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Yvain comments on Politics is hard mode - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: Yvain 22 July 2014 04:21:27AM *  49 points [-]

"Hard mode" sounds too metal. The proper response to "X is hard mode" is "Bring it on!"

Therefore I object to "politics is hard mode" for the same reason I object to "driving a car with your eyes closed is hard mode". Both statements are true, but phrased to produce maximum damage.

There's also a way that "politics is hard mode" is worse than playing a video game on hard mode, or driving a car on hard mode. If you play the video game and fail, you know and you can switch back to an easier setting. If you drive a car in "hard mode" and crash into a tree, you know you should keep your eyes open the next time.

If you discuss politics in "hard mode", you can go your entire life being totally mind-killed (yes! I said it!) and just think everyone else is wrong, doing more and more damage each time you open your mouth and destroying every community you come in contact with.

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"? There may be a tiny handful of people wise enough to try it - and ironically, those are probably the same handful who have a tiny chance of navigating the minefield. Everyone else is just going to say "No, I'm high-enough level, YOU'RE the one who needs to bow out!"

Both "hard mode" and "mind-killer" are intended to convey a sense of danger, but the first conveys a fun, exciting danger that cool people should engage with as much as possible in order to prove their worth, and the latter conveys an extreme danger that can ruin everything and which not only clouds your faculties but clouds the faculty to realize that your faculties are clouded. As such, I think "mind-killer" is the better phrase.

EDIT: More succintly: both phrases mean the same thing, but with different connotations. "Hard mode" sounds like we should accord more status to politics, "mind-killer" sounds like we should accord less. I feel like incentivizing more politics is a bad idea and will justify this if anyone disagrees.

Comment author: Lumifer 22 July 2014 03:08:14PM 12 points [-]

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"?

I use the phrase "I don't know enough about this to have an opinion" in real life on a pretty regular basis.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 July 2014 01:06:07PM *  1 point [-]

"I don't know": About a hundred times in 14 months.

Comment author: Benito 22 July 2014 12:54:36PM 2 points [-]

I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion

Actually, I think one good way of getting the message across that doesn't give the impression of looking down on the other person might be to say "I'm sorry, I don't think I'm able to think clearly enough about politics. It's the mind-killer." Showing that it effects you is probably a better way of using the phrase.

Comment author: RobbBB 22 July 2014 07:32:59PM 4 points [-]

I like this approach. Better still is 'it mind-kills me,' since 'it's the mind-killer' invites universal generalization and can always be read as a veiled attack. 'X is the stupidity-bringer' just isn't safe grammatically.

Comment author: khafra 22 July 2014 11:54:37AM 2 points [-]

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"?

Yes, this is what I thought of when I read this:

In the same thread, Andrew Mahone added, “Using it in that sneering way, Miri, seems just like a faux-rationalist version of ‘Oh, I don’t bother with politics.’ It’s just another way of looking down on any concerns larger than oneself as somehow dirty, only now, you know, rationalist dirty.”

It's not that politics isn't important to get right, it's just that talking about has negative expected value. Nearly every political argument between two people makes at least one person further entrenched in error.

Maybe "politics is like that scene in a thriller where the two guys are fighting to reach a single gun; but in this case the handle and trigger are actually poisoned."

Comment author: roystgnr 22 July 2014 02:20:27PM 8 points [-]

"politics is like that scene in a thriller where the two guys are fighting to reach a single gun; but in this case the handle and trigger are actually poisoned."

If we're looking for simple, popular, fictional metaphors for the importance and danger of politics, it's convenient that Peter Jackson adapted one into a blockbuster trilogy that sold three billion dollars worth of tickets.

Politics is my precious...

Comment author: Vulture 23 July 2014 04:48:29PM 3 points [-]

Initial reaction: Yeah! Politics is the one ring! That's way more succinct!

30 seconds later: "Politics is the One Ring" - waaaiit, this doesn't quite seem like an accurate representation of the proper incentive structure....

Comment author: Lumifer 23 July 2014 05:00:59PM *  1 point [-]

Politics is my precious...

So -- the single most important thing in the world? Worth any sacrifice?

I don't think this metaphor works well...

Comment author: roystgnr 23 July 2014 08:36:13PM 1 point [-]

Worth any sacrifice not to use for itself, but to keep its full potential power from being used against you. As for "the single most important thing in the world", not quite, but "permanent stagnation under totalitarianism" is usually (IMHO correctly) near the top of lists of existential risks.

Comment author: RobbBB 22 July 2014 05:32:54AM *  5 points [-]

One way of beginning to address that problem might be to use 'X is hard mode' as a schema for a lot of other things people have trouble talking about. It can also be agent-relative; 'sorry, eugenics is hard mode for me' is a nice stock-phrase alternative to 'sorry, I find eugenics triggering' (which might be objectionable if the 'trigger' isn't literally a PTSD trigger; or, if it is a PTSD trigger, the sufferer might not want to divulge that much). If the group of common 'hard modes' includes a lot of things that are more intuitively unsavory than 'politics', there's less bravado risk.

Though I don't think bravado is a very large concern, here and now and in practice. (At least compared to the kinds of things I tend to worry about re group norms.) Regarding politics, your comment is more cynical than my post; but regarding memes and conversation, I think my post is the more cynical. Neither of us trusts people to talk politics well, but I also don't trust people to talk about not-talking-about-politics well. So I suggested a meme that I think is useful, but also can fail gracefully in normal, everyday usage.

LW is not at risk anytime soon of falling in love with politics, but it is at risk of appearing arrogant, dismissive, insulting, thoughtlessly-opposed-to-local-politics-and-groupcraft, etc. Its most widely used memes should probably be useful for outreach and for teaching new ideas -- people get exposed to LW through sloppy, improvised conversations, at least as much as through carefully crafted blog posts -- not just useful for making known facts more introspectively salient to people who already know all the fundamentals. (Of course, it'd be nice if something served both purposes.)

I can see 'politics is the mind-killer' being fairly useful to a fan of Dune who's familiar with the heuristics and biases literature (especially confirmation bias, sophistication effects, motivated reasoning, bias blind spots), has read some of your and Eliezer's writing about politics, and is entering the discussion feeling extremely friendly, sympathetic, and non-defensive. That's why I mentioned that 'politics is the mind-killer' might be a useful internal mantra, like 'politics is SPIDERS'.

But I don't think spiders or mind-kill is a useful meme for people who haven't internalized the sequences. (Including people on LW; 22% of people who took the last LW survey said they'd read at most ~25% of the sequences.) 'Mindkill' is likelier to make people authentically mad than authentically scared; if it makes them scared it probably won't be for the right reasons; and when I run mental simulations of chatroom or meet-up conversations, I have an easy time envisioning a conversation that's starting to go off the rails staying unproductive, or getting worse, because someone said 'you guys are getting mind-killed!' or 'psh, don't you know that politics is the mind-killer!'. (And people who've actually overheard the term seem often to agree with my impression.)

Maybe we aren't disagreeing bigly, but are primarily intuiting different typical usage scenarios for stock LW-isms? Mental mantra and Secret Word of Power, v. something you throw out in mixed company or use to convey new information to someone. I envision "politics is hard mode" serving a social role more than a mnemonic one, to guide conversation and show newbies the ropes. It's OK if it doesn't try to encode an explicit warning 'ALSO HARD MODE IS A LOT HARDER THAN YOU THINK, AND PEOPLE CAN DIE, AND AHHHHH', because the way the mantra is being used (to pivot the group away from a political discussion) conveys that information, plus people can optionally talk about all that stuff when it's strategic to do so, but eschew bringing that point up if all they really want to convey is 'politics is epistemically hard; let's do something easier'. Cutting memes up into their atomic sub-ideas is useful for mental focus, but also for incremental pedagogy.

It's the sort of thing that could work on someone who hasn't heard the idea 'politics is the mind-killer' before, or has heard it but hasn't fully understood it, or understands it but doesn't fully agree with or accept it. I'm interested in talking to at least some of those people.

Comment author: Yvain 22 July 2014 05:00:45PM *  37 points [-]

LW is not at risk anytime soon of falling in love with politics, but it is at risk of appearing arrogant, dismissive, insulting, thoughtlessly-opposed-to-local-politics-and-groupcraft, etc.

This might be the crux of our disagreement.

I don't have statistics for Less Wrong, but here are some for SSC. The topic is "median number of page views for different types of post throughout 2014".

As you can see, interest in charity and statistics is the lowest, followed by interest in transhumanism and rationality. Politics is the highest of the group that clusters around the 3000s. Then comes "race and gender" at 8000, and "things i will regret writing" (my tag for very controversial political rants that will make a lot of people very angry) at 16000, ie about five times the level for rationality or transhumanism.

This seems to correspond to how things work on Less Wrong, where for example a basic introduction of misogyny and mansplaining got almost twice as many comments as Anna's massive and brilliant post resolving a bunch of philosophy of mind issues and more than three times as many as Luke's heavily researched primer on fighting procrastination.

Not to mention that disaster with Eugene was politically based. I'm pretty sure nobody mass-downvotes because someone else disagrees with them about GiveWell.

Less Wrong is massively at risk of falling in love with politics. Politics is much more interesting and attention-sucking than working on important foundational questions, and as soon as we relax the taboo on it we are doomed. On the other hand, most of the people who say we're "arrogant" will find a reason to think so no matter how we phrase things. I mean, what happens when they're okay with our pithy slogan on politics, look at the site, and figure out what we actually believe?

That having been said, if you've been doing a lot of public relations work and empirically find a lot of people are turned off by the way "politics is the mind-killer" is used in practice, I can't tell you you're wrong. I just hope that however you choose to push the same idea doesn't result in a sudden influx of people who think politics is great and are anxious to prove they're capable of "hard mode".

Comment author: RobbBB 23 July 2014 11:03:36AM *  1 point [-]

It sounds like we agree it'd be bad for LW to go political, but we're worrying about different scenarios. Some of my concerns:

  • 'Politics is the mind-killer', as most people use it, carries approximately the same content as 'boo politics'. If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we're more likely to alienate people with the connections and expertise needed to handle politically charged blow-ups, group dynamics, etc. well. From what I can tell, when organizations, communities, and movements avoid getting dragged through the mud due to misinformation being circulated online, it's frequently because they have friends who are skilled or connected e.g. at social media, diplomacy / PR.

Having fully general counterarguments against your hated enemies, and lots of blog posts readying your troops for battle with those hated enemies, is not generally a winning way to avoid getting into lots of messy time-wasting fights. On my understanding, cultivating targeted social skills/habits (for preventing, diffusing, and redirecting conflict) and allies/connections works better.

  • If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we'll thereby by setting ourselves up as the Anti-Politics Tribe, a hated enemy of the Politics Tribes. The Politics Tribes are precisely the people we're trying to avoid picking fights with, especially not fights framed as tribalistic no-holds-barred absolutist sloganeering shouting matches.

Going meta is not a secure safeguard; it just means that any political partisan or activist community can potentially object or take offense, since we're now talking about politics as a totality.

most of the people who say we're "arrogant" will find a reason to think so no matter how we phrase things.

That's not my experience, but if that's true, then a lot of the people I'm interested in building ties to are in that high-value has-a-nuanced-position minority. My own opinion of LW shifts up and down by increments based on how nice I see people being, and I see a lot of my friends fluctuating up and down in opinion based on incidents like 'this person condescended to me', 'I read this extremely insightful blog post', etc.

Comment author: Yvain 24 July 2014 01:05:22AM *  12 points [-]

Politics is the mind-killer', as most people use it, carries approximately the same content as 'boo politics'. If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we're more likely to alienate people with the connections and expertise needed to handle politically charged blow-ups, group dynamics, etc. well.

I think this conflates "people who are good at group dynamics" and "people who argue a lot about abortion" into the category "politics people". I doubt there is much of a correlation between the two categories. If we really wanted people who were good at handling these sorts of things, I would look for business managers, sports team captains, and people with nonprofit experience before I started looking for people marked by an interest in politics.

From what I can tell, when organizations, communities, and movements avoid getting dragged through the mud due to misinformation being circulated online, it's frequently because they have friends who are skilled or connected e.g. at social media, diplomacy / PR.

Huh. That's neither of the two things I previously accused you of conflating. It's a third thing.

Having fully general counterarguments against your hated enemies, and lots of blog posts readying your troops for battle with those hated enemies, is not generally a winning way to avoid getting into lots of messy time-wasting fights. If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we'll thereby by setting ourselves up as the Anti-Politics Tribe, a hated enemy of the Politics Tribes. The Politics Tribes are precisely the people we're trying to avoid picking fights with, especially not fights framed as tribalistic no-holds-barred absolutist sloganeering shouting matches.

Compare "We can't be against war in the Middle East, or else the Middle-Eastern-War-Fighting-Tribe will recognize us as their hated enemy and destroy us." This is not how it works. The Israelis dislike the Palestinians. The Palestinians dislike the Israelis. There is not a Middle-Eastern-War-Fighting-Tribe, composed of Israelis and Palestinians in equal parts, which values war in the Middle East as a terminal value and coordinates to defend it against its detractors.

There is no Politics Tribe who get offended by criticizing politics. There are various political groups who get offended if you allow politics and then some tiny subcomponent of you associates with the wrong side.

I've previously speculated that tribalism is so inescapable that the only way to have any hope of working towards correct beliefs rather than tribal signaling is founding a tribe around epistemic virtue. As such, I think you're right that we might sort of be starting an Anti-Politics Tribe, insofar as epistemic virtue and standard partisan politics don't mix. But I don't think anyone is going to start identifying as the Anti-Epistemic-Virtue Tribe to oppose us.

That's not my experience, but if that's true, then a lot of the people I'm interested in building ties to are in that high-value has-a-nuanced-position minority.

Is it fair for me to describe your goal as trying to shift our self-presentation to appeal to highly-political people?

I think we can both agree that we shouldn't exclude anyone a priori based on their meta-level beliefs about politics.

But I am also getting the impression that you think highly-political people are especially high value, whereas I think they are especially low value.

Consider the situation of a meetup group in a sketchy part of town. Occasionally there is gang violence nearby, but the meetup group is made up of nice people and has thus far mostly avoided it.

A member of the group has a bright idea. "Let's try especially hard to recruit hardened gangsters to our group. After all, they are extremely knowledgeable in gang violence and can protect us if any violence comes our way. At the very least, they can tell us from a position of experience what we should do to minimize our risk."

There is some truth to that argument.

But there's the counterargument that having lots of hardened gangsters in a group might make it a much more likely target for gang violence, and that inviting them in puts everyone at much greater risk.

More important, there's another counterargument that hardened gangsters are often violent people, and even if they don't provoke conflicts with gangsters outside the group, the next time the group has an argument about what kind of soda to bring to the meetup they might find that being full of hardened gangsters from opposing gangs makes it really hard to solve problems peacefully and cooperatively.

I think importing a lot of political people is likely to have the same dynamics - increased threat of violence from outside, increased threat of conflict from within. We already dodged a huge from-outside-bullet when most of the neoreactionaries moved over to More Right and Eliezer very publicly denied having any idea what they were talking about, thus denying Slate the "weird technolibertarian nerds probably in bed with crazy racists" article we both know they would have loved to write. And we already had to ban Eugene - a man interested in politics if ever there was one - for causing internal strife in a way that took years to detect and resolve and probably drove away a lot of good people. Do we really want to select our recruitment efforts for people with the same risk profile?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 July 2014 08:59:35AM *  6 points [-]

There is no Politics Tribe who get offended by criticizing politics. There are various political groups who get offended if you allow politics and then some tiny subcomponent of you associates with the wrong side.

Unfortunately, it's more complicated than this. There are tribes who believe that you should automatically join them... and if you refuse to join them at least partially, for whatever reason (including an explanation that as a matter of principle you ignore such requests from all tribes), then in their eyes you have kinda joined the enemy side. Because there is only their side and the enemy side, and no one can be neutral. Saying "I am neutral" is just a bullshit for "sorry, I have already joined the enemy side, I just want to avoid a direct conflict with you personally". These people are offended by criticizing politics, and will even accuse you of hypocrisy: how can you criticize politics, when your actions (your refusal to join us) make it obvious that you support the enemy side?

An explanation they will give you is probably something like this: In a conflict between a stronger side and a weaker side, a decision to stay neutral is de facto a decision that the stronger side should win. In this metaphor, they are the weaker side, and their perceived enemy is the stronger side; so if you don't join them, you support the enemy.

One thing that doesn't quite fit is this: If you are the weaker side, how is it possible that you come and bully me, and expect me to immediately give up? This doesn't seem like a typical behavior or weaker people surrounded by stronger people. (Possible explanation: This side is locally strong here, for some definition of "here", but the enemy side is stronger globally.)

Comment author: wedrifid 24 July 2014 11:11:09AM 4 points [-]

There are tribes who believe that you should automatically join them... and if you refuse to join them at least partially, for whatever reason (including an explanation that as a matter of principle you ignore such requests from all tribes), then in their eyes you have kinda joined the enemy side

You are right, and I am entirely comfortable with such tribes being treated as enemies (or at least opposed or dismissed contemptuously in that particular regard).

One thing that doesn't quite fit is this: If you are the weaker side, how is it possible that you come and bully me, and expect me to immediately give up? This doesn't seem like a typical behavior or weaker people surrounded by stronger people. (Possible explanation: This side is locally strong here, for some definition of "here", but the enemy side is stronger globally.)

Another explanation could be that the side is dominant in one form of battle (moralizing) but weak at another kind (economic power, prestige, literal battle) and wish to play to their strengths. More often it is merely the already powerful bullying whoever they can. Discrimination is worst against subgroups that have not formed alliances and mobilised sufficiently to have made discrimination them a legitimate moral claim. (Short people?)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 July 2014 12:00:08PM *  2 points [-]

Discrimination is worst against subgroups that have not formed alliances and mobilised sufficiently to have made discrimination them a legitimate moral claim. (Short people?)

Asians in USA (internment camps, college quotas...) They deal with discrimination by working harder, which doesn't bring them media attention, but maybe it is a winning strategy in long term.

Also, no one cares about Asians being underrepresented on LW. 這不公平!

Comment author: Azathoth123 25 July 2014 02:39:51AM 4 points [-]

Also, no one cares about Asians being underrepresented on LW.

It is interesting the unlike the other underrepresented groups, this difference isn't explained by differences in IQ, and in fact becomes more mysterious. I suspect the cause is the large emphasis on conformity in Asian culture (and possibly generic adaptations to it).

Comment author: Alejandro1 24 July 2014 01:01:26PM -1 points [-]

One thing that doesn't quite fit is this: If you are the weaker side, how is it possible that you come and bully me, and expect me to immediately give up? This doesn't seem like a typical behavior or weaker people surrounded by stronger people. (Possible explanation: This side is locally strong here, for some definition of "here", but the enemy side is stronger globally.)

Another explanation could be that the side is dominant in one form of battle (moralizing) but weak at another kind (economic power, prestige, literal battle) and wish to play to their strengths.

See also Yvain on social vs. structural power.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 July 2014 10:43:56PM 0 points [-]

See also Yvain on social vs. structural power.

Certainly related. I'd perhaps categorise the core battle here as between different forms of social power but the same kind of breakdown of power kinds applies. Sometimes there is bleed-over into structural power as well (for both 'sides' at various times.)

Comment author: Lexico 24 July 2014 03:18:04AM *  1 point [-]

I do think there exist quite a large number of groups who would fall into the category of the politics tribe. In fact from what I've seen much of the spectrum of social activists.

From there point of view they may identify the status quo that is considered apolitical from the main stream point of view, to in fact have harmful effects for some. On these issues they identify 3 groups.

Those who agree with them that the status quo has issues. Those who disagree and wish to actively maintain the status quo. Those who have not engaged with the issue but inadvertently are supporting their political enemies due to Status Quo Bias

Comment author: Lexico 24 July 2014 03:10:03AM -1 points [-]

I think at least in my case, what associations I have behind the symbol "politics" is a bit different from the way you view it. I see how your arguments are consistent from that perspective, so I think that a lot of the difference in view might come from that difference.

In my view something that is political need not be something related to any formal party politics, but includes the set of any group power dynamics.

In my case I can imagine political people as both people who are interested in partisan conflicts, but also I would consider the main skill of managers of people to fundamentally be to manage the politics of the group.

Comment author: Lexico 22 July 2014 06:33:26PM 1 point [-]

I wonder if the number of comments might be a better heuristic for measuring the variance in people's perspective on the article. If you look at those 3 examples, the first had the most comments, but the least upvotes and lowest percentage positive.

If someone feels that they are in agreement and their viewpoint is already present in the discussion they might have a lower likelihood of adding another comment, but if there is a larger variance in the viewpoints on an issue than people would be more likely to have what they feel is unique information to add to the discussion.

Comment author: Lexico 22 July 2014 07:07:22PM 0 points [-]

As a continuation of that idea though. One of the prerequisites of factionalization / triblization is the existence in enough variance in viewpoints to create distinct independent clusters. Others in the same cluster become the in group, and those outside of the cluster become the out group.

However, while variance is required for clustering, clustering isn't always present with high variance. You can still have more uniform distributions with large spreads.

Being aware that clustering effects are more likely in areas of high variance seems to me to a a good heuristic to internalize.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 22 July 2014 11:57:32AM *  3 points [-]

It can also be agent-relative; 'sorry, eugenics is hard mode for me' is a nice stock-phrase alternative to 'sorry, I find eugenics triggering'

Or maybe just "sorry, I find it difficult to discuss eugenics calmly"?

Comment author: Punoxysm 22 July 2014 05:01:36PM *  1 point [-]

Personally, I think mind-killer is jargony, hard mode less so, and hard mode can also convey the idea that you should be humble when approaching that discussion, that you should take more seriously an "I think we're getting off track" or "I think we are talking around some fundamentally different assumptions" from other discussants.

And no, the consequences of talking about politics are not that grave. I mean you seem to blog about politics all the time and you have not yet imploded.

Comment author: DaFranker 28 July 2014 03:48:00PM 0 points [-]

And no, the consequences of talking about politics are not that grave. I mean you seem to blog about politics all the time and you have not yet imploded.

The consequences of talking about politics have historically made empire-sweeping changes about religion, slavery, gender, warfare, welfare, culture, honor, social stigma, social divide, economics, prosperity, technology, and even politics itself!

Talking about politics has also started wars and made people start involving themselves in the slave trade and other such unhappy things.

And because the Internet Law calls for it: Talking about politics is what caused Hitler to become propped up by other people to the authority he had and what caused other people to listen to him and do those things I don't need to mention.

Every political fanatic you've ever heard of, who showed up in a newspaper because he burned down a preschool in the name of [insert ideology], got to the point of doing that because of people talking about politics (or sufficiently politics-like topics).

I think the consequences are grave enough to warrant Yvain's level of concern.

Comment author: adam_strandberg 31 July 2014 11:31:11PM 0 points [-]

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"? There may be a tiny handful of people wise enough to try it.

This is precisely why people should be encouraged to do it more. I've found that the more you admit to a lack of ability where you don't have the ability, the more people are willing to listen to you where you do.

I also see interesting parallels to the relationship between skeptics and pseudoscience, where we replace skeptics -> rationalists, pseudoscience -> religion. Namely, "things that look like politics are the mindkiller" works as "things that look like pseudoscience are obviously dumb". It provides an opportunity to view yourself as smarter than other people without thinking too hard about the issue.