Scott Triumphs* at the Shtetl

Scott Aaronson wrote a new post on the Shtetl Optimized** reflecting on the previous thread  (that I referred to in my post on Amy’s triumph), and on reactions to this thread. The highlight is a list of nine of Scott’s core beliefs. This is a remarkable document and I urge everybody to read it. Yes, Scott’s core beliefs come across as feminist! Let me quote one of them.

7. I believe that no one should be ashamed of inborn sexual desires: not straight men, not straight women, not gays, not lesbians, not even pedophiles (though in the last case, there might really be no moral solution other than a lifetime of unfulfilled longing).  Indeed, I’ve always felt a special kinship with gays and lesbians, precisely because the sense of having to hide from the world, of being hissed at for a sexual makeup that you never chose, is one that I can relate to on a visceral level.  This is one reason why I’ve staunchly supported gay marriage since adolescence, when it was still radical.  It’s also why the tragedy of Alan Turing, of his court-ordered chemical castration and subsequent suicide, was one of the formative influences of my life.

!! (***)

In the sacred tradition of arguing with Scott I raised some issues with #5 and 4# on Scott’s blog. Two of Scott’s points are on the subject of (young) people’s suffering by feeling unwanted, sexually invisible, or ashamed to express their desires.

I was pleased to see that those feminist matters that Scott and I disagree about, like the nature of prostitution, the role of feminist views in men’s (or nerdy men’s) suffering, and also Scott’s take on poverty, did not make it to Scott’s core beliefs.

Happy new year, everybody!


* The word triumph is used here (again) in a soft (non-macho) way characteristic to the successes of feminism. Voting rights for women did not exclude voting rights for men, and Scott’s triumph does not mean a defeat for  any others; on the contrary.

** “Shtetl-optimized” is the name of Scott Aaronson’s blog.

*** In my opinion, when a person has an uncontrollable urge or strong temptation or desire to commit a crime towards another individual (or even to inflict much damage on another person when it is not criminal, or to commit other crimes), shame and guilt feelings can be instrumental in controlling such urges.

Update: a second list of very nice (slightly shortened) gender-related beliefs by Scott were added on August 15 2017.


1. I believe that science and engineering, both in academia and in industry, benefit enormously from contributions from people of every ethnic background and gender identity.  This sort of university-president-style banality shouldn’t even need to be said.

2. I believe that there’s no noticeable difference in average ability between men and women in STEM fields—or if there’s some small disparity, for all I know the advantage goes to women. I have enough Sheldon Cooper in me that, if this hadn’t been my experience, I’d probably let it slip that it hadn’t been, but it has been.  When I taught 6.045 (undergrad computability and complexity) at MIT, women were only 20% or so of the students, but for whatever reasons they were wildly overrepresented among the top students.

3. I believe that women in STEM face obstacles that men don’t.  These range from the sheer awkwardness of sometimes being the only woman in a room full of guys, to challenges related to pregnancy and childcare, to actual belittlement and harassment.  Note that, even if men in STEM fields are no more sexist on average than men in other fields—or are less sexist, as one might expect from their generally socially liberal views and attitudes—the mere fact of the gender imbalance means that women in STEM will have many more opportunities to be exposed to whatever sexists there are.  This puts a special burden on us to create a welcoming environment for women.

4. Given that we know that gender gaps in interest and inclination appear early in life, I believe in doing anything we can to encourage girls’ interest in STEM fields.  Trust me, my four-year-old daughter Lily wishes I didn’t believe so fervently in working with her every day on her math skills.

5. I believe that gender diversity is valuable in itself.  It’s just nicer, for men and women alike, to have a work environment with many people of both sexes—especially if (as is often the case in STEM) so much of our lives revolves around our work.  I think that affirmative action(*) for women, women-only scholarships and conferences, and other current efforts to improve gender diversity can all be defended and supported on that ground alone.

6. I believe that John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women is one of the masterpieces of history, possibly the highest pinnacle that moral philosophy has ever reached.  Everyone should read it carefully and reflect on it if they haven’t already.

7. I believe it’s a tragedy that the current holder of the US presidency is a confessed sexual predator, who’s full of contempt not merely for feminism, but for essentially every worthwhile human value. I believe those of us on the “pro-Enlightenment side” now face the historic burden of banding together to stop this thug by every legal and peaceful means available. I believe that, whenever the “good guys” tear each other down in internecine warfare—e.g. “nerds vs. feminists”—it represents a wasted opportunity and an unearned victory for the enemies of progress.

(*) At my university (and in Israeli Universities in general) we do not have an affirmative action policy for hiring and promotion. My view is that awareness and prevention of systematic biases against women along with proactive attempts to encourage women candidates go a long way even without affirmative action in the hiring process.

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6 Responses to Scott Triumphs* at the Shtetl

  1. Gil, have you seen Scott’s Umeshisms post? To use a phrase from that post, it appears that many of us agree on the higher-order bits.

    • Gil Kalai says:

      Dear Vijay, nice! yes I saw that post, I believe Anonymous #43 is me!

    • Gil Kalai says:

      Yes, I become aware about the blog only a few months after the post showed up and I contributed a couple of late late remarks. My (twisted) Umeshism that I like most is “The bit one place to the left to the most significant bit is zero.”

      Ironically it is related to a difference of opinions between Umesh and me. Umesh sees a possibility that quantum computers may lead to a falsification of quantum mechanics and he has some works on checking QM “beyond the BPP regime”. This is “one (or more) place to the left of the most significant bit” as I see things. (That correct modeling of quantum noise within QM will show that you simply cannot go beyond BPP).

  2. Echo says:

    They’re going to tear him apart, and we both know it. He’s a “nice guy ally” who thinks he gets to raise concerns.
    They’re going to enjoy putting him in his place.

    • Gil Kalai says:

      Echo, I am not sure what you mean by “they.” Certainly Scott’s comment #171 reveal beside the suffering as a teen-age, which is how I mainly read it, also some blindness to women in a context other than Scott’s own ordeal. (It also puts some blame on feminism.) The comment described the core experience and point of view of a young teenage, not of Scott today. The new post makes it clearer how Scott sees matters today. Moreover his view todays are also rooted in his thinking from those same teenage years,

      • Echo says:

        He’s still asking questions and presuming to “part ways” from his attackers. Letting him get away with that harms the power of influential thugs like Amanda Marcotte.
        Scott’s post also plays into all the tropes they hate. Saying “I’m a feminist… but” is going to make him even scummier in their eyes, not help matters.
        I will bet money this just gets worse, if only because it makes money for the outrage pandering clickbaiters.

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