In My Culture

post by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T07:22:42.982Z · score: 65 (26 votes) · LW · GW · 50 comments

This is a link post for https://medium.com/@ThingMaker/in-my-culture-29c6464072b2

Crosspost from Medium; relevant to LessWrong in general and possibly to specific ongoing cultural tensions of the past four months or so. Proposes a simple tool for improving culture-clash dynamics and offers some specifics about the cultural diff between the author and other people. 30min read.

50 comments

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comment by Taran · 2019-03-10T11:30:03.858Z · score: 55 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I use this technique sometimes (my lead-in phrase is the deliberately silly "Among my people..."), but it has a couple of flaws that force me to be careful with it.

Most importantly, this framing is always about drawing contrasts: you're describing ways that your culture _differs_ from that of the person you're talking to. Keep this point in the forefront of your mind every time you use this method: you are describing _their_ culture, not just yours. When you say, "In my culture, we put peanut butter on bread", then you are also saying "in your culture, you do not put peanut butter on bread". At the very most you are asking a question: "does your culture also put peanut butter on bread?" So, do not ever say something like "In my culture we do not punish the innocent" unless you also intend to say "Your culture punishes the innocent" -- that is, unless you intend to start a fight.

Relatedly, you have to explicitly do the work of separating real cultural practices from aspirational ones -- this framing will not help you. When you write "In my culture we do not punish the innocent", probably you are thinking something like "In my culture, we think it's important not to punish the innocent", since mistakes do still happen from time to time. But statements like "In my culture we put peanut butter on bread" do not require this kind of aggressive interpretation, they can just be taken literally, so your listeners might reasonably take "In my culture we do not punish the innocent" as a (false) statement of literal fact. Clear and open communication is unlikely to follow.

(If you feel like you grasp these points and agree with them, here's an exercise: can the section of the OP that starts "In my culture, we distinguish between what a situation looks like and what it actually is." be productively rewritten, and if so how?)

Overall, although I do like this technique and use it from time to time, I don't think it's well-suited to important topics. For similar reasons it's easy to use in bad faith. That's why I present it in such a silly and sociological (instead of formally diplomatic) way.

comment by ZeitPolizei · 2019-03-11T00:50:20.327Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW
Most importantly, this framing is always about drawing contrasts: you're describing ways that your culture _differs_ from that of the person you're talking to. Keep this point in the forefront of your mind every time you use this method: you are describing _their_ culture, not just yours. [...] So, do not ever say something like "In my culture we do not punish the innocent" unless you also intend to say "Your culture punishes the innocent" -- that is, unless you intend to start a fight.

Does this also apply to your own personal culture (whether aspiring or as-is), or "just" the broader context culture?

Because in my (aspiring) culture simple statements of fact are generally interpreted at face value and further evidence is required to make less charitable interpretations. This is especially true for interpretations that assume the speaker has made some kind of judgement.

So, let's go meta here and see whether I intended to say "Your culture generally makes less charitable interpretations of statements than mine." I guess the answer is yes, though I would like to point out the distinction here between personal culture and broader context culture, hence my question at the beginning. [Writing this I'm also realizing it's really difficult to disentangle statements about culture from judgments. I'm noticing cognitive dissonance because I actually do think my culture is better, but I don't like myself being judgmental.]

Now why did I write the comment above? Because in my culture-as-is the language used in the OP ("always", "do not ever") is too strong given my epistemic status.

Again, we can analyze the intent of this "In my culture"-statement. Here my intent is to say "your culture uses language differently from mine" OR "My epistemic status is different from yours."

Not a direct response to your comment, but related and gives background to my initial question: In my aspiring culture a straightforward question (whatever that means) is by default meant and interpreted (primarily) as an expression of genuine curiosity about the answer.

Thinking about and writing this comment, I've realized that my own culture may be a lot more idiosyncratic than I thought. I also found it really interesting to see my initial prompt to write this post (an immediate gut reaction of "I don't agree with that") dissolve into an understanding of how the disagreement can be due to either cultural or epistemic differences.

NB: There is some entanglement here between intentions, interpretations and responses. In describing a "perfect" culture intentions and interpretations can be freely interchanged to a large extent because if everyone has the same culture they will make the correct assumptions about other people's intents and states of mind. So saying "In my culture people say X because they want Y" is equivalent to saying "In my culture when someone says X people know that that person wants Y". And then there is to an extent a disconnect between the epistemic status of your interpretation of the other person's state of mind and your own reaction, because different reactions entail different costs. Even if an uncharitable interpretation has the highest probability of being correct it often makes sense to act under the assumption that a more charitable interpretation is correct.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-11T05:25:44.381Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oooooh, I like this a lot. In particular, this resolves for me a bit of tension about why I liked the above comment and also disagreed with it—you've helped me split those reactions out into two different buckets. Seems relevant to common-knowledge-type stacks as well.

comment by Taran · 2019-03-12T08:10:29.830Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Does this also apply to your own personal culture (whether aspiring or as-is), or "just" the broader context culture?

We're talking about a tool for communicating with many different people with many different cultures, and with people whose cultures you don't necessarily know very much about. So the bit you quoted isn't just making claims about my culture, or even one of the (many) broader context cultures, it's making claims about the correct prior over all such cultures.

But what claims exactly? I intended these two:

  1. When you say, "In my culture X", you're also saying "In your culture plausibly not X".
  2. For some values of X, this will start fights (or hurt feelings, or sow mistrust, or have other effects you likely don't want).

It seems like you came to agree with point #1, so I won't belabor it further -- let me know if I misread you and we can circle back. For point #2, I definitely agree that, the more charity the listener extends to you, the smaller the set of hurtful Xs is. But if you rely on that, you're limiting the scope of this method to people who'll apply that charity and whom you know will apply that charity. I picked "punishing the innocent" for my example value of X because I expect it to be broadly cross-cultural: if you go find 100 random people and ask them whether they punish the innocent, I expect that most of them will take offense. If you also expect that, you should build that expectation into your communication strategy, regardless of what your own culture would have you do in those kinds of situations.

Now, the better your know the person you're talking to, the less important these warnings are. Then again, the better you know the person you're talking to, the less you need the safety of the diplomatic/sociological frame, you can just discuss your values directly. That's why I feel comfortable using all that highly absolutist "always/never" language above; it's the same impulse that says "it's always better to bet that a die will roll odd than that it'll roll a 1, all else held equal".

Thinking about it more, I suspect the real rule is that this method shouldn't be used to talk about cultural values at all, just cultural practices -- things that have little or no moral valence. That phrasing doesn't quite capture the distinction I want -- the Thai businessman who won't shake hands with you doesn't think his choice is arbitrary, after all -- but it's close. Another rule might be "don't use these statements to pass moral judgement", but that's hard to apply; as you saw it can be difficult to notice that you're doing it until after the fact.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-10T21:07:37.965Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Strong appreciation for this comment/strong endorsement of the warnings it provides. However, I do nevertheless continue to think it's well-suited to important topics, having seen it productively used on important topics in my own experience.

comment by Taran · 2019-03-12T08:18:46.281Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Important" was not the right word, I agree; I took a slightly better stab at it in the last paragraph of my reply to ZeitPolizei upthread. Vocabulary aside, would you agree that there's a class of cultural values that this framing doesn't help you talk about?

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-12T16:27:17.115Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I want to think further and also want to answer you now, so: knee-jerk response without too much thought is something like "there's a class of cultural values that this framing is insufficient to help you talk about, but it feels to me like a piece of the puzzle that lets you bridge the gap."

i.e. I agree there are ways this can be counterproductive for whole categories of important communication. But I'd probably route through this thing anyway, given my current state of knowledge?

Would not be surprised to find myself talked out of this viewpoint.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2019-03-10T21:12:27.930Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I like this comment.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T22:22:05.048Z · score: 41 (8 votes) · LW · GW

In case it wasn't clear from the bit at the end: I am deeply interested in other people offering expressions of elements of their culture via writing comments here or on Medium or FB, to the extent that that feels like a fun or interesting or valuable thing to do.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-07T22:58:31.152Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I have been thinking about this, but it's taking awhile to solidify. (I don't think I've precisely experienced a "culture clash" precisely in the recent times, although I've observe others appearing to have a culture clash, where Person A clearly cares a lot about X, Person B clearly cares a lot about Y which is in tension/conflict with X, and to me neither X nor Y are sacred but I can see why you might care about them).

[strong upvoted parent mostly because I think having it higher in the comment tree will lead to more interesting and useful conversation]

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-08T19:42:04.843Z · score: 33 (10 votes) · LW · GW

As noted elsethread, there are some distinctions between

  • my "culture-as-it-is" vs my "culture-as-it-aspires-to-be"
  • my "personal-culture" vs the "culture-I-am-and-want-to-be-part-of"

i. Common Knowledge and Robust Agency

In my culture (both the culture-that-is and culture I aspire to), we attend to what is common knowledge and what is not. My culture includes (by necessity, not necessarily choice) people who are coming and going all the time. The walls are not secure enough to ensure that everyone inside has common knowledge of all the most important things, and basically can't be.

Sometimes, something is important (and tractable!) enough that we spend a bunch of coordinating effort to make sure there is common knowledge of it's importance and that everyone is in fact reliably working towards it (with some punishment for defection, and buy-in for enforcing said punishment). Most of the time we don't bother, and instead make little work-groups with higher standards when higher standards are necessary.

Meanwhile, we model what is common knowledge (within my-culture-at-large, and within whatever conversation is going on)

Also meanwhile, we are aspiring to be robust agents [LW · GW] together – we are each trying to adopt policies that will work at different levels of scale, with different levels of understanding and skill on the parts of the people participating. And we help each other to do so. [Edit: Because of the aforementioned insecure walls, the policies must also be robust against occasional, actively adversarial behavior].

...

ii. Emotions-as-object

In my culture-as-it-is, if I say something and someone says "that makes me sad and/or angry", I generally do expect some combination of punishment, or a bid for me to change my behavior. Having this not be the case takes work on the part of the person, and on anyone else in the conversation – I need to trust that they have emotional skills necessary to not hold a grudge, that the people listening will not over update (either against me, or possibly against the person who made the claim, in a way that creates more work for me.)

There are cultures where it is more taken-as-default that people are building the skills to take-emotions-as-object, enough so that one either can trust that they have that skill, or that they're earnestly building the skill and it's okay to take emotional risks in the service of helping everyone build the skill.

I think the skill is important. In my culture (my aspiring culture), we definitely spend at least some time building the skills necessary to have tricky conversations that take charged-emotions as object. But, because in my aspiring culture, there is still a mix of people with different skills working together, this is not taken as default. Every time that it is not common knowledge that everyone has the requisite skills, the default assumption is that we can't rely on people having them.

So if you want to talk about tricky emotionally charged things you need to put in extra work that scales with the number of people you're having a conversation with.

...

iii. Distributed Teamwork vs Specialization/Systems

I've changed my beliefs somewhat (although they are still in flux) over the past year. My culture used to take as obvious that the way to get things done was to get a critical mass of people who were paying attention to each other's needs and to the surrounding environment and working together to improve them, to fix obvious failures, and to attend to each other's emotional needs.

I still think that is all quite good, I still aesthetically prefer a world where that is how a lot of stuff gets done. But I know have more awareness of

a) sometimes specialization is just better

b) sometimes you can just eliminate a task completely, and it's often better to look for solutions that don't require everyone to continuously spend attention on a thing.

So in my culture we try to check early and often for how to resolve a thing without coordination.

(an uncertainty of mine is that I think you often will suddenly need the skills of how to do things via distributed teamwork and coordination, esp. when you're starting a new house or organization, so it's important to build the critical mass of that skill even if you try to resolve any given thing without it)

...

iv. Improving our ability to think clearly

In my culture, we have a responsibility to improve our ability to think - both to avoid bias, and to generate useful/creative thoughts.

You also have some responsibility to do your thinking in a way that helps others around you improve their thinking. This, in part, means, thinking transparently so that others can both inspect your thinking and learn from it.

[edit: It also means not doing too much of other people's thinking for them. Try to give people space to think, and sometimes optimize asking questions or answering questions in a way that's optimized for helping other people to learn to figure out the answer on their own, instead of solving it for them]

...

v. in my culture, we type "nod."

(I recently was texting with both rationalist friends and non-rationalist family in NY, and there were brief, jarring moments where they said "wait, did you just type the word 'nod?' Is that a thing you do now?" and I said "I... suppose I do?")

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-09T01:51:27.773Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Put a slash in front, and it's a character emote, very recognizable by old-school MUDders and MMORPG players. /nod is unremarkable in some groups. Also documented in "the jargon file" as common hacker culture as early as the 1970s: http://catb.org/jargon/html/inarticulations.html

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-08T22:14:19.274Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

nod.

comment by Davis_Kingsley · 2019-03-10T22:59:06.980Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

When I have heard people use this "in the wild", it has at times come off as *extremely* insulting or condescending. In particular, when both participants are part of the same culture, it feels like one participant is making an extremely aggressive conversational move, something along the lines of "I understand this culture/community better than you and I declare that you are Out Of Bounds". It is precisely in heated/tense situations where this most seems to backfire, which makes me skeptical of the utility of this technique "in the wild".

I note that most of the examples you give seem innocuous and legitimate and in fact things I'd like to see more of - but somehow in practice this often seems to backfire in the most important instances, at least when I've seen it done.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-11T05:27:23.920Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Did you see Zeit Polizei's comment above? That was super productive for me, on this axis. For instance, taking into consideration (both before and after attempting to make this move) the degree to which the other person's culture is one that leans toward uncharitable or defensive interpretations of what the other person was saying.

Also, it seems in your description of people getting heated that there's no clear distinction being made between claims about one's personal culture and claims about the context culture—the "I understand this community better than you" is triggerable by this tool if you're not careful, but it's not actually the claim I'm making if I say "in my culture."

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-11T05:41:13.862Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(To put this another way: it seems like you missed an important part of the thesis of the piece*, which is that there are no interactions between two people with the exact same culture. While it is in fact the case that some people work differently (e.g. Scott's discussion of high-trust vs. low-trust cultures) and will reliably hear you to be making claims about the context culture if you're not extremely exact, and therefore it's important to be clear and careful and say a few more words to delineate your claims about the context culture from your claims about your own personal sense of what-is-ideal ...

... while it seems true that you should take that into account, on a practical level, it seems that if you have done all that work, and someone reacts hostilely to you as if you are making some other claim ...

... as far as I can tell, in the Berkeley rationalist context culture, the one that most of us agree upon so we can get along with each other, the person who sort of ... refused to believe that I meant what I said? ... is the one who's doing something hostile.

Or at least, it seems to me that there's a principle of "don't claim you understand better than others what's going on in their heads" in the shared context of people you and I hang out with. But maybe I'm mistaken? Maybe this is not the case, and in fact that is just another piece of my personal culture?

*or you didn't miss it yourself, but you're pointing out that it's subtle and therefore it gets missed in practice a lot

comment by Davis_Kingsley · 2019-03-11T05:58:20.569Z · score: 19 (4 votes) · LW · GW

To be clear I'm not making the claim that what I described above is an endorsed or correct experience, just how I've actually encountered it in practice at times. I'll try and keep track of my impressions when I encounter this sort of thing in the future, and take what you've said here into account.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-11T22:57:29.467Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW
Or at least, it seems to me that there's a principle of "don't claim you understand better than others what's going on in their heads" in the shared context of people you and I hang out with. But maybe I'm mistaken? Maybe this is not the case, and in fact that is just another piece of my personal culture?

My read on the context-culture is that this isn't very agreed upon, and/or depends a lot on context. (I had a sense that this particular point was probably the thing that triggered this entire post, but was waiting to talk about that until I had time to think seriously about it)

[Flagging: what follows is my read on the rationalist context culture, which... somewhat ironically can't make much use of the technique suggested in the OP. I'm trying to stick to descriptive claims about what I've observed, and a couple of if-then statements which I think are locally valid]

A founding principle of the rationality community is "people are biased and confused a lot, even smart people, even smart people who've thought about it a bit". So it seemed to me that if the rationality was going to succeed at the goal of "help people become less confused and more rational", it's necessary for some kind of social move in the space of "I think you're more confused or blind-spotted than you realize", at least some times.

But it's also even easier to be wrong about what's going on in someone else's head than what's going on in your head. And there are also sometimes incentives to use "I think someone is being confused" as a social weapon. And making a claim like that and getting it wrong

My observations are that rationalists do sometimes do this (in Berkeley and on LW and elsewhere), and it often goes poorly unless there is a lot of trust or a lot of effort is put in, but it doesn't feel like there's much like a collective immune response that I'd expect to see if it were an established norm.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-12T00:03:16.496Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This makes sense to me.

Similar caveats as Ray's re: this is more fraught, since here I am trying to describe my observations of the context culture, as opposed to things I'm relatively sure about because they live inside my head. These are not normative statements/shoulds, they're just "in my experience"s.

it's necessary for some kind of social move in the space of "I think you're more confused or blind-spotted than you realize", at least some times.

Strong agree. It seems to me that the additional bit that makes this prosocial instead of a weapon is something like:

I notice that I've got a hypothesis forming, that you're more confused or blind-spotted than you realize. I started to form this hypothesis when I saw X, Y, and Z, which I interpreted to mean A, B, and C. This hypothesis causes me to predict that, if I hadn't said anything, you would've responded to M with N, which would've been miscalibrated for reasons 1 and 2. If I saw you doing G, I would definitely update away from this hypothesis, and certainly G is not the only thing that would shift me. I want to now be open to hearing your response or counterargument; this is not a mic drop.

... where the two key pieces of the above are:

1) distinguishing between a hypothesis and a fact, or between a claim and an assertion. It seems non-rude and at least possibly non-aggressive/non-invalidating/non-weaponized to say "I'm considering [your blindness/biased-ness] among many possibilities," whereas it seems pretty much guaranteed to be taken-as-rude or taken-as-an-attempt-to-delegitimize to just flatly state "Yeah, you're [blind/biased]."

2) creating surface area/showing the gears of your hypothesis/sticking your neck out and making what you've said falsifiable. There are hints of cruxes not only in G, but also in X, Y, and Z, which someone may convincingly argue you misunderstood or misinterpreted or misremembered.

In the swath of the EA/rationalist community that I have the most exposure to (i.e. among the hundred or so Berkelanders that I've interacted with in the past year) the social move of having a hypothesis is one that is acceptable when used with clear care and respect, and the social move of claiming to know is one that is frowned upon. In other words, I've seen people band together in rejection of the latter, and I've heard many different people on many different occasions say things like my fake quote paragraph above.

This also seems to me to be correct, and is part of what I came here for (where "here" is the rationalist community). I notice that my expectation of such (in swathes of the community where that is not the norm) has gotten me into fights, in the past.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-11T22:58:40.678Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Random additional note: introspection is a skill, and extrospection is a skill, and part of what feeds into my "it seems like this is complicated" belief is that people can be good or bad at both, and common knowledge about who is good or bad at either is hard to establish.

comment by Pattern · 2019-03-08T19:16:20.512Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This was really interesting. It was also very long, and if it were split in two, it might be more clear whether reactions are to the first part ("here's this cool thing") or the second part ("here's how things usually work").

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-07T07:50:43.117Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I quite appreciated the cultural tool here. I'm not sure whether I'd want to implement with the precise phrasing of it's original inventor (I have a vague sense that prefacing every discussion of this reference class with "in my culture..." could get weirdly grating. But, I think invoking the spirit of that concept is quite a nice idea and look forward to trying it out).

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T09:15:25.862Z · score: 10 (6 votes) · LW · GW

"In my religion..."

"The way it works in my head is..."

"For me personally, situations like this..."

"Maybe this isn't generally true, but I found myself..."

A lot of it is pretty NVC/circling norm stuff. But I think there's something uniquely strong about the "in my culture" frame that might make it worth ... saving that actual exact phrase for the top 15% of use cases?

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2019-03-07T21:51:57.113Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

For my personal usage, the way I could imagine using it, "in my culture" sounds a bit serious and final. "Where I'm from, we do X" is nice if I want something to sound weighty and powerful and stable, but I just don't think I've figured myself out enough to do that much yet. There might also be a bit of confusion in that "in my culture" also has a structurally similar literal meaning.

"In Robopolis" seems to fix these problems for me, since it more clearly flags that I'm not talking about a literal culture, and it sounds more agnostic about whether this is a deep part of who I am vs. a passing fashion.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-07T22:12:21.967Z · score: 20 (5 votes) · LW · GW

"In my culture, saying 'in my culture' sounds serious and final." :P

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2019-03-08T00:03:09.758Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That was my draft 1. :P

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2019-03-07T22:58:06.889Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So...I actually happen to have converged upon the same insight, and have actually tried to use this exact phrase in the wild.

Unfortunately (being an immigrant) people understandably often assume I was talking about nation-level differences involving my country of birth, rather than my particular family and the specialized microcosm of friends that I surround myself with. Any ideas for making the wording more precise so as to avoid this?

(I've tried modifications like "in my family" or "the way I grew up" or "how I was raised" but more or less the same problem occurs. "Among my friends and I" sort of works, sometimes? But mostly I've just given up on trying to reference culture in navigating misunderstandings.)

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T23:15:32.284Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My closest answer would be something like "in my version of utopia," although maybe that's too strong? Or perhaps (depending on how nerdy the group is) something like "if I were having this meeting with five clones of me..."?

Another clunkier version is just to port over the WHOLE concept, of not only personal culture but also context culture: "I mean, there's a sort of thing where we kind of have norms and customs about how to communicate, and maybe they're a little different from what any individual wants or would do, and that's good, I'm not trying to say the group norms should exactly match my individual preferences, but like in my own little one-person culture, X, and I imagine maybe some people here didn't know that."

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-07T23:21:58.061Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I expect that if you abbreviate that to "Hmm. In my own one-person culture, X", you'd probably accomplish most of the thing.

I notice as I reflect on this that I have separate buckets for "my culture as it actually stands" and "my aspirational culture that I'd like to be true but isn't actually yet", which seem differently important.

comment by Vaniver · 2019-03-08T18:54:21.409Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW
My closest answer would be something like "in my version of utopia," although maybe that's too strong?

I think this implies way too much endorsement. I often find myself editing a document and thinking "in American English, the comma goes inside the quotation marks," even though "in programming, the period goes outside the quotation marks".

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-07T19:12:32.958Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I like the transparency and effort at NOT claiming universality. The use of the phrase "my culture" doesn't resonate as strongly for me. It still seems to be claiming some larger context of one's expectations, and can be taken as pressure to conform to that cultural expectation.

I prefer "for me", or "in my mind", "my initial reaction ", or more self-deprecatingly "in my naive interpretation". This still makes it transparent and clear where the miscommunication or conflict is, without claiming any outside authority for my interpretation.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T19:24:44.551Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that "in my culture" works if and only if there is *also* a common-knowledge understanding that we're in the metaphorical diplomatic setting and that it's not a bid for changing that diplomatic setting's context culture. I also agree that a lack of intent to apply pressure doesn't always equate to a lack of perception of pressure.

I have a friend who advocates "in my religion" as the superior phrase for that reason—we already have clear common-knowledge boundaries around how religion is personal and sort of self-aware/known to be something other people won't pick up. I feel a little squidgy around that one myself, though, because it seems *too* self-deprecating in populations with a high percentage of atheism.

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-07T21:47:35.586Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. Most of the discussions where I want to use this mechanism are atheist, but tolerant and curious enough that I'd expect to immediately sidetrack into "what religion is that, and how does this interpretation relate to those teachings"?

I think "in my mind", or "my initial reaction" will remain my go-to phrasings for this kind of identification of miscommunication.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T22:25:04.740Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I do think that "in my mind" and "my initial reaction" gets a lot of the value. I'm curious if you ever run into people who are uncertain whether you mean "Dagon is expressing a personal thought?" or "Dagon is making a bid to change our broader conversational API"?

For me, that was the biggest thing that I got, once my colleague started doing this—the distinction between their culture and their bids to change the norms.

comment by Dagon · 2019-03-08T00:15:15.910Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Uncertain whether you mean "Dagon is expressing a personal thought?" or "Dagon is making a bid to change our broader conversational API"?

Also interesting - I'm happy to be having this exploration! I think I use this phrase in both cases, and also when I'm unsure whether either is true! It's mostly a bid to open the meta-level discussion about how the communication is happening, separate from whatever it is that we're (failing to) communicate.

comment by Elo · 2019-03-07T10:00:57.508Z · score: -13 (13 votes) · LW · GW

For me I try not to endorse or propagate frameworks that are designed to subtly oppress other people.

That includes calling out bad behaviour when I see it. I strongly disagree with this post. It's not demonstrating healthy agency, it's not delineating from unhealthy agency, it's not couched in sensitivity and it's not going to make the world a better place. And it doesn't belong in rationalist cannon.

comment by Benito · 2019-03-07T10:29:51.707Z · score: 34 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Elo, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Can you point to something specific in the text? My read of the post is a bid to reliably make implicit culture explicit in cases where interpersonal conflict is happening, plus a ton of examples of Duncan making his own implicit culture explicit, with an explicit tag of “I’m not advocating for these”. I’m not sure whether it’s computationally simple to notice when and when not the conflict is due to difference of implicit norms, but the OP has clearly had a bunch of effort put in to understand how people will read it and try to help them understand precisely what is and isn’t being said, and is definitely intending to make the world a better place.

In general spending a paragraph publicly punishing a post without showing how the post violates any norms is IMO a bad faith way of enforcing norms, though I may have misunderstood you.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-09T19:48:09.901Z · score: 24 (10 votes) · LW · GW

[further edit: I've locked this thread until Tuesday, on Monday will review it and think about whether there's anything else that needs saying]

[mod hat]

Elo,

I think there's a few things you could have said here that would have been fine. I'm not 100% sure I understand your concerns but something like:

"This post seems dangerous to me, and I felt a strong sense of being manipulated while reading it. I don't think this post accomplishes it's stated goals. The 'my culture' frame doesn't stop the statement from being pushy and coercive about your norms, I think it's even worse because it gives the appearance of trying to not be pushy but actually just being subtle about it."

I think it's important that people be able to raise flags about manipulative speech without being able to clearly articulate what's wrong, because often the whole issue with manipulative speech is that it's hard to pin down exactly what's coercive about it.

But, importantly, until we've gotten to a point where we can pin down (or at least roughly gesture at) what's wrong, it's not okay to pre-emptively punish people for it. I even think it's okay to give people some leeway to respond more emotionally when they're reacting to a feeling of coercion. But your comments here seem way over the line of what is acceptable on LW.

Your words here are extremely aggressive, aiming to persuade without much attempt at explanation, and this is part of a pattern you've been demonstrating for awhile. We've previously issued you a warning for similar behavior [LW · GW]. If you do this again you will be banned for 3 months.

comment by Elo · 2019-03-09T20:35:42.983Z · score: -7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would propose that the other warning was an entirely different case, and something that I stopped doing. If you want to call them the same, that's up to you.

Comparing comments:

(you) “This post seems dangerous to me, and I felt a strong sense of being manipulated while reading it. I don’t think this post accomplishes it’s stated goals. The ‘my culture’ frame doesn’t stop the statement from being pushy and coercive about your norms, I think it’s even worse because it gives the appearance of trying to not be pushy but actually just being subtle about it.”
(me) For me I try not to endorse or propagate frameworks that are designed to subtly oppress other people.
That includes calling out bad behaviour when I see it. I strongly disagree with this post. It’s not demonstrating healthy agency, it’s not delineating from unhealthy agency, it’s not couched in sensitivity and it’s not going to make the world a better place. And it doesn’t belong in rationalist cannon.

(you)“This post seems dangerous to me, and I felt a strong sense of being manipulated while reading it.
(me) For me I try not to endorse or propagate frameworks that are designed to subtly oppress other people.

You changed the frame of reference between internal (for me) and external (this post seem... -to me). Which means you broadened a subjective statement. I also didn't include an "I felt" or I would have probably included an "I feel" present tense statement if I were to include any.

(you) I don’t think this post accomplishes it’s stated goals.
(me) I strongly disagree with this post.

I didn't hedge with "don't think". I just stated my position, raw, "strongly disagree". I'd find mine better, but also add the comment that I didn't "think" about it, I "felt" strong disagreement. You shifted from "feeling" to "thinking". While I didn't state, "I feel strong disagreement" this is an entirely different frame of reference to "I think strong disagreement".

The ‘my culture’ frame doesn’t stop the statement from being pushy and coercive about your norms, I think it’s even worse because it gives the appearance of trying to not be pushy but actually just being subtle about it.”
It’s not demonstrating healthy agency, it’s not delineating from unhealthy agency, it’s not couched in sensitivity and it’s not going to make the world a better place.

I see that I used, "It's" and that was unclear. I was referring to the whole post. That's fine. I made a list of factors here. That might not have been clear:

  • not demonstrating healthy agency
  • not delineating healthy from unhealthy agency
  • not couched in sensitivity

. And because of this list (emotive argument follows without explanation) is not going to make the world a better place.

Your list:

  • pushy and coercive
  • worse because it gives the appearance of trying to not be pushy but actually just being subtle about it

Your list covers half of my list.

There's also the poetic intention of using a culture setting paradigm to describe how I would set a culture differently that seems to not transmit through text (for me... calling out bad behaviour... I strongly disagree...). If I were to rewrite:

The way I see this framework being used in the post, it feels like it's being used to subtly oppress people. I strongly disagree with this post. Here's what I would like to see in a better version of the post:
  • Demonstrating healthy agency
  • Delineating from unhealthy agency
  • Language use that is couched in sensitivity
  • Clear explanation of how this makes the world a better place
  • examples of where this can go wrong, and what not to do

Subtle pushiness is worse than overt pushiness because if someone does not want to overtly "follow me and do as I say" they have a chance to say so when I'm obvious about the instruction. There's less of a chance to avoid coercion when the instruction is, "haha, that's not how we do things where I'm from" (yes this is a strawman version but there's no guidance in the top post for navigating between the healthy and the unhealthy types of the framework).

I'm happy to discuss what makes a good comment and what makes a bad comment. Or my comment. Or my take on the two versions.

note. I seem to be paying attention to, gathering and including more detail than you are. I suspect this is causing more of a mess than I want. It also means that I am catching details of communication that are not always noticed by other people.

For example:

  • poetic writing
  • frames of reference
  • hedges
  • I think/I feel
  • list included in a paragraph
  • tenses
  • scope of statement
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-09T23:53:55.563Z · score: 24 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't want to engage with most of the above, but one small note on my personal impression of the context culture of LW.

It seems to me that:

  • not demonstrating healthy agency
  • not delineating healthy from unhealthy agency
  • not couched in sensitivity

are each claims that themselves require some form of justification. i.e. sure, it makes sense that you would say "because of A, B, and C, I conclude this is bad," and I expect that most LWers would agree about the logic of that if-then.

But I also expect that most LWers would not find your three premises obviously true, and would therefore receive them as un- or underjustified assertions, and (given the local norms) expect you to include, from the beginning, more details of your underlying world model (and certainly expect you to be willing to expound upon them if asked, as I and Benito and Pattern have all asked).

(I note that in your response to Pattern you use a larger number of synonyms to repeat "X is bad" but don't actually explain why or how with e.g. claims about causality that can be investigated, or analogies to known phenomena whose aptness or inaptness can be discussed, or illustrative examples that others will find evocative, or anything like that.)

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-10T01:17:09.885Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Quick note: I most likely won't be responding more until Monday, and generally think I've said most of what I felt needed saying.

(I will add one quick clarification for onlookers that in my example of what to do different, one important aspect was the removal of the phrase "that are designed to subtly oppress other people", which was making assertions about the internal design process that didn't seem justified to me).

I am locking this thread until Tuesday (on Monday someone on the LW team may review it, and see if there's anything else that warrants a mod response)

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-07T18:10:56.933Z · score: 20 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It seems important to me to distinguish between "designed to subtly oppress other people" and "will necessarily have the result of subtly oppressing other people."

It is not the former (and the implication that it is sounds to me like the motte version of a claim whose bailey is "Duncan is lying/manipulative," or like an assertion that you know better than I do what is going on inside my own head).

I am genuinely interested if you can shine light on the latter in a concrete, specific, and here-are-the-lines-of-cause-and-effect sort of way, since subtly oppressing other people is counter to my goals.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-08T06:26:37.106Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

(I note for onlookers that I found this tool, as opposed to designing it myself, although my descriptions of it, and the way I made meaning out of my observations, are entirely self-generated and no one else's fault.)

comment by Elo · 2019-03-09T04:31:36.494Z · score: -21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You'd have to be an evil nincompoop to design and then publish, instructions for subtle manipulation on purpose. So no, I can't give you the credit of being that evil to purposely do that.

I wonder what culture it takes to make you as you are. In the way that you don't see what I see.

I will compile a list.

comment by Raemon · 2019-03-09T05:19:41.259Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

[mod hat - haven’t had time to respond to this properly but flagging that the mod team is discussing it]

comment by Pattern · 2019-03-08T19:04:46.905Z · score: 16 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I noticed the post had a "here is a thing/technique I find useful" component and a "here is an example of something like me using the thing/technique". Did you disagree with the meta part (people talking about where they come from) or the specific part (where the author comes from)?

comment by Elo · 2019-03-09T04:15:23.686Z · score: -3 (10 votes) · LW · GW

If I think of a tool like "genetic selection". We can have a conversation about how genetic selection is a neat tool that allowed us to select wheat and build the modern bread industry. However if I start talking about genetic selection in terms of the reduction of inferior people and extermination of cultures that don't fit my vision of the right thing, we are suddenly not talking about the use of a tool. We are instead talking about the use of manipulation to get what I want.

The "in my culture..." linguistic strategy tool is just a tool.

In how it's being talked about, in how it's being presented and in the examples, it's being used in ways that manipulate, reject, oppress, suppress, override, and imply "rightness" over other people who might be unsuspecting to the method. I object to the propagation of the strategy without emphasis on the care, consent, acceptance, kindness aspects of interpersonal culture.

It feels like poison is seeping through every other sentence of the main document. Part of me is terrified to even touch this unholy mess for fear of accidentally picking up on the subtle manipulation techniques that are so deeply ingrained that they are such a blind spot for the author that he can't even notice the way it comes out in all his language.

I expect this is going to hit a sore spot. That's the nature of how people will often respond to manipulation. And the knee jerk reaction to people being challenged with such claims.

I want to note that my comment was the soft version of my brain repeating, "kill it with fire" as I read the document.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2019-03-10T00:00:14.705Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW
it's being used in ways that manipulate, reject, oppress, suppress, override, and imply "rightness" over other people who might be unsuspecting to the method

This reads to me as an assertion in need of justification, via a more detailed description of the underlying causal model, or analogies to known phenomena, or illustrative case-study style examples, or something. Another way to say this is "I hear what you believe, but I do not hear why you believe what you believe."

comment by Pattern · 2019-03-09T17:36:51.585Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Based on your response I'm guessing, you disagree with a) 'the author's culture', b) the wording ("in my culture"), c) not having enough cautionary remarks (or instructions on how to help people develop memetic immunity/etc. so it can be used responsibly in the group). Would you have responded differently if the post had focused more on reciprocation/negotiating a set of norms as a group, or, in order (counterfactually) for you to have responded differently, would that require too many changes to list?