Isn’t there a simpler framing that cuts through both Caplan and Perry:

Feminism is another kind of intra-elite conflict. Elite women resent the burdens of motherhood and the right tail representation of men. And that drives the whole thing

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Your hypothesis - "I agree that men are over-represented in the high tail of status, but this seems to me less due to women being associated with children, and more to men just having higher variance, which seems a consistent pattern" - sounds reasonable to me.

However, the motherhood hypothesis might hold some water, perhaps via a different mediator: women are mothers, mothers are nurturing, women are thus expected to be nurturing, but in high status professions "nurturing" signals low status - thus the tightrope professional women must walk.

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I think the statement: "Women are less likely to be found in positions of power. [and so] the interests of women, particularly mothers, are less likely to be given voice in the corridors of power." isn't necessarily true.

The statement is restricting the domain of "positions of power" to (for example) top politicians or top CEOs.

But that's not the only domain where power is exercised. What about families? Take consumer spending. Women -- especially mothers -- drive a lot of spending in a household. Often they influence even male shopping.

Does that not count as power?

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Consumer spending is only the tip of the iceberg. Women have more power than men in nearly all aspects of family life: Mate selection, whether to have children, how many children to have, how the children are raised, social interactions with other families/couples, which set of grandparents see the grandchildren more often.

From a biological viewpoint, most forms of human status (including career success) have utility only insofar as they secure access to reproductive success. By this measure the role that women play in family life could be considered the true center of power.

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Perhaps because there are so many consumers being a consumer is common and thus lower status, compared to the smaller number of people making the decisions about what products are available to be consumed.

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Actually, I think the motherhood issue is driving much of what's going on. Most women middle aged or younger were brought up being told that they could have the same kind of career success that men enjoyed and they built their lives and ambitions around such goals. However, they were also promised that they didn't have to give up having a family but many couples find that given their relative preferences the rational thing to do is to have the woman cut back on her career to focus on family and household duties.

Objectively, that doesn't involve any unfairness. Child raising is time consuming and someone has to sacrifice professional accomplishment to raise the kids. However, it's going to feel really unfair when you've been told your whole life you don't need to choose. Often people search for something to blame when they feel ill done by life in this way.


Note that you can have both. As a man who is the househusband while we prioritize my wife's career I can tell you there are men who are willing to take this role. But many women don't necessarily like being the distant always working less available parent and may find the idea of a stay at home husband less appealing.

I like the deal my wife and I have but I know that while quite a few of my married male friends are happy supporting a stay at home wife few of my married female friends seem to find that appealing the way my wife does.

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Jun 3, 2023·edited Jun 3, 2023

"... people in power are also much more likely to be ... sociopathic"

"... If status is a shared judgment on individual virtue, and if men actually do have higher variance in virtuous features, then top men really do deserve their overall top status."

See a contradiction here? Sociopaths are the least deserving people, and cause tremendous harm to everyone but themselves, and yet they do rise to the top.

I think, rather than trying to increase the valuation of female-associated traits, it would be better to try to promote a culture that names and shames sociopaths - that values honesty, kindness, and humility, and sharply punishes "leaders" who lack those traits.

There is another major quality that affects how deserving a leader is: how well do they represent the interests of their constituents? Women are half of the constituents and do have different political interests than men. So, a male politician, even one with very high competence at navigating law and politics, may in fact be rather poor at representing the interests of the average female constituent. In fact, we'd expect that the farther away from the middle of the bell curve a politician is, the less well their interests will be aligned with their typical constituents.

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> See a contradiction here? Sociopaths are the least deserving people, and cause tremendous harm to everyone but themselves, and yet they do rise to the top.

Sociopaths don't necessarily cause tremendous harm on net. You can imagine a billionaire CEO with a reputation for having no empathy, for being ruthless in business, for being egotistical, etc. and yet they almost single handedly made electric cars a reality, forcing other existing car companies to also invest in electric cars, and thus making a major dent in the world's reliance of fossil fuels, and making a significant contribution to fighting global warming.

They may be despicable as a person and yet still do significant good to the world.

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One could argue that an ideal society is structured to provide incentives for exactly that; rewarding good outcomes to make rational amoral actors advance the general welfare.

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“I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or it they try, they will shortly be out of office."


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It would be nice if we lived in an ideal society where sociopaths are always incentivized to act for the greater good as a means of securing their own welfare. Unfortunately, we don't. Sociopaths have many avenues available to selfishly benefit while hurting the public. Committing fraud and lying about it, lobbying to change laws to protect their business model at the expense of the consumer.

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Note that a sociopath/psychopath need not be immoral at all. It's simply that they lack the same degree of emotional restraints and feelings of guilt that might cause others of us to avoid doing bad things (disinhibition of egotistical traits etc). But you can still perfectly well have psyco/sociopaths who consciously decide to dedicate themselves to making the world a better place and may even behave quite altruistically.

True explicit dedication like that is going to be more rare, but I think someone who does that is far from despicable but actually far more praiseworthy than the rest of us. What about most psychopaths who tend to be less regulated by moral emotions than most of us but not beyond what we regularly encounter? I dunno, I think you can make a strong argument that they aren't despicable either but, rather, suffering from a kind of moral handicap and judge them accordingly (if judging someone like this even makes sense in first place).

Also you could make a strong argument that most of our moral emotions are actually not about making the world better but about building better alliances to beat others and that maybe those emotions can cause more harm than good (do you want a general who hesitates to make the best call because of their guilt?).

In short I think it's far from justified to call psycho/sociopaths despicable.

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Jun 4, 2023·edited Jun 4, 2023

Well, if a sociopath is deliberately honest and compassionate, then he is a good person. But those are not the kinds of sociopaths that our current systems select for as CEOs and politicians. Sociopaths that rise to become CEOs and politicians tend to do so specifically *because* of their talents for lying, taking credit for the work of others, and ruthlessly hurting people in their way, and because of their craving for power.

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Yes, but we usually take people's circumstances into account when we judge them. Being born a psychopath is something that's beyond the individuals control and we should only judge them to have bad character or be an awful person if we'd have behaved better had we been born with that condition.

Generally if A did something bad that we know that B would have done it too if they'd had the same disadvantages/challenges A had we don't judge B to be a better person just a luckier one. We still punish A because it's necessary to deter that behavior but we don't (or shouldn't) judge A to be a worse person than B.

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To what extent does the sociopath, who has clawed his way to the top of an organization through fair means or foul, deserve credit for all the good things the people in the organization do?

What if you could choose between putting a sociopath in power, or granting the same amount of power to an honest, compassionate person of similar competence?

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I'm generally not a fan of debates involving the concept of "deserving". I think when pushed to the extreme, it's not a coherent concept. E.g. I think whether people end up good or bad is due to a lot of factors outside of their control (such as the genetic disposition for how their brains form and the environment they were raised in), so it's weird to say that good people "deserve" good thing and bad people "deserve" bad things.

That said, I'll try to engage with your questions.

> To what extent does the sociopath, who has clawed his way to the top of an organization through fair means or foul, deserve credit for all the good things the people in the organization do?

In the hypothetical that I'm presenting, nearly 100%. It's implausible that anyone else would have achieved the same outcomes. There are other billionaires in the world, but none of them (whether they are sociopaths or not) decided to invest into making electric cars be cool and desirable. The employees of the sociopath's electric car company wouldn't have formed an electric car company without the sociopath deciding to fund it.

> What if you could choose between putting a sociopath in power, or granting the same amount of power to an honest, compassionate person of similar competence?

This question seems like a non-sequitur. I can wish that all people (not just people in power) be more honest and compassionate while simultaneously accepting the fact that there are sociopaths who have made the world a better place.

Getting back on track with what I think the central point of the discussion is:

There's two orthogonal claims that are being conflated here. 1) Sociopaths are bad people, becoming powerful is a good thing, and good things should only happen to good people, not to bad people. 2) If a sociopath were in power, that would be, on net, bad for society.

(1) is a moral judgement, and one I'm not super interested in debating it.

The core point I'm trying to make is that (2) is not necessarily true.

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Jun 4, 2023·edited Jun 4, 2023

In baseball statistics there is something called the value-over-replacement-player (vorp). The idea is you compare a player's value to the team to the value of a "replacement" player in the same position.

What if you took a sociopath in power, and compared his value to society to the value of an honest and compassionate person in the same position of power?

Of course the honest and compassionate person would be much *more* helpful to society, when placed in the same position of power. Therefore, if you want what is best for society, you should advocate for replacing the sociopaths. You should advocate for legal, cultural, and social structures that select for non-sociopaths in positions of power.

To put it another way, it is necessary to separate the value produced *merely as a result of the position*, from the value produced *as a result of the specific traits of the person assigned to that position*. If the combination (person + position) creates value, that does not mean the person is responsible for all the value. Most of it may be due to the position, and a different person in the same position would have created much *more* value.

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Excuse me, there is no "of course" about it. That is just projecting vague rules of thumb for getting by in simplistic face-to-face primate society out onto complex social systems where they don't apply.

There is abundant circumstantial evidence, at least, that sociopathic traits can be highly beneficial in power-holders. For example, an informal objective of medical and paramedical training often appears to be to cultivate a kind of deliberate sociopathy as regards certain boundary taboos, for obvious reasons. Muir's four-way typology of police officers doesn't exactly elevate sociopaths, but it also clearly situates excessive moralism in cops as a major problem, and praises "the tragic perspective" and the "integrated morality of coercion" of "the professional." The subtitle of his book is literally "Streetcorner Politicians".

There is a whole subgenre of retired mid-tier military officers who had personal crises of conscience, and left the services, over being responsible for nuclear weapons. Once they do this, for obvious reasons, there is tremendous enthusiasm for them to write memoirs and white papers on behalf of the anti-nuclear movement. I have read such papers with interest and my primary takeaway is basically always that the person is incompetent at a socio-intellectual level to make life-or-death decisions and it is obviously good that they ended up leaving the nuclear weapons job to cooler-headed people.

So, no, the proposition that good little moralists with their zeal to do the right thing will inevitably provide better results than cynical people is definitely not obvious, and you should be kind of chastened to have been caught thinking that it is obvious.

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Jun 4, 2023·edited Jun 4, 2023

Well, the "positions of power" we were discussing up till here were CEOs and politicians, not cops, doctors, paramedics, or military officers, so you are somewhat changing the subject. It is obvious CEOs and politicians are in a position that allows them to selfishly benefit by causing great harm to society, and therefore we should avoid putting people in those positions with the inclination to do that.

In regard to cops, perhaps we would have fewer police murders of unarmed mentally ill and black people if fewer cops were sociopaths high on their own power.

In regard to military nuclear officers, if Vasily Arkhipov had been as much of a sociopath as the other two officers on his nuclear submarine during the Cuban missile crisis, you and I and everyone we know might now be dead. As a matter of MAD you want the enemy to believe your nuclear officers will pull the trigger, but all our lives have been saved several times now by officers who refused.

In regard to doctors and paramedics, perhaps those are acceptable professions for sociopaths. I don't see too much opportunity for a doctor or paramedic to selfishly benefit by harming others. Because they don't really have that much independent agency they could exploit - their job is to follow established procedures for standard of care. Of course, there is still some potential for harm, such as by excess billing for unnecessary tests and procedures. I would like to see a study correlating level of sociopathy in doctors to clinical outcomes in their patients, as well as amount billed.

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> What if you took a sociopath in power, and compared his value to society to the value of an honest and compassionate person in the same position of power?

Again in my hypothetical, the compassionate/honest person would score lower in VORP, because they wouldn't have founded an electric car company that made electric cars cool, and thus would have not made a serious dent in global warming.

I think you're not seriously engaging with my hypothetical? You keep assuming that there's someone who's compassionate/honest who would do better for society, and the hypothetical I'm presenting is that there isn't. It's like trying to present someone with the Trolley problem, and they keep responding with "I'd just save all 6 people."

> Most of it may be due to the position, and a different person in the same position would have created much *more* value.

Sure, but you're just repeating your non-sequitur question again. You haven't addressed my core point, which is that it's not always the case that having a sociopath in power is bad for society.

Similarly, it's not always the case that having a neurotypical person in power is good for society.

Once you've accepted my core point, we can move onto the realization that therefore {selecting whether someone is allowed to be in power based on whether they are sociopathic or not} is less effective than {selecting based on what outcomes they would produce if they were in power}: Simply select the people who would produce the best outcomes, regardless of whether they are a sociopath or not.

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Jun 4, 2023·edited Jun 4, 2023

You accuse me of not engaging with your hypothetical, but it is you who are not engaging with mine. Your hypothetical is not, in fact, a hypothetical, because you're clearly talking about Elon Musk. My hypothetical is if there was a compassionate, honest person in the same position of stewardship over Tesla. The honest person would produce similar outcomes with less fraud (e.g. they wouldn't mislead consumers about the capabilities of autopilot).

You cannot estimate much good Elon has done without referring to how much good an equivalent but honest person in his position would have done. "Without the work done by person X, the project would have failed, therefore person X is 100% responsible for everything good resulting from the project" is very faulty reasoning; there are many people, and many sets of people, without whose work the project would have failed. And yet that does not mean they are all 100% responsible, because the percentages add up to far more than 100% and the people are replaceable. To determine the value of a person towards a project, we must consider how hard they are to replace and how good a job the hypothetical replacement would have done.

If you're *still* calling this a non-sequitur after I've explained several times how the ideas connect together, I think you just don't want to hear what I'm saying.

> Simply select the people who would produce the best outcomes, regardless of whether they are a sociopath or not.

All other things equal, the sociopath is going to produce worse outcomes than an honest, compassionate person in the same position. Sociopaths are a minority - that means, for every sociopath with vision and competence there should be several non-sociopaths with equal vision and competence. So there is plenty of choice; it's not like we must choose a sociopath because they are the only competent ones available. As business leaders or politicians, the competent non-sociopaths would all produce better outcomes for society, because they just wouldn't lie and hurt people whenever it gets them an advantage. And yet, society tends to select for the sociopath. It even often selects for incompetent sociopaths over competent honest people. That's a problem we should be solving.

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Sometimes you prefer the sociopath because you need someone to do the utilitarian or game-theoretic rational thing instead of the compassionate thing. For example, consider nuclear deterrence: you want the person in charge to be the kind of person who would launch a nuclear counterattack instead of compassionately sparing the other country's population. Another thing compassionate people have trouble doing is firing people, but we want managers to act in the corporation's interest when making the decision to fire individuals or announce mass layoffs, rather than act compassionately towards the individuals that could lose their job.

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Actually, you want the person in charge of nukes to be the kind of person who the *other side believes* would launch a nuclear counterattack. You don't want them to actually launch that counterattack, since doing so doesn't actually benefit anyone. In fact, all our lives have been saved a few times by nuclear officers who didn't pull the trigger when there were signs pointing that way.

You do want managers who act in the corporation's interest, including firing people when necessary, but sociopaths tend to act in their *own* interest. Sociopaths make bad workers and bosses. They tend to get ahead by kissing-up to their superiors, rather than on the merit of their work. They lie about their work and take undeserved credit. They crave power and control, which makes life hell for their subordinates, causing turnover and decreased morale.

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That sounds plausible, too; there is one person I've known that I think may have been a sociopath, and he was a jackass that ended up in a lot of trouble after high school.

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My grandmother (born in the '20s) graduated high school at 16, had perfect pitch and could play hundreds of songs from memory on the piano, and, overall, was simply brilliant and very talented at whatever she did. She never had a career (although she did run an antique store in retirement). However, she did raise six children. One son had a very successful military career and made lots of money in land development. Another son became a famous rock n' roll musician. Another son became a doctor. Another son ran a construction company. Nowadays, I am afraid that someone of her caliber maybe would have one or two kids (or possibly none at all). If we want to encourage brilliant women to have more children, maybe we should tie the status of successful sons to their mothers? This might help solve the most-very-high-status-folks-are-men problem.

On the other hand, parents naturally already feel pride for their children's accomplishments. Instead of the problem being status, maybe we should point out to brilliant women (the seed corn of society) that having high-status descendants feels great and will make you happier in the long-run.

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I’m not sure there exists a “status gap.” Who has higher status, the median man or the median woman?

I think there is merely a natural tendency to focus only on the right tail, which, as you point out, men dominate for biological reasons. The rest of the curve is ignored.

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Be honest and call it "Motherism" then. Even Jordan Peterson said there is a "maternity-pay-gap" (just not really a "gender-pay-gap"). - Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher were in the central rooms of power, both for record-long times. Angela: 0 kids. Iron lady: 2.

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I think that this definition of feminism—primarily concerned with equality of status as the sole goal—feels too narrow.

There are tractable women’s problems (around women’s sexual safety/rape, subsidizing motherhood, etc.) that hinge on having a seat at the table. The status problem is a precursor, but not the only goal.

Given that variability will lead to less high-status women, alternatives might still be helpful (convince high-status men of feminism, etc.).

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"...men are over-represented in the high tail of status, but this seems to me less due to women being associated with children, and more to men just having higher variance, which seems a consistent pattern."

Can't this be more easily explained by just looking at the path to get into a C-suite executive career? (Work like a dog in your twenties and thirties). But women who have kids will spend at least few years in this period effectively away from work, putting them behind their male counterparts in the promotion track.

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> So are there other status dimensions to which we could give more weight,

> where women have higher levels or variance?

There may be another dimension available that doesn't distort existing judgment processes if we can find a way to give mothers much increased status for the achievements of their sons (and, presumably, the corresponding blame for their underachievement). This way the high variance associated with male achievement would translate to high variance for mother status, occasionally making a mother a kind of celebrity for having some amazing son. Lots of potential problems with this, but I'd fathom the reason we don't see this kind of imputed status already is because a) it takes too long to find out how a kid turns out, b) it's sort of un-American, and c) women would go nuclear the first time a mother lost status being blamed for her kid's mistakes.

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It’s interesting to consider whether men’s high variance is rated at all to the quality of their upbringing. And if so, why is the effect less strong for women.

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My sense would be that men vary more widely in their innate potential due to the genetic lottery, but that upbringing greatly affects the development/suppression of that potential. For example, lets imagine a man with the aptitude to have designed and built the world's first quantum computer currently steering a horse drawn carriage through Amish country. There is so much he might have been that his upbringing never cultivated, but his hand-built carriage has the smoothest ride the Amish have ever seen. He's excelling in his own way within the social fabric of his community, but if only he had been given the chance to really spread his wings, the world would have been changed. I see the relationship between male variance and upbringing to be sort of like this. But I'm no expert.

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Higher male variance is seen in purely physical traits as well, such as height and colorblindness.

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There already is a sense of status if your kids are thriving (especially in school). It’s the objective visible reassurance that you’re “doing it the right way.” (Or w/e).

I think attacking the problem at the level of “are there any structural factors that are influencing women to have fewer/delay having kids, more than they would prefer?” So something like actively incentivizing the decision to fill a traditional role by reducing “trade-off” costs of not doing this (tax breaks, community resources). This way instead of focusing most on getting less-willing women to reconsider you can maximize attention on the ones that do want this (and if it reduces the load it will passively “show” to others that it’s a less dreary and difficult life than they had assumed).

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This is outlandishly speculative. It's like reading people talk about astrology.

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> So are there other status dimensions to which we could give more weight, where women have higher levels or variance?

Valuing the raising of children would shift status toward women. I believe you've pointed to a Satmar Hasidic great-grandmother with an enormous number of descendants as an example of a subculture assigning high status to having a large family rather than careerism.

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Promiscuity/ chastity.

Women can be much higher variance than men, and there seems to be some natural inclination to use it for status already.

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One point of view that in my view is more correct than the view that men are generally treated more fairly than women by society, would be that "Men ar generally treated more like men by society, than women are."

Unless one thinks that men and women are biologically and psychologically congruent sizes, my view should make more sense.

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That's almost true by definition. The only way it wouldn't be would be if men & women were treated exactly the same, which of course isn't going to happen because they aren't exactly the same.

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Jun 14, 2023·edited Jun 14, 2023

Curious how we’d outline the motivation of one of the main concerns of “feminists” according to each of these definitions: the “right to choose”. How about for each of the other main concerns? From these can we better infer the relative weight each def holds in practice for our feminists?

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