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Lonely Dissent

31 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 December 2007 04:23AM

Followup toThe Modesty Argument, The "Outside the Box" Box, Asch's Conformity Experiment

Asch's conformity experiment showed that the presence of a single dissenter tremendously reduced the incidence of "conforming" wrong answers.  Individualism is easy, experiment shows, when you have company in your defiance.  Every other subject in the room, except one, says that black is white.  You become the second person to say that black is black.  And it feels glorious: the two of you, lonely and defiant rebels, against the world!  (Followup interviews showed that subjects in the one-dissenter condition expressed strong feelings of camaraderie with the dissenter—though, of course, they didn't think the presence of the dissenter had influenced their own nonconformity.)

But you can only join the rebellion, after someone, somewhere, becomes the first to rebel.  Someone has to say that black is black after hearing everyone else, one after the other, say that black is white.  And that—experiment shows—is a lot harder.

Lonely dissent doesn't feel like going to school dressed in black.  It feels like going to school wearing a clown suit.

That's the difference between joining the rebellion and leaving the pack.

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's fakeness—you may have noticed this if you've been reading Overcoming Bias for a while.  Well, lonely dissent has got to be one of the most commonly, most ostentatiously faked characteristics around.  Everyone wants to be an iconoclast.

I don't mean to degrade the act of joining a rebellion.  There are rebellions worth joining.  It does take courage to brave the disapproval of your peer group, or perhaps even worse, their shrugs.  Needless to say, going to a rock concert is not rebellion.  But, for example, vegetarianism is.  I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I respect people who are, because I expect it takes a noticeable amount of quiet courage to tell people that hamburgers won't work for dinner.  (Albeit that in the Bay Area, people ask as a matter of routine.)

Still, if you tell people that you're a vegetarian, they'll think they understand your motives (even if they don't).  They may disagree.  They may be offended if you manage to announce it proudly enough, or for that matter, they may be offended just because they're easily offended.  But they know how to relate to you.

When someone wears black to school, the teachers and the other children understand the role thereby being assumed in their society.  It's Outside the System—in a very standard way that everyone recognizes and understands.  Not, y'know, actually outside the system.  It's a Challenge to Standard Thinking, of a standard sort, so that people indignantly say "I can't understand why you—", but don't have to actually think any thoughts they had not thought before.  As the saying goes, "Has any of the 'subversive literature' you've read caused you to modify any of your political views?"

What takes real courage is braving the outright incomprehension of the people around you, when you do something that isn't Standard Rebellion #37, something for which they lack a ready-made script.  They don't hate you for a rebel, they just think you're, like, weird, and turn away.  This prospect generates a much deeper fear.  It's the difference between explaining vegetarianism and explaining cryonics.  There are other cryonicists in the world, somewhere, but they aren't there next to you.  You have to explain it, alone, to people who just think it's weird.  Not forbidden, but outside bounds that people don't even think about.  You're going to get your head frozen?  You think that's going to stop you from dying?  What do you mean, brain information?  Huh?  What?  Are you crazy?

I'm tempted to essay a post facto explanation in evolutionary psychology:  You could get together with a small group of friends and walk away from your hunter-gatherer band, but having to go it alone in the forests was probably a death sentence—at least reproductively.  We don't reason this out explicitly, but that is not the nature of evolutionary psychology.  Joining a rebellion that everyone knows about is scary, but nowhere near as scary as doing something really differently.  Something that in ancestral times might have ended up, not with the band splitting, but with you being driven out alone.

As the case of cryonics testifies, the fear of thinking really different is stronger than the fear of death.  Hunter-gatherers had to be ready to face death on a routine basis, hunting large mammals, or just walking around in a world that contained predators.  They needed that courage in order to live.  Courage to defy the tribe's standard ways of thinking, to entertain thoughts that seem truly weird—well, that probably didn't serve its bearers as well.  We don't reason this out explicitly; that's not how evolutionary psychology works.  We human beings are just built in such fashion that many more of us go skydiving than sign up for cryonics.

And that's not even the highest courage.  There's more than one cryonicist in the world.  Only Robert Ettinger had to say it first.

To be a scientific revolutionary, you've got to be the first person to contradict what everyone else you know is thinking.  This is not the only route to scientific greatness; it is rare even among the great.  No one can become a scientific revolutionary by trying to imitate revolutionariness.  You can only get there by pursuing the correct answer in all things, whether the correct answer is revolutionary or not.  But if, in the due course of time—if, having absorbed all the power and wisdom of the knowledge that has already accumulated—if, after all that and a dose of sheer luck, you find your pursuit of mere correctness taking you into new territory... then you have an opportunity for your courage to fail.

This is the true courage of lonely dissent, which every damn rock band out there tries to fake.

Of course not everything that takes courage is a good idea.  It would take courage to walk off a cliff, but then you would just go splat.

The fear of lonely dissent is a hindrance to good ideas, but not every dissenting idea is good.  See also Robin Hanson's Against Free Thinkers.  Most of the difficulty in having a new true scientific thought is in the "true" part.

It really isn't necessary to be different for the sake of being different.  If you do things differently only when you see an overwhelmingly good reason, you will have more than enough trouble to last you the rest of your life.

There are a few genuine packs of iconoclasts around.  The Church of the SubGenius, for example, seems to genuinely aim at confusing the mundanes, not merely offending them.  And there are islands of genuine tolerance in the world, such as science fiction conventions.  There are certain people who have no fear of departing the pack.  Many fewer such people really exist, than imagine themselves rebels; but they do exist.  And yet scientific revolutionaries are tremendously rarer.  Ponder that.

Now me, you know, I really am an iconoclast.  Everyone thinks they are, but with me it's true, you see.  I would totally have worn a clown suit to school.  My serious conversations were with books, not with other children.

But if you think you would totally wear that clown suit, then don't be too proud of that either!  It just means that you need to make an effort in the opposite direction to avoid dissenting too easily.  That's what I have to do, to correct for my own nature.  Other people do have reasons for thinking what they do, and ignoring that completely is as bad as being afraid to contradict them.  You wouldn't want to end up as a free thinker.  It's not a virtue, you see—just a bias either way.

 

Part of the Death Spirals and the Cult Attractor subsequence of How To Actually Change Your Mind

Next post: "Cultish Countercultishness"

Previous post: "Asch's Conformity Experiment"

Comments (77)

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Comment author: RobinHanson 28 December 2007 05:16:38AM 9 points [-]

In addition to suffering social disapproval when they first make their contrary claims, the lonely dissenter should realize that even if they are eventually proven right, they will likely still lose socially compared to if they had not so dissented.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2009 01:35:49AM 10 points [-]

So shut up and bet.

Comment author: Doug_S. 28 December 2007 05:40:18AM 4 points [-]

Yes, I would totally wear that clown suit to high school. My classmates would have loved it! (My, shall we say, eccentricities... won me a strange sort of popularity.)

Also, having had the experience of repeatedly being able to come up with correct answers that almost all the other students could not has made me perhaps a little more confident in myself than I should be.

My freshman chemistry class in college had multiple choice exams; when taking the final, I noticed that, on one problem, my solution didn't match any of the answers, but after going over it several times, I couldn't find any mistake in my work. I eventually decided that the error was not mine, and spoke up. As it turns out, the question did contain a mistake that affected the answer, and I was the only one confident enough to question the question!

Comment author: handoflixue 24 May 2011 11:33:22PM 7 points [-]

I once had a math teacher who put an impossible question on the final exam, as his quiet way of reinforcing that you have to actually think sometimes. He was a bit shocked when I pointed out that there were actually two, due to a typo in another question :)

Comment author: James_D._Miller 28 December 2007 05:47:25AM 15 points [-]

"What takes real courage is braving the outright incomprehension of the people around you,"

I suspect that autistics are far more willing than neurotypicals to be true iconoclast because many neurotypicals find autistics incomprehensible regardless of what the autistics believe. So the price of being an intellectual iconoclast is lower for autistics than for most other people.

Comment author: dmh_phoenix 07 October 2009 01:06:45AM 6 points [-]

Yes -- I was going to reply to "There are certain people who have no fear of departing the pack" with "there are some people who <i>can't</i> stay with the pack!".

These (not just the autistics, but also other neurodiverse folks) are the true "natural outsiders". As demonstrated by the OP's comments, their presence in a group (or contrariwise their exclusion) has nontrivial effects on how a group acts, and especially how it deals with challenges.

Comment author: TobyBartels 26 May 2013 08:26:24PM 3 points [-]

Thanks goodness for the neurodiverse, then!

Comment author: Unknown 28 December 2007 06:05:04AM 7 points [-]

There's a distinction between contradicting everyone else (lonely dissent) and proposing something new. Dissent takes courage, not necessarily proposing something new, because one might suppose that people will find the new thing acceptable. For example, I'm not sure that Ettinger needed more courage than modern cryonicists-- he gives the impression that he expected his idea to be accepted as an obviously great idea, once it was proposed. It seems he was rather surprised by the world's reaction.

Comment author: James_Bach 28 December 2007 07:01:11AM 5 points [-]

Eliezer, never mind *black*, the true iconoclasts don't *go* to school. I quit in 10th grade and became an emancipated minor. In the three years prior, I refused to do homework, citing the 13th Amendment. My motivation echoes yours: I could not abide fakers, and public school abounds with them. Fake lessons. Fake arguments. Fake sentiments. Public school is a thinly disguised day care center.

Fortunately, education is not the same as schooling, and there are plenty of ways to become better educated in private life. Then I discovered as an adult that being unconventionally educated could be a competitive advantage.

Comment author: Juno_Watt 30 April 2013 02:54:58PM 0 points [-]

Ask yourself: "would I self-study this material anyway if I had the next three-five years paid for? Would this occupy a large part of my time regardless of what I'm doing?" If so, it's worth it.

As opposed to what? The business world is relentlessly honest?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 December 2007 07:06:36AM 10 points [-]

Eliezer, never mind *black*, the true iconoclasts don't *go* to school. I quit in 10th grade

You must have a higher tolerance for frustration.

Comment author: Caledonian2 28 December 2007 03:05:13PM -1 points [-]

You want really frustrating and generally fruitless iconoclasm?

Try explaining to a bunch of cryonicists that even though they may be right about the odds of preserving brain data, there's likely no data in their brains worth going through the trouble of saving.

They usually resort to the script of presuming a personal insult.

Comment author: soreff 03 August 2011 11:15:44PM *  8 points [-]

(replying to this so long after the comment was made because of seeing other recent comments on this thread) I don't see it as a personal insult, but I don't see it as novel either. I see it as part of the "why would people in the future bother reviving anyone from the 21st century?". Its a standard objection, and the standard answer is that it isn't very different from asking why people in the future would bother to give medical care to unknown people arriving at a hospital in an ambulance. If the society is rich enough, and humane enough, it will probably do both. If the society is either too poor or too inhumane, it will probably do neither. (I'm folding the technological capability of reviving a cryonicist in with measuring the wealth of the society) This isn't fruitless iconoclasm, it is rehashing of decades-old discussions.

Comment author: Cyan2 28 December 2007 03:48:31PM 7 points [-]

"They usually resort to the script of presuming a personal insult" instead of rightly apprehending the point you're making, which is...?

This is the difficulty I have with your comments, Caledonian. You always leave the interesting part out. (This is not a personal insult, by the way -- just a straightforward observation.)

Comment author: danlowlite 26 October 2010 02:01:40PM *  2 points [-]

I would imagine (and, I see poke below has mentioned this off-hand) that people are...not that interesting.

Oh, I am sure you are. Like, personally. But, really, would you want to resurrect a random 1850s person? Aside from kitsch or perhaps historical interests (if they were an interesting or influential personality), there are certainly better ways to spend your time.

It's not going to be like Encino Man, I am pretty sure.

Edit: I don't think I agree...but I'm not sure yet.

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:17AM 4 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous at the time.

Comment author: Alicorn 22 June 2011 05:07:24AM 0 points [-]

You have posted this several times; please delete the excess.

Comment author: Ender 01 September 2011 03:58:13PM 0 points [-]

Sorry, I didn't mean to do that, and I don't know how it happened.

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:35AM 0 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous or influential at the time.

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:36AM 0 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous or influential at the time.

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:44AM 0 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous or influential at the time

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:46AM 0 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous or influential at the time

Comment author: Ender 22 June 2011 02:12:48AM *  0 points [-]

Actually, I think that historians would love to wake up random people from way back when, whether or not they were famous or influential at the time.

Comment author: danlowlite 23 June 2011 01:46:58PM 0 points [-]

OK. I'll follow up. They might want to, but what events would that trigger? The benefits might be clear, but for what costs?

Firstly, you would add another person to the population pool. That addition, in and of itself, is probably a negligible effect. Humans do this with some regularity. It is unlikely that the addition of one specific historical figure would push us over some theoretical tipping point.

What would be a greater cost would be one of rights: does the resurrected "owe" anything for being plucked from history, financially or metaphorically? What psychological toll might be exacted on an 200's era Roman slave when he shows up in Chicago in 2023? Assuming he could even grasp what had happened and learn a modern language, how is he to provide for himself? If he cannot, who? The historian, perhaps. What a decidedly high-risk research proposal: what if your resurrection is a boring fool?

Sure, I think it'd be neat to interview Hannibal or Twain or any number of folks from the past, I just think it might be a bad idea.

Probably reading into the idea a bit much at this point...

Comment author: Fergus_Mackinnon 03 July 2011 01:48:32PM 2 points [-]

Presumably the capital investment everyone frozen gives to the Cryonics Institute would pay for their revival, or perhaps just for the revival and re-education of some of the more interesting people, who would then, hopefully feeling some empathy for the remaining popsicles, pay to have them reanimated later.

I'll just try to be interesting, and somewhat self-sacrificing so someone who reads any of my work might feel guilty enough to have me reanimated.

Or we might just be reanimated to serve as soldiers in a future war as our coping mechanisms leave us just the right type of crazy to stay mostly sane in harsh environments. Who knows?

Comment author: Ender 01 September 2011 04:07:29PM 0 points [-]

Now cryonics are starting to sound like a religion; if you are an interesting person, and have a good enough reputation, then someone will bother to reanimate you and you will live forever. I like it.

Comment author: jaibot 29 April 2013 02:14:05AM *  0 points [-]

Three years later reply: People who chose cryonics are very likely to be unusual people, as evidenced by their choosing cryonics.

I also dispute your premise, on the grounds that people aren't complete jerks.

Comment author: michael_vassar3 28 December 2007 05:04:15PM 3 points [-]

Hard to see how that's a rebuttal Caledonian. Probably won't work AND probably no data worth saving still adds up to better odds than definitely worm-food. I guess it's possible that some cryonicists might find their values better served by offering their brains for scientific research, but that basically goes under the category "dying for a cause" even if the dying part was very likely anyway.

Comment author: handoflixue 24 May 2011 11:42:57PM 5 points [-]

You're ignoring the, currently, $200,000 expense that goes in to being preserved via Alcor. I dare say $200K is a vastly unreasonable bet to place if you're assuming "probably no data worth saving".

GiveWell currently rates the price of a single life at around $1,000. That's 200 lives saved for the price of your cryonic preservation. Even assuming they're off by an order of magnitude, that still leaves a 20:1 ratio.

Comment author: Dojan 22 October 2011 01:29:23AM 0 points [-]

I am not signed up for cryonics because I can't afford it. So; point taken. But I would like to point out that:

1 It doesn't have to be that expensive. $30'000 is quite expensive enough. (Presumably at lower odds of revival though)

2 You could use that same argument about everything: "What?? You bought a house for $200K? That's 200 lives according to GiveWell!!" Yet people by houses anyway, and I don't blame them.

Comment author: handoflixue 14 November 2011 08:29:45PM 1 point [-]

There is a difference between "probably no data worth saving" and "a house." Most people have fairly high confidence that the house will actually work...

Comment author: Dojan 14 November 2011 09:35:29PM *  1 point [-]

Well, yes, but that's a personal decision one has to make. My point is that it's weird to point to anything I spends money on that you don't and say "You could have spent it all on charity!". Of course I could have. But I didn't. I also spent a lot of money, most of it actually, on other stuff that I could have been without, like a car and a computer and a TV-set etc. If you spend a lot of money on charity and think others should too, then I salute you, but if so, then tell us that and what we should give to and why, but don't tell us what we should not spend our own money on. Reminds me of this XKCD strip.

/rant

I'm sorry if I'm reacting to strongly, it's just that I get that argument a lot on a lot of different subjects, and it's like a fully general counterargument; it doesn't help us decide what to spend money on except charity, and let's be realistic: Only a very small portion of people spend non-negligible amounts on charity. If you bring out that argument on this topic, you should spread the blame equally over everything else ever bought that have comparable or smaller humanitarian value.

Comment author: Goplat 28 December 2007 08:44:46PM 8 points [-]

Gee, how could anybody ever assume hostility from an innocent statement like that. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but you're completely worthless and we'd all be better off if you just died. No offense intended."

Comment author: poke 28 December 2007 10:22:25PM 3 points [-]

I'm not sure what Caledonian is getting at but sometimes I see arguments from immortalists about the number of lives lost (needlessly) every day (I think I've seen such from Eliezer) and they have the exact opposite of the intended effect on me. Momentarily I find myself a committed "pro-mortalist." Perhaps the hardest thing to accept is that human life has no such inherent value.

Comment author: steven 29 December 2007 02:52:11PM 2 points [-]

Of course, if you dissent in more than one way, you'll probably hurt both causes by linking them together in people's perception, so you're probably better off toeing the line in all ways until you find something you're reasonably sure is the most important thing you could possibly dissent on.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 30 December 2007 01:48:59AM 6 points [-]

Token message of attention-grabbing dissent for your collective pleasures:

There is no point saying 'the world needs that first dissenter'. Tell people to be rational, tell people to avoid biases, great, but 'dissenters can be useful' can never be a heuristic. Who does it? When should they do it? To what degree? Pluralism is great, but we can't say 'let's be pluralistic, who wants to disagree with our idea?' Shooting yourself in the head is almost universally considered to be A Bad Thing, but that doesn't mean we need someone to come out and advocate it so we can see the error of our ways. Stupidest person, light outside, sun shining etc. The only useful lesson I can draw from the above is 'if your idea is universally lauded, find a devil's advocate.' This doesn't happen in the real world.

Dissent can be a good thing; it keeps us honest, even when it's wrong. But it can only ever be an emergent phenomenon, never part of the design. Everyone above - are you proud of your anecdotes of brave individuality? If so, you haven't understood. I'd much rather reach my last breath and be able to say 'I was true to myself,' not 'that clown suit really f*cked with their heads.'

Eliezer - surely getting weird looks when trying to explain your immortality scheme to the pagan types gives you get a warm fuzzy rational glow rather than a feeling of being outcast?

Oh, and either 'camaraderie' or 'comradeship' please! ;)

Comment author: dmh_phoenix 07 October 2009 02:01:32AM 1 point [-]

Certainly, dissent, or "difference" in general is "an emergent phenomenon" -- but what counts, and what <i>can</i> be "part of the design", is how the group chooses to treat people who are different! For example, keeping the "special ed" kids in regular school not only means the educational system stays aware of them and their issues, but it means that the "normal" kids get regular exposure to neurodiverse kids, and at least occasionally have to communicate with them.

Comment author: Q 30 December 2007 09:19:36PM 2 points [-]

"""But if you think you would totally wear that clown suit, then don't be too proud of that either! It just means that you need to make an effort in the opposite direction to avoid dissenting too easily. That's what I have to do, to correct for my own nature."""

I know exactly what you mean. I often see myself dissenting with the majority. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell if I do so because I am Right, or because I want to be Different.

Sure, I can use logic. But, how do I know I am being a Rationalist, rather than just Rationalizing? It's easy to make up arguments (even coherently logical ones) to support incorrect conclusions. Look at economists.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 06 January 2008 05:23:41AM 1 point [-]

Ben Jones, thanks, fixed.

Comment author: ciphergoth 22 February 2010 08:31:25PM 3 points [-]

Lonely dissent doesn't feel like going to school dressed in black. It feels like going to school wearing a clown suit.

Debating cryonics with my friends, I have been feeling this an awful lot.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 05 March 2010 06:34:22AM 6 points [-]

A social suggestion for dissent. This happened to me by chance, but if you are the kind, like me, that would enjoy wearing pijamas in a steak house, or medidate in front of a public monument, you may read it as advice.
To lead others into dissent is usually much easier than to do it alone. So convincing a tiny group can sometimes be the best way to allow yourself to feel confortable with something. I've done some social outcast stuff, and usually I just talk people into it, once they have the information that you will do it, they will do it as well.
I was the first transhumanist in Brazil (circa 2003), I first dissented online, finding "gurus" Bostrom, Yudkowsky, Cordero etc... Soon I decided for cryonics. But only now, after seven years I have actually subscribed, and decided to work towards a better posthuman world. This is because it took some seven years to convince a sufficient amount of my friends (let's say, 9) that I'm not fuc*#ng crazy. I'm too social, so 9 was my natural threshold, but probably most people would dissent happily with one or two.

Comment author: taryneast 09 December 2010 10:21:05PM *  2 points [-]

ooh - neat. So the joining mechanism doesn't necessarily have to go one way... that's a useful life-hack to know. Talk yourself into it by talking somebody else into it.

I can also see how this mechanism can be abused. Think of all those religions that require their members to evangelise. I'm sure it helps them to believe more strongly in the rightness of their cause.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 09 December 2010 11:07:15PM 1 point [-]

(nods) I've seen, though I cannot currently cite, studies to this effect about Mormon missionaries... that is, that missionaries don't convert many outsiders, but that the experience of being a missionary increases many people's commitment to the faith.

More generally, acting on an idea makes it easier to believe that idea.

Comment author: diegocaleiro 10 December 2010 02:50:14AM 1 point [-]

Investing in X increases X's stakes......

Also, as Dennett would point out, you are more likely to defend something for which views are polarized, than something for which they are almost all the same. We do not spend much time discussing shoes wearing, but abortion......

Comment author: taryneast 12 December 2010 11:12:05AM 1 point [-]

Investing in X increases X's stake

Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" discusses this notion. His conclusion being that if you want to value something, start investing time in it. ie - you can bootstrap your own life-interests... which is kinda cool if you're the kind of person searching for "meaning" in life. It means you can do something about it by simply picking something and running with it.

We do not spend much time discussing shoes wearing

well, I'd argue that some people spend an awful lot of time discussing such things ;) but I agree. Mostly we talk about things that we disagree on.

I guess that for certain topics, we don't have anything left to discuss - so it's considered a done-deal. We only get heated up where there's something left to hammer out.

Comment author: JohnH 25 May 2011 05:27:17AM 3 points [-]

missionaries don't convert many outsiders,

More converts are obtained then are born into the church. Since missionaries are in pairs then last year there were an average of 10 converts per missionary pair. Does this count as many or few?

Comment author: TheOtherDave 26 May 2011 01:51:03PM 2 points [-]

That surprises me. But if that's a typical result (as opposed to an artifact of averaging conversions from other sources over number of missionaries) over a relatively short time-interval, then yeah, I simply stand corrected. Can you cite?

Comment author: Alicorn 17 July 2010 12:21:47AM 5 points [-]

In the Asch experiment, there are three lines. What happens if A is really the longest, all but one confederate says B is longest, and one confederate dissenter says C is longest?

Comment author: red75 17 July 2010 01:25:51AM 6 points [-]

We were able to conclude that dissent per se increased independence and moderated the errors that occurred, and that the direction of dissent exerted consistent effects.

Asch experiment. PDF. Page 5, column 2, paragraph 1.

Comment author: JohnH 25 May 2011 05:41:51AM -1 points [-]

Forget the clown suit. Try defending theism in a place where atheism reigns. Try being chaste before marriage and happily married after. Try to stand up for what you know to be right even if no one else around you is.

It is fashionable and respectable to be a dissenter in pre-approved areas of dissent, try instead to stand up for the norms which one knows to be right, and see what happens.

This is the true lonely dissent and the true rebellion for which the "tolerant" are not able to tolerate regardless of whether it is right or true.

Comment author: Alicorn 25 May 2011 05:51:41AM 2 points [-]

JohnH, you have not historically been especially trollish. You're getting there now. Calm down and come back later, maybe.

Comment author: JohnH 25 May 2011 05:54:02AM 0 points [-]

maybe.

Comment author: Nornagest 25 May 2011 06:14:39AM *  1 point [-]

I probably don't need to tell you this, but I'm pretty sure that was meant to be "maybe I've described the correct course of action", not "maybe you should come back [implication: and maybe not]".

That being said, though, Alicorn's right. Unbiased reception of theism is perhaps a collective sore spot for LW, but willfully poking something in the sore spots is not generally considered polite -- and you're not likely to get much applause by associating the site with the "intolerant tolerance" meme, either.

Comment author: Arandur 02 August 2011 11:20:18PM 4 points [-]

For that matter, try being born into the Church, not going on a mission at the prescribed age, but then still belonging to the Mormon church. Two degrees of dissent there.

Or try being a non-Republican Mormon, cohabitating with crazy right-wingers who think it's a Good Idea to shut down Planned Parenthood.

For that matter, try being a bisexual in the Mormon church. (Or a furry!) You can't talk about your sense of identity without your Mormon friends judging you, but you can't talk about your religion with your non-Mormon friends because they'll consider you a hypocrite.

But you know what's interesting? In each of the above situations, all of which apply (or have applied in the past) to me, I can think of someone else I know who's in the same situation.

With seven billion people on this planet, is it really possible to dissent in a "unique" way?

This is not meant to detract from Yudkowsky's post; he himself said "there are [others] in the world, somewhere, but they aren't there next to you. You have to explain it, alone, to people who just think it's weird". But it's an interesting thought. Reminds me of the saying: "In China, if you're one-in-a-million, there are a thousand of you".

Comment author: MatthewBaker 03 August 2011 07:17:11PM 3 points [-]

That's what the internet has given us more than anything. The ability to find others willing to dissent on the same level and its why its probably the greatest technological advancement our species has made so far (barring moon landing and possibly cryonics).

Comment author: Nornagest 03 August 2011 07:32:48PM *  9 points [-]

I'm somewhat ambivalent about this. The Internet makes it much easier to find like opinions, but that capability can be used just as easily to reinforce existing biases as to dissolve them, a privilege previously available only to the cultural mainstream in a given region. That does make forming or belonging to a subculture a lot easier -- and the Internet seems to be pushing out mass culture in its ~1945 to ~1995 form, as a result -- but it's not as easy to conclude that it makes people's opinions on average any more adaptive.

I suppose we can expect a polyculture to be more resistant to infection, at least. That's a plus.

Comment author: MatthewBaker 03 August 2011 07:51:08PM 0 points [-]

I was more focused on its influence on myself :) however seeing the tragedy of the Gifford's shooting and other home grown terrorists i guess i should take the value with a grain of salt.

Comment author: Arandur 03 August 2011 08:24:01PM *  1 point [-]

That's an interesting point... so if we define thusly:

  • "Toni" is the set of all beliefs, values, and predilections held by a given person, named with the generic name "Toni";
  • "Normal" is the set of all beliefs, values, and predilections held by the "cultural mainstream" dominating the geographical region wherein Toni lives;
  • "Abnormal" is the relative complement of "Normal" with respect to "Toni";

then we can conclude that the internet, and indeed the advent of mass long-distance communication in general, serves to augment the strength of "Abnormal"... regardless of "Abnormal"'s moral value with respect to the "cultural mainstream"?

Comment author: Nornagest 03 August 2011 08:50:23PM *  0 points [-]

Well, the same process is happening for everyone (at different rates depending on how much weight they give to user-directed long-distance communication relative to face-to-face or mass media), not just to Toni. It's less that that communication style makes everyone more perverse relative to the cultural mainstream and more that it weakens the concept of a cultural mainstream by making other viewpoints more accessible.

The main point I was trying to make, though, is that this isn't necessarily adaptive even if you make the assumption that cultural conformity isn't. By making the loci of culture self-organizing rather than depending largely on extrinsic factors like geographical chance, you make it easier for any given person to find a culture that suits their needs, but also remove many of the barriers to cult attractors.

Comment author: Arandur 03 August 2011 08:56:23PM *  0 points [-]

Well, yes, that's true. So what's the net result? Maximum entropy? Everyone ends up evenly spread out across value-space? If that's the case, then what basis do we have for a sense of morality in the first place? Or does the force of Affective Death Spirals cause valuepoints to gravitate toward each other, forming factionalization? That's difficult to imagine, though, because someone can belong to two different, even generically (though not in fact) opposing, factions: Gay and Republican, Mormon and Rationalist.

Predict the future. Go. :P

EDIT: How do you feel about the hypothesis that the distance between a valuepoint and the "mainstream" valuepoint correlates positively with the susceptibility of that valuepoint to an Affective Death Spiral? I.e., people are more adamant about holding beliefs that are more "weird".

Comment author: Nornagest 03 August 2011 08:59:22PM 0 points [-]

I'd keep morality out of this discussion entirely, to be honest. It tends to obscure more than it illuminates when talking about cultural dynamics.

Comment author: Arandur 03 August 2011 09:06:29PM 0 points [-]

Okay, so forget morality. What does the shape of valuespace end up looking like? Maximum entropy? Factionalization? Or one new cultural mainstream, in a different place in valuespace than the previous one?

Comment author: Nornagest 03 August 2011 09:20:09PM *  2 points [-]

I think we can safely rule out a single cultural mainstream -- our cultural architecture post-Internet would make one unstable, since it makes any opposition visible and self-reinforcing. About the only way for one to exist would be if human preference space turns out to be narrow enough to accommodate only one when sufficiently analyzed, which given what we know about minds I very much doubt is the case. Maximum entropy doesn't seem much more likely, since it also seems unstable in view of human alliance-seeking behavior.

That leaves factionalism -- but that's a pretty broad spectrum, and there are too many unknowns for me to make solid predictions about where points in value-space will end up clustering, if they ever stabilize at all. I don't think the conflicting value systems you describe are much of a barrier, though; people might have an impressive capacity for cognitive dissonance, but they don't have an infinite one.

Comment author: mat33 08 October 2011 02:56:16PM 1 point [-]

"I would totally have worn a clown suit to school. My serious conversations were with books, not with other children."

The same goes for me. But then, our teachers told us not to be afraid to ask "silly" questions and express weird ideas. If you aren't the best and you aren't nearly the worst student, a lot of others would be thinking along same lines at the moment. Our teachers pointed that our... and it helped, actually. Well, it wasn't your average school.

"But if you think you would totally wear that clown suit, then don't be too proud of that either! It just means that you need to make an effort in the opposite direction to avoid dissenting too easily."

The age takes care of that. It fills you with "cached ideas" and an overhealming need for security. Maturity (it isn't nearly as positive a thing, as it may sound) makes you a conservator.

Comment author: -ind 10 March 2012 04:32:40PM *  1 point [-]

What about those who merely play "devils advocate," by presenting the dissenting opinion in situations where there's a general consensus, whether or not the presenter agrees with the dissenting opinion? I just hate it when people all agree on one topic without even considering other veiwpoints. Would that just be playing the iconoclast role, or would it just be giving people more options in their choices?

Comment author: scribbler 20 July 2012 08:42:32AM 0 points [-]

It's a universal phenomena. Every social animal despite its social behaviour will have certain outliers. This is true not just among animals but also other elements of the universe including galaxies of stars and planets.

There would exist among the homogeneous mass, a few outliers. That's the Universe's way to provide for evolution. Without dissent and difference, life would not be sustainable.

Comment author: MugaSofer 26 October 2012 09:06:26AM 1 point [-]

In my experience, most people react to learning that I'm vegetarian by trying to argue me out of my crazy non-meat-eating ways. Usually just praising the taste of various meat products, but dire warnings of malnutrition are also popular. Some people can get quite angry at you, presumably based on the fact that choosing vegetarianism on ethical grounds tactitly labels meat-eaters as unethical.

Comment author: Alfador 30 August 2013 02:12:06AM 1 point [-]

I wouldn't have worn a clown suit in high school, per se... but in college I made campus newspapers (plural; I transferred from one university to another and one major to another mid-undergraduate... and thus ended up taking five years for my bachelor's) by wearing fake fox ears and tails, and later a bright blue cloak. Not because I wanted to make a statement. Not because I was TRYING to make everybody's day a bit more surreal, though that was definitely a bonus. Just because I wanted to, and wasn't about to let conformity get in the way.

One of my professors had a problem with this. One. And it's telling that rather than say "I have a problem with you wearing that sort of thing in class", he instead insisted that it was disruptive to other students. Now, I could have argued my position, taken a poll of my classmates, or complained to higher authorities in the department. Instead... I took off my ears whenever I was in that professor's class, because I was paying to learn that course, and I wasn't about to let a problem that may have been wholly the professor's, or legitimately the other students', get in the way of that just because I wanted to wear a ridiculous outfit to class.

I do admit that I probably would not have been so respectful and mature had I been eleven years old learning Potions. I do recall being respectful to my Chemistry instructor at twelve years... but then, I wasn't wearing an unusual outfit, there. ;)

Comment author: Galap 29 March 2014 12:05:35AM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I've definitely had to learn the hard way to tone it down with respect to having ideas and interests that run completely orthogonal to familiarity with peers/society.

Perhaps what annoys me even more is when I like something that coincidentally has associated with it one of those Outside The Box groups, when I don't want to be associated with that group, or more accurately, don't want to have to hear the canned response for it, whatever it may be.

For example, I like heavy metal and anime, but have no desire to be a part of those counter-cultural groups. Unfortunately, it's pretty hard for me to talk about either of those things without people -- both inside and outside those ciricles -- from assigning me to that bin. It's not harmless categorization either: being considered to fit in those bins has pretty strong social baggage attached to it.

Comment author: themusicgod1 01 April 2014 11:06:29AM 1 point [-]

This strikes me as an unfortunately place and time-sensitive OvercomingBias/LessWrong post. As the moral character and fashions change with the change of generations, it's going to lose its edge. While the reader is going to vaguely understand the general idea...they may not really 'get' why or that cryonics was that far outside the overton window to begin with. It might warrant relooking at or retelling this particular set of stories in a more recent context later on. I wonder if the retelling of the Sequences later on end up doing just this.