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Mitchell_Porter comments on Politics is the Mind-Killer - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 25 January 2012 10:53:41AM 9 points [-]

I don't want to say too much about the pros and cons of the LW interface, except that entry barriers do help to keep out spammers, crackpots, cultists, and others who would only come to talk, not to listen. It's proving possible to talk with you, so, we'll see how that ends up. I'll let other people who have more insight into the logic of LW's existing arrangements defend them.

I'm more interested in how your politics will play out here. I see you as a representative of a faction of opinion I'll call Rational Transhuman Freedom. You mention Hayek and Ron Paul, but you also talk about nanobots and AGIs, and you're big on rationality. It's extropian Objectivism.

I have had to ask myself, what is the political sensibility of Less Wrong? I don't mean the affiliations named in a poll, I mean the political agenda that is implicitly being expressed by people's attitudes and priorities. In this regard, I find the emphasis on identifying which charities are the most important and effective to be the best clue. People just don't debate policy, and how the state should act, at all. Instead they debate what the most effectively altruistic use of their spare change would be. I don't actually know how to characterize this as a political attitude - perhaps it's pre-political, it's a sign of a community not yet forced to engage with the state and with political ideologies - but it's certainly not hipster apathy.

Of course there is also an aversion to political discussion, as a big distraction, as the topic where people are most likely to become stupid, and as just not a productive way to test one's rationality skills. On the Singularity side, there is also yet another transpolitical attitude present, a sort of monastic-slash-alchemical desire to not become entangled with the fallen world of mundane affairs, in favor of performing the great working whereby a friendly demiurge will be invoked to set it right. The world can be awful but that doesn't mean you should run off and join the melee, because it has always been like this, and the real change will only come from superintelligence.

However, there truly are people here who are eager to use rationality to make a better world right now, and this is where LW might eventually develop some explicit stances regarding pre-Singularity politics. I consider the recent posts about Leverage Research to be one emerging political current (it had precursors, e.g. in Giles's series on "Altruist Support"); it's a maximalist expression of the impulse behind the discussion about optimal charities. Jake, when it comes to people making a political choice, I think this is the real competitor to the faction of Rational Transhuman Freedom,and it will be very interesting to see how that dialogue plays out, if the discussion ever manages to rise to that level.

These are competing utopianisms. Probably they express different aspects of the human utility function. Partisans of the Freedom agenda can be very eloquent when they talk about suffering caused by government, but the flip side of their political methodology is that you're not allowed to use government to solve problems either, and this is what galls the defenders of more familiar, "statist" ideas of governance. Pursuing the Freedom agenda ends up mostly being about giving individuals a chance to flourish under their own power.

The other utopianism, exemplified by Leverage's plan for the world, is the one that wants to solve everyone's problems. Leverage does not presently talk about coercion. Instead, they are psychological utopians, who think that if they're smart enough, they can figure out how to get everyone to work together and behave decently towards each other. Advocates of Freedom are willing to talk about the wonders of spontaneous order, but politically they leave the details to the market and to civil society; their agenda is to starve the beast, topple Leviathan, pare back the state. As I said, it remains to be seen how this polarity will play out here, but certainly history shows that it can become a deadly rivalry.

Another intellectual challenge that might show up for you here is the critique of libertarianism produced by "Mencius Moldbug", who is making a serious effort to revive pre-democratic ideas about how society ought to work. Mencius's argument is that given human nature, there must always be authority, and we are better off when we have a political culture which accepts this, and understands that the good life is to be found by having good rulers. Vladimir_M is a Mencius reader, and there must be others here.