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blacktrance comments on Project Hufflepuff: Planting the Flag - Less Wrong

40 Post author: Raemon 03 April 2017 06:37PM

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Comment author: blacktrance 01 April 2017 08:08:55PM *  2 points [-]

I'm a peripheral member of the Berkeley rationalist community, and some of this sounds highly concerning to me. Specifically, in practice, trying to aim at prosociality tends to produce oppressive environments, and I think we need more of people making nonconforming choices that are good for them and taking care of their own needs. I'm also generally opposed to reducing barriers to entry because I want to maintain our culture and not become more absorbed into the mainstream (which I think has happened too much already).

Comment author: tristanm 01 April 2017 08:50:50PM 5 points [-]

Can you explain more about what you consider to be the current barriers to entry and how they work? The things that seem to turn off people to the rationality community are more like cultural issues, then things deliberately put in place to filter out unwanted members. I'm not necessarily against barriers in general as long as they are well engineered, but this post seems to be more about reducing the problems with the things that have emerged somewhat organically within the original rationality groups.

Comment author: blacktrance 01 April 2017 09:00:31PM *  5 points [-]

The maintenance of already existing cultural traits that are off-putting to outsiders may be more effective than intentionally designing filters, because the former are already part of the community, so by keeping them we're not diluting the culture, and the process of designing filters is likely to cause contestation within the community.about which of its traits are essential and which are peripheral.

It's hard to explicitly describe what the current barriers to entry are, but they include familiarity with LW ideas (and agreement with a lot of them), enjoying the analytical style of discussion and thought, etc. I occasionally see someone come across rationalistsphere and respond with something like "Ugh, a community of robots/autists started by essays written for aliens" - I want to keep whatever it is that repulses them.

Comment author: Raemon 02 April 2017 02:16:06AM 5 points [-]

I think it is both the case that:

1) a really valuable thing the community provides is a place to talk about ideas at a deep level. This is pretty rare, and it's valuable both to the sort of people who explicitly crave that, and (I believe), valuable to the world for generating ideas that are really important, and I do this this is something that is at risk of being destroyed if we lowered barriers to entry and scaled up without thinking too hard about it.

but, 2) it's also the case that

2a) there are a lot of smart people who I know would contribute valuable things to the community, but feel offput by things that are not necessary to have the kind of valuable conversations this community is good at

2b) a thriving community really needs things beyond being-good-at-thinking. Especially a community whose thinking has always been tied to "actually doing." An environment where only being clever is rewarded, will neither be able to provide for people's emotional needs sufficiently, nor actually achieve any of its broader goals.

I have thoughts on how to resolve this, but I'm trying to stick to the "talk about the problem" part, rather than the "propose solutions" part. For now, I'll note that I do not expect a single monolithic shift in the community, but I hope for better coordination between different sub-communities.

Comment author: Kisil 13 April 2017 03:38:15PM 1 point [-]

2a here seems like a major issue to me. I've had an essay brewing for a couple of months, about how the range of behaviors we tolerate affects who is willing to join the community. It's much easier to see the people who join than the people who are pushed away.

I argue that the way we are currently inclusive goes beyond being a safe space for weirdness, and extends into being anti-normal in a way that frightens off anyone who already has strong mainstream social skills. And that we can and should encourage social skill development while remaining a safe space.

If there's interest, I'll finish writing the longer-form argument.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 April 2017 04:35:51PM 1 point [-]

being anti-normal in a way that frightens off anyone who already has strong mainstream social skills

Any quick examples before the long-form essay?

Comment author: Kisil 14 April 2017 05:33:45PM 2 points [-]

Sure. The biggest one is that when someone has poor social skills, we treat that as a thing to tolerate rather than as a thing to fix. E.g. someone shows up to a meetup and doesn't really get how conversation flow works, when it's time to talk and when it's time to listen, how to tell the difference between someone being interested in what ze has to say and someone just being polite. We're welcoming, at least outwardly, and encourage that person to keep showing up, so ze does. And the people who are both disinclined to be ranted to and who have the social skills to avoid the person learn to do so, but we don't seem to make any effort to help the person become less annoying. So ze continues to inflict zirself on newcomers who haven't learned better, and they walk away with the impression that that's what our community is.

Which is sad, because we spend plenty of time encouraging self-improvement in thinking skills. If we siphoned some effort from "notice you're confused" to "notice your audience", we should be able to encourage self-improvement in social skills as well. But since we don't treat it like something fixable, it doesn't get fixed.

Comment author: bogus 02 April 2017 06:00:02PM *  2 points [-]

Specifically, in practice, trying to aim at prosociality tends to produce oppressive environments

I don't think this is really true. I think that lots of authoritarian-minded people nowadays try to use pro-sociality and vague ideas of "social progress", "a safe and welcoming community for everyone", "a well-tended garden" and the like as cover for what are really oppressive environments (often focused on enforcement of petty etiquette and narrow, cultish shibboleths, to the detriment of actual, ethically significant issues). But supposing that "trying to aim at prosociality tends to produce oppressive environments" amounts to arguing that open and non-oppressive environments are inherently "antisocial". I see no reason to assume this is the case.

Comment author: Raemon 01 April 2017 08:37:31PM 2 points [-]

I agree that enforced prosociality can be oppressive, and plan to discuss it in an upcoming post.

(I'll respond to each comment separately for easier threading).

Comment author: blacktrance 01 April 2017 09:42:07PM *  0 points [-]

Upon further consideration, it seems to me that while it being enforced can make it worse, much of the prosociality cluster (e.g. guess culture) is oppressive in itself.

Comment author: ChristianKl 02 April 2017 01:54:05PM 4 points [-]

It might be my German background but not everybody who's social operates on guess culture.

Comment author: lahwran 02 April 2017 06:47:50AM 3 points [-]

I don't think you can escape guess culture. you only can pretend you don't have it, and then pay the price.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 02 April 2017 09:11:56PM 1 point [-]

I don't think you can escape guess culture.

Sometimes you can escape it literally, e.g. move to a different city or find a different social circle.

Comment author: lahwran 05 April 2017 07:25:39PM *  2 points [-]

No, I mean this more strongly than that. I literally do not think it's possible to interact with humans without using guess culture. all of human interaction is the same as the thing that got labeled guess culture; sometimes it can also be ask culture or also tell culture, but I think it's meaningfully true that ask culture is just different defaults for guess culture, and you're still actually doing just as much guessing. I do think you can reduce guessing via trust, and that guessing with the goal of building trust is something people automatically do, but I think people who say[1] that guess culture only exists some places are meaningfully confused.

I also think that "tell culture" is a subset of interaction that only works with high trust - and I think people who "are" guess culture will naturally do things that look more like tell culture when trust is high.

[1] (or have said in the past, before updating on my saying this)

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 05 April 2017 11:05:12PM 0 points [-]

I think people who say[1] that guess culture only exists some places are meaningfully confused.

Or maybe they just don't fall prey to the fallacy of gray and realize it sometimes might make sense to call something black even though it doesn't literally scatter exactly no light at all (otherwise there'd be no point in having a word if it didn't apply to anything at all).

Comment author: lahwran 06 April 2017 05:45:59AM 0 points [-]

I understand that. I wrote the post you're replying to with that in mind. I think the thing that people call guess culture actually applies almost everywhere, and anything but high trust between very close friends will secretly be only using different words, but have the same guessing patterns. I'm not making some wordplay claim here, I actually think there is a high magnitude error in the theory and that the update is to apply guess culture almost everywhere.

Comment author: Raemon 02 April 2017 02:41:29AM 2 points [-]

I wouldn't conflate guess culture and prosociality - I think those are pretty different axes.