Weird Alliances

post by sixes_and_sevens · 2014-10-24T12:33:43.547Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 19 comments

Contents

  To what extent is Less Wrong a weird alliance?
  Is there scope for weird, differently-marginalised trade?
None
19 comments

In the recent discussion on supplements, I commented on how weird an alliance health stores are. They cater for clientèle with widely divergent beliefs about how their merchandise works, such as New Agers vs. biohackers. In some cases, they cater for groups with object-level disputes about their merchandise. I imagine vegans are stoked to have somewhere to buy dairy-free facsimiles of everyday foods, but they're entering into an implicit bargain with that body-builder who's walking out of the door with two kilos of whey protein.

In the case of health stores, their clientèle have a common interest which the store is satisfying: either putting esoteric substances into their bodies, or keeping commonplace substances out of their bodies. This need is enough for people to hold their noses as they put their cash down.

(I don't actually know how [my flimsy straw-man model of], say, homoeopathy advocates feel about health stores. For me, it feels like wandering into enemy territory.)

I've been thinking lately about "allies" in the social justice sense of the word: marginalised groups who have unaligned object-level interests but aligned meta-interests. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transfolk and [miscellaneous gender-people] may have very different object-level interests, but a very strong common meta-interest relating to the social and legal status of sexual identities. They may also be marginalised along different axes, allowing for some sort of trade I don't have a good piece of terminology for. The LGBT([A-Z]).* community is an alliance. Not being part of this community, I'm hesitant to speculate on how much of a weird alliance it is, but it looks at least a little bit weird.

This has led me to think about Less Wrong as a community, in particular the following two questions:

 

To what extent is Less Wrong a weird alliance?

On paper, we're all here to help refine the art of human rationality, but in practice, we have a bunch of different object-level interests and common meta-interests in terms of getting things done well (i.e. "winning"). I explicitly dislike PUA, but I'll have a civil and productive discussion about anki decks with someone who has PUA-stuff as an object-level interest.

 

Is there scope for weird, differently-marginalised trade?

Less Wrong celebrates deviant behaviour, ostensibly as a search process for useful life-enhancing interventions, but also because we just seem to like weird stuff and have complicated relationships with social norms. Lots of other groups like weird stuff and have complicated relationships with social norms as well. Is this a common meta-interest we can somehow promote with them?

19 comments

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comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-10-24T14:23:20.999Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been thinking lately about "allies" in the social justice sense of the word: marginalised groups who have unaligned object-level interests but aligned meta-interests. Lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transfolk and [miscellaneous gender-people] may have very different object-level interests, but a very strong common meta-interest relating to the social and legal status of sexual identities. They may also be marginalised along different axes, allowing for some sort of trade I don't have a good piece of terminology for.

As I understand social justice, that's not what they mean by ally. An ally is a privileged person who is attempting to help non-privileged people. For example, a man trying to help women (in a social justice context) or a white person trying to help people of color (likewise in a social justice context).

Social justice is an effort to put together an alliance of all non-privileged people. This can definitely get weird,

There used to be a saying that politics makes strange bedfellows-- possibly less true in the US lately, since compromise has been less attractive. Still, there can be alliances on such issues as winding down the war on drugs.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2014-10-27T21:47:47.535Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ally is one of the most nebulous concepts in all of social justice. I've mostly seen it used in the way you describe it, but I wouldn't be shocked if it was also commonly used in the way the OP uses it.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-10-25T13:58:22.423Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The health store phenomenon you observe (weird alliances) is called "crank magnetism". People who believe one weird thing tend to believe other weird things. (This particularly applies to conspiracy theorists.) Alternative medicine advocates are highly supportive of other alternative therapies that directly contradict their own, because they're of a subculture that defines itself oppositionally. The money flows in to support this weird alliance.

LW's interests do indeed not necessarily hang together, except being things advanced by the transhumanist subculture. Friendly AI doesn't go naturally with cryonics or nanotechnology as interests, for example (even if those things might plausibly have synergies).

I submit that promoting LW as material for crank magnets may not work well and will just end up infuriating those capable of joined-up thinking.

comment by Salemicus · 2014-10-24T13:13:41.893Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The way you are using the word "alliance" is extremely broad. Different groupings require different levels of solidarity. For two people to work together in political activism, they need high levels of solidarity and aligned goals, otherwise they will be working at cross-purposes rather than co-operating - hence "weird" alliances are difficult. For two people to shop at the same store, they barely need any alliance at all - just don't get into fights in the aisles! Vegans and body-builders who both shop at Holland & Barrett are absolutely not entering into an implicit bargain with each other, and if they use the products for different purposes, it doesn't disrupt the others' use. So "weird" alliances are easy - and over time, they dissolve the lines that blur the groups. I very much doubt whether vegans and body-builders do metaphorically "hold their noses as they put their cash down" - when they go shopping, they are just customers.

This, of course, is why the free market and the commercial culture are the great solvents of clannishness and bigotry - they facilitate these "weird" alliances by providing a common set of rules that allow everyone to pursue their ends without disrupting the others. As Voltaire wrote as long ago as 1733:

Go into the London Stock Exchange - a more respectable place than many a court - and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker. On leaving these peaceful and free assemblies some go to the Synagogue and others for a drink, this one goes to be baptized in a great bath in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, ... and everybody is happy.

Voltaire, Letters on the English, VI.

comment by 9eB1 · 2014-10-25T18:08:43.736Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I very much doubt whether vegans and body-builders do metaphorically "hold their noses as they put their cash down" - when they go shopping, they are just customers.

I used to go to Whole Foods occasionally for supplements or esoteric ingredients unavailable elsewhere. I wouldn't say that I "held my nose as I put my cash down," but I definitely had a sensation of "the people at Whole Foods are not my people." So there is something to sixes_and_sevens' example. Now I think that either Whole Foods has more mainstream appeal or I've moved toward respecting Whole Foods' position on food, so I don't feel that way as much, but I still shop there only very rarely.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-10-24T13:38:00.774Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let me attempt to incorporate what you mean with specifics to make sure I understand your point.

Say Less Wrong has an overly high proportion of fan fiction writers compared to some baseline. Fan fiction oriented people from other areas might come for the fan fiction and stay for other material, and swapping fan fiction will give people who are here... a community oriented leisure activity? (That doesn't sound like quite the right phrase but I'm having a hard time thinking of a better one)

As such, we should start and maintain Less Wrong fanfiction writing threads, rather than just sitting around waiting for another chapter of HPMOR.

That seems reasonable to me (As someone who writes a lot of not that great fanfiction and likes reading it from better authors.)

If I were to attempt to think of a potential downside, it would be something along the lines of a PUA person thinking "Well, if we can start Off-topic fanfiction discussions, then we can start off-topic PUA discussions." And then you seeing that and thinking "Ugh, a PUA discussion?"

Of course someone who liked PUA and disliked Fanfiction might have a switched reaction to those two things.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-10-25T18:38:45.472Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think those are very distinct subjects. I know nobody that objects on ethical grounds to people writing or reading fan fiction. With PUA a lot of people do object on those grounds and don't want black art social skills that are about manipulating other people to be discussed on LW.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-27T21:54:31.128Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, reactions to fanfiction and reactions to PUA are of a different kind. Fanfiction can be considered boring or irrelevant, but not unethical. So for example, an advice "if you don't like it, just ignore it" makes more sense for fanfiction than for PUA.

Speaking as a former fan of PUA, I think it would be good to distinguish between two things: "Which beliefs are correct?" and "Which techniques are ethical?" Not to treat them as the same question. People may behave unethically while having a correct model of the world, or behave ethically while having an incorrect model. Also, the "PUA techniques" is a large set; it may contain both ethical and unethical methods. To pick trivial examples, "negging" would be unethical, while "spend some time in the gym" is ethically neutral, and I would consider it instrumentally rational.

Sorry for getting to the object level, but I believe the rational response to PUA is to look at specific details and say: "this is correct", "this is incorrect", "this is ethical", "this is unethical". Not to accept everything, nor to reject everything. -- This can be further generalized: just because a bunch of ideas comes under the same label, it does not mean that their truth value is the same.

comment by Prismattic · 2014-10-28T01:36:34.022Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To pick trivial examples, "negging" would be unethical, while "spend some time in the gym" is ethically neutral, and I would consider it instrumentally rational.

I think this is the "motte and bailey" applied to PUA. Normally when people say "PUA techniques," they mean something narrower than "anything you might do to increase your attractiveness."

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-28T08:01:03.087Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe you are using the "motte and bailey" analogy incorrectly here. It is not supposed to mean "the worst thing you can associate with a group", but rather something like "a central teaching which is rather indefensible in a debate, but they keep returning to it as long as there is no opponent in sight".

Normally when people say "PUA techniques," they mean something narrower than "anything you might do to increase your attractiveness."

Yes, they mean "behaving like (a PUA model of) alpha male". That includes a lot of things; and different people put emphasis on different subsets. The original approaches had a lot of "hacks to fool the alpha-male detector", and negging was one of those hacks. (And it was not meant to be used on every woman all the time, but as a way to get attention of a woman way above the man's level.) The recent approaches are about "just become the alpha male, duh".

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2014-10-29T18:28:11.720Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are quite a few people who think fanfiction (or at least fanfiction without the author's permission) is unethical.

comment by ChristianKl · 2014-10-29T19:00:31.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course there are people who believe all kinds of stuff. I haven't seen that view argued on LW before. Do you?

comment by peterward · 2014-10-29T01:32:47.972Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Might the apparent weird alliance not be a failure to accurately separate the substantive from the superficial? It could be the New Ager and the biohacker are driven by the same psychological imperative, each just dresses it a little differently. By even classifying their alliance as "weird", we are jumping the gun on what were are entitled to take for granted. I.e., we lack even the understanding to say what is weird as what isn't.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2014-10-25T12:08:59.088Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've noticed a tradeoff in the anime community where people are more willing to tolerate pedophilia when it comes to "lolis" (sexualized portrayals of pre-teen girls)*. The problem is, where do you draw the line between reasonably "cute" and inappropriately sexy? I think there's a also a fear that if there was some sort of anti-pedophile crackdown, that might get banned because it has 13 year old girls in tight clothes.

*Specifically, people can lust over pre-teen girls to a certain extent on r/anime without getting downvoted by me or others.

comment by advancedatheist · 2014-10-24T16:33:13.313Z · score: -2 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

George Lakoff, the cognitive linguist, argues that seemingly disparate groups which form political coalitions share underlying metaphors based on family structures. On the conservative side, he says that social conservatives and libertarian conservatives don't really have conflicting agendas because both share what he calls "strict father morality." They assume that we live in a harsh and dangerous world where men have to run things in a natural hierarchy, while the womenfolk and the children have to stay subordinate to men for their own protection. Strict fathers have the task of disciplining and toughening their children for the task of becoming self-reliant adults in the harsh and dangerous world. Therefore they oppose sexual freedom, on the social conservative side, and the welfare state, on the libertarian side, because both of these tend to weaken people's character and make them less capable of personal responsibility and independence.

This organic affinity also sheds light on why PUA bloggers have started to sound like Dark Enlightenment bloggers and Neoreactionaries: By getting all that exposure to the ugly way women behave when you remove the traditional constraints on their real preferences, you can see that our conservative ancestors had a legitimate point of view when they enforced patriarchal norms to keep women in line. Women's sexual freedom basically damages their ability to maintain a stable society.

comment by gjm · 2014-10-25T12:33:31.010Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not clear to me why this is a better explanation than the obvious alternative from, so to speak, the other side: the PUA bloggers were already thinking of women as objects, to be used and manipulated for the benefit of men, which is right in line with a "Dark Enlightenment" view that men should be controlling them and keeping them in line. Same attitude to women, just on a societal rather than an individual scale.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-28T00:02:03.767Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was a fan of PUA, but I never thought about "women as objects". For me it was more like: all humans are imperfect, but it is okay to speak publicly about imperfections of men, while it is taboo to discuss imperfections of women. Still, I want to understand the whole homo sapiens species with all its faults. Otherwise, I will be constantly surprised, which will prevent me from reaching my goals. One of those goals is a mutually satisfying heterosexual relationship. If my model of female psychology is wrong, I am walking on a minefield. And looking at the divorce statistics (and also an evidence from my previous relationships), the minefield is full of mines.

I fully understand that other people may study PUA for completely different reasons. For me, this feels like saying that some people study chemistry for evil reasons, so we should never mention atoms and molecules. Sorry, the information is already out there, and those people have enough opportunity to study it elsewhere.

comment by gjm · 2014-10-28T01:42:20.803Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, this feels like saying that [...] we should never mention atoms and molecules.

What does?

(From what you write, one would think that someone's saying that because the PUA community sometimes/often/generally treats women as objects, we should never mention any of the things they talk about. But I don't see anyone saying anything like that.)

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-10-28T08:04:33.499Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people have a preference to not discuss PUA on LessWrong at all.