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Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism

149 Post author: Yvain 13 September 2010 09:36PM

Related to: Why Real Men Wear Pink, That Other Kind of Status, Pretending to be Wise, The "Outside The Box" Box

WARNING: Beware of things that are fun to argue -- Eliezer Yudkowsky

Science has inexplicably failed to come up with a precise definition of "hipster", but from my limited understanding a hipster is a person who deliberately uses unpopular, obsolete, or obscure styles and preferences in an attempt to be "cooler" than the mainstream. But why would being deliberately uncool be cooler than being cool?

As previously discussed, in certain situations refusing to signal can be a sign of high status. Thorstein Veblen invented the term "conspicuous consumption" to refer to the showy spending habits of the nouveau riche, who unlike the established money of his day took great pains to signal their wealth by buying fast cars, expensive clothes, and shiny jewelery. Why was such flashiness common among new money but not old? Because the old money was so secure in their position that it never even occurred to them that they might be confused with poor people, whereas new money, with their lack of aristocratic breeding, worried they might be mistaken for poor people if they didn't make it blatantly obvious that they had expensive things.

The old money might have started off not buying flashy things for pragmatic reasons - they didn't need to, so why waste the money? But if F. Scott Fitzgerald is to be believed, the old money actively cultivated an air of superiority to the nouveau riche and their conspicuous consumption; not buying flashy objects becomes a matter of principle. This makes sense: the nouveau riche need to differentiate themselves from the poor, but the old money need to differentiate themselves from the nouveau riche.

This process is called countersignaling, and one can find its telltale patterns in many walks of life. Those who study human romantic attraction warn men not to "come on too strong", and this has similarities to the nouveau riche example. A total loser might come up to a woman without a hint of romance, promise her nothing, and demand sex. A more sophisticated man might buy roses for a woman, write her love poetry, hover on her every wish, et cetera; this signifies that he is not a total loser. But the most desirable men may deliberately avoid doing nice things for women in an attempt to signal they are so high status that they don't need to. The average man tries to differentiate himself from the total loser by being nice; the extremely attractive man tries to differentiate himself from the average man by not being especially nice.

In all three examples, people at the top of the pyramid end up displaying characteristics similar to those at the bottom. Hipsters deliberately wear the same clothes uncool people wear. Families with old money don't wear much more jewelry than the middle class. And very attractive men approach women with the same lack of subtlety a total loser would use.1

If politics, philosophy, and religion are really about signaling, we should expect to find countersignaling there as well.


Pretending To Be Wise

Let's go back to Less Wrong's long-running discussion on death. Ask any five year old child, and ey can tell you that death is bad. Death is bad because it kills you. There is nothing subtle about it, and there does not need to be. Death universally seems bad to pretty much everyone on first analysis, and what it seems, it is.

But as has been pointed out, along with the gigantic cost, death does have a few small benefits. It lowers overpopulation, it allows the new generation to develop free from interference by their elders, it provides motivation to get things done quickly. Precisely because these benefits are so much smaller than the cost, they are hard to notice. It takes a particularly subtle and clever mind to think them up. Any idiot can tell you why death is bad, but it takes a very particular sort of idiot to believe that death might be good.

So pointing out this contrarian position, that death has some benefits, is potentially a signal of high intelligence. It is not a very reliable signal, because once the first person brings it up everyone can just copy it, but it is a cheap signal. And to the sort of person who might not be clever enough to come up with the benefits of death themselves, and only notices that wise people seem to mention death can have benefits, it might seem super extra wise to say death has lots and lots of great benefits, and is really quite a good thing, and if other people should protest that death is bad, well, that's an opinion a five year old child could come up with, and so clearly that person is no smarter than a five year old child. Thus Eliezer's title for this mentality, "Pretending To Be Wise".

If dwelling on the benefits of a great evil is not your thing, you can also pretend to be wise by dwelling on the costs of a great good. All things considered, modern industrial civilization - with its advanced technology, its high standard of living, and its lack of typhoid fever -  is pretty neat. But modern industrial civilization also has many costs: alienation from nature, strains on the traditional family, the anonymity of big city life, pollution and overcrowding. These are real costs, and they are certainly worth taking seriously; nevertheless, the crowds of emigrants trying to get from the Third World to the First, and the lack of any crowd in the opposite direction, suggest the benefits outweigh the costs. But in my estimation - and speak up if you disagree - people spend a lot more time dwelling on the negatives than on the positives, and most people I meet coming back from a Third World country have to talk about how much more authentic their way of life is and how much we could learn from them. This sort of talk sounds Wise, whereas talk about how nice it is to have buses that don't break down every half mile sounds trivial and selfish..

So my hypothesis is that if a certain side of an issue has very obvious points in support of it, and the other side of an issue relies on much more subtle points that the average person might not be expected to grasp, then adopting the second side of the issue will become a signal for intelligence, even if that side of the argument is wrong.

This only works in issues which are so muddled to begin with that there is no fact of the matter, or where the fact of the matter is difficult to tease out: so no one tries to signal intelligence by saying that 1+1 equals 3 (although it would not surprise me to find a philosopher who says truth is relative and this equation is a legitimate form of discourse).

Meta-Contrarians Are Intellectual Hipsters

A person who is somewhat upper-class will conspicuously signal eir wealth by buying difficult-to-obtain goods. A person who is very upper-class will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir wealth, by deliberately not buying difficult-to-obtain goods.

A person who is somewhat intelligent will conspicuously signal eir intelligence by holding difficult-to-understand opinions. A person who is very intelligent will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir intelligence, by deliberately not holding difficult-to-understand opinions.

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 1452. People on this site differ from the mainstream in that they are more willing to say death is bad, more willing to say that science, capitalism, and the like are good, and less willing to say that there's some deep philosophical sense in which 1+1 = 3. That suggests people around that level of intelligence have reached the point where they no longer feel it necessary to differentiate themselves from the sort of people who aren't smart enough to understand that there might be side benefits to death. Instead, they are at the level where they want to differentiate themselves from the somewhat smarter people who think the side benefits to death are great. They are, basically, meta-contrarians, who counter-signal by holding opinions contrary to those of the contrarians' signals. And in the case of death, this cannot but be a good thing.

But just as contrarians risk becoming too contrary, moving from "actually, death has a few side benefits" to "DEATH IS GREAT!", meta-contrarians are at risk of becoming too meta-contrary.

All the possible examples here are controversial, so I will just take the least controversial one I can think of and beg forgiveness. A naive person might think that industrial production is an absolute good thing. Someone smarter than that naive person might realize that global warming is a strong negative to industrial production and desperately needs to be stopped. Someone even smarter than that, to differentiate emself from the second person, might decide global warming wasn't such a big deal after all, or doesn't exist, or isn't man-made.

In this case, the contrarian position happened to be right (well, maybe), and the third person's meta-contrariness took em further from the truth. I do feel like there are more global warming skeptics among what Eliezer called "the atheist/libertarian/technophile/sf-fan/early-adopter/programmer empirical cluster in personspace" than among, say, college professors.

In fact, very often, the uneducated position of the five year old child may be deeply flawed and the contrarian position a necessary correction to those flaws. This makes meta-contrarianism a very dangerous business.

Remember, most everyone hates hipsters.

Without meaning to imply anything about whether or not any of these positions are correct or not3, the following triads come to mind as connected to an uneducated/contrarian/meta-contrarian divide:

- KKK-style racist / politically correct liberal / "but there are scientifically proven genetic differences"
- misogyny / women's rights movement / men's rights movement
- conservative / liberal / libertarian4
- herbal-spiritual-alternative medicine / conventional medicine / Robin Hanson
- don't care about Africa / give aid to Africa / don't give aid to Africa
- Obama is Muslim / Obama is obviously not Muslim, you idiot / Patri Friedman5

What is interesting about these triads is not that people hold the positions (which could be expected by chance) but that people get deep personal satisfaction from arguing the positions even when their arguments are unlikely to change policy6 - and that people identify with these positions to the point where arguments about them can become personal.

If meta-contrarianism is a real tendency in over-intelligent people, it doesn't mean they should immediately abandon their beliefs; that would just be meta-meta-contrarianism. It means that they need to recognize the meta-contrarian tendency within themselves and so be extra suspicious and careful about a desire to believe something contrary to the prevailing contrarian wisdom, especially if they really enjoy doing so.


Footnotes

1) But what's really interesting here is that people at each level of the pyramid don't just follow the customs of their level. They enjoy following the customs, it makes them feel good to talk about how they follow the customs, and they devote quite a bit of energy to insulting the people on the other levels. For example, old money call the nouveau riche "crass", and men who don't need to pursue women call those who do "chumps". Whenever holding a position makes you feel superior and is fun to talk about, that's a good sign that the position is not just practical, but signaling related.

2) There is no need to point out just how unlikely it is that such a number is correct, nor how unscientific the survey was.

3) One more time: the fact that those beliefs are in an order does not mean some of them are good and others are bad. For example, "5 year old child / pro-death / transhumanist" is a triad, and "warming denier / warming believer / warming skeptic" is a triad, but I personally support 1+3 in the first triad and 2 in the second. You can't evaluate the truth of a statement by its position in a signaling game; otherwise you could use human psychology to figure out if global warming is real!

4) This is my solution to the eternal question of why libertarians are always more hostile toward liberals, even though they have just about as many points of real disagreement with the conservatives.

5) To be fair to Patri, he admitted that those two posts were "trolling", but I think the fact that he derived so much enjoyment from trolling in that particular way is significant.

6) Worth a footnote: I think in a lot of issues, the original uneducated position has disappeared, or been relegated to a few rednecks in some remote corner of the world, and so meta-contrarians simply look like contrarians. I think it's important to keep the terminology, because most contrarians retain a psychology of feeling like they are being contrarian, even after they are the new norm. But my only evidence for this is introspection, so it might be false.

Comments (335)

Comment author: Calorion 08 July 2017 05:28:07PM 0 points [-]

The Patri Friedman links are dead, and blocked from archive.org. Anyone have access to another archive, so I can see what he's talking about? There has got to be a better way to link. Has no one come up with a distributed archive of linked material yet?

Comment author: arundelo 09 July 2017 03:01:31AM *  0 points [-]

archive.is has both things from Patri's LiveJournal:

(Unlike archive.org, archive.is does not, IIRC, respect robots.txt.)

Gwern Branwen has a page on link rot and URL archiving.

Comment author: arundelo 09 July 2017 06:24:27PM *  0 points [-]

Why does archive.is not obey robots.txt?

Because it is not a free-walking crawler, it saves only one page acting as a direct agent of the human user.

--archive.is faq

A few months ago we stopped referring to robots.txt files on U.S. government and military web sites [...] As we have moved towards broader access it has not caused problems, which we take as a good sign. We are now looking to do this more broadly.

--archive.org blog, 2017-04-17

Comment author: akrates 03 July 2017 07:36:07PM 1 point [-]

A follow-up thought: This pattern seems to also work for life decisions, and not only for positions in debates or fashion choices. For example: A few years ago, I almost didn't take the offer to do a PhD at an Ivy League school, as opposed to a less highly ranked school, and to live in a mainstream popular city, as opposed to the middle of nowhere, because of my contrarianism. And then my meta-contrarianism kicked in, and I took the offer. I'm happy with the choice, but I do every once in a while have to remind myself of the fact that I consciously decided against my contrarianism, and sometimes I still wonder whether I should have gone with my contrarianism as opposed to my meta-contrarianism. (I.e. I sometimes still wonder whether I'm just buying into a naive narrative about 'good schools' and 'good cities' here.)

PS: This is my way of saying that I really really like Yvain's post. And I just realized it's already 7 years old.

Comment deleted 26 June 2017 03:31:02PM *  [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 26 June 2017 05:16:07PM 1 point [-]

SPAMMITY SPAM SPAM

Comment author: Kevin92 21 January 2016 11:09:00PM *  3 points [-]

This triad was missed:

"Muslims are terrorists!" / "Islam is a religion of peace." / "Religion is problematic in general but Islam is the worst and I can back that claim up with statistics I read on Sam Harris' blog."

Comment author: ChristianKl 04 July 2017 02:41:59PM 2 points [-]

Gwern's TERRORISM IS NOT ABOUT TERROR seems to me like a better candidate for the third.

Comment author: username2 11 April 2016 11:01:04PM 0 points [-]

For the third slot I'd say "religious squabbles are the wrong problem to be thinking about".

Comment author: Catnip 05 March 2015 07:19:38PM 4 points [-]

I have a style question. Are there less grating ways to write gender neutral texts?

I, to my great surprise, was irritated to no end by "ey" and "eir". I always stumbled when reading it. I dislike it and think "he/she" or "they" may be more natural and cause less stumbling when reading the article.

So far, I am against all the invented gender-neutral pronouns. Most of them sound strange ("ey" and "eir" look like a typo or phonetic imitation of deep southern accent, "xe" and "xir" use "x" sound and are simply painful to pronounce)

As of now, I am willing to sacrifice gender neutrality in texts in favor of readability.

Comment author: g_pepper 05 March 2015 08:00:21PM 2 points [-]

Technically, "he" is perfectly acceptable for gender neutral texts. Merriam-Webster states that "he" can be "used in a generic sense or when the sex of the person is unspecified".

However, to avoid the appearance of non-neutral text, I usually use "he/she", "his/her", etc. "They" or "their" can be used, but these are not really appropriate referring to a singular antecedent, so I quite often use "his/her" rather than "their". Another technique that you see frequently and that I sometimes use is to use "he" sometimes and "she" other times. As long as these more-less balance out in your text, you should be OK from a neutrality standpoint.

Any of these alternatives is preferable IMO to "ey" and "eir".

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 05 March 2015 07:36:40PM *  2 points [-]

If you dislike zes, xes and eys and find them horrible little abominations that have no place among good and decent words, and suspect they were meant to trick us into unknowingly saying things that count as worship of Cthulhu...

...oh, wait, that's me. Let's try again.

If you dislike zes, xes and eys, then using "they" seems to me the best solution if you care about being gender-neutral.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 31 December 2014 05:43:15PM *  3 points [-]

That suggests people around that level of intelligence have reached the point where they no longer feel it necessary to differentiate themselves from the sort of people who aren't smart enough to understand that there might be side benefits to death.

This is an interesting hypothesis, but applying it to LessWrong requires that the LW community has a consensus on how people rank by intelligence, that that consensus be correct, and that people believe it is correct. My impression is that everybody thinks they're the smartest person in the room, and judges everyone else's intelligence by how much they agree. I don't believe there is any accurate LW consensus on the intelligence of its members. Person X will always rate people of similar intelligence to perself as having the highest intelligence.

Comment author: Vaniver 31 December 2014 07:03:07PM *  2 points [-]

My impression is that everybody thinks they're the smartest person in the room, and judges everyone else's intelligence by how much they agree.

I think this is generalizing from one example; I've certainly met people who didn't think they were the smartest person in the room, either because they're below median intelligence and reasonably expect that most people are smarter than them or because even though they're above median they've met enough people visibly smarter than them. (I've been in rooms where I wasn't the smartest person.)

I suspect that people may not be very good at ranking, and are mostly able to put people in buckets of "probably smarter than me," "about as smart as me," and "probably less smart than me" (that is, I think the 'levels below mine' blur together similarly to how the 'levels above mine' do).

I also suspect that a lot of very clever people think that they're the best at their particular brand of intelligence, but then it's just a question of self-awareness as to whether or not they see the reason they're picking that particular measure. I can recall, as a high schooler, telling someone at one point "I'm the smartest person at my high school" and then having to immediately revise that statement to clarify 'smartest' in a way that excluded a friend of mine who definitely had more subject matter expertise in several fields and probably had higher g but had (I thought, at least) a narrower intellectual focus.

Comment author: Jacobian 28 December 2014 03:56:25AM 2 points [-]

It's always a bit of a shock when you're the contrarian and you discover someone meta-contrarianizing you on the outside lane. For example, here's an interesting triad I just recently became aware of:

Base: monogamy is assumed without discussion, cheating is the end of a relationship unless maybe if you confess and swear to never do it again.

Contrarian: open/poly relationship is agreed upon after discussion, it's not cheating if there's no lying.

Meta-con: non-exclusivity is assumed, no discussion. Cheating is whatever, just don't tell me about it.

I held the first position since I was a teenager, the second since my early twenties. The third one I have recently heard from a couple of young ladies in New York, where polyamory is quite popular. While it's hard for me to see rationally why the third option would be better (don't ask don't tell vs. open agreement), I find the meta-contrarianism of it extremely seductive... Yvain, you may have just saved my next relationship.

Comment author: gwern 26 October 2014 10:34:03PM 3 points [-]

Ebola has offered a recent nice example of the triad. Mainstream: "be afraid, be very afraid"; contrarian: "don't be so gullible, why, hardly any more people have died from Ebola than have died from flu/traffic accidents/smoking/etc"; meta-contrarian: "what is to be feared is a super-lethal disease escaping containment & killing many more millions than the normal flu or traffic death toll".

Comment author: [deleted] 27 October 2014 04:35:25PM 2 points [-]

meta-contrarian: "what is to be feared is a super-lethal disease escaping containment & killing many more millions than the normal flu or traffic death toll".

Meh. Mankind survived the mad cow, the SARS, the bird flu and the swine flu hardly scathed; why should it be different this time around?

Comment author: gwern 27 October 2014 09:34:03PM 4 points [-]
  1. human deaths are not irrelevant; a million deaths != no deaths.
  2. pandemics are existential threats, which can drive species extinct; I trust you understand why 'mad cow, the SARS, the bird flu and the swine flu' are not counter-arguments to this point.
Comment author: [deleted] 28 October 2014 08:20:05AM *  0 points [-]

I trust you understand why 'mad cow, the SARS, the bird flu and the swine flu' are not counter-arguments to this point.

No, I don't.

EDIT: Anthropics?

Comment author: buybuydandavis 04 March 2014 03:09:05AM 7 points [-]

Not everything is signaling.

The intellectually compulsive are natural critics. You see something wrong in an argument, and you argue against it. The natural stopping point in this process is when you don't find significant problems with the theory, and that is more likely for a fringe theory that other's don't bother to critique. When no one is helping you find the flaws, it's less likely you'll find them. You'll win arguments, at least by your evaluation, because you are familiar with their arguments and can show flaws, but your argument is unfamiliar to them, so they can't show you flaws in your thinking. No one knows the counter, no one has spent the time analyzing your fringe idea. They likely will still dismiss your "wacky" idea, and conclude they won the argument by their dismissal of your position out of hand, but that only makes you feel more confident in your conclusion and in yourself, as it's apparent to you that they have on counter to your argument.

The problem is, you're not right just because people can't prove you wrong. If you have a fringe theory, you need to be aware that it has not been properly vetted by others around you.

Comment author: Entraya 03 January 2014 10:56:10AM 1 point [-]

I think the whole thing about dwelling on the negatives of our society, is because there's a deeper level to the concerns. Like a sort of collective lacking of something, lacking in Romantic relations to nature and society and such things, but without knowing where such things can be found. Just basic yearning that shows up in the extremes of our modern society, which manifests in media and overromantized movies about how 'spiritually connected' Indians were, or the peace of Buddhists, or the good old ways; you know what I mean. The movie Avatar is basically a big blop of such wishes, and I'd be lying if i claimed that living as a blue cat person in a hippies heaven doesn't sound nice as fuck. There's a big drive underneath it that goes beyond countersignaling, and the amount of that is what separates the countersignaling hippies from those simply yearning to the extreme

Comment author: ikrase 07 July 2013 02:45:08AM 3 points [-]

6) Worth a footnote: I think in a lot of issues, the original uneducated position has disappeared, or been relegated to a few rednecks in some remote corner of the world, and so meta-contrarians simply look like contrarians. I think it's important to keep the terminology, because most contrarians retain a psychology of feeling like they are being contrarian, even after they are the new norm. But my only evidence for this is introspection, so it might be false.

Deserves MORE than a footnote.

Comment author: fractalman 07 June 2013 10:12:02AM -2 points [-]

|so no one tries to signal intelligence by saying that 1+1 equals 3

oh, you are so asking for it, no matter how old this topic is...

There IS a sense in which 1+1=3. It is not particularly deep, or philosiphical, or even particulalry useful mathematically, except possibly to demonstrate a simple result of playing around with unusual axioms.

See, when one man and one woman....

snickers

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 March 2013 11:54:38AM -1 points [-]

I wonder if conspiracy theories could be a "middle-band" position? Any fool can see the WTC was destroyed by a plane...

Comment author: fburnaby 06 March 2013 02:18:53AM 7 points [-]

doesn't follow politics / political junkie / avoids talking about politics due to mind-killing

Comment author: stcredzero 04 March 2013 06:42:49PM 1 point [-]

A person who is very intelligent will conspicuously signal that ey feels no need to conspicuously signal eir intelligence, by deliberately not holding difficult-to-understand opinions.

What does it mean when people hold difficult to understand moral opinions?

Comment author: timtyler 16 August 2012 11:45:09PM *  1 point [-]

But as has been pointed out, along with the gigantic cost, death does have a few small benefits. It lowers overpopulation, it allows the new generation to develop free from interference by their elders, it provides motivation to get things done quickly.

Right - and let's not forget that it takes out of circulation a load of persistent parasites which have evolved over hundreds of generations to exploit your genome, which might otherwise find and attack your relatives and descendants.

Comment author: TraderJoe 05 March 2012 07:49:15PM *  -2 points [-]

[comment deleted]

Comment author: [deleted] 28 February 2012 11:41:32PM *  4 points [-]

conservative / liberal / libertarian

Liberal and libertarian don't mean the same thing in Europe as in America; keep that in mind when writing for international audiences. (Very roughly speaking, an European liberal is a moderate version of an American libertarian, and an American liberal is a moderate version of an European libertarian.)

Comment author: steven0461 29 February 2012 12:25:38AM *  4 points [-]

liberal [doesn't] mean the same thing in Europe as in America

Do European and American liberals advocate different policies, or is it just that the political spectrum in both places is different so the same policies appear at different relative positions?

libertarian [doesn't] mean the same thing in Europe as in America

As far as I can tell, while this was true in the 19th century, Europe has almost completely adopted the American use of the word. Here are some examples (is there a way to get markdown to work with links that end in parentheses?):

Comment author: dbaupp 01 March 2012 01:43:56PM 1 point [-]

Do European and American liberals advocate different policies, or is it just that the political spectrum in both places is different so the same policies appear at different relative positions?

FWIW, in Australia, there are two main political parties, Liberal and Labor. The Liberals are reasonably close to the Republicans (from what I can glean of US politics), and "liberals" (US meaning) seem to align with Labor or one of the other parties.

is there a way to get markdown to work with links that end in parentheses

A backslash in front of the offending punctuation should fix it.

Comment author: thomblake 29 February 2012 03:53:15PM *  4 points [-]

liberal [doesn't] mean the same thing in Europe as in America

Do European and American liberals advocate different policies, or is it just that the political spectrum in both places is different so the same policies appear at different relative positions?

In short, 'liberal' in the US is merely the opposite of 'conservative', matching the usage of "He was liberal with his praise"; 'liberal' in Europe for the most part retains the meaning specified by 'classical liberal' in the US - "in favor of individual liberty".

Comment author: steven0461 29 February 2012 07:16:04PM *  4 points [-]

It looks to me like it means something more specific than just the opposite of "conservative". For example, this article has a header "opposition to socialism". I'm aware that US liberals are less conservative than the US spectrum and that European liberals are more in favor of individual liberty than the European spectrum, but before concluding they're different, you'd first need to rule out the hypothesis that it's because the US spectrum is more conservative and the European spectrum is less in favor of individual liberty.

ETA: I don't think this is the whole explanation, but I think it's a large part of the explanation.

Comment author: thomblake 01 March 2012 02:05:42PM *  3 points [-]

The thing is, "less conservative" doesn't actually mean anything in the US. "Conservative" and "liberal" are just pointers to the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively, which in turn are semi-permanent coalitions of people with vastly different (and often incompatible) ideologies, that end up being used for color politics. There isn't really a spectrum, but you can pretend there is - if you have 390 Green beliefs and 100 Blue beliefs, then you're clearly a Moderate Green (aquamarine?).

Whereas in most of Europe, parties actually represent ideologies to some extent, and so ideological terms don't get corrupted so much in favor of talking about the platform of a party. This is often because temporary coalitions happen between political parties, instead of within them.

England is a notable exception to this - it has more-or-less two parties, and they pretend to fall on a "political spectrum" like the US parties; thus, they even tend to echo US meaningless political rhetoric.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 03:36:46PM 3 points [-]

Whereas in most of Europe, parties actually represent ideologies to some extent, and so ideological terms don't get corrupted so much in favor of talking about the platform of a party. This is often because temporary coalitions happen between political parties, instead of within them.

At least in Italy, “It's a complete mess” would be a more accurate (though less precise) description than that.

Comment author: thomblake 01 March 2012 04:16:23PM 0 points [-]

Agreed.

Comment author: [deleted] 29 February 2012 10:49:09AM *  5 points [-]
liberal [doesn't] mean the same thing in Europe as in America

Do European and American liberals advocate different policies, or is it just that the political spectrum in both places is different so the same policies appear at different relative positions?

If I understand correctly, in America liberal is essentially a synonym of ‘(moderate) left-winger’, and hence the antonym of conservative or ‘(moderate) right-winger’ wrt social values, though they often are in favour of greater economic regulation (e.g. the US Democratic Party), whereas in Europe liberals are those who favour greater economic freedom, though they are often conservative wrt social values (e.g. the Italian centre-right). Among mainstream parties, it appears to me to be the case both in Europe and in America that the political spectrum concentrates along a line with positive slope in the Political Compass, i.e. those who value free capitalism also value traditional social values and those who value economic equality also value social freedom (and liberal appear to refer to different directions along that line in Europe and in America), but Europe has (or should I say “used to have”?, I was not aware of the parties you mentioned) fewer extremists east of that line and America has fewer extremists west of it, AFAICT.

(is there a way to get markdown to work with links that end in parentheses?)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Party_%28Netherlands%29 (28 and 29 being the hex codes for ( and ) respectively).

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 March 2013 11:59:28AM -2 points [-]

(is there a way to get markdown to work with links that end in parentheses?)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_Party_%28Netherlands%29 (28 and 29 being the hex codes for ( and ) respectively).

Would have upvoted just for this.

Comment author: wedrifid 06 March 2013 03:59:54PM 1 point [-]

Alternately, note that the escape character in markdown is "\". Putting that before the (first) closing parenthesis works fine.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 29 February 2012 10:54:06AM *  1 point [-]

FWIW I'm from Germany and tend to agree with the above comment.

Comment author: Asymmetric 31 January 2012 04:45:34AM *  1 point [-]

This is exactly how history is studied.

Historiography is how historical opinions have changed over time. It first begins with the Orthodox viewpoint, which is the first, generally accepted viewpoint of the events that arises. It is generally very biased because it comes about directly after the event has occurred, when feelings still run strong.

This Orthodox viewpoint is contrasted by several Revisionist viewpoints, which tend to make wildly different conclusions based upon new evidence in order to sell books (historical scandals are quite good for that). Sometimes a Revisionist viewpoint can become the new Orthodoxy if it has become entrenched in the public consciousness long enough.

Then there's Post-Revisionism, which, after the rancor has died down, aims to dispassionately weigh the evidence brought to the table by both the Revisionist viewpoints and the Orthodoxy (different Post-Revisionist conclusions arise from differing opinions on how reliable certain pieces of evidence are). While the Orthodoxy and especially the Revisionists tend to make strong statements about the controversy, Post-Revisionists rarely make statements that concede nothing to other viewpoints, and thus their arguments are "weaker", though Post-Revisionist opinions are seen generally as the least biased of the three.

The problem with the Post-Revisionist viewpoints is that, even though they don't arise from emotional attachment (or rejection of the same), they tend to have access to less evidence in total -- I mean, just look at all those Egyptologists. Or, really, anyone who wants to know about an ancient civilization.

Comment author: christina 05 October 2011 05:29:41AM *  1 point [-]

I know this is an old post, but I wanted to ask a couple questions.

Can you clarify if this meta-contrarian hypothesis of human psychology makes predictions that distinguish it from other explanations for holding an idea to be true or communicating it to be true? I ask since from reading some of the comments, the classification of these triads seems like a fluid thing, and I can't think of anything offhand that might be used to constrain them. If you want to use your hypothesis merely to talk about the reasons for why confidence is assigned, do you think the ideas you've presented here can make more accurate predictions on that than those in an example journal article on psychology, such as this one by Kahneman and Tversky?

Also, I think it would be more helpful to depend on examining only the logic behind, and the evidence for one's beliefs (and ignoring how confident one feels about them) to determine if they are right. You state:

You can't evaluate the truth of a statement by its position in a signaling game; otherwise you could use human psychology to figure out if global warming is real!

I strongly agree with this statement. Which is why I also want to know how the triads you propose help people to examine the flaws in their beliefs better than other psychological theories or hypotheses. For example, I might say that one should examine any belief closely, even if one feels a high degree of confidence in it, because level of confidence felt does not predict level of truth. This is a hypothesis about how confidence felt for a belief correlates to its truth (and if you want to be meta about it, it's a belief that I currently believe to be true).

In summary, I would like to know 1.) how you use the hypothesis you've given to make predictions and 2.) how this can help people identify false high confidence beliefs better than other possible hypotheses (such as the one I gave). And if anyone besides Yvain can answer these questions, I would welcome your input as well.

Comment author: UnclGhost 05 September 2011 08:07:35AM 1 point [-]

Great post. I've had a similar idea for a while but didn't realize just how far it could be generalized.

I especially noticed this idea while reading C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, which seems to posit the hierarchy as being something like "Belief in Christianity because of social pressures / Disbelief in Christianity because who needs social pressures / Belief in Christianity because of comprehension of its 'true meaning' (or something)".

I guess when there are potentially a lot of layers of meta-contrarianism like in Matt_Simpson's example, that can easily lead to strawman arguments when you try to argue against a higher-level even (or odd) number as if it was a lower-level even (or odd) number.

Comment author: Raw_Power 07 July 2011 05:35:30PM 10 points [-]

Could it be that the entire history of philosophy and its "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" recurring structure is an instance of this? Not to mention other liberal arts, and the development of the cycles of fashion.

Comment author: RobinZ 09 February 2011 03:51:58PM *  14 points [-]

Belatedly, a quotation to hang at the top of the post:

There is a great difference between still believing something and believing it again. Still to believe that the moon affects the plants reveals stupidity and superstition, but to believe it again is a sign of philosophy and reflection.

Lichtenberg, Georg Christoph, 1775

Comment author: HughRistik 17 November 2010 07:12:41AM *  1 point [-]

This post inspired me to write an article on Feminism, criticism of feminism, and contrarianism over at FeministCritics.org.

Comment author: fburnaby 06 March 2013 02:55:29AM 1 point [-]

I identified very strongly with your article. I feel exactly the same way and suspect the same things are going on in my brain when I hear really bad feminist arguments. They're somehow more annoying than really bad (even worse!) gender regressive arguments.

This has lead me to question whether I should indulge myself in making my contrarian, actually-gender-progressive, arguments against what I perceive as mainstream opinion (feminism). Feminism really isn't nearly as mainstream as it feels to me. I'm just privileged as a member of the intellectual progressive elite - I got to go to good schools, I'm a professional, I select progressive friends and grew up with somewhat progressive parents. Yes, it was a revelation when I realized how many problems there are with mainstream feminism, but I'm also a product of a pretty rare selection bias in a society that's actually still racist. I actually buy the feminist narrative that there is still a lot of (level 1) sexism in our society, even though I tend to only see the problems with (level 2) mainstream feminism.

But there is a problem here for a consequentialist. No matter how clearly I put my criticisms, they're only understood as "some reactionary rationalization". People don't grasp the nuance and count one more head on the wrong side. It seems like it will lead to better consequences if I spend a majority of time "me too"ing mainstream feminism and biting my tongue about most of the issues in it. Or at least building more explicit feminist cred before pointing out some of the problems.

So this leads me to a question for you: why do you think that, in the face of your realization about why you criticize what you criticize, continuing to do it is the right thing to do?

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 March 2013 01:52:26PM *  -2 points [-]

So this leads me to a question for you: why do you think that, in the face of your realization about why you criticize what you criticize, continuing to do it is the right thing to do?

At risk of sounding tautological, that depends on whether it's the right thing to do.

If you have identified a systematic bias, try to remove it, then reevaluate your choices. You may still make he same ones; you cannot deduce reality from your bias. But you cannot know that if you're still biased.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 November 2011 12:13:29PM *  1 point [-]

I agree with roshni-- it would be better if you made your criticisms as you see them rather than as levels of a signalling game.

From my point of view, the PUA believers have the advantage at LW, and being gently told, no it's wonderful, and the non-wonderful bits (the worst of which I'd never heard of until you brought them up, something I'm never sure you quite believed) don't matter when so much of it is different and being in the brainfog business is best for everyone even though there's no careful way for you to check on the effects on people you're taking charge of for your own good, just leaves me feeling rather hopeless about that part of LW.

A specific example: I think you're one of the people who says that some men in PUA start out misogynistic, but become less so after they've had some success with attracting women. I wonder how they treat the women they're with before they've recovered from misogyny. Those women don't seem to be there in your calculus.

Comment author: HughRistik 26 November 2011 09:39:32AM *  15 points [-]

Nancy, I'm a bit confused by your comment.

From my point of view, the PUA believers have the advantage at LW

What does "PUA believer" mean? Out of the folks who discuss pickup positively on LessWrong, I doubt any of them "believe" in it uncritically. However, they may feel motivated to defend pickup from inaccurate characterizations.

I do not see people who want to discuss pickup in a not-completely-negative way on LW as having an obvious advantage. The debate is not symmetrical. Anyone who can be painted as a defender of pickup is vulnerable to all sorts of stigma. Yet the worst they can say in their defense is to call the attackers close-minded or uneducated about pickup.

and being gently told, no it's wonderful, and the non-wonderful bits (the worst of which I'd never heard of until you brought them up, something I'm never sure you quite believed) don't matter when so much of it is different

Yes, different parts of pickup are different. No, the good parts don't necessarily justify the bad parts, but the presence of good parts means that pickup shouldn't be unequivocally dismissed.

being in the brainfog business is best for everyone even though there's no careful way for you to check on the effects on people you're taking charge of for your own good

There are lots of assumptions here to unpack, but I would rather hold off until I understand your views better.

just leaves me feeling rather hopeless about that part of LW.

Me too, but for different reasons.

A specific example: I think you're one of the people who says that some men in PUA start out misogynistic, but become less so after they've had some success with attracting women. I wonder how they treat the women they're with before they've recovered from misogyny. Those women don't seem to be there in your calculus.

I'm hurt that you don't think I've run the most basic consequentialist analyses on these sorts of questions. I've never stated my full moral calculus on pickup, so I don't know how you can say that it has gaps. That would be a complex subject, contingent on a lot of empirical and moral-philosophical questions that I don't know the answer to.

Luckily, since I'm not defending pickup in general, I don't have to know how to perform the moral calculus evaluating pickup in general. But I can assure you that I've thought about it. Nobody has asked me the right questions to learn my thoughts on the subject (well, some people have elsewhere... just not here).

In these discussions, sometimes I feel like some people consider pickup to be evil until proven otherwise, based on their initial impression. And that anyone who speaks positively about pickup in any way (or refutes any criticism) is a "defender" (or as you put it, "believer")... unless they write a long explication of all the problems with pickup that convinces that critics that it's not all bad, and that these believers are not completely horrible people.

Dealing with a biased, inaccurate, and polarized assessment of pickup doesn't exactly put me (and other people discussing pickup in a not-completely-negative way) in the right mood to talk about the practical and ethical problems we have with pickup. Just because we don't nail 95 theses to the door criticizing pickup before discussing it doesn't mean that we don't have problem with it, and that we haven't considered the consequences for women.

I suspect that our feelings about pickup are a lot more ambivalent and complex than you realize, but the discussion has become so polarized that people seem to feel like they are forced to pick "sides," and people who actually have very ambivalent feelings about pickup get thrust into the role of defending it.

I'm tired of defending pickup. I want to have a turn criticizing it! But I can't take my turn yet, because so much of my energy discussing pickup is getting consumed by correcting all the biased and wrong stuff that is written about it. If I wrote critical stuff about pickup, then biased people would just use it selectively as part of their hatchet job, rather than promoting a complete understanding of the subject.

How can we reduce this polarization?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 November 2011 08:37:08AM 5 points [-]

This is very much a first attempt at answering these matters.

I'm tired of defending pickup. I want to have a turn criticizing it! But I can't take my turn yet, because so much of my energy discussing pickup is getting consumed by correcting all the biased and wrong stuff that is written about it. If I wrote critical stuff about pickup, then biased people would just use it selectively as part of their hatchet job, rather than promoting a complete understanding of the subject.

How can we reduce this polarization?

I think more honesty on both sides (and you've made a good start) will help.

Part of what's been going on is that your advocacy has left me feeling as though my fears about PUA were being completely dismissed. On the other hand, when you've occasionally mentioned some doubts about aspects of PUA, I've felt better, but generally not posted anything about it.

I may have said something in favor when the idea of "atypical women" (more straightforward than the average and tending to be geeky) was floated. I'm pretty sure I didn't when someone (probably you) said something about some PUA techniques being unfair (certainly not the word used, but I don't have a better substitute handy) to women who aren't very self-assured, even though that's the sort of thing I'm concerned about.

Thanks for posting more about what's going on at your end.

As for stigma, I actually think it's funny that both of us feel sufficiently like underdogs that we're defensive. From my point of view, posting against PUA here leads to stigma not just for being close-minded and opposed to rational efforts to improve one's life (rather heavier stigmas here than in most places), but also for unkindness to men who would otherwise be suffering because they don't know how to attract women.

I don't know if it was unfair of me to assume that you hadn't performed a moral calculus-- from my point of view, the interests of women were being pretty much dismissed, or being assumed (by much lower standards of proof) to be adequately served by what was more convenient for men. Part of what squicks me about PUA is that it seems as though there's very careful checking about its effects (at least in the short term) on men, but, in the nature of things, much less information about its effects on women.

Comment author: HughRistik 07 December 2011 10:56:10AM 6 points [-]

Part of what's been going on is that your advocacy has left me feeling as though my fears about PUA were being completely dismissed. ... I don't know if it was unfair of me to assume that you hadn't performed a moral calculus--

On LW in general I've spilled gallons of ink engaging in moral analyses of pickup, and of potential objections to pickup techniques. In my PUA FAQ, I made a whole section on ethics. In general, I have trouble reconciling your above perceptions with my participation in pickup discussions on LW.

But my memory of those discussions isn't perfect, so it's possible that I've been lax in replying to you personally. If you raised an issue that I didn't satisfactorily respond to, that's probably because I missed it, or left the thread, or had already talked about it elsewhere on LW, not because I didn't think it was important.

On the other hand, when you've occasionally mentioned some doubts about aspects of PUA, I've felt better, but generally not posted anything about it.

I'm glad that you noticed, even if you didn't comment much. Perhaps I'll talk more about those doubts when people engage me more about them.

I'm pretty sure I didn't when someone (probably you) said something about some PUA techniques being unfair (certainly not the word used, but I don't have a better substitute handy) to women who aren't very self-assured, even though that's the sort of thing I'm concerned about.

Yes, I believe that pickup can be harsh towards women who aren't very self-assured, and who don't have good boundaries. Yet that fact has to be taken in context.

Particular sexual norms and sexual cultures (e.g. high status, extraverted, and/or gender-traditional cultures) are harsh towards people of both sexes who aren't very self-assured, and who don't have good boundaries. Pickup is merely one example.

I have a shortlist of particular behaviors and mindsets that I find especially objectionable about pickup. Yet when trying to assess PUAs, who is the control group? Who are we comparing them to? Over the years, my ethical opinion of PUAs (on average) has fallen, but my ethical opinion of non-PUAs has been falling perhaps even faster. Criticizing PUAs for doing what everyone else is doing turns PUAs into scapegoats, and lets the rest of the culture off the hook.

As for stigma, I actually think it's funny that both of us feel sufficiently like underdogs that we're defensive. From my point of view, posting against PUA here leads to stigma not just for being close-minded and opposed to rational efforts to improve one's life (rather heavier stigmas here than in most places), but also for unkindness to men who would otherwise be suffering because they don't know how to attract women.

Thanks for filling me in on some of the stigmas on your end... I hadn't thought of the "unkind to men" one. Still, do you think those stigma as symmetrical in impact to charges of misogyny and not caring about women?

I don't know if it was unfair of me to assume that you hadn't performed a moral calculus-- from my point of view, the interests of women were being pretty much dismissed, or being assumed (by much lower standards of proof) to be adequately served by what was more convenient for men.

I am skeptical that you have sufficient data about people's view of pickup on LW to be able to make those judgments. I don't think people's views have had a chance to unfold yet. Or maybe your perception of past discussions is different, or we are both talking about different discussions, or your priors are just very different from mine.

Ultimately, I do consider it premature to suspect that I, or anyone else posting about pickup on LW, is so morally illiterate that they haven't performed a moral calculus of some sort about pickup. If we were off LW, that might be a different story.

They can correct me if I'm wrong, but I find it unlikely that people interested in pickup on LW are so ethically naive that they support pickup out of some form of egoism, or have a utility function that categorically places men's preferences above women's.

It's much more likely that they consider pickup (or more, a subset of pickup that appeals to them) consistent with their own moral theories and intuitions. Likewise, I don't agree that men discussing pickup on LW are mainly just checking its effects on men, but not on women. Perhaps I'm biased by my own views, but it seems more likely that they have thought about the effects on women. LW is not privy to their thought process, because nobody has asked the right questions. Actually, it's quite possible that they don't use, or even forgot about, some of the very things that outsiders might find objectionable about pickup.

Likewise, while I have a lot of problems with feminism, I would expect that a feminist on LW would have come to feminism through a cognitively sophisticated route (unless they proved otherwise), and that there are enough good things in feminism for a rationalist to believe that there is some value in it. I'm sure that feminists on LW would find it off-putting to have to articulate their moral calculus about how their activism treats men as a precondition to being considered reasonable. That doesn't mean that I expect to fully agree with the moral calculus of LW feminists, but it does mean that I would assume a basic level of moral sophistication on their part.

Part of what squicks me about PUA is that it seems as though there's very careful checking about its effects (at least in the short term) on men, but, in the nature of things, much less information about its effects on women.

You talk about checking the effects of pickup as if it's some sort of novel drug, but I don't see it that way. Most pickup behaviors are isomorphic to what people are already doing.

So it's not necessarily that we are being lax about checking; I think a lot of this stuff is already checked. Pickup techniques are not not as unique and special as PUA marketers or PUA critics make them sound, so they deserve the same level of consideration that anyone should do in their dating behavior, but they aren't so powerful or novel that they require some special moral scrutiny... at least, not separate from a larger moral debate about consent and sexual ethics that should examine the culture in general.

It is frustrating that pickup practitioners are getting held to a much higher moral standard than anyone else in the population, when they are simply doing a more systematized version of what large segments of the population are already doing.

I'm all for engaging in moral calculus about dating behavior. I do it all the time with mine, and I don't agree with all of the conclusions of the calculus of some people who practice pickup. But outside of (some) feminists and people who practice BDSM, who exactly does a rigorous moral calculus about the effects of their dating and sexual behavior? Most people don't calculate their dating ethics, they operate on cached ideas.

While it's understandable that critics of pickup focus on the most worrying aspects, that focus may not leave pickup practitioners on LW feeling like they are being treated as complex human beings who at least might have coherent ethical views supporting the subset of pickup that they practice.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2014 02:03:46PM 3 points [-]

Over the years, my ethical opinion of PUAs (on average) has fallen, but my ethical opinion of non-PUAs has been falling perhaps even faster.

That's one of the best sentences I've read today, especially given what the title of this website is.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 November 2011 09:52:24PM *  1 point [-]

I think I agree with this.

I think more honesty on both sides (and you've made a good start) will help.

We are already supposed to be honest here most of the time. I think something needs to be changed to facilitate such a debate, if we wish to have it.

I just think that while there are hopeful signs that we will chew through this with our usual set of tools and norms, but those hopeful signs have been around for years, and the situation dosen't seem to be improving.

Honestly I think our only hope of addressing this is having a farm more robust debating style, far more limited in scope than we are used to since tangents often peter out without follow up or any kind of synthesis or even a clear idea of what is and what isn't agreed upon in these debates.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 November 2011 11:55:15PM 1 point [-]

Honestly I think our only hope of addressing this is having a farm more robust debating style, far more limited in scope than we are used to since tangents often peter out without follow up or any kind of synthesis or even a clear idea of what is and what isn't agreed upon in these debates.

I don't know what you mean by that-- could you expand on the details or supply an example of a place that has the sort of style you have in mind?

My instincts are to go for something less robust. I know that part of what drives my handling of the subject is a good bit of fear, and I suspect there was something of the sort going on for HughRustik.

I'm not sure what would need to change at LW to make people more comfortable with talking about their less respectable emotions.

I'm contemplating using a pseudonym, but that might not be useful-- a number of people have told me that I write the way I talk.

You've probably got a point about synthesis. It might help if people wrote summaries of where various debates stand. I bet that such summaries would get upvoted.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 December 2011 07:52:16AM *  0 points [-]

I'm not sure what would need to change at LW to make people more comfortable with talking about their less respectable emotions.

I doubt talking about the emotions, specifically about individual's emotions, or even how each "side" (ugh tribalism) may feel about the matter, will improve the situation. If anything I suspect it will result in status games around signalling good tactically usefull emotions and people resenting others for their emotions.

You've probably got a point about synthesis. It might help if people wrote summaries of where various debates stand. I bet that such summaries would get upvoted.

Perhaps this should be a start.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 December 2011 01:08:28PM 1 point [-]

I doubt talking about the emotions, specifically about individuals emotions, or even how each "side" (ugh tribalism) will improve the situation. If anything I suspect it will result in status games around that and people resenting others for their emotions.

I think the last clause of the first sentence is missing some words.

Emotions are part of what's going on, and it's at least plausible that respect for truth includes talking about them.

Discussion which includes talk about emotions can blow up, but it doesn't have to. I suggest that there are specific premises that make talk about emotion go bad-- the idea that emotions don't change, that some people's emotions should trump other people's emotions, and that some emotions should trump other emotions. This list is probably not complete.

The challenge would be to allow territorial emotions to be mentioned, but not letting them take charge.

I think the crucial thing is to maintain an attitude of "What's going on here?" rather than "This is an emergency-- the other person must be changed or silenced".

Comment author: [deleted] 01 December 2011 01:31:50PM 1 point [-]

I think the last clause of the first sentence is missing some words.

Correct, I was writing at a late hour. I've fixed the missing bits now.

Emotions are part of what's going on, and it's at least plausible that respect for truth includes talking about them.

Discussion which includes talk about emotions can blow up, but it doesn't have to. I suggest that there are specific premises that make talk about emotion go bad-- the idea that emotions don't change, that some people's emotions should trump other people's emotions, and that some emotions should trump other emotions. This list is probably not complete.

The challenge would be to allow territorial emotions to be mentioned, but not letting them take charge

I think the crucial thing is to maintain an attitude of "What's going on here?" rather than "This is an emergency-- the other person must be changed or silenced".

This has shifted my opinion more in favour of such a debate, I remain sceptical however. First identifying what exactly are the preconditions for such a debate (completing that list in other words) and second the sheer logistics of making it happen that way seem to me daunting challenges.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 December 2011 02:07:54PM 0 points [-]

As for whether this kind of thing can be managed at LW, my answer is maybe tending towards yes. I think the social pressure which can be applied to get people to choose a far view and/or curiosity about the present is pretty strong, but I don't know if it's strong enough.

The paradox is that people who insist on naive territorial/status fights have to be changed or silenced.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 December 2011 01:50:33PM 3 points [-]

More for the list, based on your point about groups: It's important to label speculations about the ill effects of actions based on stated emotions as speculations, and likewise for speculations about the emotions of people who aren't in the discussion.

Part of what makes all this hard is that people have to make guesses (on rather little evidence, really) about the trustworthiness of other people. If the assumption of good will is gone, it's hard to get it back.

If someone gives a signal which seems to indicate that they shouldn't be trusted, all hell can break loose very quickly. and at that point, a lesswrongian cure might be to identify the stakes, which I think are pretty low for the blog. The issues might be different for people who are actually working on FAI.

Comment author: lessdazed 01 December 2011 02:49:51AM 0 points [-]

I'm contemplating using a pseudonym, but that might not be useful-- a number of people have told me that I write the way I talk.

We could have a pidgin language pseudonym thread.

Comment author: lessdazed 30 November 2011 11:47:21PM 0 points [-]

the situation dosen't seem to be improving.

What exactly do you mean? If the situation is getting no worse, notice the population is expanding.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 December 2011 08:03:10AM *  3 points [-]

What exactly do you mean?

It is not improving.

If the situation is getting no worse,

This is up for debate. Vladimir_M and others have argued that precisely the fact that blow ups are rarer means more uninterrupted happy death spirals are occurring and we are in the processes of evaporative cooling of group beliefs on the subject.

I think they are right.

notice the population is expanding.

LessWrong actually needs either better standards of rationality or better mechanisms to sort through the ever growing number of responses as it grows in order to keep the signal to noise ratio close to something worth our time. Also I'm confused as to why a larger population of LWers, would translate into this being something LWers can more easily make progress on.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 30 November 2011 10:47:22PM 1 point [-]

My $0.02:

It might help to state clearly what "addressing this" would actually comprise... that is, how could you tell if a discussion had done so successfully?

It might also help if everyone involved in that discussion (should such a discussion occur) agreed to some or all of the following guidelines:

  • I will, when I reject or challenge a conclusion, state clearly why I'm doing so. E.g.: is it incoherent? Is it dangerous? Is it hurtful? Is it ambiguous? Is it unsupported? Does it conflict with my experience? Etc.

  • I will "taboo" terms where I suspect people in the conversation have significantly different understandings of those terms (for example, "pickup"), and will instead unpack my understanding.

  • I will acknowledge out loud when a line of reasoning supports a conclusion I disagree with. This does not mean I agree with the conclusion.

  • I will, insofar as I can, interpret all comments without reference to my prior beliefs about what the individual speaker (as opposed to a generic person) probably meant. Where I can't do that, and my prior beliefs about the speaker are relevantly different from my beliefs about a generic person, I will explicitly summarize those beliefs before articulating conclusions based on them.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 November 2011 11:25:09AM *  9 points [-]

How can we reduce this polarization?

Maybe by moderates coming out of the closet, so to speak?

Hi, my name is Daenerys, and I have ambiguous views about PUA. My initial reaction was "Ew! Bad!" but after reading the debates here, talking with a friend, and learning more elsewhere, my views towards it have softened. I still do not think that all of it is 100% ok though. It is a complicated issue with many facets.

Mainly I wish it wouldn't hijack non-PUA discussions. I am seriously close to just starting a PUA discussion to keep all this stuff in one place, but I guess I feel if anyone should do it, it should be the mods.

PUA Moderates of the World, Unite!

Comment author: HughRistik 28 November 2011 01:52:49AM 2 points [-]

Hi daenerys! Welcome to the PUA Moderates club.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 26 November 2011 05:38:37PM 5 points [-]

Speaking as an indifferent moderate, I suspect that well over 90% of the value extractable from discussions of applications of evidence-based reasoning to dating is extractable with significantly less effort from discussions of applications of evidence-based reasoning to job interviews, used car purchases, getting along with parents and children and neighbors and classmates and coworkers, and other social negotiations.

That said, I also suspect that the far greater fascination the dating-related threads have for this site than the other stuff has more to do with various people's interests in dating than with their interest in evidence-based reasoning, so I expect we will continue to have the dating-related threads.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 November 2011 04:07:59PM 4 points [-]

but I guess I feel if anyone should do it, it should be the mods.

Moderators moving into a role of actively constructing official topics like that would be somewhat awkward. Moderation being damn near invisible for the most part is a feature.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 November 2011 12:45:49PM 1 point [-]

As for contrarianism, I think of myself as a second-order curmudgeon. When people talk about how things are getting worse, I push for specific examples rather than just a claim that things are bad. People rarely have anything specific in mind.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 November 2010 11:18:23AM -1 points [-]

You might be interested in this-- it's by a male feminist who's working on how to have feminism which is genuinely friendly to heterosexual men.

Another young guy, one of my best students, told me that he felt as if he’d been set up for failure, as if Jensen and I were positing abstinence from pornography as the sine qua non of being a decent male. “If I masturbate to porn can I still be a good man” was the question I got from more than one anguished participant in the class. And if several of the students were willing to divulge such private pain to me, I can only assume that still others felt the same way but kept silent.

I suspect the problem goes deeper than the specifics of feminism, though those are worth addressing. A lot of people interpret moral advice in self-damaging ways, and I'm not sure what's going on there. It seems like a taught vulnerability.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 18 November 2011 07:00:18AM *  3 points [-]

You might be interested in [Hugo Schwyzer's blog]-- it's by a male feminist who's working on how to have feminism which is genuinely friendly to heterosexual men.

If by "make feminism genuinely friendly to men" you mean "defend paternity fraud" and compare the "men's right movement to the KKK"...

Comment author: waveman 01 March 2014 12:40:03PM 0 points [-]

Read the update here. Truth is stranger than fiction.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugo_Schwyzer

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 November 2011 12:19:22PM 1 point [-]

For what it's worth, I never got around to reading much of Schwyser's blog. These days, I read No Seriously, What About Teh Menz?, and they're none too fond of Schwyzer either. I hate that there was a felt need to give it a jokey title more than I can say.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 18 November 2011 02:55:42PM 0 points [-]

I like NSWATM too. I'm glad it's becoming more popular.

Comment author: HughRistik 18 November 2010 07:48:53AM 0 points [-]

Thanks, Nancy. I do find Hugo's blog interesting, and I post there sometimes.

Comment author: wedrifid 17 November 2010 11:22:46AM *  0 points [-]

I suspect the problem goes deeper than the specifics of feminism, though those are worth addressing. A lot of people interpret moral advice in self-damaging ways, and I'm not sure what's going on there. It seems like a taught vulnerability.

You are saying, I take it, that the guy in question was mistaken in believing the advice prohibited the use of pornography? It isn't quite clear to me whether you were saying that he correctly understood the pornography related implications but ought not have considered it self-damaging. I have of course seen both, as well as those (not you) who suggest that following the ideals is actually beneficial to the individual as well, almost by definition.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 November 2010 11:54:22AM 1 point [-]

Yes, your first suggestion.

Comment author: Carinthium 10 November 2010 10:33:54PM 4 points [-]

BTW, I'm not actually that intelligent (IQ about 92 or 96 if I remember right) but pretending to adopt a meta-contrarian position might be a useful social tactic for me. Any advice from those who know the area on how to use it?

Comment author: epursimuove 30 November 2013 10:39:21PM *  1 point [-]

I'm not actually that intelligent (IQ about 92 or 96 if I remember right)

This seems quite unlikely given your reasonably high-quality posting history. Is this number from a professionally administered test? Do you have a condition like dyslexia or dyscalculia that impairs specific abilities but not others?

Comment author: Carinthium 01 December 2013 02:03:04AM 1 point [-]

I have Aspergers Syndrome, which affects things like this. Probably has something to do with it.

Comment author: HonoreDB 08 January 2011 03:20:04AM *  12 points [-]

Advocate for the obvious position using the language and catchphrases of its opponents. I remember once saying, "Well, have we ever tried blindly throwing lots of money at the educational system?" Everyone agreed that this was a wise and sophisticated thing to say, even though I was by far the least knowledgeable person in the room on the subject and was just advocating the default strategy for improving public schools. Other examples:

"Greed is good."

"The chief virtue of a $professional is $vice."

"I'm a tax-and-spend liberal, and I think there should be much more government regulation. For example, the sad truth is that the realities of medical care require the existence of death panels, and I'd rather have them run by government bureaucrats than corporate accountants."

Comment author: glenra 24 December 2011 04:10:56PM 1 point [-]

I remember once saying, "Well, have we ever tried blindly throwing lots of money at the educational system?"

Kansas City was one of the more notable examples of having tried that; it didn't work out well: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

Comment author: Kevin 27 September 2010 08:55:32AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: TobyBartels 17 September 2010 11:02:26PM 5 points [-]

As a mathematician, I offer my services for anybody who wants arguments (mathematical arguments, not philosophical ones) that 1+1 = 3. But beware: as a meta-contrarian mathematician, I will also explain why these arguments, though valid in their own way, are silly.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 February 2012 11:50:05PM 5 points [-]

1.3 + 1.4 = 2.7, which when reported to one significant figure...

Comment author: CronoDAS 29 February 2012 12:30:09AM 2 points [-]

As the "old" computer science joke goes, 2 + 2 = 5 (for extremely large values of 2).

Comment author: Manfred 29 February 2012 01:08:21AM *  0 points [-]

The physicist-typical version is that 3=4, if you take lim(3->4).

Comment author: TobyBartels 01 March 2012 05:15:34AM 2 points [-]

This reminds me that the difference between a physicist and astronomer is that a physicist uses π ≈ 3 while an astronomer uses π ≈ 1.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 March 2012 10:52:55AM *  4 points [-]

I remember someone in a newsgroup saying the average person is about one metre tall and weighs about 100 kilos, and when asked whether maybe they were approximately a bit too roughly, they answered “I'm an astronomer, not a jeweller.”

(And physicists sometimes use π ≈ 1 too -- that's called dimensional analysis. :-) The problem is when the constant factor dimensional analysis can't tell you turns out to be 1/(2π)^4 ≈ 6.4e-4 or stuff like that.)

Comment author: RobinZ 20 January 2011 07:37:59PM 1 point [-]

You know, I am seized with a sudden curiosity. You have arguments such that 1 is still the successor of 0 and 3 is still the successor of the successor of 1, where 0 is the additive identity?

Comment author: TobyBartels 25 January 2011 06:03:51PM *  3 points [-]

Ah, now I have to remember what I was thinking of back in September! Well, let's see what I can come up with now.

One thing that I could do is to redefine every term in the expression. You tried to forestall this by insisting

1 is still the successor of 0 and 3 is still the successor of the successor of 1, where 0 is the additive identity

[Note: I originally interpreted this as "3 is still the successor of 2" for some dumb reason.] But you never insisted that 2 is the successor of 1, so I'll redefine 2 to be 1 and redefine 3 to be 2, and your conditions are met, while my theorem holds. (I could also, or instead, redefine equality.)

But this is silly; nobody uses the terms in this way.

For another method, I'll be a little more precise. Since you mentioned the successor of 0, let's work in Peano Arithmetic (first-order, classical logic, starting at zero), supplemented with the axiom that 0 = 1. Then 1 + 1 = 3 can be proved as follows:

  • 1 + 1 = 1 + S(0) by definition of 1;
  • 1 + S(0) = 1 + S(1) by substitution of equality;
  • 1 + S(1) = 3 by any ordinary proof in PA;
  • 1 + 1 = 3 by transitivity of equality (twice).

Of course, this is also silly, since PA with my new axiom is inconsistent. Anything in the language can be proved (by going through the axiom that 0 = S(n) is always false, combining this with my new axiom, and using ex contradictione quodlibet).

Here is a slightly less silly way: Modular arithmetic is very useful, not silly at all, and in arithmetic modulo 1, 1 + 1 = 3 is true.

But however useful modular arithmetic in general may be, arithmetic modulo 1 is silly (for roughly the same reasons that an inconsistent set of axioms is silly); everything is equal to everything else, so any equation at all is true. In other words, arithmetic modulo 1 is trivial.

You can get arithmetic modulo b by replacing the Peano axiom that 0 = S(n) is always false with the axiom that 0 = b and b − 1 additional axioms stating (altogether) that a = b is false whenever (in ordinary arithemetic) 0 < a < b. But you could instead add an arbitrary axiom of the form b = c (and another finite set of inequalities between smaller numbers). So let us use the arithmetic given by the axiom that 2 = 3. Then 1 + 1 = 3 is easy to prove (since the proof that 1 + 1 = 2 doesn't rely on the axiom that we've removed, and we still have transitivity of equality). And yet this system is not trivial; it is basically (0, 1, 2, 2, 2, …).

Actually, this example is minimal; let's go for a little overkill and instead use the axiom that 1 = 2. Of course, we can still prove that 1 + 1 = 3 (this time leaving the formal proof entirely to the reader). This system is a bit more trivial than the last one, but not quite trivial; it is basically (0, 1, 1, 1, …).

Now, although these systems of arithmetic are nontrivial, I really ought to give some mathematical reasons why anybody would be interested in them at all. I can give several profound reasons for the last one, which I will skip on the grounds that you can find them elsewhere; it boils down to this: this system is the system of truth values in classical logic (Boolean algebra). I don't even have to tell you how to interpret 0, 1, and + (much less =) in this system; I'm simply using them with their standard meanings in this context.

So now that you see that 1 + 1 = 3 in Boolean algebra, I need to turn around (as meta-contrarian) and explain why it is still silly. One reason is that nobody doing Boolean algebra (or even the slightly less trivial system of arithmetic based on 2 = 3) should ever want to write "3"; they should just write "1" (or "2" in the other system) instead. Another reason is that you shouldn't just throw "1 + 1 = 3" or even "1 + 1 = 1" out without explanation; the default meanings of those terms are in Peano arithmetic (or an extension thereof), not Boolean arithmetic. So in a general context, you really ought to say "1 + 1 = 3 in Boolean arithmetic", or something like that, instead. Just saying "1 + 1 = 3" and expecting people to know what the heck you're talking about is, well, silly.

I have no idea if that's what I was thinking in September, but that's what I thought of now. I hope that you like it.

Edit: Read-o fixed.

Comment author: RobinZ 25 January 2011 06:12:05PM 2 points [-]

1 is still the successor of 0 and 3 is still the successor of the successor of 2 [you wrote 1 here, but I understand that this was a typo], where 0 is the additive identity

I wrote "successor of the successor of" - 3 is the successor of 2, which is the successor of 1. But I understand that this was a typo. :P

But yes, I enjoyed that. Thank you.

Comment author: TobyBartels 25 January 2011 06:14:40PM 1 point [-]

Ha, that would be a reado!

But seriously, I should have read that again. I got it in my head that you had done this while I spent time planning my response and forgot to verify.

Comment author: jgoosse 17 September 2010 10:01:47PM *  1 point [-]

To be contrarian, I think you're only portraying a subset of possible outcomes. We might say the following fits:

Kantian Deontological Ethics (all men are oblidged to) > Positivist Ethics (ethics don't exist as anything more than preference) > Modern Liberal Ethics (ethics exist as preference but preferences are important survival tools that can lead us to objective ethics),

But the truth is I don't see a necessary triad in any of this because there is no original position. In my example, we would find that Kantian Dialectical Ethics consumed prior theories or objects and, in fact, I think we could say that about most of your examples. Popper might argue that a dialectic is merely consuming the prior creation (a la Popper)... the process could continue for infinity until one approaches a complete model (assuming some discipline is in the mix).

Another thought: in reality arguments occur in multiple dimensions (real decisions often evaluate economic, political, health, legal and safety outcomes).. other dimensions canthrow off the pattern of contrarianism when there are trade-offs that need to be made. In that sense the contrarian model presented is rather simple.

All of that being said, I'm a little meta-meta-contrarian too... I like the analysis you've presented because the analogy seems to work as a simple cartoon explanation for hipsters. =)

Comment author: blacktrance 23 January 2014 11:04:30PM *  -1 points [-]

For ethics, I think it's more like (Divine Command/intuitionism)/(subjectivism/nihilism)/(other systems of objective morality).

Comment author: Raw_Power 07 July 2011 05:34:58PM 0 points [-]

Could it be that the entire history of philosophy and its "thesis, antithesis, synthesis" recurring structure is an instance of this? Not to mention other liberal arts, and the development of the cycles of fashion.

Comment author: Larks 16 September 2010 06:02:08PM *  7 points [-]

This suggests that a common tactic (deliberate or otherwise) would be to represent your opponents as being the level below you, rather than the level above. For example this article, which treats Singularitarians as at level 1, rather than level 3, on

technology is great! -> but it has costs, like to the enviroment, and making social control easier -> Actually, the benefits vastly outweigh those.

Ironically, it's not that far off for SIAI, which is at level 4, 'certain technologies are existentially dangerous'

This seems to hold true for all the triads you mention, except possibly the medicine one: level 2 people falsely represent level 3 people as level 1.

Comment author: AlexanderRM 25 March 2015 05:33:21AM 0 points [-]

I've noticed that quite often long before seeing this article. There seems to be a strong tendency for people to try to present themselves as breaking old, established stereotypes even when the person they're arguing against says exactly the same thing, and in some cases where the stereotype has only been around for a very short time (I recall one article arguing against the idea of Afghanistan being "the graveyard of empires", which in my understanding was an idea that had surfaced around 6 months prior to that article with the publication of a specific book).

However, this does add an interesting dimension to it, with the fact that Type 2 positions actually were founded on a rejection of old, untrue beliefs of Type 1s, and Type 3s often resemble Type 1s. In fact I'd say that in every listed political example, the Type 2s who know about Type 3s will usually lump them in with Type 1s. This is, IMO, good in a way because it limits us from massive proliferation of levels over and over again and the resulting complications; instead we just get added nuance into the Type 2 and 3 positions.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 08:08:25AM *  3 points [-]

Existentially dangerous doesn't mean the benefits still don't outweigh the costs. If there's a 95% chance that uFAI kills us all, that's still a whopping 5% chance at unfathomably large amounts of utility. Technology still ends up having been a good idea after all.

Each level adds necessary nuance. Unfortunately, at each level is a new chance for unnecessary nuance. Strong epistemic rationality is the only thing that can shoulder the weight of the burdensome details.

Added: Your epistemic rationality is limited by your epistemology. There's a whole bunch of pretty and convincing mathematics that says Bayesian epistemology is the Way. We trust in Bayes because we trust in that math: the math shoulders the weight. A question, then. When is Bayesianism not the ideal epistemology? As humans the answer is 'limited resources'. But what if you had unlimited resources? At the limit, where doesn't Bayes hold?

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 03:51:41AM 10 points [-]

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 145^2

I can't possibly have been the only one to have been amused by this.

(Well, doesn't Clippy claim to be a superintelligence?)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 September 2010 04:13:20AM *  15 points [-]

According to the survey, the average IQ on this site is around 145

I can't possibly have been the only one to have been amused by this.

The really disturbing possibility is that average people hanging out here might actually be of the sort that solves IQ tests extremely successfully, with scores over 140, but whose real-life accomplishments are far below what these scores might suggest. In other words, that there might be a selection effect for the sort of people that Scott Adams encountered when he joined Mensa:

I decided to take an I.Q. test administered by Mensa, the organization of geniuses. If you score in the top 2% of people who take that same test, you get to call yourself a “genius” and optionally join the group. I squeaked in and immediately joined so I could hang out with the other geniuses and do genius things. I even volunteered to host some meetings at my apartment.

Then, the horror.

It turns out that the people who join Mensa and attend meetings are, on average, not successful titans of industry. They are instead – and I say this with great affection – huge losers. I was making $735 per month and I was like frickin’ Goldfinger in this crowd. We had a guy who was some sort of poet who hoped to one day start “writing some of them down.” We had people who were literally too smart to hold a job. The rest of the group dressed too much like street people to ever get past security for a job interview. And everyone was always available for meetings on weekend nights.

Comment author: BillyOblivion 05 October 2010 04:51:18AM 0 points [-]

Intelligence is but one measure of mental ability. One of the critical ones for modern life goes by "Executive Function" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions it seems to be moderately independent of IQ. It could also be called "Self Discipline".

It is why really bright kids get lousy grades. Why kids who do well in High School, but never seem to study, tank when they hit college, or when the get out of college and actually have to show up for work clean, neat and on time.

I don't CARE if you can solve a rubics cube in 38 seconds, I need those TPS reports NOW.

Comment author: wedrifid 05 October 2010 05:24:59AM *  0 points [-]

One of the critical ones for modern life goes by "Executive Function" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions it seems to be moderately independent of IQ. It could also be called "Self Discipline".

It's correlated with self discipline but it is actually a different ability. In fact, some with problems with executive function compensate by developing excessive self discipline. (Having a #@$%ed up system for dealing with prioritisation makes anxiety based perfectionism more adaptive.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 17 September 2010 06:33:17PM *  3 points [-]

This surprises me. One explanation for the mismatch between my experience with Mensa and Adams' is that local groups vary a lot. Another is that he's making up a bunch of insults based on a cliche.

What I've seen of Mensa is people who seemed socially ordinary (bear in mind, my reference group is sf fandom), but not as intelligent as I hoped. I went to a couple of gatherings-- one had pretty ordinary discussion of Star Trek. Another was basically alright, but had one annoying person who'd been in the group so long that the other members didn't notice how annoying he was-- hardly a problem unique to Mensa.

Kate Jones, President of Kadon Games, is a Mensan and one of the more intelligent people I know. I know one other Mensan I consider intelligent, and there's no reason to think I have a complete list of the Mensans in my social circle.

I was in Mensa for a while-- I hoped it would be useful for networking, but I didn't get any good out of it. The publications were generally underwhelming-- there was a lot of articles which would start with more or less arbitrary definitions for words, and then an effort to build an argument from the definitions. This was in the 80s, and I don't know whether the organization has changed.

Still, if I'd lived in a small town with no access to sf fandom, Mensa might have been a best available choice for me.

These days, I'd say there are a lot of online communities for smart people.

All this being said, I suspect that IQ tests the like select for people with mild ADD (look! another question! no need to stay focused on a project!) and against people who want to do things which are directly connected to their goals.

Comment author: komponisto 17 September 2010 08:03:19PM *  1 point [-]

I suspect that IQ tests [and] the like select for people with mild ADD

I'm not sure about this. I doubt I would do all that well on a Mensa-type IQ test, and I suspect ADD may be part of the reason. (Though SarahC has raised the possibility of motivated cognition interfering with mathematical problem solving, which I hadn't really considered.)

and against people who want to do things which are directly connected to their goals.

This, however, I do believe.

Despite Richard Feynman's supposedly low IQ score, and Albert Einstein's status as the popular exemplar of high-IQ, my impression (prejudice?) regarding traditional "IQ tests" is that they would in fact tend to select for people like Feynman (clever tinkerers) at the expense of people like Einstein (imaginative ponderers).

Comment author: gwern 26 November 2011 10:19:24AM 2 points [-]

Despite Richard Feynman's supposedly low IQ score

While I'm passing through looking for something else: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1159719

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 18 September 2010 03:22:27AM 0 points [-]

I was generalizing from one example-- it's easier for me to focus on a series of little problems. If I have ADD, it's quite mild as such things go.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 17 September 2010 07:09:58PM *  20 points [-]

I'd say that the problem is the selection effect for intelligent underachievers. People who are in the top 2% of the population by some widely recognized measure of intellectual accomplishment presumably already have affiliations, titles, and positions far more prestigious than the membership in an organization where the only qualification is passing a written test could ever be. Also, their everyday social circles are likely to consist of other individuals of the same caliber, so they have no need to seek them out actively.

Therefore, in an organization like Mensa, I would expect a strong selection effect for people who have the ability to achieve high IQ scores (whatever that might specifically imply, considering the controversies in IQ research), but who lack other abilities necessary to translate that into actual accomplishment and acquire recognition and connections among high-achieving people. Needless to say, such people are unlikely to end up as high-status individuals in our culture (or any other, for that matter). People of the sort you mention, smart enough to have flashes of extraordinary insight but unable to stay focused long enough to get anything done, likely account for some non-trivial subset of those.

That said, in such a decentralized organization, I would expect that the quality of local chapters and the sort of people they attract depends greatly on the ability and attitudes of the local leadership. There are probably places both significantly better and worse than what you describe.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:29:20AM *  2 points [-]

That's fairly analogous to my worries about joining LW. I was afraid it would be full of extremely intelligent, very dumb people. ;)

Comment author: Raw_Power 07 July 2011 05:44:57PM 3 points [-]

How do you know this isn't the case?

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:23:56AM *  11 points [-]

I should clarify that I was specifically referring to the interesting placement of that superscript 2. :-)

EDIT: Though actually, this is probably the perfect opportunity to wonder if the reason people join this community is that it's probably the easiest high-IQ group to join in the world: you don't have to pass a test or earn a degree; all you have to do is write intelligent blog comments.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:48:04AM *  0 points [-]

the reason people join this community is that it's probably the easiest high-IQ group to join in the world

I find this sort of puzzling. There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one). Why is that? Does anybody here specifically seek out high-IQ friends? Do you feel like trying to explain the appeal to me? Intelligence is one of my criteria for my companions, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's in the top three, and I certainly wouldn't settle for it alone.

Also, I'm not sure that earning a degree is harder than writing an intelligent blog post. Not for everyone, anyway.

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 05:26:10AM *  10 points [-]

There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one)

That's not the sense of IQ that I mean; rather, I mean the underlying thing which that ability is supposed to be an indicator of.

(My guess would be that this underlying thing is probably something like "richness of mental life".)

Does anybody here specifically seek out high-IQ friends? Do you feel like trying to explain the appeal to me?

My experience suggests that it makes a significant difference to one's quality of life whether the people in one's social circle are close to one's own intelligence level.

Not too long ago I spent some time at the SIAI house; and even though I was probably doing more "work" than usual while I was there, it felt like vacation, simply because the everyday task of communicating with people was so much easier and more efficient than in my normal life.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 06:11:57AM *  2 points [-]

That's not the sense of IQ that I mean; rather, I mean the underlying thing which that ability is supposed to be an indicator of.

See my response to cata.

My experience suggests that it makes a significant difference to one's quality of life whether the people in one's social circle are close to one's own intelligence level.

I suppose it's possible that I'm merely spoiled in this regard, but I'm not sure. Yes, most of the people I've spent a lot of time with in my life have been some kind of intelligent--my parents are very smart, and I was taught to value intellect highly growing up. But some of the folks who've really made me glad to have them around have been less educated and less well-read than I am, which isn't trivial (I'm a high school dropout, albeit one who likes to do some learning on her own time).

I'm thinking particularly of my coworkers at my last job. We worked behind the counter at a dry cleaner. These were not people with college educations, or who had learned much about critical thinking or logic or debate. This is not to say they had below average intelligence--just not particularly higher, either. They were confused as to why I was working this dead-end job with them instead of going to college and making some of myself; I was clearly capable of it.

But those people made the job worthwhile. They were thoughtful, respectful, often funny, and supportive. They were good at their jobs--on a busy day, it felt like being part of a well-oiled machine. There isn't one quality in that list you could have traded for outstanding intelligence and made them better people, nor made me happier to be around them.

If your point is right, maybe all that means is that my brain is nothing to write home about. But I'm fonder of the theory that there are other qualities that have at least as much value in terms of quality of life. Would you be happy living in a house of smart people who were all jerks?

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:27:43PM 4 points [-]

Would you be happy living in a house of smart people who were all jerks?

Of course not. What caused your probability of my saying "yes" to be high enough to make this question worth asking?

I could with more genuine curiosity ask you the following: would you be happy spending your life surrounded by nice people who understood maybe 20% of your thoughts?

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 08:39:27PM 1 point [-]

What caused your probability of my saying "yes" to be high enough to make this question worth asking?

It was rhetorical, and meant to support the point that intelligence alone does not make a person worthwhile.

Would you be happy spending your life surrounded by nice people who understood maybe 20% of your thoughts?

I'd rather have more kindness and less intelligence than the reverse. I think it's clear we'd both prefer a balance, though, and that's really all my point was: intelligence is not enough to qualify a person as worthwhile. Which is why social groups with that as the only criterion confuse me. :)

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2010 02:47:43AM 7 points [-]

Here I go, speaking for other people, but I'm guessing that people at the LessWrong meetup at least met some baseline of all those other qualities, by komponisto's estimation, and that the difference of intelligence allowed for such a massive increase in ability to communicate made talking so much more enjoyable, given that ey was talking to decent people.

Each quality may not be linear. If someone is "half as nice" as another person, I don't want to talk to them at half the frequency, or bet that I'll fully enjoy conversation half of the time. A certain threshold of most qualities makes a person totally not worth talking to. But at the same time, a person can only be so much more thoughtful, respectful, funny, supportive, before you lose your ability to identify with them again! That's my experience anyhow - if I admire a person too much, I have difficulty imagining that they identify with me as I do with them. Trust needs some symmetry. And so there are probably optimal levels of friendship-worthy qualities (very roughly by any measure), a minimum threshold, and a region where a little difference makes a big difference. The left-bounded S-curves of friendship.

Then there is order. For different qualities, the difference between a person at minimum-threshold and at optimal is worth very different amounts of satisfaction to you. Some qualities probably have a threshold so low, you don't think about it. Not having inexplicable compulsions to murder is a big plus on my list. When that's the case, the quality seems to vary so slightly over most people, you almost take it for granted that people have enough of that quality. The more often you meet people at the minimum, the more amazing it will seem to meet someone at optimal. If you spend a long time surrounded by jerks, meeting supportive people is probably more amazing than usual. If you grow up surrounded by supportive people who have no idea what you're talking about half of the time, gaining that ability to communicate is probably worth a lot.

Finally, there's the affect heuristic. If a personality quality gain compared to the experienced average is worth a lot, of course it can distort your valuation of the difference of other qualities. If I were trapped all my life in a country whose language could capture only 1% of the ideas mine did, filled with good people who mostly just don't care about those other 99% of ideas, I would still feel greatly relieved to meet someone who spoke my language. Even if the person was a little bit below the threshold that marks em a jerk. But why is the person more likely to be a jerk anyhow? What if the person is actually really good and decent as well? I might propose.

I don't know if komponisto had the urge to marry anyone at the meetup. But I'm sure it happens.

Comment author: komponisto 17 September 2010 03:58:16AM *  1 point [-]

I'm guessing that people at the LessWrong meetup at least met some baseline of all those other qualities

Actually, I was talking about my two-week stay as an SIAI Visiting Fellow. (Which is kind of like a Less Wrong meetup...)

But, yeah.

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:02:12AM *  3 points [-]

I think this is a really excellent analysis and I agree with just about all of it.

I suspect that the difference in our initial reactions had to do with your premise that intelligent people are easier to communicate with. This hasn't been true in my experience, but I'd bet that the difference is the topics of conversation. If you want to talk to people about AI, someone with more education and intellect is going to suit you better than someone with less, even if they're also really nice.

I've definitely also had conversations where the guy in the room who was the most confused and having the least fun was the one with the most book smarts. I'm trying to remember what they were about ... off the top of my head, I think it tended to be social situations or issues which he had not encountered. Empathy would have done him more good than education in that instance (given that his education was not in the social sciences).

Comment author: cata 16 September 2010 05:02:48AM *  6 points [-]

There is clearly a demand for organizations which provide opportunities to interact and socialize with people carefully selected for their ability to solve clever puzzles (and whatever else is on the IQ test--I haven't taken a real one).

Really? I don't think that's true; I think people just tend to assume that IQ is a good proxy for general intellectualism (e.g. highbrow tastes, willingness to talk and debate a lot, being well-read.) Since it's easier to score an IQ test than a test judging political literacy, education, and favorite novels, that's what organizations like Mensa use, and that's the measuring stick everyone trots out. Needless to say, it's not a very good one, but it's made its way into the culture.

I mean, even in casual usage, when most people talk about someone's high IQ, they probably aren't talking about focus, memory, or pattern recognition. They're likely actually talking about education and interests.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 05:54:47AM 3 points [-]

I mean, even in casual usage, when most people talk about someone's high IQ, they probably aren't talking about focus, memory, or pattern recognition. They're likely actually talking about education and interests.

That's precisely what troubles me. I don't like that we use a term which actually only means the former to refer to how "smart" someone is in vague, visceral sense--nor the implied equation of either IQ or smartness with utility.

I'm not accusing you of that necessarily, it's just a pattern I see in the world and fret about. Actually, it reminds me of something which might make a good article in its own right; I'll ruminate on it for a bit while I'm still getting used to article etiquette.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 September 2010 03:11:26AM 1 point [-]

I definitely agree on this. It's an abused and conflated word, though I don't know if that's more of a cause than an effect of problems society has with thinking about intelligence. I wonder how we could best get people to casually use a wider array of words and associations to distinguish the many different things we mean by "smart".

Comment author: Relsqui 17 September 2010 03:24:09AM *  1 point [-]

I don't know if that's more of a cause than an effect of problems society has

You've hit an important point here, and not just about the topic in question. Consider body image (we want to see people on TV we think are pretty, but we get our ideas of what's pretty in part from TV) and media violence (we want to depict the world as it really is, but we also want to impart values that will change the world for the better rather than glorifying people and events which change it for the worse). How, in general, do we break these loops?

I wonder how we could best get people to casually use a wider array of words and associations to distinguish the many different things we mean by "smart".

So far, I haven't thought of anything better than choosing to be precise when I'm talking about somebody's talents and weaknesses, so I try to do that.

Comment author: cata 16 September 2010 06:09:17AM 1 point [-]

I don't like that we use a term which actually only means the former to refer to how "smart" someone is in vague, visceral sense--nor the implied equation of either IQ or smartness with utility.

Well, me neither; I think it's a reflection of how people would like to imagine other humans as being much simpler and more homogeneous than they actually are. I look forward to your forthcoming post.

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 06:16:14AM *  0 points [-]

Well, me neither

That's reassuring. :)

I look forward to your forthcoming post.

Me too. I don't have a post's worth of idea yet. But there's cud yet to chew. (Ruminate has one of my favorite etymologies.)

Comment author: Vladimir_M 16 September 2010 04:31:25AM *  11 points [-]

Oh, then it was a misunderstanding. I thought you were (like me) amused by the poll result suggesting that the intelligence of the average person here is in the upper 99.865-th percentile.

(Just to get the feel for that number, belonging to the same percentile of income distribution in the U.S. would mean roughly a million dollars a year.)

Comment author: faul_sname 16 November 2012 11:09:12PM 0 points [-]

And since the correlation between the two is about 0.4, that would suggest an income of 1.2 standard deviations above the mean, or about $80,000 a year in the US, not controlling for age. Controlling for age, I suspect LWers have approximately average income for their level of intelligence (and because regression to the mean is not intuitive, it feels like we should be doing far better than that).

Comment author: blogospheroid 27 September 2010 11:06:10AM 3 points [-]

Hmm.. Isn't the intelligence distribution more like a bell curve and the distribution of income more like a power law?

Comment author: BillyOblivion 05 October 2010 04:58:09AM *  5 points [-]

Both can be power-law or Gaussian depending on your "perspective".

There are roughly as many people with a IQ over 190 as there are people with an income over 1 billion USD per annum. By roughly I mean an order of magnitude.

Generally IQ is graphed as a Gaussian distribution because of the way it's measured--the middle of the distribution is defined as 100. Income is raw numbers.

(edited to move a scare quote)

Comment author: Relsqui 16 September 2010 04:42:44AM 2 points [-]

Upvoted for the quality of the analogy, although I also agree with you.

Comment author: komponisto 16 September 2010 04:34:15AM 1 point [-]

Well I'm also amused by that, to be sure.

Comment author: Yvain 15 September 2010 02:49:19PM 45 points [-]

I also recently noticed this triad:

Seek sex + money / pursue only pure truth and virtue / seek sex + money

Comment author: AlexanderRM 25 March 2015 04:51:51AM 1 point [-]

Could anyone elaborate on this? All the ones listed in the article seem fairly obvious or well-explained, but nothing jumps out to me on this one. I think the problem is that I don't see what positions these are occupying or signaling: The clothing stuff is about wealth, while all the political ones are about intelligence (apparent intelligence, specifically). My assumption is that the first is someone who has very little money and the last is someone who has a lot, but then I'm not sure where the middle one would be.

That and perhaps that Yvain didn't list any distinguishing features between the first and last ones. I'm noticing now that all the counter-signaling ones tend to be slightly different- I'm sure the Old Rich didn't wear the exact same things as the poor, but rather nicer but less showy clothes. All the political examples have the third-stage ones usually acknowledging the existence of and problems with the lowest stage, often with significant differences. Likewise Hipsters have a lot of distinctly hipster traits that don't make them look like any particular non-mainstream group, although my knowledge of Hipsters comes almost entirely from jokes about Hipsters rather than having seen the phenomenon much.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 12 August 2012 05:14:26PM 9 points [-]

To be fair, I think that this triad is largely a function of the sort of society one lives in. It could be summarized as "submit to virtuous social orders, seek to dominate non-virtuous ones if you have the ability to discern between them"

Comment author: EditedToAdd 26 March 2017 06:10:27PM 0 points [-]

I think it’s more along the lines of: people in the third stage have acquired and digested all the low-hanging and medium-hanging fruit that those in the second stage are struggling to acquire, that advancing further is now really hard. So they now seek sex and money/power partly because acquiring those will (in the long run) help them further advance in the areas that they have currently put on hold. And partly because of course it’s also nice to have them.

Comment author: David_J_Balan 15 September 2010 02:31:58AM 1 point [-]

There is a neat paper on this by Feltovich, Harbaugh, and To called "Too Cool for School? Signaling and Countersignaling."

http://www.jstor.org/pss/3087478

Comment author: toro 03 September 2011 05:48:43AM 1 point [-]

A little more from Harbaugh's home page http://www.bus.indiana.edu/riharbau#CS. Includes the Economist puff piece and an unedited version with some fun-but-unconvincing examples.

Fun fact: Harbaugh also made a searchable Chinese dictionary. (zhongwen.com)

Comment author: spencerth 14 September 2010 10:03:45PM 1 point [-]

The bigger issue to me is the value system that makes this phenomenon exist in the first place. It essentially requires people to care more about signaling than seeking truth. Of course this makes sense for many (perhaps most) people since signaling can get you all sorts of other things you want, whereas finding the truth could happen in a vacuum/near vacuum (you could find out some fundamental truth and then die immediately, forget about it, tell it to people and have no one believe you, etc.)

It bothers me that extremely narrow self-interest (as indicated by "fun to argue") is so much more important to so many than truth seeking. Would it be so /wrong/ to seek truth, and THEN signal once you think you've found it (even if you're actually incorrect) than just taking up a contrary position for its own inherent "argumentative pleasure" value?

It seems intellectually lazy. Perhaps that's part of its appeal.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 14 September 2010 09:50:24PM 5 points [-]

I think about the counter-signaling game a bit differently. Consider some question that has a binary answer - e.g. a yes/no question?. Natural prejudices or upbringing might cause most people to say pick, say, yes. Then someone thinks about the question and for reason r1 switches to no. Someone else who agrees with r1 then comes up with reason r2, and switches back to yes. Then r3 causes a switch back to no, ad infinitum.

Even though the conclusion at each point in the hierarchy is indistinguishable from a conclusion somewhere else in the hierarchy, the reason someone holds their conclusion still separates them from people on other levels with the same conclusion. So the reasoning is the signal.

For example, consider the God question. The hierarchy might go something like this:

  1. Believe in God by default
  2. Don't believe because of the character of the typical believer
  3. Believe because character of believers is irrelevant to God's existence
  4. Don't believe because can't find a reason to believe (burden of proof on believers)
  5. Believe because of design argument
  6. Don't believe because of flaw in design argument
  7. Believe because of evidence
  8. Don't believe because of occam's razor

Someone on the 8th level of the hierarchy doesn't need to worry about being confused with someone on the 4th level since the 4th level doesn't properly understand occam's razor and couldn't use it as a reason for not believing.

Thinking about intellectual signalling like this, I definitely take pleasure in being higher in the hierarchy - i.e. being a counter-counter-counter-...-counter-signaler. And I also find it disturbing when someone has a reason that I hadn't considered yet. They're farther up than me!

Comment author: nick012000 29 September 2010 10:01:31AM 0 points [-]

So, where would "Believe because of generalised Pascal's Wager" be on your hierarchy? ;)

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 29 September 2010 09:22:36PM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure what the "generalized" is doing, but normal pascal's wager would probably be right before or right after the design argument.

Comment author: ChristianKl 17 September 2010 11:03:36AM 1 point [-]

Nassim Taleb's makes an argument that he believes on God by default and he is widely seen as a rational person. I don't think it makes sense to see his position as lower in the hierarchy than people who believe based on the design argument.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 17 September 2010 12:41:16PM 3 points [-]

His belief by default is based on some sort of argument, not unthinking acceptance of whatever his parents told him. In other words, his "default belief" is not the same as my hierarchy's "default belief."

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 14 September 2010 07:10:27PM *  18 points [-]

One element of meta-contrarian reasoning is as follows. Consider a proposition P, that is hard for a layperson to assess. Because of this difficulty, an individual must rely on others for information. Now, a reasonable layperson might look around and listen with an open mind to all the arguments, and choose the one that seems most plausible to assign a probability to P.

The problem is that certain propositions have large corps of people whose professions depend on the proposition being true, but no counterforce of professional critics. So there is a large group of people (priests) who are professionally committed to the proposition "God exists". The existence of this group causes an obvious bias in the layperson's decision algorithm. Other groups, like doctors, economists, soldiers, and public school teachers, have similar commitments. Consider the proposition "public education improves national academic achievement." It could be true, it could be false - it's an empirical question. But all public school teachers are committed to this proposition, and there are very few people committed to the opposite.

So meta-contrarians explicitly correct for this kind of bias. I don't necessarily think that the public school proposition is false, but it should be thoroughly examined. I don't necessarily think that the nation would be safer if we abolished the Army and Marine Corps, but it might be.

Comment author: komponisto 14 September 2010 09:23:19PM 9 points [-]

The problem is that certain propositions have large corps of people whose professions depend on the proposition being true, but no counterforce of professional critics.

This really is a very good point.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 14 September 2010 06:51:31PM 0 points [-]

libertarians are always more hostile toward liberals, even though they have just about as many points of real disagreement with the conservatives.

I think it's because libertarians care a lot more about the points on which they disagree with the liberals. Issues like gay marriage and abortion don't seem to matter as much as economic rights.

Comment author: kodos96 14 September 2010 06:58:31PM 12 points [-]

I don't think this is the case for most libertarians, especially the younger, internet based, ron paul oriented kind of libertarians - many of them are primarily motivated by the social issues.... and yet they still seem to prefer arguing with liberals rather than conservatives. I think it has more to do with the fact that they view liberals as smart people who believe stupid things, while they view conservatives as just stupid troglodytes not worth wasting time on.

Comment author: loqi 14 September 2010 05:19:41PM 16 points [-]

Whenever holding a position makes you feel superior and is fun to talk about, that's a good sign that the position is not just practical, but signaling related.

Readers be warned: Internalizing this insight may result in catastrophic loss of interest in politics.

Comment author: AlexanderRM 25 March 2015 05:09:44AM 0 points [-]

I've known politics is largely about status signaling (which hasn't caused any reduction of interest in issues which our society politicizes, however, just in elections and the like) since I started reading LW, but I just realized that reading LessWrong makes me feel superior (although I've noticed this before, but it seems hard to avoid) and it's fun to talk about. That's horrifying.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 September 2010 06:44:38PM *  10 points [-]

Perhaps for some people -- but on the other hand, it creates an even higher intellectual challenge to achieve accurate understanding. Understanding hard and complicated things in math and science is extremely challenging, but ultimately, you still have fully reliable trusted authorities to turn to when you're lost, and you know they won't lie and bullshit you. In politics and heavily politicized fields in general, there is no such safety net; you are completely on your own.

Comment author: mattnewport 14 September 2010 04:29:37PM 15 points [-]

Here's my alternative explanation for your triads which, while obviously a caricature, is no more so than yours and I think is more accurate: un-educated / academic / educated non-academic.

Essentially your 'contrarian' positions are the mainstream positions you are more or less required to hold to build a successful academic (or media) career. Some academics can get away with deviation in some areas (at some cost to their career prospects) but relatively few are willing to risk it. Intelligent, educated individuals who have not been subject to excessive exposure to academic groupthink are more likely to take your meta-contrarian positions.

See also Moldbug's thoughts on the University.

Comment author: nick012000 29 September 2010 11:22:30AM *  3 points [-]

Seems to me like a (hopefully Friendly) seed AI is more likely to provide the "Schelling point" that'd provide an alternative to the modern US government than any sort of reactionary "antiversity".

EDIT: Come to think of it, a libertarian space society could probably do it, too, much the same way as the Soviet Union always had "surrender to the US" as an eject button.

Comment author: owevr 14 September 2010 03:47:47PM 2 points [-]

Great article. However, why do you call them "meta-contrarian", instead of "anti-contrarian"? I would not call something "meta-" unless it adds additional dimensions to the given context. For example, "meta-theory" is not about disputing particular theories but something totally different.

Comment author: Yvain 14 September 2010 07:49:03PM 1 point [-]

I interpret meta- to mean "one level above"; thus for example Douglas Hofstadter's "meta-agnostic", someone who is agnostic about agnosticism, and your own mention of "meta-theory", a theory about a theory.

I use "meta-contrary" because it's a position deliberately taken to be contrary to a position deliberately taken to be contrary.

Comment author: Apprentice 14 September 2010 03:36:29PM 5 points [-]

The pleasure I get out of trolling atheists definitely has a meta-contrarian component to it. When I was a teenager I would troll Christians but I've long since stopped finding that even slightly challenging or fun.

Comment author: Yvain 14 September 2010 07:43:12PM 7 points [-]

Yes, I often find myself tempted to do that too. Although I understand on an intellectual level that creationism is stupid, it is hard for me to get worked up about it and I certainly don't have the energy to argue with creationists ad nauseum. I do find myself angry whenever an atheist makes a superficial or stupid point in defense of atheism, or when they get too smug about how much smarter they are than creationists.

My guess is that I have a sufficiently inflated view of my intelligence to be high enough that I have no need to differentiate myself intellectually from creationists, but I do feel a need to differentiate myself intellectually from the less intelligent sort of atheist.

Comment author: thomblake 14 September 2010 03:13:40PM 1 point [-]

from my limited understanding a hipster is a person who deliberately uses unpopular, obsolete, or obscure styles and preferences in an attempt to be "cooler" than the mainstream.

Not to argue over definitions, but your use of "hipster" seems overly-narrow. As I understand it, it refers to those who deliberately appropriate styles used by old / other subcultures with concern for aesthetics rather than signaling (or, if you prefer, complex signaling rather than mere group-membership). Obviously some of those folks are doing it to try to 'be cooler', but it's not nearly a necessary condition.

There is certainly a notable sub-culture of "hipsters" who are known for being pretentious about aspects of their particular style. This should come as no surprise to anyone who's studied any other subculture.

Comment author: [deleted] 14 September 2010 03:06:17PM *  5 points [-]

I wonder if this means we should place more weight on opinions that don't easily compress onto this contrarianism axis, since they're less likely to be rooted in signalling/group affiliations, and more likely to have a non-trivial amount of thought put into them.

Comment author: AlexanderRM 25 March 2015 05:53:06AM 0 points [-]

Another thing to take away from this is that we should be wary of any system that categorizes opinions based on sociology rather than direct measures of their actual truth. Contrarians and Meta-Contrarians both have similar explanations of why they go for their levels, by pointing out the flaws with the lower level.

Comment author: Mercy 14 September 2010 12:50:58PM 3 points [-]

I'm a little confused, what purpose does this distinction serve? That people like to define their opinions as a rebellion against received opinion isn't novel. What you seem to be saying is: defining yourself against an opinion which is seen as contrarian sends a reliably different social signal to defining yourself against an opinion which is mainstream, is that a fair assessment? Because this only works if there is a singular, visible mainstream, which is obviously available in fashion but rare in the realm of ideas.

Moreover, if order-of-contrariness doesn't convey information, I can't see any situation in which one it would be helpful to indicate a positions order, where it wouldn't be just as easy and far more informative to point out the specific chain of it's controversy.

In any case I take some issue with a bunch of your example.

Firstly on feminism the obvious mainstream controversy/metacontroversy dynamic for misogyny is between second and third wave feminism in academia, and between "all sex is rape" and "pole dancing is empowering/Madonna is a feminist icon" in the media. Picking an obscure internet phenomenon closer to the starting point is blatant cherry picking.

Similarly the Bad Samaritans/New Development argument has a lot more currency than the aid is the problem one, but again that's further from both positions. For that matter the same applies to liberterianism and it's real Laius, socialism.

The number of global warming skeptics who jumped straight from "it's not happening" to "well we didn't do it" to "well we can't do anything about it without doing more harm than good" should also, combined with the overlap in arguments between self identified MRAs and younger misogynists of the "straight white christian men are the most oppressed minority" variety, give us a bit of pause. If there's any use to identifying meta contrarian positions, it has to be in distinguishing between genuine attempts to correct falsehoods made in overeager argument with the old mainstream, and sophisticated apologetics for previously exploded positions.

On second thought, convincing as I find the Stern report, enough economists argued against reducing carbon emissions on cost-benefit grounds from the beginning that the meta position deserves honest consideration. I'd like to propose instead deism as the canonical example for bad faith apologia in meta-contrarianist drag, and third wave feminism for the honest position. Is this suitably uncontroversial?

Comment author: glenra 21 September 2010 06:11:48PM *  9 points [-]

The number of global warming skeptics who jumped straight from "it's not happening" to "well we didn't do it" to "well we can't do anything about it without doing more harm than good" should also...give us a bit of pause.

Actually, that move is perfectly consistent with real skepticism applied to a complex assertion.

To see why, let's consider a different argument. Suppose a True Believer says we should punish gays or disallow gay marriage "because God hates homosexuality". You and I are skeptical that this assertion is rationally defensible so we attack it at what seems like the obvious first link in the logical chain. We say "I doubt that god exists. Prove to me that god exists, and then maybe we'll consider your argument." At this point you can divide the positions into:

"god hates X"/god doesn't exist

Now let us suppose TB actually does it. He does prove that god exists. Does this mean that we skeptics immediately have to accept his entire chain of reasoning? Of course not! We jump to the next weak link. To establish the original claim, one would need to prove god exists and is benevolent and wrote the bible and meant those passages in the way TB interprets as applied to our current situation. Anything less, and the original assertion remains Not Proven.

If any link in the chain fails, we don't have to accept the compound assertion "God hates X, therefore we should do Y". We can reasonably express skepticism towards any link that hasn't been proven until the whole chain is sound. Right?

Now returning to global warming, the larger claim that is implied by saying things like "global warming is real" is "greenhouse gases are warming the globe; this process will cause net-bad outcomes if we do nothing and net-less-bad outcomes (including all costs and opportunity costs) if we do X, therefore we should do X". The skeptical position is that not all the links in that chain of reasoning are strong and the warmists need to solidify a few weak links. I don't see how disagreeing over which link in the logical chain is weakest or focusing on the next weak link when one formerly-weak link is strengthened constitutes "sophisticated apologetics". I would have rather called it "rationalism".

Comment author: Mercy 23 September 2010 10:11:50AM 3 points [-]

This is a great point that's making me revise my position on some right wing commentators. Still, I'm struggling to think of any actual examples of this behavior in action: we don't actually tell religious people who believe wrong things "well god ain't real deal with it". We point out how their assertions are incompatible with their own teachings, and with the legal system, and scientific findings etc. We don't keep all the flaws we see in their position back in reserve.

Moreover most of the serious commentators on the skeptical side of the issue argued only one of the points in question, whether it was the statistics showing warming or the economics implied by it or (cue rim-shot) sunspots, it's only journalists and politicians who skipped from one to the other, which is where I got the impression they'd only looked at the issue long enough to find a contrarian position.

Comment author: glenra 24 December 2011 03:43:16PM *  2 points [-]

I'm struggling to think of any actual examples of this behavior in action

If you've ever said or thought "Okay, just for the sake of argument, I'll assume your point X is correct..." you were holding a position back in reserve.

One typical example is arguing with a religious nut that what he's saying is incompatible with the teachings in his own holy book. Suppose he wins this argument (unlikely, I know, but bear with me...) and demonstrates that you were mistaken and no, his holy book really does teach that we should burn scientists as witches. Do you immediately conclude that yes, we should burn scientists as witches? No, because you don't actually hold in high esteem the teachings in his holy book.

Comment author: Yvain 14 September 2010 07:38:28PM 2 points [-]

I'm a little confused, what purpose does this distinction serve? That people like to define their opinions as a rebellion against received opinion isn't novel.

You're right, the examples were pretty cherry-picked.

My point was to show that, although we tend to celebrate our failure to be lured into holding contrarian positions for the sake of contrarianism, this can itself be a trap that we need to watch out for. I think the idea of meta-contrarian-ness is novel in a way the idea of contrarian-ness is not.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 14 September 2010 07:13:12PM *  6 points [-]

Mercy:

Because this only works if there is a singular, visible mainstream, which is obviously available in fashion but rare in the realm of ideas.

However, it seems to me that such mainstream does exist. Compared to the overall range of ideas that have been held throughout the history of humanity, and even the overall range of ideas that I believe people could hold without being crazy or monstrous, the range acceptable in today's mainstream discourse looks awfully narrow to me. It also seems to me very narrow by historical standards -- for example, when I look at the 19th century books I've read, I see an immensely greater diversity of ideas than one can see from the modern authors that occupy a comparable mainstream range. (This of course doesn't apply to hard sciences, in which the accumulation of knowledge has a monotonous upward trend.)

Of course, like every human society, ours is also shaken by passionate controversies. However, most of those that I observe in practice are between currents that are overall very similar from a broader perspective.

Comment author: Mercy 15 September 2010 12:22:21AM *  0 points [-]

Well I can see that in certain areas, but it depends on where you look. The range of held opinions on the construction of gender, criminal punishment and both the nature and the contents of history is much broader than one hundred years ago. The range of opinions on the morality of war is far narrower.

In any case, I meant mainstream in the sense that top 40 is mainstream, not in the sense that music is mainstream. Perhaps orthodoxy would be a better word? In fashion there is usually a single current orthodoxy about how people should dress, so it's easy to identify these circles of heterodoxy and reactionism. Other issues show multiple competing orthodoxies, each of which appears contrary to the other.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 September 2010 01:33:32AM *  6 points [-]

Mercy:

The range of held opinions on the construction of gender, criminal punishment and both the nature and the contents of history is much broader than one hundred years ago.

Frankly, I disagree with that statement so deeply that I'm at a loss how to even begin my response to it. Either we're using radically different measures of breadth, or one (or both?) of us has had a grossly inadequate and unrepresentative exposure to the thought of each of these epochs.

Yes, certain ideas that were in the minority back then have been greatly popularized and elaborated in the meantime, and one could arguably even find an occasional original perspective developed since then. However, it seems evident to me that by any reasonable measure, this effect has been completely overshadowed by the sheer range of perspectives that have been ostracized from the respectable mainstream during the same period, or even vanished altogether.

In fashion there is usually a single current orthodoxy about how people should dress, so it's easy to identify these circles of heterodoxy and reactionism. Other issues show multiple competing orthodoxies, each of which appears contrary to the other.

But in the matters of opinion, there is also a clearly defined -- and, as I've argued, nowadays quite narrow -- range of orthodoxy, and it's common knowledge which opinions will be perceived as contrarian and controversial (if they push the envelope) or extremist and altogether disreputable (if they reach completely outside of it). I honestly don't see on what basis you could possibly argue that the orthodoxy of fashion is nowadays stricter and tighter than the orthodoxy of opinion.

Comment author: CronoDAS 15 September 2010 02:49:07AM 0 points [-]

Mercy:

The range of held opinions on the construction of gender, criminal punishment and both the nature and the contents of history is much broader than one hundred years ago.

Frankly, I disagree with that statement so deeply that I'm at a loss how to even begin my response to it. Either we're using radically different measures of breadth, or one (or both?) of us has had a grossly inadequate and unrepresentative exposure to the thought of each of these epochs.

Two hundred years ago, then?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 September 2010 06:09:49AM *  3 points [-]

Two hundred years ago, the institutions were very different, and there was much less total intellectual output than a century ago, so it's much harder to do a fair comparison because it's less clear what counts as mainstream and significant.

However, the claim is still flat false at least when it comes to criminal punishment. In fact, in the history of the Western world, the period of roughly two hundred years ago was probably the very pinnacle of the diversity of views on legal punishment. On the one extreme, one could still find prominent advocates of brutal torturous execution methods like the breaking wheel (which were occasionally used in some parts of Europe well into the 19th century), and on the other, out-and-out death penalty abolitionists. (For example, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany abolished the death penalty altogether in 1786, and it was abolished almost completely in Russia around the mid-18th century.) One could also find all sorts of in-between views on all sides, of course. Admittedly, one would be hard-pressed to find someone advocating a prison system of the sort that exists nowadays, but that would have been economically impossible back in those far poorer times (modern prisons cost tens of thousands of dollars per prisoner-year, not even counting the cost of building them).

Depending on what exactly is meant by "the nature and the contents of history," one could certainly point out many interesting perspectives that could be found 200 years ago, but not today anymore. That, however, is a very complex question. As for gender, well, I'd better not go into that topic. I'll just point out that people have been writing about these matters since the dawn of history, and it's very naive (though sadly common nowadays) to believe that only our modern age has managed to achieve accurate insight and non-evil attitudes about them.

Comment author: Mercy 15 September 2010 11:21:07AM 0 points [-]

People still argue those things nowadays though. Any remotely salacious criminal story has hacks crawling out of the woodwork to gloat about how the perpetrators will be raped, and the current Attorney General has deliberately delayed introduction of mechanisms to clamp down on the practice. For a long time one of the most popular proposal out of Britain's "let the public suggest policies" initiative was to send paedophiles to Iraq as human mine detectors.

And you're missing the major reason for the increase in variety of criminal punishments, which is that the increase in the number of non violent crimes. I don't think I'll run too much risk of embarrassing myself if I suggest that mephedrone clinics weren't considered an alternative to jail time 100 years ago.

As to gender, I was under the impression that radically post- and anti- gender views like those expressed by Julie Bindel and Donna Harroway were novel, if there are 19th century author's with similar viewpoints I'd be happy to hear them. Again this is an issue where I don't see any dead viewpoints, so even small increases in radical-ness increase the general width of ideas held.

It strikes me though from the prison issue that our differences are mostly over what qualifies a belief as respectable. There are many beliefs that are no longer taken seriously by liberal academics, if that's what you mean by mainstream then I agree the 19th century showed a much broader range of opinion then ours.

Getting back to my original point, just about everything in the OP is within the range of orthodoxy of public opinion, and everything except "obama is a muslim" within the academic one, and yet they can be modeled as contrary to one another.

Comment author: HumanFlesh 15 September 2010 12:15:22PM 1 point [-]

Mephedrone clinics? Do you mean methadone clinics?

Comment author: wedrifid 15 September 2010 08:03:56AM *  1 point [-]

As for gender, well, I'd better not go into that topic. I'll just point out that people have been writing about these matters since the dawn of history, and it's very naive (though sadly common nowadays) to believe that only our modern age has managed to achieve accurate insight and non-evil attitudes about them.

Dawn of history? Now I'm imagining uncovering writing on the wall of caves: "Why women make better hunters" and expressing indignation at under-representation of females in cave paintings of battles.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 15 September 2010 04:14:00PM 0 points [-]

What Constant said. I meant "history" in the narrow technical sense of the word, i.e. the period since the invention of writing.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 September 2010 08:57:31AM 0 points [-]

You're mixing up history with prehistory.

Comment author: cousin_it 14 September 2010 02:23:02PM *  2 points [-]

Why do you want to define "genuine meta-contrarianness" based on correctness/merit? It will cause endless flamewars. Yvain's recipe, on the other hand, is relatively uncontroversial.

Comment author: Mercy 14 September 2010 06:21:36PM 1 point [-]

As far as I can see, it's uncontroversial because it doesn't add any information in the first place, compared to just including the norm in question when describing something as contrarian, which takes a similar number of words, less effort and is less subjective.

But I'm not suggesting double contrarian opinions must be better than unrecontructed ones, rather that if they are distinguishable they should have different bottom lines: they shouldn't just be better arguments for the same thing. We see this in the race example: modern genetics recognises very different ethnic distributions to those of classical racialist science, or modern derivations thereof.

Comment author: cousin_it 14 September 2010 06:30:44PM *  3 points [-]

I think the post was a guideline to help you catch yourself when you write the bottom line of your position for signaling reasons (contrarian or meta-contrarian). If you never experience that problem, more power to you. I do have it and the post was helpful to me.

Comment author: Mercy 14 September 2010 06:51:56PM 0 points [-]

Hah, I'm sure I do, I guess the point then is that just because your position is counter-revolutionary, doesn't mean you haven't adopted it out of rebelliousness. Um, assuming that revolutionary zeal as a potential source of bottom lines was taken for granted. I think I knew that already, if only through hatred of South Park style antagonistic third way-ism, and so have spent these last few responses training on straw.

Comment author: Emile 14 September 2010 08:04:58AM 34 points [-]

One more time: the fact that those beliefs are in an order does not mean some of them are good and others are bad. For example, "5 year old child / pro-death / transhumanist" is a triad, and "warming denier / warming believer / warming skeptic" is a triad, but I personally support 1+3 in the first triad and 2 in the second. You can't evaluate the truth of a statement by its position in a signaling game; otherwise you could use human psychology to figure out if global warming is real!

Well worth stressing.

It's possible to go meta on nearly any issue, and there are a lot of meta-level arguments - group affiliation, signaling, rationalization, ulterior motives, whether a position is contrarian or supported by the majority, who the experts are and how much we should trust them, which group is persecuted the most, straw man positions and whether anybody really holds them, slippery slopes, different ways to interpret statements, who is working under which cognitive bias ...

Which is why I prefer discussions to stick to the object level rather than go meta. It's just too easy to rationalize a position in meta, and to find convincing-sounding arguments as to why the other side mistakenly disagrees with you. And meta-level disagreements are more likely to persist in the long run, because they are hard to verify.

Sure, meta-level arguments are very valuable in many cases, we shouldn't drop them altogether. But we should be very cautious while using them.

Comment author: minusdash 03 January 2015 01:42:31AM 5 points [-]

That's a triad too: naive instinctive signaling / signaling-aware people disliking signaling / signaling is actually a useful and necessary thing.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 18 September 2010 08:26:25AM *  6 points [-]

Going meta often introduces burdensome details. This will only lead you closer to truth when your epistemic rationality is strong enough to shoulder the weight.

Comment author: Orfell 14 September 2010 07:41:10AM 6 points [-]

I have a strong urge to signal my difference to the Lesswrong crowd. Should I be worried that all my positions may be just meta^2 contrarianism?

Comment author: knb 14 September 2010 06:23:19AM *  8 points [-]

Does making fun of hipsters to seem cool make you a meta-hipster?

Comment author: knb 14 September 2010 06:12:59AM *  16 points [-]

conservative / liberal / libertarian

No way, I don't buy this one at all. I find that most little kids are essentially naive liberals. We should give poor sick people free medicine! We should stop bad polluters from hurting birds and trees! Conservatism/libertarianism is the contrarian position. Everything has a cost! There are no free lunches! Managerial-technocratic liberals are the meta-contrarians. So what about the costs? We've got 800 of the smartest guys from Yarvard and Oxbridge to do cost-benefit analyses for us!

Of course there are meta-meta-contrarians as well: reactionaries, meta-libertarians (Patri Friedman is a good example of a metalibertarian IMO), anarchists, etc.

It's contrarians all the way down.

Comment author: Yvain 14 September 2010 07:34:15PM *  13 points [-]

I was thinking more in terms of conservative values like "My country is the best" and "Our enemies are bad people who hate our freedom", but your way makes a lot of sense too.

Although it's worth noting that all of what you say is obvious even to little kids are things no one had even thought of a hundred years ago. Rachel Carson and Silent Spring are remembered as iconic because they kick-started an environmentalist movement that just didn't really exist before the second half of the 20th century (although Thoureau and people like that get honorable mention). The idea of rich people paying to give poor sick people free medicine would have gotten you laughed out of most socially stratified civilizations on the wrong side of about 1850.

But I don't want to get too bogged down in which side is more contrarian, because it sounds too close to arguing whether liberalism or conservativism is better, which of course would be a terribly low status thing to do on a site like this :)

I think it was probably a mistake to include such large-scale politics on there at all. Whether a political position seems natural or contrarian depends on what social context someone's in, what age they are, and what the particular issue involved is.

What about this: moderately smart teenagers become extreme liberals to be contrary to the conservative ideals of their elders; excessively smart teenagers become extreme libertarians to be contrary to moderately smart teenagers and their elders, and older people become conservative (or moderate liberals) to signal they're not teenagers :)

Comment author: kodos96 14 September 2010 06:49:43PM 5 points [-]

I think the takeaway from this is just that classification of phenomena into these triads is a very subjective business. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since the point of this (if I'm reading Yvain correctly) is not to determine the correctness of a position by its position in a triad, but simply to encourage people to notice when their own thinking is motivated by a desire to climb the triad, rather than pursue truth, and to be skeptical of yourself when you detect yourself trying to triad-climb.

Comment author: Mercy 14 September 2010 11:40:40AM 3 points [-]

Ah thanks that position makes more sense to me now, you mean what most people call social democracy, not liberalism as it is understood outside the US? Because at least in britain, libertarian's align with liberals/conservatives against socialists and social democrats.

But to be honest, they are a good example of a flaw in the setup, which is that people tend to define themselves against imaginary enemies that believe everything they do only backwards, rather than naively dispute everything their enemy says. So libertarians are more likely to complain about "statists", than come out in favour of taxes or wars because socialists are against them.

Comment author: Relsqui 14 September 2010 09:15:19AM 9 points [-]

I think you're right about the chronological sequence of kids as "naive liberals" to adults as conservative (more so than the kids, anyway), but not about the rationale. Positioning oneself on the contrarian hierarchy is about showing off that your intellect is greater than the people below you on it. It's the rare adult who feels a need to explicitly demonstrate their intellectual superiority to children--but the common adult who has a job and pays taxes and actually ever thinks about the cost of things, as opposed to the kids, who don't need to.

In short, adults don't oppose free medicine etc. to be contrary to the position of naive children; they oppose it because they're the ones who'd have to pay for it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 14 September 2010 05:59:28AM *  7 points [-]

Very much related to The Correct Contrarian Cluster.

Also, we had a post specifically on countersignaling: Things You Can't Countersignal.

Comment deleted 14 September 2010 04:12:55AM *  [-]
Comment author: CronoDAS 14 September 2010 02:34:39AM *  1 point [-]

I advocate majoritarianism on most topics related to science.

Including nutrition.

I'll take Gary Taubes seriously when the NIH does.

Comment author: gwern 25 October 2014 06:55:22PM *  1 point [-]

Mainstream: 'correlation=causation' (almost all of nutrition research); contrarian: 'correlation!=causation' (Taubes); meta-contrarian: 'ah, but really, correlation~=causation!'

Comment author: gwern 23 June 2017 03:22:21PM 3 points [-]

Computer chess: 'AIs will never master tasks like chess because they lack a soul / the creative spark / understanding of analogies' (laymen, Hofstadter etc); 'AIs don't need any of that to master tasks like chess but computing power and well-tuned search' (most AI researchers); 'but a human-computer combination will always be the best at task X because the human is more flexible and better at mega-cognition!' (Kasparov, Tyler Cowen).

Comment author: Vaniver 01 July 2017 01:15:49AM 0 points [-]

3 has been empirically disproven at this point, I believe?

Comment author: arundelo 04 July 2017 01:12:34AM 1 point [-]

gwern on "centaurs" (humans playing chess with computer assistance):

Even by 2007, it was hard for anyone to improve, and after 2013 or so, the very best centaurs were reduced to basically just opening book preparation (itself an extremely difficult skill involving compiling millions of games and carefully tuning against the weakness of possible opponent engines), to the point where official matches have mostly stopped (making it hard to identify the exact point at which centaur ceased to be a thing at all).

Comment author: Decius 29 June 2017 04:04:08AM 0 points [-]

There will always be tasks at which better (Meta-)*Cognition is superior to the available amounts of computing power and tuning search protocols.

It becomes irrelevant if either humans aren't better than easily created AI at that level of meta or AI go enough levels up to be a failure mode.