How to Build a Community

post by peter_hurford · 2013-05-15T05:43:05.131Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 229 comments

Contents

  Communities Need Cooperation
    Goods and Free Riders
    Free Rider Problem and The Collective Action Problem
    Community Solution
  The Four Pressures of Cooperation
  Your Reason for Joining; Your Reason for Staying
    Ways to Bond
  Looking Back to the Public Goods Game
    Different Game
  Conclusions
    Pressures
    Benefits of Joining
    Effective Community
    End Reward
None
229 comments

I've noticed that quite a few people are interested in fostering communities -- both creating communities and improving them to make them work together.  But how do we go about actually doing this?  What's there to community that we can foster and build upon?  What makes a community thrive, and how do we take advantage of this to make and/or improve communities?

To answer these questions, I turned to two books:

The first is The Penguin and The Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs Over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler.  Benkler, in writing about cooperative systems (Penguins, named after the Linux Penguin) and hierarchical systems (Leviathans, named after Thomas Hobbes's The Leviathan), studies the psychology, economics, and political science of cooperation and helps explain what makes communities stick.

The second is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier.  Schneier studies trust and cooperation from a dizzying variety of sciences (psychology, biology, economics, anthropology, computer science, and political science).  Schneier's ultimate game is figuring out what is preventing society from falling apart, and that can be applied to building communities.

Let's see what they got.

 

Communities Need Cooperation

Schneier and Benkler both paint a view of human nature that is different than what is commonly thought, but what has emerged from the sciences: People are both self-interested and other-interested, different people will have different balances of each, and within each person these two goals can often conflict.  Additionally, the "other-interested" aspect can be multiple and occasionally conflicting allegiances, such as to one's family, to one's neighborhood, to one's country, to one's venture philanthropy club, etc.

What's unique to all communities is that they involve people who have set aside some of their immediate self-interest to work together.  For instance, when we work together in a group, I definitely don't beat you over the head and steal your lunch money, and I don't usually attempt to free ride and get you to do the group work for me, but we mutually work to solve communal problems and share in the benefits of community.

Public Goods and Free Riders

An example of how psychology has sought to simplify and simulate a community is through what's called "The Public Goods Game".  In this game, a group of about ten participants are each sat down, and given $10 each to start with.  The game is then played for several rounds, and in each round all participants get to put a certain secret amount of their money into a collective pot.  The experimenters then look at the pot, double the amount of money inside it, and redistribute the result evenly to all the players.  For added bonus, the experimenters inform all participants that they get to walk away with their winnings after the game is over.

If everyone went perfectly with the community, each player would see their money double each round.  But the wrinkle is that if people don't contribute at all to the pot, then they stand to gain even more money from the results of everyone else's contributions.  This is called the free rider problem: there is a tension between wanting to contribute to the pot for the good of yourself and the good of the group as a whole and refraining from contributing so that you benefit even more.

The Free Rider Problem and The Collective Action Problem

But the tension can result in further disaster, for imagine everyone decides to be a free rider and defect from the group -- now, no money goes in the pot at all, and everyone ends with the $10 they start with.  This gets worse when we imagine some other real-life scenarios -- for instance, that of fishermen in a lake.

The fishermen can either choose to fish normally or overfish.  If all the fishermen overfish, they stand to deplete the lake and all fishermen lose their jobs.  However, if just a few fishermen overfish, they get the benefit of added fish to sell, and the lake can handle the slight increase in load.  So this tension is to be the fisherman that wins most by personally overfishing, while not collectively depleting the entire lake.  Such problems are called collective action problems -- people do well individually by defecting but do worse collectively if everyone defects.  The result of a collective action problem ending in disaster is called the tragedy of the commons.

The Community Solution

So what's the solution to these problems?  Benkler proposes two models for dealing with them -- employing the Leviathan and placing lots of regulations on overfishing and enforcing them with strict punishments, or employing the Penguin and creating a community that deals with these problems collectively and in a self-policing way.

It turns out that certain problems are best dealt with differing combinations of Leviathan and Penguin models, but most problems need lots of community just because it can be difficult to figure out who is going against the community, and communities have more freedom for their participants.  At the same time, if there are too many would-be defectors a community can never get off the ground.

Communities need cooperation to work.  So how can we get this cooperation to fly?

 

The Four Pressures of Cooperation

Bruce Schneier notes that normally we don't think through these free rider problems and try to scheme our way through them -- we just cooperate, instinctively.  We don't assume people will rip us off, and we usually don't rip other people off -- that's just how we are.  But why?  Schneier suggests that cooperation can be fostered and maintained through four different pressures, though differing kinds and amounts of pressure apply to different situations, and getting the balance of pressures right is a key part of his book:

1.) Moral Pressures: Many, but not all of us, have various moral feelings that lead us to want to cooperate.  It could be as easy as feeling incredibly guilty when we defect against our friends, or as complex as subscribing to an abstract principle of justice.  For most of us, it's a general feeling that cooperating is the "right thing to do" and defecting for our own personal self-interest is "wrong", and we just don't want to do it.  Schneier and Benkler both find that moral pressures compel cooperation a surprising amount of the time.

2.) Reputational Pressures: Another part about living in a community for a long time is that you have a reputation to live by.  Defect against the community and you may win a few times, but then people start to notice and start working to stop you.  They might refuse you friendship or other things you want, or even kick you out of the community altogether!  Benkler finds that many communities can thrive on reputation alone, like eBay, Amazon, or Reddit.

3.) Institutional Pressures: Morals and reputation aren't the end of it though; many communities make specific, codified norms and enforce them with specific, codified punishments.  These pressures are laws, and the fear of breaking the law, being caught, and getting the punishment can often further spur cooperation.  Best yet, the community can often get together and agree to these norms, realizing it is in their individual benefit to force themselves and the rest of the community to play along, as to avoid tragedies of the commons.

4.) Security Pressures: Lastly, there are always going to be a few people who put morals, reputation, and laws aside and try to defect anyway.  For these, we hope to stop them in their tracks or make their jobs more difficult, by using complex security systems.  It can be as simple as a security camera or anti-theft radio, or as complex as Fort Knox.  Security is a double plan: it first attempts to raise the costs of defection; by making it physically harder to defect, one is less tempted to do so.  It then attempts to better catch and apprehend those who still try.

 

Your Reason for Joining; Your Reason for Staying

Remember these pressures don't all work for the same problems -- it may be proper to use security and institutional pressures to stop someone from overfishing, but not from intentionally cutting the cake so they get to eat the bigger slice.  Moral and reputational pressures seem to be more encompassing, but they are also more easily defeated -- people with less of a moral compass can often wander from community to community, wrecking small amounts of havoc and never getting caught or punished.

Benkler suggests another way to get people to buy into a community and not defect against it -- make it clear that being part of the community is something they really want.  Whether your joining a community or forced into one (family, country, etc.), the community will be more likely to thrive.

Four Ways to Bond

But why might one want to join or stay in a community?  For many, the answer is the intangibles -- they feel a sense of belonging, friendship, and group cohesion that creates an empathetic attachment and makes people want to play by the rules of the group.  For others, the answer is the tangibles -- the group may have a stated mission statement that is important to the person, or belonging in the group might confer a specific benefit.  People might even belong for a mix of tangibles and intangibles, plus a natural tendency to want to join groups.

But how do we foster these bonds?  Benkler has his own set of four things, suggesting that group identity can be fostered through a combination of four means:

1.) Fairness: The community needs to be fair -- people need to all contribute more or less equally, or at least have genuine intentions to put in equal effort, and the benefits of the group need to be spread among all participants more or less evenly, or in a fair proportion to how much the participant puts in.

2.) Autonomy: The community needs to not demand too much, and make sure to compensate quickly and generously for special sacrifices.  There are inherent costs to joining and staying with a group, and costs for cooperating with the group -- one doesn't just give up the self-interested benefits of defection, but rather must pay additional costs to maintain their group status.  Being aware of and addressing these costs are important.  In short, the group must respect their members as individuals.

3.) Democracy: The community also needs to accept (with fairness and autonomy) the input of all the members.  Group norms should be developed by a vote, with weight given on building consensus as much as possible, and with understanding the reasons why people might not like the consensus.  Not only does having input make it more likely people's preferences will be taken into account, lowering the costs of cooperation, but having input makes people feel more group cohesion and belonging.

4.) Communication: During times when formal votes aren't taken, the community also needs to be consistently (but not constantly) talking about how the group is doing, and checking in with members who might be feeling left out.  Just like democracy, group cohesion is built through communication, and communication lowers the costs of cooperation.  It's best when resolving disputes is not dictatorial, like in a court of law, but rather cooperative, like in an arbitration.

 

Looking Back to the Public Goods Game

To demonstrate these four points, Benkler draws on many real-world examples, such as policies of various companies, and interactions on the internet.  He also draws on returning back to our simple-community-in-the-lab, the Public Goods Game, for additional confirmation, and its worth seeing how these things play out.

In the original Public Goods game, contributions to the pot were made anonymously and no-one was allowed to talk or communicate.  Typically, a fair amount of people would cooperate in the beginning (generally, people contribute about 70% of their share), but starts to drop as people see that others aren't contributing.  They start to feel like suckers, and the fairness starts to kick in.

A Different Game

However, variants of the Public Goods game offer ways out.  When participants were allowed to talk to each other, contributions rose (communication).  Likewise, when participants were allowed to use some of their money to punish those who didn't contribute (say, pay $3 to prevent someone from getting their share this round if they didn't cooperate last round), people would do so.  

Even the simple act of making the contributions public increased cooperation, drawing on reputation.  Sometimes small fines were imposed on those who didn't cooperate (institutional pressures) which brought up cooperation, and these fines worked especially well when the group got to vote on how high they would be (democracy).

Lastly, helping frame the game would help -- those who were told they were taking place in a "Community Game" were far more likely to contribute to the pot and keep contributing than those who were told they were taking place in a "Wall Street Game".  By reminding people they are in a community, people thought more about their community norms, and felt more group cohesion, and were more likely to trust others.

 

Conclusions

Ultimately, creating communities is all about fostering cooperation, and you foster cooperation by ensuring that there is mutual trust and some sort of way to prevent defectors from taking advantage of the system.  People often naturally don't want to defect, but will do so if they think others will take advantage of them first.

Social Pressures

But how do we foster this trust?  The first step is to make use of our social pressures when and to the amount that's appropriate -- relying on empathetic and moral norms, reputation, institutionalized laws, and security systems -- and being sure to get the balance right.  For small communities, this probably just needs to be a set of agreed norms, and ensuring that the norms are properly and responsibly enforced.

The Benefits of Joining

The second part is while implementing the first step, we should keep in mind why people are joining or staying in the first place, and make sure to provide a community where the benefits of joining -- both the tangibles and intangibles -- are present and apparent.  We should acknowledge the costs of cooperating, and make sure the benefits are there to foster group loyalty and belonging.

An Effective Community

While implementing, it's important to keep in mind that communities should also be fair, respect the autonomy and individuality of the members, give members input through democracy, and foster lots of communication about how things are going.  We should also keep a keen eye to how things are framed, while not going overboard on it or lying.

The End Reward

But when we accomplish communities, the rewards are pretty great -- not only do we avoid free riders and the tragedy of the commons, but we ourselves get to take advantage of communities that are more productive than the individuals alone, and secure the feelings of belonging to a group we enjoy.

-

Also cross-posted on my blog.

 

229 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-15T17:44:56.478Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I second kilobug that democracy is far from a slam-dunk, quite the opposite. A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works just as well or better. Most online forums operate this way, and so do many social and commercial entities. Democracy is a way to patch things up (often poorly) in a situation where opt-out is impossible or not feasible. Voting and building consensus is nice, but often counterproductive. While community feedback is essential, communal governing is more often a mess than not.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-05-15T18:57:54.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The recommendation I saw was "accept the input of all members," which is the primary thing that separates a benevolent dictatorship from a malevolent ones (in the eyes of the ruled). Yes, doing things by vote often doesn't help and so shouldn't be part of that recommendation, but having open lines of communication upwards is an important feature.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-16T19:42:07.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works

Who enforces the right to opt-out? Again, benevolent dictatorship is being proposed as a subsystem within a larger system.

comment by ygert · 2013-05-16T19:54:21.384Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a democracy, who enforces the right of the people to vote? The question is analogous. To an extent, the answer is that the elected officials enforce the right of the people to vote, and in your question, the benevolent dictator enforces the right of the people to leave. Yes, if it is a true dictatorship the dictator has the power to ban leaving, but it is also true that the elected officials could just choose to never hold another election. Then in both cases the people are screwed, and probably will have to resort to a civil war or something to get out of the sticky situation they are in, but the point is, that applies also to a democracy.

Anyway, as we are positing a benevolent dictatorship, this really shouldn't be an issue. Yes,the dictator could choose to disallow leaving, as he could also choose, say, to torture people. But in this hypothetical, he is a benevolent dictator, so this isn't an issue.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-16T21:18:52.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a democracy, who enforces the right of the people to vote? The question is analogou

I don' think so. If one person or grouping in a democracy decides to suspend elections, there are plenty of others groups (opposition parties, constitutional monarchs, the media, other politicians in the same party) who can object. By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

Anyway, as we are positing a benevolent dictatorship, this really shouldn't be an issue

Benevolent dictators are definitionally benevolent, like magic wands are definitionally magical.

The basic problem is that benevolent dictatorship isn't a system.

The examples that have been given are constitutional monarchies. Monarchy is a system whereby the Heir ascends to the throne, whether they are good bad or ugly, So sometimes, you get a good monarch. And sometimes you don't. There is no production line for good kings, or for benevolent dictators. There is not even a system whereby a benevolent dictator, if you happened to install one, could ensure a succession of future benevolent dictators. If they choose their successor by genetics, that;s monarchy, and if they let somebody else decide their successor, that;s democracy.

Saying "let's have plurality of states run any which way, and people can freely move between them and choose what they like", is a system of sorts -- but who guarantees the freedom of movement?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-05-30T22:47:45.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don' think so. If one person or grouping in a democracy decides to suspend elections, there are plenty of others groups (opposition parties, constitutional monarchs, the media, other politicians in the same party) who can object. By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

If one person tries to rule a dictorship without regards to the interest of any other person he soon faces a coup d'état.

Also see Fareed Zakaria's The rise of illiberal democracy

There is not even a system whereby a benevolent dictator, if you happened to install one, could ensure a succession of future benevolent dictators.

Of course there is. The benevolent dictator can groom a successor.

If they choose their successor by genetics, that;s monarchy

North Korea isn't a monarchy. Monarchy is about sovereignty claims in addition to being about succession.

comment by wubbles · 2013-05-31T00:54:19.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antionus Pius, Marcus Aurelius we all able and capable administrators, and their reign was largely peaceful. But then they were followed by Commodus. Benevolent dictatorship with succession by training and adoption was tried, and so long as it worked it worked. But the one failure was a pretty dramatic one, considered by some to be the start of the fall of the Roman Empire.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-31T10:30:56.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If one person tries to rule a dictorship without regards to the interest of any other person he soon faces a coup d'état.

Dictators do not have to, and generally do not, rule on by "taking the interests" of people into account in the sense of doing things they like. They generally avoid overthrow by quashing opposition and gathering henchmen.

The benevolent dictator can groom a successor.

Not much evidence of that working in practice. Although, admittedly, there is not much evidence of benevolent dictators ITFP.

North Korea isn't a monarchy. Monarchy is about sovereignty claims in addition to being about succession.

North Korea doesn't call itself a monarchy. The world is full of Democratic People's Repulics that aren't democratic or for the people. Sovereigny claims are often concocted once a dynasty is in place.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-05-31T11:56:49.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dictators do not have to, and generally do not, rule on by "taking the interests" of people into account in the sense of doing things they like.

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

They generally avoid overthrow by quashing opposition and gathering henchmen.

Henchmen are people.

North Korea doesn't call itself a monarchy. The world is full of Democratic People's Repulics that aren't democratic or for the people. Sovereigny claims are often concocted once a dynasty is in place.

Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself. Being able to wage war everywhere and ignore laws is the hallmark of a dictatorship. At the same time there are a lot of people with money who can pay for lobbying that have a lot of political influence in the US. Dispite money various factions in the military and intelligence community can blackmail politicians through exposing their secrets or threatening to kill them directly could they gather enough supporters inside their own community.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-31T12:30:56.064Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

Perhaps so, but a dictator at least has to take far fewer concerns from far fewer of the people into account.

Indeed this seems to be one of the ways to identify a failing democracy: Is power becoming more heavily concentrated into a smaller number of hands?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-05-31T12:56:22.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps so, but a dictator at least has to take far fewer concerns from far fewer of the people into account.

That depends on the political stability of a state. If there a high danger of rebellion he has to take the interest of more people into account.

Dictorships often have to surpress a wide array of views because they rightly fear that free speech would topple their rule. On the other hand a state like the US is very robust to political speech. You can't change much about the power structures in the US through political speech.

A corrupt politican in China is a lot more vunerable to attacks via free speech than a corrupt politican in the US.

Julian Assange made the point that free speech is allowed in the West because you can't change anything with it. As the US also get's more politically unstable you have US politicians who want consider the act of a journalist asking a prospective source for information about classified documents to be a felony.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-06-06T23:04:45.634Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That depends on the political stability of a state. If there a high danger of rebellion he has to take the interest of more people into account.

True. I suppose what I'm trying to express is that he (or she!) has to be less interested in the common good of society. It seems like, in a dictatorship, you have to treat far fewer people well.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-31T17:26:19.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There quite a difference between "any person" and "the people". But even in the case of "the people" trying to provide for "bread and circuses" is something that dictaors do to stay in power.

N. Korea seems short of bread

Backtracking, I said:

By contrast, it's definitional of dictatorship that it comes down do one person's say-so.

and you said

Henchmen are people.

so is the implication that a benevolent dictator won't go off the rails because their friends will stop them, having not been corrupted by power themselves. Well, I can think of one famous example, but I suspect it's famous because it's exceptional.

Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself

That's a fact, is it?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-05-31T20:30:32.213Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

N. Korea seems short of bread

But not really because the leadership of North Korea wants it to be that way. North Korea for example did a deal with the US under Clinton that North Korea get's food and in return doesn't develop nuclear weapons.

Bush did cancel that deal and then North Korea claimed to have developed nukes in response. Whether or not they have nukes isn't quite clear. As Wikipedia documents, their latest "nuclear test" failed to produce any radiation.

North Korea profits politically internally by pretending that it has nuclear weapons and is takes care to have a strong military. US political leader profit politically by being tough on North Korea and pretending that North Korea has functional nuclear weapons.

According to their own description North Korea also had intelligence services that weren't really controlled by their leader with just went and thought that it was a good idea to kidnap a few foreigners.

North Korea is ruled in a way where military and intelligence people are treated really well by the North Korean leader to prevent them from just making a coup d'état.

These days the North Korea leader is a thirty-year old with a liberal Swiss education. Do you think you could do much better than him without getting killed?

so is the implication that a benevolent dictator won't go off the rails because their friends will stop them, having not been corrupted by power themselves.

You get mindkilled by confusing moral claims with factual predictions.

People don't need to be immune to corruption by power to overthrow a government.

(Obama claims all the right that distinguished a dictator in Roman times for himself) That's a fact, is it?

Yes. In Roman times dictators was a title that was given in time of war. The ruler can ignore the laws and wage war without asking any body for permission.

Obama claims that he's at war. He claims that the whole world is the battlefield (which includes the US). He claims that he can therefore assassination people without asking anybody else for permission. He claims that right is necessary to effectively wage war.

For Roman's that was what being a dictator was about. It's a title that a ruler get's in time of war to be able to do things that rulers otherwise aren't allowed to do.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-06-08T13:06:33.456Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These days the North Korea leader is a thirty-year old with a liberal Swiss education. Do you think you could do much better than him without getting killed?

Better at what? Playing the dictator game? Being benevolent? Yes, dictators need to keep their henchmen happy. No that doesn't make them benevolent, or make dictatorship equivalent to democracy, or whatever the wider point is supposed to be.

People don't need to be immune to corruption by power to overthrow a government.

So a thug gets overthrown and replaced by another thug? What's the wider point?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-08T18:42:24.815Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Better at what? Playing the dictator game? Being benevolent?

Even being better at being benevolent.

So a thug gets overthrown and replaced by another thug? What's the wider point?

You are mindkilled by trying to analyse morality when I make causal claims. Having a causal understanding about how a state works is very useful.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T18:48:02.275Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can anyone think of any benevolent dictatorships that exist IRL?

comment by TimS · 2013-05-15T19:27:39.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

How should we categorize families with children?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2013-05-15T20:17:37.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are oligarchies (although, typically, the oligarchs have unequal decision-making powers).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-15T19:33:22.852Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anocracy

Specifically: "[Anocracys are] neither autocratic nor democratic, most of which are making the risky transition between autocracy and democracy". That's pretty much a perfect description of raising kids.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-15T20:40:48.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting term, haven't heard it before. I'd venture to say, however, that immediate and extended families with or without children range all over the democracy spectrum.

EDIT: by "democracy spectrum" I meant the complete range of structures from anarchy to tyranny, an unfortunate choice in retrospect. Wikipedia uses the term "democratic continuum".

comment by TimS · 2013-05-15T20:52:40.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hrm? My wife and I run the family with an eye towards my son's welfare. But we ain't no democracy, and I can't imagine a functional family that was a democracy - there are some choices that are removed from consideration before the children's preferences are considered at all.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-15T20:58:30.005Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My 9 year old came to me a few months ago after I told him to go brush his teeth. He said (without any acrimony or contempt, it was just an observation) that if he well and truly refused to brush his teeth, there'd be nothing I could do about it. He said 'When you tell me to do things, I instinctively do them, but I don't think you could actually make me do anything. You're in charge of me because of me, not you.' He noted, however, that the instinct is a good one because there's a lot he doesn't know.

Our house isn't a democracy either, but it's no kind of dictatorship. He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him, and more and more everything is a negotiation. That's my experience anyway.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-16T17:47:09.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our house isn't a democracy either, but it's no kind of dictatorship. He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him, and more and more everything is a negotiation. That's my experience anyway.

If your family is fairly normal, there are lots of interventions you could implement to change his behavior.
1) Positive reinforcement ("Here's a dollar for brushing")
2) Negative reinforcement ("You are free from other chores since you brushed")
3) Positive punishment (SMACK)
4) Negative punishment ("No more video games for you.")

There are reasonable considerations about the ratio of parental effort to child compliance. But if it was important enough, you could cause your child to brush if you wanted to.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-05-16T19:08:21.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That will just lead into meta-level negotiation. It's not about whether or not the kid brushes their teeth at some point, but setting what costs the parents are willing to and expect to pay in order to gain compliance (and, of course, what costs the child is willing to and expects to pay in order to do what they please). Once you start bribing your kid into doing things, the obvious next step for an adversarial opponent is to not do anything unless bribed into it. Similarly, threatening and punishing them into compliance is going to result in a willingness-to-punish testing.

The last actually happened with me - I had some emotional hangups with schoolwork, and I procrastinated often. My parents were completely clueless though, and decided that the right course of action was to take away the things that I happened to procrastinate on until I "improved". This did not go well for them - at some point I was down to just fiction books and homework, and I'd procrastinate by reading books, and they weren't willing to take away books from me.

Really, I think that the control-your-kids is a pretty bad paradigm to operate in. I mean, to some extent, yeah, they're better off if they brush their teeth. The meta-level skill of getting positive-value unpleasant tasks done is much more valuable, though - and if you make your kid do those things by negotiation, then you rob them of the chance to develop that skill on their own.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T20:04:13.103Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-22T00:33:22.016Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sorry your parents were clueless. Just because there is some intervention that can get a child to change a behavior doesn't mean that any intervention will work, or that the most obvious intervention will work. If one misunderstands the purpose of the behavior, then one is extremely likely to apply an intervention that won't work.

I'm sorry you had difficulties growing up, but that isn't an argument against behavioral interventions.

Really, I think that the control-your-kids is a pretty bad paradigm to operate in. I mean, to some extent, yeah, they're better off if they brush their teeth. The meta-level skill of getting positive-value unpleasant tasks done is much more valuable, though - and if you make your kid do those things by negotiation, then you rob them of the chance to develop that skill on their own.

It is important for parents to decide in advance what behaviors are worth what level of effort. Forcing my son to brush his teeth now when he is three is different than forcing some other behavior change when he is a teenager.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-22T00:51:37.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think anyone would argue that behavioral interventions are always a bad idea, but I agree (I think I agree) with Thrust that behavioral interventions are generally a treatment of symptoms as opposed to a treatment of the disease. My kid needs to brush his teeth, sure, but the point is ultimately to get him to respond to long term considerations about his own good and the good of others. Behavior interventions generally get someone to respond to immediate considerations of their good, and in order to be effective they generally have to be calibrated so as to reduce or eliminate consideration on the part of the kid as to whether or not to comply. With a young child, that's what you have to do to build up good habits. But as the kid gets older, my sense is that one has to switch over to conversations about what reasons the kid can see for doing the right thing, instead of creating more immediate reasons that require less reflection.

Anyway, what my boy observed, correctly, was that there was no forcing him to do anything. I could adjust the incentives around brushing his teeth, or I could force a situation where his teeth are brushed, but it's entirely impossible for me to force him to do anything.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-22T01:21:11.916Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

behavioral interventions are generally a treatment of symptoms as opposed to a treatment of the disease.

In the examples of your son and mine, what is the difference between symptom (socially inappropriate behavior) and the disease (occurrence of socially inappropriate behavior?

Regarding ThrustingVector, it is pretty clear that his parents misunderstood the function of the problematic behavior (not completing school work) and targeted a stimuli that was not closely related to the problem behavior. And so they didn't have much success.

Anyway, what my boy observed, correctly, was that there was no forcing him to do anything. I could adjust the incentives around brushing his teeth, or I could force a situation where his teeth are brushed, but it's entirely impossible for me to force him to do anything.

This is an important point, but it's a more abstract point that the one I was making about families as dictatorships. Certainly it is important for any manager of any organization to recognize that there is no Imperius Curse.

my sense is that one has to switch over to conversations about what reasons the kid can see for doing the right thing, instead of creating more immediate reasons that require less reflection.

Yes, this is the ultimate goal, and it is an important factor in analyzing what behaviors to try to change. But in my defense, I think that this question is a be beyond the scope of my family-as-dictatorship metaphor.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-22T01:39:14.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the examples of your son and mine, what is the difference between symptom (socially inappropriate behavior) and the disease (occurrence of socially inappropriate behavior?

I was thinking of the 'disease' as an irrational indifference to the long-term good, a disease of which no one is entirely cured.

But in my defense, I think that this question is a be beyond the scope of my family-as-dictatorship metaphor.

Fair point. Dictators can't force anyone to do anything either, so that point hardly pulls agains the dictatorship metaphor. I think even if there were an Imperius Curse it would be impossible. Come to think of it, this seems like a point of metaphysics: nothing could be the case such that forced action would be possible. Wait, that seems crazy. Am I getting something wrong here?

comment by Error · 2013-05-16T11:38:13.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

'When you tell me to do things, I instinctively do them, but I don't think you could actually make me do anything. You're in charge of me because of me, not you.'

And he figured this out at age 9? I'm impressed. I didn't reach that point until quite a few years later.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-16T11:50:01.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Never tried screaming "You can't make me!" or asked "Why should I?!" Seems to be an insight most children have to me.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-05-16T12:23:34.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems perfectly normal if the parents don't make unfair or unexplained requests, and the kid follows fair requests.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-16T12:31:59.657Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't know what the prevalence of reasonable parents is.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-05-16T12:34:05.028Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(You were making that assumption with a rhetorical "Really?", so I've pointed it out.)

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-16T13:25:31.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You don't point out every assumption. The contrary assumption is equally implicit in the other person mentioning it at all. Which doesn't seem any better justified.

Do you have any better info or ... ? I mean I can see why people wouldn't want to know that things they find happy-causing are surprising to some others - so there's that I suppose. But I doubt you'd want to see yourself that way, so what're you trading for here?

comment by Error · 2013-05-16T12:34:09.969Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a difference between saying something (or screaming it) and understanding it.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-05-15T22:23:02.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(My standard response to such statements is that it doesn't matter who makes decisions, only what the correct decisions are. Focus on figuring out the answer instead of on who names which answer why.)

comment by shminux · 2013-05-15T21:41:39.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He's absolutely right: the guy with the biggest gun is him

The "guy with the biggest gun" is the one with most leverage, and short of your son calling child services it is the parents. That said, he must be unusually bright for a 9yo.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-05-16T19:16:09.080Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that cut and dry. The child can institute a policy of attrition to get bargaining power. Sure, in any individual situation the parents have a lot more power - but as a general rule they aren't willing to follow a policy of spending significant amounts of time to get their child to do anything.

It's complicated by the parents generally caring about their child's welfare, too. Getting compliance at any cost is a losing strategy for raising a successful kid.

Let me elaborate. There are certain lines which parents aren't willing to cross - spending tens of hours a week, or over a certain amount of money in bribes, or punishment inflicted. The parents mostly care about rewards and punishments in terms of how it affects the child's behavior. So, a general strategy of "do not let my behavior change by any reward or punishment that the parents are willing to give me for compliance or noncompliance" is a good enough position to get any reasonable compromise that the child wants. The parents are stuck with either not getting what they want, crossing the line into child abuse, or negotiating with the kid.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-16T19:34:03.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unplug the internet and lock them in their room or something. They'll fold pretty quick when they're bored or hungry. There must be loads of stuff you can do that will have a disproportionate effect on the kid for the effort you're putting in.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T19:45:29.835Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternatively, examine your assumptions about your relationship with your child, and try to identify how you both ended up at such a place. Is playing such adversarial games really normal for a family that you'd like to be part of? That you would like to have grown up in?

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-16T20:39:25.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not clear to me that sending someone to their room with no TV/computer/food/whatever is a line that most parents are unwilling to cross. So, the utility of the strategy on the kid's part seems questionable. Is she really prepared to play for those sorts of stakes?

As to whether most parents should be willing to cross that line or not, I don't feel one way or the other about it. It's part of what I remember of the coercion that I got when I was growing up. But would I have been better off without it? -shrug- There are examples of parents who don't seem to do that sort of thing - but they seem to be more generally better people than my parents so... just removing the coercion in one regard in my parents wouldn't necessarily get you something good.

In a sense it's like saying: Imagine your perfect world. There's no X in it, therefore we should never X.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-05-17T04:33:24.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My parents tried that. They lasted a week or so under that schedule before they give up. They weren't willing to take away pleasure reading books. It simply did not change my behavior one iota, so they were essentially punishing me for no reason.

Parents generally care about the welfare of their children, so its costly but straightforward to win power struggles with them. You simply have to refuse to change your behavior conditional on their reward/punishment schedule unless reasonable demands are met. Anything that crosses the line into child abuse simply sucks for a while, then you show up to school with some bruises and a meeting with someone who can call CPS. Anything that doesn't cross the line gets abandoned as ineffectual in favor of actually negotiating with you.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-18T06:17:32.714Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anything that crosses the line into child abuse simply sucks for a while, then you show up to school with some bruises and a meeting with someone who can call CPS.

One could argue that the problem here is that society's threshold for what constitutes "child abuse" is too low.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-05-18T18:28:49.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may be over-extrapolating from my childhood level of persistence and stubbornness. You might be able to make many children fold by staying on the non-abuse side of the line, but it doesn't take that ornery of a kid to force your hand. You have to be unreasonable in the first place to push them to that negotiating strategy, though.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-19T06:59:06.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I may be over-extrapolating from my childhood level of persistence and stubbornness. You might be able to make many children fold by staying on the non-abuse side of the line, but it doesn't take that ornery of a kid to force your hand.

What do you consider to constitute "abuse"? A lot of people consider any spanking "child abuse", I strongly disagree with this, unfortunately depending on where you live this can result in calling of CPS.

You have to be unreasonable in the first place to push them to that negotiating strategy, though.

I'm not sure what you had in mind, but, to use the examples from up thread, expecting a child to do school work and/or brush his teeth are not unreasonable demands.

comment by ThrustVectoring · 2013-05-19T12:33:45.173Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you consider to constitute "abuse"?

I was talking about anything that you can convince a social worker to call "abuse". That's a conservative line, though. How about any situation where the child is better off dealing with child protective services than their parents on an ongoing basis? That puts a solid floor on how unpleasant you can make your child's life in order to get what you want.

I'm not sure what you had in mind

My parents big thing was basically compliance fetishism. Individually the demands weren't too unreasonable, but they wanted to get what they wanted when they wanted at all times with no exceptions. Washing the dishes isn't an unreasonable demand, but being available to go do anything they want at any time is. Uninterrupted blocks of time are valuable, and I never had that growing up unless I stayed up later than my parents or got up before them (I tried both, this also got them upset with me).

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-21T03:40:02.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was talking about anything that you can convince a social worker to call "abuse". That's a conservative line, though.

This probably has more to do with the social status of the parents then what they are doing to the children.

How about any situation where the child is better off dealing with child protective services than their parents on an ongoing basis?

Given some of the horror stories I've heard coming out of CPS, this is an extremely low bar.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-21T06:37:42.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This probably has more to do with the social status of the parents then what they are doing to the children.

True enough, you can get away with a lot more things if you have enough status. (Well, except occasionally when the status is based on fame of the kind that makes people think they have more right to moral expectations...)

Given some of the horror stories I've heard coming out of CPS, this is an extremely low bar.

If systematically escaping and seeking sanctuary at any opportunity is not effective then I could perhaps recommend the victims wishing to escape consider acquiring non-permanent but visible injuries to, for example, the arms, legs, neck and cheek and leverage that (and suitable testimony) to employ social pressure against their captors. This is best accompanied by being extremely likeable and accommodating with all other authority figures wherever possible.

Of course virtually no children are able to effectively create and execute long term plans to exploit the social power structure around them toward strategic ends. That's why most of them need parents.

The biggest threat in such a situation is the possibility that more free will will be taken from you via the forcible administration of drugs. Sufficiently high status parents could easily get the child diagnosed with one of various mental disorders and given a cocktail of antipsychotics and antidepressants, reducing their ability to behave as proactive agent. And they could (and probably would) do so while remaining completely secure in their belief that they are doing the right thing.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-22T05:29:55.537Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The biggest threat in such a situation is the possibility that more free will will be taken from you via the forcible administration of drugs. Sufficiently high status parents could easily get the child diagnosed with one of various mental disorders and given a cocktail of antipsychotics and antidepressants, reducing their ability to behave as proactive agent.

In my experience it's much more common for teachers and/or social workers to try to get the child medicated over the parents' objections than the other way around.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-22T06:18:26.495Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience it's much more common for teachers and/or social workers to try to get the child medicated over the parents' objections than the other way around.

The described circumstances are atypical to say the least (I don't know if a real child has ever executed the described strategy), and it is the parents that are already assumed to be hostile agents.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-15T21:44:14.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

there are some choices that are removed from consideration before the children's preferences are considered at all.

Is this sort of thing not standard in democracies?

comment by TimS · 2013-05-16T17:42:08.695Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Imagine a family with five children. In a pure democracy "Candy for dinner" wins 5-2. In a real family, there's no vote because candy ain't for dinner.

Not that our actual governments are pure democracies. I don't argue they should be, but there is a veil-of-ignorance / Schelling point / first-they-came-for-the-trade-unionists argument for most anti-majoritarian laws. I don't think the argument would work with children.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-16T19:10:01.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I 100% agree that in a real family, candy ain't for dinner.
And I suppose I agree that in a "pure democracy" (insofar as such a thing is even a cogent thought experiment) whether candy is for dinner or not is, as you suggest, subject to a one-mouth-one-vote kind of decision procedure.

But, as you say, there are no pure democracies in the real world. My point was that in the real governments which we ordinarily refer to as "democracies," not only are some people (including minors) not permitted to vote in the first place, but even among adults some (most!) choices are removed from consideration before voting commences at all.

So it seems no more wrong to say "Sam's family is a democracy" (even though the children don't get a vote, and some choices are not even subject to vote) than to say "Canada is a democracy" (ibid).

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T01:58:27.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was mostly reacting to shminux's assertion that a family with children might be just about anywhere on the scale between democracy and tyranny. Whereas I think a functional family is about 3/4 tyranny, and Canada is much closer to 3/4 democracy.

comment by ModusPonies · 2013-05-16T16:49:09.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The moderators on this website?

comment by shminux · 2013-05-15T18:49:28.004Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any small business.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-15T18:56:03.020Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are really constitutional monarchies: there's plenty of labor law between the owners and the employees governing their interactions.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-15T19:08:40.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point, there are always constraints on what a dictator can do, some explicit, some implicit. I was using the broader description:

dictatorship (government without people's consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-15T19:48:16.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you think of successful organizations that fit this description (description 3 from the wiki article)?

In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.

The trouble is, almost any organization within the jurisdiction of a state is going to be governed by some laws. But we should probably accept any candidate that is subject to no laws specific to its form of organization, which would probably include LW and moderated online communities generally. I can't think of any large organizations where very much is at stake in membership or organizational activities.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T22:37:28.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

is everyone getting the point that you can't really say "Well, X works", when it only works because it embedded in some larger system that kind of makes it work (eg labour law constraining egotistical CEO's).

The problems of politics --actual politics -- are that it is inherently large scale,, and that it is where the buck stops.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T22:34:07.557Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point, there are always constraints on what a dictator can do,

Such as?

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-15T22:46:28.891Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ask too much of your subjects, and they start wondering if maybe it would be less trouble to just replace you by force.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T22:49:43.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And rational dictators stay just short of that point, and rational dictatorship is not fun to live under.

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-15T23:04:18.212Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You keep using that word, etc. etc.

Rational means something like "figures out what the truth is, and figures out the best way to get stuff done, and does that thing". It doesn't require any particular goal.

So a rational dictator whose goals include their subjects having lots of fun, would be fun to live under.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T23:53:14.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So a rational dictator whose goals include their subjects having lots of fun, would be fun to live under.

And of course they would give way to anyone who could run the place in a more fun way. Historical examples seem to be scarce.

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-16T12:36:21.848Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep, agreed. We have a lot more historical examples of dictators (of various levels of effectiveness) who were in it for themselves, and either don't care if their citizens suffer or even actively prefer it. Such dictators would be worse for the world if they get more rational, because their goals make the world a shittier place.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-16T13:47:26.375Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

ETA: It's not a mysterious empirical fact that benevolent dictators don't exist. Where is there a ready supply of people who don't get corrupted by absolute power? How do you test that in advance? Why would someone who has enjoyed untrammelled power for a certain period meekly hand back the keys?

Benevolent dictators are the magic wands of political science. They have every advantage except actually existing.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-15T22:33:11.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They're all benevolent?

That scales up to the nation level? (Hint: "small")

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-16T15:11:08.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dubai and to a lesser extent Abu Dhabi?

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T18:34:16.491Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you fucking kidding me? I mean, if you're a rich Western man who can move out at a moment's notice, then yes, sure - literally everything caters to your comfort and convenience. If you're a migrant worker, run afoul of Saudi gender norms, or are otherwise in a marginalized and powerless group... it's hell. And a scary perspective for the 1st World's transhuman future, too.

Such flippant and callous observations from a position of great relative privliege is what gave traction to the "Glibertarian" label, y'know. Both for the sake of LW epistemic standards and to avoid sounding like an entitled aristocrat, please think before commenting.

I'm not even particularly pissed off about this one comment, it all just adds up when you... observe the persistence of certain ideological trends on the internet.

Here's some more links about how such glittering Cities Upon A Hill really function:

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/the-dark-side-of-dubai-1664368.html
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7985361.stm
http://frontpagemag.com/2012/jamie-glazov/the-exploitation-of-immigrant-workers-in-the-middle-east/

And here's Will Self dissecting a book that self-consciously chooses to sing paeans to this neofeudal/corporate-fascist model:
http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n09/will-self/the-frowniest-spot-on-earth

There’s a disarming frankness to the way [Lindsay] recounts the poverty of Kenyan flower growers, simply in order to urge us to carry on buying their posies. His vision for the future of the African continent in the Age of the Aerotropolis seems to be as a vast latifundium sown with GM wheat. Equally brazen is his aside that Apple engineers refer to the Foxconn plant in Shenzhen – where the world’s iPhones and most of its iPads, iPods, Playstations, Nintendos and Kindles are assembled – as ‘Mordor’. Why the evil kingdom in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? ‘At its peak,’ Lindsay writes, ‘some 320,000 workers toiled on its assembly lines and slept in its dormitories.’ A rash of suicides among its workers is part of the reason for Foxconn’s relocation to the still poorer and more immiserated interior of the Heavenly People’s Republic.

We might choose to see this as the frownie face that Kasarda’s smiley face tries to mask: an inverted curve where the greatest misery adds to a product’s value in the middle of its global traverse, while the greatest pleasure is accrued by innovators and consumers at either winsome end. Perhaps the frowniest spot on the face of the earth is the despotic principality of Dubai, where Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s vision coincides perfectly with Kasarda’s: this is an entire statelet conceived of as an aerotropolis – or, at least, as a transpark with attached office space and buy-to-flip real estate. On a trip to Dubai, Lindsay is typically disarming about the labour camps in the desert where the indentured workers sweat and half-starve; after all, he points out, they’re making better money than they would back home in Kerala, or Baluchistan, so that’s OK. He has read – and cites in his notes – the Human Rights Watch 2006 report Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates, but notwithstanding his admission that Dubai is ‘all dark side’ he remains … upbeat.

Lindsay even takes a walk in Dubai, and although he doesn’t tell us what distance he covered, my impression is he went only a few blocks. I, too, took a walk in Dubai a couple of years ago, but mine was a two-day traverse from the airport, clear across this great city of unbecoming and into the fringes of the Empty Quarter. Lindsay is told that ‘nobody walks in Dubai,’ but this should be modified: nobody white walks in Dubai. Everywhere I went – along the baking sidewalks of Sheikh Zayed Road, through the dust clouds boiling into the phantasm of Tiger Woods Design’s golf development – I encountered brown and black men, on foot, parted from their families for three, five, even ten years, and ekeing out an existence on $10 a day or less. When they weren’t too intimidated to talk to me, they had nothing positive to say about their situation: their faces were wreathed in frowns. My response to this Xanadu – powered by jet fuel and misted by the evaporation of desalinated water – was to stop flying altogether: I no longer wished to pick up any airmiles that contributed to such a future. Perhaps if frenetic flyers like Kasarda and Lindsay ever dared attempt a sustained hike through the wastelands of the postmodern ugliness they enthuse about, they might take a different view.

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-16T19:14:21.170Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Her'es a quote from Wikipedia about those Foxconn suicides:

The suicide rate at Foxconn during the suicide spate remained lower than that of the general Chinese population[8] as well as all 50 states in the United States.[9] Additionally the Foxconn deaths may have been a product of economic conditions external to the company.

I was pretty sure this had been debunked before, but the story keeps getting spread around for ideological reasons.

I'd also point out that just because a geek calls something Mordor doesn't mean he literally thinks it's as bad as Mordor. All it means is that he thinks it's worse than his current living conditions, which only amounts to "people in the US are better off than people in China". IBM and Microsoft get called the Evil Empire all the time, without killing anyone.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T19:27:41.137Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was pretty sure this had been debunked before, but the story keeps getting spread around for ideological reasons.

I'm pretty sure that thousands upon thousands of stories like this - where the "normal" functioning of global capitalism is inseparable from some brutal social repression, delegitimizing the ruling narrative that economic "efficiency" and ethics/human decency should be separate magisteria - have never made it to the Western press, or only made a tiny splash. For ideological reasons.

Here's a more thorough account of China specifically:
http://jacobinmag.com/2012/08/china-in-revolt/

...By depicting Chinese workers as Others – as abject subalterns or competitive antagonists – this tableau wildly miscasts the reality of labor in today’s China. Far from triumphant victors, Chinese workers are facing the same brutal competitive pressures as workers in the West, often at the hands of the same capitalists. More importantly, it is hardly their stoicism that distinguishes them from us.

Today, the Chinese working class is fighting. More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter of global labor unrest. While there are no official statistics, it is certain that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of strikes take place each year. All of them are wildcat strikes – there is no such thing as a legal strike in China. So on a typical day anywhere from half a dozen to several dozen strikes are likely taking place.

comment by khafra · 2013-05-24T16:26:39.983Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty sure that thousands upon thousands of stories like this - where the "normal" functioning of global capitalism is inseparable from some brutal social repression, delegitimizing the ruling narrative that economic "efficiency" and ethics/human decency should be separate magisteria - have never made it to the Western press, or only made a tiny splash. For ideological reasons.

I agree with your point, in general--I don't think imperialism, economic or otherwise, is often all that great for indigenous populations--but in this specific assertion, I think you're falling prey to the hostile media effect. I've seen coverage of Foxconn suicides in some pretty doggoned mainstream western media.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-16T19:07:25.277Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted for the initial flip out. You can present all the same evidence just as convincingly without it.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T19:59:27.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, but the initial flip out was so satisfying.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-05-17T00:04:38.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you find it satisfying when someone can be pushed into an irrational state?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-16T19:58:37.766Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You accuse me of judging the country from the perspective of a privileged white person, but you're the one comparing it to countries a privileged white person would deem acceptable, rather than to the countries which it started off most similarly to. If you want to judge the efficacy of a dictator, you judge the changes that took place, and those -changes- have been quite good.

No. It's not -better- than the West, it's not even as -good- as the West - shit, just look at their sanitation issues. But look at how far it has come, and how much it has achieved, and for all its human rights issues -how much better it is at preserving human rights than most of the surrounding nations-. The culture there is -not- conducive to human rights; its next door neighbors are sentencing people to jail or death for the crime of apostasy.

While you're attacking me for defending dictators, incidentally, I'm also a fan of Pinochet. He was an asshole who engaged in war crimes and gross violations of human rights - but he turned Chile from a country where those crimes were standard into a country where he could step down and be charged by the government he created with those crimes.

For what they had to work with, and what they achieved, I am immense fans of both Pinochet and the Al Maktoum family. Shrug If you want to call me a glibertarian for that, well, go ahead. Personally I think such a perspective is merely ignorance.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-25T14:12:27.824Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pinochet. He was an asshole who engaged in war crimes and gross violations of human rights but he turned Chile from a country where those crimes were standard into a country where he could step down and be charged by the government he created with those crimes.

Ermm...so he stared doing bad things, then he stopped, and that makes him good? Those crimes weren't standard before he was in power, and he had to stop because of a shift in policy by the US, not by his own volition. And he managed to evade punishment for his crimes. So why is he so great again?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-25T16:14:29.755Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We have a tendency to forget the crimes of revolutionary forces while remembering the crimes of those they are revolting against.

The descendants of the comment you're responding to elaborate a little bit more on why I regard him as more good than evil.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T20:51:26.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The culture there is -not- conducive to human rights; its next door neighbors are sentencing people to jail or death for the crime of apostasy.

Oh? Culture? I wonder what you'd say about German or Japanese "culture" circa 1945, and the historical trends of their respect for human rights. (Especially the treatment of different ethnic groups.)

Or, conversely, about Afghanistan in the 1960s. Certainly Afghanistan started out with more disadvantages than Saudi Arabia, and no oil wealth. Yet the cultural changes there were not rolled back even under the communist regime - the emancipation of women, rural education, etc went on like in other Soviet client states. It took the American-armed, American-sponsored fundamentalist thugs to turn the clock back to misery and domination.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T21:43:03.437Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find OW's comparison of Chilean culture with that of its neighbors really perplexing, as Chile is vastly different from most of South America. For example, it's a massive outlier on the CPI map.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-16T21:47:00.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The culture comparison was between Dubai and its neighbors; I only brought Chile up because I figured I might as well go all-in on the "Supporting asshole dictators who I figure managed to do more good than bad" front.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T22:38:22.524Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well... as I just tried to point out, your knowledge of both South American politics and the comparative cultural dynamics of traditionally "authoritarian" societies, Middle Eastern or otherwise, is as pathetic as your alarming lack of moral inhibitions and your cavalier attitude to weighing unspeakable acts on very simplistic scales of vulgar total utilitarianism.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-05-16T22:44:26.342Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this is a productive avenue for this discussion to go down.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T22:51:37.301Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good. My entire point is that such discussions - or, at least, certain "rationalist" arguments in them - must be suppressed outright. Certain political opinions must remain out of bounds. Trawling through so much of this on the internet, I wonder more and more whether Marcuse might've been right about "repressive tolerance".

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-05-17T00:49:33.291Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I strongly disagree with this statement, but truly hope that people continue to engage with it rather than downvote it - we actually need to have this conversation and understand that there actually are pros and cons, so that we can accurately weigh them.

My own objections to the idea of "repressive tolerance" is that humans aren't very good at managing it responsibly - the decision of who to repress is just as much of a Hard Problem as the decision of who gets to make the decisions (in fact, they're functionally equivalent at timescales of greater than a few months).

This is a concept that we need to perform research and experiment on, NOT a concept that we need to be implementing at this stage in our social development.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-17T00:14:13.349Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you want to start deploying such weapons, suppressing people outright, it's by no means certain you'll win. The underlying argument of Marcuse' piece, the thing he uses to secure necessity, is that propaganda works. If you start giving people the power to shut up those they disagree with, what makes you think they'll come down on your side? People taught not to think, and to go with the populist pull all their lives, are not suddenly going to choose wisely and in the interests of, as M rather ironically put it considering your antipathy for utilitarians, 'Freeing the Damned of the Earth.'

comment by Bruno_Coelho · 2013-05-22T13:43:09.844Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For some reason, (old)lesswrongers end up optimizing to reactionary themes. I wonder why, if is just signaling or a serious thing.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-17T01:49:14.327Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know how this came to be? I could imagine a Pinochet supporter claiming credit for this.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T20:41:55.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, personally, I don't see a need to engage in further ethical debate in you. Personally, I wish you'd be unable to scrub these images from your mind for a week or two. That you'd imagine the faces of your family on them, perhaps. "Detached" and "objective" debate has its limits when we're talking about the human consequences of some things while staying in guaranteed safety from them.

[TRIGGER WARNING: TORTURE AND EXTREME VIOLENCE]

For women, it was an especially violent experience. The commission reports that nearly every female prisoner was the victim of repeated rape. The perpetration of this crime took many forms, from military men raping women themselves to the use of foreign objects on victims. Numerous women (and men) report spiders or live rats being implanted into their orifices. One woman wrote, “I was raped and sexually assaulted with trained dogs and with live rats. They forced me to have sex with my father and brother who were also detained. I also had to listen to my father and brother being tortured.” Her experiences were mirrored by those of many other women who told their stories to the commission.

...

One of the first things Ms De Witt heard from a cell after her arrest was a man being beaten to death in the yard outside. She said: "They were beating him with what seemed like long chains. I can still hear the noise it made, and then the crying of the young man, eventually it stopped. I saw him later. His whole body was swollen. It was red and blue, and you could not recognise his face. His name was Cedomil Lauzic."

Ms De Witt was put through the ritual of electric shocks, beatings and sexual degradation. "One day I was tortured from 11 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon with electric shocks. Near the end I could not breathe and my heart stopped. They massaged my heart, and they stopped hurting me for that day. But it began again the next morning," she said.

[END TW]

Ain't enough dust specks on this Earth for some things. Intellectual acquiescence with certain ideas should not, I believe, be a matter of relaxed and pleasant debate - no more so than the implementation of them was for their victims.

P.S.: name ONE person tortured or violently repressed by the Allende government. That's right, zero. Allende wouldn't suspend the constitution and the legal norms even in the face of an enemy with no such qualms.

Harmer shows that Allende was a pacifist, a democrat and a socialist by conviction not convenience. He had an ‘unbending commitment to constitutional government’ and refused in the face of an ‘externally funded’ opposition ‘to take a different non-democratic or violent road’. He invoked history to insist that democracy and socialism were compatible, yet he knew that Chile’s experience was exceptional. During the two decades before his election, military coups had overthrown governments in 12 countries: Cuba in 1952; Guatemala and Paraguay in 1954; Argentina and Peru in 1962; Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and again Guatemala in 1963; Brazil and Bolivia in 1964; and Argentina once more in 1966. Many of these coups were encouraged and sanctioned by Washington and involved subverting exactly the kind of civil-society pluralism – of the press, political parties and unions – that Allende promoted. So he was sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution and respected Castro, especially after he survived the CIA’s Bay of Pigs exploit in 1961. And when Allende won the presidency, he relied on Cuban advisers for personal security and intelligence operations.

But Cuba’s turn to one-party authoritarianism only deepened Allende’s faith in the durability of Chilean democracy. Socialism could be won, he insisted, through procedures and institutions – the ballot, the legislature, the courts and the media – that historically had been dominated by those classes most opposed to it. Castro warned him that the military wouldn’t abide by the constitution. Until at least early 1973 Allende believed otherwise. His revolution would not be confronted with the choice that had been forced on Castro: suspend democracy or perish. But by mid-1973, events were escaping Allende’s command. On 11 September he took his own life, probably with a gun Castro gave him as a gift. The left in the years after the coup developed its own critique of Allende: that, as the crisis hurtled toward its conclusion, he proved indecisive, failing to arm his supporters and train resistance militias, failing to shut down congress and failing to defend the revolution the way Castro defended his. Harmer presents these as conscious decisions, stemming from Allende’s insistence that neither one-party rule nor civil war was an acceptable alternative to defeat.

comment by glomerulus · 2013-05-16T21:13:05.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiheaded, you're taking the disutility of each torture caused by Pinochet and using their sum to declare his actions as a net evil. OrphanWilde seems to acknowledge that his actions were terrible, but makes the statement that the frequency of tortures, each with more or less equal disutility (whatever massive quantity that may be), were overall reduced by his actions.

You, however, appear to be looking at his actions, declaring them evil, and citing Allende as evidence that Pinochet's ruthlessness was unnecessary. This could be the foundation of a good argument, perhaps, but it's not made clear and is instead obscured behind an appeal to emotions, declaring OrphanWilde evil for thinking rationally about events that you think are too repulsive for a rational framework.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T21:30:05.700Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OrphanWilde seems to acknowledge that his actions were terrible, but makes the statement that the frequency of tortures, each with more or less equal disutility (whatever massive quantity that may be), were overall reduced by his actions.

He doesn't actually make that statement anywhere that I can see.

declaring OrphanWilde evil for thinking rationally about events that you think are too repulsive for a rational framework.

I disagree that he has done anything of the sort. What's he even comparing Pinochet to? The obvious candidate is a peacefully elected president after the end of Allende's term, which suggests someone from UP or the Christian Democrats, and it's hard to imagine such a government sponsoring systemic torture against dissidents.

In any case, I think claims of "rational" (which Multiheaded hasn't made anyway) needs to stay far, far away from this thread.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-16T21:47:57.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To head off an interpretation argument, that's a fair rephrasing of my position. I wouldn't use the word "utility," but the basic moral premise is the same: As bad as Pinochet was, I think he was one of the best options the country had at the time.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-28T11:12:14.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As bad as Pinochet was, I think he was one of the best options the country had at the time.

It's sill odd to be a "huge fan" of someone you can only defend as the lesser of two evils.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T21:59:33.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the bright side, we now know how little the torture of over twenty-five thousand is worth to you.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T01:57:03.899Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. It's worth at least the prevention of the torture of fifty thousand.

Guerrilla warfare against the new government began the same month as the coup - the very next day, in point of fact. At that point I think civil war was inevitable. (And yes, the coup itself was inevitable. Even the judiciary supported it. This might have something to do with the fact that their insistence on following the law resulted in Allende's administration effectively calling the justices of the nation capitalist lapdogs. Yes, I paraphrase.)

The population of Chile was 10 million. There were fewer than 30,000 political prisoners, and around 5,000 deaths (including military and guerrilla forces killed in combat). And yes, a lot of those political prisoners were tortured.

There were other major conflicts in the area in the same era.

Somewhere north of 10,000 died in Argentina in this time frame in the "Dirty War."

The civil war in El Salvador cost around 75,000 lives, out of a population of somewhere south of 5 million people.

The civil war in Guatemala cost somewhere north of 150,000 lives, out of a population of around 4 million people.

Nicaragua faced -two- civil wars, for a combined death toll of at least 40,000, out of a population of around 3 million people.

I could keep going.

Pinochet was an asshole. But if the other conflicts in the region in the era are any indication, his administration, as oppressive as it was, did save the country from a far more costly conflict. In general the trend was for countries that quashed revolutionary forces brutally - such as Argentina and Chile - suffered far fewer deaths overall than countries that didn't or couldn't, such as Nicaragua. (Guatemala initially didn't, but turned far more brutal later.) More, his administration concluded itself peacefully, democratically, and without substantive corruption, which also ran against the norm (for comparison, see, for example, Bolivia). (Note that there -was- corruption -during- his administration. My point there is that he didn't try to corrupt the new government as it formed, and indeed appears to have done a very good job of passing the torch.)

Yes. I think the man did more good than evil. It's a well-considered position and not one I entered into lightly. This doesn't mean the torture of thousands of people doesn't matter; they do. Rather, it means that the lives of tens of thousands of people who -didn't- die matter also.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T02:11:25.115Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's really hard to disentangle local causation of suffering from external meddling. It seems like an obvious fact to me that there would have been less suffering in the third world if the US and the USSR hadn't been keeping score based on who had successfully couped / repressed a third world country's government more recently.

Cf. Twilight Struggle (which is an amazing game, btw).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T04:39:36.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More or less what I was going to say, with the addendum that the civil wars OW brings up -- with the exception of Argentina -- are not in the same reference class. In the 1970's Argentina had a population of over 20 million, making its death rate the same, if not less, than Chile's.

El Salvador's troubles were brought on by a border dispute; Guatemala's number includes a genocide of their indigenous Mayan people. The last three take place in countries with much higher population density and a much more severe history of political and economic instability. Chile's economy does not run entirely on sugar, coffee, bananas and coke.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T17:50:21.512Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Argentina's policies were very similar to Chile's; they, like Pinochet's Chile, killed thousands of revolutionaries in a brutal and oppressive offensive (notice that I made note of this in the comment). If you're wanting to say Pinochet made the wrong decision because another country did better, Argentina is -not- the country to compare to.

(Note that I'm not particularly a fan of Argentina's series of dictators, whose administrations inevitably ended in death or coup.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T20:48:08.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're wanting to say Pinochet made the wrong decision because another country did better, Argentina is -not- the country to compare to.

Nothing in my previous comment says this. Yawn.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T03:21:49.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the trend was for countries that quashed revolutionary forces brutally - such as Argentina and Chile - suffered far fewer deaths overall than countries that didn't or couldn't, such as Nicaragua.

And what about, um, you know, the logic of MY side in all this? The logic of the Left? Wherever third-world revolutionaries have turned to all the things they're accused of doing, their rationale has always been to prevent the deaths and misery that were going on without any overt civil war, through the "normal" functioning of divided societies. So how is this different from Maoists claiming that, as under Mao's rule life expectancy in China doubled, history has absolved him of everything?

Mark Twain wrote quite glowingly:

the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villainy away in one swift tidal-wave of blood — one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell. There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

The question is, can we at all justify throwing away the moral injunctions of our civilization by arguing from some clever total-utilitarian counterfactuals, with the track records of such approaches being what it is? I think no, and I think that if you'd say yes, you also ought to have the nerve to explain to victims like those quoted above how you think that their fate was better than the entirely counterfactual alternative.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-05-17T03:37:23.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think no, and I think that if you'd say yes, you also ought to have the nerve to explain to victims like those quoted above how you think that their fate was better than the entirely counterfactual alternative.

Regardless of whether or not I agree with his position here, I think this is an unfair standard to set.

If you chose a 90% chance of saving 500 people over a 100% chance of saving 400, got unlucky, and those 500 died, how forgiving do you think their families would be? Do you think it would be easy to face them?

I don't think this sort of moral lever is very useful for separating good choices from bad ones.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T03:43:33.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think it would be easy to face them?

No. But I still would. And I'd let them take it all out on me. I'd hate to live in a world where anything less could be expected of me. Some things ought not to be easy to live with.

"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-05-17T04:06:55.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If we make the right choice as or more difficult to live with than wrong ones, we're not doing a very good job incentivizing people to take it.

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-17T04:17:03.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Moreover, if we insist that good, moral* people think about making decisions in this way, this leads to more of the decisions being made by evil, immoral people.

*for all values of "good" and "moral".

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-17T15:02:27.079Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given the way real-world humans behave, incentives work as a blunt instrument. You can't incentivize only rational decisions without incentivizing irrational decisions that are somewhat similar in form. Incentivizing the 90% chance of saving 500 over the 100% chance of saving 400 would make the right choice more likely in that specific situation, but would also incentivize wrong choices (for instance, taking a 10% chance of 500 people dying in order to implement something that you are really certain would have good effects, when that certainty is unwarranted). You can't change human psychology to make the incentive work only on rational choices, so we're overall better off without the incentive.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T04:17:40.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the outside view, a randomly picked choice to kill or hurt a large number of people, when made by actual humans, will turn out all wrong and unjustifiable in retrospect, say, 90% of the time. If we're talking about torture as opposed to just killing enemies, it's literally only there to create a lasting climate of terror and alienation (in the society being "reshaped" and "reformed") while giving an outlet to the kind of psychopaths who end up running the repressive machine. So it would make sense to have a very very strong prior against this kind of thing, AKA moral injunction.

Again, if we're considering counterfactuals along great timespans, we ARE considering counterfactuals along great timespans. Equally. If the counterfactual to a world where Pinochet didn't take power is a long and bloody civil war, the counterfactual to a world where Pinochets are hated and considered indefensible... is a lot more Pinochets. (Whom we also just served with a much more widely accepted excuse for their horrific acts.)

To work at all, moral injunctions need to rely on blanket statements. Would you rather have "Thou shalt not kill", or "Thou shalt not kill unless thou sees a really good reason to and it's totally for the greater good"?

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-17T16:31:26.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To work at all, moral injunctions need to rely on blanket statements.

As a rule, which is to say as a rule with exceptions. Rules are generally needed because it is not generally possible to accurately figure out consequences. But sometimes it is, in which case it is OK to suspend the rule. As a rule.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T16:56:21.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Exactly what I've been thinking of. But, as a meta-meta-rule, no-one should generally be the judge in one's own case, i.e. to simply assert that it's OK to suspend some particular rules for some particular act just because one has predicted some particular consequences.

There's the problem of enforcement mechanisms, of course.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-17T13:55:12.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the counterfactual to a world where Pinochets are hated and considered indefensible... is a lot more Pinochets.

If someone approves of Pinochet, this is unlikely to be a convincing argument to them. Especially if they view warlord types as inevitably occurring during social evolution or something like that.

To work at all, moral injunctions need to rely on blanket statements.

You've not argued for this, most of us can imagine situations under which it's acceptable to kill but we still have a reasonably strong disinclination to avoid killing people.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T04:25:55.123Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You walk into the lobby of a hotel during a major political convention. There's a gun laying on the table next to you, apparently left by the only other occupant of the lobby, who hasn't noticed you - a guy who is now assembling a gun from a backpack and readying magazines; he's muttering rather loudly to himself about how many bullets he can put into a senator who is giving a keynote speech this afternoon. "Thou shalt not kill" or "Greater good"?

What would you want somebody else to do in that position?

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T04:57:31.104Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Could you have at least thought of a scenario that would deserve a response?

Because for this one to even be a dilemma, you'd have to assume that I'm some mute, non-English speaking killer android who can't: 1) take the gun from the table and tell the guy to turn around, hands in the air, etc; 2) run outside and yell "TERRORISTS!"; 3) hit a fire alarm on the wall; 4) shoot him in the leg...

And anyways, to be even a remote parallel with Allende, this story would need to have two guys arguing and one pushing away the gun that the other offers him, launching into a tirade about how he's a pacifist/a Christian/whatever, and would never resort to crime even to oppose tyranny. Then he pushes the other one out of the door, throws the gun after him, turns to you and tries to hand you a protest flyer. (But no, even this doesn't quite get it across.)

comment by Larks · 2013-05-17T13:25:23.870Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

shoot him in the leg

Shooting people in the leg is difficult because they're small targets that move quickly. Aiming for the torso is much more reliable.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T13:57:07.378Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're not willing to kill him, you have no business doing #1. #2 would, at best, result in -somebody else- killing him - you're just outsourcing your moral faults. #3 might just bring more targets to him. And #4 has a pretty high chance of being fatal - femoral artery and all. (Also, a leg is -hard- to shoot. I take it you've never shot a gun before. In that case, you have no business shooting the gun at anything but his center of mass.)

I'm not drawing a parallel with Allende, never mind that your parallel whitewashes Allende's history (Allende would be the senator, or rather president, in this parallel, and there'd be a -crowd- of guys with guns in the lobby, guns and grenades and body armor and aerial support in case they need to bomb the hotel just to be sure, and they wouldn't be crazy so much as enacting the last-ditch and reluctant wishes of the judiciary after the president has repeatedly broken the constitution and ignored the Supreme Court's orders, and so on and so forth). I'm taking this to the root of our disagreement - about whether or not consequences should be considered in moral theory.

I'm not a utilitarian, incidentally. I'm somewhere between a deontologist and a virtue ethicist. (Arguments like this are the reason I've been drifting away from deontology towards virtue ethics. Entirely different arguments are the reason I'll never be a utilitarian.) If you don't think consequences matter, you need some new rules in your deontology.

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-17T14:32:31.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're not willing to kill him, you have no business doing #1. #2 would, at best, result in -somebody else- killing him - you're just outsourcing your moral faults.

"Not willing to kill him as a first resort" isn't the same thing as "not willing to kill him". Holding a gun on a criminal rather than immediately shooting him doesn't mean that I'm not willing to kill him, it means that I'm not willing to kill him if he just sits there and waits for the police to arrive. It doesn't mean that I'm not willing to kill him if he ignores me and continues aiming at the senator, nor does it mean that I'm not willing to have the police kill him if they try to arrest him and he doesn't cooperate.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T14:40:53.420Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since the rule under consideration is "Thou shallt not kill" and the person I'm arguing with is arguing that "moral injunctions need to rely on blanket statements", the issue isn't "Not willing to kill him as a first resort" so much as not willing to kill him, period.

If you're -willing- to kill him, pointing the gun at him and telling him to halt might actually be a good move. It's the one I would likely take. If he doesn't stop, however, and you're unwilling to kill him, you've sacrificed any other alternatives in doing so. Essentially it's a statement that you're willing to let some number of people be killed (on average) in order to satisfy your morality.

As is said here on decision theory, you should never be in a position of wishing your morality were different.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T15:00:30.808Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point. But "moral injunctions must be blanket statements" doesn't imply "Any blanket statement is a workable moral injunction." And I'm not sure if you recognize that Multihead is not required by consistency-of-argument to assert "Any blanket statement is workable."

The example under discussion is a great example - "Don't kill" is a unworkable rule given any significant amount of conflict at all. By contrast, the original Hebrew of the commandments translates better as "Don't murder" which is both a blanket statement and incredibly nuanced at the same time.

To the extent that Multihead argues that the blanket statement rule requires endorsement of "Don't kill," then I think you are right and he is wrong. But if that is his actual position, I don't think he is defending the most defensible variation of that family of arguments.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T19:24:44.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Don't murder"

Taboo murder. If it means ‘kill someone you shouldn't kill’, then it's tautological that you shouldn't murder.

:-)

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T20:14:54.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The point is that murder != killing because there are some killings that aren't murder (i.e. are not wrongful).

Describing that distinction can't really be done briefly (e.g. what is and is not self-defense). But one doesn't need to describe the distinction to notice that the distinction exists.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T19:35:59.412Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but just because it's tautological doesn't mean it's necessarily psychologically compelling. I can easily imagine a human for whom "don't kill someone you shouldn't kill" does a much worse job of deterring them from killing someone they shouldn't kill than "don't murder" does. If my goal is to deter such humans from killing people they shouldn't kill, "don't murder" is much more effective at achieving my goal.

:-)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T19:42:31.900Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might think the injunction 'don't murder', is really just a way of saying 'there is such a thing as murder, which is to say, killing immorally or illegally' or 'we have a law about killing'.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-23T17:37:44.822Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Considering people have brought up killing people when sanctioned by a democratic government with appropriate checks and balances, perhaps it refers to "unlawful killing"? Where "lawful" requires democracy or maybe some other supposedly superhumanly ethical authority.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T20:24:08.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're not willing to kill him, you have no business doing #1.

Not necessarily -- it depends on how convincing your bluff is to the other guy.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T20:28:50.968Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would say, rathert, that it depends on how convincing you're justified in expecting your bluff to be to them.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-23T17:04:12.744Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Arguments like this are the reason I've been drifting away from deontology towards virtue ethics. Entirely different arguments are the reason I'll never be a utilitarian.)

Really? I had assumed you were a utilitarian from your ... well, probably because you were the one shutting up and multiplying in this argument, to be honest.

I must say, I'm curious; what arguments persuade you to avoid utilitarianism in favour of virtue ethics?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-23T19:29:03.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Utility", more or less. Utilitarianism is entirely theoretical; I don't see an actual application for it in my day-to-day life. The closest I could get would be "Well, if I actually put the work into doing the calculations, this is probably what I'd do" - and given that I know what I'd want to do anyways, the "If I actually put the work into it" part seems irrelevant.

Utilitarianism is also kind of one-dimensional; sure, you could construct a multidimensional utilitarian ethics system, but you lose out on any of the potential benefits of a hierarchical value system. Virtue ethics promotes a multidimensional approach to ethics, which is more intuitive to me, and more explicitly acknowledges the subjectiveness not only of valuation, but also of trade-offs.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-05-24T04:46:55.108Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, technically OrphanWilde merely said that Pinochet increased utility on net, he didn't way he approved of him.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-05-24T14:52:28.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He described himself as an "immense fan" of Pinochet. Smells like approval. Don't ask me why a virtue ethicist would be an immense fan of Pinochet, though. Even if it is true that his regime represented a net utility gain over most plausible counterfactuals, it's hard to argue that the man himself was virtuous in any ordinary sense. He was a slime.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-05-17T13:36:51.362Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What would you want somebody else to do in that position?

When I first hastily glanced at your comment, I thought it'd meant that you wished the assassin had believed in "Thou shalt not kill" principle, and that it was the "Greater good" concept that was motivating him.

Likewise any desire to stop the assassin without actually knowing anything about the politics of the senator in question will have to originate more directly from the "Thou shalt not kill" principle, not from the "Greater Good" principle. To not have the former principle at all would have to mean that I'd need to calculate at that exact moment what the "greater good" in the situation actually is, and by the time the calculation is complete, the assassin would have gone about his business and I'd be unable to stop him.

Hence rule utilitarianism, the thing to do when possessing a mind of finite capabilities...

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-17T14:44:06.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to stop the assassin because I don't want to live in a world where people can just assassinate those they don't like. As I have no practical way of creating a world where "good" assassins are permitted but "bad" ones are not, the only choice is all assassinations or none. The only way that the politics of the senator would matter is if the senator is so bad that assassinating him is overall a good thing even considering that this increases the overall acceptability of assassination. This scenario is impossible barring very unlikely scenarios (which I will ignore, because of Pascal's Mugging). So I don't need to do any calculations at the time.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T15:40:21.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As I have no practical way of creating a world where "good" assassins are permitted but "bad" ones are not, the only choice is all assassinations or none.

Digressing somewhat... how confident are you of that?

Or, put another way... how much less plausible is this than creating a society where "good" armed-agents-patrolling-residential-areas-to-punish-rulebreakers are permitted but "bad" ones are not, or where "good" armed-groups-capable-of-large-scale-interventions are permitted but "bad" ones are not?

Because a lot of people seem confident that police forces and armies in the real world are practical approximate implementations of those targets. And, sure, I probably can't go out and start my own police force or army, but it's clear that such things do get started somehow or other. Similarly, a society where "good" assassins are permitted but "bad" ones are not doesn't seem unachievable.

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-17T15:44:01.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant, of course, a world where "good" assassins resembling the type described in the post exist and "bad" ones resembling the type in the post exist. I wasn't intending to rule out killing enemy leaders in war.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T17:10:07.923Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that changes my question. Does the situation change if the guy in the lobby identifies with a population with which the senator's nation is at war?

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T17:50:52.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not Jiro, but I think the best answer involves creating a scale of intensity of a conflict, and then drawing a line such that rational debate is never an intense enough conflict to justify violence. (by definition of rational debate).

In other words, Jiro is implicitly defining assassination as violence that improperly escalates a conflict from one where violence is not justified to one where violence is permissible. Under such a definition, the US didn't assassinate Yamamoto, it simply targeted him specifically for killing.

It seems plausible to me that this definition cuts the world at its joints, but there could be edge cases I haven't considered.

comment by Jiro · 2013-05-17T21:47:27.182Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's not my answer. My answer is that the checks and balances inherent in having a democratic government make it permissible for the government to decide to kill people under circumstances where I would not want to let random individuals go around killing people. (This doesn't mean that I approve of all government killing--just that I approve of a wider range of government killing than killing by individuals.)

Whether you want to say that for the government to kill someone in a war counts as assassination is just a question of semantics.

If the guy in the lobby identifies with a population with which the senator's nation is at war, and he is aiming at the senator as part of a campaign orchestrated by that population's government, then yes, the situation does change. (That doesn't mean I'd approve of the killing, just that the specific reason I gave above for not approving doesn't apply. There might still be other reasons.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T19:29:46.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...and we're implicitly assuming that ArisKatsaris' example is of an individual engaging in improper escalation... e.g., that the senator being targeted is not herself engaging in violence (in which case shooting her might be OK), but rather in some less-intense form of conflict (such as rational debate, on your account) to which violence is not a justifiable response?

OK, fair enough.

I'm not really on board with your definitions of "rational debate" or "assassin", but I'm not sure it matters, so I'm happy to leave that to one side.

And I endorse some notion of proportional response, certainly, though the details are tricky.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-05-17T14:48:34.846Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This looks as if it's in agreement with my own position above -- but the tone of your comment felt like a disagreement, so has one of us misunderstood something, or did I simply suffer from momentary tone-deafness?.

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-17T13:21:01.742Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would want them to alert hotel security and/or call the police.

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-17T13:17:57.171Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why does the guy need to assemble a second gun if he already had one, and how do you make one out of a backpack?

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-17T13:20:14.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He needs to have a second gun ready so that he can get as many shots off as possible before having to reload.

He isn't assembling the gun out of a backpack, but from a backpack: specifically, from gun parts which are inside the backpack.

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-17T13:33:11.197Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apparently at least one of my questions was a stupid question, but thank you anyway.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T16:20:06.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword."

That rule literally makes sense only because of scope insensitivity or similar bias. There's no reason to expect a rationalist to adopt it within a community of rationality.

In other words, maybe instrumentally useful, not terminal value.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T17:03:07.149Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

VALIS help me, this whole... conversation just feels so surreal to me somehow.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2013-05-17T17:24:49.909Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

VALIS help me, this whole... conversation just feels so surreal to me somehow.

That's a statement primarily about yourself, only secondarily about the conversation.

Can you please cool it down with attempting to use outrage as an argument? There's all the rest of the internet if we want to see that, LessWrong is one place where outrage-as-argument should not fly.

comment by pragmatist · 2013-05-24T15:44:34.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see the grandparent as an attempt at argument at all. Elsewhere, I see Multiheaded expressing arguments with outrage, but this is substantially different from using outrage as an argument. I agree with you that the latter shouldn't fly on LW, but I have nothing against the former.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T17:01:32.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no reason to expect a rationalist to adopt it within a community of rationality.

Presumably when we're talking about killing and torturing people, the context cannot be a "community of rationality".

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-17T17:13:28.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably when we're talking about killing and torturing people, the context cannot be a "community of rationality".

I'm not sure that follows. "Rationality" isn't a generic applause light. It doesn't mean 'nice'.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T17:35:12.857Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the real world, you are probably right. In the least convenient possible world, torture is an effective interrogation technique and ticking-time-bombs are realistic scenarios, not ridiculous movie plot devices.

In short, I don't need to be a deontologist to think the overthrow of Allende was a net negative. Please don't act like the arguments against overthrowing Allende are arguments in favor of bright line rules. If for no other reason than you are creating the perception that deotologist never consider consequence. Which is a stupid position that no deotologists should accept.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-05-17T18:02:14.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If for no other reason than you are creating the perception that deotologist never consider consequence. Which is a stupid position that no deotologists should accept.

Someone should have told Kant that.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T18:08:11.597Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kant thinks this argument should work?

Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, I am legally and morally innocent of the crime. Yes, I wanted to kill John. Yes, I pointed the gun at him. Yes, I pulled the trigger. Yes, John is dead. But we are all deontologists, and thus we don't think about consequences when we do moral reasoning - so you must find me not guilty of murdering John.

Because that argument is stupid, and I don't think a deontoligist needs to accept it.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-23T16:49:21.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only if "pointing the gun at people and pulling the trigger" is replaced with an applause light.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-23T20:46:54.396Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

???

comment by drnickbone · 2013-05-17T18:20:02.847Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Kant would say something like this: "You treated the victim as a means to your end, killing him because you wanted to. You very likely also broke my other version of the categorical imperative (since I expect you wouldn't want to live in a world where everyone shot other people whenever they wanted to). It's consistent with the categorical imperative to send folks like you to prison, since I'd prefer to live in a world like that than one where murderers go free. Guilty as charged!"

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T18:28:03.530Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As you say, the defendant is guilty of causing the victim's death for his own benefit.

Moral reasoning without causation just makes no sense. How do we have a coherent discussion of causation without some reference to consequences?

Edit: In other words, consequentialists say "you should always consider consequences," while I take Kant to say that one should sometimes consider consequences, and sometimes not.

comment by drnickbone · 2013-05-17T18:38:08.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, a Straw-man Kantian might conceivably argue that it was the intent to kill that was really wrong, not the killing itself. Mr Straw Kant might conceivably impose almost the same sentence for attempted murder as for actual murder, though he'd want to think carefully about whether he'd really want to live in a world where that was the usual sentence.

However, leaving aside the straw stuffing, yes all real Kantians (and other deontologists) do think about the consequences of actions. Mostly about the consequences if lots of people performed the same actions.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T19:38:13.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In other words, consequentialists say "you should always consider consequences," while I take Kant to say that one should sometimes consider consequences, and sometimes not.

Kant, and deontologists are deontologists because they take the intention (or something like it) to be what determines the moral value of an action. In some sense, a Kantian would always think about the consequences of the action, but just wouldn't take the consequences to determine the moral value of an action. So for example, if I leap into a river to save a drowning baby, then Kant is going to say that my act is to be morally evaluated independently of whether or not I managed (despite my best efforts) to save the drowning baby. I'm not morally responsible for an overly swift current, after all.

However, Kant would say that understanding my intention means understanding what I was trying to bring about: you can't evaluate my action's intentions without understanding the consequences I sought. What doesn't matter to the deontologist is the actual consequence.

Consequentialists and deontologists don't really differ much in this. Consequentialists, after all, have to draw certain boundaries around 'consequences', having to do with what the agent can be called a cause of, as an agent. If I take my ailing brother to the hospital, only to be hit by a meteor on the way, I didn't therefore act badly, even though he'd have lived through the day had I left him at home. Finally, consequentialists will evaluate courses of action based on expected utility, if only because actual utility is unavailable prior to the action. No consequentialist will say that moral judgements can only be made after the fact.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-28T11:09:24.738Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To put it another way, the more you fix the problems in C-ism, the more it looks like D-ology and vice versa.

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-28T14:33:54.094Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The convergence is probably due to (and converging to) whatever we use to judge, in both cases, that what we're doing is "fixing the problems".

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-28T14:37:49.590Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see why that should itself be a moral judgement, if that is what you were getting at?

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-28T21:18:19.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, whenever you say something like "this system of deciding whether an action is right or wrong is flawed; here is a better system," this doesn't make sense unless the two systems differ somehow. But then, the meta level can be collapsed to "these acts (which the former system considered right) are actually wrong; these other acts (which the former system considered wrong) are right." Sounds like a moral judgement to me (or possibly a family of infinitely many moral judgements).

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-28T22:34:35.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Systems can differ in their "outputs" -- the sets of acts which they label "right" or "wrong" --or in their implementation, or both. If system A is contradictory, and system B isn't, then system B is better. And that's not a moral judgement.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-28T14:11:00.872Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

They do seem to converge. Kant himself laid down a sort of hardcore deonotology in the Groundwork, and then spent the rest of his career sort of regressing toward the mean on all kinds of issues.

comment by BerryPick6 · 2013-05-17T19:02:09.174Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, the conversation with drnickbone below is how my response would have gone as well, and you're right in that sometimes consequences matter to Deontologists and sometimes they don't. I also think we've had this conversation before, because I remember that example. :D

comment by drnickbone · 2013-05-17T17:52:52.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the real world, you are probably right. In the least convenient possible world, torture is an effective interrogation technique and ticking-time-bombs are realistic scenarios, not ridiculous movie plot devices.

Yes, but so what? You're asking here whether social rules that have been optimised for the real world will behave well in highly inconvenient possible worlds where torture is actually effective, and ticking nuclear-time-bombs are a routine hazard. And no, they probably won't work very well in such worlds. Does that somehow make them the wrong rules in the real world?

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T17:56:24.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiheaded's argument style is that OrphanWilde is obviously wrong. I think OrphanWilde is wrong, but I disapprove of debate style that asserts his wrongness is obvious, when I think the historical facts are more ambiguous.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T18:05:20.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Incidentally, I -also- regard the overthrow of Allende, as it happened, was a net negative. I think the situation would have been better if the coup didn't happen. But I don't think Pinochet was responsible for the coup; I think he simply took charge of it (see, for example, contemporary judicial opinions of the coup). That is, given the political situation in Chile, I regard the coup as inevitable, with or without Pinochet; examining what happened in other countries (such as Argentina, whose junta was a series of deaths and coups - I have no idea how Argentina stayed as stable as it did through that mess), Pinochet made things better, rather than worse.

If you blame Pinochet for the coup, yes, I expect Pinochet did more harm than good. That's an extremely simplistic view of the situation in Chile, however. (Indeed, senior military officials involved in the matter suggested, contrary to the initial public story, that Pinochet was actually a reluctant participant in the coup.)

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T18:18:09.853Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I regard the coup as inevitable

As far as I can tell, that's only true if you take the entire Cold War context as a given. If the US wasn't actively trying to constrain Allende's freedom to act, is the coup still inevitable? (Since we are reaching the end of my knowledge of Chilean politics, I don't know the answer to that question).

Presumably, Pinochet thought the repression was necessary for government stability. If Pinochet (or someone similar) had been able to take power without a coup, is the repression necessary for government stability?

More generally, I'm skeptical about the able to draw lessons about right behavior and right governance by looking only at the internals of countries that we already know has significant external interventions on how to govern.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-28T11:06:26.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

More generally, I'm skeptical about the able to draw lessons about right behavior and right governance by looking only at the internals of countries that we already know has significant external interventions on how to govern.

Strongly agree. it takes some Chutzpah to condemn "Pinochet caused the coup" as naive, whilst ignoring external influences.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-17T17:30:19.398Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hate to agree with you, but I do, in some ways. It's all fine and dandy to talk about Pinochet being good for Chile, but if he thought so, he should have been doing a fair chunk of the executions and tortures himself.

comment by TimS · 2013-05-17T17:37:48.944Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alas, I have no reason to think Pinochet would have treated this like a deterrent. Except that he would likely have thought it a waste of his time because he had more important things to do.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T18:07:34.699Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alas, I have no reason to think Pinochet would have treated this like a deterrent. Except that he would likely have thought it a waste of his time because he had more important things to do.

Um, I take it that shminux meant OW and not Pinochet by "him"? Grammar confusion?

comment by shminux · 2013-05-17T18:13:47.834Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, I meant Pinochet. It would have been a good way for him to gauge his resolve in staying the course and avoiding the wetware bugs if he had committed to performing at least one tenth of the executions with his own hand. Also applies to other dictators.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T18:23:54.556Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...

...

...well, this went downhill pretty quick. Seriously, your view of human behavior and psychology appears to be rather unconventional.

By the way. Were you aware that Nazi Germany's switch from Einsatzgruppen to gas chambers as the preferred instrument of genocide was caused at least partly by Himmler visiting a mass execution by the SS in Belarus, becoming all sick at the sight of prisoners being gunned down, and immediately issuing a policy memo calling for a more "humane", "clean" and automated method of mass slaughter? Historians confirm the veracity of this episode. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_Himmler#The_Holocaust)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-05-17T20:46:26.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the mirror image of the thought experiment of Gandhi and the murder pill. Gandhi (hypothetically) would not take the pill that would remove his repugnance to murder. Himmler (actually) refused the pill that would weaken his resolve to exterminate the Jews.

On a more trivial level, it is standard advice, here and elsewhere, to avoid distractions when trying to get work done, and, if it helps, using artificial blocks on one's internet access to facilitate this. Is this also a reprehensible attempt to avoid "gauging one's resolve in staying the course"? Or a sensible way of achieving one's purposes?

Of course, we would like Himmler to have turned against the extermination project, so it is easy to say that he should have done the wet work himself, because that might have led to the result that we prefer. But that is idle talk. Himmler was in charge and organised things according to his aims, not ours, and he took steps to eliminate what he regarded as a useless distraction from the task. His fault was in undertaking the task at all.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-18T15:12:38.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, yes.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-17T18:32:27.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess you are confirming what I was saying. The out like the one you describe should not be available. If Himmler was giving extermination orders, he should have participated in executions personally, not just giving orders. This is a pretty high threshold for most "normal" people, not psychopaths.

comment by Zaine · 2013-05-18T14:59:34.827Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you read the Bean Cycle by Orson Scott Card?

comment by Kindly · 2013-05-18T17:19:14.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of all fictional treatments of this question, the one that stood out to me the most is the one in Three Worlds Collide because of its restraint from turning a psychological question into a moral question.

"Once upon a time," said the Kiritsugu, "there were people who dropped a U-235 fission bomb, on a place called Hiroshima. They killed perhaps seventy thousand people, and ended a war. And if the good and decent officer who pressed that button had needed to walk up to a man, a woman, a child, and slit their throats one at a time, he would have broken long before he killed seventy thousand people."

"But pressing a button is different," the Kiritsugu said. "You don't see the results, then. Stabbing someone with a knife has an impact on you. The first time, anyway. Shooting someone with a gun is easier. Being a few meters further away makes a surprising difference. Only needing to pull a trigger changes it a lot. As for pressing a button on a spaceship - that's the easiest of all. Then the part about 'fifteen billion' just gets flushed away. And more importantly - you think it was the right thing to do. The noble, the moral, the honorable thing to do. For the safety of your tribe. You're proud of it -"

"Are you saying," the Lord Pilot said, "that it was not the right thing to do?"

"No," the Kiritsugu said. "I'm saying that, right or wrong, the belief is all it takes."

comment by shminux · 2013-05-18T16:36:57.770Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And you are asking this why? (Achilles was a psychopath, in case this is your point.)

comment by Zaine · 2013-05-18T17:05:39.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Himmler was giving extermination orders, he should have participated in executions personally, not just giving orders.

Bean's style of leadership was similar to the above expectation - I assumed your opinion had been influenced by the book, and want to confirm or correct my perception.

comment by shminux · 2013-05-18T17:31:42.615Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh. now I remember the musings about it. No, I was simply agreeing with Multiheaded's link to the Game of Thrones. It's not a counter-intuitive idea, really. If you to do something that can be reasonably construed as evil, you better do it yourself to test your resolve and experience the negative impact first hand. Anyway, I thought I was clear in my replies to Multiheaded, but apparently not. Eh, who cares.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-05-22T05:53:17.600Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a counter-intuitive idea, really. If you to do something that can be reasonably construed as evil, you better do it yourself to test your resolve and experience the negative impact first hand.

That's an appealing enough system, intuitively -- but it also implies that the system's selecting for amorality, provided that relatively amoral actions are sometimes adaptive in the ordinary course of rulership. I have no idea whether or not this would erode away the gains from making scope more salient, but to run with the Game of Thrones metaphor it would be a shame if you were trying to select for people like Ned Stark and ended up in a local minimum at Ramsey Bolton.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T18:06:19.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hate to agree with you, but I do, in some ways.

...Wow. Faith in the common decency of average LW user suddenly resurging! Seriously, thank you, dude.

You know I've clashed with you over this before, I've more or less written you off as impossible to persuade on this issue (not as in "inhuman monster", more like "committed ideological enemy")... and yet you try to share at least part of my moral sentiment here. I am grateful.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-17T14:37:37.721Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something feels wrong about the comparison Mark Twain made. I'll try to explain by an example:

When my country was officially a socialist country, we didn't have mobile phones. Shortly after the regime changed, mobile phones were invented, and now everyone has them. -- Yet I don't consider this an evidence that somehow socialism and mobile phones are opposed. It simply happened. In a counterfactual universe, my country would be socialist today and have mobile phones, too. If I try to make an argument about how socialism relates to the mobile phones, it is not fair to compare past and present. It would be fair only to compare the present and the counterfactual present... assuming such comparison can be made. (For example, I could argue that in the counterfactual universe people in my country probably have less mobile phones, because central planning would probably decide that a smaller number of mobile phones is enough. But of course someone could argue they have more and better mobile phones, because of, uhm, something. Or that having less mobile phones, and perhaps more of something else, is better.)

Similarly, to morally evaluate a revolution, we should not compare it with the past, but with the counterfactual universe where the revolution did not happen. Yeah, it might be impossible. That does not make comparison with the past a correct one -- only as much as the past is reliable as a model of the counterfactual present.

Because, if we take comparing with past as our moral guide, here is my advice for all wannabe dictators: -- Make your revolution just after a significant invention in agriculture or medicine! Then, assuming you are competent enough, all the people you killed will be balanced by the people saved by the improved agriculture or medicine. And the history will consider you the benefactor of humankind. (And a promoter of modern technology.)

Of course that's an example why comparing with past can be misleading. Talking about dictators who kill people and forcefully introduce agricultural or medical improvements which wouldn't have otherwise happened, that would be a different topic. (But only if you make sure the improvements did not happen in the counterfactual universe.)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-05-17T04:13:34.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea that twenty five thousand people wouldn't have been tortured if Pinochet hadn't been a dictator is itself a counterfactual.

Why don't you explain to those victims how their lives would have been better if Pinochet hadn't been dictator? (Note: I don't seriously advocate you dredge up painful memories for somebody just to prove some sort of political point about how right your political views are because you're capable of not giving a shit about their suffering.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-17T04:32:50.271Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Note: I don't seriously advocate you dredge up painful memories for somebody just to prove some sort of political point about how right your political views are because you're capable of not giving a shit about their suffering.)

The irony has completely gone off the charts.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-17T04:39:38.229Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The idea that twenty five thousand people wouldn't have been tortured if Pinochet hadn't been a dictator is itself a counterfactual.

Then how the fuck does it not nullify your counterfactual that they would've been tortured?
I can back up my claims with historical evidence about the lawful and peaceful character of Allende's government - as well as the enormous support and protection given to Pinochet and his ilk by the US, without which he would've been way less likely to succeed.
You just assert the opposite, that the US-backed dictators and their pet psychopaths were: 1) the only solution to violence and strife in the region, and 2) not at all a major contributing factor to said strife and violence. I say it's bullshit and shameless propaganda.

Why don't you explain to those victims how their lives would have been better if Pinochet hadn't been dictator?

I'm really quite confident that many of the survivors brought that up over and over again - in interviews and when testifying after Pinochet's belated arrest and trial.

What, do you think that me, hypothetically, telling a victim/their family: "I looked you up, and I'm so sorry for what happened to you, I wish Pinochet never got his hands on anyone"... is somehow as fucked up as what you could possibly tell them, if Omega forced us both to explain ourselves to them?

(Note: I don't seriously advocate you dredge up painful memories for somebody just to prove some sort of political point about how right your political views are because you're capable of not giving a shit about their suffering.)

Hey, any Chileans on LW?

comment by shminux · 2013-05-16T22:17:29.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get off the trolley track or be consequentialized.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T22:30:04.148Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get off the guill- ...no, I'd rather not go there. But LW has definitely been tempting me as of late.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T22:30:44.875Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love paralepsis!

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T21:38:55.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep, I admit there's two arguments. My secondary line of attack is that there was nothing "necessary" about the things Pinochet did, and that in regards to the rule of law and sustainable democracy he wrecked what Allende was trying to create.

But my primary line is that some "rational" arguments should be simply censored when their advocates don't even bother with hypotheticals but point to the unspeakable experiences of real victims and then dismiss them as a fair price for some dubious greater good. This is a behavior and an attitude that our society needs to suppress, I believe, because it's predictive of other self-centered, remorseless, power-blind attitudes - and we're better off with fully general ethical injunctions against such. Not tolerating even the beginning steps of some potentially devastating paths is important enough to outweigh perfect epistemic detachment and pretensions to impartiality.

Christian moralism in its 19th century form - once a popular source for such injunctions - is rightly considered obsolete/bankrupt, but, like Orwell, I think our civilization needs a replacement for it. Or else our descendants might be the ones screaming "Why did it have to be rats?!" one day.

ZERO compromise. Not for the sake of politeness, not for the sake of pure reason, not a single more step to hell.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-05-16T21:44:40.482Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I completely agree with you.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-23T16:34:46.545Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jesus Christ put a trigger warning on that. Just ... damn.

Also, emotional appeals to how terrible one option is aren't going to change the outcomes of utility calculations. I'm not knowledgeable in this area to weigh in on this discussion, but when one side is saying shut up and multiply and the other is using obvious and clumsy dark arts attacks on the audience's rationality, I'm inclined to support the utilitarian over the deontologist.

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-24T10:05:13.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Multiheaded, usually I would pay the karma toll to reply to your comment, but I've just been karmassasinated and so I'll put it here instead.

Firstly, while I personally am perfectly capable of reading such material without serious harm (thank God), many people are not, so I was fairly shocked to stumble across it in the middle of your post. It would not have damaged your point to warn those who find such things traumatic beforehand, and neglecting to do so is, to be dark-artsy for a moment, hardly strengthening your claim to be the empathic one in this discussion.

As for whether I would like to live in a world where people are willing to torture me and my loved ones if they think it's justified - I already live in such a world. This is a thing humans do. Emotional appeals are, in fact, noticeably more effective at getting people to do this than cold utility calculations. So yes, I would rather people based their atrocities on a rigorous epistemic foundation rather than how those guys are The Enemy and must be fought, no matter the cost. For the children!

I'm well aware of the dangers of self-deception, as should anyone trying to make such calculations be. But it's even easier when you're relying on outrage rather than rationality.

Finally, it's interesting that you claim it's OK to make use of dark arts techniques to (attempt to) manipulate us, because this is so important that the usual LessWrong standards of trying to minimise bias, mindkilling and generally help people discern the correct position rather than the one that's covered in applause lights. Isn't truth and so on another precommtment you shouldn't break just because the expected utility is so high?

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-24T13:15:25.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So yes, I would rather people based their atrocities on a rigorous epistemic foundation rather than how those guys are The Enemy and must be fought, no matter the cost.

Has such a thing actually happened even once in human history?

comment by MugaSofer · 2013-05-27T10:34:57.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not yet (to my knowledge.)

Maybe someday, if we manage to raise the sanity waterline enough, and if everyone who tries it doesn't get denounced as giving aid an comfort to the Enemy for even considering the idea.

EDIT: Possible example:

You should never, ever murder an innocent person who's helped you, even if it's the right thing to do; because it's far more likely that you've made a mistake, than that murdering an innocent person who helped you is the right thing to do.

Sound reasonable?

During World War II, it became necessary to destroy Germany's supply of deuterium, a neutron moderator, in order to block their attempts to achieve a fission chain reaction. Their supply of deuterium was coming at this point from a captured facility in Norway. A shipment of heavy water was on board a Norwegian ferry ship, the SF Hydro. Knut Haukelid and three others had slipped on board the ferry in order to sabotage it, when the saboteurs were discovered by the ferry watchman. Haukelid told him that they were escaping the Gestapo, and the watchman immediately agreed to overlook their presence. Haukelid "considered warning their benefactor but decided that might endanger the mission and only thanked him and shook his hand." (Richard Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb.) So the civilian ferry Hydro sank in the deepest part of the lake, with eighteen dead and twenty-nine survivors. Some of the Norwegian rescuers felt that the German soldiers present should be left to drown, but this attitude did not prevail, and four Germans were rescued. And that was, effectively, the end of the Nazi atomic weapons program.

-Ethical Injuctions

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-23T18:25:34.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taking abstract ideas too seriously and unreservedly privileging them over your moral emotion is a terribly, terribly dangerous thing. And it tends to corrupt the one who would make such a choice, too.

Would you like to live in a world where people thought that doing these things to you and yours could ever be justified? Sure, the apologists would say it's only forgivable in dire circumstances, only for the greater good - but still, wouldn't you prefer as firm a precommitment as possible?

And no, I'm not sorry for exposing you to such content. The enormity of the moral commitments at stake is too great for me not to "manipulate" you. The language of simplistic utilitarianism does not have enough bandwidth to express the weight of such commitments, so I have to draw your attention to them through "emotional" appeals.

"You stipulate that the only possible way to save five innocent lives is to murder one innocent person, and this murder will definitely save the five lives, and that these facts are known to me with effective certainty. But since I am running on corrupted hardware, I can't occupy the epistemic state you want me to imagine. Therefore I reply that, in a society of Artificial Intelligences worthy of personhood and lacking any inbuilt tendency to be corrupted by power, it would be right for the AI to murder the one innocent person to save five, and moreover all its peers would agree. However, I refuse to extend this reply to myself, because the epistemic state you ask me to imagine, can only exist among other kinds of people than human beings."

Instead of shutting up and multiplying, might it be wiser to shut up and obey our Glorious Leader?

comment by nshepperd · 2013-05-23T19:07:13.237Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And no, I'm not sorry for exposing you to such content.

What the fuck? Causing unnecessary psychological damage to anyone reading this page—even more so just for the sake of some stupid political point—is not acceptable. Downvoted.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-23T19:29:15.627Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not the one willing to tolerate such acts given a counterfactual excuse, or measure them on an easily subverted one-dimensional scale. If they occur in the world, I not only wish to be fully aware of them, I wish that others would not be able to easily shrink from considering them either. A detached discussion of faraway horrible events is a luxury and a privilege, and people who want to participate in it should at least pay a toll of properly visualizing the consequences.

comment by nshepperd · 2013-05-24T17:08:57.038Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't care who has what bullshit political opinions here. No-one gave you the authority to emotionally traumatize the readers of this site "for the greater good". Especially when you could have even just added a trigger warning to the top of your post and it would not have diminished your argument in the slightest. Frankly, if you're going to be a dick you don't need to be here.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-24T17:24:31.175Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, I'm adding a TW, but I'm not going to abridge or rot13 it.

comment by nshepperd · 2013-05-26T14:29:52.082Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you. That's a sufficient improvement.

comment by Juno_Watt · 2013-05-16T23:43:37.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A benevolent dictatorship with an opt-out works just as well or better. Most online forums operate this way, and so do many social and commercial entities.

Show me an example that isn't operating within a democracy..

Show me a nation that forbids free association, and blocks the internet, and I'll show you a non-democracy.

comment by kilobug · 2013-05-15T16:18:15.610Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting, but the point on "Democracy" seems a bit an applause light to me. We all like democracy so a community needs democracy, right ?

Well, if you look at communities, you'll see that "leader worship" is actually as least as efficient to build a strong community than democracy. I'm not saying it's the best option all things considered, but if in the purpose of crafting a community, having a strong, quasi-dictatorial leader that everyone respects tends to be a very efficient way. The "penguin" is a clear example of that : Linus, the "benevolent dictator for life" is a strong factor of the community cohesion. Democratic models can also work (to stay in the same domain, that's how Debian works, and it works very well) but they aren't the most likely path to success.

There probably are evolutionary psychology reasons behind the "strong leader" pattern, rooting into families (were the patriarch or the matriarch is the natural "strong leader") and tribes (which usually aren't very democratic), the two most primitive communities, but I won't enter the details because evopsy isn't my primary field.

comment by whpearson · 2013-05-15T22:24:48.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What happens when the dictator for life departs (for whatever reason)? .

comment by DSimon · 2013-05-15T22:42:29.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Best hope they've found (or built) a better dictator to replace them...

comment by bartimaeus · 2013-05-16T16:26:01.575Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The ev-psych reason for the "strong leader" pattern is fitness variance in the competition between men. The leader (dominant male) would be able to impregnate a substantial proportion of the women in the tribe, while the least dominant males wouldn't reproduce at all. So males are much more competitive because the prize for winning is very high (potentially hundreds of children), while the cost of losing is very low (for women, the fitness variance is smaller because of the limit on the number of pregnancies in theire lifetimes).

So it's a prisoner's dilemma where the defector has a huge advantage. If everyone is democratic about sharing their women and one person decides he wants to take them all, he wins and his genes spread.

There are also ev-psych reasons why dictators tend to be corrupted: when you have power, you want to use it to give the advantage to YOUR offspring (or your group maybe?). So even if you have noble intentions at first, there will be a tendency to hoard resources for yourself or others you consider as part of your group.

comment by kilobug · 2013-05-17T07:37:49.217Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but that explains why people (especially male) want to be strong leaders (alpha male), not why people follow strong leaders. For people to follow strong leaders, they need to have an evolutionary advantage in doing so (hope of being the next leader, the leader granting some privileges to his most faithful followers, or something else, I don't know).

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-17T15:03:13.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, let's look at the choices.

(1) I can become the leader.
(2) I can follow a strong leader.
(3) I can establish a leaderless coordinated group.
(4) I can follow a weak leader.
(5) I can be part of an uncoordinated group.
(6) I can be part of no group.

Do you see other alternatives?

I've sorted those in my suggested order of preference (in survival/reproductive terms) in the primate ancestral environment, assuming I can succeed at them. I'm not highly confident in that order, but I'm pretty sure #1 is at the top. #3 might be better than #2, I'm not really sure. Ditto #5 and #6. My reasoning is that isolated individuals will tend to lose out to individuals in groups, individuals in uncoordinated groups will tend to lose out to individuals in coordinated ones, and individuals in groups led by weak leaders will tend to lose out to individuals in groups led by strong leaders.

Given that most primates in a group will fail at #1 (pretty much definitionally), it doesn't seem mysterious that we evolved to adopt #2 given a chance. Nor is it mysterious that the mechanisms we evolved to identify strong leaders then get shanghaied by various sorts of fake strong-leadership signaling mechanisms.

There may be an outstanding question here of why #3 never caught on... I'm not sure. This may simply be a historical contingency... our ancestors never happened to develop the mutations that made it feasible. Or it may be that it just doesn't work well as a strategy. (Certainly it doesn't work well among humans, but that doesn't really tell us much of anything in this context.)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-15T09:53:14.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

  • Oppose moral pressures. Anyone using the word "should" is a hypocrite, or a wannabe dictator. (There is no objective morality, right?) Find moral excuses for all kinds of defection. (You can't reasonably expect someone to cooperate, if the person is hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, poor, opressed, etc.)

  • Oppose reputational pressures. Saying that some people are better and some people are worse is undemocratic elitism. (Also, it is obvious that you focus on criticizing X merely because X is a member of a group you hate.)

  • Oppose institutional pressures. We don't need any punishments, because punishments are evil, and only evil people want to punish other people. All problems should be resolved by love (and it that fails, we need even more love). Everyone deserves a second chance.

  • Oppose security pressures. If we don't trust each other, we are not a good community.

Somehow all these anti-patterns seem to me like: This is what many educated people around me use for signalling.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-05-16T00:43:47.136Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oppose moral pressures. Anyone using the word "should" is a hypocrite, or a wannabe dictator. (There is no objective morality, right?)

When moral pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people might reasonably tend to take on the belief that all moral pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom: the correct answer is not "enforce all moral pressures, regardless of how draconian"; nor is it "reject all moral pressures as draconian". The correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT moral pressures are, in terms of which moral pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the amount of cooperation we want, and then ensure that those moral pressures are the ones being applied in this community."

Find moral excuses for all kinds of defection. (You can't reasonably expect someone to cooperate, if the person is hungry, angry, lonely, tired, bored, poor, opressed, etc.).

Alternatively, identify external factors that can be statistically shown to increase defection, and then lower the influence of those external factors rather than expect people to magically overcome them. If you can statistically demonstrate that hungry people are more likely to defect, and you don't want people to defect, what will suit you better: bitching that anyone who defects because they're hungry is a morally bad person, or actually handing them a meal?

We're supposed to be empiricists here, after all.

Oppose reputational pressures. Saying that some people are better and some people are worse is undemocratic elitism.

When reputational pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people will notice that a system's current idea of "better" and "worse" is flawed; in such situations it is understandable (but not rational) for them to take on the belief that reputational pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom; the correct answer is not "enforce all reputation pressures, no matter how unfair and unbalanced" or "reject all reputational pressures as institutional bigotry"; the correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT reputational pressures are, in terms of which reputational pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the desired amount of cooperation, and then ensure that those pressures are the ones being applied in the community."

(Also, it is obvious that you focus on criticizing X merely because X is a member of a group you hate.)

Alternatively, acknowledge that all systems have a tendency towards capture and corruption, and actively work to fight that tendency rather than building strawman caricatures of the people who tend to be most vocal about the current nature of that corruption.

Oppose institutional pressures. We don't need any punishments, because punishments are evil, and only evil people want to punish other people.

When institutional goals are not applied fairly or rationally, observant (but not necessarily rational) people will recognize that the community is not behaving in their best interest at all, and will become understandably skeptical of institutional punishment systems. Moreso, when numerous studies indicate that proper rehabilitation works better than the punishment methods we currently employ, one begins to wonder why we continue to perform them.

Somehow all these anti-patterns seem to me like: This is what many educated people around me use for signalling.

I would argue that you are presenting a caricature of an argument, rather than an actual argument. You should resolve to make your opponent's position stronger before defeating them rather than weaker, if you want to actually convince us that their position is wrong.

All problems should be resolved by love (and it that fails, we need even more love). Everyone deserves a second chance.

Alternatively, people who cannot operate properly within society need to be identified as damaged and repaired, rather than identified as valid targets for violence and violated.

Oppose security pressures. If we don't trust each other, we are not a good community.

When security takes a back seat to ineffective and intrusive "security theatre", observant (but not necessarily rational) people will recognize that they are being snowed, and will justifiably become suspicious of all "security"-based justifications for increasing authority.

comment by falenas108 · 2013-05-16T17:12:06.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternatively, identify external factors that can be statistically shown to increase defection, and then lower the influence of those external factors rather than expect people to magically overcome them. If you can statistically demonstrate that hungry people are more likely to defect, and you don't want people to defect, what will suit you better: bitching that anyone who defects because they're hungry is a morally bad person, or actually handing them a meal?

I'm not sure that's the entirety of what he's getting at. I think he's saying "don't make it acceptable for people to make excuses for defecting, because people will then use that as an excuse in cases where they would otherwise cooperate."

That said, your idea is still a good solution to the way you interpreted that statement.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-05-16T17:23:53.942Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure that's the entirety of what he's getting at. I think he's saying "don't make it acceptable for people to make excuses for defecting, because people will then use that as an excuse in cases where they would otherwise cooperate."

Fortunately, there are numerous studies examining the efficacy of that strategy, too.

As it turns out, being generous to people who need it and letting a few people get away with pretending to need it is much more cost-effective than trying to root out all the "cheats".

Unless, of course, the specific goal is to maintain a status hierarchy simply for the sake of staying on top of it, with no real concern for the costs or benefits of that hierarchy.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T20:07:51.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless, of course, the specific goal is to maintain a status hierarchy simply for the sake of staying on top of it, with no real concern for the costs or benefits of that hierarchy.

Yep. Being determines consciousness, and social being in particular is a great predictor of social consciousness. And cheering for authoritarianism among high-IQ, economically secure, white, male, first-world, tech geeks is going to school in black - increasingly so.

I mean, just regular old proclamations that Liberal Democracy Ain't All That? Pfft, that's been among the safest and most polite kinds of contrarian posturing since before there were liberal democracies to snub. Every political position imaginable can do it from some angle. I do it. Respectable authors do it.

But direct, unapologetic support for the aesthetics and praxis of dictatorial control? The beauty and utility of hierarchies of dominance? Of deliberate asymmetries of power? Unsettling.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-05-16T19:10:13.872Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you so very much. I wanted to do a point-by-point takedown like this... but I'm feeling a little burnt out when considering just how much similarly glib pro-authoritarian fare on LW needs this treatment.

You've said many things that I wanted to say; I'd only note that I think your rejection of authoritarianism here is lacking a meta level:

When moral pressures have been co-opted, observant (but not necessarily rational) people might reasonably tend to take on the belief that all moral pressures are suspect. Reversed stupidity is not wisdom: the correct answer is not "enforce all moral pressures, regardless of how draconian"; nor is it "reject all moral pressures as draconian". The correct answer is "figure out what the RIGHT moral pressures are, in terms of which moral pressures ACTUALLY PRODUCE the amount of cooperation we want, and then ensure that those moral pressures are the ones being applied in this community."

The problem is, once we concede that Reverse Authoritarianism doesn't let us do much, WHO exactly is going to figure out which authoritarian-like actions are "legitimate" and "needed"? It can't be all planned out in advance by community consensus, either.

This would be like a Leninist today defending an argument for a second Bolshevik revolution (against the obvious historical evidence) with: "Oh, but we KNOW what went wrong! We just shouldn't let more Stalinists get into the party, that's all! And this time we won't be purging any innocent people; that was so silly and counterproductive of us!"

To avoid yet more abuse of power, you can't merely tell people to make the object-level "correct" decision; you need a system that would constantly correct for self-serving rationalizations, corruption and power-blindness among the decision makers. If abuse and tyranny emerge as "spontaneous orders", then their prevention must be a perpetual and multi-faceted process, not a one-time Gordian knot to cut.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2013-05-16T21:46:27.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is, once we concede that Reverse Authoritarianism doesn't let us do much, WHO exactly is going to figure out which authoritarian-like actions are "legitimate" and "needed"? It can't be all planned out in advance by community consensus, either.

...

To avoid yet more abuse of power, you can't merely tell people to make the object-level "correct" decision; you need a system that would constantly correct for self-serving rationalizations, corruption and power-blindness among the decision makers. If abuse and tyranny emerge as "spontaneous orders", then their prevention must be a perpetual and multi-faceted process, not a one-time Gordian knot to cut.

The rational response would be to acknowledge that this is a Hard Problem, and that there are not yet good answers. This is exciting, because it identifies places where significant progress can be made.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-15T10:14:56.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

Tentatively agree. Just so long as the intended mnemonic isn't "Let's take these examples of stupidity and do the opposite". Some of these are even worse if taken to the other extreme than to the one you warn about. Reputational pressures are perhaps the most desirable but with moral and institutional pressures it can be a good idea to oppose inappropriate applications forcefully but encourage desirable applications. In fact, one of the best uses of both moral and institutional pressures is to apply them to pre-empt future misapplication of the same. (Both tools are necessary but dangerous.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-15T13:17:04.074Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another (complementary) approach is to establish the local convention that "hey, that's a pressure!" is not sufficient grounds on which to oppose a pressure; it is also considered necessary to at least assert, if not necessarily argue, that the pressure under discussion is worse for the community than the absence of that pressure.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-15T13:36:24.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another (complementary) approach is to establish the local convention that "hey, that's a pressure!" is not sufficient grounds on which to oppose a pressure; it is also considered necessary to at least assert, if not necessarily argue, that the pressure under discussion is worse for the community than the absence of that pressure.

I endorse this hypothetically applied pressure.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-15T11:01:46.070Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sometimes it is easier to remember what to do by also giving examples of what not to do. So let's try to describe some ways how to ruin a community.

Some communities need ruining, or at the very least weakening far enough to be altered. Necessarily anyone who's an outlier, for better or worse, is going to be constrained by a society with very exacting norms.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-15T11:19:49.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If someone is introducing the described anti-patterns into a community as a strategic tool to destroy the community from within, well... that's a fine strategy. And if I happened to hate the given community, I would applaud them.

My concern is that many people around me seem to have internalized these ideas, and would automatically bring them to communities they don't want to ruin. (As an example: Once in a while someone complains about the karma system on LW. It's usually not because they have the experience of discussions without karma being predictably better than discussions with karma. It's because karma makes differences among people, and -- as a cached thought -- any such system is evil.)

It's like using a biological weapon against your enemy, only to find later that you started a world-wide epidemic infecting everyone. In this specific case, we have a memetic outbreak destroying communities.

comment by Estarlio · 2013-05-15T12:49:10.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've not shared that observation. Most of the time when it looks like that's what's going on I generally find it to be a language problem. Take should, for instance, I've rarely found that to go well when trying to alter someone's behaviour, while suggesting that they were being mean or that something else might work better for them has generally worked quite well. But I do sympathise with your concern.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-06-13T08:59:25.683Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ban the sharing of emotions

''From the above evidence it can be concluded that exposure to the social sharing of an emotion is itself an emotion-eliciting event, it would follow that the listener too would later share that experience with other people. Christophe et Rimé called this subsequent phenomenon secondary social sharing of emotions.[31] In other words, the receiver of the social sharing will consequently experience some kind of emotion, so the receiver will then become a transmitter of the narration as a part of their emotional experience of hearing the story.

The first studies about secondary social sharing in 1997 confirmed the existence of this phenomenon.[31] In the first study, subjects reported particularly strong sentiments of interest and of surprise as a result of hearing someone recount an emotional experience. More notably, in 66.4% of the cases subjects shared the episode again to some third person. Furthermore, subjects who reported higher emotional intensity in response to hearing the emotional story shared their experience and the story more often after the situation. This suggested that the frequency of sharing grows in relation to the intensity of the emotions felt when listening. In a second study, Christophe et Rimé[31] proposed to subjects to recall an emotional experience according to an intensity level given (low, moderate, high). In this study, when emotional intensity was rated higher, more secondary social sharing occurred (79% of the cases). This again confirmed that more intense emotions were after hearing an account of an emotional experience, the greater the propensity for secondary social sharing.[1]''

comment by AShepard · 2013-05-15T17:57:06.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good and important questions. I find it interesting, and indicative of a broader tendency at LessWrong, that books are the first place you looked for an answer. The academic approach has its place, but if you're looking for advice you can actually put into practice, it would be more helpful to find some people who have successfully built communities and ask them what they did. Talking to a few thoughtful people who have built successful mid-size businesses, community organizations, or online forums from the ground up is going to be a lot more useful on the margin than thinking more about a public goods game.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-15T18:18:51.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there any reason to expect that people who have successfully built communities haven't written books about it, or that their statements about what they did in response to my questions would be preferable to their statements about what they did in their books?

comment by peter_hurford · 2013-05-15T23:53:53.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

...Or that the people who write the books wouldn't also interview people who created communities.