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Comment author: Nornagest 21 November 2014 06:36:09PM *  6 points [-]

If I said this is what happened with communism - that Marx developed a flawed model and Lenin tried to fit society to that flawed model - most people would probably accept that

It's not just society. It's more like he looked at Marx's (flawed, yes) model, thought "that's cool and all, but I want to feed the Tsar his yarbles now", and hit it with a wrench until it gave him some half-assed philosophical justification for starting a revolution (and later for running a totalitarian state, though not as totalitarian as Stalin would make it).

See, orthodox Marxism isn't really a blueprint for revolution. Insofar as it's even a call to revolution, it's saying -- to the industrial workers of the entire world, and that's important -- that revolution is inevitable, it's going to happen anyway, the only thing holding it back from happening is self-delusion. Instead, it's better understood as a future history: it purports to lay out the historical forces that drive large-scale social changes and to predict what the next one's going to look like.

Now, there are a number of ways you could challenge that in light of the real history that's happened in the century and a half since Marx wrote. But Lenin had bigger problems than that. By Marx's lights, Russia in 1917 wasn't ready for a communist revolution: it was at the time the least industrialized major European country (relative to its population), with most of the economy still running on a semi-feudal agrarian system. Its serfs had been emancipated less than a century before. Worse, the rest of the world looked like it wasn't going to be getting on the revolution train anytime soon. This ran completely counter to Marx's future history, but Lenin, in essence, said "fuck it, we'll do it anyway".

Comment author: scientism 21 November 2014 07:40:39PM *  8 points [-]

Right, but it's that sort of transition from the descriptive and the prescriptive that I'm highlighting. In liberal philosophy the issue is much more subtle, but there has been a constant interchange between the descriptive and the prescriptive. So if you look at society as sovereign individuals engaged in contractual relationships with one another, that's essentially descriptive. It was intended to be descriptive. But then your model for why individuals give up some of their rights to have a state doesn't look right and the answer to that isn't to change the model but to make a prescriptive assertion: the state should be more representative of our interests. So you've gone from descriptive to prescriptive.

Likewise, with feminism: under a model that emphasises individuals in voluntary relationships, women look oppressed, so you derive the prescriptive conclusion that we should alter family law, etc. Under the traditional family-oriented model of society, it's not even clear why anyone but the head of a household should vote, since people aren't 'sovereign' individuals, they're members of an institution - the family - and they play different roles within it, and the head of the household is its representative in society. From this shift to an individualist view you can derive much of the rest of modern liberal/progressive prescriptivism. It problematises the family - the status of women and children, the fairness of inheritance (wealth, status and genetics), familial obligations, etc - and it problematises the institutions of the state.

It's a view of people magically appearing in the world fully formed, with their own interests, and they're shocked to learn that they have parents, that they have roles in society, that society has existed long before they were born and has its own traditions, values, etc. So they're encouraged to stomp their feet and say, "Why wasn't I consulted about any of this?"

Comment author: scientism 21 November 2014 03:18:42PM *  18 points [-]

If you care about culture, (traditional) values and intact families, then democracy is empirically very bad (far from being "the worst form of gov­ern­ment, except for all the oth­ers" it would place among the very worst). The question is then how you come to care about these things. For me it proceeded negatively: from a critical reading of political philosophy, I came to believe that the foundations of liberalism are incoherent; that what liberalism sees as constraints on individual freedom are nothing of the sort. That many of the norms, values and practices that make up a traditional society are non-voluntary - in the sense that it doesn't make sense to speak of people assenting or not assenting to them - and therefore cannot be seen as constraints on human freedom at all; we're born into them, they form part of our identity and they provide the context (even possibility) of our choices.

So I came to believe that the Enlightenment was the result of this kind of philosophical error and that it is no different from the kinds of philosophical error that bring people to, say, question whether an objective reality exists. The heady feeling one gets from an argument that leads to an absurd conclusion, in this case, led to the false belief that traditional society consisted of arbitrary constraints on human freedom and, eventually, to pointless reforms and revolutions. Consider this: If somebody proposes a model of the physical world and it's incorrect, they have to change the model. But if somebody proposes a model of society and it's incorrect, they can insist on reorganising society to fit the model. This is essentially what has been happening for the last several hundred years. If I said this is what happened with communism - that Marx developed a flawed model and Lenin tried to fit society to that flawed model - most people would probably accept that. Is it so hard to believe the same kind of process led to our own political order and continues to inform it?

On reflection, the contemporary Western view of politics, which I once accepted without question, appears to be utterly absurd. It has no choice but to see the history of humanity as one of oppression and this oppression is becoming increasingly bizarre. It was, perhaps, easy to believe that religion was inherently oppressive, at least given an overly literal interpretation of religion, or to believe that monarchy was oppressive, but now one must believe that the family was oppressive, that gender roles were oppressive, that sexual morality was oppressive, that even having a gender was oppressive, that monogamy was oppressive, etc. The list is ever expanding, the revisionist history gets more absurd by the day. Moreover, most people miss the fact that we're talking about traditional society being inherently oppressive. There were, of course, bad monarchs, bad religious leaders, bad family circumstances, etc, but the liberal claim is that it was all bad, all the time (although it is apparently unnecessary that anyone noticed, since everyone was also ignorant). This is quite an extraordinary claim.

In my view, none of these things were oppressive. You're born into a society, it has its pre-existing norms, values, roles and practices. You're born into a set of pre-existing relationships and roles. These are not constraints, they're part of your identity, they're part of the enabling context in which you have and make choices. This includes things like how leaders are nominated, the roles of men and women, children and parents, etc. That you can imagine different ways of doing things does not imply that you are being deprived of a choice. Moreover, they are in many respects immutable. They continue to exist whether we understand them or misunderstand them and try to rebel against them. Thus, there is just no such thing as a liberal society. What we have instead is a traditional society where there are, for example, arbitrary constraints on leaders (constitutional "checks and balances", elections, etc) that do little more than to ensure that we have incompetent leaders. We have family law and a welfare system that is bad for families. We encourage men to be bad fathers and husbands and women to be bad mothers and wives. We encourage children to rebel against their parents. So what we're doing, in fact, is not 'reform' but just being bad in our roles as parents, spouses, leaders, lawmakers, etc, because we have a bad model of how society works that lead us to mistake incompetence, negligence and immorality for freedom.

Comment author: scientism 16 September 2014 08:35:45PM 32 points [-]

[Please read the OP before voting. Special voting rules apply.]

Superintelligence is an incoherent concept. Intelligence explosion isn't possible.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 September 2014 07:56:58PM *  8 points [-]

It's an apt description of liberalism, of which progressivism is a species, which is defined by an open pluralism regarding what counts as the good.

That's classical liberalism and I don't count contemporary progressives, at least in the US, as belonging to it. The contemporary progressives have very... fixed ideas about what counts as good and are quite intolerant of people who dare to think otherwise.

Not to mention that they have a love affair with state power.

Comment author: scientism 04 September 2014 08:49:28PM *  7 points [-]

All three projects - liberalism, socialism and progressivism - are related by common commitments that have their origins in Enlightenment political philosophy. Because progressives believe in systemic oppression, they have to alleviate systemic oppression in order to achieve liberty: we won't be truly free until we're free from racism, sexism, etc. They're still committed to value pluralism. All three projects faced the (paradoxical) issue of having to attain state power in order to enforce their vision. Liberal democracy was often created on the back of violent revolution, for example.

Libertarians typically identify with classical liberalism and decry progressivism as statist and oppressive, it's true, but that doesn't mean that progressives aren't committed to liberty and value pluralism on their own terms. They have a different notion of what those things mean, they don't reject them.

Comment author: Lumifer 04 September 2014 05:43:18PM 14 points [-]

As I see it, Progressivism says, "Our subjective values are worth pursuing in and of themselves just because it makes us feel good.

Citation needed. I don't think that's what Progressivism is about (especially given how the context here is explicitly political). In particular, progressives are not libertarians.

From a normative point of view, there are a LOT of differences between the progressive value system and the neoreactionary value system.

In general, what you describe as progressivism (humanity can master nature, humans have far-sighted discount functions, etc.) is quite different from what I see progressives say and do on the US political arena.

Comment author: scientism 04 September 2014 07:48:41PM 1 point [-]

It's an apt description of liberalism, of which progressivism is a species, which is defined by an open pluralism regarding what counts as the good. Progressives add a belief in systemic oppression - i.e., oppression by cultural norms and values, which they try to alleviate, but the goal is the same as classical liberalism: liberty from perceived oppression. Regardless, if you conceive of society as a power-structure, whether you take the classical liberal belief that we're oppressed by state and church, the socialist belief that we're oppressed by class structure or the modern progressive belief that we're oppressed by sexism, racism, etc, then you want to alleviate those harms and typically the only way to do so is to use existing power structures.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 23 August 2014 06:59:37PM 6 points [-]

Does anyone have links to articles in which Hawking, Krauss, and Tyson engage in philosophy-bashing?

My guess is that they are simply bashing bad philosophy, which is almost as important as promoting good philosophy. Analogously, I would say that bashing bad science is almost as important as promoting good science.

Comment author: scientism 24 August 2014 12:49:43AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: blacktrance 27 March 2014 04:31:03PM *  4 points [-]

I can personally attest that thinking about ethics has significantly affected my life and has given me a lot of insight.

My personal experience of late has also been that thinking in terms of "what does utilitarianism dictate I should do" produces recommendations that feel like external obligations

This is a problem only if you assume that morality is external, as utilitarianism, Kantianism, and similar ethical systems are. If you take an internal approach to morality, as in contractarianism, virtue ethics, and egoism, this isn't a problem.

Comment author: scientism 27 March 2014 10:22:14PM 1 point [-]

Yes, when I gave up consequentialism for virtue ethics it was both a huge source of personal insight and led to insights into politics, economics, management, etc. I'm of the belief that the central problem in modern society is that we inherited a bad moral philosophy and applied it to politics, management, the economy, personal relationships, etc.

Comment author: scientism 14 March 2014 05:57:31PM *  5 points [-]

I'm not sure why you're dismissing building character as an explanation. Something builds character if it helps a person develop virtues such as patience, perseverance, humility, temperance, etc. Committing to a difficult activity can obviously do this, perhaps more so if it is not instrumental. There's also the sense in which an activity can be a test of character, so that completing it reveals (to oneself and others) virtues (or room for improvement). I find "direct hedonic value" far more suspicious, since most "rewarding" activities offer nothing of the sort (the pleasure of a difficult activity is usually delayed and the activity itself may be wholly negative), and those that do are usually considered addictions/vices/etc. Hedonic reward also has only a tenuous connection to an activity being considered "interesting"; in fact, probably only boredom can stop an activity from being interesting and I'm not even sure about that (in many endurance sports the tedium is part of the challenge).

Comment author: scientism 25 February 2014 05:19:43PM 3 points [-]

It depends what you mean by transformative. Perhaps there aren't many innovations left that would change the lives of ordinary people, but there are plenty that would change the scale of our civilisation: space industry, robotics, fusion, etc.

Comment author: scientism 30 January 2014 08:27:32PM 14 points [-]

Here's an interesting contrast: When I first moved from a small town to a big city I was fascinated by the fact that people cannot perform the simple task of walking down the street. Their attention is constantly being drawn to other things, they apparently have no awareness of or concern for other people, etc. They're constantly stopping dead in front of you, even though they're certainly aware they're on a busy street. They talk on their phones, text, play games, they even walk along reading novels. If they meet someone they know, they'll stop and have a conversation without moving out of the way. When somebody approaches a bus stop, they'll simply stop dead and won't move to the side, even if they're blocking the only way through. To be sure, people can navigate around other people, but as soon as they do something else (stop, answer their phone, meet someone they know, etc), the fact that they're on a busy street apparently disappears from their consciousness. There's a complete absence of vigilance (and courtesy).

If people drove cars the same way they walk on a busy street there'd be dozens of accidents per mile. I guess the lesson is that human beings are capable of being careful when they need to be but most of the time they don't need to be.

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