The first amendment under attack from left and right extremes

If they get their way, I expect both sides will be enraged by how speech restrictions can be exploited by the other side. Nobody prosecutes “hate speech” better than white religious conservatives.

Partisans United Against Free Speech


The culture of free speech has been deteriorating for long enough that politics, sadly and predictably, is catching up.

#FirstAmendment #SocialJustice #SupremeCourt
You disagree with me? You must be a robot.

  last edited: Fri, 05 Oct 2018 20:47:36 -0600  
Those who can’t engage create maladaptive ideas that excuse them from having to try.

How The 'NPC' Meme Tries To Dehumanize 'SJWs'
From time to time, and especially if you’re a fan of science fiction, you may have had the thought that nobody around you is actually real. That sentiment has taken root in anti-progressive parts of the internet as a dehumanizing meme, and it borrows some familiar gaming terminology. About a month ago, a meme along those lines took root on 4chan ...


#SocialJustice #altright #trolls
It’s one thing to claim that a person’s strongly-held views are informed by nothing at all, but entirely another to imply that they’re completely on auto-pilot. That is dehumanization, a way of reconceiving your enemies as objects, pawns, strawmen, tools. At best, dismissing large swaths of people you disagree with this way betrays a lack of empathy for people whose experiences differ from yours, and an unwillingness to consider that if a vast number of people happen to agree over something, it may be good to examine why; at best, it is a great utility for spreading bogus conspiracy theories.
Against "meritocracy"

Kwame Anthony Appiah | Against Meritocracy


Would a meritocratic society ruled by merit provide a fair equality of opportunity? Should we aim to solve social inequality through equality of outcome? NYU philosopher and 2016 Reith Lecturer Kwame Anthony Appiah on inequality in society and confronting the difficult issues of family inheritance

#philosophy #SocialJustice
Should we aim to solve social inequality through equality of outcome?

Harrison Bergeron, anyone?
The lecture doesn't go into social policy, it just challenges whether meritocracy can be fair, and whether its beneficiaries can be said to have "earned" their benefits in a moral or meta-ethical sense. The insights are highly relevant to organizational management and human resources. We can set aside grand social questions and focus just on voluntary groups like workplace teams. How do we judge merit in terms of who to hire, fire, promote, etc? Performance metrics can miss essential functions brought by some team members who score low on the metrics, and their essential functions become apparent only after they're gone. There's also a debate raging right now over "meritocracy" vs inclusiveness in open source projects. It's not just about planned economies, it's about all kinds of cooperative enterprises.
Our department is starting to use something based on Medium's Engineering Growth Framework which recognizes many non-technical skills being important in technical jobs. These are still skills, though. Simply being a nice person with a pulse doesn't cut it.
Hashtag “hijacking” of #HimToo

I’ve always thought hashtag activism is dubious, especially when ad hoc social movements start to imagine they have some kind of collective IP ownership of their preferred hashtags. They are, after all, just arbitrary descriptors people individually and spontaneously attach to their personal posts. It’s double-dubious when movements imagine they have a claim against opposition hashtags that they perceive as undercutting their own visibility. As far as I’m concerned, there is no viable theory of hashtag etiquette or ethics.

The story of #HimToo is traced in the short article linked below. It evolved through various uses, recently taking on brief meanings: male victims of sexual assault; then male perpetrators of sexual assault; then males falsely accused of sexual assault; now it marks support for Kavanaugh. The story shows the inherent weakness of hashtags as tools for social organizing. I think we need to just accept that these little index labels are ephemeral and under no ones’ control. If we can accept that, then there are plenty of good uses for them.

How #HimToo Became the Anti #MeToo of the Kavanaugh Hearings


HimToo has meant many things over the last three years. The latest is a hashtag hijacking, like #AllLivesMatter, spawned as a sexist rebuttal to Christine Blasey Ford.

#MeToo #HashTags #activism #SocialMedia #SocialJustice
Harmless torturers

This article is referenced in the “cruelty” podcast I reposted yesterday. It relates the harmless torturer problem, an abstract problem from moral philosophy, and briefly discussed a number of social contexts where it applies, particularly in aggregation of quasi-anonymous behavior on the internet. He points to microaggressions as examples of actions that are individually mild, but cause more harmful effects in the aggregate. On the flip side, small acts of punishment can be amplified to torturous degrees when facilitated by online social networks.

There is a dial in front of you, and if you turn it, a stranger who is in mild pain from being shocked will experience a tiny increase in the amount of the shock, so slight that he doesn’t even notice it. You turn it and leave. And then hundreds of people go up to the dial and each also turns it, so that eventually the victim is screaming in agony.

Opinion | Are We All ‘Harmless Torturers’ Now?


In the age of online shaming, we should push ourselves to consider the collective consequences of our actions.

#philosophy #SocialJustice
  last edited: Tue, 18 Sep 2018 20:41:59 -0600  
Some interesting questions and ideas. I think most people would agree, at the very least, that a moral person should not be cruel. To avoid being cruel, we should probably try our best to understand what it is, why it happens so often, and whether it’s even avoidable.

#philosophy #psychology #MoralTheory #SocialJustice

EconTalkEconTalk wrote the following post Mon, 17 Sep 2018 04:30:23 -0600
Paul Bloom on Cruelty
Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about cruelty–what motivates cruelty, the cruelty of small acts that accumulate into something monstrous, and the question of whether the abuse of a robot is a form of cruelty.

This week's guest:This week's focus:Additional ideas and people mentioned in this podcast episode:A few more readings and background resources:A few more EconTalk podcast episodes:
TimePodcast Episode Highlights
Intro. [Recording date: August 29, 2018. N.B. Audio accidentally reports recording date as Aug. 24, 2018.]Russ Roberts: My guest is Paul Bloom.... This is Paul's second EconTalk experience; in February of 2017 he talked about his book Against Empathy. Today our topic is cruelty. Now, I want to say up front that anyone listening with young children may want to screen this episode in advance, as we are likely to discuss some disturbing behavior.... So, this conversation is going to be based on three essays you've written: one in the New York Times with Sam Harris, one in the Times with Yale graduate student Matthew Jordan, and one you wrote in the New Yorker. I want to start with the piece in the New Yorker. You are reacting in that piece to a very standard argument: that human cruelty is driven by dehumanization. That we see the people we oppress often as less than human--as animals. How does that argument go? Flesh it out.

Paul Bloom: So, it's not a bad argument. I think it's an argument that's right in many cases. And the argument is that some of the worst things we do to other people are because we don't think of them as people. We dehumanize them. We think of them as animals, or as machines, or as material objects; but we strip away their humanity. And once we do so, it licenses us to do all sorts of terrible things to them. If I think of you as a person, I can't--then it's morally wrong to take away your property or to kill you because you get in my way. But if you are a rat or a vermin or a cockroach, then it's totally fine. And so, a lot of really smart scholars--humanists, social scientists--have argued that dehumanization is one of the causes, the big cause of evil and cruelty in the world. And, my article in the New Yorker was looking at this critically, you know, talking about it, looking at the arguments in favor. But also pointing out that this might not be entirely right--that there's a lot more going on.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. One thing I want to add is that over time we've gotten more respectful--I think accurately, but there's no way of knowing for sure--of the consciousness and worthiness of animal life. There's a certain irony here, that the whole idea of dehumanizing is less compelling because a lot of people think we should treat animals at least as well as humans.

Paul Bloom: So, there's all sorts of subtleties here. We got a puppy--somewhat against my will, but we have a puppy nonetheless. And we were playing with the puppy last night, and we were having a great time; and, the puppy is not even close to human, but I would never hurt it or harm it. That sounds horrible. In fact, I think we are harsher toward those who harm innocent animals than those who harm people. And so, even on the outset, the idea that once you don't think of somebody as human, all the moral rules go away, has its difficulties. You are right.

Russ Roberts: But you make a deeper point. So, what was your other criticism, or main criticism, of this dehumanization theory?

Paul Bloom: So, I'm drawing on the work here of a lot of people, particularly the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and the philosopher Kate Manne. And in different ways they both make the following argument, which is that, if you look at the actual atrocities people do to each other--the Holocaust and slavery and misogynistic violence--you don't necessarily see dehumanization in any sense of the term. Rather, what you see is a full recognition of the humanity of other people. So, Appiah points out that in genocide in, say, in Germany in World War II there are all sorts of humiliations and degradations done toward the Jews, and it's hard to make sense of this if you say the Germans didn't think of the Jews as people. Rather, they thought of them as people and they wanted them to suffer as people. They felt that they were morally tainted as people. They recognized their humanity and they hated it.

Russ Roberts: Incredibly deep insight. Very depressing, but incredibly deep.

Paul Bloom: That's right. And others have made it, as well. There's a scholar of the Holocaust I quote who says, 'You might think of what happened in these death camps as dehumanization, and some of it was. But some of it was also just a desire to dominate, to degrade, to humiliate.' And you don't do that with creatures you don't view as fellow people. And Kate Manne, in this wonderful, very powerful book called Downgirl makes a similar argument about misogyny and misogynistic violence. So, she says: it's the standard view in feminist philosophy that men objectify women, and think of women as mere things. This is a common analysis of pornography, say. But she [?] a lot of case studies and argues convincingly that when men act really badly towards women, often it's because men expect things of women. Men feel cheated. They feel disrespected. And these are attitudes you have towards other people, not towards animals.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's a great point. I think there's probably a distinction to be made between people on the ground working in concentration camps in Nazi Germany, guards in the Gulag in Soviet Russia; and their job was probably easier if they thought of their charges as less than human.

Paul Bloom: Yes.

Russ Roberts: The tattoos of numbers on the arms of Jews is just an obvious example. The relentless cruelties of prison life, the pettiness and the suffering that's imposed on people I think probably at some point allows the people running the system on the ground to be inured to the humanity of the people they are working with. And, the flip side of this of course is that a doctor has to objectify a human being at times--and should--to do the job correctly. A surgeon, a doctor giving advice to a family. So, there's something understandable about that and laudable about it in situations of compassion and kindness. In the situation of cruelty, it's unbearable. But I would think that the point you are making about it's their explicit humanity that they want to destroy is certainly coming from the architects--and somewhat on the ground as well. The petty humiliation that you talk about and the pleasure that people get from that.

Paul Bloom: Let me just get--because you're raising so many things there. Look, I agree. I think a lot of the stuff on the ground, as it were, really is dehumanization. These are often the people who do the most terrible things have no wish, have no animus to harm other people, so they just tell themselves, 'These are not people,' and that just makes it go easier. I have a feeling that even in our modern world a lot of military action, which is at a distance, isn't done because 'I'm going to take my vengeance,' and 'I'm going to make these people suffer.' Rather it's just, 'I'm going to just think of these--I'm going to code them as combatants and that's all I'm going to think about.'

Russ Roberts: Yeah, 'I'm playing a video game.' Yeah.

Paul Bloom: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. And so, I think you get both. There's a lot of historians of the Holocaust and historians of massacres and genocide more generally who point out a lot of people really enjoy this stuff. Books like Hitler's Willing Executioners, and ordinary men, I think, put aside the myth that all of the villains in the Holocaust were these kind people who decided--who had to be obedient. Following orders--

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Automatons; they have a German culture of respect for authority.

Paul Bloom: That's right. There's enough stories of [?] went above and beyond orders, and took pleasure in it. And I don't think--I think [?] some proportion are actually honest-to-God sadists or psychopaths. But I think a lot of people who do terrible things say, 'Well, these people have it coming to them.'

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Well, and also--we'll come to this in a minute--I say this with some unease, but I think all of us have a little sadist in us. Or many of us do.

Paul Bloom: I think I'd say all of us.

Russ Roberts: Not my mom. Who just has a heart of gold.
9:22Russ Roberts: It reminds me also of the somewhat recent episode we did with Mike Munger on slavery in the Americas, and the eagerness, how eager slave owners were to perceive Africans as inferior and to justify what they were doing as compassionate. Not just, 'Well, it's okay; I'm cruel to them.' It's more like, 'I'm doing them a service, because they can't run their own lives.'

Paul Bloom: Yeah. There's a whole literature on this written by people trying to justify themselves. They say, 'What do you treat better? Do you treat something you rent better, or something you own better? Certainly, if you own something you treat it better. You take care of it. And that's why the relationship between a master and a slave is a moral one.' And, these people are working very hard to frame what they are doing as morally good.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. I'll never forget the quote--I heard it from David Henderson. I think it's from a transcript; and I don't know if it's literally true, but it's good enough, whether it's true or not; could be apocryphal. But, it's the runaway slave, caught, and now before a judge. And the judge is saying, 'How'd your master treat you?' and he explains he had food, he had a bed. And the judge says, 'Well, it doesn't sound so bad.' And the slave says, 'Well, you know, there's an opening, if you're interested.' And it's so easy to strip away--especially the intangible parts of this. You know, we're doing a book club on EconTalk on Solzhenitsyn's In the First Circle, and the relentless petty humiliation of one's humanity in that setting of the prison camp--even in a "nice" camp, which is what Solzhenitsyn was in and which he writes about in that book. The irony of our conversation is: it is dehumanizing. The treatment is dehumanizing.

Paul Bloom: Yes.

Russ Roberts: Your point is that it's not the dehumanizing that allows the treatment.

Paul Bloom: That's right. I'm more interested in what goes on in people heads when they do cruel things. In some sense, this is obviously all dehumanizing. But, I'm very interested in the claim that when we are cruel to others it's because we strip them of their humanity and don't think of them as people. And, you know, just to go back to your bigger point you made--I guess, what I try to argue in the New Yorker article is, it's more complicated in two ways. So, in one way, it's not the case that if I recognize your humanity, all of a sudden I'll be kind to you. Maybe if I recognize your humanity, I will despise you. I will envy you. I will want to dominate you--which gets to the sadism part. So, it's a mixed bag. Recognizing other people as people by no means makes us kind. And on the flip side which you mentioned briefly, what's always fascinated me is that treating you not as a human also isn't necessarily a bad thing. A surgeon--you know, there's a wonderful phrase by Atul Gawande: A surgeon treats his or her patient as a problem to be solved. I think a utilitarian philosopher goes around to make the world a better place but doesn't actually think of each person as a person. Understands there are people, but when you do the math and say, 'Well, this will save 100 people and this will save 200 people, so we'll save 200 people,' you really are thinking of things in mathematical terms; but at the same time, you could be making the world a much better place.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, I guess my natural thought there is there are so many things that don't go into the math that are hard to take account of. That's one of the problems I have with utilitarianism. But, it's not the only one.

Paul Bloom: So, this is a standard complaint about the utilitarian, a modern one, I think, is that the utilitarian is cold-blooded and doesn't understand the specialness and distinctness of individuals. But, [?] I think in the real world it's a feature, not a bug. I think that often our very worst decisions are made because we very much take into account individual cases, and we are moved by them--say, the murder of somebody by an immigration, a gun death, a sexual assault--and our feelings about the particular individuals there which will vary from person to person will often distort policies in all sorts of crazy ways. Whatever you'd say about policy making in our time by our government, I don't think it's too utilitarian.

Russ Roberts: Well, that's a good point. And it comes back to your book Against Empathy, which I encourage listeners to go back and to read that book and to listen to our earlier conversation. I'm very sympathetic to the point, because case by case--it has an appeal. 'We'll just go case by case' is often fraught with all kinds of problems. At the personal level it's, 'Well, I'll just see if this potato chip is worth having.' It always is. 'Just one.' And, in the policy arena it's negotiating with someone holding a hostage; having a rule that we do not negotiate with people that take hostages is a very powerful rule that you want to break every time when the family is crying. But, if you look ahead to the consequences you might decide that it's better to suffer the consequences now to prevent further harm in the future. And I think that's an incredibly important point.

Paul Bloom: I think so, too. I most recently watched the most recent Mission Impossible movie, Fallout. It was a good movie. The first half I thought was great. But, on not one, not two, but three occasions somebody says--

Russ Roberts: Spoiler alert! Hang on--

Paul Bloom: Spoiler alert; but this will not harm the movie. No more than what you've seen in the trailer. Says to the main character, Ethan Hunt, the Tom Cruise character, 'You are a great person. And you are a great person because you believe that the life of one person matters more than the life of a million.' And I'm there like saying, 'Hey. I want to rebut.' No, that isn't a good--the movie is orchestrated so that favoring the one over the million works out, because it's a movie. But it's actually--it's a horrific policy.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, it's interesting. As an economist, there's many movies I can't enjoy because they bother me for those kind of reasons. And that bothered me, too. I knew I was being manipulated there. I was supposed to think that Cruise was honorable for his putting an actual human life first. But actually he was endangering many, many more. And there is--it's actually the only thoughtful thing in the whole movie. The movie is an extended chase scene. But that tension over the life in your own hands that's visible and tangible versus longer term costs--they beat it to death. I just want to say--I was very disappointed in the movie. But that's neither here nor there. But that's an excellent point. It's really exactly right.

Paul Bloom: A colleague of mine, Molly Crockett, has just published a paper with several other people supporting the idea which I think you and I know intuitively that people like deontologists. They like people who have moral rules; they like people who favor their friends and their family; and they have little patience for utilitarians, even for effective altruists. I think that--and I think there are interesting reasons why we are constituted that way. But, the utilitarian has few friends. And I've got to say: This is a problem with your discipline, which very much leans utilitarian.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, it's true. Yeah. Well, some of us deserve fewer friends. Perhaps.
17:36Russ Roberts: I'm going to make an observation here, get your reaction; it's not really the point of your essay. But, I find it interesting how hard it is for people to accept the possibility that people enjoy being cruel.

Paul Bloom: Yeah. You know, you had Jordan Peterson on your show. And, once, twice?

Russ Roberts: Once. So far.

Paul Bloom: And I disagree with Jordan Peterson--I haven't met him--I disagree with him about a lot of things. But there is one thing he says which I think is true and important and doesn't get said enough, which is: He talks about the desire for power and domination. And he talks coherently; then he says, 'Look, people get a pleasure and a satisfaction about dominating others.' And, it's not sadism, strictly speaking. I think what it is, is we are hierarchical creatures, and we want to be on top. And there's all sorts of ways of being on top. There's to be respected and admired. But, failing that, terrifying somebody and making him fall before you is a go-to some individuals use.

Russ Roberts: Yeah; well, while we're talking about movies, I just recently saw Richard Curtis interview; it's going around Twitter, this clip--he's the director of Love Actually, which, for better or for worse is one of my top 10 movies for watchability. I love that movie.

Paul Bloom: Boy, you are a contrarian.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Exactly. Well, I'm not. But among our friends, yeah. Because a lot of people seem to like it. But he makes sentimental movies. And he defends it saying people are basically good. He says: If you make a movie about a sadist who deserts from the army and violates a woman who is pregnant, a nurse--that's gritty realism. My movie about people falling in love is considered sappy and sentimental. But, he said, there are a million people falling in love in England right now. And, that's real life. He's trying to defend this idea that people are basically good. And, although I like the movie and I like to think--personally, I do occasionally like to believe people are basically good, I don't necessarily think that's the best way to approach life. But, it's a good way to approach friends. For sure.

Paul Bloom: Yeah. And I think people are basically complicated. I'm a developmental psychologist, and sometimes I get the question: 'Are babies innately good or innately bad?' And I always answer 'Yes.' We have both appetites. And I think part of the badness in all of us--maybe except for your mother--is a desire to be on top. To dominate. At least not to be on the bottom. And that doesn't necessarily mean, 'I have to round up a bunch of people and put them in a camp and sit in a guard tower and take pot shots at them.' But, the appetite that makes us do that is, I think, a grotesque and exaggerated form of an appetite that exists in all of us.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's related to the Adam Smith point about--which listeners know well--man not only desires to be loved but to be lovely. And he takes the 'to be loved' part as a given: Not only do we want to be loved. Of course we want to be loved. Of course we want to be paid attention to. Of course we want to be respected, admired, honored. And, when we don't receive that, we don't take it so well. And it's just something I'm increasingly aware of, something that economists have zero insight into after Adam Smith. Unfortunately or not, but that's like the reality. And it's a big part of human life. It's a big part of work. It's something I think economists have ignored. Which is too bad.

Paul Bloom: It is. Tom Tyler, a colleague at Yale Law School--you know, has long has evidence that what matters to us most in our workplace is the feeling of being respected. And, you know, being respected, being treated as a serious individual, worthy, a creature of dignity, is worth a lot of money. And it's also, I think, the right thing to do. But, I think that this desire actually can lead into the almost sadism we're talking about earlier. I was having an argument with my family--people around the room who I love the most in the world. But, I feel like I wasn't being heard. There was [?]--I couldn't get the words in; I wasn't being heard. And I felt this frustration. And it's very human to say, 'No. You let me speak. You listen to me. You listen to me; you respect my views.' And it's not the prettiest trait.

Russ Roberts: So, why is it that in a faculty meeting where you have something deep and profound to say, Paul--which I'm sure is all the time. But in a particular case where you feel you actually have something important to contribute; and you can't get a word in. And your insight's lost; and people didn't give you a chance to get your insight across, you get a little bit annoyed. But, with your family who you love, it can be infuriating?
22:33Russ Roberts: So, why is it that in a faculty meeting where you have something deep and profound to say, Paul--which I'm sure is all the time. But in a particular case where you feel you actually have something important to contribute; and you can't get a word in. And your insight's lost; and people didn't give you a chance to get your insight across, you get a little bit annoyed. But, with your family who you love, it can be infuriating? Why? What's the difference there? Shouldn't it be the other way around? It's like, 'I love these people. I'm not going to get made at them.' Why do we care more, sometimes, in those settings.

Paul Bloom: So that gets back to the whole issue of humanization and treating people as people. And it connects to the misogyny work of Kate Manne. And the answer is: I like my fellow faculty members. Many of them are good friends. But I love my family. And, because I love my family, their rejection, their failure to take me seriously, their failure to listen to my 7 points about why Trump would[?] be re-elected and to fully appreciate it--

Russ Roberts: Deep insights--

Paul Bloom: and it really bothered me. While, my colleagues listening to my plan to recruit 10 graduate students to work with me and [?]. And, of course, this is reflected more seriously. In fact, I'm far more likely to kill my family.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. It's horrifying, isn't it? Yeah.

Paul Bloom: And this is the thing: this is how I end the New Yorker article, which is that there is this view we have that if only we were to--that--the dehumanizing view is a very optimistic view because it says that so much of the badness that we do is based on a mistake, 'I'm just not recognizing the humanity'--

Russ Roberts: So you can seek re-educating. You need a sensitivity session.

Paul Bloom: 'I need a sensitivity session. I need to see some slides. I need to talk to them.'

Russ Roberts: Yep. Once you talk to them, you won't hate them any more.

Paul Bloom: Once I talk to them it will all be worked out. And I think that's one of the biggest mistakes we make about morality. I think that the reality is that fully appreciating someone's humanity opens up so many positive things--you can't be human without it; you can't have a decent relationship. It's the foundation of love, and friendship. But, it carries with it so many terrible risks. Really loving somebody, really knowing somebody opens up the possibility for love; but it also opens up the possibility for hatred.

Russ Roberts: It's so unintuitive, but it's so true. Talk about that some more.

Paul Bloom:[More to come, 25:05]
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Yeah, Uber sucks

  last edited: Fri, 24 Aug 2018 20:16:11 -0600  
While I agree with some of the concerns and criticisms, this feels like another instance of a minimally experienced rank-and-file programmer overestimating their insight and impact.

“What Have We Done?”: Silicon Valley Engineers Fear They've Created a Monster


Gig-economy companies like Uber and Instacart are on the verge of overtaking the traditional economy. And the only people who understand the threat are the ones enabling it.

#tech #SocialJustice #Uber