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Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 27 March 2015 10:45:54AM 2 points [-]

This is all fine, but what is missing for me is the reasoning behind something like "... and this is bad enough to taboo it completely and forfeit all potential benefits, instead of taking these risks" - at least if I understand you right. The potential benefits is coming up with ways to seriously improve the world. The potential risk is, if I get it right, that some people will behave irrationally and that will make some other people angry.

Idea: let's try to convince the webmaster to make a third "quarantine" tab, to the right from the discussion tab, visible only to people logged in. That would cut down negative reflections from blogs, and also downvotes could be turned off there.

An alternative without programming changes would be biweekly "incisive open threads", similar to Ozy's race-and-gender open threads, and downvoting customarily tabood in them. Try at least one?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 March 2015 12:30:07PM *  1 point [-]

An alternative without programming changes would be biweekly "incisive open threads", similar to Ozy's race-and-gender open threads

Feel free to start a "political thread". Worst case: the thread gets downvoted.

However, there were already such threads in the past. Maybe you should google them, look at the debate and see what happened back then -- because it is likely to happen again.

and downvoting customarily tabood in them.

Not downvoting brings also has its own problems: genuinely stupid arguments remain visible (or can even get upvotes from their faction), people can try winning the debate by flooding the opponent with many replies.

Another danger is that political debates will attract users like Eugine Nier / Azathoth123.

Okay, I do not know how to write it diplomatically, so I will be very blunt here to make it obvious what I mean: The current largest threat to the political debate on LW is a group called "neoreactionaries". They are something like "reinventing Nazis for clever contrarians"; kind of a cult around Michael Anissimov who formerly worked at MIRI. (You can recognize them by quoting Moldbug and writing slogans like "Cthulhu always swims left".) They do not give a fuck about politics being the mindkiller, but they like posting on LessWrong, because they like the company of clever people here, and they were recruited here, so they probably expect to recruit more people here. Also, LessWrong is pretty much the only debate forum on the whole internet that will not delete them immediately. If you start a political debate, you will find them all there; and they will not be there to learn anything, but to write about how "Cthulhu always swims left", and trying to recruit some LW readers. -- Eugine Nier was one of them, and he was systematically downvoting all comments, including completely innocent comments outside of any political debate, of people who dared to disagree with him once somewhere. Which means that if a new user happened to disagree with him once, they usually soon found themselves with negative karma, and left LessWrong. No one knows how many potential users we may have lost this way.

I am afraid that if you start a political thread, you will get many comments about how "Cthulhu always swims left", and anyone who reacts negatively will be accused of being a "progressive" (which in their language means: not a neoreactionary). If you will ask for further explanation, you will either receive none, or a link to some long and obscurely written article by Moldbug. If you downvote them, they will create sockpuppets and upvote their comments back; if you disagree with them in debate, expect your total karma to magically drop by 100 points overnight.

Therefore I would prefer simply not doing this. But if you have to do it, give it a try and see for yourself. But please read the older political threads first.

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 27 March 2015 08:39:57AM 3 points [-]

And why do you think this is so?

Well, as for me, reading half the sequences change my attitude a lot by simply convicing me to dare to be rational, that it is not socially disapproved at least here. I would not call it norms, as the term "norms" I understand as "do this or else". And it is not the specific techniques in the sequences, but the attitudes. Not trying to be too clever, not showing off, not trying to use arguments as soldiers, not trying to score points, not being tribal, something I always liked but on e.g. Reddit there was quite a pressure to not do so.

So it is not that these things are norms but plain simply that they are allowed.

A good parallel is that throughout my life, I have seen a lot of tough-guy posturing in high school, in playgrounds, bars, locker rooms etc. And when I went to learn some boxing then paradoxically, that was the place I felt it is the most approved to be weak or timid. Because the attitude is that we are all here to develop, and therefore being yet underdeveloped is OK. One way to look at is that most people out in life tend to see human characteristics as fixed: you are smart of dumb, tough or puny and you are just that, no change, no development. Or putting it different, it is more of a testing, exam-taking attitude, not learning attitude: i.e. on the test, the exam, you are supposed to prove you already have whatever virtue is valued there, it is too late to say I am working on it. But in the boxing gym where everybody is there to get tougher, there is no such testing attitude, you can be upfront about your weakness or timidity and as long as you are working on it you get respect, because the learning attitude kills the testing attitude, because in learning circumstances nobody considers such traits too innate. Similarly on LW, the rationality learning attitude kills the rationality testing attitude and thus the smarter-than-though posturing, points-scoring attitude gets killed by it, because showing off inborn IQ is less important than learning the optimal use of whatever amount of IQ there is. Thus, there is no shame in admitting ignorance or using wrong reasoning as long as one there is an effort to improve it.

I think this is why. And this has little to do with topics and little to do with enforced norms.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 March 2015 10:22:27AM 1 point [-]

I like your example and "learning environment" vs "testing environment".

However, I am afraid that LW is attractive also for people who instead of improving their rationality want to do other things; such as e.g. winning yet another website for their political faction. Some people use the word "rationality" simply as a slogan to mean "my tribe is better than your tribe".

There were a few situations when people wrote (on their blogs) something like: "first I liked LW because they are so rational, but then I was disappointed to find out they don't fully support my political faction, which proves they are actually evil". (I am exaggerating to make a point here.) And that's the better case. The worse case is people participating on LW debates and abusing the voting system to downvote comments not beause those comments are bad from the espistemic rationality point of view, but because they were written by people who disagree (or are merely suspect to disagree) with their political tribe.

Comment author: dlarge 26 March 2015 08:28:28PM 0 points [-]

Hello, everyone! I've been lurking for about a year and I've finally overcome the anxiety I encounter whenever I contemplate posting. More accurately, I'm experiencing enough influences at this very moment to feel pulled strongly to comment.

I've just tumbled to the fact that I may have an instinctive compulsion against the sort of signalling that's often discussed here and by Robin Hanson. In the last several hours alone I've gone far out of my way to avoid signalling membership in an ingroup or adherence to a specific cohort. Is this sort of compulsion common amongst LWers? (I'm aware that declaring myself an anti-signaller runs the risk of an accusation of signalling itself but whadayagonnado.)

I'm also very interested in how pragmatism, pragmaticism, and Charles Sanders Peirce form (if at all) the philosophical underpinnings of the sort of rationality that LW centers on. It seems like Peirce doesn't get nearly as much attention here as he should, but maybe there are good reasons for that.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 March 2015 10:11:46AM *  0 points [-]

Is this sort of compulsion common amongst LWers?

Speaking for myself, (a) I am not good at playing social games, therefore I hate environments where things like signalling are the only important thing, and (b) joining any faction feels to me like indirectly supporting all their mistakes, which I would rather avoid.

Comment author: els 26 March 2015 06:06:37PM 1 point [-]

Thanks a lot for explaining the utility theorem. So just to be sure, if moral preferences for my personal values (I'll check CFAR for help on this, eventually) are the basis of morality, is morality necessarily subjective?

I'll get to Crowley eventually too, thanks for the link. I've just started the Rationality e-book and I feel like it will give me a lot of the background knowledge to understand other articles and stuff people talk about here.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 March 2015 10:08:34AM *  1 point [-]

is morality necessarily subjective?

If "subjective" means "a completely different alien species would likely care about different things than humans", then yes. You also can't expect that a rock would have the same morality as you.

If "subjective" means "a different human would care about completely different things than me" then probably not much. It should be possible to define a morality of an "average human" that most humans would consider correct. The reason it appears otherwise is that for tribal reasons we are prone to assume that our enemies are psychologically nonhuman, and our reasoning is often based on factual errors, and we are actually not good enough at consistently following our own values. (Thus the definition of CEV as "if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together"; it refers to the assumption of having correct beliefs, being more consistent, and not being divided by factional conflicts.)

Of course, both of these answers are disputed by many people.

Comment author: els 26 March 2015 05:44:02PM 1 point [-]

Thanks for replying!

Why do I care about Historical Jesus? I actually wouldn't, I guess, except that I absolutely need to have a really well thought out answer to this question in order to maintain the respect of friends and family, some of whom credit Historical Jesus as one of the top reasons for their faith.

It can be funny to read history textbooks written by two countries which had conflicts recently; how each of them describes the events somewhat differently.

Good point about the authors being biased, thanks, no offense taken! I still don't like when people say miracles/magic definitively prove the Bible wrong though, since if a God higher than our understanding were to exist, of course he could do magic when he felt like it. Still, based on our understanding of the world, there is no good reason/evidence at all to believe in such a God.

I got the Rationality ebook, and it is great! Sooo well-written, well-organized, and well thought out! I just started today and am already on the section "Belief in Belief." I love it so much so far that it's a page-turner for me as much as my favorite suspense/fantasy novels. Definitely worth sharing and going back to read and re-read :)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 27 March 2015 09:52:25AM *  6 points [-]

I absolutely need to have a really well thought out answer to this question in order to maintain the respect of friends and family, some of whom credit Historical Jesus as one of the top reasons for their faith.

Yep. On the social level I get it, but on another level, it's a trap.

The trap works approximately like this: "I will allow you not to believe in my bullshit, but only if you give me a free check to bother you with as many questions as I want about my bullshit, and you have to explore all of these questions seriously, give me a satisfactory answer, and of course I am allowed to respond by giving you even more questions".

If you agree on this, you have de facto agreed that the other side is allowed to waste unlimited amounts of your time and attention, as a de facto punishment for not believing their bullshit. -- Today you are asked to make to make a well-researched opinion about Historical Jesus, which of course would take a few weeks or months to do a really serious historical research; and tomorrow it will be either something new, e.g. a well-researched opinion about the history of the Church, or about the history of Crusades, or about the history of Inquisition, or whatever. Alternatively, they may point at some parts of your answer about the Historical Jesus and say: okay, this part is rather weak, you have to bring me a well-researched opinion about this part. For example, you were quoting Josephus and Tacitus, so now give me a full research about both of them, how credible they are, what other claims they made, etc.

Unless the other side gives up (which they have no reason to; this games costs them almost nothing), there are only two ways this can end. First, you might give up, and start pretending to be religious again. Second, after playing a few rounds of this game, you refuse to play yet another round... in which case the other side will declare their victory, because it "proves" your atheism is completely irrational.

Well, you might play a round or two of this game just to show some good will... but it is a game constructed so that you cannot win. The real goal is to manipulate you into punishing yourself and feeling guilty. -- Note: The other side may not realize they are actually doing this. They may believe they are playing a fair game.

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 26 March 2015 10:46:38AM *  2 points [-]

This is why I write about political philosophy, not politics. E.g. I disagree with John Rawl's veil-of-ignorance theory and even find it borderline disgusting (he is just assuming everybody is a risk-averse coward), but I don't see either myself or anyone else getting mind-killingly tribal over it. After all it is not about a party. It is not about an election program. It is not about power. It is about ideas.

I see the opposite norm what you mention: I think when I write about political philosophy on LW it gets a negative reaction because it is too political and may invite mind-killing. Yet I have not seen this actually happen.

I think LW needs to be far more tolerant about political philosophy, and freely discuss the whole spectrum from Marx to Bonald, because where else? After you get a taste of LW, every other internet forum feels stupid, playing ego-games, un-self-critical and unhelpful. (By every other I mean Reddit and the 10-15 blogs I read, I am not very good at googling up interesting websites...)

This may be done parallelly with being less tolerant about partisan politics, but that may be a tad tricky.

I think we can just taboo partisan or emotional monikers out of political philosophy and do it easily. For example never refer to John Kekes as a conservative, refer to him as a pluralist skeptic - he identifies with both actually. Rawls may be defined as a theorist of distributive justice, not a liberal. And so on.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 March 2015 03:57:03PM *  7 points [-]

After you get a taste of LW, every other internet forum feels stupid

And why do you think this is so? Are all participants on this forum genetically superior, and they have to prove it by giving a DNA sample before registering the user account? Or could it be because some topics and some norms of the debate attract some kind of people (and the few exceptions are then removed by downvoting)? Any other hypothesis?

If you propose another hypothesis, please don't just say "well, it is because you are (for example) more intelligent or more reasonable" without adding an explanation about how specifically this website succeeds in attracting the intelligent and/or reasonable people, without attracting the other kinds of people, so the newcomers who don't fit the norm are not able to simply outvote the old members and change the nature of the website dramatically. (Especially considering that this is a community blog, not one person's personal blog such as Slate Star Codex.)

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 26 March 2015 08:32:06AM 0 points [-]

But how is that sort of power crushing? In your example, every employee with the same dream likes you having that kind of power, most people are indifferent, and maybe some cometitors are pissed. You are thinking more among the lines of boss and employees sharing the passion but would make it differently (say turn-based vs. real-time strategy), and power can be crushing in the sense of employees seeing their dreams thwarted?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 March 2015 03:28:56PM *  0 points [-]

This may seem like a small difference, but in some companies employers can give inputs into the process, and in other companies they are just told to shut up... or maybe they are asked to voice their opinion, but then their opinion is completely ignored in a completely obvious manner.

I am talking here about autonomy, as one of the conditions for "flow". Some workplaces have it, some don't.

For example, as the boss of the computer game company, I could be micromanaging my employees and on a random whim override their best work with my half-baked ideas for no good reason... or I could be not doing this. Like, I make the decision about whether we are making a first-person shooter or a turn-based strategy, but my graphic people decide how long teeth will the ogres in the game have, because that is their competence.

The crushing form of power is if I start walking around, ask my graphic people to show me the pictures they made, and (despite having zero graphical talent) tell them to make this or that random change, throwing their ideas out of the window, wasting a lot of their work, ruining the consistency of the style, etc., simply because I am the boss and I can show them how little their opinions, skill, and lifelong experience matter in face of the power structure.

(Is this similar to what you called "rubbing the power in people's faces", or did you imagine something completely different?)

Comment author: DeVliegendeHollander 26 March 2015 08:24:30AM 0 points [-]

OK, thanks, this is a good about. About politics... I am focusing on political philosophy and largely the skeptical subset of it (next would be John Kekes's pluralism), that ought to be popular :)

Do you think starting a debate about the ethics of piracy / intellectual property would go down well? (From a pro-pirate angle, with an explicit goal to kill pop culture.)

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 March 2015 03:20:31PM 2 points [-]

From a pro-pirate angle, with an explicit goal to kill pop culture.

That's just another form of politics.

Have you read the parts of Sequences about politics and motivated reasoning? (Short version is that "I will start chanting our slogans and give you selected arguments about why my side is better than the other side" does not contribute to epistemic rationality, and so we should not do it here.)

Comment author: skeptical_lurker 26 March 2015 06:35:47AM 0 points [-]

In Moscow, Tatar women have six children and Chechen and Ingush women have ten on average.


Look at the Ukraine - part of the population identified as Ukrainian, part as Russian, and it lead to a civil war. That was just nationality, this is nationality and religion and ethnicity. Is there going to be a civil war in the world's most heavly-armed nuclear state? Will they start sneaking suitcase nukes out?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 March 2015 03:13:16PM 2 points [-]

Look at the Ukraine - part of the population identified as Ukrainian, part as Russian, and it lead to a civil war.

As far as I know, this is how one side of the conflict explains it. The other side has a different opinion on what actually happened. Specifically, that the reason for starting the war was Russian soldiers (soldiers coming from Russia, not the local minorities) crossing the border and, well, starting the war.

Comment author: Lumifer 25 March 2015 05:31:47PM *  2 points [-]

I guess in every situation we should support the more peaceful alternative

I don't think so -- pacifism fails rather badly. Sometimes you just need to kill the bastards.

But if I may ask a general question -- what led you to offer a suggestion in the area about which you know practically nothing? This isn't snark, I am really curious. You probably wouldn't offer advice on how all the surgeons in the world should operate, so why did you take it upon yourself to suggest changing religions for a billion people?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 26 March 2015 03:08:12PM 0 points [-]

what led you to offer a suggestion in the area about which you know practically nothing? ... You probably wouldn't offer advice on how all the surgeons in the world should operate, so why did you take it upon yourself to suggest changing religions for a billion people?

I thought that saying "perhaps someone who knows more ... could tell whether ... might be a way to ..." was a sufficient disclaimer.

If I had an idea about how all the surgeons in the world might operate better (e.g. trying tools from materials with different physical properties, having other surgeons watch the operation on video in real time and offer advice when asked by the main surgeon, etc.), yeah, I might ask in the same way whether someone had thought about it.

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