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Conversation Halters

38 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 20 February 2010 03:00PM

Related toLogical Rudeness, Semantic Stopsigns

While working on my book, I found in passing that I'd developed a list of what I started out calling "stonewalls", but have since decided to refer to as "conversation halters".  These tactics of argument are distinguished by their being attempts to cut off the flow of debate - which is rarely the wisest way to think, and should certainly rate an alarm bell.

Here's my assembled list, on which I shall expand shortly:

  • Appeal to permanent unknowability;
  • Appeal to humility;
  • Appeal to egalitarianism;
  • Appeal to common guilt;
  • Appeal to inner privacy;
  • Appeal to personal freedom;
  • Appeal to arbitrariness;
  • Appeal to inescapable assumptions.
  • Appeal to unquestionable authority;
  • Appeal to absolute certainty.

Now all of these might seem like dodgy moves, some dodgier than others.  But they become dodgier still when you take a step back, feel the flow of debate, observe the cognitive traffic signals, and view these as attempts to cut off the flow of further debate.

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Tsuyoku vs. the Egalitarian Instinct

26 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 March 2007 05:49PM

Followup to:  Tsuyoku naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger)

Hunter-gatherer tribes are usually highly egalitarian (at least if you're male)—the all-powerful tribal chieftain is found mostly in agricultural societies, rarely in the ancestral environment.  Among most hunter-gatherer tribes, a hunter who brings in a spectacular kill will carefully downplay the accomplishment to avoid envy.

Maybe, if you start out below average, you can improve yourself without daring to pull ahead of the crowd.  But sooner or later, if you aim to do the best you can, you will set your aim above the average.

If you can't admit to yourself that you've done better than others—or if you're ashamed of wanting to do better than others—then the median will forever be your concrete wall, the place where you stop moving forward.  And what about people who are below average?  Do you dare say you intend to do better than them?  How prideful of you!

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