Epistemic Status: Things I Will Regret Writing
One of the most persistent arguments, often left implicit, that antifeminists have on their side is “Women want to be raped and abused.”
On one hand, this is an obvious logical contradiction if taken literally. Rape is unwanted sex — how can you want something unwanted?
On the other hand, I can see why people might think this.
Don Giovanni, one of the classic archetypes of a man who’s attractive to women, is also a rapist. It’s not ambiguous — in the opera, he breaks into a woman’s house to rape her while she fights him off. No distinction is made by the librettist between his “seductive” charms and his violent attack; he goes to Hell for being a “libertine”, a sin that includes both. We have a lot of art, often but not always created by men, that portrays male cruelty and male attractiveness as one and the same.
Men are more violent than women. This is a human universal, and true in many of our mammalian relatives as well. And success in violent conflict is, of course, an advantage for inclusive fitness, so there’s an evolutionary rationale for an attraction to men who are strong and good at winning fights.
From there, anti-feminists often jump to believing that women are more attracted to men who are violent to them. This doesn’t directly follow, of course, but then you point to certain cultural trends — the high incidence of rape fantasies, the fact that many violent criminals have no difficulty finding female partners, the phenomenon of women who have been serially abused by multiple partners, the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray — and you might start to wonder whether at least some women might have a thing for men who use force on them.
I think you have to talk about this thing frankly before you can put it to rest.
So let’s talk about Fifty Shades of Grey.
It’s a popular book, selling over 125 million copies worldwide. It was also written by a self-published author and gained popularity through word of mouth; almost all critics reviewed it poorly; so its popularity is an unusually strong signal that people genuinely like it. Nobody is buying this book to impress people.
And it’s a description of a woman in an abusive relationship with a rapist. I recommend Pervocracy’s very funny liveblog of the book for reference.
The question Pervocracy asks is — why are people into this? Sure, there’s sex and BDSM with a handsome billionaire, and sure, some people find rape scenes or danger exciting, but Christian Grey is also just kind of pettily mean. He’s controlling and peevish and consistently makes Ana miserable. He keeps her isolated from her friends and family. This book is intended to be erotica. What’s erotic about a guy treating you really badly?
Pervocracy doesn’t get it (or says he doesn’t for rhetorical effect) but I think I do. The abuse isn’t being read as wish-fulfillment, but as verisimilitude. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author and many of the fans have been in abusive relationships or grew up in abusive households. It feels realistic and relatable that the main character has the experiences and feelings that they did. The emotional punch of her suffering is cathartic. She’s sobbing herself to sleep? Yeah, I know that feel.
It’s a human desire to have your experiences validated — in the sense of getting confirmation that you really did experience what you did. Sometimes you get validation by seeing people like yourself represented in fiction. Sometimes you get it by expressing your thoughts and feelings and experiences to other people, and seeing that they understand, and maybe had the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
This is one explanation for why people like to read about tragic or horrifying events. Real life contains tragedy and horror. We seek out representations (or symbols) of these things in order to process them and make sense of our own stories. It was like this. I didn’t just imagine it. I am real; people like me exist. Or, I misunderstood; I thought it was like this, but there was this whole other side of it that I didn’t see at the time.
The satisfaction that can come from tragic fiction doesn’t feel like “this makes me happy” but rather “this is true.” We want the world to make sense.
A classic and maybe even defining feature of abuse is that the abused person is made to feel that it is normal or even right for them to be harmed. They’re told “You deserve it.” Or “this is just what relationships or families are like.” Or “you aren’t being harmed, you’re fine.” Over time, abused people may come to believe this.
And people who deeply believe that it is normal or right for them to be harmed may expose themselves to harm again, in order to confirm or validate their model of the world. This is what “self-harm” or “self-destructive behavior” is. It’s not that the harm makes them happy. It’s that it makes them right.
If you take the predictive processing model seriously, the primary thing the brain does is try to be proven right — to adjust mental models and behavior until the brain can confirm “yep, I think it’s this way, and it is.” In other words, validation is the thing we seek to maximize. This is both the source of our ability to accurately model the world (we’re incentivized to create correct models) and to deceive ourselves (we’re incentivized to distort our perceptions to conform to our existing models.)
On this model, people may engage in self-destruction even if it doesn’t make them happy because it makes them right about how the world works, and that’s more important to a mind that runs on predictive processing.
(Incidentally, it’s illuminating that there’s an ambiguity in language between “valid” meaning “genuinely exists, is in fact a real thing” and “valid” meaning “good or worth seeking out.” For instance, that ambiguity shows up in Song of Myself where the narrator seems to equivocate between saying “everything in reality, even the horrible parts, really exists” and “everything in reality is good and I bless it all.” It’s possible that the mind implements aversion using the same predictive-processing mechanism it uses for truth, such that what we’re actually doing when we hate or oppose something is, on some level, attempting to execute the “this does not exist” operation. We keep trying to delete it from the top-down predictive model, but it persists, and the resulting mismatch attracts attention and is perceived as aversion.)
So, going back to abuse.
Maybe abused people really do have a higher risk of seeking out a repetition of the harm they experienced and were taught to believe was normal. This self-destructive behavior would show up in their choices of partners, their media consumption, their imaginations, etc. It would comport with the common-sense observation that abused people sometimes end up fucked up. It would fit with the common therapy goal of teaching these people to tell a new story about their experiences — that they don’t deserve to be treated with cruelty, that the reason they suffered was that they encountered a cruel person (or several), that even though life can be harsh, they can still make the best of it.
So I think the antifeminist account is confusing cause and effect. It’s not that women want men to hurt them. It’s that men hurt women a lot.
“How could I have wronged her? She had five boyfriends before me who did the same thing I did!”
Well, no. You’re implicitly working on revealed preference theory here, when it isn’t warranted. “She must have wanted it, because it happened to her repeatedly” is just untrue. It could be bad luck, with no agency on her part at all. And this isn’t probabilistically implausible, because bad luck tends to compound — when one person harms you, you can easily be put at practical disadvantages (like poverty) that put you in a vulnerable position that makes it easier for other people to further harm you.
But even if there were agency on her part in seeking out abusers, people do not only optimize for their own well-being. People also, and in fact primarily, optimize for validation.
In other words, “Congratulations, asshole! Even if you’re right, you found someone who was hurting herself and decided you’d help her along.”
Revealed preference theory is an attempt to avoid paternalism by assuming that people know what’s good for themselves better than they know what’s good for others. People are different from each other, what’s good for some people is not good for others, and so it can be a practical simplifying assumption to behave as though what people choose is what’s best for them.
But it’s obviously true that what a person chooses, and what’s best for them, are not identical.
What’s actually good for a person is a complex, hard-to-specify thing which we can handwave with a word like “flourishing” or “eudaimonia.” It’s hard to specify, but we don’t know zero things about it. In modern, colloquial language, I think the best word we have for the thing is healthy, as in, “make healthy choices,” and in close analogy with the concept of physical health. Someone who is in pain, or physically damaged, is less healthy. So is someone who’s chronically miserable, or helpless, or keeps getting themselves into situations that cause them or others distress, or is stuck pursuing a very obsessive and limited and simplistic sort of satisfaction that’s more like “pain relief” than “joy”.
You shouldn’t be (intentionally, avoidably) making people less healthy. You shouldn’t fuck people up. You can’t always know what will fuck people up, so it’s a good idea to listen to what they say and honor their autonomy. But if they say “this is fine” and then it harms them, that’s a bad outcome. And the more you could have predicted the harm, the more liable you are.
Legal frameworks, including concepts of rights, are constructions that indicate which moral boundaries will be enforced within a society; they’re not the whole of morality itself. There are immoral actions that it would be highly impractical and undesirable to make illegal.
So I believe that you shouldn’t have sex or get in a relationship with someone if you have strong, justified reason to believe it will be bad for them. You should also, of course, respect consent. That’s the part that can (imperfectly) be enforced by law. But you also have to use a reasonable amount of your own judgment. And, yes, this means that learning accurate models of what is good and bad for people’s wellbeing is a part of behaving ethically.
“But what looks like an unhealthy coping mechanism may actually be the best thing for a person!” Yeah, well, I didn’t say “make snap judgments about what things look like,” but “try your best to understand how things are.”
I used to think that people had something like a Thanatos drive, a death wish or will-to-harm self and others. I now think this is more parsimoniously explained as a special case of the universal drive for validation. If you were attacked and gaslit into believing it was okay, you may be driven to attack others or to subject yourself to attack again, just to make your world make sense again and resolve the cognitive dissonance.
When that’s what’s going on, it’s like a snarl in the fabric of incentives. Things naturally go down and farther down, to more death and destruction. I suppose you could say that the people involved “want” that, in the very narrow sense that their brains are driving them to do it, but it clearly isn’t good for them.
You can’t always fix one of those tangles from the outside, but it’s a good idea to stop it from spreading, interrupt it, get people out of it when they have a decent chance of recovery, and so on.
From inside one of those tangles, it may be self-consistent, but it’s terrible, like Thamiel’s position in Unsong.
If you’re not Thamiel or one of his minions, you have no reason to cooperate with him, and every reason to oppose him. You can’t talk him out of his internally-consistent opposite-day morality — but you sure as hell (pun intended) shouldn’t try to talk yourself into it.
And, likewise, if you see someone who appears to be optimizing for the opposite of health and happiness, you shouldn’t help them with that goal on the grounds of “revealed preference.” It’s probably not going to make you healthy and happy either.
This post was very well written, though it seems to me to be dominated by views that are perfectly aligned to a certain political opinion, which actually kind of disencourage me from commenting.
For instance, your first point about unwanted sex seems rather strawmanish to me; obviously “antifeminists” do not use the word rape in the literal sense of “unwanted sex”. No one wants something that is unwanted, rather it is generally intended as something like “Women enjoy sex in ways they are unwilling to admit publicly, and to a lesser extent also privately”.
There is another point that stuck to me:
“How could I have wronged her? She had five boyfriends before me who did the same thing I did!”
Well, no. You’re implicitly working on revealed preference theory here, when it isn’t warranted. “She must have wanted it, because it happened to her repeatedly” is just untrue. It could be bad luck, with no agency on her part at all.
Indeed, it could be bad luck, but if it is, based on my personal experience, women must have an unusual, almost magical amount of bad luck. Growing up, I witness the virtual totality of my female friends ending up in relationships with men that scored among the top of the distribution in traits like extrovertedness and aggressiveness, they were also considerably older and a lot more experienced, which easily put them in a position of relative advantage with respect of their partner.
Did you observe a similar pattern growing up?
I wonder whether Fifty Shades of Grey could be an example of exceptionally successful marketing. People buy it because they were told by media that it is hugely popular (so they are curious, and don’t want to seem ignorant), and when they find out they don’t like it, they go: “Well, if everyone else likes it, I better shut up or I will seem like a prude or worse” (the zeitgeist discourages saying anything negative about other people’s sexuality, especially when it’s weird). Anyway...
The problem with revealed preferences is that it kinda assumes that in any internal conflict, the side that won was the Truth, and the side that lost was Fake all along. Which assumes that people never make mistakes (or that they truly want to make exactly those mistakes they made), and that willpower is just a synonym for hypocrisy—unless the willpower happens to prevail, in which case it turns out it was the true will all along (and if your first attempts failed but later you succeeded, that means you truly wanted to fail first and succeed later, duh).
And the usual mistake when discussing nature and evolution is ignoring the evolutionary-cognitive boundary, plus the fact that our environment differs from the one we are adapted for. Thus “in ancient past, X provided a reproductive advantage, on average” becomes “X provides an advantage (now and always)” becomes “you want X, and I am not listening to your lies, you hypocrite!”. And it’s hard to argue otherwise, when there is in fact a part of you that somehow pushes you towards X. But if we follow the same logic, then the True Will of humanity is to eat sugar, become fat, get diabetes, and die; because that’s what keeps happening when we give it a chance. (So if the superhuman AI happens kill us, it just fulfilled our desires faster. Actually, the fact that we have built the AI that killed us, already makes our extinction our revealed preference.)
I see two big differences between our ancient evolutionary past and current civilization, with regard to the current topic:
1) Before agriculture, we spent all time together in tribes; today we live in families, often atomic ones. That means the connection between “who do you have sex with” and “who do you spend most time with” is relatively recent. Obviously, spending more time with an abusive asshole is a bad idea. But when the whole group lives together, having sex with someone doesn’t mean spending more (non-sexual) time with them. Each member of the tribe is within reach of the fist of the alpha male, whether they have sex with him or not. Women used to choose which man’s genes they want for their children, and that was the whole story. (And yes, it makes sense to choose a stronger one over a weaker one, and a winner over a loser.) This evolutionary calculation did not include the danger of spending a lot of time with him alone.
2) The ancient environment also put limits on the male aggression. The alphas often didn’t win as individuals, but as coalitions. They had to beat challengers into submission, but when not challenged, they often acted as keepers of peace and justice. Being an asshole to everyone meant that the three or four guys you hurt recently will gang up against you, beat you, and probably kill you to protect themselves against possible revenge. To keep the throne, you needed allies. Ironically, it is the civilized society that allows some individuals to be assholes against everyone and survive. Many annoying people live only because no one considers it worth risking prison for killing them. In the past, being an asshole and remaining alive would be powerful counter-signaling. Today, pretty much any loser can do it, and many do. Of course it messes up our instincts.
Then they are deeply ignorant of women’s literature: the proper archetype is the guy who is violent to everyone else, but is mysteriously tamed by the charms of the heroine, i.e. Beauty and the Beast.
The women who date “bad guys” don’t do it because they have a preference for being punched in the face. They do it because they have a fantasy where they (and they alone) will not get punched in the face. Which would actually make sense in a sufficiently ancient past, but makes much less sense in the recent millennia. Well, evolution sometimes updates slowly. (He who wants to throw a stone, first tell me how much sugar and salt did you eat this week. You realize that shit is killing you slowly, don’t you?) Instead of a preference, this is more like a cognitive bias. From inside, the idea “he will punch everyone else, but not me, because he will love me” seems like a perfect reflection of reality. (And if he already punched her, that does not falsify the hypothesis. “Sometimes true love requires a lot of time, patience, and sacrifice. It will all turn out well at the end.” Read the Harlequin novel where the man first hurts the heroine, but then he falls in love with her and deeply regrets it. Which one? A random choice will probably be the right one.)
Anecdote time: I met a woman who complained about how all her boyfriends were alcohol addicts. Yet, after breaking up, she was soon dating another one. When I tried to talk some reason into her, she told me that actually all men are alcohol addicts, only some of them are honest about it, and others are in denial; and those in denial are actually much worse. -- To me it seemed obvious how such belief is false and self-harming, but of course trying to argue otherwise would have merely put me in the “in denial” category.
I can imagine how having similar beliefs about male aggressiveness could arise as a consequence of abusive childhood (as a defense mechanism against admitting that your father just happened to be an exceptional asshole), and could be further reinforced by seeking out aggressive partners, because the non-aggressive ones are perceived as somehow weird or fake. -- And perhaps together with the Beauty and the Beast fantasy, this could result in a model where all men are aggressive and only true love can tame them. (Plus there are the Nice Guys who are too pathetic to be aggressive openly, but luckily our mindreading skills allow us to see that deep inside they are even worse.)
It probably doesn’t help that the idea about all men being violent and evil is… zeitgeist-compatible.
Yep. Connotational sidenote: there is a difference between “men hurt women a lot” and “many men hurt women”. It is possible that a disproportionally large amount of hurting comes from a small minority of men. (Pointing towards statistics about psychopaths having above average amounts of sexual partners, etc.)
I agree with most of your article, I just believe it could be simultaneously true that (1) women who were previously abused, especially in their childhood, may seek out abusive partners because they perceive such behavior as “normal”; which does not excuse the next abuser, and the “revealed preference” answer is bullshit, because the woman is acting on her incorrect model of the world, and the friendly thing to do would be trying to fix that model instead of exploiting it; and (2) women in general have a systematic bias towards perceiving violent men as more attractive, and less dangerous than they actually are, because of evolutionary reasons which actually may not apply to our current environment. In my model, the “sane” women can use their reason to overcome the temptation and realize that the extra excitement is not worth getting punched in the face regularly (similarly how men attracted towards pathological women can decide to “not stick their dick in crazy”), but there are reasons that can make a woman either underestimate the danger or take it as inevitable, in which case dating the violent guy seems like a good choice.
If I understand it correctly, you used the former to explain away the latter, and that seems wrong to me. (I still approve bringing attention to the former.)
I am sympathetic to the general thrust of your comment, and I agree with many of your specific points. But I think you let your rhetoric get away from you in a couple of places, and I think those places are important to get right. For instance:
Everything is killing me slowly.
Too much salt is killing me slowly. But too little salt would also kill me slowly. So would too little sugar. Or was it too little fat? Or was that last week’s consensus, and this week’s discredited lie perpetrated by a corrupt and untrustworthy academy, distorted by perverse incentives? Too little sunlight will be the end of me (Vitamin D!); but then again, I also shouldn’t spend too much time in the sun (skin cancer!). Red meat is literally the devil, and alcohol is terrible even in small amounts, but look at those people over there who spend their lives eating nothing but red meat and washing it down with red wine, and live into the triple-digit ages!
The point is, optimal nutrition is not obvious (if for no other reason but that the effects of individual genetic variation are so great and vary so widely). The outside view shows that basically anything we are, currently, given as the “established view” in nutrition, could in fact be total nonsense.
What you seem to be saying, in this aside, is something like “we are all sinners, i.e. we are all slaves to our evolutionary past; we all make terrible mistakes, by doing things that obviously no longer make any sense, in today’s world; let us therefore not judge any among us, for erring thus”.
But that’s not true. Some of us don’t make the obvious mistakes. (We might do things that turn out to be mistakes, but that’s a very different matter!) And so we are entirely justified in “throwing stones”—in judging those people who do make the obvious mistakes—people who do things that are manifestly self-destructive in the modern world.
This has serious implications for what the optimal strategy is.
If your view is right, then there seem to be two tiers of people:
The sinners (i.e., basically all of us), who are all trying to do what makes sense, and yet look: she dates bad guys, he eats too much sugar…
The saints (i.e., people who have managed to overcome their biases and do the right thing)—but becoming a saint is difficult, and perhaps it’s not clear how to do it, and in the meantime we’re basically all still sinners.
If my view is right, then there are three tiers of people:
Normal people who are capable of exercising common sense, and so avoid the obvious mistakes (such as “date that guy even though he beat his last five girlfriends regularly”, or “eat Domino’s pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day”), but do not have any kind of privileged access to the truth of tricky subjects like “What Is The True Nutrition”.
(hypothetical) Unusually competent / intelligent / rational people, who can figure out the right thing to do basically all the time (certainly at a rate much greater than genpop). (Do such people exist? Well, we’d all like to become one of them, and perhaps that’s what we’re trying to do here at Less Wrong…)
On the latter view, you can get pretty darn far just by not being an idiot and exercising common sense, and generally applying the strategy of “do what seems to make sense, upon a reasonable amount of reflection”. On the former view, that doesn’t seem to get you very far, and you have to have Exceptional Rationality Techniques™ to get anywhere.
It seems to me that figuring out which of these views is closer to reality is rather important.
This topic touches a chord with me for various reasons, so I will try to comment as I read.
There is a problem with the definitions here. A significant fraction of women (and smaller but not insignificant fraction of men, and let’s not forget about all other genders, too) have physical and/or sexual and/or emotional abuse fantasies in various degrees. Some of those want it to remain a fantasy, others want to experience it in actuality, but in a controlled and safe way, yet others want to feel helpless and out of control, yet be still OK afterwards (such as consensual non-consent), and a small minority really want to be hurt bad or even killed, the hell with the consequences. The “antifeminists” probably project this small minority onto the majority of women.
Humans are not monolithic agents! We have many contradictory drives, needs and values. A part of us may want to be abused, while another part is horrified by the idea.
If you mean physical violence, then yes. If you mean emotional violence, then women are just as adept at it, of not more so, than men. Some mother/daughter relationships are of the worst and most toxic kind. “Will I ever be good enough?” is a classic example.
Uh. As you said, and as is universally acknowledged, “bad boys” have more success than nice guys. And I mean real nice guys, not the self-proclaiming ones. Scott Aaronson’s famous comment 171 is a great example of it. And the reaction to it is also a great example of vicious emotional abuse, mostly by some self-proclaimed feminists.
Seriously? Have you read the book? Sure, Christian is not the model of a healthy BDSM relationship with Ana, though he certainly appears to be in his previous BDSM relationships with more experienced partners. Absolutely, he crosses the consent line here and there, mostly unintentionally and out of anger, which is generally a hallmark of an abuser. He even once or twice blames Ana for it: “you make me do this”, which is the excuse most abusers use. However, his overarching goal is a mutually happy and satisfying relationship. He doesn’t try to gaslight her, he takes responsibility for his actions as the older and more experienced partner, and he tries as hard as he can to make it work. This is very impressive given his background of growing up in an abusive situation and having his sexuality shaped by a non-consensual submissive BDSM relationship with an older woman. As far as D/s (or even vanilla) relationship go, Christian and Ana’s are definitely on the positive side of the Bell curve. They genuinely love each other and care for each other from the get go, and overcome a lot of obstacles to be happy together.
It’s a good question, and worth researching without prejudice. FetLife.com is the site devoted to all legal kinks, and you will find a huge variety of them there.
There is definitely a correlation between kink and childhood trauma. Sometimes it is about reenactment, sometimes it is about self-hate, and sometimes it is about overcoming the external manifestations of the trauma by engaging in ostensibly similar roles, but in a safe and consensual setting. That said, it’s just a correlation, and by no means a certainty. Plenty of people enjoy dominant or submissive roles despite growing up in a healthy and nurturing environment. Nurture has rather limited effect on one’s upbringing.
Yep. During my years emotionally supporting people online I have seen plenty of that. When done by the parents or guardians during a child formative years, this form of abuse is extremely insidious, and nearly impossible to overcome later in life. As an aside, I wish the EA movement spent some time focusing on this hidden source of suffering that is all around us.
Sadly, that is indeed what happens. Once a part of you internalizes the abuser’s message, abuse-seeking becomes a pattern, and often a blind spot. The more one gets abused growing up, the more split their personality becomes, C-PTSD tilting into DID in especially severe cases.
That’s not even a maybe. Abuse seeking and reenactment is a well-documented pattern.
And men hurt men a lot. And women hurt men and women a lot, just in different ways. Reverse sexism is still sexism, just like reverse racism is still racism. No race, gender or ethnicity has a monopoly on being good or bad. The Bell curves are wide and very much overlapping. And yes, people often confuse cause and effect. And, as you had mentioned previously, the effect, once internalized becomes and perpetuates the cause. Also, another definitional question: “hurt” may mean many things. What you probably mean is the non-consensual hurt, and what the “antifeminists” mean is their projection of a minority of women wanting to get hurt in various ways onto all women, the majority of whom have no interest in being hurt in the way these particular men want to hurt them.
This is another real and common pattern. Predators are good at sniffing out their prey. Many childhood abuse survivors still give off this victim vibe years after the original abuse is over, often without realizing it. The two groups naturally gravitate toward each other, and, as a result, it is easy for an abuse victim to end up in another abusive relationship, and it is easy for an abuser to reenact the same role without ever realizing the harm they are doing to their partner.
Yes, that’s the commonly used term.
If by validation you mean acting to reconcile your view of self with your view of the world. Or the views of some part of you, since a human rarely has uniform and unchanging values.
Yes, that’s the idea. In reality, few people intend to make others less healthy. More often than not, we make someone miserable, “less healthy” while thinking that we are doing what is good for them. Sometimes because we think we know better than they do, sometimes to justify our own actions, sometimes just because we are careless. Ask an abuser, and most of them, save for true psychopaths, would find a perfectly good excuse for what they do, and why, in their opinion, they were actually doing what the other person needed or even wanted.
Uh. Sadly the situation tends to be far worse than that. Notice the “post-traumatic” part of PTSD and CPTSD. Paradoxically, the removal of trauma can have negative effects! I know quite a few people who ostensibly overcame shitty childhood and were on their way to live a healthy life, only to see it all crashing down a few years later, as the post-traumatic effects got out of control and became disabling. Like a kettle under pressure, when the external pressure is removed, it is far easier for it to crack. Constantly fighting for survival is actually the healthiest way to live for some people.
Generally, that’s a good advice. Unless you know what you are doing, hurting others because they seem to crave it is a slippery slope. And hurting those who don’t want to get hurt because you think that deep inside they do, like those “antifeminist” claim, is definitely a bad idea.
If you google Pervocracy you will find on page 1: “Cliff Pervocracy” wants you to know that BDSM is feminist.` It’s a source that’s part of the kink community and a lot of the community rejects 50 Shades the same way as “not BDSM”.
I’m quite confused by your indignation at the description of 50 Shades as a portrait of “an abusive relationship with a rapist”, followed by your agreeing that Grey in the book did abusive things and “crossed consent lines here and there” (which comes across as an overly flippant phrasing for the subject matter, but whatever). Him allegedly trying to be better isn’t good enough. I haven’t read the book, but I am… not sure about your claim that the relationship is a relatively good one (I expect this is true of some societies and not others), but even if that’s true, there’s no need to grade on a curve here or object to a factual description of bad things because the bad things are common. Indeed, their being common is much of the point, here.
Excellent article ! You might want to add some trigger warnings, though.
edit: why so many downvotes in so little time ?
+1 for this. It’s tremendously refreshing to see someone engage the opposing position on a controversial issue in good faith. I hope you don’t regret writing it.
Would your model predict that if we surveyed fans of *50 Shades of Grey*, they have experienced traumatic abuse at a rate higher than the baseline? This seems like a surprising but testable prediction.
Personally, I think your story might be accurate for your peer group, but that your peer group is also highly non-representative of the population at large. There is very wide variation in female sexual preferences. For example, the stupidslutsclub subreddit was created for women to celebrate their enjoyment of degrading and often dubiously consensual sex. The conversation there looks nothing like the conversation about sex in the rationalist community, because they are communities for very different kinds of people. When I read the stupidslutsclub subreddit, I don’t get the impression that the female posters are engaging in the sort of self-harm you describe. They’re just women with some weird kinks.
Most PUA advice is optimized for picking up neurotypical women who go clubbing every weekend. Women in the rationalist community are far more likely to spend Friday evening reading Tumblr than getting turnt.
We shouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of mating behaviors that women in one group enjoy and women in the other group find disturbing.
If I hire someone to commit a murder, I’m guilty of something bad. By creating an incentive for a bad thing to happen, I have caused a bad thing to happen, therefore I’m guilty. By the same logic, we could argue that if a woman systematically rejects non-abusive men in favor of abusive men, she is creating an incentive for men to be abusive, and is therefore guilty. (I’m not sure whether I agree with this argument. It’s not immediately compatible with the “different strokes for different folks” point from previous paragraphs. But if feminists made it, I would find it more plausible that their desire is to stop a dynamic they consider harmful, as opposed to engage in anti-male sectarianism.)
Another point: Your post doesn’t account for replaceability effects. If a woman is systematically rejecting non-abusive men in favor of abusive men, and a guy presents himself as someone who’s abusive enough to be attractive to her but less abusive than the average guy she would date, then you could argue that she gains utility through dating him. And if she has a kid, we’d probably like her to have a kid with someone who’s pretending to be a jerk than someone who actually is a jerk, since the kid only inherits jerk genes in the latter case. (BTW, I think the “systematically rejecting non-abusive men in favor of abusive men” is an extreme case that is probably quite rare/nonexistent in the population, but it’s simpler to think about.)
Once you account for replaceability, it could be that the most effective intervention for decreasing abuse is actually to help non-abusive guys be more attractive. If non-abusive guys are more attractive, some women who would have dated abusive guys will date them instead, so the volume of abuse will decrease. This could involve, for example, advice for how to be dominant in a sexy but non-abusive way.
This is well-written, interesting, and fairly handled. The predictive processing intuition for the tolerance/seeking of abuse seems plausible to me. Upvoted.
Thanks for this excellent article. Just a day after reading it I came across an article in Wired (https://www.wired.com/story/karl-friston-free-energy-principle-artificial-intelligence/) about the “free energy principle”—https://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/~karl/The%20free-energy%20principle%20-%20a%20rough%20guide%20to%20the%20brain.pdf—which corresponds quite nearly with the predictive processing model. This insight into the workings of the brain (and not just the human one) may become incredibly impactful soon, especially in the world of artificial intelligence
The demand for sexual violence in fiction is easy to explain. It allows us to fantasize about behavior that would be prohibitively disadvantageous in practice, and it allows us to reflect on hypothetical situations that are relevant to our interests, such as how to deal with violent people.
My default model for abusive relationships *where the right to exit is not blocked* is indeed revealed preference. Not necessarily revealed preference for the abuse, but for the total package of goods and bads in the relationship.
The sex and romance market is a market after all, and different individuals have different market power. This is why some people pay for sex, and I’m sure some people accept abuse they would not tolerate from a partner with less market power.
Of course, this isn’t true if someone breaks a promise unexpectedly, like ignoring an agreed-upon safe word. That’s massive enemy action. But if it happens repeatedly, and the relationship is maintained for longer periods of time, even though the right to exit is not blocked and both partners could break it off, my default interpretation is still reveled preference for the total package.
I can only link to another Pervocracy post.
I didn’t read the whole post, but most of that is just the right to exit being blocked by various mechanisms, including socioeconomic pressure and violence. And the socioeconomic ones aren’t even necessarily incompatible with revealed preference; if the alternative is homelessness, this may suck, but the partner still has no obligation to continue the relationship and the socioeconomic advantages are obviously a part of the package.
If you have such a large definition of the right to exit being blocked, then there is practically no such thing as the right to exit not being blocked, and the claim in your original comment is useless.
What? Why? No sane person would classify “he will murder me if I leave” as “the right to exit isn’t blocked”. I don’t expect much steelmanning from the downvote-bots here, but if you’re strawmanning on a rationalist board, good-faith communication becomes disincentivized. It’s not like I have skin in the game; all my relationships are nonviolent and I neither give a shit about feminism nor anti-feminism.
Still, if “she’s such a nice person but sometimes she explodes” isn’t compatible with revealed preference for the overall relationship, I don’t know what is. My argument was never an argument that such relationships are great or that you should absolutely never use your right to exit. It’s just a default interpretation of many relationships that are being maintained even though they contain abuse. Obviously if you’re ankle-chained to a wall without a phone, that doesn’t qualify as revealed preference. And while I don’t object to ways government can buffer against the suffering of homelessness or socioeconomic hardship, it’s still a logical necessity that the socioeconomic advantages of a relationship are a part of that relationship’s attractiveness, just like good pay is a reason for people to stay in shitty jobs and it doesn’t violate the concept of revealed preference, it doesn’t make those jobs nonconsensual and it wouldn’t necessarily make people better off if those jobs didn’t exist.
And by the way, it’s right to exit, not right to exist. There’s a big difference.
You need to define the terms you use in a way so that what you are saying is useful by having pragmatic consequences on the real world of actual things, and not simply on the same level as arguing by definition.
I observe that you are communicating in bad faith and with hostility, so I will use my right to exit for any further communication with you.
My read of this thread is that your (Andaro’s) original comment pointed at a particular subset of relationships, which are ‘bad’ but seem better than the alternatives to the person inside them, where the reason to trust the judgment of the person inside them is that right to exit means they will leave relationships that are better than their alternatives. Paperclip Maximizer then pointed out that a major class of reasons people stay in abusive relationships is that their alternatives are manipulated by the abuser, either through explicit or implicit threats or attacks directed at the epistemology (such that the alternatives are difficult to imagine or correctly weigh).
I understood Paperclip Maximizer’s point to be that there’s a disconnect between the sort of relationships you describe in the ancestral comment and what a ‘typical’ abusive relationship might look like; it might be highly difficult to determine whether “right to exit” is being denied or not. (For example, in #12, the primary factor preventing exit is the pride of the person stuck in the relationship. Is that their partner blocking exercising the right?) If this disconnect exists as a tradeoff, such that the more a relationship involves reducing right to exit the more we suspect that relationship is (or could be) abusive, then the original comment doesn’t seem germane; interpreted such that it’s true, it’s irrelevant, and interpreted such that it’s relevant, it’s untrue.
Vaniver, your post is eloquent and relevant, yet of course no one gives a shit about that after being downvoted for engaging in a controversial topic in the first place. At that point, all I see is undifferentiated hostility and I’m not going to engage in the cognitive effort to change that view.
It’s not even really your fault. I engaged in a conversation of a controversial, moralistic nature without having any strategic selfish reason to do so. That’s a bad habit if there ever was one. Alas, humans are not always strategic, and sometimes I need the reminder what really matters and what doesn’t.
From that perspective, domestic abuse is irrelevant. The average abuse victim has never done anything for me to deserve my positive reciprocity. I’m not an abuse victim and if I were, I’d simply take personal revenge. Unless of course the abuser is so valuable to my life that I see them as a net-benefit despite the occasional abuse. Hard but not impossible, which was of course my whole point.
Less Wrong and its community has done little for me. You’re not as terrible as EA, and I’ve gained the occasional useful insight here, but you’re still toxic on net, so I’d classify you as minor enemies. Marginally worth harming but no where near the top of my list.
So to sum up, fuck it and good riddance. I actually kind of thank you for the downvotes in this case, this type of negative interaction helps me refocus my perspective and priorities. In fact, I’m now slightly less caring about consent and abuse than I was before this conversation, and that’s probably quite rational for my personal values.