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Gram_Stone comments on Rationality Considered Harmful (In Politics) - Less Wrong

9 Post author: The_Jaded_One 08 January 2017 10:36AM

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Comment author: Gram_Stone 08 January 2017 05:03:11PM *  11 points [-]

This post is already getting too long so I deleted the section on lessons to be learned, but if there is interest I'll do a followup. Let me know what you think in the comments!

I at least would be interested in hearing anything else that you have to say about this topic. I'm not averse to private conversation on the matter either; most such conversations of mine are private.

Hypothesis: Fiction silently allows people to switch into truthseeking mode about politics.

A history student friend of mine was playing Fallout: New Vegas, and he wanted to talk to me about which ending he should choose for the game's narrative. The conversation was mostly optimized for entertaining one another, but I found that this was a situation where I could slip in my real opinions on politics without getting wide-eyed stares! Like this one:

The question you have to ask yourself is "Do I value democracy because it is a good system, or do I value democracy per se?" A lot of people will admit that they value democracy per se. But that seems wrong to me. That means that if someone showed you a better system that you could verify was better, you would say "This is good governance, but the purpose of government is not good governance, the purpose of government is democracy." (I do, however, understand democracy as a 'current best bet' or 'local maximum'.)

I have in fact gotten wide-eyed stares for saying things like that, even granting the final pragmatic injunction on democracy as local maximum. I find that weird, because it seems like one of the first steps you would take towards thinking about politics clearly, not even as cognitive work but for the sake of avoiding cognitive anti-work, to not equivocate democracy with good governance. If you were further in the past and the fashionable political system were not democracy but monarchy, and you, like many others, consider democracy preferable to monarchy, then upon a future human revealing to you the notion of a modern democracy, you would find yourself saying, regrettably, "This is good governance, but the purpose of government is not good governance, the purpose of government is monarchy."

But because we were arguing for fictional governments, I seemed to be sending an imperceptibly weak signal that I would defect in a real tossup between democracy and something else, and thus my conversation partner could entertain my opinion whilst looking through truthseeking goggles instead of political ones.

The student is one of two people with whom I've had this precise conversation, and I do mean in the particular sense of "Which Fallout ending do I pick?" I slipped this opinion into both, and both came back weeks later to tell me that they spent a lot of time thinking about that particular part of the conversation and that the opinion I shared seemed deep. If Eliezer's hypothesis about the origin of feelings of deepness is true, then this is because they were actually truthseeking when they evaluated my opinion, and the opinion really got rid of a real cached thought: "Democracy is a priori unassailable."

In the spirit of doing accidentally effective things deliberately, if you ever wanted to flip someone's truthseeking switch, you might do it by placing the debate within the context of a fictional universe.

Comment author: The_Jaded_One 08 January 2017 06:47:45PM 4 points [-]

That's an interesting insight actually, and dovetails with what I am saying. Politics isn't about Policy. If you want to do Policy, you need to talk about computer games ;0

Comment author: The_Jaded_One 08 January 2017 06:54:30PM 1 point [-]

I at least would be interested in hearing anything else that you have to say about this topic. I'm not averse to private conversation on the matter either; most such conversations of mine are private.

Thanks, if there's a decent amount of interest I'll definitely do a followup. I might do one anyway, it's half-written, I need to do some editing before I unleash the hordes on it though!