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jimrandomh comments on Politics is hard mode - Less Wrong

28 Post author: RobbBB 21 July 2014 10:14PM

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Comment author: jimrandomh 22 July 2014 12:23:25AM *  12 points [-]

While "politics is hard mode" is technically closer to the truth than "politics is the mind killer", it fails to serve the phrase's social function as well.

There is a common adage that good startup ideas are worthless. This is false. However, there are a lot of people with bad or not-unusually-good startup ideas, which they think are great, but which aren't worth spending time on. It is usually bad to tell people that their ideas suck, or that they aren't even worth listening to. So instead, we have a standard piece of wisdom that all startup ideas are worthless, and use this to deflect frustrating conversations in a way that won't cause offense.

When a political topic comes up, I look around the room. I predict who is likely to be triggered, I check my own mental state, and I predict how the conversation is likely to go. If I expect it to go badly, I say: politics is the mind killer. It's not you, it's everyone, now let's talk about something else.

(Sometimes I forget to do all that, and regret it. And sometimes "the room" is a public thread on the internet, which usually means fools will come crawling out of the woodwork.)

(Please don't explain this to people who would be hurt by that knowledge.)

Comment author: RobbBB 22 July 2014 01:59:12AM *  5 points [-]

Because 'politics is hard mode' is closer to the truth, and less likely to offend, it's harder to argue against.

(To the extent 'politics is the mind-killer' is the harder one to argue against, it's probably because it's hard to tell what that catchphrase means, so it's easier to just nod along. 'Something something politics bad thing. Gotcha.' But I'm not sure obscurantism is a good strategy here.)

And once 'politics is hard mode' is granted as a premise, it too conveys 'it's not you; it's all of us', and in a way that's harder to resist. Someone who proceeds to talk politics anyway is then making a claim to a special, privileged status: they're saying they're masterful enough at epistemic rationality to handle hard mode. They'll have to proceed with caution if they don't want to come off as arrogant and overconfident; and they'll have to be on their best behavior in light of having implicitly invited everyone else to judge whether they're as great as they claim to be. Egalitarian instincts can be used as tools for rationality.

If instead you get the group to accept 'politics is the mind-killer,' and some subset of the group starts talking about politics, they aren't claiming to have a high-status expertise, of the sort people can safely demand evidence for. Instead, they're claiming to lack a disease/disability/weakness/flaw, and if you question their lack of this flaw, you're insulting and attacking them.

Doubting someone's diseaselessness and doubting someone's extraordinary excellence feel very different, even if you have a belief floating around your brain to the effect 'lacking this disease would demand extraordinary excellence,' or 'this disease is humanly universal'. You can say 'we are all sinners', but in practice accusing someone of a sin, framed as a sin, is still a pretty big faux pas. Pulling it off effectively requires a lot of rapport / social superpowers / group cohesion. Part of the lesson I'd like to see generalized from my post is that we should replace fragile memes (ones that work well when they work, but fail gracelessly) with ones that fail better when something goes wrong.

Comment author: David_Gerard 22 July 2014 10:41:18AM 2 points [-]

While "politics is hard mode" is technically closer to the truth than "politics is the mind killer", it fails to serve the phrase's social function as well.

I concur with the problem assessment: its social function in practice is to assure the group that other people's politics are mindkilled, whereas their own politics are just the normal background.

This has a number of fairly obvious problems.

Being mindkilled feels from the inside like clear thinking.

Comment author: Lumifer 22 July 2014 03:11:18PM 10 points [-]

Being mindkilled feels from the inside like clear thinking.

Seems to me that being mindkilled feels from the inside like being so sure about something that no thinking is necessary.

Comment author: David_Gerard 22 July 2014 08:52:29PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I mean it feels like the obvious results of clear thinking, even if it was effectively cut'n'pasted in.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 July 2014 12:39:04PM 4 points [-]

Being mindkilled feels from the inside like clear thinking.

Not exactly. Clear thinking often has all those telltale feelings of humility where I change my mind and learn new things. Unfortunately most of our conclusions are cached and being mindkilled makes us incapable of (or uninterested in) distinguishing between cached clear thoughts, cached mind-killed conclusions or new mind-killed reasoning created on the fly.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 23 July 2014 01:59:14AM *  3 points [-]

I concur with the problem assessment: its social function in practice is to assure the group that other people's politics are mindkilled, whereas their own politics are just the normal background.

Maybe not. Only slightly more charitably, they may admit that they get mind killed in political arguments as well. Everyone does, there's no point in discussing it, no one will ever change their minds, etc.

That would be the usual taboo against arguing about strongly held views, whether religion, politics, morality, etc.

I'd emphasize that the phrase tends to only be applied to arguments with The Other, not discussions with Our Side, though logically the other side of the pancake would have the same issue. I predict that a lot of people who use the phrase against political discussion here, still have tons of political discussions with like minded people.

Fundamentally, it's a general memetic protection tactic, that successfully prevents serious encounters with conflicting memeplexes. Christianity has "never argue with the Devil, he's smarter than you and has had more practice in arguing". Other ideologies find similar strategies to keep the Bad Ideas away. The ideas that possess people, are the ones that work to keep them.