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Jul. 5th, 2013 @ 01:06 pm What taboos are there amonst my friends?
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Because many things that are a bit outré in traditional society have wide acceptance among my friends, I tend to think of us as more accepting and less judgemental. And I think we are, somewhat, because many people make a genuine effort to be accepting of ideas even if they disagree with them.

But I think, like everyone, I've also trained myself not to notice when I'm not discussing something because it might be awkward, because your own taboos are often invisible to you. My subculture has taboos, just like every other.

It's hard to say what's a taboo, and what's just "people don't like it because it's wrong". People I know don't have much tolerance for factual assertions that seem spurious, so where's the dividing line? Maybe things that make people cross not just confused?

What ideas would I feel uncomfortable expressing, even if I believed in them? (Most I disagree with, but I think maybe the instinctive level of disagreement is too knee-jerk and often excludes some people.)

* "Bike helmets should be worn"
* "There are times windows is more convenient than linux"
* "I drink no-alcohol beer"
* "I drink decaff coffee"
* "I like Twilight"
* "I like Dan Brown"
* "I'm an observant member of a religion"
* "I support the conservative party"

Almost none of those apply to me -- but I'm embarrassed to consider which of my ideas might be taboo, because, by definition, that would create a giant argument of people telling me I'm wrong.

Which other ideas do you think might be taboo in this subculture?

Also see:

http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html, where he says "if you're not hidebound by peer pressure, you must have some beliefs which are unpopular in your social group, not just unpopular to wider society"

http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/06/30/the-lottery-of-fascinations/ says "he wishes people he knew were as accepting of people who don't like maths as they are of gay people"

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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 12:54 pm (UTC)
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I don't think they're taboos though. They're against the norms, and often mocked or argued with, but there are people in our social circle who hold all of them (or at least 6/8) and are generally liked and well regarded. And they're _known_... at least, we might have lots of secret tories, but we have at least some out tories, and similarly with religious people. They're regarded as strange eccentricities in normally excellent people, not vile wrongnesses.

The times I felt most out of step with my beliefs are

a) my slightly-more-pro-Israel-than-everyone-else beliefs (which are not even that pro Israel, just 'it's all a bit complicated, and you expect people who have been persecuted a lot to be more paranoid than others, and err, maybe that's not paranoia, not that we should excuse bad behaviour but we should try and understand it'). Although that might just be arguing with IWJ

b) my 'copyright can sometimes be a good idea' beliefs.

But even then, I didn't think my beliefs were taboo, just something people disagreed with me strongly about.

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From:the_alchemist
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:30 pm (UTC)
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'Copyright can sometimes be a good idea' is taboo!? Gosh.

I think I realised I vaguely knew a few very anti-copyright people, and most people think the copyright system needs reforming (I just got turned down from a job doing this - boo), but ... wow.
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 12:58 pm (UTC)
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I think the beliefs that I've seen make people most furious and that really didn't seem to be tolerated* are

1) What you say on the internet doesn't matter, it's not really real like real life

and

2) It's OK to pretend you believe something that you don't really believe (while claiming that you do - no-one has a problem with people flagging up 'oh, I'm trying to think about the other side of this and play devils advocate') [I think this is a subset of 'lying is bad']

*Although again, this might just be loud individuals
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From:redbird
Date:July 5th, 2013 03:10 pm (UTC)
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That was more okay in my social circles before it became such a blatant troll vehicle: "I was just playing with the idea" stated while the other person is still calm is one thing, and "I was just winding you up—ha, ha, I got you upset, you lose" is so obnoxious that I think it's made the phrase "playing devil's advocate" a red flag.
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From:beckyc
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:02 pm (UTC)
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Oh no! I do several of those! But I don't support the conservatives ;-).

Shhh, don't tell, but I have seen and read all the Twighlight saga (which sets such *bad* examples to young people), and read lots of Dan Brown. Angels and Demons is a side-splitting comedy which had me crying with laughter. I've also read about half of 50 shades of grey, but it was too badly written for me to finish (which is probably telling!).

I had the worst hangover of the past 10 years from drinking a 500ml bottle of low-alcohol cider. NEVER AGAIN. Ugh! But I don't see what's so bad about no-alcohol beverages for people they don't make violently ill! I also have decaf coffee from time to time - I like coffee, but can't always manage the caffeine.

Another little secret I have - I really like Glee and musicals. People seem to be polarised with that one - a lot of people take the mickey or act scornful, whereas other people have said that they also like that sort of thing. See also chick flicks and rom coms.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 6th, 2013 09:56 am (UTC)
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I really like Glee and musicals. .... See also chick flicks and rom coms.

Oh, good example. By now I'm comfortable enough to justify it it if I like one of them, but there is some of the time a bit of an "ewwww" reaction.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
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I tend to get on with better people in our social circle and respect them more when I know they have at least one 'taboo' opinion, even if I disagree with it.

The obvious taboo opinion *I* hold is: "there is right and wrong on both sides of the abortion debate; it's a difficult, complicated issue with genuinely conflicting rights, and there might even be a case for further legal restrictions on abortion in the UK".

Also a set of things like: "It is wrong to label everyone who works in the armed forces as 'a hero'" and "it is generally incorrect to say that people working in the armed forces in the current day are acting in a way that secures my freedom".

There are also a few connected to my work, which I mostly can't be too specific about, but include things like: "[Minister] is intelligent, genuinely trying to make things better, and not entirely misguided about how they're going about it", "administering the benefits system is extremely complicated and difficult, and none of the people who opine on Facebook that they could do it vastly better are even vaguely correct in that assumption".

I don't find that my religion-practicing, Windows-using or decaff-drinking are seen as taboo, except by one or two people, but one or two people can't enforce a taboo on their own. I suspect that might partly be because our groups of friends, although overlapping, are different. As I recall, I've only ever seen one person say something anti-decaff and that was someone on the periphery of People I Know and just seemed bizarre.

It seems odd that you're embarrassed to *consider* what your own taboo opinions are because people will tell you you're wrong. You could consider it and keep it to yourself, which might be a useful exercise? Or mention it but not read / reply to / care about the responses. I realise the 'not caring about' bit is difficult. I do find it very upsetting to see hatred directed at People Like Me from people whose opinions I generally respect.

As I quote in my profile:

"To go against the dominant thinking of your friends, of most of the people you see every day, is perhaps the most difficult act of heroism you can perform." Theodore H White

Which is a bit overstated, of course - I can think of more difficult acts of heroism - but I still find it a useful and comforting reminder that having different opinions may not mean I'm as awful as people say.
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:51 pm (UTC)
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Oh yes, the abortion's ones a good one. But I've always felt like I've known at least two other people I've perceived as high status in my social group hold it and be out about it, so it's clearly not _that_ taboo.
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From:woodpijn
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:45 pm (UTC)
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Gosh, I would have thought your friends and my friends were fairly overlapping, but I don't recognise most of those as taboos. Especially the bike helmet one. Most cyclists I know (including myself), and most people who cycle to GamesEvening, wear helmets. Is the anti-bike-helmet thing confined to the chiark crowd? I'm guessing because I don't interact with them much myself but I gather they have strong opinions about cycling-related issues.

Possibly a liking for mainstream pop culture / celebrity culture is taboo among our geek friends? I'm not sure because it's not an interest I have, although I do know enough pop music to play Humm Bug and I sometimes get the impression that's looked down on by some.

I personally tick at least four on your taboo list, and although I don't drink decaff coffee or non-alcoholic beer it's not like I drink the real versions of them either, so I don't know if that counts.
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:00 pm (UTC)
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To be fair, I'm much more in the chiark social circle, and I don't think they're taboos as such, just non mainstream opinions that are tolarated and mildly mocked. The bike helmut one is not 'people shouldn't have the right to wear bike helmuts', it's 'governments should not make bike helmet wearing compulsory'

See http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f3817?ijkey=I5vHBog6FhaaLzX&keytype=ref#ref-9 (Ben Goldacre and David Spegalhalter being sensible)
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From:woodpijn
Date:July 5th, 2013 01:50 pm (UTC)
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Also:

It's hard to say what's a taboo, and what's just "people don't like it because it's wrong".
Do you mean factually wrong or morally wrong? I read it as morally the first time, but then the rest of the paragraph made me think you meant factually.
Because I read it as morally at first, I was excluding suggesting any possible taboos which are only taboo because people consider them morally wrong - but now I've re-read that sentence I think it is worth considering those kinds of taboos, as surely most taboos are considered morally wrong by the culture enforcing them.

On which note, I think anything interpretable as sexist, racist, homophobic or transphobic is the obvious taboo in a "more accepting and less judgemental" subculture.
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:29 pm (UTC)
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We're tolerant of everything except intolerance!
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From:ilanin
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:28 pm (UTC)
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So this is where the thing that I don't actually have a social circle turns up, so a lot of it depends on which orbit I've fallen into today.

"Cartel archery equipment is perfectly functional and in general beginners would be best off buying it" occurs as one that would be extremely unpopular around one-seventh of the time.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 6th, 2013 10:19 am (UTC)
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LOL. Good example. I don't know anything about it -- I infer from context that's a cheaper low end equipment which is very widespread and anyone who knows anything about archery knows is useless for them, but is standard and workable enough for beginners who wouldn't actually benefit from high-end equipment?
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From:mathcathy
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:37 pm (UTC)
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Am I reading right that you think that the statement "Bike helmets should be worn" is taboo?!?
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 02:43 pm (UTC)
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We're already having this conversation up here :-)
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From:ewx
Date:July 5th, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure if this is a tangent or not but it bugs me when someone attributes an opinion to a group rather than just to the member(s) of the group holding it.
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From:atreic
Date:July 5th, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC)
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I think that's naive - clearly groups do have opinions. Some by definition (eg a science fiction society may have 'science fiction is fun to read' as a group opinion) and some by culture.
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From:ptc24
Date:July 5th, 2013 06:20 pm (UTC)
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Things that are taboo: I couldn't possibly comment.

There are some things that feel sufficiently... taboo? that I can only mention them to my psychologist, and even then only with difficulty and distress. That said, it's not clear how other people would actually react. Another complicating factor is the difference between fearing to say things because people might get angry at you, and fearing that you might hurt someone - or worse still, that you might end up encouraging others to say hurtful things.

BTW, there are definitely times Windows is more convenient than Linux, and decaff is a perfectly good drink. I've never read Dan Brown but I'm perfectly prepared to respect people who say they liked it. This is all dead easy. Perhaps we need something in the middle. "People in these circles should be more tolerant of anti-immigration sentiment". There, I've said it.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 5th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
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I instinctively recoil from identifying myself as a member of any group characterised by a shared set of values. I'm me. I'm eager to socialise with people on terms we find compatible for our mutual benefit. If, if I'm sure those terms include having vigorous debate about points where we disagree then I'm up for vigorous debate. In general, I'm really reluctant to say "I will not do thing X with person Y because they think A" and really eager to say "I will not do thing X with person Z because they habitually do B, which gets in the way of X". Thing B might, in fact, be "become obstreperous about Y thinking A" — I'm not terribly impressed by such behaviour. (The exigencies of my relationship with at least one former partner have sometimes caused me to compromise that position. I'm now uncomfortable and apologetic about that.)

One way or another, over the years, I've had friends with a wide range of religious, social, political, safety, gustartorial, sartorial, musical, literary and similar outlooks radically different from one another and from my own.

I see a shade of distinction between "I will not mention my view on A because X will argue with me", "I will not mention my view on A because X will shun me" and "I will not mention my view on A because it will upset X". "Taboo" tends to cover the first two more, whereas the last is the most likely reason for me to steer clear of a subject. Or a person, if merely avoiding the subject is too burdensome. I very seldom avoid a subject to avoid an argument (!), and am perhaps too content to let things fall as they may in terms of getting shunned for my views.


I have several views I know are vehemently challenged by many of our shared acquaintances. They probably count as taboos in the spirit of your question, though I note that I'm hereby comfortably expressing them. (-8

They include:
  • Speed limits on UK roads should be higher
  • The UK should leave the EU
  • Proportional representation is a bad idea
  • Thatcher's Community Charge ("Poll Tax") was a good idea
  • You're better off without a constitution or bill of rights if you think you can get away with it
  • In politics, pragmatism trumps ideology, even to the extent that it's OK to make a tactical vote for someone you know to be evil
  • There's no fundamental problem with a small minority becoming extremely wealthy
  • Similarly, eletism is often expedient and justified
  • Atheism is a religion
  • My consciousness is a metaphysical phenomenon inherently insusceptible to scientific explanation
  • In all sorts of fields, personal experience of something is very poorly correlated with expert understanding of it
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From:ceb
Date:July 6th, 2013 01:15 am (UTC)
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Atheism is a religion

Perhaps you'll get back to us when you've invented a new word for not having any religion?
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From:cjwatson
Date:July 5th, 2013 10:39 pm (UTC)
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My main one is that I tend to stay very far away from anything resembling an abortion debate. My position is roughly "biology sucks, and it sucks even harder in those cases where you're put in a bad situation without consent, so I sympathise with people who feel they have to do it, but nevertheless I've never seen a convincing moral calculus that intentional abortion is distinguishable from any other murder of a helpless dependent human". But I rarely get the sense that this would go over very well, not to mention that I find many of the tactics used by others who are anti-abortion to be themselves reprehensible, so I generally just find something else to do when the topic comes up ...
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 6th, 2013 02:04 am (UTC)
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Perhaps Jack should take the list of topics we're accumulating and set up a posting about each of them, so this meta-discussion doesn't get cluttered up with discussion. (-8
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From:ghoti
Date:July 6th, 2013 10:02 am (UTC)
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I've been in the unfortunate position recently of meeting real life creationists. They tend to be scared off by Catholics (Benedict XVI said creationism was 'a kind of paganism' pleasing pagans everywhere) and Muslims (who have a name for God 'the evolver', Al-Bari'). I think that they'd not go down so well in our social circle.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 10th, 2013 12:09 pm (UTC)
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(You know, these hierarchies of collapsed comments would be a lot easier to navigate if "cartesiandaemon" wasn't longer than "gerald_duck" by precisely one level of indentation in my typeface!)
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 10th, 2013 01:11 pm (UTC)
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Oh dear :) Maybe we should start a fresh post for the active discussion threads?