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Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 21 August 2012 11:15:29AM 10 points [-]

Discussion forum growth is not quite the same as general website growth. Having forums grow a lot while maintaining the culture that drew the initial contributors there is still something of an unsolved problem, and fast enough growth can kill forum cultures dead through the eternal September effect. It basically happens at the level of comment-response pairs. Things are good as long as most interactions have at least one side familiar with existing site culture, but once you start getting outside users talking with other outside users in volume, there's not much left maintaining the older culture. And if the outside users come from The Internet In General, the new forum culture is going to end up looking like The Internet In General.

Active and clueful moderation can help, but that requires moderators who can spend a lot of time daily doing active and clueful moderation.

Some forums make things work a bit better by managing to make their content interesting enough that people are willing to pay $5 or $10 for making a new account, and then asking that. Drive-by trolling and spam becomes harder, but regular users with various issues can still make lots of work for active and clueful moderators.

There are plenty of general website growth experts, but who are the long-term forum growth experts? Matt Haughey of MetaFilter maybe? Paul Graham has been running Hacker News for a while, but I don't think he's exactly doing it full-time.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 August 2012 10:04:56PM 17 points [-]

Things are good as long as most interactions have at least one side familiar with existing site culture, but once you start getting outside users talking with other outside users in volume, there's not much left maintaining the older culture.

Worse yet, the new users may comply with the culture in form but not in spirit. In the concrete case of LW, this means new users who are polite and non-confrontational, familiar with the common topics and the material covered in the classic OB/LW articles, making appeals to all the right principles of epistemology and logic, etc., etc., but who nevertheless lack the ability and commitment for truly unbiased and open-minded discussion at the level that used to be the standard. I think this is indeed what has been happening, and I don't see any way an open-access forum could prevent this course of events from taking place eventually.

(It's hard to make a point like this without sounding arrogant and conceited, so I should add that in retrospect, I believe that when I joined LW, at the time it probably caused a net lowering of its standards, which were higher back then.)

Comment author: [deleted] 21 August 2012 09:05:05AM *  13 points [-]

I think this is what being on one side of a tribal conflict looks like from the inside. My experiences have been similar, with many of my posts getting instantly down voted to -3 to -4, then slowly recovering karma later. As you probably recall from our recent conversations with me we have differing opinions on some politically charged subjects.

It doesn't bother me all that much. If my comments were actually getting buried, I'd be worried that we had a bury brigade going on — but they're not. My current hypotheses are either ⓪ I'm just not very good at commenting, ① I have a stalker, ② the idea that social conservatism is "contrarian" really gets some folks excited, or ③ social conservatives think it's worthwhile to downvote comments that disagree with them. If it's the latter, well,

I don't think you a bad poster and you seem to have a high karma score so we can mostly throw out ⓪. I recall often up voting posts by you, even the ones I disagree with and only recall downvoting a recent one where you seemed to be plain wrong in the context of the discussed article. In that case I also made a comment explaining why I thought it wrong. The contrarian explanation as I will elaborate later may have some truth to it. Explanation ③ seem far fetched considering social conservatives are such a tiny minority of the readership and can be discounted as an explanation for what you say you experience. Of these explanations I think ① is the most likely. I think any of us talking about politics regardless of our positions probably eventually catch the attention of someone who feels like throwing a hissy fit. Right leaning posters have complained of people going through their comment history and down voting every post they've ever made. I've experienced such karmassasiantions in the past too.

Now having said this there have been signs of escalating tensions. Posters have been saying they feel more and more unwelcome and I can totally see why since there are more and more posts that signal "liberal" tribal affiliations. Some like the article criticized by the links I gave are pretty blatant about this. Even some old time well respected posters like Yvain have recently been called out on not being bothered to avoid dog-whistling affiliations.

Now obviously you have some right wing digs like that in recent articles and they may be escalating too, but they are of a more alt-right not conservative nature. And yes any kind of alternative right sentiment, be it Moldbugian Neoreaction or consistent Paleoconservatism is basically being an intellectual hipster. This brings us back to ③ and I think also explains why left leaning users like Multiheaded fear they are losing the battle of ideas.

But it's like I said before - it might be the wisest and most truth-seeking 3% (Vladimir_M alone has more life experience and practical wisdom than many other folks here combined, I'd say), the rest of us might be lagging behind in the race of ideas! I wouldn't have gotten so worked up if I didn't fear that might be the case.

If due to such superior intellectual fire power LessWrong ever got even 10% of conservative readership (still a tiny minority), the metacontrarians would probably cycle back to an exotic form of liberalism. And if that exotic form reached 10%, I'm betting some kind of libertarianism would be back in vogue... I need to again emphasise for the reader who didn't follow the link that where something lands on the metacontrarian ladder does not tell us its truth value.

Now this kind of cycling is I think mostly self-corrective, since it is an intellectual fashion. The real problem in my mind is how political identification can create and escalate conflict between these somewhat shifting fads.

I suppose all I can do is mention that I don't downvote interesting comments that I reply to, and ask them to extend the same courtesy.

This. Posters should be encouraged to avoid down voting just political comments they disagree with. Also I think putting more emphasis on keeping your identify small or even apolitical might do us good.

Failing all this I think we really should consider if the overly-strictly interpreted no mindkillers rule that was prevalent as little as a few months ago that much reduced political discourse was a good thing that should be restored.

EDIT: OH GHODS, PEOPLE, STOP UPVOTING THIS. YOU'RE CREEPING ME THE FUCK OUT.

Don't be freaked out. People politely complaining about being down voted seem to always get up voted on LessWrong. :)

In response to comment by [deleted] on [Link] Social interventions gone wrong
Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 August 2012 09:15:56PM *  22 points [-]

Failing all this I think we really should consider if the overly-strictly interpreted no mindkillers rule that was prevalent as little as a few months ago that much reduced political discourse wasn't a good thing that should be restored.

I used to be excited about the idea of harnessing the high intellectual ability and strong norms of politeness on LW to reach accurate insight about various issues that are otherwise hard to discuss rationally. However, more recently I've become deeply pessimistic about the possibility of having a discussion forum that wouldn't be either severely biased and mind-killed or strictly confined to technical topics in math and hard sciences.

It looks like even if a forum approaches this happy state of affairs, the way old Overcoming Bias and early LessWrong arguably did for some time, this can happen only as a brief and transient phenomenon. (In fact, it isn't hard to identify the forces that inevitably make this situation unstable.) So, while OB ceased to be much of a discussion forum long ago, LW is currently in the final stages of turning into a forum that still has unusual smarts and politeness, but where on any mention of controversial issues, battle lines are immediately drawn and genuine discussion ceases, just like elsewhere. (Even if the outcome may still look very calm and polite by the usual internet standards.)

The trouble is, the only way a "no-mindkillers" rule can improve things is if it's done in an extreme form and with ruthless severity, by reducing the permissible range of topics to strictly technical questions in some areas of math and hard science and consistently banning everything else. The worst possible outcome is to institute a partial "no-mindkillers" rule, which would work under a pretense that rational and unbiased discussion of a broad range of topics outside of math and hard sciences is possible without bringing up any controversial and charged issues, and without giving serious consideration to disreputable and low-status views. This would lead to an entrenched standard of cargo-cult "rationality" that incorporates all the biases, delusions, and taboos of the respectable opinion wholesale, under a pretense of a neutral, pragmatic, and unbiased restriction of irrelevant and distracting controversial topics.

Thus, it seems to me like the only realistic possibilities at this point are: (1) increasing ideological confrontations and mind-killing, (2) enforcement of the above-described cargo-cult rationality standards, and (3) reduction of discussion topics to strictly technical questions, backed by far stricter, MathOverflow-type standards. Neither of these looks like a fulfilment of LW's mission statement, but (2) seems to me like the worst failure scenario from its point of view.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 20 August 2012 11:10:50PM *  9 points [-]

I've been noticing a lot of my comments get rapidly downvoted once shortly after I post them lately, especially (but not exclusively) in threads where I post libertarian-progressive-ish rebuttals to social-conservative positions.

I'd like to think that it's just someone who doesn't approve of political discussion on LW — but the socially conservative interlocutors don't seem to be getting the same treatment. (With the exception of the ever-popular sam0345, whose low comment scores I expect have more to do with his hostile attitude than the fact that he posts about politics.)

So there does seem to be some Blue/Green unpleasantness going on here. Comments advocating "race realism", sexual shame, or other socially conservative positions tend to float around +3 or +4, while responses disagreeing with them — even with citations to academic work and evidence on the subject — tend to float around -1 to +1.

It doesn't bother me all that much. If my comments were actually getting buried, I'd be worried that we had a bury brigade going on — but they're not. My current hypotheses are either ⓪ I'm just not very good at commenting, ① I have a stalker, ② the idea that social conservatism is "contrarian" really gets some folks excited, or ③ social conservatives think it's worthwhile to downvote comments that disagree with them. If it's the latter, well, I suppose all I can do is mention that I don't downvote interesting comments that I reply to, and ask them to extend the same courtesy.

(I don't mind if this comment gets downvoted, by the way. I feel uncomfortable with discussions of the voting system, as they can become a meta rathole.)

EDIT: OH GHODS, PEOPLE, STOP UPVOTING THIS. YOU'RE CREEPING ME THE FUCK OUT.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 August 2012 04:06:31AM 6 points [-]

If I remember correctly, you replied to several of my comments on fairly controversial topics recently, but for the record, I didn't downvote any of them. I downvote direct replies to my comments only if I believe that someone is arguing in bad faith, or when I'm annoyed with some exceptionally bad failure of basic logic or good manners.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 20 August 2012 05:23:18PM 2 points [-]

we still have no way of knowing its total long-run effect

Well, it's not like we have no evidence either way. We have weak evidence for a positive effect.

For one, it may happen that it lowers the cost of having children for poor unmarried women [...] so that in the new long-term equilibrium, more children are born to such women

It may also happen that people in dangerous and impoverished situations pursue early and fecund reproductive strategies: if you can't count on each child surviving and prospering, then you have more kids (and start earlier) to increase the chance of some child surviving and prospering. In this case, lowering the risks to children and mothers would result in fewer children.

I find it exceedingly unlikely that increasing "stigma and fear" will reduce such behavior. For instance, out-of-wedlock births, teen pregnancy, divorce, etc. are all higher in more socially conservative societies — including when we compare the U.S. vs. Western Europe, or "red states" vs. "blue states" within the U.S. ...

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 August 2012 03:45:36AM *  6 points [-]

It seems like you're losing focus of my point. I am merely trying to demonstrate that it's wrong to consider studies of this sort as solid and conclusive evidence about the overall effects of the social interventions under consideration. I mentioned this scenario only as one plausible way in which one of these studies could be grossly inadequate, not as something I'm trying to prove to be the case.

Comment author: Multiheaded 20 August 2012 11:23:55PM *  0 points [-]

But somehow I can guess that you do trust the negative results shown... right?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 August 2012 03:20:43AM 4 points [-]

I'm not sure what exactly you're trying to imply with this comment. You have complained that I was reading your comments too uncharitably in the past, so I'm trying to interpret it as something other than a taunt, but without success.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 20 August 2012 03:46:59PM 10 points [-]

As it usually happens in the social "sciences," it's very naive to believe that in any of these cases we have anything like solid evidence about the total effect of the programs in question. Even ignoring the intractable problems with disentangling all the countless non-obvious confounding variables, there is still the problem of unintended consequences -- which may be unaccounted for even if the study seemingly asks all the relevant questions, and which may manifest themselves only in the longer run.

Take for example this nurse-family partnership program. Even if the study has correctly proven that these positive outcomes have occurred in the families covered by the intervention, and that they are in fact a consequence of the intervention -- a big if -- we still have no way of knowing its total long-run effect. For one, it may happen that it lowers the cost of having children for poor unmarried women, both by providing assistance and by lowering the stigma and fear of such an outcome, so that in the new long-term equilibrium, more children are born to such women, especially the least responsible, resourceful, and competent ones, eventually increasing the total measure of child poverty, neglect, abuse, etc. Of course, this may or may not be the case, but there's no way to know it based on these studies that purport to give a definitive evaluation of the program's success.

Comment author: [deleted] 19 August 2012 12:45:09AM 0 points [-]

As an aside: To what degree do you agree with Haidt's analysis of religion and tradition in relation to human psychology in that interview?

I would very much like to know. Feel free to PM me a one-sentence answer instead of posting, if you wish.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 19 August 2012 01:55:50AM *  5 points [-]

Clearly it's a very complex topic, but generally speaking, I do believe that Haidt's recent work is more or less on the right track in this regard.

That said, much of his insight is not very original, and can be found in the work of other, often much older thinkers, some of whom Haidt cites. Haidt's significance is mainly that he's trying to pull off a "Nixon in China," i.e. to leverage his own liberal beliefs and credentials to formulate these insights in a way that's palatable to liberals, who would be instantly repulsed and incensed by the other authors who have presented them previously. (I'm not very optimistic about his chances, though, especially since he has to dance around some third-rail issues that might destroy his reputation instantly. Similar can be said for other modern authors who delve into social theory based on evolutionary insight, like e.g. Geoffrey Miller.)

Also, I think there are many other crucial pieces of the puzzle that Haidt is still missing completely, so he still strikes me as very naive on some issues. (For example, I don't know if he's familiar with the concept of Schelling points, but he definitely fails to recognize them on some issues where they are crucial. He also apparently fails to grasp what virtue ethics is about.)

Comment author: CarlShulman 18 August 2012 04:54:11AM 3 points [-]

Even within the pure feedback-egoist framework (really?) do you think people haven't had that post in mind in later discussions with you?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 19 August 2012 12:29:26AM *  1 point [-]

It's hard to tell, but if they have been influenced by that post, then considering the lack of adequate reception of the post in the first place, this probably didn't improve their understanding of my comments, and has perhaps even worsened it.

Also, I don't claim to be anywhere near the ideal of optimizing for feedback in practice. After all, "When vanity is not prompting us, we have little to say." But I would certainly change my posting patterns if I were convinced that it would improve feedback.

I also don't think that low returns from top-level posts are a general rule -- it's probably mainly due to my lack of writing skills (particularly in English) that results in more readable and cogent writing when I'm confined to the shorter space and pre-established context of a comment.

(Although, on the other hand, one general problem is the lack of any clear and agreed-upon policy for what is on-topic for LW, which makes me, and I suspect also many other people, reluctant to start discussions about some topics, but ready to follow up when others have already opened them and found a positive reception.)

Comment author: Unnamed 18 August 2012 06:56:13AM 2 points [-]

I would taboo the word "autonomy" in this context, or at least give a clear definition, because there are at least 2 different things that it could refer to.

In Haidt's six foundations theory, the closest thing to "autonomy" as it is being used in this discussion is probably the liberty/oppression foundation (the 6th foundation to be added):

Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

The liberty/oppression foundation is somewhat underdeveloped in Haidt's book, and discussed separately from the other foundations in a way that's organized a bit strangely, probably because the book was already in progress when he decided to count liberty/oppression as a sixth foundation. Haidt does not seem to have any published papers yet on the liberty/oppression foundation, but he does have one under review which focuses on libertarians.

In Richard Shweder's three-area theory, which was the original basis for Haidt's theory, "autonomy" has a different meaning. It is one of the three ethics - "autonomy" is the blanket label given to the individualistic/liberal approach to morality which involves harm, rights, and justice. The ethic of autonomy is contrasted with the ethic of community (ingroup and hierarchy) and the ethic of divinity (purity and sacredness). In one of Haidt's earlier papers, which used Shweder's system, experimental participants were given this definition of autonomy:

The ethics of Autonomy Individual freedom/rights violations. In these cases an action is wrong because it directly hurts another person, or infringes upon his/her rights or freedoms as an individual. To decide if an action is wrong, you think about things like harm, rights, justice, freedom, fairness, individualism, and the importance of individual choice and liberty.

If you look at that definition and think "but that's all of morality, mushed together in one big category" then congratulations, you're WEIRD. In Shweder's approach, being obsessed with autonomy is precisely what is distinctive about liberals. The utilitarian, who applies cost-benefit analysis to everything and is willing to make any tradeoff, is just one member of the autonomy-obsessed family of moral perspectives. People who rigidly apply concepts of rights, liberty, or justice are part of that same family. The grand Kant-Bentham debate is just a factional squabble which is happening in one corner of the moral triangle.

Haidt's six-foundation approach can be considered a refinement of this view, which keeps Divinity, splits Community in two (ingroup & hierarchy), and divides Autonomy in three (harm, fairness, and liberty). Although there are some complications (fairness is somewhat Community-tinged, and liberty might be too).

Comment author: Vladimir_M 18 August 2012 11:54:52PM 1 point [-]

Most of the points relevant to your comment are covered in this reply to Tyrrell McAllister, so to avoid redundancy, please follow up on that comment if you think it's not an adequate answer.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 18 August 2012 05:04:30AM 2 points [-]

Now, as you probably guess, I would hypothesize that he avoids autonomy-centered topics because they tend to contradict his theory of liberals as low on sacredness.

How do you reduce autonomy to sacredness? I think of sacredness as something that inheres in some single object of veneration towards which a group of people can genuflect, such as a family shrine, a flag, a saint, or (for the left) "the environment". I would also extend the notion of a "single object" to slightly more abstract things, such as a single holy text (which might exist in multiple copies) or a single ritual way of eating (which might be enacted on multiple occasions).

In other words, sacredness should have some close connection to group cohesion. While I haven't read any of Haidt's books, I've listened to a couple of interviews with him, and he seemed to be very interested in the "groupish" qualities of the values in his system. In his BloggingHeads.tv interview, he even seemed to go so far as to suggest that group selection explained how some of these values evolved.

Autonomy doesn't seem like it would fit into such a notion of sacredness. "Individual autonomy" is a "single thing" at only a very abstract level. Every individual has his or her own autonomy. Unlike a shrine or a holy text, there is no one autonomy that we all can worship at once.

In principle, we could all gather together as a community to worship the one idea that we are each autonomous — the Platonic form of autonomy, if you will. But I don't get the sense that most people have a sufficiently concrete notion of the general idea of autonomy to be able to hold it sacred. For example, they would lack the confidence that everyone else is thinking of precisely the same idea of autonomy. Something can't serve as an object of community worship if the community members aren't sure that they're all worshiping the same thing.

People might have a sufficiently concrete conception of "my autonomy" or "your autonomy" or "her autonomy". These are things that we can easily latch onto as values. But then we're talking about a bunch of different "autonomies", which lack the unity that a sacred object seems to require.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 18 August 2012 11:39:37PM *  10 points [-]

How do you reduce autonomy to sacredness? I think of sacredness as something that inheres in some single object of veneration towards which a group of people can genuflect, such as a family shrine, a flag, a saint, or (for the left) "the environment". I would also extend the notion of a "single object" to slightly more abstract things, such as a single holy text (which might exist in multiple copies) or a single ritual way of eating (which might be enacted on multiple occasions).

One way in which sacredness commonly manifests itself is through sacred boundaries that serve as strong Schelling points. In fact, I am convinced that any large-scale human social organization depends to a significant degree on Schelling points whose power and stability rests on the fact that the thought of their violation arouses strong moral intuitions of sacrilege. (Even though this might be non-obvious from their stated rationale.)

Take for example the ancient Roman pomerium, the boundary of the city of Rome that was explicitly held as sacred. In particular, bearing arms within the pomerium was considered as sacrilege, and this norm was taken very seriously during the Republican period. Of course, a norm like this can easily be given a practical rationale (preventing coups, assassinations, etc.), and it seems plausible that it indeed had a practical effect of this sort, contributing to the long-standing stability and competitive success of the republican institutions. However, it was in fact the sacredness aspect that gave the norm its power, since a consequentialist rationale for any norm can always be rationalized away, thus making it a weak Schelling point, easily pushed down a slippery slope. And indeed, when the reverence for this traditional norm of sacredness started fading in the late Republic (along with many others), it was a good sign that the Republic had indeed gone to the dogs, and soon the state was torn by constant civil wars between competing generals who had no problem finding justifications and support for their plans to conquer Rome and seize power by armed force.

Similarly, intuitions of sacrilege can be associated with non-physical boundaries. Take for example the modern norms against euthanasia, even in cases where it's voluntary and in fact strongly desired by the patient, and the alternative is nothing but a prolonged suffering. People are horrified by the thought of euthanasia because it violates the perceived sacredness of human life. And again, one can make a cogent Schelling point/slippery slope argument in favor of such norms, but this is not what gives them their power.

Now, it seems quite plausible to me that this is in fact a common state of affairs for all sorts of norms that deal with the prohibition of crossing certain boundaries. Not all such norms are based on sacredness intuitions, of course -- they can also rest on a basis of fairness, harm, liberty, or some mix of those -- but in that case, their violation causes different and lesser kinds of outrage, and it's also easy to convince people to make exceptions based on concerns for fairness, harm, or liberty. For example, the norms about private property rights seem to be typically in this category: their violation causes nothing similar to the visceral feelings of sacrilege, and it's easy to convince people that some violations and curtailing of property rights are OK if you can convince them that it reduces harm and increases fairness or liberty.

With this in mind, I think it should be reasonable to ask whether the liberal intuitions of personal (and particularly sexual) autonomy are in fact a sort of pomerium backed by moral intuitions of sacrilege triggered by the perceived violations of this autonomy. (Whether or not we end up agreeing on the answer to this question.)

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