Sebastian Zearing

how to be progressive without being a stupid liberal

Category Archives: Principles

Social Constructs and Social Wrappers

Gender is a social construct, they say. And race/ethnicity. And lots of other things that most people can stare at and say, “but but… these distinctions obviously exist and are real!” And they would be right, except that they’ve failed to understand what a construct is (though that may be the fault of either intentional or unintentional obfuscation on the part of the “social construct” advocates). I think the term “social construct” leads to these kinds of misunderstandings for two reasons. One, the word “construct” itself connotes “not real” even though it definitely doesn’t denote that (here’s where the obfuscation comes from). Two, the term doesn’t imply any kind of connection to something objectively real, even though there often may be an actual connection. The term as it’s most often used should be replaced with “social wrapper.” But what is being wrapped? Well here’s a list:

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The Intersubjective

The intersubjective is a fascinating concept which I first found here. I will describe how I think of the concept, but I encourage all readers to visit that page.

The objective and the subjective are ordinary notions of how to categorize the epistemology of claims. Claims like “vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate ice cream” or perhaps occasionally “the photograph depicts a white and gold dress” are understood to be claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world. Subjective claims such as these can be false, like if I actually did like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla, but the truth or falsehood can only be ascertained by those with direct access to that individual’s psychology, i.e. only the claimant. Consequently, most people are content spending very little time figuring out the truth of subjective claims. Claims like “chocolate ice cream contains more antioxidants” or “there is a peak in the reflective spectrum of the dress at 483 nm,” on the other hand, are not claims about the relation between the psychology of an individual and things in the world, but rather about things in the world themselves, and so can be measured and reported directly.

The intersubjective adds a third category. It asserts an epistemological category characterized by relations among many separate psychologies and/or among many separate psychologies and things in the world. You can jump straight to the examples, or continue with a strong caveat to all of this that stems from the difference between epistemology and ontology.

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Statistical Invariances and Hierarchical and Dimensional Variation

Look around you.

How many repeating things can you find? In my room, I can count several dozen individual blinds over the window, two windows, several dozen buttons on a remote control, several dozen keys on my keyboard, thousands of carpet threads, six guitar strings, several dozen books, four pillows, and a partridge in a pear tree [kidding]. Interestingly, if I had the right equipment, I could tell that all of these things are made from 10^bignumber electrons, quarks, and pions, though if I go back to using my eyes, I’m only interacting with these subatomic particles through photons. These subatomic particles make atoms and ions in exceedingly regular ways. These in turn make molecules in slightly more complicated ways. These molecules in turn make bulk materials in even more complicated ways (or sometimes the pattern jumps straight from atoms to bulk materials, as with most metals). And then these materials go to make all kinds of different things. We can also take a detour through biology, where the molecules, in breathtakingly complicated ways, make cells, which then make tissues, which make organs, which make bodies. So we have a world replete with all kinds of different things, the vast majority of which are not unique, isolated things but rather similar to other things.

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Relevance Theory and the Communicative Spectrum

Relevance Theory claims that a “hearer/reader/audience will search for meaning in any given communication situation and having found meaning that fits their expectation of relevance, will stop processing.” Our worlds are very complicated. Thus, talking about them should be similarly complicated. Fortunately, most two individuals that might want to communicate share a lot of experiences (e.g. they generally share at least a language and a culture), and so communication can be drastically simplified by assuming a common base of information. And not only can this happen, it almost always does in normal human communication.

Your coworker gets to work 20 minutes late. “I hate the metro!” he exclaims as he dashes past your cubicle, flashing a flustered glance. What did he just communicate? I got to work late and can’t you see I’m sorry so don’t judge me because gosh darn it the metro in this city sucks and that’s why I’m late dontchaknow! Well obviously what was communicated had almost nothing to do with your coworker hating the metro. Imagine if instead he had exclaimed, “I hate pomegranates!” You probably would be very confused. Why does he hate pomegranates? More importantly, why is telling me this now? I’m trying to work! You might come to the conclusion that he was eating a pomegranate for breakfast, and as pomegranates do, it exploded all over his work clothes, forcing him to change into new clothes and setting him back by 20 minutes. Notice how this comes down to you assuming that your communicative partner is not wasting your brain’s computing power for no good reason. And given the circumstance of flustered tardiness, it probably has something to do with the flustered tardiness.

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Essentialism is False

Essentialism, or the Platonic Theory of Forms, is the idea that entities in the world are imperfect instantiations of perfect exemplars that exist in metaphysical realms apart. The exemplars are known as “essences,” and the imperfections as “accidents.” Essentialism was instigated by mathematics, especially geometry. In geometry, one can imagine many kinds of entities, such as circles, lines, midpoints, etc, and these entities are understood to exist in some perfect sense. A circle is the set of all points at a constant distance (radius) from its center. We can try drawing a circle, and we quickly realize that we cannot do so. There is no such thing as real circle. All circles try to be perfect but fail. Tiny perturbations, imperceptible deviations—these all conspire to prevent perfect circles.

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Implicit v. Explicit Information

There is a paradox in physics that occupies itself with the arcane possibility that black holes destroy information. Basically, Hawking radiation from the surface of a black hole seems to be uncorrelated with the captured material inside which is evaporating away via that Hawking radiation, and so the state pre-evaporation is not recoverable even in principle. I don’t seek to elucidate the paradox in the slightest, except that the holographic principle seems to resolve it, but rather I’d like to copy and paste their definition of “information” for my term “implicit information.” Implicit information is information regarding the configuration of a [physical] system. I’m not satisfied with that definition, but I think it perhaps more useful to contrast it with “explicit information”: explicit information is information that is ready-to-use by an intelligent agent.

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The Problem

A Nice Guy says “I should have a girlfriend by now.” A Feminist says “You’re not entitled to any woman!” A tirade ensues.

The misunderstanding lies in the multiplicity of meanings of the word “should.” It generally means one of three things:

  1. There’s the deontological “should”: “You should respect everyone without regard to their ethnicity.”
  2. There’s the utilitarian “should”: “You should invest in Vanguard index funds.”
  3. And there’s the rarer epistemic “should”: “You should be fine after drinking lots of water and resting.”

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Normativity and Prescriptivism

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In my exposure to the alttrp community (both on the subreddit and elswhere), I’ve felt that there is somewhat of an inclination towards using the red pill as a justification for determining the kinds of behaviors that gay or bisexual men should have. In other words, there is a sense that the red pill prescribes normative behaviors for gay and bisexual men.

I have absolutely no interest in determining or discussing what gay and bisexual men should do. If you want to claim that str8-acting behavior is superior or want to fem-shame, feel free to do so, but I will not waste time engaging with you. I fully appreciate anyone’s right to argue their point, but I think these discussions are frivolous, as I am much more interested in understanding homosexual SMP dynamics, how power dynamics compare and contrast with heterosexuals’, and other theoretical ideas.

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The Conflict between Rights and Utilities

See more posts in the Principles series.

Much ink and server space has been dedicated to the issue of how morality is constructed. My view is that the two prevailing ethical theories, deontology and utilitarianism, are both necessary for a healthy moral perspective. Further, many political conversations can be lubricated by explicit understandings as to what morality or moral ends comprise. I will explain my views here in order to provide lubrication for future reference.


Deontological ethics stress the importance of rules and authority in determining moral behavior. Abrahamic and Judeo-Christian ethics are quintessentially deontological. These are the morals delineated by the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots. I’d like to frame deontology as a prescription of the rights one has and does not have. Rights can be described as either positive rights—rights allowing the exercise of a behavior—or negative rights—rights allowing the non-exercise of a behavior. With this terminology, a duty or obligation can be described as the absence of the right to not perform the obligation—the absence of a negative right. A prohibition can be described as the absence of the right to perform the prohibited act—the absence of a positive right. Deontologically, actors cannot be held morally accountable for actions or inactions that they had the right to execute.


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In the spirit of my introductory post defining liberalism and conservatism, I’d like to provide a similar such definition for libertarianism.

The libertarian worldview, as currently conceived in America, holds that individuals should be free to do anything that does not directly harm another individual, and to be free from all violence against their own person and property by all agents, including government, and that government should only exercise violence to punish (or perhaps prevent) violence. This perspective holds that only when individuals are maximally free does society maximally thrive.

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