Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Don't Get Offended

32 Post author: katydee 07 March 2013 02:11AM

Related to: Politics is the Mind-KillerKeep Your Identity Small

Followed By: How to Not Get Offended

One oft-underestimated threat to epistemic rationality is getting offended. While getting offended by something sometimes feels good and can help you assert moral superiority, in most cases it doesn't help you figure out what the world looks like. In fact, getting offended usually makes it harder to figure out what the world looks like, since it means you won't be evaluating evidence very well. In Politics is the Mind-Killer, Eliezer writes that "people who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue." Don't let yourself become one of those zombies-- all of your skills, training, and useful habits can be shut down when your brain kicks into offended mode!

One might point out that getting offended is a two-way street and that it might be more appropriate to make a post called "Don't Be Offensive." That feels like a just thing to say-- as if you are targeting the aggressor rather than the victim. And on a certain level, it's true-- you shouldn't try to offend people, and if you do in the course of a normal conversation it's probably your fault. But you can't always rely on others around you being able to avoid doing this. After all, what's offensive to one person may not be so to another, and they may end up offending you by mistake. And even in those unpleasant cases when you are interacting with people who are deliberately trying to offend you, isn't staying calm desirable anyway?

The other problem I have with the concept of being offended as victimization is that, when you find yourself getting offended, you may be a victim, but you're being victimized by yourself. Again, that's not to say that offending people on purpose is acceptable-- it obviously isn't. But you're the one who gets to decide whether or not to be offended by something. If you find yourself getting offended to things as an automatic reaction, you should seriously evaluate why that is your response.

There is nothing inherent in a set of words that makes them offensive or inoffensive-- your reaction is an internal, personal process. I've seen some people stay cool in the face of others literally screaming racial slurs in their faces and I've seen other people get offended by the slightest implication or slip of the tongue. What type of reaction you have is largely up to you, and if you don't like your current reactions you can train better ones-- this is a core principle of the extremely useful philosophy known as Stoicism.

Of course, one (perhaps Robin Hanson) might also point out that getting offended can be socially useful. While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values[1]-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs. Besides, the signalling value of offense should be no excuse for not knowing how not to be offended. After all, if you find it socially necessary to pretend that you are offended, doing so is not exactly difficult.

Personally, I have found that the cognitive effort required to build a habit of not getting offended pays immense dividends. Getting offended tends to shut down other mental processes and constrain you in ways that are often undesirable. In many situations, misunderstandings and arguments can be diminished or avoided completely if one is unwilling to become offended and practiced in the art of avoiding offense. Further, some of those situations are ones in which thinking clearly is very important indeed! All in all, while getting offended does often feel good (in a certain crude way), it is a reaction that I have no regrets about relinquishing.

 

[1] In Keep Your Identity Small, Paul Graham rightly points out that one way to prevent yourself from getting offended is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Comments (588)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 March 2013 08:20:12AM *  32 points [-]

I used to feel that getting offended was useless and counterproductive, but a friend pointed out that if people are not treating you with respect, that can be a genuinely problematic situation.

Wei Dai suggests that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being low status. So if you feel offended, a good first question might be "do I care that this person is treating me as low status?" If there is no one else around, and you don't expect to see the person again, then your answer may be no. If there are others around, or you expect to see the person again, then things may be more difficult. Yes, you can politely ask people to be more considerate of you, but that's not exactly a high-status move.

So, I don't feel that "never act offended" passes the "rationalists should win" test as a group norm. It might actually be good that "That's offensive" represents a high-status way to say "You're treating me as low status. Stop."

It might even be worthwhile to expand the concept of offense. Currently it's only acceptable to be offended when people treat you as low status in certain narrow ways. If someone says something nasty about your nose, "That's offensive" is not nearly as high-status a response as it would be if someone said something about your race. (Theory: "That's racist" works as a high-status response because you're implicitly invoking the coalition of all the people who think racist statements are bad.) But nasty statements about your nose can still be pretty nasty.

To expand the concept of offense to all nasty statements, you might have to create a widespread social norm against nasty statements in general, to give people a coalition to invoke. Though, perhaps "Gee, you sound like someone who has a lot of friends" or similar would act as an effective stand-in.

(As you point out, it's not too hard to fake offense, so we don't necessarily disagree on anything.)

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 07 March 2013 04:00:14PM *  18 points [-]

Wei Dai suggests that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being low status.

I would generalize this and say that offense is experienced when people feel they are being treated as being lower status than they feel they are/deserve.

The reason for the generalization: some people get offended by just about everything, it seems, and one way to explain it is a blatant grab for status. It's not that they think they're being treated as low status in an absolute sense necessarily, they just think they should be treated as higher status relative to however they're being treated.

Comment author: Nornagest 07 March 2013 08:11:49PM *  11 points [-]

I think that's much closer (and upvoted), but you don't need to invoke such an extreme example to demonstrate it; you just need to notice that offense thresholds are different in different contexts. Treating your boss as if she's your drinking buddy is likely to provoke offense. So's treating your drinking buddy as if he's a child. Yet you're generally safe treating boss as boss, buddy as buddy, and child as child -- in other words, giving people the status they contextually expect.

Comment author: Malenfant 08 March 2013 09:11:11PM 11 points [-]

Machiavelli wrote in "The Prince" about the similar dilemma of advice. If you let everyone give you advice, you seem like a pushover, but if you don't take any advice, you'll probably do something stupid. His recommendation was to have a circle of people who you take advice from, and to ignore everyone else.

A similar system could work well for offense. If you want to be high-status, when most people lower your status, get offended. But for a select few (probably the people who you work with when you're seeking truth in some form or another) practice never taking offense, as the original post suggests. Ideally, these people would know they could offend you, so they wouldn't censor potentially helpful ideas.

Comment author: Estarlio 08 March 2013 11:14:53PM *  1 point [-]

If someone lowers your status and you act offended, then it makes you look weak because it confirms that they've successfully hurt you. What you could do in those situations is to offer them advice on how not to offend you - promote their communication skills. That way you reassert your authority by determining the standard of dialogue you allow around you and potentially improve them as a resource.

That said. There's a difference between discounting a certain noise level of offence - I'll try not to be offended if I believe you're honestly offering criticism and don't meant to offend me. And discounting all offence.

I would suggest that the former is vastly preferable. If someone rocks up to you and starts tearing a strip off it seems worth getting offended over.

#

I'm not sure I buy into Machiavelli's idea that accepting advice lowers your status though. Well, not entirely anyway.

In old Chinese courts courtiers used to advise their Emperors by means of heavenly prophecy. In - I forget which king's reign it was but in France - a king was famous for having two people on opposing sides of an issue debate it and then saying 'we shall see', and that was how he got his advice, he was one of the most powerful, at least in political terms, kings that France ever had IIRC.

So there are ways of mitigating it without having to shut yourself off completely from advice, as Machiavelli supposes.

And then a lot of it depends on how you react to the advice, and how it's given - even if it's given directly in person. If someone comes up to you and is all pro-social: "Hey we could do this too and it might work even better!" "Fantastic, why don't you come on board and head up that part of it?" That's potentially something that's been good for both of you and made more people want to work with you and share their ideas - and that gives you more power, not less.

Working with others is a very complicated sort of thing. I think the most important lesson of it may well be that power tends to be lent by others, for their own purposes. If you have 'power' over a bunch of people but none of them want to work with you your effective power is often very close to 0.

Comment author: Elithrion 09 March 2013 01:15:11AM *  5 points [-]

I don't think Machiavelli would actually disagree with you to any large extent (although he does not consider delegation here). He writes:

A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage every one from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.

There's also an OB discussion about why taking advice might lower your status.

Comment author: ismirth 31 March 2013 07:14:27PM 1 point [-]

If you take that Machiavellian idea one step further... How about shifting the view of who to take advice from. People can only make you more like themselves... so only take advice, in any particular area, from someone who has ALREADY ACHIEVED the results you are seeking... otherwise, what is the point?

Also, though, your boss should not 'become offended' if you treated them as a drinking buddy... that would be unprofessional on HIS part... he should have a discussion with you, in a rational manner, about the roles that you both are to play in your working environment. I do not agree that people have certain areas where they would 'benefit' from being offended. Being offended often simply validates the person being offended, not matter what the offended person retorts with. If someone is rude to you in some way, and then you are rude back, it just makes the first rude person feel justified in their being rude to you in the first place.

If someone is INTENDING to be insulting to you, then rising to the occasion only proves to them that they have power over you. If they were NOT intending to be insulting to you, then all you have done is proven how much of a boob you are.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 02 April 2013 04:29:03AM 3 points [-]

People can only make you more like themselves... so only take advice, in any particular area, from someone who has ALREADY ACHIEVED the results you are seeking... otherwise, what is the point?

Learning from other people's mistakes.

Comment author: ThrustVectoring 01 April 2013 01:10:07AM 0 points [-]

Feeling offended is a mental lever that causes status-restoring behavior. If you can recognize when you need to restore your status and do so without feeling offended, it's simply better for you.

Comment author: albeit 28 March 2013 01:13:29AM *  1 point [-]

The best approach is to be conscious of what will advance your goals and act accordingly.

You may think a cop is not recognizing your status but you may be best served by letting it pass and getting out of the situation more quickly.

Comment author: zslastman 07 March 2013 08:41:23AM 2 points [-]

That's a good point. I can easily imagine places where the nose comment would be cause for justified offense though. Saying it to anyone in a context where high status treatment is expected - in a professional context, or an elder.

Comment author: Decius 07 March 2013 08:38:13AM 3 points [-]

Does any of that help locate truth in the search space, other than maneuvering into a position of social power?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 March 2013 09:18:43AM 11 points [-]

No, but social power + respect can be useful for achieving your goals (especially if one of your goals is social power and respect, which seem to be true for a lot of people).

Comment author: ialdabaoth 08 March 2013 11:54:10PM 1 point [-]

No, but social power + respect can be useful for achieving your goals (especially if one of your goals is social power and respect, which seem to be true for a lot of people).

Yes, but on lesswrong, at least, we've been exposed to enough social psychology to understand why that's a dangerous intrinsic goal to have. It's certainly seductive, but aren't there better things to do with increased agency than to seek to dominate other potential agents?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 10 March 2013 07:48:38AM *  11 points [-]

Last I checked (which was admittedly a while ago), there are a decent number of Less Wrong users who act obnoxiously high status in real life (including some who are quite prominent). I'd love to have the egalitarian norms you describe, but I think first we'd have to convince them to stop.

This may not be trivial. I've noticed that my high status behaviors often seem pretty instinctual, and I've also noticed that I have a fair amount of mental resistance to giving up status even if I'd like to in theory (ex.: apologizing).

Comment author: notsonewuser 22 March 2013 09:38:54PM 7 points [-]

...there are a decent number of Less Wrong users who act obnoxiously high status in real life (including some who are quite prominent). I'd love to have the egalitarian norms you describe, but I think first we'd have to convince them to stop.

The way you worded this makes it sound as if there are a few people ruining it for everyone. If this is actually the case, then the solution is, when these people begin acting obnoxiously high status, say "You're being obnoxious. Stop." Bystander effect, etc. If you try this and it doesn't work, let me know so I can update.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 22 March 2013 10:57:58AM 5 points [-]

Last I checked (which was admittedly a while ago), there are a decent number of Less Wrong users who act obnoxiously high status in real life (including some who are quite prominent).

Without identifying the people involved, can you describe in more concrete terms the behaviours you are talking about?

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 10 March 2013 11:40:25AM -2 points [-]

Name three?

Comment author: wedrifid 10 March 2013 04:16:11PM *  16 points [-]

Name three?

  • <Redacted>
  • <Redacted>
  • <Redacted>

You are asking John to do something that is clearly unwise for him to do in a form typically used with the connotation that if the person does not comply it is because they can not. This is disingenuous.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 04:45:38PM 3 points [-]

Good point, though he might reply to him in a private message.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 10 March 2013 07:33:30PM *  -2 points [-]

If John wants a problem to stop, it would be nice to first identify more clearly the source of the problem. Otherwise he's just doing the LW analogue of vaguebooking.

Comment author: evand 13 March 2013 04:46:56AM 5 points [-]

It's not obvious to me that "the source of the problem" and "the people most saliently exhibiting the symptoms" are the same thing. It's also not obvious to me that "the source of the problem" necessarily refers to any particular set of individuals.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 03:13:36PM *  4 points [-]

[bad] intrinsic goal to have

The utility function is not up for grabs.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 10 March 2013 07:23:23PM 5 points [-]

In the abstract, sure.

But we exist within a particular social context here - specifically, people supposedly come to this website, and participate in this forum, to attempt to be less wrong.

Instead, it appears that many people are engaging in (as someone else put it) obnoxious status displays, playing "look how edgy and selfish and status-motivated I am", rather than actually attempting to aid each other in being less wrong.

And that's fine if that's an indicated maximum of your utility function, but I would think that other people would act to collectively punish that behavior rather than reward it, lest we turn into the kind of obnoxious circle-jerk/dickwaving contest that most of the internet tends to devolve into.

That is why status is a dangerous goal to pursue - because it tends produce an affective death-spiral until all other goals subordinate to gaining status.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 07:51:51PM 4 points [-]

Agreed -- Less Wrong is a particularly bad place to pursue the goal of social power.

Comment author: John_D 25 March 2013 04:45:57AM 1 point [-]

I also agree, especially if one is trying to look high-status to the average person in the general population. Science and rationality is still looked at as nerdy, unfortunately.

Comment author: Error 25 March 2013 01:06:45PM *  7 points [-]

Oddly, I tend to feel like having high status among nerdy types is the only time it actually "counts." I get a rush when something I say here or within other nerd and geek communities is well received, or if I'm treated as an authority on X, etc...wheras, say, people calling me "sir" or otherwise treating me as higher-status at work makes me extremely uncomfortable. So do compliments from normals in general.

[Edit: "Status granted by a tribe I don't identify with feels like a status hit instead" might be a good way to put it.]

Comment author: [deleted] 25 March 2013 06:46:01PM *  1 point [-]

Oddly, I tend to feel like having high status among nerdy types is the only time it actually "counts."

Well, why would I care what status people who don't regularly non-trivially interact with me assign to me?

say, people calling me "sir" or otherwise treating me as higher-status at work makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Same here, but I think the main reason for that is that it makes me feel ‘old’. (Teenagers and people in the early twenties aren't usually treated that way (no matter how cool they are in the eyes in their peers), and I don't exactly revel in being reminded that I'm no longer one.) ETA: I do like the fact that I'm now economically independent, though.

(Edited to add scare quotes around “old”, lest thirtysomethings resent me, as they usually do when I say I feel old.)

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 10 March 2013 11:42:25AM *  3 points [-]

Yes, but on lesswrong, at least, we've been exposed to enough social psychology to understand why that's a dangerous intrinsic goal to have.

It is totally okay to want social power and respect. You want social power and respect. If you believe that you don't want social power and respect, then you will be motivated to lie to yourself about the actual causes of your actions.

Comment author: Kawoomba 10 March 2013 12:10:39PM 1 point [-]

(...) aren't there better things to do with increased agency than to seek to dominate other potential agents?

"better" according to whom? The only one who can set a different standard for yourself is yourself, yet if you already do have that "dangerous intrinsic goal", then, well, you already do have that goal (yay tautology). You can weigh it against other goals and duly modify it, but presumably if other goals outweighed your need to dominate, that would already have happened. Since it has not (for those who have that goal), that is reason to surmise that from the point of view of those agents there isn't in fact anything better to do, even if they'd like to think that they think there was.

Comment author: Oligopsony 09 March 2013 12:09:53AM *  1 point [-]

Yes, but on lesswrong, at least, we've been exposed to enough social psychology to understand why that's a dangerous intrinsic goal to have. It's certainly seductive, but aren't there better things to do with increased agency than to seek to dominate other potential agents?

Not if it is, in fact, your intrinsic goal!

Of course there are occasions where having goals makes it less likely to actualize them, and so incentives exist roughly isomorphic to the ones which collapse CDT to TDT. The advice in How To Win Friends and Influence People is of this type - it advises you that in order to achieve social dominance and manipulate others you should become genuinely interested in them. But this is orthogonal to mindkilling.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 09 March 2013 12:17:34AM 1 point [-]

Then maybe this is a deontological question rather than an ontological one. I would very much appreciate any help understanding why people seek to dominate other potential agents as an intrinsic goal.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 03:25:20PM *  2 points [-]

If I was particularly interested in the question why people have the terminal values they have, I'd look into evolutionary psychology (start from Thou Art Godshatter) -- but if one doesn't clearly keep in mind the evolutionary-cognitive boundary, or the is-ought distinction (committing the naturalistic fallacy), then one will risk being mind-killed by evo-psy (in a way similar to this -- witness the dicks on the Internet who use evo-psy as a weapon against feminism), and if one does keep these distinctions in mind, then that question may become much less interesting.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 March 2013 11:01:35PM 2 points [-]

witness the dicks on the Internet who use evo-psy as a weapon against feminism

What do you mean "use as a weapon against" and why is it obviously a bad thing? Would you say it's a fair complaint against EY that he uses Bayesianism as a "weapon against" religion?

Comment author: DiamondSoul 12 March 2013 03:41:56AM 7 points [-]

I believe what army means is that some people mistakenly use evo-psy to make claims along the lines of "we have evolved to have [some characteristic], therefore it is morally right for us to have [aforementioned characteristic]".

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 12 March 2013 04:06:38AM 6 points [-]

Right. Many armchair evolutionary psychologists don't understand the nature of the evolutionary-cognitive boundary.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 13 March 2013 01:47:52AM 6 points [-]

What I've seen tends to be more like, "we have evolved to have [some characteristic], asserting a deontological duty not to have [aforementioned characteristic] is not a good idea".

Comment author: Desrtopa 12 March 2013 04:21:04AM 6 points [-]

I'd add that many people appear to exercise motivated cognition in their use of ev-psych explanations; they want to justify a particular conclusion, so they write the bottom line and craft an argument from evolutionary psychology to work their way down to it. Although it would be hard for me to recall a precise example off the top of my head, I've certainly seen cases where people used evolutionary just-so stories to justify a sexual status quo, where I could easily see ways that the argument could have led to a completely different conclusion.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 March 2013 12:31:06PM *  0 points [-]

I didn't mean that using a theory as weapon against (i.e., in orter to argue against) a different theory is always obviously a bad thing; in particular, I don't think that using Bayesianism to argue against religion is bad (so long as you don't outright insult religious people or similar). But in this particular case, evo-psy is a descriptive theory, feminism is a normative theory, and you cannot derive “ought” from “is” without some meta-ethics, so if someone's using evo-psy to argue against feminism there's likely something wrong. (The other replies you've got put it better than I could.)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 13 March 2013 02:01:27AM 3 points [-]

Feminists frequently make "is" assertions, and justify their "ought" assertions on the basis of said "is" assertions.

In any case, you seem to be arguing that feminism will now be joining religion in the trying to survive by claiming to be non-refutable club.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 10 March 2013 07:44:41PM 1 point [-]

meta: I find it interesting that your post got voted down.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 March 2013 07:48:27PM 1 point [-]

meta: I find it interesting that your post got voted down.

I didn't downvote but I was ambivalent. The main point was good but that was offset by the unnecessary inflammatory crap that was tacked on.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 10 March 2013 10:35:27PM 1 point [-]

What was inflammatory? Also: I find it wryly interesting that a post with a good point and informative links would be judged inflammatory in an article about not getting offended.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 March 2013 10:26:42PM 1 point [-]

When I find other people's motivations mysterious, I find it helps to see if I have anything like that motivation (for dominance, it might be a desire to be in charge of anything at all) and imagine it as much more important in my life.

Comment author: CCC 13 March 2013 07:39:42AM 0 points [-]

Yes, but on lesswrong, at least, we've been exposed to enough social psychology to understand why that's a dangerous intrinsic goal to have. It's certainly seductive, but aren't there better things to do with increased agency than to seek to dominate other potential agents?

Unless there's a friendly AI which has been built in secret somewhere, we're still all human. With all the weaknesses and foibles of human nature; though we might try to mitigate those weaknesses, one of the biggest weaknesses in human nature is the belief that we have already mitigated those weaknesses, leading us to stop trying.

Status interactions are a big part of the human psyche. We signal in many ways - posture, facial expression, selection of clothing, word choice - and we respond to such signals automatically. If a man steps up to one and asks for directions to the local primary school, one would look at his signals before replying. Is he carrying a container of petrol and a box of matches, does he have a crazed look in his eye? Perhaps better to direct him to the local police station. Is he in a nice suit, smartly dressed, with well-shined shoes, accompanied by a small child in a brand-new school uniform? He probably has legitimate business at the school. And inbetween the two, there's a whole range of potential sets of signals; and where there are signals, there are those who subvert the signals. Social hackers, I guess one could call them. And where such people exist - well, is it a good thing to pay attention to the signals or not? How much importance should one place on these signals, when the signals themselves could be subverted? How should one signal oneself - for any behaviour is a signal of some sort?

Comment author: ialdabaoth 13 March 2013 08:01:46PM 1 point [-]

With all the weaknesses and foibles of human nature; though we might try to mitigate those weaknesses, one of the biggest weaknesses in human nature is the belief that we have already mitigated those weaknesses, leading us to stop trying.

Except that what's being discussed here is the exploitation of those weaknesses, not their mitigation. And seeking to exploit those weaknesses as an end in and of itself leads to a particular kind of affective death spiral that rationalists claim to want to avoid, so I'm trying to raise a "what's up with that?" signal before a particular set of adverse cultural values lock in.

Comment author: CCC 14 March 2013 02:27:11PM 1 point [-]

Ah, I see; so while I'm saying that I expect that some exploitation will happen with high probability in any sufficiently large social group, you are trying to point out the negative side of said exploitation and thus cut it off, or at least reduce it, at an early stage.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 04:45:03PM 3 points [-]

We are humans, and even our truth-seeking activities are influenced by social aspects.

Imagine a situation where someone says that you are wrong, without explaining why. You would like to know why they think so. (They may be right or wrong, but if you don't know their arguments, you are less likely to find it out.) If they consider you too low status, they may refuse to waste their time explaining you something. If they consider you high status, they will take their time to explain, because they will feel a chance to get a useful ally or at least neutralize a potential enemy.

Generally, your social power may determine your access to information sources.

Comment author: Crux 07 March 2013 07:09:30PM *  1 point [-]

That's true, but at the same time it should be mentioned that we do live in the era of the Internet (ridiculously accessible information, no matter how low status and not worth their time anyone thinks you are).

With each passing day, we're moving closer and closer to a world where trying to build accurate models of the world is a different activity than socializing. For example, it seems plausible to say that emotions are The Enemy in epistemic discussion, but one of the main things to be engaged in and optimized for in a social setting.

Comment author: Decius 07 March 2013 05:36:12PM 1 point [-]

I knew and tried to mention that social power has instrumental value; are you saying that signalling offense can lead to someone explaining the reasons why you are wrong often enough to be worth introducing the noise to the technical discussion?

Comment author: Laplante 07 March 2013 02:58:44AM 23 points [-]

As a special case of a special case, I've been taking note whenever someone makes a comment about me that I find offensive. More often than not, it's because I've just been called out for a negative characteristic that I do, in fact, possess. Litany of Gendlin applies, and it's almost certainly more productive to deal with the issue at its core than to waste time actually being offended.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 March 2013 07:19:41PM 13 points [-]

I've read a few gun bloggers' comments that having a gun available to them made them -less- likely to consider violence, less likely to treat insults seriously; they had implicit knowledge that whatever slurs or insults came their way, that's all that it would amount to. They couldn't be bullied, and offense was removed from the equation.

For them, a gun was a stoic focus.

I've seen others for whom martial arts provided a similar stoic focus.

For a lot of people in a lot of situations, taking offense is in fact an offensive maneuver, of the train of thought that "The best defense is a good offense." It's an opportunity to demonstrate that they will defend themselves. Remove the perceived need for that, and things get considerably simpler. People are at their most easily offended when they feel the most vulnerable.

Thus, I suggest anybody who is easily offended consider and address their sense of vulnerability first. It's entirely possible the offense taken is at a perceived threat, rather than the words themselves.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 04:19:31AM *  20 points [-]

I second this! The mental state of being offended is not useful.

However, I want to point out that I believe there's some typical mind fallacy popping up this post? I think it's geared at the particular group of people whose knee-jerk impulse is to perform offendedness once they are in the offended mental state because the post doesn't clearly precisely distinguish between the two. But that's not the knee-jerk reaction of everyone. For example, I am very conflict-avoidant (to the point of doormat-ness), so I actually had to teach myself to perform offendedness for the social benefit of enforcing boundaries, which is pretty important but is only briefly touched upon in the post. My natural impulse was to tolerate (sometimes deliberately) offensive behavior and do nothing, so because I didn't get defensive or angry, I would just get hurt and sad and ... take it. Until I eventually realized this was a bad strategy. Therefore! I think it would be useful to clean up that distinction and make sure that it's the offendedness mental state that is a bad habit.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 01:32:27PM *  2 points [-]

Were you commenting on an earlier version of the post, or something? ISTM that the “not everyone is the same” point is addressed by the fourth paragraph and the “behaving as though you were offended is not always useless” is covered by the fifth paragraph.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 10:04:58PM *  5 points [-]

Were you commenting on an earlier version?

I made there be an earlier version. 8)

(Because I asked for edits, so that increased the chances of there being a later version because that's what edits are. Which then implies that there was an earlier version because you can't have an later version without an earlier version ... yeah.)

Comment author: TimS 07 March 2013 02:24:11PM 3 points [-]

katydee has been editing in response to suggestions.

Comment author: katydee 07 March 2013 05:48:24AM *  2 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback! I have a followup post on the way that I think will clarify some of the issues that you are referring to. I definitely agree that the mental state is what's really important here. Overall one thing that I think is not discussed enough on LessWrong is how all the thought processes trained by the typical LW canon can be derailed under certain circumstances. You might be the most rational person in the world, but if you're too angry/sad/joyful to think straight, you may not be as effective as you would hope.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 06:17:02AM *  13 points [-]

Thank you for your reply! I'm really glad you're planning to cover this topic more, and I definitely agree that extremely emotional mental states are derailing for rationality.

Unfortunately, I don't think your reply quite addressed my concern, and I'm starting to see a lot of comments from other people who are also reading this post as "don't get angry" rather than "detect your offended/victimized mental state, don't make any decisions and speedily think yourself out of it" because of the conflated language throughout the post. I would really super-appreciate it if you could edit it to be precise, because it seems to use "getting offended", and "acting angry" and "acting defensive" interchangeably in a lot of places.

Not all offended people act angry. Some people have really peaceful-looking offended states where they're secretly making mental notes to hold a grudge forever! They might read this post and think it doesn't apply to them. Some of us don't get offended at all and need to teach ourselves to socially demonstrate that something is wrong. Some people unfortunately don't even think they're allowed to get offended because they think they deserve every bad thing :(, but aren't in the scope of this post. They might read this and think there isn't anything to learn here.

Comment author: katydee 07 March 2013 06:41:39AM 5 points [-]

I would really super-appreciate it if you could edit it to be precise, because it seems to use "getting offended", and "acting angry" and "acting defensive" interchangeably in a lot of places.

Done.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 06:52:00AM 3 points [-]

Awesomeness! Thank you.

Comment author: TimS 07 March 2013 02:18:21PM *  1 point [-]

My concern with your assertions is that there is a serious risk that it with be used as a complete counter-argument to certain disliked social movements (proto-example here).

I'm not saying that all of my putative allies are rational, or have terminal values that can be reasonably implemented. Clearly, that is not the case. But a great deal of that problem is caused by the general low sanity line across the political spectrum.

In short, I'm concerned that your message will be interpreted as narrowly focusing that criticism to only one part of the spectrum.

EDIT: Fubarobfusco said it better

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 March 2013 06:29:25AM *  37 points [-]

A corollary:

If someone asks you to do or say things a little differently, in order to not scare, upset, or worry them ... don't get offended.

A lot of people turn into "slogan-chanting zombies" when someone informs them that they've scared, upset, or worried someone, when they had no intention to do so. They react with protestations of innocence; with accusations that the unhappy person is "oversensitive", or that their plea is a cynical ploy for a political cult; with baseless cries of censorship; or with biting, dismissive mockery.

This is unfortunate ... and it's bad rationality, too.

If someone goes to the trouble of informing you that the way you're acting or speaking leaves them feeling unsafe, unhappy, or uncomfortable around you ... they are giving you information. If you are interested in not having those effects on others, getting offended and defensive when someone informs you of them is a very bad idea.

It's a fact of the world that some ways of expressing yourself will come across as threatening, triggering, or creepifying to others. This is not because those people want to feel threatened, triggered, or creepified, or even necessarily that they have unusual predilections to those epistemic and emotional reactions. It also doesn't mean that you meant to do those things, or even that they believe you meant to do them. After all, if I thought you wanted to upset me, I sure wouldn't bother telling you that you had done so; I'd just stay away from you.

We're living in a world full of humans, not impersonal data-processors, and getting along with those humans is a vital skill. It is useful to your goals to obtain accurate information about their emotional and epistemic states ("How do they feel? What do they believe?"), especially their feelings and beliefs toward you. "Bad news is good news" — if your words or actions are having negative effects on others, don't push people away for informing you of that fact ... or else they might stop telling you, or stop talking to you at all.

(Also, for any incipient-FAI readers in the audience: Having emotional states and caring about others' emotional states, is something that humans value. Even though they are inconvenient sometimes. Please do not rewrite us to not be offended at anything at all, nor to not care if we offend others.)

If you find yourself responding with cached thoughts or catch-phrases such as "Everything will offend someone", or "Some people just want to be offended", or "If we let ourselves care about offending those people, next thing they'll be taking away our freedom of speech" ... yeah, that's the defensiveness I'm talking about. Stifle it; it's weakening you.

Intentionally being offensive (e.g. in protest) is sometimes worthwhile; and sometimes you simply can't do certain vital tasks (e.g. teaching biology) without offending someone (e.g. creationists). But finding out that you have been accidentally offensive is nothing worth defending or rationalizing — it's something to say "oops, sorry!" and update about.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 07:16:18AM *  20 points [-]

Hmm, why does this sound familiar? =]

Also, I just want to point out that the best way I can think of testing whether someone wants to be offended is by apologizing and not doing it again ... and then seeing if they're still following me around and pointing out how I offended them that one time.

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 02:15:21PM 6 points [-]

Upvoted for proposing a useful test.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 07 March 2013 04:25:58PM *  10 points [-]

If someone asks you to do or say things a little differently, in order to not scare, upset, or worry them ... don't get offended.

You should be happy that they are helping you create a better argument for this type of readers.

Of course there is a difference between "saying things differently" and "not saying things". Sometimes the offensive thing is not how you present the information, but the information itself. For example, you can speak about atheism without using ad-hominem arguments about Pope, or without mentioning child abuse in churches. Those parts are not the core of your argument, and are actively harmful if your goal is to make an "Atheism 101" presentation for religious people. On the other hand, if someone is offended by the mere fact that someone could not believe in their God, there are limits about what you can do about it. You could make the argument longer and slower to reduce the impact of the shock; use an analogy about Christians not believing in Hindu deities; perhaps quote some important religious guy saying something tolerant about nonbelievers... but at the end, you are going to say that nonbelievers exist, without immediately adding that they should be killed or converted. And someone could be offended by that, too.

Also, sometimes there are limited-resources consideration. Sometimes your argument is inoffensive for 90% of your audience, and the harm done by offending the remaining 10% may be smaller that either the cost of improving your argument for them or the cost of not presenting the argument. -- On the other hand, we should be suspicious of ourselves when we have this impression, because we are likely to overestimate the positive impact of presenting the imperfect argument, and underestimate the offence caused.

Comment author: katydee 08 March 2013 10:14:04PM 3 points [-]

Agreed on basically all points. Did you feel this post was attempting to defend or rationalize offending people?

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 March 2013 10:28:47PM 8 points [-]

No. I did think it was likely to be used as a source of rationalizations by people who do offend people, though, without some caveat that, well, offending people is ceteris paribus bad; and that a lot of common responses people have (especially online) to complaints of offense are actually rather weak rationalizations.

My response was intended in the spirit of Eliezer's "Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People" — that this sort of thing may unintentionally provide ammunition for bad behavior.

Comment author: Error 07 March 2013 02:13:48PM *  6 points [-]

If you find yourself responding with cached thoughts or catch-phrases such as "Everything will offend someone", or "Some people just want to be offended", or "If we let ourselves care about offending those people, next thing they'll be taking away our freedom of speech" ... yeah, that's the defensiveness I'm talking about. Stifle it; it's weakening you.

FYI, this pattern matches on "disagreeing with my complaint makes you part of the problem," at least to me, with all the problems that implies. The first two statements in particular are quite true, although insufficient in themselves to defeat your point.

For the record, I don't think that's how you meant it.

If someone asks you to do or say things a little differently, in order to not scare, upset, or worry them ... don't get offended.

This, on the other hand, I wholly agree with. Getting offended in such a case is silly. I think it may arise from the perception that it grants others power over you if you have to change your behavior to suit them. I think the cure is to realize that you don't have to change anything -- but might choose to based on the extra information they were kind enough to give you.

I for one wish people would tell me about such impressions more often. I've alienated a few people in my time because I was doing something irritating, lacked the social skills to realize it, and was never informed. (and therefore could not correct the problem)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 08 March 2013 10:30:18PM *  1 point [-]

FYI, this pattern matches on "disagreeing with my complaint makes you part of the problem," at least to me, with all the problems that implies.

Interesting. I see what you mean, but I don't see a clearer way of pointing to a particular cached-thought reaction that I anticipate some readers having. Any ideas?

Comment author: Error 09 March 2013 11:09:32PM *  3 points [-]

Honestly, I'm not sure. Your intent seemed to be to pre-empt certain arguments you believe to be bogus. Doing that without appearing to discredit dissent in itself, may be difficult.

"Catch-phrases such as...." implies that all similar arguments are presumed bogus, and "...yeah, that's the defensiveness" appears to discredit them based on the mindset of the arguer rather than the merit of the argument.

Listing specific arguments along with why each of them is wrong (edit:or insufficient to reach conclusion) probably would not have given me the same impression. I am thinking of some religious figure who, writing to argue for God's existence, gave a series of statements along the lines of "these are the objections to my argument that are known to me; I answer each of them thusly...." I think it might have been Aquinas. I remember being impressed by the honesty of the approach even though I don't believe in the conclusion.

(I am not sure who downvoted you or why. Responding to honest criticism with a request for suggestions seems laudable to me.)

Comment author: Error 09 March 2013 11:54:52PM 3 points [-]

"...yeah, that's the defensiveness" appears to discredit them based on the mindset of the arguer rather than the merit of the argument.

On reflection, I think this statement specifically is my problem, and not because of what it's saying about the argument, but about the arguer. My reaction is something like "well, damn, now if I object I'll appear to be an unnecessarily defensive jerk, even if I'm right."

It feels like "God will send you to hell if you question his existence"; where that one exacts penalties for the act of figuring out if there really are penalties, yours socially censures the act of questioning the justification of censure. Such double binds always strike me as intellectually dishonest.

Again, I don't think you actually meant it that way; it just pattern matched on certain similar arguments (which I'll leave unstated to avoid a mindkiller subthread) by people who actually do mean it that way.

Comment author: roystgnr 14 March 2013 07:08:46PM *  1 point [-]

The problem with caching is just that sometimes the cache falls out of sync; you want to evaluate some complex problem f(x), and if you've previously evaluated some similar f(y) it's faster to evaluate "if (resembles_y(x)) then cached_f(y) else f(x)", but if resembles_y(x) isn't precise enough, then you've overgeneralized.

But the correction "Stifle it" doesn't seem to be pinpoint-precise either, does it? It's an overgeneralization that just generalizes to the opposite conclusion.

If you don't want people to overgeneralize, then you have to be specific - "in cases where A, B, or C hold, then you want to avoid giving offense; if D, E, or F hold then giving offense may have higher utility", etc - and just trying to begin nailing down this kind of precision is likely to require hundreds of comments, not just a couple sentences.

Comment author: shminux 07 March 2013 05:32:11PM *  6 points [-]

As jooyous noted, one of the most important skills is to be able to notice when you are offended, or otherwise emotionally hampered. This is not at all trivial, as you can see from the discussion threads here, where people who are clearly emotionally compromised behave as if they were acting rationally. (Yes, I am guilty of this, too.) I am not sure how to develop this skill of noticing being offended while being offended, but surely there is a training for it. Maybe something as simple as a checklist to go through before commenting would be a start. Checklists are generally a good idea.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 07:09:06AM *  14 points [-]

In addition to calling for edits, I'm going to be a proactive human and type out my procedure for dealing with an offended mental state. Maybe it'll be helpful to people?

  1. Notice that you are in an offended mental state, which generally feels like being hurt, angry and the victim of an attack. It feels like the person was trying to hurt you, or should have known what they did was going to hurt you.
  2. Make a mental note not to do anything important or make any decisions until you get out of this state, and then start working on getting out of it. Personally, I find it helpful to go over the facts of what happened, but if this makes the feeling worse then you may instead want to distract yourself, do breathing exercises to calm down, cry*, etc. Whatever works for you.
  3. Go over the facts of what happened precisely.
    • Do you really have evidence that the person was trying to hurt you? Would the thing be hurtful to someone else? If the answer is yes, then you should probably speak up that they have done a hurtful thing in a firm but respectful way. Generate social pressure that doing hurtful things isn't cool and you're not going to let them slide. If they get defensive or refuse, disengage.
    • Do you have evidence that they should have known that what they did was going to hurt you? It may turn out that they had no way of knowing that was hurtful to you and you should tell them! Otherwise, a reminder or reiteration is probably sufficient.
  4. Otherwise, think about precisely why the thing that happened is hurtful to you? Would you want to do the freedom to do the same thing, even if you knew that it was possibly going to be hurtful to someone?
    • If you find asymmetrical answers, then either you need to stop doing the thing, or you need to acknowledge that the hurt you're feeling isn't something that someone did to you, but something that occurred indirectly, which means the hurt feeling is yours to work through yourself. The good thing about this means that the person doesn't hate you or anything!
    • It might turn out that the people did X and you've determined why it's hurtful to you, but you also have no idea why they might have done it because X is something you never do, then skip to the next step.
  5. After you've figured out why something is hurtful, it helps to think of the situation in terms of requests. What can the other parties involved do to make you feel better? I generally find that then things that come out of an offended state are attempts to make the offender feel bad, which is not productive it all -- it's just going to put them into the state where they want to make you feel even worse! Therefore, if you aren't in a mental state in which you can generate productive requests, then you have more calming down/processing to do.
  6. Consider how the other parties involved are likely to respond to your requests and try to find a method/situation of conveying them to the other parties in a way that maximizes the chances of the other parties being able/willing to fulfill them. Sometimes none of the expectations are high enough, so maybe don't bother actually requesting the thing? It is still helpful to know what you would need in a situation.

* Note: Some people react weirdly to the crying (and I don't know why).

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 March 2013 03:23:52PM 14 points [-]
  • Note: Some people react weirdly to the crying (and I don't know why).

I may be one of the people you'd describe as reacting weirdly to the crying, and my reason for it is this.

In order to not be seen as an Insensitive Person, when someone you know starts crying in your presence, especially if it's because of you, you're obligated to Do Something about it.

I do not have a cache of appropriate procedures for Doing Something.

If you've ever been in a situation where you say exactly the wrong thing, and find yourself scrambling for a way to rectify the social faux pas (tvtropes link), that's more or less what it feels like.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 06:17:47PM 4 points [-]

I'd like to propose another procedure!

  1. "Are you okay?" This covers the Sensitivity angle by Showing Concern.
  2. "Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" This allows you to obtain a procedure for Doing Something, but not only are you Doing Something, you are also doing the exact Thing that the crying person wants you to do. Customization! Sometimes, crying people don't want you to do anything, but also if they tell you something random at step 2 and see you actually do it, they might be more inclined to trust you with the actual Thing they want you to do.

I think this is pretty versatile!

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 March 2013 07:29:55PM 7 points [-]

I do tend to give responses like this, but they feel awfully fake to me. I may appear more authentic than I feel when giving them. One time I asked my mother if she would describe me as a warm person (I wouldn't, but I wanted to know what other people thought,) she said that she generally wouldn't, but sometimes I am, and gave an example of a time when she was distressed over a cancer scare, and when she started crying, I immediately walked up and hugged her.

But I also remembered that event very well, and to me, hugging her didn't feel like a natural reaction to consoling someone in distress, it felt like "Crap, I am required to Do Something, what do I do?" and desperately searching for a socially appropriate response.

This probably makes me sound a lot more uncaring than I actually am. It's certainly not that I don't empathize with others' distress, but I'm not nearly as emotive as I am emotional, and I become distressed when I feel like I suddenly have to signal compassion in a way that's different from my response to actually feeling compassionate.

Comment author: Swimmer963 08 March 2013 12:59:45AM 11 points [-]

This probably makes me sound a lot more uncaring than I actually am.

Not at all. It makes you sound exactly like I feel a lot of the time–as someone who didn't naturally pick up a lot of social scripts, it just feels frustrating that people have these scripts, and expect you to know when and how follow them even though they're completely counterintuitive, and that people care about how you appear, not your intentions (or what you actually get accomplished).

I do tend to give responses like this, but they feel awfully fake to me. I may appear more authentic than I feel when giving them.

Fake it till you make it! And take this as consolation: plenty of people's natural, instinctive responses to people in distress aren't helpful. The fact that you're actually thinking consciously about your response means you can notice over time what works and what doesn't and adjust accordingly.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 09:46:57PM *  5 points [-]

I'm not nearly as emotive as I am emotional, and I become distressed when I feel like I suddenly have to signal compassion in a way that's different from my response to actually feeling compassionate.

I definitely know what that feels like; whenever people come to me with a problem, I immediately start trying to solve it, which probably comes off as awful pushiness if they just wanted someone to signal compassion at them. But it comes from compassion! People with problems need to stop suffering from them as soon as possible! I only feel compelled to give people hugs when the problem is unsolvable, like someone dying. (As a result, I'm really bad at greeting-hugs.)

Here are some questions: What would you want others to do for you if you were crying or upset? How often do people actually do the thing you want? Because if it's not that often, you may want to let them know. I think actually most people appreciate feeling helpful in situations like that. Like if someone is giving you a hug and you don't want it, ask them to do something else instead? Eventually, they should condition to always do the other thing when you're upset. Hopefully.

Personally, it really bothers me when people get distressed if I'm upset or crying, because it feels like they care more about making me stop than actually resolving the problem that caused it. Like the more they let me cry, the less I will like them later or something. Or as if my crying bothers them so much that they just want to shut it off. Whereas I prefer to sit there and cry until I figure out what I need from them. Therefore, I would argue that being distressed at upset people isn't instrumental, because it sends this weirdly selfish message sometimes. I also think that general non-manipulative, upset people appreciate a stable not-upset person around them? I hope. (Does anyone have a non-manipulative case where they're upset and want to upset everyone around them?)

Also! I think as an addendum to step 2, I would say find the 10 most common Things To Do that people appreciate, and start listing them if the person's not articulate enough to given an answer. "Would you like a hug? Would you like a glass of water? Would you like to be left alone?, etc." Hopefully that will cover most people and you won't have to worry too much that you're not Doing the Correct Thing because they will have said yes when you asked!

Comment author: Desrtopa 08 March 2013 12:03:30AM *  3 points [-]

Here are some questions: What would you want others to do for you if you were crying or upset?

If I were crying? Not be there. Even if I never got it from my own family, the socialization for men not to cry in front of others is pretty strong. It might seem like a socially unenlightened perspective, but honestly, the embarrassment of having someone see me cry would probably be more acute than whatever comfort they would offer. I think that men are often at a loss dealing with crying people for this reason.

If I were upset, but not crying, then situation could go two ways. They could ask if I want to talk about what's bothering me, and I say yes, and explain what I'm upset about. Realistically, I've already thought about ways to solve the issue, so I'll be bothered if they try to contribute ways to solve the problem before I relate my thoughts on the matter. After having shared my distress, I'll tend to feel somewhat better.

The other way it could go is that they ask if I want to talk about it, and I say no. I won't do this out of a desire to seem tough or bottle things up, but because I honestly don't trust or feel comfortable enough with the person to want to relate my concerns to them. In this case, I'll feel worse than if they hadn't asked at all, because by asking them to leave, I've been forced to signal my lack of solidarity with them. In this case, the best thing the person can do is leave without asking me anything, so I can deal with the issue myself without having to tell them that their presence will only make matters worse.

This contributes to my distress in dealing with crying people, because I know that if I were in their place, the same actions could make my mood better or worse depending on something the other person couldn't be expected to know about.

Comment author: jooyous 08 March 2013 12:39:32AM *  4 points [-]

This contributes to my distress in dealing with crying people, because I know that if I were in their place, the same actions could make my mood better or worse depending on something the other person couldn't be expected to know about.

Yes! I definitely know that feeling. There are some times where people offering hugs is exactly what I need and there are times where hugs are exactly the opposite of what I need. This is kind of why I kind of think asking people stuff and requesting stuff are really the best policies, even if they don't feel socially sensitive-looking enough sometimes and can be subverted by manipulative people.

I think that men are often at a loss dealing with crying people for this reason.

I think I understand? It's like this unthinkable thing you can't imagine happening to you so you don't know what to do when it's happening to someone else. But thinking about unthinkable things is useful and good for your brain! (One day, you might be around some onions or something.) I still think that specific "distress" reaction not useful, and maybe can be helped by working out a specific procedure and sticking to it like a robot even when you feel weird.

I've been in these absurd situations where a guy gets so upset that I'm crying, that I have to comfort him even though he did the thing that made me cry in the first place. I've also had people assume not crying about something means it's not important. I think it would be nice to demystify crying as an imperfect physical process that doesn't always correlate with importance, clarity, sensitivity, etc.

Comment author: Bugmaster 07 March 2013 07:24:58PM 2 points [-]

In my own entirely anecdotal experience, some crying people react very negatively to #2; a fewer number react negatively to #1. This procedure is far from universal.

Comment author: jooyous 07 March 2013 09:24:52PM *  0 points [-]

I wish there was some way to prove that my procedure is optimal under uncertainty and we should just train everyone to use it, but I might be drastically overestimating the number of articulate-while-crying people or knowing-what-they-need-while-crying people or expect-you-to-read-mind-while-crying people. =P

Maybe someone could build a model and then we can take a huge poll to fill in the model numbers.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 11 March 2013 11:35:33AM 5 points [-]

"Don't get mad, get even, or whatever the smart thing you decide is appropriate"

Comment author: Eliut 07 March 2013 04:56:02PM *  5 points [-]

Very nice, I see your point, this is a skill that benefits (actually allows) most cognitive processes (or would make you a fantastic chess player).

I would like you to elaborate more on this idea:

Humans are gregarious, in ancient times it was our greatest asset against most predators, (ironically it made us the most terrifying) therefore it was (is) of utmost importance to be part of the tribe. Apparently we are genetically programmed to follow this tribal behavior.

Many times when I witness human interaction I see “power play” (I am sorry to say this but the first thing that comes to mind is apes throwing feces at each other) eventually this leads one of the participants to be offended.

I wonder if the “loser” is overwhelmed with emotion since being degraded in status means the possibility of becoming a cast out, with the unpleasant effect of being devoured by the tiger. Also without sexual partners there is zero chance of passing your (precious) genetic information.

Cheers!

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2013 05:00:36PM 3 points [-]

I wonder if the “loser” is overwhelmed with emotion since being degraded in status means the possibility of becoming a cast out, with the unpleasant effect of being devoured by the tiger.

The extreme scenario need not even be the dominant factor. Even the less drastic effects of status degradation you mention result in less sex with desirable mates, less access to resources (including food) and fewer social consequences for rivals attempting to exploit you.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 12 March 2013 11:44:45AM 5 points [-]

Also note that if your status is low, higher status people can and frequently do hurt you for the fun of it.

Comment author: Fadeway 07 March 2013 04:35:14AM 5 points [-]

What was the name of that rule where you commit yourself to not getting offended?

I've always practiced it, though not always as perfectly as I've wanted (when I do slip up, it's never during an argument though; my stoicism muscle is fully alert at those points in time). An annoying aspect of it is when other people get offended - my emotions are my own problem, why won't they deal with theirs; do I have to play babysitter with their thought process? You can't force someone to become a stoic, but you can probably convince them that their reaction is hurting them and show them that it's desirable for them to ignore offense. To that end, I'm thankful for this post, upvoted.

Comment author: katydee 07 March 2013 04:43:58AM *  7 points [-]

What was the name of that rule where you commit yourself to not getting offended?

Crocker's Rules,

Comment author: Nornagest 07 March 2013 04:44:00AM 3 points [-]

What was the name of that rule where you commit yourself to not getting offended?

Sounds like you're thinking of Crocker's rules, although there's a bit more to it than that.

Comment author: timtyler 23 March 2013 12:37:04AM 4 points [-]

While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values[1]-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs.

Getting offended gives you a reputation that tends to stop people being rude to you and treating you badly. You punish perpetrators by ditching them. They are less likely to abuse you in the future - and so are onlookers. Being the victim of verbal abuse doesn't help much with acquiring correct beliefs either.

Comment author: scav 05 April 2013 09:16:01AM 1 point [-]

Responding firmly and effectively to actual attacks may preserve status and discourage others from abusing or taking advantage of you. Being emotionally upset is not an important part of that response.

In fact, responding excessively or inappropriately to perceived but unintended attacks loses you some respect and can discourage others from involving you in social activities or cooperative tasks. We may respect a badass, but we don't like an arsehole.

Getting angry is easy because we have neural circuitry dedicated to it, whereas thinking clearly under stress is difficult. It's commonplace, however absurd, to rationalise a failure to think clearly under stress as a wise social signalling strategy :)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 April 2013 02:58:19PM 1 point [-]

I endorse not responding excessively or inappropriately to attacks, and I endorse responding firmly and effectively to attacks.

I agree that if my emotions are preventing me from doing these things, that's worth correcting. And I agree that this is a common problem.

The solution is not necessarily (or typically, in my experience) to not have the emotion in the first place.

Comment author: scav 05 April 2013 03:28:13PM 0 points [-]

Agreed and voted up. Of course, you don't get a choice about whether to have an emotion, at the base level.

Not sure "offended" is a primary emotion though. It seems to me (by introspection) to be bundled together with a lot of culture-dependent and habitual behaviours, associations and memes, all of which are sub-optimal for any given situation, and could do with being brought under conscious control before being allowed to influence my actions.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 05 April 2013 05:12:37PM 0 points [-]

I get a choice about whether and how I experience emotions, in the same sense as I get a choice as to whether and how I run marathons. That is, I can't decide right now to run a marathon, or to not feel anger, but I can make choices that will reliably eventually get me there. What I'm saying isn't that the latter is impossible, but rather that I don't endorse doing it.

I agree that offense is bundled together with and mediated by lots of culture-dependent and habitual stuff. I would say the same about a lot of emotional patterns. And yes, some (though not all) of that stuff is suboptimal for any given situation.

And yes, the ability to choose how I act even when emotional or otherwise experiencing influences on my behavior is valuable.

I agree that offense is not a primary emotion, if I understand what you mean by the term.

Comment author: timtyler 05 April 2013 10:56:51AM 0 points [-]

Responding firmly and effectively to actual attacks may preserve status and discourage others from abusing or taking advantage of you. Being emotionally upset is not an important part of that response.

I don't think that's true. I've seen lots of cases of manipulation where being emotionally upset was the whole focus. Genuine distress evokes sympathy from onlookers and persecutors alike.

Comment author: scav 05 April 2013 03:16:43PM 0 points [-]

Attempting to evoke sympathy by displaying distress is another kind of response I suppose. But its success depends entirely on the reactions of your onlookers and persecutors: they may be amused and encouraged, for example. And even where successful, its success still doesn't depend on actual internal loss of emotional equilibrium.

Whereas being aware of and in charge of your emotions in a stressful situation is always a winning strategy.

Just as for an aggressive offended response, a manipulative whiny offended response can still lose you respect and social advantage if it is misjudged. And you are more likely to misjudge it if you are acting in a poorly controlled way out of emotional upset, rather than in a conscious attempt to communicate clearly.

BTW, I don't particularly rate the argument that because you've seen people easily manipulated by displays of distress, it's an advantage to be genuinely distressed by things. Obviously it stops being an advantage for the manipulator if the onlookers are able to control their own distress at seeing someone else apparently upset.

But I think we're wandering away from the topic a little. Being offended isn't the same as being distressed, except for pathological narcissists.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 March 2013 06:56:20PM *  0 points [-]

Getting offended gives you a reputation that tends to stop people being rude to you and treating you badly.

That only applies among adults, and possibly not even all of them.

Comment author: Oligopsony 07 March 2013 04:08:43AM 13 points [-]

Getting offended is a way of discouraging antisocial behavior, perhaps even the primary way. Because this is a public good, it is probably underprovided. (And yet you go on to recommend against it! Frankly, I'm shocked.)

Getting offended for one's own sake, alternatively, is probably a Pavlovian learned behavior because criticism feels bad. Being able to distinguish between different causes of offense seems like a useful skill, due to the costs of being offended that you point out.

More generally, one can better callibrate one's offense-giving by training to be offended at antisocial actions iff your offense actually has the deterrent effect. There is little utility in being offended by someone who is not in front of your face. There is also little utility in disapproving of people do not care for your approval. Inasmuch as people care about being disapproved of even when they are not looking, however, you may wish to cultivate offense even then.

Comment author: katydee 07 March 2013 05:47:32AM 2 points [-]

Getting offended is a way of discouraging antisocial behavior, perhaps even the primary way. Because this is a public good, it is probably underprovided. (And yet you go on to recommend against it! Frankly, I'm shocked.)

I believe that it is both possible and desirable to discourage antisocial behavior without becoming (or even acting) offended. Further, in many cases "calling people out" serves to derail conversations into a nonproductive or semiproductive state where the offense (or lack thereof) becomes the focus of the conversation. This seems necessary only in the most extreme cases.

Personally, I find that allowing such things to pass and then talking them over with the offender after the fact seems a better method of handling things. "Praise in public, criticize in private."

Comment author: Bugmaster 07 March 2013 07:31:10AM 4 points [-]

I believe that it is both possible and desirable to discourage antisocial behavior without becoming (or even acting) offended.

I realize this is possible, but is it actually effective ? Entire social movements have been built on the basis of acting offended; and some of them, f.ex. the Civil Rights movement, have been spectacularly successful (comparatively speaking). Of course, one could argue that their success wasn't worth the cost...

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 March 2013 08:07:57AM 8 points [-]

Entire social movements have been built on the basis of acting offended; and some of them, f.ex. the Civil Rights movement

This seems like a pretty big oversimplification.

(Counterexample: Any act of civil disobedience under risk of violence seems to be ill-characterized as "acting offended".)

Comment author: fubarobfusco 07 March 2013 06:42:52AM 1 point [-]

Inasmuch as people care about being disapproved of even when they are not looking, however, you may wish to cultivate offense even then.

... I think this may lead to a theory of acausal insult.

Comment author: Oligopsony 07 March 2013 05:11:33PM 5 points [-]

... I think this may lead to a theory of acausal insult.

Personally, it's my strategy to insult anyone who could have contributed to my being born, but didn't.

Comment author: khafra 08 March 2013 03:02:26PM 3 points [-]

That's kind of the opposite approach to the one most people take vis-a-vis the set of people who may or may not have copulated with their mother.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 11:11:13AM 4 points [-]

If someone other than my father had copulated with my mother sometime in late 1986, a person other than me would have been born.

Comment author: DaveX 07 March 2013 05:56:21AM 6 points [-]

It seems that it would be easier to keep one's identity small the less one deviates from the norms.

Literally screaming racial slurs in a person's face is an offensive act. Acting cool may be one good defensive strategy, but other strategies are not unwarranted.

Maybe I'm having a problem with 'offended' as a mental state as opposed to something like 'angry'. 'Angry' seems more of a mental state or feeling within yourself, while 'offended' seems less of a feeling but more a description of an act that you are attributing to the other person.

I read this post more as "Don't get angry" than as "Don't get offended" or "Don't feel attacked"

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 March 2013 11:03:53PM 6 points [-]

It seems that it would be easier to keep one's identity small the less one deviates from the norms.

A large part of one's identity is acquired by conforming to and identifying with social norms.

Comment author: satt 11 March 2013 07:49:21AM 1 point [-]

It seems that it would be easier to keep one's identity small the less one deviates from the norms.

Not least because identity isn't just under one's own control — it's also imposed from without by other people. So if person X is unusual in some salient way, other people are likely to end up impressing that fact upon person X, even if person X wants to discount that aspect of their identity.

Comment author: TimS 07 March 2013 03:46:11AM 5 points [-]

There's an emotional state, and there's disagreement about terminal values.

How should I communicate disagreement about terminal values? How should I behave to try to change the terminal values that society as a whole implements / tolerates?

Comment author: Bugmaster 07 March 2013 07:26:09AM 1 point [-]

Good question. First of all, is it even possible to change an individual's terminal values ? My guess is that the answer is "no"; that's why they are called "terminal values". Or, rather, even if it were technologically possible to change a person's terminal values, doing so would probably amount to murder. It would be akin to reprogramming Clippy to care about butterflies instead of paperclips.

How should I behave to try to change the terminal values that society as a whole implements / tolerates ?

If changing an individual's terminal values is impossible, and if you are committed to a very low level of violence, my guess is that you should attempt to instill your desired values in as many young children as possible -- and let time take care of the rest.

Comment author: novalis 07 March 2013 09:08:00AM 2 points [-]

Good question. First of all, is it even possible to change an individual's terminal values ? My guess is that the answer is "no"; that's why they are called "terminal values".

That's not what "terminal values" means. It simply means the values from which all of a person's other values can be derived. It is perfectly possible to change one's terminal values -- for instance, a young child cares only about itself, while almost no adults care only about themselves.

Comment author: Crux 07 March 2013 06:54:28PM *  3 points [-]

That's a good point. Another example is going through puberty. Although one could imagine an AI whose terminal values are always the same, and thus make changes to their behavior only due to acquiring new knowledge, it seems that humans are literally built for their terminal values to shift in particular ways.

Comment author: Bugmaster 07 March 2013 07:15:04PM *  2 points [-]

That's a good point about children (and puberty, as Crux said); it's possible (and IMO likely) that some of their terminal values are malleable. But I also agree with what William_Bur said on a sibling thread: issues like racism and segregation are instrumental values, not terminal ones.

Comment author: novalis 07 March 2013 10:20:56PM 1 point [-]

I don't think that's necessarily true -- see for instance Haidt's work on moral foundations. Plenty of people who opposed interracial marriage framed it as a matter of purity/contamination.

Comment author: simplicio 07 March 2013 10:11:40PM *  10 points [-]

My ambivalent reaction to this post motivates me to make a distinction between two kinds of advice; I will call the first "community-normative" advice and the second "agent-pragmatic" advice.

On one reading of your post (as community-normative advice), you're basically telling people in general to do what the title says: "Don't get offended!" My gut reaction to that is along the lines of handoflixue's comment, only with less profanity. Everything anybody ever says is a speech act, and some speech acts are harmful, and some are intentionally harmful. So telling someone not to get offended is kind of like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. Potentially a sign of moral myopia.

On another reading of your post (as agent-pragmatic), I see sensible advice for any individual thinker in the abstract. Yes, if it's possible to cultivate a general disposition not to be offended, that might be a good idea, in the same way as cultivating an immunity to arsenic might be a good idea if you live in an Agatha Christie novel.

I think the difference between the two is that if you say "Don't get offended!" without disclaiming the community-normative implications, you're imputing blameworthiness to those who are (perhaps maliciously) offended.

To be fair, you did actually disavow those implications.

Comment author: taelor 08 March 2013 12:27:08AM *  12 points [-]

So telling someone not to get offended is kind of like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. Potentially a sign of moral myopia.

Yes, telling people not to get offended is like telling them to stop getting in the way of moving fists. And on a case by case basis, it generally is bad to blame people for what other people are doing to them. But on a long term basis, if you find yourself constantly on the recieving end of moving fists, you might want to seriously consider learning to dodge better. Similarly, if you find yourself constantly getting offended to the point that your epistemic rationality becomes impaired, you should seriously consider practicing ways to better manage your emotions.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:10:09AM 4 points [-]

But on a long term basis, if you find yourself constantly on the recieving end of moving fists, you might want to seriously consider learning to dodge better.

That really, really depends though. Two different people may find themselves in that situation for completely different reasons. Some folks really just can't catch a break; others really are ready to see a slight in anything that remotely discomfits them. Some folks need to learn to dodge better, some folks probably won't get far with any advice that tells them to do something different since all these moving fists are not their idea and they're taking pains to avoid as it is, and I daresay many folks will encounter both types of situations because moving fists are not a single class of thing...

Comment author: epigeios 22 March 2013 09:30:11AM *  2 points [-]

At the low end of the mind, you're absolutely right. The options are: take the hit, dodge, hit back, or redirect the punch away, or don't even get near people in the first place. The best of those options is to redirect the punch away, which is very difficult to do.

At the high end of the mind, where extreme layers of subtlety exist, where most people don't even have the ability to be aware of at any time during their life, there is another way: realize that the punch is not directed at you. At that level of depth into the mind, the offendee actually entices people to say offensive things in order to get offended.

One layer deeper than that, the offendee's subtle body language, and overall "air around them" or "feeling they give off", is what entices people to say things that person will find offensive. At this level, the method is to realize that the punch is not only not directed at you, but is actually directed at the puncher.

As offensively blunt as it is to say: the reality is, it's always the fault of the person who gets offended. Of course, most of the time, all people involved are offended, and so it's everyone's fault. In the end, what I'm trying to say is not "don't be offended", but instead: listen to your feeling of being offended. It knows better than you. It's not telling you what's wrong with other people, it's telling you what's wrong with yourself. It's right.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:07:11AM *  9 points [-]

Don't get hurt. Pain is natural and very easy to experience, but it interferes with your capacity for rational thought, and that's clearly suboptimal!

Comment author: katydee 08 March 2013 09:08:42AM 2 points [-]

Ironically, the text of your post seems unambiguously correct to me.

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 03:34:44PM 1 point [-]

Yes. That's because what I'm riffing on is the superficially-reasonable nature of your statements here. That's kind of the idea behind sarcasm -- tone and context alone make the difference between two very different readings of the same utterance.

Comment author: simplicio 07 March 2013 10:31:51PM 4 points [-]

That being said, I agree with some other commenters that a generalized disposition to not take offense strikes me as problematic and a little Spocklike. I am put in mind of Aristotelian ethics, wherein one is recommended to pursue the virtue of righteous indignation (that term had less baggage in Aristotle's time) in contrast to the opposite vices of irascibility and complacency.

In certain very specific cases, yelling at the top of your lungs and banging on the table might be the entirely correct thing to do in response to a person's actions or words, and the sense of offense you feel is useful, because it is what provides you the necessary motivation to do so.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 07 March 2013 11:22:32PM 9 points [-]

I'm also reminded of, IIRC, Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed containing the directive to not allow oneself to become angry, because anger distorts clear thinking, but also observes that sometimes it is necessary to display anger so as to effect desirable change in the world.

Comment author: scav 05 April 2013 09:35:01AM 0 points [-]

Not really. There is a qualitative difference between being harmed and being offended. And as usual the word "offended" can range in meaning from a perceptual experience of distaste or dissatisfaction to a surrender to anger and outrage. It's clear to me at least which end of that scale katydee is advising us to avoid.

Of course it wouldn't make sense to advise people to avoid disliking things that are contrary to their values. But it makes perfect sense to advise mindfulness in the face of strong emotional responses. "Keep a cool head under fire" is uncontroversially good advice, and not equivalent to blaming people for being shot at.

Also, katydee's advice works when applied to itself, because clearly too there would be nothing useful about being emotionally outraged at the idea of advice-as-victim-blaming, and none of the reasonable critical comments here seem to be couched in the form of incoherently angry rants.

Comment author: jimmy 07 March 2013 02:57:29AM 6 points [-]

Yes!

I think this is hugely important. I want to add to it though: even as a manipulation it's usually pretty silly. What can you really accomplish that you'll feel good about afterwards? The main thing it accomplishes is to get people to stop throwing uncomfortable potential truths at you. Like any other knee-jerk emotional reaction, it tends to be pretty short sighted.

There's a good substitute too. I try really hard to avoid taking offense, and in the very rare cases where offense seems potentially useful, I've gotten good results by merely pointing out that a statement is offensive, without actually taking offense. Sorta like saying "I'm a big boy and I can handle this conversation, but are you really taking that position right now?". Usually that gets them to be a little more empathetic.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 07 March 2013 04:05:08PM 2 points [-]

Also related (specifically, getting offended by people who are acting, gasp, irrationally): The problem with too many rational memes

See especially the comments. There are some good strategies in there for dealing with offense in this specific context, some of which may generalize.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 10 March 2013 06:58:42PM 6 points [-]

I've been trying in the back of my mind to summarize something about this discussion since it started, and I think I have something useful:

A lot of people will hear "don't get offended" as "don't care about what people say or do; avoid being hurt or upset by becoming numb, cynical, or hyper-relativist." This is the sense in which, for instance, Internet trolls mock people for being offended by casual use of racial or sexual slurs.

But self-modifying to not care about what people say or do means throwing out some part of your value system; giving up on it — and specifically, giving up on the part of your values that says I prefer to live in a world where people are kinder to each other.

A different take on it, though, is "keep your value system; keep valuing kindness — but notice when your reactions to unkindness are effective at discouraging unkindness and when they are not." If, in a particular situation, blowing up at someone off for using racial slurs is likely to accomplish the desired result — communicating that you actually give a shit about people of other races and aren't OK with asshole behavior towards them — then blow up at them. For that matter, if blowing up at them can rally other people to say that asshole behavior is not OK, that'll be worth it to. But notice when offense works and when it doesn't — and don't burn up your own neurotransmitters giving too many fucks when it isn't going to help.

Comment author: wedrifid 10 March 2013 08:00:58PM *  8 points [-]

But self-modifying to not care about what people say or do means throwing out some part of your value system; giving up on it — and specifically, giving up on the part of your values that says I prefer to live in a world where people are kinder to each other.

The preference is not given up. What is given up is attachment to reality being a different than what it is. You give up the notion "if <thing I don't prefer is the case in the universe> then <I must make myself sad or anxious or offended>". That leaves you free to be happy, content and socially alert and competent while you go ahead and pursue the things you want.

Comment author: simplicio 11 March 2013 07:30:47PM *  1 point [-]

You give up the notion "if <thing I don't prefer is the case in the universe> then <I must make myself sad or anxious or offended>".

Right, so I think what is being missed here is the functional role sadness, anxiety and offense play in motivating human action. Sadness has intensionality - it is about something - and its proper role in a human mind is to motivate various complex responses along the lines of "avoid this" or "prevent this from ever happening again." Lose the sadness and you lose the motivational power it contains. I don't think this motivational power is actually replaceable by a more generic abstract preference. (Or else charity fundraising would just say "we offer 20 utilitons per dollar" and that would be enough.)

Of course, the kind of emotional distancing recommended here might be necessary if the sadness/anxiety/offense actually becomes, in itself, an obstacle to achieving your goals - which can certainly happen. But it is not the general case.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I am talking descriptively about humans, not prescriptively here. It's too bad that we aren't strongly motivated by "20 utilitons per dollar." We should be! But we aren't.

Comment author: epigeios 22 March 2013 09:17:02AM 4 points [-]

The functional role sadness, fear, suffering, and all such emotions plays is the same role pain plays: It is an indicator, telling the mind where the problem is. There are certainly multiple ways to "fix" the problem. In the end, however, the methods that in any way dampen progress are methods that don't actually fix the problem. (The problem is never external)

Roughly 80% of the time, people are offended by things that they don't know they do themselves. That's why it is very important to listen to the emotional pain: to figure that out.

Roughly 20% of the time, people are offended by things that they do the opposite of on purpose, and take pride in. In this case, it is equally important to listen to the emotional pain: to figure out that they are doing the wrong thing. These two things can overlap.

Roughly 50% of the time, people get offended at their own imaginations; and what they are offended by has no bearing in reality. As in: they put words in people's mouths, or they alter definitions. At these times, there is no reasonable way to avoid offending these people. They alter their understanding of reality so that they can be offended. They're basically addicted to getting offended. Yes, I really mean 50%.

Comment author: CCC 22 March 2013 09:35:48AM 1 point [-]

I don't think this motivational power is actually replaceable by a more generic abstract preference. (Or else charity fundraising would just say "we offer 20 utilitons per dollar" and that would be enough.)

This does not follow. If the motivational power of sadness is replaceable by a more generic abstract preference, but most people do not perform that replacement, then charity fundraising would appeal to the "most people" baseline.

Comment author: Elithrion 07 March 2013 03:29:34AM *  4 points [-]

I agree. Now I'm off to link this to Tumblr's social justice movement (except not really).

Also, I think you meant "Besides, the signalling value of offense should be no excuse for not knowing how not to be offended." So many negatives in that sentence!

Comment author: katydee 07 March 2013 03:37:47AM 0 points [-]

Thanks, you're right! Fixed.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 04:39:03PM -1 points [-]

This post and some of the comments seem to me to have got the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes offense is used as a rhetorical trick, in which case notions of 'high status response' and 'manipulation' are appropriate. However it normally occurs when one person - from callousness or ignorance - says or does something that does not accord another person's the respect and dignity they are entitled to.

When someone says something offensive to you - they're racist, homophobic, sexist - it seems like you should be offended by that. To a large extent your reaction will be non-rational, emotional, habitual. But to the extent that you can shape your reactions (or character traits), this seems like one you'd want to keep. In addition to the positive social effects, it seems important at a personal level. The offender is disparaging your identity, your dignity, your self-worth - they're not according you the respect you deserve as a person. How dare they!

By getting offended - and even better telling them off - you're often reaffirming your self-respect. It's an important, powerful moment when a wife stands up to her husband, when a gay kid stands up to bullies, when a black person calls out a bigot. When there's so much contemporary emphasis on challenging everyday misogyny, homophobia and racism whenever it occurs, it seems strange that you would be advocating the exact opposite.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 March 2013 12:05:21AM 3 points [-]

When someone says something offensive to you - they're racist, homophobic, sexist

Taboo, "racist, homophobic, sexist". In my experience these words, especially when spoken by the offended, frequently mean "you are making an argument/stating a potential truth that I don't like".

For example: is it racist/sexist to point out the differences in average IQ between the people of different races/genders? Does it become racist/sexist if one attempts to speculate on the cause of these differences?

Comment author: whowhowho 09 March 2013 10:45:50AM 2 points [-]

For example: is it racist/sexist to point out the differences in average IQ between the people of different races/genders?

It depends on what relevance it has, and on what is being left out. Someone once told me that GW Bush must be smarter than Obama because he is white. That's an intellectual fallacy even if it isn't boo-word racism.

In my experience these words, especially when spoken by the offended, frequently mean "you are making an argument/stating a potential truth that I don't like".

In my experience, references to "human biodiversity" are frequently presented as if they are value neutral, but frequently aren't because of the factors mentioned above.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 09:43:52AM 2 points [-]

For example: is it racist/sexist to point out the differences in average IQ between the people of different races/genders?

The way I'd use the word, it depends on why you're pointing them out. (Hint: if someone is pointing out that white people are more intelligent than black people in average for non-army1987::racist reasons, they'd most likely point out that East Asians and Ashkenazi Jews are even more intelligent in average.)

The wording is also important -- “blacks are idiots” is no more of a reasonable way to put that than “females are midgets” is a reasonable way to state the fact that the average woman is shorter than the average man, so if someone is willing to say the former but not the latter, there's likely something wrong.

(BTW, AFAIK men and women have the same average IQ (though different types of intelligence are weighed in a way deliberately chosen to make that the case), but the distribution of men's IQs has a larger standard deviation.)

Comment author: handoflixue 08 March 2013 07:11:27PM 1 point [-]

In my experience these words, especially when spoken by the offended, frequently mean "you are making an argument/stating a potential truth that I don't like".

"Gay people shouldn't marry because it will undermine the very fabric of civilization" "Women shouldn't vote, because they don't understand male concepts like War and Empire" "Everyone knows Irish people get drunk on St. Patrick's day!"

This is the sort of stuff that frequently arises in the world.

I would suggest you probably live in a very filtered environment. It's cool, most people do. I've been trying to re-filter my own environment. But, trust me, these things are all still alive and kicking out there. Following the news, activist blogs, or just having friends who are oppressed in their daily life and talk about it, will quickly draw this sort of racist, homophobic, sexist comments to your attention.

If you really think this qualifies as "stating an unpleasant truth" then... wow.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 07:04:22AM 1 point [-]

"Gay people shouldn't marry because it will undermine the very fabric of civilization" "Women shouldn't vote, because they don't understand male concepts like War and Empire" "Everyone knows Irish people get drunk on St. Patrick's day!"

Is your claim that these statements are obviously false or that they're so offensive that they shouldn't be stated even if they're true?

Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 09:55:41AM 1 point [-]

I ADBOC with the last of them (except the “everyone knows” part -- my mother didn't know what the significance of St. Paddy's was until I told her a few years ago).

Comment author: handoflixue 11 March 2013 06:05:59PM -2 points [-]

The last one should be read as "ALL" Irish people, my bad :)

Comment author: [deleted] 11 March 2013 06:24:50PM *  3 points [-]

BTW, this is something I've recently noticed -- the vast majority of statements I'm offended by is of the form “All [people from some group that comprises a sizeable fraction of the human population, and doesn't include the speaker] are [something non-tautological and unflattering].” (I am more offended if the group happens to include me, but not very much.) But remove the universal quantifier and, no matter how large the group is and how unflattering the thing is, the statement will lose almost all of its offensiveness in my eyes.

Comment author: handoflixue 11 March 2013 06:28:22PM -1 points [-]

Internally I am generally the same, but I've come to realize that a rather sizable portion of the population has trouble distinguishing "all X are Y" and "some X are Y", both in speaking and in listening. So if someone says "man, women can be so stupid", I know that might well reflect the internal thought of "all women are idiots". And equally, someone saying "all women are idiots" might just be upset because his girlfriend broke up with him for some trivial reason.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 11 March 2013 10:53:05PM 6 points [-]

but I've come to realize that a rather sizable portion of the population has trouble distinguishing "all X are Y" and "some X are Y", both in speaking and in listening.

And the belief in question acts more light "some/most X are Y" then "all X are Y", i.e., the belief mostly get's applied to X's the person doesn't know, when it makes sense to use the prior for X's.

Comment author: [deleted] 12 March 2013 07:52:39PM 1 point [-]

Yes, people who say “all X are Y” usually do know at least one person who happens to be an X and whom they don't actually alieve is Y -- but I think that in certain cases what's going on is that they don't actually alieve that person is an X, i.e. they're internally committing a no true Scotsman. Now, I can't remember anyone ever explicitly saying “All X are Y [they notice that I'm looking at them in an offended way] -- well, you're not, but you're not a ‘real’ X so you don't count” (and if they did, I'd be tremendously offended), but I have heard things that sound very much like a self-censored version of that.

Comment author: handoflixue 11 March 2013 06:05:44PM -2 points [-]

Obviously false. I just stated them, so they're not de-facto offensive; they're offensive when you assert such an obvious falsehood as TRUE.

Comment author: faul_sname 08 March 2013 02:10:43AM -1 points [-]

Yes and yes. We live in a world where people disregard qualifiers, so if you say "on tests of mathematical ability, men have higher variance in test scores, so the most talented mathematicians are disproportionately men" people will hear "men are better at math" and assume that average men are better than average women at math (this might also be true, but is not what you said). Basically, some people don't distinguish between "most a are b" and "most b are a", so you end up with people drawing conclusions that hurt other people with no real benefit. So as a general rule, we pretend that there are no between-group differences because if we don't, people have a tendency to focus exclusively on between group differences and ignore within-group differences, which is worse.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 08 March 2013 02:47:01AM 7 points [-]

We live in a world where people disregard qualifiers, so if you say "on tests of mathematical ability, men have higher variance in test scores, so the most talented mathematicians are disproportionately men" people will hear "men are better at math" and assume that average men are better than average women at math (this might also be true, but is not what you said).

I could make similar argument about a lot of things we do here, e.g., people hear "consequentialism" and think "the ends justify the means", that doesn't stop LW from promoting consequentialism.

So as a general rule, we pretend that there are no between-group differences because if we don't, people have a tendency to focus exclusively on between group differences and ignore within-group differences, which is worse.

Intentionally believing false things always carries a cost.

For example, suppose I want to hire the best mathematicians for a project, they'll likely be disproportionately White or Asian men. Someone who followed your advise looking at the mathematicians I hire would conclude that I was racist and sexist in my hiring and we live in a society where the courts might very well back them. Thus the only way for me to avoid being considered a racist and sexist is to intentionally fudge the numbers based on race and sex, which itself requires that I know the truth about racial and gender differences so I know which way to fudge.

Comment author: faul_sname 08 March 2013 08:48:04PM 3 points [-]

I could make similar argument about a lot of things we do here, e.g., people hear "consequentialism" and think "the ends justify the means", that doesn't stop LW from promoting consequentialism.

Nope, and some people will express disapproval of LWers who promote consequentialism. Being right doesn't make you immune to social stigma.

Intentionally believing false things always carries a cost.

Yes, it does. So does unintentionally believing false things. This is definitely not a one-sided issue, as much as people like to pretend that is it. Anti-discrimination policies reduce one cost at the expense of raising another.

For example, suppose I want to hire the best mathematicians for a project, they'll likely be disproportionately White or Asian men.

In the case that you both want to hire and are able to hire exceptional mathematicians, anti-discrimination policies are likely to hurt both parties involved. (In theory, laws regarding disparate impact wouldn't actually affect you if you were hiring based on demonstrable mathematical prowess, but in practice business necessity would be hard to prove). The mathematicians are actually likely to be hurt considerably more, because without anti-discrimination policies, they would probably be in higher demand and thus able to ask for much higher pay.

The real problem comes in when employers decide that they need exceptional people but can't actually identify these exceptional people. If filtering based on race was allowed, employers would use that (the best mathematicians are disproportionately white and asian, therefore if I hire a white or asian I'll get an above-average mathematician).

Basically, you're right except for the problem where humans mix up p(a|b) and p(b|a), which causes people to do stupid things (most of the people who win the lottery buy lots of tickets, so if I buy lots of tickets I'm likely to win the lottery). If you actually know what you're hiring based on, anti-discrimination policies will prevent you from having 100% of your workforce be the very best, but even if only whites and asians had the required skills, you're still looking at 77% of the population in the US, so it falls in the category of "annoyance" not "business killer". In terms of fudging, you can detect statistically significant deviations just as well as someone looking at your hiring data. You don't need to know beforehand.

Of course, if these things weren't the case you'd still face social stigma for saying anything that sounds vaguely racist. Because while these two societal tendencies have strong effects in opposite directions, they're not there by virtue of reasoned argument, and so removing one but not the other is likely to cause more harm than good (probably, I have no idea how one would go about removing either societal tendency to test that hypothesis). If both tendencies could be eliminated, that would be best, and here you probably can talk about it without much social stigma, but if you ask those questions in everyday life, you will be labeled as a racist.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 06:44:06AM 4 points [-]

The real problem comes in when employers decide that they need exceptional people but can't actually identify these exceptional people. If filtering based on race was allowed, employers would use that (the best mathematicians are disproportionately white and asian, therefore if I hire a white or asian I'll get an above-average mathematician).

Basically, you're right except for the problem where humans mix up p(a|b) and p(b|a),

Ironically this is a case where p(a|b) is in fact a good proxy for p(b|a) and and the kind of filtering you're objecting to is in fact the correct thing to do from a Bayesian perspective.

Comment author: wedrifid 09 March 2013 08:58:55AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 09 March 2013 11:17:40AM *  0 points [-]

“The best mathematicians are disproportionately white and asian, therefore if I hire a white or asian I'll get an above-average mathematician” is Bayesianly correct if the race is the only thing you know about the candidates; but it isn't (a randomly-chosen white or Asian person is very unlikely to be a decent mathematician), and the other information you have about the candidates most likely mostly screens off the information that race gives you about maths skills.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 08:05:33PM *  4 points [-]

Read the comment I linked to and possibly subsequent discussion if you're interested in these things.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 04:07:37PM *  1 point [-]

Hmm, so E(the Math SAT score that X deserves|the Math SAT score that X got is 800, and X is male) is just 4 points more than E(the Math SAT score that X deserves|the Math SAT score that X got is 800, and X is female). That doesn't sound like terribly much to me, and I'd guess there are plenty of people who, due to corrupted mindware and stuff, would treat a male who got 800 better than a female who got 800 by a much greater extent than justified by that 4-point difference in the Bayesian posterior expected values. (Cf the person who told whowhowho that Obama must be dumber than Bush -- surely we know much more about them than their races?)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 10 March 2013 07:44:26PM *  3 points [-]

I'm not sure if this is correct, but I sometimes wonder given how they're surrounded by spin-doctors and other image manipulators how much we really know about prominent politicians, especially when the politician in question is new so you can't look at his record.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 07:02:15AM *  4 points [-]

Intentionally believing false things always carries a cost.

Yes, it does. So does unintentionally believing false things.

The difference is that if you unintentionally believe something false, you can update when you find new evidence; whereas once you start intentionally believing false things, you've declare all truth your enemy.

If you actually know what you're hiring based on, anti-discrimination policies will prevent you from having 100% of your workforce be the very best, but even if only whites and asians had the required skills, you're still looking at 77% of the population in the US, so it falls in the category of "annoyance" not "business killer".

Depends on the size of the business and your margin. Most small businesses can't afford to have 23% of there employees be dead weight, especially if they have to pay them the same as the others to avoid looking like they have racist pay policies.

Comment author: whowhowho 09 March 2013 11:02:47AM -1 points [-]

Exqueeze me, but since when did "not white or asian" equate to "dead weight"?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 08:14:56PM *  0 points [-]

Not all of them, it's just that there aren't enough non-dead weight non-white non-asians to go around for all the businesses who need competent employees while complying with disparate impact.

Comment author: whowhowho 10 March 2013 02:56:58PM *  -2 points [-]

Not all of them

So much for "23%".

Not all of them, it's just that there aren't enough non-dead weight non-white non-asians to go around for all the businesses who need competent employees

How do you know? Not every business is a silicon valley start up that needs to be staffed almost entirely super smart people. The typical company is much more pyramidal. A lot of employers want a lot of employees who will happily work for the minimum wage.

while complying with disparate impact.

Whatever that means.. If you think US affiirmative action, or something, is the issue, then it cancels within the US. If you think it makes the US less competitive than polities that don't have AA, then that's only part of a bigger problem, because, given your assumptions, the US would be at a severe disadvantage compared to any given Asian nation anyway. But it doesn't appear to , so maybe factors other than DNA are important.. Who knows? We can only try to deduce what you might be saying from your hints and allegations.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 March 2013 03:58:57PM 4 points [-]

If you think US affiirmative action, or something, is the issue, then it cancels within the US.

Why, is business an entirely zero-sum game within the US?

Comment author: faul_sname 09 March 2013 10:34:16AM 0 points [-]

Most small businesses can't afford to have 23% of there employees be dead weight, especially if they have to pay them the same as the others to avoid looking like they have racist pay policies.

Most small businesses don't need to hire the top 0.01% in any given skillset. The small businesses that do need to hire that exclusively and the small businesses that are strapped for cash are generally two distinct sets. In any case, without those policies, the top 0.01% could demand more money, and so the business wouldn't be in much better of a position. It's really the top 0.01% of workers who bear the majority of the cost of anti-discrimination policies, because they could negotiate better pay if the policies weren't in place.

It is a tradeoff. Empirically, societies that oppose discrimination tend to do better (though there are obvious confounds and this doesn't necessarily mean that the anti-discrimination policies improve outcomes -- it may just mean that richer people prefer egalitarian policies more). In American culture, at least, you will generally be labeled as a racist if you imply that there might be between-group differences, whether or not you can back that up with good arguments.

The difference is that if you unintentionally believe something false, you can update when you find new evidence; whereas once you start intentionally believing false things, you've declare all truth your enemy.

By all means, keep in mind that the social fiction of perfect equality in ability across groups is unlikely to be true. But also keep in mind that it's a polite fiction and you will be stigmatized if you point out that it's unlikely to be true. The term "racist" usually refers to someone who doesn't respect that social convention, and both of the statements you were questioning go against that social norm. "Racist" doesn't mean "factually incorrect", it means "low status and icky".

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 09 March 2013 08:13:22PM *  4 points [-]

Most small businesses don't need to hire the top 0.01% in any given skillset.

The same logic applies if you want to hire people in the top 10%. Yes, there may very well be enough blacks in the 10% that if you had first choice among them you could hire enough to comply with disparate impact. However, in reality you're competing for the few blacks in the top 10% with all the other businesses who also need to hire the top 10% and there aren't enough to go around.

By all means, keep in mind that the social fiction of perfect equality in ability across groups is unlikely to be true. But also keep in mind that it's a polite fiction and you will be stigmatized if you point out that it's unlikely to be true. The term "racist" usually refers to someone who doesn't respect that social convention, and both of the statements you were questioning go against that social norm. "Racist" doesn't mean "factually incorrect", it means "low status and icky".

Yes and at LW our goal is to raise the sanity waterline.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 12 March 2013 02:18:31PM 6 points [-]

at LW our goal is to raise the sanity waterline.

Yes, it is.

How about also considering the costs, benefits, and comparative advantages when dealing with various topics? One does not get extra points for doing things the hard way. Instead of dealing with some topics directly, it would be better to discuss more meta, e.g. to teach people about the necessity of doing experiments and evaluating data statistically. This will prepare the way for people who will later try to deal with the problem more directly.

Now it may seem that when I see people doing a mistake, and I don't immediately jump there and correct them, it is as if I lied by omission. But there are thousands of mistakes humans make, any my resources are limited, so I will end ignoring some mistakes either way.

Make sure you pick your battles because you believe you can win them and the gains will be worth it. Instead of picking the most difficult battle there is, simply because choosing the most difficult battle feels high-status... until you lose it.

Comment author: whowhowho 09 March 2013 11:27:38AM *  1 point [-]

The real problem comes in when employers decide that they need exceptional people but can't actually identify these exceptional people.

When does that occur? What happened to resume''s, qualifications and tests?

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 16 March 2013 09:53:20PM *  -2 points [-]

Does it become racist/sexist if one attempts to speculate on the cause of these differences?

Racism has three definitions:

1) The belief that there are implicit (read: genetic) differences between races which give rise to behavioral differences.

2) The belief that different races have different worth and/or aught to be treated differently because of these differences.

3) An actual act of treating a race differently which stems from explicit or implicit negative opinions about that race.

Sexism mostly lies only in the domain of (2) and (3) with (1) often seeming like a gray area because believing (1) almost always implies (2) or (3).

So you would be racist (1) if you proposed that the IQ differences are genetic.

The reason people say "you are being racist" is because people often implicitly do (3) and implicitly believe (1) and (2) without explicitly stating the belief. The intent behind telling someone they are racist is to make the underlying belief explicit.

The moral connotations of being racist/sexist continue to be implicitly bad or wrong. So now, if the person wishes to continue justifying the initial belief, they have to defend the moral good or factual correctness of certain types of racism / sexism.

To summarize the point: For the majority of individuals in your culture, System 1 is racist/sexist while System 2 believes racism and sexism are bad. The intent of saying "statement x is racist" is to initiate a shift to system 2.

You didn't state your views, but if your system 2 holds some racist/sexist beliefs as well (as in, you actually think racial IQ differences are genetic) than you would misinterpret "you are racist" as being analogous to "I don't like your argument". What's really happening is that the person who you are arguing with believes that your racism is coming out of system 1, and wants to notify system 2 of that fact.

(I know this is a bit of an abuse of dual process theory and a horrible oversimplification even otherwise but I'm trying to be at least somewhat succinct - apologies)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 16 March 2013 11:57:40PM 4 points [-]

The problem is that if someone system 2 does hold the belief that "racism/sexism is bad" this causes them to evaluate arguments related to race/sex differences on the basis of trying to avoid being racist/sexist rather than on the merits of the argument. A lot of people (especially around here) also hold as a system 2 belief that arguments should be evaluated on their merits. My point in asking the question is to help people notice that these two system 2 beliefs are in conflict.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 18 March 2013 04:08:12AM *  2 points [-]

You are quite right. That's why it is important to separate the various meanings behind racism and sexism.

For example. I spent the better part of high school researching intelligence and the factors that contribute to it, including race. I've given serious consideration to the idea that genetic racial differences in behavior might exist, and extensive research has given me a high confidence that they do not.

However, if I had concluded that racial differences did exist, then I would be a racist[1] but I would probably continue to believe that racism[2, 3] are wrong.

Also, I think it is fair to say that I currently am "sexist"[1] but not sexist [2, 3] - that is, I do believe there are behavioral differences between men and women that are genetic in origin, but I do not believe that this means that I want women to have a different set of rights and privileges, nor do I believe that they are inferior.

That's because group [1] is a statement about reality, whereas [2] [3] have moral connotations. I think it is bad to be racist [2] or racist [3.] I consider racism [1] to simply be a misguided opinion which arises when a person does insufficient research into the topic. I don't consider racism[1] to be immoral, and might become racist [1] if someone gave me sufficient evidence to accept that hypothesis. Similarly, I am sexist [1] but I think it is wrong to be sexist [2] or [3], and I might stop being sexist[1] given sufficient evidence.

In short. moral attitudes towards racism/sexism [2, 3] need not interfere with epistemic stances on racism/sexism [1], even though they unfortunately often do.

Edit: if you intend to argue the point we can, but it will be a separate discussion unrelated to rationality. The most salient pieces of evidence that settled the issue for me are 1) various adoption / mixed race studies and 2) a genetic analysis indicating that the percentage of European heritage is unrelated to IQ in African Americans. I think the mistake that most amateur researchers make on this topic is not taking maternal factors (in the womb, breastfeeding, etc) into account.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 18 March 2013 04:21:53AM 1 point [-]

a misguided opinion which arises when a person does insufficient research into the topic.

It seems odd to attribute a false belief to insufficient research. Not false, exactly, but odd... like attributing the continued progression of an illness to insufficient medication. If X is a popular false belief, it seems there ought to be something to be said about why X is popular, just like there's something to be said about why an illness progresses.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 18 March 2013 04:32:55AM *  4 points [-]

Ah, let me clarify.

Doing a little bit of research will lead you to be fairly confident that racial differences are genetic, because the differences 1) do exist and 2) cannot be explained by sociological factors alone. Most people assume that if it is not sociological, it is genetic.

However, if you do a lot of research, which means taking into account maternal factors in the womb, epigenetics, nutrition...and if you further spend time researching how IQ tests work and what contributes to high IQ in general (not just with race), your confidence that racial differences are genetic will drop steeply.

It just happens to be a topic where the first impression upon reading the literature has a particular tendency to lead you to a wrong conclusion.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 March 2013 04:54:53PM 2 points [-]

This post and some of the comments seem to me to have got the wrong end of the stick. Sometimes offense is used as a rhetorical trick, in which case notions of 'high status response' and 'manipulation' are appropriate. However it normally occurs when one person - from callousness or ignorance - says or does something that does not accord another person's the respect and dignity they are entitled to.

These aren't so much a dichotomy as they are different descriptions of the same phenenemon said from the perspective of a (hypothetical) ally instead of a rival.

Comment author: Larks 07 March 2013 05:53:11PM 2 points [-]

You're only taking examples from one side. What about when the husband is offended his wife won't sleep with him, the bullies are offended by the gay kid, and the racists by the black people moving in?

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 06:29:50PM 1 point [-]

Then the husband shouldn't rape his wife even though he's offended, and the bullies shouldn't assault the kid even though they're offended, and the racists shouldn't lynch the black people even though they're offended.

Offense and harm aren't the same thing. The OP conflates them senselessly.

Comment author: Larks 07 March 2013 11:28:05PM 1 point [-]

Sorry, I'm not sure what you mean - do you mean that HaydnB was (wrongly) conflating being offended, which is not very bad, and being harmed, which is?

Comment author: [deleted] 08 March 2013 01:04:55AM 1 point [-]

Katydee (the OP I meant) and you both seem to be conflating offence, a word that seemds to describe a broad class of possible emotional states and responses to something (two people might as readily say "I'm offended" before respectively starting a loud, angry argument and quietly asking if it's okay to change the topic), with the subset of offence that deals with what HaydnB was talking about.

The gay kid standing up to peer bullying, or the woman standing up to a husband who's acting entitled about access to her body for sex for that matter, are not the same thing as the peers' reaction to someone's perceived homosexuality, or the husband's assumption that his wife should put out whenever he wants. There are numerous other factors to take into account; the people bullying the gay kid aren't harmed by queer folks existing in anything like the way the kid emself is harmed by violent physical assault. The husband feeling frustration over not getting sex on his terms alone is not harmed by this in anything like the way the woman is if he forces himself on her or even just continues to act as though her body is presumptively there for his pleasure.

All of those examples will involve very different emotions, and very different motivations. I daresay even those that take the same "sides" you've framed here will be quite different from each other.

Comment author: Larks 08 March 2013 11:19:25AM 2 points [-]

HaydnB said

When someone says something offensive to you ... it seems like you should be offended by that. ... to the extent that you can shape your reactions (or character traits), this seems like one you'd want to keep.

His examples were cases where we might want to keep the reaction. But that doesn't mean he was talking about "objecting to harm" instead of offence, as you suggest. He was just using the most positive examples for his argument.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 March 2013 07:11:15PM -2 points [-]

You can have a debate about when offence is justified. I was making the point that in some cases it definitely is, and we shouldn't view offence as obfuscation/manipulation or follow the principle 'Don't Get Offended'.

Comment author: Larks 07 March 2013 11:29:02PM 2 points [-]

I was objecting to your assertion that being offended was in general a good reaction to keep by providing instances where it was not.

Comment author: bobneumann 27 March 2013 09:42:36AM 1 point [-]

I think one key in not being offended is being secure in your own person and position. If you're not actually worried that someone or their remarks may actually hurt or damage you, then it's easy to remain objective and not take offense.

In the Old Testament it says, "Great peace have they which love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them." I'd like to think that I'm secure in my position relating to the very Creator of the universe. So, to the degree that I am truly secure in that position, what can anyone really do or say to upset me?

Comment author: PhDre 28 March 2013 07:09:49PM 2 points [-]

I think one key in not being offended is being secure in your own person and position

I am very new to LW, but this seems like a dangerous position to take for a rationalist! From "What Do We Mean By 'Rationality'": [Italics Mine]

This is why we have a whole site called "Less Wrong", rather than simply stating the formal axioms and being done. There's a whole further art to finding the truth and accomplishing value from inside a human mind: we have to learn our own flaws, overcome our biases, prevent ourselves from self-deceiving, get ourselves into good emotional shape to confront the truth and do what needs doing, etcetera etcetera and so on.

It seems that being completely secure in a position makes it impossible to for you to challenge that position, which works against acting in a more rational fashion.

An alternative way to not be offended might be found here. In summary, the author argues that 'If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.'

Comment author: TheOtherDave 28 March 2013 09:46:42PM 1 point [-]

It is sometimes useful not to artificially exclude the middle when using natural language.

In this case, for example, I suspect it's possible to have a level of what we're calling "security" here that is not so high that it precludes updating on evidence (supposing you're correct that too high a level of security leads to the inability to update), while at the same time being high enough to avoid offense (supposing bobneumann is correct that too low a level of security leads to an increased chance of taking offense).

I do agree that keeping your identity small is also helpful, though.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 28 March 2013 07:35:20PM -1 points [-]

So, to the degree that I am truly secure in that position, what can anyone really do or say to upset me?

Force you to abandon that security by bringing it into logical conflict with another position that you feel equally secure in.

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 28 March 2013 07:02:03PM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure how to interpret your comment, so I'd like you to clarify. Are you using theists who feel secure in their relationship with god as an example of a way some people avoid being offended? Are you saying you are one such theist? Are you making a recommendation of something?

Comment author: katydee 24 March 2013 09:59:16PM 1 point [-]

Note: This post now has a followup.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 March 2013 08:51:24PM *  1 point [-]

I agree with the general point but I don't think it's best to contrast getting offended with staying calm. The way I imagine offense happens is that we classify somebody's actions or beliefs as harmful to us or our group and that makes us annoyed, we then automatically decide that the best way of fixing the situation is to destroy the other person's ability to cause us harm and if we lack any other option of doing that we default to politics as our means of attack.

And then that switch gets flipped in our heads that puts us in a mode of thinking more adapted to lowering someone's social standing. This last step specifically is what I think of when I hear about 'getting offended'. If you resist flipping the switch your unfavorable assessment of the situation will remain. You will still be annoyed at the fact that there's someone who seems to be a social threat (but at least you won't feel compelled to exaggerate the threat for the sake of better drama). It seems like dealing with annoyance should be a separate skill from not going off into narratives about how you are inherently more virtuous than the enemy. So rather than trying to stay completely calm as an alternative to getting offended, maybe it's better to focus on the minimal change that would stop us from turning into raging monkeys while still possibly leaving us annoyed humans. This might also be more palatable to people who get offended upon hearing advice not to.