AMA

I tried to write an “about” page, but realized I have no idea what about me you may want to know. So instead of guessing, I’ll let you ask!

Please post any questions you have about me: where I’m from, what I do, how I write, what I think about your favorite movie or – be as personal or esoteric as you want. I’ll try to answer within a day or two, and 100% swear-on-my-rationalist-badge honestly.

38 thoughts on “AMA

    1. I have some book ratings on my Goodreads page. If I don’t know your interests, I’d recommend some gateway books:

      Thinking Fast and Slow, and if you like it I’d recommend the rest of the rationalist canon.

      Red Plenty, and if you like it I’ve got other excellent narrative-driven books on economics and history.

      Dangerous Visions, and I’ll recommend plenty of sci fi and fantasy based on the stories you dig.

      The main TV shows I watch are the English Premier League, the NFL, and UFC. They’ve got all the drama, characters, and action you’d want in great TV.

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    1. A horse weighs about 1,000 lbs; ducks only weigh 3-4 lbs. Ducks are also way more aggressive pound-for-pound. I would definitely prefer to fight 400 lbs of tiny horses to 1000 lbs of angry bird.

      Did you know that 10% of female mallards are killed each year by aggressive and rapey males? It will have to be at least 1,000 tiny horses before I’d even consider changing my answer.

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  1. Jacob, you’re well-informed when it comes to the market, social and dating dynamics, and I usually really enjoy your posts. This is why I’m so surprised with your favorable take on consensual non-monogamy and polyamory.

    Most men eventually want a stable, caring, highly compatible relationship involving passion, intimacy and commitment between him and his looksmatch. This seems to be the equivalent of Pareto optimality and the implementation of the greatest happiness principle in human courtship, largely (but not only) by minimizing the intense suffering and validating 30-80% of men. I don’t blame women for instinctively perceiving them as invisible, disposable or even repulsive, but if we want to live in a society based on the principle of doing the most good, we have to use System 2 and take their sentience into the calculation.

    Polyamory seems like the crony capitalism of relationships and a regressive practice, as confirmed by large anecdotal evidence on dramas, as well as lots of historical research. Sexual strategies of men and women are, at the core level, inherently competitive. Encouraging monogamy reduces male violence, STI rates and jealousy, which is often non-modifiable and overlapping with the natural anxious attachment style. Assortative monogamy also boosts the net romantic and sexual satisfaction of the entire population across many life stages, creating a stable environment for raising children and acknowledging that physical intimacy, romantic love, engagement and life arrangements are usually deeply interconnected:

    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07418825.2016.1216153

    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0735-2751.00110

    Contemporary polyamory is a clever, gynocentric disguise for open polyandry, increasing women’s sexual access to the most attractive men and turning all the nice guys into stereotypical beta providers who get more drama and little-to-no sex or emotional involvement; the latter one should be important for asexual men, who are overrepresented in the poly community.

    Last but not least, shifting norms is subtle, gradual and global. You can’t expect polyamory to be practised in isolated Bohemian bubbles, as it exploits numerous evolutionary and cultural triggers to destabilize the default monogamous framework.

    I’m sure you’re aware of most of these arguments, so why poly?

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    1. This should really be a post, but I’ll try to answer in brief in the meantime.

      First of all, there is no actual evidence that poly people doing their thing imposes a negative externality on society. From what I can tell polyamory is pretty gender-balanced or perhaps skews male (the largest monthly poly gathering in NYC is 2/3 dudes). Either way, poly folk aren’t stealing extra women from the heterosexual monogamists and dooming mono men to inceldom. I know more stories of “monogamous” cads monopolizing several women using deception than ethically nonmonogamous men doing the same. Within poly, men and women alike usually have much more flexible standards for secondary/casual partners, which means that a lot more women and men stop being invisible and start getting more sex and romance. Anyone who’s unhappy can rejoin the mono majority.

      But more importantly: even if poly was undermining some precious norms, it would hardly justify limiting people’s freedom. Poly people are standing against the government (e.g. marriage benefits), the religious establishment, and mainstream culture – can you imagine Marvel making a poly superhero? We’re doing that in pursuit of the same things you stated: caring, intimate relationships. Do you want society to make it even harder for poly people to pursue their happiness?

      Finally, you may think that we’re just deluded, and that poly people suffer pain and drama because we don’t know what’s good for us. You know what? That’s probably true for some people, and they’re going to drop out of polyamory soon enough. But it’s not true for my friend Charlie who doesn’t want to be anyone’s girlfriend but is happy dating casually or being someone’s secondary. It’s not true for all my friends who are bisexual or kinky and don’t want to give up the large part of their sexuality for an exclusive relationship. And it’s not true for me and my wife. If you’re on Reddit you hear a lot of poly horror stories. But if you’re actually poly, you mostly see a lot of heartwarming poly success stories. Who do you think has a more accurate picture?

      Polyamory will always be a minority orientation even if it’s as accepted as monogamy. I’ve never argued that everyone should be poly, only that people should think about designing their own relationships instead of going with the default. And the reason is that the default script of monogamy is broken beyond repair in 2019, and even before that it did a bad job providing “stable, caring, highly compatible relationships involving passion”. We’re in a relationship recession, and polyamory is an innovative startup. We may fail, whether individually or collectively, but we’re trying to do good.

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      1. Thanks for replying, Jacob! Given how sensitive the topic is, I appreciate engaging in a dialogue, and I’ll be awaiting any future posts on polyamory.

        While I acknowledge that people with strong and fixed poly leanings deserve full freedom and happiness in their spaces, I still feel it’s necessary to raise major concerns for the sake of public good:

        The promotion of consensual non-monogamy goes way beyond the friendly tolerance of alternative lifestyles, leading to the actual slippery slope effect as a part of larger, gynocentric narrative against male agency. While the hyper-competitive/Dark Triad men of glass ceiling will do well under any circumstances, the disposable men of glass-floor will suffer even more. Many leftists share these objections.

        https://i.imgur.com/VhcKaqf.jpg

        Here’s another example: women’s interest in sex steeply declines in long-term relationships, men’s interest is stable (https://i.imgur.com/78n2o6c.png). If there are new external incentives for a wife to suddenly follow the impulse and “discover her non-monogamous side, now a guilt-free, APA-recommended and empowering option”, husbands and dads who spent 10-20 years working hard to support a monogamous marriage might end up in such humiliating arrangements:

        Yes, poly circles skew male, as they are designed for male-dominated spaces with lots of nerds. It’s because polyamory is de facto polyandry, with most men pushed to adopt the roles of supplicating betas (again, no shaming: like 60-90% of males, I was born beta too).

        There’s a lot of providing, arguing and managing logistics for disproportionately small benefits, accompanied with a bit of selection bias introducing lots of manipulative types (of all genders) and rewarding playing power games. I think that Reddit is actually quite reassuring and appealing in comparison with some of the horror stories from the rationalist poly circles!

        Nobody wants to admit it openly due to the risk of publicly signalling low status, but polyamory often (not always) works as a catch-22: disenfranchised men who crave nothing but an “exclusive all-in-one relationship with their looksmatch” are today the shamed class of pariahs. Being a complaining single with basic standards is now synonymous with “incel”, the worst possible label due to the associations with appalling, violent and mentally unstable outcasts. Some of mono singles enter poly spaces and try to rationalize new arrangements despite the suppressed pain, actually feeling that they trade their dignity for the crumbs of validation. As a bonus, being in a “poly relationship” helps them to escape the incel stigma. Interestingly, being a male feminist/poly – something that should convey high status due to being able to take additional costs and have multiple partners – was overused and no longer works as a convincing signal.

        BTW, the actual problem is the romance deprivation, as pure involuntary celibacy would be solved through sex work services.

        I’m surprised that the practice with such a poor historical record compared to monogamy is now marketed as an innovative solution to the present recession. As suggested by the SSC survey, poly men are almost 3-4 times as likely as poly women to be single, the average number of partner is higher for women, and there are more women with very high numbers of partners than men.

        The relationship crisis, caused by the inequality of relationship agency and mismanaged sexual strategies in the contemporary social and technological context, should be solved by reducing inequalities and related tensions rather than perpetuating them even further.

        Love does not trickle down.

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        1. A couple of things up top:

          First, a spouse declaring that “they found non-monogamy” 10 years into a marriage and against their partner’s wishes is missing the ethical part of ethical nonmonogamy. I would condemn that, and so would most everyone who isn’t writing clickbait for the Guardian. I’m as interested as you are to banish liars, cheaters, and defectors of both genders away from good people’s dating markets.

          Second, this alpha-beta model is so simplistic as to be more counterproductive than useful. Human relationships are more complicated than that.

          In general, I think we’re talking about very different things. I’m looking at polyamory from the POV of a couple thinking about relationship design. You’re talking more about single men.

          I don’t live in Berkeley, and I really never recall seeing single men encouraged to become “poly” by being some high-status mistress’ tertiary. That’s not what I did either: when I was single “openness to openness” was just one of the many things I looked for in a partner. Now that I’m married, being married to my wife is much more important to me than being poly or not.

          I have a lot of sympathy and compassion for romanceless men, and if I offer them any advice it’s to write better dating profiles, not to reject monogamy or give up their dignity.

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          1. People rarely, if ever, act upon sole System 2 ethical imperatives in relationships. They usually follow biological instincts, partially restrained (or amplified) with personality traits, cultural and legal norms. This is the reason for studying and influencing revealed preferences, not the declared ideals.

            More importantly, there are no clear ethical guidelines at all. Relationships are complicated, emotionally charged, subject to contextualization, rationalization, or ideological weaponization. These mono-turned-poly wives could accuse critics of internalized patriarchy/misogyny/toxic masculinity. They could magnify good hubby’s flaws: “he is no longer that charming college guy/he seems overly possessive/he doesn’t pay enough attention to me during 50-hour workweeks”. They could also simply ignore criticism and get the guy cornered: “either you share me with X, or we break up and you’ll face the horror of divorce and alimony laws”. Our condemnation would do nothing. This is the New Polyandry:

            https://therationalmale.com/2018/12/10/the-new-polyandry/

            As for the alpha-beta model, it’s frequently misrepresented and misused, but supported with extensive research on dual mating strategy and countless converging anecdotal reports. Its explanatory power steadily increases under the contemporary combination of disincentivized monogamy, social media, the rising dominance of online dating, and the feminine-primary cultural narrative. Men will fall under the increasingly distinct categories of alphas (providers of sex and excitement), betas (providers of resources and emotional reassurance), and omegas (better luck next life). Although dating tips are to some degree useful, they fail against the rapid inflation of requirements caused by the coordination trap. At the same time, men will be more scrupulously tested, tormented by the inability to share vulnerabilities, and increasingly stigmatized for signalling better looks and status that they actually have.

            There is a very thin line between being a romanceless guy and being in a faux/exploitative relationship, and I would argue that the current push for non-monogamy operates mostly as a part of the larger narrative that facilitates both problems. In my opinion, the global effects of non-monogamy involve a moderate spike in instant female gratification due to facilitated dual mating, a major drop in male relationship-related satisfaction, and lots of long-term, harder-to-capture social problems resembling the historical record.

            As for the relationship POV, most men don’t even have capacity to negotiate something for their benefit, or even for the bilateral benefit, if it goes against the instant benefits of their female partner.

            You may get an impression that I represent the one-sided perspective of a whiny manosphere bro, but I am really convinced that the dispossessed straight men are the crucial part of the big relationship equation. Even if I assigned a smaller moral weight to them, couldn’t empathize with their pain, and openly praised female supremacy, I would be concerned about the misogynist and authoritarian pushback. It’s not about “men good, women bad”, it’s about approaching the maximum net happiness from G-d’s eye view.

            To sum up: I believe that you argue in a good faith, and that after investigating enough papers and data points we would be likely to reach consensus. I’m open to any solid counterarguments or resources challenging my views. Solving the issue of relationships is, however, probably beyond the scope of AMA section and I don’t want to fill it with too much divisive content. How about we agree to check if our stances changed in one year, on 23/07/20?

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        2. You go into a lot of detail about the flaws of our current relationship system and Jacob’s suggested replacement, but what would a relationship status quo designed by you look like? Is the government involved at all, and if not why wouldn’t thing revert to how they are now?

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          1. As long as there’s no omniscient Omega ensuring optimal matchmaking and enforcing optimal relationships (or advanced virtual partners), we’re probably doomed. Here’s a more realistic, but still quite hypothetical scenario to show my line of thinking – consider it a thought experiment.

            Everybody gets assigned an attractiveness score (surveys, algorithms), mostly based on looks. There is naturally more agreement about the extremes (1-3/10 and 8-10/10) than the middle range (4-7/10): https://www.reddit.com/r/BlackPillScience/comments/8csgjw/looks_ratings_101_nearly_all_studies_show_a/
            We try to match people using the optimal, symmetrical allocation based on the attractiveness scores: for example, 4s and 5s would be matched with other 4s and 5s who they mutually perceive as 6s or 8s. 9s and 10s lose some options (no >10 partner count), and 1s and 2s have to resort to the least attractive partners (occasionally, the combination of inter-rater variability and self-improvement may get them 3s and 4s).
            After controlling for the compatibility and long-term satisfaction predictors, everybody gets paired up with 5-10 potential matches. This is the range in which we encourage dating and serial monogamy – they are supposed to adjust for the unknown unknowns and changing life circumstances. We could even very carefully experiment with non-monogamy within these strict ranges!
            Multiple external nudges (governmental and/or technological) are provided to incentivize mutual engagement and bound interests. The system aims at approaching the equilibrium between gender mating strategies, combining the benefits of arranged marriages (https://www.bakadesuyo.com/2011/12/are-arranged-marriages-happier/) with enough freedom to make things non-creepy, safe and applicable in the Western context.

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          2. I don’t want to fill up Jacob’s entire AMA with this discussion, which I am very interested in, so could you PM on reddit at u/HelloTims.

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    1. I didn’t think of putanumon.it. Also, I’m not Italian. Maybe it’s still available? It’s a good idea.

      The biggest problem is the heat death of the universe. The biggest problem that we can actually do something about is preventing humanity’s extinction in the next century as our self-destructive power keeps outpacing our wisdom. I hope to contribute my bit by increasing wisdom.

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  2. What’s something (or somethings) you currently have no idea how to do, but want to learn?
    (Mine are pole-dancing and programming in C.)

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    1. I would love to learn how to draw. I’ve started with the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” but I need to practice a lot more. My wife sketches all the time and is very good, maybe I don’t get better at drawing because I always feel inadequate next to her.

      I also bought a darbuka drum and am looking to learn how to play it. Does anyone know where to find transcribed darbuka compositions?

      I was taking both music and painting classes when I was 10-12 years old, and I was decent at both. Then for some reason I completely neglected my arts education for two decades while I learned dozens of cognitive and physical skills but nothing artistic. Now I’m looking to fill that gap.

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  3. In terms of hours – how much time do you spend reading a week?
    Do you have a set block of time allocated to reading?
    Which topic do you find best explained by the video medium – mechanics/science, history, psychology
    Which topic do you find best explained by the audio medium – mechanics/science, history, psychology
    Which topic do you find best explained by the text medium – mechanics/science, history, psychology

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    1. I don’t really have a set system for ingesting information, I just haphazardly follow links, conversations, and topics of interest. On an average day I probably spend 45 minutes on Twitter, a couple of hours reading articles and blog posts online, an hour and a half listening to podcasts and an hour listening to audiobooks. Audio is so much more convenient (I spend a lot of time walking/commuting/slacklining/washing dishes, not a lot of time on my couch). At this point, I only read paper books if I can’t buy them on Audible or if they’re already on my/a friend’s shelf.

      I don’t watch a lot of video, I maybe average 10 minutes daily on YouTube.

      I don’t think that psychology requires a lot of visual cues, I listened to a whole undergrad Psych 101 lecture course on audio and didn’t feel like I missed anything. Same for history, although I often look up maps and pictures online when listening to a history audiobook. Probably science and math do require staring at a page for a while – your question actually got me worried that I under-invest in learning those because I’m leaning more and more towards audio.

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    1. My LinkedIn is pretty up-to-date, even though I don’t use LinkedIn much.

      I’m a product manager at a mid-sized financial software company in NYC. My team turns convoluted financial regulation documents into software products that mostly do a bunch of SQL on big bank data and send the reports out to the feds. Then I put on a suit and go to said big banks to convince them that our software package is cheaper and more reliable than hiring a bunch of consultants to crunch spreadsheets. It’s a niche market, but our company is by far the best in it.

      I also love side gigs. Just in the past year, people paid me to:
      1. Organize their personal finances and investments.
      2. Build financial models for their business.
      3. Write articles for a magazine.
      4. Automate statistical analysis in JavaScript.
      5. Edit their dating profile.
      6. Say thank you for Putanumonit.

      I get regular emails from readers about building passive income, and I don’t have anything to tell them. I’m a big fan of active income: the more jobs you take on, the more some of them start feeling like fun hobbies 🙂

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    1. I’m cryocrastinating. I’m reasonably convinced that cryonics is a good idea, but not really convinced (especially my System 1) that it’s something I have to worry about right now.

      I would bet based on a 90% chance that humanity survives the century, but emotionally I live as if I gave it 98%.

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  4. In the past, the institution of marriage granted official recognition and protection to the religious, socially desirable, and often loving unions between one man and one woman. It was a backbone of the nuclear family – the smallest identifiable social unit, creating a stable environment for raising the next generation.

    Later on, marriage evolved into the secular contract supporting love-centered, long-term relationships of diverse people, regardless of their reproductive plans, gender identity or sexual orientation. Besides communicating “we’re taken and neither need nor want to compete on the dating market anymore”, as well as offering some legal benefits to most spouses, it ensures a sense of belonging, social validation, and having a stable space called home.

    My question: from the current male perspective, what is the point of getting legally (rather than symbolically) married to a poly woman? What are the counterfactual benefits and how do they compare to the sum of costs and risks?
    (No judging, I’m just genuinely curious.)

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    1. I’m going to answer a more limited question: why did I marry my wife in an official wedding?
      1. Signaling to family and friends so that they can expect us to behave like two people who are committed to growing old together (and so they’re happy for us). For example, if my wife got sick and I didn’t take care of her I would get a lot more opprobrium than if she was a casual girlfriend. This is helpful for us too, since both of us now feel more secure that the other will take care of us if we get sick.
      2. Signaling to ourselves. Spending money on a fancy dress and cake and all that does reinforce our commitment in our own minds, which makes it easier to trust that we’ll cooperate for decades to come and thus to make friends around living together, sharing finances, and raising kids.
      3. We save a ton of money on taxes, health insurance, and Spotify premium. Seriously: if you’re single and not dating, just marry your roommate for the savings.

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  5. Lovely blog, Jacob!

    Have you and your wife planned a poly marriage from the very beginning? Or did you (your wife) have initial plans to stay (or become) fully monogamous?

    What do you consider as the best part and the weakest point of your marriage?

    Who usually receives more interest and effort from other potential partners – you or your wife?
    How do you manage jealousy?
    Did you sign a prenuptial agreement?
    Do you plan to have kids one day?

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    1. Terese and I talked about our mutual preference for open relationships on our second date but decided to start off exclusive if we indeed got serious. After about 9 months we felt secure enough in our relationship (we had moved in together at that point) to open up.

      Terese is a lot more beautiful than I am so she receives a lot of initial interest but I am a lot more extroverted, which evens out our opportunities. This symmetry was important to me early on and my ego was bruised if I felt that Terese was doing better in her dating life, but I think that I’ve mostly overcome it with time. Similarly, I’ve mostly dissolved my jealousy through mindfulness and introspection. A lot of the jealousy came from insecurity, and that’s something that actually has little to do with my wife’s love life.

      We do plan to have kids one day, which is quite independent of polyamory or monogamy.

      How about your relationship to polyamory? I assume that you’re just a single person named Joanna, and “poly” refers to love 🙂

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  6. You’ve described your general emotional attitude as a combination of low certainty and optimism. How would you say your underlying mood has changed over your life? Do you put your attitude down to any specific experiences, or do you think you were more or less born with this approach?

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    1. It’s hard to say what’s the source of my optimism since I’ve been doubly lucky: I inherited a resilient and positive attitude from my parents, but I’ve also lived a happy life surrounded by supportive people and never had to overcome real tragedy. Learning Rationality has also led me to strongly internalize what is basically an intuitive cognitive-behavioral therapy, to further strengthen this attitude.

      Judging by the experience of many friends, while people start from very different points on the neuroticism spectrum it’s also possible to change one’s emotional attitude a lot in just a few years.

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    1. This entire blog is the answer to that, or at least a post in the style of this one.

      To me, what has moral value are the experiences of conscious beings – that’s my intuition as a conscious being, not a fact about the universe. Humans are correlated enough in their values and experiences to support something like preference utilitarianism as a “goal” for ethics, although in my day-to-day I’m guided as much by virtue ethics (e.g., around radical honesty) as by explicit consequentialism.

      I’m much more willing to endorse explicit pleasure-suffering consequentialism for politics (e.g., dectuple America’s foreign aid budget), and I’m strongly biased to prefer individual liberty and choice. For example, I think we should legalize drugs, sex work, and organ markets, abolish state-wide zoning, etc. This is not because I hold the non-aggression principle as sacred, but because I think that relative to the current system people’s lives would be better if they had more freedom to experiment, succeed, and fail on their own.

      The most important part of my worldview, and one that ties to the above, is optimistic humanism. I think people are awesome and valuable, and that we can keep making our lives even better. I’m seeing a lot of people succumb to the meme of “we should stop having kids and give up our prosperity to atone for our sins”. I’m the opposite of that.

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  7. Did you sign a prenup? What kind of measures did you take to protect your rights as a husband and potential father in the (hopefully purely hypothetical case) that things go badly?

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