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Of Exclusionary Speech and Gender Politics

62 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 07:22AM

I suspect that the ick reaction being labeled "objectification" actually has more to do with the sense that the speaker is addressing a closed group that doesn't include you.

Suppose I wrote a story about a man named Frank, whose twin brother (Frank has learned) is in the process of being framed for murder this very night.  Frank is in the middle of a complicated plot to give his brother an alibi.  He's already found the cabdriver and tricked him into waiting outside a certain apartment for an hour.  Now all he needs is the last ingredient of his plan - a woman to go home with him (as he poses as his brother).  Frank is, with increasing desperation, propositioning ladies at the bar - any girl will do for his plan, it doesn't matter who she is or what she's about...

I'd bet I could write that story without triggering the ick reaction, because Frank is an equal-opportunity manipulator - he manipulated the cabdriver, too.  The story isn't about Frank regarding women as things on the way to implementing his plan, it's about Frank regarding various people, men and women alike, as means to the end of saving his brother.

If a woman reads that story, I think, she won't get a sense of being excluded from the intended audience.

I suspect that's what the ick factor being called "objectification" is really about - the sense that someone who says "...but you'll still find women alluring" is talking to an audience that doesn't include you, a woman.  It doesn't matter if you happen to be a bi woman.  You still get the sense that it never crossed the writer's mind that there might be any women in the audience, and so you are excluded.

In general, starting from a perceptual reaction, it is a difficult cognitive task to say in words exactly why that reaction occurred - to accurately state the necessary and sufficient conditions for its triggering.  If the reaction is affective, a good or bad reaction, there is an additional danger:  You'll be tempted to zoom in on any bad (good) aspect of the situation, and say, "Ah, that must be the reason it's bad (good)!"  It's wrong to treat people as means rather than ends, right?  People have their own feelings and inner life, and it's wrong to forget that?  Clearly, that's a problem with saying, "And this is how you get girls..."  But is that exactly what went wrong originally - what triggered the original ick reaction?

And this (I say again) is a tricky cognitive problem in general - the introspective jump from the perceptual to the abstract.  It is tricky far beyond the realms of gender...

But I do suspect that the real problem is speech that makes a particular gender feel excluded.  And if that's so, then for the purposes of Less Wrong, I think, it may make sense to zoom in on that speech property.  Politics of all sorts have always been a dangerous bit of attractive flypaper, and I think we've had a sense, on Less Wrong, that we ought to steer clear of it - that politics is the mindkiller.  And so I hope that no one will feel that their gender politics are being particularly targeted, if I suggest that, like some other political issues, we might want to steer sort of clear of that.

I've previously expressed that to build a rationalist community sustainable over time, the sort of gender imbalance that appears among e.g. computer programmers, is not a good thing to have.  And so it may make sense, as rationalists qua rationalists, to target gender-exclusionary speech.  To say, "Less Wrong does not want to make any particular gender feel unwelcome."

But I also think that you can just have a policy like that, without opening the floor to discussion of all gender politics qua gender politics.  Without having a position on whether, say, "privilege" is a useful way to think about certain problems, or a harmful one.

And the coin does have two sides.  It is possible to make men, and not just women, feel unwelcome as a gender.  It is harder, because men have fewer painful memories of exclusion to trigger.  A single comment by a woman saying "All men are idiots" won't do it.  But if you've got a conversational thread going between many female posters all agreeing that men are privileged idiots, then a man can start to pick up a perceptual impression of "This is not a place where I'm welcome; this is a women's locker room."  And LW shouldn't send that message, either.

So if we're going to do this, then let's have a policy which says that we don't want to make either gender feel unwelcome.  And that aside from this, we're not saying anything official about gender politics qua gender politics.  And indeed we might even want to discourage gender-political discussion, because it's probably not going to contribute to our understanding of systematic and general methods of epistemic and instrumental rationality, which is our actual alleged topic around here.

But even if we say we're just going to have a non-declarative procedural rule to avoid language or behavior that makes a gender feel excluded... it still takes us into thorny waters.

After all, jumping on every tiny hint - say, objecting to the Brennan stories because Brennan is male - will make men feel unwelcome; that this is a blog only for people who agree with feminist politics; that men have to tiptoe while women are allowed to tapdance...

Now with that said: the point is to avoid language that makes someone feel unwelcome.  So if someone says that they felt excluded as a gender, pay attention.  The issue is not how to prove they're "wrong".  Just listen to the one who heard you, when they tell you what they heard.  We want to avoid any or either gender, feeling excluded and leaving.  So it is the impression that is the key thing.  You can argue, perhaps, that the one's threshold for offense was set unforgivably low, that they were listening so hard that no one could whisper softly enough.  But not argue that they misunderstood you.  For that is still a fact about your speech and its consequences.  We shall just try to avoid certain types of misunderstanding, not blame the misunderstander.

And what if someone decides she's offended by all discussion of evolutionary psychology because that's a patriarchal plot...?

Well... I think there's something to be said here, about her having impugned the honor of female rationalists everywhere.  But let a female rationalist be the one to say it.  And then we can all downvote the comment into oblivion.

And if someone decides that all discussion of the PUA (pickup artist) community, makes her feel excluded...?

Er... I have to say... I sort of get that one.  I too can feel the locker-room ambiance rising off it.  Now, yes, we have a lot of men here who are operating in gender-imbalanced communities, and we have men here who are nerds; and if you're the sort of person who reads Less Wrong, there is a certain conditional probability that you will be the sort of person who tries to find a detailed manual that solves your problems...

...while not being quite sane enough to actually notice you're driving away the very gender you're trying to seduce from our nascent rationalist community, and consequentially shut up about PUA...

...oh, never mind.  Gender relations much resembles the rest of human existence, in that it largely consists of people walking around with shotguns shooting off their own feet.  In the end, PUA is not something we need to be talking about here, and if it's giving one entire gender the wrong vibes on this website, I say the hell with it.

And if someone decides that it's not enough that a comment has been downvoted to -5; it needs to be banned, or the user needs to be banned, in order to signify that this website is sufficiently friendly...?

Sorry - downvoting to -5 should be enough to show that the community disapproves of this lone commenter.

If someone demands explicit agreement with their-favorite-gender-politics...?

Then they're probably making the other gender feel unwelcome - the coin does have two sides.

If someone argues against gay marriage...?

Respond not to trolls; downvote to oblivion without a word.  That's not gender politics, it's kindergarten.

If you just can't seem to figure out what's wrong with your speech...?

Then just keep on accepting suggested edits.  If you literally don't understand what you're doing wrong, then realize that you have a blind spot and need to steer around it.  And if you do keep making the suggested edits, I think that's as much as someone could reasonably ask of you.  We need a bit more empathy in all directions here, and that includes empathy for the hapless plight of people who just don't get it, and who aren't going to get it, but who are still doing what they can.

If you just can't get someone to agree with your stance on explicit gender politics...?

Take it elsewhere, both of you, please.

 

Is it clear from this what sort of general policy I'm driving at?  What say you?

Comments (647)

Comment author: thomblake 21 July 2009 04:34:15PM *  18 points [-]

Agreed. So in short, when things go wrong, this should happen:

"blah blah blah"
"Hey, that's the sort of remark we agreed not to have around here"
"Sorry, didn't notice. Edit: bleh bleh bleh"

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 05:04:53PM 3 points [-]

Precisely.

Comment author: SilasBarta 21 July 2009 11:28:45PM *  3 points [-]

Sure, until it results in:

"Women might be less willing to take dangerous jobs because in the EEA[1], there was less return to taking big risks."

"Hey, that's disempowering to women and we agreed not to be like that here."

"Sorry, didn't notice. Edit: Women can do every job a man can."

[1]Environment of evolutionary adaptation aka ancestral (ETC wrong word) environment aka where most modern human psychology was molded

Comment author: orthonormal 22 July 2009 12:17:32AM 2 points [-]

By the way: ancestral environment.

Comment author: Bo102010 22 July 2009 01:30:58AM 3 points [-]

Come now. "Less willing to take risks" is a probabilistic statement, not a statement about every female or any individual female. To consider that disempowering is wrong (though some might mistakenly).

I would encourage prefacing potentially mis-interpreted statements with a reminder genetic or evolutionary pressures do not determine any individual's behavior.

It should be the responsibility of the person who presents a fact or theory to at least take steps to make sure it's not intentionally or unintentionally misused. If you discover something about ethnicity and IQ, or nurture and homosexuality, or anything else that's potentially explosive, you should be sure you make an effort to disarm the dark side from abusing it.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 02:24:19AM 2 points [-]

Come now. "Less willing to take risks" is a probabilistic statement, not a statement about every female or any individual female. To consider that disempowering is wrong (though some might mistakenly).

Sure, just like to consider it disempowering to say, "getting rich will get you women" is wrong.

But you don't get to make that call. It will be up to the special class of feminist censors to (arbitrarily) decide what counts as "objectifying". Who can then use that power to taboo any argument they don't like, since that topic is "beyond the pale". Because who's going to stop them, right?

Comment author: Bo102010 22 July 2009 02:56:01AM *  3 points [-]

I understand your objection to granting immunity from criticism certain ideological preferences (and I didn't vote your comment down). However, my thought is that here at LW we can identify the difference between "women can't do the same jobs as men" and "many women don't do the same jobs as men, perhaps in part because of prehistorical environments."

"Getting rich will get you women" isn't disempowering; it's just lame. "Research/theory suggests that getting rich will make you more attractive to potential mates, if you are male" is at least defensible.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 12:26:46AM 1 point [-]

That's a complete non-sequitur. The first statement is not the sort of thing we've been talking about, and its 'rephrasing' has an entirely different meaning. Are you just trying to keep this conflict going?

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 02:29:50AM 0 points [-]

Maybe my point wasn't clear. Of course there are differences between the Obviously Offensive Statements that are Unquestionably Scaring Away Women, and the example I gave. However, once you give a few LW censors the power to make topics off limits based on their secret, inscrutable reasons, what's to stop them from using it as a "get out of justification free" card?

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 02:33:05AM 3 points [-]

what's to stop them from using it as a "get out of justification free" card?

Common sense? And the fact that there aren't any censors?

The advice is to be nice, on your own accord, when someone points out that you're not doing so, if you feel like that's okay, and there's a way to do it without hurting the level of discourse. How hard is that?

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 02:40:35AM 4 points [-]

Maybe we're having different discussions here. I thought the discussion was about whether to make a certain topic off-limits for the site. Whatever enforcement mechanism for that decision is "the censors". And since the criteria for something being objectifying is still unclear to most posters (and it's unclear that Alicorn's position is even representative of women), any enforced restriction on future will appear just as arbitrary as the examples I gave above.

Point being, it's a bad, bad path to go down. If someone's comment is Obviously Beyond the Pale and Driving Women Away, you should have to explain it to the commenter, not just rule it off limits.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 02:43:58AM 3 points [-]

I think you're arguing against something that nobody has suggested. Eliezer has suggested a specific topic that he thinks is worth making off-limits on LW (maybe even temporarily), since it seems to bring us all off-track, just like he did with AI and the Singularity when LW started. He did not suggest that this should happen automatically every time someone thinks something is objectionable.

Separate from this was the idea that if someone mentions to you that you're being inconsiderate and suggests an alternate phrasing that does not distort your meaning, it might be a good idea to fix it. In short, "don't be a jerk".

Comment author: HughRistik 22 July 2009 02:52:25AM 4 points [-]

since it seems to bring us all off-track

Could you or someone else cite some specific examples of where discussion of pickup has brought things off track, and explain why this is worse than any other tangents we have here?

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 02:57:07AM *  6 points [-]

I think you're arguing against something that nobody has suggested. Eliezer has suggested a specific topic that he thinks is worth making off-limits on LW (maybe even temporarily), since it seems to bring us all off-track, just like he did with AI and the Singularity when LW started. He did not suggest that this should happen automatically every time someone thinks something is objectionable.

Did you give any thought to how to "off-limits" decision would be enforced? From what I read, Eliezer_Yudkowsky was hinting that this be enforced by -5 downmods. So, there's a consensus to majorly downmod people violating that limit, with many members participating.

... and you're telling me this isn't going to be used against people arbitrarily, far outside the scope of where you think it applies?

I guess I underestimated the inferential distance of what I was saying when I came into this subthread. Does that justify the downmods I've gotten, or are some downmodding for the wrong reason?

Separate from this was the idea that if someone mentions to you that you're being inconsiderate and suggests an alternate phrasing that does not distort your meaning, it might be a good idea to fix it. In short, "don't be a jerk".

The problem is that there is nothing close to a consensus on whether the statements in question are "being a jerk". Most people here still don't see how "be a millionaire to get hot women" is being a jerk. (Or they don't see how to generalize the prohibition on that statement, which amounts to the same thing.)

We've also seen examples where Alicorn has suggested changes that do change the meaning, like "If I were a millionaire I'd have a gardener" to "...I'd have a garden", which is not the same thing.

Put simply, giving in to this request to unquestioningly reword posts is not going to be limited to removing jerkiness, and it's definitely going to change meanings.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 03:08:57AM 3 points [-]

Eliezer_Yudkowsky was hinting that this be enforced by -5 downmods.

He wasn't hinting any such thing. He said explicitly that downvoting is sufficient, and there is no reason to go around banning anything. I didn't see any reason to read any more than that into it. He was reassuring any alarmists out there that nothing needs to be done at the level of admin-level censorship.

Note: we can already downvote whatever we want!

Put simply, giving in to this request to unquestioningly reword posts is not going to be limited to removing jerkiness, and it's definitely going to change meanings.

sigh The request is not to "unquestioningly reword posts". The request is to be considerate, and if everybody is telling you over and over that you're not being considerate and you still don't get it, then maybe you should just realize you have a problem and make suggested edits.

We're not on some "slippery slope". We're not wielding banhammers or introducing official censors. There are no nazis with dogs dragging you out in the middle of the night. Eliezer just made a request that people make a genuine effort to be nice where possible, and let's not get into any affective death spirals.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 03:18:01AM *  2 points [-]

He wasn't hinting any such thing. He said explicitly that downvoting is sufficient,

Yes, the "hinting" was in reference to the specific level of -5, not the downvoting as such. -5 is the threshold for hiding from view, and shifts the comment to the bottom in the absence of (rarely used) changes in preferences.

Geez.

I didn't see any reason to read any more than that into it. He was reassuring any alarmists out there that nothing needs to be done at the level of admin-level censorship.

Note: we can already downvote whatever we want!

But we aren't officially encouraged to do it en masse on specific -- to become less specific -- topics!

The request is not to "unquestioningly reword posts". The request is to be considerate, and if everybody is telling you over and over that you're not being considerate and you still don't get it, then maybe you should just realize you have a problem and make suggested edits.

People are ALREADY being considerate, and this topic is NOT in reference to people who are being told by many that they are inconsiderate, but rather, being told by one person, Alicorn. The question, then, is whether to elevate this specific concern to something of an endorsed downvote policy, because hey, Alicorn might be representative of all women, please ignore the immense success of PUAs.

Eliezer just made a request that people make a genuine effort to be nice where possible, and let's not get into any affective death spirals.

If that's all you got out of it, let me remind you that policy debates should not appear one-sided, and politics is the mind-killer.

Comment author: HughRistik 22 July 2009 06:53:40AM *  17 points [-]

Put me in the camp of those who agree with avoiding exclusionary language (particularly sexist language), but who disagree with limiting or eliminating discussion of particular topics.

So far, the situation seems to be that some people who have detailed knowledge of the seduction community think that it is relevant to discussions of rationality.

Other people suggest that this topic may lead to low quality discussions, particularly due to the tendency of some people who discuss it displaying gender-related insensitivity. Consequently, some of this latter camp suggest limiting the discussion of pickup on LessWrong.

This view suggests that the difficulties in discussing pickup are so great that they exceed the benefits of discussing it, at least for now. I argue that this view is premature.

It is premature to assume that the pitfalls associated with discussing pickup and rationality are best dealt with by a moratorium on the topic. It is only the "best solution" in the same way that a police state is the "best solution" to crime: solving the problem, but at what cost? As I pointed out to Alicorn, some of the comments she protests met with vigorous disagreement, including by some people like pjeby who support discussing pickup here. As I result I suggest a revolutionary solution to posts that show problematic gender-related attitudes: it's called the reply button and the downvote button.

So far, a detailed case relating pickup to rationality and bias has not been made on LessWrong (though I've made brief starts ). Consequently, people without detailed knowledge of pickup are not qualified to judge whether it is worth discussing on a forum devoted to rationality, even granting that the pitfalls may be difficult to deal with. It seems close-minded and antithetical to a rationalist forum for some of these people to attempt to block a discussion that they can't know the potential value of, merely because of certain pitfalls in those discussions, pitfalls that maybe avoidable in better ways. The poll is worthless because many voters are unaware of the potential important relations of pickup to rationality, and why other posters here believe that such relationships exist.

Rather than blocking discussion on pickup, we should attempt to improve it. Improve first, ban later. Specifically, the community can enforce norms on minimizing locker room language or uncritical discussion of potentially morally problematic techniques.

In short, reply > ban, and karma > Kafka.

Additionally, sometime we might see some top level posts relating pickup to rationality (including with a critical perspective, such as observing biases in the community). That way, the skeptics can see what the fuss is all about. I'm been considering a top level post, but I'd been planning other posts first to minimize inferential distance. Top level posts will also allow people to get stuff off their chests on this subject without creating tangents in other threads.

Comment author: pjeby 22 July 2009 06:08:18PM 2 points [-]

people like pjeby who support discussing pickup here

To be clear, I also support not discussing it here, as long as the ban extends to making negative statements about it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 21 July 2009 09:43:03PM *  8 points [-]

Banning specific topics is probably a good meta-policy for the community: once anything associated with a topic starts to hurt the discussion, for any reason at all, without coming to a resolution, a "cool-down" mode can be switched on by adding the topic to a list of banned topics. This improves the forum for the coming months, and once the ban is lifted (there should be no permanent bans), the topic either loses its harmful qualities in the new context, loses attention of the community, thus causing no more trouble, or gets resolved after a fresh look.

(Inspired by Alicorn's comment.)

ETA: Here's a poll about banning the PUA topic.

Comment author: orthonormal 21 July 2009 11:41:37PM *  2 points [-]

I second this; I think that a moratorium (for a month or two) on PUA theorizing would be better for the LW community than either a permanent ban or the continuation of the currently-entrenched battle on it, either of which would probably drive away a number of valuable rationalists. (Goes without saying that bashing PUA theories would also count as trolling during the moratorium.)

I want to see what the support looks like for this. Below is an informal poll: vote your preferred option(s) up and the karma offset comment down.

EDIT: You know, Vladimir has a better setup: take his poll below and we'll count them up after a bit. I'm deleting the current poll setup, with nothing at more than +2; sorry if you'll have to revote.

I'm keeping my "zero-boxing" comment, though.

Comment author: orthonormal 21 July 2009 11:55:27PM 4 points [-]

EXTRA KARMA OFFSET: If you voted two suggestions up, you can use me to equalize the karma effect.

Um...

I zero-box on Newcomb's Problem!

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 July 2009 09:44:18AM *  7 points [-]

Sounds good to me.

This is actually fairly similar to the comment I was thinking of posting, if the discussion headed in a direction that would allow it:

Assume that accessability is relatively isomorphic. I'm not sure if it is, but using that assumption seems to work in this case.

If you're designing a building, and want it to be accessable, it's a good idea to imagine it being used by people of varying abilities. Consider how it'd be used by someone in a wheelchair, someone who's blind and uses a cane, someone with a seeing eye dog, someone who's deaf, someone who has trouble walking very far, and so on. If you can envision all of those people being able to use every aspect of your building, you've probably done a reasonable job.

If you're trying to have a public discussion, and want it to be accessable, it's a good idea to imagine it being used by various kinds of people, too. Would a woman feel comfortable contributing to all of the discussions here? How about a parent? A teenager? Someone from another culture? Someone who's more interested in painting than in programming?

I use the RSS feed, and don't bother clicking on links to articles that don't sound interesting, so I have too much selection bias to comment on what portion of the articles are useful to all of those groups. And I'm not saying that every article has to be useful to everyone. But to whatever degree the discussion here focuses on the interests of unpartnered, heterosexual, male computer geeks - or any other group - over everyone else, people who are not members of that group will find less value here, and simply won't stay.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 10:40:49AM *  11 points [-]

Teenagers? Parents? What's with that?

The world is full of discussion clubs available to everyone. But virtually all the online communities I've ever liked have first thrived on exclusivity and early adopter bias, and then became utterly uninteresting due to dilution. I, for one, would volunteer to get banned and have read-only access to LW if this would increase the quality of discussion back to pre-gender-wars levels.

See, I'm precisely that math and code nerd that you stereotype. I don't want "accessible"; I want interesting, thought-provoking, mind-expanding. I'd like every post to include math and psychology references to follow into the maze, simulator programs to run and rewrite... If there's an interesting application of math to PUA, I want to see it and try it out, not be overwhelmed by a chorus of accessibility activists who can't even recite the formulas from memory, much less make sense of them. You want to talk gender politics because my choice of words offends you? Go back to your hole where other people's opinions matter instead of facts. I heard Facebook is a nice site - they even have special forums where you can argue about gay marriage.

Whew, sorry if that was inflammatory. I didn't mean you specifically; just a strawman I desperately want to knock down and forget the whole topic like a bad dream.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 July 2009 11:01:35AM *  5 points [-]

I really need to find a way of making my 'if' statements more obvious. If you're interested in having a discussion that's accessable to a diverse group of people, consider following the above advice. If not, ignore it. I didn't comment one way or the other on whether or not the group should do so, and even commented negatively on the fact that Alicorn did.

I'm not sure what to make of the comment that I've stereotyped nerds. I strongly implied that the topics here focus on the interests of the most common demographic (again, there was an 'if' in front of that), but you just said that you see that as a good thing, so I'm not sure why you're offended that I mentioned that it may be happening.

I've also said nothing about word choice, mostly because I find feminists who take offense at word choice to be fairly confusing, and if I have to chime in on that issue, my comment will not be in support of them.

ETA: I'm having a very bad brain day. I know this post is probably not as coherent as I usually try to be. My appologies if I put my foot in my mouth somehow.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 11:11:40AM *  2 points [-]

My apologies; I didn't read your comment as carefully as I should have before replying.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 21 July 2009 11:13:44AM 3 points [-]

Don't feel too bad, that kind of misreading happens all the time. It's almost certainly something about my writing style. :P

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 22 July 2009 02:41:38AM 19 points [-]

"But let a female rationalist be the one to say it."

this really bothers me.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 July 2009 06:30:49AM 24 points [-]

Okay, sorry for the ambiguity here.

I'm not assuming that the hypothetical original denigrator of evolutionary psychology would react better to a feminine rebuke. I think this hypothetical person is lost to us anyway.

I think that someone who calls evolutionary psychology unfeminine, is insulting the honor of feminity - but it's not my place to say that. It's not my place to borrow offense, if indeed the honor of feminity has been insulted.

Someone who has actually, directly, personally been offended... can be apologized to, her offense has a limit because it's hers. Someone borrowing offense - how do they ever know when an apology is enough? They can always insist that it's not enough because they're not really the one being apologized to, and maybe if they accepted the apology, it would mean they weren't sufficiently virtuous enough in their offense.

It's sort of like how I'm willing to argue with genuinely religious people or Luddites but not with hypothetical religious people or Luddites being simulated by nonreligious people or non-Luddites, who can always refuse to be hypothetically persuaded because there is no limit to how unreasonable and evil the simulator thinks a theist or Luddite can be, in contrast to real theists and Luddites who think of themselves as the good side.

That is, in general, I don't like to borrow trouble - the first-order troubles of this world are enough.

Comment author: mni 22 July 2009 04:12:37PM 24 points [-]

I'm not assuming that the hypothetical original denigrator of evolutionary psychology would react better to a feminine rebuke. I think this hypothetical person is lost to us anyway.

I think that someone who calls evolutionary psychology unfeminine, is insulting the honor of feminity...

I agree that calling evolutionary psychology "unfeminine" because it "denigrates women" is bullshit. The truth about the human brain is not determined by our preferences. But failing to control for cultural influences in ev-psych-speculation is bullshit too. In fact, it's reversed stupidity.

Evolutionary psychology is about human universals and therefore should, in the ideal case, apply to all human cultures at all times. Exceptional cultures that deviate from the biologically determined base should be actively sought for and if found, explained. The pick-up-related speculation here (and on many other forums I've read; I'm not familiar with the PUA literature though) has considered only modern Western women (and to a lesser extent, modern Western men) and tried to explain their behavior by fitness arguments. Cultural explanations of behavior haven't even been considered, even though the proper application of evolutionary psychology should start from identifying human universals, that is, controlling for culture.

As the debate has dragged on, it has seemed to me that some have even hinted that offering cultural explanations of behavior instead of fitness arguments is evidence of a mental stop-sign or a refusal to accept the "hard facts". I invite them to consider the historically widespread practice of pederasty. Does pederasty confer a fitness advantage to either partner or maybe both? If it indeed does confer a fitness advantage, how can it be determined if this has actually been adapted for? How does the explanation take into account the revulsion towards pederasty felt in our modern culture? Or alternatively, if pederasty is to be considered a cultural deviation from the evolutionarily determined base culture, how can it be assumed that the modern Western culture is free of such deviations?

So, in my opinion, a very relevant issue for this whole debate is that the pick-up-related ev-psych-speculation has failed at actively seeking for contradicting evidence. Combined with the "objectifying" nature of the speculation - women considered as little more than sex-providers - it shouldn't be in the least bit surprising that offense has been taken.

That was something of a rant, I guess. What did it have to do with the possible limiting of discussion anyway? Well... A theory that sounds offensive but is (according to overwhelming evidence) correct shouldn't offend anyone. A theory that sounds offensive and is obviously wrong can just be ignored and downvoted into oblivion. Speculation that sounds offensive, is taken seriously by some but actually fails to consider simple, less offending alternative possibilities is something that communities should seriously be wary of.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 July 2009 06:37:19AM *  -1 points [-]

...Is there some chance I can, like, deputize individual (amenable) males who I think have their heads on straight? This would make me feel less like I have to go on being the feminism police because I am one of a handful of people around here eligible (by your standard) and one of even fewer who also cares and is obstinate enough to speak up.

Edit: Why does this apparently bother multiple different people that I suggested it?

Edit 2 to address replies (thanks for the explanations): I was not suggesting that I should, upon seeing a sexism-related problem, call on these hypothetical deputies and collaborate on hammering the comment into oblivion. I meant that the hypothetical deputies would have the approval of me, a female, to identify things that are "insulting the honor of femininity" so that if this identification needs doing, it doesn't have to fall to me to do it. In my mental model, they'd do this on their own initiative, much as [anyone who I would select] already does; they'd just have the backing from someone with the anatomical credentials Eliezer wants to make this sort of call.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 July 2009 04:49:39PM 7 points [-]

Given the variety of ways people objected to "Sayeth the Girl", I suspect even firsthand "anatomical credentials" are ineffectual.

I'm not saying I won't help call out sexist remarks, but that "how would you know that's sexist?" is a Fully General Counterargument you will face whatever reproductive system you have.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 July 2009 05:50:24PM *  3 points [-]

That's why I'm suggesting a policy which says "We want to avoid writing that causes women (or any other gender) to flee", rather than a policy which says "Sexism is a bad, bad thing." You don't need to know what's sexist. You just need to know what makes you personally (not some hypothetical average woman) want to flee.

Comment author: Furcas 23 July 2009 08:35:33PM 9 points [-]

A policy that says we have to carefully monitor our writing lest we scare someone away makes me want to flee.

Comment author: thomblake 23 July 2009 09:44:23PM 7 points [-]

I already carefully monitor my writing so that it reads properly for the intended audience. It's called "writing well". Sometimes "editing" specifically.

Comment author: RobinZ 23 July 2009 10:38:37PM 3 points [-]

You may be overestimating the effort involved here. I doubt you are in the habit of using - to draw an example from the French Revolution, as has been suggested - the phrases "clergy" and "enemies of the revolution" interchangeably, or any of the equivalent modern equivocations which can offend. If I were to try to make concrete rules, I would say to use the singular "they" or randomize pronouns for hypothetical persons, take care to be general when speaking in the second-person, and question any generalizations you propose not strongly backed by peer-reviewed evidence (particularly about nations and genders). That set of rules doesn't sound onerous.

Comment author: Furcas 24 July 2009 12:35:03AM *  5 points [-]

It's not about the amount of effort it takes, it's about this whole mentality that when a certain turn of phrase or writing style risks 'offending' or 'scaring off' a person, the one who has to give way is always the writer, never the reader. In other words, it's assumed that the responsibility lies with the writer to change his wording, rather than with the reader to see past the offending words to the meaning behind them.

The mentality described above is similar to the one that has forced anyone speaking in public to use the childish euphemism "n-word" instead of saying "nigger", even when it's obvious from the context that they're not expressing a racist sentiment. People will even say, "Hey, don't use the n-word, you racist!" They have to speak this way because, where the word "nigger" is concerned, it's universally believed that it's the speaker's responsibility to censor himself rather than the listener's responsibility to actually use his brain and understand what the other guy is saying.

I think this mentality is lazy and anti-rational. The way I see it, if you're offended by the superficiality rather than by the substance of my words, it's your problem, not mine. Being able to overlook the surface of a message (and suppressing whatever feeling of offense it may have triggered in you) is an essential skill to a rationalist, and skewing the balance in favor of easily offended readers can only cause its atrophy.

If you find the kind of monitoring Eliezer is advocating natural, go for it, but don't pester the rest of us about it.

Comment author: MrHen 24 July 2009 03:26:12PM 5 points [-]

I think we actually agree with each other more than it seems. I agree with the following:

  • Generally speaking, it is better to not offend than to offend
  • All other things being equal, use the non-offensive word
  • Worrying about not offending everyone is pointless and impossible
  • There is a line somewhere between avoiding potentially offensive words/language/topics and freaking out over every offense
  • Accept pointers about being less offensive when the less offensive route is rather trivial
  • Use common sense

Do you disagree on any particular point? The details are up for grabs, but the gist sounds right to me.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 25 July 2009 12:06:26AM 6 points [-]

It's not about the amount of effort it takes, it's about this whole mentality that when a certain turn of phrase or writing style risks 'offending' or 'scaring off' a person, the one who has to give way is always the writer, never the reader. In other words, it's assumed that the responsibility lies with the writer to change his wording, rather than with the reader to see past the offending words to the meaning behind them.

Behold, the internet. It's full of people, and most of them have something to say. In a market of attention where people decide "should I bother to read this", the power is purely on the buyer's side. In other words, if you want to be taken seriously as a writer it's your responsibility to communicate effectively.

As a group, we all share an interest in keeping the quality of communication on Less Wrong high.

Comment author: Furcas 25 July 2009 12:52:53AM 1 point [-]

There's a difference between communicating effectively and catering to hypersensitive nuts.

Comment author: MrHen 23 July 2009 09:58:02PM *  3 points [-]

Why is that? And, more importantly, if you are not willing to think about the community before clicking "comment," why would the community mind if you flee?

Now, of course, "carefully monitor" is a bit relative. I would consider myself in thomblake's camp in the sense that I already try to monitor what I write. I also appreciate posts that let me know I accidently offended someone. Hopefully I am not in the minority with either of those behaviors.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 July 2009 06:59:20PM *  5 points [-]

You just need to know what makes you personally (not some hypothetical average woman) want to flee.

This assumes two things.

One: there being enough women available to identify the offputting behavior.

Two: there being no men capable of identifying the offputting behavior.

The first is false and the second offensive - and yes, offensive to me personally, as a black male social liberal. It's not the victim's job to fight unjust discrimination. It's everyone's.

Edit: As Eliezer Yudkowsky points out, "discrimination" is an unfairly loaded term in this context. I shouldn't have used it. To reword: offputting behavior can be recognized by more than just those it would make uncomfortable, and it is, in fact, everyone's responsibility to avoid it in their own writing and to point it out in others. (With the caveat, as thomblake and Jonathan_Graehl observed, that offensiveness should not be pointed out where it does not exist, and overzealous policing should be discouraged as well.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 July 2009 05:11:18AM 6 points [-]

But it's not about discrimination. It's about providing a non-gender-unfriendly environment. We are not assuming the speaker is guilty - of sexism, of deliberate intent, of anything. We are not on a crusade. We are just trying to avoid that sort of speech in the future.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 07:10:50PM 4 points [-]

It's not the victim's job to fight unjust discrimination. It's everyone's.

True, but Eliezer's point is well-taken. One wouldn't want to defend hypothetical people that don't even exist.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 July 2009 07:52:38PM 2 points [-]

Women exist. Given that, your objection must be other than that expressed in the surface content of your words. Please make it explicit so it may be rationally discussed.

In the interests of full disclosure and not being deliberately obtuse: I suspect you may be concerned that kneejerk censorship of remarks perceived to be offensive to a given group by those ignorant of the feelings of members of that group towards said remarks (a phenomenon often pejoratively referred to as "political correctness") would inhibit the free exchange of ideas to an unacceptable degree. I propose that a reason why you might be concerned in this fashion is because "offensive" looks like a chaotic feature of the environment to you - the metaphor in this case being that of a minefield, with the pejorative political correctness being roping off the entire thing even though many topics you wish to discuss are within it.

If that's your concern, stop it. It's not a minefield. If you want to avoid accidentally giving offense, all you need is empathy and education. And if you think you have those things but you're still accidentally offending people, you're probably wrong. Now let's start getting less so.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 07:59:15PM 4 points [-]

The "hypothetical people that don't even exist" would be "people who are offended by comment X". Given how often people are mistaken about what might give offense, it's easy for some crusader to start campaigning on behalf of someone who doesn't want or need their help.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 July 2009 09:34:18PM 3 points [-]

Another critique of offense once-removed comes from the comedian Bill Maher. He rails against what he calls "feigned outrage", which he takes to be mostly to be aimed at establishing one's status as a defender of the weak.

I don't think second-hand offense is all conscious signaling, but it's certainly sometimes inapt and even a little patronizing.

I've complained about racist comments in various net communities I've been a part of, and been met with the excuse "you're not even Mexican, don't be so intolerant" etc.

I don't mind leaving the "that's unfairly demeaning of X-people" argument as long as there are refutations available independent of that. But there are certain offenses which, when met with only silence, could result in every single offended person simply deciding that the community is not worth it, leaving without even a reply.

That's clearly not the case re: the pickup teapot's tempest.

Comment author: RobinZ 22 July 2009 08:07:14PM 3 points [-]

When we find such crusaders, we should criticize and downvote them appropriately. We should all avoid being ones ourselves. And, on a different note, we should establish a norm in which declarations of offensiveness require justification.

None of these require that we restrict all complaints of offense to when we are personally insulted. That requirement would almost entirely eliminate complaints even in the face of endemic bad behavior, which is precisely what we do not want.

Comment author: HughRistik 22 July 2009 07:18:44AM 5 points [-]

Hey, I doubt I have my head on straight, but if I see comments that display objectionable gender attitudes in my view, I will do my best to critique them. Here's an example of how I've gone about it in the past. The goal was to point out the potentially objectionable implications of that post, and to do so in a way that might actually convince the other person rather than making them feel shamed.

Comment author: cousin_it 22 July 2009 07:07:36AM *  6 points [-]

I downvoted you because I believe mod power should never be centralized. Once you deputize four other people, you're able to instantly make any unfavored comment invisible; I wouldn't like any entity on LW (except maybe Eliezer) to have such power.

Comment author: Strange7 09 April 2010 04:47:28PM 3 points [-]

Unless, of course, anyone else upvotes the comment in question.

Comment author: bogus 22 July 2009 07:09:08AM *  4 points [-]

Edit: Why does this apparently bother two different people that I suggested it?

I downvoted you because you're endorsing overt factionalization of Less Wrong's userbase (again). As the previous discussion has shown, there's no shortage of people (male and female) who will take genuine offense at objectifying or otherwise insensitive language: we have no need for meat-puppets or "deputies".

Edited to address reply: The only situation where Eliezer called for female rationalists to intervene was to debunk a hypothetical feminist commenter who took offense at eminently sensible things like, say, evolutionary psychology [1]. This is not at all the same as identifying genuine sexism concerns.

[1] Which is ironic, since evolutionary psychology as currently practiced is full of baseless "just-so stories". It wouldn't surprise me in the least if some of these stories were genuinely problematic.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 22 July 2009 07:00:02AM 2 points [-]

The idea of deputies is... well... silly... but I suppose if you actually were finding that it took up your time, then sure, I guess so. I'm hoping you won't have to do this more than once in a blue moon once we settle what the actual LW policy is.

Why does this apparently bother two different people that I suggested it?

I have no idea. Those downvotes really should've come with an explanation.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 July 2009 09:48:55PM 6 points [-]

I have plenty of guesses, on the other hand, for the downvotes:

1) divisive langauge - there are those who "I think have their heads on straight" and everyone else, who is suspected of wrongdoing. probably more offense at being suspected than desire to behave brutishly

2) attempt to assume authority and power - unless your position is secure, or your proposal compelling, people will tear down and mock the young upstart

3) interpetation of "i think we should do this" as a call for votes

4) actual rational disagreement

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 03:11:49PM 2 points [-]

Is there some chance I can, like, deputize individual (amenable) males who I think have their heads on straight?

Okay, anyone who ridiculed my remark about the potential "special class of feminist censors", you may begin your gold-plated apologies ... now.

Comment author: thomblake 22 July 2009 03:25:18PM *  1 point [-]

Did you not read the rest of this thread? EY suggested that one might require certain 'anatomical credentials' (not his wording) to speak up, and Alicorn despaired that it might put an undue burden on her and asked if other people could help.

Incidentally, insisting that people apologize to you is not good form.

Comment author: SilasBarta 22 July 2009 03:30:05PM 3 points [-]

Did you not read the rest of this thread? EY suggested that one might require certain 'anatomical credentials' (not his wording) to speak up, and Alicorn despaired that it might put an undue burden on her and asked if other people could help.

That speaks to whether the feminist censors' existence is justified. That issue is distinct from my point, which is that Eliezer_Yudkowsky's proposal amounts to assigning feminist censors, which turns out to be an accurate assessment.

You may have wonderful reasons for supporting this policy, but I was absolutely right about the implications of Eliezer_Yudkowsky's proposal, when others didn't see such implications.

Incidentally, insisting that people apologize to you is not good form.

Perhaps, but so is:

1) Ignoring warnings that turn out to be correct.

2) Not apologizing for ridiculing someone who turned out not to deserve it.

Comment author: Nanani 23 July 2009 12:33:18AM 1 point [-]

You could -stop being the feminism police-and move on.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 July 2009 05:02:05PM 1 point [-]

...Is there some chance I can, like, deputize individual (amenable) males who I think have their heads on straight?

This would be a credential of negative value. I think (whether accurately or not) that I have my head on straight on this matter, but if I comment on these things it will only be because I have found it worth commenting on, not because I have been conferred with an office of The Male Voice of Feminism, no matter who by.

Comment author: VijayKrishnan 21 July 2009 07:23:55PM 52 points [-]

...while not being quite sane enough to actually notice you're driving away the very gender you're trying to seduce from our nascent rationalist community, and consequentially shut up about PUA... In the end, PUA is not something we need to be talking about here, and if it's giving one entire gender the wrong vibes on this website, I say the hell with it."

Very unfortunate that we are suggesting censoring a rather important and fertile topic that fits bang in the middle of the overcomingbias/lesswrong framework because:

  1. PUA related discussions are certainly of enormous practical importance; it offers enormous insight into the working of attraction, though I dare say folks at lesswrong may be able to push the frontier way more particularly with their knowledge of evolutionary psychology etc.

  2. PUA related discussions are all the more important and relevant to lesswrong since attraction is an area that conventional wisdom doesn't say enough about, in part due to political correctness.

  3. One thing I have really liked about lesswrong is its manner of addressing politically incorrect questions with honesty; and not having a long list of taboo topics.

  4. PUA tells us a number of uncomfortable things about the human condition, which are true. If Alicorn does like that she would be better off understanding what the reality is and probably figuring out if she can come up with some kind of mass consciousness raising exercise that would ensure that PUA methods are useless and that "Nice guys" without a "game" are seen as attractive (I think it will be a mammoth task to beat the internal attraction hardwiring of people though). At any rate, closing herself to the reality of the world, calling it offensive serves no purpose.

  5. Where do we go from here? We can ban all hard discussions relating to race, religion, IQ differences, inherent difference in people's abilities, inherent mean differences in group abilities etc. We can turn this blog into something with trite and obvious posts or one that simply lies and obfuscates the truth on sensitive topics in the name of political correctness. In that case, this blog would just not be worth reading.

    With a ban on this kind of discussion, I think one part of lesswrong and the rationality community here just died...

Comment author: Psychohistorian 21 July 2009 11:52:19PM 5 points [-]

I suspect that the ick reaction being labeled "objectification" actually has more to do with the sense that the speaker is addressing a closed group that doesn't include you.

It would seem more accurate to say there are two seperate phenomenon. Using male-gender only pronouns or male-centered examples and hypotheticals doesn't seem to objectify so much as it seems to exclude.

Objectifying, as you allude to, is more related to Kant's good old categorical imperative of treating people as ends and not means. Statements that women (or sex with women) are goods to be obtained, like a nice car, seems to be the issue. That is, treating women without any respect for their utility (or humanity) seems to be the problem called "objectifying," and it seems different from "excluding."

Comment author: Jack 21 July 2009 09:10:06PM *  13 points [-]

I self-identify as a feminist but I'm troubled by a ban on discussing PUA techniques. In the discussions I've seen I've usually come down on Alicorn's side. But I wonder if the need to avoid language that is objectifying or excluding requires us to avoid the topic of pua/game in its entirety. That seems strange. The times I've seen complaints voiced have had to do with how the topic is brought up not the topic itself.

For example if someone says, "I think posters on less wrong don't value having sex with women." Or "here's how you can get women to sleep with you." then the sense in which female posters are being excluded is pretty obvious. But I don't see why a discussion of game needs to necessarily be done in this way. Its just that, unlike all the other subjects we discuss here, game isn't a typical topic in academia so the traditional ways of communicating methods and knowledge is "Here's what you do to bed women" rather than a descriptive account of behavior or an experiment. Obviously any account which attempts to predict the behavior of people will be objectifying-- but that isn't the problem. The problem is that as it is traditionally discussed PUA theory only objectifies women. Indeed, it subjectifies men when it is explained in first or second person. What we ought to do here is stop talking about it like that and start talking about game the way we do signaling and evolutionary psychology-- so that both the men and the women are objectified.

Similarly, because pua theory has been developed by a community of straight men/straight male run businesses it isn't used to incorporating female and homosexual voices. In the same way that male-dominated university sciences has long had a weaker understanding of female sexuality than male sexuality (someone can correct me, that has always been my understanding) the PUA industry has little to say about how women seduce men and even less about developing attraction between lesbians and gays. But there is no necessary reason for this topic to exclude those voices, its just overwhelming has in the past. I don't know if such a male dominated community could or would make strides in this area. However, as long as we didn't lose the good female feminists on this site (We must have some non-hetero posters too!?) I think we could have discussions on this topic that don't exclude.

Do those who feel excluded think that this topic needs to be outright banned or do they think there is a way that PUA theory could be discussed that you wouldn't object to (along the lines I mentioned above)?

Comment author: eirenicon 21 July 2009 10:30:35PM 9 points [-]

What have we learned from discussion of PUA to date? I honestly can't say I've gained anything useful from reading about it, but then I've never considered using a pickup technique, either. The problem is that I haven't learned anything of other interest to a rationalist. If someone can offer what they've learned from talking about PUA on Less Wrong that applies to the art of refining human rationality and not simply picking up women, perhaps it's an appropriate subject. In that case, if someone writes a good article on PUA, I don't see a reason to ban it. I would expect to see it argued from a more credible perspective than anecdotal evidence and self-help books, though.

Comment author: AnneC 22 July 2009 10:36:30PM 6 points [-]

This. I'm not "creeped out" by people merely talking about PUA techniques, but I do find it boring, irrelevant, and pretty much useless in terms of any capacity to improve my thinking abilities. I don't think all examples / analogies used to make a point about rationality, etc., need to be things everyone can identify with (that would likely be impossible anyway), but PUA stuff really is sort of distractingly specific to the "hetero males trying to score hot chicks" demographic. I'd just as soon be reading about how to choose the best golf shoes.

Comment author: HughRistik 21 July 2009 10:47:51PM 2 points [-]

Ok, I'll try to put together a top level post.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 09:15:43PM 6 points [-]

The times I've seen complaints voiced have had to do with how the topic is brought up not the topic itself.

Yup. But I have no confidence in the ability of bringer-uppers to dance through that minefield, and the whole topic seems eminently skippable.

Comment author: Alicorn 21 July 2009 09:20:59PM *  0 points [-]

I think an outright moratorium on PUA discussion is probably the most practical of the acceptable results. If the people inclined to talk about PUA had the skills and sensitivity necessary to separate the appropriate methods from the inappropriate ones, then this problem would probably be moot in the first place. I said specifically:

If it is necessary to refer admiringly to a pickup artist or pickup strategy (I'm not sure why it would be, but if), care should be taken to choose one whose methods are explicitly non-depersonalizing, and disclaim that specifically in the comment.

These non-depersonalizing methods (or at least, methods which can be used by non-depersonalizers) exist. pjeby mentioned one a while ago that consisted of a greeting, a couple of sentences, and a straightforward request; there is nothing dishonest or intrinsically objectifying about that, and if I could rely on PUA-discussion-inclined people to confine discussions to non--depersonalizing ways of achieving their (not inherently immoral) goals, I'd back off.

Sadly, I cannot rely on that.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 09:43:31PM 10 points [-]

I think an outright moratorium on PUA discussion is probably the most practical of the acceptable results.

As long as that moratorium applied equally to denigrations of PUA and related concepts, I'd be fine with it myself. Virtually all my comments on the subject are attempts to correct ignorance and stereotyping (or less often, to answer questions), so stopping the stereotyping would eliminate my desire to correct said stereotyping.

(Not that I claim to speak for anyone else's feelings about the matter. Just saying I'd be fine with a moratorium, because I'm not the one who keeps bringing the subject up.)

If I could rely on PUA-discussion-inclined people to confine discussions to non-depersonalizing ways of achieving their (not inherently immoral) goals, I'd back off.

It's a bit of a cliche, but I don't think techniques depersonalize people. People depersonalize people. It's a rare PUA technique that falls unequivocally into one camp or another, because people can do the same thing with different attitudes or for different reasons.

As far as "techniques" go in any case, some PUGs have said that, apart from honesty, confidence, and other "inner" issues, the most important things to learn are social and logistical skills, like how to gracefully handle her friends' concerns about you, set up other meeting times, etc. But these basic and pragmatic qualities and skills are unlikely to be a topic of heated discussion on LessWrong!

The nature of the PUA topic is that discussion will be biased towards the sensational and the controversial, since to the extent everybody agrees that honesty and confidence and basic social skills are good, we don't see any reason to talk about all that.

Thus, the only things that get talked about here are:

  1. The bad things that outsiders have heard about, but don't always know much about, and

  2. The things some insiders believe outsiders get wrong about "women" or "dating" or whatever

And I don't actually like either #1 OR #2 showing up here, because #2 usually consists of overzealous, immature, borderline-misogynistic babblings about how terrible conventional views of relationships are and why guys shouldn't be "nice", and occasionally attacking honesty as a poor policy.

In its own way, this is just as ignorant as the things in category #1, except that the people in group #2 really ought to know better. So then I end up wasting a lot of trying to educate (or just arguing with) both groups... something I could just as easily do without.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 21 July 2009 11:28:10AM *  12 points [-]

I've previously expressed that to build a rationalist community sustainable over time, the sort of gender imbalance that appears among e.g. computer programmers, is not a good thing to have.

If by "over time" you mean a time frame in excess of a few decades, I'll point out that LW-style rationality is a large set of complex memes and that empirically, the best way to transmit such meme complexes is parent-to-child, which tends to work better with a viable breeding population.

(How's that for objectifying everyone here and all future potential members?)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 04:47:36PM 3 points [-]

Works fine as long as it doesn't objectify a particular gender... is what I think the rule is empirically.

Comment author: Tiiba 22 July 2009 06:14:23AM 4 points [-]

I just can't get over the fact that there is an active discussion of professional Casanovas on a blog for hardcore pocket-protecting nerds. And from this discussion, it also seems that these Casanovas form a thriving community, like makers of miniature cars.

I can sort of see how a woman might find such a thing just a tad creepy. Like sleeping with a spy.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 22 July 2009 06:38:28AM 6 points [-]

I just can't get over the fact that there is an active discussion of professional Casanovas on a blog for hardcore pocket-protecting nerds.

Methinks you underestimate the diversity of the readership here. Or, at the very least, you underestimate the diversity of people who can be described as hardcore pocket-protecting nerds.

Comment author: nerfhammer 22 July 2009 09:08:50PM 9 points [-]

I can sort of see how a woman might find such a thing just a tad creepy.

In many cases perhaps the appropriate action would be raise this woman's consciousness: men's sexuality isn't necessarily scary or threatening.

Comment author: Rachael 23 July 2009 03:01:18PM *  15 points [-]

Eliezer, I think you're spot on here. I think objectification is both exclusion from the dialogue and being relegated to the status of an object, but I hadn't considered the first aspect to it before.

The PUA dialogue as a whole is unpleasant for me, as a woman, exactly because women are implicitly excluded as agents. I am bisexual and I would like it if more women were interested in me, so one would think PUA might be of interest. But PUA excludes me completely and alienates me. When I read about it, I realise with a horrified fascination that I am reading instructions for someone else on how to hack MY BRAIN for their own personal gratification.

Being "objectified" in the sense of being relegated to the status of an object implies that one neither needs nor deserves autonomy or agency. A person willing to employ pickup artistry or similar is revealing their opinion that women do not deserve full agency and/or the chance to make informed decisions in this arena, purely because the Artist disagrees with their probable decision. I believe that's why I and so many other women find PUA repulsive: it is an attempt to control us and dilute our autonomy.

And for the record, I am really interested in evolutionary psychology and don't understand how it could be offensive. It doesn't attempt to exclude or disempower any group to my knowledge - am I wrong? From my reading on the matter, it is simply one scientific approach attempting to explain and predict human behaviour.

(edited for clarity)

Comment author: pjeby 23 July 2009 07:52:00PM 17 points [-]

A person willing to employ pickup artistry or similar is revealing their opinion that women do not deserve full agency and/or the chance to make informed decisions in this arena, purely because the Artist disagrees with their probable decision.

Is a person willing to take a class on public speaking revealing their opinion that audiences do not deserve full agency or the chance to make informed decisions about what they're presenting in a speech? Should they not practice to make the best possible impression?

I realize there are schools of PUA that are based on trickery. However, the "direct", "natural", and "inner" schools of PUA studies deal only with what makes men more attractive to women, generally. That information is unlikely to be useful to you as a bisexual woman, but it is certainly not about treating women as objects. Some teachers (most notably Johnny Soporno) are quite explicitly about emancipating women from oppressive societal constructs around sexuality (such as the idea that having sex with more than one partner means a woman has no self-worth).

Still other teachers (e.g. Juggler) teach men how to make emotional connections in conversation -- to reveal themselves better and to learn more about a woman than just "what do you do" type chitchat. And others (e.g. Tyler of RSD) emphasize learning how to provide a woman with a safe space and positive energy. (I know that sounds kind of woo-woo, but actually explaining it in a reductionist way would take way more time and space than I want to spend here.)

None of these things are any more offensive or objectifying to women than public speaking classes are to audiences. They're teaching men to be better men, not how to "control" women.

Comment author: Rachael 24 July 2009 03:42:38AM *  6 points [-]

I have no problem with attempting to make oneself more attractive to other people or make the best possible impression. When you make a speech to a lot of people, of course you should practice it - but nobody in the audience thinks that you got up and ad-libbed it, just like nobody who sees me dressed up thinks I'm always going to look like that. We realise we're seeing your best effort, which acts as a signal of your valuation of the event or activity - we don't think that you're always like this, and the self enhancement is common knowledge.

Pick up artists are different. Let's break them into two groups: the outright tricksters and the "inner" school. We can agree, unless i'm very much mistaken, that the tricksters are clearly attempting to hack women's brains (ie with the little psychological games to make them look insightful or deep, with use of negging, etc) in an unethical way. Mystery is a good example of this. By "hack" I mean "influence in an underhanded way without permission" - if for example you managed to convince me PUA is good, you didn't hack my brain, you changed my mind.

But the inner school is also problematic, and I think you misrepresented them. I have no problem with people trying to teach other people to be more attentive, more able to reveal themselves, more considerate. This is purely optimising yourself rather than attempting to optimise the other person. But the inner school still includes techniques to optimise/hack the woman, for example the systems of how to touch women casually so that they "feel safe" or ways to elicit "indications of interest" from women. I don't see how that's any different from the tricksters. For example, Juggler says: "You can figure out what IOIs you want and then 'trick' or command them from girls. " He even says men should "Tell her to sit with the proper posture" or get "her" to "accept your commands" by starting small and then building up. (http://www.bristollair.com/outer-game/techniques/tactics/forcing-iois.html)

To me the inner school is fundamentally the same as the tricksters, except it adds in a component of self-optimising as well as the manipulation of the woman - that makes it less wrong but certainly not right.

Comment author: pjeby 24 July 2009 06:20:44AM *  8 points [-]

Let's break them into two groups: the outright tricksters and the "inner" school. We can agree, unless i'm very much mistaken, that the tricksters are clearly attempting to hack women's brains (ie with the little psychological games to make them look insightful or deep, with use of negging, etc) in an unethical way. Mystery is a good example of this

Agreed. Ross Jeffries and Mystery both explicitly belong to this school. However, the general trend in successful schools has been moving progressively further and further away from these approaches. Indeed, even Mystery is viewable as a step away from Jeffries' position - arguably most of the Mystery Method can be compared to a generalized pattern for "how to give a speech" -- i.e., this is the order of steps that people go through in becoming attracted to one another, so this is the order in which you should do things. You can discard all of the specific problematic techniques at each stage, and just use the stages themselves.

In fact, this is what the RSD people do - the company formed from the feud between Mystery and certain of his Project Hollywood brethren. They kept the logistics, and substitute what might simplistically be called "confidence" for the use of canned material and tricks. The RSD people have famously claimed that any statement, no matter how ridiculous, can be used to start a conversation, if used with the right attitude. And one of their examples is, "I like salad!"

Clearly, this is not some sort of underhanded mind hack.

It seems to me that, in general, the direction of larger PUA schools since Mystery is increasingly away from the direction of "tricks", and for various economic/marketing reasons (which I won't bore you with here), I expect this trend to continue. But in addition to those business reasons, there's a deeper reason as well.

In one workshop video excerpt I saw, a teacher told a story about his first attempt at pickup, after having read some stupid poem on the internet that was supposed to be a magic pickup line or something. Only, being young and gullible, he totally and utterly believed it would work. So he went to the nearest bar, went straight to the best-looking woman in the room, and used it... and it worked.

Not because it was magic. But because he believed it would work, and therefore gave off all the attractive signals of a man with complete confidence in himself.

So, what's been happening is that there's an increasing realization among the teachers that, really, there are only two things to teach: confidence, and the details. (Where details might be compared to stage management, planning & prep., and improvisation skills in relation to public speaking.)

In practice, I'm also using the word "confidence" to cover a broad spectrum of ideas such as frame control, nonreactivity, positive state and projections, self-image, etc.

But the inner school still includes techniques to optimise/hack the woman, for example the systems of how to touch women casually so that they "feel safe"

Surely you'd want to know how not to touch someone in an offputting way, or to convey a degree of interest that you didn't mean to? I guess I'm confused how learning to touch in a courteous way constitutes "hacking".

I don't see how that's any different from the tricksters. For example, Juggler says: "You can figure out what IOIs you want and then 'trick' or command them from girls." He even says men should "Tell her to sit with the proper posture" or get "her" to "accept your commands" by starting small and then building up.

The public speaker gets up in front of an audience, and says, "How's everybody doing tonight?" No responses. Louder: "How's everybody doing tonight?", and gets some response. Later, the speaker asks how many people are local/from out of town, asks them to raise their hands.

By the speed of the responses, the speaker knows whether his audience is responding to his message. Also, by making them do things, the speaker is asking for a greater commitment to and involvement with whatever message is being presented.

However, this is not "hacking" the audience. If somebody is not open to what is being said, they're gonna sit there with folded hands and their mouth shut, no matter what the speaker says or asks. The speaker's actions may increase the response of audience members who are at least minimally responsive, but their minds are hardly being hacked! If it were possible to really hack minds in this way, seminar speakers would make considerably more money than they already do. ;-)

These types of responsiveness requests are mainly useful for measuring the temperature of an interaction, and prompting a move to the next stage of an interaction that's already going well. They can't be used to create something that isn't already there, which is why public speakers can't just give people a bunch of commands to raise their hands or stand up or sit down or clap, as a simple lead up to saying, "now go to the back of the room and give me all your money."

Do you really think that even the most devious PUA tricks have any more mind hacking power than this? I don't. And my general impression is that the skilled PUAs and teachers don't expect any of these tricks to do the work for them; having showmanship or salesmanship is not really a substitute for having something worth showing or selling.

To me the inner school is fundamentally the same as the tricksters, except it adds in a component of self-optimising as well as the manipulation of the woman - that makes it less wrong but certainly not right.

Well, since I haven't taken any classes from any of these people, I can't absolutely refute this with any certainty. But my understanding is that, for example, RSD's "Blueprint Decoded" workshop consists of four days of nothing but self-improvement, as do the Double Your Dating "Man Transformation", "Deep Inner Game", and "On Being A Man" workshop products. So, there are definitely guys out there wanting to buy stuff that's only inner game and has nothing to do with manipulating anybody (or the DYD people sure as heck wouldn't have made three high-end products on the topic!).

Now, whether the products match the way they're promoted, I couldn't say. But I think it's interesting, the shifts in marketing that have taken place over the years, and I think it reflects an increasing understanding that while many guys will buy tricks, what a large percentage of them really want, is just to be someone who's comfortable around attractive women, and doesn't put them off in a hundred tiny ways they don't even realize they're doing.

I think this is a worthwhile thing, and I assume you do as well.

Comment author: Rachael 24 July 2009 08:23:56AM 8 points [-]

We both think it’s a good thing if men want to learn about how to be more considerate, more confident, and more comfortable around women – you were right to assume I agree here. I have no problem with your examples; in fact, I can tell you now I would probably respond well if a guy started a conversation with me about salad in a confident way. :D

You and I disagree about the extent to which the PUAs are teaching people that. You say that they are, and I believe your examples, but most of the sites I can find are all about sequences, “running game”, tricks, mind games, strategies, etc. They rank women from 1 to 10 and advise different techniques. So many of the websites I am seeing talk about women as though they're objects, not people - and simplistic, easily hackable objects at that. Press button X, the man is assured, and she is likely to respond with Y. I went back to look at them for the purposes at this discussion and I feel revolted all over again. The Mystery Method for example explicitly advises stimulating positive AND negative emotions in a woman, specifically jealousy and frustration, because that makes her emotionally vulnerable to male advances! Do you agree this is highly objectionable?

We also disagree about the touching example. This isn’t about touching in a “courteous way”, this is about touching in a strategic way in order to get her to let her guard down, and to trust you, or even to subconsciously conform to your wishes (ie firm hand on the small of the back). That’s a hack.

The third thing I want to address is your public speaking example. As I said before, this differs from PUA because everyone realises what is going on. The artifice is on the surface – if a public speaker convinces me of something, it is with my permission. The PUArtist intends to hide the artifice, to convince a woman to sleep with him or lust after him without her realising he is using mind tricks to do it. The hiding of the artifice is not always successful, but that doesn’t matter: the problem here is the intention to deceive, the intention to trick a woman into feeling something. That’s why the PUA tricks have more mind-hacking power than asking an audience how they’re feeling or to raise their hands: the participant is not supposed to be aware they’re being played, so their guard against it is unlikely to be as strong.

Comment author: pjeby 26 July 2009 02:51:29AM 8 points [-]

but most of the sites I can find are all about sequences, “running game”, tricks, mind games, strategies, etc.

Yeah, I don't read most of those sites. As I said, it certainly can be considered selection or availability bias on my part.

However, that being said, I must reject the idea that "PUA is bad" because some or even most PUA are bad. If most women have some disliked property X, it would be just as wrong for me to attribute property X to "women".

So many of the websites I am seeing talk about women as though they're objects, not people - and simplistic, easily hackable objects at that. Press button X, the man is assured, and she is likely to respond with Y.

Seriously, doesn't virtually every book in the "relationships" section of a bookstore (not to mention Cosmo) do just the same with men?

If one of those books says, "Men need X in order to give you Y, so be sure to give them X", how is this actually any different?

In truth, it isn't. Many men prefer to use language that sounds like they have control or mastery over a situation, and many women prefer language that sounds like they are caring or giving in the same situation.

And, this language difference is independent of the person's behavior. There are women who can read that relationship book and use what they find to make men miserable, and those who want to know because they care.

Same thing with men: there are those who learn PUA to get back at women and society, and there are those who genuinely want to relate better. And for the latter men, the language may or may not be a barrier. I personally relate better to materials that are about "this is what she needs/wants" rather than "this is what button to push", but usually even the button-pushers (among the professional trainers) will include some info about the need/want side of things.

The Mystery Method for example explicitly advises stimulating positive AND negative emotions in a woman, specifically jealousy and frustration, because that makes her emotionally vulnerable to male advances! Do you agree this is highly objectionable?

My impression is that the jealousy and frustration here is very mild, on a very playful level. After all, we are talking about two people who've just met a few minutes ago. If someone experiences real jealousy or frustration from a few minutes of Mystery's antics, I suspect they would not be able to handle a normal relationship very well... and not just with him!

For the rest of your comment, I think HughRistik has done a good job of addressing your points. The touch issue, for example, falls under the heading of, "so... it's okay if somebody does it without thinking, but if they do it on purpose, it's somehow bad?" And likewise, if we are not to have any artifice at all, then should we all go out to the clubs unwashed and unkempt, since that's what we look like when we get out of bed in the morning?

And there isn't a single one of these things that isn't matched in one way or another by the advice given to women. Heck, the Double Your Dating guy actually has a product out now for women called "Catch Him And Keep Him", for women to game men with.

Heck, you want to talk about mind hacking... the marketing for Catch Him and Keep Him has far, far more female mind hacking in it than any PUA material I have ever seen. Fortunately for you, it will probably not work on a female rationalist who isn't insecure about relationships - it is specifically targeted at typical fears and insecurities about men.

Of course, that gets back to the question: if you make something that will actually help that insecure woman, is it "evil mind hacking" to tell her what you have and what it will do for her?

And if a guy actually has good qualities, is it wrong for him to advertise them?

More to the point, if the thing a woman happens to want from a guy is a positive experience, then how is it manipulation for him to give her that positive experience, whatever it consists of? Confidence, touch... or even jealousy, intrigue, and drama.

(To say that "a lot of women like drama" would be an understatement of both "a lot" and "like".)

Comment author: HughRistik 24 July 2009 04:14:24PM *  7 points [-]

They rank women from 1 to 10 and advise different techniques.

Yes. The rating system is controversial in the community, and many PUAs refuse to use it exactly because they see it as objectifying. The reason that it probably sticks around is that it happens to be useful: a woman's conventional attractiveness is a factor in how she has been treated by men, and the physiological effect she has on the PUA, both of which are highly relevant.

As I said before, this differs from PUA because everyone realises what is going on.

Do women not realize what is going on when a strange guy approaches them?

The PUArtist intends to hide the artifice,

Are you against all hidden artifices in dating (including female artifices)? Or just some particular types of artifice? If the latter, what distinguishes the artifices that you find objectionable? The moral standards you are advocating seem potentially over-broad to me.

to convince a woman to sleep with him or lust after him without her realising he is using mind tricks to do it.

The problem I have with the term "mind tricks" is that a lot of these behaviors are isomorphic to social behaviors shown by men who are naturally successful with women (which is not to say that I don't have a problem with some techniques, see below). The neg, and cocky/funny for instance. It seems counter-intuitive to hold that these behaviors are OK if you don't realize you are doing them, but not OK if you know how they work. Of course, you might see the neg as bad either way, in which case it sounds like the main problem you have is with the effects of the technique, not its covert nature.

And indeed, I also have a problem with the neg. I think that the potential benefits it provides don't outweigh the potential discomfort or insult it can cause to the woman. Or though it might in some contexts, there are better ways to get the same interest without risking hurting her feelings. I think the seduction community as a whole is coming around to this view. Mystery had them believing that negs were practically necessary on highly attractive women in clubs, but eventually people discovered that there were other ways to get their foot in the door, so the neg could no longer be justified on the grounds of virtual necessity.

Comment author: Lightwave 24 July 2009 06:53:14PM *  2 points [-]

And indeed, I also have a problem with the neg.

The neg can simply be more on the teasing side than on the insulting side. I don't think teasing is all that objectionable.

Comment author: jfpbookworm 24 July 2009 07:26:27PM 4 points [-]

Part of the issue is that, even when the hurt is minimal, it's a decision that one's own self-interest outweighs the harm to someone else, and as humans we're not very good at making that calculation objectively.

Comment author: HughRistik 25 July 2009 05:31:27AM *  2 points [-]

Hi jfpbookworm, long time no see. I agree with skepticism when making decisions over whether one's self-interest outweighs harm to someone else, which is why in this post I advocated weighing in the potential benefit to the other party also (emphasis added):

I think what we should really be asking is: is the technique harmful, can the user of the technique reasonably be expected to know that, and can any potential harm be justified by potential benefits to the recipient of the technique?

I think I came by this way of thinking from reading Mane Hajdin's The Law of Sexual Harassment. He wrote an article in this book that has some relevant comments (read page 297-299, though we don't get 298 in the preview):

We base our decisions on comparing the expected social utility of a practice (the magnitude of the benefits multiplied by the probability of their occurrence) with the expected social disutility or the expected social cost (the magnitude of the harms multiplied by the probability of their occurrence). [...] For at least some crude or aggressive advances we will have to conclude that the magnitude of the harm, multiplied by its probability, is so great that the advances in question are worthwhile, and that it may be desirable to have rules that prohibit them. [...] Moreover, in determining whether sexual advances of a particular kind would be worthwhile we need to compare the making of such advances not only with not making any advances, but also with making other kinds of advances that can be made under the circumstances.

He then sets up three hypothetical advances:

  1. 10% chance of success, 88% chance of mild annoyance, 2% chance of offense

  2. 10% success, 89% mild annoyance, 1% offense

  3. 11% success, 69% mild annoyance, 20% offense

He says that advances #2 is obvious preferable to advance #1. As for advance #3, the relevant question to ask is:

whether the additional 1 percent probability of success justifies the additional 19 percent probability of offense. If the answer to that question is "no," as it may well be (that depends on the precise intensity of the offense), then we may want to discourage people from making advances of this third type and encourage them to make the advances that are less risky instead. This is exactly analogous to the reasoning that leads us to impose speed limits on motor traffic.

When pickup artists think about ethics, I suspect this is the kind of implicit moral framework they are using. Of course, all of these calculations have subjective factors, but they are better than nothing.

Comment author: Rachael 26 July 2009 05:42:59AM 1 point [-]

Exactly, thank you.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 July 2009 06:55:59AM *  5 points [-]

Rachael, I think you raise some excellent questions about the ethics of social influence.

By "hack" I mean "influence in an underhanded way without permission"

Could you explain this without using loaded terms so I can understand exactly what your objection is? I'm glad you try to unpack "hack" as "influence in an underhanded way without permission", but "underhanded" is still a loaded term!

My best guess is that you're saying that it's unethical to intentionally use a tactic of social influence that the other person doesn't understand and hasn't granted permission for. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.)

I would agree that such behavior is often creepy or distasteful, but I think calling it unethical would have results that are counter to our intuitions. Does it imply that if the other person knew what you were doing, then it would be OK? Or that if you didn't know you were influencing them, it would be OK? Let's look at an example from the feminine behavioral repertoire: push-up bras. Are these a hack into the male mind? Some males probably don't know what push-up bras are, or what their effect is, so they are being influenced by that "tactic" without their knowledge or permission.

To avoid potentially banning large swathes of male and female mating behavior, I think we really have to look at the content of social influence techniques, not just at who knows how it works and who doesn't. I think what we should really be asking is: is the technique harmful, can the user of the technique reasonably be expected to know that, and can any potential harm be justified by potential benefits to the recipient of the technique? Are there any similar techniques out there that can accomplish the same result with less risk of harm?

When looking at pickup techniques, I think we would see a whole gamut of answers to those questions.

Comment author: Rachael 26 July 2009 02:43:55AM 2 points [-]

I think you’re right that we have to look at the harm and good of influence tactics. That probably would help us separate, say, wearing push up bras and learning how to be attentive and confident around women, from learning to put women down or make them feel negative emotions so they’re more vulnerable to you.

I do think the permission aspect is still important, though, because otherwise it smacks of a kind of paternalistic approach – the male judges what’s good for everyone and then executes it, without checking with the woman if this is what she thinks is good too. Sort of “I should trick her into liking me because I’m a really swell guy, so it would be better for her if she liked me!” Because in relationships between people a lot of things are subjective and personal, this is an area where it’s reasonable that rational people’s estimations of what’s good and bad will differ.

I don’t think permission is an issue when you’re self-optimising. So I don’t think it matters if men secretly take courses to be more confident and comfortable around women, or if women secretly wear push-up bras. I think it’s important when you’re trying to directly influence the other person, like with the PUA mind games and strategies for producing emotional vulnerability.

Unpacking "hack" more is difficult, I guess "underhanded" would be "using a technique that is deceptive, dishonest, and potentially harmful". Except now I brought harm back into it so I'm not sure if that helps at all. I do think a hack has to be a direct influence on the other person, not an indirect influence, so that the self-optimising never counts as a hack. I realise the line between direct and indirect is difficult to draw here and it could take us a while to figure it out (if we felt so inclined.)

Comment author: HughRistik 30 July 2009 07:07:50AM *  5 points [-]

I'll probably need to do a couple posts to properly reply to you, but I like your idea of consolidating them into one thread. For others' reference, I'm also replying to this post by Rachael.

I definitely find the clear harm more objectionable than the covertness - I do still object to the covertness, as I explained in the previous paragraph.

I do think we can say that if a form of influence is harmful and covert, then the covertness makes it worse. Trying to harm someone sneakily is worse than trying to harm them overtly.

I still have trouble with banning covert methods of influence, merely for being covert, even direct influence. That's why I brought up the example of the push-up bra. It's not self-optimization, it's deception, and it's a direct attempt to effect male sexual psychology in a way that can "substantially influence" their behavior. To say that it is ethical suggests that certain types of deception can be justified.

The use of covert influence techniques raises a question: if the person it was being used on found out later, how would they feel?

In the case of push-up bras, I think the intuition is that if/when a man finds out about the covert technique, he will/should consider it justified, or at least excusable, if he understood the challenges women go through in satisfying men's sexual preferences for looks. Likewise, the intuition around a PUA a technique may be that if women discovered it, they would or should consider it to be justified, or at least excusable, if they understood the challenges men go through in satisfying women's sexual preferences (e.g. for masculine traits, and see the Draco In Leather Pants TV Trope for some less-empirical but more humorous examples of the dark side of female preferences). Furthermore, in both cases, the intuition may be that once the other person's stereotypical sexual preference is satisfied (e.g. looks for men, or masculinity for women), and they actually get to know the other person, they might be less concerned about the other sex using using a bit of deception to get their foot in the door.

The level of deception typically involved in pickup techniques is much lower than the push-bra, because PUAs are actually trying to embody traits that are attractive to women. When pickup artists are "faking" things, the faking is merely a temporary phase in the process of "fake it til' you make it." Probably the worst type of male deception for females is when males are deceptive about their relationship interest or availability. Yet PUAs advocate avoiding false promises of relationship interest, and are often explicitly upfront about what they are looking for, which is one of the ways that PUA behavior is actually more ethical than certain normal male behaviors.

To the extent that PUAs practice deception, it's less like being wolves in sheeps' clothing, and more like being sheep in wolves' clothing. If a woman finds out that the seemingly-badboy PUA she is dating is really a sweetheart inside, how bad actually is that? Many women would probably be thrilled.

I do agree with you that using influence tactics when the other person isn't aware of is morally problematic, even though I don't see selectively banning them from dating-challenged men to be an easy solution for multiple reasons that I might get into in the future. Consequently, I want to see full transparency for social influence, particularly mating-related social influence in society. I tell women I date for any length of time about the seduction community, in a level of detail that depends on how interested they seem in the subject. As you've probably noticed, I'll also talk the ear off of anyone who seems interested in the subject with an open mind.

In a future post, I want to address the ethics of potentially harmful social influence, the ethics of exposing other people to risks, and whether or not these can be justified by believing oneself to be a "swell guy."

Comment author: thomblake 23 July 2009 07:58:23PM *  2 points [-]

None of these things are any more offensive or objectifying to women than public speaking classes are to audiences.

Not that I'm arguing a normative point here, but I've always gotten the same negative vibe from public speaking classes (and rhetoric) as from marketing/PUA. But then, I've often been known to disregard relevant social skills.

Comment author: Nanani 24 July 2009 12:20:47AM 7 points [-]

I had the same reaction of revulsion to PUA sites until I realized it only works when I let it, and I suspect the same for most women.

PUAs work in singles bars and other places where single people go to interact with other single people. Girls go to these places when they want sexual attention; IE when they want to be picked-up. Sure there are accompanying reasons like drinking and dancing, but a woman who wants to avoid getting hacked by these techiniques has the very simple option of just not exposing herself to them.

If one of these "artists" hit on you when you are not in a receptive frame of mind, wouldn't you just reject him? I certainly do. When you are in a receptive frame of mind, it is of course different, and that is when the PUA-stuff can hack you, so to speak, into accepting the advances of someone you'd otherwise reject. That is not to say these guys can just point a finger at you in the street and Bang.

Long story short, he can't deny you agency unless you are already objectifying yourself.

Comment author: pjeby 24 July 2009 01:14:53AM 2 points [-]

When you are in a receptive frame of mind, it is of course different, and that is when the PUA-stuff can hack you, so to speak, into accepting the advances of someone you'd otherwise reject.

If someone offers you a tasty dessert when you're hungry, is that "hacking" your mind, because you otherwise wouldn't choose to eat it?

Comment author: Nanani 24 July 2009 01:25:17AM 5 points [-]

If I'm in a bakery, they can hardly be blamed for offering me a cupcake. If I don't want the sweets, it is on me to avoid sellers of desserts. if I'm in a music store and someone offers me a dessert, I'm going to go "WTF" and leave before the weirdo with the candy starts doing something even weirder.

Comment author: pjeby 24 July 2009 01:40:17AM 2 points [-]

My point is about the "hacking" part, not where the thing is being offered.

Let me rephrase. If a person deliberately sets out to make a tastier dessert, so that it's more attractive than competing desserts, how is this "hacking" anyone's mind? If it's more attractive, then it's more attractive!

One can argue about whether it might be better from a health or finanical perspective to skip the dessert. One can even say that it's rude to offer a person some dessert in an inappropriate context. But none of these things have to do with how the dessert tastes, or the quality of ingredients used, or the presentation of the dessert on the plate.

If the baker doesn't lie about what's in the dessert, and has gone to extra trouble to procure the finest ingredients, and make the best possible presentation...

And if you choose that dessert because of these things, is that "hacking" your mind? Or just someone offering you a nice dessert?

Your earlier comment implied that someone is "hacking" your mind, when all they've actually done is try their best to offer you a nice dessert. Whether you choose to indulge or not is still an essentially free choice, just like we are all free to turn down an actual dessert, no matter how tempting to our palates it may be.

It seems wrong (to me) to imply that using better ingredients or presentation of a dish somehow equals reaching out into someone's brain and taking control of it. If it were, then we could turn around and argue that men have no control when they see an attractive woman... and I don't think any of us like where that kind of thinking takes us (e.g. burqas, to say the very least).

(Footnote: is this comment insensitive to Muslims? I'm going to have to guess that religion is the one reasonably-safe whipping boy on LW, at least for the moment.)

Comment author: Nanani 24 July 2009 02:04:29AM 4 points [-]

I see.

Well no, -making- a more attractive dessert is not in any way hacking. PUA techniques that rely on maximising the man's attractiveness to women are not hacking her brain, they are life-hacks for him. These are not the techniques likely to be objected to, methinks.

I think the improving-the-product aspect is eminently laudable. Self improvement is good.

What does count as hacking is more along the lines of this: To push the bakery example; I do not like caramel, but let's say I go to a bakery intending to buy a banana muffin, but the charming presentation of fresh baked caramel ones, along with some tactics by the bakery employees, convince to buy a caramel muffin just this once.

The tactics of presentation and salesmanship have effectively hacked my brain into going for a lower-order preference.

It would take one amazing hack to make me eat a caramel muffin when I'm not hungry and not in a bakery, one that I suspect is not acheivable. I can say no to banana muffins, too.

I don't mean to say that all PUA technique is fakery and salesmanship; rather I think that the sales-based portions are the ones that horrify women.

Given that I don't find salesmanship horrifying when buying food or anything else, I've stopped finding descriptions of PUA work horrifying.

Comment author: pjeby 24 July 2009 02:20:58AM 3 points [-]

I don't mean to say that all PUA technique is fakery and salesmanship; rather I think that the sales-based portions are the ones that horrify women.

In all fairness, the consequences of choosing a bad "dessert" are probably much worse in the singles' bar than in the bakery, so I can certainly empathize with an intuitive horror of being "sold" something you don't really want in that context.

Given that I don't find salesmanship horrifying when buying food or anything else, I've stopped finding descriptions of PUA work horrifying.

Thanks for listening and being open-minded. I appreciate it.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 24 July 2009 01:18:59AM 2 points [-]

If someone who is trying to quit smoking complains about a craving, and you offer them a cigarette, are you doing them a favor?

Comment author: SilasBarta 24 July 2009 12:30:46AM *  5 points [-]

I can't understand your position. There are people who seem to reliably be able to (in a sense) "hack" women's minds ... and you don't want to know about it? Wouldn't you want to be aware of when you are tricked into wanting something that goes against your interest?

ETA: I'm male, and I felt the same revulsion at PUA discussions, but decided that it's all the more reason to learn about them.

Comment author: Rachael 24 July 2009 02:46:43AM 6 points [-]

I see I didn't make myself clear on this one, sorry. I do want to know about it, and indeed I spent some time researching it when I first found out about it. But I find any discussion of it in the context of possibly trying to use it on women, or any attempt to optimise the process to that end, to be repulsive. I don't want to be in an environment where it is considered acceptable. I'm not against discussing it per se, I am against discussing it as an acceptable/admirable course of action or in a positive light.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 21 July 2009 05:33:55PM 10 points [-]

I'd like to see a more scientific study of what are the real triggers of the ick/"I'm offended" reaction. Perhaps collect all of the instances of comments that caused it and compare with a representative sample of non-icky/offensive comments?

The hypotheses I've seen so far are:

  • to be thought of, talked about as, or treated like a non-person (Alicorn)
  • analysis of behavior that puts the reader in the group being analyzed, and the speaker outside it (orthonormal)
  • exclusion from the intended audience (Eliezer)

Then just keep on accepting suggested edits.

Doesn't that assume that whoever suggested the edits knows what's really causing the ick/offense, which you just pointed out may not be the case?

Comment author: Wei_Dai 21 July 2009 08:22:15PM 4 points [-]

Also, are there any papers on the evolutionary psychology of giving and taking offense in general? The closest thing I've found is http://www.slate.com/id/2202303/pagenum/all/, but that's a magazine column rather than a scientific study.

I'd also be interested in any papers on the ethics of giving and taking offense from a consequentialist perspective.

Comment author: nerfhammer 21 July 2009 08:14:52PM *  7 points [-]

Is it out of bounds to consider plain and simple prejudice as the trigger?

Disgust reactions are frequently based on prejudices that should be challenged and rebutted. People frequently describe male sexuality in strikingly similar ways to how prejudiced people describe (typically male) homosexuality. You know, it's disgusting, it's ridiculous, it's wrong in some indescribable way, it's threatening and dangerous in some abstract, unfalsifiable sense. Except it's not taboo to talk about male heterosexuality that way. Men are pigs, after all, and that they want to have sex is ridiculous and wrong ipso facto. We should question and challenge rather than try to rationalize these impulses. Maybe the validity of this kind of reaction shouldn't be automatically assumed. Maybe the icky wrongness is hard to articulate because you're trying to implausibly rationalize a slippery gut reaction, not trying to describe an elusive actual moral principle.

Here's an interesting interview with Martha Nussbaum on related topics: http://www.reason.com/news/show/33316.html

Comment author: komponisto 21 July 2009 08:48:01AM *  19 points [-]

What say you?

I agree, pretty much completely.

In general, I thought the recent discussions on seduction were beneath us. First I was put off by the de-personalization of people considered as sexual partners; and then I was equally offended by the undercurrent of "some people don't deserve (a high level of) sexual gratification, because they're not attractive enough" running through some of the indignant responses that I should otherwise have agreed with. For all the talk about "altruism" and concern for "humanity" in this community, there wasn't much of that spirit to be found anywhere in those threads.

Having locker-room discussions in public is low-status behavior. Now it is a debatable question whether we should go out of our way to signal high status. (I for one think the prestige of Overcoming Bias, run as it was by high-status folks like Robin Hanson and associated with no less than Oxford University, contributed in no small part to getting us this far, and is something we are in danger of losing to the extent we become perceived as a group of underachieving sex-starved male computer programmers in their twenties.) But I think most of us should be able to agree that signaling low status is not helpful toward our goals as a community (which after all don't necessarily include individual members' getting laid in the short term).

So, yes, this is in fact an argument for a certain kind of political correctness -- just enough of it to avoid signaling low status if at all possible. Let me suggest a heuristic: this should in theory be a place where someone like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett would be comfortable posting. (Speaking of which, why haven't we seen them here? They share many of our goals and interests.) Now these are folks who definitely aren't unwilling to call a spade a spade. At the same time I have a feeling they'd be turned off by some of the discussions of "PUA" and the like.

Comment author: bogus 21 July 2009 09:57:59AM *  19 points [-]

So, yes, this is in fact an argument for a certain kind of political correctness -- just enough of it to avoid signaling low status if at all possible.

No no no. Discouraging topics with "low status" connotations (as opposed to topics which are politically divisive or needlessly exclusionary) is cowardly and epistemically dangerous. If we were playing a chronophone game, this would come out as "Let's not discuss Copernicus' theories: this should be a place where Jesuit scientists and philosophers can be comfortable".

Rationalists should win, and one can win big by seeing things that society at large dares not point out just yet.

Comment author: komponisto 21 July 2009 10:34:22AM *  14 points [-]

If we were playing a chronophone game, this would come out as "Let's not discuss Copernicus' theories: this should be a place where Jesuit scientists and philosophers can be comfortable".

Nonsense. It was with the aim of preventing this misunderstanding that I suggested the Dawkins/Dennett test (apparently to no avail). "Low status" doesn't mean what you seem to think; it's not the same thing has holding a minority opinion. Galileo's status was quite high, which is why he was treated as a threat by the church rather than being ignored as a lunatic. A more appropriate chronophone rendering might be: "Let's make sure we wear our wigs and robes properly and have a Latin version ready to go ."

Finally note that I said "if at all possible". If for some reason a particular line of reasoning actually does signal low status but nonetheless needs to be heard, we have an escape clause. It shouldn't be used lightly, however.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 01:13:34PM *  6 points [-]

Factual nitpick: scientific status doesn't imply sexual status, in fact I gut-feel the real-world correlation is negative when controlled for income, though of course I don't have enough data.

Value nitpick: if we manage to find important truths at the price of collectively looking like sex-starved nerds, I for one am willing to pay that price. Those of us who aren't can always conceal their identities with nicknames.

Comment author: anonym 21 July 2009 06:26:00PM *  8 points [-]

if we manage to find important truths at the price of collectively looking like sex-starved nerds, I for one am willing to pay that price.

The question is whether that's necessary (or helpful) for finding important truths. You implicitly assume it is a required cost. More generally, is "writing in a way expected to alienate large numbers of people" a price that we must pay in order for our community to succeed?

Any pervasive trend that results in our community being the sort of place that a Dawkins or Dennett or Pinker would avoid is a trend that we should carefully analyze, and the burden of proof is correspondingly high to show that the net benefits of that sort of behavior warrant allowing it. I don't think anybody has shown that the sort of objectionable writing in question has such benefits or that there aren't alternate ways of communicating the same ideas without being alienating, the primary cost being some extra effort required on the part of the writer.

Comment author: Dufaer 21 July 2009 09:29:27PM 0 points [-]

The categorical goal should not be a "successful community", but rather a truly rationalist community. As such the process of truth-finding should not be compromised by any social "niceties". Now, I can bear some extra effort on the writer's part, but if you feel the pressure to please everyone, it is already a step in the direction of self-censorship, which should not be tolerated. No policy here should step on such a slippery slope, for there is a reason why they are called such.

And an explicit ban on any topic is (of course) categorically not acceptable - be it PUA or whatnot; as such is already a huge slide down on said slope. I am surprised there is not much more of an outcry following such a daring suggestion.

Rationality encompasses all - it has no taboo themes. Neither should you or this community.

Comment author: Alicorn 21 July 2009 09:33:30PM 2 points [-]

There have already been explicit bans on topics. In the early days of Less Wrong, there were bans on discussing the Singularity and artificial intelligence, for fear that without such a ban the conversations about these topics would overwhelm the fledgling site and create an undesireable skewed tone. The ban was lifted after a certain amount of time, when the tone was supposedly established.

If pickup artist discussion is creating a tone that is skewed in ways we don't like, it is not without precedent and not in opposition to rationality to end it.

Comment author: thomblake 21 July 2009 09:31:22PM *  1 point [-]

slippery slope, for there is a reason why they are called such.

slippery slope fallacy, for there is a reason why they are called such

Fixed it for you.

Comment author: Sideways 21 July 2009 05:50:02PM *  13 points [-]

I may be in the minority in this respect, but I like it when Less Wrong is in crisis. The LW community is sophisticated enough to (mostly) avoid affective spirals, which means it produces more and better thought in response to a crisis. I believe that, e.g., the practice of going to the profile of a user you don't like and downvoting every comment, regardless of content, undermines Less Wrong more than any crisis has or will.

Furthermore, I think the crisis paradigm is what a community of developing rationalists ought to look like. The conceit of students passively absorbing wisdom at the feet of an enlightened teacher is far from the mark. How many people can you think of, who mastered any subject by learning in this way?

That said... both "sides" of the gender crisis are repeating themselves, which strongly suggests they have nothing new to say. So I say Eliezer is right. If you can't understand the other side's perspective by now--if you still have no basis for agreement after all this discussion--you need to acknowledge that you have a blind spot here and either re-read with the intent to understand rather than refute, or just avoid talking about it.

Comment author: Nanani 22 July 2009 12:48:42AM 13 points [-]

I think anyone who feels excluded as a gender is not a very good rationalist, and therefore might want to shut up and study some more.

You are not your genetalia. Stop being a girl or a guy; put your rationalist hat back on. PLEASE.

For the record, I'm female and have been adversely affected by what other females have called objectification on this site.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 22 July 2009 06:27:37AM *  3 points [-]

Hopefully this site is not strictly preaching to the choir. Someone who believes people here have good ideas and understands why you should probably be charitable to naive generalizations or somewhat offensive assertions made here will not have a problem occasionally running into them.

However, it is not hard to imagine an individual unfamiliar with "rationalism" seeing a few too many posts on pickup artists and deciding their time would be better spent on another site.

Comment author: Nanani 23 July 2009 12:29:12AM 1 point [-]

If the person is familiar with PUAs, won't they just laugh and ignore the posts? That's what I did until this ugly gender/hormonal mess flared up.

Comment author: randallsquared 22 July 2009 02:13:03AM 4 points [-]

At current tech levels, I do not believe it will be possible for a rationalist to stop being a girl or a guy. Additionally, I don't know that it's even desirable for people to try to think only in a gender-neutral fashion, any more than it would necessarily be desirable for humans and Happies to try to think only in species-neutral terms.

Comment author: Nanani 23 July 2009 12:28:09AM 8 points [-]

It is desireable to think in a rational fashion. Prioritizing your gender is not rational, optimal, or desirable for pursuing rational discussion.

Gender is salient and important in some discussions, but it is not the only salient part of your identity. I am amazed this even needs to be said, but here it is anyway: you don't have to stop thinking like your gender ALL THE TIME. Just ignore your hormones when they are not salient to the topic at hand, as surely you do any time you are not interacting with bedable members of the appropriate gender.

Humans are meat puppets run by hormones, but at least we can recognize the hormonal signal and, you know, not respond when it's innapropriate.

Comment author: SoullessAutomaton 23 July 2009 01:29:07AM *  5 points [-]

Gender is salient and important in some discussions, but it is not the only salient part of your identity.

Seconding this sentiment.

Personally, I cannot even fathom why people seem to consider it an unusually significant part of their identity compared to other traits.

Comment author: thomblake 23 July 2009 01:43:32AM 2 points [-]

Agreed

Comment author: orange 03 April 2010 07:51:38PM 2 points [-]

It might be considerate to realize that females do have a legitimate reason for why they are more salient to their own sex and issues regarding gender. More so than males. This is because society treats male-ness as the norm versus female-ness, which is treated as special. As a result, many females become VERY AWARE of the fact they are female, have female genitalia, are treated "differently" because of their sex. Perhaps a lot of this awareness is in fact, subconscious. But none-the-less, this results in a stronger identification with their own gender. Whereas males have less problem disassociating with their own genitalia.

Becoming a good rationalist is a journey one takes, not something one "is" or "isn't". It is insulting to simply say "you're not a good rationalist if..." and then hold everyone to these standards.

I'm not saying your end-goal isn't correct, but the way to attract people to a site like this is not to BEGIN by assuming everyone is a "good rationalist" but that more people start out as "bad rationalists" and attracting them might take different approaches than what is rationally optimal or acceptable to current members.

Comment author: Nanani 05 April 2010 12:37:56AM 1 point [-]

This comment was never intended to attract people to the site, so your last paragraph is not relevant.

Please refrain from lecturing a female on what females do or do not do.

Comment author: thomblake 13 April 2010 03:50:01PM 2 points [-]

This comment was never intended to attract people to the site, so your last paragraph is not relevant.

I think that most of the discussion of content quality around here revolves around either community-building or effective rational inquiry. It is a valid criticism of any comment to say that it fails at community-building, though it's not necessarily a standard everyone needs to worry about all the time.

Comment author: taw 21 July 2009 09:59:31AM 21 points [-]

Disliking talk about PUA in a place like this is very ironic, as that's the best example of practical use of evolutionary psychology I can think of.

If we also start disliking behavioral economics as equally manipulative, we're running of real world examples.

As far as I can tell most people who dislike PUA techniques don't really understand them.

Comment author: eirenicon 21 July 2009 02:35:55PM *  7 points [-]

But is PUA discussed here because it's a great example of evolutionary psychology in practise, or because this is a community of mostly single men who are interested in evolutionary psychology? I find neuro-linguistic programming endlessly fascinating and would love to see a good article on it at Less Wrong, but what are the odds that it will reference* pickup artists rather than, say, Derren Brown?

*The odds that no pop cultural references will be made are low. This is Less Wrong.

Comment author: PaulWright 23 July 2009 12:30:57AM *  5 points [-]

I admire Derren Brown enormously for his cleverness, but he's not doing NLP (if indeed there's anything to do: an article which addressed the evidence would be good, I think). He just wants you do think he is. The bit at the end of the trick where he gleefully shows you how he did it using NLP to implant words in people's minds is itself misdirection. It's part of his act, as pretending to be psychic would have been back in the days when people kind of believed in that.

Brown: "Years ago the issue was whether or not you told people it was psychic because people were prepared to believe in psychic ability--and how far down that road do you take them. Now we're in a situation where we're into pop psychology, and NLP, all these huge industries, and people are prepared to believe in that, and maybe in a way that's the new psychic realm." The whole interview the quote came from is worth reading.

Comment author: pjeby 23 July 2009 01:08:12AM *  2 points [-]

The whole interview the quote came from is worth reading.

Especially since it contradicts what you just said about Brown not doing NLP. From the interview:

Well, I not a big a fan of it, but I've done it and think in some contexts there's some use.... It's not what I do. It's part of what I do."

It struck me that the interviewer was really pressing Brown rather hard to say that things like NLP and hypnosis are shams and false, and Brown was pressing back rather hard with the idea that no, people can actually get some benefits from learning these things, they just won't be able to duplicate all my effects that way.

Of course, I've seen Brown do certain things that are pretty much straight-up, textbook NLP or hypnosis with no real embellishing. For example, confusing a woman about what color her car is - a simple submodality anchoring belief-change exercise, straight out of the NLP textbooks, with no alterations that I noticed.

And the one where he uses blank pieces of paper to pay for things as if it were money, he uses an NLP language pattern to prime the person at a critical moment with the idea that "it's good; take it". (Although I suppose you could say it's an Ericksonian hypnosis pattern; the NLP inventors certainly were among the first to document it, however.)

That having been said, quite a few things he does are not NLP at all, or at least not any cataloged NLP technique I know of.

The bit at the end of the trick where he gleefully shows you how he did it using NLP to implant words in people's minds is itself misdirection.

In neither of the two cases that I just mention, did Brown draw any attention to the NLP aspect of the effects, either verbally or nonverbally. He provided no explanation at all for either, actually. (Maybe he only does it with techniques that aren't real NLP?)

Anyway, I had to very carefully view the paying-with-paper footage several times in order to notice what he was doing, as he was telling different stories each time in which to embed the "it's good, take it" message, which was always timed to occur just as he was handing them the "money".

(Of course, I also respect him for including outtake footage in the episode of him trying the trick on a suspicious hotdog vendor (whose English wasn't so good) and having it fail miserably. I'm glad he's not representing these things as working every time on everybody without fail.)

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 03:07:37PM *  4 points [-]

I'd love to see a detailed text on Derren Brown because the Wikipedia article about him is so intriguing.

Comment author: eirenicon 21 July 2009 03:32:43PM *  3 points [-]

My favourite of his shows is his Channel 4 special "Messiah". It's an extraordinary piece on confirmation bias, but worth watching purely for the entertainment value as well. Unfortunately, Brown declines to share his actual methods, although many can be inferred.

[edit] Adding to this, Brown himself is a rare phenomenon: an entertainment celebrity who promotes overcoming bias. Since he appeals to a large audience, not just those who are interested in 'magic' or psychology, I wouldn't be surprised if his shows have caused a measurable increase of critical thinking among his viewers.

Comment author: Emile 21 July 2009 12:30:26PM 6 points [-]

I don't think Eliezer is saying he doesn't like PUA techniques, but rather that the way they're brought up here can make women feel like they're not part of the intended audience - hence the Frank example, which shows a situation where those techniques could be discussed without giving off that impression.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 21 July 2009 05:07:35PM 8 points [-]

Yup. Is there somewhere in the PUA literature where they tell you to, you know, notice the way women react to your speech? We're not talking about slavish adaptation here. We're talking about noticing.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 06:36:28PM 8 points [-]

Yup. Is there somewhere in the PUA literature where they tell you to, you know, notice the way women react to your speech?

Yes, it's called "social calibration", and from the way teachers go on about it, I gather it's one of the most difficult things to teach to someone who doesn't have it. By default, people pay more attention to their projections of what other people are thinking about what they're doing, than they are to either what they're actually doing, or how people are actually reacting to it.

Of course, social calibration is even harder in a purely textual environment, especially one where it's easy to mistake one's conversation for a one-on-one interaction with the person you're directly replying to. Here, it can be almost as if you're having a nice little person-to-person chat in a noisy club, and then all of a sudden, the music goes quiet just as you're yelling (to make yourself heard to the person next to you) some embarassingly out-of-context thing , and then everybody's staring at you...

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 06:55:58PM 5 points [-]

I don't want to have to be socially calibrated on LW.

Social calibration for the seduction community has a very simple rule about talking about pick-up techniques: don't do it, except with other trusted members of the community. If someone outside the community brings it up, just don't mention it, because society has conditioned them to start going into a feminist death-spiral about it.

So if I follow that rule, I will just have to not mention it here.

Comment author: gjm 21 July 2009 09:57:31PM 4 points [-]

I don't want to have to be socially calibrated on LW.

That seems awfully close to "I want to act like an asshole on LW and not care what effect it has on anyone else". I hope that if you do then you'll get voted into the ground.

just don't mention it, because society has conditioned them to start going into a feminist death-spiral about it.

I think that holding a belief of the form "You mustn't admit to X outside our inner circle, because the unenlightened have been conditioned by society to hate and fear it" should be treated as a warning sign that one might have been sucked into something unpleasant. I expect the members of various cults have similar rules.

(Of course, sometimes it might be perfectly correct; see, e.g., Paul Graham's essay on what you can't say. But my guess is that such occasions are outnumbered considerably by ones where the reason why you'd get in trouble for saying X in public is because X is stupid or unpleasant or something of the kind, and people who haven't been desensitized to it will notice.

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 10:31:45PM 4 points [-]

I expect the members of various cults have similar rules.

Fully general counterargument against any unpleasant truth.

Comment author: gjm 21 July 2009 11:11:41PM 2 points [-]

That sentence wasn't an argument. The two paragraphs containing the sentence do constitute an argument or something like one; they are not "fully general" in any sense that seems problematic to me. The most one can say is this: they claim that if a proposition is socially unacceptable to state then it's less likely to be true. I'm happy to stand by that: I think "unacceptable" propositions are less often true than "acceptable" ones. Do you really disagree with that?

Incidentally, I wasn't primarily thinking of X as being a proposition but as a behaviour or an attitude. I bet that among, say, politicians, advertisers, tobacco company executives, television evangelists, there are common habits or ways of thinking that "of course we wouldn't mention in public -- they wouldn't understand". And that neither you nor I would be keen to defend those habits or ways of thinking, even if we're pretty sure we do understand them.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me repeat something I already said. Of course, some "unacceptable" ideas, behaviours and attitudes are in fact perfectly sensible and are unacceptable only because of silly social traditions or whatever. I claim only that such unacceptability is a useful warning signal.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 07:00:32PM *  2 points [-]

I can't tell whether your comment was sarcastic or sincere. If the latter, the answer is: yes, oh yes. PUAs devote a lot of effort to reading female responses. But you aren't going to appreciate this noticing when you see it up close. Example (don't click, this is my last warning): Doggy Dinner Bowl Look.

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 07:00:21PM *  26 points [-]

As far as I can tell most people who dislike PUA techniques don't really understand them.

Most people here don't understand them because they have this model in their mind that if you treat an attractive woman nicely, try to respect her desires and needs, perhaps compliment her, with the internal attitude that women should be "respected" she will respond in kind by respecting your desire to have sex with her.

They never test this model by going to a bar and trying to use it to achieve the goal of sex with an attractive woman. I know this, because if they had tested it even 3 nights in a row, they would have discarded it as "broken". I would love to go out into the field with 10 guys from LessWrong and alicorn to coach them, and watch them get rejected time after time by attractive women.

I would write a top level post explaining the techniques, the PUA model of the generic male-female interaction, the predictions it makes, and how you can go out and collect experimental evidence to confirm or disconfirm those predictions, but I think that I would not get promoted (no matter how good the post was from a rational perspective, measured in bits of information it conveys about the world) and not get much karma, because people here just don't want to hear that truth.

Comment author: astray 21 July 2009 07:59:04PM 8 points [-]

Do PUA techniques withstand the woman's reflection? Once made aware, do they acknowledge the effectiveness and accurately reaffirm their interest independently of the technique's effect? If incredulous, is her attention held after a demonstration on another woman?

If the answer is yes, that does a good deal in converting PUA from a ("dirty") trick (like Fool's Mate, in chess) into a valid strategy (like Sicilian defense). If you could demonstrate valid strategies, you'd get a lot more karma out of the effort.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 08:07:42PM 13 points [-]

If the answer is yes

For PUA styles described as "inner", "direct" or "natural" game, the answer is yes, since they all focus on making the man actually have attractive qualities (such as honesty, confidence, social connections, and emotional stability), rather than simply presenting the appearance of these qualities.

It's rather like "How to Win Friends and Influence People", in that respect. (Whose advice is to cultivate a genuine interest in other people, as opposed to merely faking an interest in other people.)

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 07:29:41PM *  10 points [-]

I think most of us here have had at least some exposure to the PUA worldview and a sizable fraction (including me) feels quite sympathetic to it. That said, I wouldn't want to see a toplevel post introducing the basics. There's already plenty of good introductory material elsewhere on the 'net, a couple clicks away. Our site will interest me more if it follows the general direction that Eliezer and Robin initiated at OB, not getting overly sidetracked into applied rationality topics like pickup, marketing or self-help.

Comment author: taw 21 July 2009 10:28:42PM 4 points [-]

The subject definitely deserves a few top posts, considering how important it is, and how many misconceptions there are.

You get positive expected karma for almost every kind of activity, and karma doesn't make much difference anyway, so I don't know why you're concerned about it.

Comment author: HA2 21 July 2009 08:30:51PM 0 points [-]

I suspect that efficiency is not necessarily the reason that many dislike PUA techniques. Personally, I don't particularly doubt that there are patterns for how women react to men (and vice versa), and that these can be used to have more sex. On the other hand, spiking people's drinks or getting them drunk can also be used for the same purpose, and that's commonly known as rape.

Sure, there are ways to hack into people's minds to get them to do what you want. The fact that they exist doesn't make them ethically acceptable.

Now, I don't know whether PUA methods are or aren't - but the fact that "the attitude that your partner should be respected" is seen as a negative thing seems to be pointing pretty clearly towards the no direction.

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 09:04:21PM *  8 points [-]

Sure, there are ways to hack into people's minds to get them to do what you want. The fact that they exist doesn't make them ethically acceptable.

Right. But now we have an ontological problem: "hack into someone's mind" and "not hack into someone's mind" are not natural kinds.

In any social, romantic interaction, there is some degree of mind-hacking going on. When a person spends all their time and energy chasing a member of the opposite gender who is not interested, what has happened is mindhacking. The pain of unrequited love is a result of asymmetric mindhacking.

Love itself is symmetric mindhacking: you have hacked her mind, and s/he has hacked yours, and both of your implicit utility functions have been shifted to highly value the other person.

What the Seduction community seeks is to allow men to create an asymmetric situation to cause a woman to have sex with them (and this is a place where some members of the community really do behave like assholes and not let the woman down gently afterwards, a practise know as "expectation management", though the community has built up a tradition of karma: we ostracise men who break the rule of always managing expectations and leaving the woman in a happier state than when we met her).

The other major goal of the community is to allow the man to create a symmetric situation - which is usually achieved by first creating an asymmetric situation (male strong), and then gradually evening it out by allowing yourself to fall in love with the woman.

Women who have been "screwed and left" by pickup artists feel good about themselves more often than one would naively expect - and this surprised me until I realized that if the PUA has demonstrated enough alpha quality, the woman's emotional mind has classified him as "good to have sex with even without commitment" because alpha-male sperm is so evolutionarily advantageous - if you are impregnated by an alpha male then your male descendants will have whatever alpha qualities he has - and will impregnate other women, spreading your genes.

Comment author: divia 21 July 2009 11:17:19PM *  19 points [-]

I'll also say that insofar as women think that PUA "mind-hacking" techniques are black-hat subversions of female rationality, the most obvious solution I see is disseminating more information about them. Knowledge of these techniques would allow women to at least attempt to "patch" themselves, assuming they are open to the idea that they actually work.

For example, say I learn about negs. I can either think, "Oh good, it's fun to be attracted to guys, so I hope guys neg me effectively," or "I think it is immoral to neg girls, the world would be a better place if guys didn't do it, and individual guys who neg are probably not worth my time, therefore I will avoid them even if their techniques work and I find myself attracted to them."

Either way, I think I'm better off knowing about negs and how they work. (Apologies for a not very nuanced view of the neg, but it's not that relevant to my main point.)

I realized after I wrote this comment that I think learning about PUA is an excellent exercise in rationality for women in general and me specifically, since it exposes areas where I have in the past not always been aware of the reasons for my decisions.

I could see how women who believe themselves to be immune to PUA (perhaps because the are in fact immune), would not find the topic as interesting.

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 08:50:08PM 6 points [-]

but the fact that "the attitude that your partner should be respected" is seen as a negative thing seems to be pointing pretty clearly towards the no direction.

No! NO! NO!

Your long-term partner should be your soulmate, with a high degree of mutual trust and respect. But a woman who you have not yet had sex with is simply not going to respond well to you "respecting" her.

Comment author: HughRistik 22 July 2009 12:41:07AM 9 points [-]

I think that some people will easily misread your comment as implying that men should not respect women early in the interaction.

My guess is that you are actually trying to say something different, based on your use of "respect" in quotes: You are saying that women may not respond well to attempts by men to signal respect.

If you are saying the second thing, then I agree: it is important to hold respect for the other person at all points in the interaction, yet certain ways that society encourages men to signal respect are counterproductive and unattractive.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 09:01:39PM 14 points [-]

But a woman who you have not yet had sex with is simply not going to respond well to you "respecting" her.

Actually, people in general will be creeped out or think you're of lower status if you're too easily impressed, i.e. offer too much "respect" before they feel they've earned it. It's got nothing to do with gender, except insofar as low status-ness is unattractive.

Comment author: topynate 21 July 2009 10:09:21AM 2 points [-]

As far as I can tell most people who dislike PUA techniques don't really understand them.

What about women who dislike PUA techniques, them too?

Comment author: Sirducer 21 July 2009 07:13:43PM *  17 points [-]

Women are basically anosognosiacs about pick-up. In fact, I once discussed the efficacy of PU with a woman, and she started insisting that women couldn't possibly be that stupid. I had to remind her that she'd left her long-term boyfriend for a fling with afellow PUA a few months earlier.

Comment author: divia 21 July 2009 10:33:55PM *  20 points [-]

Some women aren't. I know because I'm one of them. I've already commented on this subject, and my views haven't changed much since then.

While I'm open to the idea that discussing PUA on LW is a net loss, selfishly I want the discussion to stay because I find it fascinating. Since I know it works on me, learning about it helps me understand myself better and make more informed choices.

Comment author: orange 03 April 2010 08:30:49PM 5 points [-]

Personally, I think controversy is more interesting than not. The internet keeps proving this over and over again. So if you want to attract more females, KEEP TALKING ABOUT THEM.

Getting offended is one way to get started on a rationalist path because it evokes an emotion. It evokes an inner-conflict. Which can result to greater self-understanding. Offending people is fine. Since it reflects more badly on the offensive person than on the offended person. It might even reflect badly on this community as a whole, but hey, if it gets people to start thinking, what's so bad? If it gets women to understand something about themselves? What's so bad?

However I would try to balance it out by ALSO examining men in such a way. There's a lot of literature on PUA, and it is actively discussed here. Why not just find proven methods for attracting men and discuss them also? In a rationalist fashion, of course. If it offends the men on the site, then... all the better. Men need a wake-up call, too.

Comment author: Rain 09 April 2010 06:39:43PM *  4 points [-]

The topic of PUA seems to suffer from the Streisand effect around here. Mentioning reasons people shouldn't talk about it gets people talking about it, as evidenced by this now quite long, and expanding, thread, and most of the previous threads as well.

I deleted my initial comment here since I didn't want to contribute. Now I'd say to others that non-engagement may be a better strategy.

Comment author: Morendil 09 April 2010 10:50:14PM 2 points [-]

Rather than non-engagement, I would advise dependency management: if there is a topic we find it difficult to inquire into, switch priorities to observing and discussing why we find it difficult to have the object-level discussion.

Comment author: Rain 09 April 2010 11:53:31PM *  2 points [-]

I think I can solve the mystery: people keep bringing up PUA because they like thinking and talking about sex and things related to sex.

The only reason it "appears to be relevant" is this weak relationship to dark side epistemology that everyone keeps mentioning. But I haven't seen a 'dark side' discussion, separate from sex, in a long while.

If politics is the mind-killer, then what is an even more fundamental drive?

Comment author: mattnewport 10 April 2010 12:11:23AM 2 points [-]

I believe it was originally brought up in a discussion about instrumental rationality - applying rationality to achieve concrete goals rather than as empty discussion. It was in the same vein as Alicorn's luminosity sequence (applying rationality to improve life outcomes) as opposed to the more abstract discussions over things like Newcomb's problem.

If rationality is supposed to be about winning then it should be possible to use rationality to improve outcomes in areas of life that you place value on. Most humans place high value on sex and relationships and so instrumental rationalists will often be interested in applying rationality to improving outcomes in these areas. Do you disagree with some part of that line of reasoning or is it simply the specific approaches of 'game' that you disapprove of?

Comment author: Rain 10 April 2010 12:19:04AM *  2 points [-]

I think sex is worse than politics when it comes to mind-killing.

Comment author: RobinZ 03 April 2010 10:40:38PM 2 points [-]

I think the key question is the difference between visitors and regulars - we'd like more people to be active, not just show up. Does controversy actually bring in all that many people who stay?

P.S. Welcome to Less Wrong! Please feel free to introduce yourself in that thread.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 April 2010 09:22:02AM 2 points [-]

I think you're assuming that the things you like will work across a wide range of people.

Speaking as a woman who posts to LW, I'm not especially interested in PUA being discussed here unless there's some consideration of consent issues. Those consent issues actually have some parallels to FAI problems-- who decides whether someone is better off? By what standards?

I would say that the equally offense-laden parallel for PUA would be methods for getting men to commit. I don't know whether they've been as carefully studied as PUA--- at a minimum, it's a harder subject because the cost of experiments is higher.

There's an optimal level of controversy and offense for individuals (not necessarily the same for interest and for learning), and it probably isn't the maximal level.

It might even reflect badly on this community as a whole, but hey, if it gets people to start thinking, what's so bad? If it gets women to understand something about themselves? What's so bad?

Because PUA comes off as dividing women into hackable systems and not worth hacking. If it's too accepted, it can make it seem as though talking to you isn't worth the trouble.

"Talking about women" isn't enough. How they're talked about matters.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 09 April 2010 11:10:41AM 5 points [-]

Speaking as a woman who posts to LW, I'm not especially interested in PUA being discussed here unless there's some consideration of consent issues.

This is a really interesting point, actually. What is about PUA that makes it more concerning from a consent standpoint than, say, advertising? Both are manipulative, and I see considerable parallels between the two. (I find it hard to believe that the big advertising firms have put less effort into figuring out how to get people to do things than pickup artists have...) Should advertising to someone require their consent? Is there a significant difference between product placement in entertainment media and PUA techniques that are based on normal conversations, as opposed to PUA techniques based on being in a traditional picking-up-dates scenario, which seem more like standard commercials? What does consent even mean in the context of situations like PUA or advertising where the point of the manipulation is to get you to say yes? Is it even possible to require consent to that kind of thing, without just pushing the problem back a level and having the manipulators focus on getting you to give your consent to be advertised/PUA'd to?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 09 April 2010 02:47:07PM 5 points [-]

You're considering whether advertising is problematic and/or should be legal without looking at whether people on the receiving end of advertising want it or benefit by it.

If someone wrote in Less Wrong about successful techniques of advertising, and said it must be a good thing because people buy what's advertised, I don't think it would go over entirely well.

Even before I'd read Rain's comment, I was willing to bet that most LWers limit their exposure to advertising-- not so much for political reasons or for fear of it, as just that it's low information repetitive input. I admit I'm generalizing from myself on this one, though it's worth noting that even the general public tends to avoid tv ads if they can.

One thing that's clear from the akrasia and luminosity discussions is that not everything in people's minds can be relied on to make their lives better. It's reasonable to be concerned about inputs from people who are trying to influence your mind and have specific goals which do not include your welfare.

In the case of PUA, saying that some women like that approach (which is true), or that PUAs mean well (which is neither trustworthy [1] nor relevant) substitutes for a general follow-up on how women who've been PUAd perceive the experience later,.

At this stage, advertising may well be less effective than PUA-- for most things, it isn't personally directed. A small story-- I know a person who used to sell stuffed dragons, and she said she sold them by finding the little part of the potential customer which wanted one ot the dragons, and (by implication) getting that part of the person to make the decision. She didn't see any problems with that, but I later met someone who wouldn't go near that woman's table because of being afraid of getting talked into buying a dragon she didn't want all that much.

Even if the sales effort had been more carefully constructed so that anyone who bought a stuffed dragon would not be capable of regretting it, there would be more consent issues, not fewer.

If advertising becomes that effective, I don't know how this should be addressed legally or philosophically. I do think there are problems.

[1] Some PUAs start from a position of resenting women for turning them down.

Comment author: mattnewport 09 April 2010 04:32:56PM *  3 points [-]

I was willing to bet that most LWers limit their exposure to advertising

I don't think this holds true for me. I am somewhat selective about what advertising I attend to but I don't in general limit my exposure to it and I sometimes actively seek it out.

I tend to skip over adverts when viewing TV on my PVR because they are of low average quality, high density and are generally interrupting something I was actually interested in. On the other hand I will sometimes watch adverts that catch my attention when skipping through either because they are visually interesting or because they are providing information about something I am interested in.

There are a variety of adverts that I don't avoid and may actively seek out. These include movie trailers for films I might be interested in watching, adverts that are notable for clever or dramatic visuals and adverts for products I am interested in purchasing. I'm interested in visual media in general and so find both filmed adverts and commercial photography interesting from that standpoint when the quality is high. I have purchased a number of DVD collections that include the advertising works of directors - many of todays most interesting film directors started out in advertising and music videos (which are a form of advertising). I also have photography books that include commercial photography.

In the age of the Internet there is a blurred line between advertising and product information and I'm not uncomfortable reading information in the blurred area, though I prefer clear disclosure of any commercial interests driving the material. I quite happily use a manufacturer's website as one source of product information for products I am considering purchasing though and I also find that third party reviews can be valuable even when it is disclosed that the product was provided free to the reviewer or that there are other reasons to treat the opinions provided as not entirely unbiased.

In general I find advertising less problematic in terms of bias and manipulation than political speech or much journalism (which is very often just lightly disguised political speech).

Comment author: komponisto 14 April 2010 03:14:39PM 2 points [-]

saying that some women like that approach (which is true), or that PUAs mean well (which is neither trustworthy [1] nor relevant)

[1] Some PUAs start from a position of resenting women for turning them down

At the risk of being seen standing up for low-status males, I feel obliged to point out that that's not incompatible with "meaning well".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 April 2010 04:09:21PM 2 points [-]

It's not incompatible with meaning well, but I wouldn't recommend taking their word that they aren't doing harm.

Comment author: SilasBarta 09 April 2010 04:01:13PM 3 points [-]

In the case of women using beauty-enhancing techniques (high heels, push-up bras, make-up, hairstyling), saying that some men like that in women (which is true), or that women mean well (which is neither trustworthy [1] nor relevant) substitutes for a general follow-up on how men who've been allured perceive the experience later.

At this stage, advertising may well be less effective than sexy attire on women -- for most things, it isn't personally directed. ...

If advertising becomes that effective, I don't know how this should be addressed legally or philosophically. I do think there are problems.

[1] Some women start from a position of resenting men for not caring more about their personality.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 09 April 2010 04:20:34PM *  6 points [-]

I'm not sure that many would object to this analogy. It strengthens the case that sharing PUA techniques isn't an appropriate use of LW, just as sharing beauty-enhancing techniques isn't.

It seems to me that the situation is pretty simple, for PU artistry as well as for advertising. Most PUA techniques that I've seen amount to efforts to persuade using Dark Side Epistemology. Bottom-lining is rampant. For example, with "negging", the PUA starts with the bottom line "You should feel self-conscious and insecure", and then seeks only evidence that supports this conclusion.

Such PUA techniques should be discussed like any other Dark Side methods: with a view towards minimizing their use and effectiveness.

Comment author: Morendil 09 April 2010 04:21:26PM 3 points [-]

What is about PUA that makes it more concerning from a consent standpoint than, say, advertising?

There are some PUA techniques, at least, which only work on people who are not aware of them. There's this funny passage in The Game which discusses how one group of guys is preemptively spoling another group's pick-up lines at a party, and later on something along the same lines happens to the protagonist (it would be spoilerish to give any more detail).

By contrast I doubt that advertising agencies would suffer much if their techniques were exposed; the reason Avatar was so successful, I surmise, is simply that they saturated the public's awareness with it, which only required a large cash outlay.

"Techniques which only work against you because you're not aware of them" is one of the reasons for the PUA's bad rap, I suspect. (There are others, such as insincerity, but that'll have to be for another time.)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 09 April 2010 04:49:36PM 3 points [-]

"Techniques which only work against you because you're not aware of them" is one of the reasons for the PUA's bad rap, I suspect.

This sounds intuitively like a good heuristic, but the underlying logic isn't obvious to me. Can you expand?

Comment author: jimrandomh 09 April 2010 05:43:12PM 3 points [-]

Assume that when someone finds out about a technique, they judge whether they think it ought to work on them or not, and adjust their behavior accordingly. If a technique doesn't work when the subject is aware of it, that usually means that they would decide, for some reason, that they don't want it to work. So if a technique works only when the subject is unaware of it, then using that technique is going against their preferences.

Comment author: HughRistik 22 July 2009 12:49:05AM 9 points [-]

People in general often misstate their preferences, or their behavior fails to match it. According to research summarized on my blog, both men and women do this, and women on average just do it more.

From Urbaniak, G. C., & Kilmann, P. R. (2006). Niceness and dating success: A further test of the nice guy stereotype. Sex Roles, 55, 209-224. (emphasis mine):

Weiderman and Dubois (1998) used behavioral measures to assess women’s preferences for a mate and found a discrepancy between self-perceptions and behavior, particularly among women. For both men and women, the physical attractiveness manipulation was the most important factor in predicting ratings of desirability. Men accurately indicated that the physical attractiveness of the targets was the most important characteristic that influenced their desirability ratings, whereas women inaccurately indicated that desired level of relationship commitment was their most important factor, when, in fact, it was one of the least important factors behaviorally. Sprecher (1989) found similar results, in that women inaccurately assessed the role of physical attractiveness in their own ratings of a target man. The women in Sprecher ’s study reported that expressiveness was the most important factor in their choice, although it was the least important factor behaviorally. Physical attractiveness was the most important factor that actually influenced their ratings. The results of these two studies suggest that women’s self-reported preferences may not match their actual choices. Because it is still considered shallow and inappropriate for women to say that physical attractiveness is very important in their choices, those women may have engaged in impression management.

From the Sprecher article:

In a classic paper in the area of social cognition, Nisbett and Wilson (1977) argued that people often do not know what stimulus creates a particular response, and in such cases use “implicit causal theories” provided by the culture to explain a response. [...] The same lack of awareness argument could be applied to this area of determinants of initial attraction. Identifying what characteristics are desired in a partner and why attraction is or is not experienced toward a specific person involves higher order cognitive processes that people may be incapable of successfully monitoring. Instead, men and women may rely on implicit causal theories or social belief systems to determine what they report to be attractive in someone. Consistent with this, Duck and Sants (1983) have argued that personal relationships researchers attribute more self-awareness to participants in relationships than they actually have.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 10:14:24AM *  8 points [-]

Too many italics.

The conclusion was unclear to me.

The PUA bit ("driving away the very gender you're trying to seduce") doesn't follow because seducing women doesn't mean luring them to LW.

I liked orthonormal's take a lot more.

Comment author: knb 21 July 2009 04:59:01PM 3 points [-]

The PUA bit ("driving away the very gender you're trying to seduce") doesn't follow because seducing women doesn't mean luring them to LW.

Yes, I can't imagine any nascent PUAs here are really interested in attempting a text-only seduction of distant, anonymous, females. If they are, they should probably try to attain some basic rationality first, and see why that plan is flawed.

I apparently missed most or all of the PUA discussions here, but my guess is they were trying to discuss strategies--not actually attempting to seduce the women on this forum.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 06:46:41PM 6 points [-]

I apparently missed most or all of the PUA discussions here, but my guess is they were trying to discuss strategies--not actually attempting to seduce the women on this forum.

Actually, what happens is that "rationalists should win" usually ends up in someone using PUAs as an example of basic instrumental rationality being applied to winning, or examples from the field of PUA-teacher competition as to the success of visible criteria for rationality teacher awesomeness.

This is then followed by various people (mostly men) denouncing the arts as evil or self-defeating, followed by other men defending them. Unfortunately, this is just as useless of an ongoing conflict as the gender wars; for the most part, the people making ignorant stereotype-based judgments about the pickup arts will no more be convinced by reason or facts than anybody making ignorant stereotype-based judgments about anything. So, I think I at least will stop bothering to answer such ignorance, though if somebody wants to throw together a FAQ page on the wiki, I might be willing to contribute to it. (Certainly, someone with more time is free to link my comments or use the text from them to create such a FAQ).

We could probably generally use more FAQs that summarize the positions on various standard debates here, like the ones on True vs. Useful, Perception vs. "Reality", etc.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 July 2009 06:52:07PM *  4 points [-]

Yes. Also, while the jury's still out on whether discussing PUA should be deemed offtopic, I consider it self-evident that actual seduction attempts in the comment threads should be downvoted to oblivion, or better yet never happen here. This would be like students using the "anyone got questions?" phase of the lecture as an opportunity for loud flirting.

Comment author: Vichy 21 July 2009 10:06:31PM 4 points [-]

I find it virtually impossible to be offended by anything. The very concept of 'being offended' seems to indicate something of an ego-blow, or a status-puncture.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 21 July 2009 11:53:33PM 7 points [-]

I strongly agree. Being "offensive" reflects poorly on the speaker, not me. Why should I get upset if someone else is stupid or holds beliefs I vehemently disagree with? Isn't that their problem?

Comment author: Bo102010 22 July 2009 01:48:45AM 5 points [-]

I thought this until I encountered a jerk cop in the middle of the night. I was driving home on a basically deserted road, and he pulled me over and asked me whether I'd been drinking (which I've never done in my life), if I knew how fast I was going (yes, 10 under the speed limit), why I was following that other car so closely (what car? Almost nobody is out at 2 AM). I made a really dumb comment asking if he'd pulled over the right car, and then he gave me a ticket for tailgating (I guess his radar wouldn't have supported a speeding ticket?).

I was mad (and felt powerless), but not offended. I got offended later when my friend behind me was also stopped and searched for weapons. Being young, male, and out at night was evidently reason enough for a traffic stop, which struck me as an offense and abuse of power.

I learned a lesson, though - making a sarcastic jab does not win you more points in life. I stop to think before saying something when emotions run high.

Comment author: Emily 22 July 2009 09:15:24PM *  2 points [-]

I think perhaps there's a bit of a difference between "being offended" and "finding something offensive". "Being offended", to me, implies taking something personally as an insult or something of the kind -- as you say, an ego-blow.

Being offended is pretty counterproductive, because if the other person meant to offend you, they've got exactly what they wanted, and if they didn't, your offended reaction will probably just upset them and not cause any useful change to their accidentally-offensive behaviour.

Finding something offensive, though, is not necessarily counterproductive at all. If you find something offensive, you don't take it as a personal insult or ego-blow, but you point out calmly and politely why they other person's behaviour is alienating or unpleasant or potentially insulting or whatever the actual problem with it is.

Maybe my labels for the two reactions are wrong, but this is how I think of it, anyway. I (would like to?) think I'm very seldom offended. But I point out when I find things offensive quite a bit more often.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 July 2009 09:17:09PM *  1 point [-]

Thank you; this is much more eloquently put than I could have done. I am typically not offended, but I often find things offensive.

Comment author: steven0461 22 July 2009 11:42:16PM 14 points [-]

While this doesn't confuse me, I do find it confusing.

Comment author: Jack 23 July 2009 12:08:18AM 5 points [-]

Funny enough I just saw this comment in the recent comments section without reading any of the context. I took your comment to imply exactly the sort of distinction Emily explained. I figured that you were replying to to a comment which you managed to decipher despite it being from objectively confusing (equivocating, poor word choice, grammatically wrong etc.)

Comment author: pjeby 23 July 2009 12:40:52AM 7 points [-]

While this doesn't confuse me, I do find it confusing.

While I don't find this amusing, it does amuse me. ;-)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 22 July 2009 09:32:52PM 0 points [-]

Wat???

Comment author: MrHen 21 July 2009 06:16:58PM *  3 points [-]

I suspect that the ick reaction being labeled "objectification" actually has more to do with the sense that the speaker is addressing a closed group that doesn't include you.

(Note) This is veering off the gender topic and into the objectification topic.

Objectification holds more problems than exclusivity. I remember someone once walking past me with a book titled "How to Win Friends and Influence People". Apparently this book is extremely popular and one I never bothered to read, but I remember thinking that if you view friends as something to "win" you are already on the wrong track. Influencing people into being your friend is objectifying a process to the point of losing its intent. Part of the value in friendship is the process of becoming friends. The relationship itself is the focus, not the object of the relationship. By learning how to Win Friends you reduce the relationship to a game or a form of winning. The object of the relationship is still there, but the relationship itself may not hold as much value. (Or the same type of value?)

(Edit) Apparently the book itself agrees with me? As I said, I have not read it. I was merely making a point. The point has little to do with the book. Sorry for the confusion.

Comment author: Cyan 21 July 2009 07:05:49PM *  10 points [-]

Ironically, the book's advice is essentially to evoke in yourself genuine interest in what others have to say. You have to abandon the objectifying mindset to achieve the objective.

Comment author: Psychohistorian 22 July 2009 07:05:52AM *  5 points [-]

This is rather ironic, since the central message of that book is "be a genuinely nice and friendly person;" I have never heard it critcized as manipulative by anyone who actually read it.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 06:49:22PM 10 points [-]

I remember thinking that if you view friends as something to "win" you are already on the wrong track.

The book was written two generations ago; "win friends" is just a semi-antiquated figure of speech. If it were written today, it would probably be called something like, "How To Make Friends And Network Effectively". Well, actually, it'd probably be called something a lot catchier, but you get my meaning, I hope. Language changes.

Comment author: tuli 22 July 2009 06:28:57AM *  2 points [-]

I will just shortly pick up the pick up artist part of the article. I'm wondering whether there is any useful understanding about human cognition to understand - and whether that lesson is more gender neutral than people seem to believe.

I have a hypothesis that many of the things advocated by pick up artists work towards both sexes and that one of the primary issues is human as hierarchical and social animal and the allure of those above your perceived status.

Do we give different weights to opinion depending on the status of the one saying things? How much does this affect our rationality?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 April 2010 01:06:16PM *  0 points [-]

To the PUA enthusiasts.....

If there are women who have been complimented for their intelligence, but are mysteriously not interested in LW, you could try insulting them until you find a few who are willing to accept that this community is a wonderful place they should pay attention to.

And maybe you can take charge of some of the women who are already in your life so that they'll post. After all, they prefer dominant men.

Comment author: wedrifid 14 April 2010 02:04:40PM 6 points [-]

While I am not a PUA enthusiast I suspect my description of human social behavioural patterns (including those you attempt to caricaturize here) would cause you to apply that label to me. As such I consider your comment offensive as well as ignorant.

Comment author: pjeby 14 April 2010 04:18:55PM 4 points [-]

And maybe you can take charge of some of the women who are already in your life so that they'll post.

I think maybe you're still confusing "take charge" with "make people do something they don't want to do", vs. "encourage people to do things they already want to do, anyway, or that will get them highly-valued goals." (i.e. the normal definition of leadership)

For example, I sometimes "take charge" by making my wife stop work to relax and receive a massage, when I know she's working too hard and wouldn't think to ask for the massage. She protests the work stoppage and drags her feet to the bedroom, but afterwards is not only happy with the result but is also glad that I cared enough to do something more than just nag her about her overworking. (Something I used to do, that had only negative results for both of us.)

Is that paternalism? Hell if I know, and I don't really care. I love my wife, and I'm glad I can make her happy.

My wife is not a child. She runs a business that I would be scared out of my mind to try and run for even a day or two. She juggles more tasks than I care to think of. But at least to her, "being her man" means that it's my job to look out for some of her longer-term interests. To be an advocate for her dreams, her ambitions, her health, and her emotional well-being. A true friend, not a boss.

This is the real "alpha male" prototype, which the lesser PUA schools only vaguely imitate and only the superior schools teach. It is not being someone who disrespects or bullies others... no matter how much some of the masculine language might sound like it is.

Do try to bear in mind that, given that men chat about how "dangerous" we are, that almost anything we say to one another about the subject probably isn't going to sound pleasant to a someone who's not socialized in the same way.

Hell, I wasn't socialized that way myself, so I had similar objections to many of the PUA concepts until I "got it". Which, I might add, took some romance novel-reading on my part, as well a lot of discussion with my wife, in addition to some of the better PUA literature.

And during quite a bit of that discussion, I noticed that PUA concepts magically became not only non-objectionable but highly-desired and highly-valued when they were described in the terms one might find in a romance novel, rather than the terms guys might use amongst themselves. (Men tend to talk about everything like it's an object, including each other -- we're really not singling out women for objectification. ;-) )

That's why I believe that the non-deceptive PUA schools are actually teaching men to exhibit qualities that are in fact highly-valued by women, just using language that men "get". .. but which women and men may find offensive as well.

Comment author: Morendil 14 April 2010 06:25:31PM 5 points [-]

This is the real "alpha male" prototype

This is only an aside, but if you go and dig for the origins and theoretical meanings of the phrase "alpha male" you'll find that the phrase carries much emotional baggage but doesn't seem to do useful explanatory work.

I plan to cover this as part of my long-delayed post on "status".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 14 April 2010 04:30:46PM 1 point [-]

If PUA was generally as you describe it, it might not be a problem. Does your wife also occasionally take charge of you in your best interests?

You are judging PUA by its best. I'm judging it by what shows up here. I haven't gone looking for the most offensive bits.

I grew up with a lot of "I just want you to be happy" combined with failure to listen. This is a major hot button for me, and I don't see any evidence that you (the range of PUA, not just the best) are careful about knowing whether you're overriding women in ways which are inconsistent with their interests.

Comment author: pjeby 14 April 2010 05:21:01PM 5 points [-]

Does your wife also occasionally take charge of you in your best interests?

She looks out for my interests, yes, but does not express them in a way that would match "taking charge". Instead, she... I don't know how to describe it in a way that doesn't sound weird or caricatured, like 50's TV housewives batting their eyelashes... gives me an idealized perception of myself to live up to, maybe?

(This is probably another one of those areas where discussion of effective tactics for women to use with men would sound offensive to men when discussed in language that women could actually understand and apply, but would be baffling to women when described in terms that men would perceive as valuable/desirable.)

I grew up with a lot of "I just want you to be happy" combined with failure to listen.

Parents do that a lot. It means, "I just want you to do and be what would make me happy."

And I used to do the same thing to my wife.

As it happened, learning about PUA stuff was actually the cure for that, not the cause. In particular, it taught me to not interpret what she said in terms of what it would mean if I said it. PUA stuff, for me, is all about bridging the conceptual language barriers.

This is a major hot button for me, and I don't see any evidence that you (the range of PUA, not just the best) are careful about knowing whether you're overriding women in ways which are inconsistent with their interests.

I had a similar hot button myself, one which my wife eventually helped me overcome.

Unfortunately, what happens with hot buttons like these is that we tend to project our own helplessness onto other people. For example, it took me forever to realize that, unlike my own past inability to say "no" to a request, my wife did not have the same problem... which meant that my continual avoidance of asking her for anything was unnecessary and harmful to our relationship. (Because of course, I still resented her for not doing any of the things I wasn't asking her to do!)

So the problem I see with your statement, is that it presumes disempowerment of women -- that they're going to be overridden and led astray by bossy men who don't listen. And ISTM that this is more paternalistic and anti-feminist in its implications, than "taking charge" actually is.

Have you considered the possibility that maybe you're projecting a personal feeling of helplessness onto others, or that the responsibility for ending such feelings of helplessness are up to each individual?

Yes, good people like my wife, good people like me will certainly help people with hot buttons like that. But isn't everyone ultimately responsible for addressing their own?

And, isn't that a big part of what the mission of this site is? To identify common patterns of irrational thinking that we are each responsible for dealing with in our own thoughts?

Not a judgment or an argument here, just some food for thought.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 April 2010 06:12:27AM 2 points [-]

She looks out for my interests, yes, but does not express them in a way that would match "taking charge". Instead, she... I don't know how to describe it in a way that doesn't sound weird or caricatured, like 50's TV housewives batting their eyelashes... gives me an idealized perception of myself to live up to, maybe?

That's actually related to something I've been trying to frame for FAI-- using actual human friendliness as a starting point for some features we might want in an FAI. One piece is the question of how a "best self" for another person which is actually helpful is conceived.


In my experience, people can and do sometimes take advantage of each other-- there's such a thing as being socially outstrengthed.

I'll take this under consideration. I certainly learned too much about helpless anger when I was a kid, and I'm quite angry now.

It may be that you're right, and the only wrong with the situation is how fucked up I am-- or maybe your good will and perception isn't also quite as thorough as you think it is, or possibly the range of PUA includes worse than you want to believe of it.

Comment author: pjeby 15 April 2010 02:48:56PM 2 points [-]

In my experience, people can and do sometimes take advantage of each other-- there's such a thing as being socially outstrengthed.

In my expereience, this is due to over-restrictive SASS rules in the "outstrengthed" party, and can be repaired. (My wife and I have been doing extensive work in this area on ourselves.)

I'll take this under consideration. I certainly learned too much about helpless anger when I was a kid, and I'm quite angry now.

Yeah, helpless anger's usually associated with status perception, i..e, being taught you don' t have enough importance to be listened to, paid attention to, etc.

The key to resolving it is understanding that the reason you still feel like you have insufficient status, is because we internalize others behaviors' in relation to ourselves, to learn the rules for when to grant ourselves status. When it "clicks" that you can give yourself importance, it's possible to re-evaluate the rules you've internalized, and grant yourself status even in situations where you were historically taught that you were not worth listening to.

possibly the range of PUA includes worse than you want to believe of it.

Oh, I'm well aware of how far down that goes, even if I only looked at some of the bitterness posted here!

I just don't like it when people who are arguing that you should say "some women" or "many women" don't also say "some PUA" or "many PUA".

The arts have a LOT of positive things to teach men, for the benefit of men and women both.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 April 2010 03:13:49PM 2 points [-]

The issue about helpless anger at my end seems to be that I'd have to believe I shouldn't have been hurt when I was mistreated if I could choose whether or not I'm angry.

I actually have better resources now-- probably not as good as they should be, considering that I was screaming at a pocket the other day[1]-- but I also believe I was doing the best I could when I was a kid. I couldn't access choices I didn't know I had.

I'm trying to be more careful about saying "some PUA", and I've been referring to it as a group of sub-cultures.

You can grant accuracy, even to people who don't offer it. :-)

The kind of thing I imagine when I hear about PUA is a woman I met some time ago-- she would love to spend some time by the ocean, but her husband doesn't like the ocean and isn't willing to have her spend time away from him. He'd taken charge to the extent that she's presumably never going to see the ocean again unless she outlives him in good enough health do it.

He probably wasn't PUA-- this is probably from before PUA was invented. For all I know, she would prefer living with a man like that than someone who'd find a way to tolerate a trip to the beach, but speaking as a person who needs to see an ocean now and then, I find her situation horrifying.

It may be a matter of, not just the way I react to PUA, but the way a lot of others do, but you write as though the best side of PUA is all that's real about it.

Any thoughts on how women can distinguish early between "good guy in charge" vs. "bad guy bullying" vs. "average guy who's taking excessive advantage"?

[1] I kept getting phone calls which consisted of a ring and then rustling-- and the "person" wouldn't get off the line when I hung up. After the first few, I was yelling and slamming the phone. It turned out to be a phone carried in a pocket where the autodial was repeatedly pressed by accident.

Comment author: gensym 15 April 2010 07:22:12PM 3 points [-]

The issue about helpless anger at my end seems to be that I'd have to believe I shouldn't have been hurt when I was mistreated if I could choose whether or not I'm angry.

This sounds really interesting, but I'm afraid I can't parse it.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 16 April 2010 07:39:30AM 2 points [-]

I was pretty close to incoherent when I posted that.

I'm not sure whether I can make it clearer now, but I'll take a crack at it.

I grew up with a lot of criticism, and I wasn't supposed to show anger at it. I also was harassed by other students at school, and told to just ignore it. In other words, they were under no obligation to control their actions, while it was my job to control my involuntary reactions.

In addition, I realized recently that my mother modeled helpless anger herself. While she could pretty much get away with dumping anger on other people in the immediate family, she rarely got what she wanted from the people she was angry at, and it didn't seem to occur to her that the situation could be made any better.

My current emotional reaction is something like if I could have prevented my anger at the situations I was in as a kid, I was obligated to to so. If I can prevent anger now, it proves that I was getting things wrong then, and I deserved the way I was treated. And at that point, I get angry again.

I think that's what was going on when I posted-- the objective bit is that I felt very angry and was whaling away at my completely innocent keyboard.

I don't know whether sorting things out more clearly to the extent that I have in this post is likely to do any good, but there's some hope. At least there's some handle on the confusion between past and present..

Comment author: pjeby 16 April 2010 03:15:27PM 4 points [-]

I grew up with a lot of criticism, and I wasn't supposed to show anger at it. I also was harassed by other students at school, and told to just ignore it. In other words, they were under no obligation to control their actions, while it was my job to control my involuntary reactions.

FWIW, I've fixed similar patterns to this in myself by realizing that I actually did have the right to not want the (ciriticism, teasing, harassment), the right to act in order to stop it, the right to feel bad that it continued and no-one else stopped it, and the right to feel like a worthwhile person even if I fought back.

Unfortunately, it's not easy to put into words how to create those realizations (and that was really just a summary, rather than the full list), but I can at least say that if it causes you to break down sobbing with relief, you're probably going in the right direction.

The central process, though, is identifying which of your SASS needs were used to condition the learned helplessness, and then give yourself the right to meet that need in the circumstances where you were taught not to. For example, if you weren't supposed to show anger because your parents withdrew their acceptance of you, then you would need to give yourself the right to accept yourself when you show anger. And so on.

Individual rules can be complex, though, and based on what you describe in your comment, I would guess you've got maybe 15-20 such rules you'd have to tweak just to get started. But it's definitely fixable.

One book that may be of use to you is "Healing The Shame That Binds You" - it has an excellent set of examples of how shame-binds form, even though its techniques for fixing anything absolutely sucks.

(Psychologists rarely aim anywhere near high enough in their standards for devising ways to fix things, IMO; my personal standard is that you should be able to change something in 15 minutes or so, if you know what you're doing and precisely what you need to fix. As Eliezer says in one of his stories, it only takes a few minutes to have an insight, if you have all the data)

Comment author: wedrifid 16 April 2010 08:19:07AM 2 points [-]

Your honesty and self insight are refreshing to hear.

I, personally, found it useful when I realised my anger was mine and I was free to be angry whenever I wanted and whenever it suited my purposes! I hope yours serves you as well as mine serves me at times. A useful advisor, anger, providing you can keep it aligned with the rest of you.

Comment author: AnlamK 21 July 2009 08:49:02PM 1 point [-]

I suggest we have a poll on how many people would like PUA-related discussion and how many would prefer not to.

Comment author: pjeby 21 July 2009 09:03:49PM 7 points [-]

I suggest we have a poll on how many people would like PUA-related discussion and how many would prefer not to.

You're probably being downvoted because rationality is not about what's a majority vote. You also missed the part where we want to be sensitive to non-majorities.

Comment author: gjm 21 July 2009 10:02:09PM 7 points [-]

A vote could none the less be enlightening -- it might, e.g., reveal that there's a substantial minority of LW readers who really, really hate PUA discussion. Or that 80% of female LW readers don't mind it at all. Or whatever.

It would be dumb to have a vote with the intention of simply doing whatever the majority prefers, but that's not the only thing one can do with a poll. You might notice that AnlamK didn't use the words "majority" or "vote".

Comment author: Alicorn 21 July 2009 04:29:19PM *  -1 points [-]

The story isn't about Frank regarding women as things on the way to implementing his plan, it's about Frank regarding various people, men and women alike, as means to the end of saving his brother.

It's also a story. Frank is imaginary, and his situation is uncommon enough that others could not easily follow his example. If Frank were not imaginary, and he turned up and told us all the story of how he saved his brother, and offered advice on how other people can trick cabbies and females for fun and profit, I'd probably feel some actual qualms about his treatment of the cabdriver and the various women he attempted to bring home in service of his plan.

PUA is not something we need to be talking about here, and if it's giving one entire gender the wrong vibes on this website, I say the hell with it.

Thank you.

What say you?

I approve. Thanks :)