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Eliezer_Yudkowsky comments on Applause Lights - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 10 October 2007 05:15:16PM 9 points [-]

BTW, if anyone wants to go to singinst.org and download the audio, you'll note that the actual event did not occur the exact way I remembered it, which should surprise no one here who knows anything about human memory. In particular, Cascio spontaneously provided the Genome Project example, rather than needing to be asked for it.

Generally, the reason I avoid identifying the characters in my examples is that it feels to me like I'm dumping all the sins of humankind upon their undeserving heads - I'm presenting one error, out of context, as exemplar for all the errors of this kind that have ever been committed, and showing none of the good qualities of the speaker - it would be like caricaturing them, if I called them by name.

That said, the reason why I picked this example is that, in fact, I was thinking of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" while writing this post. And as Orwell said:

In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.

If you simply issue a call for "democracy", why, no one can disagree with that - it would be like disagreeing with a call for apple pie. As soon as you propose a specific mechanism of democracy, whether it is Congress passing a law, or an AI polling people by phone, or government funding of a large research project whose final authority belongs to an appointed committee of eminent scientists, et cetera, people can disagree with that, because they can actually visualize the probable consequences.

So there is a tremendous motive to avoid criticism, to keep to the safely vague areas where people will applaud you, and not to make the concrete proposals where people might - gasp! - disagree.

Now I do not accuse you too much of this, because you did say "Genome Project" when challenged instead of squirting out an immense cloud of ink. But it is why I challenged you to define "democracy". I think that the real value in these discussions comes from people willing to make concrete proposals and expose themselves to criticism.

Comment author: capybaralet 30 September 2015 12:50:32AM 0 points [-]

Really bad example...

My impression is that democracy is seeing a sharp uptick in attacks from elites and intellectuals. There are many who now believe, e.g., that the US should be more like China (see: the success of Trump).

As the speaker noted, he expected his speech to be controversial in that crowd, and in a way, it was, as evidenced by this blog post :)