Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Rationality Quotes Thread January 2016

5 Post author: elharo 01 January 2016 04:00PM

Another month, another rationality quotes thread. The rules are:

  • Provide sufficient information (URL, title, date, page number, etc.) to enable a reader to find the place where you read the quote, or its original source if available. Do not quote with only a name.
  • Post all quotes separately, so that they can be upvoted or downvoted separately. (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments. If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself.
  • Do not quote from Less Wrong itself, HPMoR, Eliezer Yudkowsky, or Robin Hanson. If you'd like to revive an old quote from one of those sources, please do so here.
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Comments (244)

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 04 January 2016 06:16:35PM 20 points [-]

Analysts do not achieve objective analysis by avoiding preconceptions; that would be ignorance or self-delusion. Objectivity is achieved by making basic assumptions and reasoning as explicit as possible so that they can be challenged by others and analysts can, themselves, examine their validity.

Psychology of Intelligence Analysis by Richards J. Heuer, Jr. page 10

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 04 January 2016 06:25:25PM *  2 points [-]

Good quote. People should write down all their assumptions when doing data analysis. It's a very contingent game.

Comment author: dspeyer 05 January 2016 08:17:15AM 15 points [-]

There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations. If a conversation reaches a certain level of incivility, the more thoughtful people start to leave.

--Paul Graham

Comment author: Jonni 18 January 2016 12:30:32PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Viliam 05 January 2016 09:09:40AM *  2 points [-]

I recommend reading the linked article; it's interesting.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 January 2016 09:16:06PM 2 points [-]

I recommend the whole thing, too.

The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight. Which means if the public conversation about women consists of fighting, their voices will be silenced.

And I bet we're not hearing from men who don't like fighting.

Comment author: Viliam 25 January 2016 08:58:52AM 0 points [-]

More generally, if one wants to learn about the distribution of opinions in a group X, one needs to make some kind of a poll, instead of listening to the self-proclaimed speakers for the group.

Otherwise the result may be more strongly influenced by "what makes people become public speakers for a group" than by merely "belonging to the group X".

Maybe we should always remind ourselves about the forces of self-selection. Looking at a Mensa member, instead of just "a highly intelligent person" we should also think "a person who prefers to publicly associate with groups defined by innate traits (as opposed to behavior or achievements)". Looking at a professional feminist, instead of "a woman", we should also think "a person who built their career on hating men". Looking at a men's rights activist, instead of "a man", we should also think "a person who got burned by a divorce". Etc.

It is also important to notice how much easier is this to do for the groups one doesn't like (where it feels like an obvious step that doesn't even require an explanation), than for the groups one does like (where it feels like an unfair generalization).

But this reminder itself is not sufficient to find out the opinions of the silent majority. (Reverting stupidity is not intelligence.) Recognizing that we have noisy data doesn't automatically un-noise them. Unfortunately, even the public online poll would suffer from "people who prefer to express their opinions in online polls" selection bias.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 26 January 2016 02:25:47PM 1 point [-]

More generally, if one wants to learn about the distribution of opinions in a group X, one needs to make some kind of a poll,

Unfortunately, it's even worse than that, because the same issue (selection bias) arises in polls. In fact, a lot of missing data work that tries to deal with bias adjustment was done in the context of analysis of survey data, I think.

Comment author: Glen 25 January 2016 07:54:08PM 1 point [-]

I find myself agreeing with your general statement, that it is important to not treat the outspoken members of a group as indicative whether good or bad, while being somewhat worried that you have fallen into the same pattern in the process of trying to explain it.

Your examples of feminist and men's rights activist generalizations seem to be examples of the sort of one-sided generalizations you warn about in the very next paragraph. Men's right's activists are generalized in a positive fashion - they are victims of circumstance, trying to avenge the wrongs done to them - while feminists are portrayed in a negative fashion - one dimensional bigots building a career on hating men. I think it would have served your point better if you had attempted positive generalizations for both. How you have it now just seems like it is undermining your general point. In fact, you should probably avoid contemporary political groups when giving examples to avoid this sort of this altogether.

It is possible that you deliberately chose those generalizations in order to demonstrate the trap many people fall into. If that is the case, I think you need to make it more clear. Examples of failed rationality are useful, but should be clearly labeled.

Additionally, I don't see how learning the opinions of the silent majority is reversed stupidity. We already know the opinions of the vocal minority, wouldn't learning the opinions of the silent majority give us a clear picture of the whole group's opinions? I suppose there could be a third group left out by this, some sort of Mumbling Moderates, but it should be easy enough to pick them up in well designed polls as well.

Comment author: Viliam 26 January 2016 08:43:48AM *  2 points [-]

My description of men's rights activists is usually used as negative. First, it implies they are losers, i.e. low-status, which for most people means that their opinions are not worth to consider seriously. Second, it implies that they merely generalize from their personal issues, which against means that they are biased, and that people who don't have the same issues can ignore them.

To put it in a near mode, imagine that you are at a lecture where someone speaks about men's rights, and then someone in the audience whispers to their neighbor "this guy had a nasty divorce recently". Is this remark meant to make the person who heard it treat the lecture more seriously, or less seriously?

Comment author: [deleted] 30 January 2016 09:59:41PM 0 points [-]

My description of men's rights activists is usually used as negative. First, it implies they are losers, i.e. low-status, which for most people means that their opinions are not worth to consider seriously. Second, it implies that they merely generalize from their personal issues, which against means that they are biased, and that people who don't have the same issues can ignore them.

I think that's true of many kinds of activists in the early stages of their (later successful, somewhat) movement. For instance, AIDS activists were considered losers and biased, people of colour were considered losers and biased and so on and so forth. I'm not saying that men's-right activism is going to become mainstream, since it may be true of all movements. I can't bring to mind a successful example of a çountermovement that has been later successful, however. The only example I can think of is neo-nazism. As maligned as MRA's are, it obviously unreasonable to equate them with Hitler. I for one think they have valid problems, but suboptimal, counterproductive and frequently mean ways of dealing with them.

To bring it back to quotes, I feel this one could speak to them:

"Think about the three biggest discouragers in your life... they aren't your biggest discouragers. You are."

-Nick Vujicic


Comment author: Zubon 31 January 2016 05:54:03PM 0 points [-]

Social desirability bias remains even in randomized, anonymous polls. But the result would be less wrong than self-selected, public polls.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 January 2016 09:40:16PM 0 points [-]

How fascinating!

Comment author: Viliam 01 January 2016 05:40:35PM 14 points [-]

If you feel satisfaction because you’ve seen a critique of a weak argument for an opponent’s position while ignoring the strong ones, that’s the feeling of becoming stupider.

Put A Number On It!

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 11 January 2016 07:26:21AM 2 points [-]

That same quote is also from Eliezer Yudkowsky in the Blogging Heads interview 2008. Are you sure of the source?

Comment author: Viliam 11 January 2016 12:05:39PM 3 points [-]

Haven't seen the video (and am not going to watch it now), and the article didn't contain a link. So I can't answer this.

If you give me the exact time when it is said in the video, I will retract the comment.

Comment author: username2 04 January 2016 01:47:38PM 1 point [-]

I thought you were not allowed to quote LWers?

Comment author: Viliam 04 January 2016 03:25:31PM *  5 points [-]

I interpreted "Do not quote from Less Wrong itself" as things posted directly on this website, not as things posted anywhere by anyone who also happens to have an account on this website.

(Eliezer Yudkowsky and Robin Hanson are mentioned as specific exceptions.)

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 04 January 2016 03:59:12PM 4 points [-]

I also remember hearing that the point of that rule is to prevent the RQ threads to become echo chambers and therefore it should also apply to things LW regulars say elsewhere, but if so I'd very much rather the rule said that explicitly.

Comment author: gjm 04 January 2016 03:47:34PM 0 points [-]

FWIW this is also my interpretation of the intention, but WIW may not be very much since I have never been very active in either posting or voting on Rationality Quotes.

Comment author: elharo 08 January 2016 11:14:36AM 11 points [-]

Sometimes a writer has no choice but to hedge a statement. Better still, the writer can qualify the statement—that is, spell out the circumstances in which it does not hold rather than leaving himself an escape hatch or being coy as to whether he really means it. If there is a reasonable chance that readers will misinterpret a statistical tendency as an absolute law, a responsible writer will anticipate the oversight and qualify the generalization accordingly. Pronouncements like “Democracies don’t fight wars,” “Men are better than women at geometry problems,” and “Eating broccoli prevents cancer” do not do justice to the reality that those phenomena consist at most of small differences in the means of two overlapping bell curves. Since there are serious consequences to misinterpreting those statements as absolute laws, a responsible writer should insert a qualifier like on average or all things being equal, together with slightly or somewhat. Best of all is to convey the magnitude of the effect and the degree of certainty explicitly, in unhedged statements such as “During the 20th century, democracies were half as likely to go to war with one another as autocracies were.” It’s not that good writers never hedge their claims. It’s that their hedging is a choice, not a tic.

-- Steven Pinker, Why Academics Stink at Writing (Behind Paywall)

Comment author: Strangeattractor 26 January 2016 11:02:01AM 7 points [-]

These days I actually liked my mother-in-law. Before Michael and I were married, her habit of referring to me as “her” and my family as “the outlaws” had rubbed me the wrong way. She seemed to grow a lot fonder of me once Michael and I had gotten married—though I found myself wondering if she was just resigning herself to the inevitable. But eventually, after a conversation with Rose Noire, I made a resolution to consider everything Mrs. Waterston said to me in a positive light—even if it sounded like criticism.

So if she commented, “You’ve gained a few pounds, haven’t you?” I would say, “Why yes! Thank you!” as if pudging out was something I had been working frantically to achieve. If she mentioned that the boys were a grubby mess, I would beam and say “Yes, isn’t it nice that they’re so active!” If she mentioned how loud they were I would enthuse, “Yes, is there anything more delightful than hearing the happy voices of children at play?” If she commented on any shortcomings in the housekeeping, I would pretend to think she was complimenting me on achieving a comfortable, unstuffy, lived-in house.

I’d gotten to the point where playing the lemonade game, as I called it, was actually quite enjoyable, and these days, for whatever reason, she gave me far fewer opportunities to do so. I wasn’t sure if she was making fewer snide or critical remarks or if I was just less apt to misinterpret random remarks as intended slights, but either way, we got along better.

--the character Meg Langslow in the novel Duck The Halls by Donna Andrews, p. 247

Comment author: RomeoStevens 02 January 2016 07:22:26AM 7 points [-]

“Rationality is not just something you do so that you can make more money, it is a binding principle. Rationality is a really good idea. You must avoid the nonsense that is conventional in one’s own time. It requires developing systems of thought that improve your batting average over time.”

-Charlie Munger on average decision quality and systems vs goals.

Comment author: WalterL 14 January 2016 08:04:48AM 4 points [-]

“It is a mistake,” he said, “to suppose that the public wants the environment protected or their lives saved and that they will be grateful to any idealist who will fight for such ends. What the public wants is their own individual comfort.” ― Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves, page 31

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 16 January 2016 08:07:18AM 2 points [-]

Cynical, but is it actually true? It seems to me that a lot of people are actually quite strongly committed to the cause of the environment, or defense against terrorists. They do not necessarily take effective action for those causes, but they would certainly vote for someone who signalled similar commitment.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 January 2016 03:32:38PM -1 points [-]

I think it is true. So true. People whom I have upbraided for selling rare flowers or digging vegetable gardens on protected territories immediately began to talk about oligarchs having private residences in our beloved forests and why am I not doing anything about that?..

Comment author: elharo 17 January 2016 01:11:23PM 2 points [-]

I've experienced this as well, in different contexts. It's depressing to watch birders and even more commonly bird photographers trample on protected habitat just to get a better look at a bird. That being said, there's perhaps a fallacy here. It is absolutely true that some people value their personal comfort and wealth over broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, at least some of the time. It is also true that some people pick broader values like environmental protection or the general health of the population, even at some cost to their personal comfort and specific wants, at least some of the time.

Neither statement is true of all people, all of the time. The real questions we should ask are:

1) How many people, how much of the time? 2) Which people? And why? 3) What can we do to require less specific sacrifice in favor of the general good?

Both of these questions are better asked of very specific cases. For instance, you'll get different answers if you talk about, for example, reducing marine speed limits in Florida to protect manatees or installing smokestack scrubbers on coal-fired power plants.

Talking in generalities often avoids the hard work of quantification on real world problems in favor of ideologically motivated displays of tribal allegiance.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 January 2016 01:12:12PM 1 point [-]

Okay, I apologize for my cynical answer, I have met people who tied themselves to the branches of the trees in their park (and were cut down). However, if anything I would expect voting to be an example of ideologically motivated displays of tribal allegiance.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2016 03:58:19PM 0 points [-]

The first two questions you pose seem to me impractical, since even a single 'nature user' can undo the effect of many 'non-users' (who often simply don't intervene and so don't bring [apparent] harm). If in my village the tradition to burn meadows in spring persists even though they have not been massively used as pastures for twenty years, whom will I address? Most likely, some boys set fire to the dry grass to have fun, and the rest are simply used to smelling the smoke in early spring to say anything of it.

Now, the third question is rather interesting, but also has the weakness that the less specific the sacrifice, the less control one has over it. In my experience, it was always a kind of give-and-take - I understand that you will keep doing this, but I caught you this time - Oh well, I promise not to do it again - By the way, where did you collect these pasqueflowers? * - *Oh, in such-and-such place - All right, we'll do our best to have the place reserved - Please do, although you will need our village's head consent, and she wants to sell the plot for a large sum! - Dreadful - Awful - Bye - Bye. Probably with power plants it is worse. There's always someone one level above you. There's always a way to present your actions as motivated by money. This is, among other things, a reason to affiliate yourself with a group that doesn't get paid for doing this kind of negotiations, but on the other hand, you need funds to do any kind of constructive work (much less for simply spreading the word or running after individual offenders). You need to buy the gas to drive into remote places, for example.

Other people decide to quantify RWP and you see them signing quotas for cut wood or something, and you know there's no way to check how much wood will really be cut unless you make it your business, which means 1) the people who sign quotas give the cutters ammunition, 2) the people who sign quotas won't involve themselves further, 3) you still need the gas to go there, and 4) but now you will be seen acting in bad faith.

Which means nobody trusts anybody else.

Comment author: roland 10 January 2016 02:56:24PM 4 points [-]

From a mere act of the imagination we cannot learn anything about the real world. To suppose that the resulting probability assignments have any real physical meaning is just another form of the mind projection fallacy. In practice, this diverts our attention to irrelevancies and away from the things that really matter (such as information about the real world that is not expressible in terms of any sampling distribution, or does not fit into the urn picture, but which is nevertheless highly cogent for the inferences we want to make). Usually, the price paid for this folly is missed opportunities; had we recognized that information, more accurate and/or more reliable inferences could have been made.

-- E T Jaynes Probability Theory the Logic of Science

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 03 January 2016 11:13:02PM 4 points [-]

Experience has shown that it is by no means difficult for philosophy to begin. Far from it. It begins with nothing, and consequently can always begin. But the difficulty, both for philosophy and for philosophers, is to stop.

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, vol. 1 (trans. Swenson & Swenson).

Comment author: The_Lion 04 January 2016 01:05:52AM 4 points [-]

The destroyer of science and rationality isn't the uneducated blue collar, but the "fortune cookie" journo trying to "communicate" science.

Nassim Taleb

Comment author: username2 04 January 2016 01:50:00PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, you have to have some power to go against scientific community. Media, tobacco, oil companies and governments are obviously more dangerous than average Joes.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2016 07:32:38AM 2 points [-]

At some point you have to choose between (1) accepting the good and bad within a person versus (2) accepting the good and bad of being forever without this person

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2016 08:03:28AM 1 point [-]

Live your happiest live by accepting that some people can only be in your life as lessons and/or memories

-Karen Salmansohn

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2016 07:53:18AM -1 points [-]

Do not fear change. Change fear.

-Karen Salmansohn

Comment author: Jiro 02 January 2016 08:22:28PM *  18 points [-]

Mr. Furious: Okay. Am I the only one who finds these sayings just a bit formulaic? "If you wanna put something down, you gotta pick it up". "If you wanna go left, you gotta go right". It's...

Sphinx: Your temper is very quick, my friend. But until you learn to master your rage —

Mr. Furious: Your rage will become your master? [The Sphinx freezes, caught] That's what you were gonna say, right? Right?

Sphinx: ... Not necessarily.

-- Mystery Men

Comment author: [deleted] 04 January 2016 01:21:49PM 2 points [-]

everything will be okay in the end, if it's not okay it's not the end


Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 12 January 2016 11:05:53AM 3 points [-]

In Soviet Russia, fear changes you!

Comment author: The_Lion 03 January 2016 05:29:29AM 4 points [-]

Not all changes are good. In fact, most potential changes would be absolutely awful.

Comment author: Silver_Swift 05 January 2016 04:56:51PM 2 points [-]

That is no reason to fear change, "not every change is an improvement but every improvement is a change" and all that.

Comment author: Glen 06 January 2016 09:00:31PM 1 point [-]

That depends on the situation and record, doesn't it? If 90% of changes that you have undergone in the past were negative, then wouldn't it be reasonable to resist change in the future? Obviously you shouldn't just outright refuse all change, but if you have a chance to slow it down long enough to better judge what the effects will be, isn't that good? I guess the real solution is to judge possible actions by analyzing the cost/benefit to the best of your ability in cases where this is practical.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 January 2016 04:38:30AM 0 points [-]

That's a ridiculously pessimistic thing to say

Comment author: Lumifer 13 January 2016 03:50:17PM 2 points [-]

I suspect you read this as "most (well-meaning) potential changes" while The_Lion means it as "most (random) potential changes".

Most random changes to highly organized structures would, indeed, be awful.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 14 January 2016 10:37:40AM 1 point [-]

All the changes that people make are "well-meaning", even those being made by ISIS. A word that better makes the distinction is "intentional".

Comment author: CCC 19 January 2016 10:32:23AM 1 point [-]

Not necessarily. I know that if I get really angry, I sometimes make (generally small) decisions out of a desire to hurt whatever I am angry at. I don't think that counts as "well-meaning".

Comment author: Lumifer 14 January 2016 03:47:55PM 1 point [-]

All the changes that people make are "well-meaning", even those being made by ISIS.

Depends on your definition of "well" and that line of approach would lead us into the usual definitional morass :-/

And, technically speaking, there is also compulsive behaviour.

Comment deleted 14 January 2016 08:05:38AM [-]
Comment author: Lumifer 14 January 2016 03:45:56PM 1 point [-]

The road to hell was never in need of repair.

Comment author: Viliam 25 January 2016 09:03:11AM 0 points [-]

How would you feel about this?

Pareto efficiency, or Pareto optimality, is a state of allocation of resources in which it is impossible to make any one individual better off without making at least one individual worse off.

Or about a definition of a (local) maximum that says that all other (adjacent) options are worse?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 04:01:21AM -1 points [-]

I don't have any particular feelings about since I don't see how you are relating it to the quotes. Could you please clarify?

I believe it's a concept and reckon it's a pretty good Wikipedia article...

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2016 08:36:55AM -1 points [-]

Live your happiest life by tapping into choice not habit in your words and actions. Karen Salmansohn

Comment author: [deleted] 13 January 2016 04:51:34AM 2 points [-]

“If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”

-Richard Bach

“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the nonpharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.”

-John W. Gardner

  1. Know the benefits of a victim mentality.

There are a few benefits of the victim mentality:

  • Attention and validation. You can always get good feelings from other people as they are concerned about you and try to help you out. On the other hand, it may not last for that long as people get tired of it.

  • You don’t have to take risks. When you feel like a victim you tend to not take action and then you don’t have to risk for example rejection or failure.

    • Don’t have to take the sometimes heavy responsibility. Taking responsibility for you own life can be hard work, you have to make difficult decisions and it is just heavy sometimes. In the short term it can feel like the easier choice to not take personal responsibility.

    • It makes you feel right. When you feel like the victim and like everyone else – or just someone else – is wrong and you are right then that can lead to pleasurable feelings.


Comment author: Viliam 25 January 2016 08:43:42AM *  1 point [-]

Seems to me that people with the victim mentality often make a very unhealthy generalization: they start with something like "doing bad things to other people is evil; not doing bad things to other people and suffering from other people's bad actions is good"... and gradually simplify it to: "doing things is evil; not doing anything is good". -- In extreme cases they may admit it openly, and perhaps call it an ancient wisdom. But in the typical case they would refuse this as strawmanning; yet their reasoning and action is as if they believed this.

At that moment, they refuse to take any steps to improve their situation, simply because the good side is defined by not doing things. If you need some rationalization, here it is: People who do something, sometimes do something bad, if only by a mistake. Doing bad things when you had the option of not doing bad things, is evil. Even risking the possibility of doing bad things is immoral negligence; and people who try to improve something are suspect of being slowly driven to the evil side by their corrupted hardware.

There is sometimes an exception to this rule, some kind of messiah who is above all the human weakness and cannot be corrupted by the evil influence of action -- for example some politician or a political party. Then the person with the victim mentality expects this specific person or movement to save them. Anyone else who tries doing something still remains evil.

(I know this is a lot of wild generatization, and the model does not properly describe every nuance of real life. Still it corresponds to some things I have observed.)

Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 04:22:50AM 0 points [-]

I really liked this analysis. I reckon whoever was callous/conceited enough to downvote might have been calling out the:

Seems to me that people with the victim mentality often make a very unhealthy generalization:

(I know this is a lot of wild generatization, and the model does not properly describe every nuance of real life. Still it corresponds to some things I have observed.)

Comment author: dspeyer 09 January 2016 07:41:33PM 1 point [-]

I can't avoid all my problems by drawing squirrels, but when I can, I do.

--Randall Munrow

Comment author: roryokane 09 January 2016 07:46:19PM *  3 points [-]

*Randall Munroe

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 26 January 2016 05:16:12PM 1 point [-]

Why is this being downvoted (apart from misspelling the name)? I take the quote to be a version of "If it's stupid and works, it's not stupid."

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2016 01:54:57AM *  1 point [-]

“The end is not to eliminate choice (or the lessons that may be learned from misguided choices), but to remove from the market choices that will more than likely be made only by those who are susceptible to non maximising considerations. … given the comparative advantage that sellers have with respect to knowledge about their products, and given the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of potential customers, minimum quality and safety standards (and occupational licensing) represent an attempt to overcome the worst effects of exploitation.”

-Kleinig 1983, pp. 183-8, in Allens

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 19 January 2016 10:24:11PM 1 point [-]

Initial steps for this symposium began a few billion years ago. As soon as the stars were formed, opacities became one of the basic subjects determining the structure of the physical world in which we live. And more recently with the development of nuclear weapons operating at temperatures of stellar interiors, opacities become as well one of the basic subjects determining the processes by which we may all die. -- Opacity Calculations: Past and Future, by Harris L. Mayer

I agree with Randall Munroe that it is an awesome opening paragraph for a physics paper

Comment author: gjm 24 January 2016 03:34:40PM 1 point [-]

I agree that it's a great opening paragraph, but is it really a "rationality quote" in any useful sense?

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 24 January 2016 10:05:59PM 0 points [-]

It's places facts about a seemingly simple effect (opacity) into a context of the grandest possible scope thereby showing the surprising complexity of everything if taken seriously. At the same time it uses this as a cool literary device.

It doesn't tell you this upfront but I saw it as teaching to think big in a true way. Either this is too hidden or I interpreted something that isn't there.

Comment author: [deleted] 22 January 2016 05:58:32AM -1 points [-]

“”If you are busy drinking and fighting all the time, you accomplish nothing, so then need to attach yourself vicariously to the success of other white people as a source of your 'pride.' But it is utter hypocrisy.

—Singer (and former white supremacist) George Burdi.

I'm not white and this helped me feel more secure about my racial identity. I'm not secure about my LessWrong or Reddit identity either and sometimes ask myself, then why do it?

Comment deleted 23 January 2016 04:48:02AM [-]
Comment author: gjm 24 January 2016 03:28:48PM 4 points [-]

Oh, really.

"Gay pride" was, I take it, the granddaddy of them all. It doesn't seem difficult to think of some successful gay people, but here in case you're having trouble is a very short list. Oscar Wilde, world-class playwright. Tim Cook, CEO of the world's most successful company. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, prime minister of Iceland. Benjamin Britten, greatest English composer since Purcell. Freddie Mercury, rock star. Alan Turing, mathematician, computer pioneer and helped win WW2.

"Black pride" is a thing, I guess. Martin Luther King, social and political reformer. Barack Obama, president of the world's only superpower. Desmond Tutu, archbishop. Toni Morrison, Nobel-winning writer. Neil deGrasse Tyson, astronomer and TV star. Louis Armstrong, jazz musician.

Those are actually the only two major "pride movements" I know of. There are "white pride" and "straight pride" movements, kinda, but they're quite different in character and I think in motivation, and in any case I don't imagine you'll have any difficulty thinking of successful white and straight people.

I expect there's such a thing as "trans pride", but transness is much rarer than gayness or blackness and was socially unacceptable for longer. (Hence: fewer of them, and more obstacles to their becoming successful.) Still, off the top of my head I'll name Wendy Carlos, musician, and Sophie Wilson, engineer, both of whom were world-famous (as men) for things that had nothing to do with gender identity before coming out as trans.

What pride movements were you thinking of that don't have examples of successful people to look at?

Comment deleted 24 January 2016 05:41:56PM [-]
Comment author: IlyaShpitser 24 January 2016 09:49:38PM 11 points [-]

All the successful black people you mentioned are basically dancing bears.

Nancy, why is this dude still here?

Comment author: yawaw 25 January 2016 05:18:45AM 9 points [-]

Serious question: have the admins checked The_Lion's comments for evidence of vote manipulation? Their apparent popularity is surprising (and arguably sends a very bad message about the current state of the Less Wrong community), and their content seems to match the interests and opinions of a user who is well-known for abusing the voting system.

Comment author: Vaniver 25 January 2016 04:49:07PM 6 points [-]

It is currently not easy for admins to investigate voting on comments. I'll add that to the list of changes to investigate.

Comment author: Jiro 25 January 2016 12:03:26AM 6 points [-]

"Dancing bear" is a term. It doesn't literally indicate that he's comparing black people to animals.

Comment author: EHeller 25 January 2016 04:21:06AM 7 points [-]

I'm not sure the connotation of the term (i.e. a black person being successful at anything is so shocking it's entertainment value all on it's own) makes the statement any better. Especially when discussing, say, one of the most important American musicians of all time (among others).

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 06:00:45AM *  [-]
Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 January 2016 09:04:00AM -2 points [-]

especially outside the fields of sports and Entertainment

I think you spelled "except in" wrong.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 January 2016 09:03:18AM 3 points [-]

I don't think Ilya thought the latter.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 26 January 2016 02:06:06AM *  4 points [-]

I know what "dancing bear" means.

Comment author: gjm 25 January 2016 02:29:18PM *  1 point [-]

No, it means he's saying that all the examples I gave are of people who aren't actually any good at what they do and are interesting only because for a black person to be able to attempt those tasks at all is remarkable. The stupidity and obnoxiousness of that doesn't depend on a comparison with animals.

In any case, one reason why people use metaphors is precisely the fact that the literal sense of the metaphor produces an effect. You call someone a "dancing bear", and your readers are going to get a mental image of a dancing bear and (in so far as they accept what you say) associate it with the person you're talking about. You don't get to do that and claim you're not comparing the person to an animal.

[EDITED to fix a trivial typo.]

Comment author: bogus 25 January 2016 02:48:52PM 1 point [-]

No, it means he's saying that all the examples I gave are of people who aren't actually any good at what they do and are interesting only because for a black person to be able to attempt those tasks at all is remarkable.

In all fairness, this describes a lot of lists of "achievements of minority X in field Y". To some extent, it's a natural result of looking for "achievements" from a tiny minority (e.g. Turks or whatever) in a field where they don't really have a comparative advantage.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 25 January 2016 03:58:57PM 0 points [-]

Eugene is saying not that "they don't really have a comparative advantage", but that they have a comparative disadvantage so strong that any purported great achievements should be dismissed as fakery, exaggeration, or, if it seems that one of them really has achieved something, "exceptions". In Eugene's view, they're still nothing more than performing dogs, they've just managed the miracle, despite their intrinsic inferiority, of doing it as well as the best real people.

Comment author: Vaniver 25 January 2016 05:07:37PM 1 point [-]

I think it's possible to make the same point, drained of malice. To take Neil deGrasse Tyson as an example, he's a PhD physicist, but when compared to other popularizers of science I'd say he's closer to Bill Nye than he is to Carl Sagan when it comes to scientific productivity. (All three of those are people I like and respect, so this isn't meant as a slur against any of them; if only there were more Nyes and Tysons and Sagans!)

Similarly, I remember the three recurring examples of scientists during my time in elementary school being Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, and George Washington Carver. Again, all three are worthy of respect, but it's misrepresenting the mechanics of science to see those three as equally prominent in the history of science, and when comparing groups what matters is not the most extreme member of each group, but the depth of the field.

Comment author: gjm 25 January 2016 05:13:26PM -1 points [-]

AIUI, Eugine The Fourth is trying to suggest that there's something more than this going on: that black people are underrepresented in lists of successful people not because there are few of them but because they're mentally inferior for some (presumably genetic) reason.

Black people are not a tiny minority globally, so to first order it would be evidence for that theory if in fact lists of successful black people look like lists of successful Turkish people.

Of course there are other factors; e.g., most of Africa is grindingly poor -- though I expect Eugine would say, or at least imply, that that's because Africa is full of mentally-inferior people -- and while there are quite a lot of black people in the USA they've historically had some difficulties to contend with.

Comment author: Lumifer 25 January 2016 05:20:14PM 3 points [-]

they've historically had some difficulties to contend with

Funny how that worked out for Jews in Medieval Europe...

Comment author: RichardKennaway 25 January 2016 03:49:16PM 0 points [-]

BTW, the original, sourceable quotation uses the image of "a dog walking on its hind legs". Your response still applies.

Comment author: Viliam 25 January 2016 09:37:56AM *  1 point [-]

Heh, typical Eugine. Making a good point in the least pleasant way (preferably also with some exaggerations). The username changes, but the style doesn't.

Comment author: katydee 25 January 2016 09:56:54PM *  6 points [-]

This is one of the worst comments I've seen on LessWrong and I think the fact that this is being upvoted is disgraceful. (Note: this reply refers to a comment that has since been deleted.)

Comment author: Anders_H 25 January 2016 10:09:46PM *  14 points [-]

This note is for readers who are unfamiliar with The_Lion:

This user is a troll who has been banned multiple times from Less Wrong. He is unwanted as a participant in this community, but we are apparently unable to prevent him from repeatedly creating new accounts. Administrators have extensive evidence for sockpuppetry and for abuse of the voting system. The fact that The_Lion's comment above is heavily upvoted is almost certainly entirely due to sockpuppetry. It does not reflect community consensus

Comment author: Document 26 January 2016 12:24:10AM 2 points [-]

The user who posted the comment above


Comment author: Anders_H 26 January 2016 12:30:46AM 1 point [-]

Whoops, my apologies. Thanks for noticing. Corrected

Comment author: username2 25 January 2016 10:42:43PM 8 points [-]

To clarify, there are 4 embarrassing/disgraceful/noteworthy things happening here, which are embarrassing to different people in different ways.

First, the fact that The_Lion thinks this way is a disgrace for The_Lion.

Second the fact that his comment is heavily upvoted is due to the fact that he has sockpuppet accounts which he uses to upvote his posts. It is slightly embarrassing for The_Lion that he chooses to interact with the internet in this way.

Third, the fact that The_Lion has not been banned despite making comments like this one and generating upvotes in violation of the site's policy is a sign of how woefully undermoderated LessWrong is. It is actually worse than it appears from this one example, because The_Lion is the fourth account by a person whose first 3 accounts were banned for similar abuses of the karma system. But after each account is banned, he makes a new account, continues to act in the same ways, and doesn't get banned again for several months.

Fourth, the fact that many people are responding to The_Lion as if this was a serious discussion, despite how transparently false and odious his comments are, and despite (many of) them knowing The_Lion's four-account-long history, shows how badly LessWrong as a community has failed at the virtues behind "don't feed the trolls" and avoiding "someone is wrong on the internet".

Comment deleted 29 January 2016 12:21:50AM [-]
Comment author: username2 29 January 2016 04:18:09AM 2 points [-]

I like how you added some italicized text to the end of your comment, there. Sneaky.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 January 2016 09:02:49AM 2 points [-]

Heck you had to pad out the list with "Tim Cook, CEO of the world's most successful company", even though it is pretty clearly not his efforts that lead to this state of affairs.

What about Peter Thiel?

Comment author: gjm 24 January 2016 06:32:21PM 5 points [-]

I'm pretty sure that was "black pride"

I'm not an expert on the history of these things, but according to Some Guy On The Web the first "black pride" event in the US was in 1991 and the first "gay pride" one was in 1970.

basically dancing bears

Here's a tip for you. If you wish to be seen as someone who simply follows the scientific evidence where it leads and sees that black people are on average of lower intelligence than white people, rather than a garden-variety racist, you might do better not to pretend that no black people are genuinely really good at anything. (Seriously, Louis Armstrong, notable only for being able to play jazz at all despite the handicap of being an inferior black person? Really?)

still not very impressive

I think this says more about what you're prepared to be impressed by when it's done by gay people, than about what gay people have achieved.

pad out the list

You wish to deny that Tim Cook is a good example of a successful gay person? OK, then. I'll just remark that it's not a very uncommon opinion that Cook was as critical to Apple's success as Jobs.

the same ultimately pathetic feel

Certainly not for the same reason, since no one is claiming that gay people (or black people or any other category of people) are responsible for all that's good in mathematics, or literature, or music, or business, or whatever.

a mediocre mathematician by world standards

Well, there's a thing named after him that I'd guess more than half of all professional mathematicians have heard of. That's better than most of us manage. But sure, he's a long way from being Gauss or Riemann.

I don't see that there's anything very bad about a country naming its mathematical institutions after its best mathematician, even if he's not on anyone's top-10 list. (I'd have expected you to be keen on national pride -- or does that only apply to some nations?)

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 05:52:28AM [-]
Comment author: gjm 25 January 2016 02:16:15PM 1 point [-]

none of the others were anywhere near this impressive

The original question was not about "impressive" but about "successful". Are you willing to agree that being elected President of the United States constitutes success?

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 05:50:59PM [-]
Comment author: gjm 25 January 2016 10:16:49PM -1 points [-]

The original question was about being a source of vicarious pride.

The actual original words: "so then need to attach yourself vicariously to the success of other white people". As I say: success rather than excellence as such.

does being one of the worst US presidents count?

For this purpose, it doesn't matter whether you consider him "one of the worst", nor whether he is objectively "one of the worst" (whatever that might mean). It matters whether he's someone black people might attach themselves vicariously to the success of. Looking at the relationship between race and political affiliation in the US, it seems unlikely that most black Americans would consider Obama "one of the worst US presidents".

(Of course the whole "vicarious attachment" thing is just one guy's analysis of what "white pride" movements are about. I don't know whether he's right about "white pride" movements, still less whether something similar is true of "black pride" or "gay pride" or whatever. The application of his words to other __ Pride movements was yours, not mine.)

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 January 2016 08:47:24AM 0 points [-]

I missed that name in your list, didn't help that none of the others were anywhere near this impressive.

How about Michael Jordan? Usain Bolt? Chuck Berry?

Comment author: bogus 25 January 2016 03:37:49AM *  1 point [-]

I'm pretty sure that MLK and Desmond Tutu would be quite notable even if their minority status wasn't a factor. I'm not familiar enough with jazz music to be able to say much about Louis Armstrong one way or the other, but Scott Joplin certainly qualifies as successful (The Entertainer is possibly his most popular piece, but he wrote plenty more of course). And what about sportspeople like Pelé (one of the greatest soccer players of all time)?

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 05:57:26AM [-]
Comment author: bogus 25 January 2016 08:00:43AM 1 point [-]

He's also "involved" in heavily critiquing the current (ANC-led) South-African government. Of course, this struggle does not "fit a currently popular narrative", and so it has not contributed to his being "famous". Overall, this seems to say a lot more about the determinants of popular fame than it says about Desmond Tutu.

Comment author: bogus 24 January 2016 04:38:29PM *  1 point [-]

Benjamin Britten, greatest English composer since Purcell.

This is nitpicking really, but 'greatest' according to whom? I'd say that folks like Sullivan, Elgar and Holst (not to mention Vaughan-Williams) are a lot more notable than Britten, and even if you want to restrict your attention to reasonably modern composers, Brian Ferneyhough is more worthy of attention.

Comment author: gjm 24 January 2016 06:07:07PM -1 points [-]

'greatest' according to whom?

Decca, some guy writing for the New York Phil, some guy writing for the Daily Telegraph, etc.

Seriously: of course anyone trying to offer an actual careful assessment will say something like "one of the greatest" or "arguably the greatest" or something. As you'll see if you follow all my links above or search the web yourself, one very common practice is to say "widely regarded as the greatest" :-). Personally I rate him well above Sullivan and Holst and roughly equal with Elgar and RVW. I don't know enough Ferneyhough to have a useful opinion.

Comment author: bogus 24 January 2016 06:44:52PM 1 point [-]

Well, yes; it seems that he really had a strong fanbase, mostly among his fellow musicians. But I think you may be underestimating the popularity of Elgar, Sullivan and RVW's music (if not Ferneyhough's). I mean, these might as well be household names among relevant audiences; you can't really say the same for Britten. Now, if I had to mention gay composers who are genuinely notable for their musical output, I'd say Lully and (most obviously) Tchaikovsky.

Comment author: gjm 24 January 2016 07:34:57PM 0 points [-]

you may be underestimating the popularity

I wasn't talking about popularity. I'm sorry if I gave the wrong impression somehow.

(But yes, in terms of popularity Tchaikovsky certainly trumps Britten.)

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 24 January 2016 05:28:48PM 0 points [-]

Still, off the top of my head I'll name Wendy Carlos, musician, and Sophie Wilson, engineer, both of whom were world-famous (as men) for things that had nothing to do with gender identity before coming out as trans.

Off the top of mine, Lana Wachowski.

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 05:56:26PM [-]
Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 26 January 2016 10:02:35AM 3 points [-]

Let me know when you make it to the end of the sentence in gjm's comment that I quoted.

Comment author: Anders_H 25 January 2016 06:26:51PM *  5 points [-]

Cloud Atlas is my favorite movie ever and I recommend it to anyone reading this. In fact, it is my opinion that it is one of the most important pieces of early 21st century art.

The downvote is however not for your bad taste in movies, but for intentionally misgendering Lana. More generally, you can consider it payback for your efforts to make Less Wrong an unwelcoming place. I care about this community, and you are doing your best to break it.

At this stage, I call for an IP ban.

Comment author: Anders_H 25 January 2016 09:41:27PM *  4 points [-]

As expected, my karma fell by 38 points and my "positive percentage" fell from 97% to 92% shortly after leaving this comment

Comment author: username2 25 January 2016 07:36:31PM 0 points [-]

Given that Eugine very likely will be able to get around an IP ban, I wonder if it is legally possible for MIRI to take out a restraining order that prevents him from posting to Less Wrong? This will of course only be possible if we can discover his real identity.

Comment author: Lumifer 25 January 2016 08:12:10PM 7 points [-]

if it is legally possible for MIRI to take out a restraining order that prevents him from posting to Less Wrong?

Don't be silly.

Comment author: Viliam 26 January 2016 08:50:47AM 0 points [-]

Please explain. Do you believe that it is legally impossible, or that it is possible, but it shouldn't be done for some other reasons...?

Comment author: Lumifer 26 January 2016 03:27:55PM 4 points [-]

All of the above. Really, think about the issue for 30 seconds.

Comment author: [deleted] 28 January 2016 05:33:01PM 3 points [-]

a) I don't think that would be taken seriously by the law and b) I don't WANT things like that to be in the jurisdiction of the law.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 26 January 2016 03:30:42AM *  2 points [-]

Listen, the right way to go here is what Vaniver is trying to do (and ultimately do a whitelist for posters, not a blacklist).

Our good friend EY moved to fb groups for partly this reason, I think.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 25 January 2016 07:58:33PM 1 point [-]

That would be an absurd overreaction. I can't see the law taking the matter seriously, even if anyone knew "Eugine's" real identity.

Comment author: ChristianKl 28 January 2016 09:38:17PM -1 points [-]

Before trying to invoke the law it might make sense for a moderator to ask Eugine for a Skype chat.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 04:13:25AM 0 points [-]

Cloud Atlas is my second favourite movie, after Master and Commander.

I find myself confused because Metacritic believes Sense8 (63/8.1) was better than Jupiter Ascending (45/4.5), whereas I would argue the latter is more compelling. V for Vendetta (62/7.3) also doesn't seem to deserve its mediocre scores.

Comment author: CCC 24 January 2016 10:25:17AM 1 point [-]

That depends on how you define "success".

Comment deleted 24 January 2016 05:25:01PM *  [-]
Comment author: CCC 25 January 2016 12:12:48PM *  2 points [-]

Well, if we go with skin colour as the dividing line, I can certainly come up with quite a number of successful non-whites under several definitions of success.

Wealth? Consider Cyril Ramaphosa, whose current net worth is estimated (by Forbes) at US$450 million.

Politics? Consider Barack Obama.

Those are two fairly well-known definitions of success; there are plenty of successful non-whites for non-whites to be vicariously attached to.

(I notice that other comments have already provided a number of examples of successful gay people.)

Comment deleted 25 January 2016 05:49:21PM [-]
Comment author: CCC 26 January 2016 05:32:55AM 0 points [-]

His Wikipedia article is rather vague on how he made his wealth,

He is or has been a director of a lot of companies; you can find a substantial background on his directorships over here. Given the salaries that high-end directors tend to receive, it;s no wonder he's built up that sort of wealth.

So is being one of the worst presidents in US history something to be proud of?

I'll admit, my knowledge of US history is very poor, as I do not live there. All I really know about Obama is that he seems to be a substantial improvement on Bush; I have absolutely no basis for comparison with anyone further back than that.

But becoming US President is, I think, something to be proud of in and of itself. It can't be something that's easy to do.

Comment author: CAE_Jones 26 January 2016 07:50:21AM 0 points [-]

There was a recent thread in discussion trying to objectively evaluate Obama's presidency. The general conclusion seems to be, based on comparing policy outcomes and polling data with that of other presidents, that Obama is a fairly mediocre president, and unless some evidence surfaces that he was secretly the mastermind behind ISIS, in no way among the worst.

Comment author: CCC 27 January 2016 07:40:33AM -1 points [-]

Yeah, that's about what my gut feeling would have said, too.

Comment deleted 23 January 2016 11:54:50PM [-]
Comment author: bogus 24 January 2016 09:51:41AM 2 points [-]

Well, the quote applies to most identity-based movements; there's nothing in it that would be specific to "white" folks. Paul Graham is very clear that keeping one's identity small is often more conducive to success and personal satisfaction.

Comment deleted 24 January 2016 05:24:11PM [-]
Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 07:23:03AM 5 points [-]

Because the people who have been explicitly racist to me, where that racism has not been intended to humour me, have been people who they themselves aren't successful. This helped me realise this discrepancy and adjust the credence I give to that perspective that my racial identity makes me worth less as a person. Conversely, it suggests the pride in my racial identity that I attribute to the success of other people of my race is misplaced and that I ought to earn my own.

Comment author: Jiro 26 January 2016 10:30:29AM 3 points [-]

People who are successful and want to be racist to you might not be obvious about it. They could smile at you and then just not hire you or whatever.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 10:34:59AM 1 point [-]

I don't believe that kind of racism is so big a deal. Its like the racial equivalent of second gen feminism.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 January 2016 06:58:59AM 0 points [-]

“People want an authority to tell them how to value things but they choose this authority not based on facts or results,” Burry writes in a letter closing down his fund. “They choose it because it seems authoritative or familiar, and I’m not and never have been familiar (and I'm not and have never been familiar)”


Comment author: philh 26 January 2016 01:53:52PM 6 points [-]

You're posting too many quotes in this thread.

Comment author: malcolmocean 04 January 2016 02:43:40AM 0 points [-]

The career of truth is not a person's only vocation, but it may be the only one upon which the intervention into that person's life can be justified. Can any other basis – even if all parties agree to it – free itself of the partialities of convention?

— Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2016 06:17:42PM *  -1 points [-]

...But those whose statements baffle all attacks,

Safe by evasion, -

Whose definition, like a nose of wax,

Suit all occasion, -

Whose unreflected rainbow far surpassed

All our inventions,

Whose very energy appears at last

Scant of dimensions: -

Are these the gods in whom you put your trust,

Lordlings and ladies?

The hidden potency of cosmic dust

Drives them to Hades.

-- J. C. Maxwell

Comment author: [deleted] 06 January 2016 10:51:10PM *  -2 points [-]

“A virtuous, ordinary life, striving for wisdom but never far from folly, is achievement enough.”

-Alain de Botton (ADB)

Comment author: [deleted] 06 January 2016 11:03:10PM *  4 points [-]

At the heart of Epicureanism is the thought that we are as bad at answering the question “What will make me happy?” as “What will make me healthy?”