On Bryan Caplan and his new book

Yesterday I attended a lecture by George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, who’s currently visiting UT Austin, about his new book entitled Don’t Be a Feminist. (See also here for previous back-and-forth between me and Bryan about his book.) A few remarks:

(1) Maybe surprisingly, there were no protesters storming the lectern, no security detail, not even a single rotten vegetable thrown. About 30 people showed up, majority men but women too. They listened politely and asked polite questions afterward. One feminist civilly challenged Bryan during the Q&A about his gender pay gap statistics.

(2) How is it that I got denounced by half the planet for saying once, in a blog comment, that I agreed with 97% of feminism but had concerns with one particular way it was operationalized, whereas Bryan seems to be … not denounced in the slightest for publishing a book and going on a lecture tour about how he rejects feminism in its entirety as angry and self-pitying in addition to factually false? Who can explain this to me?

(3) For purposes of his argument, Bryan defines feminism as “the view that women are generally treated less fairly than men,” rather than (say) “the view that men and women ought to be treated equally,” or “the radical belief that women are people,” or other formulations that Bryan considers too obvious to debate. He then rebuts feminism as he’s defined it, by taking the audience on a horror tour of all the ways society treats men less fairly than women (expectations of doing dirty and dangerous work, divorce law, military drafts as in Ukraine right now, …), as well as potentially benign explanations for apparent unfairness toward women, to argue that it’s at least debatable which sex gets the rawer deal on average.

During the Q&A, I raised what I thought was the central objection to Bryan’s relatively narrow definition of feminism. Namely that, by the standards of 150 years ago, Bryan is obviously a feminist, and so am I, and so is everyone in the room. (Whereupon a right-wing business school professor interjected: “please don’t make assumptions about me!”)

I explained that this is why I call myself a feminist, despite agreeing with many of Bryan’s substantive points: because I want no one to imagine for a nanosecond that, if I had the power, I’d take gender relations back to how they were generations ago.

Bryan replied that >60% of Americans call themselves non-feminists in surveys. So, he asked me rhetorically, do all those Americans secretly yearn to take us back to the 19th century? Such a position, he said, seemed so absurdly uncharitable as not to be worth responding to.

Reflecting about it on my walk home, I realized: actually, give or take the exact percentages, this is precisely the progressive thesis. I.e., that just like at least a solid minority of Germans turned out to be totally fine with Nazism, however much they might’ve denied it beforehand, so too at least a solid minority of Americans would be fine with—if not ecstatic about—The Handmaid’s Tale made real. Indeed, they’d add, it’s only vociferous progressive activism that stands between us and that dystopia.

And if anyone were tempted to doubt this, progressives might point to the election of Donald Trump, the failed insurrection to maintain his power, and the repeal of Roe as proof enough to last for a quadrillion years.

Bryan would probably reply: why even waste time engaging with such a hysterical position? To me, though, the hysterical position sadly has more than a grain of truth to it. I wish we lived in a world where there was no point in calling oneself a pro-democracy anti-racist feminist and a hundred other banal and obvious things. I just don’t think that we do.

64 Responses to “On Bryan Caplan and his new book”

  1. bf skinner Says:

    “How is it that I got denounced by half the planet for saying once, in a blog comment, that I agreed with 97% of feminism but had concerns with one particular way it was operationalized, whereas Bryan seems to be … not denounced in the slightest for publishing a book and going on a lecture tour about how he rejects feminism in its entirety as angry and self-pitying in addition to factually false? Who can explain this to me?”

    Because, unfortunately, the universe is a giant pachinko machine (random behavior with the illusion of free will). There is the idea in Ancient Greece of “kairos” — the perfect timing for an opportunity. As is then, so is now. Whether or not someone catches flak for statements is not based on an objective measurement by the mob but by a random cascading set of events, similar to the butterfly which flaps its wings in Santiago and causes a Hurricane in North Carolina.

  2. Dave Says:

    “How is it that I got denounced by half the planet for saying once, in a blog comment, that I agreed with 97% of feminism but had concerns with one particular way it was operationalized, whereas Bryan seems to be … not denounced in the slightest for publishing a book and going on a lecture tour about how he rejects feminism in its entirety as angry and self-pitying in addition to factually false? Who can explain this to me?”

    I wouldn’t think of it that you got attacked by feminists. You got attacked by bullies; bullies who called themselves feminists.

    One key point about bullies is that they attack (perceived) weakness. You looked vulnerable, in part because you were being vulnerable and honest in your post, and to a bully that invites attack.

    Bryan is not projecting weakness. He’s not being conciliatory. He’s signaled loud and clear that he’s ready to fight and looking forward to it. I expect someone to try, but he’s just not a very inviting target because the standard twitter mob scorn and shouting won’t work on him. If someone calls him a misogynist and a loser he’s just not going to be hurt by it, so people don’t.

  3. Doug K Says:

    to the point 2)
    Bryan Caplan is a wellknown contrarian and rightwinger, everyone already expects him to be anti feminism. Dog bites man isn’t a good story, Man bites dog is news and sells newspapers/gets clicks though. Bryan is just doing what is in his nature and expected of him, which is not an interesting story. You on the other hand made a slightly unexpected statement.. and of course as bf skinner says, there is that element of randomness.

    I used to call myself a feminist, my parents were and raised me as such. After spending time on Twitter and seeing the responses to the women scientists, authors etc on there: I’m not sure as a man that I ever understood the female experience of sexism. See also link from my name, a survey from Runners World on running while female. These days I call myself a feminist, inasmuch as any man could be.

  4. Matthijs Says:

    “How is it that I got denounced by half the planet […], whereas Bryan seems to be … not denounced in the slightest […] ?”

    Scott Alexander’s «The Toxoplasma of Rage» seems relevant here. Specifically the section on dubious rape stories.


  5. Andrew Says:

    Hi Scott, you of course must know the etymology of the word “hysterical”? Your use in the final paragraph is perhaps not what you meant.

  6. Scott Says:

    Andrew #5: I meant it in the usual sense of “extreme and emotionally unhinged.” And I wasn’t describing my own view, but Bryan’s (at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what he’d say from talking to him). Fwiw, I try never to argue against people on the basis of Fun Facts about the etymology of the words they’re using, since even if true, such facts seem like obvious distractions.

  7. Bernard A Says:

    Just because a person declares that x is y and then claims to disprove y, they haven’t disproved x anywhere but in their own private universe.

  8. Nick Drozd Says:

    > expectations of doing dirty and dangerous work, divorce law, military drafts as in Ukraine right now, …

    War is obviously a problem without any easy solutions (although we may observe in passing that those responsible for it are almost exclusively men), but the other two problems do have easy solutions:

    1. Don’t expect men to do dirty and dangerous work. While we’re at it, don’t expect women to do dirty and dangerous work either.

    2. Don’t get married, or else sign a generous prenup if you do.

    Is that all?

  9. Shmi Says:

    I wonder if the reason you get so much flak is that you are part of an outgroup but Bryan Caplan isn’t, by the other Scott A criteria: https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/09/30/i-can-tolerate-anything-except-the-outgroup/

    After all you are a non-radical progressive, and he is an economic libertarian.

  10. Jon Awbrey Says:

    “not really sexist, just following the prevailing social order”

  11. JimV Says:

    Life is not fair, part the infinity. (Said not in snark but in sorrow.)

    Random evolution fixed on the mammalian strategy of females having primary responsibility for raising the young, and males being the physical competitors and explorers. Now technology makes strict compliance with those roles unnecessary and hence unfair, but they are still culturally ingrained in many.

    While agreeing with previous commenters on various reasons for the unequal harassment treatment referenced in the post, I also think Caplan might welcome more vociferous harassment as a way to accrue more publicity and status, and might wish the situations were reversed.

  12. Jay L Gischer Says:

    belle hooks defines feminism as the fight against sexism. Does Bryan argue that sexism never existed? I don’t think he does.

    Thing is, all those unequal burdens on men he points out? That’s sexism. So he is totally a feminist, except for defining himself not to be one.

    Here’s a really fun fact. You know who pointed out the sexism dealt to men (in the form of the draft and military service) during the 80’s? That’s right, it was Andrea Dworkin. Which brings us full circle back to you, Scott.

    As for the question of why he doesn’t catch crap for his views the way you do? I think it’s because he doesn’t give a crap. It bothers you, and you react, so they keep doing it, because its fun. For them.

  13. SR Says:

    I’ve got to say, the third sentence of Caplan’s that you quote at that link– “These days, the world’s best detectives would struggle to find outright racists and sexists.” I had no idea I was such a skilled detective! It’s incredibly easy to find such people.

    One way is to go to any right-leaning publication online, click on a negative news story pertaining to some person who happens to be a minority or a woman, and scroll down to the comments section. I guarantee somewhere between 10 and 20% of the commenters will satisfy his criteria.

    Another way– note that Gallup polling from last year indicated that only 94% of people approved of interracial marriage. Call random phone numbers as they did to conduct the poll, and at least 1 in 20 people is likely to be a racist.

    Possibly, being a professor in one of the most progressive areas of the country (northern VA) skews Caplan’s views.

  14. Qwerty Says:

    Is it simply a provocative unimportant book?

    I like Camille Paglia’s definition of feminist and her arguments about it.

    I’m curious if Caplan brings Paglia up at all. She is an exciting thinker. I don’t see her speak or write much these days. I’m curious what she thinks about the recent changes in abortion rights, as well.

  15. Zack M. Davis Says:

    Bryan seems to be … not denounced in the slightest for publishing a book and going on a lecture tour about how he rejects feminism in its entirety as angry and self-pitying in addition to factually false? Who can explain this to me?

    It’s simple game theory: orthodoxy punishes heretics more than infidels, because heretics are more incentivizable by orthodoxy’s punishment. Caplan isn’t part of the progressive coalition and doesn’t want to be; he knows it, and his enemies know it, so trying to threaten him into compliance would be a waste of time. You, on the other hand, make it very clear that you want to be a progressive in good standing (“because I want no one to imagine for a nanosecond that, if I had the power […]”). Since the threat of not being a good coalition member is real to you, other coalition members have an incentive to use it on you. (Perhaps you can view this as a synthesis of Dave #2’s theory about showing weakness and Doug K. #3’s theory about expectations.)

  16. Lili Says:

    I generally agree with your perspective. Specifically, I agree that calling yourself a feminist is valuable as signaling you care about women’s rights. However, like Jay L Gischerd above, I’d like to push back on Caplan’s definition of sexism. It’s really just a strawman that he sets up to then tear it down with examples where men are not treated fairly. Yes, men can be treated unfairly! In fact, the root cause of the unfair treatment is in fact a propensity to treat feminity as weak and thus penalize feminine men (those who may not go to war or who would like to take care of kids). This affects men of color even further as they may be coded as more masculine and thus deviations from that become more penalized.

    From this perspective, to be a feminist is to recognize the inherent value of feminity and to fight against any penalties on its expression. This of course encompasses the biological aspects (such as providing abortions) but it also includes social aspects of gender expression which may affect men as well (and indeed do in the cases Caplan mentions).

    Rather than acknowledging this framing, the definition that Caplan works off of pits social advances as a zero-sum game, wherein women cannot advance socially without harming men. This is misguided and a potentially damaging view as it divides the community artificially rather than allowing us all to work for a greater common cause.

  17. manorba Says:

    Well, here in italy we have the first female PM in history!

    While i’ve grew up a feminist, still am a feminist regardless of what definition comes out of tiktok, i strongly disagree on the idea that women would be better that men in many fields. Sex doen’t matter. I’ve always been working in mixed gender places, i’ve even had a couple of women bosses along the way. Some were good, some were godawful.

    And history teaches us that women (expecially when organized as a group) have seldom been on the conservative , if not reactionary part of politics.
    See prohibition. Or the maga karens.
    In italy we had to cheat on the results of the post war referendum because women went en masse to vote for keeping the monarchy. And at the first real popular vote, they handed the country to the DC (democrazia cristiana, i think it doesn’t need any translation)

  18. Gadi Says:

    SR#13: I must be one of those racists, because I don’t approve marriage between Jews and gentiles. We’ve preserved our heritage for two thousand of years and only those who avoided what you could call “interracial marriage” kept their identity. I won’t get into whether being Jew is a race or not, it’s definitely more nuanced than that, but the gist of preserving group identity by only marrying inside the group was still there regardless. And I do approve marriage between Jews of different origins, e.g. Sephardic and Ashkenazi. It would be complete hypocrisy for me to judge those who want to preserve their identity the same way my ancestors have done for thousand of years.

    Abstract words like feminism don’t work according to definitions but according to how people use them. Different generations have different people. Feminism a century ago consisted of brave talented woman fighting for freedom to do things, and to stop horrible treatment of them. Feminists today fight to gain privilege and advantage over men as if the world is some weird zero sum game between men and women.

    The movie Ratatouille had something I find as a good analogy. They said “everyone can cook”, and it has two different meanings:
    One is that everyone can be a good cook. That’s clearly false because some people are just terrible and that’s just it.
    The other is that a good cook could be anyone and come from everywhere.
    Old feminists were woman who were already outstanding but the world just didn’t let them express it. New feminists are mediocre at best and are looking to play the victim and gain an advantage to cover for their mediocracy. (And of course there were all the real societal inequalities that are long dead, like voting and being treated as property. That has nothing to do with modern feminism because those things don’t exist).

    The way I see it, every social movement doesn’t stop when its goal is achieved, because there are always more goals for some subset of its supporters. Social movements stop when they are met with an equal and opposing force, like newton’s third law. Feminism didn’t stop at legal and opportunity equality, where you would have logically expected it, because there is simply no pushback on that – it’s everyone’s common sense. Just like LGBT didn’t stop at legal marriage and being destigmatized. And abortion didn’t stop at the common sense compromise of Roe vs Wade, and kept pushing to murder almost-born fetuses.

    Progressivism is what happens when old social movements achieve their goal, reach the middle ground most people wouldn’t mind accepting and keep going forward, because the real equilibrium isn’t the common sense consensus but only when your ideas are so twisted that some people actually want to stand against them with an opposing and equal force.

  19. Corbin Says:

    Scott, your questions are intertwined and there is a single unified answer for them.

    First, I want to give my prior estimation for your second question. I estimate that around 25-30% of the population would actively vote/elect to regress gender relations by 150yrs. I also estimate that around 5-10% of the population is callous and insensitive to the plight of marginalized folks. This means that, to me, some 30-40% of the population could easily be convinced to hold a position that Caplan thinks 60% of the population cannot hold. My estimate is not made in a vacuum, but comes from news about various democratically-elected politicians, as well as interviews with their various constituents. The regressive beliefs are, sadly, real.

    (Technical note for Caplan, should he choose to respond: It’s highly unlikely that we are both right, and that *exactly* 40% of the country would be regressive and *exactly* 60% of the country would not be regressive. So one of us is probably wrong. (Also, *please* respond; I’m looking for any excuse to fisk your Substack~))

    So, is Caplan the kind of person who doesn’t read the news? Have they been asleep for their entire lives? No. I think, then, that it is fair to withdraw a Gricean charity from their viewpoint, especially since it sounds like they did not offer any *evidence* for their claims. We don’t need to engage with their position at all — we can put it on a pike outside in the front yard, along with a sign reading, “Here lie Caplan’s claims, unsubstantiated.” It sounds like he might vote for leopards, too, in which case we can equip the pike with a second sign: “Here lies Caplan, a professor who thought that the fascists would not hurt professors.”

    And this leads us to the unified answer. Why did feminists bother talking to Scott and not to this other guy? Because this other guy has denied reality to a degree which makes him irrelevant, and there’s no rescuing him. Because Scott shows an ability to update priors, while the other guy enthusiastically supports patriarchy. Because this other guy goes around with a provocative talk and a provocative book and tries to be a culture warrior, while Scott recognizes that the culture war is largely bullshit. Because Scott is worth talking to.

    SR #13: Maybe Caplan’s locale has something to do with it. But I’m skeptical. I grew up in Oregon, and I was raised to understand that the fascists were real and that certain parts of the state were not safe for travel. To this day, I divide the Pacific Northwest into safe and unsafe regions based on prevailing beliefs in those regions. Surely Caplan, who travels across the USA much more than me, has an even better understanding of the degree to which some regions of the USA are too fascist to safely visit! No, I think that we should see Caplan as a deeply deluded individual who happens to benefit from white and male privileges; he simply doesn’t see fascists as dangerous because he has internalized the idea that they will not hurt him.

  20. manorba Says:

    about the book and his author, tell you what, to me it is just trolling. higher level trolling if you want, but still.
    As many have mentioned before me, his points are moot. it gets mainstream visibility because we live in a post truth and post logic world. It’s no mistery it caught your attention. you devoted your life to truth and logic. and that’s how trolls get you 😉

  21. Mitchell Porter Says:

    Regarding question 2 – why were you attacked for criticizing feminism a little, while Bryan rejects feminism altogether and is seemingly ignored – I think other commenters have it right: you were regarded as a kind of peer by your critics, whereas Bryan is a lost cause not worth bothering with, inherently beyond the bounds of respectable thought.

    A few weeks ago, Robin Hanson gave a positive review to a book called “Fossil Future” which apparently asserts that future harms from climate change are minor and will easily be paid for by future economic growth. Why wasn’t this book scrutinized and criticized heavily on, I don’t know, NPR and the New York Times? Again, because a priori it’s not considered serious scholarship, it’s considered a generic product of a parallel world where right-wing money funds works that argue for predetermined conclusions. Something like that.

    You *can* see a handful of Internet feminists discuss Bryan’s book here:


  22. manorba Says:

    Gadi #18 Says: I must be one of those racists, because I don’t approve marriage between Jews and gentiles.

    why do you care about other peoples’ private life? don’t you have one of your own? and why would anybody care if you approve or not?
    Why do you feel the need to comment on the struggles of relevant parts of society and their effort to come out of it like they are eroding your personal well being?

  23. Scott Aaronson Fan Says:

    Scott, here’s why you get attacked more than Bryan Caplan. The first and most important reason is that you are more autistic. Radical feminists hate autists, for the same reason they do not like human genetic enhancement, space travel, and human cloning, and they love nature. As an autistic/Asperger guy, your existence is a *direct attack* on the radical feminists’ conception of humanity. To them you are not even a human, you are human-adjacent. You are in direct opposition to femininity itself, as conceived by left-wing feminists.

    The other reason is that you are on the left. You interact with many people on the left, and are high-profile. Caplan is a libertarian so for him it’s nothing new. He is not a mainstream figure. By contrast, you are a normal center-left guy, so you get held to a higher standard. You are also a very very public figure, who is writing on your blog on all sorts of things.

  24. CC Says:

    Gadi #18. How is your opinion different from folks saying they don’t approve of marriages between white and black people? Coming from India, it is the same as upper caste people saying that they don’t want intermarriage between castes because they want to preserve their “ancient” culture. It is a slippery slope from culture preservation to outright racism and discrimination.

  25. Qwerty Says:

    Manorba #20,
    I wouldn’t go so far as to call the author a troll. Not at all. He is worth engaging with, particularly if you disagree. I haven’t read this book, but I liked some important questions this author asked in another book, “The case against education”. I value college education deeply, but liked that he tried to ask what the role of a university was in society. It is a good question.

  26. SR Says:

    Gadi #18. I suppose the question is a little ambiguous because ‘approve’ can have multiple meanings. I’ll distinguish 3 possibilities– (1) You, personally, would not participate in an interracial marriage, (2) You believe that interracial marriage should be legal but should not be encouraged, (3) You believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. I think (1) is acceptable as I don’t think people should be judged based on personal preferences. By the same token, I think believing (3) makes one a racist as it is overriding *others’* personal preferences using the force of the law, on the basis of race.

    I think (2) is more complicated. I do understand those who want to preserve their culture at a societal level. However, I don’t think this necessarily has anything to do with race. Expanding on your example relating to Jewish people, genetics apparently indicate that Yemeni Jews are genetically much more similar to Arabs than to other Jewish populations. It is hypothesized that they may mostly be the descendants of converts to Judaism. e.g. see Razib Khan’s post here- https://www.gnxp.com/WordPress/2021/10/28/yemen-and-the-yemeni-jews/ . Does this make them any less Jewish? I am not Jewish, but at least as an outsider, I would not think so.

    I think in general, a good litmus test would be– would you be equally comfortable with a marriage of two people of your race, and a marriage between one person of your race, and another who was adopted into a family of your race, is culturally indistinguishable from the median person of your race, and differs only genetically? If not, I would consider that to be racist.

    I personally think even focusing on culture to too much of an extent is somewhat misguided, but that is a different topic of discussion.

    Corbin #19. Sadly, I think there is some truth to what you say. In general, I am a little skeptical of the concept of white, male privilege (I am nonwhite and feel like I have lived a pretty privileged life myself). But I think it’s safe to say that Caplan, personally, is either willfully ignoring evidence around him that would repudiate his thesis, or is incredibly unperceptive.

  27. Scott Says:

    Nick Drozd #8: But if there’s dirty and dangerous work that needs doing—if machines can’t yet replace humans for all of it—shouldn’t whoever is willing to do it at least be well-rewarded?

  28. Dan Staley Says:

    So… is this whole discussion just a semantic argument over the meaning of the word “feminism”?

  29. Scott Says:

    Gadi #18: As someone who chose to marry a Jewish woman and raise two Jewish children—if I’d chosen otherwise, it would’ve been none of your business, and your disapproval would’ve been irrelevant.

  30. Marc Briand Says:

    Re your interchange with Caplan: unless you have some mutually agreed upon algorithm for evaluating the magnitude of unfairness visited upon men and women, arguing who is treated worse is an exercise in futility. For every example you bring up Caplan will bring up a counterexample, and on and on it goes. I believe this is exactly the sort of tar pit Caplan wants to pull people into. His whole approach seems to be a bait-and-switch on the meaning of feminism. If I were you I would not give him any more of my time.

  31. HasH Says:

    “I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome.” Nietzsche
    I agree with Gadi
    I am not a racist. I am from Caucasisa (born and raise). Pure bred same race and we are few million left on earth. Our language not related with any existing language tree. I want that culture survive. Like American, or Siberia ethnic people. Living museum. Israeli Jews one of them (i don’t care their religious belief just for cultural history).

  32. SR Says:

    Adding to my comment above, it just occurred to me that if you belong to a small cultural community that is in danger of dying out (e.g. see the Parsi community of India, or the Samaritans of Israel), you would actually want to *encourage* interracial/intercultural marriage, as, otherwise, in a few generations, the gene pool would become too small to be sustainable. The crucial thing, then, if you cared about passing on that endangered culture, would be to find a spouse who is okay with preferentially passing down the traditions of the endangered culture when raising kids, in an effort to keep those traditions alive for longer. I thus feel that the cultural objection to interracial marriage does not really hold water.

  33. Everything Sucks Says:

    Hey Scott,

    I appreciate your thoughts. Nonetheless, I feel like you’re totally missing the elephant in the room here. I know you don’t want to moderate an incel discussion on your blog—and after your trolling debacle over the summer, it’s totally understandable. If you want to doscuss gender/feminist culture war politics, however, you are practically BEGGING to invite incel commentary. It’s impossible to appreciate the full picture here without acknowledging the (largely ignored by society) lived experiences of millions of lonely, frustrated men who are, in their own way, marginalized by society, and have no reason to give a shit about any of this.

    Take me, for example. I’m an incel. 27, kissless male virgin, and not for lack of trying. I’ve wanted, I’ve craved sex for a decade, and I’ve been totally ignored while girls chased bad boys and chads. When you talk about abortion rights, all I think about are the girls who laughed at me or looked at me with contempt. When you talk about oppression of women or gays or transgenders or whatever, all I remember is the burning pain inside from seeing all these beautiful laughing young women and knowing I shouldn’t even talk to them for fear of being labelled a creep or whatever. Whenever you mention any of these woke causes, I literally can’t make myself care. There’s too much pain inside. In fact, the thought of a “Handmaid’s tale” right wing revolution brings me more joy than fear.

    You can’t discuss gender politics without acknowledging this reality. There are millions and millions of young guys like me—more every year—who are totally deprived of sex and love and, in their own way, just as marginalized by society. Their pain begets no parades or speeches. Nobody cares. And likewise, they have no reason to give a shit about women or the rest of it.

    If you don’t acknowledge this reality, you can’t get a full picture of wjhat’s going on in this country. So if you want to avoid the incel stuff, don’t talk about it.

  34. Boaz Barak Says:

    I didn’t read Caplan’s book but I’m struck at how quickly he’s published this book, after publishing his case against education, claiming that the hundreds of Billions societies spend on education from 8th grade onwards is largely wasted. It seems that either Caplan is an incredibly prescient seer, that in many different domains can see the true facets that almost all of society misses, or that he’s just a troll.

  35. manorba Says:

    Qwerty #25 Says: I wouldn’t go so far as to call the author a troll. Not at all

    ok let’s just say we disagree on where the boundary between provocative and trolling is 🙂
    it’s just that he chooses the hottest topic at hand, puts forward the most divisive and counterintuitive interpretation and backs it up with blatantly wrong data. That to me is trolling 101.

  36. Michel Says:

    HasH #31: Sorry, the correct word in your case is ‘subspecies’ not ‘race’. And yes, racism is confusing subspecies with race. You are just another human, like any. Like me – dubbed “white” for my strongly pigmented yellow-brownish-pink skin. And sometimes ‘purity’ is another word for ‘inbreeding’, or excluding unfashionable traits like a different epicantal fold. All this, of course, depending on the size of the group.

  37. Wind Says:

    My answer to your Q2: although I think #23 has a point in particular, I’d say the main point is timing. The spotlight of the activist left, for want of a better demonym, moves around – you had the bad timing to criticise feminism when the spotlight was on women.

    As evidence that the spotlight has moved on and where it’s pointing now, I cite that neither “Karen” (which, you will note is explicitly female-coded) nor “TERF” were such emotion-generating outgroup signifiers back then.

    I say this because as someone who does not identify with their birth sex myself, I believe the spotlight will have moved on again in a few years, and I worry what remaining support or goodwill might be left over for people like me then. “The mob is currently on my side” is one of the least reassuring feelings possible.

  38. Scott Aaronson Fan Says:

    I should have also included nuclear power in the first reason. The second reason was mis-stated. The real reason though is that you really care about being attacked. This neuroticism and this sort of reaction to these unfair critics (“bullies”, if you call it that) means that they will continue to unfairly criticize (“bully”) you. This kind of extreme cowardice makes you vulnerable.

    Why do you keep stating your commitment to feminism? What do you have to signal? Who are you trying to convince with this commitment? You are happily married to a woman with a career who kept her name. The real reason is your insecurity and neuroticism, which makes you vulnerable.

  39. Herhjgfd Says:

    We got a natural experiment disproving his last book on education. When schools shut down for the pandemic students really didn’t learn as much according to standardized testing, with less loss in states that stayed open like Florida, which contradicted his thesis that schooling was just a waste. Not sure what experiment could test any ideas in his new book.

  40. Gadi Says:

    SR #26: Call it whatever you want, I don’t discuss internal terminology I discuss actions. I would say (2). I very rarely support making things I don’t like illegal, if at all. On the other hand, I’ll shamelessly teach my kids they should prefer marrying a Jew. And I’ll never judge or criticize any other group if they do the same with their kids because that would be hypocritical. I won’t rationalize away my actions in a way that excludes white people or black people or Amish or whatever. Many of the real racists will easily make the same rationalization about culture. Maybe all the 6% you called racist only made the decision because of culture. Culture and race are highly correlated, so there’s plenty of logic in their decision.

    In the end of the day, the probability I’ll disapprove interracial Jewish marriage is much higher than the probability I’ll disapprove a Jewish marriage. I don’t spin around and dance and write narratives around my actions, and I find hypocrisy for similar actions by others a bigger sin than racism.

    Scott #29: I do bet that your good Jewish parental education has been a factor in your decisions and life trajectory. That’s the way things work and there’s no reason to be ashamed of it. Choosing to do similarly with my kids as my parents did and (maybe?) as your parents did isn’t something shameful. Although it is probably much easily done in Israel where they are more likely to find a Jewish husband/wife without conflicts.

  41. Scott Says:

    Gadi #40: When did I say anything about being ashamed of my choices?

  42. Michael Z Says:

    You didn’t get denounced by half the planet, you just got a lot of hateful comments on the internet. The internet haters represent an extremely unrepresentative portion of the world.

    Also, you made yourself look vulnerable in your blog comment(s), so the haters saw you as an easier target. I actually found it somewhat comical that you wanted these people’s approval and opened yourself up like that, because so many of them are openly and obsessively prejudiced against men. Would you try to debate Kanye West on the merits of his arguments? It probably wouldn’t lead anywhere.

  43. Vitor Says:

    Lili #16, your attitude exemplifies perfectly why I’m not a feminist. You don’t outright say it, but you imply that men can only be treated unfairly insofar as they have feminine qualities that are penalized. Do you think that every masculine man is happy to be handed a gun and sent to die for his country? Or happy to get the short end of the stick in child custody disputes? Is that your *definition* of masculinity?

    You say nice words about working for a common cause instead of being artifically divided, but then this “common” cause just happens to only concern itself with the struggles of feminine people.

  44. Nick Drozd Says:

    Scott #29

    Yes, of course they should be paid well! And they should have improved working conditions. Better pay and conditions for workers are often effected by unions and collective bargaining. But I’m guessing that Caplan, as a right-wing think-tank provocateur, is opposed to all of that. I’m sure he has some really fascinating arguments about how in fact work safety regulations actually make things less safe for workers, and therefore safety laws should be abolished.

    Of course, that’s all bullshit. Anti-feminists will bring up these issues where men are treated less fairly, but they don’t actually care about those issues. As other commenters have discussed, anti-feminists are fixated on calculating grievances and then arguing which “side” has it worse. They don’t care about fixing the issues they raise. Caplan does not personally care at all about the actual men who are forced to do dirty and dangerous work. He isn’t interested in improving their conditions or their lives.

    This problem comes up over and over with reactionaries. Remember when George Floyd was murdered by police a few years ago? There was a lot of discussion about how racist the police are. Donald Trump himself came out to say, no, the police aren’t racist, they kill white people too! Now, that’s not exactly factually wrong (for example, look up DANIEL SHAVER). And you’d think the obvious next step would be to inquire further into police killings, regardless of race. But that’s all beside the point for the reactionary — all he cared about was dismissing any concern about racism. The actual white people killed by police don’t matter.

    Fundamentally these arguments are made in bad faith.

  45. Forever Alone Says:

    Scott and Everything Sucks,

    I’m curious if you’ve seen Nama Kates’ commentary on the incel movement. She’s one of the very few people who seems genuinely interested in understanding their point of view without having an ideological axe to grind, and she’s come to sympathize with them. She runs a podcast where she interviews incels.

    Great interview: https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/an-interview-with-naama-kates-who

    Take a look at her UnHerd here: https://unherd.com/author/naama-kates/

    I think Naama would be really interested in your perspective, Scott, if you’d reach out to her. You definitely have a unique story to tell.

  46. Nick Drozd Says:

    SAF #23

    > Radical feminists hate autists, for the same reason they do not like human genetic enhancement, space travel, and human cloning, and they love nature.

    Uh, WTF are you talking about? This is a really bizarre caricature of “radical feminists”. Try as I might, I cannot think of a single instance in my entire life of seeing any feminist at all suggesting that they “do not like” space travel, or that the idea of space travel has anything to do with feminism in any way.

    You seem to have a picture in your mind of some anti-technology hippy earth mother type, and that for you is the totality of feminism. There are two problems:

    1. Most feminists are not anti-technology. In fact, there are lots of feminists who work in STEM. There is also a whole sub-genre of feminist sci-fi, which of course prominently features space travel!

    2. Those hippy earth mother types are often not anti-technology either. You know what they are usually interested in? Astrology. And guess what: the people who are into astrology are also excited about the JWST! They discuss the latest findings just like us science nerds. (They draw rather different conclusions, but that’s a whole other story.)

    Human cloning and genetic enhancement are complicated subjects. I’m sure feminists have all sorts of feminism-influenced opinions about them, but there is no broad consensus that I am aware of. Painting with a broad brush here is not a smart move.

    And just to be clear, anti-feminists are not exactly known for being pro-science. Many anti-feminists are religious lunatics and conspiracy theorists who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that the Moon landing was faked, etc.

  47. Scott Says:

    Herhjgfd #39: Not to put words in Bryan’s mouth, but I believe he’d say that the COVID learning loss is irrelevant since the studies show the kids would’ve forgotten nearly all the stuff anyway after they graduated if not earlier, so that COVID merely hastened the inevitable.

  48. SR Says:

    Gadi #40. This will probably be my last response in this thread. I’m not interested in judging whether you in particular are or aren’t racist. Addressing your other points–

    You are right that the polling strictly speaking does not show that 6% of the population are racist. However, just as you say that disapproval of interracial marriage is heavily correlated with cultural preferences, it is also heavily correlated with obviously prejudicial views regarding other groups (e.g. beliefs that other groups should not have the right to vote, beliefs that they should be segregated, reluctance to work with those of other groups in a professional setting, etc.). There is a long history of racists using other excuses to hide their racially prejudiced views– see how the American South afterwards whitewashed their motivations in the Civil War.

    So perhaps the 6% of that poll are not *all* racist, but I have no hesitation in saying that at least 6% of the population of the US has racially prejudiced attitudes. It is not at all hard to believe, given that there are many people alive today who grew up prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some of whom statistically speaking would have never changed their views on segregation and passed down their views to their descendants. David Duke, a former leader of the KKK, won 43% of the vote in a US Senate election in Louisiana, in 1990. I view the people who voted for him (and those who would have voted for him, had they lived in Louisiana) as just as morally reprehensible as those who voted for Hitler in 1933, whether or not it technically constitutes racism. Many of those Duke voters are still alive and well today. I do not agree with the progressive view that racism is everywhere today, but I think it is equally incorrect to say that it has disappeared completely.

    Regarding hypocrisy, I like the belief enunciated by the conservative pundit Ben Shapiro- “I don’t like hypocrisy charges generally, because I think when people sin, it’s the sin that’s the problem, not the purported standard.” I think this applies as much to hypocrisy about morality/religion as it does to hypocrisy about liberalism.

  49. SR Says:

    Scott, the writing style of ‘Forever Alone’ and ‘Everything Sucks’ are extremely reminiscent of that of the same incel troll who bothered you the last time. e.g. compare Comment 45 in this thread to https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=6552#comment-1941172 . Although it could be a coincidence.

  50. mls Says:

    Dr. Aaaronson #27

    Thank you for your consideration. My greatest fear at work is the kind of incident in this video:


    I am not a window washer. But, in Chicago, unionized window washers are in the same union as low pressure system building engineers. These are not the highest paying jobs because they are primarily janitorial with only light maintenance. Interestingly, the window washers do not even receive a hazard pay differential under their contract.

    Nick Drozd #44

    Blue-collar workers with hazardous jobs are pawns for both sides of debates over safety regulations. Rules transfer decision-making from the workers who have “skin in the game” to experts who profit from their status in bureaucratic hierarchies.

    In the United States, OSHA and the training of union members by their unions have had measurable impacts on worker disability. Disability insurance and compensation plans have not seen those improvements because of predator-prey dynamics between lawyers and physicians. And, in so far as health insurance is a private-sector entitlement program, physicians price services in a money-rich market where overuse of medical testing protects them from malpractice. The benefits of safe workplaces are erased by ambulance chasing.

    As a person who learned his trade before OSHA had significant influence, what I surmised from my first OSHA certification class is that most of the safety regulations in my industry are for the benefit of insurance companies. Fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, legs, and eyes can all be “priced.” Death, however, often involves jury-awaded damages that are less predictable.

    And, since OSHA regulations repeatedly defer to manufacturer recommendations, it provides an opportunity for engineers to make money by simply producing incompatible tools and equipment on a regular basis.

    Recall how Microsoft Windows had been marketed as a vanilla interface to minimize training costs. Once market dominance had been obtained, user interfaces had been changed in quick succession until the hubris of the Federal Reserve tanked the information technology sector in 2000. Corporations started pushing back in the face of recession.

    One sees similar predatory strategies in the manufacturing of safety equipment. If companies cannot extend the usable life of their equipment, they can never be generous with their workers.

    In my trade, it is often the case that safety rules increase hazards. OSHA has provisions — prior request for deferral of rules in triplicate. In the actual world, difficulties are not that foreseeable. And, people who write liquidated damages into contracts are not bound by safety regulations to respect OSHA safety regulations. The law has no “pass through” to all economic actors. It stops at the employer. This means that one of the first things compromised where contracts are awarded according to lowest bids are the safety rules. The only real concern is defensibilty in the face of legal liability.

    And, of course, I have not even touched on the fact that the regulations are written in “legalese” for workers who, largely, have no education of which to speak. Over half of the workers in my company are native Spanish speakers. Not all of them can read. Their weekly safety reminders have been English documents downloaded from an Internet site. I think they are now only being given a qr-code so they can download the pages for themselves.

    I can assure you that only one or two people have actually read the company safety program (OSHA stipulates that training is the responsibility of the employer. In this context “responsibility” ought to include pay for reading the safety documents (and manufacturer recommendations on equipment). Such pay is never forthcoming — nor will it be unless a lawsuit for interpreting “responsibility” is initiated. So, the employees have no economic incentive to be informed on the company safety program. And, they all know that there would be adverse consequences if they actually tried to apply the published rules.)

    In so far as OSHA instills a fear of liability, people in my trade are safer. But, this is largely because equipment is now available where it would have been denied in the past. It is not as if the rules are actually followed.

    Reality is sobering.

  51. Topologist Guy Says:

    SR, the comment by “Forever Alone” doesn’t look at all reminiscent (in terms of writing style) of the one you linked, aside from the fact that they’re both discussing the same social issue.

  52. SR Says:

    Topologist Guy #51. Maybe I’m wrong. But I did read through the entirety of the incel discussions a while back, and the troll did write in a certain distinctive way that I felt was mirrored in these comments. For instance, in the comments here https://scottaaronson.blog/?p=6576, under the name of ‘Roger D.’, he twice refers to Scott in the middle of a sentence in the following way–

    “By your own admission, Scott, this movement of disaffected young men…”
    “I don’t call you an Incel, Scott, because you’re…”

    Compare to comment 45 where you have the analogous construction–

    “I think Naama would be really interested in your perspective, Scott, if you’d reach out to her.”

    It’s not a construction that no one else uses, but it’s uncommon, as only people who are rather particular about grammar (I tentatively include myself in this category) tend to use it, in my experience.

    The anger+pain in comment 33 here also mirrors the sentiments with which the incel troll was commenting. I don’t want to go through the effort of finding a reference. Although admittedly, it could just be distinct people with the same grievances.

    Also, regarding the content being the same, it seems improbable that there would be multiple incels who read Scott’s blog and independently ask him to talk to right-sympathetic media figures about incel problems. Similarly, it seems unlikely that two different incels would comment on this blog post within the span of a day.

    None of this is enough to prove anything. But given past experience, it seems quite plausible to me. If I am wrong, I apologize in advance to the commenters above.

  53. incel Says:

    Throughout my entire life, I have been an outcast. I’ve have spent countless hours pondering alone in my apartment why this is. I have legitimately never had a friend in real life or anyone I could consider close to. Sure you meet people in school or at work but they were never my “friends”. No one ever called me no one ever asked me to do anything with them. And I don’t even blame them. Why would anyone want to associate with someone who does nothing all day but sulk and rot. A few years ago I tried to change my life and better myself. I put myself out there and came out of my confront zone, only to be bombarded by the worst case of realization the world could ever offer. Your face and looks define your value before anyone even knows who you are. When you wake up every morning, look in the mirror and are overcome with depression and sadness what life left is there to live? I do not live anymore, I purely exist in a world where everything is moving forward and I am staying still. Imagine one of those videos where someone is standing still for a long time while everyone passes them on the street sped up, that is how I feel every day. I wish this torture upon no one. I’d like to say to my fellow incel brothers do not give up hope, maybe someday you to will be free of these chains and no longer held down by inceldom.

    I will die a kissless virgin – but let’s not think I never tried. I have tried everything – tinder, bumble, bars, clubs, meetups, co-workers. I can’t even count or remember the amount of times I was rejected. It has to be in the thousands at this point. I COULD NOT EVEN GET A SINGLE DATE. This was soul crushing to me. Why could I not even land a single date with any women? Where my standards to high? Was it something I said? No no no no, it was my face. I lost the genetic lottery and this was my destiny. All I ever wanted was to be loved by someone as much as I loved them, this is the only thing I have ever wanted but I know this will never happen….

  54. Matty Wacksen Says:

    >How is it that I got denounced by half the planet

    You weren’t. Selection effects made it feel like you were though, when really you were denounced by a tiny minority. Those effects get stronger if there is some kind of feedback loop, e.g. if the bullies feel like what they’re doing is working. My guess is that Bryan Caplan got some form of better selection effects. FWIW, I heard about your blog from others who were *supporting* you, in fact I’ve never met anyone I would take seriously who did not.

    > so too at least a solid minority of Americans would be fine with—if not ecstatic about—The Handmaid’s Tale made real.

    I feel like you’re not taking this argument far enough. If, as you say, people can’t be trusted to reveal their true preferences, why trust them when they call themselves “feminists”? To take this argument even further: shouldn’t we trust people who say “I think women should be treated equally as men” more than those who say “I am a feminist”, since the “I am a feminist” crowd is hiding behind a poorly-defined word that can swing either way? Here’s a skit from the Babylon Bee making this joke about a guy saying he’s a feminist but using it to act like a non-feminist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3jGG32ekdk

    >Indeed, they’d add, it’s only vociferous progressive activism that stands between us and that dystopia.
    >And if anyone were tempted to doubt this…

    I notice I am confused, because vociferous progressive activism prevented none of the events you mention, in fact there is probably a strong argument that it had its fair share of blame in *causing* Trump’s election because it condescendingly assumed that everyone who would go on to elect Trump was backwards and hated women’s rights made them not trust the progressives.

  55. manorba Says:

    SR #52 Says: None of this is enough to prove anything. But given past experience, it seems quite plausible to me. If I am wrong, I apologize in advance to the commenters above.

    it’s peculiar tho, innit? the timing screams of a coordinated effort, the nicknames used are lazy to say the least.
    And even if they are legit, they say the same things over and over using the same language.
    Scott and some other posters have already debated the issue ad nauseam. just check old posts if you want hints on how to get out of inceldom.

  56. OhMyGoodness Says:

    The majority of the voting eligible population in the US is female. Females tend to vote at a higher rate than males. If blame is to be assigned for the current state of politics in the US then argument by numbers points to strong female voter complicity and or guilt.

    I dream of the day when genetic engineering will provide the possibility of erasing all tribal affiliations in the human population and people will consider others (including their mates) simply as individuals and not some simplified list of divisive labels. Sometimes it seems as those that are most opposed to tribalism in theory are the most adherent in practice.

  57. Lili Says:

    Vitor #43, thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I agree with you that men can be treated unfairly even while being masculine.

    It’s possible you’re reacting to my phrasing of “feminine people”, which admittedly was a poor choice of phrasing for my message. I think men (including masculine men) get unfairly penalized for doing feminine-coded actions (taking care of children, expressing emotions) and for avoiding masculine-coded actions (going to war, being the “breadwinner” for the family). So I meant that it’s not about being a masculine/feminine man, but about doing masculine/feminine-coded actions.

    Historically, the feminine-coded actions have been undervalued compared to the masculine actions. Taking care of children is seen as less important than defending the country, for instance. So a man (especially a masculine one) who might want to prioritize taking care of his family over fighting in a war may be met with disapproval: “are your children really more important than our borders being safe?” There are no epics written about men staying home to take care of children, yet raising the next generation is at least as important as keeping borders safe.

    I think this is why the men’s right movement is not taken as seriously, as historically masculine-coded actions (having a career, going to battle, expressing theories) have been seen as more desirable and respectable than feminine-coded actions (taking care of children or even other people, doing chores, self-care).

    So to me, the root is not about masculine vs feminine people, but rather how we code different actions and the inherent value that gets attached to those. I hope that we can make the feminine actions just as respectable as masculine and in the process destigmatize men and women who behave outside of their gender norms.

  58. manorba Says:

    There must be something i misunderstood…
    how come the military draft (or service)is now discrimination against men? oh, the turntables..

  59. OhMyGoodness Says:

    “There are no epics written about men staying home to take care of children, yet raising the next generation is at least as important as keeping borders safe.”

    The children you stay home and care for aren’t armed with thermobaric weapons nor white phosphorous munitions…well…until at least teenagers.

  60. Qwerty Says:

    Manorba #35:
    I’ve often wondered exactly what a troll is. The best I could come up with is, someone who is not sincerely interested in a discussion, but has some other agenda in participating.

    The reason I liked reading “The case against education”, is that the culture I come from (India) is heavily into credentialism, to the point that it is bizarre.

    I believe that one must learn FOR THE SAKE OF LEARNING.

    This book asks what the role of university is in society. It answers it, saying it provides a credential.

    I have always seen good universities as places that offer you intellectually curious people to learn from and with. Maybe bad universities offer only a credential. So I disagree with Cowen on his answer to the question, but I don’t think he’s being insincere. Maybe he’s just cynical:). Or maybe I’m just bizarrely / stupidly earnest.

  61. manorba Says:

    Qwerty #60 Says: I’ve often wondered exactly what a troll is. The best I could come up with is, someone who is not sincerely interested in a discussion, but has some other agenda in participating.

    Oh, i agree (actually, i agree with everything else you say in the post), i’d just add the minor thing that sometimes the agenda is just “winning the argument”.

    But in this case i see a leit motiv: an attack to all the conquests made by rationality in the last centuries. I struggle to accept that the almost 1:1 correspondence with the neo-traditionalist (in italy it takes the name of “sovranismo”, sovereignity) ideas is just a coincidence.

  62. Douglas Knight Says:

    Why do we talk about politics? Is it cheap talk? Actual votes are so few bits of information. Politicians would like know what’s going to happen ahead of time, rather than playing the ultimatum game. Even without voting, every government has a democratic pressure valve of civil war. In particular, when you say that we should talk about big changes, it sounds like you’re talking about speech that would only be realized in civil war. We want to know who would win, so that we don’t have to fight.

    But you say a lot of things that don’t match that. Other people don’t act like they agree with that model in several different ways. You seem to believe that talk is pretty cheap.

    You say “a solid minority of Germans turned out to be totally fine with Nazism, however much they might’ve denied it beforehand.” If people lie about their beliefs, what is the actual signalling game? You seem to think that Trump voters are lying to you about first wave feminism. If you don’t believe them, why should they believe you that you’re only a 97% feminist? How does “vociferous activism” cause anything?

    You seem to say that it’s more important that we are clear and stable in our coarse position than that we get the fine adjustment correct. This seems obviously correct. But you observe people who don’t seem to agree with you. One possibility is that you are incorrect and Bryan is correct that we are clear and stable on the coarse position, so there’s no reason to talk about it. Another possibility is that you are factually correct, but other people disagree with you on the morality of making the coarse position clear. Why? One possibility is to confuse you about whether you are making the fine adjustment or the coarse adjustment, but probably there are many other possibilities. Only your side can really manipulate you, but it sounds like you describe both sides as polarizing. Leaving aside coarse vs fine, what about Duverger’s law? At any scale, why are they polarizing, rather than appealing to the centrist? Maybe you don’t know what game they are playing?

  63. Douglas Knight Says:

    Another thing about people lying about their politics: the proverbial communists who became Nazis. Talk is cheap, but brawling seems like an expensive signal, and yet… Does this shed light on what people are actually signaling and how to predict where they will go in the future?

  64. Recursion Respecter Says:

    To me, the interesting claims are that (1) men as a class have more agency than women as a class, and (2) this inequality extends broadly, so that gendered socioeconomic norms grant the average man greater powers than they grant the average woman. It’s my affirmation of these claims, and my belief that they represent a problem we ought to fix, that I think makes me a feminist in the non-trivial sense.

    #1 seems obvious, taking the gender of the world’s major political and economic leaders into account. #2 is a bit dicier, but seems reasonable given how power within (heterosexual) households tends to be concentrated in the husband in most places on Earth. In support of #2, it’s also worth noting that most workplaces (especially high-earnings / prestigious workplaces) tend to be dominated by men even below the C-suite, and I believe that even in the most everyday of contexts (interactions between friends, coworkers and strangers), women face a kind of glass ceiling of social *respect* (they need to work harder to be taken seriously as leaders in group conversation and decision, on average).

    Anyway, that all being said, I am not sure whether the *average* man loses out more from gendered socioeconomic norms than the average women, in a purely utilitarian sense. That seems debateable. Just because men have more power doesn’t mean they actually benefit from it, or utilize it in the most personally beneficial ways, and then there’s all those particular ways that men get a clearly raw deal (especially in times of war). Lastly, I think we’d all be better off, men included, if this agency-differential were reduced, so in a way it harms men too.

    So, in this utilitarian sense, I may not be a feminist, in that I am not so confident that men are the average winners, utiles-wise.

    But its the agency thing that I think of more, when I think about feminism.

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