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?

Brief thoughts on the “Google memo”

(I wrote this in reference to this memo and the ensuing uproar)

First off, his argument had some flaws. For example, even if he was correct about personality differences between men and women being a factor in the gender imbalance in tech, he never made a case for why we shouldn’t think other factors are even bigger (like a discriminatory workplace). And I think he overstates the case for observed personality differences being biological in origin rather than a mix of biological and cultural.

However, his overall claim that there exist personality differences between genders that differentially affect men’s and women’s interest in and aptitude for tech jobs, is what people are mostly getting mad at. And that’s a claim that seems plausibly true. Not obviously true, but also not a claim you would be justified in emphatically dismissing as false, as many people have, including Google, who called them “incorrect assumptions.”

I mean, the existence of personality differences between genders is very well established (and if you want to disagree, I’d love to make a wager with you about whether a randomly chosen handful of academic psychologists would agree with that claim). The more open question is whether we should expect those differences to make women relatively less interested in and/or suited for tech jobs than men. There I think the author of the memo tells a compelling story about why they would, but it’s not the only story you could tell.

I’d actually be less disappointed if the critics’ response had simply been “Look, you can’t talk about gender differences at work.” As a general rule, I hate to ban topics, but I can see how this one could have harmful effects. Human psychology appears to be such that if you acknowledge that a mean skill level is even slightly higher in group A than group B, we waaaay over-update, and act as if all individual A’s are higher-skill than all B’s. So perhaps talking about the possible existence of group differences is just too damaging to be worth it.

So as far as I can see, there are only two intellectually honest ways to respond to the memo:

1. Acknowledge gender differences may play some role, but point out other flaws in his argument (my preference)

2. Say “This topic is harmful to people and we shouldn’t discuss it” (a little draconian maybe, but at least intellectually honest)

Unfortunately most people have taken option 3, “Pretend there is no evidence of gender differences relevant to tech and only a sexist could believe otherwise.”

P.S. There’s a widespread statistical misunderstanding of the memo that’s been bugging me, which I haven’t yet seen anyone point out (though someone may well have):

Some critics object “You’re saying that women at Google aren’t qualified because of personality differences.”

But that’s not implied by his hypothesis. His hypothesis implies that personality differences mean a smaller percentage of women will be interested in and/or qualified for a Google job than men, but that doesn’t mean any of the women at Google fall below the “qualified” threshold. [Edited because my original statistical claim wasn’t quite right.]

Inefficiencies in the “social value” market

I’ve been pondering how to produce a lot of social value for comparatively little cost, and thinking about it in terms of finding inefficiencies in the “social value” market.

People are already pouring a ton of resources into creating social value, mostly out of self-interest — to generate profit for themselves — and occasionally out of altruism. As a general rule, if you want to create a large amount of value, you need to have an unusual amount of luck or skill to hit upon a great innovation, or you need to just throw a ton of money at the problem. (For example, a straightforward way to create more socially useful innovation would just be to invest a ton of money into R&D.)

But there are exceptions to that rule, and ways to tweak the system so that it allows people to produce more value at roughly the same level of input. Below are seven examples of the kind of inefficiency exploit I’m talking about (note that I’m not strongly vouching for the efficacy of every one of these interventions, just using them as examples of a category):

1. Add liquidity where needed. Many poor people could boost their lifetime earnings significantly if they only had a little bit of startup capital, so microloans or small cash grants can have a high ROI. Many poor people languish in jail for months simply because they don’t have money to pay bail, so bail loans can do a large amount of good — and have a high repayment rate, since a large majority of people show up for trial.

2. Solve coordination problems. In many cases people are happy to fund a socially valuable project, but only if they know that enough other people will also fund it for it to get off the ground. Kickstarter allows those transactions to happen. Donor chains multiply the impact of a single non-directed kidney donation many times over, by coordinating with other people who would also be willing to make non-directed kidney donations conditional on a friend or relative of theirs receiving a donation.

3. Pool risks. Insurance can insulate people from catastrophic downside risks — for example, crop-yield insurance to protect farmers in the event of natural disasters. FDA hedges can enable companies to invest R&D in potentially valuable drugs, insulating them from the risk of drugs that don’t pan out.

4. Provide information that enables people to allocate their resources better. People often make bad choices simply because they lack information about the quality of the different options. Glassdoor lets people share information about companies to help others decide where to work. Givewell shares analyses of charity effectiveness so people can allocate their donations to charities that produce more value for the world.

5. Restructure a choice set so our biases work for us, instead of against us. Status quo bias means people often stick with the default option even if they’d be happier with the alternative. So “nudges” like making organ donation opt-out, instead of opt-in, can significantly increase the rate of organ donation. Another example is prize-linked savings accounts, which offer people the thrill of gambling in exchange for putting money away (unlike a traditional lottery, in which participants simply lose their money).

6. Remove rent-seeking. When a group enriches itself not by creating new value, but by taking value away from others, we call that “rent-seeking.” For example, in many cases, occupational licensing keeps prices for a service high, enriching existing members of a profession at the expense of consumers and would-be entrants to that profession. So one way to get “free” value is to get rid of unnecessary occupational licensing. Another example: Scientific publishers charge high subscription prices for access to research and don’t add much value in exchange. Sci-Hub removed their ability to extract rents by making that research publicly available.

7. Reduce transaction costs. Wave makes it cheaper for immigrants to send remittances to their home countries. Atlas makes it cheaper for people around the world to start businesses. DoNotPay is a bot that makes it cheaper to appeal parking tickets.


Should we build lots more housing in San Francisco? Three reasons people disagree

Some people, such as YIMBYs, advocate building lots more housing in San Francisco. Their basic argument is:

Housing in SF is the priciest in the country, with the average one bedroom apartment renting for over $3,000 per month (compared to the nationwide average of $1,200.)

The main reason rents are so high is because the supply of housing has been artificially restricted — new developments are constantly getting blocked by land use regulations and neighborhood associations. Meanwhile, demand to live in SF continues to rise. And since supply is not keeping pace, rents go up, as a growing number of would-be tenants outbid each other for the limited housing available.

Therefore, it’s important that we find a way to increase the rate at which we’re building new housing in SF, or it will be a city in which only the rich can afford to live.

I’ve been trying to understand why others are critical of this argument. I think there are three main areas of disagreement between what I’ll call the advocates and the critics, and I’ll briefly explain each in turn. (Note that I’m trying to present the strongest version of each argument, which may be different from the most common version.)

Disagreement #1: Would adding new housing have a noticeable effect on prices?

Critics are pessimistic about our ability to rein in housing prices in SF by increasing supply. Some simply reject or ignore the economic argument, and deny that there’s any reason to think supply would affect prices.

But the more thoughtful critics concede the advocates’ basic economic argument — that, all else equal, increasing housing supply should slow the growth of prices. Nevertheless, they’re pessimistic because they hold some combination of the following views:

Effect of supply on price is small. Critics argue that supply only has a small effect on prices, and that effect is swamped in the long run by the much larger effect of demand on prices. So even if SF adds a lot of additional housing, prices will still rise almost as quickly as they would have anyway, as long as demand to live here continues to soar. This view is mainly based on examples of other desirable cities, like New York or Singapore, which have built new housing at a faster rate than SF but nevertheless saw steep increases in price.[i]

Don’t trust studies. Advocates often cite quantitative analyses that try to estimate the effect of supply on prices. (For example, this one estimates that adding 5,000 new units each year would be enough to stabilize real prices.) But critics are more skeptical of such analyses, pointing out that they inevitably make major simplifying assumptions, and that it’s all too easy to set up an analysis to get the conclusion you want.

Effects are regional. Critics point out that the relationship between supply and prices is much weaker at the local level than the regional level. So it’s unclear whether we can reduce prices within SF itself by building more housing in SF. (I think many advocates don’t dispute this, actually — they just reply that reducing regional prices would be a great outcome.)

Induced demand. Critics worry that building new housing could actually backfire by creating new demand. If we build nice new buildings in SF, that will make the city overall a more attractive place to live, causing more outsiders to want to live here, and putting upward pressure on prices.[ii] (Interestingly, advocates seem to be split on whether the “induced demand” scenario is incoherent or merely unlikely.[iii])

Disagreement #2: Does new housing help poor tenants?

Many critics argue that any new housing built in SF would be high-end, and therefore only benefit the upper middle class (e.g., programmers at Google and Facebook).

Advocates reply, “No, actually, high-end housing would also benefit poorer tenants.” They make two arguments:

Shifting demand. If wealthy tenants have an easier time finding high-end housing, they’ll be less likely to compete for mid-range housing. That will reduce demand for mid-range housing, thereby reducing its price… And so on, with the effects of increased supply at the top rippling down the spectrum of housing quality.

Filtering. Affordable homes today were once newly-built luxury homes, which then depreciated as they aged. So building expensive new housing now is how we end up with affordable housing in the future. And evidence suggests that the faster we build new housing, the faster existing housing depreciates.

Critics are not very enthused with the filtering argument, because it won’t happen in time to help today’s generation of poor renters. I’m not sure what they think of the “shifting demand” argument, though — it seems like that should affect lower-end housing prices much more quickly than depreciation would.

But critics also worry about new housing actively hurting poor tenants, not merely failing to help them. Their concern here is displacement: poor tenants being forced to leave their current apartments. This could happen directly, via eviction, if an old building is sold to a developer and the current tenants have to leave. Or it could happen indirectly, via gentrification — an influx of wealthy people moving into new housing increases the cost of living in the neighborhood as a whole, making it unaffordable for poor tenants.

Advocates respond by pointing to studies suggesting that adding new housing in a given neighborhood is good for poor tenants in that neighborhood, and actually reduces the number of people who get displaced.[iv] (Presumably because new housing reduces low-end housing prices enough to compensate for any cost-of-living increases and evictions.)

Critics don’t find those studies compelling. Partly that’s because the causal effects are so hard to disentangle, and the quality of the evidence is far from overwhelming.

But they also feel that even if new housing reduces low-end housing prices, that doesn’t easily make up for the harms done to the unlucky tenants who get evicted, and to the communities broken up by those evictions. (Some critics also argue that there’s no justification for building new housing in existing neighborhoods, where poor tenants will be displaced, when we could instead be building on greenfields outside of the city.)

So, to sum up: this branch of the disagreement is partly empirical, over how new housing affects low-end housing prices and the risk of displacement for poor tenants. And it’s partly about values — if we can make a neighborhood more affordable for poor tenants in the long run, but at the cost of evicting some of the pre-existing poor tenants, is that fair?

Disagreement #3: Are NIMBY objections legitimate?

The archetypal opponent of new housing is the NIMBY: a current homeowner, who benefits from development restrictions because they keep his property values high and the character of his neighborhood unchanged.

NIMBYs are being selfish, advocates argue. How can society ask poorer, younger renters to pay more for their apartments, just to protect the property values and aesthetic preferences of (statistically much richer) homeowners?

Critics disagree with the advocates here for several reasons:

Many homeowners are highly leveraged. Critics argue that the way NIMBYs are portrayed, as millionaires complaining about obstructions to their view, understates the potential harm to homeowners. For lots of homeowners, their houses are their main investment, and a highly leveraged one. If we could significantly reduce housing prices, that might be better for everyone overall, but it would deal a big blow to the main investment of a bunch of middle class people.

Neighborhood character is a public good. Critics acknowledge that NIMBYs benefit disproportionately from preserving “neighborhood character.” But they think that, nevertheless, neighborhood character might also be a public good worth preserving for others. Compare San Jose and San Francisco — don’t the ethnic enclaves of the latter make it a more beautiful city to visit?

Incumbents deserve extra consideration. Advocates tend to view the desires of current and would-be residents symmetrically, and say incumbents have no more “right” to live in SF than outsiders. But critics see an asymmetry — they assign value to community, and people’s attachment to place, in a way that advocates don’t. So they think it’s worse to displace an incumbent than to prevent a migrant from moving in (hence their greater concern with displacement, above), and they’re more willing to grant incumbents some right to steward their own communities.

(Thanks to Steve Randy Waldman, Noah Smith, Brian Hanlon, Kim-Mai Cutler, Jan Sramek, and others for helping me get a handle on this issue! Any mistakes are mine alone.)

[i] Advocates and critics often interpret the same case studies differently. For example, in Tokyo it’s much easier to build new housing than it is in San Francisco, and Tokyo’s housing prices have risen much more slowly than San Francisco’s. Seems like a point in favor of the advocates’ case, right? However, the critics counter that Tokyo’s population growth has been declining, so they chalk up the city’s (relative) affordability to low demand rather than high supply.

[ii] There’s another version of this same argument in which all the wealthy people from outside SF moving into new housing here generate more demand for services, causing more lower-income workers to move into the city to provide those services, putting upward pressure on prices of lower-income housing.

[iii] Here’s an argument for why it’s unlikely, paraphrased from Noah Smith and Jeff Kaufman: “Imagine destroying a bunch of expensive apartment buildings in SF. Do you think demand for the remaining housing would fall, because the neighborhood would now be less attractive and current residents would move away? If that seems unlikely to you, then you should also think it unlikely that creating new luxury housing would cause demand to rise.” However, critics don’t buy this thought experiment. They object that there’s an asymmetry it doesn’t account for — that current residents of a city are willing to pay more to stay than outsiders are willing to pay to move there.

[iv] For example, CA’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found “displacement was more than twice as likely in low–income census tracts with little market–rate housing construction (bottom fifth of all tracts) than in low–income census tracts with high construction levels (top fifth of all tracts).” Also see this article by Richard Florida which summarizes some of the studies on new housing and displacement.

Does irrationality fuel innovation?

I’ve been having a fascinating debate on Twitter with my friend Michael Nielsen, a quantum physicist who’s currently doing research at Y-combinator. It all started when I argued that, on the margin, people having more accurate beliefs would be useful, and Michael objected:

I think you’re over-rating accuracy / truth as a primary goal… I think there’s a tension between behaviours which maximize accuracy & which maximize creativity. Can’t always have both. A lot of important truths come from v. irrational ppl.

We continued the debate in this thread, where Michael basically argues that there isn’t enough experimentation with “crazy” ideas in science and tech, and says,

Insofar as long-held suspension of skepticism helps overcome this, I’m in favour of it. Indeed, that long-held suspension of skepticism seems to be one of the main mechanisms we currently have for this.

Here’s my reaction, written as a direct response to Michael.

I totally agree that we need more experimentation with “crazy ideas”! I’m just skeptical that rationality is, on the margin, in tension with that goal. For two main reasons:

1. In general, I think overconfidence stifles experimentation.

Most people look at a “crazy idea” — like seasteading — and say: “That’s obviously dumb and not worth trying, lol, you morons.”

In my experience, rationalists* are far more likely to look at that crazy idea and say: “Well, my inside view says that’s dumb. But my outside view says that brilliant ideas often look dumb at first, so the fact that it seems dumb isn’t great evidence about whether it will pan out. And when I think about the EV here [expected value] it seems clearly worth the cost of someone trying it, even if the probability of success is low.”

I think the first group — the vast majority of society — is being very overconfident. Remember, “overconfidence” doesn’t just mean being too confident that something’s going to succeed, it also means being too confident that something’s going to fail!

And I think it’s their overconfidence (plus a lack of thinking in terms of EV or marginal value) that punishes experimentation with low-probability but high-EV ideas. People mock the ideas, won’t fund them, etc.

2. I’m not sure (long-term) overconfidence is the best way to motivate innovators.

You might object that, okay, yes, maybe we want funders to think like rationalists, but we still need the innovators themselves to be overconfident so that they’re motivated to pursue their low-probability but high-EV ideas.

Possibly! I wouldn’t be shocked if this turned out to be true. But long-term overconfidence does come with costs, and my (weak) suspicion is that there are less costly ways to motivate oneself to pursue crazy ideas.

For example, you can get better at tying your motivation to EV, not to probability. I know a bunch of rationalists who are worried about some global catastrophic risk (e.g., a pandemic) and who are working on strategies for guarding against that risk — even though they think that their chance of success is low! They just think it’s high EV and therefore totally worth trying.

I also like the strategy of temporarily suspending your disbelief and throwing yourself headlong into something for a while, allowing your emotional state to be as if you were 100% confident. My friend Spencer Greenberg, a mathematician running a startup incubator, is very pro-calibration and rationality in general, but finds this temporary “overconfidence” very useful.

…I use quotes around overconfidence there because I don’t know if that tactic really counts as epistemic overconfidence — it reminds me more of the state of suspended disbelief we slip into during movies, where we allow our emotions to respond as if the movie were real. But that doesn’t really mean we “believe” the movie is real in the same way that we believe we’re sitting in a chair watching a movie.

Anyway, whether you want to refer to that as temporary irrationality, or not, doesn’t matter too much to me. The crucial point is that Spencer pops out of it occasionally to determine if it’s worth continuing down his current path.

But, sure, I’ll acknowledge that I don’t actually know whether these two strategies are feasible for most innovators. Maybe they only work well for a small subset of people, and for most innovators, the actual choice they face is between overconfidence or inaction. If that’s the world we live in, then I’d agree with the claim you seemed to be making on Twitter, that irrationality (at least on the part of the innovators themselves) is essential to innovation.

One last point: Even if it turned out to be true that irrationality is necessary for innovators, that’s only a weak defense of your original claim, which was that I’m significantly overrating the value of rationality in general. Remember, “coming up with brilliant new ideas” is just one domain in which we could evaluate the potential value-add of increased rationality. There are lots of other domains to consider, such as designing policy, allocating philanthropic funds, military strategy, etc. We could certainly talk about those separately; for now, I’m just noting that you made this original claim about the dubious value of rationality in general, but then your argument focused on this one particular domain, innovation.

*Yeah, yeah, the label “rationalist” isn’t a great one, but no one’s yet found a better alternative! “People who substantially agree about certain principles of epistemology including…” is more accurate, but not exactly sticky.

Contra Tyler, on “Is rationality a religion?”

Tyler Cowen called the rationality community a “religion” on Ezra Klein’s podcast the other day. Relevant excerpt, on Tyler’s blog:

Ezra Klein

Yeah, I mean Less Wrong, Slate Star Codex. Julia Galef, Robin Hanson. Sometimes Bryan Caplan is grouped in here. The community of people who are frontloading ideas like signaling, cognitive biases, etc.

Tyler Cowen

Well, I enjoy all those sources, and I read them. That’s obviously a kind of endorsement. But I would approve of them much more if they called themselves the irrationality community. Because it is just another kind of religion. A different set of ethoses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but the notion that this is, like, the true, objective vantage point I find highly objectionable. And that pops up in some of those people more than others. But I think it needs to be realized it’s an extremely culturally specific way of viewing the world, and that’s one of the main things travel can teach you.

My quick reaction:

Basically all humans are overconfident and have blind spots. And that includes self-described rationalists.

But I see rationalists actively trying to compensate for those biases at least sometimes, and I see people in general do so almost never. For example, it’s pretty common for rationalists to solicit criticism of their own ideas, or to acknowledge uncertainty in their claims.

Similarly, it’s weird for Tyler to accuse rationalists of assuming their ethos is correct. Everyone assumes their own ethos is correct! And I think rationalists are far more likely than most people to be transparent about the premises of their ethos, instead of just treating those premises as objectively true, as most people do.

For example, you could accuse rationalists of being overconfident that utilitarianism is the best moral system. Fine. But you think most people aren’t confident in their own moral views?

At least rationalists acknowledge that their moral judgments are dependent on certain premises, and that if someone doesn’t agree with those premises then it’s reasonable to reach different conclusions. There’s an ability to step outside of their own ethos and discuss its pros and cons relative to alternatives, rather than treating it as self-evidently true.

(It’s also common for rationalists to wrestle with flaws in their favorite normative systems, like utilitarianism, which I don’t see most people doing with their moral views.)

So: while I certainly agree rationalists have room for improvement, I think it’s unfair to accuse them of overconfidence, given that that’s a universal human bias and rationalists are putting in a rare amount of effort trying to compensate for it.