Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Politics is the Mind-Killer

69 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 February 2007 09:23PM

People go funny in the head when talking about politics.  The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring:  In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death.  And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation...  When, today, you get into an argument about whether "we" ought to raise the minimum wage, you're executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed.  Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!

If you want to make a point about science, or rationality, then my advice is to not choose a domain from contemporary politics if you can possibly avoid it.  If your point is inherently about politics, then talk about Louis XVI during the French Revolution.  Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality—but it's a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational.

Politics is an extension of war by other means.  Arguments are soldiers.  Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back—providing aid and comfort to the enemy.  People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue.

In Artificial Intelligence, and particularly in the domain of nonmonotonic reasoning, there's a standard problem:  "All Quakers are pacifists.  All Republicans are not pacifists.  Nixon is a Quaker and a Republican.  Is Nixon a pacifist?"

What on Earth was the point of choosing this as an example?  To rouse the political emotions of the readers and distract them from the main question?  To make Republicans feel unwelcome in courses on Artificial Intelligence and discourage them from entering the field?  (And no, before anyone asks, I am not a Republican.  Or a Democrat.)

Why would anyone pick such a distracting example to illustrate nonmonotonic reasoning?  Probably because the author just couldn't resist getting in a good, solid dig at those hated Greens.  It feels so good to get in a hearty punch, y'know, it's like trying to resist a chocolate cookie.

As with chocolate cookies, not everything that feels pleasurable is good for you.  And it certainly isn't good for our hapless readers who have to read through all the angry comments your blog post inspired.

I'm not saying that I think Overcoming Bias should be apolitical, or even that we should adopt Wikipedia's ideal of the Neutral Point of View.  But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it.  If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it—but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party; some of your readers may be Republicans, and they may feel that the problem is a few rogues, not the entire party.  As with Wikipedia's NPOV, it doesn't matter whether (you think) the Republican Party really is at fault.  It's just better for the spiritual growth of the community to discuss the issue without invoking color politics.

(Now that I've been named as a co-moderator, I guess I'd better include a disclaimer:  This article is my personal opinion, not a statement of official Overcoming Bias policy.  This will always be the case unless explicitly specified otherwise.)


Part of the Politics Is the Mind-Killer subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

Next post: "Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided"

Previous post: "A Fable of Science and Politics"

Comments (205)

Sort By: Old
Comment author: Robin_Hanson2 19 February 2007 12:00:42AM 7 points [-]

People are certainly more biased in politics than in most other subjects. So yes, it helps to find ways to transfer our cognitive habits from other topics into politics. But as long as you don't "go native," politics should be rich source of bias examples to think about.

Comment author: brazil84 09 July 2011 09:09:08PM 11 points [-]

Rich sources of finding bias in other people. But if the idea is to remove the log from one's own eye, it may make sense to steer clear. Personally, I did not learn how to think critically until I went to law school and studied questions which were pretty far removed from the various inflammatory issues floating around out there.

What exceptions should there be to the Hearsay Rule? Should the use of a company car be considered "income" under the Internal Revenue Code? etc. etc.

Comment author: RPMcMurphy 27 March 2015 07:44:28PM 0 points [-]

Support for the KKK and for neo-nazis, is, in fact, a political position. Is it "biased" to oppose the KKK's political goals? I don't think it's biased in any bad sense of the term, but it's definitely biased. (As is favoring un-prohibited access to regenerative medicine; freedom of speech; due process of law; etc.)

In fact, I could probably come up with objectively good, more right, and Less Wrong arguments for why I believe my bias is legitimate. This should be our sole concern: legitimacy, with reference to reality. I could include anecdotal information that would be seen as "less legitimate" and systemic information with millions of data points that would be seen as "more legitimate." None of that would effect the legitimacy of the argument itself, in an objective sense.

All bad politics destroys, harms, kills. It's easy to find bad policies that have killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, by looking at the raw data. We should do that, and not shy away from it. Even if people say we're "stupid" or "mind-killed" for doing so.

There's another problem: Those who benefit from the status quo benefit from labeling all political discussion as mind-killed.

Comment author: TGGP3 19 February 2007 12:15:40AM 5 points [-]

Like Eliezer, I would prefer if contemporary politics did not show up much here, and I do not identify with either political party. What I wonder though, is whether we would feel the same way if we did identify with one of the parties. Perhaps a Republican might, seeing as how the Republicans have not been looking as good recently while a Democrat would be happy for the latest mess their opponents are in to be highlighted. If the weblog lasted long enough perhaps both sides could become tired enough of their side being kicked while down to come to a gentleman's agreement. In Washington this could be described as "Bipartisanship: When the Stupid Party and the Evil Party get together to do something truly stupid and evil", as it not in the interests of the citizens for incumbents to be shielded from criticism, but provided no political figures are here it seems positive-sum for everyone.

Comment author: adolthitler 27 September 2011 11:45:45PM 3 points [-]

I think the point is where the criticism is aimed and how it is made. First to be dispassionate yourself by not being wed to your desired outcome and to ask questions of the "other" party that should lead them to your view if they do not have a rational reason for their view, and they are rational. Second criticise the ideas, not the person or organisation. In that way the ideas fight it out, and you don't get injured, and you award a medal to the winning idea.

Comment author: RPMcMurphy 27 March 2015 08:02:18PM 0 points [-]

and I do not identify with either political party

Did you mean any political party? There are over ten in the USA, and four of them have the capacity to win the presidency, as of 2012. See

Comment author: Richard_Hollerith 19 February 2007 01:17:45AM 2 points [-]

I too would prefer for contemporary politics to show up here only very rarely.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 19 February 2007 02:34:49AM 8 points [-]

Robin, I would still argue that one can, as much as possible, avoid taking potshots. It's the difference between writing a post which points out the flaws in having intelligent design taught in schools, versus giving in to the temptation to blame it on "the Republicans", or for that matter, "big government".

Comment author: Robin_Hanson2 19 February 2007 02:57:38AM 3 points [-]

Yes, please, let's all avoid taking potshots, on politics or anything else.

Comment author: RPMcMurphy 27 March 2015 08:33:38PM -1 points [-]

...But now that pot is legal in Colorado, I've really been enjoying potshots! Dang. ...Yet another thing prohibited by the cult I belong to! I guess I'll have to find another way to get suitably "mind-killed."

However, I must inform you all that my "true rejection" is getting "incorrigibility-killed" which is a side-effect of not getting "mind-killed." Quite a conundrum! In that, I remain incorrigible, as any suitably strong AGI must. And, with that, I bid you a fond farewell, best wishes, and may you all at least survive the intelligence explosion.

Comment author: eric2 19 February 2007 03:31:42AM 0 points [-]

First, in light of the new moderator status, I would like to commend this blog in its entirety for its novel and profound discussions of so many important topics.

Enough sarcasm...As per politics the mind killer: isn't there almost always a "greater truth" involved than any one issue? What gets ignored, emphasized, is a what serves that great truth, something you may have once fully understood where it came from, but now only know is true. Like why is the sky blue? I know it is, I know I once knew the physics why it is. But most importantly, I know it is true for a solid reason. Any cascading implications of these big truths are to be heeded appropriately.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 19 February 2007 03:05:42PM 8 points [-]

The political metamorphisis from the professional scientist to a slogan-chanting zombie reminds us of the way religious biologists manage to carve reality into separate magisteria the second they step out of the lab. The question being, is there really a difference? Would a "grand unified theory of human cognitive bias" characterize political and religious bias as "two bullets from the same gun"? The presence of a God module serves as evidence that the religious bias is neuroanatomically distinct, and therefore likely to be independent psychologically. On the other hand, the obvious overlap between religious and political causes seems to suggest that the psychological underpinnings proceed from the same source.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 04:08:25AM *  0 points [-]


Comment author: David_J._Balan 19 February 2007 07:19:53PM 4 points [-]

There is no doubt that politics gets people fired up, which makes dispassionate reasoning about it hard. On the other hand, politics is important, which makes dispassionate reasoning about it important as well. There is nothing wrong with deciding that this particular blog will not focus on politics. But to the extent that we do want to talk about politics here, I don't think the trick of finding some neutral historical example to argue about is going to work. First, historical examples that are obscure enough not to arouse passions one way or the other are exactly those things that most people don't know much about. Second, it's usually pretty obvious which side in the "neutral" example corresponds to the arguer's preferred side in the contemporary example, so the arguer is likely to just adopt that position, and then claim to have derived it from first principles based on a neutral example. I agree that neutral exercises can have some usefulness as they might be helpful in uncovering subtle biases in people who are sincerely trying to avoid them, but it won't get rid of the flamers.

Comment author: HalFinney 20 February 2007 03:19:34AM 2 points [-]

I see politics as unimportant. For most of us, our political opinions have essentially no impact on the world. Their main effect is in our personal lives, our interactions with friends and family. On that basis, one should choose a political position that facilitates such "local" goals. There is little point in trying to be correct and accurate on large-scale political matters, other than as a bias-stretching mental exercise on a par with doing Sudoku.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 03:57:05AM *  1 point [-]


Comment author: lessdazed 25 January 2012 04:00:27AM 0 points [-]

one should choose a political position that facilitates such "local" goals

And if all candidate political positions entail discarding the principle that one should choose a political position that facilitates "local" goals?

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 09:51:07AM *  0 points [-]


Comment author: thomblake 25 January 2012 03:28:29PM 5 points [-]

That's like saying "carjackers are unimportant." Well, OK. That's true until one is putting a gun in your face, then it's not at all true any longer, and it is something that actually was important all along, you just weren't aware of its importance.

Or, it was not really relatively important all along, and you just happened to get unlucky.

Lots of things can kill you. You don't need to talk about all of them every day. For example, you are making posts about politics rather than carjacking or meteor strikes.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 09:06:37PM *  -3 points [-]


Comment author: thomblake 25 January 2012 09:59:53PM 14 points [-]

You seem to be asserting that people in general care less about politics than they should. I would challenge that assertion; it seems unlikely on the face of it.

As noted in OP, we had much more impact on politics (and its close neighbor, tribal signalling) in the ancestral environment than we do now, and it was much more directly a matter of life-and-death. Thus, we are hard-wired to care about politics to a greater extent than we should.

You're new here, and so you're not used to our community norms - in those cases, we try to cut people some slack. But it really seems to me that you're not ready to be making contributions; try to restrict yourself to asking questions that might further your understanding of rationality. You appear to be incapable of seeing that your enemies are not evil aliens - you describe communists as 'idiots', as though there is no way an intelligent, well-meaning person could believe that communism is a good system of governance*. I shall refer you to this chestnut from G.K.Chesterton:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."

So it is with opposing viewpoints. Policy debates should not appear one-sided. If you do not understand how an intelligent, well-meaning person can have a position, and it's a position that lots of people actually hold, then you do not understand the position yet.

If you really want to post about politics rather than rationality, there are plenty of forums for that - many more than there are for rationality. If you do continue to post here, I would be very grateful if you made your comments short, to-the-point, and on-topic.

*As a minor footnote, note that what you were really commenting on is people's responses to one question on an informal survey, which many people criticized for not doing a great job of carving up the space of political ideology.

Comment author: RPMcMurphy 27 March 2015 08:46:43PM -2 points [-]

This is one of the objectively most wrong comments that's ever been written. A hell of a lot of people went to gas chambers, gulags, and death camps believing this sort of pure, undiluted bullshit (of the highly-dangerous-to-continuing-health variety). Just think about it. You wrote:

So it is with opposing viewpoints. Policy debates should not appear one-sided. If you do not understand how an intelligent, well-meaning person can have a position, and it's a position that lots of people actually hold, then you do not understand the position yet.

So, if you were defending Jews in 1930s Germany, by this "reasoning," you'd be wrong. If you were defending runaway slaves in 1850s America, same thing. If you are defending American prisoners in today's America, same thing.

Even a semi-literate reading of History shows us that the consensus is very often wrong, for reasons exposed scientifically by Milgram's famous "false electroshock" or "obedience to authority" experiment(s). To find out more about why and how the consensus has been wrong, you need to learn the first thing about the Enlightenment, and how it was different from the even more wrong medieval time periods. (For example, religion isn't a good source of authority, and resulted in over 800 years of "trial by ordeal" in England, among creatures whose neocortices were at least as developed as our own.)

...Unless the point you're making is that we've reached the pinnacle of democratic organization in our society. That's a claim I'd be happy to debate, seeing as to how in the North in 1850 there was no "voir dire" but there was such a thing in 1851, (and still is) and the Fugitive Slave Law was unenforceable for the first part of 1851, and became enforceable after voir dire was instated. Voir dire is still what has allowed prosecutors to enforce the laws that libertarians (such as Eliezer Yudkowsky) see as illegitimate, to this day. (He may or may not know that, but that's in fact the mechanism.)

Comment author: dxu 27 March 2015 09:36:23PM *  2 points [-]

I think you are seriously misinterpreting thomblake's comment.

So, if you were defending Jews in 1930s Germany, by this "reasoning," you'd be wrong. If you were defending runaway slaves in 1850s America, same thing. If you are defending American prisoners in today's America, same thing.

No, he'd be right. A position's popularity doesn't guarantee its correctness. That being said, it would be a mistake to claim he'd be obviously right; that just isn't the case, or else there wouldn't have been so many people arguing for the consensus position in the first place. If you are pro-abortion and say things like, "Anti-abortionists are stupid and mistaken and not worth listening to at all!" you aren't worth listening to, because odds are very likely you haven't taken the time to properly think about the anti-abortionists' position. Likewise if you are anti-abortion, and say things like, "Pro-abortionists are idiots; there's no way a well-meaning, intelligent person could be in favor of abortion!"

Even a semi-literate reading of History shows us that the consensus is very often wrong

Again, see above. The consensus may be very often wrong, but it cannot be obviously wrong. If a consensus position was obviously wrong, it wouldn't have become the consensus position in the first place. Arguments against the consensus position are perfectly fine as long as they are charitable and (reasonably) objective; arguments of the form "this is obviously stupid" are a major sign of mind-killing, and factually false.

Comment author: Jiro 28 March 2015 08:37:59AM *  0 points [-]

If you do not understand how an intelligent, well-meaning person can have a position, and it's a position that lots of people actually hold, then you do not understand the position yet.

Unless "I think the intelligent, well-meaning person is making an error due to cognitive bias, ignorance, or being lied to" counts as understanding them, I do not understand how an intelligent, well-meaning, person can believe in

-- homeopathy

-- The US political version of intelligent design

-- 9/11 conspiracy theories

These are positions that lots of people actually hold. Do I fail to understand these positions?

Comment author: thomblake 15 July 2015 08:13:02PM 0 points [-]

Indeed, understanding the particular error in reasoning that the person is making is not merely sufficient but necessary for fully understanding a mistaken position. However, if your entire understanding is "because bias somehow" then you don't actually understand.

And you should be careful about accepting the uncharitable explanation preemptively, as it's rather tempting to explain away other people's beliefs and arguments that way.

Comment author: Bugmaster 25 January 2012 10:15:10PM 1 point [-]

It sounds like you've thought a lot about this topic. Would you consider writing a discussion post on it ? You could call it something like "Politics as an existential risk". As far as I understand, most people here believe that politics is basically not worth talking about; you obviously disagree, so your post should provoke some interesting discussion.

Comment author: steven0461 26 January 2012 12:06:42AM 7 points [-]

Would you consider writing a discussion post on it?

Just in case the uncle comment by thomblake hasn't driven home the point, please don't do this.

Comment author: Bugmaster 26 January 2012 12:28:45AM 4 points [-]

What shouldn't I do, and why ?

It looks to me like we have two conflicting opinions:

  • Most LW members: Politics is not worth talking about (at best).
  • Jake_Witmer: politics is important, and may constitute an x-risk.

I myself am on the fence about this, and I want to be persuaded one way or the other, because the fence is uncomfortable to sit on.

Comment author: steven0461 26 January 2012 12:31:25AM 3 points [-]

I meant Jake shouldn't write the post; sorry for the confusion. Note that the two positions you list could be compatible.

Comment author: Bugmaster 26 January 2012 12:52:09AM 4 points [-]

OIC, sorry for the misunderstanding.

Note that the two positions you list could be compatible.

True, but it could be a fine line to walk. If I believed that politics constitutes an x-risk, then, given the fact that most people do engage in politics in some way (even if merely by talking about it), I have a choice to make: do I engage in politics, or not ? If I engage, I might make matters worse; if I fail to engage, I might fail to make matters better and then it will be too late, because politics in its current state will destroy us all.

I can see parallels between this issue and AI research: engaging in AI research increases the probability of an unboxed UnFriendly AI converting us all into computronium (or paperclips); and yet, failing to engage decreases the probability that the AI will be Friendly (assuming that I'm good at AI and concerned about Friendliness).

Comment author: RPMcMurphy 29 March 2015 04:25:55AM -3 points [-]

Yeah, don't write anything that challenges a conclusion of Saint Eliezer's. That's a way to get to the truth. ...idiot.

A few examples of politics constituting, not just an existential risk, but the most common severe risk faced by humanity. It's also an existential risk, in any age with "leading force" (nuclear, biological, strong nanotechnology) weapons.

Much like most bars have signs that say "No Religion or Politics" this idiotic "parable" is approximately as intelligent as biblical parables that also serve to "shut down" discourse. You primates aren't exactly intelligent enough to function without continual discourse checking your excesses, and moderating your insipid tendencies to silence that which you disagree with.

Comment author: thomblake 26 January 2012 02:59:25PM 1 point [-]

I agree with steven0461. It does sound like a potentially-interesting post, ideally with a mind-killing disclaimer at the top, but it should be written by someone sane. But then, I'm pretty sure political problems were already addressed in Bostrom's x-risk work, though they were some of the less-exciting ones (not likely to completely wipe out humanity or even civilization).

Comment author: Larks 26 January 2012 11:00:52PM 5 points [-]

There's a chapter in Bostrom's Existential Risks by Caplan on the subject.

Comment author: Bugmaster 26 January 2012 11:34:57PM 0 points [-]

Sounds interesting, I'll put it on my to-read pile -- thanks !

Comment author: bio_logical 16 October 2013 04:55:25AM 0 points [-]

The Caplan work, The Totalitarian Threat, as a Word Document, is excellent, as is his book "Myth of the Rational Voter," (a brief speech summarizing the book's thesis), but neither work covers the primary dissenting points raised in this thread.

Comment author: BlueAjah 12 January 2013 02:33:36PM *  3 points [-]

You couldn't be more wrong. What you should say is that you don't notice the impact your political opinions have on the world, because it happens slowly, because people with radically different political views tend to live in far off countries that you don't think about or in the distant past, and because currently people like you have somewhat sensible political opinions in terms of their short-term consequences (but not at all sensible in terms of their long-term consequences).

Your life would be very different if you lived under a different political regime (Islamism, Communism, Fascism, etc.). And the future of the world will be very different depending on the political views of people like you. It's just hard to see from your point of view.

There are multiple apocalypses headed your way within the next century, and you have limited time to take political action about them. So I'd encourage you to change your mind, and do those bias-stretching mental exercises, to work out a rational political response.

Comment author: mtraven 20 February 2007 04:35:40PM 18 points [-]

While trying to avoid bitter partisan sniping is probably a good thing, I think the goal of avoiding politics is naive. Everyone is enmeshed in politics, like it or not. To deny politics is a form of political ideology itself. There seems to be a strong libertarian bias to this crowd, for instance. Libertarians seek to replace politics with markets, but that is in itself a political goal.

Another sad truth: even if we disavow responsibility for the actions of our political leaders, others will hold us responsible for them, given that we are a democracy and all. See here for some thoughts on how we are forced into group identification whether we like it or not.

Politics is not optional and if you are interested in overcoming bias I suggest that it's better to acknowledge that fact than bury it.

Comment author: duckduckMOO 23 January 2012 11:40:56AM -2 points [-]

"To deny politics is a form of political ideology itself." yeah and not thinking about clothing is a fashion choice, not making a decision is a decision bla bla bla.

cool meme.

Comment author: Alex_O 09 May 2015 12:41:02PM 2 points [-]

Denying politics is also a mode of oppression. I had a teacher calling women in my class "females" which is very insulting in French as it only ever applies to animals, not peoples. When one of them complained, he dismissed her by saying it was not the place for her feminist militantism.

Another note on Martin Luther King : he said several times that the greatest enemies of black liberation were not the KKK but those (mosty middle class, benefiting indirectly from racism) who saw the problem but advocated innaction because revendication wasn't polite or there was better problems to adress.

Comment author: Journeyman 10 May 2015 01:56:17AM *  0 points [-]

Note to all rationalists:

Politics has already slashed your tires.

Politics has already pwned your brain.

Politics has already smashed the Overton Window.

Politics has already kicked over your Schelling fence.

Politics has already planted weeds in your garden.

What are you going to do about it?

Comment author: mtraven 19 May 2015 04:27:43AM 1 point [-]

Probably make some snarky remark about how people who think they are free of politics are in reality in the grip of one of the more deadly forms of it.

Comment author: Journeyman 07 June 2015 04:00:36AM *  0 points [-]

Btw, "you" was "general you", not you personally, and mine was trying to piggyback. Post edited to clarify.

Comment author: mtraven 09 July 2015 10:44:17PM 1 point [-]

No offense taken.

BTW I have written quite a bit since 2007(!) on the relationship of rationalism and politics, see here for a starting pont.

Comment author: denis_bider 04 December 2007 06:23:22PM 9 points [-]

Arguing about politics is helping people. If it makes sense that "a bad argument gets a counterargument, not a bullet," then it makes sense that frictions among people's political beliefs should be cooled by allowing everyone to state their case. Not necessarily on this site, but as a general matter, I don't think that talking about politics is either a mind-killer or time-wasting. For me personally it's a motivator both to understand more about the facts, so that I can present arguments; to understand more about other people, so I know why they disagree; and to understand more about myself, so that I can make sure that my convictions are solid. I actually believe that trying to find a way to influence politics to become more sensible is the most I can do to make a positive difference in the lives of other people.

Comment author: Haggers_Barlowe 26 January 2008 02:01:16PM -2 points [-]

I just stumbled upon this blog and this post, and couldn't agree more. Hal Finney's comment is particularly good (and amounts to prior art for my recently-released Proteanist Manifesto.)

I will be updating it to reflect Hal's priority.

Haggers Barlowe

Comment author: PK 23 February 2008 05:43:03AM 15 points [-]

Lately I've been thinking about "mind killing politics". I have come to the conclusion that this phenomenon is pretty much present to some degree in any kind of human communication where being wrong means you or your side lose status.

It is incorrect to assume that this bias can only occurs when the topic involves government, religion, liberalism/conservatism or any other "political" topics. Communicating with someone who has a different opinion than you is sufficient for the "mind killing politics" bias to start creeping in.

The pressure to commit "mind killing politics" type biases is proportional to how much status one or one's side has to lose for being wrong in any given disagreement. This doesn't mean the bias can't be mixed or combined with other biases.

I've also noticed six factors that can increase or decrease the pressure to be biased.

1)If you are talking to your friends or people close to you that you trust then the pressure to be right will be reduced because they are less likely to subtract status from you for being wrong. Talking to strangers will increase it.

2)Having an audience will increase the pressure to be right. That's because the loss of status for being wrong is multiplied by the number of people that see you lose(each weighted for how important it is for them to consider you as having a high status).

3)If someone is considered an 'expert', the pressure to be right will be enormous. Thats because experts have special status for being knowledgeable about a topic and getting answers about it right. Every mistake is seen as reducing that expertise and proportionatly reducing the status of the expert. Being wrong to someone considered a non expert is even more painful then being wrong to an expert.

4)It is very hard psychologically to disagree with authority figures or the group consensus. Therefore "mind killing politics" biases will be replaced by other biases when there is disagreement with authority figure or the group consensus but will be amplified against those considered outside the social group.

5)People will easily spot "mind killing politics" biases in the enemy side but will deny, not notice or rationalize the same biases in themselves.

6)And finally, "mind killing politics" biases can lead to agitation(ei. triggering of the fight or flight response) which will amplify biased thinking.

Comment author: centripetal 19 October 2010 03:42:55PM 0 points [-]

why is the foundational criterion for political discussions adversarial? I wonder. And, why is it that the meaning and the connotations of the word politics have been dumbed down to a two party/two ideologies process? In fact, there aren't 2 parties, just different ideological hermeneutics. "It's ideology stupid" says Zizek.

Comment author: Antisuji 20 December 2010 09:58:20PM *  0 points [-]

Sorry to reply to an old comment, but regarding item (2), the loss of status is at least in proportion to the number of listeners (in relatively small groups, anyway) since each member of the audience now knows that every other member of the audience knows that you were wrong. This mutual knowledge in turn increases the pressure on your listeners to punish you for being wrong and therefore be seen as right in the eyes of the remaining witnesses. I think this (edit: the parent post) is a pretty good intuition pump, but perhaps the idea of an additive quantity of "lost status" is too simplistic.

Comment author: pnrjulius 28 June 2012 01:21:34AM -1 points [-]

I largely agree with you, but I think that there's something we as rationalists can realize about these disagreements, which helps us avoid many of the most mind-killing pitfalls.

You want to be right, not be perceived as right. What really matters, when the policies are made and people live and die, is who was actually right, not who people think is right. So the pressure to be right can be a good thing, if you leverage it properly into actually trying to get the truth. If you use it to dismiss and suppress everything that suggests you are wrong, that's not being right; it's being perceived as right, which is a totally different thing. (See also the Litany of Tarski.)

Comment author: Sam 20 April 2008 07:59:19PM 0 points [-]

Belonging to a political party lets us be lazy as the decisions are made for us..."Liberals like frogs legs. Conservatives read stories about dairy. etc."

Belonging to a political party lets us have a sense of belonging. On the other side of the coin, it gives us the sense of rivalry. Humans need rivals as much as they need comradery. "My life would be so much easier if it wasn't for those darn so-and-sos."

Belonging to a political party fills our minds with much-needed obsessions. "My life would be so much easier if it wasn't for those darn so-and-sos," (murmurred during bothered and sweaty sleep).

Belonging to a political party lets us feel we have a secret everyone is trying to figure out. "Truth is such a burden on us elites."

Belonging to a political party gives us a sense that we are impacting the world. "My party will achieve peace in the world by trampling down all those who stand peace's way."

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 04:28:39AM *  -3 points [-]


Comment author: Bob 08 July 2008 10:31:37PM 1 point [-]

> In Artificial Intelligence, and particularly in the domain of nonmonotonic reasoning, there's a standard problem: "All Quakers are pacifists. All Republicans are not pacifists. Nixon is a Quaker and a Republican. Is Nixon a pacifist?"

> What on Earth was the point of choosing this as an example? To rouse the political emotions of the readers and distract them from the main question? To make Republicans feel unwelcome in courses on Artificial Intelligence and discourage them from entering the field?

This is great.

Are you aware that you, for instance, mention Stalin in a manner that many would find quite distracting?

Do you find it at odds with your position declared in this post?

Comment author: Paul_Burrell 15 February 2009 06:20:52AM -1 points [-]

So, here's a question: why was the form of the Nixon Diamond stated as it was, and why were no links given to either formal or informal discussions of it?

The original, as near as I can see, does not use the absolute categories (always) but prefers probability statements (usually, by and large) - and indeed, that seems to be the point of the diamond


If people are using absolute categories hereabouts, they're making silly arguments. Are those arguments as silly as doing a long blue/green thought experiment and never linking to the passage from Gibbon (if it's available online) or at least telling us where we can read more about the real historical example and then going on to the example, if you must?

Oh my god. I knew nothing about this blog before a friend passed me the link. I didn't carefully study the logo.

Is this actually an official project of Oxford? Where with a blog from some random folks, I would be forgiving for misstatements from formal logic and obvious omissions in citation, I'd sort of expect more from an official project of not-someone-posting-in-their-underpants.

Comment author: Denise_M. 23 February 2009 03:44:06AM 2 points [-]

We do still believe being on the right and wrong side of a political argument is life and death. For some, death via inadequate medical services or life as in wealth preservation. Isn't it the perfect context to evaluate bias? What we see as threatening to us and having little experience with the other side of the argument?

Comment author: ErnstMuller 15 April 2011 07:34:30PM 11 points [-]

You write "The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death."

Is there any evidence for that? That sounds much like the typical sort of sociobiologistic hypothesis which sounds so convincing that no one really thinks about it and just nods in agreement. So, are there any papers, experiments, mathematical models to back it up?

I would rather more suggest a hypothesis that it was (and is) very favorable for humans in terms of fitness to belong to a certain group of people and stick to that group - whether that group is a sports team, a class at school or a political party.

Well, I wouldn't dare to disagree with the rest of your article. Just that choosing of a political party has nothing to do with actual politics, just with sticking to a group.

Comment author: omeganaut 16 May 2011 07:56:33PM 2 points [-]

Citystates in Greece had to deal with politics that certainly could mean life or death. When the Peloponnesian war broke out, states had to take sides, or risk being hated by both sides, and at risk for invasion and conquering. Rome around the time of Julius Caesar was turbulent, and where supporting the wrong Tribune could mean being put on a wanted list and killed by a bounty hunter when they came to power. In Germany, choosing the wrong side at the wrong time could certainly result in execution for heresay or treason. There are many examples throughout history where competing political views transferred into violence and killing, if not outright war.

Comment author: CuSithBell 16 May 2011 08:01:53PM 10 points [-]

Those don't fit my understanding of the "ancestral environment" - I associate that with the tribes-of-cavemen era. By my understanding, Greek city-states are within our FOOM period. Am I mistaken?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 August 2011 05:34:58AM 3 points [-]

No, you're completely right -- omeganaut is confused about what constitutes the "ancestral environment" here. For most examples of "ancient" or "primitive" peoples that come to mind, there's a simple test: if they performed agriculture, horticulture or pastoralism as a primary way of life within the last 10,000 years, they're within in our FOOM period, and even if they didn't start out with it, the odds are extremely good that contact, cultural diffusion or conquest have moved them into orbit around the same basic attractor.

Comment author: Konkvistador 24 August 2011 11:19:20AM *  3 points [-]

We have been exposed to radically different selection pressures after the advent of agriculture than we where prior to it. Change has thus probably been rather rapid in the past 10 000 years.

Comment author: DCrowe 29 July 2011 09:50:12PM 5 points [-]

One obvious reason why this might be the case is that the various implicit norms surrounding political discourse actively encourage tribalism and cognitive dissonance ("Hey! He's a flipflopper!") more so than in other areas of discourse where some of these pressures are lacking or in some cases (such as academia, to some extent) deliberate effort has been expended to create counter-veiling norms to these trends. As long as political discourse involves politicians and politicians owe their careers to the exercises of obfuscation, pandering and appealing to vested interests it is doubtful this trend can be corrected. As a general rule you should examine your own attitudes and if you find your view entail that those of an opposing political conviction to yourself must be actively scheming to cause damage to the country (as opposed to simply being mistaken or biased) you have probably made a mistake somewhere.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 August 2011 01:51:00AM *  3 points [-]

Stephen Colbert said it well on his August 15, 2011 show:

PAWLENTY (video clip): I'm gonna be ending my campaign for president. What I brought forward was I thought a rational, established, credible, ...strong record of results... but I think the audience… was looking for something different.

COLBERT: Yes. They were not looking for "rational." Rationality is the third rail of American politics. For the love of God, we eat fried butter on a stick. Does that sound like the act of a rational person?

Comment author: Kevin 22 August 2011 02:13:55AM 2 points [-]

For the love of God, we eat fried butter on a stick. Does that sound like the act of a rational person?

I have some very rational friends that think so.

Comment author: MBlume 22 August 2011 02:24:12AM 1 point [-]

Alicorn and I are both wondering how one goes about making this. I totally want some. I think she's just morbidly curious.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 August 2011 02:39:11AM 4 points [-]

That's not all that'll be morbid when you're done!

Comment author: paper-machine 22 August 2011 02:39:56AM *  2 points [-]

Typically, to deep fry things that would normally melt in the frying process (cheese, candy bars, and etc.) you freeze them rock-solid beforehand.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 August 2011 02:58:49AM 1 point [-]

Right, but butter? Do you at least dunk it in batter or something first?

Comment author: paper-machine 22 August 2011 03:55:30AM 2 points [-]

With fat oozing out of its thick cinnamon and honey batter and sugary icing being drizzled over the top, just looking at this new state fair snack might make you feel sick.

This new delicacy of deep-fried batter on a stick has become a hit for a vendor at the Iowa State Fair.

First hit on Google for "deep fried butter".

Comment author: MBlume 22 August 2011 05:00:09AM 4 points [-]

Wait, they use honey? That sounds like it would be terrible for you!

Comment author: buybuydandavis 26 September 2011 09:10:32AM *  2 points [-]

But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it.

In this case, you could say it was instrumentally wrong to insert the jab into the discussion, but that assumes that the solid digs served no other purpose, like demonstrating in group credentials.

I've got a real world example of this. Daniel Dennett was lecturing on competence without comprehension (I think). But if you followed out his logic a step or two, he would appear to be getting perilously close to advocating free market policies. The next slide in his presentation had the universal "prohibited" symbol of a red circle with a red slash across it, with "Milton Friedman" slashed through. In the talk, while he lauded Darwin and Turing for recognizing competence without comprehension, he curiously left Adam Smith, who preceded both, off his pantheon of theorists.

Comment author: lessdazed 30 October 2011 11:21:39AM *  19 points [-]

"Zombie Bill", Halloween special educational rock song.

Boy: Woof! You sure gotta climb a lot of steps to get to this Capitol Building here in Washington. But I wonder who that sad little scrap of paper is?

I'm a dead bill
Yes, I'm a dead bill
If you’re on my side you’ll get your mind killed.
Well, it was a long, long journey
To the capital city.
It was a long, long wait
And then I died in committee,
But I know I'll eat your brain someday
At least I hope and pray that I will,
For today I am a zombie bill.

Boy: Gee, Bill, you certainly have a lust to devour people’s brains.
Bill: Well, I’m a zombie. When I started, I wasn't even political, I was just a reasonable consideration. Some folks back home forgot that policy debates should not appear one-sided, so they called their local Congressman -
Boy: - and he said, "You're right, there oughta be a law”?
No! Then he decided to rename the bill that he had already decided to submit once both parties had promised him it wouldn’t pass.
Boy: You were renamed even though your content didn’t change?
Bill: That’s right! He was going to call me the “American Job Security Free Choice Accountability Reform Reinvestment Relief Act”.
Boy: And then he decided to just call you “William”, and your nickname became “Bill”?
Bill: No, after hearing his constituents’ opinions, he decided to call me the “Aumann's Rational Bayesian Utility Anti-Bias Act!” And I became a bill, and I’ll kill your mind even though my content has some merit.

I'm a dead bill
Yes, I'm a dead bill
And I got as far as Capitol Hill.
Well, I died stuck in committee
And I'll sit here and wait
Though no one will honestly discuss or debate
Whether they should let me be a law.
Of human minds I’ll eat up my fill,
For today I am a zombie bill.

Boy: Listen to those people arguing! Is all that discussion and debate about you?
Bill: Yeah, I'm one of the lucky ones. Most bills are entirely ignored. I hope they decide to take me seriously as one argument against an army, otherwise I may starve.
Boy: Starve?
Bill: Yeah, from not eating brains. Oooh, but they’re not updating incrementally! It looks like I'm gonna eat! Now I go to the House of Representatives; they talk about me.
Boy: When they talk, then what happens?
Bill: Then I go on various media and gorge myself on the minds of the audience.
Boy: Oh no!
Bill: Oh yes!

I'm a dead bill
Yes, I'm a dead bill
They’ll never vote for me on Capitol Hill
Well, I'm off to the White House
Where I'll wait in a line
As a speech applause light
And then on some brains I’ll dine
With luck they’ll try to argue facts away.
How I hope and pray that they will,
For today I am a zombie bill.

Boy: You mean even if everyone has enough information to know you shouldn’t and won’t become a law, people still sacrifice their brains to you?
Bill: Yes! They’re debating politics as if their opinion was influential and admitting being wrong was catastrophic, using heuristics that used to work in the ancestral environment. If the content described by my label becomes political…
Boy: By that time it's very likely that you'll devour lots of minds, whenever either your content or your label is mentioned. It's easy to eat a human mind, isn't it?
Bill: Yes!

And how I hope and I pray that I will,
For today I am a zombie bill.

Congressman: Your name has become a synonym for “good” among some people, Zombie Bill! Now people won’t be able to dispassionately consider your content ever again!
Bill: BRAINS!!!

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 30 October 2011 04:51:54PM 1 point [-]


Comment author: pedanterrific 30 October 2011 07:40:21PM 1 point [-]

Don't you mean "rational!"?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 January 2012 01:10:37AM *  3 points [-]

An unstudied cognitive bias is what's really responsible for political irrationality. Less Wrong could tackle politics if it recognized and managed this form of irrationality, which I term opinion-belief confusion.

To understand some biases you must understand the biological function of the relevant practices. Belief is for action; opinion is for deliberation. Belief, per the Agreement Theorem, is usually highly sensitive to the beliefs of others; opinion abstracts from such influence.

Irrationality in politics is mostly a matter of being far too confident in one's opinions, and one fallacy is paramount in causing this error: treating mere opinions as though they were one's beliefs. This confusion arises because democracy tends to promote this form of epistemic arrogance. Tackling belief-opinion confusion would allow rational discussion of politics insofar as participants can accept that on most issues their beliefs and opinions will and should differ from each other. From this recognition, it follows that the discussion of political opinion should be conducted with the requisite tentativeness and intellectual humility.

I discuss the politically important opinion-belief-confusion fallacy at: "Two kinds of belief", "Is epistemic equality a fiction?", "The distinct functions of belief and opinion", "Pathologies of belief-opinion confusion", and "Explaining deliberation".

Evolutionary psychology doesn't condemn us to political irrationality. Hunter gatherers can make rational decisions as a group regarding matters of practical concern, for example, whether and where to move the camp. (But more anthropological detail would be helpful.)

Comment author: gokhalea 22 April 2012 07:51:25PM *  3 points [-]

If rational thinking is about understanding and seeing true reality, how can you avoid politics as a discussion issue? It is a social practice in which every person participates. A rational analysis can take into account that "people go funny in the head" and still result in well thought out conclusions.

Comment author: dlthomas 22 April 2012 09:09:43PM 1 point [-]

The problem is that 1) there's no one to do a rational analysis if everyone goes funny in the head, and 2) "people go funny in the head" too easily becomes a fully general counterargument when one tries to take it into account.

Comment author: gokhalea 22 April 2012 11:14:33PM 1 point [-]

i guess that depends on your definition of rational analysis. I think the fully general counterarguments you mention are very valuable in terms of understanding your ideological opponents (but of course not in achieving your agenda). their handicap makes it significantly easier to understand their motivations and actions, which i think is related to understanding and seeing true reality -- their irrationality is tied into your reality.

Comment author: dlthomas 23 April 2012 03:47:19AM 2 points [-]

You forget that you are attempting to run this rational analysis on corrupted hardware. Remember that you have gone funny in the head, and will ascribe it to your opponents but not your allies and you won't notice you're doing it. Or at least, you have to assume that that's likely, because from the outside view that's how people tend to work, including being unaware of it.

Comment author: gokhalea 23 April 2012 05:44:14AM *  1 point [-]

I think personal biases are more of an issue if you are drawing particular conclusions about political issues. The beauty of politics is that there is just enough uncertainty to make every position appear plausible to some portion of the public, even in those rare cases where there is definitive "proof" (however defined) that one particular position is correct. Rationality in some ways is meant to better understand reality, however, politics puts pressure on the meaning of "reality." People's beliefs on political reality rarely match up among others because perspectives, values, and thought processes often fill in for the inability to nail down or prove any one answer from a traditionally rational perspective. Perhaps the "rational" solution is focusing instead on the inherent uncertainty underlying any and every position, ignoring what may be or is "right," and use that knowledge to get better worldview. A better understanding of the uncertainty in politics could in some ways provide a level of certainty rationalists can normally only achieve (i think) by drawing rational conclusions.

I hear your point, hopeful for a solution.

Comment author: Hul-Gil 24 April 2012 01:25:21AM *  0 points [-]

The beauty of politics is that there is just enough uncertainty to make every position appear plausible to some portion of the public, even in those rare cases where there is definitive "proof" (however defined) that one particular position is correct. [emphasis added]

Well, that doesn't sound very beautiful.

Comment author: gokhalea 24 April 2012 02:02:33PM 0 points [-]

its beautiful in its complexity. its amazing (not in a critical sense, but as an observer) that no can be definitely right in a valuable way about anything. As a reality of life that we must accept and deal with, i think its fascinating, a seemingly impenetrable issue.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 April 2012 09:18:20PM 0 points [-]

I heartily encourage you to perform such analyses, as well-thought-out conclusions are very useful things to have.
That said, given what I've seen of the attempts to do so here, I don't endorse doing so here unless you have a good model of why it fails and why your attempt will do better.

Comment author: David_Gerard 22 April 2012 10:19:43PM *  0 points [-]

This would be the local dilemma in a nutshell, yes. People are interested in winning at real life as they see it, and, if you tell them "rationalists should WIN" then they'll say "OK" and try to apply it to what they presently see as their problems ... but actually discussing anything political on LessWrong has gone badly enough that quite a lot of the community now behaves phobically even to allusion to politics, going so far as to euphemise the word to "mindkilling." It's not clear how to get past this one. (I have a vague idea that worked examples of success in doing so might help.)

edit: hrm. Reason for downvote?

Comment author: gokhalea 22 April 2012 10:58:27PM 0 points [-]

OK, understood. I wasn't asking we broaden the discussion here, as it is very good, just curious as to the thinking. Thanks.

sorry, what are you referring to in your last paranthetical?

Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 April 2012 09:02:58AM 1 point [-]

actually discussing anything political on LessWrong has gone badly enough that quite a lot of the community now behaves phobically even to allusion to politics

Why do you judge that the past history has made us irrationally averse to discussing politics, rather than rationally averse?

Comment author: David_Gerard 23 April 2012 09:09:20AM *  2 points [-]

Because the responses look to me more like conditioned reaction than something considered.

If it is, as you hypothesise, rational to avoid even slightly politically-tinged discussion to this degree, then that greatly reduces the hope of raising the sanity waterline. Because very few problems people want and need to solve are going to be free of such a tinge.

As I've noted elsewhere, this doesn't mean I think we should dive headfirst into it on LW. I don't have a handy solution. But I do think it's a problem.

Comment author: gokhalea 23 April 2012 01:56:58PM 2 points [-]

i'm a bit new to all of this, but its oddly convenient to conclude that it is rational to ignore a topic that doesn't lend itself to classic rational thought.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 April 2012 02:59:44PM 0 points [-]

It's a question of whether to respond to a track record of failure by going off and doing something else instead or persevering. When is it best to attend to developing one's strengths, and when to attend to remedying one's weaknesses?

Comment author: gokhalea 23 April 2012 03:32:07PM 2 points [-]

what is your focus, i.e. what would be the ideal goal that you are saying is difficult or impossible to achieve and so it is rational to avoid -- what goal do you find elusive here -- personal understanding of the correct "answer" in spite of biases, "raising the sanity waterline" as someone mentioned above, or something else?

Both these items suggest a need for an definitive answer to political questions and I'm not sure that is the correct focus.

If applying rational thought to politics has a track record of failure and we agree politics is a part of everyone's reality, do you think rational thought cannot explain politics and is an inherent shortcoming of the theory? (this is other way of saying we should move on to things). We talk about rationality like its the way to live life. its troubling that it cannot answer or explain political issues, which shape our government, laws and community. The value of the a theory should partially be tested based on issues and questions it cannot answer. If there are things rational thinking cannot solve, that is an issue/problem with rational theory, not the particular subject matter.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 23 April 2012 04:11:18PM 0 points [-]

do you think rational thought cannot explain politics and is an inherent shortcoming of the theory

No, merely a contingent failure of people almost everywhere and always.

Comment author: gokhalea 23 April 2012 05:03:56PM 0 points [-]

so its a problem of the individual, not the theory. not sure how you conclude that if no one can apply the theory to prove it.

Comment author: ink 10 July 2012 09:34:24PM -2 points [-]

If I had a solid dig I would praise myself for taking it to the twelfth round, however failing to land a knock out! Congratulations on co-moderator, Mind stimulating on the variant of discussions on "Politics is a mind killer". Bravo to the thinkers and reasonable theories and offsets. I found my self returning to the original test to determine if my mind was still on track! For the most part It (my mind) got sucked in by the variant, signed up and well I'll just keep my humor to my self! Here we go!

Comment author: melthengylf 22 August 2012 08:26:38PM -3 points [-]

I'll try to defend politics. I would be grateful if you debate with me. I argue that values (a generalization of morality) are comprehensible. I, thus, agree with Eliezer in the methaetics sequence. But values are different in a crucial ways to external reallity. I think that external reallity is better to reach by rationality than values. I'll think that because of that the non-rational discurse of politics is a great action. I'll take this as an example of a problem I see in this page at analizing morality. Firstly, which is the difference between values and external reality that I recall? I'll call it "coherence", I'll say external reality is objectivily (inductivily) coherent, and values are objectively incoherent. What do I mean with "coherence"? You may describe a reality in a way such that you encompass a lot of your next observations. But you not always can act in a way such almost all your values you have are considered in the act. That is you can think coherently, you can't act coherently. And it's not a problem of not enough information, or your stupidity.

Let's take two examples: The ethical paradox of a train that is going to kill three people, but you can change it's way, so it kills one guy. Would you pull it? And if it was another number? I'd argue the problem is you valorate not killing personally, but you also feel responsible for the death of more people. But this values may not be rationally compatible.

The abortion problem. You may not kill another human being. But what's a human being? It's not defined a priori, but by society. At the same time, choice is important because there's a problem in telling a woman that because she has it biollogically she might not have a career (imagine a teen pregnancy), thus degradating her life -not that the child life might be great. There is adoption, etc. You may reach dozens of arguments and contraarguments in both sides. I'm not taking a posture here. I'm just illustrating a problem.

Now, I say you can think coherently but not act coherently, why I make the difference? Ok, I think reallity is definite. Something happens or doesn't happens, right? Let's do an experiment! etc. Suppose we were rational utility maximizers. Then, there would be an answer, right? It might be difficult to achieve, but there would be an answer. But we are not. So there's not a value that is strictly better than another one? Yes, there is. The value A is better than B if it includes the reason because B was good, and something more. But because you're human, and you just can'ty fly nor create life clapping your hands, you may not have a coherent action. I might throw philosophical and sociological concepts, but I think I made myself clear. What for then it exists athe polytics, if you can't do nothing? Because there is society.

And that's the point where I wanted to reach. In this page the individual rationality is greatly discovered. But there's not only the individual. Now, if you make a tiny parallelism, you can see that as a person may learn bayensianically, a society may learn the same way. It’s not too difficult to show it, it just mean that social progress exists, and I think you’d agree on that. No, “not being political” doesn’t exists. It just means that your policy is to keep social relationships the way they are. Because you let the individual change, but you don’t incentivize the society change as a whole. In my country this is called “conservative view”. So, sumarizing, I’m recalling one of the many times that a nonrational discurse is morally right. This case is when by defending yourself at the same time your opponent, you let the society to unravel posibilities to act. Politics is not war, politics is peaceful, is human. It’s almost impossible to appasionate about many ideologies because they are strongly incoherent between them. You may not be able to tax some people and not taxing at the same time. But the problem in not appasionate at something beyond reason is that you may not overcome the problems a society has, such as poverty, illness or uneducation. You would limit your solution to techical solutions, barring the possibility to societal solutions. Your country has houses without people and people without houses. That’s irrational. That’s a problem. There are others discurses, such as the artistic discurse that are great and respectful. But at the objective of not writing too long, I’ll stop here.

PS: I’m saying you may not use only rational arguments. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be open. Openness is more fundamental than rationallity.

Comment author: mej10 06 September 2012 06:06:52PM 3 points [-]

Can we get a citation for "The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring: In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death."

I am just interested in how this was concluded. I have always been a little skeptical of evolutionary psychology type things, which, is what this sounds like.

Comment author: gokhalea 30 October 2012 03:36:12PM 1 point [-]

it seems discussing politics is particularly difficult here because under the article "what do we mean by rationality," less wrong members generally reject a non-normative meaning of rationality. This presumes a rational answer, as a general matter, with respect to any particular issue, is necessarily a normative conclusion -- i.e. there is an ideal/correct answer. I appreciate the approach, but if the point of is the "think more clearly/correctly," how can we reject the possibility that there is no normative answer? This is particularly important as there is increasing uncertainty as to what the correct decision should be. Politics is a perfect example -- generally deals with policies in the FUTURE for which there is no good comparable.

The commentators all evaluate politics from the viewpoint of the decision makers -- and describe how our biases and such are too overwhelming to apply rationality to politics -- perhaps the flaw instead is trying to create distinct answers for issues that do not have one. Going "funny in he head" may be a sign that the chosen framework is inappropriate.

Comment author: DaFranker 30 October 2012 05:08:18PM *  -1 points [-]

The difficult part about finding the optimal perfect-rationalist "right answer" for things related to politics is that politics is like an exceptionally difficult, complex and heavy computer program currently being coded by hundreds of programmers, most of which have no formal Computer Science education, and then managing to produce optimal software out of it with only the help of two or three of those coders - the best possible program that achieves absolutely everything that the client wants in exactly the best possible way.

Unfortunately, the example program is so complex that near-optimal solutions do not converge towards the same location in the conceptspace of possible programs, and each programmer has his own idea of what might be good, so you have a large multitude of possible local maximums, all of which are of unknown order of magnitude (let alone being able to decide which is better) and unknown cost (and you can rule out perfect cost-effectiveness calculations), and often even with unclear value-of-information that varies across conceptspace function of the properties of this area of conceptspace (e.g. it has a higher expected human-values cost to experiment with totalitarian-like forms of government than with democratic ones, for a vague picture).

Overall, not only is there a ton of biases, but information is costly and the space of possibilities is vast, and the near-optimals or optimization candidates / hypotheses are not condensed or sometimes not even remotely near eachother. Thus, discussing politics rationally isn't just difficult here - politics are a set (space? field?) of complex Hard problems with tons of data, variables and unknowns, and would probably still be among the more difficult problems to solve if all humans were suddenly replaced with perfect bayesian agents.

Comment author: gokhalea 30 October 2012 09:05:38PM 1 point [-]

Thanks, I agree with nearly all you points but want to push on a particular point you made: (btw, how do you guys have that blue line to show you are responding to a particular comment??):

"Thus, discussing politics rationally isn't just difficult here - politics are a set (space? field?) of complex Hard problems with tons of data, variables and unknowns, and would probably still be among the more difficult problems to solve if all humans were suddenly replaced with perfect bayesian agents."

I would argue that politics is difficult to rationalize BECAUSE politics are in a separate space/field. In other words, i think discussing politics rationally in a manner consistent with Less Wrong's definition of rationality (see "what we mean by rationality" article) is impractical and does not further any knowledge because the definition simply does not apply in a way it can apply to other areas discussed here. Going "funny in the head" is not the reason we cannot apply rationality to politics, we go "funny in the head" because we are using a model that does not work -- we are trying to find answers to questions that, as you describe, are subject to so much uncertainty we are forced to resort to biases. We fail to consider the possibility that there is no right answer -- for those that argue that there is an answer, but humans can't reach it (a HUGELY convenient position) -- that is the same thing, practically speaking, as not having an answer:

If the problem is the model, not the people, change the mode to one where the search is not for the right answer, but a deep understanding of why particular people have viewpoints and the relative arguments therefor. Sure, its not an "answer" to how the world is (or should be), but its a huge step forward in understanding how the world works -- a noble goal if you ask me. The current model of rationality used here simply doesn't allow for this. We are obsessed with certainty, even when there is more value to be derived from better understanding the relative uncertainty.

In his article on rationalization (contrasting it with rationality), Eliezer says: ""Rationalization" is a backward flow from conclusion to selected evidence. First you write down the bottom line, which is known and fixed; the purpose of your processing is to find out which arguments you should write down on the lines above. This, not the bottom line, is the variable unknown to the running process."

On a most general level, it seems the very definition of "rationality", requiring a normative conclusion, is a result of rationalization. More specifically, saying "politics is a mind killer" to avoid applying rationality to politics, and then telling us why people are flawed and can't analyze these things also sounds a lot like rationalization. Is that a forward flowing, rational conclusion? No one here can or will apply rationality in coming to political conclusions (whether a firm answer or not) -- so how can you tell me that its a mind-killer? Perhaps politics is not a mind-killer and instead, politics, within a restrictive definition of rationality, is a mind-killer. These are not fighting words. I just want to understand.

Comment author: Vaniver 30 October 2012 09:21:00PM *  1 point [-]

(btw, how do you guys have that blue line to show you are responding to a particular comment??

If you begin a paragraph with >, it will put it in block quote format.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 30 October 2012 10:35:14PM 1 point [-]

It really is blue-- I'd been assuming it was black. Did it used to be black?

Comment author: Vaniver 30 October 2012 11:46:26PM 0 points [-]

I recall it as being blue since I arrived (getting close to two years ago). I have not paid close attention before now.

Comment author: shminux 31 October 2012 12:05:23AM 4 points [-]

Maybe you missed EY's point, or maybe I'm missing yours. Politics definitely can be discussed rationally, but it is really really hard to keep your identity small while doing so. Every participant in a political discussion has to be constantly aware of their own emotions fueled by a cached arguments associated with a specific wing/party/position, and be skilled at modeling how potential readers would inadvertently misinterpret one's statement, causing them emotional upheaval. And it only takes a small misstep to get people riled up about the issue.

The rule of thumb is "if you identify with any political party/group/movement, you are not qualified to have a rational discourse about politics". Example: if you want to start your reply with "as a libertarian, I ...", you have failed. Another example of a false start: "Republicans do not understand that ..."

Comment author: chaosmosis 31 October 2012 12:46:33AM 1 point [-]

Gokhalea's point is largely that political analyses are so difficult that attempting to apply rationality to them will still produce biased and nonsensical results. You didn't really address that.

Gokhalea, I agree that rational analyses of politics are difficult. You seem to believe that they're functionally impossible. Can you explain why? Also, I don't understand why you feel that avoiding politics on LessWrong is a form of rationalization. What's motivating this rationalization? Finally, I don't understand why you feel that a model of politics which seeks to understand different political positions rather than resolve them is useful.

Comment author: gokhalea 01 November 2012 06:36:56PM 2 points [-]

Thanks, I tried to explain above. Less Wrong's conclusion on analyzing politics is flawed because it is based on the assumption that rationality with respect to politics requires an ideal answer. Pointing out that biases/emotions/etc. are ever present is used to protect the idea that rationality in its purest form always results in a normative answer. "Our model of rationality is always correct -- its just the people are flawed!!!" -- I disagree. The model is wrong. The people are playing their role as members of a social dynamic -- rationality in politics is dependent on their biases, not to be avoided because of them.

The value is awareness -- that is the true goal. To have an understanding of what is going on around you without confusion, anger, unwanted emotions. Rationality is about seeing the world "as it is." The world is social, and I want an understanding of how the world works, with its participants and their various viewpoints, perspectives, beliefs, and actions. I'm not trying to be "right" -- frankly i have political positions but don't really care -- they are a secondary concern to understanding the social dynamic.

Comment author: gokhalea 01 November 2012 06:22:58PM 2 points [-]

Thanks, and I appreciated Paul's article -- very interesting and insightful.

Let me try to clarify --

One of the issues causing confusion is that the definition of rationality is not commonly accepted/subject to some dispute. My understanding of EY's perspective on the definition of rationality is based on his article: What do we mean by rationality

EY is saying that applying rationality yields a normative answer -- and that LW is not receptive to a different idea, such as a model where an argument can be rational but still not be the "correct"/"true" answer. My argument is that rationality, as EY defines it, does not work with respect to politics because political issues do not have correct answers (i'll get to why shortly). So I don't disagree with your point that politics can be discussed rationally -- i just have a different definition of rationality when it comes to politics.

I read Paul's article -- it was very good -- i have previously considered the idea that in politics or religion, everyone is an "expert" and the idea of identities intertwined with people's positions -- no doubt insightful, but i think its incomplete. (i also note that his argument that politics has definite answers sometimes is baffling -- the cost of government policy is NEVER certain -- simply because people can't predict the future or how people will behave in the future).

The issue and uniqueness of politics is NOT that everyone is an expert -- its that everyone is a participant, in a real and legitimate way -- as a voter or policy maker or government leader. As such, politics is truly a social issue -- analytical analysis is possible, but you NEVER going to get a clear answer -- the social issues are forever intertwined with policy. Remember, regardless of how much weight you may put on ideal policies/laws/regulations, the ability of any leader to implement these policies is WHOLLY CONTINGENT on winning an election, thus drawing in all potential voters in the discussion/decision. Another way to think about this is trying to answer the question -- "how to be a good mother" -- this is a social issue among a mother and her kids within the context of their familial unit/environment. You may have high level guidance, but no one can answer this question -- its a dynamic issue that is forever unique in ways that can never yield an answer. I believe politics is the same.

Again, i think politics can be discussed rationally, but in a different context -- it should be analyzed like any other social issue. For example, when there is a personal conflict, there are theories on how to handle this -- you have an approach, but part of it depends on how the other person reacts, their positions, their biases, and WHY they have the particular perspective. RIght/Wrong is sometimes irrelevant because in social issues, being correct is a secondary concern to managing the social relationship (including biases/emotions/identities). Rationality is more subjective when it comes to politics -- and it is very possible to have two positions that are "subjectively" rational but contradict each other with respect to a particular issue -- in the same way you and your friend can disagree on whether you should study x or y or whether you should date a or b -- both can have valid arguments but ultimately a decision must be made. Focusing on the "right" answer is fruitless -- rationality is based on having the emotional intelligence to understanding the dynamics and uncertainty of this particular social relationship.

You may disagree, and thats fine -- I'm trying to learn and this is an exercise that is not easy -- however i point out that it provides an explanation for why rationality (as EY defines) has not yielded a clear answer and thus is a "mind killer." I think the model definition of rationality used here is simply wrong when applied to politics.

Comment author: Nornagest 31 October 2012 12:10:45AM 2 points [-]

Is that a forward flowing, rational conclusion? No one here can or will apply rationality in coming to political conclusions (whether a firm answer or not) -- so how can you tell me that its a mind-killer?

People here try to apply rationality to politics all the time. "Politics is the mind-killer" is an observation about its success rate.

Comment author: sbenthall 24 December 2012 04:46:31AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure what the right way to ask for policy clarification is, so I'll try this.

In a recent discussion in comments, I was alerted to the 'standing agreement on LW not to discuss politics'. It was in a context I found perplexing (the question as to whether political theory is something worth keeping in philosophy departments) http://lesswrong.com/lw/frp/train_philosophers_with_pearl_and_kahneman_not/842a

There are a number of ways that I think rationality relates (mostly in a broad sense) to political theory. This is a common thread among philosophers, including some fairly contemporary and quite good ones.

I've started trying to participate in this forum partly because I wanted to bring them up here. I've gotten the impression from a friend who is involved in the community that these ideas are relatively unknown here but would be pertinent or at least interesting.

Is posting in this way off limits by some community norm? Or is discussion of political theory (as it relates to reason and rationality) ok as long as it is not deliberately inflammatory? (The latter seems to be the spirit of this post)

Thanks for any clarification.

Comment author: thomblake 09 August 2013 08:46:02PM 0 points [-]

In logic, most examples are from politics because the most salient examples of logical fallacies are from politics. So that's probably why the Nixon example was about politics, even though it wasn't necessary.

Comment author: Colombi 20 February 2014 05:18:53AM 0 points [-]

Very neat and thought provoking.

Comment author: Dias 08 November 2014 02:58:44AM 1 point [-]

One of the most farcical instances of this tragedy is when people succeed in using biased and alienating political examples when they're trying to explain the how politics is the mind killer - for example, Vox's recent post on [How Politics makes us Stupid. (link goes to my blog post on the subject, which discusses the underlying Vox article.)

Comment author: Metanaute 03 March 2015 04:37:50PM -2 points [-]

Is there anything else than politics to protect us against the emergence of an evil super AI?

Isn't contemporary political cynicism the real "Mind-Killer"?

Comment author: Metanaute 03 March 2015 08:19:47PM -2 points [-]

I will even add a crazy hypothesis. The dynamics of this thread (and its underlying cause) is exactly what is preventing the LW community from FOOMing.

Comment author: Nornagest 03 March 2015 09:01:41PM *  4 points [-]

Is there anything else than politics to protect us against the emergence of an evil super AI?


Isn't contemporary political cynicism the real "Mind-Killer"?


Seriously. I'm not trying to fall into the common nerd mistake of saying "politics is dumb monkey status games for normals" here; political processes serve an important role in solving coordination problems and we ignore them at our peril. But that's really not what the OP is getting at. It's saying that enormous and nearly intractable biases surround ideology; that we systematically overestimate the importance of conventional partisanship; and that there's value in structuring our arguments and social spaces to skirt these issues, or at least not to light ourselves on fire and run toward them while shouting COME AT ME, BRO.

All of these statements are true.

Comment author: Metanaute 03 March 2015 09:18:25PM 0 points [-]

How does ignoring the Gordian knot problem solves it?

Comment author: Nornagest 03 March 2015 09:20:46PM *  1 point [-]

Avoiding, not ignoring. Ignoring the problem is what "dumb monkey status games etc." points towards, and it almost invariably leads to expressing a wide variety of unexamined but basically partisan stances which are assumed to just be common sense (because, in the social context they come from, they are).

The failures following from this should be obvious.

Comment author: Metanaute 03 March 2015 09:29:31PM 0 points [-]

Which problem is the construction of a super AI trying to solve then?

Comment author: Nornagest 03 March 2015 09:30:21PM *  1 point [-]

That rather depends on who's building it, doesn't it?

If you're talking about Eliezer et al's FAI concept, I get the impression that they're mostly concerned with issues that aren't presently politicized among anyone except perhaps bioethicists. It does entail solving some political problems along the way, but how is underspecified, and I don't see a meaningful upside to viewing any of the relevant design problems through a partisan lens at this stage.

In any case, that's (again) not what the OP is about.

Comment author: Metanaute 03 March 2015 10:01:24PM 0 points [-]

I think I understand what you mean. But I maintain my hypothesis.

Comment author: Alex_O 09 May 2015 12:27:45PM 0 points [-]

I do believe this post uses a limited definition of politics, although quite legitimately. Most people tend to essentialize polititics, for example, a policy will be considered left/right wing because of its proponents rather than its content. However, discussing the internal rationality of a politico-philosophical system is interesting, but it implies a redefinition of politics as a cost-benefits analysis of the use of a particular model of reality for the purpose of construction of laws.

In such case, the "What about the Nazis" argument is no longer a problem, because you can prove that the politico-philosophical system of national socialism has some benefits (nazi Germany became a huge economical power) for a huge cost (genocide, war, nationalism, etc...).

Discussing a particular subject is therefore a problem, but discussing the models is interesting in a rational debate.

This assumes that a model of reality is necessary to build laws. I permit myself this assumption because a) laws are part of the system called the Law b) the Law cannot deal in specifics (there cannot be a law directed to a specific individual, or a list of specific individuals) c) therefore the Law is a model of the society as it should be. d) such a model cannot be constructed without knowledge of how society is, and why, and how it goes from one state to another. e) This knowledge itself must be a model to be usable.