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patrissimo comments on Humans are not automatically strategic - Less Wrong

153 Post author: AnnaSalamon 08 September 2010 07:02AM

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Comment author: patrissimo 12 September 2010 03:59:27AM 6 points [-]

Instead, the sentiment is more, "Shit, none of us can do much about it directly. How 'bout we all get freaking rich and successful first!"

Well, I think that's the rational thing to do for the vast majority of people. Not only due to public good problems, but because if there's something bad about the world which affects many people negatively, it's probably hard to fix or one of the many sufferers would have already. Whereas your life might not have been fixed just because you haven't tried yet. It's almost always a better use of your resources. Plus "money is the unit of caring", so the optimal way to help a charitable cause is usually to earn your max cash and donate, as opposed to working on it directly.

I suspect the empathy formed from face to face contact can be a really great motivator.

Agreed. Not just a motivator to help other people - but f2f contact is more inherently about doing, while web forums are more inherently about talking. In person it is much more natural to ask about someone's life and how it is going - which is where interventions happen.

Yet if we're intentional about it I think we can keep it real here too.

Perhaps. I think it will need a lot of intentionality, and a combination of in-person meetups and online discussions. I've thought about this as a "practicing life" support group, Eliezer's term is "rationality dojo", either way the key is to look at rationality and success just like any other skill - you learn by breaking it down into practiceable components and then practicing with intention and feedback, ideally in a social group. The net can be used to track the skill exercises, comment on alternative solutions for various problems, rank the leverage of the interventions and so forth.

But the key from my perspective is the website would be more of a database rather than an interaction forum. "This is where you go to find your local chapter, and a list of starting exercises / books to work through together / metrics / etc"

Comment author: [deleted] 02 December 2010 05:06:08PM 1 point [-]

I'm new here at LW -- are there any chapters outside of the New York meetup?

If not, is there a LW mechanism to gather location info from interested participants to start new ones? Top-level post and a Wiki page?

I created a Wiki to kick things off, but as a newb I think I can't create an article yet, and quite frankly I'm not confident enough that that's the right way to go about it to do it even if I could. So if you've been here longer and think that's the right way, please do it and direct LWers to the Wiki page.

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/LocalChapters

Comment author: living_philosophy 10 October 2012 06:20:33PM *  -1 points [-]

"money is the unit of caring", so the optimal way to help a charitable cause is usually to earn your max cash and donate, as opposed to working on it directly.

This is false. Giving food directly to starving people (however it is obtained) is much better than throwing financial aid at a nation or institution and hope that it manages to "trickle-down" past all the middle-men and career politicians/activists and eventually is used to purchase food that eventually actually gets to people who need it. The only reason sayings like the above are so common and accepted is because people assume that there are no methods of Direct Action that will directly and immediately alleviate suffering, and are comparing "throwing money at it" to just petitioning, marching, and lengthy talks/debates. Yes, in those instances, years of political lobbying may do a lot less than just using that lobbying money to directly buy necessities for the needy or donating them to an organization who does (after taking a cut for cost of functioning, and to pay themselves), but compared to actually getting/taking the necessary goods and services directly to the needy (and teaching them methods for doing so themselves), it doesn't hold up. Another way of comparison is to ask "what if everyone (or even most) did what people said was best?" If we compared the rule of "donate money to institutions you trust (after working up to the point where you feel wealthy enough to do so)", and "directly applying their time and energy in volunteer work and direct action", one would lead to immediate relief and learning for those in need, and the other would be a long-term hope that the money would work its way through bureaucracies, survive the continual shaving of funds for institutional funding and employee payment, and eventually get used to buy the necessities the people need (hoping that everything they need can be bought, and that they haven't starved or been exposed to the elements enough to kill them).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 10 October 2012 06:34:13PM 0 points [-]

Giving food directly to starving people (however it is obtained) is much better than throwing financial aid at a nation or institution

What's your estimate of how much money and how much time I would have to spend to deliver $100 of food directly to a starving person?
Does that estimate change if 50% of my neighbors are also doing this?

Comment author: living_philosophy 11 October 2012 10:48:26PM 0 points [-]

Actually my point is questions like that are already guiding discussion away from alternative solutions which may be capable of making a real impact (outside of needing to "become rich" first, or risk the cause getting lost in bureaucracy and profiteering). Take a group like Food Not Bombs for instance; they diminish the "money spent" part of the equation by dumpstering and getting food donations. The time involved would of course depend on where you live, and how easily you could find corporate food waste (sometimes physically guarded by locks, wire, and even men with guns to enforce artificial scarcity), and transporting it to the people who need it. The more people who join in, would of course mean more food must be produced and more area covered in search of food waste to be reclaimed. A fortunate thing is that the more people pitch in, the shorter it takes to do large amounts of labor that benefits everyone; thus the term mutual aid.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 12 October 2012 12:40:56AM 0 points [-]

I'm not even taking the cost of the food into consideration. I'm assuming there's this food sitting here.. perhaps as donations, perhaps by dumpstering, perhaps by theft, whatever. What I was trying to get a feel for is your estimate of the costs of individuals delivering that food to where it needs to go. But it sounds like you endorse people getting together in groups in order to do this more efficiently, as long as they don't become bureaucratic institutions in the process, so that addresses my question. Thanks.

Comment author: chaosmosis 10 October 2012 06:31:53PM *  0 points [-]

Another way of comparison is to ask "what if everyone (or even most) did what people said was best?" If we compared the rule of "donate money to institutions you trust (after working up to the point where you feel wealthy enough to do so)", and "directly applying their time and energy in volunteer work and direct action", one would lead to immediate relief and learning for those in need, and the other would be a long-term hope that the money would work its way through bureaucracies, survive the continual shaving of funds for institutional funding and employee payment, and eventually get used to buy the necessities the people need (hoping that everything they need can be bought, and that they haven't starved or been exposed to the elements enough to kill them).

This rule is an awful way to evaluate prescriptive statements. For example:

Should I become an artist for a living?

Everyone would die of starvation if everyone did this. Your comparative system prohibits every profession but subsistence agriculture. That means I don't like your moral system and think that it is silly.

Aside from problems like that one, you'll also run into major problems with games theory, such as collective action problems and the prisoner's dilemma. It makes no sense at all to think that by extrapolating from individual action into communal action and evaluating the hypothetical results we will then be able to evaluate which individual actions are good. I don't know why this belief is so common, but it is.

Just-so story: leaders needed to be able to evaluate things this way, evolution had no choice but to give everyone this trait so that the leaders would also receive it. Another just-so story: this is a driving force behind social norms which are useful from an individual perspective because those who violate social norms are outcompeted.

Of course, people who use rules like that to evaluate their actions won't normally run into those sort of silly conclusions. But the reason for that isn't because the rules make sense but because the rules will only be invoked selectively, to support conclusions that are already believed in. It's a way of making personal preferences and beliefs appear to have objective weight behind them, but it's really just an extension of your assumptions and an oversimplification of reality.

Comment author: living_philosophy 11 October 2012 11:33:54PM -2 points [-]

Come on now; I had only recently come out of lurking here because I have found evidence that this site and its visitors welcome dissident debate, and hold high standards for rational discussion.

Should I become an artist for a living? -- Everyone would die of starvation if everyone did this. Your comparative system prohibits every profession but subsistence agriculture. That means I don't like your moral system and think that it is silly.

Could you please present some evidence for this? You're claim rests on the assumption that to "do art" or "be an artist" means that you can only do art 24/7 and would obviously just sit there painting until you starve to death. Everyone can be an artist, just make art; and that doesn't exclude doing other things as well. Can I be an artist for a living; can everyone? Maybe, but it sure would be a lot more likely if our society put its wealth and technology towards giving everyone subsistence level comfort (if you disagree that our current technological state is incapable of this, then you'd need to argue for such, and why it isn't worth trying, or doing the most we could anyways). The argument is that if individuals and groups in our society actually did some of the direct actions that could have immediate and life-changing results, rather than trying to "amass wealth for charity" or "petition for redress of grievances" alone, we would see much better results, and our understanding of what world's are possible and within our reach would change as well. One can certainly disagree or argue against this claim, but changing the subject to surviving on art, or just asserting that such actions could only be done on subsistence agriculture, are claims that need some evidence, or at least some more rationale. And, as really shouldn't need stated, "not liking" something doesn't make it less likely or untrue, and calling an argument silly is itself silly if you don't present justification for why you think that is the case.

As for "extrapolating from individual action into communal action", just because it is not a sure-fire way to certain morality (nothing is) doesn't mean that such thought experiments aren't useful for pulling out implications and comparing ideas/methodologies. I certainly wouldn't claim that such an argument alone should convince anyone of anything; as it says, it is just "another way of comparison" to try and explain a viewpoint and look at another facet of how it interacts with other points of view.

I'm sorry, but I have failed to understand your last paragraph. It reeks of sophistry; claiming that there are a bunch of irrational and bias-based elements to a viewpoint you don't like, without actually citing any specific examples (and assuming that such a position couldn't be stated in any way without them). That last sentence is a completely unsupported; it assumes its own conclusion, that such claims only "appear to have objective weight" but really "really just an extension of your assumptions and an oversimplification of reality". Simplified it states: It is un-objective because of its un-objectivity. Evidence and rationale please? Please remember Reverse Stupidity is Not Intelligence

Comment author: chaosmosis 12 October 2012 04:48:30AM *  1 point [-]

Your first paragraph attacks the validity of the art example; I'm willing to drop that for simplicity's sake.

Your second paragraph concedes that it's not a good way to approximate morality. You say that nothing is. I interpret that as a reason that we shouldn't approach moral tradeoffs with hard and fast decision rules, rather than as a reason that any one particular sort of flawed framework should be considered acceptable. You say that it's a useful thought experiment, I fundamentally disagree. It only muddles the issue because individual actors do not have agency over the actions of each other. I do not see any benefit to using this sort of thought experiment, I only see a risk that the relevancy and quality of analysis is degraded.

You might be misunderstanding my last paragraph. I'm saying that the type of thought experiment you use is one that is normally, almost always, only used selectively, which suggests that it's not the real reason behind whatever position it's being used to advance. No one considers the implications of what would happen if everyone made the same career choices or if everyone made the same lifestyle choices, and then comes to conclusions about what their own personal lives should be like based on those potential universalizations. For example, in response to my claims about art, you immediately started qualifying exactly how much art would be universal and taken as a profession, and added a variety of caveats. But you didn't attempt to consider similar exemptions when considering whether we should view charity donations on a universal level as well, which tells me that you're applying the technique unfairly.

People only ever seem to imagine these scenarios in cases where they're trying to garner support for individual actions but are having a difficult time justifying their desired conclusion from an individual perspective, so they smuggle in the false assumptions that individuals can control other people and that if an action has good consequences for everyone then it's rational for each individual to take that action (this is why I mentioned games theory previously). These false assumptions are the reason that I don't like your thought experiment.