Unpopular ideas about children

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).

Because my collection of unpopular ideas became so long, I’ve broken it into categories. Below, I focus specifically on ideas about children. (Here are my previous lists, on social normspolitical & economic systems, and crime & punishment.) I’ll be posting similar lists on other topics and adding to each one over time as I find new examples.

Why am I making these lists? 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 some people have missed this disclaimer in the past, I’m going to say again that I’m not endorsing these ideas, merely collecting them, and I disagree with many of them.]

  1. Anti-natalism: it’s morally wrong to have children because it condemns them, without their consent, to an existence that will include suffering (1)
  2. Pro-natalism: you have a moral obligation to have children if you are able to, and if those children’s lives are likely to be worth living (1)
  3. It’s morally preferable not to have children, because of the harmful impact of additional people on the environment (1)
  4. Parenting has little influence on children’s long-run personalities or fortunes (1)
  5. People should be able to sell parental rights to their infants (1)
  6. Infanticide is no worse than abortion (1)
  7. It’s immoral to circumcise male infants – it’s medically unnecessary, and it’s immoral to remove a piece of a person’s body without their consent (1)
  8. Children are an oppressed group; it’s unfair to deny a person rights based solely on their age (1, 2, 3)
  9. Attachment theory: It’s vital for children’s long-term emotional health to have their primary caregiver available 24/7 during their early years to reassure them emotionally (1, 2)
  10. Once it becomes possible to exercise some choice over the traits of our babies, we will have a moral obligation to do so, choosing traits like IQ and self-control that give our children the best chance at a good life. (1)
  11. Anti-child-labor laws are unfair to children and their families (1)
  12. People who want to raise children – including their own biological children – should be required to get a license from the state to show they are competent to do (1)
  13. It’s morally wrong for parents to be their children’s only source of care. Society has an obligation to provide, and require, institutional child care as a supplement to parental care. (1)
  14. Some kinds of corporal punishment for kids are good (1)
  15. Sexual contact between adults and children is not as harmful as generally believed (1)
  16. Parents should not be legally required to care for, or even feed, their children (1)

Nature shouldn’t have apologized for their editorial

I didn’t fully agree with Nature‘s editorial this week, which argued that instead of removing statues of scientists who did cruel or racist things, we should leave them up, and add plaques discussing why those scientists are problematic.

But I hate the response to the editorial even more. People called it offensive and said it shouldn’t have been printed, and Nature quickly capitulated:

“The original version of this article was offensive… we apologise for the original article and are taking steps to ensure that we do not make similar mistakes in the future.”

The editorial was “offensive”? Really? Can’t people just argue it was wrong, or misguided, or neglected considerations X, Y, and Z? Why do we have to label it “offensive” and say it never should’ve been printed in the first place?

I’m not claiming that it’s never valid to object to something for being offensive. If someone’s outright defending racism, then yeah, call that offensive and decry the publication that printed it.

But if someone simply has a different opinion from you about the correct way to fight racism, and we decry that with the same fervour that we formerly used to decry racism itself… that’s defining the boundaries of “opinions that reasonable people are allowed to voice in public” incredibly narrowly, in a way that makes me nervous.

C’mon, not all disagreements are opportunities to change your own mind

Yesterday I tweeted about some of the reasons I engage in online arguments with people, even if there’s no real hope of swaying them:

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 11.37.06 AM

The most common objection I got was this: “You didn’t mention the motivation of changing your own mind. Shouldn’t you always be approaching arguments with open-minded curiosity, motivated by a desire to learn?”

This is kind of a funny thing for me to be pushing back on, since I so often write and speak about the virtues of trying to change your own mind. But I want to push back on it anyway.

I think that “trying to change your mind” is a great goal we should be striving for, but that most debates have a pretty low probability of succeeding at that, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Here are some examples to illustrate the difference:

1) Arguments I engage with in hopes of changing my own mind

  • Arguments that sound wrong, but the person making them seems smart and intellectually honest, so maybe I’m missing something
  • Arguments that sound wrong but were shared approvingly by people whose judgment I respect
  • Novel arguments I haven’t heard before, that sound wrong on first pass but are interesting and worth considering more

2) Arguments I probably just wouldn’t bother with, if my main goal was changing my own mind

  • Arguments I’ve already heard a bunch of times
  • Arguments that seem obviously fallacious, and there’s nothing promising about the source to suggest I might be missing something
  • Arguments by someone who gives signs of being a bad thinker. For example, if they’re being rude and twisting other people’s words uncharitably, that’s not an encouraging sign that I can learn from them
  • Arguments by people who don’t share some of my core premises (like, I’m secular and they’re making a religious argument about ethics)

What I was trying to do in my tweet yesterday was talk about why I still sometimes engage with arguments in category (2). Of course I strongly endorse seeking out debates in category (1), for the purpose of changing your own mind, and I talk about that a lot. I just hadn’t seen anyone making a good case for why (2) could also be a worthwhile use of time, and I thought that was the more interesting point to highlight.

Also… I strongly suspect that when we insist, “You should always be open to changing your mind!” we just end up undermining our own case. Because when we say that, people think of arguments in category (2), and our lofty rhetoric about changing your mind just seems naive at best, disingenuous at worst. Like, you tell people “Remember, a disagreement is an opportunity to learn!” …and they think of that person in their Facebook feed yelling “Trump kicks ass and we should deport all brown people,” and they inwardly roll their eyes at you.

Instead I’d rather tell people, “You should put some effort into changing your own mind, and here are a few tips on how to find arguments that might have a chance at doing so.” Those won’t be the majority of arguments. But if you’re finding arguments in category (1) even a small fraction of the time, you’re already doing amazingly well.

Unpopular ideas about crime and punishment

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).

Because my collection of unpopular ideas became so long, I’ve broken it into categories. Below, I focus specifically on ideas about crime and punishment. (Here are my two previous lists, on social norms and political/economic systems.) I’ll be posting similar lists on other topics and adding to each one over time as I find new examples.

Why am I making these lists? 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 some people have missed this disclaimer in the past, I’m going to say again that I’m not endorsing these ideas, merely collecting them, and I disagree with many of them.]

Unpopular ideas about crime and punishment:

  1. Juries should be replaced by judges, especially in cases that are complex or subject to bias. (1)
  2. Non-retributive justice: Criminals are purely victims of genetics and circumstance. We should abandon punishment as a goal and instead focus only on preventing future harm. (1)
  3. We should provide prisoners, especially those serving a life sentence, with the means to commit suicide, and encourage them to do so. (1)
  4. We should send destructive drug addicts to towns away from society with free birth control, food, shelter and drugs. It would be less expensive to society than the crimes they commit and the cost of imprisoning them.
  5. Our current prison system mixes punishment with rehabilitation, and therefore does an ineffective job of both. We could get better results either by focusing solely on punishment, or solely on rehabilitation.
  6. Prison labor is just slavery, repackaged. (1, 2)
  7. Pre-punishment (like in Minority Report) would be effective and morally acceptable. (1, 2, 3)
  8. The death penalty is broken only in practice, not in principle. It wouldn’t be difficult to fix and should be kept in place for the worst criminals. Life imprisonment is extremely costly, dangerous to other inmates, and not much more humane than death anyway. (1)
  9. Prison abolitionism: We should get rid of prisons altogether, or reduce the size of the prison population to about five percent of its current size. (1, 2, 3)
  10. Police abolitionism: The benefits the police provide are not great enough to justify the harms and injustices they cause. (1)
  11. We should flog criminals instead of imprisoning them. Variant: we should offer convicts the choice between flogging and imprisonment. (1)
  12. Public shaming is often a more effective solution to crime than imprisonment, and should be more widely used. (1, 2)
  13. It should be legal to blackmail people over crimes they committed. This would provide an extra deterrant for criminals, and be cheap relative to policing. (1)

Unpopular ideas about politics and economics

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).

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

Why am I making these lists? 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.

Unpopular ideas about political and economic systems:

  1. Many people have a moral duty not to vote. (1)
  2. We should institute futarchy, in which market predictions determine policy. (1)
  3. Chinese governance is superior to American governance. (1)
  4. Singaporean governance is superior to American governance. (1)
  5. Political leaders should be selected at random, rather than by voting. (1)
  6. There should be no minimum voting age. (1)
  7. Votes should be sellable/tradeable with enforceable contracts. (1)
  8. Transparency in politics is actually making things worse. (1, 2)
  9. “Pork barrel politics” gets blamed for corruption and bloat, but it was actually good and we shouldn’t have banned it. The ability to add pork is what allowed for political dealmaking and compromise; without it, we’re stuck in gridlock. (1)
  10. Ethnically homogenous societies work better — are happier, more trusting, etc. (1, 2)
  11. We should institute a global democracy. (1)
  12. Anarcho-monarchism would work better than democracy. (1)
  13. On the margin, economic development is bad because it increases technological progress, which increases the risk of various global catastrophies. (1)
  14. The United States should institute open borders, allowing in billions of poor and uneducated immigrants. (1)
  15. The government should sell US citizenship. (1, 2)
  16. Individual citizens should be able to trade or transfer their citizenship to another person. (1, 2)
  17. Large-scale philanthropy undermines democracy, because it allows billionaires too much influence over policy. (1)
  18. Economic growth isn’t an effective way to improve human well-being, because people’s happiness level quickly adapts to higher standards of living. (1)
  19. We should replace democracy with epistocracy, in which voting rights are restricted to those who meet a minimum level of knowledge or competency. (1)
  20. Old people shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or their vote should count less. (1)
  21. People worry about overpopulation, but underpopulation is a bigger risk. (1)
  22. Brexit would be good for the UK and the world. (1, 2)
  23. We should aim for a steady state economy, one that’s not growing but staying the same size. Getting our economy to the right size may even involve making it smaller. (1)

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, and adding to each list over time as I find new examples. (Update: Here are my other lists, on political & economic systemscrime & punishment, and children)

[Some people have missed this disclaimer in the past, so I’m going to say again that I’m not endorsing these ideas, merely collecting them, and I disagree with many of them.]

  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)

 

How I think about free speech: Four categories

Here’s how I think about free speech. I see four levels of “wrongness” of speech, each of which merits a different reaction — none, individual social consequences, official social consequences, and legal consequences.

1. No consequences. In this category are views I disagree with, but I can see how a reasonable person could hold that view, and I can still respect those people and be friends with them. (Example: some principled conservatives.)

2. Individual social consequences. This category includes views that seem wrongheaded enough to me that I personally can’t respect them, and probably wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who holds them. (Example: “Trump is awesome!”) But these views are still within our society’s collective standards of decency, and I don’t think people should suffer any official consequences like being fired or blacklisted for them. The whole point of this category is that individuals make this call for themselves, deciding who they’re willing to be friends with, but they do not make any attempt to get society as a whole to punish the person.

3. Official social consequences. This category includes speech that falls far outside the bounds of our society’s standards of morality. (Example: “Jews are sub-human.”) This speech should still be legal, but I have no problem with people being fired or blacklisted for it.

4. Legal consequences. This small category includes speech that is dangerous enough that it should actually be illegal. (Example: incitements to violence.)

The most common disagreement that I have with people over free speech tends to involve them putting speech in category 3 that I think should be in category 2. Think of Twitter mobs calling for a CEO to be fired because he voted for Trump.

But I also sometimes see people arguing that a kind of speech should be in category 4 when I think it should be in 3 — for example, arguing that we should make hate speech illegal, which I think would be way too much of an infringement on free speech. (I also think it would yield results that even the advocates of this change would find terrible, like powerful groups using such laws to oppress minority views by classing them as “hate speech”).

And, on the other end of the spectrum, I sometimes see people arguing that category 2 shouldn’t exist — that you should never unfriend someone just because you disagree — and I think that’s wrong. It’s unreasonable to expect that a person’s views won’t affect your ability to like and respect them, and how can you be friends with someone you don’t like or respect?