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

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 12 October 2011 09:32:55AM *  2 points [-]

Heh, when arguing for the case that people should be careful with their wording, I'm challenged for a careless choice of wording. :-)

Innocuous in the sense of emerging from different-gendered people on average having different preferences and on average making different choices as a result. Me eating french fries every day, because I want to, is an innocous reason for eating french fries every day (though such behavior will probably cause health problems in the long term). Eating french fries every day because somebody pressures me into doing so, or because I genuinely can't afford anything else, is a non-innocous reason.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 03:40:09PM *  0 points [-]

I absolutely agree that there are many statistical differences between men and women, and trying to deny this is actually ludicrous, whether or not it is harmful!

However, I object to the word ludicrous, because while I agree that there are statistical (as well as biological and almost certainly evolutionarily-based cultural) differences between men and women, the assumption of harmlessness, based on that claim you've often heard, suggests that there is no bias involved other than personal choice. And personal choice is biased by so many other factors!

And, though I did not make this clear, I was not trying to suggest that the harm was one-sided.

The thing about bias was difficult for me to argue specifically until I explored the matter of pay inequity and the current state of research. Over the years I have heard a lot on the subject, which I do not remember that well.

Because though it is no trivial matter to me personally, personally, If I can't identify a personal or cultural bias as actually causing me harm, I don't get that excited about it. And frankly, if I haven't identified what I should do about it, I try not to get exited about it if it is causing me harm. There are plenty of people in the world much more inclined than I to actually address the problems of gender-based pay inequities, which I think is a good thing.

It pretty much seems clear to me that a lot of men care more than women about getting a big pile of negotiable tokens. Statistical. Why women do less about getting a pile of negotiable tokens, I already understand. Some of this understanding of women may be visceral, or biological. I'm pretty sure most of it is pretty self-aware, or rational as well.

Why men care more I don't understand as viscerally, but I am actually trying to understand better because I would like a bigger pile of negotiable tokens to play with. :)

Comment author: lessdazed 12 October 2011 03:33:18AM 1 point [-]

OK, I think I finally understand.

What was said was:

E.g. I've often heard it claimed that the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children. I haven't looked at the matter enough to know if this is true. But if it is, then denying any population-level differences between men and women seems harmful, because it implies that something that actually has an innocuous explanation is because of discrimination.

One common explanation of harm and utilities is that the "real" or important utility function held by a human is that implied by the humans actions. If a human chooses A over B, that means to the human A has a higher value than B to the human. This runs us into problems, for example when humans choose B over C and C over A, but there is no agreed upon way to discuss the relationship of humans to utility functions. We just don't know how to extract the human and cut the nonsense without cutting the human! This is despite extensively discussing extrapolate volition. One way to get people to actually choose consistently among A, B, and C is to teach them about this paradox, but let's just say for our purposes here that it's clearly not out of line to discuss people's "true" preferences being something other than what they choose.

Vaniver: Ok: let's suppose he intended the primary definition of innocuous, "not harmful." If a choice is made voluntarily, then by the assumption of revealed preferences it is the least 'harmful.' If we forced women to choose with the same distribution that men do, then on net women would be worse off- i.e. harmed by our force.

Clarica: I think that calling the choice to spend more or less time doing financially unrecompensed work in the home an innocuous gender difference, is careless. The harms of the various choices have not been evaluated that well.

One issue is that language is flexible, and it is common to see "innocuous explanation" as a way of discussing the motives of a person causing the things the explanation explains, rather than according to the usual adjective-noun relationship where the adjective modifies the noun.

For example: a video teaching "how to fold a shirt" with the audio 50 decibels is a harmless explanation. The same video with the audio at 125 decibels is a harmful explanation.

No one argues that the explanation itself would have only good consequences, the discussion is instead what sort of harmlessness is meant instead. Whether the author's intent is clearly that, if it is discovered that women's actions alone cause the statistical difference, i) employers are doing no harm in the hypothetical case, or ii) if a similarly plausible interpretation is that no one is suffering harm, for had they chosen as men, there would be no disparity.

Context points to the first explanation as the best contrast with "discrimination", what employers are allegedly doing, and what hypothetical evidence would clear them of, but it's easy to see why someone intending the second point might have used the same words.

The sentence might be rewritten: "But if it is, then denying any population-level differences between men and women seems harmful, because it implies that something fully explained by innocuous behavior is because of discrimination."

The principle of charity protects us in similar cases where we happen to only see one interpretation and it is the wrong one.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 04:18:14AM *  1 point [-]

I feel like this is an accurate, thoughtful, and generous explanation of the confusion I have and the confusion I cause. If I could spend my few measly karma points upvoting this, I might!

After I read it, because it's late, and I can not take it all in right now. And I'm grateful for the effort, and the clarity of the parts I already understand!

Comment author: lessdazed 12 October 2011 03:41:17AM 1 point [-]

Someone (Eliezer?) once said something like: if you tell me exactly what it is that an Artificial Intelligence can't do, I can build an AI to do exactly that. If a person who believes in a fundamental difference at that sort of level between machines and animals can precisely define something, a computer can follow that definition.

It doesn't work quite as well here. But if someone gives a good enough answer for their question of "who", with exactly why an animal wouldn't count, or a computer, or a corporation, they may make their question so complicated that it only has one answer or no answers as asked.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 04:08:49AM *  0 points [-]

Ah. I am abnormally careful about the question of 'who would' do something. People often take my serious suggestions as playful, and vice versa. I no longer recommend a new hairstyle to anyone because I have given this advice three times, it was always taken, and I only liked the results without qualification once.

I may be paranoid, but I do not like to worry about this. <-- also intentionally funny. I am trying to not to worry about whether it is true. <-- Also funny.

I am taking medication for insomnia. Seriously.

Comment author: Jack 12 October 2011 03:44:47AM *  2 points [-]

Point the second - Hypothetically, if this:

the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children.

is true, then gender pay inequities do have an innocuous explanation- namely, the above. Kaj_Sotala made no claims beyond that, certainly not to the extent of claiming the above statement is true in the real world.

Hypothetically, I agree with you.

I think this might be confusing pedanterrific because if I read you right above you don't agree with him. I thought your position was similar to the one I made here that that explanation of pay inequality, even if true, is not innocuous because the reason why men and women make different choices about work and home life could be harmful social pressure, or some other reason that we don't think people should have to face in an ideal world. But I could have misread you when you wrote this:

I don't think I'd use the word innocuous with the example of this reason for this gender difference. If it is a rational choice, why don't both genders make similar choices?

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 04:00:50AM 0 points [-]

Mostly I was not sure what pedanterrific was arguing, but I asked him to clarify, and he did. I am often unintentionally funny to other people. Lately I am getting better at understanding what the 'subversion of expectations' I am committing.

I absolutely agree with your point, but I was not conscious of why the word innocuous bothered me when I made my comment, and I don't actually know if I read your comments before this moment. I don't always read every comment before I respond, and I don't 'notice' consciously everything I do read. Confusions galore!

Comment author: pedanterrific 12 October 2011 02:07:04AM *  1 point [-]

Do you agree?

Yes, of course. That's trivially true and not in dispute.

I still think you're rather missing the point, however. I don't see how it makes sense to object to the phrase 'mostly attributable' when that's a premise of the hypothetical. Let's look at the original comment in context:

E.g. I've often heard it claimed that the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children. I haven't looked at the matter enough to know if this is true. But if it is, then denying any population-level differences between men and women seems harmful, because it implies that something that actually has an innocuous explanation is because of discrimination.

That is, IF [the difference is mostly attributable to something innocuous], THEN [denying population-level differences seems harmful]. That's all that was said. Kaj_Sotala never claimed the innocuous explanation was true.

Editeditedit: I apologize for my horrible social skills.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 03:52:23AM 1 point [-]

Your 'horrible social skills' are almost as funny as mine! no apologies necessary! And your edits are a vast relief to me personally.

Comment author: pedanterrific 12 October 2011 03:40:32AM 2 points [-]

...Oh. I think my sincerity detectors might be broken.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 03:46:50AM 0 points [-]

No, I am sure that they are normal, and partly because my mental problem which I have mentioned elsewhere, includes depression. In person, it is very hard to tell if a depressed person is sincere or sarcastic, I just wasn't aware until now that this problem (I think call it 'affect'?) is something I also ought to consider in a pure text situation.

In person I usually fake enthusiasm, but I am fortunately not that good at it. <--serious and funny, yet again. at least it was intentional.

Comment author: pedanterrific 12 October 2011 02:07:04AM *  1 point [-]

Do you agree?

Yes, of course. That's trivially true and not in dispute.

I still think you're rather missing the point, however. I don't see how it makes sense to object to the phrase 'mostly attributable' when that's a premise of the hypothetical. Let's look at the original comment in context:

E.g. I've often heard it claimed that the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children. I haven't looked at the matter enough to know if this is true. But if it is, then denying any population-level differences between men and women seems harmful, because it implies that something that actually has an innocuous explanation is because of discrimination.

That is, IF [the difference is mostly attributable to something innocuous], THEN [denying population-level differences seems harmful]. That's all that was said. Kaj_Sotala never claimed the innocuous explanation was true.

Editeditedit: I apologize for my horrible social skills.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 03:27:08AM 0 points [-]

let me just say that 'like, really?' comes across as dismissive of all my efforts to explain what I care about, in the context of my original remark, and why I care about the word 'innocuous' in the hypothetical statement.

I am generous to assume that are not trying to crush my will to respond with irony, and are seriously confused.

But it is more difficult for me to maintain this generosity of spirit after you have already dismissed something relevant to the hypothetical argument and my objection to the word 'innocuous' as 'trivialy true and not in dispute'.

And I am totally willing to maintain at least a pretense of generosity of spirit, because I have plenty of experience with losing my generosity of spirit, and I know that it keeps growing back.

But I wasn't faking any enthusiasm or bewilderment before I read your comment with those two apparently dismissive word choices. "trivial" and "like".

Do you believe me?

Comment author: lessdazed 12 October 2011 02:29:34AM 1 point [-]

When asked "who" would do something, asking for a definition of who is an interesting move.

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 03:12:51AM *  1 point [-]

Apparently so. Can you explain why it is interesting?

Edited to add: I assume you may be trying to explain what is interesting about my comments in the more serious and complicated response you may still be working on, but of which I have only seen the placeholder. I'd say that I can't wait, but I have already had to...

In the self-referentially intentionally funny comment I make above, I was absolutely serious about having a mental problem. And about being easily confused. And about being painfully aware that I am not a mind reader. Absolutely intentionally serious, and, for a change, intentionally funny at the same time. Irony is LOST on me. or everybody else, and I have no way of telling which!

Comment author: lessdazed 12 October 2011 02:03:48AM *  2 points [-]

I do not really understand your questions. <--serious

Can you define 'who' <--funny

'them' 'whose' and 'it'? <--serious

Would, compensate, benefit, is, and for I get. <--funny

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 02:13:10AM *  2 points [-]

Actually, 'this comment' was self-referential. The comment you reviewed was intentionally serious, and unintentionally ridiculous. I get that a lot.

But ridiculous is funny, and I totally agree with your last judgement of funny, and wish I had noticed that it was funny, BEFORE I posted. I am trying to get comfortable with being accidentally funny.

I should really just stick with a pretense that everything funny I say is intentionally hilarious, instead of just occasionally patently ridiculous. Apparently.

Comment author: pedanterrific 12 October 2011 01:07:45AM *  2 points [-]

Point the first - Now I'm confused. Is it that

This question:

Who would compensate them? Whose benefit is it for?

is an excellent question that I actually do not want to answer,

or is it that "I do not really understand your questions."? Or did my explanation allow you to understand that you didn't want to answer, or...

Point the second - Hypothetically, if this:

the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children.

is true, then gender pay inequities do have an innocuous explanation- namely, the above. Kaj_Sotala made no claims beyond that, certainly not to the extent of claiming the above statement is true in the real world.

This leads me to believe your point is not valid or valuable criticism. If you think I'm wrong, could you explain why?

Comment author: Clarica 12 October 2011 01:56:58AM 0 points [-]

Than you for making clear that you do not agree that my point is valid or valuable criticism.

My objection to the word choice of harmless is based on my feelings, which I have not fully examined, that there may be harm.

Point the second - Hypothetically, if this:

the difference in average pay between women and men is mostly attributable to differences in ambition and time voluntarily spent at home with children.

is true, then gender pay inequities do have an innocuous explanation- namely, the above. Kaj_Sotala made no claims beyond that, certainly not to the extent of claiming the above statement is true in the real world.

Hypothetically, I agree with you.

I think I am having the most objection, in the statement you quote, with the phrase 'mostly attributable'. I can think of several other reasons that can and do account for a gender-based inequity, all possibly innocuous. The one that springs to mind is something to do with women and negotiation of payscale, but as I look for resource that can explain what I mean by that more clearly than I have managed to, I came across another interesting theory on wikipedia, that I had never heard of before. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal_pay_for_women#Different_Studies_and_Economic_Theories

"They interpret their findings to suggest that employers are willing to pay more for white male employees because employers are customer driven and customers are happier with white male employees. They also suggest that what is required to solve the problem of wage inequality isn't necessarily paying women more but changing customer biases."

This difference does not seem so harmless. Do you agree?

View more: Next