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PK 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: 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 0 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.)