Unpopular ideas about social norms

I’ve been compiling lists of “unpopular ideas,” things that seem weird or bad to most people (at least, to most educated urbanites in the United States, which is the demographic I know best).

Even though I disagree with many of these ideas, I nevertheless think it’s valuable to practice engaging with ideas that seem weird or bad, for two reasons: First, because such ideas might occasionally be true, and it’s worth sifting through some duds to find a gem.

And second, because I think our imaginations tend to be too constrained by conventional “common sense,” and that many ideas we accept as true today were counterintuitive to past generations. Considering weird ideas helps de-anchor us from the status quo, and that’s valuable independently of whether those particular ideas are true or not.

Because my collection of unpopular ideas became so long, I’ve broken it into categories. Below, I focus specifically on ideas about social norms and mores. I’ll be posting similar lists on other topics soon (UPDATE: here’s my second list, on political and economic systems) and adding to each list over time as I find new examples.

  1. Overall it would be a good thing to have a totally transparent society with no privacy.  (1)
  2. It should be considered shameful to earn more than $100,000/yr and not give everything above that to charity (1)
  3. It should not be considered noble to remain anonymous when donating to charity, because publicizing one’s donation encourages other people to donate.
  4. Even though people decry it as “superficial,” there’s nothing wrong with explicitly prioritizing physical attractiveness in choosing a partner, any more than other qualities like education, sense of humor, etc.
  5. For our own benefit, we should practice radical honesty, saying whatever’s on our mind without censoring ourselves. (1)
  6. It’s immoral to lie to other people, even “white lies” that we think are for their benefit. (1)
  7. We should be more willing to lie to others, to protect our ability to be honest with ourselves. (1, 2)
  8. There’s nothing wrong with relationships with large age gaps. The maturity of the older partner helps the younger one grow and increases the chance that the relationship ends well.
  9. People in BDSM master-slave relationships should be able to be public about their relationship (wear a slave collar at work, introduce their partner socially as their “master,” etc.). It’s not fair to ask them to hide their sexual identity any more than it’s fair to ask gay people to hide theirs.
  10. Divorce should be stigmatized more than it is now, to preserve the significance of marital commitment. If divorce is easy and stigma-free, there’s no incentive for people to think carefully before they get married or try to get through rough patches.
  11. There’s not much difference between physical assault and sexual assault, except that which we’ve socialized people into believing. Treating them less differently would lead to fairer punishment and better psychological outcomes for victims.
  12. Bathrooms and/or locker rooms should be unisex. There’s no principled reason to preserve the same-sex custom — it can’t be because of sexual attraction, because we don’t exclude gay people from same-sex bathrooms or locker rooms.
  13. Most people would be better off practicing polyamory instead of monogamy. We didn’t evolve to feel sexual love towards only one person in our entire lives, and it’s not realistic to expect one person to meet all of one’s needs. The main obstacle to polyamory is jealousy, and people underestimate how manageable that is.
  14. We should privatize marriage. Let anyone marry whomever and however many people they want — just draw up a contract to define the terms of the relationship(s) as you choose. There’s no good reason for the government to be involved in this. (1)
  15. The cultural norms and values of the Boomer generation are sociopathic. (1)
  16. Non-offending pedophiles should be more widely accepted by society. It’s unfair to ostracize someone for a desire they were born with, and integrating them into society makes them less likely to cause harm.
  17. Incest that doesn’t involve children, coercion, or procreation should be socially accepted.
  18. Society drastically overvalues prestige, to our collective detriment. (1)
  19. We should end the tradition of gift-giving, because it’s so inefficient. Gift-givers are much worse at choosing something the recipient will enjoy than the recipient would’ve been.  (1)
  20. People in senior positions should continuously have their cognition tested, to monitor possible decline of fluid intelligence, alertness and judgment.
  21. Addiction is mostly rational. (1)
  22. We should de-stigmatize suicide, because some people would in fact be better off ending their lives. (1)
  23. What we call “mental illness” is a social construct. We should treat unusual beliefs, desires, and behaviors as legitimate, as long as they don’t pose a danger to others. (1)
  24. We should show the same degree of sympathy and aid towards people who are involuntarily celibate as we do towards people who don’t get enough food to eat. (1)