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TheOtherDave comments on Applause Lights - Less Wrong

89 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 September 2007 06:31PM

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Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 February 2011 05:57:52PM 3 points [-]

Upvoted because I endorse the willingness to notice one's own biases.

So, next question, if you're willing: what are three things you could do to reduce the degree to which this sort of empty rhetoric leads you to endorse the speaker?

Comment author: Polymeron 23 February 2011 07:02:48PM *  5 points [-]

TheOtherDave, that is a very constructive approach :)

I am already prone to requiring policy specifics from politicians and being dissatisfied with vague points. But one thing I (and many others) do have is a tendency to note, when hearing a few specifics in a sea of "general direction" applause cues, is that my own preference for solutions is compatible with the speech; and from compatibility, I get hope that they would implement it - despite a lack of evidence that they're even aware of such a solution, much less want to implement it. So this is something to be cautious of and to note mid-speech.

I could go further and try to strike from mental record anything that isn't specifics, making a point-by-point list of substantive statements. An easy way to do this is ask "is anyone really considering doing otherwise? No? Then it doesn't count. Yes? Then why are they?" This method might not always be wise - motivations and beliefs are also important in trying to predict a politician's future choices they did not yet address, and the speech can pronounce those. However it would be a good mental exercise when trying to evaluate positions on a specific policy question.

Lastly, try to separate emotional jargon from actual policy. If your politician says we "need to be prepared for the 21st century", recognize the fuzzy excitement that this statement gives you and squash it - it's caused by the phrase "21st century" being linked in your mind with progress and technology. Wait until that politician says they're going to specifically invest in technological literacy of 8th graders before you give it any significance, and treat it as suspect until then. (This is very similar to the first thing I suggested, except it focuses on recognizing an immediately triggered emotion in response to a phrase, rather than your own mind building scenarios which then in turn excite you).

I'll try to remember all that for the next speech I hear :P

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 February 2011 08:12:33PM 4 points [-]

I definitely endorse tracking specific proposals/substantive assertions, and explicitly labeling vague or empty assertions that nevertheless elicit positive feelings or invite you to project your own preferences onto the speaker.

I definitely endorse asking the "is anyone really considering doing otherwise, and why?" question.

Something I also find useful is explicitly labeling implied affiliations.

E.g., consider the difference between "we need to prepare our children with the tools they need to be leaders in the 21st century," versus "we need to instill our children with the values they need to make the right choices in the 21st century." They are both empty statements -- I mean, who would ever claim otherwise? -- but in the U.S. today the former signals affiliation with teachers and thereby implies support for public schools, education funding, etc., while the latter signals something I understand less clearly.

And those in turn signal alliances with major political parties, because it's understood by most U.S. voters that party A is more closely tied to education and party B to values.

In fact, even if the statement includes a specific proposal, it is often worth labeling the implied affiliation.

Comment author: pnrjulius 19 May 2012 05:48:42AM 0 points [-]

It's interesting; with the connotations and associations in our discourse, I can actually make some predictions about planned policies from those two supposedly "empty" statements.

The former is probably going to spend more money on math and science education.

The latter is probably going to fund "faith-based initiatives" or something similarly silly and religious (but I repeat myself), because "values" in American politics is almost always code for "conservative Evangelical Christianity".

So does this mean that they really aren't empty at all?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 19 May 2012 02:47:11PM 0 points [-]

Well, yes, I chose those statements precisely because of their connotative affiliations.

As for whether they're really empty... (shrug).

In ordinary conversation I would consider "I like likable things!" an empty statement, but of course it conveys an enormous amount of information: that I am capable of constructing a grammatical English sentence, for example, which the Vast majority of equivalent-mass aggregations of particles in the universe are not. I can use a different term to describe that category of statement if this one is too ambiguous.