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Today's Inspirational Tale

11 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 04 November 2008 04:15PM

At a Foresight Gathering some years ago, a Congressman was in attendance, and he spoke to us and said the following:

"Everyone in this room who's signed up for cryonics, raise your hand."

Many hands went up.

"Now everyone who knows the name of your representative in the House, raise your hand."

Fewer hands went up.

"And you wonder why you don't have any political influence."

Rationalists would likewise do well to keep this lesson in mind.

(I should also mention that voting is a Newcomblike problem.  As I don't believe rational agents should defect in the 100fold iterated prisoner's dilemma, I don't buy the idea that rational agents don't vote .)

(See also Stop Voting For Nincompoops.  It's more applicable to primaries than to the general election.  But a vote for a losing candidate is not "thrown away"; it sends a message to mainstream candidates that you vote, but they have to work harder to appeal to your interest group to get your vote.  Readers in non-swing states especially should consider what message they're sending with their vote before voting for any candidate, in any election, that they don't actually like.)

Comments (14)

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Comment author: Aaron5 04 November 2008 05:18:55PM 0 points [-]

What would effective cryo policy look like? Or conversely, what in current policy is inhibiting the proper development of cryogenics?

Comment author: AW 04 November 2008 05:30:15PM 1 point [-]

For one, in the US it can only be legally performed on people that have already been pronounced legally dead (according to the wikipedia article). I don't know a lot about the science behind cryonics but any waiting seems like it has to hurt your chances of revival.

Comment author: Savage 04 November 2008 05:34:09PM 0 points [-]

"But a vote for a losing candidate is not "thrown away"; it sends a message to mainstream candidates that you vote"

Ah, but one of my sayings is this:

"Never throw yourself off a cliff to send a message."

NORMALLY this wouldn't be an important phrase, however in this election it is very applicable. Looks like we are going off the cliff anyway.

Comment author: Aaron5 04 November 2008 05:59:27PM 0 points [-]

AW,

It seems like it gets into a similar arena as assisted suicide when done prior to death. I'm just trying to think of like minded groups that could form a useful coalition. Stem cell researchers (and those who support them) also seem like good allies.

To hopefully tie back to the thread, voting is but one facet of influence. What you do the other 364 (363 including primaries) has a huge impact (hence the usefulness of knowing your representatives).

Comment author: Eric5 04 November 2008 06:07:56PM 0 points [-]

I have linked to and directed people to Stop Voting for Nincompoops I-don't-know-how-many times in the last few weeks, as well as the other two in that series. I'm amazed at how few people take the time to read them, and not so amazed at how many people come out of reading them with a different perspective on things.

Comment author: Caledonian2 04 November 2008 07:13:19PM 2 points [-]

But a vote for a losing candidate is not "thrown away"; it sends a message to mainstream candidates that you vote, but they have to work harder to appeal to your interest group to get your vote.

Such actions send a lot of messages. I have no confidence in the ability of politicians to determine what I would be trying to convey or the effectiveness of my attempting to do so.

Besides, the point is trivial. A vote for a losing candidate isn't thrown away because the vote almost certainly couldn't have been used productively in the first place - you lose little by casting it for the candidate you prefer, just as you'd lose little by casting it for any of the ones you didn't.

Not voting also sends messages to politicians and your fellow citizens. It is not obvious that they are worse than the ones you'd send by voting.

Comment author: Tiiba3 04 November 2008 10:26:16PM 0 points [-]

So who was the congressman?

Comment author: TGGP4 05 November 2008 01:15:07AM 3 points [-]

"And you wonder why you don't have any political influence." I think the more obvious reason is small numbers.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight3 05 November 2008 05:12:38AM 0 points [-]

The congressman didn't say anything about voting.

Comment author: Nathan_O'Sullivan 05 November 2008 05:23:13AM -1 points [-]

"I don't buy the idea that rational agents don't vote"

The probability that your vote matters can easily be modeled with a binomial distribution. In any of the large-scale elections you seem to be referencing, that probability will be vanishingly small.

Comment author: Stuart_Armstrong 05 November 2008 10:34:34AM 0 points [-]

The probability that your vote matters can easily be modeled with a binomial distribution. In any of the large-scale elections you seem to be referencing, that probability will be vanishingly small.

But the expectation value may be much larger; http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1046&context=aaron_edlin has the argument (crucially dependent on the fact that your probability of breaking an exact tie is of order 1/n). I don't buy their argument that people actually think that way, but the expectation calculations seem sound.

Comment author: Ben_Jones 05 November 2008 11:00:40AM 0 points [-]

What would effective cryo policy look like? Or conversely, what in current policy is inhibiting the proper development of cryogenics?

Ruling parties come and go in waves. Work out when you reckon you'll be unfrozen and vote with that year's election in mind.

Question: if you're on your deathbed and about to have your head frozen, should you be allowed to pre-register your votes for the next few elections? "Palin's counting on a low turnout amongst the dead for 2016, as they tend to vote primarily for the Democratic candidate."

Oh, by the way, well done America.

Comment author: John_Maxwell 06 November 2008 01:36:50AM 1 point [-]

Knowing the name of my representative (Mike Honda btw) is not going to increase my political influence. I'd have to be chummy with him before he gave any serious weight to my opinion. All the congressman's question revealed was whether the people in his audience gave any thought to politics, not whether they could be effective politically if they tried.

As for voting, I see it as a waste of time to study issues which I have only a tiny probability of affecting. The best strategy I can see in this situation is to ask your most intelligent and unbiased friend how they're voting and then vote in advance to avoid standing in line. (To make this strategy work on a large scale, I should also spend time studying issues if all my friends say I'm their smartest and least biased friend. In this case my vote has a significantly higher probability of affecting the election, making my study worthwhile.)

Comment author: Sigivald 06 November 2008 09:40:07PM 1 point [-]

What John Maxwell said. I don't memorise the name of my Representatives because I don't need to memorise it. (I do, actually, give lots of thought to politics, but at the level of policy, rather than party or individual.)

If I care what he's done supposedly on my behalf, I can look it up (but since I'm very much a political minority, especially in my locality, I don't expect him to represent my opinions very well, and indeed would count doing so as a failure of his democratic duty, though perhaps not of his civic or constitutional one).

Likewise, if I wish to complain to him for something, I can look up his name.

Memorising it would be useful only if I was myself in politics and needed to have it to hand, or as a signaling mechanism to "prove I was politically aware". (Ironically, politically aware in the least important way, but signaling mechanisms are often silly in that respect.)

I am thus rationally ignorant of my representative's name, and that some Congressman at a speech thinks that makes me foolish suggests only that as a Congressman he thinks Congressmen being known by name is far more important than it is.

(Now, he may well be right - or at least not entirely wrong - about "influence", though I suspect donations are a lot more effective than knowing their name in terms of getting any. And I of course speak here for groups in general, being unrelated to the Foresight people and uninterested in cryogenic preservation.)