the stories people tell about themselves, being a parent plays an important role.

Link Post

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Rationality

Lifelonglearner has an excellent instrumental rationality sequence which is the best thing I’ve read on LW 2.0 so far. See also their post about how self-help should be self-defeating (but often isn’t).

In Defence of Epistemic Modesty. I don’t 100% agree but I think the world would be a better place if more people took into account the considerations in this post. (Also, there should be MORE POLLING OF EXPERTS so that I can do epistemic modesty properly.)

Gender

High rates of male loneliness and what we as a culture can do about them. Content warning: extremely depressing, especially if you are lonely yourself or care about someone at high risk of loneliness.

Second-trimester abortions often medically necessary and tragic.

Ronan Farrow, whose father raped his sister and got away with it due to being famous, helps uncover Harvey Weinstein, a man who raped women for decades and got away with it due to being famous. I feel like this would make an amazing biopic.

All 31 school shooters between 1995 and 2015 experienced “emasculating bullying” due to their failure to conform to masculine gender roles. “It seems to me that the feminist mainstream is eager to condemn the brutality of masculinity and the violent excesses of men, but surprisingly reluctant to concern itself with the violent brutalisation of boys that instils that brutality in the first place. If we genuinely want to challenge male violence, if we want to reduce male violence, if we want to dismantle the very foundations of patriarchy, it seems to me that is precisely where we need to begin.”

Corporate sexual harassment trainings don’t work.

Miscellaneous Social Justice

Private, court-appointed guardians sell the possessions and control the lives of seniors, the vast majority of whom they did not meet before becoming the person’s guardian, without their consent.

Civil rights activism was never popular. “Only 22 percent of all Americans approved of the Freedom Rides, and only 28 percent approved of the sit-ins. The vast majority of Americans—60 percent—had “unfavorable” feelings about the March on Washington. As FiveThirtyEight notes, in 1966, 63 percent of Americans had a negative opinion of Martin Luther King.”

Six people charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the Flint water crisis.

Jeff Sessions has a surprisingly good record on prosecuting hate crimes.

Effective Altruism

In an excellent use of financial resources, FBI does multistate hunt for two dying piglets rescued by animal rights advocates, probably for the purpose of intimidating advocates into silence. Content warning: detailed descriptions of factory farming, including pictures.

Science

Bonobos not actually hypersexual matriarchal peaceful egalitarians.[Comments suggest this may actually be a poor source; I’m leaving the link up for now, but take it with a grain of salt, and I am interested in responses from any biologists who happen to be reading.]

Open Philanthropy report on anti-aging research. I think I’m supposed to like it from an effective altruism perspective but I actually just like it as a source of technobabble for science fiction.

Just Plain Neat

Aesop’s fable comes to life in cute animal vid.

Mark Twain on masturbation.

Is The Type One/Type Two Division Caused By Timing Of Transition?

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[This should probably not be the first thing you read about Blanchard’s theories. I will consistently use “type one” to refer to so-called homosexual transsexuals and “type two” to refer to so-called autogynephile transsexuals, and it is the absence of neutral terms for these distinctions that have driven me to this problem. As always, a caveat that Blanchard’s theories are controversial and that there’s a replication crisis which limits the accuracy of any psychological research.]

So this is a super-fun request post. (Back me on Patreon and get a chance at a request post yourself!)

Monica sent me her thoughts on the type one/type two division. She argues that the division is in fact caused by age at transition, noting that age at transition is not precisely the same thing as when one became gender dysphoric. Later transition causes your brain to be exposed more to your birth sex hormones and you to experience more gender socialization for your assigned gender; we would expect more masculine behavior from this population. Sexual fantasies often don’t develop until adolescence and continue to develop in adulthood; earlier transitioners may have weaker or nonexistent sexual fantasies related to their gender. Orientation change is commonly noted as an effect of hormones; perhaps earlier transitioners are more likely to experience this effect, thus becoming exclusively androphiliac.

Children who were assigned male and who behave femininely may be more likely to transition early. Monica mentions that accepting parents may be more likely to allow their children to behave in a feminine fashion and to transition, and that early transition lends itself to selective memories on the parts of both families and trans people which exaggerate how feminine a child was. I’d add that more feminine assigned-male children may be more likely to be allowed to transition, while more masculine children take longer to transition because they have to get past more gatekeepers.

However, my own anecdotes suggest this is not the case. I personally know many type-twos who transitioned at nineteen or twenty; on r/asktransgender one may find type-twos who have come to a transgender identity as young as fourteen. By Blanchard, this really shouldn’t happen at all. In fact, given the number of trans women in Silicon Valley who come out in their twenties, the proposition that most type-twos transition in their forties or fifties would imply that (contrary to popular belief) there are in fact no cisgender male programmers at all.

Therefore I predict (with a fairly high degree of confidence) that Millennials will be far less likely to transition at midlife than previous generations.

It makes sense that this would be the case. Before relatively recently, there were two kinds of trans narratives. First, there were narratives that embodied cisgender anxieties far more than transgender realities: trans women were depicted as predatory and wanting to lure men into sex, or as pathetic mockeries of women, or surprisingly often both at the same time. (Trans men, of course, did not exist at all.) Second, and far less common, there were narratives from actual trans people sanitized for cisgender people’s consumption. You always knew you were a man deep down, you played with trucks as a child, you have definitely never been attracted to a man, your gender plays no role in your sexuality, and if you ever wore a dress it was by coercion and you threw it out and it is definitely not in the back of your closet waiting for Drag Night.

So whether people transitioned depended a lot on luck: it was hard to get any sort of idea about what trans lives were actually like unless you happened to meet a trans person. It was all too easy to have the idea that your gender dysphoria didn’t really count if you liked wearing eyeliner sometimes and had no deep-down sense of being male.

The trans and gay communities have been linked since inversion was a twinkle in Krafft-Ebing’s eye: thus, trans people who were part of the gay or lesbian community pre-transition generally encountered other trans people young and transitioned earlier. Trans people assigned male at birth who were not part of the LGBT community blundered around in a fog of shame and quiet misery unless they happened to stumble across a crossdresser group or something, and thus transitioned later. Trans people assigned female at birth who were not part of the LGBT community had… as far as I can tell completely nothing, and thus rarely transitioned.

Nowadays, we have Twitter and blogs and Imogen Binnie’s Nevada: narratives written by trans people, about trans people, for trans people. And these resources are accessible like never before. If some sixteen-year-old– hesitant, terrified, palms sweating– enters “am I transgender” into google, they will stumble across an article like this one (first result for me in incognito mode search). It’s not perfect, god no, but look at what’s on the list of signs the author was a trans woman: hating girly things, longing to be pregnant, crossdressing (!), repulsion at the idea of trans people, hating cameras, a bizarre fondness for the song “Lola”. And that means that that kid will not think “oh, I hated boys’ toys at a kid, I can’t possibly be trans”, will sort themselves out sooner, and will be able to transition.

In conclusion, I suspect the early transitioner/late transitioner thing is a mere artifact of transphobia and not a real division, and that trans people of the present generation will transition far earlier regardless of type.

Maybe Reality Actually Does Have A Liberal Bias

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Professors are liberal and have become more strikingly so in the past twenty years. At present sixty percent of professors identify as liberal, while only fifteen percent identify as conservative.

This is often taken as evidence of an academic culture hostile to conservatives. However, surely that is only one of two possible explanations.

After all, there is a broad academic consensus on many issues. For example, if one were to poll academics about whether dinosaurs have feathers, or who Euclid is, or the plot of Oliver Twist, one would expect academics in general to have more accurate answers than the general public. This is not because of any bias in academic against people who think dinosaurs didn’t have feathers; it is because it is actually true that dinosaurs had feathers, and the whole point of academia is to find out true things. We’d expect even non-paleontologists to be more likely to get the correct answer; perhaps they happened to talk with a paleontologist at lunch one day and the paleontologist set them straight about the matter.

The accuracy of academic consensus is true even for politicized issues. Far more than sixty percent of academics believe the Earth is billions of years old and life evolved through a process of natural selection. This is not because of anti-young-earth creationist bias, no matter how much Answers in Genesis complains. It’s simply because it is actually true that the Earth is billions of years old and life evolved through a process of natural selection. (Note that young-earth creationists do, in fact face a hostile environment in academia. People tend to mock them and they are often discriminated against in hiring. It is nevertheless true that this hostile environment does not cause the underrepresentation of young-earth creationists in biology; the causation goes the other way.)

So, when considering why so many academics are liberal, we must consider two hypotheses. First, there is a hostile environment driving conservatives out of academia; second, liberals are correct and thus successfully convince their most avid and able students, the same way that biologists convince even young-earth creationist biology majors that evolution is true.

It would be very strange, after all, if both liberals and conservatives were exactly 50% right about everything. Even if rightness were randomly distributed, one group would be more right than the other, simply by chance. And if you have to gamble on a single group to be more likely to be right than the other, then it’s probably safest to bet on the one favored by more highly educated people; we expect that, in general, people with PhDs are going to have more correct opinions than people who dropped out of high school. Of course, I have a particular reason to be sympathetic to this hypothesis. Being a liberal myself, I do in fact think liberals are right on more policy issues than conservatives are (although I also occasionally fantasize about dropping an anvil labeled REGULATORY CAPTURE on various liberals’ heads).

And many, many fields influence one’s opinion on politics. Of course, the entirety of social science has political implications. So do many scientific fields, such as ecology and epidemiology, and many fields in the humanities, such as history and philosophy. So we’d expect many academics to have their opinions on politics influenced by their research (as well as, say, discussions with fellow academics).

Even if liberals have more correct positions on average, they are unlikely to be perfectly right about everything. So we’d expect even if professors consider themselves liberal, their actual political opinions would often be kind of weird and hard to classify into the left/right binary. In economics, which as far as I know is the only social science field that polls its academics sometimes to find out what the academic consensus is, this is true. Economists, like professors as a whole, are about sixty percent liberal. Conversely, their actual beliefs are kind of weird and not exactly what I would call a liberal orthodoxy.

I don’t mean to say that it is definitely true that liberals outnumber conservatives in academia because liberals are right about everything. Indeed, I can see a solid case for the other hypothesis. We know that people can feel excluded from an environment due to an endless accumulation of individually small slights. Surely that could also apply to the conservative student in a sociology class whose teacher jokes about the president resembling a Cheeto and presents sociological ideas on a spectrum from liberal to Marxist, with nary a mention of conservative viewpoints. We know that discrimination often happens on a subconscious level, even in people who sincerely believe they don’t hate anyone and are just judging the work on the merit. Surely a liberal hiring committee who sincerely believes they’re looking for the best candidate, regardless of the candidate’s political opinions, might form unconscious judgments based on the candidate’s conservative political volunteering or papers.

However, the fact that there exists a difference does not mean that it exists because of discrimination. This is particularly true for political beliefs, which involve empirical claims about how the world works. The academy could theoretically represent genders, races, sexual orientations, levels of ability, classes and so on and so forth in accordance with how common they are in the population, without sacrificing academic quality; it would be very very difficult and involve a massive restructuring of society, but it could be done. The academy could not, even in theory, represent all ideas equally in accordance with how common they are in the population. You are simply not going to get as many anti-vaxxer epidemiologists as pro-vaccine epidemiologists without making the entire field of epidemiology useless.

So I suggest that interested people begin a research program into discrimination against conservatives in academia, perhaps using all the tools used to study discrimination against women, people of color, and poor people. I would also be interested to see the results of an affirmative action program for conservative professors; maybe conservative students would experience a less hostile environment and would have high-achieving conservative role models, and thus would be more likely to consider graduate school.

PSA: HIV Testing Is Really, Really Important

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In the United States, the life expectancy of a person without HIV is 79 years. The life expectancy of a person with HIV, diagnosed at age 20, who has access to modern HIV medication and takes it faithfully for the rest of their life, is 71 years.

Now, eight years of life lost is a serious thing. And having HIV is not exactly pleasant: there’s stigma, the medication has serious side effects, and even during clinical latency HIV can affect your health. It is best to avoid getting HIV. But with modern treatment you can live long enough to die of something else.

But without treatment the life expectancy of a person diagnosed with HIV at age 20 is not 71. It’s 32. Appropriate HIV treatment buys you literally decades of life.

Being treated for HIV also increases your chance of having an undetectable viral load. If you have had an undetectable viral load for the past six months, evidence suggests, your chance of transmitting HIV to a partner is negligible to nonexistent. That’s right: we can actually eliminate an HIV-positive person’s chance of transmitting HIV.

The problem is that only thirty percent of people with HIV have an undetectable viral load. The biggest cause of this is that many diagnosed people are not in treatment: nearly half of people diagnosed with HIV are not engaged in care. That I can’t do much about. However, the second biggest cause is people with HIV not getting diagnosed, and that I can do something about.

If you are reading this and you are at risk of getting HIV, get tested for HIV every six months.

That means:

  • Trans people and/or men who have PIV or anal sex with trans people and/or men.
  • People who inject drugs.
  • Poly people.
  • Full-service sex workers.
  • People who have vaginal or anal sex and do not use condoms correctly and consistently outside of a committed, long-term relationship with a person (or small number of people in the case of quads and triads) who has been tested and either doesn’t have sex with anyone else or uses condoms correctly and consistently.
  • Anyone who has PIV or anal sex with people in the above groups.

About “correctly and consistently”: perfect use of condoms is not hard. You have to use the condom every single time you have sex for the entire time you have sex, you have to use a condom that isn’t expired or already used or likely to break due to excessive heat exposure, you have to use non-oil-based lube if you use lube, and you have to get a new condom if you put it on backwards first. The most important thing is using the condom EVERY TIME. Condoms do not work if left in the nightstand. However, some of you people are the ones making condoms’ typical use effectiveness rate so much lower than its perfect use effectiveness rate, and if that’s you you need to acknowledge that about yourself and get tested.

Look, I get it. Getting tested is an enormous pain. You have to make a doctors’ appointment or wait in line at a free clinic; I myself have skipped my HIV tests for over a year because I was too flaky to make an appointment. Getting your blood drawn hurts. And lots of people don’t want to admit– even to themselves– that they’re the sort of people who can get HIV, because that’s for other people. People who are dirty or slutty or make stupid mistakes. Lots of other people are afraid to hear the news. If you think something might ruin your life, it’s only natural to try to push it away as long as possible.

But shame, stigma, and denial are not acceptable or evidence-based ways of preventing HIV. They are not worth sacrificing potentially years of your life. They are not worth infecting people you know, perhaps people you love, with a chronic illness. HIV is manageable and survivable but only if you know you have it so please for the love of fucking god get tested.