Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election?

post by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-20T09:44:07.943Z · score: -7 (33 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 218 comments

Don't let your minds be killed, but I was wondering if there were any existential risk angles to the coming American election (if there isn't, then I'll simply retreat to raw, enjoyable and empty tribalism).

I can see three (quite tenuous) angles:

  1. Obama seems more likely to attempt to get some sort of global warming agreement. While not directly related to Xrisks per se, this would lead to better global coordination and agreement, which improves the outlook for a lot of other Xrisks. However, pretty unlikely to succeed.
  2. I have a mental image that Republicans would be more likely to invest in space exploration. This is a lot due to Newt Gingrich, I have to admit, and to the closeness between civilian and military space projects, the last of which are more likely to get boosts in Republican governments.
  3. If we are holding out for increased population rationality as being a helping factor for some Xrisks, then the fact the the Republicans have gone so strongly anti-science is certainly a bad sign. But on the other hand, its not clear whether them winning or losing the election is more likely to improve the general environment for science among their supporters.

But these all seem weak factors. So, less wronger, let me know: are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

 

218 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Xachariah · 2012-09-20T11:27:51.445Z · score: 17 (25 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm surprised you've left out nukes. Nukes are basically the only existential risk angle that presidents have direct control over and where the personality of the POTUS would effect the outcome.

1) Which one is more likely to engage in a nuclear preemptive strike?

2) Which one is less likely to forgive a 'finger slip'? (Ex, a fuse breaks in Russia/China/whoever and they alpha-strike the US; which person is more likely to retaliate and end the world vs not retaliate and suffer US extinction without punishing them back?)

3) Which one has less fear of human extinction? Religiosity and belief in anthropogenic changes to the state of the world seem to be relevant factors.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T14:16:58.292Z · score: 15 (19 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

4) Which one is more likely to launch a preemptive strike against a facility that's building a bio-weapon which if unleashed could destroy mankind?

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-20T19:56:05.885Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That seems to be a wash. Romney has the rhetoric, Obama the history of drone strikes on various targets.

comment by roystgnr · 2012-09-20T21:16:44.660Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that what we want isn't just a President who would be likely to forgive a "finger slip", but a President who is believed by other nuclear powers to be unlikely to forgive one. I'm not sure it's possible to deliberately select that combination.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-20T22:05:40.222Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reasonably confident that the percentage of people I consider unlikely to forgive a finger slip who have that combination is higher than the percentage of people I consider likely to forgive a finger slip.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-20T12:41:47.233Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those all seem to push in the Obama direction, then...

comment by Manfred · 2012-09-20T13:22:57.578Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, those were the salient ones. If you would like some romney-direction examples, there's the amount of resources used to prevent nuclear proliferation, and of course deterrence, the opposite of Xachariah's #2.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-09-20T19:39:19.808Z · score: 16 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which administration is less likely to increase Peter Thiel's taxes?

I'm fairly certain he is spending it better than the USG. Considering what kind of charity he spends it on, it doesn't seem like he gives to charity to get tax brakes or buy status for bragging at cocktail parties. I'm fairly sure a richer Peter Thiel translates into a better less existential risk exposed world.

Edited: People don't seem to be following my Peter Thiel link, it goes to the Top Donors for the Singularity Institute:

Thiel Foundation $1,100,000

comment by tim · 2012-09-27T06:50:02.784Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do the rest of the people paying comparable taxes to Peter Thiel also spend their money in such a 'responsible' manner?

comment by Antisuji · 2012-09-24T23:49:10.792Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd actually be surprised if Thiel's marginal tax rate strongly influences the amount he contributes to SIAI. For one, I don't think the reason he donated $1,100,000 rather than twice that amount was that it was the most he could afford.

I'd be even more surprised (even given the above) if the resulting change has more effect on humanity's future than the other effects of differences in tax policy.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-20T21:15:21.362Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you would also have to consider the effect on Thiel's income. It's possible (for instance) that Obama would increase his tax rate but also increase his income enough to cover this.

Since I think both Obama and Romney are proposing policies which are bad for the economy, and since I'm not really an expert in economic policy, I don't actually have a strong opinion on which how the election would affect Thiel's income. But it definitely must be considered.

comment by radical_negative_one · 2012-09-21T19:23:00.054Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

consider the effect on Thiel's income

In that case I suppose we should let Thiel tell us who to vote for.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-21T21:01:14.749Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not necessarily, even if the effect on Thiel's income is my only consideration.

For one thing, Thiel might recommend candidate A over B because he calculates expected income under A > expected income under B, but I might consider Thiel's expected income calculations incorrect and believe EI(B) > EI(A), in which case I would vote for B.
For another, Thiel might recommend A over B because he values other things more than EI... for example, maybe B is a Mormon and Thiel really hates Mormons. In which case Thiel's endorsement of A would not be strong evidence that I should vote for A.
Etc.

In fact, even by novalis' reasoning, we don't care about Thiel's income, we care about the size of Thiel's donations to SIAI. If Thiel credibly precommits to donating N to SIAI if candidate A wins, and 2N if B wins, then in this case I should vote for B, even if everyone agrees that A will maximize Thiel's income.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-21T20:32:09.305Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, that's only if we think the marginal effects of policy changes on SAIA donors' income would be greater than any other difference between the candidates in terms of effects on the world. I think this is pretty unlikely.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-20T19:54:03.730Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. This seems to be a pro-Romney argument.

But the existential risk argument seems tenuous - does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance? If not, who does contribute?

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-20T20:43:01.288Z · score: 11 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance?

To such an extent that yesterday someone felt compelled to point out that he only contributes "maybe half or less" of SIAI's budget.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-21T06:00:54.578Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for letting me know!

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-20T20:22:28.413Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

does Thiel contribute to SIAI, for instance?

He is an SIAI advisor, and I believe the largest donor.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T20:55:17.065Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

http://singularity.org/topdonors/

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T16:24:01.411Z · score: 12 (32 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, less wronger, let me know: are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

Voting is kind of like buying lottery tickets in this regard, a waste of perfectly good hope. It really is a silly ritual which I'm dismayed some rationalists still take seriously.

My advice is finding higher quality entertainment.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-20T21:01:29.489Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you dispute the claims in this Gelman paper about the probability of votes in various states being decisive in Presidential elections? Or the much higher probabilities of decisive individual impact in state and local races, and popular referenda/initiatives?

Lotteries are for personal consumption, and have negative expected value. Voting can be done as an act of altruism (in addition to other reasons), buying a small chance of very large impact, for which it can easily have a positive expected value. It would cost hundreds of dollars in political contributions at least to pay for the delivery of another vote to replace yours, so there is a large wedge between your opportunity cost of time and your productivity voting.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-20T21:33:09.773Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voting can be done as an act of altruism (in addition to other reasons), buying a small chance of very large impact, for which it can easily have a positive expected value.

I agree with this argument, but note that it only applies if you actually believe that the differences between the policies that Obama and Romney are likely to implement do amount to a very large overall utility differential (and that you can know beforehand in which direction it goes). I suspect that Konkvistador does not share this premise.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-20T21:37:35.134Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Large enough to be millions of times what you would buy with a $50 charitable donation. That's not a terribly high bar for differences between candidates. And certainly one's vote is more influential in primary elections than general elections, and in swing states, and in lower turnout regions, etc. Policy differences can also be clearer in other races and cases, e.g. voting on single initiatives in California.

comment by see · 2012-09-21T01:20:03.687Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The paper assumes votes are accurately recorded, counted, and reported. Which is known to be false; error rates in vote counts are at least 0.1%, and likely closer to 1%. A perfectly honest close election is an election decided not by actual votes cast, but the random distribution of counting errors. And any election so close is going to be subjected to recounts that simply redistribute the counting errors.

Now, it is theoretically possible your vote might actually tip things in the final recount, right? Despite the fact that who actually won in a close election is unknown and unknowable, your vote is more likely to be accurately counted than not, so it might tip over the decision, right?

Except that's assuming perfect honesty in recording, counting, and reporting, which is ridiculous. What will determine who wins in a close election is whether the margin created by random counting errors is small enough that the people in the best position to commit fraud can tip it the way they prefer.

And, of course, we then ask -- did you actually have a good, reliable of idea how your candidate was going to do in office, and then on top of that how his choices were actually going to translate into effects? Really? So, back in November 2008, what did you predict the September 2012 unemployment rate would be, if Obama won? What did you predict the US budget deficit would be? Did you predict that the average number of deaths of US personnel in Afghanistan per month under Obama would be five times higher than it was under Bush? Did you predict the overthrow of the Libyan government by US air power? Let's be serious; Obama didn't have a very good idea of how his policies would translate into actual effects back on Election Day 2008.

Your vote for a position less powerful than President is more influential, sure, but its actual effect is reduced because the position is less powerful. There might be some point in voting on propositions and initiatives if your state has them, and maybe on very local elections if you've bothered to become informed on them and live in a small enough community.

comment by Kindly · 2012-09-21T02:46:45.990Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming honesty in recording is actually not problematic. As Eugine_Nier says, there will still be a set of voting outcomes that lead to Candidate A being elected, and a set of voting outcomes that lead to Candidate B being elected, and fraud only slightly changes the shape of the boundary between these sets.

It gets better. Turns out that the "area" of that boundary is minimized in a fair majority election. The probability of a vote being pivotal is only increased when the boundary is distorted by fraud (although, obviously, your vote will no longer be pivotal in exactly the same situations).

If the error rate in vote counts is 1%, that means you're 99% as likely to make the vote you intend to make. So if you had a 1 in 10 million chance to make a pivotal vote, that chance now becomes... roughly 1 in 10.1 million. This part doesn't really make a lot of difference, although you're right that it should be taken into account.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-28T06:34:20.506Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Assuming honesty in recording is actually not problematic.

I don't think you appreciate just how hard counting votes is.

comment by Kindly · 2012-09-28T12:15:30.589Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What does that have to do with anything? Okay, fine, make the error rate 10%. Then your chance of making a pivotal vote just became 1 in 11 million instead of 1 in 10 million. That's a gross overestimate and it still hasn't made a huge difference.

Edit: My point is that although dishonesty changes when exactly your vote is pivotal, it increases the probability that it will be.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-28T06:36:03.554Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have no idea why this post is down voted, since it points out something very important, voting results are an imperfect measurement of who the electorate actually tried to vote for.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T02:24:28.733Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except that's assuming perfect honesty in recording, counting, and reporting, which is ridiculous. What will determine who wins in a close election is whether the margin created by random counting errors is small enough that the people in the best position to commit fraud can tip it the way they prefer.

Your vote might still be the vote that tips the total past the threshold where the opposing counters can commit fraud.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-29T10:30:23.238Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Related to our discussion:

If elections aren’t a Pascal’s mugging, existential risk shouldn’t be either

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T02:22:49.231Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See this post. The point being that in order for rationalists to win we need to stop using the kind of straw rationality you seem to be advocating.

For example, while it's true that an individual vote only has a small effect, consider the effect of say encouraging rationalists not to vote notice that this has an effect on more that one vote.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T06:09:12.985Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, while it's true that an individual vote only has a small effect, consider the effect of say encouraging rationalists not to vote notice that this has an effect on more that one vote.

I always find it amusing how quickly people jump to knock off effects in these debates. If my actions and arguments have such effects surely those of other potential voters do as well. Doesn't this mean things add back to normality any my influence really is just the nano-slice it seems to be?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T06:27:09.758Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If my actions and arguments have such effects surely those of other potential voters do as well.

Most voters don't campain, post on LW, etc.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-29T06:33:10.336Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just realized that one doesn't even need to invoke game theory for voting to make sense. If there are N voters in an election, the probability of you being the deciding vote is approximately , but the number of people affected by the result is approximately N (probably more since a lot of people don't vote). Thus, the expected number of people you'll affect is .

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-29T07:20:55.702Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems like grasping at straws.

Consider how many people you affect when you go to the store to buy breakfast. You practically effect nearly everyone else on the planet by a very small value. I'd argue voting is not more than two or so orders of magnitude above that.

But let us for the sake of argument say it is larger than that, your basic problem is that every other voter affects people by the same value as well. No matter how you turn this you only get a nanoslice of power in steering where the country moves. There are clearly better things to do with your life than spending time thinking about which candidate to vote for or paying the price in gas for the 30 minute drive to the voting booth.

This is assuming to the first approximation politicians only care about the proportions of votes various candidates and parties get and not the number of people voting. Note that for some kinds of referendums this isn't true. But for most elections it seems to hold to the first approximation. Moving beyond that approximation, I bet that higher voter turn out makes the result of the elections seem more legitimate to the populace emboldening the government for decisive action.

If one desires small government the state having little legitimacy sounds like a good idea.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-29T20:21:13.864Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Consider how many people you affect when you go to the store to buy breakfast. You practically effect nearly everyone else on the planet by a very small value.

You're effectively choosing the administration under which people will live until the next election. This is a much larger effect than the marginal change to the economy from you buying breakfast.

I bet that higher voter turn out makes the result of the elections seem more legitimate to the populace emboldening the government for decisive action.

To through your other argument around back at you. What's the marginal effect of one person refusing to vote. Probably less than for one person voting since most people who don't vote do so out of laziness with no deeper philosophical motive behind it. Let's put it this way: a candidate with a majority (or even a plurality in some systems) becomes the office holder, whereas less than 50% turnout doesn't cause a revolution; and even if it did, it would probably not be the revolution you want.

Let's put it this way, the two reasons you've given for not voting are:

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) If enough people don't vote the government will have less legitimacy and this can have positive effects.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection?

If one desires small government the state having little legitimacy sounds like a good idea.

We still want the state to have enough legitimacy to secure property rights and enforce contracts.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-30T16:30:59.179Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's put it this way, the two reasons you've given for not voting are:

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) If enough people don't vote the government will have less legitimacy and this can have positive effects.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection?

I'm another non-voter, largely (or medium-largely) for the reasons Konkvistador gives. But it's not the legitimacy of government that I wish to weaken. Places where government, even bad government, is not taken seriously are not nice places to live. If there's an institution or a cultural value that I wish to see weakened it's the people's romance.

In general I see nothing inconsistent about a democracy where most people voluntarily abstain from voting. A norm of not voting would require low amounts of sectarian conflict and large amounts of social trust, which don't exist in very many democracies. But as goals go I think low levels of sectarianism and high levels of social trust are superior to (and at cross-purposes with) high levels of voting.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-30T08:37:32.566Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We still want the state to have enough legitimacy to secure property rights and enforce contracts.

You are right. I concede it probably isn't instrumentally useful for the goal of a small, strong and stable government capable of enforcing contracts and protecting rights. While the de-legitimized state might have a hard time growing even more and in its incompetence new de facto freedoms would slip out of its fingers, but the freedom is the freedom of anarchy not the liberty of minarchy. The argument I gave degenerates into a basic argument for anarchy and revolution in the hopes for change. Something that has historically almost never worked out well.

Since the logic of these two reasons contradict, would you mind telling me which is your true rejection

Good catch. I don't think people not voting has a large effect, just that people not voting also sends a signal to the system and it doesn't seem obvious that it is much smaller one than the one you send by voting for a party or candidate.

1) You're unlikely to affect the outcome anyway.

2) The tiny expected influence you have on the outcome doesn't go away when you don't vote, because abstaining from voting is also a political act.

I would perhaps add 3) that this political act may have instrumental utility for certain kinds of goals.

But applying 1) and 2) I get a bit of a problem. My value of information argument against spending time on thinking about party politics should then also clearly apply to thinking about voting or non-voting as well, advice I'm obviously not following. My revealed preferences point that some part of me thinks that not voting is very desirable. This can't be argued on consequentalist grounds for the reason you point out. Thinking about it I seem to consider non-voting valuable enough to think and talk about for symbolic reasons, seeing it as a sort of Schelling fence of personal political detachment from one's society. If you live in a society where your values or map of the world radically diverge from the rest of society, such a thing is perhaps good for personal well being, seeing oneself as a subject rather than a citizen helps you deal with the constant pain of things going horribly wrong.

Looking from the outside I'm using non-voting arguments to try and promote alienation from the society and hopefully drift towards my mind space. My inside feeling to the contrary is weaker evidence. Readers should then try to correct for this.

Taking another step up the ladder, perhaps my self-proclaimed divergent values are only a rationalization for my lack of tribal feeling linked to the state. Such a predisposition is hardly unique in the mindspace near LW/OB.

Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked. Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, "The world won't listen." Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes. If you ever meet my children or see my office, you'll know what I mean.

I'm hardly autarchic. I import almost everything I consume from the outside world. Indeed, I frequently leave the security of my Bubble to walk the earth. But I do so as a tourist. Like a truffle pig, I hunt for the best that "my" society has to offer. I partake. Then I go back to my Bubble and tell myself, "America's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there."

My politics and values are quite different from Bryan Caplan's, yet the conclusions seem remarkably similar. Maybe both of us already had our bottom line written out first.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-30T16:36:12.163Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you live in a society where your values or map of the world radically diverge from the rest of society,

Have you considered moving to a better society?

such a thing is perhaps good for personal well being, seeing oneself as a subject rather than a citizen helps you deal with the constant pain of things going horribly wrong.

Isn't it better to try to fix things than wallow in your learned helplessness?

My politics and values are quite different from Bryan Caplan's

How so? Near as I can tell, except for the whole emo/alienation thing you have going your values seem very similar.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-09-29T08:10:59.018Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thus, the expected number of people you'll affect is .

Not voting (especially if you tell others you didn't vote) also affects people. You are going to need to subtract this to get the net effects.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-29T19:52:03.249Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not voting (especially if you tell others you didn't vote) also affects people.

This affect seems like it would be limited to one's immediate acquaintances, also it seems like it would have a smaller affect on them than which administration they live under.

comment by Antisuji · 2012-09-20T19:09:40.985Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't vote for hope or because I expect my actions to cause a change in outcome. I vote primarily because it feels good, but also because I have a policy of cooperating rather than defecting when it doesn't cost too much.

In other words, I vote for the same reasons my internal model of Douglas Hofstadter would vote if it could.

comment by William_Quixote · 2012-09-20T23:39:23.588Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voting as One-boxing

If Omega thinks you are the kind of person who one-boxes, you will find $1,000,000 in the one box. At this point, you could take two boxes and pick up a small additional reward, but if you are really the kind of person who one-boxes, you won’t do that. If you went for the minor utility pickup at the end, you would be a two-boxer and the million dollars wouldn’t’ have been there in the first place.

If parties think you are the kind of person who votes, they will care about your policy preferences. At this point, you could stay home and pick up a small additional reward, but if you are really the kind of person who votes, you won’t do that. If you went for the minor utility pickup at the end, you would be a non-voter and the parties wouldn’t care about your policy preferences in the first place.

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting. (conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-21T15:34:47.648Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting.

This meme just will not seem to die.

No, not all the assumptions made in the thought experiments designed to show TDT cooperating and CDT defecting (and TDT benefiting from the difference) are present in the specific case of a human deciding whether to vote in a national election. The other agents are not behaving remotely like TDT or UDT agents and a TDT agent would defect and benefit from doing so. And then the next election would come around and they would do the same thing.

TDT doesn't mean act like a care bear!

(conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

(Expanding on this out of interest, and assuming a case where there are enough TDTish agents in your population for it to actually be sane to consider cooperating.)

The assumption required is not quite whether you have strong preferences but what the preferences of all the TDTish agents are (or are estimated to be). If there is a group of agents implementing decision theories like TDT who are all willing to cooperate if that's what it takes to make the other people in that group cooperate and it happens that half of them are Greens and half are Blues then they do cooperate by staying home!

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T15:11:58.220Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that if you really buy into the one box arguments presented elsewhere on this site, you should be voting. (conditional on the assumption that you have significant policy preferences; if you don’t care either way, then there is nothing analogous to the million dollars)

Not at all, if Omega is offering me 1$ for one-boxing I see no need to play its game since I can get more utility doing other things. Voting probably doesn't get any particular voter more than a few dollars of expected utility in government action. The delusions associated with voting probably give them far more but again like with the lottery I find that a waste since they can be gained in other ways (some of which do the world some good).

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-21T15:38:00.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not at all, if Omega is offering me 1$ for one-boxing I see no need to play its game since I can get more utility doing other things.

To be fair on Billy_Q this particular exception seems to be accounted for in the parenthetical you included in the quote, at least in the way that he would translate "significant policy preferences" into dollar values.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T17:24:16.415Z · score: -2 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Forgive me if I'm posting in ignorance of some well-worn argument that is common knowledge on this board, but I think your cynicism is misplaced.

Surely you should be considering voting as a massive prisoner's dilemma: when you decide whether or not to vote you aren't just deciding for yourself, you're also deciding for anyone who thinks similarly to you. I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

Of course, that doesn't constitute a conclusive argument, but consider what voting actually costs you. At worst, it's an hour of your time, and since you're probably spending half an hour on a forum on the internet telling people (amongst other things) how you're not going to vote, you can't reasonably say that sacrificing that hour of you life is too big a utility loss.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet. I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system. The problem with non-compulsory voting is it means that only the people who care strongly enough about the elections to get off the internet and drive to a polling booth are the ones who have their voices heard. This means that you lose a lot of moderate, sane, rational voters but keep all of the rabid nutjobs. Argentina have the best system - voting is compulsory once you're over 18, but you can refuse to vote if you formally express this intention to the authorities at least 48 hours before the election. That way, nobody is forced to vote if they don't want to, but it takes the same amount of effort to abstain as it does to vote, so you don't lose moderates to laziness.

Of course, I live in one of the ten countries in the world where compulsory voting is enforced (Australia), so I'm aware that I could be suffering familiarity bias. I came up with the above argument in favour of compulsory voting independently, though, and I've never actually heard anyone else say that compulsory voting was important (or even a good thing). If anyone has an argument against voting, I'd be interested to hear it.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T17:29:31.738Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Surely you should be considering voting as a massive prisoner's dilemma: when you decide whether or not to vote you aren't just deciding for yourself, you're also deciding for anyone who thinks similarly to you. I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

Remember you are likely to overestimate how much other people's decision process is similar to yours. I must have missed the software update when we implemented TDT on voter brains.

Of course, that doesn't constitute a conclusive argument, but consider what voting actually costs you. At worst, it's an hour of your time, and since you're probably spending half an hour on a forum on the internet telling people (amongst other things) how you're not going to vote, you can't reasonably say that sacrificing that hour of you life is too big a utility loss.

I try not to be hypocrite as much as possible. If I say voting is a bad idea, I hope most people who know me will agree this is a good indication that I don't vote either. Also unlike with voting, I actually think I could perhaps change peoples minds, I view it as sanity training. More sane people is a good thing since they have positive externalities.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet.

Please no!

I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system.

Democracies in say Western Europe actually only work as well as they do because of the competent civil service and respect people have for experts, which de facto radically limits how much politicians can do, especially since the process needed for them to fire any of these people is usually not worth the effort if it is possible at all. How would your relationship with your boss change if he couldn't fire you?

Argentina have the best system - voting is compulsory once you're over 18, but you can refuse to vote if you formally express this intention to the authorities at least 48 hours before the election. That way, nobody is forced to vote if they don't want to, but it takes the same amount of effort to abstain as it does to vote, so you don't lose moderates to laziness.

That sounds ok.

If anyone has an argument against voting, I'd be interested to hear it.

  • It is a ritual that contributes to belief. Why do you think Islam has obligatory praying several times a day?
  • It is a waste of time. A small but obvious one. Like buying lottery tickets is a small but obvious waste of money.
  • Large voter participation legitimize government action that in fact has very little to do with the political process.
  • Voting is associated with democracy, democracy is a bad idea ask Aristotle.
  • I don't need to argue with friends and family because I wouldn't vote for their candidate.
comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T17:55:58.921Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I must have missed the software update when we implemented TDT on voter brains.

I think you're having it the other way around -- TDT is partially based on the idea that "when you decide, you aren't deciding just for yourself", it's not the idea which requires TDT...

In this case, you're not voting just for yourself, you're voting for all the people who'd vote the same party as you for roughly the same reasons. And if you don't vote, you're not voting for all the people who likewise don't bother to vote for roughly the same reasons as you...

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-09-20T19:05:18.091Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, you can say that you are voting for a block or deciding to vote for a block, even if those people haven't heard of TDT, as long as TDT doesn't change your decision. But if you use TDT to actually make the decision to vote, you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

For example, say that economists don't vote, but have political consensus ;-)
A lone economist cannot use TDT to vote the block, because the others haven't heard of it and aren't going to vote.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T01:45:17.828Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But if you use TDT to actually make the decision to vote, you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

Fortunately thanks to evolution most people (at least the ones who haven't reasoned themselves out of it) have an intuitive understanding of TDT even if they haven't heard the term.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2012-09-21T03:28:58.283Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it is reasonable to analyze normal people's voting in terms of TDT, at least to some extent. If you were going to vote anyways, you can use TDT to justify it.

But if you explicitly use TDT to decide to vote or to decide to put more effort into choosing your vote, you are not normal and your vote becomes less correlated with the large block of normal people. I was very serious about the economist example. Many economists don't vote for CDT reasons. If an economist uses TDT to reject that line of argument, that doesn't cause other economists to vote. Similarly, most people can't use TDT to decide to invest in more informed vote.

If you were swayed against voting only by arguments found in the same place you found TDT, it is reasonable to let them cancel out and consider your vote entangled with the votes of people who have heard of neither.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T20:01:57.218Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

you are now very different from the people who have not heard of it and you are not controlling their decision.

That's a false binary view of the issue (that you either control something or not control it). Even the word "controlling" is highly misleading. I'm talking about moral responsibility. We are morally responsible for the decision we make, which is indicative of our values and our level of intelligence. We're morally responsible for this decision no matter how many times it's made (for similar reasons) throughout the population.

A thief is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all thefts.
A murderer is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all murders.
And a non-voter is therefore in a sense partially morally responsible for all non-votings.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-21T12:59:49.810Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm inclined to think that everyone affects the Overton window, but some people affect it more than others. People who commit new crimes expand the range of what's thinkable more than people who commit the usual crimes.

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-20T21:26:20.196Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

except none of these things generalize. You're only morally responsible for people in the same situation as yourself. Shooting someone who is about to kill you is not morally equivalent to shooting someone for fun, and someone who shoots in self defense is not morally responsible for all shootings, just for all shootings in self defense.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T21:51:56.949Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're only morally responsible for people in the same situation as yourself. Shooting someone who is about to kill you is not morally equivalent to shooting someone for fun

Agreed. That's why I indicated "made for similar reasons".

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:47:14.557Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This assumes non-voters who use the same decision process as me are common. Also assumes that for those who do use the same decision process our interests and opinions about politics are aligned.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-20T17:41:47.405Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My individual vote is unlikely to make a difference. But it's pretty easy to define relatively small voting blocs (i.e. farmers in Kansas) that would alter the results of elections if their voting behavior radically changed. If I really do have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace, there are things I should do, right? Even if my mechanical hardware imposes limits on how ideal my decisionmaking is.

Of course, none of that applies if one does not have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace.

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-20T17:49:01.054Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is why I was super fascinated by the idea of a bunch of libertarians moving to New Hampshire to become a powerful voting block and institute libertarian policies, but it seems to have died out.

comment by thomblake · 2012-09-20T18:07:41.951Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See the Free State Project.

FWIW, so far about 1,000 of the Free Staters have moved to New Hampshire, and 12 of the Free Staters have been elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:59:38.229Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I really do have preferences in the achievable sections of policyspace, there are things I should do, right?

Of course you should! But you should be rational about it. Try to do things that give you more than a nanoslice of power.

comment by mrglwrf · 2012-09-21T17:10:21.010Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's no Omega, so why not take the nanoslice of power that's readily available, in addition to whatever you can get by trying for more? It appears to me that doing both maximizes the expected payoff in all probable contexts.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-09-21T17:30:12.247Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Opportunity costs, in short. If you're giving up more resource-equivalent time on that nanoslice of power than you expect it to return in dividends, it's not worth your effort -- and depending on how you do the counting, a lot of prominent examples return so little that it doesn't take much time outlay for this to be the case.

In the specific case of voting, though, there are signaling effects to consider that might overwhelm its conventional dividends. Jurisdictions like Australia where voting is mandatory also change the incentive landscape.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-20T19:06:26.057Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are a lot of people. If we divide even vaguely evenly, all I get is a nanoslice.

That's a vast improvement over most of recorded history, when official policy was to avoid giving out any power to the majority of the populace.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:19:39.199Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are a lot of people. If we divide even vaguely evenly, all I get is a nanoslice.

I don't recall mentioning pursuing that goal. I don't think it is a good in itself. For starters I bet you agree children don't need that nanoslice of power. But ok I'll accept this temporarily for the sake of argument.

The thing is if you do this and are a orthodox LessWrong consquentalist you get some strange results.

Should one oppose those greedy activists grabbing more nanoslices of power for themselves? Or those internet addicts who keep creating new political propaganda? Or the NYT editor board which decides thousands of votes with the stroke of a pen? Or that NGO employed advisor who has so much power over which policy ends up adopted in Democratic Backwaterstan?

comment by TimS · 2012-09-21T00:08:39.606Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Putting words in my mouth isn't nice. :)

This is not an argument about how political power should be divided. It's an argument about whether voting can ever be a good idea.

Try to do things that give you more than a nanoslice of power.

I'm trying to see how you get from this to "Voting is never rational in our current system."

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-28T06:39:08.726Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to see how you get from this to "Voting is never rational in our current system."

Because voting is so very low on the list of low investment activities that give you more power.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-28T15:29:00.191Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Non-exclusive ways to become influential in how society is organized.

  • Get rich
  • Become a "pillar of the community" (Active member in some quasi-charity)
  • Special Interest Litigation
  • Become a political activist

These acts can be mutually supporting. But some of them are more available than others to particular people. And the last choice I listed is heavily committed to trying to influence voting behaviors. Groups like the Sierra Club or the National Rifle Association are very powerful - and that power would vanish or massively decrease if all their members committed to not voting.

Voting suffers from substantial tragedy-of-the-commons issues. That doesn't mean it is pointless.


Konkvistador, you are on record as being skeptical of the idea of consent of the governed because you think the concept is too ambiguous to implement. I readily acknowledge that arguments for voting rely on consent of the governed / government responsive to the people being coherent/implementable concepts.

I just wonder whether this discussion is more than disguised disagreement about the underlying concepts. In short, if counterfactual-Konkvistador accepted the idea of consent of the governed, would counter-K still be as hostile as you to the idea of voting?

If not, I respectfully suggest we discuss our actual disagreement rather than talking past each other on this proxy issue.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T15:10:05.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to see how you get from this to "Voting is never rational in our current system."

Because there are so many things that regular people who vote aren't doing that could give them more influence over the outcome of the political process.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T04:11:14.270Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My individual vote is unlikely to make a difference. But it's pretty easy to define relatively small voting blocs (i.e. farmers in Kansas) that would alter the results of elections if their voting behavior radically changed.

Perhaps a given Kansas voter is obstructing a policy or candidate you favor, and you would be pleased if he changed his vote. Wouldn't you be fully half as pleased if he merely abstained from voting? My intuition is that it is far more than twice as difficult to change a vote than to discourage a vote.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T02:59:16.996Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh hey, I drafted a reply to this comment and then accidentally ctrl+w'd the tab before I hit the button. Whoops! Damn, it was a long one too and not I have to retype it...

I try not to be hypocrite as much as possible. If I say voting is a bad idea, I hope most people who know me will agree this is a good indication that I don't vote either. Also unlike with voting, I actually think I could perhaps change peoples minds, I view it as sanity training. More sane people is a good thing since they have positive externalities.

I wasn't trying to convince you to keep arguing against voting but vote in secret, I was presenting an argument that voting was actually a good idea and that you should advocate it. I also wasn't trying to antagonise you or anything like that, just trying to inject a little humour into the debate. Which is not to say that I think I DID antagonise you, but until someone invents a keyboard that can convey the emotional content of a sentence I'm going to err on the side of caution.

I'm not saying that democracy is the best way of doing things, but if some countries ARE democracies then we should at least try to do mitigate the negative effects of the system.

Democracies in say Western Europe actually only work as well as they do because of the competent civil service and respect people have for experts, which de facto radically limits how much politicians can do, especially since the process needed for them to fire any of these people is usually not worth the effort if it is possible at all. How would your relationship with your boss change if he couldn't fire you?

I'm not sure if this was a rebuttal? I mean, no matter why democracies in Western Europe are working well, surely this doesn't change the fact that we should mitigate the negative qualities of a democracy? I actually thought I'd be on firm ground with you here, since you're advocating a change away from democracy and I'm arguing that while we still have democracy we should try to make sure it doesn't cause too much havoc. AFAIK most Western European democracies don't have compulsory voting, if that's what you were getting at. Forgive me if I am missing the point here.

It is a ritual that contributes to belief. Why do you think Islam has obligatory praying several times a day?

I would agree with this point if I thought the effect was significant, but I think that having to vote once a year reduces this effect to complete negligibility.

It is a waste of time. A small but obvious one. Like buying lottery tickets is a small but obvious waste of money.

Sure, but that only matters if you weren't going to waste the time anyway. I mean, if you were going to lose that money down the back of the couch anyway you might as well blow it on lottery tickets. I'm not saying it's a good idea to waste resources, definitely not, but even the most organised, motivated person has one hour free a year in which they could vote without sacrificing some other important activity. If you genuinely do not have an hour free then you're the sort of person I want voting, and I respectfully request that you delegate an hour's worth of work to me so that you can go vote. EDIT: And of course I don't actually agree that it's a complete waste of time - I think it produces marginal benefit or I'd be agreeing with you.

Large voter participation legitimize government action that in fact has very little to do with the political process.

I'm not sure which government action you're talking about here, but government action doesn't need legitimising, it's legitimised in almost everyone's eyes. Conversely, not voting in a system where it isn't compulsory to vote doesn't delegitimise the government. If anything, you should want voting to be compulsory so you can flout the rules to draw attention to the fact that democracy is a bad way of doing things. I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but non-compulsory voting isn't actually a step away from democracy, it's just a step into a different type of democracy. Swapping to non-compulsory voting doesn't make it any more likely that a country will abandon democracy altogether.

I don't need to argue with friends and family because I wouldn't vote for their candidate.

I think this was probably a bit facetious, since it's relatively small-scale compared to your other arguments, but on the chance it wasn't... Arguing with your friends and family about political allegiances is actually a big point in favour of compulsory voting if you ask me - it forces people to think about politics. If my brother has always voted to support Americans Against Contraception (or whatever), then of his friends who vote, most of them probably share his political views. But if everyone has to vote, he'll start meeting people who vote the other way. The more arguments he starts with sane people, the more likely they are to convert him.

comment by Swimmy · 2012-09-20T17:53:48.543Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying that your individual vote is going to make any noticeable difference, but the votes of every jaded rationalist in America on the other hand...

By voting, you will not make (or probably even encourage) every jaded rationalist in America to vote, so from a decision theoretical standpoint that observation is irrelevant. The instrumental value of voting is zero. There may be other values (signaling, pleasure, moral), but there is no instrumental value. You will not influence the election, so the expected value of any policy changes arising from just your vote is zero. Once you think of it strictly in terms of decision theory, the relevant variables should present themselves.

For those of us who don't care that much about signaling interest in government and don't think there's any particular moral duty to vote (I think there is frequently a moral duty to abstain), wasting an hour on an internet forum is a much better use of our time.

If I had my way, voting would be compulsory in every democracy on the planet.

I know it's normal in some countries, but I think this is an AWFUL policy. Why? Consider it in economic terms of negative and positive externalities. Say I'm a good voter who knows a thing or two about policy. When I vote, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of good voters vote, policy outcomes become better.

Now turn it around. When a bad voter votes, it very (very very very) marginally affects policy outcomes. When a bunch of bad voters vote, policy outcomes become worse.

This is wonderfully analogous to pollution. By leaving a fan on all day, you only very marginally contribute to global warming. So, even if you're interested in stopping global warming for selfish reasons, there's nothing you can personally do to hinder it, so why bother? But there's no personal incentive for anybody to bother, so global warming happens. Meanwhile, global warming affects more people than just you, and bad voting does the same. When you indulge your idiotic ideas of good policy, it doesn't have any effect on the election, so it doesn't have any effect on you. But since everybody's doing it, policy gets dumb.

So the question becomes, when comparing voluntary and mandatory voting, which types of voters are more likely to abstain in a voluntary system?

I don't see the need to hunt for the stats right now, but if you don't believe me, I'll happily scan some relevant sections from Scott Althaus' Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics and Carpini and Keeter's What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matter. The basic story is this: In America, people who are educated are way more likely to vote than those who aren't, and uneducated people have demonstrably and outrageously boneheaded beliefs about policy. Forcing them to vote is like mandating bad policy.

(Hence what I said earlier about a moral duty to abstain. Like there might be a moral duty to reduce your carbon consumption, even though it will have no effect on the environment, there might be a moral duty to abstain from voting if you're an ignoramus.)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:27:13.717Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By voting, you will not make (or probably even encourage) every jaded rationalist in America to vote, so from a decision theoretical standpoint that observation is irrelevant.

That's not quite what I meant. If people think similarly to you, then they will most likely make similar decisions as you. Now that I've suggested this to you, you think similarly to all the people out there who realised this themselves or had someone point it out to them. So when you decide whether or not to vote, you should do so in the knowledge that there are a bunch of people out there who will probably end up making the same decision as you purely because they think similarly to you. You're not just deciding for yourself, you're deciding for everyone who thinks like you.

EDIT: Also, I disagree with you about the negative effects of compulsory voting. There are definitely some, but I think the negative effects of NON-compulsory voting are potentially worse. See my comment to Drethelin below.

comment by ErikM · 2012-09-20T17:42:12.269Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with non-compulsory voting is it means that only the people who care strongly enough about the elections to get off the internet and drive to a polling booth are the ones who have their voices heard. This means that you lose a lot of moderate, sane, rational voters but keep all of the rabid nutjobs.

OTOH, you lose a lot of ignorant, clueless, or just lazy voters who have no basis for forming an opinion, and the ones who have the voices heard are the ones who cared enough to study the issues, even if their study was one-sided.

Push the problem a step back, and my thought here is compulsory political study rather than compulsory voting.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:12:06.625Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See my comment re: the Tea Party to Drethelin below - I think extremism is a far stronger motivator to vote than intelligence. Note that Konkvistador doesn't appear to be voting, and for him to be on this board in the first place is a strong endorsement of his intelligence. I definitely agree about compulsory political study though. Also compulsory epistemology, ethics and statistics, etc.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-20T17:34:32.701Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem with democracy is rational ignorance and the problem of collective action - the famous example is the sugar subsidy in the United States. Using toy numbers, one might suggest that the average American pays $1 more per year for sugar because of those policies. By simple multiplication, that means the policy is worth ~ $300M to the sugar industry.

Why do situations like this persist?

1) I'd spend more organizing the group to end these policies than I'd ever save on sugar (the problem of collective action)

2) Even taking the time to learn about the problem is a waste for the average individual (rational ignorance).

Forcing people to vote doesn't solve these problems, it just forces people to make a decision when they would admit they don't have enough information to make the decision that truly reflects their preferences.

Never voting is probably the wrong answer because being predictably irrelevant to a decision is not the way to influence the decision in one's favor. But decision-making when decision-makers lack the resources to effectively consider the issues is not a very tractable problem. Consider the example of the local politicians who change their names (a) to famous names, or (b) to appear earlier on the list of names on the ballot.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-20T22:15:06.411Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Forcing people to vote doesn't solve these problems, it just forces people to make a decision when they would admit they don't have enough information to make the decision that truly reflects their preferences.

Placing constitutional limitations on the power of government might be a better solution. "No subsidies for anyone" seems more stable than arguing over each specific subsidy.

comment by asr · 2012-09-20T22:33:05.600Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"No subsidies for anyone" seems more stable than arguing over each specific subsidy.

It's more stable, but hard to define, let alone implement. All government spending benefits somebody -- and usually there are un-obvious beneficiaries. For example, road construction helps the construction business and also those who use the roads and those who own property near the road. So you can't really put "no subsidies" in the Constitution in a way that's judicially or politically enforceable, at least if you want to maintain any of the sort of government services that society assumes will be there.

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-20T17:32:50.840Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57347634/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/

The vast majority of humans are wrong about many, MANY fundamental things. The fewer of them controlling outcomes the better. Compulsory voting only makes sense if you think the number of smart informed people who don't vote out of laziness outnumbers the number of idiots who don't vote out of laziness.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:08:34.698Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the majority of people who don't vote out of laziness are neither extremely smart nor extremely stupid, neither extremely right-wing nor extremely leftist, neither extremely gay nor extremely straight, etc. That's the point, they're not extremists.

I know that the lazy moderates aren't the sharpest tools in the shed, but I also know that once they're out of the picture there's much less ballast to keep the radical lunatics in line. To use a specific example: I think that the Tea Party does a better job of convincing their lazy supporters to vote than either of the major parties do, and if we accept that logic then the inescapable conclusion is that the Tea Party's influence is being inflated by America's non-compulsory voting system.

It's not just the dullards who aren't voting, either. I think you would be shocked at how smart and well informed you have to be before you actually decide you care enough to vote. Just look at Konkvistador - surely LWians and their ilk are the people we want MOST to vote?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:31:03.834Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To use a specific example: I think that the Tea Party does a better job of convincing their lazy supporters to vote than either of the major parties do, and if we accept that logic then the inescapable conclusion is that the Tea Party's influence is being inflated by America's non-compulsory voting system.

You do know tea party activists are actually above average on nearly any stat you'd care to name? Education, political knowledge, ...

Just look at Konkvistador - surely LWians and their ilk are the people we want MOST to vote?

Well sure! Any plan on a revolution to make sure only we vote? Because otherwise a very eloquent Church pastor or Harvard professor can single-handedly bring more voting power to bear than we.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T01:49:39.119Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You do know tea party activists are actually above average on nearly any stat you'd care to name? Education, political knowledge, ...

It's weird, I had considered using that same fact as an argument for MY side of this debate, but I cut it for the sake of brevity. To be clear, are you suggesting that the Tea Party is a good influence on American (or world) politics? Sure, they're smarter than the average American, but clearly being slightly smarter doesn't translate to a similar increase in sanity. Glenn Beck himself is definitely smarter than most Americans, but he's never let that get in the way of being a frothing lunatic. I could mention a whole swathe of examples of how despite being smarter, the Tea Party is also far more radical and morally objectionable than Americans on average, but I'll just link some articles because I have class in half an hour and want keep this quick.
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/political-bookworm/2010/05/10_fictious_tea_party_beliefs.html http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1903/tea-party-movement-religion-social-issues-conservative-christian

The reason we want to raise average voter IQ is because we think this will make the voters saner on average, but in the case of the Tea Party this clearly hasn't happened. This is exactly why I brought them up - these people haven't been motivated to vote by an appeal to their intelligence, or there'd be a hell of a lot more of them and their policies would be different. Rather, they've been motivated by an appeal to their fear and anger and radicalism. You can't get lazy moderates to the voting booths by whipping them up into misguided fury, but you CAN get lazy radicals like that, so by making voting non-compulsory you hand people like Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin, etc, a much greater proportion of the votes than they deserve. You don't have to be smart to realise the Tea Party is wrong, just sane. Conversely, you don't have to be dumb to be insane.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T02:04:35.497Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's weird, I had considered using that same fact as an argument for MY side of this debate, but I cut it for the sake of brevity. To be clear, are you suggesting that the Tea Party is a good influence on American (or world) politics?

I can't speak for Konkvistador but I certainly do.

Glenn Beck himself is definitely smarter than most Americans, but he's never let that get in the way of being a frothing lunatic.

What you mean is that you disagree with him on a lot of issues, for each one consider the possibility that it is you who is being a lunatic.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/political-bookworm/2010/05/10_fictious_tea_party_beliefs.html

Wow, 6 of the 10 "fictitious" beliefs appear to actually be true (Edit: I suspect you disagree but debating them here might run even for afoul of the taboo against politics, or not whatever). As for the other 4 I don't have enough information to assign probabilities either way.

comment by EHeller · 2012-09-21T04:05:33.512Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which 6? I know very little about any of these issues, but my priors on how politics work in general (mostly successful-politicians-are-never-too-radical and they-always-maintain-status-quo) make it difficult to score any 6 of these as being probable.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T05:05:04.528Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Which 6?

2 through 7, although now that I read it again 10 is at least partially true, i.e., the Tea Party is in fact a genuine grass roots movement.

I know very little about any of these issues, but my priors on how politics work in general (mostly successful-politicians-are-never-too-radical and they-always-maintain-status-quo)

And yet the political status quo today is different from what it was 50 years ago and very different from what it was 100 years ago.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T06:24:26.991Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would be interested to see your supporting evidence for 2, 4 and 6. Don't feel that you have to argue them, I won't argue against them, but if you could link me to some sources or something in the spirit of educating me I would be appreciative.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T13:53:17.900Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Someone voted this down? I was expecting to take a pretty big karma hit for expressing explicit political opinions on here, but this post didn't even offer anything that could be disagreed with, let alone fallacious reasoning. I was honestly and humbly asking for more information. I've lost 23 karma points today. 22 of those losses I wouldn't have minded, but this one is just nonsense. Did somebody just go through and downvote everything I've ever said or something?

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-21T15:23:58.984Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did somebody just go through and downvote everything I've ever said or something?

You may have a stalker. As far as I can tell, there are a small number of people using the voting system against persons they dislike rather than against low-quality comment content.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2012-09-21T15:43:09.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

against persons they dislike rather than against low-quality comment content

These are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, they can go together, the latter forming the basis for one possible sense of the former.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2012-09-21T15:13:01.893Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Notice that Eugine_Nier's comments have also been voted down en masse. My guess is that at least one person thought that the whole discussion was too close to partisan politics for LessWrong and downvoted all the comments in the thread.

I think that a good policy would be to move this kind of discussions to the monthly Politics thread. (By which I mean not only that Stuart's original post should have been on there, as someone else said, but also that when a discussion like this one about the Tea Party emerges organically in a non-politics post, a moderator should move the whole subthread to the Politics thread).

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T19:06:39.093Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haha, and now the evidence request comment has been voted back up to zero but the one asking why the original was downvoted has been downvoted. Prediction: this post will also be downvoted.

Ah well, whether or not someone out there dislikes my contributions to it, this thread has been worthwhile because it has provided me with important data-points. The most important data-points are always the ones that surprise you. Data-point: some members of Less Wrong are Glenn Beck fans.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-21T19:35:46.707Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly I'm getting tired of people gasping in a horror at the idea that in a readership of hundreds, a single person downvoted them. I also get downvoted. I don't always feel those downvotes are deserved. Sometimes those comments get upvoted back to zero or beyond, sometimes not. I don't keep complaining about every single downvote that I feel is undeserved, wasting time and space.

I've not downvoted you, but speaking generally I'm very likely to downvote people complaining about downvotes.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-22T12:18:20.475Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your annoyance has been noted. Keep in mind, though, that I had asked a question in an attempt to see things from Eugine_Nier's point of view, and that at the time I made the complaining post I hadn't gotten an answer yet, but had been down-voted for my trouble. It's poor practice for the community to punish people who make an effort to examine the evidence against their strongly-held opinions, and it's in my best interests to rail against community behaviour that gets in the way of my own learning. I certainly don't make a habit of whingeing about every loss of karma that seems unjustified to me - if I thought the loss of karma was deserved then I wouldn't have made the post in the first place - but I reserve the right to kick up a stink if I think people's down-votes are obstructing rational process. And, of course, I'm willing to cop any further karma loss that I take as a result as having been sacrificed for a worthy cause. So, go ahead down-voting complainers if that's what makes you happy, but I'd respectfully like to tender the suggestion that occasionally complaining is the right thing to do.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-22T03:11:46.425Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

2) Death panels

Well obviously this depends on what one means by "death panels", this article for example provides a decent argument.

4) Obama is going to take away our guns.

This one is hard to score since I suspect he'd be pushing this much harder if the Tea Party didn't exist.

6) Fascism is a left-wing phenomenon.

You can start with this article by Eric Raymond, also read the comments.

Edit: Note this statement will depend on what one means by "left-wing". I interpret the statement to mean "the most natural cluster in thing-space that includes movements generally called 'left-wing' also includes fascism."

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-24T10:58:39.057Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit: Note this statement will depend on what one means by "left-wing". I interpret the statement to mean "the most natural cluster in thing-space that includes movements generally called 'left-wing' also includes fascism."

The thing is that AFAIK fascism never described itself as left-wing. It sometimes describes itself as a third position, a mixture/improvement of both left-wing and right-wing ideas, but whenever it actually chose between the two it preferred to describe itself as right-wing.

It tends to be treated as "left-wing" only by those people who define left/right only by the criterion of statism -- a treatment which really isn't the historical usage...

comment by TimS · 2012-09-24T17:20:11.156Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It tends to be treated as "left-wing" only by those people who define left/right only by the criterion of statism -- a treatment which really isn't the historical usage

That part in bold should be nominated for understatement of the year.

comment by gwern · 2012-09-24T16:06:26.398Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm actually reading Sowell's Intellectuals and Society right now, playing the game 'record all instances where he criticizes conservatives or libertarians' - so far 0.

Last night, I thought I could at least chalk up his criticism of Naziism & Italian fascism as instances 1 & 2, except he immediately launched into the standard argument that 'no, actually those are socialisms don't you see'. Oy vey.

(It's really not a good book so far.)

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-24T16:53:13.321Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sowell is one of the best intellectuals in American conservatism right now, but that's also clearly where he makes his home, which is disappointing from a LW perspective. The two books by him that I like best are Knowledge and Decisions and A Conflict of Visions. The first is, if I remember correctly, an updated explanation of Hayek's insights, although the second ~60% of the book is spent on 'historical trends' and is probably about as biased as you would expect. The second is explicitly about politics, but its first chapter is tremendously insightful. (The latter sections of that book are basically more detailed repetition, and again I would expect the examples to be solidly conservative-leaning.)

comment by gwern · 2012-09-29T23:48:51.919Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wrote a short review explaining what I disliked enough that I didn't bother finishing: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/417975794

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-25T01:58:44.416Z · score: -6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The thing is that AFAIK fascism never described itself as left-wing.

National Socialism.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-25T09:36:59.285Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You've definitively solved the issue of the political orientation of Nazism by merely noting the word "Socialism" in its title, just like a stereotypical American conservative does, without even the need to know anything about Otto and Gregor Strasser or how the left wing faction of the Nazi party was defeated, expunged and purged.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-25T12:50:23.787Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was responding to the claim I quoted. If you're going to intentionally misinterpret anything I write, I don't see what the point of continuing this discussion.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-25T12:55:11.952Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The claim you quoted said "left-wing", it didn't say "Socialist".

And the parts that you didn't quote mentioned that fascism did sometimes describe as a mixture of both left-wing and right-wing ideas, just like "National Socialism" included the word "National" to appeal to right-wing nationalists, and "Socialism" to appeal to left-wingers.

If you want to make a rebuttal to my actual claim, find a place where Nazism or Fascism describes itself as "left-wing" -- just left-wing, not "a response to both left and right" or "a synthesis of both left and right", or indeed "National Socialist".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-27T00:01:33.056Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nationalism is not limited to the right. Depending the time and place nationalism can be either right or left wing.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-22T12:05:47.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks! :)

comment by EHeller · 2012-09-21T06:01:30.593Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess I don't see how to properly interpret 3. Is it that Obama is a muslim AND a socialist AND a facist (which is how I took it). The first is very unlikely to be true given Obama's record of attending Jeremiah Wright's service.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-21T07:00:00.907Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless Wright is also a muslim, I suppose.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T06:27:47.583Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was interpreting the slashes as ORs.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T05:15:17.062Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can see three or four that are vaguely disputable:

  • Obama did lower taxes for 95% of working Americans, but perhaps he raised the total amount of tax revenue the the government takes in? Maybe the Tea Party were never claiming that he would raise taxes overall, but were instead claiming that the areas in which he would raise taxes would cause a lot of harm? I can see someone defending either of these theses.

  • Perhaps Eugine_Nier actually does believe that global warming is a hoax.

  • He almost certainly does think that the Tea Party is a grass-roots movement. I can mount an argument against this but at the end of the day it depends what your criterion for "grass-roots" is. I think this one was the weakest one on the list and I wouldn't have put it there if I was the author.

I guess maybe you could add the one about the Washington march - although the number of people who attended is a matter of fact, not opinion, perhaps the argument could be mounted that the 70000 figure excludes people who should count towards the tally, or was taken during a lull in proceedings. The rest, though? If there are Birthers on Less Wrong then... Well, that would be a disappointing discovery. We're supposed to be good at weighing up evidence.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T06:00:59.543Z · score: -7 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there are Birthers on Less Wrong then... Well, that would be a disappointing discovery.

Frankly, the whole Birther thing reminds of how, back in the day, debates about whether a prince was actually the king's son served as proxies for debates about whether the prince would make a good king. I think this explains why both sides seem to be much more sure of their position than the evidence warrants. (Although most of the "birthers" whose blogs I read don't claim to know for sure that Obama wasn't born in the US)

As for the matter of fact, I don't know where Obama was born However, it is interesting that until he went into politics, Obama himself claimed to be born in Kenya.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-21T07:21:44.775Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As for the matter of fact, I don't know where Obama was born.

You may have just disqualified yourself for a Bayesian...

However, it is interesting that until he went into politics, Obama himself claimed to be born in Kenya.

The link you gave doesn't say "Obama himself claimed to be born in Kenya", it says that Obama's literary agent said Obama was born in Kenya. In fact the very link you gave even offers a further link from an earlier 1990 interview that says clearly "He was born in Hawaii"

So, I'm downvoting this, as even a cursory examination of the links you gave indicate your statement to be inaccurate and misleading.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T06:15:58.425Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Frankly, the whole Birther thing reminds of how, back in the day, debates about whether a prince was actually the king's son served as proxies for debates about whether the prince would make a good king.

You are being unreasonably generous to Birthers. If they wanted to discuss Obama's qualifications and abilities then they would be discussing them explicitly. A crown prince has the lawful right to take the throne when the reigning monarch died - one of the few ways to get rid of a bad prince was to have him declared illegitimate. If Obama is a bad president then he can be voted out, no need to invent spurious reasons for his disqualification. Birthers are manufacturing doubt about Obama's birthplace and then demanding balanced coverage of both sides of the story. That's also what you're doing in the last paragraph of your post: "I don't know the truth, but I find it interesting that..." You have all the evidence you need to come to an informed opinion. Balanced coverage would be reporting the fact that he was born in Hawaii and has the birth certificate to prove it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T06:32:59.403Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's also what you're doing in the last paragraph of your post: "I don't know the truth, but I find it interesting that..."

This strikes me as an excuse to avoid looking at the evidence being presented.

Balanced coverage would be reporting the fact that he was born in Hawaii and has the birth certificate to prove it.

Birthers were claiming that the certificate was fake. That was at about the point I stopped paying attention.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T06:48:54.376Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This strikes me as an excuse to avoid looking at the evidence being presented.

No, the evidence is the birth certificate. I've looked at it. Saying "I don't know, but I find it interesting..." is offering innuendo in the place of evidence, since you seem to believe the birth certificate is real, which means the "born in Kenya" claim has to be incorrect.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T03:42:07.663Z · score: -5 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Glenn Beck himself is definitely smarter than most Americans, but he's never let that get in the way of being a frothing lunatic.

What you mean is that you disagree with him on a lot of issues, for each one consider the possibility that it is you who is being a lunatic.

Let me be very clear, I'm not calling Beck a lunatic solely on grounds of his policy. His policy is radical and I disagree with it, but that isn't my main piece of evidence, it's the cherry on the top. This is my main evidence:

This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture....I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

–on President Obama, July 28, 2009

I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. Is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus -- band -- Do, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, 'Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore,' and then I'd see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I'd realize, 'Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death.' And you know, well, I'm not sure.

–responding to the question "What would people do for $50 million?", "The Glenn Beck Program," May 17, 2005

Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization...And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did. That's what Al Gore, the U.N., and everybody on the global warming bandwagon [are doing].

–"The Glenn Beck Program," May 1, 2007

So here you have Barack Obama going in and spending the money on embryonic stem cell research. ... Eugenics. In case you don't know what Eugenics led us to: the Final Solution. A master race! A perfect person. ... The stuff that we are facing is absolutely frightening.

–"The Glenn Beck Program," March 9, 2009

I don’t think we came from monkeys. I think that’s ridiculous. I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet.

– May 18, 2010

They [Democrats in Congress] believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you.

– June 9, 2010

The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be 'What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?''

—Jan. 2009

I can't be bothered writing up a summary of his conspiracy theories, but it's worth googling his Caliphate theory. That is, google it if you don't believe his other theory about how Google is part of a separate but equally evil conspiracy.

Wait, did I just get punk'd? Was this a serious reply that I responded to? I'm genuinely wondering, I'm not trying to make fun of you. Poe's Law and all that.

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-21T05:10:29.835Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quotes on a tv show that achieves ratings based on sensationalism aren't great evidence for the sanity of the main character.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T05:25:04.368Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Forgive me, I should have been more careful with the wording of my thesis.

Either Glenn Beck is actually unbalanced, or he is doing a fairly good job of pretending to be mad for ratings, in which case the character he plays is a crazy person. Either way, the "Glenn Beck" persona is still a beacon of the Tea Party and I think that is good evidence that the Tea Party is irrational.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T04:59:23.042Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

His policy is radical and I disagree with it,

What's wrong with being "radical"?

I agree that Beck has a tendency to use let's say "evocative rhetoric" that would certainly not pass muster on LW.

This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture....I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist.

What exactly is so "lunatic" about this quote? Yes, the reasoning isn't up to LW standards, but that's true of nearly all reasoning outside LW.

I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. ... No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. Is this wrong? I stopped wearing my What Would Jesus -- band -- Do, and I've lost all sense of right and wrong now. I used to be able to say, 'Yeah, I'd kill Michael Moore,' and then I'd see the little band: What Would Jesus Do? And then I'd realize, 'Oh, you wouldn't kill Michael Moore. Or at least you wouldn't choke him to death.' And you know, well, I'm not sure.

He is by no means the only public personality to fantasize about killing a prominent member of the opposing political faction.

I don’t think we came from monkeys. I think that’s ridiculous. I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet.

I disagree with him, but you may want to read this before deciding that this is obviously "lunatic".

I can't be bothered writing up a summary of his conspiracy theories, but it's worth googling his Caliphate theory.

Near as I can tell, this theory stripped of the flowery language boils down to the prediction that the Muslim spring uprising will result in theocratic Islamic governments that will attempt to impose Islamic theocracy on the rest of the world to the best of their abilities. Well, in light of recent events this prediction is looking increasingly probable.

Wait, did I just get punk'd? Was this a serious reply that I responded to? I'm genuinely wondering, I'm not trying to make fun of you. Poe's Law and all that.

Let me guess, this is the first time you've been in a discussion with someone whose political views are vastly different from your own.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T05:59:54.037Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's wrong with being "radical"?

Nothing's wrong with being radical. I'm radical myself on many issues. But his policy is radical and I do disagree with it, so it appears to me to be radically wrong. I am making the case that readers should agree with me on this point.

What exactly is so "lunatic" about this quote? Yes, the reasoning isn't up to LW standards, but that's true of nearly all reasoning outside LW.

I think the suggestion that the President has a deep-seated hatred for white people is ludicrous. If you have any serious evidence that Obama is concealing a burning emnity towards people of European descent then I am willing to weigh it against the evidence I have already seen to the contrary, but at the moment it seems so unlikely to be true that I struggle to imagine how a person could seriously believe it without suffering from some severe cognitive handicap. Thus: it seems like the sort of thing only a lunatic could believe.

He is by no means the only public personality to fantasize about killing a prominent member of the opposing political faction.

Sure, I'm certain plenty of people fantasize about killing their political opponents, but how many of them actually suggest on television that they would like to do so? I've seen Chuck Norris do it, I've seen Glenn Beck do it. I'm sure there are others, but again, I think that telling the nation about how you would enjoy staring into a man's eyes as you choked the life out of him is not the sort of thing a sane, rational person would do with sincerely.

I disagree with him, but you may want to read this before deciding that this is obviously "lunatic".

I agree that not believing in evolution doesn't make him insane, just radically incorrect. Perhaps that particular quote was poor evidence for the "lunatic" thesis.

His Caliphate theory predicts that hardcore socialists and communists will work together with Muslims to overthrow Israel, capitalism, The West, and any other stable countries. He posits a conspiracy.

Let me guess, this is the first time you've been in a discussion with someone whose political views are vastly different from your own.

No, I often engage in political debate. I enjoy it! I am an active member of a minority political party, I attend a University full of intelligent people with varied opinions, I have a wide circle of friends from a range of backgrounds, many of whom disagree with me quite strongly. I have had this exact conversation dozens of times. The fact that you consider it a possibility that I have never encountered someone who disagreed with me is bizarre to me. My assumption was that you are in the same position. I asked if you were joking because I was surprised to find a Glenn Beck apologist in one of the most rational forums on the internet, and I didn't want to look silly if it turned out you were being sarcastic.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T06:21:41.729Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've seen Chuck Norris do it, I've seen Glenn Beck do it. I'm sure there are others

All the celebrities fantasizing about killing Bush.

His Caliphate theory predicts that hardcore socialists and communists will work together with Muslims to overthrow Israel, capitalism, The West, and any other stable countries.

Well, to a large extent hardcore socialists and communists are working together with Islamists.

I asked if you were joking because I was surprised to find a Glenn Beck apologist in one of the most rational forums on the internet

The fact that you were surprised to find a Tea Party supporter here is precisely why I wondered whether you've had any previous experience with people who aren't on the left.

My assumption was that you are in the same position.

Given how dominant the left is at universities this a much less likely statement.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T06:40:30.332Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All the celebrities fantasizing about killing Bush.

I count a professed desire to assassinate Bush as a mark against the sanity of whoever professed it, too. More people doing it doesn't make it saner.

The fact that you were surprised to find a Tea Party supporter here is precisely why I wondered whether you've had any previous experience with people who aren't on the left.

It is my experience with people who aren't on the left that made me surprised. I don't know if you're aware of this, but you will struggle to find people outside the US (from either side of politics) who don't think that the Tea Party are wingnuts. That said, by the wonders of the internet I have spoken to a number of Tea Party supporters, as well as reading the work of Tea Party leaders. My experiences did not dispose me to expect to find a Tea Party supporter here.

My assumption was that you are in the same position.

Given how dominant the left is at universities this a much less likely statement.

What I meant was "I assumed you had had plenty of discussions with people who disagreed with you politically, too." I'm not implying that I've changed that assumption, either, just that I was surprised you didn't reciprocate it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-22T02:44:40.648Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if you're aware of this, but you will struggle to find people outside the US (from either side of politics) who don't think that the Tea Party are wingnuts.

I'm perfectly aware of this, that's why I considered you never having encountered a Tea Party supporter before a reasonable possibility.

comment by drethelin · 2012-09-20T18:38:11.052Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't understand why you think dumb people with no interest in politics will keep things more moderate rather than voting for whichever extremist aligns with their poorly thought out notions. Again, it doesn't matter if smart people are the people we want most to vote if increased voting causes them to be more outnumbered by the people we want LEAST to vote. It's also not just smart people I care about, it's smart people who share my views. If the base rate for people to be similar to me is 1 in a thousand, and 200 out of a thousand are people I hate, and the rest are neutral, then increased percentage of people voting causes WAY more people to vote for things I hate than it does people to vote for things I like. Even if out of that 200 you claim 150 of them already vote so that doesn't matter, I still think the remainder of lazy people with opinions I hate still hugely outnumber those of people whose opinions I like.

comment by HistoricalLing · 2012-09-20T22:06:14.250Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's also not just smart people I care about, it's smart people who share my views.

What's wrong with stupid people who share your views? In a binary election, they could easily form more than half the electorate.

I'm honestly undecided this time around. My gut tells me the increased entertainment value of candidate A over candidate B outweighs their minor policy differences...

comment by Randaly · 2012-09-20T17:29:13.436Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is that essentially nobody thinks similar to you. In particular, there are only a few hundred LWers, who are geographically scattered, not politically unified, and who don't all even think similarly enough to agree that one should vote for the reasons you've given.

Compulsory voting has a downside, insofar as it requires poorly motivated voters, who will also know less, to vote.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:17:21.758Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that that is a downside of compulsory voting, but at the moment my strong suspicion is that it's offset by the dilution of the crazies - see my reply to Drethelin above re: the Tea Party.

Note also that LWers are not necessarily the demographic that I associate most strongly with, and in fact that I don't associate with any rigidly defined demographic at all. There are definitely people out there who think like me, though, and if we vote as a bloc then we have more power than just me alone. This is why people underestimate their own voting power, and this is why people who care at all about not being lead by lunatics should vote.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T03:58:18.491Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

One doesn't have to oppose democracy to advise folks not to vote. Jason Brennan makes a lot of pro-democracy, pro-civic engagement arguments along these lines. Here's the abstract to his paper "Polluting the polls"

Just because one has the right to vote does not mean just any vote is right. Citizens should not vote badly. This duty to avoid voting badly is grounded in a general duty not to engage in collectively harmful activities when the personal cost of restraint is low. Good governance is a public good. Bad governance is a public bad. We should not be contributing to public bads when the benefit to ourselves is low. Many democratic theorists agree that we shouldn’t vote badly, but that’s because they think we should vote well. This demands too much of citizens.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T17:54:06.735Z · score: -5 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

That right is worth the 20 min I need to spend to go vote, even without any consideration of the consequences of voting collectively.

comment by thomblake · 2012-09-20T18:03:12.989Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my country, we have the right to complain about anything we want, regardless of voting.

comment by Emile · 2012-09-20T18:04:54.626Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my country, you're eyed with suspicion if you don't complain.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T18:16:05.960Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm talking about the moral right, not the legal right. If you don't believe in the concept of moral rights, that's okay, but it was what I was referring to.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:02:40.161Z · score: 8 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

That right is worth the 20 min I need to spend to go vote, even without any consideration of the consequences of voting collectively.

How remarkable, a 20 minute ritual can confer on me new moral rights, I feel like being a Catholic all over again! But let us now discuss how many angels can dance on that particular pin.

Do people who aren't allowed to vote allowed to complain? Like children, teenagers and convicts? Also illegal immigrants and foreigners who live legally in the country but don't have citizenship?

Do I still get to complain about judicial decisions that aren't influenced by votes? Do I get to complain about old laws? Do I have the moral right to complain if I'm wronged, say my human rights violated?

If the personal is the political as some claim, have I lost all right to moral judgement because I'm a non-voter? Us non-voters if you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?

Also I should remind you that unfortunately (since I want to get rid of all politics), deciding not to vote is a political act as well. By not voting I show I do not think this whole democracy thing is a legitimate regime, I will obey its laws for I am small and the state is big. I am the regime's subject of this there is no doubt, but I have no wish, and there is of yet no law, to force me to play in the mummer's farce of citizenship.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:22:07.984Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am genuinely interested to know what your preferred alternative to politics is. Don't get me wrong, I have a couple of preferred alternatives myself. I want to see how closely our alternatives match.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:28:01.038Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Futarchy for starters. Neocameralism proposed by Mencius Moldbug might work better but is risky. City state oligarchies. Anarchy-Capitalism if you can get it. A Republic with limited franchise if you can keep it. A properly set up monarchy. Even democratic technocracy, where democratic element would have about as much role in governance as the Monarchy part does in the Constitutional Monarchy of the United Kingdom. Arguably we are nearly there anyway.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T18:32:53.563Z · score: 3 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Futarchy for starters

Which surprisingly does not mean "the rule by women with male genitalia".

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-09-20T22:12:38.023Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nor rule by fútbol.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T18:19:59.345Z · score: 0 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How remarkable, a 20 minute ritual can confer on me new moral rights,

You find such a thing strange? When I buy a coffee, the ritual of giving the coffee-shop owner a coin of specific worth confers on me the moral right to drink the coffee I just bought.

Do people who aren't allowed to vote allowed to complain?

Yes.

Do I still get to complain about judicial decisions that aren't influenced by votes?

Yes.

Do I get to complain about laws?

Only if you choose to vote against the laws you complain about, when given said chance.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:07:35.898Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You find such a thing strange? When I buy a coffee, the ritual of giving the coffee-shop owner a coin of specific worth confers on me the moral right to drink the coffee I just bought.

I don't recall buying a cup of democracy. I don't recall agreeing to this system of government at all, and darn it I can't seem to find a party that wants to abolish it either.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T19:37:35.867Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't recall buying a cup of democracy.

The thing I was suggesting you were buying with your vote was the "moral right to complain", not democracy. Democracy in this case is the established coffee-shop. You pay with your vote (or other attempts to influence the political outcome), you get the moral right to complain about the collective idiocy of others.

"I don't recall agreeing to this system of government at all"

I don't think that any of your preferred forms of government require many people's "agreement". And most of those would probably deprive you of the legal right to complain as well. (you would have already lost the moral right to complain by helping depriving the legal right to complain from others)

If you really really want the right to complain (whether legal or moral), it's unlikely you'll find a system more suited for it than democracy.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:58:38.478Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You pay with your vote (or other attempts to influence the political outcome), you get the moral right to complain about the collective idiocy of others.

I disagree. I'm having trouble understanding it, could you perhaps just stay away from metaphors and explain your moral reasoning here?

(you would have already lost the moral right to complain by helping depriving the legal right to complain from others)

First off I'm not sure which process you are using to make this moral judgement, so I'm unsure whether I grant your moral reasoning any weight or not. Secondly can you please make this for the sake of the debate a bit less personal? Considering the spirit of generosity we usually see on LW I'm quite shocked to see statements like this. You really won't be changing minds with this, least of all mine. I find if funny that fewer unfavourable things where said about my morality when I was arguing in favour of infanticide in a different thread... Voting is probably sacred to some people.

Regardless, If you check out my comment history I've strongly favoured freedom of speech and freedom of conscience in nearly every discussion I've had. Doesn't that buy me something in your moral system too?

If you really really want the right to complain (whether legal or moral), it's unlikely you'll find a system more suited for it than democracy.

I disagree here. Futarchy would provide at least as much and Neocameralism should in theory provide more freedom of speech than I currently have.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-21T10:20:11.292Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Futarchy would provide at least as much

I'll grant this, though I don't know how existing rules about insider trading would conflict with beliefs about society itself becoming officially the object of trade and profit.

and Neocameralism should in theory provide more freedom of speech than I currently have.

If I understand Moldbug's neocameralism, it would give the government the perfect right to behead you if it doesn't like your taste in shoes -- because in Moldbug's view there's no difference between the right to do something and the power to do something. And Moldbug advocates in favour the government having complete and total power over all its subjects.

He just argues that the government won't bother exercising such power because it wouldn't be profitable for them to do so. But unfortunately Moldbug's view that a government totally in control wouldn't bother to control people's thoughts goes in contrast with pretty much everything we know about history. He arrives at a purely "logical" conclusion which just isn't backed up by historical experience.

Not that I wouldn't love cities that would be individually run as corporations -- e.g. this . It's the Neocameralist vision of them having absolute power of life and death over their subjects that scares the hell out of me.

I note that Moldbug's example of Singapore as a well-run state which is run on non-Universalist and non-Democratic principles was hilariously backed by a Singapore resident's letter which was so terrified of being seen to criticize Singapore, that even in his mostly-praiseful letter he felt he had to use the name "Narnia" instead of the name "Singapore". Such freedom of speech in a well-run authoritarian state...

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T20:31:17.282Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm having trouble understanding it, could you perhaps just stay away from metaphors and explain your moral reasoning here?

Okay,

  • "complaining about a person's vote" can mean two things: Either that I believe "they should have voted differently" or that I believe "they should not have voted at all.".

  • Therefore to have the moral right to honestly complain about their vote, I must either believe "everyone should have voted differently" or I must believe "everyone should not have voted at all."

  • Since I don't believe society would be better if nobody voted, then the only option I have if I want this moral right to complain is "they should have voted differently".

  • And therefore it would be hypocrisy if I likewise hadn't myself gone to vote differently.

Now, the thing you're not getting is that I'm not really judging you. My first comment was about how it bought me the moral right to complain. Someone who really thinks the world would be better if nobody voted is exempt from this particular line of reasoning. Because as you said, non-voting can be a political act too.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T20:55:58.117Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Up voted for corresponding to my request for elaborating your argument.

Edit: Is it wrong to reward people elaborating their argument?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:31:15.535Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since we just agreed rights are mostly incoherent, can you please restate the argument for voting without reference to them?

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T18:33:53.843Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're confusing me with Athrelon.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:35:11.948Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah my apologies.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T21:19:36.291Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By not voting I show I do not think this whole democracy thing is a legitimate regime

No, you only show that you can't be bothered to spend 20 minutes to vote. Otherwise you would vote and spoil the ballot.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T21:25:28.850Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I kind of consider that the same as non-voting, but yeah I've done that too when I accompanied others on their way to voting.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:11:42.234Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rituals that confer new moral rights? That's Catholic!

comment by asparisi · 2012-09-20T18:38:16.817Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoted for unnecessary levels of disdain.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:05:20.772Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think so, I was responding to an argument free asserting that basically called my behaviour immoral.

comment by asparisi · 2012-09-20T20:58:26.139Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The argument asserts that my behavior is immoral as well, and yet somehow I managed to restrain myself from caustic, unhelpful language.

comment by Athrelon · 2012-09-20T18:06:48.104Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I vote, I have registered approval of one faction of politicians and have arguably lost my right to complain about the policies they go ahead and enact. (If they lose, I should not complain either, and I should humbly submit to the outcome of the democratic process.)

Good thing the idea of "rights" is mostly incoherent anyway.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-09-20T18:15:15.017Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You probably have indeed lost the right to complain about that particular faction of politicians you voted for, if they acted according to how you can reasonably have predicted them to act. (e.g. in my own homeland I don't think anyone who voted for the Neonazi party has the right to complain about them when they predictably started murdering immigrants)

comment by Athrelon · 2012-09-20T18:23:47.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should factor in that uncertainty before voting! Consequentialism, dude.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-21T14:37:33.151Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think people have a right to find out that they were wrong, and say so.

comment by roystgnr · 2012-09-20T21:04:23.913Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If a psychopath says "tell me which of your kids you want me to shoot, or I shoot them all anyway", you don't become an accessory to murder by answering him, because everybody recognizes that you were under duress and just trying to reduce the damage.

If you are faced with a choice of "tell us which jerk gets to order everyone around, or we'll pick someone anyway without your input", then attempting to pick the lesser evil also does not make you culpable of anything, for similar reasons.

(If it was possible to send a "protest" message by not voting, things might be more complicated, but in practice any such protest signal would be undiscernable from apathy and cynicism noise)

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T18:18:57.199Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I vote, I have registered approval of one faction of politicians and have arguably lost my right to complain about the policies they go ahead and enact.

I'm confused, what if I register my approval or disapproval by protesting, distributing leaflets, making petitions to various courts or writing angry blog posts? Surely I've made more impact on politics by engaging in propaganda, activism and legal action than if I merely voted. Perhaps I can even get a job as a government advisor and thus directly register my approval or disapproval to the politicians themselves. Why is voting magic?

(If they lose, I should not complain either, and I should humbly submit to the outcome of the democratic process.)

Why? May I remind you who can win elections in a democracy...

Good thing the idea of "rights" is mostly incoherent anyway.

On this we agree, but I wonder why you then made your argument in that language?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-21T14:36:03.984Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I vote, I get the moral right to complain about other peoples' votes, and therefore to complain about the actions of the government these votes elect.

I see complaining as a basic human right. Saying that people who don't vote shouldn't complain is an effort to eliminate a major source of feedback about how a society is going.

Saying that people who don't vote shouldn't complain (or possibly shouldn't be listened to by voters) seems to me like a claim that was trumped up to get people to vote. Voting makes relatively little difference. How about "people who don't vote in primaries shouldn't complain"? People who don't research their votes shouldn't complain? People who don't take an active part in politics by researching and then trying to influence other people shouldn't complain?

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-20T20:53:46.902Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stuart, there are now apparently monthly politics discussion threads. In future you could tuck something like this in one of those.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-21T06:02:08.968Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possibly. I wasn't really that interested in the politics, just wondering whether there was an Xrisk angle I hadn't noticed.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-21T06:10:18.459Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The threads are intended for such nonstandard discussions of politics, not color wars.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-21T10:27:19.605Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok. I'll bear that in mind in future.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T16:35:46.202Z · score: 9 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I kind of consider democracy a major source of existential risk especially looking at the opportunity costs, neither candidates are promising to get rid of it.

Edit: This isn't spur of the moment contrarianism, at one point I intended to write a series of articles on democracy for the site. The public draft for the first part of that series is here.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-20T17:18:58.545Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you ever read any of the Vorkosigan saga by Lois Bujold?

Just curious whether you think that the government of Barrayar is an improvement current Western governments.

comment by asr · 2012-09-20T22:40:03.648Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is an ambiguous question. At the time the novels are set, Barrayar has a popular, clever, benevolent, and capable emperor. A longer historical view would include a number of tyrants and devastating civil wars.

comment by TimS · 2012-09-20T23:46:04.136Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So a great case study for the theory and practice of monarchy?

comment by asr · 2012-09-21T00:23:29.718Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think fictional evidence isn't terribly convincing. Note also that monarchy in the current era is constantly at risk of turning into either democracy or tyranny. "Ancient blood" hasn't been a reliable source of legitimacy since 1789. As a result, monarchs need either elections or raw force to keep their grip. And tyranny is unstable and tends to result in great wasted effort in preventing coups and insurrections.

comment by billswift · 2012-09-21T19:13:57.104Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think fictional evidence isn't terribly convincing.

Indeed. Try Hans-Herman Hoppe's Democracy: The God that Failed or Graham's The Case Against Democracy. Neither is all that convincing that monarchy is much better than democracy, but they make a decent case that it is at least marginally better. Note that Hoppe's book obviously started as a collection of articles, it is seriously repetitive. Both books are short and fairly easy reads.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T21:31:46.415Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No I haven't, is it a good read?

comment by asr · 2012-09-20T22:38:20.816Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They're widely considered outstanding science fiction. Four of the Vorkosigan novels have won Hugo awards.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T22:49:12.471Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cool, I will add it to my fiction reading list.

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2012-09-20T12:59:04.048Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a non-USian, my main interest in the election is watching the numbers go up and down on Nate Silver's blog.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T13:43:32.900Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

May I suggest Intrade as a pasttime?

comment by Lapsed_Lurker · 2012-09-20T15:44:35.939Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was under the impression from reading stuff Gwern wrote that Intrade was a bit expensive unless you were using it a lot. Also, even assuming I made money on it, wouldn't I be liable for tax? I intend to give owning shares via a self-select ISA a go.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T16:11:54.484Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If Intrade were an efficient market that made use of all of the information in the world, that would be true. People make enough bad bets often enough that it's not too hard to find predictions that are obviously priced wrong.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2012-09-20T19:22:14.209Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you think space exploration matters? Self-sustaining space colonization is decades away, and wouldn't help against UFAI. OTOH, it might help in the case of global war, if there are some colonies that all sides are nice enough not to attack.

I can't think of any risks that space colonization helps against that deep underground colonies wouldn't, though space colonization has the huge advantage of being much more popular.

(Also, asteroid mining is a WMD and might increase x-risk for that reason. On the other hand, cheaper more abundant minerals might be geopolitically stabilizing — or destabilizing, for all I know.)

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-20T20:55:36.295Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you think space exploration matters?

Probably mostly indirectly, as a catalyst for science, engineering, and industry in general, with concomitant beneficial effects on education and living standards, thus potentially allowing more attention and resources to be allocated to x-risk mitigation in the long term.

On the other hand, technological advances bring risks of their own, so it's not obvious what the net benefit is. My intuition tends to favor advancement, but I'm open to persuasion if there are good (particularly inside-view) arguments against it.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-11-14T03:32:49.926Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other existential risks that are impacted by space colonization include asteroids and sudden diseases. One other thing to keep in mind is that if the Great Filter is some specific advanced technology that we haven't yet constructed, then it is likely that space colonization will allow some avoidance of that. This follows since any such technology will likely not be able to spread much beyond the planet where it occurs (otherwise we would have started to see signs of its spread in the star systems that are the graves of civilizations). Thus for example, the Filter probably is not something like a slow false vacuum collapse made by a specific technology. In that regard, space colonization helps protect against a lot of unknown unknowns.

if there are some colonies that all sides are nice enough not to attack.

The tech level to attack a Mars colony is as high as the tech level to send colonies. And no colony would be a substantial military threat. Deliberately constructing weapons to specifically attack a colony well before hostilities break out seems not just not nice but well beyond sociopathic. The level of outright vindictiveness seems even beyond that of any classical dictator.

comment by komponisto · 2012-09-20T11:11:14.815Z · score: 5 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

these all seem weak factors.

Indeed, and moreover they cancel each other out.

the fact the the Republicans have gone so strongly anti-science is certainly a bad sign.

Only in their rhetoric, which is at most weakly correlated with their actual policy decisions.

are the things I should care about in the election, or can I just lie back and enjoy it as a piece of interesting theatre?

Pure theater. Enjoy the show. Think of it as the Status Olympics, which occur every four years along with the summer games.

comment by endoself · 2012-09-20T16:09:48.420Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Indeed, and moreover they cancel each other out.

They don't exactly cancel out. I think that brains tend to use "these things cancel out" as an excuse to do less thinking.

comment by aaronde · 2012-09-20T14:56:10.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Only in their rhetoric, which is at most weakly correlated with their actual policy decisions.

Yes, but in this case, the rhetoric matters. I believe this was Stuart's point. If we want to raise the "sanity waterline", then, all else being equal, saner political dialog is a good thing. Right?

comment by shminux · 2012-09-20T15:28:33.102Z · score: -1 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

saner political dialog

oxymoron.

comment by faul_sname · 2012-09-20T22:26:58.826Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, sane political dialog is an oxymoron. Saner political dialog isn't, just as "bigger shrimp" isn't.

comment by Vaniver · 2012-09-20T20:26:19.188Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The risk of global war is the predominant one to consider. I put that at a slight edge for Romney, since I think Obama will be seen as weaker abroad, and perceived weakness is a major risk.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T20:13:53.770Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Robin Hanson recently wrote a relevant article on our sister site Overcoming Bias. I must insist that anyone who wants to comment it to read the whole thing and be familiar with the material he cites and links to, but for those who are just seeking a low cost conclusions from a vetted rationalists like him, the last paragraph summary:

So, as a professor of economics who has studied politics, my advice is to not vote if you know an average amount or less, to copy a better informed close associate if you are willing to appear submissive, and otherwise to just reelect incumbents when your life goes better than you expected. And if you care a lot more about the outcome than most do, help create presidential decision markets, so other info-seekers will have a better place to turn.

comment by roystgnr · 2012-09-20T20:40:55.904Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  1. Global coordination and agreement improves the outlook for some existential risks; damages the outlook for others.

  2. Putting aside for a moment the question of whether Obama or Romney is more awful in general: Obama has actually been relatively good at space policy. Gingrich probably would have been able to do better, but if the current crop of Republican congressmen was in charge, SpaceX et. al. would have been shut out long ago in favor of more pork for solid rocket booster companies.

  3. "Lie back and enjoy it" really isn't on the table, but "don't worry about the things you can't change" might be decent applicable advice.

comment by wedrifid · 2012-09-21T15:40:31.758Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any existential risk angles to the US presidential election?

Let me see... I think Obama has only served one term, which means he is qualified to try again so he is probably one of the candidates.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-21T19:26:41.433Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Confirmed.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-21T19:34:30.957Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Test

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2012-09-20T14:25:21.035Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the assumption that the most likely UFAI is intended to maximize investment returns, which candidate would make it more probable?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T14:08:37.832Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Romney would likely be more pro-business than Obama in part by favoring lower corporate taxes, less burdensome regulations, and prioritizing high skilled vs. low skilled immigrants. So compared to Obama, under Romney the U.S. would probably have more economic growth (but also more economic inequality). As economic growth is vital for scientific advancement, Romney would probably create a better environment for scientific progress than Obama would.

comment by Stuart_Armstrong · 2012-09-20T16:09:46.539Z · score: 4 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think the evidence of presidential influence on growth rates is enough to support the contention (in either direction). Yes, famously, the economy grows better under democratic presidents - but that's a very small sample, with no clear causality. But certainly enough to reject the idea that a Romney presidency would be necessarily better for the economy.

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T19:14:00.747Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not going by past trends. Demographics combined with entitlements are going to create a massive problem for the U.S. My perception is that Romney would handle this by reducing the rate of growth of entitlements and doing everything possible to increase economic growth whereas Obama wants to handle the problem by increasing taxes on the rich.

comment by Manfred · 2012-09-22T00:22:27.944Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're mixing up levels.

EDIT: To be clearer - You're comparing a high-level goal/plan of candidate A ("make economy good") to a low-level plan of candidate B ("get money from people"). Example: "Candidate X wants to safeguard our freedom and prosperity, but candidate Y wants to send Americans to fight and die overseas." The reason this leads to a false impression is because we readily attribute low-level plans to high-level plans/goals ("if he wants freedom and prosperity, that means he'll do good things") but don't attribute high-level plans/goals to low-level plans ("If he's going to send Americans to fight and die overseas, how can you say he wants freedom and prosperity?").

The rhetorical effect of comparing plans on different levels may be diminished by remembering that neither candidate is an evil mutant - they both have high-level plans that are pretty much "make good things happen, stop bad things from happening."

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-09-21T01:23:01.454Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, famously, the economy grows better under democratic presidents

The data I've seen says the opposite, e.g., compare the economies under Carter and Reagan.

comment by pragmatist · 2012-09-21T08:33:39.812Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is a particularly bad comparison. Reagan had the best growth rate among Republican presidents since WWII and Carter had the second worst growth rate among Democratic presidents.

You can see the annualized GDP growth rates under all the post-Truman presidents here. Four of the top five growth rates were under Democratic presidents (and that includes Carter). The only Democrat who isn't in the top five is Obama, who is at the absolute bottom. The only Republican in the top five is Reagan at no. 4.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-21T11:16:18.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but scientific¹ progress would make both FAI and uFAI more likely.


  1. Actually you mean “technological” -- figuring out whether neutrinos are Majorana particles isn't going to be very relevant to existential risk in the short and middle term, but your arguments still apply (even more, because private enterprises are usually more interested in applied research than in pure research).
comment by JoshuaZ · 2013-11-20T13:30:44.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that this is completely obvious to me. It wouldn't have been obvious in say 1930 that investigation of atoms would lead to a serious existential risk, or any substantial new technologies for that matter. If some aspect of basic physics presents a more efficient computing substrate, or a new source of energy, that could easily have an impact (albeit not necessarily directly).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-11-20T21:38:30.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I guess that depends on what I meant by “short and middle term”.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-20T21:22:13.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would more less-skilled immigrants be bad for business? Wouldn't that mean both more consumers and cheaper labor?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T21:45:59.906Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not claiming that low skilled immigrants harm business just that higher skilled ones are better for economic growth than lower skilled immigrants are.

comment by novalis · 2012-09-20T23:37:19.759Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If they're available in equal numbers, sure. But that seems unlikely to be the case.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2012-09-20T14:19:21.969Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just for my clarity: do you mean to assert that other factors won't significantly affect the environment for scientific progress compared to the effect of economic growth? Or are you just not thinking about them here?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T14:28:33.221Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that economic growth is by far the most important factor, but it's not the only factor.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-09-20T14:27:38.940Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So don't vote for Romney then.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-09-20T13:21:46.504Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)
  • Democrats are more likely raise taxes on tech startups, which reduces the incentives to create new (possibly dangerous) AI.

  • Republicans are more likely to approve of immigration restrictions, which also slows development.

  • Either side might support a "Manhattan project" that dumps a trillion dollars into a scientific goal, increasing the risk of UFAI.

  • Iran could go either way. Republicans were more war-mongering and more Zionist last decade, but Democrats are catching up.

  • Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic seriously.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-09-20T19:47:04.923Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic serious

If its a foreign plague I actually expect Republicans be better at quarantine.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-20T21:20:00.085Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Stagnation -> reduced existential risk is not a well-established fact. Our ability to cope with technologies that would be more delayed in stagnation can go down as well as up, stagnation will not affect all technologies equally and can skew the distribution worse, and there are other risks in the meantime. Not to mention that one ought to be very cautious about framing progress as a problem when there is so much chance of a false-positive, as opposed to framing things as an investigative/research question.

might support a "Manhattan project" that dumps a trillion dollars into a scientific goal, increasing the risk of UFAI.

Why think that this increases the risk of UFAI, relative to the expected distribution of development in industry, academia, or nonprofits absent such a project?

comment by James_Miller · 2012-09-20T14:10:27.220Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Republicans are more likely to approve of immigration restrictions

Not on high skilled immigrants.

Democrats are more likely to take the risk of a global pandemic seriously

But they demonize the pharmaceutical industry which provides our best defense against pandemics.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-28T06:41:37.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Again I'm not sure why this is down voted. This was a political discussion after all and Republicans really haven't mentioned any restrictions on high skilled immigration at all.

Is it really so impolite to point out that fruit pickers and start up founders mostly come from different pools?

comment by ChristianKl · 2012-09-20T16:23:27.109Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Our best defense against pandemics would be to raise oil prices. Fighting travel that allows illnesses to spread rapidly.

comment by CarlShulman · 2012-09-20T21:07:45.810Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T19:19:23.285Z · score: -4 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Democracy in a multicultural place like modern America is increasingly a sham. When you have, say, black people voting as a 96% bloc, it becomes clear that this is not an abstract choice so much as a statement of tribal identity and power. And in response to this, other groups form tribal blocs. Well guess what: even you rationalist white guys aren't exempt from this dynamic! Democracy is a nice idea, but it is trumped for most people by deeper tribal and religious allegiances. Multicultural democracy simply devolves into contests between competing tribes. And if you don't think of yourself as a member of a tribe, then you will simply lose power. So I first identify my tribal allegiances, then I look at the candidates and ask: Which one will give me and my tribe more power? To me this is the correct and rational way to vote, and it has nothing to do with abstract issues like "existential risk." The existential risk that matters most to me is tribal disempowerment!

comment by roystgnr · 2012-09-20T20:57:40.260Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The correct and rational way to vote is to stay home and do something productive instead, unless you're a weirdo like me who gets some utility (entertainment value?) from spending hours researching candidates in the rueful knowledge that there's effectively zero probability of actually affecting anything via the effort.

The only way I can see to eliminate the tragedy of the commons of voting (anybody can have more personal time for themselves at the cost of making the commons of "how good is the election outcome" worse) would be allowing people to delegate their votes. If people who respect my intelligence can easily delegate to me, and there's no major transaction costs for me to delegate our votes to someone whose decision making ability I respect, and so on, then eventually the election "shares" entrusted to non-delegating voters grows to the point where they start to have rational incentives to put in the time to validate that trust.

Of course, in practice this would just make tribalism worse, make secret ballots impossible, and leave elections in the hands of whichever bosses and/or union leaders were the best at bullying votes out of people. So now I'm out of ideas.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-09-20T22:02:33.630Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually I don't vote, I was just having some fun with words. The correct way to win in a democratic system is to manipulate people on a large scale via propaganda, fear-mongering, "dirty tricks", strategically timed scandals, etc. This is precisely how the game is played by the Sith Lords behind the scenes, and the reason why voting is a total insult to the more intelligent citizens of a democracy.

comment by hankx7787 · 2012-09-21T14:24:59.694Z · score: -9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Certainly.

The main question is: will Obama's disastrous foreign policies turn catastrophic? In other words, will there be a major terrorist attack or war in the near future as a result of crippling American military and intelligence agencies, apologizing, appeasing, and empowering terrorist groups and radical countries? The probability has been creeping up dangerously over the last few years, and seems to be at an all-time high today.

The second question is: will Obama's disastrous economic policies turn catastrophic? In other words, will there be a major economic collapse in the near future as a result of Obama's extremely loose fiscal policies of printing and borrowing money at an unprecedented rate, while at the same time strangling economic growth with irrational taxation, regulations, and other government interference? Again, the probability of such a catastrophe has been escalating in the past few years and is also at an all-time high today.

Bottom line: existential risk is escalating at an alarming rate under Obama due to his irrational economic and foreign policies and judicial nominations, and this would change dramatically by electing Romney. Just voting for Romney isn't enough (especially if you're not in a swing state) - you need to be donating money to his campaign and other PACs, and knocking on doors in swing states.

comment by hankx7787 · 2012-10-03T18:37:37.963Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should also mention the Democrats' judicial nominations:

Justices Kennedy and Scalia are in their late 70s, and both are the critical fifth vote on tremendously important libertarian principles:

There are four justices on the Supreme Court ready to hold that the First Amendment does not bar Congress from regulating political speech against incumbents.

There are four justices on the Supreme Court ready to hold that the Second Amendment does not create any individual rights against the government.

There are four justices on the Supreme Court ready to hold that the Commerce Clause creates no constraint on Congress’s regulatory powers.

There are likely at least four justices on the Supreme Court ready to hold that the government can choose to discriminate on the basis of race if “diversity” is at issue. [Actually, I think there are four votes willing to allow the government to use race for all sorts of purposes.]

One can point to individual unhappy results from Republican-appointed justices, but it is a mathematical certainty that Obama-appointed justices will flip the Court on these critical issues of the rights of individuals against the government—none more critical than First Amendment protection for political speech. Once that falls, the game is over and libertarians have lost permanently. This alone is a dispositive libertarian case for Romney, even before one gets to the difference between a Romney and Obama on economic freedom and regulation.

http://www.volokh.com/2012/10/02/ted-frank-the-single-issue-libertarian-case-for-romney/