Search Results for: cuckold

The Conspiracy Against Cuckolds

There appears to be a consensus among medical professionals that husbands should not be told when they are not their wife’s child’s father.   In a new paper in the journal Bioethics, Erica Lucast says

Counselors … tend to be cautious and prefer to deceive male clients when possible in order to protect their partners [while] … patients … tend to favor disclosure when it is done sensitively and with ample warning to the woman.

Continue reading "The Conspiracy Against Cuckolds" »

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Responses to Sex Inequality Critics

As I promised yesterday, here are specific responses to the nine mass media articles that mentioned my sex redistribution post in the eight most popular media outlets, as measured by SemRush “organic traffic”. (For example, the note (21M) means 21 million in monthly traffic.) Quotes are indented; my responses are not.

My responses are somewhat repetitive, as most seem content to claim that self-labeled “incels” advocating for sex redistribution are deeply icky people, and especially that they are women-hating. Even if that were true, however, that doesn’t to me say much about the wisdom or value of sex redistribution. I’m much more interested in general sex inequality than I am in the issues of the tiny fraction self-labeled “incel” activists.  Continue reading "Responses to Sex Inequality Critics" »

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Why Economics Is, And Should Be, Creepy

Hostile questioners tried to trap Jesus into taking an explicit and dangerous stand on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to the Roman authorities. … Jesus first called them hypocrites, and then asked one of them to produce a Roman coin that would be suitable for paying Caesar’s tax. One of them showed him a Roman coin, and he asked them whose head and inscription were on it. They answered, “Caesar’s,” and he responded: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. (more)

Long ago, Jesus avoided political entanglements by appealing to a key distinction long made between “official” worlds like work, commerce, war, governance, and law, and “personal” worlds like friends, lovers, parenting, hobbies, religion, conversation, and art. Economists have long been identified with that official world, of work and money and material things. But over the last century economists have increasingly moved outside that official world, looking at mating, conversation, and much more. This has often irritated academics who study personal worlds; they’ve seen economists as having “imperialist” ambitions to “conquer” other academic areas.

Economists studying personal worlds have also bothered a public that hears of economic concepts applied to personal worlds, but using words originally associated with official worlds.  For example, “marriage markets”, “dollar value of a life”, “price of fame,” “below optimal crime”, or my recent “sex redistribution”. This can seem to violate common norms separating official and personal worlds, which I’ll call “world norms”, such as that money should stay out of friendship, or governments stay out of conversation. And this can make economics seem “creepy.” Continue reading "Why Economics Is, And Should Be, Creepy" »

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Presumed Selfish

Imagine that some person or organization is now a stranger, but you are considering forming a relation with them. Imagine further that they have one of two possible reputations: presumed selfish, or presumed pro-social. Assume also that the presumption about you is somewhere between these two extremes of selfish and pro-social.

In this situation you might think it obvious that you’d prefer to associate with the party that is presumed pro-social. After all, in this case social norms might push them to treat you nicer in many ways. However, there are other considerations. First, other forces, such as law and competition, might already push them to treat you pretty nicely. Second, social norms could also push you to treat them nicer, to a degree that law and competition might not push. And if you and they had a dispute, observers might be more tempted to blame you than them. Which could tempt them to demand more of you, knowing you’d fear an open dispute.

For example, consider which gas station you’d prefer, Selfish Sam’s or Nuns of Nantucket. If you buy gas from the nuns, social norms might push them to be less likely to sell you water instead of gas, and to offer you a lower price. But you might be pretty sure that laws already keep them from selling you water instead of gas, and their gas price visible from the road might already assure you of a low price. If you start buying gas from the nuns they might start to hit you up for donations to their convent. If you switched from them to another gas station they might suggest you are disloyal. You might have to dress and try to act extra nice there, such as by talking polite and not farting or dropping trash on the ground.

In contrast, if you buy gas from Selfish Sam’s, laws and competition could assure you that get the gas you wanted at a low price. And you could let yourself act selfish in your dealings with them. You could only buy gas when you felt like it, buy the type of gas best for you, and switch it all when convenient. You don’t have to dress or act especially nice when you are there, and you could buy a selfish snack if that was your mood. In any dispute between you and them most people are inclined to take your side, and that keeps Sam further in line.

This perspective helps make sense of some otherwise puzzling features of our world. First, we tend to presume that firms and bosses are selfish, and we often verbally criticize them for this (to others if not to their faces). Yet we are mostly comfortable relying on such firms for most of our goods and services, and on bosses for our jobs. There is little push to substitute non-profits who are more presumed to be pro-social. It seems we like the fact that most people will tend to take our side in a dispute with them, and we can feel more free to change suppliers and jobs when it seems convenient for us. Bosses are often criticized for disloyalty for firing an employee, while employees are less often criticized for disloyalty for quitting jobs.

Sometimes we feel especially vulnerable to being hurt by suppliers like doctors, hurt in ways that we fear law and competition won’t fix. In these cases we prefer such suppliers to have a stronger pro-social presumption, such as being bound by professional ethics and organized via non-profits. And we pay many prices for this, such as via acting nicer to them, avoiding disputes with them, and being reluctant to demand evaluations or to switch via competition. Similarly, the job of being a solider makes soldiers especially vulnerable to their bosses, and so soldier bosses are expected to be more pro-social.

As men tend to be presumed more selfish in our culture, this perspective also illuminates our male-female relations. Men commit more crime, women are favored in child custody disputes, and in dating men are more presumed to “only want one thing.” In he-said-she-said disputes, observers tend to believe the woman. Women tend more to initiate breakups, and find it easier to get trust-heavy jobs like nursing, teaching, and child-care, while men find it easier to get presumed-selfish jobs like investors and bosses. Female leaders are more easily criticized for selfish behavior, e.g., more easily seen as “bitchy”. Women tend to conform more, and to be punished more for nonconformity.

This all makes sense if men tend to feel more vulnerable to hidden betrayal by women, e.g. cuckoldry, while women can more use law and visible competition to keep men in line. In traditional gender roles, men more faced outsiders while women more faced inside the family. Thus men needed more to act “selfish” toward outsiders to help their families.

When those who are presumed selfish want to prove they are not selfish, they must sacrifice more to signal their pro-sociality. So men are expected to do more to signal devotion to women than vice versa. Conversely folks like doctors, teachers, or priests, who are presumed pro-social can often get away with actually acting quite selfishly, as long such choices are hard to document. Few with access to evidence are willing to directly challenge them.

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Am I A Moralist?

Imagine that a “musicalist” is someone who makes good and persuasive musical arguments. One might define this broadly, by saying that any act is musical if it influences the physical world so as to change the distribution of sound, as most sound has musical elements. Here anyone who makes good and persuasive arguments that influence physical acts is a good “musicalist.”

Or one might try to define “musicalist” more narrowly, by requiring that the acts argued for have an especially strong effect on the especially musical aspects of the physical world, that musical concepts and premises often be central to the arguments. Far fewer people would be see as good “musicalists” here.

The concept of “moralist” can also be defined broadly or narrowly. Defined broadly, a “moralist” might be anyone who makes good and persuasive arguments about acts for which anyone thinks moral considerations to be relevant. This could be because the acts influence morally-relevant outcomes, or because the acts are encouraged or discouraged by some moral rules.

Defining narrowly, however, one might require that the acts influenced have especially strong moral impacts, and that moral concepts and premises often be central to the arguments. Far fewer people are good “moralists” by this definition.

Bryan Caplan recently praised me as a “moralist”:

Robin … excels as a moralist – in three distinct ways.

Robin often constructs sound original moral arguments.  His arguments against cuckoldry and for cryonics are just two that come to mind.  Yes, part of his project is to understand why most people are forgiving of cuckoldry and hostile to cryonics.  But the punchline is that the standard moral position on these issue is indefensible.

Second, Robin’s moral arguments actually persuade people.  I’ve met many of his acolytes in person, and see vastly more online.  This doesn’t mean, of course, that Robin’s moral arguments persuade most readers.  Any moral philosopher will tell you that changing minds is like pulling teeth.  My point is that Robin has probably changed the moral convictions of hundreds.  And that’s hundreds more than most moralists have changed.

Third, Robin takes some classical virtues far beyond the point of prudence.  Consider his legendary candor.

I accept (and am grateful for) Bryan’s praise relative to a broad interpretation of “moralist.” Yes, I try to create good and persuasive arguments on many topics relevant to actions, and according to many concepts of morality most acts have substantial moral impact. Since moral considerations are so ubiquitous, most anyone who is a good arguer must also be a good moralist.

But what if we define “moralist” narrowly, so that the acts must be unusually potent morally, and the concepts and premises invoked must be explicitly moral ones? In this case, I don’t see that I qualify, since I don’t focus much on especially moral concepts, premises, rules, or consequences.

Bryan gave two examples, and his readers gave two more. Here are quick summaries:

  • I argue that cryonics might work, that it only needs a >~5% of working to make sense, and that your wanting to do it triggers abandonment feelings in others exactly because they think you think it might work.
  • I argue that with simple precautions betting on terror acts won’t cause terror acts, but could help to predict and prevent such attacks.
  • I argue that the kinds of inequality we talk most about are only a small fraction of all inequality, but we talk about them most because they can justify us grabbing stuff that is more easily grabbed.
  • I argue that cuckoldry (which results in kids) causes many men great emotional and preference harm, plausibly comparable to the harm women get from being raped.

I agree that these arguments address actions about which many people have moral feelings. But I don’t see myself as focused on moral concepts or premises; I see my discussions as focused on other issues.

Yes, most people have moral wants. These aren’t all or even most of what people want, but moral considerations do influence what people (including me) want. Yes, these moral wants are relevant for many acts. But people disagree about the weight and even direction that moral considerations push on many of these acts, and I don’t see myself as especially good at or interested taking sides in arguments about such weights and directions. I instead mostly seek other simple robust considerations to influence beliefs and wants about acts.

Bryan seems to think that my being a good moralist by his lights argues against my “dealism” focus on identifying social policies that can get most everyone more of what they want, instead of taking sides in defined moral battles, wherein opposing sides make conflicting and often uncompromising demands. It seems to me that I in fact do work better by not aligning myself clearly with particular sides of established tug-o-wars, but instead seeking considerations that can appeal broadly to people on both sides of existing conflicts.

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Hanson Loves Moose Caca

Warning: this post touches on sensitive topics.

In the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” when Toula was a little girl, she sat alone in the school cafeteria, frizzy haired, big nosed, and unpopular. The blonde girls at the next table asked her what she was eating, and Toula quietly said “moussaka.” The popular girls laughed cruelly, saying “Ewwww, ”moose caca!”” (more)

Imagine that those cruel girls had gone on to tell other kids “Toula says she loves to eat moose caca!” That is how I feel when Noah Smith says:

Why is it that the sciences look like a feminist nirvana compared with the economics profession, which seems to have a built-in bias that prevents women from advancing?

Consider this 2011 blog post by George Mason University economist Robin Hanson. Hanson writes that “gentle, silent rape” of a woman by a man causes less harm than a wife cuckolding her husband:

I [am puzzled] over why our law punishes rape far more than cuckoldry…[M]ost men would rather be raped than cuckolded…Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret…Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape.

There was no outcry whatsoever over these remarks, nor any retraction that I could find. (more)

Now I’ve admitted as far back as 2006 that academia, economics included, is biased against women. (Having been in both physics and computer science before, I doubt the situation is much worse in econ.) This one post of mine that Smith points to did induce many negative responses in comments and elsewhere, and of my thousands of blog posts I’d be surprised if much more than a dozen had induced any blog responses by economists whatsoever. And I suggested that we consider that the harms of rape and cuckoldry might be similar; I didn’t claim I knew one to be definitely larger.

But more fundamentally, Noah Smith is plenty smart enough to understand that I was not at all minimizing the harm of rape when I used rape as a reference to ask if other harms might be even bigger. Just as people who accuse others of being like Hitler do not usually intend to praise Hitler, people who compare other harms to rape usually intend to emphasize how big are those other harms, not how small is rape.

But I’m pretty sure Smith knows that. Yet, like the girls who taunted Toula, Smith finds it suits him better to pretend to misunderstand.

Added noon: Steve Sailer weighs in.

Added 2p: Noah Smith and I have been having a twitter conversation on this.

Added 4p: My topic was the relative harm of cuckoldry & rape. Noah Smith says that this topic itself is innately offensive to most women, who think cuckoldry to be of such low harm that comparing it with rape suggests rape to be low harm. He is further offended that I would talk on a topic if I knew it might offend in this way. I said his presuming cuckoldry is of very low harm offends the many men who think it very high harm. He disagrees that there are many such men, and would bet on a poll on the subject, but thinks it offensive to make such a poll, and won’t help with that.

Added 10a Sunday: Heartiste has a poll with over 3700 respondents so far on preferring rape or cuckoldry. Express your opinion there, or start a new poll somewhere.

Added Tuesday: Now Noah Smith wonders out loud if I’m a fake nerd, who pretends not to understand political correctness so I can have an excuse to offend people. Cause people so admire nerds that of course everyone wants to look like one …

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Trends Worth Tracking

Given our usual way of doing economic analysis, the question of which institutions will most increase economic welfare rarely depends much on the exact values of the sorts of parameters social scientists and the media track with such enthusiasm and concern. (more)

I’ve complained before about useless trend tracking, but I don’t mean to suggest that all trends are uninteresting. Some trends tell us about how well our institutions are functioning. For example:

Accounting statements are getting less and less representative of what’s really going on inside of companies. … The finance industry showed a huge surge in the deviation … from 1981-82, coincident with two major deregulatory acts that sparked the beginnings of that other big mortgage debacle, the Savings and Loan Crisis. The deviation … reached a peak in 1988 and then decreased starting in 1993 at the tail end of the S&L fraud wave, not matching its 1988 level until … 2008.

Neither manufacturing nor IT showed the huge increase and decline of the deviation … that finance experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s, further validating the measure since neither industry experienced major fraud scandals during that period. The deviation for IT streaked up between 1998-2002 exactly during the dotcom bubble. (more; HT Tyler, Thoma)

Now that’s a trend to make me stand up and take notice! Similar parameters where I’d want to watch trends:

  • Marriage cheating and cuckoldry
  • Biased scientific papers, referee agreement
  • Wrongful convictions, faked evidence
  • Biased rulings by sports referees

These sort of trends track the health of specific institutions. When such an institution starts failing, we should be especially eager to reform it, using economic theory to suggest which reforms might be most effective.

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Define By Consequences

If corporations must be treated as “persons” for the purpose of campaign contributions – as the Supreme Court mandated last year in the infamous Citizens United decision – why shouldn’t they also enjoy “personal privacy”? The case threatens to weaken an important tool used to hold government and corporations accountable. … The court should not repeat that mistake by again allowing corporations to masquerade as people. (more)

People often argue about “definitions” as if the main issue was conceptual essences, or “cutting nature at its joints.” But in fact the vast majority definition disputes are really about social convention (including law). For example, I was interviewed recently on our changing “definition of death.” I said we’d long had a perfectly sensible and timeless concept: death is when life is no longer possible. What people want instead is an easy to apply criteria, so they can know when it is socially acceptable to “give up” on someone, or to declare someone a “murderer.” The timeless concept doesn’t serve this role well, so they seek something else. (Which then limits cryonics.)

Similarly, we’ve long had a decent concept of “father,” the man from whom half of a kid’s DNA comes. But some say that since it is good for each kid to have the support of a man, we should declare a cuckolded husband to be the “father” of his wife’s kid. Debates about the definitions of “naked” or “porn” are similarly about social convenience.

The issue of calling firms “people” is also really about social consequences of doing so, even though many talk as if there was a “natural kind” out there to discover, if only we did enough conceptual analysis. I’ve argued that since the function of “free speech” is best served by “free hearing“, it shouldn’t matter who wants to talk. Unless we are willing to censor, we should let citizens hear any sources they desire.

Similarly, we should ask about the social functions served by privacy protections. Yes weaker privacy protections make it easier to hold firms accountable, but that applies to individual humans as well. And if stronger privacy protects folks more against abuse by governments or others, that benefit should apply to firms as well. Yes people may just have a direct preference for privacy, but such preferences may be weak, and perhaps people working at a firm feel similarly about the privacy of their firm.

For most definition disputes, pretending to resolve it via conceptual analysis just isn’t very honest. It is more honest to argue about the desirability of various consequences of alternate social conventions.

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The Felt & The Unfelt

In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them. (What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, Bastiat, 1850)

Lately I’ve been pondering various public policy/opinion puzzles:

  • few seem worried that regulation discourages innovation
  • most oppose randomizing policies to learn what policies work
  • white collar crime is neglected relative to blue collar crime
  • cuckoldry seems to most far less bad than even stealth rape
  • long prison terms seem to most less cruel than brief torture
  • folks fear not getting medicine far more than getting too much
  • minimum wages help folks with jobs, neglect those without
  • folks focus on professional licensing raising quality, not price

The pattern I see here is vivid images of direct visceral effects overwhelming less direct and visceral considerations. “Near” tends to displace “far” in policy. This sounds like Bastiat’s famous bias for the “seen” over the “unseen.” But while I agree that this effect contributes, I actually doubt it is the root cause.

You see, most people seem quite capable of understanding many of these indirect effects. Yet even when indirect effects are clearly explained to them, so that they clearly understand, they don’t usually change opinions on such policies.

Now one might invoke social pressure, suggesting people don’t want to look evil or uncaring in the eyes of the many others who don’t understand indirect effects. But while that explanation gets us closer, I think it is still missing a lot.

Consider that econ lab experiment subjects often show “cooperative” or “altruistic” behavior, taking actions that benefit other subjects in the same experiment. Yet this direct help comes at the indirect expense of however else that money would be spent by the researchers. I’d bet that randomly chosen and grouped subjects would mostly continue such altruism, even when clearly informed that money left over at year’s end will be randomly distributed to those who participated in experiments during the year. Even if subjects clearly understand this indirect distribute-the-surplus effect, they’d still neglect it relative to direct effects.

Similarly, when folks meet and say “its been so long, we simply must see each other more often,” they focus on the joy of meeting, and neglect the other less vivid reasons they have not been meeting. Even though they are quite aware that such reasons exist.

In these and many other cases, it seems to me that people have a habit of going out of their way to show that they have strong emotional “near” feelings, via overemphasizing such feelings in their words and actions. People also seem to take comfort in seeing others react with feeling to vivid visible effects, and criticize “cold” unfeeling folks who react less strongly. Together these suggest a simple functional story: we don’t so much emphasize the seen over the unseen, as the feeling over the unfeeling, to signal our vulnerability to such feelings. It seems our ancestors were built to rely heavily on such signals in deciding who to trust. And this show-that-you-feel tendency seems especially strong when, as in politics or charity, we don’t suffer much in the way of other personal consequences.

This theory suggests that merely informing people about indirect effects is far from enough to get more consideration of indirect effects in policy. Creating near-common knowledge about such effects might be sufficient if our fear was looking bad to those ignorant of indirect effects. But if the issue is showing that we feel, this won’t work either. Instead we’ll need to find ways to frame indirect effects so that strong emotional responses seem appropriate, to allow people to signal feelings via considering indirect effects. Easier said than done, I know.

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Gentle Silent Rape

Added Oct ’13: Warning: you may find this post disturbing if you are  disturbed by the topics of rape, abduction, or being drugged.

A year ago I wrote two controversial posts (each 150 comments) that compared cuckoldry to rape. I was puzzling over why our law punishes rape far more than cuckoldry, arguing:

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.

Counter arguments included:

  • what the cuckold doesn’t know can’t hurt him
  • lots of men don’t mind raising genetically unrelated kids
  • rape victims are more socially disapproved of
  • rape has direct physical effects, while cuckoldry does not
  • rape victims are more often diagnosed “post traumatic stress”
  • rape victims they know seem more expressively upset

I presented evidence that most men would rather be raped than cuckolded, and that even though men complain less, they gain and suffer more from marriage and divorce, and the birth and death of kids.  Someone noted that many past societies did punish cuckoldry more than rape.

It occurred to me recently that we can more clearly compare cuckoldry to gentle silent rape. Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret. Now drugging someone against their will is a crime, but the added rape would add greatly to the crime in the eyes of today’s law, and the added punishment for this addition would be far more than for cuckoldry.

Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape. One remaining difference is that the rapist might be a stranger, while a cuckolding wife is not. But we could consider cases where the rapist isn’t a stranger. Another difference might be that punishing the cuckolding mother financially may punish her innocent kid. But we could specify the punishment to be non-financial, perhaps torture. Consider also that it tends to be easier to prove cuckoldry than rape, so if we avoid applying the law to hard-to-prove harms, that should favor punishing cuckoldry more than rape.

Even after all these attempts to make the cases comparable, however, I suspect most people will still say the law should punish rape far more than the cuckoldry. This even though most farming societies had the opposite attitude (I’m not sure on foragers). A colleague of mine suggests this is gender bias, pure and simple; women seem feminist, and men chivalrous, by railing against rape, but no one looks good complaining about cuckoldry. What other explanations you got?

Added 11p 1Dec: 95 comments so far, almost all of which ignore my “gentle silent” modifier, and just argue about standard rape. Seems a post mentioning rape and cuckoldry is treated by most as a red flag urging heated discussion on those topics without regard to anything else that the poster might have said.

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