Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

JGWeissman comments on The elephant in the room, AMA - Less Wrong

22 Post author: calcsam 12 May 2011 02:59PM

You are viewing a comment permalink. View the original post to see all comments and the full post content.

Comments (428)

You are viewing a single comment's thread. Show more comments above.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 07:17:12PM 4 points [-]

I'm inclined to agree. But I'm still mystified as to why our gracious patron Eliezer Y. saw fit to anoint this particular religious believer (out of all the many, many, educated and articulate religious believers who speak English in this world) with the special dispensation of karma points out of thin air. Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 08:13:37PM 9 points [-]

But I'm still mystified as to why our gracious patron Eliezer Y. saw fit to anoint this particular religious believer (out of all the many, many, educated and articulate religious believers who speak English in this world) with the special dispensation of karma points out of thin air.

That isn't exactly what happened. As an editor, Eliezer could see calcsam's posts before they were published and upvoted them thus giving calcsam the requisite karma to publish them. I wouldn't characterize that as "out of thin air". As to why Eliezer did this for calcsam in particular, I am going to go out on a limb here and speculate that it is because calcsam asked him to, and Eliezer, on reading the then not published posts in question, decided it would be a good idea.

Beyond that, I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

I am not so convinced about "personally costly". It seems that Mormonism teaches its followers a lot of good habits. That it attributes the specification of these good habits to silly theistic beliefs doesn't seem to hurt them beyond limiting them to a level most people don't reach anyways. And the social network it provides (though it involves rallying around a theistic flag) also is highly beneficial, and I value input on how to build that sort of community (though I aim to use more rationality-friendly rallying points). Insights into seducing people into an irrational social group may generalize to insights to seducing them into a rational social group.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 14 May 2011 04:51:19AM 13 points [-]

I'm further surprised that the LessWrong community at large was so enthusiastic in upvoting these insights into how to seduce impressionable people into a false, irrational, and personally costly religious cult.

Because "Telling people to greet first-time attendees and be nice to them vastly improves the rate at which new attendees come back" is useful for seducing people into attending Less Wrong meetups as well as costly religious cults. I wouldn't exactly call it Dark Arts, either.

We've been considering learning from Toastmasters too. If we ever want to be more effective than an online discussion, we need to go learn from (not imitate) real-world groups that are more effective than that.

Comment author: Alexandros 14 May 2011 04:01:48PM *  0 points [-]

Having been on both sides of it, I am quite certain it is a dark art. It is called love bombing. For a community dedicated to overcoming biases, using one of them (they like me so they must be right) to recruit is a bit rich.

I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, through directly addressing the logical mind, not by pushing weird psychological switches. But this is another great differentiator we have from cult-like organizations, easy to point out to interested interlocutors, and one I am quite proud of.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 14 May 2011 05:56:54PM *  14 points [-]

From the Wikipedia article:

Love-bombing is characteristic of most cults, especially the Jehovah's Witnesses. New recruits are drowned in a sea of fake "love" and "caring." Cults will pretend to love you to death as long as you are a prospective convert to their group. As a member of a tight-knit community, love will surround you as you faithfully follow all of the strict rules of the cult. However, if you ever decide that you want to leave the group, if you ever disobey any of the rules of the cult, or if you express doubt about any of the cult's doctrine, then all "love" suddenly ceases. The member is then shunned and excommunicated (which Jehovah's Witnesses call "disfellowshipping"), and all remaining members are instructed to never have any contact with them in the future, not even to greet them. Then all effort is directed towards finding new recruits to replace the shunned members who have "gone astray."

That certainly is a bad thing. But dude, simply having some basic decency and being nice to people is not the thing that's being described in there.

I am afraid that if LessWrong recruits, it has to do it the hard way, through directly addressing the logical mind, not by pushing weird psychological switches.

Rationalists seem to have this weird bias that everything else than strictly logical reasoning and persuasion is dishonest and wrong somehow, and you should never appeal to emotions. This seems to me nonsensical and counterproductive. Like it or not, even rationalists are still very strongly driven by pure emotional affect. We're driven to visit those groups where we feel comfortable and welcome, and reluctant to visit groups where this isn't the case. The rider may exert some guiding pull, but ultimately the elephant is the one in charge.

If LessWrong ever wants to build a real community, by which I mean a group that really motivates its members to act rational, motivates them to stay in touch with each other, makes them feel safe enough that they can openly discuss their problems and failings, helps promote their mental health, to provide each other concrete help, etc., then "pushing weirding psychological switches" is what you must do. And personally I'd much rather have a real community that makes people in the world better off and helps spread rationality, than just a loose gathering of people who are only united by the fact that they write things on the same Internet message board. And that they attended the occasional meet-up, but eventually drifted away because they saw little benefit in attending those.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 14 May 2011 09:07:25PM *  2 points [-]

Yes, consciously being friendly is a feature not a bug. There are different types of communities. Read and writing here is high self-selvective and only appeals to certain types of people. There are many other types of people who are compatible with a rational worldview, who are not compatible with Less Wrong. Maybe they need more (literal) hand holding.

I think a big fraction of 'normal people' are compatible with a rational, or 'not obviously insane' culture. But that hypothetical mainstreamed rational culture (not existing now) is not Less Wrong culture. There are pieces missing.

Doing something to spread a more-compatible, more virulent, rational culture doesn't have to water down what has been established here at Less Wrong. This is about eventually Raising The Sanity Waterline, sustainably.

Comment author: Alexandros 14 May 2011 07:43:59PM -1 points [-]

Why not just use the definition at the top?

Love bombing is the deliberate show of affection or friendship by an individual or a group of people toward another individual. Critics have asserted that this action may be motivated in part by the desire to recruit, convert or otherwise influence.

I don't see the difference from what is proposed above.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 14 May 2011 08:32:44PM 5 points [-]

Well, if we just use that definition, then there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with doing that.

Actually, it would seem like deliberately learning to act friendly towards people in one situation would also make it easier to act friendly towards people in general. So we're not just making newcomers feel welcome, we're also improving our social skills at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 09:19:53PM *  6 points [-]

I am not so convinced about "personally costly". It seems that Mormonism teaches its followers a lot of good habits.

I can imagine that some alcoholics on the path to self destruction might view Mormonism or Islam or some other total-control group as the last safety net between them and death. I know for a fact that some people in similar circumstances are saved by being incarcerated. Good for them. But that's not a very high bar, and it's not a long-term path to rationality.

Mormonism is personally costly. For starters -- tithing. Ten percent of your pre-tax income. That's costly. Beyond that -- required volunteer time, as cited by calcsam under the heading "everyone has a responsiblity." Time is money. Demands on time are costly.

Beyond this are other costs that may be more difficult to measure in terms of currency, such as the personal burdens of conformity. For example, what is the price paid by a born Mormon who turns out to be gay?

ETA:

I can't believe I forgot about the costs associated with going on a mission! Two years out of the life of the missionary, to say nothing of the preparation time. Also, as I understand it, the parents of the missionary are expected to fund it, above and beyond the requirement of tithing. This includes buying branded Mormon stuff.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 09:41:57PM 4 points [-]

I can imagine that some alcoholics on the path to self destruction might view Mormonism or Islam or some other total-control group as the last safety net between them and death. I know for a fact that some people in similar circumstances are saved by being incarcerated. Good for them. But that's not a very high bar, and it's not a long-term path to rationality.

So it turns out that you can help a lot of people without meeting a very high bar. Good. In building rationalist communities, we are not going to make a perfect clone of Mormonism. We will seek to eliminate obstacles to greater rationality.

Mormonism is personally costly. For starters -- tithing. Ten percent of your pre-tax income. That's costly. Beyond that -- required volunteer time, as cited by calcsam under the heading "everyone has a responsiblity." Time is money. Demands on time are costly.

The time and money that members put into a community does not just disappear, it generates returns as value to the community. You put in time providing service to the community, and when you have need, other community members will put in time to help you. And you do it in a way that builds comradery rather than as raw economic transactions. And yes, I want a rationalist community to put money and time into generally improving the world.

Beyond this are other costs that may be more difficult to measure in terms of currency, such as the personal burdens of conformity. For example, what is the price paid by a born Mormon who turns out to be gay?

Yes, I agree that this a real cost of Mormonism. Though it is easy to filter out of a rationalist community.

Comment author: Costanza 13 May 2011 10:14:38PM *  2 points [-]

So it turns out that you can help a lot of people without meeting a very high bar. Good. In building rationalist communities, we are not going to make a perfect clone of Mormonism. We will seek to eliminate obstacles to greater rationality.

I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement. I don't propose this for the vast majority of the population, let alone anybody who would claim to be a successful rationalist.

The time and money that members put into a community does not just disappear, it generates returns as value to the community.

Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity. I'd suggest this actually harms the Mormons who are the supposed beneficiaries of this education, limiting their freedom and dulling their thinking.

ETA:

Yes, I agree that this a real cost of Mormonism. Though it is easy to filter out of a rationalist community.

The conformity may be necessary to the Mormon model. You filter out the conformity, you filter out the obedience, then the model breaks down.

Comment author: JGWeissman 13 May 2011 11:12:22PM 1 point [-]

I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement.

That seems to be an extreme exaggeration of how low the bar is.

Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity. I'd suggest this actually harms the Mormons who are the supposed beneficiaries of this education, limiting their freedom and dulling their thinking.

Ok, if we import anything like scripture study into a rationalist community, it will be translated to studying something like probability theory, or decision theory, or applications of such to real life situations. For us, the equivalent will be useful.

The conformity may be necessary to the Mormon model. You filter out the conformity, you filter out the obedience, then the model breaks down.

I seriously doubt that homophobia is necessary to the Mormon model.

The thing is, I want to build effective rationalist communities. Discussion of how the Mormon communities work can generate lots of ideas, lot of things worth trying. That is why I am interested in that continuing discussion, and why I don't appreciate attempts to dismiss it because it is associated with irrational religion, or because it doesn't help all members (when it is observable that the community is pretty successful).

Comment author: JohnH 14 May 2011 08:25:37PM -1 points [-]

homophobia is necessary to the Mormon model.

I think that depends on how one defines homophobia. Given a basic understanding of the LDS view of the purpose of life and what our eventual destiny is then homosexual relations are necessarily contrary to that purpose. That is one of the major goals of life is to form procreative units, male and female, that will endure past death.

The doctrine is not that God hates gays, though He does disapprove of any actions in that regard. However, the doctrine is also that everyone should be free to act according to what they think is right as long as it does not interfere with others ability to also act according to what they think is right. Hence the reason the LDS Church got involved in allowing homosexual rights in Salt Lake City but also are against homosexual marriage.

Comment author: Alicorn 14 May 2011 08:41:53PM *  1 point [-]

Colloquially, "homophobia" is used to refer to any attitudes or policies which negatively affect gay people but not straight people. It is an unfortunate term, since the "phobia" part implies fear, but it's what we have to work with. So, homophobia includes believing that the kind of sex gay people have is immoral, believing that gay people should not be allowed to marry their chosen partners, and generally privileging opposite-sex relationships over same-sex ones in any way, shape, or form. This is regardless of whether these attitudes or policies are motivated by one's beliefs about God and his preferences or come with a corresponding belief that the disapproved acts should be forcibly prevented. Hate per se is not called for.

Comment author: JohnH 15 May 2011 06:08:58AM 1 point [-]

Under this particular (and extremely broad) definition of homophobia then homophobia is indeed necessary to the LDS belief structure. However, I do think this definition is overly broad especially given the connotations of homophobia that have been pointed out. Some sort of gradient terms of homophobia would be more useful in my opinion.

Comment author: Alicorn 15 May 2011 06:15:38AM 0 points [-]

There's "heteronormativity".

Comment author: Costanza 14 May 2011 12:48:44AM -1 points [-]

That seems to be an extreme exaggeration of how low the bar is.

I'm well aware that there are a lot of people who would choose to be a lot more coercive than me, given half the chance. I'm aware that a lot of people, in a lot of countries have chosen to be rather coercive, for a long, long time. So far, I'm interpreting the available data to suggest that the optimal level of social and governmental coercion is somewhat less than the historical standard, rather than more.

Ok, if we import anything like scripture study into a rationalist community, it will be translated to studying something like probability theory, or decision theory, or applications of such to real life situations. For us, the equivalent will be useful.

And in the utopia that we shall build, the skateboards will be free! Right now, our kind can't cooperate,. I would agree that the Mormons can cooperate. So can the North Koreans. So can the Scientologists. So can the Objectivists, at least the ones who haven't been exiled from the community. So, for that matter, could the Soviets, until the collapse of the Soviet system.

Modelling a rational community by the example of a manifestly irrational community like the Mormons seems like an exercise in futility. I suggest that the Mormon model is one of many, many, models that works limiting the freedom and intelligence and rationality of its members. It's a cult. It's the dark arts. It's a lie. When did LessWrong decide that this kind of approach would be the one to pursue?

Comment author: BlueSun 18 March 2012 06:03:06AM *  0 points [-]

Not "scripture" study. I suggest scripture study is at least a deadweight loss, perhaps worse. I imagine the purpose of scripture study and so forth in the Mormon context is to enforce conformity.

I had a friend who did family scripture study every day and he (and his 5 or 6 siblings) were among the best readers in school, because they'd sat there and practiced it every single day since they were born. So there are definitively benefits to the scripture reading.

Also, many Mormons do appear to benefit from going on a mission. (To my surprise, many will say it was the "best two years" of their life--do I need to update my model?) Many 20 somethings turn into aimless "kidults" and Mormon Missions do a lot to prevent this by giving a very clear path to move forward with life (High School --> Mission --> College --> Marriage -- > Job).

However, there is a big problem with the conformity. Everyone has a different opportunity cost for scripture study or a mission. For many people, 2 1/2 hours a week of esoteric reading is probably better then the tube; but for those who would otherwise be reading the sequences...

And with missions, they say EVERY young man should serve a mission. It doesn't matter how bad of a fit you are for it (with some health exceptions) or what you would be doing with your time otherwise, you are expected to go. That's a huge conformity cost for kids who are turning down scholarships and delaying important endeavors (Newton and Einstein were both in there 20s when they developed their most important ideas; would they have been able to do so if they went on a Mormon mission at that important time in their life?).

So what a rationalist community could learn from that is not to expect/encourage everyone to derive the same benefits from the same actions.

You haven't read the Sequences?!? seems to have a similar cultural connotation for LessWrongers as You haven't been on a mission?!? does for Mormons. Having other culturally acceptable ways for rational progression seems like a good lesson to learn. For example,

  • Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality seems to be a great partial alternative. If someone has read that but not the sequences does the community look down on them?

  • How many of the sequence ideas could be converted to a RSAnimate type video?

  • Even having the most important 100,000 words of the sequences in a (printed) book form would be a great help. I feel like I could give a friend a 100k word LessWrong book, but telling someone they should read a million words of blog posts seems odd.

Comment author: CronoDAS 15 May 2011 06:49:51PM 0 points [-]

I'm thinking some especially desperate people may experience a net benefit from radically coercive restrictions on their freedom. I'm talking about the equivalent of at least temporary enslavement. I don't propose this for the vast majority of the population, let alone anybody who would claim to be a successful rationalist.

Joining the military of your country seems like it would offer a similar experience...