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comment by gjm · 2017-10-02T13:02:04.743Z · score: 20 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Noticing and agency and mutability are excellent properties to have, but it makes me super-uncomfortable to see it suggested that those who score low on those attributes are not human. There's way too much history of less-favoured groups being called nonhuman or subhuman in order to justify abusing them, and I really don't think that's a good wagon to hitch onto.

comment by Raemon · 2017-10-02T19:39:20.461Z · score: 17 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My take on this is something like:

a) this post is certainly pointing at a useful and relevant quality

b) this post may be useful for Conor specifically referring people to for how his brain works

c) this post (or something like it) could also be useful as a general "here are qualities that we should aspire to and think about" thing, which'd be handy to build off of. But using the word human means that, at the very least, every time some new people talk about the concept there's going to be a chunk of time spent rehashing the argument of "you're saying people aren't human!?" (Or, people understanding the post... but still being uncomfortable with it and doing a song-and-dance around distancing themselves from the variations on this idea that feed directly into things like moral worth).

Even if, after every one of the iterations, people talk things through and end up on the same page, I just anticipate a lot of wasted time. Human is just such a loaded term.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-02T21:17:32.540Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I very much want to pump against "here on Less Wrong, we shouldn't just state exactly what we mean because then people will waste a lot of time wrestling with connotation."

I don't know what to do with my prediction that you strongly disagree. It's sort of a question of how best to move the culture toward an ideal style of discourse, which is (I suspect) a goal that is shared equally strongly by you and I and gjm. I have a desire for a Less Wrong community where your above prediction of wasted time is absolutely not a risk in the case of a post worded exactly as mine is above, and I agree that this is not that, yet, and I don't know how to trade off act-as-if-it-is-and-be-the-culture-you-want-to-see-in-the-world against scaffold-for-people-and-censor-yourself-for-PR-reasons.

comment by Raemon · 2017-10-02T22:51:30.218Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't have a clear sense of a good choice here, but for frame of reference (note: this is me using the current site rules as examples of how some human tendencies work and what tradeoffs we've currently made, not speaking as developer of the site and not speaking for what sorts of conversation are "Good™". Just thinking out loud)

Humans are demonstratably bad at talking about politics. If you allow them to do so on your website, it'll quickly attract the sort of person who turns it into bad facebook comments unless you have a lot of effortful moderation and careful karma policies.

At the same time, it's very good for seasoned Less Wrong folk to be able to have nuanced conversations about politics that make useful headway on things. And should be able to do so without contorting themselves in circles.

This is a case where an explicit call was made: mainstream politics is banned from Less Wrong main page. You can talk about it on the personal page but it's somewhat hidden away from people that aren't going looking for it.

For similar reasons, the Front Page of Less Wrong is now declared "not a place for calls to action", because Calls To Action end up impacting social reality and social reality is Hard Mode.

I think the set of people I'd trust to talk about being more-or-less human is roughly the same set of people I'd trust to talk about politics productively (for approximately the same reason). I think no matter how much we level up at rational-discourse, the most public-facing areas in the site are going to have newcomers who haven't leveled up at discussing nuanced things carefully.

None of that is meant to output a particular policy suggestion - the point is that this sort of consideration is the type of thing we've already run into and made some tradeoffs on.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-02T16:14:21.188Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I acknowledge, and mainly agree. I have no strong or principled defense of this thing that my brain does, and wouldn't object to people pumping against it even if they did so much more strongly than you do above.

However, it is what my brain does.

I could dance around it by saying something like "a less vibrant and interesting person," which might be better? That, too, is a true statement—while it feels a little like PR semantics, it also underscores that personhood is a binary that can't be taken away? (My brain absolutely does think of personhood as a binary that all people except maybe those in permanent vegetative comas have.)

I do want to point out, though, that something in your brain caused you to round me off to saying not human, which I absolutely did not say at any point in the post. There's an enormous qualitative difference between less and not. Although maybe that, in and of itself, is an object example of why you are advocating caution (because people hear what they hear, regardless of what you say, and there's a benefit to keeping a wide moat around something like that).

comment by gjm · 2017-10-02T16:32:48.361Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's true: you never say, in so many words, that anyone is not human. On the other hand, you begin with a quotation from Dune in which someone says "Let us say I suggest you may be human"; and you end by proposing to plot people's attributes on a cube one of whose corners is "not human at all". I don't think it's fair to put all the blame on something in [my] brain here; I think you (deliberately or not, consciously or not) wrote what you did in such a way as to suggest the rounding-off in question, even while maintaining some deniability.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-02T21:13:17.445Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW


I object on principle to what I see as a non-falsifiable claim by an outside person about what's going on in my own head.

comment by gjm · 2017-10-03T12:32:00.524Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I thought I went out of my way not to make claims about what's going on in your head. I said that you wrote what you did in such a way as to suggest the rounding-off you were happy to ascribe to something in my head. I very deliberately and explicitly didn't speculate on what the internal causes of that might have been.

(Is it possible that you misread "in such a way as to suggest" as something like "with the purpose of suggesting"?)

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-03T15:55:35.689Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that misreading is a possible explanation for my reaction. +1 for doing better hypothesizing than me in this case.

comment by Chris_Leong · 2017-10-02T12:16:06.392Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

+1. I enjoyed this post, although I do wonder if there is value in the actual label "being more human" if you have the individual sub-label. I'm open to being persuaded either way.


  • Another label I've heard for Autonomy is being a "Player Character" (I've definitely seen more references to this, but I can't find them at the moment).

  • I'm not really a fan of Mutability as a label. Adaptability is slightly better as it tends to refer to your ability to act differently specifically to handle different circumstances. Generalist could also work, but it seems to imply the lack of a specialist knowledge. Well-Rounded and Multi-Talented capture having a variety of skills, but not the imperative of desiring to achieve one's full potential. Probably the best alternate labels I have are Renaissance Man or Fully-Developed Human Being.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-02T16:17:25.821Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I like most of your substitutes. May edit to adaptibility (which also does assonance!).

comment by Raemon · 2017-10-02T04:27:53.529Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

>I wonder what framework you would use to distinguish the more human humans from the rest of us.

This is not the most important thing, since it's not especially what you're talking about, but I couldn't resist linking this:

comment by cata · 2017-10-02T07:49:29.298Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think you do these traits a disservice by bundling them up with the label "human." I think it's very human to be unnecessarily imperceptive, ineffective, and stubborn. I prefer to leave being the most human human to someone else, preferably someone I never have to think about or interact with.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-02T16:16:47.564Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, but that was the point of the post? That I, in my personal opinion, think that unneccessary imperceptiveness and ineffectiveness and stubbornness makes someone less interesting and less valuable and less my peer, particularly when they're reflectively endorsed and enthusiastically embraced.

Descriptively, I agree with you completely—those traits are exceedingly human. But prescriptively, I fight them with everything I've got. I think they are strong candidates for "what we will outgrow," as a culture and as a species.

comment by abramdemski · 2017-10-03T00:52:15.402Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What are the image references? (I'm especially wondering about the statue and the astronaut.)

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-03T03:53:20.165Z · score: 4 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The astronaut is a reference to Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama. The statue is titled "Self-Made Man" and is just a popular statue to the best of my knowledge (there was a cast of it on the UNC Charlotte campus, which is where I first saw it).

comment by sullyj3 · 2017-10-03T11:29:40.030Z · score: 3 (6 votes) · LW · GW

We're supposed to learn agency from Fight Club? That frankly seems like terrible advice.

comment by sullyj3 · 2017-10-03T11:38:01.984Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This feels elitist, ubermenchy, and a little masturbatory. I can't really tell what point, if any, you're trying to make. I don't disagree that many of the traits you list are admirable, but noticing that isn't particularly novel or insightful. Your conceptual framework seems like little more than thinly veiled justification for finding reasons to look down on others. Calling people more or less "human" fairly viscerally evokes past justifications for subjugating races and treating them as property.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2017-10-03T15:58:03.243Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

See above, where other people have made the same points you're trying to make, except they made them less antagonistically and also included additional thoughts and ideas that enriched the conversation.