The Zeroth Commandment

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed.” –Deuteronomy 30:19

“Remember your humanity, and forget the rest.” –Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein, 1955


I first met Robin Hanson, professor of economics at George Mason University, in 2005, after he and I had exchanged emails about Aumann’s agreement theorem.  I’d previously read Robin’s paper about that theorem with Tyler Cowen, which is called Are Disagreements Honest?, and which stands today as one of the most worldview-destabilizing documents I’ve ever read.  In it, Robin and Tyler develop the argument that you can’t (for example) assert that

  1. you believe that extraterrestrial life probably exists,
  2. your best friend believes it probably doesn’t, and
  3. you and your friend are both honest, rational people who understand Bayes’ Theorem; you just have a reasonable difference of opinion about the alien question, presumably rooted in differing life experiences or temperaments.

For if, to borrow a phrase from Carl Sagan, you “wish to pursue the question courageously,” then you need to consider “indexical hypotheticals”: possible worlds where you and your friend swapped identities.  As far as the Bayesian math is concerned, the fact that you’re you, and your friend is your friend, is just one more contingent fact to conditionalize on: something that might affect what private knowledge you have, but that has no bearing on whether extraterrestrial life exists or doesn’t.  Once you grasp this point, so the argument goes, you should be just as troubled by the fact that your friend disagrees with you, as you would be were the disagreement between two different aspects of your self.  To put it differently: there might be a billion flavors of irrationality, but insofar as people can talk to each other and are honest and rational, they should converge on exactly the same conclusions about every matter of fact, even ones as remote-sounding as the existence of extraterrestrial life.

When I read this, my first reaction was that it was absurdly wrong and laughable.  I confess that I was even angry, to see something so counter to everything I knew asserted with such blithe professorial confidence.  Yet, in a theme that will surely be familiar with anyone who’s engaged with Robin or his writing, I struggled to articulate exactly why the argument was wrong.  My first guess was that, just like typical straitjacketed economists, Robin and Tyler had simply forgotten that real humans lack unlimited time to think and converse with each other.  Putting those obvious limitations back into the theory, I felt, would surely reinstate the verdict of common sense, that of course two people can agree to disagree without violating any dictates of rationality.

Now, if only I’d had the benefit of a modern education on Twitter and Facebook, I would’ve known that I could’ve stopped right there, with the first counterargument that popped into my head.  I could’ve posted something like the following on all my social media accounts:

“Hanson and Cowen, typical narrow-minded economists, ludicrously claim that rational agents with common priors can’t agree to disagree. They stupidly ignore the immense communication and computation that reaching agreement would take.  Why are these clowns allowed to teach?  SAD!”

Alas, back in 2003, I hadn’t yet been exposed to the epistemological revolution wrought by the 280-character smackdown, so I got the idea into my head that I actually needed to prove my objection was as devastating as I thought.  So I sat down with pen and paper for some hours—and discovered, to my astonishment, that my objection didn’t work at all.  According to my complexity-theoretic refinement of Aumann’s agreement theorem, which I later published in STOC’2005, two Bayesian agents with a common prior can ensure that they agree to within ±ε about the value of a [0,1]-valued random variable, with probability at least 1-δ over their shared prior, by exchanging only O(1/(δε2)) bits of information—completely independent of how much knowledge the agents have.  My conclusion was that, if Aumann’s Nobel-prizewinning theorem fails to demonstrate the irrationality of real-life disagreements, then it’s not for reasons of computational or communication efficiency; it has to be for other reasons instead.  (See also my talk on this at the SPARC summer camp.)

In my and Robin’s conversations—first about Aumann’s theorem, then later about the foundations of quantum mechanics and AI and politics and everything else you can imagine—Robin was unbelievably generous with his time and insights, willing to spend days with me, then a totally unknown postdoc, to get to the bottom of whatever was the dispute at hand.  When I visited Robin at George Mason, I got to meet his wife and kids, and see for myself the almost comical contrast between the conventional nature of his family life and the destabilizing radicalism (some would say near-insanity) of his thinking.  But I’ll say this for Robin: I’ve met many eccentric intellectuals in my life, but I have yet to meet anyone whose curiosity is more genuine than Robin’s, or whose doggedness in following a chain of reasoning is more untouched by considerations of what all the cool people will say about him at the other end.

So if you believe that the life of the mind benefits from a true diversity of opinions, from thinkers who defend positions that actually differ in novel and interesting ways from what everyone else is saying—then no matter how vehemently you disagree with any of his views, Robin seems like the prototype of what you want more of in academia.  To anyone who claims that Robin’s apparent incomprehension of moral taboos, his puzzlement about social norms, are mere affectations masking some sinister Koch-brothers agenda, I reply: I’ve known Robin for years, and while I might be ignorant of many things, on this I know you’re mistaken.  Call him wrongheaded, naïve, tone-deaf, insensitive, even an asshole, but don’t ever accuse him of insincerity or hidden agendas.  Are his open, stated agendas not wild enough for you??

In my view, any assessment of Robin’s abrasive, tone-deaf, and sometimes even offensive intellectual style has to grapple with the fact that, over his career, Robin has originated not one but several hugely important ideas—and his ability to do so strikes me as clearly related to his style, not easily detachable from it.  Most famously, Robin is one of the major developers of prediction markets, and also the inventor of futarchy—a proposed system of government that would harness prediction markets to get well-calibrated assessments of the effects of various policies.  Robin also first articulated the concept of the Great Filter in the evolution of life in our universe.  It’s Great Filter reasoning that tells us, for example, that if we ever discover fossil microbial life on Mars (or worse yet, simple plants and animals on extrasolar planets), then we should be terrified, because it would mean that several solutions to the Fermi paradox that don’t involve civilizations like ours killing themselves off would have been eliminated.  Sure, once you say it, it sounds pretty obvious … but did you think of it?

Earlier this year, Robin published a book together with Kevin Simler, entitled The Elephant In The Brain: Hidden Motives In Everyday Life.  I was happy to provide feedback on the manuscript and then to offer a jacket blurb (though the publisher cut nearly everything I wrote, leaving only that I considered the book “a masterpiece”).  The book’s basic thesis is that a huge fraction of human behavior, possibly the majority of it, is less about its ostensible purpose than about signalling what kind of people we are—and that this has implications for healthcare and education spending, among many other topics.  (Thus, the book covers some of the same ground as The Case Against Education, by Robin’s GMU colleague Bryan Caplan, which I reviewed here.)

I view The Elephant In The Brain as Robin’s finest work so far, though a huge part of the credit surely goes to Kevin Simler.  Robin’s writing style tends to be … spare.  telegraphic.  He gives you the skeleton of an argument, but leaves it to you to add the flesh, the historical context and real-world examples and caveats.  And he never holds your hand by saying anything like: “I know this is going to sound weird, but…”  Robin doesn’t care how weird it sounds.  With EITB, you get the best of both worlds: Robin’s unique-on-this-planet trains of logic, and Kevin’s considerable gifts at engaging prose.  It’s a powerful combination.

I’m by no means an unqualified Hanson fan.  If you’ve ever felt completely infuriated by Robin—if you’ve ever thought, fine, maybe this guy turned out to be unpopularly right some other times, but this time he’s really just being willfully and even dangerously obtuse—then know that I’ve shared that feeling more than most over the past decade.  I recall in particular a lecture that Robin gave years ago in which he argued—and I apologize to Robin if I mangle a detail, but this was definitely the essence—that even if you grant that anthropogenic climate change will destroy human civilization and most complex ecosystems hundreds of years from now, that’s not necessarily something you should worry about, because if you apply the standard exponential time-discounting that economists apply to everything else, along with reasonable estimates for the monetary value of everything on earth, you discover that all life on earth centuries from now just isn’t worth very much in today’s dollars.

On hearing this, the familiar Hanson-emotions filled me: White-hot, righteous rage.  Zeal to cut Robin down, put him in his place, for the sake of all that’s decent in humanity.  And then … confusion about where exactly his argument fails.

For whatever it’s worth, I’d probably say today that Robin is wrong on this, because economists’ exponential discounting implicitly assumes that civilization’s remarkable progress of the last few centuries will continue unabated, which is the very point that the premise of the exercise denies.  But notice what I can’t say: “shut up Robin, we’ve all heard this right-wing libertarian nonsense before.”  Even when Robin spouts nonsense, it’s often nonsense that no one has heard before, brought back from intellectual continents that wouldn’t be on the map had Robin not existed.


So why am I writing about Robin now?  If you haven’t been living in a non-wifi-equipped cave, you probably know the answer.

A week ago, alas, Robin blogged his confusion about why the people most concerned about inequalities of wealth, never seem to be concerned about inequalities of romantic and sexual fulfillment—even though, in other contexts, those same people would probably affirm that relationships are much more important to their personal happiness than wealth is.  As a predictable result of his prodding this angriest hornet’s-nest on the planet, Robin has now been pilloried all over the Internet, in terms that make the attacks on me three years ago over the comment-171 affair look tender and kind by comparison.  The attacks included a Slate hit-piece entitled “Is Robin Hanson America’s Creepiest Economist?” (though see also this in-depth followup interview), a Wonkette post entitled “This Week In Garbage Men: Incels Sympathizers [sic] Make Case for Redistribution of Vaginas,” and much more.  Particularly on Twitter, Robin’s attackers have tended to use floridly profane language, and to target his physical appearance and assumed sexual proclivities and frustrations; some call for his firing or death.  I won’t link to the stuff; you can find it.

Interestingly, many of the Twitter attacks assume that Robin himself must be an angry “incel” (short for “involuntary celibate”), since who else could treat that particular form of human suffering as worthy of reply?  Few seem to have done the 10-second research to learn that, in reality, Robin is a happily married father of two.

I noticed the same strange phenomenon during the comment-171 affair: commentators on both left and right wanted to make me the poster child for “incels,” with a few offering me advice, many swearing they would’ve guessed it immediately from my photograph.  People apparently didn’t read just a few paragraphs into my story—to the part where, once I finally acquired some of the norms that mainstream culture refuses to tell people, I enjoyed a normal or even good dating life, eventually marrying a brilliant fellow theoretical computer scientist, with whom I started raising a rambunctious daughter (who’s now 5, and who’s been joined by our 1-year-old son).  If not for this happy ending, I too might have entertained my critics’ elaborate theories about my refusal to accept my biological inferiority, my simply having lost the genetic lottery (ability to do quantum computing research notwithstanding).  But what can one do faced with the facts?


For the record: I think that Robin should never, ever have made this comparison, and I wish he’d apologize for it now.  Had he asked my advice, I would’ve screamed “DON’T DO IT” at the top of my lungs.  I once contemplated such a comparison myself—and even though it was many years ago, in the depths of a terrifying relapse of the suicidal depression that had characterized much of my life, I still count it among my greatest regrets.  I hereby renounce and disown the comparison forever.  And I beg forgiveness from anyone who was hurt or offended by it—or for that matter, by anything else I ever said, on this blog or elsewhere.

Indeed, let me go further: if you were ever hurt or offended by anything I said, and if I can make partial restitution to you by taking some time to field your questions about quantum computing and information, or math, CS, and physics more generally, or academic career advice, or anything else where I’m said to know something, please shoot me an email.  I’m also open to donating to your favorite charity.

My view is this: the world in which a comparison between the sufferings of the romantically and the monetarily impoverished could increase normal people’s understanding of the former, is so different from our world as to be nearly unrecognizable.  To say that this comparison is outside the Overton window is a comic understatement: it’s outside the Overton galaxy.  Trying to have the conversation that Robin wanted to have on social media, is a little like trying to have a conversation about microaggressions in 1830s Alabama.  At first, your listeners will simply be confused—but their confusion will be highly unstable, like a Higgs boson, and will decay in about 10-22 seconds into righteous rage.

For experience shows that, if you even breathe a phrase like “the inequality of romantic and sexual fulfillment,” no one who isn’t weird in certain ways common in the hard sciences (e.g., being on the autism spectrum) will be able to parse you as saying anything other than that sex ought to be “redistributed” by the government in the same way that money is redistributed, which in turn suggests a dystopian horror scenario where women are treated like property, married against their will, and raped.  And it won’t help if you shout from the rooftops that you want nothing of this kind, oppose it as vehemently as your listeners do.  For, not knowing what else you could mean, the average person will continue to impose the nightmare scenario on anything you say, and will add evasiveness and dishonesty to the already severe charges against you.

Before going any further in this post, let me now say that any male who wants to call himself my ideological ally ought to agree to the following statement.

I hold the bodily autonomy of women—the principle that women are freely-willed agents rather than the chattel they were treated as for too much of human history; that they, not their fathers or husbands or anyone else, are the sole rulers of their bodies; and that they must never under any circumstances be touched without their consent—to be my Zeroth Commandment, the foundation-stone of my moral worldview, the starting point of every action I take and every thought I think.  This principle of female bodily autonomy, for me, deserves to be chiseled onto tablets of sapphire, placed in a golden ark adorned with winged cherubim sitting atop a pedestal inside the Holy of Holies in a temple on Mount Moriah.

This, or something close to it, is really what I believe.  And I advise any lonely young male nerd who might be reading this blog to commit to the Zeroth Commandment as well, and to the precepts of feminism more broadly.

To such a nerd, I say: yes, throughout your life you’ll encounter many men and women who will despise you for being different, in ways that you’re either powerless to change, or could change only at the cost of renouncing everything you are.  Yet, far from excusing any moral lapses on your part, this hatred simply means that you need to adhere to a higher moral standard than most people.  For whenever you stray even slightly from the path of righteousness, the people who detest nerds will leap excitedly, seeing irrefutable proof of all their prejudices.  Do not grant them that victory.  Do not create a Shanda fur die Normies.

I wish I believed in a God who could grant you some kind of eternal salvation, in return for adhering to a higher moral standard throughout your life, and getting in return at best grudging toleration, as well as lectures about your feminist failings by guys who’ve obeyed the Zeroth Commandment about a thousandth as scrupulously as you have.  As an atheist, though, the most I can offer you is that you can probably understand the proof of Cantor’s theorem, while most of those who despise you probably can’t.  And also: as impossible as it might seem right now, there are ways that even you can pursue the ordinary, non-intellectual kinds of happiness in life, and there will be many individuals along the way ready to help you: the ones who remember their humanity and forget their ideology.  I wish you the best.


Amid the many vitriolic responses to Robin—fanned, it must be admitted, by Robin’s own refusal to cede any ground to his critics, or to modulate his style or tone in the slightest—the one striking outlier was a New York Times essay by Ross Douthat.  This essay, which has itself now been widely panned, uses Robin as an example of how, in Douthat’s words, “[s]ometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane.  Douthat draws an interesting parallel between Robin and the leftist feminist philosopher Amia Srinivasan, who recently published a beautifully-written essay in the London Review of Books entitled Does anyone have the right to sex?  In analyzing that question, Srinivasan begins by discussing male “incels,” but then shifts her attention to far more sympathetic cases: women and men suffering severe physical or mental disabilities (and who, in some countries, can already hire sexual surrogates with government support); who were disfigured by accidents; who are treated as undesirable for racist reasons.  Let me quote from her conclusion:

The question, then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion … the radical self-love movements among black, fat and disabled women do ask us to treat our sexual preferences as less than perfectly fixed. ‘Black is beautiful’ and ‘Big is beautiful’ are not just slogans of empowerment, but proposals for a revaluation of our values … The question posed by radical self-love movements is not whether there is a right to sex (there isn’t), but whether there is a duty to transfigure, as best we can, our desires.

All over social media, there are howls of outrage that Douthat would dare to mention Srinivasan’s essay, which is wise and nuanced and humane, in the same breath as the gross, creepy, entitled rantings of Robin Hanson.  I would say: grant that Srinivasan and Hanson express themselves extremely differently, and also that Srinivasan is a trillion times better than Hanson at anticipating and managing her readers’ reactions.  Still, on the merits, is there any relevant difference between the two cases beyond: “undesirability” of the disabled, fat, and trans should be critically examined and interrogated, because those people are objects of progressive sympathy; whereas “undesirability” of nerdy white and Asian males should be taken as a brute fact or even celebrated, because those people are objects of progressive contempt?

To be fair, a Google search also turns up progressives who, dissenting from the above consensus, excoriate Srinivasan for her foray, however thoughtful, into taboo territory.  As best I can tell, the dissenters’ argument runs like so: as much as it might pain us, we must not show any compassion to women and men who are suicidally lonely and celibate by virtue of being severely disabled, disfigured, trans, or victims of racism.  For if we did, then consistency might eventually force us to show compassion to white male nerds as well.


Here’s the central point that I think Robin failed to understand: society, today, is not on board even with the minimal claim that the suicidal suffering of men left behind by the sexual revolution really exists—or, if it does, that it matters in the slightest or deserves any sympathy or acknowledgment whatsoever.  Indeed, the men in question pretty much need to be demonized as entitled losers and creeps, because if they weren’t, then sympathy for them—at least, for those among them who are friends, coworkers, children, siblings—might become hard to prevent.  In any event, it seems to me that until we as a society resolve the preliminary question, of whether to recognize a certain category of suffering as real, there’s no point even discussing how policy or culture might help to address the suffering, consistently with the Zeroth Commandment.

Seen in this light, Robin is a bit like the people who email me every week imagining they can prove P≠NP, yet who can’t even prove astronomically easier statements, even ones that are already known.  When trying to scale an intellectual Everest, you might as well start with the weakest statement that’s already unproven or non-obvious or controversial.

So where are we today?  Within the current Overton window, a perfectly appropriate response to suicidal loneliness and depression among the “privileged” (i.e., straight, able-bodied, well-educated white or Asian men) seems to be: “just kill yourselves already, you worthless cishet scum, and remove your garbage DNA from the gene pool.”  If you think I’m exaggerating, I beseech you to check for yourself on Twitter.  I predict you’ll find that and much worse, wildly upvoted, by people who probably go to sleep every night congratulating themselves for their progressivism, their egalitarianism, and—of course—their burning hatred for anything that smacks of eugenics.

A few days ago, Ellen Pao, the influential former CEO of Reddit, tweeted:

CEOs of big tech companies: You almost certainly have incels as employees. What are you going to do about it?

Thankfully, even many leftists reacted with horror to Pao’s profoundly illiberal question.  They wondered about the logistics she had in mind: does she want tech companies to spy on their (straight, male) employees’ sex lives, or lack thereof?  If any are discovered who are (1) celibate and (2) bitter at the universe about it, then will it be an adequate defense against firing if they’re also feminists, who condemn misogyny and violence and affirm the Zeroth Commandment?  Is it not enough that these men were permanently denied the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (the one right above physical safety); must they also be denied careers as a result?  And is this supposed to prevent their radicalization?

For me, the scariest part of Pao’s proposal is that, whatever in this field is on the leftmost fringe of the Overton window today, experience suggests we’ll find it smack in the center a decade from now.  So picture a future wherein, if you don’t support rounding up and firing your company’s romantically frustrated—i.e., the policy of “if you don’t get laid, you don’t get paid”—then that itself is a shockingly reactionary attitude, and grounds for your own dismissal.

Some people might defend Pao by pointing out that she was only asking a question, not proposing a specific policy.  But then, the same is true of Robin Hanson.


Why is it so politically difficult even to show empathy toward socially awkward, romantically challenged men—to say to them, “look, I don’t know what if anything can be done about your problem, but yeah, the sheer cosmic arbitrariness of it kind of sucks, and I sympathize with you”?  Why do enlightened progressives, if they do offer such words of comfort to their “incel” friends, seem to feel about it the same way Huck Finn did, at the pivotal moment in Western literature when he decides to help his friend Jim escape from slavery—i.e., not beaming with pride over his own moral courage, but ashamed of himself, and resigned that he’ll burn in hell for the sake of a mere personal friendship?

This is a puzzle, but I think I might know the answer.  We begin with the observation that virtually every news article, every thinkpiece, every blog post about “incels,” fronts contemptible mass murderers like Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian, who sought bloody revenge on a world that failed to provide them the women to whom they felt entitled; as well as various Internet forums (many recently shut down) where this subhuman scum was celebrated by other scum.

The question is: why don’t people look at the broader picture, as they’ve learned to do in so many other cases?  In other words, why don’t they say:

  • There really do exist extremist Muslims, who bomb schools and buses, or cheer and pass out candies when that happens, and who wish to put the entire world under Sharia on point of the sword.  Fortunately, the extremists are outnumbered by hundreds of millions of reasonable Muslims, with whom anyone, even a Zionist Jew like me, can have a friendly conversation in which we discuss our respective cultures’ grievances and how they might be addressed in a win-win manner.  (My conversations with Iranian friends sometimes end with us musing that, if only they made them Ayatollah and me Israeli Prime Minister, we could sign a peace accord next week, then go out for kebabs and babaganoush.)
  • There really are extremist leftists—Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-whateverists—who smash store windows, kill people (or did, in the 60s), and won’t be satisfied by anything short of the total abolition of private property and the heads of the capitalists lining the streets on pikes.  But they’re vastly outnumbered by the moderate progressives, like me, who are less about proletarian revolution than they are about universal healthcare, federal investment in science and technology, a carbon tax, separation of church and state, and stronger protection of national parks.
  • In exactly the same way, there are “incel extremists,” like Rodger or Minassian, spiteful losers who go on killing sprees because society didn’t give them the sex they were “owed.”  But they’re outnumbered by tens of millions of decent, peaceful people who could reasonably be called “incels”—those who desperately want romantic relationships but are unable to achieve them, because of extreme shyness, poor social skills, tics, autism-spectrum traits, lack of conventional attractiveness, bullying, childhood traumas, etc.—yet who’d never hurt a fly.  These moderates need not be “losers” in all aspects of life: many have fulfilling careers and volunteer and give to charity and love their nieces and nephews, some are world-renowned scientists and writers.  For many of the moderates, it might be true that recent cultural shifts exacerbated their problems; that an unlucky genetic dice-roll “optimized” them for a world that no longer exists.  These people deserve the sympathy and support of the more fortunate among us; they constitute a political bloc entitled to advocate for its interests, as other blocs do; and all decent people should care about how we might help them, consistently with the Zeroth Commandment.

The puzzle, again, is: why doesn’t anyone say this?

And I think the answer is simply that no one ever hears from “moderate incels.”  And the reason, in turn, becomes obvious the instant you think about it.  Would you volunteer to march at the front of the Lifelong Celibacy Awareness Parade?  Or to be identified by name as the Vice President of the League of Peaceful and Moderate Incels?  Would you accept such a social death warrant?  It takes an individual with extraordinary moral courage, such as Scott Alexander, even to write anything whatsoever about this issue that tries to understand or help the sufferers rather than condemn them.  For this reason—i.e., purely, 100% a selection effect, nothing more—the only times the wider world ever hears anything about “incels” is when some despicable lunatic like Rodger or Minassian snaps and murders the innocent.  You might call this the worst PR problem in the history of the world.


So what’s the solution?  While I’m not a Christian, I find that Jesus’ prescription of universal compassion has a great deal to recommend it here—applied liberally, like suntan lotion, to every corner of the bitter “SJW vs. incel” online debate.

The usual stereotype of nerds is that, while we might be good at memorizing facts or proving theorems or coding up filesystems, we’re horrendously deficient in empathy and compassion, constantly wanting to reduce human emotions to numbers in spreadsheets or something.  As I’ve remarked elsewhere, I’ve scarcely encountered any stereotype that rings falser to my experience.  In my younger, depressed phase, when I was metaphorically hanging on to life by my fingernails, it was nerds and social misfits who offered me their hands up, while many of the “normal, well-adjusted, socially competent” people gleefully stepped on my fingers.

But my aspiration is not merely that we nerds can do just as well at compassion as those who hate us.  Rather, I hope we can do better.  This isn’t actually such an ambitious goal.  To achieve it, all we need to do is show universal, Jesus-style compassion, to politically favored and disfavored groups alike.

To me that means: compassion for the woman facing sexual harassment, or simply quizzical glances that wonder what she thinks she’s doing pursuing a PhD in physics.  Compassion for the cancer patient, for the bereaved parent, for the victim of famine.  Compassion for the undocumented immigrant facing deportation.  Compassion for the LGBT man or woman dealing with self-doubts, ridicule, and abuse.  Compassion for the nerdy male facing suicidal depression because modern dating norms, combined with his own shyness and fear of rule-breaking, have left him unable to pursue romance or love.  Compassion for the woman who feels like an ugly, overweight, unlovable freak who no one will ask on dates.  Compassion for the African-American victim of police brutality.  Compassion even for the pedophile who’d sooner kill himself than hurt a child, but who’s been given no support for curing or managing his condition.  This is what I advocate.  This is my platform.

If I ever decided to believe the portrait of me painted by Arthur Chu, or the other anti-Aaronson Twitter warriors, then I hope I’d have the moral courage to complete their unstated modus ponens, by quietly swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.  After all, Chu’s vision of the ideal future seems to have no more room for me in it than Eichmann’s did.  But the paradoxical corollary is that, every time I remind myself why I think Chu is wrong, it feels like a splendorous affirmation of life itself.  I affirm my love for my wife and children and parents and brother, my bonds with my friends around the world, the thrill of tackling a new research problem and sharing my progress with colleagues, the joy of mentoring students of every background and religion and gender identity, the smell of fresh-baked soft pretzels and the beauty of the full moon over the Mediterranean.  If I had to find pearls in manure, I’d say: with their every attack, the people who hate me give me a brand-new opportunity to choose life over death, and better yet to choose compassion over hatred—even compassion for the haters themselves.

(Far be it from me to psychoanalyze him, as he constantly does to me, but Chu’s unremitting viciousness doesn’t strike me as coming from a place of any great happiness with his life.  So I say: may even Mr. Chu find whatever he’s looking for.  And while his utopia might have no place for me, I’m determined that mine should have a place for him—even if it’s just playing Jeopardy! and jumping around to find the Daily Doubles.)

It’s a commonplace that sometimes, the only way you can get a transformative emotional experience—like awe at watching the first humans walk on the moon, or joy at reuniting with a loved one after a transatlantic flight—is on top of a mountain of coldly rational engineering and planning.  But the current Robin Hanson affair reminds us that the converse is true as well.  I.e., the only way we can have the sort of austere, logical, norm-flouting conversations about the social world that Robin has been seeking to have for decades, without the whole thing exploding in thermonuclear anger, is on top of a mountain of empathy and compassion.  So let’s start building that mountain.


Endnotes. Already, in my mind’s eye, I can see the Twitter warriors copying and sharing whichever sentence of this post angered them the most, using it as proof that I’m some lunatic who should never be listened to about anything. I’m practically on my hands and knees begging you here: show that my fears are unjustified.  Respond, by all means, but respond to the entirety of what I had to say.

I welcome comments, so long as they’re written in a spirit of kindness and mutual respect. But because writing this post was emotionally and spiritually draining for me–not to mention draining in, you know, time—I hope readers won’t mind if I spend a day or two away, with my wife and kids and my research, before participating in the comments myself.


Update (May 7). Numerous commenters have successfully convinced me that the word “incel,” though it literally just means “involuntary celibate,” and was in fact coined by a woman to describe her own experience, has been permanently disgraced by its association with violent misogynists and their online fan clubs.  It will never again regain its original meaning, any more than “Adolf” will ever again be just a name; nor will one be able to discuss “moderate incels” as distinct from the extremist kind.  People of conscience will need to be extremely vigilant against motte-and-bailey tactics—wherein society’s opinion-makers will express their desire for all “incels” to be silenced or fired or removed from the gene pool or whatever, obviously having in mind all romantically frustrated male nerds (all of whom they despise), and will fall back when challenged (and only when challenged) on the defense that they only meant the violence-loving misogynists.  For those of us motivated by compassion rather than hatred, though, we need another word.  I suggest the older term “love-shy,” coined by Brian Gilmartin in his book on the subject.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out this comment by “Sniffnoy” for many insightful criticisms of this post, most of which I endorse.

265 Responses to “The Zeroth Commandment”

  1. Anders Iversen Says:

    I’m left wing and broke and reasonably content but have often wondered what the psychological consequences would be if someone like me who is not quite Clark Gable in the looks department were robbed of the hope of transcending the “expected partner” through acquiring wealth being creative or winning in the lottery.

  2. Richard Gaylord Says:

    “”if you were ever hurt or offended by anything I said […]. I’m also open to donating to your favorite charity.”

    Referring to your July 17, 2017 blog entry https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3336#comments) and your comment #18 ” “It sounds like all you need to do is explain to people, “I’m not a climate denier, I’m just an asshole” and the exchange #23 and #24 that followed, i would like you to make a donation to my favorite charity. This requires you to send a donation to me (i can e-mail you my address) since i am my favorite charity (according to my wife who supports me with her Trust fund income ). If you don’t accept me as my favorite charity, then i would like you to make a donation (in my name preferably, or in your name) to the Voluntaryist organization (http://voluntaryist.com/sample-page/#.Wu8JrC_MzOQ). Thabks in advance for your kind offer.

  3. JonW Says:

    As one data point, I’ll tell you why this particular reader doesn’t find your three cases (extremist muslims/moderate muslims; extremist leftists/moderate leftists; extremist incels/moderate incels) to serve as a compelling analogy. Just typing the above makes it appear clear to me: there’s no such thing as a moderate incel. There are people who are involuntarily celibate and who would not dream of harming anyone over their unhappiness, but these are not just people who wouldn’t dare “come out” as incels; they are *not* incels (in the current meaning of the term) at all. To be (and to admit to be, and maybe even to be proud to be) an incel is to blame women for your lack of romantic fulfillment. There is nothing in this person’s worldview that is shared by the merely romantically unfulfilled apart from, well, their romantic unfulfillment.

    But muslims and extremist muslims share (many elements of) a belief system (while obviously not all of them), and a shared cultural heritage (again, to an extent), and maybe some political grievances. Leftists and extremist leftists share a belief, broadly, about what some of the forces are that cause harm to society (though they do not agree on the fierceness of the appropriate means to right it).

    Incels, though (in your formulation “extremist incels”), have no real moderate counterpart. You either believe that women owe you love and sex just because you deserve it somehow, and that they are rotten to deny it to you–in which case you are a contemptible incel, whether or not you turn to violence–or you recognise, as a sad single person, that maybe you have some work to do, maybe you even accept that you need to lower your standards, whatever–and in this case you can be involuntary celibate without ascribing at all to “incelhood”.

    While disagreeing with you, I think you should be commended for taking the time and energy to type out a smart and rational case for what you believe, even all the while knowing that you will be attacked for it, however careful you are.

  4. deluks917 Says:

    Some comments:

    1) Very few people seem to take ‘bodily autonomy’ very seriously except when it implies their favored policies. Do not resuscitate orders are routinely ignored. People are not permitted to take controlled substances without permission from doctors. The state tries to prevent suicide. Children, especially disadvantaged children, have almost no bodily autonomy in our society. For example Autistic children are routinely abused physically restrained and treated to ‘aversive’.

    I think most people know this implicitly.

    2) I personally actually do value bodily autonomy very highly. But I would never endorse a ‘0th commandment’ that singles out the bodily autonomy of men. If you made your commandment gender neutral I would endorse it. (and their are many examples of male bodily autonomy being flagrantly violated, for example the draft. Historical comparisons of who ‘had it worse’ are not useful imo.)

  5. Jay L Gischer Says:

    I haven’t read this whole post. I’m just stopping at the discussion of Aumann’s Theorem. This actually doesn’t surprise me. Human beings are not, at core, rational actors. This is my biggest complaint against the likes of Cowen and Hanson.

    I am not a rational agent. You aren’t one either. Of course, there are a lot of people who get very offended at the notion that some of their beliefs are not the product of ratiocination. I hope you aren’t one, Scott, but it seems as though maybe you are.

    This is just fundamentally not how human beings work. Rational thought is something that we are capable of, and it is useful. But it isn’t, for instance, what drives you to have children.

    We have brains that are very associational, and our feelings and beliefs are highly path-dependent. The people in the persuasion business know this well and use it every day. We mathy types ignore this to our own peril.

  6. DavidC Says:

    Re Pao’s tweet, I think you’re misinterpreting it. I get that it’s ripe for misinterpretation, but my sense is that avoiding that would be better for the kind of discourse you want. (And I don’t think two misinterpretations make a right one!)

    You’ve interpreted “incel” in the tweet as literally “involuntarily celebrate”. But in common usage the word seems to mean a bit more than that, and I don’t think it’s likely she meant to fire someone for being celebrate not by choice.

    At https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=incel, the top two definitions I see include more, eg “frustrated virgin who feels as if the world owes them sex”.

    There’s still plenty to worry about with the tweet even interpreted that way, but I wanted to be talking about the right thing.

    Adding a little more generosity: if someone’s behavior at work shows that they fit the definition I posted, they probably should be fired!

  7. anon Says:

    Re Comment #1:

    Definitely not trying to accuse you of weird intentions, but your comment is exactly the type of thing that brings people up in righteous anger. Indeed, I had to swallow my bile before going on a rant for seeing this kind of comment below Scott’s beautiful piece, and you will definitely incite the twitter mob, and your comment will be used to attack Scott in public.

    Let me explain.

    Your comment uses “expected partner” unironically, and appears to imply a mindset that is extremely close to “adversarial sexual marketplace” views, i.e. the disgusting “manosphere”. The zeroth commandment is not enough: You can be a non-rapist who affirms that consent is kinda important in practice, and still view the world of romance and human relationships in terms of adversarial game-theoretic “market value” terms.

    This is a huge red flag for people who espouse exactly the kind of ideology that Scott describes as “subhuman scum”.

    Your comment stinks. I hope that you simply failed communication-wise (like Hanson completely failed at communication). If you communicated correctly, then I wish you the best for recovering from the toxic ideology that has infested your mind, but know that you currently are exactly the kind of person that Scott and the angry twitter-mob can agree on opposing.

  8. Jay Says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whatever_(novel)

  9. deluks917 Says:

    edit: Obviously meant to say ‘singles out the bodily autonomy of women’ in comment #4.

  10. Frank Wilhoit Says:

    When you write of the sacredness of female bodily autonomy, you employ two unnecessary qualifiers. Autonomy is sacred, full stop. Its sacredness is perfect across all human life and all aspects of human life. To qualify it is implicitly to restrict its application to certain groups, which is patently impermissible.

    But we have created a civilizational system in which autonomy is unattainable for anyone — so comprehensively unattainable, so unthinkably far out of reach, that any discussion of it automatically becomes a rhetorical trick.

    The only remaining question is: which trick, on whose behalf? And the only possible answer is: a pox on all tricks, and on all of their potential beneficiaries.

  11. On the redistribution of sex | EggBlog Says:

    […] Scott Aaronson in Shtetl-Optimized: “The Zeroth Commandment“ […]

  12. Scott Says:

    anon #7: This is a warning. I didn’t find your comment to be “written in a spirit of kindness and mutual respect” (and FWIW, I found comment #1 to be more confusing than offense-worthy). Further comments in the same vein might be left in moderation. Thanks.

  13. Scott Says:

    Richard #2: I said I was “open” to donating; it very deliberately wasn’t a blanket offer to give money to any group that any commenter might suggest. 🙂

    If you can suggest a charity consistent with both of our values—which I don’t think should really be that hard—then I’ll donate to it.

  14. John Merryman Says:

    “Robin blogged his confusion about why the people concerned about inequalities of wealth, never seem to be concerned about inequalities of romantic and sexual fulfillment”

    The logical flaw here is that money is assumed to be a commodity, like gold, or bitcoin, or sexual favors if you wish, to be mined from society, rather than the social contract and economic medium that allows billions of people to function as a larger social and economic entity.

    When societies were small, economics was reciprocal. More efficient to share, than hoard. As they grew, accounting became necessary, so money originated as a voucher system.
    Yet we experience it as quantified hope, so desire to save it, which pulls it from circulation and the easiest solution is to add more vouchers/money, but this represents unsupported promises of value and the system eventually collapses. So we “invest” it in order to both save and keep it in circulation, but there is far more desire to save notational value, than bright ideas to effectively grow it, so we end up bidding against each other, creating asset inflation.
    The real elephant in the room is the degree to which government borrowing supports this supposedly “free market,” by borrowing vast amounts of money, as the publicly secured debt that effectively serves as the medium of exchange in the financial markets.
    The essential conceptual fallacy is trying to store a medium. For example, in the body, blood is the medium and fat is the store. Or for cars, roads are the medium and parking lots are the store. Mix them up and the system ceases to function. We own money like we own the section of road we are on. Its functionality is in its fungibility.
    As it is, capitalism, “the markets,” have metastasized from the efficient allocation of value, to the creation of notational value as an end in itself. We are destroying the resources of the planet to store the extracted abstraction of value.
    Just as a complete hypothetical, what if the government was to threaten to tax excess wealth and not just borrow it? Presumably people would quickly find other ways to store value. Given we all save for the same general reasons, from housing and raising children, to healthcare and retirement, what if we were to invest in these as community assets, rather then trying to save for them individually? we would go back to a reciprocal economy. One where we would be less atomized, as we would have to work together and not just sell our time, minds and bodies. We would be actively storing value in healthy societies and the environments they require, not just as digits in some bank’s computers.
    While finance is a public utility, it is not government. Government, as the executive and regulatory function, equates to society’s central nervous system, while finance, as the value circulation system, equates to the body’s circulation system. They are separate and serve separate functions. When governments control the money supply, the impulse to inflate, when other promises can’t be kept, is powerful for immediate benefits, while having the private sector in control amounts to parasitism. We need to further develop our social models to incorporate something beyond the binary.
    Wild ideas, but the current system looks fragile.

  15. Scott Says:

    JonW #3: Yeah, I thought about it. You’re right that most people today don’t seem to be using “incel” to mean “involuntary celibate” (i.e., the literal meaning), but rather “involuntary celibate who’s also hateful.” Normally, my attitude is that I care about reality, not definitions, so I’ll happily adopt whichever way of using words my interlocutor prefers. In this case, however, the obvious problem is a euphemism treadmill (e.g., crippled → handicapped → disabled → differently abled, toilet → bathroom → restroom → facilities). I.e., no matter which term we use for the romantically frustrated, the same forces that worked on the word “incel” will operate similarly: people will only pay attention when there’s some terrible episode of violence, or toxic subcultures that celebrate it; ergo the new term will acquire the same radioactive connotations; ergo those who want to discuss the broader issue will need to find yet another term, and so on forever. Or am I wrong?

    Incidentally, Ellen Pao could very easily have posted a followup tweet clarifying her meaning, but didn’t. I hope she’ll take that opportunity now.

  16. Jef Allbright Says:

    Thank you for this powerfully moving while rationally written essay. And therein lies the [meta] problem: written by a nerd, for nerds, it’s brilliant as usual, but will generally fail to connect with those who could gain the most from it.

    I’ve known Robin online for a couple decades and consider him a friend and fellow traveler. His posts on the Extropy list, then on Overcoming Bias are always worth a read, but also extremely frustrating. He, and a few other brilliant friends of mine, are characteristically _rational_ but often at the same time _unreasonable_.

    I’m often reminded of one late-night session with a group of high-integrity futurists at a weekend retreat. Everyone was smart, everyone was committed to helping make the world a better place–and everyone was frustrated that they were making so little actual progress in the world around them.

    The conversation turned to what seemed a simple, well-defined question: Should we strive for height, or breadth, in our efforts? Is it better to achieve great heights, recognizable by only a few, or is it better to make a little progress, but with a broader impact?

    A nice, neatly stated, perfect sort of question, but one that misses the messy complexities of the context in which it must be executed.

    Being on the nerd spectrum myself, I offered that perhaps the question is analogous to the problem of effective power transfer, requiring a form of multidimensional (in the social domain) complex conjugate impedance matching—crickets. I tried again, suggesting that we should identify and exploit positive-sum opportunities while aiming always for increasing coherence over increasing context—again, too weird even for my fellow weirdos.

    So your essay resonated strongly with me. I’m happily married and have children grown and on their own, but I struggle daily with emotional connection–especially with those whom I care for the most.

    I’m sure you’ve seen the George Bernard Shaw quote “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    I wish we could all celebrate the unreasonable among us, while appreciating our deep, hierarchical, fine-grained values-in-common.

    I think we are getting there, two steps forward, one step back. Sad that it’s such a struggle, when it’s so obvious, so simple, so clear…

  17. Mark Says:

    I’m in broad agreement with calls for charity and understanding, but I’d also agree with DavidC that Pao is in danger of being misinterpreted here. I think turning the other cheek in this situation might be explaining why you would disagree strongly with the negative interpretation of her tweet, explain other interpretations that might be compatible with your values, and put it back to her or her supporters to clarify what they mean. To treat her the way you wish other people would treat Robin Hanson.

    A lesson I’ve learned from watching these situations play out is how easy it is for people to both latch on to misunderstandings when they feel threatened, and fail at traversing the minefield of communicating to someone with a different perspective and set off their alarm bells for being threatened. It’s a tremendously hard problem, but I think it starts with extending charity and forgiveness.

  18. Michael Says:

    I think that you’re in denial about how offensive Hanson’s post was:
    As with income inequality, most folks concerned about sex inequality might explicitly reject violence as a method, at least for now, and yet still be encouraged privately when the possibility of violence helps move others to support their policies.
    Hanson DOES seem to be encouraging or excusing violence in that paragraph.
    Moreover, this isn’t the only time he’s seemed to downplay rape. See his post comparing cuckoldry to a gentle, silent rape:
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2010/11/gentlesilentrape.html
    Your posts weren’t encouraging violence- Hanson’s were, as surely as, for example, George Ciccariello-Maher. Hanson went way over the line.

  19. Michael Says:

    @JonW#3- people aren’t as binary as you’re portraying. While I agree that people that IDENTIFY as incels and post about Chads and Stacys are horrible persons, a “normal” celibate can blame women one day and himself the next, or feel it’s women’s fault in some ways and his in other ways, etc. A man can hold sexist beliefs and never hurt anyone and a man can hold egalitarian beliefs and kill someone or vice versa. The majority of people live in the grey, not in Black and White.

  20. The Zeroth Commandment – Research Infrastructure of Chinese Foundations Says:

    […] Call him wrongheaded, naïve, tone-deaf, insensitive, even an asshole, but don’t ever accuse him of insincerity or hidden agendas. Robin also first articulated the concept of the Great Filter in the evolution of life in our universe. Earlier this year, Robin published a book together with Kevin Simler, entitled The Elephant In The Brain: Hidden Motives In Everyday Life. For the record: I think that Robin should never, ever have made this comparison, and I wish he’d apologize for it now. And I advise any lonely young male nerd who might be readIng this blog to commit to the Zeroth Commandment as well, and to the precepts of feminism more broadly. Source: The Zeroth Commandment […]

  21. rob c Says:

    Jeff #16: I too am married with adult children, and have struggled with connection with my family. When I retired I decided that the way to improve my relationships with my children was to improve and understand myself better, and began meditating and studying Buddhist and Hindu theory of mind. Several years down the road I find that these relationships have improved significantly, and that I am happier for it.

    I wonder if working on understanding ourselves may not be a better path to improving the world, rather than trying to achieve progress by changing others.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  22. Scott Says:

    Mark #17: As soon as Pao posts a clarification (and ideally, an apology to those who interpreted the word “incel” with its literal meaning), I’ll be very happy to revise my post accordingly. Is that reasonable?

  23. Mark Says:

    Scott#22: I think that’s better than nothing, but I would still prefer pre-emptive charity. A number of people who misinterpret in these situations sincerely believe they’re correct, I think it lowers the pressure to discuss the possible ideas in the abstract (I think Pao may sincerely be referring to extremists who feel entitled to sex), rather than making the conversation about a person and whether that person is good or evil. It may not always be necessary, but it seems like a policy that would prevent some of the more severe mischaracterizations.

  24. Michael Says:

    Scott, I’m curious about one thing about your original discussion of “shy male nerds”. You seemed to think that your experience of being afraid of turning into a sexual predator was a uniquely male one. But in fact, teenagers with OCD often become afraid of becoming a sexual predator. It’s not just boys- girls worry about becoming a pedophile or sexually harassing other girls, for example. This article describes the experience of one:
    https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/11/obsessive-thoughts-a-darker-side-of-ocd/281260/
    So do you really think your experience was any different than theirs? Like you they couldn’t publicly admit what they were going to, and like you they felt they were alone and it was all their fault.

  25. Pascal Says:

    If I may add a French perspective: on our side of the pond the subject of “incels” is not discussed, not even in hate messages, because it is not discussed, like, at all.
    The media did point out that the Toronto van killer belonged to one of those uniquely North-American women-hating suprematist groups.

    Interestingly, if we move from the “real world” to the literary world, the situation is different.
    Incels feature prominently in Michel Houellebecq’s books, and in particular in his first novel “extension du domaine de la lutte” (title of the English translation: “whatever”).
    In case you wonder what the original title means: it refers to the extension of the “domain of struggle” from money and power to romance and sex.
    Houellebecq is of course controversial, but he is widely recognized as one of the most interesting French writers in recent decades, and his books sell quite well.
    So I conclude that in France this subject is ripe for discussion only in the world of fiction.
    Anyone cares to point out some relevant English language fiction?

  26. JimV Says:

    Yes, to answer the question you posed, it is obvious and I did think of it for myself, long ago.

    I also don’t think whether rational people should be able to figure out a mutually accepted position on an objective matter is such a tough question either. (Not to say that everything that is obvious is easy to prove mathematically.)

    (On the objective question of who is smarter, me or you, the answer would be you; me or Hanson, I don’t have enough data yet, but I’m not impressed so far.)

    On why progressives aren’t as convinced that sexual-gratification by second parties is as worthy of redistribution as wealth, that one also doesn’t seem mystifying to me at all.

    In the case of sexual-satisfaction, there are substitutes for the physical sensations, which will be better in the future, and if you can’t afford them, wealth distribution by itself would solve that problem, so it seems to me what the deprived are really asking for is some form of love: respect, admiration – the sort of emotional support one gets from a relationship. Well, that can’t be redistributed because it can’t be coerced; and if it could be coerced by some sort of brain-washing it would be more destructive of the benefactors than constructive for the receivers. Whereas if Gates had millions instead of billions he would be only marginally less well-off in practical terms, as he himself realizes. (And I myself, making about 100K$/year in retirement, feel myself to be under-taxed, and try to donate at least as much as I spend.)

    If a libertarian can’t understand why a progressive would feel that way, that is the libertarian’s problem. Actually, of course, their problem is that they can’t understand why progressives believe in some form of wealth distribution; they should think harder about it, look at the data, and either come up with better arguments than the analogy to sexual redistribution or agree to agree with us.

  27. MCA Says:

    I’m massively, furiously offended by one of your posts, requiring charitable amends! I suggest it be in the form of an adoption fee at your nearest local greyhound adoption group.

    OK, not really, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to flog my favorite charity. If you really want to see universal love, adopt a greyhound; they’re astounding sweet and loving, even compared to the usual sweetness of dogs.

  28. Scott Says:

    Michael #24: That’s interesting; thanks. On the one hand, I feel like there definitely is a problem here that’s specific to (and common among) straight males—especially those who are shy and nerdy, in STEM fields, on the autism spectrum, etc.—one that’s cohesive and distinctive enough that it’s useful to resist assimilating it into anything else. And what Loving describes, terrible in its way, sounds pretty different than what I went through (e.g., she had OCD fears about people who she wouldn’t normally be sexually attracted to).

    On the other hand, yes, there’s clearly an enormous rainbow of human misery that isn’t taken seriously, that it’s still OK for the “enlightened” to dismiss and ridicule, simply because it hasn’t yet been recognized as real by the important authorities—as homophobia and transphobia and fatphobia and slut-shaming finally were, after long and necessary fights. One of the most moving experiences for me, in the wake of the comment-171 affair, was to get email after email from people who had more varied backgrounds than one might have predicted (African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, bi and lesbian women, straight women, trans women, …), yet who told me that aspects of my story resonated with their own experience, and who therefore thanked me for opening up.

  29. Anon Says:

    Scott, the reason the term incel is popular across mainstream media is not because it refers to nerds like you and me; it refers to the denizens of reddit.com/r/incel and reddit.com/r/braincel. These are/were two of the most popular communities for incels, and the content posted there is absolutely horrifying. Applaud for rape stories and daily denigrations of women are run-of-the-mill there. If the the two most popular communities for self-proclaimed incels are so horrifying, how do you think people are supposed to react?

    I don’t think you’re doing your arguments any favour or justice by associating yourself with such communities. Yes, toxic masculinity in society is a problem. It harms everyone involved. But supporting incels is like saying, “I’ll solve islamophobia by supporting ISIS”: ineffective and horrifying.

  30. Alex Mennen Says:

    The Zeroeth Commandment seems far overly rigid. “they must never under any circumstances be touched without their consent” What if a woman is intent on harming someone (possibly herself; possibly someone else), and the only way you can see to prevent it is by physically restraining her? Surely that is a circumstance in which it is justified to touch a woman without her consent. “foundation-stone of my moral worldview, the starting point of every action I take and every thought I think.” Wait, what? I don’t see how the principle of female bodily autonomy helps when thinking about trolley problems, deciding what to eat for lunch, or coming up with mathematical conjectures. It’s important, but not that fundamental.

    The comparison between thinking you have a proof of P=NP and saying anything stronger than that suffering from deprivation of sex and romance is real and deserving of sympathy seems unfair to me. The latter claim has already been made and defended many times before; surely it should be acceptable to try to build on it at least a little bit. Robin didn’t even go that much further; he didn’t say much about what specific policies might be considered. (It might have helped him if he had, since it would be harder to just assume the worst)

    The claim that Arthur Chu wants you to kill yourself despite not having said so is a bold claim, and I’m curious what evidence led you to believe it.

  31. Joshua Zelinsky Says:

    There are I think some other aspects which are worth articulating about what is going on here.

    I’m going for purposes of this comment distinguish between two groups: incel_1 and incel_2. Incel_1 are people who are simply put “involuntarily celibate.” Incel_2 is people in the self-identified incel community.

    Scott is right when he says that for obvious reasons one isn’t likely to get moderate people loudly identifying as incel, and Scott’s reasoning applies to both definitions.

    But there are other considerations. This seems closely connected to the famous essay about Keeping Your Identity Small http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html . In particular, once one identifies with a community and a label, one is going to think in terms of that label.

    In particular, this has a definite context in terms of people who self-identify as Incel in the Incel_2 sense. First, if one is creating a part of one’s own identity as not being successful in anything related to dating or the like, one isn’t going to go through effort in this regard and moreover isn’t going to succeed much.

    Thinking that one isn’t going to succeed at romantic or sexual matters is a pretty common teenage attitude (for almost all teenagers regardless of gender or orientation) and part of growing up is simply realizing that with a little effort things aren’t bad. One can go to singles events and one can go on online dating websites, etc. But what is happening here in part if that people are falling into a community which doesn’t encourage people to do anything like that, but rather encourages them to keep reinforcing their own hangups. Honestly, if one wants to remove the Incel community as a community, probably the most effective thing to do would be simply to get non-Incels to find volunteer to help people in Incel_2 write half-way decent OKCupid profiles.

    The second issue is that the Incel community in the sense of Incel_2 really is incredibly toxic. While I agree with Scott’s basic analogy involving Islam and Islamic extremists in the Incel_1 context, it is worth pointing out how really bad the Incel_2 community is. One could for example, compare on Reddit /r/Islam with /r/incels although with /r/incels now banned one would need to look at /r/braincels which is almost as bad as the original. And since the original incel subreddit got banned, /r/braincels is trying to stay more lowkey to avoid another banning, but a glance at recently upvoted threads shows how toxic the community is https://www.reddit.com/r/Braincels/comments/8hesop/based_sciencecel/ and https://www.reddit.com/r/Braincels/comments/8hf422/there_is_an_irreconcilable_conflict_between/ are both examples. And these really are representative of the community not just idle discussion threads, in so far as they are reflected in the upvotes. I’d invite you to go to /r/Islam and try to put up an anti-Christian or anti-Jewish post and see how long it lasts. Finally, the Incel community, as a community, is to put it mildly, sex-obsessed. These aren’t people who are upset about their lack of romantic interactions, they are to a large extent people who are unhappy that they aren’t getting sex, period. I suspect that Incel_1 isn’t that way to the same extent (and in a similar way am pretty confident that young Scott wasn’t as sex-centric as these people are).

    It is also worth noting in this context, that unlike people who might be Incel_1, the Incel_2 community at a fundamental level doesn’t have respect for women. And more to the point, they don’t get that respecting other human beings as human beings isn’t just a moral issue but is pragmatically useful.

    So, Scott’s basic approach seems correct for Incel_1, but Incel_2 seems like a very different situation.

    It is also worth noting that to some extent what one is seeing here is a standard failure mode of communities where insular communities reinforce their own ideas and form echo chambers. In this case, the situation is pretty similar to that, but it is a community formed by people who are already having trouble. It is as if one had a cannot-do-math community that banned all mathematicians or people otherwise good at math, and then refused to listen to them, and started reaching their own conclusions about how math actually worked or what would be good math pedagogy. It would go down-hill really fast.

    To some extent then, part of what we should be asking, is “How do we prevent people in their late teens or early 20s who might be at risk of joining Incel_2, not do so?” I mentioned OKCupid profiles before, but what can we do at a more systematic level? I think one of the things that is worth realizing is that we do have a genuinely toxic masculinity in our culture where men may be taught to care about sex, and to downplay romantic considerations. Removing those aspects of society would go a long way. At the same time, it is possible that that’s not all that is going on there; it is possible that some people genuinely have an underlying biology that cares a lot about sex; if there can be people who have all sorts of fetishes or people who are asexual or people who have sexual interests in furries, I don’t see why there can’t be people who are really by their own biology just as obsessed with sex. And in that regard, legalized prostitution is probably a reasonable step; of course, this doesn’t mean that prostitutes will be forced as part of their jobs to have sex; and yes, some of the people will still not end up getting sex because most prostitutes quite reasonably don’t want to have sex with people who give off incredibly creepy or dangerous vibes. But that will help somewhat.

  32. Ahasver Says:

    Thanks Scott for your courage with this message of compassion. I have zero vested interest/relevance in this specific topic, but I just wish to applaud anyone who will put themselves in the line of fire to uplift basic human decency and goodwill.

    I hope you get some of that goodwill in return; at least, please know that some people understand.

  33. pku31 Says:

    Re the climate chance discounting thing: Even if you apply exponential discounting, any sort of calculation of potential future harms of climate change that can include mass extinction jumps the social cost of carbon up (I saw a paper that claimed around 130$, but I can’t find it atm). For comparison, the current cost of preventing a ton of carbon is 1-3$. A world where we actually applied normal exponential discounting of potential future harms of climate change and acted accordingly would look very different from our own, maybe even to the point where it looked like we were doing enough about it.

    About your zeroth commandment… When you talk about Muslim or Marxist terrorists, you condemn them, but you don’t talk about them like Fox News does, you don’t go on a rant about savages destroying our values or whatever. So it bothers me that when talking about the incels you do condemn, you talk about them the exact same way any SJW extremist would.
    So I don’t think I can really agree with your zeroth commandment, in the same way I wouldn’t agree with Fox on terrorism despite opposing terrorism. I have cause to condemn a lot of this stuff, but it’s from different reasoning and would use different wording. When I decide someone’s actually too far in that direction for me, I’ll do it through my own algorithms, not by deciding feminist algorithms are correct in this instance, because I already know those algorithms are broken.

  34. Scott Says:

    Joshua #31: Thanks for the insightful remarks!

    I confess that I’ve found the interminable online argument about whether incels “really” want sex, or whether they just say they want sex but really want affection, validation, etc., to be missing the point.

    My theory holds that, for straight men (incel or non-incel), these things are one package that you can’t really disentangle. I.e.: straight men want sex partly because of the validation of their human worth that they feel will come from knowing that a woman actually likes them enough to want that. And conversely, they want the validation and acceptance partly because that, more than any mere physiological sensation, is what will make the sex itself satisfying.

    Or at least, my theory holds that the above describes one type of straight men. There’s also a second type in my theory, for whom sex has nothing whatsoever to do with self-worth, and is just an optional add-on to a romantic relationship, or a fun way to pass the time (like miniature golf) that they keep finding themselves doing for some reason. This second type is known in my theory as “liars.” 😀

  35. required Says:

    Echoing the other comments saying that “incel” is not merely a term for a lonely virgin. It’s a particular subculture with particularly heinous beliefs. Of course lonely virgins are deserving of compassion. But uncritically taking the term “incel” at face value doesn’t help anyone but them. Conflating the two just legitimizes the idea that their repugnant views deserve any consideration.

  36. James Says:

    > I hold the bodily autonomy of women—the principle that women are freely-willed agents rather than the chattel they were treated as for too much of human history; that they, not their fathers or husbands or anyone else, are the sole rulers of their bodies; and that they must never under any circumstances be touched without their consent—to be my Zeroth Commandment, the foundation-stone of my moral worldview, the starting point of every action I take and every thought I think. This principle of female bodily autonomy, for me, deserves to be chiseled onto tablets of sapphire, placed in a golden ark adorned with winged cherubim sitting atop a pedestal inside the Holy of Holies in a temple on Mount Moriah.

    > This, or something close to it, is really what I believe.

    Incredible that the *foundation of all your morality*, the indivisible seed from which all action should flow and to which all moral precepts are a corollary, includes concepts as complex and specific as “bodily autonomy” and “women”, and doesn’t explicitly mention anything like, say, “suffering” or “harm”. Do you think women are ontologically fundamental?

    Or is this supposed to be read as Straussian, and you’re making fun of the spineless hordes of Online Women Respecters who fall over themselves to proclaim their wokeness as hard as they possibly can because they think it’ll protect them? Brilliant, if so.

  37. Michael Says:

    Thank you Scott.

  38. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    I think that what the original blog “Two Types of Envy” and this entry highlight is the difference between two mindsets:

    1- The “entitlement mindset”, which is the belief that society owes individuals “stuff” for the mere fact of being alive.

    2- The “generosity mindset”, which is the belief that individuals have a moral obligation of sharing their success with the less fortunate.

    1- is very popular in European countries since at least the times of Middle Ages feudalism where the social contract was that vassals agreed to submit to the feudal lord in exchange of the feudal lord guaranteeing their physical safety. Overtime, the feudal lord was replaced by an almighty government that provides for “welfare” -which in the age of no wars among major powers following WWII’s usage of nuclear weapons- is the average European Joe’s biggest concern.

    Among those who push for the “entitlement” mindset as being good, it is fair to raise the question where is the limit of the things that “entitlement minded governments” have to provide.

    Obviously I agree 100% with Scott that forcing women into sex with males who cannot find a sexual partner is 100% off limits. However, would it be OK for these “entitlement minded governments” to pay for prostitutes that would help the aforementioned males meet their needs? I don’t think one can say that socialized medicine is good but socialized sex would be bad provided the appropriate compensation is there as it happens with doctors, all of whom are compensated for their work as part of the socialized medicine system.

    I also think that the genius of the American Revolution was to understand that 1- doesn’t produce good results for anybody involved in the long run and that 2- is the best course of action, limiting the action of government to the provision of national security and administration of justice.

    To summarize, no, I don’t see anything wrong with raising the possibility of government sponsored “sex” in those countries where the overwhelming majority of the population believes to be entitled to “stuff”.

  39. Sid Says:

    There’s an interesting parallel here to the backlash that Peter Singer has faced over the years. First, for his advocacy against animal suffering. People have mocked him again and again and again. But few have bothered to actually defuse his arguments and tell us why the incalculable animal suffering in factory farms isn’t worthy of moral consideration. Second, he suffered an even more vicious backlash for suggesting that euthanasia of highly disabled infants is permissible. Again, lots of vitriol but no counterargument telling us why the immense suffering the child and parents doesn’t matter; or, why if abortion is permissible, euthanasia of the baby isn’t.

    Thankfully, Singer put forth most of his controversial views before the era of the Twitter mob. I’m certain if he’d come up with his insights during the Twitter era, he’d mocked so brutally that his views would probably have been deemed radioactive and unworthy of consideration.

  40. Sid Says:

    By the way, your description of the emotional reaction one has when reading Robin Hanson is spot on. I remember coming across his blog about 7-8 years ago. I read something he’d written about how academia is all about signalling. As someone just starting out in research, I felt hurt and angry, and thought “Who does this guy think he is? How the hell does he have a job? God, I can’t stand his smugness.” I started writing a comment, thinking, “I’m going to put this idiot in his place and tear down his silly argument.” But then I became slowly aware that it was not at all obvious that what he was saying was wrong.

    And as I went through many of his other blog posts, that’s when I slowly realized that I was in the presence of genius.

  41. elephants Says:

    The end of this post was beautiful. I often feel awful when the culture war touches on the legitimacy of my identity or feelings. I hope that I’ll be able to remember your reframing in the future.

    And I thought I had read Huckleberry Finn before, but maybe it was only an abridged version, because I hadn’t read that chapter. The way Twain exploited Finn’s bad grammar to suggest double meanings in what was really good or bad was very interesting, thanks for the link.

  42. James R Lee Says:

    The other James is not me, though I do agree with his sentiment that Scott’s over-the-top social signalling, while understandable, is disheartening. It emboldens the very reactionaries Scott would admonish. (I guess if one doesn’t first issue such a mission statement, people will feel justified to dismiss the content on its face. So such assertions have their value reduced, leading to an arms race of signalling, which ultimately encourages tribalism.)

    Isn’t wealth vs sexual inequality an essentially quantitative issue? The answer is obviously yes; if only the “top” 1% of men were able to procreate, it would call for some kind of societal restructuring. This isn’t even particularly revolutionary; look, for instance, at Japan’s aging populations and the government’s programs to incentivize dating and procreation. (I realize the “procreate” is not synonymous with sexual satisfaction, and I apologize for phrasing the argument in heteronormative terms.)

    In general, we value things like personal freedom, autonomy, and ownership of one’s “stuff” (whether it be one’s self or one’s money). The issue with wealth inequality (I thought) is about (i) perversion of the system: wealth yields political influence, and (ii) the huge discrepancy of the marginal value of a dollar once the welcome gap becomes large enough (leading to an inefficient allocation of resources). In the latter case, we are talking about factors like 10^6, while it is physically impossible for such factors to arise in the setting of sexual inequality. (Insert Wilt Chamberlain joke here…)

  43. elephants Says:

    Oh, while I’m here, acknowledging the importance of women’s rights, I feel like we should reserve our Zeroth commandment for something more foundational, like “assertions require justifications” or “moral precepts must be consistent with each other”. Or, if you want to take a more empathy grounded and less reason grounded approach to metaethics “when you feel the pain of others, care about it”. I see no reason that women are more entitled to the coveted slot of the Zeroth commandment than any other group of beings.

  44. chephy Says:

    Much to discuss here, but a little thing that caught my eye is the word “even” in the phrase “compassion even for the pedophile…” The pedophile you go on to describe is a wholly good person. What ELSE could you possibly feel for someone like him (other than perhaps admiration for having the strength of character to flight the urges he didn’t choose to be saddled with)? Why the “even”?? It seems like a really odd concession to societal prejudice that smacks heavily of irony in a post attempting to point out irrationality and unfairness of societal prejudice.

  45. Scott Says:

    required #35 and others: In the entire comment-171 affair, I don’t think I ever once used the word “incel.” Nor, of course, did I come within a light-year of the attitudes that people have rightly flagged here as putting the online “incel community” beyond the pale of civilized humanity, such as wishing or celebrating violence, or vilifying women. On the contrary, I repeatedly affirmed my strong feminist beliefs, and urged any shy male nerds reading my blog to do the same.

    Yet despite that, all across social media, people insisted on applying the 5-letter word to me, or at least to my previous self. Why?

    If I had to guess, I think it’s because I refused to endorse the one socially approved explanation for what so many shy male nerds go through: namely, that it’s all down to their own terrible behavior and attitudes. On this theory, if swaggering, non-nerdy guys enjoy more romantic success, it must be because they’re more deeply moral than nerds are, more sensitive and feminist, better able to see women as people. And hence, if the nerds would only look further inward, blame themselves even more, repent even harder for their failings, maybe their problems would sort themselves out.

    I did not endorse that theory, and will never endorse it.

    But that doesn’t mean I ever blamed women: on the contrary! In the comment that changed my life, one of the central messages I tried to get across was that women as a class are not to blame: that they, like guys, are just trying to play the cards they’re dealt as best they can.

    Some would ask: if it’s not women’s fault, and it’s not the male nerds’ fault either, then whose fault is it? Fate? An indifferent cosmos? Natural selection? Inadequate equilibria? Changes in social norms beyond any individual’s control? Childhood bullies? Ax-grinding ideologues who eagerly reinforce nerds’ fear of the world, and the world’s fear of nerds? Or more broadly: why, a priori, should we have born into a universe where the wicked so often prosper while the righteous suffer?

    As you might know, this is a class of question that my people has been asking for quite some time. 🙂 We even put a whole book about it into the bible—though admittedly, not one that ever really coughs up a satisfactory answer.

    My point is: we need to preserve some linguistic space for the many nerdy guys who are utterly repulsed by violence, misogyny, and anyone who’d even think about supporting them—but who are also unwilling to affirm the self-abnegating falsehood that the mainstream currently demands as its precondition for not being lumped in with violent misogynists. For the Jobs, the questioners, the ones with their fingers pointed neither at themselves nor at “Chad” and “Stacy,” but (if anywhere) at human nature itself and the moral foundations of the world. What word would you recommend for them?

  46. Scott Says:

    chephy #44: The word “even” is there solely because of how radioactively unpopular it is to use a word like “compassion” anywhere in the same galaxy as the word “pedophile”—not because I think the pedophile in my example did anything wrong.

  47. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #45,

    “My point is: we need to preserve some linguistic space for the many nerdy guys who are utterly repulsed by violence, misogyny, and anyone who’d even think about supporting them—but who are also unwilling to affirm the self-abnegating falsehood that the mainstream currently demands as its precondition for not being lumped in with violent misogynists. ”

    Amen brother! I go back to the discussion of the American obsession with “seeking consensus” subjugating individuality. Albert Einstein is said to have said,

    “great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”

    I wouldn’t say that every great spirit is a nerdy male like the ones you describe above, but certainly they are subjugated by the mainstream the way Einstein describes above mediocre minds subjugate great spirits.

    “For the Jobs, the questioners, the ones with their fingers pointed neither at themselves nor at “Chad” and “Stacy,” but (if anywhere) at human nature itself and the moral foundations of the world. What word would you recommend for them?”

    I am reluctant to use a label to describe a set of people who might be very heterogeneous otherwise. In fact, I am in generally against labels for this very same reason: they are limiting even when they convey accurately a certain aspect of a person’s personality or worldview. We just need to acknowledge that while it is possible to appeal to a universal sense of humanity that all humans share, humans also can be very different and have very different internal clocks not only when it comes to sex but also to other things. As a geek working in high tech at a place where the overwhelming majority of my colleagues are hard left, being a geek and not being hard left is very hard. The last thing I would do to these males is to come up with some sort of label that is then limiting to them in many other ways.

  48. chephy Says:

    Scott #46 Yes, I get it that “even” here refers to the willingness to show compassion when it’s consistent with moral code regardless of how controversial society at large considers it. It’s kind of ironic still, considering that the pedophile in the above example is probably most deserving of compassion of all examples given due to his having done nothing wrong or illegal (unlike an undocumented immigrant) AND his not having any means of correcting the issue (unlike an overweight woman or a socially inept man). Just underscores the unfairness (though not necessarily irrationally) of some prejudices). However, I may be more naive than you are but I don’t think anyone short of some kind of a fascist would not feel compassion for the pedophile in question. The societal contempt of paedophiles is generally directed at those who actually attempt to engage in some sort of sexual act with children, or procure child pornography, or advocate for sexual access to children. Not at those who are cursed with sexual attraction to kids but would never dream of acting on it. Again, maybe I’m naive.

  49. Anonymous Berkeley Professor Says:

    Scott, I appreciate your honesty in defending Robin Hanson, and in writing things like “For if we did, then consistency might eventually force us to show compassion to white male nerds as well.” A good and very thoughtful post.

    But have you thought through the civilizational survival implications of your Zeroth Commandment of the bodily autonomy of women? Have you thought about why there are so few historical examples of such autonomy until recently? Marital rape is still a radical new concept that’s existed for only a sliver of history (and won’t last long because the survival value of thinking that way is so negative). Have you thought about why female emancipation is historically seen primarily in empires in their late decline stage, or in tribal matriarchies that never develop a civilization in the first place? I hold that your Zeroth Law is a death sentence for a high civilization, rendering it incapable of competing with other civilizations. I hold that Western Civilization is well into its decline stage, and part of the cause is that women have been freed to make profoundly bad mating choices.

    Compare the fertility rates of slut-walking Westerners with the fertility rates of societies that severely restrict their women’s behavior and arrange their marriages. As your readers well know, in the fullness of time, exponential growth beats exponential shrinkage pretty soundly. Europe will probably be a Muslim continent in a century; if so, you can kiss the Zeroth Commandment goodbye there forever.

    But fertility isn’t my main argument. My main argument is that high civilization can only be built and maintained where most of the men have families they are deeply invested in maintaining, and those families provide a basic level of respect to the men (including family authority and wifely sex and fidelity). That’s an important part of why the West is losing all its vitality while the East is rising. Western civilization has recently chosen to destroy the social institutions and sexual morals that give men a return on their investment. Thus we can no longer maintain a high civilization. But we’re running on momentum so a lot of people still haven’t noticed the collapse that’s coming soon. No high civilization can stay high without controlling its women’s sexual morality.

    I would love to see a mathematical model of competing civilizations where some give women total liberty to choose their sex partners and others restrain that liberty. (Did Hanson address this?) But as you say, it’s an absolute taboo today to suggest that a society has any interest in saying how women distribute sex. (A taboo in the West, not a taboo in the civilizations that will soon beat our asses.) Women have such a strong emotional revulsion to the thought of sex with the wrong guy (most guys) that they can’t logically consider the societal ramifications at all. Thus most people who live through the collapse will be totally uncomprehending of one of its main causes.

    Back to my main point: don’t give your Zeroth Commandment too much credence until we’ve had a century to see how it plays out. Communism too seemed like a great idea until the experiments had been running for a while.

  50. Scott Says:

    elephants #43 and others: Placing the bodily autonomy of women as my Zeroth Commandment, ahead of “no murdering” and everything else, could just be chalked up to literary flourish—or to my recently spending a day in the Old City of Jerusalem, and getting the image in my head of modern feminist principles inscribed on the tablets in the Ark of the Covenant.

    But actually, for the young, shy, nerdy guys of the modern world who I’m trying to reach, I claim that my choice of Zeroth Commandment has a certain logic to it.

    If you’re such a guy, then you don’t much need commandments telling you not to lie or steal or murder (let alone worship graven images or covet your neighbor’s ox 🙂 ), because you feel so little temptation in those directions.

    But walking outside every day, seeing so many cheerful, laughing, achingly beautiful women who you can’t kiss, can’t touch, and probably shouldn’t even approach (even though other men can, and do, using social skills about as accessible to you as Galois theory is to a baboon)? And then back to your dorm room, or your office, to your ascetic programming or theorem-proving life, and not letting it warp your character—rejecting every whispered invitation of bitterness and hate—so that you can look yourself in the mirror and say, “yes, I’m still the kind and decent person who I wanted to grow up into when I was a boy”? Now that strikes me as a genuine spiritual battle between your higher self and your lower one—and moreover, a battle that your higher self needs to win every single time without exception. This, it seems to me, is precisely the sort of situation that the prophets of old would have recognized as requiring a Commandment.

  51. Diego Says:

    This was a beautiful post, Scott. Thank you.

  52. Prosthetic Conscience Says:

    Scott, others have already commented at the oddness of your zeroth commandment, so I’ll not add to that beyond saying that as stated I do not find it particularly resonating and to some extent even ridiculous, not in its goals but in its selectiveness and prioritization.

    Instead I want to comment on this part:

    > we’re horrendously deficient in empathy and compassion, constantly wanting to reduce human emotions to numbers in spreadsheets or something. As I’ve remarked elsewhere, I’ve scarcely encountered any stereotype that rings falser to my experience.

    I see myself as someone who fits this stereotype fairly well. Daily in social interactions I have to play little mental games tallying the pleasantries-exchanged balance, feign condolences when something negative happened to co-workers, rope others into my toe-stepping so they deliver the message in a less blunt manner and outright lie about social activities. Similarly I have learned when to simply shut up and stand aside while others wrangle people issues.

    It took me many years to even realize that I was emotionally hurting my mother by what seemed perfectly reasonable behavior to me. Whenever we talk to each other there is a non-negligible risk that her feelings end up hurt and I annoyed at her inability to listen. The only solution I have found is to severely restrict the frequency and scope of things we talk about.

    Anyway, what I want to say is that nerds with little to no empathy exist. Maybe you’re more likely to find them unfiltered on 4chan and reddit while in real life they might know well enough to simply keep to themselves.

    Anon #7 – Assuming for a moment that the way you interpreted #1’s post is correct then I would suggest you consider whether your response would actually score any points with #1 if he had psychopathic traits. If you accuse someone of “merely” treating human interactions as exercises in game theory then think what you would do if this is the best you could hope for and try to present arguments that could tip the other party’s evaluation of the tradeoff matrix towards an outcome you consider more palatable.

  53. Alex Mennen Says:

    Scott #50: Ok, but now it comes off like you’re telling me to define my life around one problem that I’m disproportionately likely to have. I actually have greater ambitions than merely not harming anyone in a certain way that I might be assumed to constantly be tempted to do.

  54. Jay Says:

    Scott #35: LOL 🙂

  55. Ranty March Says:

    Throw rocks at inpovs when they blame rich people for their involuntary poverty.

  56. MarxBro Says:

    Hey there, just a small point to make. I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, and you are correct in a very limited sense that we are “extreme”. However, we are only extreme from the standpoint of the average irrational person. We wish to re-organize society on a rational basis – where all means of production are seized by the proletariat and used to their full potential. This is not extreme in the slightest, and those who wish to deny our aims through violence (the capitalist imperialists and comprador bourgeoisie) are actually the ones who are extreme I think.

    I think your blog misrepresents us as “extreme”, although I understand that there’s a lot of capitalist propaganda out there which could easily make people biased and repeat how we’re supposedly extreme without really giving it a second though.

    I would love to have a respectful dialogue with you on this point because mainstream media and twitter pundits try to shut out a calm, level-headed and kind discussion of the benefits of communism.

  57. Noah Snyder Says:

    I wish you wouldn’t talk about “incels” like they’re analogous to all Muslims. Incels refers to small radical online communities that have repeatedly produced murderous terrorists and are centered around violent rhetoric that encourages these terrorists. I don’t think analogies are typically helpful in this kind of discussion, but if you want an analogy Incels are analogous Al-Qaeda or ISIS which are also groups that radicalize angry young men online and encourage them to run vans over people. If you want to refer to a larger more moderate group choose a word to refer to the group you want to refer to, like nerds or lonely young men, and not a word that radical online groups that recruit and encourage terrorism have chosen to refer to themselves.

    I’d also encourage you to think a little bit about why you keep adding “White and Asian” to nerds in this post. Are you saying Black and Hispanic nerds don’t exist? Or that they don’t have similar struggles with loneliness and fitting in and finding partners? You’re veering pretty close to some very ugly stereotypes around Black men here, and it isn’t helping your argument to explicitly exclude Black and Hispanic nerds. (Of course, there are some specific harmful stereotypes about Asian men that I’m not trying to deny or minimize.)

  58. James Says:

    Scott #50

    If I were a nerdy and very lonely guy, which I guess I am, I’d see someone telling me that Respecting Women’s Bodily Autonomy should be my fundamental moral axiom — lest I become the media’s caricature of an incel — as incredibly patronizing. It also probably wouldn’t benefit me much even if I went along with it, since I’d almost definitely already be someone who errs on the side of Respecting Women by never going out of my way to interact with them anyway, and cementing it as the most important thing I can ever do would probably just ensure I’d stay lonely until I die.

  59. Noah Snyder Says:

    #15: It’s pretty strange to on the one hand say you’re using “incel” in a literal sense rather than the sense it’s actually used, but you’re still only using it to refer to men and boys, who are not by most studies the majority, let alone the only people, suffering from romantic and sexual isolation.

  60. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    I said in a previous post,

    “I don’t think one can say that socialized medicine is good but socialized sex would be bad provided the appropriate compensation is there as it happens with doctors, all of whom are compensated for their work as part of the socialized medicine system.”

    Doing additional research, it turns out that something of this sort is already happening in the Netherlands,

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/7945785/Councils-pay-for-prostitutes-for-the-disabled.html

  61. Alyssa Vance Says:

    One issue that I wish Scott brought up is that equating being “not in a relationship” with being a loser, or (even worse) with being mentally ill or evil or dangerous, is practically an invitation to abuse. I’ve known multiple people, of both genders, who stayed in awful, toxic relationships for years largely because society expected them to “be with someone”. I think it’s far better, in the long run, to be “alone” than to be stuck with someone who has zero respect for you, manipulates you, isolates you, or ruins your life. But as Tim Urban said, “In our world, the major rule is to get married before you’re too old—and “too old” varies from 25 – 35, depending on where you live. The rule should be “whatever you do, don’t marry the wrong person,” but society frowns much more upon a 37-year-old single person than it does an unhappily married 37-year-old with two children. It makes no sense—the former is one step away from a happy marriage, while the latter must either settle for permanent unhappiness or endure a messy divorce just to catch up to where the single person is.”

  62. Scott Says:

    Noah Snyder: My answer to pretty much every point you raise is that the specific groups I talked about, and the words I used to refer to them, were determined by the attacks that I see on social media.

    Of course black and Hispanic men also suffer these problems. As I mentioned above, some of them emailed me in the wake of the comment-171 affair, and I tried my best to give them advice and support, as I did with everyone who wrote to me.

    In comment 171, I said nothing whatsoever about race, and neither did Robin in any of his comments: it simply had nothing to do with what either of us was talking about. And yet, in the attacks on both of us, again and again you see formulations like “all these whiny privileged white dudes in tech should [shut up | fuck themselves | jump off a bridge].”

    By my count, I mentioned “white” a total of 3 times in the current post (not counting “white-hot rage”)—and every single time, it was in the context of paraphrasing those sorts of attacks.

    (Incidentally, I’m giving the attackers the benefit of the doubt that they know that a large percentage of the nerdy male tech workers about whom they’re trying to express their contempt are actually Jews or East Asians, but they don’t care, because Jews and East Asians don’t rate on their hierarchy of oppression for most purposes.)

    And it’s the same with “incel”: at the end of the day, I used the word only because the attackers so liberally use it, even against men who share none of the violent misogynistic tendencies of the online “incel community.” (And even then, I surrounded the word with scare quotes throughout the post.)

    And yes, if “incel” retains its literal meaning of “involuntary celibate,” then there are certainly straight female “incels” as well (and gay and lesbian “incels” too, which is yet another discussion). I’ve met straight female “incels,” I heard from a decent number in the wake of comment 171, and I feel strongly that society should do whatever it can to offer them sympathy and support. The possibility of matchmaking between them and male “incels” is almost too obvious to mention. And if ever female “incels” are attacked by mainstream commentators, like their male counterparts regularly are, as entitled losers and creeps whose so-called suffering doesn’t matter and who should just get themselves out of the gene pool, then I believe with every bone in my body that decent people everywhere should rise to their defense.

  63. Murmur Says:

    A bit on the tangent: isn’t there a straightforward way to get out of Aumann’s theorem (while maintaining rationality) is to claim that we have different priors? I’m aware that there are some arguments saying that we all should have the same priors but none of them have the status of a theorem.

  64. Murmur Says:

    “Compassion even for the pedophile who’d sooner kill himself than hurt a child, but who’s been given no support for curing or managing his condition.”

    Writing this took courage. I also thought of it but would have never written or uttered it. Bravo, Scott!

  65. Anon Berkeley Student Says:

    Anon #49:

    It horrifies me to know that people with the power of a professor walk around on the same campus as me while harbouring such awful views about female autonomy. I can only pray that you don’t have any female students, lest their career is ruined by you.

  66. Danny Says:

    Two points I would like to make on this:
    1) the argument about whether the term incel refers to all involuntary celibate men, or just a hard core of hateful misogynistic internet posters is as blatant a motte and bailey as i’ve ever seen. Posters will say “cut it off if it hasn’t been used in so long”. And will then retreat to “I just meant the misogynistic mass murder advocates” if they are challenged. But if they aren’t challenged the meaning clearly stays as “all lonely men” – lonely men who would be in no doubt the comment was addressed to them.
    2) I don’t believe it’s a lack of moderate advocates willing to come forward that is the problem. Two reasons: 1)In other areas that might be characterised as men’s rights issues the existence of more moderate spokespeople hasn’t helped at all. 2) individuals such as yourself, Scott Alexander, Robin Hanson ARE the more moderate voices. And you still get all this blowback. As will any other “moderate” incel or incel-sympathiser.

  67. Scott Says:

    Murmur #63: Right, Aumann’s theorem assumes (and indeed, provided the occasion to introduce) the so-called Common Prior Assumption, or CPA. The whole point of the business with indexicals is to justify the CPA, by showing how even if you thought you and your friend had differing priors, actually “being born as you” and “being born as your friend” are just yet more events to conditionalize on—starting from behind some Veil of Ignorance where the two priors would necessarily be the same, because there wouldn’t yet be anything to differentiate them.

    You’re right that this is a philosophical argument, not a theorem—so if you don’t buy it, we can just “agree to disagree.” 😀

  68. Tim McCormack Says:

    This is an awesome post, Scott. Heartfelt, compassionate, and clear.

    Twitter will never be satisfied, though, no matter what you say. :-/

  69. Scott Says:

    MarxBro #56:

      I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, and you are correct in a very limited sense that we are “extreme”. However, we are only extreme from the standpoint of the average irrational person. We wish to re-organize society on a rational basis – where all means of production are seized by the proletariat and used to their full potential. This is not extreme in the slightest, and those who wish to deny our aims through violence (the capitalist imperialists and comprador bourgeoisie) are actually the ones who are extreme I think.

    Even though your ideology led to the deaths of 100 million people in the last century, I predict that you might have more success winning mainstream support for it nowadays than for the ideology that says that socially awkward male tech workers bleed when you prick them. 😉

  70. GemmaM Says:

    “Indeed, let me go further: if you were ever hurt or offended by anything I said, and if I can make partial restitution to you by taking some time to field your questions about quantum computing and information, or math, CS, and physics more generally, or academic career advice, or anything else where I’m said to know something, please shoot me an email. I’m also open to donating to your favorite charity.”

    Ah, shit, dude, you’re warming my heart, here. You’re implicitly acknowledging that the same women who feel threatened by the idea of “sex redistribution” can also be folks who care about math and CS and physics, right? I appreciate that. What with this and the whole Zeroth Commandment thing, I did want to say, don’t think it doesn’t make a difference when you say stuff like this.

    And let me say, too, that I wholeheartedly sign on to your project of universal compassion as a basis for rationalism. Some of the hardest — and hardest-hitting — critiques of feminism that I’ve ever read have come from people like Scott Alexander who succeed, sometimes, in showing that we’ve failed to live up to the empathy that we so often advocate.

    One of the hardest things about the debates that arose from Hanson’s initial post, for me, was seeing so many people react to it by defending Hanson’s lack of compassion for anyone who reacted to the implicit physical threat even as they tried to use Hanson’s post to advocate for more compassion for men who find relationships hard. I really appreciate how thoroughly this post avoids that problem. Thank you.

  71. Scott Says:

    GemmaM #70: Thanks!

    So, uh, you have a question? (Fine if you don’t.) 🙂

  72. non-tight Says:

    “According to my complexity-theoretic refinement of Aumann’s agreement theorem, which I later published in STOC’2005, two Bayesian agents with a common prior can ensure that they agree to within ±ε about the value of a [0,1]-valued random variable, with probability at least 1-δ over their shared prior, by exchanging only O(1/(δε^2)) bits of information—completely independent of how much knowledge the agents have. My conclusion was that, if Aumann’s Nobel-prizewinning theorem fails to demonstrate the irrationality of real-life disagreements, then it’s not for reasons of computational or communication efficiency”

    But due to the non-tightness of the result, does this really support your conclusion in any practical sense? E.g., say we want ε=2^-40 and δ=0.01, then the result states that we need to exchange no more than around ~87 bits of information. But that’s not really a small communication cost if you ask me!

    Thus, doesn’t your original object to Hanson and Cowen—that reaching agreement might require a massive communication cost—in some sense still hold up?

  73. J.F. Says:

    I want to nth the critique the, for many (if not most) people incel means “self identified incel, i.e somebody who goes on incel reddits/chans. That people use it to attack people who are not a member of this subculture is not surprising and doesn’t mean that they don’t view the word as attacking this subculture. (People call people there insulting nazis and white nationalist too, self identifying as a white nationalist, on the basis of being patriotic and white is clearly a horrible idea)

    I definitely winced at Ellen Pao’s tweet but, charitably, it was probably aimed as the subculture rather than people who are unable to find dates. To demand reading her literally seems surprisingly analogous to forcing a reading of Hanson where he’s pro-rape.

    Two takes, which you might not entirely agree with but are unambiguously sympathetic to people unable to find romantic partners, demonstrate the use of the word incel as “member of a vicious
    https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/don-t-let-incel-misogynists-toronto-killer-tell-you-they-ncna869886
    https://www.thestranger.com/slog/2018/04/25/26093525/on-sexual-deprivation-sex-workers-incels-and-violence
    The context for critiquing incels is immediately following a mass murder by a self identified incel. Unlike with Muslims of Jews or whatever, I have seen very few non-misogynistic people self-identify as an incel (rather than as somebody who can’t find romance, or unattractive or unlovable, or sad virgin etc).

    I also don’t especially buy that this is as much a uniquely straight male problem as you seem to. I’m gay and experienced a similar stress and self loathing (about being unable to find partners) before I started dating.

  74. J.F. Says:

    This tweet in particular seems like a clear explanation of the Ellen pao tweet and some of the unfair vitriol.

    https://twitter.com/notjessewalker/status/992096142723727360

  75. non-tight Says:

    “…~87 bits of information.”

    That should of course have been *2^87* bits of information. Tiny difference…

  76. Scott Says:

    non-tight #72: Well, you also need to worry about the constant in the big-O, but fortunately it’s not large. For reasonable values like ε=δ=1/5, the theorem really does have the real-world implication that not much communication is needed—especially since O(1/(δε2) is just a worst-case upper bound, which is probably achieved only on very weird examples. See my paper for more (here’s the long version).

  77. GemmaM Says:

    Scott #71: Nah, no questions right now. But hey, if I think of one, I’ll ask! Mostly, I just appreciated the thought. 🙂

  78. Tim Tyler Says:

    Re: “I don’t see how the principle of female bodily autonomy helps when thinking about trolley problems […]”. Perhaps put the female bodies on one track and the male bodies on the other track, and then see if you agree with Scott about their relative values.

  79. Scott Says:

    J.F. #73: No matter what term we choose for the thing we’re talking about, few people who feel like they still have anything left to lose are going to self-identify as it, no? At most, you’ll get people self-identifying that the term used to describe them.

  80. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott comment #13:
    so we need an organization that does something in line with values we share. well, here’s a partial listing of mine, in order of donation preference:

    support for special needs dogs – dogs with special needs or dogs to help people with special needs (have to be careful. many of these organizations use donations for pay for administrative overhead, rather than for the care of the dogs)

    organizations working for the legalization of ALL drugs for ANY adult use.

    political organizations promoting radical free market libertarianism (this excludes all ‘conservative’ organizations or groups that work support government involvement in anything)

    organizations working to increase either knowledge about the Holocaust to young people or jewish educational values (though not related to theological beliefs).

    anything in any of these groups work for you?

  81. J.F. Says:

    I don’t think that’s the way the euphemism treadmill worked

    “lonely virgin” is not currently toxic and I think has more self identification than incel. The reason incel is so bad is because the a mass murderer just identified with the term. Virgin is also currently used as a term of abuse more frequently than incel. Incel as a term of abuse is used principally to link people to the ideology (either fairly or as a term of abuse). Virgin is used to shame people for being too nerdy or awkward to be able to find sex.

    In my mind you were called an incel for the same reason Bush was called a Nazi and Hillary was called a communist. It was an attempt to link you to an odious ideology in order to discredit and insult you.

    I guess here is my question. There is currently a viciously misogynistic ideology which is pro-rape, pro-Elliot Rodgers, and often racist being posted on a few subreddits/chans/etc which a mass murder believed. The members of this ideology call themselves “incels”.

    What would you recommend people call members of this ideological group and what should they call lonely virgins or lonely people unable to find romantic love?

    I would argue these terms need to be separated both to not unfairly attack people who are unable to find partners and to not give an iota of credibility to people who celebrate mass murderers.

  82. Neil Says:

    Redistribution of sex sounds creepy, yet the government has long been involved in it. I am speaking of polygamy laws. The purpose of one spouse laws was to equalize sexual (and reproductive) access. This, of course, works best when sex and marriage, like a horse and carriage, were more intimately linked. I would argue that breaking the link between sex and marriage has led to greater sex access inequality, contributing to the problem Robin describes.

  83. Male (not-so-shy) nerd Says:

    Thank you for the great, thoughtful post.

    We need, as your said, kind, constructive discussion, rather than chains of outrage. It’s definitely inconsistent for progressives to claim to stand for the oppressed, but exceptionalize white men, just because a group of them happen to have power.

    What people forget is that men who have power, first and foremost, deny resources (and romantic partners) to other men. The poorest, worst off men are often far worse off than the poorest women (similarly in romantic domain, the most successful men get power and multiple partners, while the poorest have no chance at getting partners).

    Whether we like it or not, women are the sex that get to be choosier. Hence, the men, who for whatever (even justifiable) reason are not “desirable”, will end up getting -no- partners (while even the least desirable women have a higher chance of finding partners). This is something we need to address honestly as a society.

    Maybe the sex part is slightly easier. Be it with good sex robots (which feminists hate), subsidized prostitution or some other idea. The romance part, I really don’t know. I don’t think Hanson is suggesting anyone should be forced to do anything though.

    I’m fully committed to your zeroth commandment. Moreover, as a progressive, I consider it necessary to stand up for every oppressed group or person. I also consider it my duty to promote kindness, and open intellectual discussion. It’s a poison to progressivism to be so intolerant of people’s ideas, and it’s antithesis to single out a group (“white men”) as categorically unable to be oppressed.

    At schools where I have been (Harvard & MIT), there are no rules against excessive make up, or wearing sexy attire. Not that it happens all the time or I suggest they should be. But there are lots of training, advising against approaching or flirting with a female colleague. I agree, no one should flirt with an unwilling person. But it seems like even taking a minute out of someone’s time to gauge their interest is frowned upon. Where else should we meet partners? How are we supposed to know if someone is interested in seeing us for coffee? No one is bothered if a girl puts effort into looking “attractive”, but people are plenty bothered by the “attracted”. For those men who aren’t lucky enough to effortlessly attract partners, there must be some way of politely and respectfully express interest, and put effort into convincing a partner (in nature, some birds, who are mostly monogamous like us, spend a long time convincing partners on first encounter). The current culture seems to suggest there is no such way. Not only as a shy man with no conventional attractiveness, you don’t get a good chance of finding a partner, if you go around trying your luck (respectfully) you are categorized as a creep*. There must be a better blueprint, and that requires effort by both the nerds, and their feminist critiques. It can only happen through dialogue and kind cooperation, not through outrage.

    *I may add, I’ve been lucky enough to have some “conventional” means of attracting people (and have been partnered happily for all of my 20s), like being introduced and advertised by female friends of mine. But I certainly see how many of my shy friends have no way of their own, unless someone like me “helps them” by introducing them to potential partners.

  84. MarxBro Says:

    Scott #56

    I don’t really know what this comment means. The winking smiley indicates that you might be joking about it it? Can you explain what you mean more thoroughly without using irony or hiding your intentions behind an obfuscating joke?

    Communism didn’t kill 100 million people, this is simply propaganda repeated ad nauseam by twitter pundits and capitalist media. Is there a single methodology you can propose which calculates the deaths of 100 million under communism which wouldn’t result in a much more dire bodycount if we used the exact same methodology for capitalism?

    In any case, we can look at the massive rise in living standards, health, literacy and so on that communism provided for people and see that yes, it is undoubtedly a more rational system.

  85. froginthewell Says:

    Like you I’m a non-Christian by both birth and practice, and like you again I am a huge admirer of Christ’s compassion informed by epistemic humility and suspense of judgement.

    That said, it is hard to believe that you were keeping this ideal in front of you when you write:

    “For the record: I think that Robin should never, ever have made this comparison, and I wish he’d apologize for it now. …… In any event, it seems to me that until we as a society resolve the preliminary question, of whether to recognize a certain category of suffering as real, there’s no point even discussing how policy or culture might help to address the suffering, consistently with the Zeroth Commandment.”

    When a murderous mob was baying baying for the blood of a woman accused of adultery, hers wasn’t a suffering that the society of the times recognized as real. Didn’t stop Christ from viewing the situation in terms of a more universal value system.

    There were times when certain sufferings of gays and women weren’t recognized by society – would you say the brave outliers who invited and suffered personal ridicule by standing up for them should have desisted from discussing those (and zeroth commandment is irrelevant unless you want to sneakily imply that Robin endorsed violation of it)?

    You’re wrong in saying “Robin failed to understand” the point you are making. He understood it, but in all likelihood underestimated the extent of misinterpretation and backlash that was to follow, because his primary focus was on addressing the apparent paradox and not in appeasing virtue-signallers.

    Perhaps here is a point you failed to understand (and sincere apologies for being provocative here, but I can’t resist): following Christ’s combination of truthfulness and compassion has as prerequisite great courage and strength, so as to not capitulate to prevailing orthodoxies. Gandhi had a point in claiming that every human virtue he could think of followed from the one single ideal of truth.

  86. Joshua Cook Says:

    Well I thought you were going to wait a few days before participating in the comments Scott 😉

    I always find your social commentary posts mostly uplifting. I always feel better when I see people talking about these kinds of problems and approach them in an honest, empathetic way without just trying to declare someone a criminal.

    I am characterized quite strongly by how you described most “incels” (though for reasons pointed out by other commenters, I would not identify myself as an incel). You did a very good job of detailing what that’s like, so I won’t rehash it. I deleted and rewrote this several times because I wasn’t sure the right amount of information to give.

    Your 0th law just makes me uncomfortable, because it is very absolute, very specific, and very long. Long, complicated axioms make me feel uncomfortable. I believe something very similar to it. At least for the type of world we live in now, human intelligence is extremely valuable, and should be given the maximum amount of ability to create and express without inhibiting other humans. The body of humans is extremely important for creation and expression, so for most practical purposes, modifying other peoples bodies against their wishes is a deep violation of that ethic. I agree to something very similar to your 0th commandment.

    Computation is unstable, and doesn’t really permit a similarity metric in any reasonable sense. Given that so much of our confidence has to deal with the algorithmic approach we use to compute confidence, it should be no surprise that small differences in priors (especially considering they influence the chosen algorithm) would so greatly influence the result. Even simple probabilistic models like Bayes nets are NP-Complete to update. Even approximation is hard, and that is assuming a simple computational model like Bayes nets. The real world seems even more complicated to me. So the computational limitations really seem like the problem Aumann’s Agreement theorem. Even undecidable problems can be solved with few bits of communication complexity.

  87. Scott Says:

    froginthewell #85: I agree that Christ is well-known for having tried to alleviate suffering that those around him didn’t even recognize or acknowledge.

    But he’s also well-known for having been—you know—crucified.

    Which is not something that I feel up for right now … what about you? 🙂

  88. Scott Says:

    Joshua #86:

      Well I thought you were going to wait a few days before participating in the comments Scott

    Yeah, that was an attempted commitment device that didn’t work 🙂

  89. Scott Says:

    Richard #80: Among the options you listed, I choose either Holocaust awareness or special needs dogs.

    Now you name the charity and I’ll give them $100.

  90. Emma Says:

    Scott, you’re a fucking white male, and actually have the nerve to be upset that you feel guilty for it.
    You’ve got ideas above your station, and no amount of ass-kissing will spare you the punishment they’ve already got planned for you.

  91. Tim Makarios Says:

    Scott:

    I wish I believed in a God who could grant you some kind of eternal salvation, in return for adhering to a higher moral standard throughout your life…

    As a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe in a God who does that, either. Yes, Jesus saves me, but as a gift, not as a reward for above-average morals. See, for example, the story of the lost son.

  92. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott #80. i’ll get back to you on this. in the meantime, you might want to look at https://www.thedodo.com. it shows videos of rescued animals and the beginning of each video may depress you about how awful some humans are but each video ending may renew your feeling about how terrific other humans can be. i look at it daily to keep my spirits up.

  93. Sniffnoy Says:

    I have a number of comments on this. I’ll try to restrict myself below to what hasn’t already been said by others.

    Firstly, I think you’re wrong about the reason the existence of “moderate incels” are ignored. Reason #1 is of course what other commenters have already said — “incel” is usually taken to refer to a specific community of people who call themselves that, not to the more general non-group-membership-based set of people the word originally referred to. As such, the “moderate incels” you speak of would be considered by most not to be “moderate incels” but rather not incels. But reason #2 is that you’re giving people too much credit if you think they in general acknowledge the existence of moderates. It’s pretty clear in general that ones things get tribal, people will, in fact, deny the existence of moderates on the other side. If you point these moderates out, they’ll say they’re just as bad as the extremists. There’s really nothing unusual going on here.

    Secondly, I think you’re lumping way too much here (except in one respect where I think you’re being needlessly exclusive, but one thing at a time).

    I don’t think sexually/romantically frustrated men, or people, are all of a kind, and I don’t think it’s useful to discuss them as a coherent group. I also think it’s just kind of the wrong thing to focus on.

    I want to go back to… that specific problem. You know which one. The one that inspired comment-171, Scott Alexander’s old “Meditations” series, etc. The problem isn’t a lack of sex or love or whatever. That’s just a result of the problem — and it’s what people always goddamn pattern-match it to when you try to explain, making getting anyone to understand the actual problem quite difficult. The actual problem is a pretty specific trap that people get themselves into, by taking seriously as moral restrictions various “rules” that sound nice but are not in fact good policy — neither from a practical standpoint nor a moral one — and aren’t actually obeyed by ordinary people, not even (except in rare cases) by the promulgators of these principles. The only people actually obeying this crap is fools like us. (The thing to understand though is that these people honestly do think that what they’re doing matches what they’re saying, because they’re awful at turning off their common-sense filters and interpreting things literally.) And moreover the problem is not being allowed to question these rules because any attempt to such as ask for clarification gets you demonized. And moreover… well, I’ll stop there.

    Given that it seems that the self-described incel community is in fact not scrupulously concerned with obeying such rules in order to avoid hurting people in even the most minor of ways, but rather seem to be willing to go to means that are morally questionable at best to get what they want, it doesn’t at all seem that they have this same problem. (Although yeah there might be people who ended up that way because they used to.)

    I think this specific trap is a specific problem that it makes sense to discuss. I don’t think this more general thing you’re discussing really is.

    Like, let me put it this way — I finally made it out of this trap several years ago. Has this led to an increase in romantic or sexual success? Well, um… no, it hasn’t. But you know what? That’s not really important. What’s important is that this is no longer an area of life that I’m afraid to think clearly about and have to doublethink around. What’s important is that I’m no longer restraining myself from doing perfectly ordinary things based on paranoia that they could be somehow hurting people in nonsensical ways. What’s important is that I’m not living in fear anymore. Don’t confuse the trap itself with the less important things causally downstream from it.

    The way I think you’re being needlessly exclusive, btw, is that it’s not just men who fall into this particular trap; it is, more generally, people who are attracted to women. E.g., The Unit of Caring has written about what is very clearly this same problem over on Tumblr.

    Also note, by the way, that a strict rule against ever touching someone without their consent is one of these rules that is just not tenable. Let’s break down why: So, first off let’s assume we’re ignoring cases of self-defense, helping someone who’s fallen down, etc., and just focus on what seems to be the intended meaning — i.e., social touch. But, if “consent” here is taken to mean “explicit consent”, this is clearly ridiculous. While of course it varies by culture, social touch is something ordinary people, not hobbled by such rules, do all the time, and without it causing harm. But what if you meant something different? Like, what if by “consent” you meant “what the person actually wants, regardless of whether they do anything to express it”? That’s no good; a rule that requires telepathy is not tenable. OK — say we instead mean “what the other person actually wants, as may be reasonably inferred from their words and actions and body language”? Well, now we’re getting somewhere more sensible, but the problem here remains the strictness of the prohibition. If ultimately you have to rely on inference, which is always uncertain, then a prohibition that strict is equivalent to saying that you must never touch anyone for fear that you’ve inferred incorrectly. (Oh look. I’ve just described an important part of the trap in more detail.) Quite simply, we have to allow for mistakes — we have to allow room for people to act in good faith; we have to allow room for people to try things and then back off based on reactions that cannot be seen in advance (this in particular is a big one!); we have to allow room for people to apologize if things go much worse than anticipated.

    In short, what you are proposing is that people already in this trap need a component of that trap reinforced.

    Now, reading your comment #50, it seems that your point was that people in the trap should not, as happens to some, say “To hell with morality! Since people don’t actually obey the rules they state, clearly there are no real rules here, and anything I can get away with goes!” and then joining the “red pill” or /r/braincels or whatever, as happens to some. And indeed, that’s true. But reinforcing the trap is fundamentally a bad thing. For those like me who never found such a thing in any way tempting, who always remained fundamentally committed to not hurting people, you’re just pushing us deeper into the trap. For those who do find a thing tempting, you’re reinforcing the contradictory restrictions that push them to taking such a drastic step. And, OK, possibly for some it does have the effect you intended of keeping them out of the hands of the redpillers… but only by pushing them, once again, deeper into the trap. Don’t do that.

    Rather the thing to do is to give people the tools to get out of the trap. (And ideally eventually dismantling it entirely, but one thing at a time.) That is, unfortunately, much harder to do. But doing so consists not of giving people more externally-sourced rules to obey, but rather getting them to the point that they can once again trust and rely on their own moral judgment, and be willing to make and learn from good-faith mistakes. In short, your “zeroth commandment” is pushing in exactly the wrong direction.

    Finally, I have to remark on one more thing: When you speak of the “precepts of feminism” — what are those, exactly? There’s a problem here in that… well, let me put it this way. I know and remember the particular feminism I grew up with, and I continue to stand by its principles. But feminism in general is too heterogeneous to really have common principles. Radical feminism and liberal feminism come from entirely different starting points (and my own approach, it seems, doesn’t quite match either); meanwhile — going by what Ozy Frantz says, anyway — social justice feminism is actually pretty distinct from both. And then you have crap like “cultural feminism”, which is called such because it grew out of the feminist movement, but whihc is, in plain terms, actually sexism. As such, it seems a little questionable to endorse the “precepts of feminism” with no qualifications.

    But my bigger problem with this is that the actually-existing feminist movement… hoo boy. I mean — I don’t need to tell you; you’ve seen it. The actually-existing feminist movement seems to have fallen into tribalism hard, and no longer seems to have any actual principles, adopting instead whatever principles are convenient this week for claiming the high ground over whoever it’s now designated an enemy. I don’t think we should be driving people towards this group. (Let’s be clear — the realistic outcome of telling people in this trap that they have to stick to the precepts of feminism (something they already know but let’s ignore that) is more doublethink as they try to reconcile the contradictory precepts of every variety of feminism, including whatever people on the internet are saying these days. Ugh. Just writing that sentence brings back some awful memories of my attempts to do just that.) These days I’m wary of calling myself a “feminist” at all because of this crap — or, I sometimes like to say, analogous to libertarian terminology, that I’m a “lowercase-f feminist”. Rather, once again, the idea isn’t to get people to adopt any particular precepts, but to get them to the point where they can once again think for themselves.

    And if on thinking for themself they turn out to be a horrible sexist… well, then at least they’re hopefully now the sort of person who one can actually have an argument with, as opposed to a frightened doublethinker. Honest advocacy of the horrible is much preferable to obfuscation and bullshit.

    I think that’s all. And if I had other things to say, that others haven’t already, well, I don’t remember them!

  94. Andrew Says:

    I liked this post, thanks for writing it.

  95. Scott Says:

    #91: Wow. So even if I accepted Christ as Savior, that still wouldn’t solve the basic emotional problem that I’d want any religion to solve for me—namely, fixing the apparently meaningless and staggering injustices of the world (e.g., via the mechanism of an afterlife). That’s … good to know, I guess. Thanks! 🙂

  96. Scott Says:

    Everyone: OK, I’m persuaded. No need to keep flogging the deceased equine.

    For now, and probably for years into the future, the word “incel” suffers from the motte-and-bailey problem, as astutely observed by Danny #66. I.e., people do, and will, use the word to virgin-shame, to bully for sport, to instill terror (like Ellen Pao did), to smear innocent victims of circumstances who already suffer far more than than share—and will then retreat, when challenged (but only when challenged), to “oh, no, I was only talking about the violent misogynists of the incel movement.” Decent people will need to remain alert to such chicanery.

    In the long run, though, there’s no salvaging this word. It will never again just mean “involuntary celibate,” any more than, I don’t know, the word “Nazi” will ever again just mean someone who’s both a nationalist and a socialist, like one of those voters who was supposedly split between Trump and Bernie Sanders.

    Maybe the older term “love-shy,” coined by Brian Gilmartin in his strange and remarkable book on the subject, is the best available substitute.

  97. Richard Gaylord Says:

    scott #80. as a disabled person, confined to a power chair because i have a total lack of balance (due to total bilateral vestibular loss as a result of having CIDP – life is tough), i looked for an organization that trains dogs for people who need balance and mobility assistance. i found two candidates:

    https://www.keystonehumanservices.org/susquehanna-service-dogs/balance-dogs.php

    https://paws4people.org/can-get-dog-1/575-2/

    either of these organizations seem suitable to me. when you write your check for a $100 donation, you might (or might not) want to mention how you learned of their work.

    as my mother would tell me: may it be written in the Book of Life on Yom Kippur that you have performed this mitvah. although, as a theoretical physicist, i don’t believe this but it’s the thought that counts 🙂 and i thank you for doing this.

    richard

  98. Scott Says:

    Richard #97: OK, it’s done (the Keystone balance dogs).

    Now who else have I offended? 🙂

  99. Setanta Says:

    Scott, I think the problem with this post and possibly the main cause of the whole debacle is down to a misunderstanding.

    To most people who were familiar with the term before this news cycle, Incel does not mean all people who are “Involuntarily Celibate”. Incel is an ideology, popularised on certain 4chan boards and r/incel, that outright calls for the dehumanisation and commodification of women. To the (possibly majority of) people who follow this definition, defending “moderate incels” is like defending “moderate ISIS fighters”.

    In other words, the people who follow different definitions are talking past each other. I also disagree with normalising the term “Incel” as this article does – the word will never, ever leave it’s baggage behind, and there are plenty of healthy, less loaded alternatives.

  100. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #93: Thank you so much for that comment, which was a masterpiece of clear mathematician-style reasoning applied to human affairs (or, what might amount to the same thing: clear philosophical analysis). You’ve convinced me on almost everything.

    Please believe me that my intention, with the Zeroth Commandment (and with my exhortation to commit to “the precepts of feminism”), was not to make the scrupulosity problems of the people who suffer from them even worse. Let me put it this way: when you commit to being a kind and decent person in all your romantic interactions (or “attempted romantic interactions”) with women, you certainly don’t need to do anything more than what the progressive cultural authorities in these matters—i.e., the ones who constantly attack us nerds on Twitter, the ones who go by gut feelings rather than by the literal meanings of words—would accept as being a kind and decent person. E.g., if even they would call a kiss consensual —because your date, though she never verbally consented to be kissed, did close her eyes and part her lips as you moved your face close to hers, and then three seconds later was jabbing her tongue in your mouth—then for purposes of the Zeroth Commandment, the kiss was consensual. 🙂

    My intent with the Commandment, rather, was that scrupulosity-afflicted male nerds should morally fortify themselves, that they should do the daily “spiritual work” of recommitting to being kind and decent people in the above sense, even if the universe is fundamentally capricious and unjust, and even if the nerds will spend their lives being lectured on their feminist failings by men who, in practice, are a thousandth as feminist as they. This is difficult, and it’s necessary. It’s a categorical imperative.

    One remaining disagreement: while you almost had me convinced that we should focus on the general problems of nerdish scrupulosity, and overliteral interpretation of rules, rather than romantic and sexual frustration in particular, the following gave me serious pause.

      Like, let me put it this way — I finally made it out of this trap several years ago. Has this led to an increase in romantic or sexual success? Well, um… no, it hasn’t. But you know what? That’s not really important. What’s important is that this is no longer an area of life that I’m afraid to think clearly about and have to doublethink around.

    So now that you think so much more clearly about it: what, in your view, are the remaining obstacles in your way? Because whatever those obstacles are, they seem to me like they should also be part of the conversation.

  101. Scott Says:

    Setanta #99: As I said above, I’ve already ceded the point about the word “incel.” But I can’t agree that it’s all just a misunderstanding, because of the motte-and-bailey problem. I.e., experience has shown that the moment they’re no longer being challenged about it, the powerful people of our society will go right back to attributing to every nerdy young love-shy guy, some form of the most violent and misogynistic beliefs ever to have been found on r/incels. And this conflation—by design—will let the “normies” maintain pristine consciences, even as the well-meaning love-shys’ suicidal suffering continues to go not merely unacknowledged and unaddressed, but actively made worse by the culture.

    As if to prove my point, the user “queerbees” recently wrote on SneerClub, in response to this post:

      The story [Aaronson] repeats is that “we need to preserve some linguistic space for the many nerdy guys”—Aaronson’s “good” incels. But what he fails to fully apprehend is the people who find the incels so bad, see in Aaronson’s “many nerdy guys” precisely the same toxic beliefs and activities—and he’s never understood that’s what this is really about.

    On the contrary, I understand precisely that this is what this is really about. And as someone who developed an almost paternal feeling toward the love-shy young guys, having read so many of their heartbreaking stories in the wake of the comment-171 affair—well, I didn’t ask for this fight, and it does nothing for me personally, but now that I’m in, I’ll continue to stand up for these guys for as long as I live and as long as they’re being unjustly attacked.

  102. Edan Maor Says:

    Scott #102: I agree that this might be a motte-and-bailey problem, as you suggest.

    However, I still think that this might also be a framing issue. If you give someone the same base facts, but describe it as “love-shy nerds who haven’t found the right person”, then this issue wouldn’t even come up. *Because* it came up in the context of a murderer, “extremist incel”, then people are predisposed to looking at this as originating from bad beliefs.

    Or at least, that’s my guess.

  103. DeservingPorcupine Says:

    Well, I for one think it’s time to stand up for the Indumb community! That’s right, we who are involuntarily dumb need to have a level playing field, and we demand restitution! Nobody gives a damn about those of us who struggle to understand quantum computing the way that MIT prodigies do, and it’s just because we happen live inside chiseled bodies and are able to readily grasp unspoken social rules and effortlessly engage in flirty banter with strangers.

    Scott is a jerk if he doesn’t immediately dedicate his career to the creation of an IQ redistribution treatment.

    (This is a total throwaway comment not meant to endorse any side of this debate. I just though the notion was humorous.)

  104. Phil Koop Says:

    I mean, de Finetti gave a concrete example, before Hanson was born, in which three different hyper-rational Bayesians with identical priors would have three different updates on identical evidence, but sure, whatever.

  105. Ninety-Three Says:

    A lot of people are asserting that “there are no moderate incels”, and I find the assertion troubling. Let’s take a narrow definition of incel: someone who regularly visits r/braincels or wizardchan or the like, reads the toxic stuff there and self-identifies as incel. Lots of these people don’t hate women.

    Have you ever read the incel forums? Not just scanned the headlines or looked at the most outrageous thread, but actually sat down for a couple hours and observed the community? There are tons of people deep in incel culture who have simply convinced themselves that they’re too ugly/autistic/nonaggressive to ever find love, and go there because it’s the one place they’ve found where they can even acknowledge their problem without sparking a comment-171 inquisition.

    The radicals condemn slutty women who prefer to sleep around with higher-status men: if all women settled down with a partner, then an equal gender ratio guarantees the incel would find a partner. But it’s perfectly possible to hold that that happens without condemning women: they’re just following their own incentives without directly harming anyone, can’t blame them, it just sucks for the incel that society works out that way.

    Furthermore, it’s possible to hang out in incel culture where the radicals shout these things without believing them at all. The assumption people here seem to be making is that everyone who participates in incel culture must be so radicalized that it’s appropriate to compare them to ISIS. I reiterate my question: how long have you spent looking at incel culture? I think that anyone who makes this claim is acting just like the Islamophobe who lumps Muslims into “Suicide bombers” and “Collaborators”. No, some people just like going to their mosque, even if it’s got some angry people, because at least it lets them feel like they’re not alone.

  106. Bob Strauss Says:

    I only learned the word “incel” recently by reading SSC and Hanson’s blog, but I wonder if this whole issue has larger geopolitical implications. Specifically, what happens when a huge Chinese generational cohort heavily tilted toward males (something like 118 males for every 100 females, according to one news source) hits its 20’s and 30’s? In this country, it seems, self-identifying radical “incels” are restricted to the farthest fringes of Reddit, but what happens when they number in the millions and need a way to vent their frustration and aggression?

    Maybe figuring out how to deal with this issue in the U.S. would help to figure out how to deal with it in other places, on much larger scales. (For the record, I have no sympathy or respect for capital-I “Incels” who just seem to be ticked off that they can’t get the kind of women they see on TV.)

  107. aussiesta Says:

    “Compassion” is not a solution to anything, nor a strategy for anything. It’s a band-aid at best, empty virtue-signalling at worst. Compassion allows the compassionate to congratulate himself on his humanity without producing any change in behavior. It encourages people to believe, as Muriel Spark noted, “that their moral responsibilities are sufficiently fulfilled by the emotions they have been induced to feel.” In short, it is a substitute for charity. “Compassion” is a loaded, terrible word. A nice, brave piece, though.

  108. The problem with gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #95

    My apologies in advance for immersing myself in this exchange. I can only speak of my experience, of course, but I can definitely say that accepting Christ as my Savior was the big breakthrough in my life (it happened around 10 years ago) and I have never looked back.

    What “accepting Christ as my Savior” means in technical terms is very profound in fact. It’s the recognition that we, human beings, are rotten to our core and that there is no human way of making us whole. No kings, no human laws, not even divine laws (God passed the 10 commandments to Moses and He wasn’t very successful). God tried all that as illustrated in the Jewish Bible to no avail. He -God on the person of Jesus Christ- had to write himself in the human story to take upon himself -as a git to humanity- all our sins and pay the price of dying in the cross.

    Now, as James would tell you having Christ as your Savior does not in anyway mean you have a license to be a crook. On the contrary, it’s the biggest incentive to be a good fellow human:

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=ESV

    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2&version=ESV

    Now, I don’t know the reasons why God created a world in which humans inevitably go wrong. I guess free-will has something to do with it. If we were robots, no worries when it comes to people doing horrible things, but perhaps we wouldn’t have all the wonderful creative things human beings do as well, or the heroism exemplified by Oskar Schindler and Dietrich Bonhoeffer among others.

    On the personal level, accepting Christ as one’s Savior works wonders, even though the reason I accepted that is because I became convinced of the truth, but it is a nice byproduct.

  109. Simian Says:

    A friend of mine, who is much wiser and more thoughtful than me once said in rebuke “there but for the grace of God”. Who and where you are now it’s due mostly to luck.

    Born with the right genes to the right parents in the right place; the right early life with the right breaks.

    Without that, you to might be the thief, the peadophile…

  110. Scott Says:

    DeservingPorcupine #103:

      Nobody gives a damn about those of us who struggle to understand quantum computing the way that MIT prodigies do, and it’s just because we happen live inside chiseled bodies and are able to readily grasp unspoken social rules and effortlessly engage in flirty banter with strangers.

      Scott is a jerk if he doesn’t immediately dedicate his career to the creation of an IQ redistribution treatment.

    You think it’s a joke, but I actually take the question completely seriously.

    The problem, of course, is that IQ is one of the notoriously hardest things to raise by any intervention. Well over half of the variation is genetic, with the remainder being mostly stuff that no one understands. Breastfeeding probably helps; a lead-free environment definitely does. Early childhood education might possibly have some effect if you squint, but in any case, the effect is hard to distinguish from zero.

    Knowledge, on the other hand, clearly can be spread around. And you know what job is? I’m a professor. I, like, literally spend most of my life trying to redistribute knowledge from the “haves” to the “have-nots”! 🙂

    Beyond that, when it becomes feasible and safe to raise the IQs of newborns via targeted genetic interventions—most likely in the very near future—I passionately believe that we should go ahead and do it. I’m much less worried about the immorality of “playing God” this way, than about the converse: the immorality of letting our children grow up dumb when simply sweeping some mutational load from their DNA would have prevented it.

    Like, it’s not as if the children produced this way will be cloned, soulless robots from some sci-fi dystopia, any more than IVF babies are. They’ll be normal, happy, healthy children who look like their parents—just with higher IQs, fewer genetic diseases, and fewer problems in life.

  111. Scott Says:

    Phil Koop #104:

      I mean, de Finetti gave a concrete example, before Hanson was born, in which three different hyper-rational Bayesians with identical priors would have three different updates on identical evidence, but sure, whatever.

    Do you want to actually explain this? Robin and Tyler were expositing Aumann’s agreement theorem, which was published in 1976 (unless you’re claiming that de Finetti or someone else knew it earlier, in which case, source?). And whatever it is you’re talking about, I can guarantee that it doesn’t violate Aumann’s theorem. How I can do that, despite not knowing what you’re talking about? Well, that’s the cool thing about a theorem! 🙂

  112. Scott Says:

    aussiesta #107: I actually completely agree with you that compassion, by itself, is not a solution to anything.

    What it is, precisely, is a prerequisite to solutions. If there’s no compassion for group X, then the conversation about how to solve group X’s problems never even gets off the ground.

  113. Aditya Singh Says:

    The other truth no one likes to acknowledge – the dating market is completely based on lies and deception.

  114. Scott Says:

    Gatekeepers #108: I’m not big on quibbling with others’ sincere religious faith, but there was one bit of your comment that leapt out at me. God had to allow the Holocaust to happen, in order that we could all be inspired by heroism of Oskar Schindler (who managed to save 1,200 Jews out of 6 million)? You really believe that?

    More broadly: as Steven Weinberg once put it, it seems unfair that his relatives should have been murdered, in order that Germans could have free will. Why couldn’t God, in His omnipotence, have created a world where, if you misuse your free will, the tragic consequences befall no one but yourself?

  115. arbitrary value Says:

    To what extent do online critics of this aspect of nerd culture actually affect the mental state of nerds? I’m one of those people whose computer-related talents are accompanied by a lack of social skills. I would say that I am rather lonely. But online criticism has very little ability to upset me directly – to paraphrase, the critics “merely adopted the internet, I was born in it, molded by it.” This is the one place where I belong and they are hapless interlopers, fit only to be trolled.

    So to Scott: I respect your compassion towards your fellow nerds, and I support your efforts to help them. But do nerds need to be protected from the people you are trying to protect them from here? I would say no – if other nerds are anything like me, that sort of attack stopped affecting them some time in middle school. So keep up the good work, but don’t listen to the critics unless doing so amuses you (which it does not appear to do).

  116. DeservingPorcupine Says:

    Scott #110:

    Yeah, I pretty much agree with you on all points.

    And FWIW you do a good job! I frequently credit an interview with you I read a while ago as being the only mainstream, non-specialist discussion of quantum computing that actually increased my understanding of the topic (instead of the usual two-states-good-unlimited-states-better description you get everywhere).

  117. The problem with Gatekeepers Says:

    Scott #114

    I don’t have an answer to your questions. All I can give you is my personal thinking of how I deal with the same questions.

    I think I mentioned elsewhere that despite having been raised in a Christian home I became an atheist/agnostic during college; my unbeliever phase lasted anywhere between 12 to 15 years since as much as I remember vividly the circumstances that led to my reversion I have very messy memories of how is that I lost my faith other than the peer pressure of “smart people don’t believe in God”. I fully empathize with the notion that not understanding why there is evil in the world is a big obstacle for many people -particularly nerdy/smart people- to believe in a Creator.

    And yet, one of the leaps of faith I had to take when I recovered my faith around 10 years ago is that there will always be things that God does as an all powerful being that I won’t be able to understand, particularly those things that send strong signals to humanity about the things that should not be happening because some humans use their strength to abuse the weak.

    If you read about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, not only he was vehemently opposed to the genocide of Jews, he was also vehemently opposed to the program through which Nazi Germany polished its industrial killing machine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aktion_T4 . Bonhoeffer came back to Germany -despite having found safe refuge in the US- to fight that atrocity fully knowing that being executed -as it happened- by the Hitler regime was a possibility.

    When I hear these days mentions to all sorts of programs that are eugenics in disguise like designer babies or as you know a subject that is very dear to my heart -the elimination of Down Syndrome people through abortion in Iceland- it pains me that many haven’t learned their history lesson despite having had 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of handicapped Germans killed by the same ideas.

    It seems to me that we, humans, are a very stubborn class that need periodic reminder of God’s laws.

    This whole discussion about labeling male nerds who are already dealing with the pain of being unable to relate to humans of the opposite sex is a great example of the thinking I am talking about. “Let’s profile them”, “let’s differentiate the misogynistic ones from the good ones”, etc. All this as if we, humans, have the infinite wisdom and ability to foresee and predict which of these “nerds” is a potential Elliot Rodger as opposed to a potential Scott Aaronson. This is humans playing to be God all over again.

  118. fred Says:

    I agree that more compassion is the solution.

    From the undeniable fact that we simply didn’t choose who we are…

    Two more notes:

    – I’m wondering more and more what impact virtual reality will have on all this, i.e. adding one more level of indirection to all human interactions (while preserving or even enhancing the experience of the senses).

    – About “there’s no such thing as rational disagreement”, I wonder if that can be applied on how the different subsystems of the brain interact with one another.

  119. fred Says:

    Scott #15

    “people will only pay attention when there’s some terrible episode of violence, or toxic subcultures that celebrate it; ergo the new term will acquire the same radioactive connotations; ergo those who want to discuss the broader issue will need to find yet another term, and so on forever. Or am I wrong?”

    Right – if someone wants to promote and discuss the benefits of some form of “national socialist” doctrine, well, they’re out of luck… 😛

  120. David Says:

    I’m curious what it would mean to misuse your free will in a world where the consequences befall no one but yourself. Is it even possible to have free will in such a place? If I have free will, then it should at least be possible for me to choose to harm others. But such an action would be a “misuse” of free will, so I should be the only one facing the consequences of this action. But then I must have never harmed anyone (other than myself) in the first place.

  121. Atreat Says:

    “My view is this: the world in which a comparison between the sufferings of the romantically and the monetarily impoverished could increase normal people’s understanding of the former, is so different from our world as to be nearly unrecognizable.

    For experience shows that, if you even breathe a phrase like “the inequality of romantic and sexual fulfillment,” no one who isn’t weird in certain ways common in the hard sciences (e.g., being on the autism spectrum) will be able to parse you…”

    I’m not on the spectrum – so far as I know – and I can parse it. Anyone who has adopted the Bodhisattva path or trained their mind in compassion will be able to parse it.

    Suffering is suffering. There are a million forms of it and all sentient beings wish to avoid it and wish for happiness. We are all alike in that way.

    Our modern culture does not agree. In modern society, righteousness reins supreme. This is the culture that celebrates the execution of Bin Laden with glee and condemns Robbie Parker for having the gall to forgive the killer of his little girl before she was even in the ground: https://www.cnn.com/2012/12/16/us/connecticut-emilie-parker/index.html

    Our society wants to parcel out who is deserving of our compassion (and in what measure) and who is utterly undeserving. BTW, I am not claiming any immunity to this. I fall far short of the goal I have set according to my spiritual heroes.

    Donald Trump by all accounts is a thoroughly miserable person who suffers greatly. It must be shear agony to be Donald Trump. But woe to any liberal who expresses any compassion for him. And utter contempt from any conservative who dares to think Donny suffers… he is rich and powerful and has all of life’s privileges after all.

    I think you have a lot of compassion Scott, and a love for truth, humanity and shared understanding. I rejoice that you do.

  122. Yosarian2 Says:

    Very well written article, and I strongly agree with everything you said.

    One small piece of tactical advice; if you write anything on this topic in the future , maybe avoid the word “incels”? I think many people associate that term with the reddit incel subreddit, which was a pretty toxic and misogynist group that was eventually banned for harassing people. Maybe just talk about socially awkward men who can’t find romance or whatever without using that term?

    Just a thought; I think that was one of the mistakes Hanson made was that by using that term he wandered into a meme minefield that he didn’t need to.

  123. Phillip Says:

    I know how to solve the incel dilemma:

    Government subsidized plastic surgery for all ugly men. This way, the imbalance in the sexual marketplace is taken care of in such a way that it doesn’t violate female sexual autonomy.

    We as a society pretend looks don’t matter for attraction, when it reality, looks are critically important. The vast majority of incels are that way because they are physically “off” in some way – facially ugly, very short, very uncoordinated, or have a noticeable physical disability. Granted, there are others who are just mentally fucked up, like the guy in the recent terrorist attack, but the majority are incel because of PHYSICAL problems.

    When you see ugly guy/beautiful woman couples, there’s almost always an ulterior motive on her part. We need to stop bullshitting ourselves. Women are only “less visual” in a pragmatic and practical way, not in a “sexual” way like men desperately want to believe. If a man doesn’t have the looks for love, and isn’t wealthy enough to “attract” someone willing to merely SETTLE for him, he’s going to be an incel.

    Subsidizing plastic surgery is going to be expensive, yes, but that pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing. Nowadays, women are able to support themselves, leaving them free to choose mates based on raw sexual attraction, and this trend is only going to be MORE pronounced and obvious as the younger generations come of age. This means the number of incels is going to grow exponentially.

    What is at stake, here, is the future of western civilization itself. Having too many leftover males around will ultimately decimate the economy, not to mention rising crime rates, misogyny and all manner of other unwelcome trends. If we want our children and grandchildren to have a future to look forward to, we absolutely MUST find a way to improve unattractive men’s physical appearance! Not doing so will be FAR more costly than giving them plastic surgery, I guarantee it!

  124. Atreat Says:

    To show just how sick our society has come with regarding righteousness anger >> compassion see how Robbie Parker’s compassionate attitude toward his little girl’s killer was immediately used to claim Sandy Hook was a hoax: https://www.quora.com/If-Sandy-Hook-was-not-a-hoax-how-do-you-explain-the-Robbie-Parker-video

    One can see twitter and social media in general as exposing just what a problem our culture has with addiction to righteousness.

  125. Atreat Says:

    Also, note that even the ‘rationalist’ in that post who concludes that, “Finally, this is literally the most offensive conspiracy theory I’ve ever come across.” says that Robbie Parker’s response was an example where, “People often have inappropriate responses to heightened emotional situations”

    The idea that anyone could respond without righteous anger to such a situation is near incomprehensible to our society. We are addicted to it.

    Drawing attention to any group which manifestly suffers that is not on our societies approved list of groups/people worthy of compassion will immediately incur wrath precisely because of this addiction.

    Who is not worthy of compassion and is only deserving of utter contempt and righteous anger?

    Adam Lanza,
    Osama Bin Laden,
    ISIS,
    Donald Trump,
    ISIS,
    Incels,
    Conservatives,
    Liberals,

    tons of things and people

    those who express any kind of compassion for anyone on this list

    Rinse, recycle, repeat.

  126. Peter Gerdes Says:

    I’d add that a substantial reason people are reluctant to acknowledge those who can’t get sex deserve sympathy and are being screwed over by the universe is because it would involve having to admit that there was nothing that could be done about a deep unfairness.

    I think many people try and ignore the fact that we are often stuck in situations where we can’t make things fair.

  127. Anon Berkeley Student Says:

    Scott #96,

    I’m sure you know this, but the Nazis were anything but socialist; just because the Nazi party had socialism in its name doesn’t mean that its actions and principles had anything to do with what is communly called socialism.

  128. Scott Says:

    David #120:

      If I have free will, then it should at least be possible for me to choose to harm others. But such an action would be a “misuse” of free will, so I should be the only one facing the consequences of this action. But then I must have never harmed anyone (other than myself) in the first place.

    It seems to me that we need merely posit a world with a heaven and hell, where all the injustices resulting from people using their free will to help or harm others got evened out. It’s a pity that I see no evidence that that world is ours.

    (Interestingly, when I introspect about which emotional chords religion could pluck in me, I find that I don’t particularly care about immortality. I.e., I’d be totally fine with a heaven and hell that weren’t eternal, just as long as they lasted long enough to mete out cosmic justice.)

  129. Kevin Says:

    Excellent post, Scott. Reading it was like watching a hire-wire artist make his way from one building to another in gale-force winds. 🙂 (Hope that doesn’t come off as snarky; I wish your essay would be reprinted in the New York Times.)

  130. Scott Says:

    Kevin #129:

      Reading it was like watching a [high]-wire artist make his way from one building to another in gale-force winds.

    Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was going for! When I’m getting attacked on r/slatestarcodex as a contemptible spineless coward quaking in fear of his left-wing feminist overlords, and am also getting attacked on r/SneerClub as a secret redpill misogynist and terrible human being, that’s when I can go to sleep knowing that I’ve done my job.

  131. Daniel Says:

    Too much meta. Find a specific policy and champion it. Hint: It is probably legal prostitution.

  132. ScentOfViolets Says:

    Maybe I read through this too quickly, but nowhere did I see anyone make these two (very obvious) points:

    1) Priorities. Wealth inequality is vastly higher than that of the other sort and causes vastly more suffering (IMHO, of course.)

    2) These so-called incels are, for the most part, not really incels. Case in point: that guy in grad school who was telling everyone how he couldn’t ‘get a date’ to use a circumlocution. When I offered to take him down to the Silver Bullet and guaranteed he could go home with somebody that night, he hastily — and emphatically — demurred. Turns out what he _really_ meant is he thought he deserved to be with a woman — preferably a six-foot tall Asian woman — who was at least a nine on the hotness scale … because he was getting a PhD in mathematics. This despite the fact that he was rather slovenly, was at least a hundred pounds overweight, and frequently had, er, odor issues.

    That Hansen wasted any time at all on this problem and didn’t notice these two rather obvious factors to boot doesn’t exactly make the case for his intelligence.

  133. Koray Says:

    Scott:

    Here’s a recent model of political division that I learned somewhere from your favorite blog, Slate Star Codex, that can perhaps explain people’s reactions. It’s called something like Problem Theorists vs Conflict Theorists and it’s quite cynical, but perhaps you’ll find it interesting.

    As an example, you may find that two people may both state that, e.g., sexual discrimination is bad, but for completely different reasons. “Problem” theorists like you start from how wasteful it is to throw away people with potential, how cruel it is to destroy their dreams, etc.

    “Conflict” theorists would also agree with those sentiments, but they don’t start there. They start from the idea of class warfare, that these practices of discrimination are designs of the Oppressors against the Oppressed, and it’s not sufficient to merely ban discrimination (and enforce the law), one must actually pay damages for decades of oppression, even fire (possibly competent) people from their jobs to be replaced by the (perhaps even incompetent) candidates from the oppressed to balance the scales to make sure that another imbalance doesn’t quickly redevelop.

    Having that model in mind, some of the responses to Hanson’s article are very predictable. Hanson’s writing like a Problem Theorist, stating in his mind what is wrong and why. Conflict Theorists, on the other hand, take him for a Conflict Theorist; the only reason one would write such a thing is to advance the agenda of his class. (Conflict Theorists can definitely understand a theory as it is “literally” written, but they would disagree with this premise or that and ultimately reject that it’s the Simple Truth. They’d always find it more likely that there’s an agenda behind it.)

    Those so-called incels who advocate violence and think that the world owes them sex are also Conflict Theorists.

  134. dhaus Says:

    Saying controversial things, even as controversial as Hanson’s, is how you move the Overton window tho. Just like Trump has 🙂

  135. CS Prof Says:

    I simply want to express my support for you Scott, for this excellent and courageous post. While the TOC blog-sphere for the recent weeks or so seems to melt down to hollow virtue signaling (with mass cross-posting of the same posts), you seem to stand your ground and hold on to your identity and independence.

  136. Kevin Says:

    arbitrary value (#115) Says:

    “To what extent do online critics of this aspect of nerd culture actually affect the mental state of nerds?”

    It pisses me off quite a bit. Some scars run deep. When I was in elementary school I heard a story about a boy that everybody ignored and nobody ever talked to, who supposedly collapsed dead one day as a result, while he was waiting to board the bus. My immediate thought was that he had it pretty good — nobody was harassing him or physically threatening him.

  137. The elephant in the room Says:

    The redistribution of wealth implies (possibly essentially equals..) redistribution of sexual/romantic satisfaction..That is, what’s to a significant extent causing these bad “mating-choices” and destructive sexual/romantic frustration is not that women, or men for that matter, are inherently bad, or too “free” or whatever. Rather it’s that they are not free enough, due to extreme (and increasing) concentrations of wealth causing a perverted human habitat that endorses these biologically suboptimal behaviours.

  138. Doug K Says:

    thank you Scott. I had the same thoughts about ‘incel’ the word and concept as Alana used it. It seemed to me useful but now beyond redemption as you say. Going to listen to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ again, our anthem – not much use for recruiting or rabble-rousing though.

    ‘It will never again just mean “involuntary celibate,” any more than “Adolf” is just a name.’

    I just read Trevor Noah’s autobiography (so far) Born A Crime. He had a good friend named Adolf, who was the best dancer in the township. They went to perform at a Jewish school and Trevor’s team was chanting in praise of Adolf. It didn’t end well.
    The book is highly recommended, funny and enlightening.
    Another striking point – Trevor observes that crime has after-school programs and paid internships, unlike capitalism.

  139. Rand Says:

    I’m glad the issue of terminology was cleared up fairly quickly (otherwise this would have been the same boring comment as elsewhere).

    I was a little bit surprising by your endorsement of Sniffnoy’s comment, and pleased to see some pushback:

    One remaining disagreement: while you almost had me convinced that we should focus on the general problems of nerdish scrupulosity, and overliteral interpretation of rules, rather than romantic and sexual frustration in particular, the following gave me serious pause.

    “Like, let me put it this way — I finally made it out of this trap several years ago. Has this led to an increase in romantic or sexual success? Well, um… no, it hasn’t. But you know what? That’s not really important. What’s important is that this is no longer an area of life that I’m afraid to think clearly about and have to doublethink around.”

    So now that you think so much more clearly about it: what, in your view, are the remaining obstacles in your way? Because whatever those obstacles are, they seem to me like they should also be part of the conversation.

    Scrupulosity could be part of the problem: I’ve worried in the past that looking for explicit consent is sometimes a turn off. But I don’t really have evidence that it’s a problem and I’ve come to think of it as an excuse.

    Why do many people like me have trouble getting into relationships? Well, here’s something:

    https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfzY5lTjMvzmkw2daeBsUCbz54gehU4gXHnJ4augSDJu9R2Sg/viewanalytics

    89.6% of SlateStarCodex readers are men. So assuming SlateStarCodex readers want to date other SlateStarCodex readers, I’m in a pretty bad position.

    Now, I don’t insist on dating SSC readers but when I expand my horizons, things still look pretty lopsided. I’m betting Shtetl Optimized readers look a lot like SSC readers. The computer science community more broadly has a serious gender imbalance. Academia doesn’t (I’m pretty sure), but there seems to be a values/attraction gap between CS/math/physics and the more women-dominated fields of academia.

    You know who has a favorable imbalance towards men? The Orthodox Jewish community – they have a “Shidduch crisis” of women being unable to find relationships! That’s from a combination of a high-growth rate community where men marry younger women (of whom there are a lot more) and of men leaving the faith in higher numbers than women. Yeah, well, we made our choices.

    Who else? The former Soviet Union! (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/14/why-the-former-ussr-has-far-fewer-men-than-women/) A major imbalance in sex-ratios makes it a lot easier to get a date if you’re a Russian man.

    And then there’s China, as Bob Strauss (#106) points out above. There it’s the men who vastly outnumber the women, and may all the imaginary deities save us…

    I’m not saying the many American men who have non-existent love lives are SlateStarCodex reading computer scientists, who are trying to find love at LessWrong meetups or Federated Logic Conferences. But a lot of them have found themselves in male dominated sub-communities, and communities are where we meet people. And I think this has a lot more explanatory power than gesturing in the direction of being too punctilious about consent even if there’s more to the story than demographics alone.

  140. Bram Cohen Says:

    It could be that much of the reason romantically unsuccessful straight nerdy mails get so little compassion is because they tend to become both financially and romantically successful over time and hence their current status is viewed as temporary or self-inflicted or imaginary, especially by people whose problems are much more intractable.

  141. GA Says:

    Free will is a funny thing. You can twist it and turn it to support any argument. You can use it to claim that women have free will over their bodies and prostitution should be illegal, or to claim exactly the opposite – that it was their choice – and that prostitution should be legal, as the women’s own choice.

    The truth is that some people’s wills are stronger than others, and whatever broad generalization you’ll make will always miss the most important factor, which is the personality of the subject.

    As for compassion, society really sucks at that. It doesn’t take long these days to get from, say, compassion to LGBT, to overzealous supporting, to LGBT couples terrorizing small businesses who feel uncomfortable with them.

    Society doesn’t know what’s compassion, it’s limited to the most dumb logic of giving various labels and then classifying those labels as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ according to the local media interests. The fewer stupid labels the better. People are better off just dealing with other people as they are, the less stupid labels giving prejudice the better.

    Asking for anything ‘good’ (e.g. compassion/understanding) for any ‘bad’ label (e.g. white nerd males) will be met with bad results.

    Back to the subject of free will, when looking at the way groups of people behave, you really have to wonder where all the complexity of the so called free will is gone, and why is the result so predictable and dumb.

  142. Michael Says:

    @Sniffoy#93- I’m not buying that the feminist rules are the problem. As I mentioned above, there are also children afraid of becoming pedophiles and the rules regarding pedophilia are pretty clear. The problem is the whole “If you say you’re afraid of doing this, then you really want to do it” attitude. If feminists said “These are the rules, if you find yourself afraid of violating them and nobody thinks you’re a jerk, you might want to consider seeing a therapist, there’s plenty of other people like you”, then that would be perfectly acceptable. Instead, they pretend that everyone who complains is a wannabe sexual predator.

  143. Prussian Says:

    There really do exist extremist Muslims, who bomb schools and buses, or cheer and pass out candies when that happens, and who wish to put the entire world under Sharia on point of the sword. Fortunately, the extremists are outnumbered by hundreds of millions of reasonable Muslims, with whom anyone, even a Zionist…

    Oh how I wish, I wish that that were true. Unfortunately, while the number of reasonable Muslims number in the hundreds of millions, the number of totalitarian supporters also number in the hundreds of millions. Here’s some facts:

    1. There have been 5 islamic genocides in my lifetime alone
    2. There are 13 countries that would execute me as an atheist, all of them Islamic
    3. The islamic world is the only place where slavery is still defended
    4. There – you know what? I’ve written vast amounts on this:

    https://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2018/02/28/islam-in-practice/

    I agree with you about the general post though, on this specific issue, I submit there is some evidence the other way.

  144. Alan Hardy Says:

    Scott, You propose that the only reason for the differing reactions to Amia Srinivasan’s essay and Robin Hanson’s is that Srinivasan talks about objects of progressive sympathy and Hanson talks of ones of progressive contempt.

    Could we perhaps instead start by noting, as you yourself observed, that Hanson is flat out terrible in communicating his ideas, while Srinivasan is extremely effective.

    And perhaps we could go further to note (as you didn’t) that Hanson is an amateur at the topic he took up in his essay, while it’s an area to which Srinivasan is an expert.

    And finally, I can’t help but notice the difference in how you discuss the thought and writings of Oxford professor Srinivasan (“beautifully written”, “wise and nuanced and humane”) vs. how you describe the thoughts and writings of George Mason professor Hanson (“worldview-destabilizing”, “prototype of what you want more of in academia”, “doggedness in following a chain of reasoning”).

  145. Anon Commenter Says:

    I find the focus on the distribution of sex curious. Maslow’s hierarchy references love and belonging, and though it mentions physical intimacy, it is unclear why these discussions are placing such primacy on sex.

  146. CIP Says:

    It’s probably worth considering the evolutionary function of involuntary male celibacy. Is it possible that much of the military success of the Muslim expansion, I think, came from the Koranic prescription permitting multiple wives for the wealthy. This left a large pool of angry young men willing to go to war for the chance of sex. The genomic data suggests a similar engine behind dramatic population expansions like the Indo-European conquest of Asia.

  147. What to make of Robert Aumann's "agreement theorem"? - Marginal REVOLUTION Says:

    […] is my 2004 paper with Robin, if you need the background, or try this recent Scott Aaronson post.  Recently I was sent a question somewhat along these […]

  148. Prussian Says:

    I’ve given this whole thing some thought, and come to the following conclusions:

    1. I entirely agree that the best thing we can do is to keep practicing compassion and expanding our circle of humanity outwards. I do think though that we also need to consider something further, namely…

    2. The System-Substance distinction. This is something that hit me like a ton of bricks when I was pondering why worthy causes tended to fill up with awful people over time. Basically, it doesn’t matter what system you devise, it will not change the fundamental composition of humanity. That composition is diverse: some people are smarter than others, some people are braver, some are more compassionate – and some percentage of all people in all times and all places are nasty, vindictive, narcissistic power-hungry sadists.

    You know the Gary Larson cartoon where God adds jerks to Earth ‘just to make it interesting’? They’re here and we’re stuck with ’em.

    https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/322711129527236343/?autologin=true

    There is nothing one can do about it. One can’t change that these people seek to cause hurt and suffering, one can only try to limit their capacity to do so.

    Basically, born under different stars Ellen Pao would have been writing Dear Tech companies: you hire an awful lot of Jews. What are you going to do about it? The same way that, born in my Grandfather’s time, Anita Sarkeesian would have been partnering with Julius Streicher to talk about how degenerate and, cough cough, cosmopolitan video games are, the same way that Arthur Chu would have been shouting for the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, the way that Amanda Marcotte would have been fretting that her white womanhood was threated by dangerous knee-grows…

    My point is that this is one of the great unsung victories of liberalism for which we should be profoundly grateful for. Not just that liberalism freed the innocent from persecution, but that it has profoundly limited the damage that the vicious and the wicked can do. As awful as many of these people are, they aren’t sending the Gestapo or the Stasi to our doors.

    (for people who hate political correctness, I agree with you, but the version of p.c. we have now ain’t nuttin’ on what my parents and grandparents had to deal with).

    In a truly bizarre way, this lead me to be reconciled to feminism. Many people are anti-feminism because they see the kind of vicious twerps it attracts. What I realized is, to paraphrase Waugh, can you imagine how terrible they’d be if they weren’t feminists?

    https://www.skepticink.com/prussian/2015/04/08/i-find-myself-reconciled-to-feminism/

    So we expand our circle of compassion, try to be decent people as best we can, and accept that a certain portion of humanity is always going to be irredeemably dreadful, but is outnumbered by those that are decent, or at least have the capacity to be so. .

  149. Sniffnoy Says:

    arbitrary value #115:

    I mean, if you’re in the trap where you believe that the doctrine of “lived experience” means you have to take into account basically any random shit anyone self-described feminist on the internet says, the answer to how much does it affect you is, quite a bit. The concern here isn’t so much that it makes you feel bad but that it drives you to put needless restrictions on yourself.

    Scott #100:

    My intent with the Commandment, rather, was that scrupulosity-afflicted male nerds should morally fortify themselves, that they should do the daily “spiritual work” of recommitting to being kind and decent people in the above sense, even if the universe is fundamentally capricious and unjust, and even if the nerds will spend their lives being lectured on their feminist failings by men who, in practice, are a thousandth as feminist as they. This is difficult, and it’s necessary. It’s a categorical imperative.

    Yes, I can’t disagree with that!

    One remaining disagreement: while you almost had me convinced that we should focus on the general problems of nerdish scrupulosity, and overliteral interpretation of rules, rather than romantic and sexual frustration in particular, the following gave me serious pause.

    Like, let me put it this way — I finally made it out of this trap several years ago. Has this led to an increase in romantic or sexual success? Well, um… no, it hasn’t. But you know what? That’s not really important. What’s important is that this is no longer an area of life that I’m afraid to think clearly about and have to doublethink around.

    So now that you think so much more clearly about it: what, in your view, are the remaining obstacles in your way? Because whatever those obstacles are, they seem to me like they should also be part of the conversation.

    I don’t agree. In fact you’ll notice I didn’t speak of “frustration” on my part or “obstacles” at all. And to be clear it’s not just that, like, I can think about this now, it’s that I can actually act. To be honest, I somewhat resent the implication that I need external help.

    Basically, the reason I found the previous situation so intolerable is — well, several things. One is that, as you’ve mentioned, it seemed that I was being punished for being virtuous. The other, once I started to make it out of the trap, was the recognition of how unnecessary it all was. That is to say — this state of affairs wasn’t just an unfortunate side-effect of people acting in good faith, you know? It was the result of people bullying others into submission and then telling them untruths.

    (Now one might say here, oh, but they were still doing it with the best of intentions! To which I reply, OK, maybe I didn’t phrase my objection exactly right, but my basic point still stands. There are certain lines one does not cross because the results are predictably disastrous and once you do so I no longer care about your motive. A person who cuts off negative feedback and refuses to listen to objectors (or worse, punishes them), who tries to shut down arguments rather than engaging with them, who deliberately makes things more tribal instead of less and discussion worse instead of better, does not my criteria for “acting in good faith”, no matter how what their intentions may be.)

    That is to say, I single out this problem because it is an externally-induced problem, it is a bad thing that people are doing to other people, and in discussing it I had once hoped I could convince people it is something they should stop doing.

    But this more general problem you discuss, to the extent that it is a problem… I mean, eh. That’s just life, you know? That is to say, when I was in the trap, it felt fundamentally unfair, for both the reasons I’ve mentioned above. But now I’m playing the same game as everyone else, basically, you know? If I fail, I fail on my own merits. (Or just due to chance, but that’s unavoidable.) That’s something I can accept.

    Especially because — well, let me put it this way. Even with the original broader meaning, one reason I would never adopt the label “incel” is because “involuntary” is a very strong word, you know? Am I really doing everything I can here? No, of course not. I have other priorities. I make the tradeoffs I choose and I accept the consequences. What exactly is the problem?

    I also suspect you’ve misapprehended my personal situation… which is arguably my own fault as — for obvious reasons! — I haven’t described it very precisely here. But, without going into much more detail, it seems that really largely what’s happened as just been a change in contexts. If somehow we could go back in time and impart my current understanding to myself-as-of-2009, or better yet, myself-as-of-2005 (any further back and I think the difference in viewpoint is not bridgeable 😛 ), the events of the years since then could have played out very differently for me. But for whatever reason those sorts of opportunities haven’t really cropped up so much now that I am better equipped to handle them. So, in short, <shrug>.

  150. Tim Makarios Says:

    Scott #95,

    Jesus does warn of judgement against those who refuse to feed the hungry, or to welcome foreigners, for example. But He also offers forgiveness. And while He doesn’t ask people to earn this forgiveness through an above-average moral life, there is something He asks of those who are forgiven: that they forgive others. This can be much more demanding than living an above-average moral life, particularly (I imagine) for people who have suffered a great deal of injustice, or people who belong to a group that’s been persecuted by improbably many regimes over thousands of years, but some people do it anyway.

    Another thing that comes to mind is this interesting take on Jonah, as does your willingness to offer Arthur Chu a place in your utopia.

    Also, Paul talks of rewards in the afterlife for what we do in this life, but he makes it clear that the afterlife itself is not one of those rewards.

    And, in response to some later comments: I’ve already given my take on the existence of suffering and evil.

  151. Sniffnoy Says:

    One additional note I just remembered: I don’t like the term “love-shy”. Based on what I’ve read, it seems like it’s describing something different.

  152. Anonymous Says:

    I started reading this as part of a surfing diversion. Wow! I was not aware of the plot twists that were coming up in the story (eg, about the attacks on Hanson) or how long your post was going to be. It was a fascinating read, and I appreciate the clarity with which you call out fallacies.

    Someone I’m heavily entangled with (where the cost of reversing would be high) routinely makes false equivalences and plays games like motte-and-bailey, though in a completely different context than the subject of your post. Reading your post helps me see that I’m not crazy. Thanks for writing it.

  153. Sniffnoy Says:

    Michael #142:

    I don’t think we’re really disagreeing here. What you describe is definitely a big part of the problem. If I’ve neglected to make that clear, it’s only because this has been discussed enough before that I wanted to just outline the problem rather than taking the time to describe it in detail.

  154. Scott Says:

    arbitrary value #115:

      To what extent do online critics of this aspect of nerd culture actually affect the mental state of nerds? I’m one of those people whose computer-related talents are accompanied by a lack of social skills. I would say that I am rather lonely. But online criticism has very little ability to upset me directly…

    It sounds like you and I are very different people; I envy your resilience.

    For whatever reason, when people say nasty things about me online—on Twitter, Facebook, SneerClub, doesn’t matter—it affects me enormously, and (as my wife will testify) is practically the only thing I can think about for days. Well anyway, when left-wing people do it. I don’t fully understand why, but when the right-wingers attack me with equal vehemence, I don’t particularly care, or even treat it as funny and a badge of honor. 🙂 Among right-wingers, only Lubos once had the ability to get under my skin, and not even he does any more.

    But with the left-wing voices of “sane, mainstream respectability”? Even when they’re just attacking nerds in general, not me in particular, it can still easily ruin my day. But I also can’t stop myself from looking.

    I wish I could change this aspect of myself, but it feels so deeply ingrained that, if you tried to excise whatever parts of my character were responsible for it, I’d be left a vegetable.

  155. Tungsten Says:

    Sniffnoy,

    Nice post. Check out Siderea’s The Asshole Filter: https://siderea.livejournal.com/1230660.html

    “An asshole filter happens when one has set of norms which results in one primarily, or at least disproportionately, coming into contact with assholes.”

    A set of overly restrictive feminist rules will only filter out the rule-followers, resulting in women having to deal with a lot of assholes who don’t care about the rules. That’s bad for men but especially bad for women.

  156. Mikko Kiviranta Says:

    With regard to the exponential discounting of the future cost of eg. global warming, I suppose you’re familiar with https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_discounting ?

    There is probably a connection to a favourite of yours, the concept of Knightian uncertainty, in the sense that the longer to the future we try to estimate the risks, the less reliable our risk estimate is. And the model for the risk of losing the whole capital is essential when trying to discount over truly long periods of time.

  157. Former incel Says:

    Anon Commenter #145:

    Scott mentions that incels are denied from the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (love and belonging) but it’s even worse than that; sex is actually in the very first level, i.e., the same level as *air*. It seems weird at first, but it doesn’t matter to your genes if you’re not able to reproduce due to a lack of air or a lack of sex, so it makes sense that motivation for seeking sex is one of the most fundamental forms of motivation that we have, as Maslow observed.

    It agrees with my personal life as well: I was a “moderate incel” for over a decade and the motivation to escape celibacy was what kept me going when things seemed hopeless.

  158. Gabriel Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Perhaps what Hanson is trying to say is that income redistribution, which is done by violating the eight commandment (“You shall not steal”), is just as immoral?

  159. Scott Says:

    ScentOfViolets #132: As a warning, I find that your comment was not “written in a spirit of kindness and mutual respect”; any further comments that engage in nasty stereotypes or attack people’s intelligence will be banned.

    Just as an empirical point, with no normative judgments attached, inequalities of romantic success appear to be staggering. Among the few people I’ve met and had occasion to discuss these matters with, reported number of sexual partners ranges from zero all the way up to hundreds. It would be interesting if some enterprising reader wanted to calculate a “Gini coefficient” for this (using GSS data or whatever), and compare to the Gini coefficient for wealth.

    If your grad school colleague was really as slovenly, overweight, and odoriferous as you say, then how on earth could you “guarantee” that he could go home with someone after one night out at a bar? Do our friends, the social-justice feminists, know about this “guarantee” that you made to him, and its possible ominous implications for consent??

    Also, if I can trade anecdote for anecdote: I know guys in CS who are not only brilliant but kind, physically fit, and (I think…) attractive, yet who’ve gone decades without dating anybody, simply because—as far as I can tell—even on the very rare occasions where they’d be socializing with single women, they’ve internalized polite social norms that prevent them from making any sort of move, norms that I understand well.

  160. Scott Says:

    Elephant #137: It seems absurd to say that inequality of wealth is “equal” to inequality of romantic and sexual success—indeed, among my own circle of acquaintances, I’ve observed no correlation whatsoever between the two.

  161. Per Kurowski Says:

    The regulators, with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, hold that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to the bank system than what is perceived as safe.

    I argue that what is perceived as safe has more dangerous fatter tail risks, and poses therefore much more significant danger to the stability of our bank system.

    I would be grateful if you, with the agreement theorem in mind, could advice me on what to when the other party does not want to discuss the disagreement.

    http://perkurowski.blogspot.com/2016/04/here-are-17-reasons-for-why-i-believe.html

  162. Scott Says:

    Rand #139: There’s no question that the extreme gender imbalances in CS and other STEM fields play a role in what we’re talking about.

    (In my case, the issue was even more extreme, since I skipped most of high school, so thereafter most of the women I met were either years older than me and saw me as a little kid, or else years younger academically and saw me as a geezer. Do you have any idea how few women there are in theoretical computer science who were also born in the early 1980s and finished college at 17 or 18? As it happens, I’m only aware of one … namely, the one I married. 😀 )

    In any case, though, while gender imbalances are part of the issue, they can’t possibly be all of it. E.g., even before I’d skipped any grades, and before I’d immersed myself in the world of academic CS, I was already bullied and a nerdy outcast—which, indeed, was a large part of the rationale for jumping right into college and research, the thought that socially things could hardly be worse than they already were.

    But looking more broadly: American football players, in the NFL, college, and high school, have an even more extreme gender imbalance than CS does, with approximately 100 men for every 0 women. Yet somehow, that population isn’t known for its difficulties finding partners.

    There do exist “science groupies” (I’ve met some)—i.e., people who are not scientists, yet serially and preferentially date them—but not many, I’d guess maybe 1 or 2 for every hundred scientists. Why? As Amia Srinivasan might ask, why not “critically interrogate” these interesting phenomena, rather than shrugging them off as brute features of reality?

  163. Scott Says:

    Bram #140:

      It could be that much of the reason romantically unsuccessful straight nerdy mails [sic] get so little compassion is because they tend to become both financially and romantically successful over time and hence their current status is viewed as temporary or self-inflicted or imaginary, especially by people whose problems are much more intractable.

    Imagine there was a population where everyone had to spend 15 years in prison for no reason—after which they were released, and most went on to live happy and successful lives (though some were permanently scarred). Wouldn’t you feel still compassion for these people while they were in the prison? I would!

    There’s also an economic puzzle at the heart of your observation. If there were a set of stocks, most of which everyone knew would shoot up in value by a decade from now, then why haven’t they shot up in value already? Similarly, if there were a population of single, nerdy 20-year-olds, most of whom people knew would be successful at life and desirable romantic partners 10-15 years from now, then why wouldn’t there be any rush to lock them down today? Like, I can think of about five possible answers to this question, but I’m not sure which if any to believe; something doesn’t add up.

  164. Scott Says:

    Alan Hardy #144: All the differences you note between Srinivasan’s and Hanson’s presentation styles are ones that I noted myself—and while I didn’t explicitly point out the difference in their academic backgrounds (one’s a philosopher, the other’s an economist), I’m happy to do so now. But then I explicitly said that I wanted to move past all these superficial differences—important though they might be to explaining the wildly differing reactions—and ask what differences might remain in the substance of the respective arguments.

  165. Anonymous Says:

    Alcoholics Anonymous suggests (in the same way, it’s often said, that it is “suggested” one use a parachute when skydiving) to its members that have achieved some semblance of recovery from their former state, that they pay for their seat through helping the next alcoholic. Unfortunately, it seems recovery from incelism is a particularly difficult condition to get even former sufferers to remember the pain of with the kind of urgency one feels in the depths of despair. We have lone figures like the bloggers Scott who write thoughtful solidarity essays but even the professional psychiatrist seems more interested in generalized depression and the metaphysics of disagreement (dear lord guys) than finding out what exactly this culture destabilizing neurosis is and how it can best be addressed.

    Am I suggesting just because some people, by luck or will or grace, manage to get past their issue should set aside their true calling (be it quantum computing or whatever), just to double back and try to help the quite possibly hopeless loser that will likely make no significant contribution to physics/mathematics/humankind’s great intellectual edifice? Duh. That is literally exactly what I am suggesting. What could be more important?

  166. Scott Says:

    Anon Commenter #145:

      I find the focus on the distribution of sex curious. Maslow’s hierarchy references love and belonging, and though it mentions physical intimacy, it is unclear why these discussions are placing such primacy on sex.

    Please check my comment #34. To recap, I think it’s absolutely right that sex is merely one part of a package that includes love, belonging, romance, emotional support, acceptance, and validation—but for most people (or certainly most men), it’s an inextricable part, and also the one with the most objective answer as to whether someone has it or they don’t. Or to put it differently: yes, love and emotional intimacy are “higher” aspirations than mere sex. But if someone won’t have sex with you, whereas she will have sex with others, then the chances that she genuinely romantically loves you aren’t great.

    This seems to me like such a complete resolution of this particular puzzle, that I’m honestly confused as to why people keep getting into interminable arguments about it whenever the subject of love-shys comes up… 🙂

  167. Simon Says:

    Scott, I apologise for this enormous tangent from your original post. But your comment (#114) to Gatekeepers about God and the Holocaust reminded of something that I’ve often thought about–albeit, it is the kind of odd thought that most people would probably say is crazy. (And I hope I do not offend you, or make you as crazy as I am, by sharing it.)

    From my knowledge of my family history, it seems very likely that were it not for Nazi Germany (and all the horrors that wicked regime unleashed on the world) my parents would probably have grown up in different countries and never met, if they had even been born at all. I know nothing of your family history, but similar facts may well be true for you.

    I am so glad that my children, whom I love and adore, exist. But, in a universe in which the evils of Nazism never happened, almost certainly I would never have been born, and hence they would never have been born either. If I am glad that my children exist, then should I not also be glad for everything necessary to their existence? But what if the Holocaust is necessary to their existence? Should I then be glad for the Holocaust? Yet, to be glad for the deaths of millions of innocents seems monstrously inhuman. Could it be, that something so innocent and pure, my parental love and happiness at the existence of my children, logically entails something so horrid and monstrous as being glad for the Holocaust?

    There is nothing necessarily theistic about this thought–indeed, I got the idea from Nietzsche. On the other hand, if there is a God, maybe he has to choose between a universe in which my children exist and millions of innocents suffer and die, and one in which those millions live in peace and my children are never born–and maybe he chooses the first. Maybe he loves my children so much, he is willing to murder millions of innocents if that is what is necessary for my children to exist. (Maybe I love them that much?) And maybe if that is true, maybe then he is a wicked God–but then who am I to complain, if the desires of my heart are as wicked as his?

  168. Scott Says:

    Sniffnoy #149: If you resent the implication that you need external help, then I guess we should both be happy that I never offered any! 🙂 I was trying to focus not on you in particular, but on the broader question of what obstacles stand between nerds and romantic fulfillment. If and when our culture ever advances to the point where we can have honest and compassionate conversations about these matters, I’d like the outcome to be, not that the hundreds of people who told me their heartbreaking stories during the comment-171 affair are taught to accept their current condition stoically and with philosophical clarity, but rather that they’re taught whatever is needed actually to get into romantic relationships.

  169. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #160: Dude, I’m doing what I can here, 🙂 even though the considerable time I’ve spent on this issue earns me zero credit or even negative credit in the wider culture. I completely agree that there needs to be more mainstream support—at the very least, therapists and psychologists willing to look the problem in the eye and call it what it is—so that there’d be less need for lone voices in the wilderness like me and Scott Alexander.

  170. Scott Says:

    Simon #162: Indeed, if not for Hitler, my grandfather would not have been clearing mines for the US Army during WWII, so the whole trajectory of his life would’ve been different, so he almost certainly would never have met my grandmother, so I would not exist.

    But one can say that about any historical event. If Babe Ruth had hit an additional home run, some chaotic butterfly-effect something-or-other would likewise have led to my never being born. There’s nothing specific here about evil events.

    And how much cosmic importance does one’s own existence have anyway? It seems to me that one should still wish the evil events never happened, even if it would mean one was never born.

  171. Anonymous Says:

    Scott #164: You’ve done more than most by miles, granted. Whether or not that’s enough is of course for you to decide, but either way I would urge you not to take the easy comfort of pawning the problem off on therapists. The answer will not be found by them. Take it from someone that has worked with dozens. You wanna know what the majority of therapists are like? Check back in with the Twitter mob. The same people that go through life with the easy, unconscious certainty that they know what’s wrong with Robin Hanson have the same easy, unconscious certainty that they know what’s wrong with everybody. With so many of these people out there it’s a wonder there are any problems left in the world at all. Sorry to be such a downer but when even the guys representing the losers all have wives and two kids, I think maybe it’s not such a bad thing to have some noises made by the unhappy anonymous subject of discussion. Anyway I do thank you for the part you play. Hopefully one day I’ll have something more to contribute and you’ll have one more voice alongside you.

  172. fred Says:

    What about the bodily autonomy of men?

    (for an example, watch “The Shawshank Redemption”)

  173. jonathan Says:

    Scott,

    I wholeheartedly agree with 98% of this post, especially that we should take universal compassion and respect for bodily autonomy as our foundational moral principles. I’m even okay with singling out women in your zeroth commandment, for various reasons. And I heartily endorse, also following the moral teachings of Jesus, extending this compassion to include our “enemies”, whether they be SJWs, alt-righters, feminists, racists, hate-mongers, bullies, radical terrorists (incel, muslim, right-wing, or left-wing), our political opponents, etc.

    However, this being the internet, I hope you’ll forgive me if I bring up the 2% I disagree with.

    I don’t think that Robin Hanson did anything wrong, or should not have said what he said.

    Robin Hanson is a provocative thinker and public intellectual. He is provocative in the best sense — he provokes not for attention or to sow chaos, but to cause us to examine our assumptions.

    I think that such people play a vital role in our public debate. Indeed, I would even say that our ability to tolerate and indeed encourage thinkers such as Robin, even (or especially) when they write things such as he wrote, is absolutely essential to a healthy public discourse. Would that we had a thousand Robin Hansons!

    I know that you have written about self-censorship here before (though ironically, in the process, not censoring yourself!). But I think this we should not do. We must fight for a world of open dialogue and respect for nerds. But while we live in this society, which admittedly is pretty open and free in many respects, those who can should speak up.

    Yes, this will invite a certain degree of scorn and ridicule on us nerds. But in a sense, speaking in this fashion is part of the service that nerds do for society. For what is more quintessentially nerdy than to point out a logical inconsistency in the reasoning of society, by comparing things that normal people simply do not think to compare because doing so is taboo?

    But this is precisely how societies advance. And this is one of the greatest services that nerds fulfill. (Okay, the science, math, and tech are pretty useful too! Though this advancement is pretty difficult to disentangle from the property of nerds I’m pointing to here.)

    So in short, if your point in this post was something like, “For the love of God, fellow nerds, resist your impulse to make comparisons between sex and money. Yes, this taboo is illogical, but doing so will not change anyone’s mind and will only invite scorn upon us!” then I have to strongly disagree. (Incidentally, the Scott Alexander post makes exactly this comparison).

    But then I’m an economist, so I would say this, wouldn’t I 😉

  174. Simon Says:

    Scott #165: If some great historical evil is necessary for my children’s existence, how can I wish that evil never happened and love my children at the same time? For to wish that evil never happened is to wish that my children never existed. I am saying I prefer the possible world, in which that evil never happened, to this actual world in which it did; but that means I prefer the possible world, in which my children don’t exist, to the actual world in which they do. My love for my children tells me I should value possible worlds in which they exist over possible worlds in which they don’t.

    This is true whether the historical event necessary to their existence is good or evil or morally neutral. But, I don’t feel any moral imperative to wish that good or neutral events happened differently; I do feel a moral imperative to wish that evil events happened differently – and the more evil the event, the greater that imperative – but that moral imperative conflicts with my love for my children.

  175. fred Says:

    Scott #165

    “If Babe Ruth had hit an additional home run, some chaotic butterfly-effect something-or-other would likewise have led to my never being born.”

    But what do we really mean by “if”?

    Aren’t the only physically coherent “if” scenarios the ones where the various outcomes are the result of quantum randomness (they each correspond to an actual branch of the multiverse)?
    Most what-if scenarios are just not feasible because altering one thing would require everything else to be different. E.g. you’d have to go back quite far in time to find a quantum randomness which influences the start and outcome of WW2, but then everything else would probably be vastly different too.

    But maybe I’m wrong about this… QM always gives a non-zero probability to any imaginary scenario, even something like “Scott’s brain spontaneously rewired itself so that he now knows Chinese instead of English”?

    The other interesting thing is that physical processes like human brains have patterns in them that are somewhat robust to (local) quantum jitter – e.g. all the IBM PCs can run the same C program in exactly the same way, regardless of vast differences at their atomic level.

    I also heard theories about cosmological versions of this – an infinite universe means that any imaginary scenario will happen somewhere. I guess it’s the equivalent of saying that you can find any piece of information in the digits of the number PI, assuming you look long enough.

  176. PZ Says:

    I think this entire discussion tends to overlook system-level, utilitarian tradeoffs in terms of crime prevention, socialization efficiency, cultural drive and motivation in males, as well as vulnerability to parasites and the expected damage they may cause.

    If you admit more freedom and status to men, they will more likely exploit their power and can more freely exert violence, sometimes to the disadvantage of women. But this has probably been overstated by feminists because (1) cruelty is naturally frowned upon, (2) women often have rape fantasies and (3) women do not report increased life satisfaction since the 1960s (~20-40 years after women’s suffrage and misogynist pseudomedicine).

    If you admit more freedom and status to women, on the other hand, they will more likely exploit the fact that men have a higher sex drive (in fact, every fourth male thinks much more often about sex than any woman). Hence, a perfectly egalitarian society with respect to sexual and economic freedom would favor women because women can easily steer men around by mere pretense of sexual willingness.

    At the same time, you also decrease the status of men relative to women so fewer males can achieve the confidence needed to impress a woman and are thus less motivated to align themselves with the system by family formation and producing offspring. Disadvantaged men are much more dangerous than disadvantaged women, especially since men are more aggressive and women score higher in trait agreeableness, so they are more likely content with subordinate roles.

    The optimal solution regarding the relative social status of the sexes is certainly not the 1930s, but also not the 2010s. It is probably close to state of the 1960s. The ever increasing number of members of forums like /r/MGTOW, seems to provide evidence that feminism has simply gone too far. Egalitarianism is essential at the inter-communal level as it ensures decentralization of power. Feminists kind of piggybacked on this idea and applied it to gender differences without thinking through all the implications.

  177. Scott Says:

    jonathan #168: Thanks for that beautiful comment.

    My point was something like: one needs to take account of where the culture currently is, in figuring out which widely-accepted inconsistencies it makes any sense to challenge, and which challenges will only outrage people (even otherwise very reasonable and intelligent people), entrench them further in their existing views, and bring volcanic denunciation down on your head, as everyone pattern-matches whatever you said (and whatever you will say in the future) to a genuine great evil. And furthermore: as I said in the post, often one needs to make an emotional appeal, about a particular form of suffering being bad or deserving compassion at all, before one can even get started discussing how to alleviate it, how it compares to other forms of suffering, etc. I speak from experience in these matters. 🙂

  178. Scott Says:

    Simon #169: Well, I don’t think we’re going to resolve one of the great imponderables of philosophy and literature in a blog comment thread. 🙂 It’s easy to invent examples, like:

    Alice’s true burning love since childhood has been Bob. On their wedding day, however, Bob fails to show up—and Alice is told that it’s because Bob ran off with another woman to a faraway country. Alice is devastated and considers suicide … but a year later she settles down with Charlie, who she likes well enough. Together, Alice and Charlie raise three children who they love very much.

    Twenty years later, Alice finds Bob on Facebook. It turns out that Bob never ran off with the other woman at all, but was kidnapped! A year later, Bob escaped his kidnapper, and was heartbroken to learn on asking around that Alice was now married to Charlie. But Bob made the fateful decision not to contact Alice, because he didn’t want to disrupt Alice’s new life.

    So, question: does Alice now regret having married Charlie—even though that means regretting the existence of her three beloved children?

    At a high level, perhaps the only thing to say about such a question is that, if you were to write this as a novel, you’d need to devote a lot of space both to Alice’s regretting her choice, and to her feeling guilty about her regret.

  179. Scott Says:

    fred #170: It would be child’s-play to construct a scenario wherein a quantum fluctuation causes a neuron to fire in Babe Ruth’s brain, which then triggers a cascade of other neurons firing, which then causes him to hit a home run.

    (Though there are lots of interesting open questions here, for example about the timescale over which such a scenario would play out. For some of my own thoughts, see The Ghost in the Quantum Turing Machine.)

  180. ScentOfViolets Says:

    Scott #154:

    Just as an empirical point, with no normative judgments attached, inequalities of romantic success appear to be staggering.

    Hands up: how many people truly believe the problem of inequalities of romantic success are on a par with the problems of inequalities of wealth. Now to those with your hands up what evidence do you have for this belief? Not feelings, not personal testimonials, evidence on a par with the evidence of why wealth inequality is a very bad thing indeed.

  181. Michael P. Says:

    Believe it or not, one of the early Soviet decrees “nationalized” women in 1918. Because, you know, it’s unfair that clean well-spoken bourgeois get all the women, and workers and peasants don’t. So the idea did indeed cross the mind of redistribution loving leftist thugs.

    In Russian: https://beloedelo-spb.livejournal.com/312961.html

  182. Atreat Says:

    Still wondering why no one has reacted with outrage at the idea of having compassion for Adam Lanza, Donald Trump, etc. Maybe people here are not as addicted to the righteous anger…

  183. CS Grad Student Says:

    Sniffnoy #93: Do you (or does any other commenter) know of a general recipe for finding other examples of the trap? Just brainstorming examples could leave out social norms that I’ve already thoroughly internalized, and I’m also not confident in my inferences about how other people feel in some of these situations.

    Scott #96: Rather than “love-shy” (which to me sounds kind of like aromantic), how about “involuntarily celibate people”, to remind people of the literal meaning of “incel” and help counteract the motte-and-bailey tactic?

  184. Anonymous John Says:

    #131, legalizing prostitution would help some people and should be done out of principle. But I do not think it would be as useful as you might hope. My own experience suggests that if prostitution can help people who are just horny, it does not help much if you are lonely. It can even be counterproductive.

  185. Tungsten Says:

    ScentofViolets,

    Which would you rather be: broke for the rest of your life, or alone for the rest of your life?

    The way we prepare young people for real work life has a lot to criticize, but at least our education system acknowledges that preparing kids to make money is important.

    The way we prepare young people for real life relationships is barbaric. We throw them in a cauldron of other young people for 12 years and hope they figure it out from pop-culture and a sliver of abstinence based sex-ed. If the kids don’t succeed that is considered a GOOD outcome since it lowers teen sex activity rates.

    Aldous Huxley’s 1962 novel “Island” addressed a lot of this, featuring a society where teenagers were taught how to have relationships and to make love by sex surrogates. I suppose today the left and right would have had Huxley drawn and quartered for suggesting that.

  186. Tungsten Says:

    CS Grad Student,

    I have a comment related to that awaiting moderation, it had profanity from the title of the linked essay so that’s probably why.

    Here’s the essay, by Siderea that describes similar kind of traps, but from the perspective of the one creating the norms: https://siderea.livejournal.com/1230660.html

    The idea is that when you create norm/rule/boundary and then don’t enforce it properly, it rewards transgressive individuals and punishes rule-followers. The example in the article is from workplace communication not relationships.

  187. Atreat Says:

    Not sure if this was mentioned yet, but the apparent coiner of the term incel agrees that we should move on from the word: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/08/intel-involuntary-celibate-movement-218324

  188. Scott Says:

    Daniel #131: My view (see #34 and #162), that sex is merely one inextricable part of a package that includes deeper human needs like validation of self-worth, romantic love, and affection, strongly predicts that legalizing prostitution would not by itself solve the problem we’re talking about. On the other hand, sure, it could probably help improve the attitudes of some male virgins, by at least making intimate contact with women seem less cosmically unattainable, like a quantum theory of gravity or a proof of P≠NP, and more human and ordinary. (Prostitution helping to instill feminist values … imagine that.) For that and many other reasons—including protecting the safety and welfare of sex workers—I like many others am strongly in favor of legalizing prostitution. And I see no reason why the sex-positive feminists who’ve long been advocating that cause on behalf of sex workers, shouldn’t be able to use the additional argument that it could have a therapeutic value for certain populations of men. It would be as if the advocates of legalized marijuana needed to concede at the outset that marijuana was always and everywhere evil, and merely argue that criminalizing it made matters even worse, rather than pointing out the large benefits that marijuana can confer on chronic pain sufferers.

  189. Sniffnoy Says:

    Tungsten #154: Yes I’ve read that essay and also recommend it! 🙂

    ScentOfViolets #176: Not getting into an argument on the merits here (I don’t share either your or Scott’s position here), but I think I’ve spotted what may be a miscommunication here. Scott’s comment, that you’re replying to, was about the level of inequality. Your reply was about the extent to which inequality should be by itself be regarded as a problem in the first place. These are different questions!

  190. Scott Says:

    ScentOfViolets #176: We were talking here only about the statistics of number of sexual partners, not about whether any inequality that might exist along such dimensions is a “problem.” Just because something is distributed inequally, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s a problem—in Enlightenment Now, for example, Steven Pinker advances a detailed argument that, while poverty is a huge problem, wealth inequality per se is not, and we should support things like free trade that reduce poverty even if they increase inequality at the same time. If inequality along some dimension is a problem, then that’s a claim that needs to be defended separately, using moral considerations rather than just data-gathering.

    On the factual question, a minute of googling turned up a page that does calculate Gini coefficients for numbers of sexual partners per year. The coefficients it gets are .536 for straight single men and .470 for straight single women, comparable to the before-tax Gini coefficients of some of the most unequal countries on earth, like Botswana and Haiti (see here for a table). Of course, one feature of the data that would complicate a “redpill” narrative is that the Gini coefficient for men is only modestly higher than the one for women.

  191. Scott Says:

    Tungsten #181: I haven’t read Island by Aldous Huxley, but I did once read The Harrad Experiment, a 1960s novel about a college that tries to teach its students to form healthy relationships, by assigning roommates that it thinks would make good sex partners. I found it quite poor as literature, but here’s what’s interesting about it: in the 60s and 70s, it was apparently considered a left-wing, subversive, pro-free-love novel, and was extremely popular among hippies. Were it published today, the SJWs would surely condemn it as rapey hate literature and boycott the publisher.

  192. ScentOfViolets Says:

    Scott #184: I did not ask for a calculation of some gini-like coefficient; I asked which was the more important problem to address. This goes to the heart of Hanson’s question about the ‘leftist ‘ apparent lack of concern for people who are involuntarily celibate. If the answer is ‘because they think that this problem is pretty small potatoes compared to other problems they care about’ well, the question is pretty much answered, in fact, answered just as soon as you finish asking it. So I ask you again: if you think involuntarily celibacy is the more pressing problem, what evidence do you have for this?

  193. Scott Says:

    ScentOfViolets #192: There’s no need whatsoever to prove that A is a more important problem than B, in order to also worry about A. Or even to worry exclusively about A—if (for example) one feels that B is already getting a lot of attention, or if A happens to be one’s particular area of interest.

    Furthermore, this is completely obvious. The only reason to impose the “isolated demand for rigor” (in Scott Alexander’s phrase), that people prove that A is a bigger problem than B before they can discuss A—when that wasn’t a claim that any party to the conversation had made—is to sneer at people for trying to discuss A.

    It’s true that, if A was a totally insignificant problem, then it would be bizarre to ask (as Hanson did) why people don’t worry about A even though they worry about B. Obviously, I personally don’t feel that life-crippling, often suicidal loneliness on the part of millions of people is an insignificant problem. But more importantly, in this post I wasn’t defending Hanson’s choice to compare A and B. In fact, I explicitly wrote that he should never have made the comparison and that I wish he’d apologize for it, because of its potential to offend people.

    Even after a warning, I unfortunately find that you’re not participating in good faith, so you’re banned from further comments on this thread.

  194. Aspect Says:

    (Resubmitting because I messed up)

    I think there is a certain sort of entitlement involved when people think about romantic/sexual relationships.

    For example, in the case of money it is generally understood that people will either inherit their wealth or they will have to put a significant amount of effort into acquiring it. Even if they do, they are not guaranteed to succeed.

    It seems to me that many people (especially ones from the “nerd camp” which I consider myself to be a part of) do not appreciate that, especially for someone who is not particularly attractive, it can take a decent amount of effort to understand how these relationships work and how diverse they can be.** Although I would say that even attractiveness can be improved considerably with simple lifestyle adjustments such as having healthy diet, working out, paying more attention to socially acceptable clothing choices…

    In fact I’ll go out on a limb and say (in usual online armchair psychologist fashion) that nerdy people tend to appreciate rules and structure more than the average person when it comes to understanding the world around them. I think this makes them susceptible to having a black-and-white view of real life situations. This also aligns with what Sniffnoy said about “the trap”. It’s easier for nerds to think in terms of absolutes instead of just probabilistic educated guesses because it satisfies their need to make decisions in a principled and structured way.
    A classic example is “women love confidence”. We can all agree that misplaced confidence can kill someone’s charisma and make them look like an idiot in front of both men and women (unless they’re running for president :>). Furthermore, there are cases where being honest with your uncertainty and lack of confidence when you address someone’s concerns may make you more relatable and approachable to that person. However, it’s much easier to believe the simple 3 word rule than to start digging and considering all the possible outcomes in all the different settings that they can occur.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that nerds are undercutting themselves by not using their mind as carefully in social contexts as they do in academic/intellectual ones. In my experience I haven’t met that many people in all of my years in school/uni whom I would consider incels (in the literal sense) due to their looks. Maybe I’m too optimistic but for most people who face these issues I genuinely believe there are solutions or at least a decent middle ground they can achieve. It’s just not necessarily easy for everyone and that’s OK because that’s how things often work in virtually all avenues of life.

    **In general, I would say that someone who is conventionally attractive and socially conforming enough can get away with way less thinking, introspection, and lifestyle/personality adjustments.

  195. Atreat Says:

    Scott, not sure you intended this, but:

    “Or even to worry exclusively about A—if (for example) one feels that B is already getting a lot of attention, or if A happens to be one’s particular area of interest.”

    … could also be used by leftists in response to Hanson if they were even able to parse him. Also, couldn’t one take Hanson to task for requesting an “isolated demand for rigor” in order to sneer at leftists for not worrying about the suffering of the involuntary celibate?

    That last question is directed generally and not at Scott as I know he is emphatically not defending Hanson’s comparison.

  196. Michael Says:

    CS Grad Student#183- You might want to consult a psychiatrist. If you have a mental illness of some sort, the same advice that would work on the average person in your situation wouldn’t work for you, so you might want to rule that out.

  197. Jeremy Says:

    > Still, on the merits, is there any relevant difference between the two cases

    This seems intellectually dishonest. Surely you know in your heart that the problems faced by a disabled person are not equivalent to those faced by an awkward, but otherwise able person, even if the problem has the same description. That’s like equivocating shooting a sign post with shooting a human. Something got shot, but we don’t have a funeral for both.

    The “undesirability” of a disabled or horribly disfigured person is usually beyond their control to fix. Meanwhile, in almost all cases that are in the public discourse (those “incels” who turn their frustration into violence), the nerdy white male has the means and the ability to change, but chooses not to. Inequalities are injustices when the losing party has no reasonable escape or fault. I’ve seen no convincing argument that this applies to nerdy white men (and for every argument I’ve seen, I know many counterexamples). Instead, I see men passing around copies of “pick up artist” books, and I wonder why they don’t apply their sheer intellect to see the folly in that?

    I too grew up a confused nerdy white boy, completely lost about how to interact and have healthy relationships with women. I even read a bunch of that pick up artist literature (recommended by my college RA!) like an idiot. Much later, I deliberately decided to improve, and after many missteps found a partner. I find it very hard to believe that one can grok Cantor’s theorem (and much more) but be totally incapable of learning how to be sociable. I find it hard to believe that the nuance required to understand mathematics does not translate (for those who are willing and spend the time) to the nuance needed to understand and navigate social issues.

  198. Equationist Says:

    Sorry to go on a tangent but this appears to me to be incorrect, because it is not fully applying discounted value:

    I recall in particular a lecture that Robin gave years ago in which he argued—and I apologize to Robin if I mangle a detail, but this was definitely the essence—that even if you grant that anthropogenic climate change will destroy human civilization and most complex ecosystems hundreds of years from now, that’s not necessarily something you should worry about, because if you apply the standard exponential time-discounting that economists apply to everything else, along with reasonable estimates for the monetary value of everything on earth, you discover that all life on earth centuries from now just isn’t worth very much in today’s dollars.

    The correct comparison would be to compare the discounted value of all future human production, with or without the destruction of human civilization. Not the market value of all assets at the time of the possible destruction of human civilization.

  199. aram Says:

    Hanson makes a good point that there are different kinds of inequality and we should consider applying ideas from one to another. However, he is the one who brought up “redistribution” and in fact the “implicit threat of violence”, so those aren’t just words being put into his mouth by uncharitable critics. His suggestions of applying the logic of wealth redistribution to sex seem to me (a) being deliberately provocative, and (b) at some level trolling those who believe in wealth redistribution.

    If you try to rephrase his point in a less offensive way, you realize that it’s not sex that’s the issue, but some combination of loneliness and low status. (Otherwise the angry incels would go to prostitutes, etc.) And it’s hardly a fringe or novel idea to say that loneliness, social isolation, etc. are important problems in rich countries today.

    I’m sure some of the criticism was excessive but it seems to me that Hanson was trying to annoy people and succeeded, not that he is just an innocent nerd who can’t quite manage to express himself in a politically correct way.

  200. Rand Says:

    Scott #162:

    American football players, in the NFL, college, and high school, have an even more extreme gender imbalance than CS does, with approximately 100 men for every 0 women.

    Yes, but the American football community is quite a bit bigger. You’d be surprised how often I see people exclaiming their Eagle’s fandom (some only their Eagles fandom) on dating websites, for all that I try to screen anything related to headbrick. College football too: When the Columbia Lions won whatever they won recently, people were popping up over my Facebook saying “Go Lions!” (Note: I never attended Columbia but to my understanding they’re one of the least sportsy universities in the country.) In “The Righteous Mind”, Jonathan Haidt talks about UVA football games as being a mass religious experience – which probably leads to a fair number of UVA relationships.

    It’s not just that computer science is heavily male. It’s that computer scientist are unlikely to be members of non-heavily male communities. They’re not church-goers in my experience, though church (and more broadly, religious communal events) is a great place to form relationships.

    It’s probably hard to have this conversation without mentioning gaming. So: Gaming. Good community builder, really awful gender ratios. This is true of a lot of activities commonly associated with nerds.

    Obviously, why these communities have gotten to be this way deserves serious inquiry and corrective measures, if possible.

  201. Rand Says:

    (Do you have any idea how few women there are in theoretical computer science who were also born in the early 1980s and finished college at 17 or 18? As it happens, I’m only aware of one … namely, the one I married. 😀 )

    Probably a better idea than most. Also, I might be able to add a few names, unless you’re one of those bigots who thinks that the type theorists, domain theorists, categorical semanticists etc. aren’t real theoretical computer scientists, in which case I have nothing more to say to you 😉

  202. Prussian Says:

    Scott,

    Furthermore, this is completely obvious. The only reason to impose the “isolated demand for rigor” (in Scott Alexander’s phrase), that people prove that A is a bigger problem than B before they can discuss A—when that wasn’t a claim that any party to the conversation had made—is to sneer at people for trying to discuss A.

    A useful mantra I’ve found here is:

    Human suffering is an evil to be vanquished, not a competition to be won.

  203. josh Says:

    ‘Wouldn’t you feel still compassion for these people while they were in the prison?’ Yes, people would feel compassion for such people because they would think something from the outside forced them into that prison and it could happen to them as well at anytime.

    In contrast, people being deprived of any sexual contact, people with crippling depressions, people who are obscenely overweight etc. are usually rather thought of being responsible themselves for the situation they are in. This if course is not entirely true, as there indeed are illnesses causing overweight, depression is an illness itself and social disorders are often caused by such. But they are also people with similar ‘symptoms’ which are at fault themselves or which even make a sport out of being the most depressed/socially aggrieved, blaming the society instead of self-reflection etc. Hence it might be natural to be cautious with the own compassion in such a situation.

    I think your approach of encouragement is exactly the right one: ‘Here is my story about how I lost a hundred pounds/overcame depression after a decade of suffering/managed to have a functional family after being a wizard’ (btw that’s the term my ‘incel’ friends are not offended to go by) can really be inspiring and make a change for others.

    Demanding compassion on the other hand is difficult due to the aforementioned reasons; and the scientific value of compassion is also questionable. At least for overweight and depressed people (and a lot of similar problems), too much compassion is actually hurtful. Often people need to hit rock bottom for a change, while
    being supported by friends, family and the society can motivate to stay in a very unhealthy situation much longer. Real change usually needs to come from within, and it might be different for everyone how to get there. So maybe speaking in the name of all shy, male nerds is problematic as they seem to be a very very very inhomogeneous group of people. And I would suspect the majority would not like to be even mentioned in the context of sexual predators as (as said also in several other comments here) because their problem is rather that they are unable to interact with women *at all*.

    But serving as a good example that one can overcome such hurdles is a role that suits you very well and with which you certainly provide help and hope for many others out there.

  204. Scott Says:

    Jeremy #197: There’s an obvious tension between the type of anti-shy-male-nerd discourse that says their misery needn’t be taken seriously because if they just invested some effort to improve themselves, they’d be perfectly attractive and dateable; and the type that says the problem is their petulant refusal to accept how inherently gross and unattractive they are, and it’s fine if they die alone because only entitled misogynists believe that everyone deserves a partner. In a typical Twitter thread on this subject, you can find both of these arguments side by side, with no one even remarking on the contradiction between the two. And yet you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty!

    This is a warning; please demonstrate more of what I called a “spirit of kindness and mutual respect” or you’re no longer welcome on this thread.

  205. Scott Says:

    aram #199:

      I’m sure some of the criticism was excessive but it seems to me that Hanson was trying to annoy people and succeeded, not that he is just an innocent nerd who can’t quite manage to express himself in a politically correct way.

    I did strongly criticize Robin for poking this hornet’s nest, and said I wished he’d apologize (or at least, show more empathy for his critics). On the other hand, even if we could enter Robin’s mind, it’s not clear to me that we could fully distinguish between the two hypotheses you mentioned. 🙂

  206. Scott Says:

    Rand #200: The fact that there’s a reasonably gender-balanced football fan community, but no reasonably gender-balanced math/CS fan community, was pretty much exactly my point.

  207. Scott Says:

    Rand #201:

      I might be able to add a few names, unless you’re one of those bigots who thinks that the type theorists, domain theorists, categorical semanticists etc. aren’t real theoretical computer scientists, in which case I have nothing more to say to you

    I’m sort of curious who else there is in CS theory, male or female, who skipped grades, besides me and Dana and Erik Demaine and maybe a few others I can of (though you probably shouldn’t share names in public).

    I guess I wouldn’t have “categorically” ruled out dating anyone merely because she was a categorical semanticist or a type theorist! On the other hand, that’s also not the “type” of person I’d meet at any conference I’d normally go to. 🙂

  208. Scott Says:

    josh #203:

      Demanding compassion on the other hand is difficult due to the aforementioned reasons; and the scientific value of compassion is also questionable. At least for overweight and depressed people (and a lot of similar problems), too much compassion is actually hurtful. Often people need to hit rock bottom for a change, while being supported by friends, family and the society can motivate to stay in a very unhealthy situation much longer.

    OK, but here’s a key difference between the cases: neither I, nor as far as I can see anyone else on this thread, has been talking about the type of “compassion” for shy nerdy males that would say: “it’s fine for you to stay exactly the way you are right now, wallowing in despair.” Instead we’re talking about the type of compassion that would say: “you’re fine, you have lots of value as a person, your intellectual abilities are an asset rather than a liability, to the right person they might even be attractive. You can talk to women, you can ask them on dates, if the dates go well you can even try gently initiating touch. Contrary to the message you’ve gotten from every SJW forum and book and thinkpiece, doing this will not inherently make you a predator or a creep; it will just make you a normal guy.”

  209. PZ Says:

    Scott #190:

    .536 for straight single men and .470 for straight single women […] Of course, one feature of the data that would complicate a “redpill” narrative is that the Gini coefficient for men is only modestly higher than the one for women.

    Usually, when comparing Gini coefficients, you make the implicit assumption that different groups with the same coefficient would experience the same total amount of pleasure (otherwise you would need to argue for e.g. slave mentality being more prevalent in some groups). This assumption is clearly violated in case of the sexes because males have a higher sex drive. An almost equal Gini coefficient likely still implies that there are around 14 times as many suffering men than women, if these numbers are representative:

    among 25-year-olds, 28% of men but only 2% of women were in this category of “reluctant virgins.” (source)

    Gender equality is thus achieved when the Gini coefficient for men is somewhat lower than that of women.

  210. Bogdan Says:

    “They must never under any circumstances be touched without their consent—to be my Zeroth Commandment”.

    The life is not so simple, and the devil sits in clarification what exactly you mean by “consent”.

    Every day we agree to do actions we do not like. For example, a person may not like to cook, but like to eat, and he/she may agree to an undesirable action (cook) in order to obtain a desirable consequence (eat), or, in other words, to avoid an undesirable consequence (be hungry). When a woman would not like to be “touched”, but still agree to this in order to obtain some desirable consequence A, or to avoid some undesirable consequence B, would you qualify this as “consent”? Is this situation consistent with your Zeroth Commandment?

  211. josh Says:

    scott #208

    The kind of compassion you list requires a close relationship to the person in question. Knowing intellectual abilities, the values of the person and the specifics about why the person is in that situation (fear of becoming a creep – which at least for most people in the same situation that I know is not the reason at all) all demands previous interactions and spending lots of time with the person on a friendship or at least colleague level. So this is certainly not the kind of compassion you can expect from the society. What you can expect from the society at best in my opinion is not putting extra hurdles for people which are already handicapped or deprived of certain things in one way or the other.

  212. Sandro Says:

    For the record: I think that Robin should never, ever have made this comparison, and I wish he’d apologize for it now.

    Certainly an inflammatory argument, and while I haven’t read the post yet, whenever these flame wars start I’m always reminded of this apt quote:

    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

  213. Scott Says:

    Bogdan #210: Well, I certainly don’t accept the modern SJW definitions of “consent”—according to which, for example, a person in full control of their faculties who agrees to take a job, but didn’t “genuinely want” the job and just needed the money, wasn’t “really consenting” to the employment and is therefore enslaved (or, if a prostitute, raped). In fact, I don’t think the SJWs themselves accept these definitions, were they to be applied consistently or used by others against them: I think they just find it useful to deploy them as weapons against their class enemies.

    I also think people can have many legitimate reasons to consent to sexual activity besides just being overcome in the moment with lust—e.g., they want to please their partner, they admire the other person’s intellect and want to spend more time with them, etc. If your partner consents for one of these other reasons, I’m unwilling to say that you’re guilty of sexual coercion.

    Having said that, I also (as I said in the post) strongly believe in compassion. I think we often should do more than the bare minimum that’s ethically obligatory, and I’m also often in favor of government helping those in need, even where a libertarian might say that no one did anything to the person without their consent, so whatever they might be suffering is their own damn fault.

  214. Daily Reading #284 | thinkpatriot Says:

    […] https://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=3766 […]

  215. Atreat Says:

    Scott #207,

    “I guess I wouldn’t have “categorically” ruled out dating anyone merely because she was a categorical semanticist or a type theorist! On the other hand, that’s also not the “type” of person I’d meet at any conference I’d normally go to.”

    Wooohhhhh! Fight! Fight! Fight! 🙂

  216. Rand Says:

    Scott #200:

    The fact that there’s a reasonably gender-balanced football fan community, but no reasonably gender-balanced math/CS fan community, was pretty much exactly my point.

    I didn’t want to engage with your discussion about groupies or people who “serially and preferentially date [scientists]” (who I wouldn’t call groupies) because I don’t think that’s something to strive for. I think we want gender parity within these communities, not satellites to them.

    (Besides, very few people benefit from increasing numbers of Aaronson or Kripke groupies. [I can name a few of each.] Hmmm, despite teaching graduate logic at MIT at ~19, apparently Kripke only finished Harvard at 21? Weird.)

    E-sports (where the spectators do form the bulk of the community) is probably a better analogy to football, and having better gender ratios would probably benefit that community greatly.

  217. Rand Says:

    “I guess I wouldn’t have “categorically” ruled out dating anyone merely because she was a categorical semanticist or a type theorist! On the other hand, that’s also not the “type” of person I’d meet at any conference I’d normally go to.”

    You and your FOCS/STOC friends better look out. We’ll be back.

    (Also, really? Have the ZX people not managed to invade QIP? You’d better look out.)

  218. Sniffnoy Says:

    Scott #214: This is perhaps nitpicking, but that sounds more like a radfem notion of consent rather than an SJ notion of consent. (The two have aren’t unrelated though IMO.)

  219. tt Says:

    1.) Kids, prostitution is still supposed to be consensual. With legalized prostitution, where prostitute has ability to defend herself and to choose who she/he serves, not all men are still going to get sex. That is why prostitutes complain about backpage going down – because it limit their options to vet and choose customer. It was safer then street, because they could call with dude before meeting him and reject apparently angry ones.

    You would have to either pay a lot or create horrible conditions for women for them to be willing to go with anyone – especially with dudes blowing from rage and anger.

    2.) As for romance, you cant redistribute that, because there is no romance without free choice. Even if a girl has to pretend she loves you due to some law or social pressure, she likely resents you and there is all there is to it.

    3.) Lonely, shy, unattractive, girls exist. Ugly teenage lonely, fat, with acne, unsymmetric features, with social problems, with hard personality girls exist. You all happily ignore them, because they don’t matter. Funny how they dont matter at all.

    Lonely old women exist, maybe try to pair with them? A lot of them. They would like someone too. Lonely sick women exist.

    4.) Incels are more about social status of possessing hot girl then anything else. I read forums, they don’t care about relationship nor girls personality. They don’t care about anything except how she looks. So, romance is ruled out by that alone. They want trophy girlfriend, so you know, all the debate about loneliness is mute.

  220. Scott Says:

    tt #219: I don’t know who you mean by “you all,” but I talked about the need for compassion for lonely women right here in the post that you’re commenting on. If you won’t take the minimum time to familiarize yourself with the actual views of those you’re responding to—as opposed to, whatever those views get rounded down to in your head—I’ll have to treat you as not participating in good faith, in violation of my comment policy.

  221. Jon K. Says:

    Enjoyed this post… Especially where it ended.
    #Compassion #Respect

    Any thoughts on “ego death” for overcoming social tensions? 🙂

  222. tt Says:

    > I.e.: straight men want sex partly because of the validation of their human worth that they feel will come from knowing that a woman actually likes them enough to want that. And conversely, they want the validation and acceptance partly because that …

    It sounds like these men emotional problem that has nothing to do with access to women. And it would be better for both them and their partners if they would disentangle sex from their personal worth. So really, what they need here is counseling.

    The other person can not give you your worth. It did not worked for middle class housewifes, it does not work for teenage girls who throw themselves at first guy available and it does not work for men. You are asking impossible from the other person and that other person will get tired of trying to give you impossible. And your relationship will break the first moment one of you is too sick to have sex for more then few weeks.

    Side note: average age of first sex seems to be 18 years old in much of USA and Europe. So, one reason why there is not so much empathy for “nerdy high school and college guys” is that they are virgin at age when it is pretty normal to be virgin in reality – for both males and females. Just because they party does not mean they have sex.

    The idea that the other person can change your feelings about yourself so much is a matter of romance literature. You find these kind of scenes there. But again, romance literature seems to help lonely women and is less hateful, so maybe less stigma against it would help guys. Maybe instead if stigmatizing it and knee jerking labeling everyone reading it stupid, we should treat it as a healthy way how to deal with emotions one have or wants to have.

    Lastly: I agree with people who pointed out that common sight in CS are guy who do only and exclusively male dominated activities. They plain don’t socialize with women except with close family members and when they hope to date one. Then it is just numbers games. While “swaggering, non-nerdy guys” are not feminine nor picking up knitting, they do go out of their way to gender mixed places and activities where girls are. They have gender mixed friends.

    Per your own rules somewhere here in comments, girl had to be in CS, which instantly rules out overwhelming majority of women – whether those women are in fact interested in guys from other majors or not. The girl that spends all free time in knitting club and works in female dominated job wont find partner easily either. Would you be willing to date nurse or biology teacher?

  223. iopi Says:

    Actually, it’s hard to find the exact words of praise when someone is simply telling the truth. Therefore, I wholeheartedly praise you for not being silent.

    It’s hard to overstate how wrong common understanding of the topic is. Most people know how incorrect and laughable media depiction of their own spheres of interests is (cue the scientist/journalist comic), but still believe in what they hear about other problems.

    Telling common folk about “dark corners of Reddit” and 4chan is like telling your grandchildren scary stories about the old barn. Bland lies with which losers reassure themselves are turned into a scary new Nazist ideology. (I’d say there’s a lot of worse falsehoods a lot of people live by that cause large scale tragedies all the time. Also, there’s probably 10× stories of man-vs-world showdown like that each day that don’t get media coverage, and 100× “usual” man-vs-man accidents like domestic violence, or drunk homicides that are deemed not worthy of attention.) If a female wallows in despair and believes that all those trashy promiscuous men only want cool girls, and she won’t meet any, she is considered a victim of stereotypes who needs a helping hand. If a male wallows in despair and believes that all those trashy promiscuous women only want cool boys, and he won’t meet any, he is a maniac in training. (Don’t forget gay and trans teens and young adults, as that gets complex fast.) Rarely someone tries to understand the ever-present self-humiliation and self-irony of the outbursts (‘cos it takes time to accommodate to something you are not used to, and Chads are generally dumb, lol). I wonder whether any outsider can correctly decipher the multifacetedness of the message in this (including the additional meaning from shootings that happened after it was made):

  224. Doug K Says:

    scott #159,
    “Among the few people I’ve met and had occasion to discuss these matters with, reported number of sexual partners ranges from zero all the way up to hundreds. ”

    the Gini coefficient for men and women is interesting, thank you for the reference. However it’s probably not accurate until corrected for other bias – has to be interpreted in the light of the knowledge that everyone lies about sex, consistently, constantly, and without exceptions.

    Also interesting in that review is the percent of single men and women who had 0 partners in the last year is exactly the same, about 18%.

    sex and lies:
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499909551999#.U8U3bhCmXGY
    “On surveys, men report two to four times as many lifetime opposite-sex sexual partners (SPs) as women. However, these estimates should be equivalent because each new sexual partner for a man is also a new sexual partner for a woman.”

    Another study discussed at http://mathbabe.org/2013/06/08/aunt-pythias-advice-19/
    “we can’t explain the discrepancy in any way except that women and/or men are lying about the number of people they’ve slept with.”

    To be fair it may not be ‘lies’ as such, more a differing interpretation of what is sex.

    The GSS has survey data which may or may not be reliable, says,
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-05/sdsu-caa050415.php
    “Number of sexual partners (controlled for age) also shifted substantially, from 2.16 for the Greatest Generation to 11.68 for 1950s-born Boomers and 8.26 for Millennials.”

  225. James Gallagher Says:

    The probably last chance for humanity involves science progressing, can you apply your efforts to quantum computers, which is your expertise, and stop wasting many hours of you time with this shit

  226. Doug K Says:

    in related news, I find this account persuasive, how the angry misogynists came to prominence –

    http://crookedtimber.org/2018/05/09/dark-web-centrism/
    ” I’ve been doing a lot of work on the online origins of the alt-right in PUA and incel culture, Moldbug-cultism and the like. All these people were driven both by a feeling that they were embattled – that social and cultural structures that had once favored people like them had now shifted. They wanted to be redpilled – to have the vast invisible structures that imprisoned them revealed, so that they could properly fight back. And when someone handed them an ideology, they took it up eagerly. “

  227. Tungsten Says:

    tt 222:
    >It sounds like these men emotional problem that has nothing to do with access to women. And it would be better for both them and their partners if they would disentangle sex from their personal worth. So really, what they need here is counseling.

    Disentangling sex from self-worth for a straight male is impossible for several reasons, unless you brainwash him into denying the obvious reality in front of him:
    1. Sex and courtship is a biological desire. Not being able to accomplish a near universal goal, while others can, means that you are less capable than others. This is not a good thing to know about yourself and no amount of counseling will change that.
    2. Women do not like low-status men. If women do not want to have sex or a relationship with you, this is good evidence that your status is low and that there are probably other things wrong with you as well.
    3. Men and women will judge you on how well you do with the opposite sex, because of reasons 1 and 2.

    Now counseling for kids and young adults like this is still plenty worthwhile for other reasons. It could be depression, social anxiety, lack of social skills, or other problems that are causing the lack of love life, and that fixing the underlying issue would help get their lives back on track.

    The idea that sex is not really important to a healthy life and self-image (or just abhorrent, in the case of abstinence-only sex ed) and that we should just train young people that sex doesn’t matter, is barbaric and I believe history will judge us that way. It used to be a right-wing platform but the left has now become repressive and prudish as well.

  228. SirVoluncelot Says:

    There is really nothing for Hanson to apologize for in that post, he didn’t argue for redistribution of sex by force or by any other means but instead drew a pretty good parallel between the mindsets of entitlement to material wealth vs. entitlement to sexual fulfillment and the group dynamics they induce all while criticizing the lack of self reflection (or alternatively just hypocrisy) among those claiming to understand the first but not the latter.

    Outside the Overton galaxy ? Good, it’s getting really cramped in here.

    On an Internet that gives a voice to people like Chu and Pao as well as the original incels* this kind of piece needs to be lauded for courage rather than shamed (also some really good insights in the comments towards the end re. sex vs. intimacy like the one by Leandro Montanari Braz).

    Same goes for you – I know you believe in the “Kolmogorov complicity” but that is both unnecessary and unproductive at this point – Chu appears to be a miserable Idiot savant** with delusions of adequacy in the field of performance, Pao at this point is basically an untouchable in her industry with a record for both failure and vexatiousness***, these aren’t the inquisitors you’re watching out for but they are base humans who can smell fear, so the more you flounder to explain that you are really really against anyone being raped or otherwise sexually redistributed the more they and their ilk will use this to argue that this is in fact exactly what you support.

    On the object-level though I can think of one key asymmetry in Hanson’s analogy – revolutions that spark around wealth distribution happen when a socially cohesive critical mass of people is rallied around them – such levels of support and cohesion were historically always mediated by sex and lots of it, anyone who spent time in leftist activist circles knows what I’m talking about, the promise of heightened sexual status is all but overt currency – it was true in Weimar, it was true in Russia, it was true in the 60s and 70s of American counter-culture, and it’s true today – raise your hand those of you who’ve been actively dating in the coastal US in the last couple of years and didn’t regularly have to go through a political butt-sniffing ritual intended to make sure you’re not a Trump supporter before the end of the first drink.

    So ironically, one way for the incels to get out of their predicament would be to embrace hard left politics, adopt an ambiguous gender identity, dye their hair blue and start vocally professing their disdain for the white male privilege – it probably won’t get them a Stacy but Fannys and Gertrudes galore****.

    And kindly consider rectifying that zeroth commandment to refer to humans instead of women/females, the parts about chattel and control of their mating choices will still hold remarkably well throughout history for almost the same vast percentage of them.

    * Assuming that was even an organic thing rather than an act of trollery that went out of control, or even one of the reddit staff-orchestrated puppet shows. (No I’m not saying Pao herself might have had something to do with that, I am however speculatively insinuating it.)

    ** Wouldn’t be surprised if the incel concept in fact just hit too close to home for him.

    *** That’s like, just my opinion, man.

    **** Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and besides when the revolution comes all the Stacys will be reserved for the nomenclature anyway.

  229. Dan Lucraft Says:

    On Aumann and whether it’s applicable to real life, the big problem always seemed to me to be that the statement

    “I have seen evidence, which I cannot recall, that was enough to convince me strongly of X”

    … is a convincing argument to the speaker, but not to the hearer. And that a lot of political disagreements are like this.

    I guess under Aumann the response would be something like saying that the mental strength of belief of either person are then themselves two pieces of evidence that both sides can take into account if they are of good will?

  230. Bogdan Says:

    Scott #213

    Yes, SJW definitions of “consent” are not acceptable.

    Of course, another extreme – to treat any “Yes” as consent – is also unacceptable. A women may say “Yes” to merry a person selected by her parents because she thinks God wants her to say Yes. She also may say “Yes” to a boss because she may be afraid that “No” may have negative effect in her career. After all, she may even say “Yes” to a stranger who invade inside her house at midnight, because she is afraid that otherwise he may find her daughter sleeping upstairs.

    So, your “Zeroth Commandment” does not make sense until we agree what exactly do we mean by “consent”.

  231. Bram Cohen Says:

    Scott #163: There are a few possible reasons why straight male nerds in their early 20s might not get the benefits of their projected future value (although some of that certainly happens). Maybe potential partners don’t want to put up with them in the intervening time. Maybe the nerds themselves are anticipating that while their desirability is going up, female partners desirability is going down, and they figure (probably more instinctively than consciously) that they want someone younger. That also might dovetail with another problem, which is that a fair number of guys just plain aren’t interested in underage or nearly underage girls, which cuts out a big chunk of the dating pool right there. Finally there’s the problem that a lot of people just aren’t good at thinking ahead, or even if they are the difference between someone who’s a nerd with potential and someone who’s simply maladjusted might be hard to tell when people are younger. This is all simply speculation of course, and yes I for one feel a lot of sympathy for anyone who is sad and lonely through no fault of their own and even many people who deserve it.

    Somewhat unrelated, looking at twitter references to you right now the people who are haranguing you are making no attempt to hide the fact that they’re simply picking on you for being a nerd, and anything ecumenical or reasonable you say is simply increasing their visceral disgust. There’s no need to engage with these people, they’re just bullies and assholes.

  232. Bogdan Says:

    I think I have an idea how to help “love-shy” people, and many others.

    I propose to create a “wish website”, organised by government.

    Initially, every person aged 18 or more gets a point. After this, everyone gets a point at their 18-th birthday.

    You can post any wish on the website, and offer your point to everyone who would help you to achieve your wish.

    Pure people may ask for money. “Love-shy” people may ask for sex. I do not think anyone would openly post a wish like “kill my boss”, but, in this case, moderator may ask you to change the wish. You may also change your wish at any time.

    If you helped someone with their wish, they send you their point, but you get only 0.5 points. So, you need to help 2 people to get 1 point. For this extra point, you may post a new wish, or just offer 2 points for your old wish. In general, to get X points you need to help someone else with a wish worth 2X points.

    So, the more people you helped – the more points you collected and offered for your wish – the more chance that someone will be willing to help you with it.

    From time to time, the government reviews wishes of point leaders and decides if they can help. I think wishes like “I want to get a green card” (from people on temporary visa) or even “I want to have a dinner with president” are something they might consider to help with. They also may help negotiating the wishes like “I want a dinner with Leonardo DiCaprio”. I think most of the stars would consider to have a dinner once a year with a person who helped 100-s of other people for the hope to have such a dinner.

    Of course, if you ask for more than a dinner with a SPECIFIC person, e.g. “I wish a night with Beyonce”, or even “I wish to marry with my neighbour Mary Smit”, the government will not help, and (unless you impress Mary by you 200 points and she fall in love with you) you never get this wish. After you understand this, you may change it to another one.

    However, I think that all “reasonable” wishes have a good chance to being implemented.

  233. Jamie Says:

    people thought sjw was unreclaimable but people self-identified with it and now its common to call yourself an sjw. the same with incel

  234. Incel Says:

    Even within self-described “incel” communities, the misogynist set is a minority. People are frustrated, and resent the oft-repeated media meme that incels believe that women owe them sex.

    The top posts on sites like /r/braincels are often about how people miscategorise incels, and think it’s all about sex when really you have people who just want intimacy and close relationships.

    https://i.redditmedia.com/XDPT-6eS–fiUDcjGDBDUXTNzxGo9gUfF7HQtREbGw0.jpg

  235. Incel Says:

    Sorry, broken link above. I wanted to link this discussion which is one of the highest rated of the month.

    https://www.reddit.com/r/Braincels/comments/8gmsgy/what_people_think_incels_want_vs_what_incels/

  236. Scott Says:

    James #225:

      The probably last chance for humanity involves science progressing, can you apply your efforts to quantum computers, which is your expertise, and stop wasting many hours of you time with this shit

    Believe me that I’d like nothing more!

    My hope was to sit out this Robin Hanson affair entirely, but then Arthur Chu started shaming me on Twitter. So, much like with Pearl Harbor, I had no choice but to enter somebody else’s war!

    Anyway, I just landed in LA to visit Google’s quantum computing group, and so I really hope to finish with this crap and get back to science. The challenge, for me, is to design a mechanism that will either

    (1) make everyone stop shaming me on social media, or

    (2) if they do keep shaming me, make it so I have proof to the world that I’m morally justified to go about my life and ignore them.

    I’m working on it…

  237. Scott Says:

    SirVoluncelot #228:

      So ironically, one way for the incels to get out of their predicament would be to embrace hard left politics, adopt an ambiguous gender identity, dye their hair blue and start vocally professing their disdain for the white male privilege

    I don’t have any firsthand experience here, but I’ve heard that that’s often been tried and does not work well…. 😉

  238. Scott Says:

    Dan Lucraft #229: Assuming the two agents have common priors, and common knowledge of each other’s honesty and rationality, the entire point of Aumann’s Theorem is that it doesn’t matter if neither agent has any idea what evidence the other one bases their prediction on.

    Yes, it’s counterintuitive. That’s why Aumann won the Nobel Prize (partly) for it. 🙂

    On the other hand, if these are idealized Bayesians, then they remember everything, so forgetting the evidence wouldn’t be the issue. The issue might be instead that they didn’t have time to share all their evidence with each other—or just didn’t bother (since it’s superfluous for reaching agreement in this situation).

  239. Elephant Says:

    #225 “The challenge, for me, is to design a mechanism that will either

    (1) make everyone stop shaming me on social media, or

    (2) if they do keep shaming me, make it so I have proof to the world that I’m morally justified to go about my life and ignore them. ”

    But you have plenty of data here with all your collected writings on this blog! I’m sure they can help you there at google to make some nice AI that can write these anti shaming-posts for you! 😉 (Maybe they already did?)

  240. Weekly Digest 5/10/18 – On The Nose Says:

    […] Scott Aaronson weighing in on the controversy caused by Robin Hanson’s article – Robin’s original post and follow-up. Scott notes that Robin has spawned many important, original ideas, and that though he can be tone-deaf or insensitive, he is a genuine person. Robin’s original post noted that there is liberal sympathy for people who lack access to money but not for those who lack access to sex, about as taboo of a comparison as is possible to make. But as Scott points out, Robin doesn’t hold your hand or slowly walk you through his ideas, which is why I prefer Scott’s article instead. He handles the topic much more delicately, and his article won’t invoke the involuntary feelings of disgust that Robin’s might. The biggest takeaway is that we don’t consider Muslim extremists as representative of all Muslims nor do we consider leftist extremists to be representatives of all leftists. So similarly, we should not consider extremist involuntary celibates as representatives of all involuntary celibates. And since we recognize that the majority of Muslims are normal, decent people, and feel compassion for their plight in combating discrimination, we should recognize that the majority of involuntary celibates are decent people as well and extend our compassion for their plight in finding human connection. No, I’m not saying you should feel compassion for the minority that sexually harasses the other sex (mostly women) or demand sex as a right, just like I wouldn’t expect you to feel compassion for Muslim extremists who terrorize the population. But do recognize that most are deserving of your compassion. […]

  241. mdr Says:

    Re. Aumann’s theorem. To me it does not seem counter-intuitive, but maybe I am missing the point. You state that:

    “they should converge on exactly the same conclusions about every matter of fact, even ones as remote-sounding as the existence of extraterrestrial life.”

    But, in that example what would the exact agreement that they come to look like?

    “Finally, at long last, we agree that the probability that extraterrestrial life exists is between 0 and 1.” is a correct, but meaningless statement. Presumably, trivial agreement doesn’t count.

    Instead, we might insist on agreement on a value for probability. However, any such estimate would come with an error term. They could then agree on an estimate for the error. The size of the error term might depend on various choices of assumptions, etc. In some cases, there may not be an objective best choice for the set of assumptions, so various scenarios might have to be analyzed. If things can not be constrained sufficiently, the overall result might not be an appreciable improvement over the trivial case.

    In any case, a realistic, good faith agreement might be some complicated conditional statement that rigorously weights the various unknowns and sources of uncertainty that the combined Bayesian’s are aware of, etc to the best of their collective abilities. While the content of that agreement might truly be insightful, the fact that it can in principle be achieved seems unremarkable especially since they are starting with the same prior. In fact, it sounds like ordinary science in action.

  242. Bram Cohen Says:

    It seems like all of these proposals to help romantically frustrated people are unhelpful, and possibly self-parodies. But in the interest of trying to actually help by some epsilon, here’s some advice to anyone going on a date about how to make it go better

    (1) Before saying anything, think to yourself ‘Is this a negative sentiment?’ If it is, don’t say it.

    (2) Be interested in the person you’re with. Find them fascinating.

    (3) Don’t mention your romantic attempts with anyone else. This is the only date you’ve ever been on in your life.

  243. Bram Cohen Says:

    Scott, you already have the moral right to ignore Arthur Chu. He’s a picked-on nerd who instead of responding by standing in solidarity with his fellow nerds responds by trying to demonstrate his non-loser bona fides by picking on people who he perceives as being even lower on the social pecking order than he is.

  244. Hazel Meade Says:

    How many men are celibate because they truly, genuinely cannot find ANY women willing to date them? There are equal numbers of men and women out there. Our society still has bradly monogamous norms. So if there are large numbers of single males, there are almost certainly a (at least nearly) equal number of single females.
    Why are the male “incels” unable to find and hook up with the female “incels”? Perhaps the problem is not one of the “distribution of sex” which by it’s framing presupposes that there is a fixed amount of sex available, but the total amount of sex. Maybe we can “grow the pie” by creating better mechanisms for unattractive single men to meet unattractive single women, and have sex with them.
    A supply side solution that everyone can get behind!

  245. Sniffnoy Says:

    Bram #242: All good advice, but worth noting that for someone who’s actually caught in the trap none of this is going to come up. 😛

  246. James Gallagher Says:

    Scott #236

    haha, you have a good sense of humour, even enough to reply to my unhelpful and rude post yesterday.

  247. Mozibur Rahman Ullah Says:

    For sure there are extremists Muslims out there. Luckily I don’t know any. All the Muslims I knew were generally conservative (I’d say I’m a conservative progressive). Like most people they want to preserve their traditions and way of life. And they want to get on. At least that’s true in Bangladesh. It’s tougher here in Europe because there is the question of how far should one go to assimilate and also how easy or difficult that is.

    I was actually working at Hewlett-Packard when 9-11 hit. I felt sick. There were some Muslims from the Middle-East there and they could barely hide a snigger looking at me. To them, I was too westernised. But I was born in the West, I can’t change that and nor would I want to. Were they extremists? I doubt it. But their loyalties lied elsewhere.

    Some-one once asked me about Sharia, I had nothing to say about it. To me British law is compatible with Islam.

    As for the whole Israel-Palestine conflict. That’s tragic. Some real pressure needs to be applied to both sides so a decent peace agreement can be arrived at.

  248. Scott Says:

    Bram #242: Thanks!! In that spirit, while no one would mistake me for an expert, let me share what as far as I can tell might be the single most important piece of dating advice for nerds.

    Namely: you need to develop a personality that’s

    (1) laid-back, confident, funny, and taking nothing too seriously, as opposed to nervous, tightly-wound, and obsessed with avoiding errors and correcting the errors of others; but also

    (2) consistent with your overall beliefs and values, so that it doesn’t feel like play-acting or putting on a costume.

    You then need to display that personality, and only that personality, for the first few dates.

    Here’s an example: suppose you discover that your date is partial to some form of irrationality or pseudoscience—let’s suppose, palm reading.

    Nerd impulse #1 is to rush to educate your date about cognitive biases, double-blind testing, Bayes’ theorem, etc. etc. in an attempt to get her to drop the absurd, pre-scientific belief.

    Nerd impulse #2 is to recognize the stupidity of impulse #1, so instead lie, and pretend to be open to the pseudoscience as well so your date won’t hate you.

    The conflict between these two impulses can itself produce enormous stress that will be visible on your face and will ruin the date.

    But there’s a third way. You announce that it so happens that you’re an expert palm reader, and offer to read her palm—and then “discover” surprising lines that prove, e.g., that she’s only attracted to guys who look exactly like you do.

    The result: she laughs. You laugh. You haven’t had to compromise your disdain for irrational woo-woo; in fact you mocked and ridiculed the woo. She knows that you’ve ridiculed it, but is actually fine with that, because truth be told, she never regarded the woo the way you would, as a proposition about the world to be judged true or false. (I hasten to add that this is compatible with her being highly intelligent, in the sense of IQ tests—she simply doesn’t have the nerd’s attitude toward truth, which is rare among women and men alike.) The final result is that you’re now holding her hand.

    If I had to give just a single piece of romantic advice to my younger self, or to any teenage nerd who might be in a similar situation, it would be this: distill the lesson from the above example; then apply it to literally everything that happens on the date.

    One final remark: in the happy event that your date is herself a nerd—by which I mean, not the “omigod I’m the biggest nerd” kind of nerd, but an actual nerd—you can throw what I said above out the window. Confidence and humor are still attractive, but beyond that, you can interact much more in the way you’re used to, the way you’d interact with any fellow nerd. It’s just that, if you use e.g. online dating, then actual nerds are a very small percentage of the people you’ll meet—again, not because they’re rare among women, but because they’re rare among everyone.

  249. Alyssa Vance Says:

    “My hope was to sit out this Robin Hanson affair entirely, but then Arthur Chu started shaming me on Twitter. So, much like with Pearl Harbor, I had no choice but to enter somebody else’s war!”

    Unfortunately, this is a highly problematic strategy, as tempting as I know it is in the heat of the moment. If someone opposed to you can force you to spend 10 hours of your effort with 10 minutes of theirs, they can effectively use up all of your time and paralyze you. It’s like how terrorists attack major states: do something that they feel they have to massively respond to, preferably with minimal effort yourself. That way, you can render them ineffective even without a head-to-head fight.

  250. Michael Says:

    @Scott#236- that’s a bad analogy. The Japanese only bombed Pearl Harbor after the Americans put an embargo on them to get them to stop their war with China.

  251. Jo Says:

    Thanks again for a very generous blog post. I do not have the time to read all the comments so apologies if it’s full of repeats.
    Why no love for the loveless?

    1. Because “jealousy”. It’s the continuation of the best pupil in the class who isn’t considered “cool” and worth or even sensible to be hanging around with, except by the odd other misfit. That is where I think a response from society could be effective. First in some way (how?) society must stop elevating crass ignorance. Not easy considering Trump, what passes as politics nowadays, the decline of the newspaper, reality TV starification etc… Secondly, the thought models where nerds are rejected, are precisely formed at school (from end of kindergarten to high school) where the not-so-academically inclined tend to be crushed by the system, the scoring, the value judgements from authority figures, and integrate that it is some kind of battle. And later, consciously or not, that the nerds “deserve it” when something does not go their way. It’s some sort of comeuppance that they do not manage when it comes to romantic relations. I only understood recently why most of the class during the middle/high school years LOVED the physical education classes. It’s because it was the ONLY class during the week where the teachers told them that they were “good” or at least adequate… Something (what?) should be done there.

    2. The idea that it’s not the role of society to correct this. If somebody is shy/awkward/etc it’s an inner problem, that can be solved with inner work. I don’t know if this idea has merit, but I think lots of people see it that way. The result, there is no talk on how to make society more inclusive to “shy” people. If somebody is black, gay, a woman, that is not a problem. There is no “inner work” to do to “correct” this. The problem resides purely in the racism/bigotry/misogyny of society. That is an important distinction I think. On how these things are perceived. For what is worth, my own opinion is that the “unlucky nerd” should do some work on himself (who should not strive to “improve” anyway?) AND society should meet the nerd halfway by being more kind, welcoming, etc.

    3. Triage. The idea that there are more pressing problems in this world, and that for the same amount of work one can have a much greater impact elsewhere. Also, other problems are better diagnosed and a clearer solution is seen. For example: There may be 3 million “love shy” nerds in the USA (no idea of a true number btw, part of the diagnosis problem). OK, but what to do for them right now, concretely? There are 75 million working women in the US, who would benefit immediately and with certainty from an equal-pay law. Grasp the big, (somewhat) low hanging fruits first…Now I am not comfortable with this argument. I could imagine somebody in the 1930s/40s saying “The Jews? OK it’s unfortunate but anyways they are a small part of the population, in the grand order of things who cares?” and that is basically the same reasoning and it stinks for a lot of reasons. Still, how does one choose a cause to defend? Because one cannot focus on everything.

    4. The idea that problems are equal. Like Maslow’s Pyramid but flattened. Like “This nerd has a good job, a good pay, a nice apartment, academic success, can understand almost anythink anyone says or writes, and a flatlined love life. Well, 5 out of 6! 85% of his possible life goals are fulfilled, not much to complain about!”. Of course “the nerd” will not see it this way and with some reason I think. Still, life is often hard, and for a lot of people, be it finances, love life, health, shitty jobs…

    To conclude, more “studies” should be done on the contemporary “love shy” problem(s) and this blog post and discussion are the beginning/part of the solution but much remains to be done, before concrete action, in my opinion.

  252. Jo Says:

    Scott #248

    I myself would recommend to take some drama/improv classes.
    That helped me a lot (of course by then I was in my mid-twenties and most of the women who I met enough to develop a interest possibly evolving, were engaged/married…but that’s another story, missing the “high school/college dating window”…)

    Anyway, shy people can do theatre/acting as much as extroverts, there is no correlation between extra/intoversion and acting talent. And the first time going on the stage in front of “real” people, everybody is terrified whether they say it or not…And then the next day you realize that you are still alive so it’s OK…

    A problem that I had was that everything I did/said was over-thought. Like I had to solve a tiny math problem before choosing how to say that I liked potatoes but not carrots. I guess this is a common problem for “nerds”. No spontaneity whatsoever. Theatre/improv can help you work (yes it’s training for the big “muscle” in the middle of your skull) on spontaneity, which will help you in most social situations including dating.
    And when the analytical (and insulting/boring) response will be to scientifically diss palm reading, the simplistic will be to fake embracing it, and the “smart” one will be to read the other one’s palm, somebody who has some spontaneity will have more probability to find the “smart” response on the spot.

    Another benefit will be self-image and confidence.

    The third benefit will be to reconcile the nerd with his/her body. In the sense, quitting the “classical view” mind and body separated/mutually exclusive, with emphasis/focus solely on the mind, and realizing that mind and body go together. This can be a big help for “life balance” in addition to reducing physical awkwardness. And knowing how to “occupy” the space.

    Lastly it can help for knowing how to read other people’s emotions.

    So, my advice for fellow nerds, at least try it! You will never know if it’s for you or not if you don’t try! It won’t kill you either way!

  253. mjgeddes Says:

    Speaking of domain theory, I had a burst of monster insights and finally powered through to the complete solution to consciousness over the weekend! 😀

    Domain theory is related to set theory. It’s the natural math of hierarchies! I don’t know why in the heck I never saw this before! (Side-note: I was amused to learn that there’s such a thing as a ‘Scott Domain’). Any way, I realized domain theory is the natural math of recursion! Consciousness manages the flow of time in dynamical systems by generating self-models, and the way it does it can be explained using domain theory to generate conceptual trees.

    Hyperbolic geometry is the natural mathematics of mind! Look at a Poincare disk and you’ll see the distance increases exponentially as you approach the border – it’s the natural way to represent hierarchical structures such as conceptual trees!

    I generalized the notion of a parse tree using domain theory and embedded in hyperbolic space to create a new model of time representing how dynamical systems generate conceptual knowledge. I think this new model of time might just be the second arrow of time – consciousness!

    I believe I deserve a super-model for finally cracking consciousness. Barbara Palvin is the girl for me!

    https://www.instagram.com/realbarbarapalvin/?hl=en

  254. Arc Bends Says:

    Ellen Pao should be interested in this:

    “Chinese tech companies hiring ‘pretty’ women to motivate male employees by chatting, playing ping pong and buying them breakfast”

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3208366/Programming-cheerleaders-hired-motivate-Chinese-employees.html

  255. Sniffnoy Says:

    Jo #251:

    Regarding your point #2 — part of the point of my comments is that, well, this is why Scott’s original framing of it is wrong. If we take Scott’s original framing of it, then I think the general reaction of “Why is this my responsibility to help?” is correct. Whereas if you read my comment #93, what I’m trying to do here is to separate out, from this generic problem of “can’t get dates”, this more specific problem of “can’t do anything due to this thing that was done to me by outside forces”. And while I agree that people don’t have a responsibility to help me, I do think they have a responsibility not to, you know, tell me untruths and imply that I’m a terrible person unless I accept them without question (etc). I’m not asking for anyone’s help — I’m just asking for people to stop doing the bad thing that they’re doing!

  256. Scott Says:

    OK, I’m closing down this thread. Please get in any final comments today.

  257. Keith McClary Says:

    I wish I could have a discussion about Israel with a rational atheist Zionist who could provide a non-religious definition of “Jewishness”.

  258. A1987dM Says:

    For those of us motivated by compassion rather than hatred, though, we need another word. I suggest the older term “love-shy,” coined by Brian Gilmartin in his book on the subject.

    That doesn’t sound like it means the same thing to me. Somebody attractive can be love-shy but still not celibate because she has plenty of people approaching her so she doesn’t have to make that big a share of the job of initiating relationships, and somebody unattractive can be not love-shy but still celibate because all of the many people he hits on are uninterested in him.

  259. Shaw Says:

    I’m a moderate incel who doesn’t think women owe me sex. I am an incel though because I’m a 29 year old virgin (not by choice or having high standards), have approached lots of girls (of all shapes/sizes/races/etc.) and no one is attracted to me because of my genetics. I went to therapy, got cosmetic surgery, volunteered, worked out/dieted, made money, etc. It’s no one’s fault, just like earthquakes are no one’s fault. Incel is just a label, not necessarily an ideology or group.

  260. Daniel Seita Says:

    Ack, looks like I was too late to participate in the discussion. Anyway, thanks for writing the post.

    Scott #248 I appreciate the dating advice for nerds. 🙂

  261. Scott Says:

    Keith #257: Sure, I can give it a shot. “The Jews” are a 3000-year-old culture and extended family, closely associated with a religion (Judaism) and with certain ethnic groups (Askenazim, Sephardim…) and languages (Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino), but not reducible to any of those. When it started, the religion was an animal sacrifice cult not terribly different from the other animal sacrifice cults of the Levant region, but it later evolved to become extremely different, with major effects on human history.

    While never numerically large, Jews are well-known for having produced personalities ranging from Jesus to Einstein to the Three Stooges, and also for having endured close to the most horrific persecution of any group that’s still around to tell the tale—-so much so that learning to tolerate Jews was an inextricable part of the process of Enlightenment of Western civilization as a whole.

    Israel is the Jews’ native land, where they first acquired a distinct identity and where they mostly lived for their first thousand years, until most were slaughtered or expelled by the Romans. Ironically, the Bible is almost certainly wrong here: it presents the Jews as having conquered Israel after an Exodus from Egypt, slaughtering the native inhabitants, but modern archeology and DNA testing are emphatic that the people who became Jews, or at any rate most of them, were Canaanites indigenous to Israel.

    Personally, I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an absolute right to live in your culture’s ancestral homeland, especially if some other group is living there now. However, as the end result of historical events that it would take many books to do justice to—-the Zionist movement, the Balfour declaration, the Holocaust creating hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees with nowhere else to go, the 1947 UN partition plan, the plan’s acceptance by Jews and rejection by Arab states leading to the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Israel’s improbable victory in that war…—-there is now an actually existing, technologically advanced Jewish state, in basically the same place as ancient Israel and Judah. (Though ironically, with its largest population center on the coastal plain that used to be inhabited by Israel’s enemies, and with much of the ancient Judean heartland now the Palestinian West Bank.) This narrow strip of land, the size of New Jersey, is the only majority-Jewish country on earth, and the only one that sees the frustration of further plans for Jewish annihilation as a central reason for its existence.

    In the territory that Israel now (partly) controls, there are also millions of Palestinian Arabs, who since 1967 have formed their own aspirations for national independence. Alas, because of history that would again take volumes to do justice to—-the Intifadas, the assassination of Rabin, Arafat’s walking away from peace deals at Camp David and Taba—-the government of Israel has fallen more and more under the control of the radical right. Yet however remote it feels at present, it seems to me that all people of conscience, religious or atheist, should hope both for the continued health of the Jewish state and the eventual creation of a full-fledged Palestinian state, since as long as both peoples exist and have not yet uploaded themselves to a post-Singularity computer cloud, I don’t see any reasonable alternative.

  262. Keith McClary Says:

    Scott #261: Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear. Zionism and Israel are based on the premise that everyone is either Jewish or not, and there must be some authority to decide this in individual cases. AFAIK there is no scientific basis for this distinction – it is essentially religious. In practice it is rabbinical authorities interpreting Halaka law on ancestry and conversion rites. This is like assigning every person to Black, White, Asian “Peoples” by some arbitrary religious rule. I do not believe in that either, or any claims of political entitlements of such “Peoples”. Not my religion.

    “most were slaughtered or expelled by the Romans”
    I researched that a while ago. Academic historians don’t say that.

  263. Scott Says:

    Keith #262: The stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate over who counts as Jewish is something that I regard as one of the biggest flaws with Israel’s system of government, and one of the biggest departures that Israel made away from Theodor Herzl’s original vision. (Historically, it was a concession that Ben-Gurion felt he needed to make to get the Orthodox on board with Zionism at all.) Personally, I would strongly support opening things up to include anyone who underwent a Reform or Conservative conversion, and certainly anyone who identifies as Jewish and was persecuted on the basis of being Jewish.

    Incidentally, what do the academic historians you’ve read say happened during the Bar Kokhba revolt? If the Romans weren’t killing the Jews or making them leave, how did it happen that there was a large Jewish population in Israel and then there wasn’t?

    Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

      The Bar Kokhba revolt resulted in the extensive depopulation of Judean communities, more so than the First Jewish–Roman War of 70 CE.[10] According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews perished in the war and many more died of hunger and disease. In addition, many Judean war captives were sold into slavery.[11] The Jewish communities of Judea were devastated to an extent which some scholars describe as a genocide.
  264. Keith McClary Says:

    Scott # 263 See:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_Palestine_(region)

  265. TheMoneyIllusion » The poor, the sick, the sad, and the lonely: Blaming the victims Says:

    […] HT:  Scott Aaronson, who has a much better post. […]