Should we write more about social life?

post by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-19T20:07:17.055Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW · 4 comments

This is a question post.


    7 remizidae
    6 Dagon
    5 MathiasKirkBonde
    4 ChristianKl
    4 Richard_Kennaway

Social life is a thorny subject. Writings on that topic can be noxious, for a variety of reasons. Yet we live in a social world, and instrumental rationality ought to make us better at navigating it. Furthermore, if status competition is a war of all against all, and "all warfare is based on deception," as Sun Tzu says, then we should expect that this is one of the areas where rationality might be especially helpful. On this website, people post self-help advice through a rationalist lens all the time. Yet I rarely see rationalist self-help advice on topics such as how to have a thriving social life, get along with your parents, strike up a conversation with a stranger, build a blog audience, or field a disagreement without lying, submitting, or looking like a jerk.

I'd consider the following to be virtues of posts about social life:

  1. Striving for generality as much as (but no more than) is possible.
  2. Avoiding moral judgments and political resentments.
  3. Balancing a basically positive and constructive attitude with a healthy skepticism towards platitudes.

Do you agree that this forum might benefit from more posts on social life? What would you be most interested in writing or reading about? What do you tend to find most frustrating when reading people's takes on social life, here or elsewhere?


answer by remizidae · 2020-08-20T02:40:57.848Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really like posts about social life. More so when it’s framed as “this is the weird shit that works for me” and less when it’s framed as “All must obey my Grand Abstract Theory.” Because we all have theories about social life, right, and there’s no particular reason to believe one anonymous person on the internet has it figured out more than another.

comment by crl826 · 2020-08-20T23:47:27.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps something that Viliam suggested here. [LW(p) · GW(p)]

Maybe ones with data are likely to be good and ones without likely to be bad?

answer by Dagon · 2020-08-19T23:39:23.873Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The line between politics and "social life" is a bit fuzzy. And there's a lot of variance in culture and relationships, causing agents to need different models of "social life" for different situations.

Both of these make it difficult to generalize in useful ways - either you're hiding the "real" topic you want to talk about, or you're saying things without specificity, or you're giving such contrived examples that there's no way to tell if the discussion is real or evpsych just-so stories.

My direct answer: No, I don't think this forum will benefit from more posts on social life. It _MAY_ benefit from some posts on specific aspects of social life for truth-seeking humans. I prefer to bias against the topic, and make exceptions when something is particularly clear or interesting.

answer by MathiasKirkBonde · 2020-08-20T12:32:57.635Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would strongly prefer a Lesswrong that is completely devoid of this.

Half the time it ends up in spiritual vaguery, of which there's already too much on Lesswrong. The other half ends up being toxic male-centric dating advice.

answer by ChristianKl · 2020-08-20T22:34:51.151Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good posts about social life are valuable but like bad political posts there's a higher cost to bad posts about social life as well in contrast to bad post about topics that aren't charged. 

answer by Richard_Kennaway · 2020-08-20T15:25:32.569Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How do you avoid it being just rational toothpaste [LW · GW]?

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-20T20:24:13.343Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My complaint about "Rational Toothpaste" is that it's too wordy. Applying the principle of more dakka [LW · GW]would have led the author to invest in all of it without another moments' thought.

comment by ChristianKl · 2020-08-20T18:32:35.070Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p) seems to me a good post even when it might overuse the term rational.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by G Gordon Worley III (gworley) · 2020-08-19T22:27:34.513Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think Jacobian [LW · GW] has made a number of cross-posts here about social life.

comment by Viliam · 2020-08-20T22:50:13.422Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perhaps we could investigate the difference between those good posts, and the bad kind of posts we don't want to have, and define the rules accordingly.

Seems to me that good things are: long-term experience with using some approach; statistics from sources that seem reliable; a theory that sounds plausible and explains the experience/statistics.

And bad things are: an edgy theory of everything from internet that the author feels strongly about, and is going to test it tomorrow but today we have a passionate article explaining and defending the theory.

I am not saying that this "good" is necessarily always good. People can still draw wrong conclusions from real data. But I think the "bad" things are pretty much guaranteed to have negative value.

In other words, I prefer the ethos "data first, opinion later".

comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2020-08-21T02:35:00.261Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here are some posts I would categorize as good based on these criteria:

Anti-social Punishment [LW · GW]: Based on empirical literature, draws on author's extensive familiarity with Slovak culture to help flesh out those studies.

The Virtue of Silence [LW · GW]: Providing an original and logical take on several specific, publicly-relevant situations, then generalizing from it.

Ambiguous posts:

Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism [LW · GW]: Draws on a little bit of empirical data (the LW survey) and theory (signalling). May stretch the substance a little thin, especially given that it asks you to question why you believe what you believe your most well-thought-out positions, in a way that's kind of unfalsifiable - because are you just being a meta-meta-contrarian?

Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate [LW · GW]: Weaves together empirical evidence and Bayesian principles with anecdote and intuition pumps; having no single point, it's hard to argue with or use as a reference.

The Nature of Offense [LW · GW]: Sensible and necessary (because it deals with an in-community fracas that's not going to receive a more formal treatment). But doesn't engage with any external data or theory.

Edgy theories of everything:

Of Two Minds [LW · GW]: Vague references to evo-psych, uses lots of LW- and cherry-picked examples, no attempt at addressing a counterargument.

Antimemes [LW · GW]: No data, no concrete examples, conspiracy-ish.

I wonder if we agree.

comment by Viliam · 2020-08-21T17:45:42.409Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I generally agree with your ordering of quality, but in my opinion both your "good" and "ambiguous" are acceptable.

And the "edgy" are indeed bad, because even if they happen to point to something real and important, they are written in an unhelpful way. (For example the "antimemes" sounds like something from SCP wiki, and is completely one-sided. The idea that some things are useful but ignored regardless, is interesting and potentially very important. But rational discussion would have to include the trade-offs involved, rather than start from the assumption that disagreeing is an obvious mistake. So, although it could be an inspiration to a great discussion, the article per se is not good.)