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How to Build a Community

13 Post author: peter_hurford 15 May 2013 05:43AM

I've noticed that quite a few people are interested in fostering communities -- both creating communities and improving them to make them work together.  But how do we go about actually doing this?  What's there to community that we can foster and build upon?  What makes a community thrive, and how do we take advantage of this to make and/or improve communities?

To answer these questions, I turned to two books:

The first is The Penguin and The Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler.  Benkler, in writing about cooperative systems (Penguins, named after the Linux Penguin) and hierarchical systems (Leviathans, named after Thomas Hobbes's The Leviathan), studies the psychology, economics, and political science of cooperation and helps explain what makes communities stick.

The second is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier.  Schneier studies trust and cooperation from a dizzying variety of sciences (psychology, biology, economics, anthropology, computer science, and political science).  Schneier's ultimate game is figuring out what is preventing society from falling apart, and that can be applied to building communities.

Let's see what they got.

 

Communities Need Cooperation

Schneier and Benkler both paint a view of human nature that is different than what is commonly thought, but what has emerged from the sciences: People are both self-interested and other-interested, different people will have different balances of each, and within each person these two goals can often conflict.  Additionally, the "other-interested" aspect can be multiple and occasionally conflicting allegiances, such as to one's family, to one's neighborhood, to one's country, to one's venture philanthropy club, etc.

What's unique to all communities is that they involve people who have set aside some of their immediate self-interest to work together.  For instance, when we work together in a group, I definitely don't beat you over the head and steal your lunch money, and I don't usually attempt to free ride and get you to do the group work for me, but we mutually work to solve communal problems and share in the benefits of community.

Public Goods and Free Riders

An example of how psychology has sought to simplify and simulate a community is through what's called "The Public Goods Game".  In this game, a group of about ten participants are each sat down, and given $10 each to start with.  The game is then played for several rounds, and in each round all participants get to put a certain secret amount of their money into a collective pot.  The experimenters then look at the pot, double the amount of money inside it, and redistribute the result evenly to all the players.  For added bonus, the experimenters inform all participants that they get to walk away with their winnings after the game is over.

If everyone went perfectly with the community, each player would see their money double each round.  But the wrinkle is that if people don't contribute at all to the pot, then they stand to gain even more money from the results of everyone else's contributions.  This is called the free rider problem: there is a tension between wanting to contribute to the pot for the good of yourself and the good of the group as a whole and refraining from contributing so that you benefit even more.

The Free Rider Problem and The Collective Action Problem

But the tension can result in further disaster, for imagine everyone decides to be a free rider and defect from the group -- now, no money goes in the pot at all, and everyone ends with the $10 they start with.  This gets worse when we imagine some other real-life scenarios -- for instance, that of fishermen in a lake.

The fishermen can either choose to fish normally or overfish.  If all the fishermen overfish, they stand to deplete the lake and all fishermen lose their jobs.  However, if just a few fishermen overfish, they get the benefit of added fish to sell, and the lake can handle the slight increase in load.  So this tension is to be the fisherman that wins most by personally overfishing, while not collectively depleting the entire lake.  Such problems are called collective action problems -- people do well individually by defecting but do worse collectively if everyone defects.  The result of a collective action problem ending in disaster is called the tragedy of the commons.

The Community Solution

So what's the solution to these problems?  Benkler proposes two models for dealing with them -- employing the Leviathan and placing lots of regulations on overfishing and enforcing them with strict punishments, or employing the Penguin and creating a community that deals with these problems collectively and in a self-policing way.

It turns out that certain problems are best dealt with differing combinations of Leviathan and Penguin models, but most problems need lots of community just because it can be difficult to figure out who is going against the community, and communities have more freedom for their participants.  At the same time, if there are too many would-be defectors a community can never get off the ground.

Communities need cooperation to work.  So how can we get this cooperation to fly?

 

The Four Pressures of Cooperation

Bruce Schneier notes that normally we don't think through these free rider problems and try to scheme our way through them -- we just cooperate, instinctively.  We don't assume people will rip us off, and we usually don't rip other people off -- that's just how we are.  But why?  Schneier suggests that cooperation can be fostered and maintained through four different pressures, though differing kinds and amounts of pressure apply to different situations, and getting the balance of pressures right is a key part of his book:

1.) Moral Pressures: Many, but not all of us, have various moral feelings that lead us to want to cooperate.  It could be as easy as feeling incredibly guilty when we defect against our friends, or as complex as subscribing to an abstract principle of justice.  For most of us, it's a general feeling that cooperating is the "right thing to do" and defecting for our own personal self-interest is "wrong", and we just don't want to do it.  Schneier and Benkler both find that moral pressures compel cooperation a surprising amount of the time.

2.) Reputational Pressures: Another part about living in a community for a long time is that you have a reputation to live by.  Defect against the community and you may win a few times, but then people start to notice and start working to stop you.  They might refuse you friendship or other things you want, or even kick you out of the community altogether!  Benkler finds that many communities can thrive on reputation alone, like eBay, Amazon, or Reddit.

3.) Institutional Pressures: Morals and reputation aren't the end of it though; many communities make specific, codified norms and enforce them with specific, codified punishments.  These pressures are laws, and the fear of breaking the law, being caught, and getting the punishment can often further spur cooperation.  Best yet, the community can often get together and agree to these norms, realizing it is in their individual benefit to force themselves and the rest of the community to play along, as to avoid tragedies of the commons.

4.) Security Pressures: Lastly, there are always going to be a few people who put morals, reputation, and laws aside and try to defect anyway.  For these, we hope to stop them in their tracks or make their jobs more difficult, by using complex security systems.  It can be as simple as a security camera or anti-theft radio, or as complex as Fort Knox.  Security is a double plan: it first attempts to raise the costs of defection; by making it physically harder to defect, one is less tempted to do so.  It then attempts to better catch and apprehend those who still try.

 

Your Reason for Joining; Your Reason for Staying

Remember these pressures don't all work for the same problems -- it may be proper to use security and institutional pressures to stop someone from overfishing, but not from intentionally cutting the cake so they get to eat the bigger slice.  Moral and reputational pressures seem to be more encompassing, but they are also more easily defeated -- people with less of a moral compass can often wander from community to community, wrecking small amounts of havoc and never getting caught or punished.

Benkler suggests another way to get people to buy into a community and not defect against it -- make it clear that being part of the community is something they really want.  Whether your joining a community or forced into one (family, country, etc.), the community will be more likely to thrive.

Four Ways to Bond

But why might one want to join or stay in a community?  For many, the answer is the intangibles -- they feel a sense of belonging, friendship, and group cohesion that creates an empathetic attachment and makes people want to play by the rules of the group.  For others, the answer is the tangibles -- the group may have a stated mission statement that is important to the person, or belonging in the group might confer a specific benefit.  People might even belong for a mix of tangibles and intangibles, plus a natural tendency to want to join groups.

But how do we foster these bonds?  Benkler has his own set of four things, suggesting that group identity can be fostered through a combination of four means:

1.) Fairness: The community needs to be fair -- people need to all contribute more or less equally, or at least have genuine intentions to put in equal effort, and the benefits of the group need to be spread among all participants more or less evenly, or in a fair proportion to how much the participant puts in.

2.) Autonomy: The community needs to not demand too much, and make sure to compensate quickly and generously for special sacrifices.  There are inherent costs to joining and staying with a group, and costs for cooperating with the group -- one doesn't just give up the self-interested benefits of defection, but rather must pay additional costs to maintain their group status.  Being aware of and addressing these costs are important.  In short, the group must respect their members as individuals.

3.) Democracy: The community also needs to accept (with fairness and autonomy) the input of all the members.  Group norms should be developed by a vote, with weight given on building consensus as much as possible, and with understanding the reasons why people might not like the consensus.  Not only does having input make it more likely people's preferences will be taken into account, lowering the costs of cooperation, but having input makes people feel more group cohesion and belonging.

4.) Communication: During times when formal votes aren't taken, the community also needs to be consistently (but not constantly) talking about how the group is doing, and checking in with members who might be feeling left out.  Just like democracy, group cohesion is built through communication, and communication lowers the costs of cooperation.  It's best when resolving disputes is not dictatorial, like in a court of law, but rather cooperative, like in an arbitration.

 

Looking Back to the Public Goods Game

To demonstrate these four points, Benkler draws on many real-world examples, such as policies of various companies, and interactions on the internet.  He also draws on returning back to our simple-community-in-the-lab, the Public Goods Game, for additional confirmation, and its worth seeing how these things play out.

In the original Public Goods game, contributions to the pot were made anonymously and no-one was allowed to talk or communicate.  Typically, a fair amount of people would cooperate in the beginning (generally, people contribute about 70% of their share), but starts to drop as people see that others aren't contributing.  They start to feel like suckers, and the fairness starts to kick in.

A Different Game

However, variants of the Public Goods game offer ways out.  When participants were allowed to talk to each other, contributions rose (communication).  Likewise, when participants were allowed to use some of their money to punish those who didn't contribute (say, pay $3 to prevent someone from getting their share this round if they didn't cooperate last round), people would do so.  

Even the simple act of making the contributions public increased cooperation, drawing on reputation.  Sometimes small fines were imposed on those who didn't cooperate (institutional pressures) which brought up cooperation, and these fines worked especially well when the group got to vote on how high they would be (democracy).

Lastly, helping frame the game would help -- those who were told they were taking place in a "Community Game" were far more likely to contribute to the pot and keep contributing than those who were told they were taking place in a "Wall Street Game".  By reminding people they are in a community, people thought more about their community norms, and felt more group cohesion, and were more likely to trust others.

 

Conclusions

Ultimately, creating communities is all about fostering cooperation, and you foster cooperation by ensuring that there is mutual trust and some sort of way to prevent defectors from taking advantage of the system.  People often naturally don't want to defect, but will do so if they think others will take advantage of them first.

Social Pressures

But how do we foster this trust?  The first step is to make use of our social pressures when and to the amount that's appropriate -- relying on empathetic and moral norms, reputation, institutionalized laws, and security systems -- and being sure to get the balance right.  For small communities, this probably just needs to be a set of agreed norms, and ensuring that the norms are properly and responsibly enforced.

The Benefits of Joining

The second part is while implementing the first step, we should keep in mind why people are joining or staying in the first place, and make sure to provide a community where the benefits of joining -- both the tangibles and intangibles -- are present and apparent.  We should acknowledge the costs of cooperating, and make sure the benefits are there to foster group loyalty and belonging.

An Effective Community

While implementing, it's important to keep in mind that communities should also be fair, respect the autonomy and individuality of the members, give members input through democracy, and foster lots of communication about how things are going.  We should also keep a keen eye to how things are framed, while not going overboard on it or lying.

The End Reward

But when we accomplish communities, the rewards are pretty great -- not only do we avoid free riders and the tragedy of the commons, but we ourselves get to take advantage of communities that are more productive than the individuals alone, and secure the feelings of belonging to a group we enjoy.

-

Also cross-posted on my blog.

 

Comments (229)

Comment author: kilobug 15 May 2013 04:18:15PM 6 points [-]

Interesting, but the point on "Democracy" seems a bit an applause light to me. We all like democracy so a community needs democracy, right ?

Well, if you look at communities, you'll see that "leader worship" is actually as least as efficient to build a strong community than democracy. I'm not saying it's the best option all things considered, but if in the purpose of crafting a community, having a strong, quasi-dictatorial leader that everyone respects tends to be a very efficient way. The "penguin" is a clear example of that : Linus, the "benevolent dictator for life" is a strong factor of the community cohesion. Democratic models can also work (to stay in the same domain, that's how Debian works, and it works very well) but they aren't the most likely path to success.

There probably are evolutionary psychology reasons behind the "strong leader" pattern, rooting into families (were the patriarch or the matriarch is the natural "strong leader") and tribes (which usually aren't very democratic), the two most primitive communities, but I won't enter the details because evopsy isn't my primary field.

Comment author: bartimaeus 16 May 2013 04:26:01PM *  0 points [-]

The ev-psych reason for the "strong leader" pattern is fitness variance in the competition between men. The leader (dominant male) would be able to impregnate a substantial proportion of the women in the tribe, while the least dominant males wouldn't reproduce at all. So males are much more competitive because the prize for winning is very high (potentially hundreds of children), while the cost of losing is very low (for women, the fitness variance is smaller because of the limit on the number of pregnancies in theire lifetimes).

So it's a prisoner's dilemma where the defector has a huge advantage. If everyone is democratic about sharing their women and one person decides he wants to take them all, he wins and his genes spread.

There are also ev-psych reasons why dictators tend to be corrupted: when you have power, you want to use it to give the advantage to YOUR offspring (or your group maybe?). So even if you have noble intentions at first, there will be a tendency to hoard resources for yourself or others you consider as part of your group.

Comment author: kilobug 17 May 2013 07:37:49AM 0 points [-]

Yes, but that explains why people (especially male) want to be strong leaders (alpha male), not why people follow strong leaders. For people to follow strong leaders, they need to have an evolutionary advantage in doing so (hope of being the next leader, the leader granting some privileges to his most faithful followers, or something else, I don't know).

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 May 2013 03:03:13PM 2 points [-]

Well, let's look at the choices.

(1) I can become the leader.
(2) I can follow a strong leader.
(3) I can establish a leaderless coordinated group.
(4) I can follow a weak leader.
(5) I can be part of an uncoordinated group.
(6) I can be part of no group.

Do you see other alternatives?

I've sorted those in my suggested order of preference (in survival/reproductive terms) in the primate ancestral environment, assuming I can succeed at them. I'm not highly confident in that order, but I'm pretty sure #1 is at the top. #3 might be better than #2, I'm not really sure. Ditto #5 and #6. My reasoning is that isolated individuals will tend to lose out to individuals in groups, individuals in uncoordinated groups will tend to lose out to individuals in coordinated ones, and individuals in groups led by weak leaders will tend to lose out to individuals in groups led by strong leaders.

Given that most primates in a group will fail at #1 (pretty much definitionally), it doesn't seem mysterious that we evolved to adopt #2 given a chance. Nor is it mysterious that the mechanisms we evolved to identify strong leaders then get shanghaied by various sorts of fake strong-leadership signaling mechanisms.

There may be an outstanding question here of why #3 never caught on... I'm not sure. This may simply be a historical contingency... our ancestors never happened to develop the mutations that made it feasible. Or it may be that it just doesn't work well as a strategy. (Certainly it doesn't work well among humans, but that doesn't really tell us much of anything in this context.)

Comment author: whpearson 15 May 2013 10:24:48PM 1 point [-]

What happens when the dictator for life departs (for whatever reason)? .

Comment author: DSimon 15 May 2013 10:42:29PM 0 points [-]

Best hope they've found (or built) a better dictator to replace them...

Comment author: shminux 15 May 2013 05:44:56PM 10 points [-]

I second kilobug that democracy is far from a slam-dunk, quite the opposite. A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works just as well or better. Most online forums operate this way, and so do many social and commercial entities. Democracy is a way to patch things up (often poorly) in a situation where opt-out is impossible or not feasible. Voting and building consensus is nice, but often counterproductive. While community feedback is essential, communal governing is more often a mess than not.

Comment author: Vaniver 15 May 2013 06:57:54PM 10 points [-]

The recommendation I saw was "accept the input of all members," which is the primary thing that separates a benevolent dictatorship from a malevolent ones (in the eyes of the ruled). Yes, doing things by vote often doesn't help and so shouldn't be part of that recommendation, but having open lines of communication upwards is an important feature.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 16 May 2013 07:42:07PM 3 points [-]

A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works

Who enforces the right to opt-out? Again, benevolent dictatorship is being proposed as a subsystem within a larger system.

Comment author: ygert 16 May 2013 07:54:21PM *  4 points [-]

In a democracy, who enforces the right of the people to vote? The question is analogous. To an extent, the answer is that the elected officials enforce the right of the people to vote, and in your question, the benevolent dictator enforces the right of the people to leave. Yes, if it is a true dictatorship the dictator has the power to ban leaving, but it is also true that the elected officials could just choose to never hold another election. Then in both cases the people are screwed, and probably will have to resort to a civil war or something to get out of the sticky situation they are in, but the point is, that applies also to a democracy.

Anyway, as we are positing a benevolent dictatorship, this really shouldn't be an issue. Yes,the dictator could choose to disallow leaving, as he could also choose, say, to torture people. But in this hypothetical, he is a benevolent dictator, so this isn't an issue.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 16 May 2013 09:18:52PM *  1 point [-]

In a democracy, who enforces the right of the people to vote? The question is analogou

I don' think so. If one person or grouping in a democracy decides to suspend elections, there are plenty of others groups (opposition parties, constitutional monarchs, the media, other politicians in the same party) who can object. By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

Anyway, as we are positing a benevolent dictatorship, this really shouldn't be an issue

Benevolent dictators are definitionally benevolent, like magic wands are definitionally magical.

The basic problem is that benevolent dictatorship isn't a system.

The examples that have been given are constitutional monarchies. Monarchy is a system whereby the Heir ascends to the throne, whether they are good bad or ugly, So sometimes, you get a good monarch. And sometimes you don't. There is no production line for good kings, or for benevolent dictators. There is not even a system whereby a benevolent dictator, if you happened to install one, could ensure a succession of future benevolent dictators. If they choose their successor by genetics, that;s monarchy, and if they let somebody else decide their successor, that;s democracy.

Saying "let's have plurality of states run any which way, and people can freely move between them and choose what they like", is a system of sorts -- but who guarantees the freedom of movement?

Comment author: ChristianKl 30 May 2013 10:47:45PM 1 point [-]

I don' think so. If one person or grouping in a democracy decides to suspend elections, there are plenty of others groups (opposition parties, constitutional monarchs, the media, other politicians in the same party) who can object. By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

If one person tries to rule a dictorship without regards to the interest of any other person he soon faces a coup d'état.

Also see Fareed Zakaria's

There is not even a system whereby a benevolent dictator, if you happened to install one, could ensure a succession of future benevolent dictators.

Of course there is. The benevolent dictator can groom a successor.

If they choose their successor by genetics, that;s monarchy

North Korea isn't a monarchy. Monarchy is about sovereignty claims in addition to being about succession.

Comment author: wubbles 31 May 2013 12:54:19AM 5 points [-]

Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antionus Pius, Marcus Aurelius we all able and capable administrators, and their reign was largely peaceful. But then they were followed by Commodus. Benevolent dictatorship with succession by training and adoption was tried, and so long as it worked it worked. But the one failure was a pretty dramatic one, considered by some to be the start of the fall of the Roman Empire.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 31 May 2013 10:30:56AM -1 points [-]

If one person tries to rule a dictorship without regards to the interest of any other person he soon faces a coup d'état.

Dictators do not have to, and generally do not, rule on by "taking the interests" of people into account in the sense of doing things they like. They generally avoid overthrow by quashing opposition and gathering henchmen.

The benevolent dictator can groom a successor.

Not much evidence of that working in practice. Although, admittedly, there is not much evidence of benevolent dictators ITFP.

North Korea isn't a monarchy. Monarchy is about sovereignty claims in addition to being about succession.

North Korea doesn't call itself a monarchy. The world is full of Democratic People's Repulics that aren't democratic or for the people. Sovereigny claims are often concocted once a dynasty is in place.

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 May 2013 11:56:49AM *  0 points [-]

Dictators do not have to, and generally do not, rule on by "taking the interests" of people into account in the sense of doing things they like.

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

They generally avoid overthrow by quashing opposition and gathering henchmen.

Henchmen are people.

North Korea doesn't call itself a monarchy. The world is full of Democratic People's Repulics that aren't democratic or for the people. Sovereigny claims are often concocted once a dynasty is in place.

Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself. Being able to wage war everywhere and ignore laws is the hallmark of a dictatorship. At the same time there are a lot of people with money who can pay for lobbying that have a lot of political influence in the US. Dispite money various factions in the military and intelligence community can blackmail politicians through exposing their secrets or threatening to kill them directly could they gather enough supporters inside their own community.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 31 May 2013 05:26:19PM *  0 points [-]

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

N. Korea seems short of bread

Backtracking, I said:

By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

and you said

Henchmen are people.

so is the implication that a benevolent dictator won't go off the rails because their friends will stop them, having not been corrupted by power themselves. Well, I can think of one famous example, but I suspect it's famous because it's exceptional.

Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself

That's a fact, is it?

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 May 2013 08:30:32PM 0 points [-]

N. Korea seems short of bread

But not really because the leadership of North Korea wants it to be that way. North Korea for example did a deal with the US under Clinton that North Korea get's food and in return doesn't develop nuclear weapons.

Bush did cancel that deal and then North Korea claimed to have developed nukes in response. Whether or not they have nukes isn't quite clear. As Wikipedia documents, their latest "nuclear test" failed to produce any radiation.

North Korea profits politically internally by pretending that it has nuclear weapons and is takes care to have a strong military. US political leader profit politically by being tough on North Korea and pretending that North Korea has functional nuclear weapons.

According to their own description North Korea also had intelligence services that weren't really controlled by their leader with just went and thought that it was a good idea to kidnap a few foreigners.

North Korea is ruled in a way where military and intelligence people are treated really well by the North Korean leader to prevent them from just making a coup d'état.

These days the North Korea leader is a thirty-year old with a liberal Swiss education. Do you think you could do much better than him without getting killed?

so is the implication that a benevolent dictator won't go off the rails because their friends will stop them, having not been corrupted by power themselves.

You get mindkilled by confusing moral claims with factual predictions.

People don't need to be immune to corruption by power to overthrow a government.

(Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself) That's a fact, is it?

Yes. In Roman times dictators was a title that was given in time of war. The ruler can ignore the laws and wage war without asking any body for permission.

Obama claims that he's at war. He claims that the whole world is the battlefield (which includes the US). He claims that he can therefore assassination people without asking anybody else for permission. He claims that right is necessary to effectively wage war.

For Roman's that was what being a dictator was about. It's a title that a ruler get's in time of war to be able to do things that rulers otherwise aren't allowed to do.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 08 June 2013 01:06:33PM 0 points [-]

These days the North Korea leader is a thirty-year old with a liberal Swiss education. Do you think you could do much better than him without getting killed?

Better at what? Playing the dictator game? Being benevolent? Yes, dictators need to keep their henchmen happy. No that doesn't make them benevolent, or make dictatorship equivalent to democracy, or whatever the wider point is supposed to be.

People don't need to be immune to corruption by power to overthrow a government.

So a thug gets overthrown and replaced by another thug? What's the wider point?

Comment author: Estarlio 31 May 2013 12:30:56PM 0 points [-]

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

Perhaps so, but a dictator at least has to take far fewer concerns from far fewer of the people into account.

Indeed this seems to be one of the ways to identify a failing democracy: Is power becoming more heavily concentrated into a smaller number of hands?

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 May 2013 12:56:22PM 0 points [-]

Perhaps so, but a dictator at least has to take far fewer concerns from far fewer of the people into account.

That depends on the political stability of a state. If there a high danger of rebellion he has to take the interest of more people into account.

Dictorships often have to surpress a wide array of views because they rightly fear that free speech would topple their rule. On the other hand a state like the US is very robust to political speech. You can't change much about the power structures in the US through political speech.

A corrupt politican in China is a lot more vunerable to attacks via free speech than a corrupt politican in the US.

Julian Assange made the point that free speech is allowed in the West because you can't change anything with it. As the US also get's more politically unstable you have US politicians who want consider the act of a journalist asking a prospective source for information about classified documents to be a felony.

Comment author: Estarlio 06 June 2013 11:04:45PM *  -1 points [-]

That depends on the political stability of a state. If there a high danger of rebellion he has to take the interest of more people into account.

True. I suppose what I'm trying to express is that he (or she!) has to be less interested in the common good of society. It seems like, in a dictatorship, you have to treat far fewer people well.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 16 May 2013 11:43:37PM 2 points [-]

A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works just as well or better. Most online forums operate this way, and so do many social and commercial entities.

Show me an example that isn't operating within a democracy..

Show me a nation that forbids free association, and blocks the internet, and I'll show you a non-democracy.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 15 May 2013 06:48:02PM 1 point [-]

Can anyone think of any benevolent dictatorships that exist IRL?

Comment author: TimS 15 May 2013 07:27:39PM 5 points [-]

How should we categorize families with children?

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 15 May 2013 08:17:37PM 2 points [-]

They are oligarchies (although, typically, the oligarchs have unequal decision-making powers).

Comment author: [deleted] 15 May 2013 07:33:22PM *  0 points [-]

Anocracy

Specifically: "[Anocracys are] neither autocratic nor democratic, most of which are making the risky transition between autocracy and democracy". That's pretty much a perfect description of raising kids.

Comment author: shminux 15 May 2013 08:40:48PM *  1 point [-]

Interesting term, haven't heard it before. I'd venture to say, however, that immediate and extended families with or without children range all over the democracy spectrum.

EDIT: by "democracy spectrum" I meant the complete range of structures from anarchy to tyranny, an unfortunate choice in retrospect. Wikipedia uses the term "democratic continuum".

Comment author: TimS 15 May 2013 08:52:40PM 4 points [-]

Hrm? My wife and I run the family with an eye towards my son's welfare. But we ain't no democracy, and I can't imagine a functional family that was a democracy - there are some choices that are removed from consideration before the children's preferences are considered at all.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 May 2013 08:58:30PM *  11 points [-]

My 9 year old came to me a few months ago after I told him to go brush his teeth. He said (without any acrimony or contempt, it was just an observation) that if he well and truly refused to brush his teeth, there'd be nothing I could do about it. He said 'When you tell me to do things, I instinctively do them, but I don't think you could actually make me do anything. You're in charge of me because of me, not you.' He noted, however, that the instinct is a good one because there's a lot he doesn't know.

Our house isn't a democracy either, but it's no kind of dictatorship. He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him, and more and more everything is a negotiation. That's my experience anyway.

Comment author: TimS 16 May 2013 05:47:09PM 7 points [-]

Our house isn't a democracy either, but it's no kind of dictatorship. He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him, and more and more everything is a negotiation. That's my experience anyway.

If your family is fairly normal, there are lots of interventions you could implement to change his behavior.
1) Positive reinforcement ("Here's a dollar for brushing")
2) Negative reinforcement ("You are free from other chores since you brushed")
3) Positive punishment (SMACK)
4) Negative punishment ("No more video games for you.")

There are reasonable considerations about the ratio of parental effort to child compliance. But if it was important enough, you could cause your child to brush if you wanted to.

Comment author: ThrustVectoring 16 May 2013 07:08:21PM 4 points [-]

That will just lead into meta-level negotiation. It's not about whether or not the kid brushes their teeth at some point, but setting what costs the parents are willing to and expect to pay in order to gain compliance (and, of course, what costs the child is willing to and expects to pay in order to do what they please). Once you start bribing your kid into doing things, the obvious next step for an adversarial opponent is to not do anything unless bribed into it. Similarly, threatening and punishing them into compliance is going to result in a willingness-to-punish testing.

The last actually happened with me - I had some emotional hangups with schoolwork, and I procrastinated often. My parents were completely clueless though, and decided that the right course of action was to take away the things that I happened to procrastinate on until I "improved". This did not go well for them - at some point I was down to just fiction books and homework, and I'd procrastinate by reading books, and they weren't willing to take away books from me.

Really, I think that the control-your-kids is a pretty bad paradigm to operate in. I mean, to some extent, yeah, they're better off if they brush their teeth. The meta-level skill of getting positive-value unpleasant tasks done is much more valuable, though - and if you make your kid do those things by negotiation, then you rob them of the chance to develop that skill on their own.

Comment author: TimS 22 May 2013 12:33:22AM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry your parents were clueless. Just because there is some intervention that can get a child to change a behavior doesn't mean that any intervention will work, or that the most obvious intervention will work. If one misunderstands the purpose of the behavior, then one is extremely likely to apply an intervention that won't work.

I'm sorry you had difficulties growing up, but that isn't an argument against behavioral interventions.

Really, I think that the control-your-kids is a pretty bad paradigm to operate in. I mean, to some extent, yeah, they're better off if they brush their teeth. The meta-level skill of getting positive-value unpleasant tasks done is much more valuable, though - and if you make your kid do those things by negotiation, then you rob them of the chance to develop that skill on their own.

It is important for parents to decide in advance what behaviors are worth what level of effort. Forcing my son to brush his teeth now when he is three is different than forcing some other behavior change when he is a teenager.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 08:04:13PM 0 points [-]

Yes.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 15 May 2013 10:23:02PM 4 points [-]

(My standard response to such statements is that it doesn't matter who makes decisions, only what the correct decisions are. Focus on figuring out the answer instead of on who names which answer why.)

Comment author: Error 16 May 2013 11:38:13AM 3 points [-]

'When you tell me to do things, I instinctively do them, but I don't think you could actually make me do anything. You're in charge of me because of me, not you.'

And he figured this out at age 9? I'm impressed. I didn't reach that point until quite a few years later.

Comment author: Estarlio 16 May 2013 11:50:01AM *  -1 points [-]

Really? Never tried screaming "You can't make me!" or asked "Why should I?!" Seems to be an insight most children have to me.

Comment author: Error 16 May 2013 12:34:09PM 3 points [-]

There's a difference between saying something (or screaming it) and understanding it.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 16 May 2013 12:23:34PM 3 points [-]

This seems perfectly normal if the parents don't make unfair or unexplained requests, and the kid follows fair requests.

Comment author: shminux 15 May 2013 09:41:39PM 0 points [-]

He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him

The "guy with the biggest gun" is the one with most leverage, and short of your son calling child services it is the parents. That said, he must be unusually bright for a 9yo.

Comment author: ThrustVectoring 16 May 2013 07:16:09PM *  4 points [-]

It's not that cut and dry. The child can institute a policy of attrition to get bargaining power. Sure, in any individual situation the parents have a lot more power - but as a general rule they aren't willing to follow a policy of spending significant amounts of time to get their child to do anything.

It's complicated by the parents generally caring about their child's welfare, too. Getting compliance at any cost is a losing strategy for raising a successful kid.

Let me elaborate. There are certain lines which parents aren't willing to cross - spending tens of hours a week, or over a certain amount of money in bribes, or punishment inflicted. The parents mostly care about rewards and punishments in terms of how it affects the child's behavior. So, a general strategy of "do not let my behavior change by any reward or punishment that the parents are willing to give me for compliance or noncompliance" is a good enough position to get any reasonable compromise that the child wants. The parents are stuck with either not getting what they want, crossing the line into child abuse, or negotiating with the kid.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 15 May 2013 09:44:14PM 4 points [-]

there are some choices that are removed from consideration before the children's preferences are considered at all.

Is this sort of thing not standard in democracies?

Comment author: TimS 16 May 2013 05:42:08PM 5 points [-]

Imagine a family with five children. In a pure democracy "Candy for dinner" wins 5-2. In a real family, there's no vote because candy ain't for dinner.

Not that our actual governments are pure democracies. I don't argue they should be, but there is a veil-of-ignorance / Schelling point / first-they-came-for-the-trade-unionists argument for most anti-majoritarian laws. I don't think the argument would work with children.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 16 May 2013 07:10:01PM 2 points [-]

I 100% agree that in a real family, candy ain't for dinner.
And I suppose I agree that in a "pure democracy" (insofar as such a thing is even a cogent thought experiment) whether candy is for dinner or not is, as you suggest, subject to a one-mouth-one-vote kind of decision procedure.

But, as you say, there are no pure democracies in the real world. My point was that in the real governments which we ordinarily refer to as "democracies," not only are some people (including minors) not permitted to vote in the first place, but even among adults some (most!) choices are removed from consideration before voting commences at all.

So it seems no more wrong to say "Sam's family is a democracy" (even though the children don't get a vote, and some choices are not even subject to vote) than to say "Canada is a democracy" (ibid).

Comment author: TimS 17 May 2013 01:58:27AM 1 point [-]

I was mostly reacting to shminux's assertion that a family with children might be just about anywhere on the scale between democracy and tyranny. Whereas I think a functional family is about 3/4 tyranny, and Canada is much closer to 3/4 democracy.

Comment author: ModusPonies 16 May 2013 04:49:09PM 3 points [-]

The moderators on this website?

Comment author: shminux 15 May 2013 06:49:28PM 2 points [-]

Any small business.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 May 2013 06:56:03PM *  4 points [-]

Those are really constitutional monarchies: there's plenty of labor law between the owners and the employees governing their interactions.

Comment author: shminux 15 May 2013 07:08:40PM 1 point [-]

Fair point, there are always constraints on what a dictator can do, some explicit, some implicit. I was using the broader description:

dictatorship (government without people's consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people)

Comment author: [deleted] 15 May 2013 07:48:16PM *  0 points [-]

Can you think of successful organizations that fit this description (description 3 from the wiki article)?

In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.

The trouble is, almost any organization within the jurisdiction of a state is going to be governed by some laws. But we should probably accept any candidate that is subject to no laws specific to its form of organization, which would probably include LW and moderated online communities generally. I can't think of any large organizations where very much is at stake in membership or organizational activities.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 15 May 2013 10:37:28PM *  1 point [-]

is everyone getting the point that you can't really say "Well, X works", when it only works because it embedded in some larger system that kind of makes it work (eg labour law constraining egotistical CEO's).

The problems of politics --actual politics -- are that it is inherently large scale,, and that it is where the buck stops.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 15 May 2013 10:33:11PM -2 points [-]

They're all benevolent?

That scales up to the nation level? (Hint: "small")

Comment author: OrphanWilde 16 May 2013 03:11:08PM 0 points [-]

Dubai and to a lesser extent Abu Dhabi?

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 06:34:16PM *  11 points [-]

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, if you're a rich Western man who can move out at a moment's notice, then yes, sure - literally everything caters to your comfort and convenience. If you're a migrant worker, run afoul of Saudi gender norms, or are otherwise in a marginalized and powerless group... it's hell. And a scary perspective for the 1st World's transhuman future, too.

Such flippant and callous observations from a position of great relative privliege is what gave traction to the "Glibertarian" label, y'know. Both for the sake of LW epistemic standards and to avoid sounding like an entitled aristocrat, please think before commenting.

I'm not even particularly pissed off about this one comment, it all just adds up when you... observe the persistence of certain ideological trends on the internet.

Here's some more links about how such glittering Cities Upon A Hill really function:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7985361.stm
http://frontpagemag.com/2012/jamie-glazov/the-exploitation-of-immigrant-workers-in-the-middle-east/

And here's Will Self dissecting a book that self-consciously chooses to sing paeans to this neofeudal/corporate-fascist model:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n09/will-self/the-frowniest-spot-on-earth

There’s a disarming frankness to the way [Lindsay] recounts the poverty of Kenyan flower growers, simply in order to urge us to carry on buying their posies. His vision for the future of the African continent in the Age of the Aerotropolis seems to be as a vast latifundium sown with GM wheat. Equally brazen is his aside that Apple engineers refer to the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen – where the world’s iPhones and most of its iPads, iPods, Playstations, Nintendos and Kindles are assembled – as ‘Mordor’. Why the evil kingdom in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? ‘At its peak,’ Lindsay writes, ‘some 320,000 workers toiled on its assembly lines and slept in its dormitories.’ A rash of suicides among its workers is part of the reason for Foxconn’s relocation to the still poorer and more immiserated interior of the Heavenly People’s Republic.

We might choose to see this as the frownie face that Kasarda’s smiley face tries to mask: an inverted curve where the greatest misery adds to a product’s value in the middle of its global traverse, while the greatest pleasure is accrued by innovators and consumers at either winsome end. Perhaps the frowniest spot on the face of the earth is the despotic principality of Dubai, where Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision coincides perfectly with Kasarda’s: this is an entire statelet conceived of as an aerotropolis – or, at least, as a transpark with attached office space and buy-to-flip real estate. On a trip to Dubai, Lindsay is typically disarming about the labour camps in the desert where the indentured workers sweat and half-starve; after all, he points out, they’re making better money than they would back home in Kerala, or Baluchistan, so that’s OK. He has read – and cites in his notes – the Human Rights Watch 2006 report Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates, but notwithstanding his admission that Dubai is ‘all dark side’ he remains … upbeat.

Lindsay even takes a walk in Dubai, and although he doesn’t tell us what distance he covered, my impression is he went only a few blocks. I, too, took a walk in Dubai a couple of years ago, but mine was a two-day traverse from the airport, clear across this great city of unbecoming and into the fringes of the Empty Quarter. Lindsay is told that ‘nobody walks in Dubai,’ but this should be modified: nobody white walks in Dubai. Everywhere I went – along the baking sidewalks of Sheikh Zayed Road, through the dust clouds boiling into the phantasm of Tiger Woods Design’s golf development – I encountered brown and black men, on foot, parted from their families for three, five, even ten years, and ekeing out an existence on $10 a day or less. When they weren’t too intimidated to talk to me, they had nothing positive to say about their situation: their faces were wreathed in frowns. My response to this Xanadu – powered by jet fuel and misted by the evaporation of desalinated water – was to stop flying altogether: I no longer wished to pick up any airmiles that contributed to such a future. Perhaps if frenetic flyers like Kasarda and Lindsay ever dared attempt a sustained hike through the wastelands of the postmodern ugliness they enthuse about, they might take a different view.

Comment author: Jiro 16 May 2013 07:14:21PM *  12 points [-]

Her'es a quote from Wikipedia about those Foxconn suicides:

The suicide rate at Foxconn during the suicide spate remained lower than that of the general Chinese population[8] as well as all 50 states in the United States.[9] Additionally the Foxconn deaths may have been a product of economic conditions external to the company.

I was pretty sure this had been debunked before, but the story keeps getting spread around for ideological reasons.

I'd also point out that just because a geek calls something Mordor doesn't mean he literally thinks it's as bad as Mordor. All it means is that he thinks it's worse than his current living conditions, which only amounts to "people in the US are better off than people in China". IBM and Microsoft get called the Evil Empire all the time, without killing anyone.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 07:27:41PM *  0 points [-]

I was pretty sure this had been debunked before, but the story keeps getting spread around for ideological reasons.

I'm pretty sure that thousands upon thousands of stories like this - where the "normal" functioning of global capitalism is inseparable from some brutal social repression, delegitimizing the ruling narrative that economic "efficiency" and ethics/human decency should be separate magisteria - have never made it to the Western press, or only made a tiny splash. For ideological reasons.

Here's a more thorough account of China specifically:
http://jacobinmag.com/2012/08/china-in-revolt/

...By depicting Chinese workers as Others – as abject subalterns or competitive antagonists – this tableau wildly miscasts the reality of labor in today’s China. Far from triumphant victors, Chinese workers are facing the same brutal competitive pressures as workers in the West, often at the hands of the same capitalists. More importantly, it is hardly their stoicism that distinguishes them from us.

Today, the Chinese working class is fighting. More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter of global labor unrest. While there are no official statistics, it is certain that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of strikes take place each year. All of them are wildcat strikes – there is no such thing as a legal strike in China. So on a typical day anywhere from half a dozen to several dozen strikes are likely taking place.

Comment author: khafra 24 May 2013 04:26:39PM *  2 points [-]

I'm pretty sure that thousands upon thousands of stories like this - where the "normal" functioning of global capitalism is inseparable from some brutal social repression, delegitimizing the ruling narrative that economic "efficiency" and ethics/human decency should be separate magisteria - have never made it to the Western press, or only made a tiny splash. For ideological reasons.

I agree with your point, in general--I don't think imperialism, economic or otherwise, is often all that great for indigenous populations--but in this specific assertion, I think you're falling prey to the hostile media effect. I've seen coverage of Foxconn suicides in some pretty doggoned mainstream western media.

Comment author: shminux 16 May 2013 07:07:25PM *  9 points [-]

Downvoted for the initial flip out. You can present all the same evidence just as convincingly without it.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 07:59:27PM 0 points [-]

Ah, but the initial flip out was so satisfying.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 17 May 2013 12:04:38AM 1 point [-]

Why do you find it satisfying when someone can be pushed into an irrational state?

Comment author: pragmatist 24 May 2013 03:39:24PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: OrphanWilde 16 May 2013 07:58:37PM 6 points [-]

You accuse me of judging the country from the perspective of a privileged white person, but you're the one comparing it to countries a privileged white person would deem acceptable, rather than to the countries which it started off most similarly to. If you want to judge the efficacy of a dictator, you judge the changes that took place, and those -changes- have been quite good.

No. It's not -better- than the West, it's not even as -good- as the West - shit, just look at their sanitation issues. But look at how far it has come, and how much it has achieved, and for all its human rights issues -how much better it is at preserving human rights than most of the surrounding nations-. The culture there is -not- conducive to human rights; its next door neighbors are sentencing people to jail or death for the crime of apostasy.

While you're attacking me for defending dictators, incidentally, I'm also a fan of Pinochet. He was an asshole who engaged in war crimes and gross violations of human rights - but he turned Chile from a country where those crimes were standard into a country where he could step down and be charged by the government he created with those crimes.

For what they had to work with, and what they achieved, I am immense fans of both Pinochet and the Al Maktoum family. Shrug If you want to call me a glibertarian for that, well, go ahead. Personally I think such a perspective is merely ignorance.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 25 May 2013 02:12:27PM 4 points [-]

Pinochet. He was an asshole who engaged in war crimes and gross violations of human rights but he turned Chile from a country where those crimes were standard into a country where he could step down and be charged by the government he created with those crimes.

Ermm...so he stared doing bad things, then he stopped, and that makes him good? Those crimes weren't standard before he was in power, and he had to stop because of a shift in policy by the US, not by his own volition. And he managed to evade punishment for his crimes. So why is he so great again?

Comment author: OrphanWilde 25 May 2013 04:14:29PM 1 point [-]

We have a tendency to forget the crimes of revolutionary forces while remembering the crimes of those they are revolting against.

The descendants of the comment you're responding to elaborate a little bit more on why I regard him as more good than evil.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 08:41:55PM *  1 point [-]

Well, personally, I don't see a need to engage in further ethical debate in you. Personally, I wish you'd be unable to scrub these images from your mind for a week or two. That you'd imagine the faces of your family on them, perhaps. "Detached" and "objective" debate has its limits when we're talking about the human consequences of some things while staying in guaranteed safety from them.

[TRIGGER WARNING: TORTURE AND EXTREME VIOLENCE]

For women, it was an especially violent experience. The commission reports that nearly every female prisoner was the victim of repeated rape. The perpetration of this crime took many forms, from military men raping women themselves to the use of foreign objects on victims. Numerous women (and men) report spiders or live rats being implanted into their orifices. One woman wrote, “I was raped and sexually assaulted with trained dogs and with live rats. They forced me to have sex with my father and brother who were also detained. I also had to listen to my father and brother being tortured.” Her experiences were mirrored by those of many other women who told their stories to the commission.

...

One of the first things Ms De Witt heard from a cell after her arrest was a man being beaten to death in the yard outside. She said: "They were beating him with what seemed like long chains. I can still hear the noise it made, and then the crying of the young man, eventually it stopped. I saw him later. His whole body was swollen. It was red and blue, and you could not recognise his face. His name was Cedomil Lauzic."

Ms De Witt was put through the ritual of electric shocks, beatings and sexual degradation. "One day I was tortured from 11 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon with electric shocks. Near the end I could not breathe and my heart stopped. They massaged my heart, and they stopped hurting me for that day. But it began again the next morning," she said.

[END TW]

Ain't enough dust specks on this Earth for some things. Intellectual acquiescence with certain ideas should not, I believe, be a matter of relaxed and pleasant debate - no more so than the implementation of them was for their victims.

P.S.: name ONE person tortured or violently repressed by the Allende government. That's right, zero. Allende wouldn't suspend the constitution and the legal norms even in the face of an enemy with no such qualms.

Harmer shows that Allende was a pacifist, a democrat and a socialist by conviction not convenience. He had an ‘unbending commitment to constitutional government’ and refused in the face of an ‘externally funded’ opposition ‘to take a different non-democratic or violent road’. He invoked history to insist that democracy and socialism were compatible, yet he knew that Chile’s experience was exceptional. During the two decades before his election, military coups had overthrown governments in 12 countries: Cuba in 1952; Guatemala and Paraguay in 1954; Argentina and Peru in 1962; Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and again Guatemala in 1963; Brazil and Bolivia in 1964; and Argentina once more in 1966. Many of these coups were encouraged and sanctioned by Washington and involved subverting exactly the kind of civil-society pluralism – of the press, political parties and unions – that Allende promoted. So he was sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution and respected Castro, especially after he survived the CIA’s Bay of Pigs exploit in 1961. And when Allende won the presidency, he relied on Cuban advisers for personal security and intelligence operations.

But Cuba’s turn to one-party authoritarianism only deepened Allende’s faith in the durability of Chilean democracy. Socialism could be won, he insisted, through procedures and institutions – the ballot, the legislature, the courts and the media – that historically had been dominated by those classes most opposed to it. Castro warned him that the military wouldn’t abide by the constitution. Until at least early 1973 Allende believed otherwise. His revolution would not be confronted with the choice that had been forced on Castro: suspend democracy or perish. But by mid-1973, events were escaping Allende’s command. On 11 September he took his own life, probably with a gun Castro gave him as a gift. The left in the years after the coup developed its own critique of Allende: that, as the crisis hurtled toward its conclusion, he proved indecisive, failing to arm his supporters and train resistance militias, failing to shut down congress and failing to defend the revolution the way Castro defended his. Harmer presents these as conscious decisions, stemming from Allende’s insistence that neither one-party rule nor civil war was an acceptable alternative to defeat.

Comment author: glomerulus 16 May 2013 09:13:05PM 9 points [-]

Multiheaded, you're taking the disutility of each torture caused by Pinochet and using their sum to declare his actions as a net evil. OrphanWilde seems to acknowledge that his actions were terrible, but makes the statement that the frequency of tortures, each with more or less equal disutility (whatever massive quantity that may be), were overall reduced by his actions.

You, however, appear to be looking at his actions, declaring them evil, and citing Allende as evidence that Pinochet's ruthlessness was unnecessary. This could be the foundation of a good argument, perhaps, but it's not made clear and is instead obscured behind an appeal to emotions, declaring OrphanWilde evil for thinking rationally about events that you think are too repulsive for a rational framework.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 09:30:05PM *  4 points [-]

OrphanWilde seems to acknowledge that his actions were terrible, but makes the statement that the frequency of tortures, each with more or less equal disutility (whatever massive quantity that may be), were overall reduced by his actions.

He doesn't actually make that statement anywhere that I can see.

declaring OrphanWilde evil for thinking rationally about events that you think are too repulsive for a rational framework.

I disagree that he has done anything of the sort. What's he even comparing Pinochet to? The obvious candidate is a peacefully elected president after the end of Allende's term, which suggests someone from UP or the Christian Democrats, and it's hard to imagine such a government sponsoring systemic torture against dissidents.

In any case, I think claims of "rational" (which Multiheaded hasn't made anyway) needs to stay far, far away from this thread.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 16 May 2013 09:47:57PM 1 point [-]

To head off an interpretation argument, that's a fair rephrasing of my position. I wouldn't use the word "utility," but the basic moral premise is the same: As bad as Pinochet was, I think he was one of the best options the country had at the time.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 09:59:33PM 0 points [-]

On the bright side, we now know how little the torture of over twenty-five thousand is worth to you.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 28 May 2013 11:12:14AM 1 point [-]

As bad as Pinochet was, I think he was one of the best options the country had at the time.

It's sill odd to be a "huge fan" of someone you can only defend as the lesser of two evils.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 09:38:55PM *  0 points [-]

Yep, I admit there's two arguments. My secondary line of attack is that there was nothing "necessary" about the things Pinochet did, and that in regards to the rule of law and sustainable democracy he wrecked what Allende was trying to create.

But my primary line is that some "rational" arguments should be simply censored when their advocates don't even bother with hypotheticals but point to the unspeakable experiences of real victims and then dismiss them as a fair price for some dubious greater good. This is a behavior and an attitude that our society needs to suppress, I believe, because it's predictive of other self-centered, remorseless, power-blind attitudes - and we're better off with fully general ethical injunctions against such. Not tolerating even the beginning steps of some potentially devastating paths is important enough to outweigh perfect epistemic detachment and pretensions to impartiality.

Christian moralism in its 19th century form - once a popular source for such injunctions - is rightly considered obsolete/bankrupt, but, like Orwell, I think our civilization needs a replacement for it. Or else our descendants might be the ones screaming "Why did it have to be rats?!" one day.

ZERO compromise. Not for the sake of politeness, not for the sake of pure reason, not a single more step to hell.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 09:44:40PM 1 point [-]

I completely agree with you.

Comment author: MugaSofer 23 May 2013 04:34:46PM *  2 points [-]

Jesus Christ put a trigger warning on that. Just ... damn.

Also, emotional appeals to how terrible one option is aren't going to change the outcomes of utility calculations. I'm not knowledgeable in this area to weigh in on this discussion, but when one side is saying shut up and multiply and the other is using obvious and clumsy dark arts attacks on the audience's rationality, I'm inclined to support the utilitarian over the deontologist.

Comment author: MugaSofer 24 May 2013 10:05:13AM *  5 points [-]

Multiheaded, usually I would pay the karma toll to reply to your comment, but I've just been karmassasinated and so I'll put it here instead.

Firstly, while I personally am perfectly capable of reading such material without serious harm (thank God), many people are not, so I was fairly shocked to stumble across it in the middle of your post. It would not have damaged your point to warn those who find such things traumatic beforehand, and neglecting to do so is, to be dark-artsy for a moment, hardly strengthening your claim to be the empathic one in this discussion.

As for whether I would like to live in a world where people are willing to torture me and my loved ones if they think it's justified - I already live in such a world. This is a thing humans do. Emotional appeals are, in fact, noticeably more effective at getting people to do this than cold utility calculations. So yes, I would rather people based their atrocities on a rigorous epistemic foundation rather than how those guys are The Enemy and must be fought, no matter the cost. For the children!

I'm well aware of the dangers of self-deception, as should anyone trying to make such calculations be. But it's even easier when you're relying on outrage rather than rationality.

Finally, it's interesting that you claim it's OK to make use of dark arts techniques to (attempt to) manipulate us, because this is so important that the usual LessWrong standards of trying to minimise bias, mindkilling and generally help people discern the correct position rather than the one that's covered in applause lights. Isn't truth and so on another precommtment you shouldn't break just because the expected utility is so high?

Comment author: Multiheaded 24 May 2013 01:15:25PM 2 points [-]

So yes, I would rather people based their atrocities on a rigorous epistemic foundation rather than how those guys are The Enemy and must be fought, no matter the cost.

Has such a thing actually happened even once in human history?

Comment author: MugaSofer 27 May 2013 10:34:57AM *  2 points [-]

Not yet (to my knowledge.)

Maybe someday, if we manage to raise the sanity waterline enough, and if everyone who tries it doesn't get denounced as giving aid an comfort to the Enemy for even considering the idea.

EDIT: Possible example:

You should never, ever murder an innocent person who's helped you, even if it's the right thing to do; because it's far more likely that you've made a mistake, than that murdering an innocent person who helped you is the right thing to do.

Sound reasonable?

During World War II, it became necessary to destroy Germany's supply of deuterium, a neutron moderator, in order to block their attempts to achieve a fission chain reaction. Their supply of deuterium was coming at this point from a captured facility in Norway. A shipment of heavy water was on board a Norwegian ferry ship, the SF Hydro. Knut Haukelid and three others had slipped on board the ferry in order to sabotage it, when the saboteurs were discovered by the ferry watchman. Haukelid told him that they were escaping the Gestapo, and the watchman immediately agreed to overlook their presence. Haukelid "considered warning their benefactor but decided that might endanger the mission and only thanked him and shook his hand." (Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.) So the civilian ferry Hydro sank in the deepest part of the lake, with eighteen dead and twenty-nine survivors. Some of the Norwegian rescuers felt that the German soldiers present should be left to drown, but this attitude did not prevail, and four Germans were rescued. And that was, effectively, the end of the Nazi atomic weapons program.

-Ethical Injuctions

Comment author: Multiheaded 23 May 2013 06:25:34PM *  -2 points [-]

Taking abstract ideas too seriously and unreservedly privileging them over your moral emotion is a terribly, terribly dangerous thing. And it tends to corrupt the one who would make such a choice, too.

Would you like to live in a world where people thought that doing these things to you and yours could ever be justified? Sure, the apologists would say it's only forgivable in dire circumstances, only for the greater good - but still, wouldn't you prefer as firm a precommitment as possible?

And no, I'm not sorry for exposing you to such content. The enormity of the moral commitments at stake is too great for me not to "manipulate" you. The language of simplistic utilitarianism does not have enough bandwidth to express the weight of such commitments, so I have to draw your attention to them through "emotional" appeals.

"You stipulate that the only possible way to save five innocent lives is to murder one innocent person, and this murder will definitely save the five lives, and that these facts are known to me with effective certainty. But since I am running on corrupted hardware, I can't occupy the epistemic state you want me to imagine. Therefore I reply that, in a society of Artificial Intelligences worthy of personhood and lacking any inbuilt tendency to be corrupted by power, it would be right for the AI to murder the one innocent person to save five, and moreover all its peers would agree. However, I refuse to extend this reply to myself, because the epistemic state you ask me to imagine, can only exist among other kinds of people than human beings."

Instead of shutting up and multiplying, might it be wiser to shut up and obey our Glorious Leader?

Comment author: nshepperd 23 May 2013 07:07:13PM 0 points [-]

And no, I'm not sorry for exposing you to such content.

What the fuck? Causing unnecessary psychological damage to anyone reading this page—even more so just for the sake of some stupid political point—is not acceptable. Downvoted.

Comment author: Multiheaded 23 May 2013 07:29:15PM 2 points [-]

I'm not the one willing to tolerate such acts given a counterfactual excuse, or measure them on an easily subverted one-dimensional scale. If they occur in the world, I not only wish to be fully aware of them, I wish that others would not be able to easily shrink from considering them either. A detached discussion of faraway horrible events is a luxury and a privilege, and people who want to participate in it should at least pay a toll of properly visualizing the consequences.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 08:51:26PM *  1 point [-]

The culture there is -not- conducive to human rights; its next door neighbors are sentencing people to jail or death for the crime of apostasy.

Oh? Culture? I wonder what you'd say about German or Japanese "culture" circa 1945, and the historical trends of their respect for human rights. (Especially the treatment of different ethnic groups.)

Or, conversely, about Afghanistan in the 1960s. Certainly Afghanistan started out with more disadvantages than Saudi Arabia, and no oil wealth. Yet the cultural changes there were not rolled back even under the communist regime - the emancipation of women, rural education, etc went on like in other Soviet client states. It took the American-armed, American-sponsored fundamentalist thugs to turn the clock back to misery and domination.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 May 2013 09:43:03PM *  2 points [-]

I find OW's comparison of Chilean culture with that of its neighbors really perplexing, as Chile is vastly different from most of South America. For example, it's a massive outlier on the CPI map.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 May 2013 01:49:14AM 3 points [-]

Do you know how this came to be? I could imagine a Pinochet supporter claiming credit for this.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 16 May 2013 09:47:00PM 4 points [-]

The culture comparison was between Dubai and its neighbors; I only brought Chile up because I figured I might as well go all-in on the "Supporting asshole dictators who I figure managed to do more good than bad" front.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 May 2013 09:53:14AM *  7 points [-]

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

  • Oppose moral pressures. Anyone using the word "should" is a hypocrite, or a wannabe dictator. (There is no objective morality, right?) Find moral excuses for all kinds of defection. (You can't reasonably expect someone to cooperate, if the person is hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, poor, opressed, etc.)

  • Oppose reputational pressures. Saying that some people are better and some people are worse is undemocratic elitism. (Also, it is obvious that you focus on criticizing X merely because X is a member of a group you hate.)

  • Oppose institutional pressures. We don't need any punishments, because punishments are evil, and only evil people want to punish other people. All problems should be resolved by love (and it that fails, we need even more love). Everyone deserves a second chance.

  • Oppose security pressures. If we don't trust each other, we are not a good community.

Somehow all these anti-patterns seem to me like: This is what many educated people around me use for signalling.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 May 2013 10:14:56AM *  5 points [-]

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

Tentatively agree. Just so long as the intended mnemonic isn't "Let's take these examples of stupidity and do the opposite". Some of these are even worse if taken to the other extreme than to the one you warn about. Reputational pressures are perhaps the most desirable but with moral and institutional pressures it can be a good idea to oppose inappropriate applications forcefully but encourage desirable applications. In fact, one of the best uses of both moral and institutional pressures is to apply them to pre-empt future misapplication of the same. (Both tools are necessary but dangerous.)

Comment author: TheOtherDave 15 May 2013 01:17:04PM 4 points [-]

Another (complementary) approach is to establish the local convention that "hey, that's a pressure!" is not sufficient grounds on which to oppose a pressure; it is also considered necessary to at least assert, if not necessarily argue, that the pressure under discussion is worse for the community than the absence of that pressure.

Comment author: wedrifid 15 May 2013 01:36:24PM 4 points [-]

Another (complementary) approach is to establish the local convention that "hey, that's a pressure!" is not sufficient grounds on which to oppose a pressure; it is also considered necessary to at least assert, if not necessarily argue, that the pressure under discussion is worse for the community than the absence of that pressure.

I endorse this hypothetically applied pressure.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 16 May 2013 12:43:47AM 13 points [-]

Oppose moral pressures. Anyone using the word "should" is a hypocrite, or a wannabe dictator. (There is no objective morality, right?)

When moral pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people might reasonably tend to take on the belief that all moral pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom: the correct answer is not "enforce all moral pressures, regardless of how draconian"; nor is it "reject all moral pressures as draconian". The correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT moral pressures are, in terms of which moral pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the amount of cooperation we want, and then ensure that those moral pressures are the ones being applied in this community."

Find moral excuses for all kinds of defection. (You can't reasonably expect someone to cooperate, if the person is hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, poor, opressed, etc.).

Alternatively, identify external factors that can be statistically shown to increase defection, and then lower the influence of those external factors rather than expect people to magically overcome them. If you can statistically demonstrate that hungry people are more likely to defect, and you don't want people to defect, what will suit you better: bitching that anyone who defects because they're hungry is a morally bad person, or actually handing them a meal?

We're supposed to be empiricists here, after all.

Oppose reputational pressures. Saying that some people are better and some people are worse is undemocratic elitism.

When reputational pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people will notice that a system's current idea of "better" and "worse" is flawed; in such situations it is understandable (but not rational) for them to take on the belief that reputational pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom; the correct answer is not "enforce all reputation pressures, no matter how unfair and unbalanced" or "reject all reputational pressures as institutional bigotry"; the correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT reputational pressures are, in terms of which reputational pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the desired amount of cooperation, and then ensure that those pressures are the ones being applied in the community."

(Also, it is obvious that you focus on criticizing X merely because X is a member of a group you hate.)

Alternatively, acknowledge that all systems have a tendency towards capture and corruption, and actively work to fight that tendency rather than building strawman caricatures of the people who tend to be most vocal about the current nature of that corruption.

Oppose institutional pressures. We don't need any punishments, because punishments are evil, and only evil people want to punish other people.

When institutional goals are not applied fairly or rationally, observant (but not necessarily rational) people will recognize that the community is not behaving in their best interest at all, and will become understandably skeptical of institutional punishment systems. Moreso, when numerous studies indicate that proper rehabilitation works better than the punishment methods we currently employ, one begins to wonder why we continue to perform them.

Somehow all these anti-patterns seem to me like: This is what many educated people around me use for signalling.

I would argue that you are presenting a caricature of an argument, rather than an actual argument. You should resolve to make your opponent's position stronger before defeating them rather than weaker, if you want to actually convince us that their position is wrong.

All problems should be resolved by love (and it that fails, we need even more love). Everyone deserves a second chance.

Alternatively, people who cannot operate properly within society need to be identified as damaged and repaired, rather than identified as valid targets for violence and violated.

Oppose security pressures. If we don't trust each other, we are not a good community.

When security takes a back seat to ineffective and intrusive "security theatre", observant (but not necessarily rational) people will recognize that they are being snowed, and will justifiably become suspicious of all "security"-based justifications for increasing authority.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 07:10:13PM *  2 points [-]

Thank you so very much. I wanted to do a point-by-point takedown like this... but I'm feeling a little burnt out when considering just how much similarly glib pro-authoritarian fare on LW needs this treatment.

You've said many things that I wanted to say; I'd only note that I think your rejection of authoritarianism here is lacking a meta level:

When moral pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people might reasonably tend to take on the belief that all moral pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom: the correct answer is not "enforce all moral pressures, regardless of how draconian"; nor is it "reject all moral pressures as draconian". The correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT moral pressures are, in terms of which moral pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the amount of cooperation we want, and then ensure that those moral pressures are the ones being applied in this community."

The problem is, once we concede that Reverse Authoritarianism doesn't let us do much, WHO exactly is going to figure out which authoritarian-like actions are "legitimate" and "needed"? It can't be all planned out in advance by community consensus, either.

This would be like a Leninist today defending an argument for a second Bolshevik revolution (against the obvious historical evidence) with: "Oh, but we KNOW what went wrong! We just shouldn't let more Stalinists get into the party, that's all! And this time we won't be purging any innocent people; that was so silly and counterproductive of us!"

To avoid yet more abuse of power, you can't merely tell people to make the object-level "correct" decision; you need a system that would constantly correct for self-serving rationalizations, corruption and power-blindness among the decision makers. If abuse and tyranny emerge as "spontaneous orders", then their prevention must be a perpetual and multi-faceted process, not a one-time Gordian knot to cut.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 16 May 2013 09:46:27PM *  3 points [-]

The problem is, once we concede that Reverse Authoritarianism doesn't let us do much, WHO exactly is going to figure out which authoritarian-like actions are "legitimate" and "needed"? It can't be all planned out in advance by community consensus, either.

...

To avoid yet more abuse of power, you can't merely tell people to make the object-level "correct" decision; you need a system that would constantly correct for self-serving rationalizations, corruption and power-blindness among the decision makers. If abuse and tyranny emerge as "spontaneous orders", then their prevention must be a perpetual and multi-faceted process, not a one-time Gordian knot to cut.

The rational response would be to acknowledge that this is a Hard Problem, and that there are not yet good answers. This is exciting, because it identifies places where significant progress can be made.

Comment author: falenas108 16 May 2013 05:12:06PM 0 points [-]

Alternatively, identify external factors that can be statistically shown to increase defection, and then lower the influence of those external factors rather than expect people to magically overcome them. If you can statistically demonstrate that hungry people are more likely to defect, and you don't want people to defect, what will suit you better: bitching that anyone who defects because they're hungry is a morally bad person, or actually handing them a meal?

I'm not sure that's the entirety of what he's getting at. I think he's saying "don't make it acceptable for people to make excuses for defecting, because people will then use that as an excuse in cases where they would otherwise cooperate."

That said, your idea is still a good solution to the way you interpreted that statement.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 16 May 2013 05:23:53PM 3 points [-]

I'm not sure that's the entirety of what he's getting at. I think he's saying "don't make it acceptable for people to make excuses for defecting, because people will then use that as an excuse in cases where they would otherwise cooperate."

Fortunately, there are numerous studies examining the efficacy of that strategy, too.

As it turns out, being generous to people who need it and letting a few people get away with pretending to need it is much more cost-effective than trying to root out all the "cheats".

Unless, of course, the specific goal is to maintain a status hierarchy simply for the sake of staying on top of it, with no real concern for the costs or benefits of that hierarchy.

Comment author: Multiheaded 16 May 2013 08:07:51PM 0 points [-]

Unless, of course, the specific goal is to maintain a status hierarchy simply for the sake of staying on top of it, with no real concern for the costs or benefits of that hierarchy.

Yep. Being determines consciousness, and social being in particular is a great predictor of social consciousness. And cheering for authoritarianism among high-IQ, economically secure, white, male, first-world, tech geeks is going to school in black - increasingly so.

I mean, just regular old proclamations that Liberal Democracy Ain't All That? Pfft, that's been among the safest and most polite kinds of contrarian posturing since before there were liberal democracies to snub. Every political position imaginable can do it from some angle. I do it. Respectable authors do it.

But direct, unapologetic support for the aesthetics and praxis of dictatorial control? The beauty and utility of hierarchies of dominance? Of deliberate asymmetries of power? Unsettling.

Comment author: Estarlio 15 May 2013 11:01:46AM 1 point [-]

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

Some communities need ruining, or at the very least weakening far enough to be altered. Necessarily anyone who's an outlier, for better or worse, is going to be constrained by a society with very exacting norms.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 15 May 2013 11:19:49AM *  5 points [-]

If someone is introducing the described anti-patterns into a community as a strategic tool to destroy the community from within, well... that's a fine strategy. And if I happened to hate the given community, I would applaud them.

My concern is that many people around me seem to have internalized these ideas, and would automatically bring them to communities they don't want to ruin. (As an example: Once in a while someone complains about the karma system on LW. It's usually not because they have the experience of discussions without karma being predictably better than discussions with karma. It's because karma makes differences among people, and -- as a cached thought -- any such system is evil.)

It's like using a biological weapon against your enemy, only to find later that you started a world-wide epidemic infecting everyone. In this specific case, we have a memetic outbreak destroying communities.

Comment author: Estarlio 15 May 2013 12:49:10PM *  -1 points [-]

I've not shared that observation. Most of the time when it looks like that's what's going on I generally find it to be a language problem. Take should, for instance, I've rarely found that to go well when trying to alter someone's behaviour, while suggesting that they were being mean or that something else might work better for them has generally worked quite well. But I do sympathise with your concern.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 June 2014 08:59:25AM -2 points [-]

Ban the sharing of emotions

''From the above evidence it can be concluded that exposure to the social sharing of an emotion is itself an emotion-eliciting event, it would follow that the listener too would later share that experience with other people. Christophe et Rimé called this subsequent phenomenon secondary social sharing of emotions.[31] In other words, the receiver of the social sharing will consequently experience some kind of emotion, so the receiver will then become a transmitter of the narration as a part of their emotional experience of hearing the story.

The first studies about secondary social sharing in 1997 confirmed the existence of this phenomenon.[31] In the first study, subjects reported particularly strong sentiments of interest and of surprise as a result of hearing someone recount an emotional experience. More notably, in 66.4% of the cases subjects shared the episode again to some third person. Furthermore, subjects who reported higher emotional intensity in response to hearing the emotional story shared their experience and the story more often after the situation. This suggested that the frequency of sharing grows in relation to the intensity of the emotions felt when listening. In a second study, Christophe et Rimé[31] proposed to subjects to recall an emotional experience according to an intensity level given (low, moderate, high). In this study, when emotional intensity was rated higher, more secondary social sharing occurred (79% of the cases). This again confirmed that more intense emotions were after hearing an account of an emotional experience, the greater the propensity for secondary social sharing.[1]''