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Dark Arts: Defense in Reputational Warfare

1 Post author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 03:03PM

First, the Dark Arts are, as the name implies, an art, not a science.  Likewise, defending against them is.  An artful attacker can utilize expected defenses against you; if you can be anticipated, you can be defeated.  The rules, therefore, are guidelines.  I'm going to stage the rules in a narrative form; they don't need to be, however, because life doesn't follow a narrative.  The narrative exists to give them context, to give the reader a sense of the purpose of each rule.

Rule #0: Never follow the rules if they would result in a worse outcome.  

 


 

Now, generally, the best defense is to never get attacked in the first place.  Security through obscurity is your first line of defense.  Translations of Sun Tzu vary somewhat, but your ideal form is to be formless, by which I mean, do not be a single point of attack, or defense.  If there's a mob in your vicinity, the ideal place is neither outside it, nor leading it, but a faceless stranger among it.  Even better is to be nowhere near a mob.  This is the fundamental basis of not being targeted; the other two rules derive from this one.

Rule #1: Do not stand out.

 

Sometimes you're picked out.  There's a balancing art with this next piece; you don't want to stand out, to be a point of attack, but if somebody is picking faces, you want to look slightly more dangerous than your neighbor, you want to look like a hard target.  (But not when somebody is looking for hard targets.  Obviously.)

Rule #2: Look like an unattractive target.

 

The third aspect of this is somewhat simpler, and I'll borrow the phrasing from HPMoR:

Rule #3: "I will not go around provoking strong, vicious enemies" - http://hpmor.com/chapter/19

 

The first triplet of rules, by and large, are about -not- being attacked in the first place.  These are starting points; Rule #1, for example, culminates in not existing at all.  You can't attack what doesn't exist.  Rule #1 is the fundamental strategy of Anonymous.  Rule #2 is about encouraging potential attackers to look elsewhere; Rule #1 is passive, and this is the passive-aggressive form of Rule #1.  It's the fundamental strategy of home security - why else do you think security companies put signs in the yard saying the house is protected?  Rule #3 is obvious.  Don't make enemies in the first place, and particularly don't make dangerous enemies.  It has critical importance beyond its obvious nature, however - enemies might not care if they get hurt in the process of hurting you.  That limits your strategies for dealing with them considerably.

 


 

You've messed up the first three rules.  You're under attack.  What now?  Manage the Fight.  Your attacker starts with the home field advantage - they attacked you under the terms they are most comfortable in.  Change the terms, immediately.  Do not concede that advantage.  Like Rule #1, Rule #4 is the basis of your First Response, and Rule #5 and Rule #6.  The simplest approach is the least obvious - immediate surrender, but on your terms.  If you're accused of something, admit to the weakest and least harmful version of that which is true (be specific, and deny as necessary), and say you're aware of your problem and working on improving.  This works regardless of whether there's an audience or not, but works best if there is an audience.

Rule #4: Change the terms of the fight to favor yourself, or disfavor your opponent.

 

Sometimes, the best response to an attack is no response at all.  Is anybody (important) going to take it seriously?  If not, then the very worst thing you can do is to respond, because that validates the attack.  If you do need to respond, respond as lightly as possible; do not respond as if the accusation is serious or matters, because that lends weight to the accusation.  If there's no audience, or a limited audience, responding gives your attacker an opportunity to continue the attack.  If there's a risk of them physically assaulting you, ignoring them is probably a bad idea; a polite non-response is ideal in that situation.  (For crowds that pose a risk of physically assault you... you need more rules than I'm going to write here.)

Rule #5: Use the minimum force necessary to respond.

 

It's tempting to attack back: Don't.  You're going to escalate the situation, and escalation is going to favor the person who is better at this; worse, in a public Dark Arts battle, even the better person is going to take some hits.  Nobody wins.  Instead, mine the battlefield, and make sure your opponent sees you mining the battlefield.  If you're accused of something, suggest that both you and your opponent know the accused thing isn't as uncommon as generally represented.  Hint at shared knowledge.  Make it clear you'll take them out with you.  If they're actually good at this, they'll get the hint.  (This is why it's critically important not to make enemies.  You really, really don't want somebody around who doesn't mind going down with you, and your use of this strategy becomes difficult.)

Rule #6: Make escalation prohibitively costly.

 

You might recognize some elements of martial arts here.  There are similarities, enough that one is useful to the other, but they are not the same.

 


 

You're in a fight, and your opponent is persistent, or you messed up and now things are serious.  What now?  First, continue to Manage the Fight.  Your goal now is to end the fight; the total damage you're going to suffer is a function of both the amplitude of escalation and the length of the fight.  You've failed to manage the amplitude; manage the length.

Rule #7: End fights fast.

 

At this point you've been reasonable and defensive, and that hasn't worked.  Now you need to go on the offensive.  Your defense should be light and easy, continuing to react with the lightest necessary touch, continuing to ignore anything you don't need to react to; your attack should be brutal, and put your opponent on the defensive immediately.  Attack them on the basis of their harassment of you, first, and then build up to any personal attacks you've been holding back on - your goal is to impart a tone of somebody who has been put-upon and had enough.

Rule #8: Hit hard.

 

And immediately stop.  If you've pulled off your counterattack right, they'll offer up defenses.  Just quit the battle.  Do not be tempted by a follow-up attack; you were angry, you vented your anger, you're done.  By not following up on the attack, by not attacking their defenses, you're leaving them no reasonable way to respond.  Any continuing attacks can be safely ignored; they will look completely pathetic going forward.

Rule #9: Recognize when you've won, and stop.

 

Defense follows different rules than attack.  In defense, you aren't trying to inflict wounds, you're trying to avoid them.  Ending the fight quickly is paramount to this.

Comments (69)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 December 2015 07:32:09PM 8 points [-]

What evidence do you have for your advice working? If it does work, what are the odds of it working?

I'm wondering what your advice would be for the targets in this case.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 03 December 2015 10:28:50PM 1 point [-]

Rule #1. In some cases even #1 doesn't help but that is life. All strategies have weaknesses. If you defend against something you open other holes, take other risks and if by spending effort on the defense. Life is not fair.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 08:16:11PM 0 points [-]

I'm wondering what your advice would be for the targets in this case.

I don't think that case is about reputation. To solve it you need a good connection to the police and or a plan to get a company like Twitch investing serious resources into dealing with the issue.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 03 December 2015 10:04:25PM 2 points [-]

Fair enough that the case isn't about reputation, or at least mostly not about reputation.

As for involving the police, the article had quite a bit about how much trouble the police have dealing with swatting.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 December 2015 02:18:59PM 2 points [-]

Warning: Grouchy libertarian response:

If they have so much trouble with it, why don't they stop fucking doing it?

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 03:14:46PM 0 points [-]

Warning: Obvious non-libertarian response:

Because dealing with such things is part of their job, which (1) is valuable to society and (2) they are being paid to do in the expectation that they will, er, fucking do it.

If someone is able to make it credibly appear to the emergency services that there is an ongoing emergency, they need to respond. That is, after all, much of the point of having emergency services.

A more nuanced (and not particularly libertarian) version of your response is, I think, very reasonable: in some places, the US providing copious examples, the police are over-eager to respond to alleged emergencies with an immediate deployment of serious armed force, and are apt to be rather too trigger-happy when they do. It might be a very good idea for them to turn that down a few notches, in which case swatting would be less effective (hence maybe less tempting) and less likely to end in disaster. And maybe there are ways to verify reports more effectively without delaying rapid response when that's needed, though I'm not sure how.

But that's an entirely different matter from just not responding to apparent emergencies with what you take to be an appropriate level of force.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 04:02:27PM *  3 points [-]

Because dealing with such things is part of their job, which (1) is valuable to society and (2) they are being paid to do in the expectation that they will, er, fucking do it.

SWAT teams are a new phenomenon and are just a highly visible tip of the militarisation of police. Why this is happening is a big discussion, but no, sending in wannabe spec-ops teams in full military gear to do ordinary arrests is not valuable to society and I don't think that the cops are (yet) expected to react with this amount of force.

Looking at it from a bit different angle, the cops are just being gamed. They basically allow anyone with a modicum of acting ability to direct the SWAT teams. "But that's what we are paid to do" is not a good answer to being gamed and controlled.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 05:42:01PM 1 point [-]

As you will see in, er, a first cousin of this comment, I think most of my disagreement here was a consequence of my having underestimated how badly messed up policing has become in the US.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 December 2015 06:21:28PM 0 points [-]

In case you're curious, that's what a "police" SWAT team looks like.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 December 2015 03:23:58PM 1 point [-]

The issues are twofold: First, I don't think we'd disagree that a swat team is almost -never- an appropriate level of force. Second, anonymous phone calls are entirely insufficient evidence of an immediate emergency that would require that level of force.

Comment author: gjm 04 December 2015 04:43:09PM 0 points [-]

So, if all you're saying is: "The mere fact of a single anonymous phone call should not produce a response of indiscriminately applied overwhelming force": yup, I agree.

If fixing that would be sufficient to make the swatting problem go away, then the problem is that I managed to underestimate the extent of the fucked-up-ness of the US police system. That wouldn't be a huge surprise, all things considered.

(And, having now actually read the article, it really does seem as if a single anonymous phone call can have pretty much that effect. That seems really bad. But I guess I don't know what sort of real incidents SWAT teams are used to deal with; perhaps, at least in some places, it's justified. If so, the best answer might be to come down heavily enough on people who abuse that system to stop them doing it.)

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 05 December 2015 02:10:02AM 2 points [-]

And, having now actually read the article, it really does seem as if a single anonymous phone call can have pretty much that effect.

To be fare, it's a phone call that purports to be from the house being SWATed. It's just really easy to spoof the phone system.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 08:00:06PM 0 points [-]

My advice is for a slightly different style of conflict than existed there. As for evidence... I can't exactly provide case studies with control cases. I can only point to places where somebody violated the rules, and something bad happened.

There, the issue is more straightforward: It's a blackmail game. Each step enables the next. The first mistake is always standing out; the local fame they develop makes them stand out, which makes them targetable. The second mistake is responding to the first blackmail attack, the DDoS, by adding them as a Skype friend. Then the requests escalate, and previous granted requests provide material for more transgressive requests (personal information obtained from Skype profiles can then be used to dox them, or to gain account access somewhere else, which can be used to blackmail for nude photographs, which can be used to blackmail for... whatever is next in his escalation scheme). It's an escalation game, and the sooner the participant gets out of it, the better off they'll be.

So - reject the very first request. Don't agree to Skype him.

Comment author: Viliam 04 December 2015 09:14:20AM 0 points [-]

I can only point to places where somebody violated the rules, and something bad happened.

The specific examples could improve the article. Or distract from its general points to details of the specific cases.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 December 2015 02:01:51PM 0 points [-]

My experience with these matters is that specific examples only ever serve to distract.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 03:57:34PM 4 points [-]

It's tempting to attack back: Don't. You're going to escalate the situation, and escalation is going to favor the person who is better at this; worse, in a public Dark Arts battle, even the better person is going to take some hits. Nobody wins.

That's not really true. Julian Blanc is a good example. He made the decision that it's useful to be world famous and it doesn't matter much what you are famous for. Then he did provocative things and contacted reporters. Afterwards he got attacked. He became world famous and his sales increased.

In Antifragile Nassim Taleb claims that one of the reasons Ayn Rand has the influence she has on US culture because she managed to get viciously attacked by a lot of people.

If you're accused of something, admit to the weakest and least harmful version of that which is true (be specific, and deny as necessary), and say you're aware of your problem and working on improving.

I'm not seeing a point of that advice. In a public controversy it means that journalists can write articles about how you admited to a weak version but didn't fully admit to the wrong doing and call on you to admit to a stronger version.

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 03 December 2015 05:41:23PM 2 points [-]

I don't think this advice was aimed at people who immerse themselves in the dark arts.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 06:39:34PM 3 points [-]

I don't think you need to engage actively in dark arts to be antifragile against a reputational attack. Believing that both sides always lose isn't useful.

"Do not stand out." is advice that often does reduce the capability to defend yourself. The Chinese government doesn't disappear Ai Weiwei because he has a public profile and stands out. Less public dissidents have a worse fate in China.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 08:41:52PM 3 points [-]

"Do not stand out." is advice that often does reduce the capability to defend yourself.

I would probably formulate Rule #1 as "Do not be an identifiable target" ("the ideal form is to be formless").

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 07:06:22PM *  1 point [-]

Believing that both sides always lose isn't useful.

That isn't what I wrote.

The Chinese government doesn't disappear Ai Weiwei because he has a public profile and stands out. Less public dissidents have a worse fate in China.

Ai Weiwei followed rule #2; he made himself a dangerous person to target. [ETA]He'll be in serious trouble, however, if somebody decides they want to make a very public example, because he's exceptionally public.[/ETA] The less public dissidents both stand out, and aren't dangerous to target. The least public dissidents aren't recognized enough to target in the first place.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 07:25:03PM *  2 points [-]

That isn't what I wrote.

You wrote:

You're going to escalate the situation, and escalation is going to favor the person who is better at this; worse, in a public Dark Arts battle, even the better person is going to take some hits. Nobody wins.

If you don't mean both parties lose, what does "Nobody wins" mean?

The less public dissidents both stand out, and aren't dangerous to target. The least public dissidents aren't recognized enough to target in the first place.

It's much easier to attack a homosexual who's in the closet for his homosexuality than to attack a homosexual that's open about his sexuality. The same goes for many domains. Openness is often useful for having a defensible position and it does mean standing out.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 04:18:39PM -1 points [-]

That's not really true. Julian Blanc is a good example. He made the decision that it's useful to be world famous and it doesn't matter much what you are famous for. Then he did provocative things and contacted reporters. Afterwards he got attacked. He became world famous and his sales increased.

He backed down and issued public apologies, and has gone considerably quieter since then. Doesn't seem to me that he ended up where he wanted to.

In Antifragile Nassim Taleb claims that one of the reasons Ayn Rand has the influence she has on US culture because she managed to get viciously attacked by a lot of people.

You might want to observe how she responded to attacks, as well.

I'm not seeing a point of that advice. In a public controversy it means that journalists can write articles about how you admited to a weak version but didn't fully admit to the wrong doing and call on you to admit to a stronger version.

They wouldn't, for three reasons. First, by admitting to a weak version, you cut off the central controversy, making it no longer newsworthy. Second, by attacking somebody with an admitted problem, they look like aggressors going after a victim. Third, they feel like they've already won.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 03 December 2015 11:48:17PM *  7 points [-]

I'm not seeing a point of that advice. In a public controversy it means that journalists can write articles about how you admited to a weak version but didn't fully admit to the wrong doing and call on you to admit to a stronger version.

They wouldn't, for three reasons.

They will and have. Look what happened to Larry Summers, Brendan Eich, or James Watson. In all cases issuing an apology didn't help them and lead directly to resignations. Heck look at the reaction of the University protestors to admissions of guild and apologies on the part of university administrators. Heck look who Christakis's apology failed to stop the events.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 December 2015 02:07:01PM 0 points [-]

They will and have. Look what happened to Larry Summers, Brendan Eich, or James Watson. In all cases issuing an apology didn't help them and lead directly to resignations. Heck look at the reaction of the University protestors to admissions of guild and apologies on the part of university administrators. Heck look who Christakis's apology failed to stop the events.

Ah. I see.

I'm not advocating an apology; that is playing the game according to the rules your opponents have set. I'm advocating -redefining- the game by changing what it is you have to apologize for. An example that is now recognized as such, and thus is no longer useful, is apologizing for the way what you said was received.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 05 December 2015 02:11:53AM 1 point [-]

An example that is now recognized as such, and thus is no longer useful, is apologizing for the way what you said was received.

The problem is that any apology is now recognized as such.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 05 December 2015 04:38:21PM -1 points [-]

While I disagree, I still don't advocate apologizing.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 07:30:16PM 1 point [-]

He backed down and issued public apologies, and has gone considerably quieter since then. Doesn't seem to me that he ended up where he wanted to.

It was advantagous for him to issue a public apology but that doesn't mean that the affair damaged him and that he isn't better of them at the start.

They wouldn't, for three reasons. First, by admitting to a weak version, you cut off the central controversy, making it no longer newsworthy. Second, by attacking somebody with an admitted problem, they look like aggressors going after a victim. Third, they feel like they've already won.

You ignore a few things about the press:

(1) People like reading stories that evolve. Journalists like to provide those stories to them. The desire to read how a story progresses makes people buy a new newspaper. With online media it's a bit different but even there jouranlists want to advance stories.

(2) Most of the time the actors in the interaction care but many issues besides the actual conflict.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 07:48:31PM 0 points [-]

It was advantagous for him to issue a public apology but that doesn't mean that the affair damaged him and that he isn't better of them at the start.

I wouldn't regard him as better off, and I have serious doubts he regards himself as better off, but we can disagree there. At any rate, he's not actually a useful counterexample, since he wasn't defending against attacks, but provoking them, and then responding... pretty much exactly according to the script. (Violated the hell out of Rule 1, though.)

People like reading stories that evolve. Journalists like to provide those stories to them. The desire to read how a story progresses makes people buy a new newspaper. With online media it's a bit different but even there jouranlists want to advance stories.

That might have been true twenty years ago. People's attention spans don't support that now. Even when it was true, however, the quick capitulation prevents evolution of the story. That's why that particular rule calls for -immediate- surrender; if you take a week to respond, you're dragging the story out and sustaining interest.

Most of the time the actors in the interaction care but many issues besides the actual conflict.

Yes. That's one of the other critical reasons for immediate capitulation; you prevent your own side from needing to throw in on your side and -create- a controversy. If nobody is arguing about it, everybody's attention moves on.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 08:10:44PM 0 points [-]

Capitulation and admitting to a weak version of the charge aren't the same thing.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 08:18:58PM -2 points [-]

No, they aren't, but most people won't be able to tell the difference.

Comment author: ChristianKl 03 December 2015 09:32:37PM 0 points [-]

No, they aren't, but most people won't be able to tell the difference.

I think in most cases your opponent is able to tell that you didn't capitulated to them. There's the saying that if you give someone a finger they take the whole hand.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 09:50:40PM 0 points [-]

Your opponent doesn't matter. Your audience matters.

Comment author: Dagon 07 December 2015 04:42:37PM 3 points [-]

Defense follows different rules than attack. In defense, you aren't trying to inflict wounds, you're trying to avoid them. Ending the fight quickly is paramount to this.

What? This is counter to most of what I know about conflict. Attack and defense are inseparable. Your goals include stopping the fight quickly with as high a reputation as possible at the end. Increasing your status is as important as not letting your status be reduced (except for small declining-utility effects). Making your attacker seem low-status to the audience (aka the territory under dispute) is absolutely a useful tactic.

In fact, as long as we're talking dark arts, seeking out weak attackers can make you look strong to some groups.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 December 2015 09:17:37PM -1 points [-]

What? This is counter to most of what I know about conflict. Attack and defense are inseparable.

So, what, running away isn't an option?

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 08 December 2015 05:18:44AM 2 points [-]

So this was supposed to be the "surrender to the the dark arts" article?

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 December 2015 03:23:52PM -2 points [-]

Tell me, how would you go about preventing somebody from robbing your house?

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 09 December 2015 01:58:38AM 4 points [-]

I believe in having a gun for home defense.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 09 December 2015 04:22:43PM 0 points [-]

A response which sums up this conversation, and the difference between our strategies, quite well.

Comment author: V_V 05 December 2015 03:51:47PM 2 points [-]

If you're accused of something, admit to the weakest and least harmful version of that which is true (be specific, and deny as necessary), and say you're aware of your problem and working on improving. This works regardless of whether there's an audience or not, but works best if there is an audience.

I don't think is necessarily good advice. Admitting that you're aware of your problem and working on improving can be seen as a form of weakness. In some cases it may be better to categorically deny the accusation and immediately counterattack, for instance by accusing your attacker of having ulterior motives.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 05 December 2015 04:36:35PM -1 points [-]

Admitting that you're aware of your problem and working on improving can be seen as a form of weakness.

Which would have been a disadvantage thirty years ago.

Comment author: V_V 05 December 2015 04:55:31PM 4 points [-]

While it isn't now?

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 December 2015 09:20:57PM 0 points [-]

No.

Thirty years ago, you had to be fairly skilled to use a perceived weakness to your advantage, using it to direct/anticipate and redirect. Today, using weakness as a weapon is a standard item in the average person's social toolkit, and the society we live in expects weakness to be catered to.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 08 December 2015 05:20:49AM 4 points [-]

Rather using a "weakness" in the sense of belonging to an officially approved "victim group" is an advantage. Actually showing weakness in a fight will be exploited even more ruthlessly than before.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 08 December 2015 03:25:27PM -2 points [-]

How do you "exploit" somebody in a reputational fight, pray tell?

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 09 December 2015 02:01:48AM 2 points [-]

You exploit the weakness by demanding more concessions. To use an example strait from today's headlines the Christakises' showing of weakness by apologizing was exploited by the BLM thugs putting pressure on her to resign.

Comment author: polymathwannabe 07 December 2015 09:29:00PM -1 points [-]

What exactly changed in these last 30 years that made weaknesses function differently?

Comment author: OrphanWilde 07 December 2015 09:35:55PM 0 points [-]

Society and technology. Somebody perceived as "punching down" in public is liable to be attacked en masse via social media, which makes it undesirable to do so.

This is not to say that this makes you invulnerable, but it provides a pretty strong disincentive for those who might be inclined to attack on that basis.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 03 December 2015 10:31:26PM 1 point [-]

This is a comparatively well written article and I think it would be upvoted if not for appearing somewhat dark at the end (rule #8). But I think this is part of life. I didn't learn that rule until late in life from others who had to learn in early - and for good measure. Weak forms of it can save your life in school apparently.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 03 December 2015 11:51:30PM 4 points [-]

This is a comparatively well written article and I think it would be upvoted if not for appearing somewhat dark at the end (rule #8).

I think it has the opposite problem. In today's climate it strikes me as not nearly aggressive enough to be effective.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 December 2015 02:08:54PM -1 points [-]

It is, I should note, a Defense article. I will not write an article on how to attack.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 05 December 2015 02:08:41AM 4 points [-]

Then why does it almost read like a surrender article?

Comment author: Elo 03 December 2015 09:30:21PM -2 points [-]

Healthy and informative - if only it would be easier to work out where to use the advice it might be more helpful to folk.

On some days I describe myself as a ghost; walking through the world without being seen; however at the same time everyone knows my face. knows OF me.

I wonder if I am doing 1 right. "hidden in plan sight"?

also a various strategy for helping 3: understand the humans around you. to the point where you can probably predict what will happen next.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 08:37:44PM *  0 points [-]

That's a good collection of practical advice. There is slight issue here in that people who can effectively use it, don't need it; and those who need this list of rules probably aren't capable of using them effectively. And it's hard to recommend "practice more" :-/

Comment author: OrphanWilde 03 December 2015 08:41:54PM -2 points [-]

There is that issue, yeah. I'm hoping the rules are a slight improvement over having zero idea of the correct way to deal with a situation; that is, that even if they can't be applied effectively, they might still be more effective than nothing at all.

Comment author: Lumifer 03 December 2015 08:47:57PM 0 points [-]

True. A set of guideposts in an unfamiliar landscape is quite helpful.

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 December 2015 12:01:57PM -1 points [-]

they might still be more effective than nothing at all.

They might. They are likely less effective than nothing at all. Your advice about "Do not stand out" has the possibility of prevent people from starting blogs and take a public stance for their own values.

The are not good guidelines.

Let's say a person in the EA/rationality space get's publically attacked. What should be their first response?

That's a trick question. Don't do anything public while being in the emotion triggered by the attack.

Seek out to other people in the community that have media experience and contact them privately. Do goal-factoring yourself about what's important in the situation. If you have a specific response in mind check with other people. In addition to EA/rationality people ask outsiders for their opinion.

Respond publically only after you checked with other people and are in a state to think clearly about the issue. Do not think that you can handle the situation optimally yourself without outside input by reading a list with ten rules or even reading the full Art of War.

Use Goal-factoring and Hemming circle's. Basic rationality techniques.

Comment author: pjeby 10 December 2015 06:00:21PM 0 points [-]

Use Goal-factoring and Hemming circle's. Basic rationality techniques.

I've at least heard of goal-factoring. What is/are "Hemming circle's"? Google only turns up articles about sewing.

Comment author: ChristianKl 10 December 2015 11:43:21PM -1 points [-]

Sorry, it's Hamming and not Hemming. (I often say the term and seldom write it)

It's basically getting a few people together to speak through a problem that one person has.

Comment author: pjeby 11 December 2015 05:18:38AM 1 point [-]

Searching for "Hamming circle" yields only information about hamming codes. Do you have a link?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 11 December 2015 11:34:10AM *  8 points [-]

It's a CFAR concept that's explained at their workshops but which hasn't been elaborated anywhere online, to my knowledge. (I take it you haven't been to a CFAR workshop yet, by the way? I think that their stuff and yours would have amazing amounts of synergy potential.)

The idea is that you have a small group of people, about 3 or 4, and then you go around the circle and each person gets to discuss their "Hamming question", named after Richard Hamming who'd go around asking other scientists, "what are the most important problems in your field, and why aren't you working on them". The Hamming question's the application of that to your life - "what's the biggest problem in your life, and what would it take to solve it". The other people are there to help the person who's trying to figure out their Hamming question, with e.g. probing questions and suggestions.

Hamming circles are a special case of "debugging circles", where the idea (3-4 people in circle, discussing each person's issue in turn) is the same, but you're also allowed to use the circle to discuss something that's not actually your Hamming question, but something smaller. I think Christian might have been thinking about debugging circles in general.

Here's a set of guidelines for running debugging circles (though I prefer to call them something like "growth circles" or "development circles") that I came up with after some experience with them:


Etiquette

Only bring up something if you actually want a solution for it. Everyone has times when they just need to vent and want sympathy rather than solutions, but development circles aren't the place for that. This doesn't mean that you would need to accept any suggestion that the others bring up, but it does mean that that you should be open to others offering suggestions in general. Once the session ends, you're free to just ignore and forget anything that didn't seem to make sense to you.

Be courteous of others and their time. Do your best to make sure that everyone, both you and the others, get a roughly equal share of the group's attention. If you have lots of problems in your life, don't dump all of them on the group at once, but rather focus on one or a small set of related ones. If it starts looking like the discussion has gotten stuck on one person's issues for an extended time and the others might not have a chance to have their issues discussed, gently but firmly suggest moving on to the next person. Try to be considerate enough to pass on your own turn early enough that someone else doesn't need to prompt you to do so.

If someone is undergoing a particularly difficult time or has a particularly important issue going on, it's alright to sometimes spend a disproportionate time on them: but you should try to avoid being that person each time.

But have a fair respect of your own time, as well. The opposite also applies: if you genuinely feel that there's nothing in your life that needs discussing, you're free to cut your own turn short, but if you do it many occasions in a row, you're probably not taking full advantage of the group. If nothing else, you can always use the group to get an opinion on any assumptions behind your current plans. While you don't want to go overtime on your turn, you also don't want to cut your own turn short. You have a right to get help from the group in return for helping others: stick to that right.

Don't proselytize your view. Maybe you're completely certain that the cause of the other person's problems is that they don't have cat ears as a part of their attire, which would totally fix everything if they just changed that. You're free to think that, but if they disagree with your suggestion, don't get stuck arguing but let it go.

Approaches

Start by trying to understand what problem the person is trying to solve. "I've been trying to sign up for dance lessons but can never seem to get around it." One possible approach would be to immediately start offering ways for the person to sign up for dance lessons. Often a more fruitful one would be to first ask - why do you want to attend dance lessons? Maybe it turns out that the person doesn't actually care about learning to dance, but is feeling bad because their friend, a great dancer, always gets all the attention at parties. Then the actual problem is not "how to learn to dance" but "how to get other people to notice me". It's quite possible that not knowing to dance isn't actually the biggest issue there.

Test your understanding of the problem. When you're formulating an understanding of the problem, it can be useful to frequently verbalize it to the other person to make sure that you've understood correctly. "So you seem to be feeling bad because your girlfriend just became the President of your country while you mostly spend time playing video games, is that right?"

A rule of thumb that I sometimes use is "do I feel like I understand this problem and its causes well enough that I could explain to a third person why this person wants to solve it and why they haven't been able to solve it yet?" If the answer is no, try asking more questions first.

Even "obvious" problems may benefit from questions. Someone once mentioned that they tend to often jump to being critical of others, which tends to be harmful. Here the causal mechanism seemed to be pretty obvious, but asking "how does it tend to be harmful" was still useful in bringing out details of the exact nature of the typical criticism and how people tended to react to that.

Look for trigger-action patterns. "I always end up being on the computer and wasting time and then feeling bad." What specific things on the computer act as time-wasters, and how exactly does the person end up doing those things? Maybe they often feel bored or anxious, which causes them to open Facebook, which causes them to get lost in a maze of discussions and links. Would there be a way to either remove the anxiety, or find a new action to carry out when anxious? Which one would be easier?

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Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 11 December 2015 11:36:21AM 6 points [-]

(comment continued)

Look for positive and negative reinforcers in the environment. "I often post a link to Facebook, and then I keep returning to Facebook throughout the day because I want to see whether it's accumulated new likes and comments." Here, logging on to Facebook after posting a link keeps getting reinforced by the accumulation of comments and likes, which provide a reward each time that the page is opened and there's a new one. Could something be done to eliminate those reinforcers? ("If anyone sees me responding to a comment or posting a link, don't like it but do remind me that I was supposed to be working.") Or maybe provide reinforcers for something else? ("For each ten minutes that passes without me logging onto Facebook, could you please come give me a hug?")

Be specific about the causes of emotional reactions. "My boss is so full of himself, it drives me nuts." Exactly how does the full-of-himself-ness manifest? If the exact behavior is "he often interrupts", maybe something could be done about that thing in particular. Best case: the boss comes from a conversational culture where interrupting is normal, and hasn't even realized that someone would consider it rude - but this would have been impossible for the others to suggest if the problem description would only have been on the level of "he's so full of himself".

This is also a useful technique for reducing your own annoyance at others, even if it was just something you did in your head. "I'm getting frustrated now because that person is talking really loudly and I would like to read." Breaking down an atomic "AAAAAGH I'M SO FRUSTRATED" into a "I'm feeling [specific emotion] because [specific cause] and [that violates my desire/need to something]" is not only useful for debugging, it can also relieve the frustration by itself.

Assume that problems won't fix themselves. In one session, someone says they intend to implement some change for next week's meeting. In the next session, they say, "yeah, that plan didn't really work out, but I was kinda busy and distracted this week. I'm going to try harder."

Chances are, if they were busy and distracted this week, they're likely to be busy and distracted the next week, too. "I'm going to try harder" often translates either as "I don't actually care about solving this problem but want to give the impression that I do", or alternatively, "I don't actually know how to fix this but I'm going to try again the same way, in the hopes of magically getting a different result now". Assuming that the person really does want to solve their problem, try to figure out exactly what went wrong and how it could be avoided in the future.

Ask, "is there a more general problem here?" Someone wants to cut down on the amount of money that they spend on fast food. One day when they're coming home from work they walk past a hamburger place, are tempted by the advertisements, and go there to eat. This happens several times.

The specific problem in this case would be "I always end up eating at the Burger King on the 27th street on my way home". The more general form of the problem might be something like "each time I walk past a fast food place when I'm hungry, I end up eating there". General solutions might be "pick a route that allows you to avoid seeing fast food places when you're hungry" and "make sure to carry something with you that allows you stave off the worst of the hunger until you're home".

Focusing. Someone is having difficulties deciding whether to try to solve a problem or whether to accept its consequences and let it be. One approach would be to have them verbalize all the reasons why the unsolved issue bothers them, and then say out loud, "having considered all of these consequences of the problem, I find that they're acceptable and it's better to just let this be". Does saying that feel right to them, or does something about it feel wrong? What if they were to say, "having considered all of these consequences of the problem, I find that they're unacceptable and I want to solve the problem", instead? Would that feel right or wrong?

Quick Murphyjitsu. After you've come up with a plan, it may be useful to have the other person do a quick Murphyjitsu on it. How surprised would they be if this plan failed? If not particularly, is there any obvious failure mode that comes to mind and which could be fixed?

Check that the person remembers something actionable. Sometimes discussion may suggest some actionable things, then drift to e.g. more general discussion of the problem which doesn't provide as many concrete suggestions. If this happens, make sure that the person whose problems are being debugged still remembers the actionable suggestions they got earlier on.

Comment author: Tem42 12 December 2015 01:09:34AM 3 points [-]

This should be a top level post, probably in main.