Against Disclaimers

Blog posts are short and have a broad audience.  One of the worst things about writing them is having to make disclaimers.  Not just legal disclaimers mind you – those are only the tip of an iceberg.

Writing is hard in part because words have many associations that vary among readers.  Even when we use carefully choose our words to signal certain associations, we know some readers will instead hear other associations.  So in addition to saying what we do mean, we sometimes have to say explicitly what we do not mean. 

For example, most who say "Can I help you with that?" also mean to say "I am offering to help you with that."  So if you really just want to ask about your ability to help, but do not want to offer to help, you must explicitly disclaim the offer, as in "I’m not offering to help, but I was wondering, is it somehow possible for me to help?"  It seems reasonable to have to say more in this case, as this is the more unusual case. 

Less reasonably, in our current legal system anyone with an employer who writes anything is expected to explicitly declare that they are not speaking for their employer.  Apparently if they do not their employer can be sued for anything they say. This is unreasonable because the vast majority of writings by people with jobs are not intended to speak officially for their employer.  It would be far more reasonable to assume that we speak only for ourselves unless we explicitly say otherwise.  It is similarly unreasonable for fiction authors to have to always declare all their characters are fictional.

Unfortunately, the problem goes way beyond dumb legal rules.  Consider these common presumptions:

  • If you say anything about correlates of race you must hate a race.
  • If you say anything about genetic correlates of success you are a social Darwinist.
  • Any general claim about human behavior is an absolute law without exception unless it includes qualifiers like "tends" or "often."
  • If you quote someone you agree with everything they’ve said.
  • If you say you prefer option A to option B, you also prefer A to any option C.
  • If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with a group or person you are presumed to support (or oppose) them overall.
  • If you say anything nice (or critical) about anything associated with an idea or claim you are presumed to support (or oppose) it and related ideas overall.
  • If you worry that more A will cost too much of B, you don’t care about A at all.
  • If you dislike a proposed solution to a certain problem, you don’t care about that problem.
  • If you oppose one end of a continuum, you support the other end.
  • If you approve of a decision you approve of the actual outcome, and vice versa.
  • If you think A causes B, you think A is necessary for B.
  • Any opinion you express is a strongly and confidently held opinion.
  • If you criticize someone about something, you say you are immune to such criticism.
  • [I'll add more here as commentors mention them.]

Most who say such things do not intend these further claims, and their conversation could be much easier if they did not need to constantly disclaim them.  But they are stuck in a signaling game; since most who say such things do add the required disclaimers, observers can infer something unusual about the few who do not.

A friend once told me that in a Stanford artificial intelligence theory class, while the prof tried to present relatively precise claims, students constantly asked if he was really trying to say distantly related claims X, Y, or Z.  My exasperated friend cried "Why can’t they just treat it like math – assume nothing you are not told you can assume!"  Yes full math precision is rarely possible, but sharp people still distinguish themselves by not assuming more than needed to keep the conversation going.   

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  • http://www.hopeanon.typepapd.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Robin, this is the reality you’re in. It will probably cost resources to transform it according to your vision -how much of our resources should we allocate towards that transformation? Also, it doesn’t seem reasonable for you to suggest that mass and/or normative communication should be keyed to the fewer disclaimers that may be needed to communicate with “sharp people”.

  • http://blog.sfadj.com Rubin

    “Writers speak stench.” –Kafka. ;-)

  • Frank Hirsch

    Heehee, too true.
    But I think you are conflating two problems here: People seeing implications that do not exist (misinterpretation, mostly due to reflexes originating in the brain stem, I sometimes can’t help to think), and people nitpicking about missing quantifiers (over-rigid interpretation).
    When I have such problems turn up in discussions, it is (luckily) mostly the over-rigid interpretation case from missing qualifiers. I then launch into my generalised disclaimer “I only say what a say, and that which I say is to be taken with a grain of salt, unless I say so.”… =)
    What I really hate though, is when I expressedly start out with something like “I am talking about tendencies here.” and a few sentences later I still have to hear “Are you saying that all [instances of class] X are [have propery] Y?”.
    Gnnnn, it hurts!

  • http://acceleratingfuture.com Michael Anissimov

    One way to fight against this is just to write whatever the hell you want, omit disclaimers, and point people to posts like this one.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    Pointing out the failings in some argument against point B means you believe point B.

  • Jeff H.

    I’m not sure if these are discrete points, but:

    If you agree with one idea, then you believe in all other ideas commonly associated with that idea

    -or-

    If you advocate one idea that has been presented as part of a package of ideas, then you believe all the ideas of that package.

    • Anto

      But actually it is false, i bet you agree.

  • Mysterious stranger

    “# If you say anything about correlates of race you must hate a race.
    # If you say anything about genetic correlates of success you are a social Darwinist.
    # Any general claim about human behavior is presumed an absolute law without exception unless you add qualifiers like “tends” or “often.”"

    Did you just read the Watson-Gates interview or some such?

  • Sam B

    “If you say anything about correlates of race you must hate a race.”

    Of course, if a sentence of this kind is prefaced by the words “I’m not a racist, but…” then the writer/speaker is almost certainly about to say something genuinely racist.

    I can’t come up with a coherent explanation of why this is – whether the signal was corrupted by racists trying to signal non-racism, or whether going out of your way to signal something that should be assumed means you’re the opposite. But if I felt as if I needed to use it, then I would either not use it and hope my arguments would speak for themselves, or I would just keep my trap shut for the sake of a quiet life.

    • Anto

      In fact you are not racist as long as you limit it to observe the somatic traits, including possible difference in force strength whatever. Once you correlate race to a cultural behaviour well you are plain wrong, culture is not linked to race but interdipendently, say, if a southafrican get adopted by americans he will have an american culture. And even among cultures there can be different individual behaviour so we always have to consider the individual.
      But this has not to be implied every time.

  • http://blog.greenideas.com botogol

    If you bring up the practical difficulties asociated with implementing an idea, then you are against the idea.

    • Anto

      In fact, take anarchy, I know its difficulties nevetheless i propose it. Afterall even democracy has its difficulties, never overcome.

  • http://blog.greenideas.com botogol

    if you bring up an idea you have come across that is intriguing and interesting, then you must be in favour of the idea.

  • ccima

    So is minimal assumptions optimal (baysian)? Doing math or not. Guess that’s the difference between beauty and practicality. But.. Our innate system for modeling other agents is sure far to “bipolar”. So I think there are two different problems at hand. Understanding what you write about and understanding what you are about. Not a clear cut. And being what we are, social children of evolution, it’s hard to turn of the agent modeling thingy.

  • spindizzy

    > Of course, if a sentence of this kind is prefaced by the words “I’m not a racist,
    > but…” then the writer/speaker is almost certainly about to say something
    > genuinely racist.

    Sam: Can you give an example of something which is “apparently but not genuinely racist” versus something that is “genuinely racist”? What’s the acid test?

    Personally, I despair for a society in which, once someone is labeled as a racist / sexist / homophobe / anti-Semite (US) / pro-Semite (Europe) / Christian Bible-basher / Muslim Koran-basher / Democrat / Republican / Libertarian, their voice can be legitimately silenced.

  • eddie

    Regarding the class and the professor: in a situation where someone is trying to explain something which is difficult to understand, it’s neither uncommon nor unreasonable for the explainees to assume they have not correctly grasped the full implications of the explainer’s statements and to therefore test their understanding by asking questions which, if they had in fact understood things correctly, would have obvious answers.

    No matter how seemingly plain-spoken a professor is, a student would do well to ask dumb questions if the material is hard.

    That doesn’t apply to most conversations and discussions, especially political discourse. In most cases, Robin’s point stands, in spades.

  • j

    A short standard disclaimer to signal that what you are about to say is to be taken literally and without assumptions?

  • Constant

    In ordinary speech it is common and in fact necessary (to get by) to “read between the lines”. People who take things said absolutely literally and who go no further than what was literally said are severely socially handicapped and suffer from their disability. The person who “can’t take a hint” has only the mildest form of what can be a debilitating lack of social skill.

  • DeniedAntecedent

    If there is a trade-off between outcomes A and B, and if you argue against a policy that you think involves too much of A by pointing out that it costs too much in terms of B, it means that you do not value A at all.

  • josh

    If you are against a proposed solution to problem X, you don’t care about X.

  • johnbr

    On the topic of quoting – aren’t you running right smack dab in the middle of “Argument by Authority” – that is to say that if I’m arguing with someone and they say “Einstein said X”, isn’t it my right to push back and say “yes, but Einstein also said Y and Z (that I know you don’t agree with, so therefore you shouldn’t be putting weight on his quotes)?”

    Just curious.

  • jb

    Hrmm.. more thoughts:

    * If a certain theory predicts that X, Y and Z will all be true over time, and X comes to pass, if you disagree that Y and Z are inevitable, you are ignorant and lacking in logic/scientific structure/etc

    * Demanding well-modeled financial analysis out of a proposed “cool” project means you are reactionary.

    • Anto

      Well, sometimes there are good ideas that wouldn’t hold a pure money based analysis, and its good in in fact about “forcing” the economical model to change, to take the good out of it.

  • Sam B

    “Sam: Can you give an example of something which is “apparently but not genuinely racist” versus something that is “genuinely racist”? What’s the acid test?”

    Apparently but not genuinely racist: “Certain studies have found that black people score worse on IQ tests than white people.” Or “More black males are in jail per 1000 than white males.” Or “Unemployment is higher among black people than among whites.”

    Genuinely racist: “Black people are inherently stupid, lazy and criminal.”

    The acid test is probably whether the statement is true or not. The above apparently racist statements are all true. Studies have in fact been done (whether they mean anything is another matter, but the pure statement is true). We can count people in jail and on benefit. Whereas any generalisation about an entire race is so far short of the evidence required for acceptance, it’s indistinguishable from something completely made up.

    In certain contexts, of course, I could make the above statements without anyone thinking I was trying to justify racism (e.g. a scientific conference or a political speech in favour of getting more black people into higher education). But I’m not a scientist or a politician, so in most contexts I would find myself in (e,g, the pub), those statements would make people suspicious as to what point I was going towards. Especially if I prefaced them with “I’m not a racist, but…”

  • Michael Stack

    If there is a continuum of opinion on a subject bound by endpoints A and Z, and you stand in opposition to end-point Z, then you must support end-point A.

  • Silas

    Nail. Head. Hit.

    I have long ago lost count of how many times I’ve tried to argue a point, and had people respond to distantly-related arguments I never made, and often explicitly reject!

    e.g., me: If IP were abolished, many valuable intellectual works would simply not be created.
    response: You’re saying that NO ONE creates anything unless IP “incentivizes” them to do it? What about Linux, the scientific research after the Renaissance … god you’re so ignorant!

    Take a look at my attempt to argue against bad anti-IP arguments under the name “Person”, and see how many times you would bang your head into the keyboard if you were in my position.

  • Cyan

    Any general claim about human behavior is presumed an absolute law without exception unless you add qualifiers like “tends” or “often.”

    For every other (current) member of the list, the problem is the listener attributing to the speaker positions beyond the plain meaning of the statement. In this case only, the listener is expected to interpolate a disclaiming term like “tends” or “often” when the statement’s plain meaning is an absolute law without exception.

    Lots of people go around making statements which sound like absolute laws without exception. Some of them even mean it. I’d say that using disclaimers like “tends” and “often” is not so much of a burden if it puts the plain meaning of the statement in line with the intended meaning of the statement.

  • Michael Stack

    To Silas’s point, I can maybe generalize my point more:

    If opinion on a subject ranges from point A to point Z, and you reject some point along that continuum, you must hold either opinion A or Z.

  • spindizzy

    Sam, your distinction between apparent racism and genuine racism looks to me like the distinction between perceiving evidence and proposing a theory for that evidence.

    For example, non-Jewish whites perform below East Asians on IQ tests and have higher rates of criminal activity. As I understand it, observing this does not make me a racist.

    One plausible explanation is that non-Jewish whites are, on average, genetically less intelligent and more criminally inclined than East Asians.

    Does acknowledging this possibility at all make me a racist? Or does it only make me a racist if I am East Asian or Jewish? Or does it only make me a racist if I want it to be true?

    Or is (as I believe) the question of whether I am or am not a racist totally irrelevant?

    Perhaps we should value social harmony more than the truth. I think I am ready to be persuaded on that.

    However, most people here probably value the truth very highly. In that case, we should be careful not to caricature the views of those who disagree with us.

    In particular, we should resist the temptation to put inflammatory words in their mouths or dismiss their arguments on the grounds of some attributed moral deficiency.

    • Anto

      Iq tests are made based on paradigm typical of west society. Mind also that a stone age men would make close to 0 score in iq tests, probably, that wouldn’t make him less intelligent, if you accidentally time travelled as a newborn in this past you would do the same because not exposed to what men become. Also a culture non receptive of west paradigm is not necessarily worse.
      And yours are anyway a bonafide racist claim as you include genetics and not culture, being jew is no genetic it is a descent, yes so it is partially genetic but they were primarily a people.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Cyan, the default interpretation should be the most common usage, and it seems to me absolute claims are made, but less often than non-absolute claims.

  • Alan

    The law is not rational, nor does it’s pursuit entail a quest for truth or The Truth (if such exists). The law’s observance and application is essential all the same.

    The common theme of Robin’s laundry list of dumb common presumptions is that they relate back to some belief or invidious characteristic of the speaker; e.g., If I say X, I must believe Y; If my background is A, then I must think B. Robin’s point is well taken. Obviously, it’s not all about us (or all about the speaker). It’s about the ideas. The poverty of mainstream intellectual discourse is that it can place inappropriate emphasis on the speaker, not on what is being spoken.

    That such discourse would generate ad hominem and straw man arguments comes as little surprise. Perhaps proof against the laundry list (an admittedly incomplete fix) would be to provide a full biography at the start of each semester, and set the the course (or the blog) firmly in the context of discussing ideas. Encourage insightful commentary discourage ad hominem and straw men by gently pointing them out.

  • Addam Madden

    >>> If you worry that more A will cost too much of B, you don’t care about B at all.

    Is this right? I think it goes the other way:

    If you worry that more A will cost too much of B, you don’t care about A at all.

    I.e. A = security, B = freedom.

  • DeniedAntecedent

    If you say that some decision was ex ante correct, it will be assumed that you think the outcome of that decision was good. And conversely.

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    What! Are you saying no one should ever offer a disclaimer?

  • Douglas Knight

    How many of these disclaimers actually do anything?
    It seems to me that a lot of this refers to rhetorical positions, not to actual misinterpretations and disclaimers aren’t going to stop them being taken.

    Also, when you talk about what is a good assumption, it depends an awful lot on who is in your reference class. Most political discussion on blogs is partisan cheerleading and these are good assumptions.

  • Nick Tarleton

    If you think A causes B, you think A is necessary for B.

  • chris

    >A friend once told me that in a Stanford artificial intelligence theory class, while the prof tried to present relatively precise claims, students constantly asked if he was really trying to say distantly related claims X, Y, or Z.

    I’ve had this occur as well. In my probability class, I often point out ways that scientists make probability mistakes: “ER doctors don’t understand probability, and as a result old people have syphilis misdiagnosed.”

    Once I made the mistake of pointing out that race is a perfectly reasonable concept (i.e., there is an effective decision procedure) and that anthropologists just don’t understand statistics. Questions I got:

    “Are you saying [racial stereotype XXX] is correct?”

    “But then how can you say race exists [if XXX is false]?” (Note that I didn’t say XXX was false either, just that I didn’t know.)

    “Are you saying race discrimination is ok?”

  • Cyan

    …the default interpretation should be the most common usage…

    My prescription is, “Say what you mean, and don’t assume that others mean more than they say.” This works for all of the other presumptions on your list, which is why I ended up singling out the one concerning claims about human behavior.

    For claims about human behavior, adding the disclaimer by default has the Sapir-Whorf-type advantage of reminding one that human behavior doesn’t come in absolutes, in addition to the advantage of avoiding a possible misunderstanding.

    To a lay person or (FSM help me) a journalist, the statements, “Men have higher sex drives than women,” (true on average, but may fail to be true in particular pairings) and “Diamonds can’t be scratched sapphires,” (true for all possible pairings) both look like general scientific claims. You and I know that claims about human behavior are almost never meant to hold absolutely, but this is not true for everyone who will eventually encounter such a claim. The benefits of adding the disclaimer seem to me to outweigh the cost.

    (@Eliezer: Good one!)

  • Roland

    Great post, I agree 100%.

    Let me add:

    If you treat a person nicely they think you want something from them.

  • http://zbooks.blogspot.com Zubon

    What! Are you saying no one should ever offer a disclaimer?

    Are you implying that you disagree with everything Robin has ever said?

  • mobile

    If you say something about the law, then you are a lawyer.

    If you say something, it is not an opinion and you are not humble about it.

  • DeniedAntecedent

    There are statements that, on top of having a literal meaning, in certain contexts also function as signals of something (e.g. group membership). Say, for example, that the statement ‘lower taxes lead to higher growth’ has two meanings: literal (that lower taxes lead to higher growth) and functional (that the speaker is a Republican). Then, if you deny the literal meaning, most listeners will assume that you’re denying the functional one, as well.

  • ad

    Most who say such things do not intend these further claims, and their conversation could be much easier if they did not need to constantly disclaim them.

    Perhaps, but their enemies will find it convinient to claim that they do believe these further claims. Hence the disclaimers, as a pre-emptive defence.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepapd.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Cyan,
    Did you consider you might have signalled lowest status in this thread by doing that? :P

    1a2b1b1y1c0b0d9e0e8i0f7n0g6g0h5t0i4h0j3e0k2f0l1i1m2r1n1s1o0t0p9t0q8o0r7t0s6r0t5y0u4t0v3o0w2s0x1i1y2g1z1n1a0a0b9l0c7t0d6h0e5e0f4y0g3w0h2e0i1r1j2e1k1s1l0m0m9a0n8r0o7t0p6e0q5n0r4o0s3u0t2g0u1h1v2t1w1o1x0g0y9e0z8t0a7i0b6t0c5.

    (in case this is edited, also posted to my blog).

  • http://www.myspace.com/laughingsun Starhawk Laughingsun

    Another common one:

    I support legalization of drugs therefore I must be a drug addict.

    And the related:

    I support medical marijuana therefore I must be a pot head.

  • Alan

    “It would be far more reasonable to assume that we speak only for ourselves unless we explicitly say otherwise.” Granted–under conventional understandings of what is reasonable–but consider the perspective of a stereotypical plaintiff’s atty: It may be more ‘reasonable’ in general to implead more defendants as opposed to fewer, since doing so provides more potential sources from which to collect an award or settlement. On the other hand, if an attorney doesn’t implead all conceivablely culpable defendants, the attorney herself could be on the hook to her client!

    Employers are also sometimes held liable for acts or omissions committed by employees while on the job. For more on this, consider search terms: “vicarious liability.” Disclaimer: nothing herein should be construed to constitute legal advice, but rather a personal opinion humbly offered :-)

  • Joseph Knecht

    If you communicate specialized knowledge about topic X, you must think you are an expert on topic X; if in fact you are not an expert, then you do not know what you are talking about.

  • Michael Sullivan

    “For example, non-Jewish whites perform below East Asians on IQ tests and have higher rates of criminal activity. As I understand it, observing this does not make me a racist.”

    Actually, it might, depending on the context. Racism isn’t just about intent, it’s also about abusing social privilege. Of course, in the *extreme*, there’s not just intent but violence or outright disenfranchisement, and this is the image we all have (if we are white) when we hear the word “racist”: a lynch mob, a cross-burning, a hiring manager who takes one look at a candidate’s [racial feature] and bins their resume.

    But racism is a whole system of privileging white people and white culture over others, and it has very subtle manifestations that individually don’t seem very serious, but happen constantly to those who are not of the majority culture and act like the proverbial chinese water torture.

    There are plenty of people who seem to take delight in saying as many unkind (but supportable/true as much as possible) things as they can manage about [race|gender|culture]. And bloody hell yes this is a form of X-ism. Consider the effect on a person from constant negative messages all day every day, even if those messages are all true. We all have enough flaws and inconsistencies that if the people around us chose to harp on them endlessly, we could face a steady stream of negative comments that are *all true*. And there are mountains of evidence about the effect of negative vs. positive messages on our mental and physical health and even capacity. Constant negative messages can drive a person crazy, especially a child. There’s always *something* wrong about what a 5-year-old does that we could harp on endlessly while ignoring the good. We would rightly accuse parents who did this to their children in a systematic way of child abuse.

    So what I’d say is that choosing to say a negative thing about somebody or some group, even if true can be a wrong thing to do, when you could have just as easily said a positive thing or nothing at all, and especially when it always seem to jump first to mind (cf: sailer, steve). History makes things even more complicated when talking about racism, because pretty much any discussion of group traits is historically poisoned. You might think that being said to have large genitalia as a male is a positive, but the group of people who’ve historically been told that, have had it used to insinuate a lesser intelligence, more savage and dangerous nature, so yes, this is once again a hideous racial trope.

    The next critical point is that the context of US or european society is one where POC are *constantly* exposed to these racial tropes in an on-average negative way, while white people are typically seen as “normal”. It’s true that in recent years, it’s more fashionable to talk about white people’s foibles, and most of the positive messages we get don’t come with the word “white” attached (and when they do, all but the outright bigots tend to be suspicious). But our norms and culture are reinforced, people with power and money tend to look like us, and be more likely to see me (and other white men) as one of the boys. There’s plenty of positive buildup I get just for being a white man, even if most of it is not directly labeled as such.

    What I’m saying here is that if you, in most contexts, utter the above quoted statement in my hearing, ceterus paribus, I will adjust my belief in the direction of your being part of the problem, as opposed to part of the solution, when it comes to racial reconciliation. Whether and how much I adjust will depend on the context in which you say it, and what else you say.

    In anti-racist circles, the shorthand for that adjustment is “that’s racist” or “check your privilege”. Note well, I will admit to saying subtly racist things *all the time*, despite having done a lot of intellectual work to resolve latent racism and become aware of my privilege. The proof of one’s intentions around racial reconciliation is often in the reaction to being challenged on a potentially racist statement. The all too typical response of “Goddammit, it’s the plain truth. It’s not racism to speak the truth. If there’s one thing I hate more than racism it’s censorship.” is not a good start.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/halfinney/ Hal Finney

    I’ve seen this one a few times in discussions here, even in just the past few days: If you criticize someone about something, you are claiming that you yourself are immune to such criticism.

  • http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/futarchy_discuss/ Tom Breton (Tehom)

    ISTM most or all of these common presumptions are basically strawman attacks. The motive may simply be to “win” an argument easily or “score points” easily.

  • Frank Hirsch

    Of course, if a [sentence with a negatively loaded word, see Heinlein :)] is prefaced by [a disclaimer] then the writer/speaker is almost certainly about to say something genuinely [repulsive].

    (I took relative freedom with that condensation, I hope I do not reinrepret the source to much.)
    I would think the problem lies on guiding the association toward where you don’t want it to be. It’s a bit like commanding someone not to think of pink elephants. You prime the generative model in the human brain which complement your senses with a bad seed. Is my hypothesis… =)

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    Aren't people just being Bayesians when they make these assumptions? For most of the cases you've given, the assumption would usually be correct. Communication efficiency is thus greater if we make these assumptions.

  • Cyan

    HA,

    Status didn’t even enter my mind. I was thinking that when I make a joke in a comment thread, I like it when people acknowledge that it was funny. If Eliezer is like me in that respect, then he’d appreciate knowing that his joke amused me. On the internet, no one can hear you laugh, but they can see you LOL.

  • MZ

    If you oppose one end of a continuum, you support the other end.

    This is the the First Fallacy of Political Debates.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepapd.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Cyan, from one primate to another, I suspect status influences your social interactions much more than you might acknowledge to yourself.

  • Joseph Knecht

    HA, is that an intentional (ironic) use of the following: if C says he wasn’t influenced by X on this occasion, C believes that he is hardly ever influenced by X?

    I guess the general form, for Robin’s list, is:

    X says Y doesn’t apply in this situation; therefore X believes that Y hardly ever applies.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    Racism isn’t just about intent, it’s also about abusing social privilege
    That seems like a non-standard usage. What word should I use just for attitudes of race-based hatred?

    But racism is a whole system of privileging white people and white culture over others, and it has very subtle manifestations that individually don’t seem very serious, but happen constantly to those who are not of the majority culture and act like the proverbial chinese water torture.
    So if two non-white races hate each other and try to exterminate each other because of their race-hatred there is no racism?

    • Anto

      Obviously yes. But where do you see those implication? Did you need a disclaimer?

  • tiiba

    “”What! Are you saying no one should ever offer a disclaimer?”"”

    – Eliezer Yudkowsky

    You say that, but I don’t see a disclaimer in YOUR post! You obviously care about slander no more than Robin does.

    (NOTE: all characters in this post are English. Any similarity to Chinese or Tamil characters is purely coincidental)

  • Michael Rooney

    If you show that an argument for X is bad, you have shown that X is false.

  • http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2008/06/the_golden_rule.html EconLog

    The Golden Rules of Interpretation

    Robin Hanson has written the one piece that everyone on earth should read before they post comments on a blog:Writing…

  • spindizzy

    Michael,

    Firstly, a disclaimer. :)

    I am trying to be explicit that I am not arguing about “blacks” and “whites” here, any more than I am arguing about men and women, or Christians and Muslims, or Republicans and Democrats. Please do not continue to straw-man my arguments by portraying me as some kind of single-agenda racial supremacist.

    “Consider the effect on a person from constant negative messages all day every day, even if those messages are all true.”

    Good point. I don’t doubt the pernicious effect of negative messages. However, I’m not sure what you think is the solution: to censor ourselves for fear of making the situation worse?

    Suppose that a student hands in a poor assignment at school, and is marked with a ‘D’ grade. As a result, he loses motivation and begins to get ‘E’ grades, and then ‘F’ grades.

    If the student fails the course, is the teacher to blame for grading objectively? What about the students who get ‘D’ grades and respond by working harder?

    “any discussion of group traits is historically poisoned”

    Are you talking about racial groups or any kind of human groups? Besides racial differences, also gender differences, religious differences, class differences, political differences and cultural differences have all had historically “poisonous” outcomes at certain times.

    Despite the potential for conflict, I personally value human diversity. “Let a hundred flowers bloom.”

    “the context of US or european society is one where POC are *constantly* exposed to these racial tropes in an on-average negative way”

    Michael, I assume by “POC” you mean “people of colour”. That term suggests to me a very binary view about racial identity.

    “People with power and money tend to look like us.”

    Why do you think we look alike?

    “I will adjust my belief in the direction of your being part of the problem.”

    You seem to be saying: I’m either with you or against you.

    • Anto

      “If the student fails the course, is the teacher to blame for grading objectively? What about the students who get ‘D’ grades and respond by working harder?” This is strained analogy

      “Good point. I don’t doubt the pernicious effect of negative messages. However, I’m not sure what you think is the solution: to censor ourselves for fear of making the situation worse?”

      This is also as far fetched. No, but we can simply think different, the discussion anyway was not whether you can, but whether it is right to be racially biased about negative yet true statistics making them weight on an individual, you know the thing about more black people in jail, doesn’t mean the next black individual is more prone to break the law.

  • http://www.weidai.com Dynamically Linked

    I agree with Phil that many of these “assumptions” just seem like simple Bayesian updating. For example:

    If you say you prefer option A to option B, you also prefer A to any option C.

    If there exists a C such that you prefer C to A, then I’d expect you to be talking about why you prefer C to B, not why you prefer A to B. So the fact that you’re talking about A>B indicates that C probably doesn’t exist. Why shouldn’t I update my beliefs about your preferences this way, unless you add an disclaimer?

  • Cyan

    HA, if you’re saying that my statement is not strong evidence for the truth of my limited claim not to have had status in mind on this particular occasion, I can see why that’s reasonable. But rest assured that I’m aware that status influences my social interactions plenty, both consciously and, no doubt, unconsciously.

  • anomdebus

    Phil Goetz,
    That is exactly his point: the more common use should be the default. At this point, you are just in disagreement what the more common use is.
    nb – I am assuming you are replying to Robin.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Dynamically, often we when we say we prefer some proposed alternative to the status quo, we are accused of claiming that alternative beats any other policy.

  • Dmitriy Kropivnitskiy

    Seems like people already mentioned this, but every example you list falls into one of the rethorical fallacies. Here is a good list of those: http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/index.html

  • anomdebus

    Hopefully,
    I didn’t see anything on the webpage linked to your name, so I disregarded your message.. Any significance in the numerical sequence I was not able to discern? (there was an apparent transcription error in one of those sequences)
    Also, I wasn’t 100% clear on the message I did receive, proving apparently a little cleverness will get you only so far :)

  • chris

    As a concrete example:

    Hardworking Americans voted for Clinton; ergo Obama voters are non-working elitists.

  • Sociology Graduate Student

    While I appreciate this post, I think there are also times when people should give more disclaimers than they do.

    People tend to hold many beliefs with too much confidence. One of the best ways to encourage them to be more skeptical is to demonstrate that you are skeptical of your own beliefs. The way one does this, is by offering disclaimers.

    • TheNuszAbides

      which is why i wail and gnash my teeth over the cult of “tl;dr” and those who treat compromise like a disease.

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