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Viliam_Bur comments on Politics is hard mode - Less Wrong

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

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Comment author: Viliam_Bur 22 July 2014 12:44:13PM *  3 points [-]

And selectively outlawing personal stuff gets even messier. Last year, daenerys shared anonymized stories from women, including several that discussed past experiences where the writer had been attacked or made to feel unsafe. If those discussions are made off-limits because they relate to gender and are therefore ‘political,’ some folks may take away the message that they aren’t allowed to talk about, e.g., some harmful or alienating norm they see at meet-ups.

Let me say that:
a) those stories were published, in multiple articles, and there was a big debate about them, and
b) some objections were not against the stories per se, but about the way daenerys used them to make a political point.

So I think this part doesn't prove your point. Instead of "selectively outlawing personal stuff" it seems to me like a case of not outlawing personal stuff even when it is blatantly used for a political purpose; just pointing out that the political purpose is obvious to the readers.

Comment author: RobbBB 23 July 2014 10:24:32AM 2 points [-]

I'm not claiming LW is outlawing politics. I cited daenerys because Scott used her posts as examples of things that don't belong on LW because it's overly political. I'm also not claiming LW shouldn't go ahead and outlaw politics -- just noting that we'd have to be very careful about how we define 'politics' and how we implement such a policy.

Comment author: David_Gerard 22 July 2014 08:55:19PM *  1 point [-]

Define "political purpose" in this context, and distinguish from definition of "not a political purpose".

(Your response seems to pattern-match regarding their concern for problems that happen to them personally as "political" because those problems don't happen to you, but I can't point to anything that would let me reasonably directly assert that about you.)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 23 July 2014 09:20:12AM *  10 points [-]

I am a member of a political tribe. We believe that there exists a powerful opposing tribe that oppresses women. Our proposed solution is to give more power to members of our tribe, so that we can improve the situation for women.

(The analysis of the oppression of women may be correct, incorrect, or partially correct. However, as a rational member of homo sapiens I should be aware that I run on a corrupted hardware which has "...and therefore my tribe should be given more power" pretty much hardwired as the bottom line, so any analysis that leads to this conclusion has a decent chance to be a rationalization.)

Our preferred way of getting more power is preventing the members of the opposing tribe from expressing their opinions, and punishing them if they do. I demand that LW make this a community norm. LW refuses to comply. I realize that LW is not automatically my ally. So I try to find an argument that will make LW believe that the best way to reach their goals is to give my tribe more power.

One strategy that our tribe uses successfully a lot is to focus on the experiences of women, excluding the experiences of men. The strategy works, because if women really have a worse situation, this will make it visible, but even if both women and men have a bad situation, only the bad situation of women will be visible, so we will still get the impression that women have it worse. Also, by focusing on "women have it bad" part we are taking attention away from a debate whether giving our tribe more power is really the optimal solution for helping women.

(There are also known ways to react to an opposition here: If someone tries to include the experiences of men, we accuse them of derailing the debate. Or claim that this is not an "opression olympics", although in fact it is actually an oppression olympics where only one side is allowed to participate.)

So, I ask women on LW to send me anonymously their stories, and I publish them in a series of articles. This is the strategy that works, and it also helps to establish me as a speaker for these women. As much as LW members care about their fellow female readers, I can now start making demands in their name, even without their explicit support for my specific demands, because that part is already implied connotationally.

...uhm... does this make it more clear how this is "political"?

On the surface, it is about helping women. But the only acceptable way of helping women, the only strategy worth debating, is to give my tribe more power.

(One way to realize this is to imagine whether I would be satisfied if suddenly a lot of women would become high-status on LW, but none of them would be a member of my tribe. Imagine one smart neoreactionary lady, one smart bio-realist lady, and dozen smart ladies who refuse to take any political sides because they believe that politics is the mindkiller. All of them writing great, highly upvoted articles, and having a lot of support in the discussion; not hiding their feminity, but also not making it a political argument for anything.)

Comment author: wedrifid 23 July 2014 12:42:13PM 6 points [-]

That was one of the best practical analyses of human 'morality' in practice that I've ever seen (at the comment level).

The standard disclaimer here is that all human social behaviour described in terms of the pragmatic motivations and cause and effect will tend to sound abhorrent to the majority of the people who are deeply embedded into the game. Or, I should say, it will sound incomprehensible to the majority of people but among those sufficiently intelligent and literate it will sound abhorrent (or sometimes merely uncouth or banal).

Villiam would have no trouble describing the political activism inherent in his own comment in similar crude terms. By my interpretation the lesson here isn't "Daenerys is bad" but instead it is a foundational primer on moral politics. To the extent that message is lost because it happens to be on one side of a political battle I again curse the Mind Killer.

Comment author: David_Gerard 23 July 2014 12:37:06PM *  0 points [-]

...uhm... does this make it more clear how this is "political"?

Yes, but only in the sense that pretty much everything that impacts real life is political.

The other problem is when people have discussions they consider "nonpolitical", but other people consider "political". You'll see this one play out on techie sites quite a lot.

Comment author: ChristianKl 23 July 2014 10:52:40PM 2 points [-]

Yes, but only in the sense that pretty much everything that impacts real life is political.

Not everything that effects real life breaks down into tribalism.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 23 July 2014 07:20:06PM 1 point [-]

In some sense you are right. But not everything that impacts real life is an obvious power grab. Here are a few things one could try as solutions to the "women as a group are underrepresented in rationalist groups (possibly because they don't feel welcome)" problem:

  • Emphasise the work already done by women in the rationalist community. For example, make a collection of online videos of female rationalists giving lectures on rationality / AI topics. (This could encourage any woman hesitating about making her own contribution.)

  • Write an article or a series of articles about women who contributed significantly to mathematics / computer science / heuristics and biases / AI. (Just do your research well, and instead of "Ada Lovelace invented programming" meme write something about Grace Hopper.)

  • Make a "Women Debate Thread" on LW, a space for women to express their opinions and experiences. Men can join the debate only by linking a comment from an Open Thread. Alternatively, men can join only 24 hours after the thread was created, and even then cannot post top-level comments. (Let those women speak for themselves; they don't need anyone to be their speaker.)

There are also some good off-line ideas (invite a female scientist to give a lecture at the meetup; make a presentation of rationalist community at some school with mostly female students; create a rationality seminar specially for women... you could probably get some grant money for that), but I guess it's not fair to ask that much on a website where most people participate only virtually. Just saying that if making a rationalist community a space for women is very important for someone, there is a way.

How are these suggestions different? Seems to me the main difference is that they don't have an enemy. There is no blaming anyone, attacking anyone, asking the LW community to take a side against anyone. I believe almost all LW readers would be okay with them (okay, the third one would be more controversial), and they don't violate the LW soft taboo on politics.

Yes, under some definitions, increasing female presence on LW or making women more comfortable on LW is a political goal. But I believe most people here wouldn't object against that goal. The objection is against specific methods of achieving this goal.

Comment author: Azathoth123 24 July 2014 04:30:54AM 3 points [-]

Your examples have the same problem that you criticized daenerys for:

focus on the experiences of women, excluding the experiences of men.

Your first two examples amount to focusing of the accomplishments and contributions of women at the expense of the (much larger) accomplishments and contributions of men.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 July 2014 11:00:50AM *  1 point [-]

Technically you are right, but there is a difference in context:

Saying "Grace Hopper wrote a COBOL compiler" can show some readers that "some women made significant contributions to computer science", but is unlikely to make them think that all (or majority of) significant contributions were done by women.

(Okay, I can imagine doing that in a crazy way which could completely confuse a very naive reader... but I don't suspect anyone would do this on LW, or that such kind of a naive reader could survive on LW.)

But in internet debates... well, sometimes I have this impression that some people really do believe that experiences like "people devalue my opinions because of my gender or because of my looks" are specifically female experiences, as opposed to generally human experiences. Then a discussion about this kind of experiences, focused only on women, serves to strenghten this prejudice. -- It would be an equivalent of saying "please send me a list of computer languages and people who wrote their compilers, but only if those authors are men". Then publishing the list to show everyone that writing compilers is a uniquely male experience.

Comment author: Azathoth123 25 July 2014 02:52:27AM 2 points [-]

Saying "Grace Hopper wrote a COBOL compiler" can show some readers that "some women made significant contributions to computer science", but is unlikely to make them think that all (or majority of) significant contributions were done by women.

Probably not, but it might make them think that a significant minority (or even nearly 50%) of contributions were done by women, which is false.

Comment author: David_Gerard 23 July 2014 08:54:15PM 0 points [-]

Are you familiar with the tone argument? In the sort of political problem you are describing, it's claiming that an apparent objection to a viewpoint is actually an objection to the way the arguments are made. This tends not to convince people who don't already agree with the arguer.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 24 July 2014 10:16:30AM *  2 points [-]

No, the "pleasant tone" is a strawman. I am speaking about a difference between:

a) suggesting to fix a problem directly; and

b) suggesting that your tribe should be given more power, and then your tribe will fix the problem.

The proponents of the latter solution may believe that all solutions of the former type are obviously doomed to fail, thus they are not even worth considering. (Motivated stopping.) Or even invent rationalizations about how all solutions that don't give more power to their tribe would actually make the whole problem worse.

EDIT: There is usually also a lack of specific details. Let's say that every mention of politically incorrect topics on LW would be banned, and that feminism would become an official belief and moderation policy. How specifically would that bring to LW more women interested in artificial intelligence and rationality (as opposed to merely interested in evangelizing feminism among people interested in rationality). Uhm... I guess there is only this vague belief that what is good for feminism is by definition good for women, therefore the problem will either magically fix itself, or we will have to find some other guy to blame. (Maybe after a few iterations we will decide that Eliezer's writings are irrepairably sexist, or maybe that the whole idea of rationality was just rich white cishet males' invention to oppress the voodoo believers.)