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How bad are things? (slatestarcodex.com)
264 points by lkrubner on Dec 27, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments



I'm an addict in long term recovery, and I hang out with lots of addicts trying to get or stay clean. Obviously this crowd has problems!

But what's interesting is that as I've been making friends who aren't addicts, they have problems that are every bit as messed up as the recovery crowd. There are two main differences, though: "normal" people are much more committed to hiding their problems (I feel as though I only learn about them because people assume I won't judge them), and normal people don't recognize that their unhappiness is a solvable problem.

Furthermore, most of them aren't really into the solutions: a leveling of ego and pride, humility, rejection of desire and attachment, and living for something greater than themselves. Addicts, of course, have no choice -- we either develop the skills and tools needed to be happy enough to stay clean, or wallow on in the misery of drug addiction, often to an untimely death.

It's kind of sad, but I have no idea how to convince normal people that they can be happier by changing themselves instead of acquiring things or relationships or any other external thing they think will finally make them happy.

I feel as though erikpukinskis' comment about capitalism is a big part of the problem, but I'm not sure how to use that observation to help more people be happy.

Edit: C'mon HN, we're smart -- ideas on solutions to these problems are better than upvotes :-)


Answering your edit: don't people have to come to this conclusion on their own, rather than be "convinced"? Doesn't someone have to pass through some period of anhedonia, and the realization that "things" aren't going to make them happier, before they can start to see the structure that will help?

If so, and if your desire is to help normal people, I guess your choices are to a) find a strategy that sells anhedonia against the formidable marketing budget of pretty much everyone, everywhere in this culture, or b) capture them on the other side and offer them the structure they need to build a life after anhedonia.

75% of these Robert Pirsig quotes [1] seem relevant, in some way.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10799124


Which Robert Pirsig quotes did you mean again? That link seems to be for this article itself.


“The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“The real cycle you're working on is a cycle called yourself.”

“Like those in the valley behind us, most people stand in sight of the spiritual mountains all their lives and never enter them, being content to listen to others who have been there and thus avoid the hardships.”

These talk a little bit about self-improvement, or that knowledge is not understanding. Telling someone that new relationships aren't going to help, that acquiring new stuff won't help, is just giving them your personal knowledge/wisdom but you can't give them understanding.


This is certainly how most people reach happiness, a conclusion supported by more than a few thinkers (Kierkegaard comes to mind).

But is this really the only way? In AA we like to emphasize that there's no such thing as "hitting rock bottom". That is, even if you haven't lost everything, you can have the foresight to stop drinking and get your shit together, and recognize the necessity of changing yourself.

That said, most people, myself included, have to hit quite a few rock bottoms before we get the point.


> It's kind of sad, but I have no idea how to convince normal people that they can be happier by changing themselves instead of acquiring things or relationships or any other external thing they think will finally make them happy.

Welcome to the club :-)

I'm happy, with a few exceptions, since the late 90ies. Don't know what to do since talking about what sorted it for me seem to scare off people.


Go on I'll bite :) What sorted it for you?


Christianity. It got me a head start[0] and I think I was lucky to start with friends who explained that forgiveness is just the start and that I was supposed to be living a new life.

That said, like other believers here I don't usually mention it as it can effectively derail discussions.

[0] I'd tried for a 2/3 years before admitting I couldn't do this on my own, -I was so impulsive I didn't recognize I was doing something stupid until I had done it.


Faith is extremely good for this.

I didn't want to kickstart the perennial HN argument about 12 step programs, but that's how I found mine.

I would add that I'm not exactly a Christian, although I find a lot of inspiration in the gospel and the writings of Christian thinkers -- so one doesn't have to go "all the way" and believe in life after death and miracles and stuff -- it's often enough to focus on forgiveness and compassion, and that there's something bigger and more important than you and your tiny problems. I've talked to astronomers, for example, who find great comfort in considering the complete insignificance of our lives against the majesty of the cosmos.


> I would add that I'm not exactly a Christian, although I find a lot of inspiration in the gospel and the writings of Christian thinkers -- so one doesn't have to go "all the way" and believe in life after death and miracles and stuff -- it's often enough to focus on forgiveness and compassion, and that there's something bigger and more important than you and your tiny problems.

The Gospel of Thomas is a good example of this genre. The Zen-to-Magic ratio is much higher than in most Christian texts. Though, fwiw, mainstream Christians consider it heretic for some reason.


"Though, fwiw, mainstream Christians consider it heretic for some reason."

That's because it's technically a Gnostic writing, not a Christian one. The relationship between Christianity and Gnosticism is complex, but they are quite different belief systems.


> it's often enough to focus on forgiveness and compassion, and that there's something bigger and more important than you and your tiny problems

so, would Buddhism also work then?

I've done a lot of compassion meditation (which combined with insight meditation which fills out some more the forgiveness parts) in the past, and I have learned so much from that. Much bigger impact than I got from mindfulness meditation[0]. I did both during my morning routine for a while and was very beneficial. Combined with a weekly sangha (meditation-group) practice, which was absolutely instrumental too. Without that group, I wouldn't have made it my morning routine--no pressure just I noticed some people were doing that and gave it a try. Then there's the dharma-sharing part, which is nice but seems to me mostly a tool for group-cohesion (as well as an exercise in listening without judging), similar to singing songs, but more personal.

Unfortunately I let the morning meditations slip in the past year (circumstances, slipped a lot of good habits, exercise too, slowly crawling back out, shitty year for me). I usually don't do New Year's resolutions, but this is one. I do still attend the sangha, though.

BTW I'm not Buddhist. I like some parts of it, I can bear spirituality (suspension of disbelief and some of it actually makes sense as a metaphorical experience that is hard to explain words), but when it slides into religion (and Buddhism definitely has that, too) it just really creeps me out. You're in a susceptible mindstate, and there are some aspects of Buddhism I strongly disagree with on an ethical(-ish) level. So much when after a particularly religious (almost sermon-like talk by a Buddhist monk) meeting, it even bothered my during my own meditations for a few days because the bad aftertaste kept surfacing.

But that's okay, the group is quite diverse and we all bring in our own themes and stuff. They're also quite literally one of the nicest groups of people I've ever met.

[0] which is also useful, btw. mainly for bolstering focus and both dealing with and letting go of stress. especially the unnecessary stress. but I found I need to do that at least multiple times a week, more like a training, in order to take the benefits with me in the rest of the day. compassion meditation provided insights that sticks longer (but practice helps of course).


Is it easy to go back to believing once you not are non-religious? I've only seen it going one way, and I find it really hard to go back to religion even if I want to (because of the whole "it's irrational" aspect, sincerely no offense meant). How did you do it?


>sincerely no offense meant

Thanks!

Guess it depends.

Once you see it working it is hard not to.

As for the irrational part, my take is that once I believe in a almighty / close-to-almigthy God (close-to because of the free will part) everything falls in place. I don't argue about creationism or not etc, I accept science as very useful models and don't make a fuzz of it, I actually don't even think about because it is counterproductive and any decent almighty God could do it whatever way.

Anyway, why would you want to go back?


> Anyway, why would you want to go back?

Like, curiosity? People used to think that God floats in clouds above flat Earth.

Wouldn't you like to understand how exactly the belief in supernatural can make people happier and whether the (hypothetical) actual existence of supernatural plays any role?


I was happier when I was religious. That's the main reason I've considered going back to it. Couldn't do it :(


I’ll tell you how “I” did it.

I was raised as a Christian, but when I was 18 I gave it up. It was a matter of conscience. I didn’t believe. As you said, I thought it was irrational.

But as it turned out, my rationality and extraordinary intelligence just gave me the ability to screw up my life that much more. I was miserable and empty, not because of my circumstances, but because of me. I sucked.

That changed when I turned my life over to Christ at age 29. I still sucked, but it wasn’t about me. I still suck even today at age 53. But it is absolutely OK, because I’m not trusting in myself. I’m trusting in Christ.

God’s grace did it. I didn’t do it. It was “easy” because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

I hope you can get back to that place, littletimmy. I’m rooting for you. Let me know if you want to talk more.


Many thanks for your kind words. It's cool to see that even though our religions are (were) very different (mine was Islam), we nonetheless have a very similar view. :)


> turned my life over to Christ

I think a lot of people miss that this is the essential part of religion: I suck at being happy, despite all of my rationality and intelligence, so let God do the driving.

It's very comforting.

I'll also add that for me faith didn't come from a single "burning bush" moment, it came from long, painstaking, often failing, effort.


I see. I feel for you.

I think there is more to it than you and most people have seen, in particular I don't just feel better but I know that it has already transformed me to some degree. That said I'd almost say recommend to wait until one "gets" it, and then hold onto it.

That doesn't mean don't try, but don't force it. Ask whatever-it-is to help, read the parts that are accessible (I found Proverbs are partially good business advice.)

And whoever else reads this - don't let anyone scam you, - you should be looking for a personal connection to whatever-it-is that will help you, not someone to fleece you.

If this helps, keep it, if not leave it.

(I'll be offline for a few hours now.)


I'm in the same boat. The one thing that so far has been promising - after about 10 years of 'nothing' since I left my faith - has been zen buddhism.

It tickles my 'theological' side by providing an incredibly rich history of thoughts and thinkers that is almost entirely unknown to me (in contrast to Christian theology).

More importantly, at least in the form at which I'm exposed to it here, it explicitly promotes not spending too much time on the thinking part of things, has less cultural/religious baggage, and as a result is much more palatable and practical than Christianity has ever been for me.

The only thing that it doesn't offer me (yet), and it's a big one, is the sense of community and 'rhythm' that the church offered (Sunday service, youth and small-group meetings, usually at least one other type of activity a week).


Check out wkup.org and see if there's one near you. I don't know your age, it's aimed mostly at young people, but not too young either (I'm 35) and the groups are diverse and each have their own take (they're not always quite zen Buddhism in a strict sense, though).


I've been a christian for a very long time, finding myself sliding away, just don't find the solace in it anymore? Any thoughts? I still find myself attracted to the ideas - grace, forgiveness, love, a relationship with god, just so attractive - but just can't seem to make the bridge from it to the daily grind.


This thread is getting old but for now:

Did anyone teach you the more advanced parts?

I've updated my profile to link to a site that I feel includes useful material (and yes, I am part of that bunch in a way.)

I might get around to adding some kind of contact details for myself, but for now I wont.


I'm not looking to be converted, but I'm going to check your link anyway. If there's some thing that can be called "advanced Christianity", then it's my (other) religious duty to check it out :)


Thanks! I'll check it out.


Not the OP but my guess: religion


Correct. More specifically Christianity. I admit that whatever it is is likely greater than what I can understand but it is the best I have found. So far (>10 years and counting) it has served me well.


What are some examples of problems normal people have that are as bad as the ones addicts are having? I promise I am asking this question in good faith.


Here's a few off the top of my head:

Remaining in dysfunctional relationships because they can't bear to be alone.

Continuing to work a job which they're losing money on because its their identity.

Crippling debt, and its associated stress, accrued paying for things they hope will make the happy.

(In the US at least) medical bills.

All of those could easily have equal, or even more, negative effects on someone's life than an addiction, particularly an addiction they're able to support financially.


A few more:

Worshiping beauty, and always feeling ugly as a result.

Worshiping their own intellect, and always feeling like a fraud.

Being crippled with self-doubt and skepticism.

Constant anger at the world for wrongs, real or imagined.

Being underemployed and hating oneself for it.

Really, there are as many variants and flavors as there are people.


Jumping from one relationship to another with barely any time (if any at all) in between, each relationship failing the same way as the last and doing ever more damage, convinced the next one will work even though no fundamental changes were made. I've seen this a lot.


Makes me think that everybody's journey deserves respect.


Indeed.


I don't mean any offense when I say this, but I kind of resent this type of perspective.

I can't say for sure but I suspect if we knew each other, I would fall into the "non-addict friend with problems" type category.

You do correctly point out that a lot of people worry whether they will be judged for revealing a problem. This has happened to me and my family quite severely. Long-term, deeply close friends have abandoned me; extended family scatters like roaches when the lights turn on; goodly people of the working class like pastors or coworkers just brush you off with annoying platitudes.

Human beings seem pretty hard-wired to pass judgement on other people due to their associates and circumstances. We absolutely are a "blame the victim" species through and through. If we can't even stop ourselves from blaming the victim in matters of rape or child abuse, how can we expect people to see others' problems clearly?

So, yeah, for people who aspire to some of the fruits of their working class labor, and who feel great pressure from "blame the victim" thinking, they sure as shit are paranoid about not coming off as though they "have problems" -- and it's pretty disingenuous for you or me or anyone else to judge them for this and roll our eyes while we say they should be more zen and stop "wanting things" or "clinging to their pride" or whatever.

The other big thing though is that people really, truly can be victims of circumstance. People can have depression, for example, not because they are genetically predisposed to have depressive reactions to mostly-normal circumstances, but because they have normal, sane, healthy reactions to insane circumstances. Reacting to something by being depressed about it can be, and often is, totally healthy because it represents your body's correctly calibrated response to a circumstance that cannot be "lived with" and must be purged out of your life for survival.

I bring this up because I feel like a lot of people give extremely little thought to the problems other people have. We rationalize and look for one or two ways that it might "be their fault" (i.e. blame the victim) and if we can't find those, then we revert to Plan B which is to rationalize one or two ways that they could "get better but they won't" (e.g. they aren't currently seeing a counselor; they aren't currently on anti-depressants; they aren't currently in a support group; they refuse to have a less materialistic outlook on life; etc. etc.).

Our brains are wired to find or invent short-circuits out of actually empathizing with suffering people. Just like we want our shit to be flushed down the toilet bowl and to Just Stop Being Our Problem, we think along similar lines about the problems that others tell us, even close friends and loved ones.

What I can say for sure is that letting go of ego and pride has almost nothing to do with it; having humility has almost nothing to do with it; "reject desire and attachment" sounds nice on a poster, but that's just so thoroughly not human that I don't even know where to begin, let alone that it too has almost nothing to do with anyone's extrinsic circumstances.

I guess what I am saying is that a lot of people who have problems already are well aware that there is no "thing" that's going to make them happy. They aren't searching for that. And yet, being embedded in the life circumstances they are in causes real, visceral pain, and they have no choice but to try to find a way to not be in pain. There is no amount of perspective shifting that's going to just poof make a painful circumstance into a pain-free one.

And, to be quite blunt, for a lot of people, money absolutely would solve a huge number of their circumstantial problems. I don't want to make this comment any longer than it already is, so I'll just provide a link to a past comment that I made. It was on a thread discussing the semi-recent self-aggrandizing post from DHH about his magical foresight to know that wealth was never going to "truly" make him happy.

< https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10628129 >

Money is just one dimension of all this, sure. But I bring it up because one of the first things we all rush to bash is someone's "materialism" in the face of their problems. I have to believe this is some kind of Hansonian signalling dealie that's secretly about taking stuff from others, because it really is the case that money can solve a lot of problems in life. And instead of indoctrinating people with feel-good mantras about being less materialistic, we ought to be teaching them when and how to strategically employ their materialism when it is for their own benefit and when to avoid letting it become excessive. Heuristics that are too sweepingly general, like "never be materialistic" frankly do more harm than good and probably lead people to worse living circumstances that feedback into the pressure to look like you're not having a problem and just magnify the whole thing.

We can probably make similar claims about love and relationships, health and beauty, intelligence, credential, and status within organizational or social hierarchies. All of these things, like money, have a slippery slope aspect to them: you can really fuck yourself over by caring about them too much, but you can also fuck yourself over by believing some zen bullshit mantra about how you can "transcend" them and they don't matter at all. Like most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and it's exceedingly hard to get it right, and it's different for every person, and no one has any magic answer for how it's going to work out for you or me or any other given person.


This response really resonates with me.

There's an experience I had several times when I was growing up and going through school, where I would ask someone for advice and they'd give me some well-reasoned, thoughtful answer, then the advice turned out to be unhelpful. This happened often when I talked to academic advisers. I realized afterwards that my academic advisers were giving me exactly the kind of advice that would have suited them when they were my age, and since I was a different person with different goals, a different background, and different circumstances, their advice was simply ill-suited.

The thing that really struck me, however, is the realization that they truly believed in the advice they gave me, and that they had grounds to believe in it. It wasn't "bad advice" per se, but they talked to hundreds of students every year and couldn't take the time to understand what my goals were. And I realized that I was going along a nontraditional path, I had nontraditional goals, I was deliberately nonconformist, and therefore academic advisers (as extremely conformist individuals, in general) were the least reliable source of advice for me.

I've started recognizing the pattern more and more. Someone will give advice, and they'll be earnest and honest, but it just doesn't apply to everybody. I had a teacher who thought "happiness" was a fool's dream. I met a recovered addict who had a sure-fire plan, with five steps, to beat addiction and improve your life. He wanted to tell everyone that MDMA would ruin your chances for ever living a happy life. I met a divorcé with some advice which women to avoid, or how to treat them. It was advice that he needed, years ago, but I didn't. Same thing over and over again, people claiming to know what would make other people happy. (Or replace "happy" with adjective of your choice.)

And I suppose I am repeating the pattern, right here. "You have to learn to recognize what advice applies to you and what advice doesn't, because you're smart, and there are a great many mistakes you won't make, even though there are many you will."

But that's the advice that I needed, fifteen years ago, it's not the advice you need. And maybe this story won't resonate with you at all, because you thought it was obvious all along. That's the lesson.


> Like most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle, and it's exceedingly hard to get it right, and it's different for every person

Bingo. Balance is the keyword.

Nice response overall to parent comment. But I felt, they also had a valid perspective. How many people you meet, who would analyze it in as much detail like yourself?

It is true that often peoples' problems can be lessened, if not fixed, by making some corrections. I agree with you in that, its foolish/naive to be very open about our problems to everybody. But, I thought, the parent was implying a pretence of "normal". In several situations a good and trusted friend may be able to advise and can be as helpful as a shrink.

I somewhat agree with your thoughts on money and other things like intelligence, beauty, health etc. If we try to think from a perspective of someone who does not have and never going to have one or more of these positives. In such scenarios when they hear, it doesn't matter. It makes them not lose too much of heart. It gives them a new paradigm to work with, one in which they are never going to have certain things.

A disabled person has to transcend their disability, at some level. So calling it all a lie is shallow/surface thinking, when some lies might help us achieve some larger truth.

edit: typo


I really appreciate your comment -- the last thing I wanted to start was a reddit-style circlejerk. I feel like responding to a few points, though.

I think my comment might have come off as being sort of condescending to people who are unwilling to talk about their problems for fear of judgement, like if only they would just do that everything would be OK!

Of course that's not the case! When you reveal your problems to someone, they often jump to blaming you, judging you, and so on. I meant that people recognize that I've dealt with that a lot, and that I won't blame them or judge them. Sometimes I can offer them some practical advice, but often that's just condescending, so I just express sympathy.

As for circumstances, I firmly believe that it's possible, albeit difficult, to be happy under any circumstances. This doesn't mean that you're not allowed to seek better circumstances, but I've always found that I'm best at improving my external circumstances when I'm feeling OK internally.

Finally, my one liner "guide to happiness" was meant to be suggestive of broad principles, not "this is exactly what you need to do to be happy!". I should have made this clearer. Balance is an extraordinarily important part of it! People have thought and written about this basically forever -- in fact it's the original, and in my opinion, the only legitimate question in philosophy. It's also the whole point of religion. So to think that one can sum it up in a few platitudes is more than a little bit silly.


Your comment about money really alleviating some issues was exactly to the point. I recently lost both of my parents and my family has a few issues. I got a raise recently and my inheritance is worth few years wages. Money does not help with the pain of loss but these 'other issues' would be considerably more stressfull with less of it.


"reject desire and attachment" sounds nice on a poster, but that's just so thoroughly not human that I don't even know where to begin, let alone that it too has almost nothing to do with anyone's extrinsic circumstances.

Exactly. I remember reading a book by a couple painting a pretty picture about how freeing oneself from all desire (material, emotional) solves all the problems you may have. I got fallen in to this cheap advice back when I was suffering from unreturned love and tried to preach it as well, but retrospectively, it didn't actually work. It is only the passage of time and other events of life that may result in something like decrease of pain and moving on with life. But I guess this kind of advice (freeing oneself from desire, embracing religion) still has some value in the worst cases where the person is willing to believe anything just to stop the suffering. It gives an illusion of a solution and that helps a little bit.


I think this is a fundamental property of capitalism. People who are happy and taken care of don't need to spend money and are terrible for the economy. If you can create problems for someone, you can market solutions to them. Some of the best selling products in the world, like Coca-Cola, are themselves creating the the problem they purport to solve.

For a century, companies have been pushing cultural changes that make it harder for us to take car of ourselves, privatizing public spaces for socialization, promoting nuclear families over extended families and neighborhoods, narrowing beauty standards, promoting exotic vacations and recreational activities, etc. This has fueled economic growth while making us generally more vulnerable. As the article describes, even if you have enough money to take care of your basic needs, you have a long distance to go to happiness.

On the tech side this is quite common too. I would put PowerPoint in this category, too. And most AAA video games.

The sooner we can get out of this "money is a proxy for everything because markets are perfect" nonsense the better.


You're saying that a fundamental property of prosperity is a tendency for underconsumption? That capitalism therefore must mitigate it? So then, all your grievances are related to alleged cases of conspicuous consumption that are contrived by companies in response to a satiated, underconsuming populace.

I'm unsure of what "privatizing public spaces for socialization" is supposed to mean, or why it would be bad. After all, a private property owner may extend nonpossessory or usufructory rights to usage of their land, which would make it perfectly viable for social gatherings without being necessarily more exclusionary than a commons or public ownership. The promotion of the nuclear family model is an organic result of prosperity, which enables its existence to thrive. Thus, it's a social tendency first and then absorbed by industry. Same with beauty standards. I also fail to see how "promoting exotic vacations and recreational activities" is bad.

Your last sentence is confusing. Money is special because it is a good that, particularly fiat money, is almost entirely defined by exchange value over use value, and is the unit at which all other goods are priced relative to. Where are you drawing the association with "perfect markets," or whether markets would even need to be perfect?


Not the person you replied to, but here's my take on your confusions:

> I'm unsure of what "privatizing public spaces for socialization" is supposed to mean, or why it would be bad.

I think they were referring to the movement away from communal spaces and communally owned spaces, especially ones which contribute to socialization/enculturation. Things like parks, libraries, schools, which are for people and of people, but which increasingly are not by people.

> After all, a private property owner may extend nonpossessory or usufructory rights to usage of their land, which would make it perfectly viable for social gatherings without being necessarily more exclusionary than a commons or public ownership.

There's a difference between being a tenant on someone else's charity land and being a member of a community, and although I don't really have the expertise, time, or space to go into it, I imagine it involves a sense of belonging and ownership and community, that sort of thing.

> The promotion of the nuclear family model is an organic result of prosperity, which enables its existence to thrive.

This is true, and we've seen people moving back in with their parents on graduation now that the economy is weaker. This being true doesn't preclude there being a narrative that might eg take ideals like Independence and Self-Determination and turn them into a social impetus to form weaker bonds with extended family. I personally think it has a lot to do with our physical mobility increasing faster than our ability to maintain meaningful connections long-distance, but who knows.

> Same with beauty standards.

This has been problematic for generations and there's a lot of literature out there. I think that waving away the effects of image crafting on the psyche of young and impressionable folks in pursuit of profit is wrong of you, and you should consider re-evaluating this stance.

> I also fail to see how "promoting exotic vacations and recreational activities" is bad.

I mostly agree, except in the sense that people are maybe being sold a bad cure for an ailment they might not have had, spending money they don't have, perpetuating the problems that caused them to want to escape in the first place. Again, just for example.

For the last sentence, here's my interpretation: Markets are flawed because the actors in them are not rational or well-informed (which is often an axiom of whatever model one chooses to use), and because the actions available to them are dictated by those currently on top[1]. I think OP was referring to the way that boiling human interaction down to market interactions - trusting the Market to be a true and somehow just proxy for Everything - is causing problems; that is, trusting markets (alone) to meet human needs is failing.

Hope this helps.

1. For instance, violence or overt threats of violence in pursuit of gain is considered to be taboo in markets (that I know of), since those who have goods or the means to produce them generally want to keep that relative power over those who do not. We see alternative, or extra-market action in eg ecoterrorism, where someone whose needs or desires are not being met, and who have no in-market recourse, resort to destruction in order to reduce profitability of hummers or whatever.


Parks, libraries and schools are largely not communally-owned spaces, but government-owned. Crucial distinction. In fact, some of the best alternatives to the traditional classroom model (i.e. Montessori, Sudbury, democratic, etc.) tend to be privately run schools. As such, private schools are on the positive side here.

Again, this mystical "community" is mostly an illusion. It's either private ownership or government ownership via eminent domain. Commons aren't applicable in most cases.

Bonds with extended family are to be settled on an individual case-by-case basis. Many people rightfully may consider their extended families to be not worth interacting with, and in any event this is all a flimsy normative sentiment.

Beauty standards are determined first societally, then by entrepreneurs. The profit motive is intrinsic to a world of uncertainty (see Frank H. Knight's Risk, Uncertainty and Profit). It is wholly neutral. There is nothing wrong with pursuing profits, even though a lot of people have an anti-capitalist bias and are convinced it's demonic.

I mostly agree, except in the sense that people are maybe being sold a bad cure for an ailment they might not have had, spending money they don't have, perpetuating the problems that caused them to want to escape in the first place.

Clearly these are unresolved issues on part of the consumer.

Markets are flawed because the actors in them are not rational or well-informed (which is often an axiom of whatever model one chooses to use), and because the actions available to them are dictated by those currently on top.

This is the almost cliched refrain of every moral reformer. Market participants are irrational, therefore $SOCIAL_ENGINEERING_POLICY_OF_CHOICE. Of course, there is information asymmetry in anything one does (market or no market), and the classic resolutions are through screening or signaling.

(Also, the definitions of "rational" and "informed" in economics are quite different from their colloquial counterparts. Moreover, assuming universal irrationality by default leads to nihilistic conclusions. At least it should anyway, most people use it as an excuse for their pet reforms by completely ignoring the irrationality in state institutions.)

For instance, violence or overt threats of violence in pursuit of gain is considered to be taboo in markets (that I know of), since those who have goods or the means to produce them generally want to keep that relative power over those who do not.

What the fuck? Violence is taboo in markets because the bourgeoisie capitalists want to exploit the underdogs? Could it possibly be because the initiation of force against voluntary actors is considered immoral by almost everyone? Hopefully you do, as well, but I can't deduce.

EDIT: The anti-capitalist and socialist crankery seems to be inherent from examining your post history.


> Parks, libraries and schools are largely not communally-owned spaces, but government-owned. Crucial distinction.

It's only a crucial distinction if you don't consider yourself part of your own municipality. For the rest of us, (local) government is an expression of communion.

> Many people rightfully may consider their extended families to be not worth interacting with

I'm not convinced about the "rightfully" part. Your extended family exists because of choices of your direct family; to denounce the extensions is to make your direct family subject to your approval. You're free to do so, but I don't think "right" is the qualifier I would use.

> Beauty standards are determined first societally, then by entrepreneurs.

Except that entrepreneurs don't idly sit on the sidelines while "society" forms its standards. Our social self-image is dominated by only a few corporations, which have a lot to gain from controlling that image.

> The profit motive is intrinsic to a world of uncertainty [..] It is wholly neutral.

Just as the military motive is intrinsic to a world of uncertainty, I guess. Is developing and deploying nuclear weapons wholly neutral too?

> Clearly these are unresolved issues on part of the consumer.

On the contrary, when the majority of consumers is led to the wrong choice (cue philosophical derailment about moral relativism), it becomes a systemic problem. Maybe it's time to stop relying on 400-year old dogma?

> This is the almost cliched refrain of every moral reformer.

Your post also reads as the most cliched refrain of every economic anarchist. Can you even name one truly free market?


Even if you believe "local government is an expression of communion," that would not invalidate the fact that there are important distinctions, as a many political scientist and public choice theorist have outlined. You may well believe it to be a purely benevolent arrangement by and for the people, but that is very weak and ignores problems highlighted by James M. Buchanan, Gordon Tullock and many others.

I don't understand the logic of "Direct family made this decision at some point, therefore you are obligated to perpetually obligate it." The "rightfulness" comes from the fact that the extended family may in fact be harmful and detrimental to one's well-being if it is highly dysfunctional. It can happen.

Our social self-image is dominated by only a few corporations, which have a lot to gain from controlling that image.

The implications of this statement, even if true, are quite unfortunate. It would imply the public is that naive and susceptible, but that moreover they have absolutely no recourse. This is a plain falsehood, they can each reject various parts of consumer culture if they wish, just as I (and presumably you) are doing by abstaining from lots of activities. You may also organize boycotts or engage in activism.

Obviously, without knowing who these corporations are and examining how they emerged, this statement you've given me alone is of little use to deliberate, and mostly makes the public look gullible.

Just as the military motive is intrinsic to a world of uncertainty, I guess. Is developing and deploying nuclear weapons wholly neutral too?

Well, you jumped the shark on this one. Whether you define profits as the speculation in opportunities concerning undervaluation or overvaluation of production factors, or profits as the surplus value extracted from variable capital, or surplus at all, I can't tell how it is anything but neutral. A particular profit-seeker may not be, but profit in general is. Production-for-use is a classic socialist anthem, but in practice it means always operating at subsistence and having distribution be inefficient because of cutting yourself off from a price system. Only in a hypothetical final state of rest/general equilibrium that cannot exist will profits disappear and only interest be obtained.

On the contrary, when the majority of consumers is led to the wrong choice (cue philosophical derailment about moral relativism), it becomes a systemic problem. Maybe it's time to stop relying on 400-year old dogma?

Not really moral relativism, but more that you cannot do interpersonal comparisons of utility. Even if you leave that aside, it is genuinely difficult to say that a majority of consumers are making a wrong choice, if it may be that is what they intended by their own volition. I'm sure going to strip clubs in general would count by a many definition, but, ultimately you have to convincingly prove there is both a massive and predictable irrationality going on. Even when you do, you have to weigh in the costs-benefits of intervention over individual bargaining and Coasian solutions of transaction costs and property rights.

If mine is 400-year old dogma, yours must be much older.

Your post also reads as the most cliched refrain of every economic anarchist. Can you even name one truly free market?

That's not the point, nor am I an economic anarchist. You can't just handwave useful economic research in a pithy one-liner about market irrationality without proposing a consistent model that doesn't lead to outright analytical nihilism, and you absolutely cannot refrain from extending irrationality to all other institutions and examine the effects, over merely assuming the perfection of some form of government.


> Even if you believe "local government is an expression of communion," that would not invalidate the fact that there are important distinctions, as a many political scientist and public choice theorist have outlined

Can you enumerate some of them, or point me to a simple resource? I have no desire to go read full-size papers, so something light that goes beyond the trite "we oppose any form of social organization" would be nice.

> The implications of this statement, even if true, are quite unfortunate

I guess that is true. Maybe yours is the more optimistic view of mankind. Your discomfort does not invalidate my viewpoint, though.

As for rejecting various parts of consumer culture, how would I participate in web 2.0 while rejecting walled gardens?

> Whether you define profits [..] I can't tell how it is anything but neutral

There is value in a society beyond profits. Individual freedom, social coherence and emotional stability cannot be valued at all, except perhaps in lost productivity when they break down. There are also forms of productivity that are not expressed as profit even though they could: childrearing and other forms of care come to mind. In addition, "profits" rarely include common costs (like depletion of fish stocks), or they are valued well below their true cost (e.g. carbon tax).

No, I cannot see how "profits" can be seen as neutral, when the true cost/benefit ratio to society is so skewed.

> it is genuinely difficult to say that a majority of consumers are making a wrong choice, if it may be that is what they intended by their own volition

Difficult as it is, the debate around the obesity epidemic is certainly heading in that direction.


I had an earlier post listing various resources, originally from a drug-related debate: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10729233 (That you use straw men like opposition to all forms of social organization implies to me you don't have a background on these issues at all, though.)

A consistent pessimism for mankind should involve rejection of authority beyond corporate villains.

As for rejecting various parts of consumer culture, how would I participate in web 2.0 while rejecting walled gardens?

Web 2.0 is a useless term, but since we can assume it refers to social media that is intrinsically walled gardens, you simply do not participate in it. However, that you can't isn't strictly true. Metcalfe's law would make it harder since you'd need to restrict yourself to smaller social sites. Yet you're deriving utility from sites like HN, clearly, so this "Web 2.0" distinction strikes me as elusive. There's plenty of mitigations to lower your exposure to walled gardens while still nominally using them, it's not necessarily a binary proposition of accept/reject. Though, who ever said that rejecting consumer culture would be easy? Going outside any grain involves forgoing opportunities.

Your paragraph about profits is a tautology. Of course unquantifiable (psychic) profits are different and unrelated. Value and profits are not the same thing, and it's a red herring to bring up things like childrearing (which babysitters and nannies do for profit, nevertheless). How does this defy the intrinsic existence of profits and their neutrality? And, certainly, someone may indeed find value and derive profits (psychic or monetary) from conserving fish stocks or any other environment. Not only that, markets can be environmentalist. Check out these guys: http://www.perc.org/

Difficult as it is, the debate around the obesity epidemic is certainly heading in that direction.

No shit, people make decisions ex ante that prove ex post to have been incorrect (by whatever measure). I am unsure of what you intend by invoking the obesity epidemic (I''m presuming specifically for the USA?)


> A consistent pessimism for mankind should involve rejection of authority beyond corporate villains.

I don't follow. Why should I accept corporate villains?

> I am unsure of what you intend by invoking the obesity epidemic (I''m presuming specifically for the USA?)

I was referring to England actually. I don't know enough about the US situation, I'm guessing the obesity rates are similar if not worse. The concensus basically centers around "consumers are making a wrong choice because of the availability of cheap unhealthy alternatives". I used it to illustrate that even when it comes to something basic like sustenance, "the market" fails to produce the desired outcome.


> Of course unquantifiable (psychic) profits are different and unrelated. Value and profits are not the same thing

Then perhaps you should stop asserting that "There is nothing wrong with pursuing profits", as you apparently are well aware that increased profits and increased value do not necessarily coincide?


Increased value of what? There's no such thing as this monolithic unit of value that is in conflict with the monolithic unit of profit. Values are not necessarily profits, but profits are values.


Why should my statement require qualification, while your statement stands similarly unqualified?


You've obviously misunderstood something. You, in what now was obviously an attempt to troll folks, feigned confusion at some of the OP's points, and I was trying to mediate by fleshing those out along what I considered to be standard ideological lines. The only place where I interjected my own opinion was on the beauty standards bit. I'm not a socialist (I've never even read any Marx!), just trying to take a critical view of things.


I wasn't feigning anything. The GP was being unspecific.


I can see strawmen, reactiveness, ad hominem attacks in your post. Please take time to read and empathize with the people you respond to. This is not a place to win arguments with aggressive tone.


> People who are happy and taken care of don't need to spend money

Um, what? People who are happy and taken care of may well be that way precisely because they are able to spend enough money to either prevent problems from arising, or make them go away if they do arise. There is no magical way to make people happy and taken care of without doing productive work, and a free market is the best way we know of to efficiently do productive work.

> The sooner we can get out of this "money is a proxy for everything because markets are perfect" nonsense the better.

I would say that the sooner we stop trying to monkey with markets because we think we can do better when we actually can't, the better. I completely agree that not everything can be provided by free market transactions; but that doesn't change the fact that without all the stuff that can and should be provided by free market transactions, our current civilization could not exist. I don't know about you, but I don't want to live the kind of life that everybody would be living if our current civilization did not exist.


Temporary solutions have higher evolutionary fitness in a capitalist environment. They provide consistent cash flow that can be used for employing people, expanding, marketing, lobbying, etc.

Examples are everywhere: - Pharma's lack of interest in reversible male birth control [1] - The USDA's MyPlate reflecting industry interests rather than science [2], which is particularly damaging when you consider the impact of healthy eating on obesity, health care

As luminary Chris Rock mentioned, "Ain't no money in the cure, the money's in the medicine" [3]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversible_inhibition_of_sperm... [2] http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-p... [3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7P4iFg048k


I used to be a hardcore capitalist and would've launched into a rant at this kind of a post. I do disagree in a minor way though: I think Capitalism is fine and dandy, I think we've just gotten entirely too good at the emotional manipulative style of marketing products.

Awhile back I started reading a lot about what goes into the creation of a mainstream big brand product and it's fucking horrifying. Food for example should scare you to death, how thoroughly engineered it is to make you want to eat more of it and never feel full. I'm not even talking highly processed food, I'm talking ALL FUCKING FOOD does this. If it's ever been involved in a corporation at all, be it for packaging, growing, slaughtering, etc. I promise you it has been engineered to at least some degree, and probably to a large degree to be consumed as an addictive thing.

Then you go into just the regular advertising for electronics, cars, on and on and how they do just tons and tons of things in this little 30 second TV spot to make you want a thing. You can find BOOK length documents to read about how to engineer the perfect YouTube ad, we've already figured out how to entice people to things using a 10 second video that takes up 1/4 of the page.

I still believe capitalism is the best system, but we need to reign in our marketers across the board. Consumers need to be able to make rational decisions for Capitalism to truly work, and they can't do that when they're being barraged with manipulative messaging 14 hours a day.


While I don't necessarily disagree I have to point out that TFA isn't talking about the malaise of wanting more to consume. It's talking about much larger issues: people who are schizophrenic, or victims if physical abuse, or rape.

I don't see any marketers out there enticing more people into the arms of schizophrenia, food stamps, or prison sentences.


True enough, I got a little on a side tangent here. To be honest though I think this is a little more sad, only because no matter how good as a society we become we'll always have rapists and whatnot, but we've created an entire demographic group of people who can't stop consuming as a compulsion, who otherwise were it not for excessive exposure to marketing messages they don't understand, would just be (plus or minus) "normal" people.


How is unprocessed food engineered to make you want more? You mean if I buy chicken from a local grocer, it's corrupted?


Look at chickens from the 1920's and compare them to what we have now. I don't know if "corrupted" is the right word for it, but it has a shitload more salt (which your body naturally craves) not to mention it's much larger and fatter.


Where can I look at chickens from the 1920's?


It seems like you and many other people are of the world view that everyone would behave ideally if only corporate forces weren't influencing them. This may be true, there's no way to know for sure.

It's also possible that most major corporations meet the demands of the market rather than create those demands. Art imitates life. The thing about brand advertising, like for Coca-Cola, is that its done mainly for commoditized products that consumers already want. People already want a cold soda on a hot day. The question is will they reach for a coke or a pepsi? A Big Mac or a Whopper? A dell or a macbook? It's not like none of those things would exist if evil corporations didn't make us want them. The cat is out of the bag now, people already want sodas and fast food. The global advertising empire is primarily fueled by getting people to choose company's product over another, not intentionally making you want things you can't afford.

We cant blame society's ills on corporations, capitalism or any other system of behavior. All of these things are democratic, they reflect the will of the people. And human beings have been making themselves feel bad due to envy and desire for as long as there have been human beings. I would advocate for banning all advertising forever if I thought it would change things. But it won't.


I agree with you that to blame corporations about every bad thing is going too far.

But I also think that you go too far exculpating them.

To say "all of these things are democratic, they reflect the will of the people", is a very naive comment.

Tobacco is a good example of a need that was just created.

Or in the news not so long ago:

Coca-Cola 'spends millions on research to prove that fizzy drinks don't make you fat' ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandcon... )

We could find so many examples as you need.


>The question is will they reach for a coke or a pepsi?

How about plain old cold water? Is a Cola much better at quenching thirst than plain cold water?

EDIT for clarity: The point is, the first question is not "Will they reach for a coke or pepsi", but "Will they reach for a bottle of cold water or a cola", then only the question of choosing between pepsi or coke comes.

So you first need to convince people that you should drink a cola when you are thirsty. This is where the "evil" part comes from.


I don't think people were really happier back then, before the things you say are the problem. In fact I'd bet anything people were significantly less happy. You blame capitalism, but I doubt that people under communism were happier.

Frankly the world is getting better every year. Not quickly, but gradually. I welcome a world where our biggest problems come from Coca-Cola and vacations and video games.


I agree. But I think we will be happier when capitalism is partially (mostly?) displaced by voluntary participation in anarchist syndicates that control a meaningful set of resources.

I don't know what proportion is right, but I strongly suspect the near-100% private/government ownership of resources we see today is not optimal.


On this topic I recommend "The Gospel of Consumption" [1]

[1] https://orionmagazine.org/article/the-gospel-of-consumption/


> I think this is a fundamental property of capitalism. > Second most-upvoted comment

OK, I think I'm done reading HN comments on political and social issues. The amount of delusion and ignorance is just unbearable.


> I think this is a fundamental property of capitalism

What precisely is "this"?

> Some of the best selling products in the world, like Coca-Cola, are themselves creating the the problem they purport to solve.

I can't imagine what problem you're referring to. Are you saying Coca-Cola creates thirst?

> This has fueled economic growth while making us generally more vulnerable

How do you measure that? By any measure I'm aware of we are vastly better off than the people of 1915.


I imagine he's saying Coca-Cola makes you fat and diabetic, and thus unhappy, whereas it purports to make you happy. So it creates the problem it says it solves.


Yeah, I imagine something like that too. I asked to see if there was something better.

But that argument is really weak.

All products are obviously intended to improve your life in some way.

If a product causes more problems than it solves long term, it's true that people may buy more products to solve those problems.

But to assume that they would buy more of the exact product that caused the problem is really silly. Why not buy some of all the other products in the world that would make me better off, and one that addresses my particular problem?

Specifically, if Coca-Cola makes people fat and diabetic, does anyone really believe that a big enough portion of those affected would react by buying even more Coca-Cola that this is a viable business strategy?


> But to assume that they would buy more of the exact product that caused the problem is really silly. Why not buy some of all the other products in the world that would make me better off, and one that addresses my particular problem?

I don't understand why it is even remotely silly. Consider alcohol and tobacco, or any other addictive substance. A very common dynamic is that the addiction feeds itself. Sugar might be less addictive and/or less unhealthy than alcohol and tobacco, but it's still addictive and unhealthy.

While it might be possible that the more extreme statement that most cola-drinking obese and diabetic people keep drinking more and more cola is false, 'buying more of the thing that is the problem' is not at all silly. And anecdotally I find that obese people do tend to get stuck in this spiral and consume massive quantities of sugar water: that's why they got obese in the first place!


> Are you saying Coca-Cola creates thirst?

Really?


This is a great excerpt:

--------------------------

This is part of why I get enraged whenever somebody on Tumblr says “People in Group X need to realize they have it really good”, or “You’re a Group X member, so stop pretending like you have real problems.” The town where I practice psychiatry is mostly white and mostly wealthy. That doesn’t save it. And whenever some online thinkpiece writer laughs about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives, it never fails that I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide.


I want to defend the "thinkpiece writers" a little bit.

I agree that you can't judge someone because they're part of Group X. Its impossible to know what struggles a person goes through. But, at least a few of the thinkpiece writers I've seen are commenting on how Group X uses their privilege to discredit the struggles Group Y or Z has experienced because of Group X.

Laughing "about how good people in Group X have it and how hilarious it is that they sometimes complain about their lives" is taking it too far, but I've seen something very similar to the above excerpt used to discredit the very real, systemic struggle of minorities. That makes me cringe. I'm in favor of being empathic to everyone's humanity and not discrediting anyone's struggle.


Scott (the author) is using "thinkpiece writers" a bit equivocably, I think, with the latter usage being his hobby horse of attacking left wing social justice activists.

His counterpoint to you, which I would say has some traction, would likely be that those thinkpiece writers are deploying constructs like "privilege" as a way to discredit the very real struggle of people in groups that don't fall under the accepted rubric of privileged and oppressed, for the very reason that their issues' existence is either ignored or defined out of the category of "systemic oppression."

Most everyone is "in favor of being empathic to everyone's humanity and not discrediting anyone's struggle," but as humans everyone seems to have a hard time putting that principle into practice.


> His counterpoint to you, which I would say has some traction, would likely be that those thinkpiece writers are deploying constructs like "privilege" as a way to discredit the very real struggle of people in groups that don't fall under the accepted rubric of privileged and oppressed, for the very reason that their issues' existence is either ignored or defined out of the category of "systemic oppression."

This is a good point. Its tough when being candid about the struggles of one group discredits the struggle of another. Honesty is important, but not invalidating someone's hardship is also important.


First of all, obviously no one in this thread wants to discredit real people's real struggles. "I have just gotten home from treating a member of Group X who attempted suicide"---these are problems that deserve addressing, and I'm glad that the clearly very capable Scott is working hard on them.

> His counterpoint to you, which I would say has some traction, would likely be that those thinkpiece writers are deploying constructs like "privilege" as a way to discredit the very real struggle of people in groups that don't fall under the accepted rubric of privileged and oppressed, for the very reason that their issues' existence is either ignored or defined out of the category of "systemic oppression."

The problem with this counterpoint is that it's easy to misconstrue, even mischaracterize, "acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale" (from an essay I'm about to extol) as "a way to discredit the very real struggle" of privileged people. While the latter is reprehensible, the former is crucial to the healing of society, as explained in one of the best essays I've ever read: http://weeklysift.com/2012/09/10/the-distress-of-the-privile... (Maybe THE best essay I've ever read. This essay provided the single most significant clarification of perspective I've had in the past several years, though I guess I'd been on this path for a while due to the people and schools of thought I was immersed in.)

Indeed, while I'm sure there's no shortage of thoughtless "online thinkpiece writers laughing at Group X" that could demonstrate Scott's original statement, the underlying implication that that's representative of "left wing social justice activists" is inaccurate. The mainstream[1] "left wing social justice activists" rubric actually does attempt to incorporate everyone's struggles in an open-ended way: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Intersectionality The fact that mistakes are still common, that both ordinary as well as widely celebrated "left wing social justice activists" (not to mention "online thinkpiece writers") still routinely discredit real struggles and perspectives, is an acknowledged problem with active efforts to address it, e.g. http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/why-our-feminism-must-be... (You'll notice that the RationalWiki page I linked to doesn't mention so-called "neurotypical privilege", which probably best addresses the examples Scott gave. Like I said, acknowledged problem, active efforts.)

(Note [1]: sometimes people are like "you're just calling the-subset-that-we-both-disagree-with extremists and making an unfalsifiable claim that the 'mainstream' is as moderate as you", so if someone insists on getting in the weeds here, let's be concrete: let's start with the concrete, falsifiable claim that that paragraph applies to the majority of people who were doxed by GamerGate.)


Good chance that this long-winded response will end up being lost in a stale thread, but in case you happen to come back to it:

I suspect if we get down to concrete descriptions and prescriptions, we'd have a lot more agreement than disagreement. So maybe all of this is semantic, and a bit far afield of Scott's original post.

Privilege is an important concept: many people, however, elevate it to a metaphysical reality, instead of a set of cultural practices and institutions situated in a particular social context. The idea seems to be there's white and black, male and female, rich and poor, and that set of binary relations is defined by membership in a hardcoded hierarchy of oppression. Even "intersectionality," which most everyone is already familiar with, in practice seems to be mostly about "there are lots of checkboxes you can check, and you'll always have some that are checked and some that aren't!" More sophisticated takes on it acknowledge the incommensurability of experience and use that to condemn oppression olympics[0], but it falls prey to a core problem.

Privilege ends up being a very leaky abstraction. "White privilege" (privilege itself, not the term) is a modern invention: white privilege didn't exist in 1500, because white people and black people didn't exist in 1500. Race was constructed in the early modern era to provide the ideological superstructure for the pattern of colonialism and domination originating from the western coast of the Eurasian landmass. And the strange fruits of its maturation in the late 19th century remain with us to this very day, to the extent that in the vast majority of contexts, you're better off being white than black. So I'm very comfortable with using a monolithic white privilege as an explanatory concept when talking strictly about black-white race relations.

Even that, though, breaks down when you consider the multiplicity of races: you no longer can have a simple binary of the oppressed and the oppressors, because you have to account for East Asian, Native American, South Asian, etc. experiences as well. You can try to bundle all of them together and talk about "white privilege over nonwhites," but that's pretty problematic itself, because it reduces all non-white racial experience to simply being the Other. Or you can come up with a whole set of racial binaries--white and Asian, white and black, white and non-white Hispanic--which respects the unique discourse that defines each race, but runs into issues when you start talking about, for example, black-Asian relations. I don't think this at all undermines the usefulness of white privilege as a concept, but it's a very subtle concept.

The point of all of this prelude? Even in the simple case of one clearly dominant group, treating white privilege as a monolith is tricky, though I think ultimately it's doable in a way that's useful and powerful. But that brings me to my main point: male-female privilege, which nowadays is better characterized as male privileges and female privileges, though in the past it was very one-sided. The current discourse of privilege, however, is unable to account for that complicated reality, because it insists on parts of each individual's identity being classed into a binary of oppressed and oppressors. And because of that, it very much discredits people's real struggles. It categorically rejects the possibility that men suffer systemic oppression based on their maleness. Men who fall outside the male archetype, in body, personality, or how they are socially situated, are marginalized and face economic and social discrimination. And even men who manage to fall within the narrow scope of our society's hegemonic masculinity suffer a great deal due to it, resulting in harrowing statistics like men comprising 3/4 of successful suicides.

At worst, the response to this from activists is nastiness, mockery, and derision ("I drink male tears!"). Sometimes the response is saying that that sucks, but it's not systemic oppression so it's not worth worrying about, or maybe that men committing the large majority of suicides is bad but it's different in scale from the oppression every woman experiences. Best is the more empathetic and sophisticated ones who cite "toxic masculinity", which is fine as far as it goes: it acknowledges that men suffer based on their gender, and I can enthusiastically be allies with people who recognize that. But it strikes me as trying to fit the square peg of oppressive male gender roles into the round hole of privilege. For point of comparison, consider how ridiculous something like "toxic whiteness" or "toxic affluenza" sounds. But otherwise there's no way for privilege discourse to acknowledge that there's anything at all that sucks about being expected to perform masculinity.

So, that ended up being quite the essay. But thanks if you read it!

[0] Though, isn't "acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale" really just oppression olympics under a different name? Or does this come from the point of view that oppression olympics is a valid intellectual exercise, but isn't useful tactically while collaborating with diverse sets of people?


> Good chance that this long-winded response will end up being lost in a stale thread

The same is true of my post, I'm glad you responded :)

And yes, doubtless we agree on a lot more than we disagree on, which I try to keep in mind even when I'm tempted to get heated in an Internet argument.

But even so I'm gonna skip over most of the first half of your essay since you indeed appear to be saying things I agree with (the summary seems to be "privilege is complicated and people on all 'sides' routinely get it wrong"?), and chime in on what I appear to disagree with you on.

> resulting in harrowing statistics like men comprising 3/4 of successful suicides.

This seems to always be the centerpiece of arguments about "female privilege", because other examples tend to be much more nebulous whereas mortality statistics are concrete and factual. But there's nuance here, as you seem aware but don't at all address: though the numbers are less certain, experts agree that women attempt more suicides, they're just less "successful". From my understanding, this is fully explainable (but debated, don't get me wrong!) as just the differing lethality in the societally gendered methods of suicide, but for the sake of argument let's say there's a real, societal, systemic problem causing male suicide rates to be much higher. I'm still going to argue that male privilege is like white privilege (which you're "comfortable with" as part of a binary, right) and female privilege isn't, in spite of the higher suicide rate.

First reason? You realize that suicide among white people is more than twice as high as among black people?

"Toxic whiteness" is indeed rarely discussed, but "affluenza" is only ridiculous when used as a legal defense, it'd be like arguing that a black person is not guilty of murder because they were under the influence of racism; but there's nothing ridiculous about the idea that being rich is actually a curse, you ever seen Gossip Girl? :P (I think we can agree Gossip Girl didn't exactly pioneer that story element.) Other axes of privilege have similar ideas, e.g. "heteronormativity". There's nothing special about masculinity in this regard. The kyriarchy hurts everyone.

So if heteronormativity hurts straight people too, and the patriarchy hurts men too, why is being straight and/or male a privilege? For the same reason that it's not "oppression olympics" to say that even though white people have a higher suicide rate and are underrepresented in hip-hop (just like men have a higher suicide rate and are underrepresented in nursing and stuff), being white is a privilege in black-white relations.

Final note---did I mention that "acknowledging the distress while continuing to point out the difference in scale" is a quote from one of the best essays I've ever read? Have you read it yet? I would love to hear your thoughts: http://weeklysift.com/2012/09/10/the-distress-of-the-privile...


I'm one of those people who say that almost all people in America have it really good, and everyone should stop complaining. I'm trying to understand why I'm wrong about the following:

- Most people in America are struggling

- Most people outside America are struggling much, much more, to a degree not fathomable by Americans.

- Therefore, people in America should acknowledge they have it really good and stop complaining.


I haven't seen your logic nailed specifically as a logical fallacy [1][2], but there's something similar to a logical fallacy involved in the type of argument you're making. Namely, that having it relatively good globally should prevent someone from "complaining" (or seeking to improve their situation) locally.

[1] http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/AppealToWorseProb... [2] http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=641605


Appreciate your citing this fallacy. We certainly can complain about problems that exist, regardless of their severity, perhaps because they affect us or people we care about.

But I think there is a real problem when worrying about one problem comes at the expense of caring about another more severe problem.

Contrived thought experiment: You have the magical power of either curing your own toothache, or curing the world of AIDS. You choose to cure your toothache because it affects you. I would argue you should have considered the alternative.

The problem is not that you can't care about problems that are less severe than others, but given finite availability of "care" in your own mind and in the world, it is better to direct our "care" to where it can have the biggest impact.


> Contrived thought experiment: You have the magical power of either curing your own toothache, or curing the world of AIDS. You choose to cure your toothache because it affects you. I would argue you should have considered the alternative.

You then die when a tooth infection kills you.

Would it have not been more practical to safeguard such a vital national resource as the world's first wizard? Had you lived longer, what other ails of the world beyond just AIDS could you have cured as your powers recharged?

> The problem is not that you can't care about problems that are less severe than others, but given finite availability of "care" in your own mind and in the world, it is better to direct our "care" to where it can have the biggest impact.

Care is finite, but this is not a zero sum game. Caring properly for oneself is an investment - increasing your ability to care for others (by having a longer, healthier life), and gives you direct experience in what care may or may not be effective using yourself as a guinea pig.


I see where you're going, but "magical powers" take this so far into the realm of hypothetical that I don't think we can use it as a basis for argument.

But let me allow it, and move it to the real of practicality. Based on the skills and resources I now have, the contribution I can now make with my skills and resources (the "magical powers" at my disposal) would only fractionally help cure AIDS. At best, I might be able to supply a certain number of people with life-extending HIV meds by contributing all my assets and future income.

And why AIDS versus a hundred other maladies where my entire wealth and income improves and extends lives? Or does balancing the ability to build capital effectively come into play? Would we be better off with the issues the Gates Foundation is tackling if Bill Gates had decided to spend all his time from 1975 forward working with an NGO trying to eradicate malaria and polio? Or getting in a position where he focused on first world problems so that he could address some global issues?

I appreciate your concern--but "care" isn't necessarily a point in time measurement or a zero sum game--it's possible to care about multiple things at once, and it's possible to care proportionately more as means allow. (And in many cases, it might be more efficient to do so.)


I think if you are able to generate a lot of capital you should focus on doing that, as Gates did, and then donate it all to where you believe it will do the most before or when you die. That's at least what I'm trying to do.


You have much better information and much better leverage to attack problems in your own life than those in, say, Sub-Saharan Africa. Plus, there's all the ways that you're a more effective altruist if you aren't distracted by a toothache, or aren't malnourished because you donated your entire food budget.


"Most people outside America are struggling much, much more, to a degree not fathomable by Americans."

You cannot possibly know the level of anyone's suffering except yourself. How do you know how much people are struggling in or out of America? How do you know people outside America suffer more? How do you compare suffering? You don't. You can't. Even if you did, it wouldn't matter. You're comparing problems as if they were numbers. They're not. They're not comparable. What hurts one person a lot may not hurt another very much and vice-versa. Postulating a thing you cannot possibly know is where you're wrong. Not to mention belittling the problems of millions of Americans by subjecting them to your random judgement.


Cutting someone's head off is not necessarily worse for their friends and family than insulting them?


I think you replied to the wrong comment.


No, but I probably misread yours if you didn't understand my question. I thought you said different kinds of suffering are incomparable, and so I asked about not being able to compare two specific kinds of suffering, murder and insults. (Or rather, acts that can induce suffering and the suffering that results.)


No, I said you can't compare people's suffering because you can't measure it, regardless of what's causing that suffering.


All I'm doing is trying to examine your claim at the extremes. At the other end, are we able to tell the difference between zero suffering and some suffering?


yes you can, a beaten wife is suffering more than a person who gets insulted. Both are suffering, but the wife is in the worst situation.


People in America should stop complaining ... and then what?

You acknowledge that Americans have actual, real problems. What is your plan for after Americans stop complaining about their problems? What does that achieve? What happens next? Why is that a desirable future state that you want to encourage?


You use the word "therefore" as if you had presented a syllogism, but for an actual solid argument you need to explain how the conclusion follows from the premises. Presumably you are making use of a principle that implies that the existence of people suffering more than you means that your suffering is lessened. That can be disputed, but you haven't even argued for it yet.


The reasoning you present here is exactly equivalent to:

- You have a broken arm

- Somewhere else in the world, someone has stage IV pancreatic cancer

- Therefore your broken arm should be of no concern even to you

The flaw should be intuitively obvious, especially to anyone who's ever had a broken arm. But hey, you actually concede you're a robot in your HN profile, your hyperalloy combat chassis is no doubt proof against such mishaps, and why should anyone expect you to understand or care what humans feel?


Comparatively good does not mean actually good.


I think some of this can be summed up in the phrase paycheck to paycheck. People in that situation have to keep running or they fall down. The other is while the US is wealthier than a lot of other places the interpersonal support networks are generally threadbare.


To me, this psychiatrist sounds really depressed and like he may be feeling burnt out or isolated at his job. A theme in the two typical cases he cites is that he isn't actually dealing directly with a patient's problems; in both cases, he's a helpless witness to a serious injustice exacerbating those problems, and perhaps making his own efforts to assist the patient seem particularly futile. He seems to be focused on a globalized sense of precarious life, where almost everyone is nearly overwhelmed with problems, but doesn't go past caveat with respect to addressing any evidence against this (i.e. world not collapsing, psychological resiliency of most people). Struggling with these problems is probably affecting his ability to help others. He should find a good therapist and start working through some CBT exercises if he finds himself thinking like this on a routine basis.

Just my two cents based on long-term exposure to psychiatry and depression. I know these things might be really obvious to most people, but I figured they should be pointed out for the benefit of anyone to whom they aren't.


The name for this in the helping professions is "compassion fatigue", basically the only way out is to stop trying to help so many people for so many hours per week.


My father in law was a psychiatrist. The "types" described in the article are all too real.

He got attached to some of his patients, tried to help them outside his practice. A handful of these people became part of his (and now mine) family's social circle. A woman on SDI became a nanny, a former factory worker is now our handy-man, another guy he put up in an apartment he was rehabbing and still lives there. At some point, some dude lived in my in-laws basement (my wife just shrugged that off, it apparently happened every few years).

I cringe when I look back on how I thought about psychiatry earlier. I thought it was rich people just going to complain about how sad they felt instead of just sucking it up.

Life is a struggle, for everybody. We have no idea how bad it is indeed. And now, psychiatry to me seems like a terribly lonely profession.


Viktor Frankl wrote about understanding human suffering as the one constant in all our lives and the one thing that binds us all together:

“To draw an analogy: a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of a gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the "size" of human suffering is absolutely relative.”

It's a good exercise to enumerate and guess the dramatic maladies of most people around you, but even that belies the larger truth of all of our shared suffering. It's the human condition.


On the "bad old days:"

I think it is important to ask ourselves which of the problems the author is talking about are uniquely "new." For example, PTSD has always been a thing, but our awareness of it has changed. In the past, people with PTSD weren't necessarily thought of as sick even if they were clearly unable to function.

A while ago, there would be no ailing grandma "type" as described in the article because whatever diseases they were seeing the doctor for would kill them too quickly. What I'm getting at is that the issues he discusses were just as relevant and prevalent in olden times, but in olden times you also had to worry about being hung for witchcraft or starving to death because food stamps weren't invented yet.

We have to remember that "most people today have it pretty good" is a comparative statement, and there were times when everyone was a creationist.


I think you're missing the context in which "people have it pretty good" is said. It's not a statement made by itself out of nowhere, but as part of a moral judgment, to claim people today have right to complain about whatever suffering they are feeling. The author's counterpoint is that it still is pretty terrible even if yesterday was worse.


This is well-written, and seems to touch on some vital part of our current cultural dilemma: when we finally manage to make freedom and relative prosperity available to almost everybody, how do we then handle that freedom and prosperity? How do we manage our time, when so much of it is our own, as compared to most people who came before us? What choices do we make, every day of our lives?

I'm no psychiatrist, but I see bad choices and unhappiness every day. I barely escaped that fate, myself, and it's an ongoing struggle, of course.

I always thought the admonition should have been rephrased: "With great freedom comes great responsibility." But that seems laughable in a world where so many people seem like confused children locked in a vicious cycle of desire and cheap gratification.


John Watson; 3 November 1850 – 6 May 1907, a Scottish author and theologian: "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


I can notice at times how people refuse pessimism entirely, like it would be regarded as a bad thing, like it's a crack that triggers other bad things in your life. It's like the X stages of grief, but people are still in denial from the fact that things are not good.

Psychiatry is certainly a world I would like to hear more from, I love articles like that. Psychology and how minds work is really one science humans are not good enough at. I see a psychiatrist regularly, and I really wish this science could one day make bigger leaps.


Excellent post, thank you.


Wow, that's powerful. What I was left thinking the most: so how do I go about coming out of the "bubble"? How do I come to see what "normal people" are?


> 3. Or maybe many of the people I know are in fact this unhappy, but they never tell anyone except their psychiatrist all of the pieces necessary to put their life story together.

4. Or maybe many of the people I know are in fact unhappy, but they never explicitly tell anyone and I'm not noticing the other obvious signs because admitting the existence of such would reveal my unhappiness and bring me some questions I wouldn't want to answer.


Welp, now I feel sad. But I think Scott makes a really good point in this post.


But... from the same site, we have an article entitled "HOLOCAUST GOOD FOR YOU, RESEARCH FINDS, BUT FREQUENT TAUNTING CAUSES CANCER IN RATS", which includes this quote, that attempts to explain why holocaust survivors have on average longer lives:

"One possible explanation for these findings might be the “Posttraumatic Growth” phenomenon, according to which the traumatic, life-threatening experiences Holocaust survivors had to face, which engendered high levels of psychological distress, could have also served as potential stimuli for developing personal and inter-personal skills, gaining new insights and a deeper meaning to life."

So taking the 20% that receive food stamps, say, and dumping them wholesale into "really miserable people" category seems rather misguided.


I think an important difference between holocaust survivors and the people under discussion in this article is that the holocaust ended. One day the allied army showed up and the camps were shut down and the survivors were freed. Their lives immediately and dramatically improved. For most of the people mentions in this blog post there will be no such single & dramatic event.


While I don't think the comparison is perfect, Daniel Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" illustrates several examples of cognitive biases where the expected suffering based on "area under the curve" (e.g., duration of pain in an non-anesthetized colonoscopy, or pain in a cold water torture test) is greater than the actual reported pain, mostly because we tend to report based on the later feelings (liberation, easing of pain) rather than peak pain or the integral of total pain.

Perhaps another way of putting this is that confirmation of hope is a pretty powerful antidote to prior pain.


> holocaust survivors have on average longer lives

Sounds to me like they might have the causation reversed. Maybe only healthier/tougher than average people survived in the first place.




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