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

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

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Comment author: Viliam 03 April 2017 09:45:04AM *  25 points [-]

Everyone, could we please stop using the word "sociopath" to mean things other than... you know... sociopathy?

I also like the linked article and I believe it does a great job at describing social dynamic at subcultures. I shared that article many times. But while it is funny to use exaggerations for shocking value, making the exaggerated word a new normal is... I guess in obvious conflict with the goal of rationality and clear communication. Sometimes I don't even know how many people are actually aware that "trying to make profit from things you don't deeply care about" and "being diagnosed as a sociopath" are actually two different things.

To explain why I care about this, imagine a group that decides that it is cool to refer to "kissing someone for social reasons, not because you actually desire to", as "rape". Because, you know, there are some similarities; both are a kind of an intimate contact, etc. Okay, if you write an article describing the analogies, that's great, and you have a good point. It just becomes idiotic when the whole community decides to use "rape" in this sense, and then they keep talking like this: "Yesterday we visited Grandma. When we entered the house, she raped us, and then we raped her back. I really don't like it when old people keep raping me like this, but I don't want to create conflicts in the family. But maybe I am just making a mountain out of a molehill, and being raped is actually not a big deal." Followed by dozen replies using the same vocabulary.

First, this is completely unnecessarily burning your weirdness points. Weird jargon makes communication with outsiders more difficult, and makes it more difficult for outsiders to join the group, even if they would otherwise agree with the group's values. After this point, absurdity heuristics works against anything you say. Sometimes there is a good reason for using jargon (it can compress difficult concepts), but I believe in this case the benefits are not proportional to the costs.

More importantly, imagine that if talking like this would become the group norm, how difficult it would be to have a serious discussion about actual rape. Like, anytime someone would mention being actually raped by a grandparent as a child, there would be a guaranteed reaction from someone "yeah, yeah, happens to me when we visit Grandma every weekend, not a big deal". Or someone would express concern about possible rape at community weekend, and people would respond by making stickers "kisses okay" and "don't like kissing", believing they are addressing the issue properly.

I believe it would be really bad if rationalist community would lose the ability to talk about actual sociopathy rationally. Because one day this topic may become an important one, and we may be too busy calling everyone who sells Bayes T-shirts without having read the Sequences a "sociopath". But even if you disagree with me on the importance of this, I hope you can agree that using words like this is stupid. How about just calling it "exploiting"? As in: "some people are only exploiting the rationalist community to get money for their causes, or to get free work from us, without providing anything to our causes in return -- we seriously need to put stop to this". Could words like this get the message across, too?

Also, if you want to publicly address these people "hey guys, we suspect you are just using us for free resources; how about demonstrating some commitment to our causes first?", it will probably help to keep the discussion friendly, if you don't call them "sociopaths". Similarly, imagine LessWrong having an article saying (a) "vegans as a group benefit from the rationalist community, but don't contribute anything to the art of Bayes in return", or (b) "vegans are sociopaths". Regardless of whether you personally happen to be a vegan or not, this is obviously harmful.

tl;dr -- we are in the rationality business here, not in the clickbait business; talk accordingly

(EDIT: Just to be explicit about this, ignoring the terminology issue, I completely agree with the parent comment.)

Comment author: ingres 04 April 2017 04:06:18PM *  2 points [-]

Thank you. This was really bothering me but it didn't occur that I should say anything about it.

Comment author: sdr 04 April 2017 03:57:57AM 2 points [-]

Agreed. Recommend a non-verbed descriptive noun, and I'll update the post above.

Comment author: Viliam 04 April 2017 10:29:25AM *  3 points [-]

Thank you!

Uhm, I guess "exploiters" or "free riders"? (Or "parasites" if one wants to offend. Or "moochers" when talking to Randians.)

Sorry, not a native English speaker, I may be missing something more fitting.

Comment author: Raemon 04 April 2017 02:10:33PM 3 points [-]

I think it's important that what the original post is warning about is not people who show up and mooch off the group - it's people who show up and begin to take over the group so thoroughly that they distort what the group is about. I think "exploiter" works pretty well, but "free rider" doesn't really convey it to me.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 April 2017 05:39:58PM *  1 point [-]

"Parasite" actually has the right biological connotations: feeds on the host but doesn't want to kill the host and may actually be somewhat helpful to the host for the purposes of keeping it alive.

A highly esoteric term for the situation when the parasite gains control of the host would be "cordycepted" X-/

Comment author: sdr 04 April 2017 04:55:10PM *  0 points [-]

Updated. Re: | if you want to publicly address these people <- if people are addressed offline in public, I suspect you can dress it up with the appropiate social grace. But, we're talking about behavior here (and entrepreneurs have exploits they're already proud of, like hackers have hacks, and free riders aren't actively malicious), and I feel that dressing it up with the same grace would actually backfire by not changing (or even harming) the reward structure of the behavior.

Comment author: Viliam 05 April 2017 01:04:30PM 3 points [-]

Yeah. Words can have different connotations for different people. I guess the solution to this is "tabooing" the words, and just describe it shortly for what it is. Like:

"Recently we have noticed that there are people (and it's not just an isolated incident or two) who come to our meetups to simply ask others for free work on their private projects, or even to contribute money. This is not cool; this is not why we are here. These people try to exploit us as a free resource, without providing anything in return. If someone approaches you at our meetup with a similar request, feel free to tell them that such behavior is not welcome."

Could be expressed better, but the idea is to make it descriptive, make it short, and have an organizer announce it as an official policy at the beginning of a meetup.

Comment author: Raemon 03 April 2017 01:22:50PM 2 points [-]

Very much agreed

Comment author: Los793 04 April 2017 11:49:50PM 1 point [-]

Casual rationalist-adjacent here (I've been reading LW for over a year, but this is my first post). I also very much agree (and with the parent comment too). I only want to add that in my experience weird jargon-- even the kind that doesn't obscure communication-- is a large part of why people find the community impenetrable. I don't necessarily mean major concepts from the Sequences, which serve a clear purpose of condensing and which everyone who sticks around long enough should know regardless.

But more subtle jargon, even phrases as simple as "level up dealcraft" (and sdr, I don't mean to single you out-- I could take an example from anywhere-- your post is just the most immediate) as opposed to, say, "improve negotiating skills." Sure, the meaning of is discernible from the context-- almost everyone would grasp the meaning-- but the wording will isolate a lot of people.

Comment author: ThoughtSpeed 15 April 2017 08:59:57PM 0 points [-]

I think "upskill" is another one of these.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 06 April 2017 01:42:03AM 0 points [-]

Okay, so if I understand correctly, tthe objection is that 'sociopath' has a specific clinical definition, which nowadays is called Antisocial Personality Disorder. Then again, "moron", "idiot", "imbecile" and "retard" used to have specific clinical definitions, too.

But even if we allow that to be stretched a little into a colloquialism, someone who is incapable of human empathy, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and perhaps a bit sadistic.

The problem is that Rao and Chapman both want 'sociopath' to mean something broader - specifically, someone who out-competes everyone else, and who is willing to win at social games even if it destroys the social environment they're competing within. And this seems to mutate one step further, such that "sociopath" essentially becomes synonymous with "winner".

The sad truth is, this isn't just a euphemistic treadmill. This is a reasonably accurate description of reality. Actual, clinical narcissistic sociopaths, with higher-than-average intelligence and willpower, have pretty much taken over Western culture over the past 50 years. Such that by the 21st century, the entire playing field is dominated by their strategies. If you aren't a sociopath, you probably aren't winning. It's unusual to be a non-sociopath and win. Which means that if someone's winning, it's very risky to assume that they'll give a shit about you.

Which ALSO means that if you intend to win, you'd better learn to not give a shit about people.

(This means that, sadly, many of the sociopaths that enter the winner's circle didn't start off that way.)

Comment author: Viliam 06 April 2017 01:06:56PM *  4 points [-]

This is an empirical statement, which should be either confirmed or disconfirmed by observing reality, not established by changing the vocabulary.

As far as I know, sociopaths by the clinical definition make about 1-4% of population. Those who don't have above-average intelligence probably quickly end up in prison. Therefore the smart sociopaths make maybe 0.1% of the population... I am not going to argue about the exact number here, just saying that it is a small number, therefore any definition of "winning" that applies to a large fraction of population must, for mathematical reasons, also include people who are not clinical sociopaths. Now the rest of this debate depends on how narrowly you would define "winning".

Comment author: FourFire 10 April 2017 08:30:48AM *  1 point [-]

I think ialdabaoth's claim is valid if, when measured, the most politically and culturally powerful quintile of the world population proves to be more than 1-4% clinical psychopaths.

I am assuming the top quintile of world population is what is meant by winners: people who control a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and by proxy, people.

The USA has the world's largest prison population, of ~2.2MIllion and a total population of ~316 Million (both 2013)

If we were to expect an even distribution of Psychopathy across the bellcurve of intelligence then there should be between ~1.58 Mn and ~6.32Mn Psychopaths in the US prison system. Furthermore, we should expect 35.5Mn to 142Mn worldwide prison population of 100% <100IQ psychopaths.

However it is a mere 10.3Mn (all 2013 statistics)

This indicates that at least 70%, and perhaps as many as 92% of <100IQ Psychopaths are going free worldwide, this of course does not indicate that these individuals aren't simply part of the exploited lower classes. It also says nothing about the remaining population of >100IQ Psychopaths, presumably of equal size.

There is much hubub around some tabloid 'research' along the lines of "21%of leadership positions filled by psychopaths" However I can't be bothered to validate the source so I won't claim this is true.

This leaves me with a rather weaker position than I expected before writing this but you should draw your own conclusions.

Comment author: Viliam 10 April 2017 09:02:15AM 0 points [-]

I believe that clinical psychopaths will be overrepresented among: the ruling elite, prison population, and probably also victims of drug abuse. But given their relatively low base rate, there is a chance to win at life (or get to prison) without being one of them.

Comment author: FourFire 12 April 2017 10:07:56PM *  1 point [-]

My steelmanning of Ialdaboath's claim isn't that it is impossible to succeed without being a psychopath. (Though I would definitely agree that his perspective is rather dreary and pessimistic) It is that the paths to success in society have been distorted by psychopaths into requiring one to express psychopathic traits in order to succeed a lot more of the time than would be the case in absence of psychopaths within the ruling elite.

Comment author: ialdabaoth 13 April 2017 12:33:34AM 0 points [-]

Yes, although I'd say it slightly more strongly: the paths to success have been distorted by psychopaths - and by our outright worship of them - into requiring one to express psychopathic traits in order to succeed, so much so that society's various commons are - in general - being drained more quickly than they're being replenished. Moreso, most of these so-called "successful" traits aren't even seen as psychopathic anymore; they're seen as "alluringly confident" or whatever.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 April 2017 02:45:51PM 1 point [-]

paths to success have been distorted by psychopaths

At which point in time and in which societies the paths were NOT "distorted"? When and where was the Golden Pre-Psychopath Age?

Comment author: Lumifer 10 April 2017 02:29:36PM 1 point [-]

I believe that clinical psychopaths will be overrepresented among: the ruling elite, prison population, and probably also victims of drug abuse.

...cops and prison guards as well.

Comment author: wnoise 29 June 2017 06:59:45PM 0 points [-]

sociopaths by the clinical definition make about 1-4% of population.

smart sociopaths make maybe 0.1% of the population

Are you asserting that "smart" is top decile to 2.5%, or that sociopathy is correlated to intelligence?

I'd consider a sigma away from the mean to be smart, so 0.3-1.3%.

Comment author: Viliam 30 June 2017 09:59:43AM 0 points [-]

I am not going to argue about the exact number here, just saying that it is a small number

I didn't mean to imply any specific correlation.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 April 2017 03:18:30PM *  3 points [-]

This is a reasonably accurate description of reality.

Would you like to show some data in support of that statement? Because my reality doesn't look like this at all.

Comment author: ChristianKl 11 April 2017 11:21:44AM 2 points [-]

Having deep long-term relationships is useful in Western society to gather power. Committing to a realistic long-term vision and working towards it is also useful for success.

Clinical sociopaths have trouble with both.