Is Less Wrong discouraging less nerdy people from participating?

post by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-24T02:24:58.051Z · score: 23 (37 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 59 comments

Less Wrong is as a community extremely nerdy. That's true for almost any definition of "nerd" that captures anyone's intuition for the word. However, to a  large extent, many aspects of nerdiness are not connected to rationality at all, even though nerdiness may be associated with more rationality in some limited aspects. For example, fantasy literature is probably not in any deep way connected to either intelligent or rational thinking except for historical reasons.

Yet LW is full of references to science fiction, fantasy literature, anime and D&D. In one recent example, a post started with an only marginally connected tidbit from Heinlein. Moreover, substantial subthreads have arisen bashing aspects of other subcultures. For example, see this subthread where multiple users discuss how spectator sports are "banal" and "pointless". I suspect that this attitude may be turning away not only non-nerds but even the somewhat nerdy who enjoy watching sports, and see it has harmless tribalist fun,  not very different than friends arguing over whether Star Wars or Star Trek is superior which has about the same degree of actual value here.

There's a related issue which is a serious point about rationality and human cognition: Our hobbies are to a large extent functions of our specific upbringings and surrounding culture. That some people prefer one form of fantastic escapism involving imaginary spaceships isn't at some level very different than the escapism of watching some people throw and catch objects. Looking down on other people because of these sorts of preferences is unhelpful tribalism. It might feel good, and it might be fun, but it isn't helpful.

 

59 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by WrongBot · 2011-01-24T04:23:16.896Z · score: 18 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If arguments over the relative merits of Star Wars and Star Trek became a regular feature of this site, I would feel compelled to burn it to the ground.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2011-01-25T00:15:14.580Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, I expected a downvote or two, but -15 seems like an unusually severe Less Wrong sense-of-humour-failure given I was making a tongue-in-cheek reply to a comment with a not-very-serious tone itself.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-01-28T16:23:00.600Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Less Wrong is a tough audience for a comedian. Only the cleverest (i.e. least obvious and most unexpected) jokes draw upvotes.

A useful rule of thumb: Expect to draw a downvote from everyone who thought of your joke themselves, but then decided not to post it because it was too obvious.

comment by Clippy · 2011-01-28T16:32:49.814Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sounds like an interesting challenge then: I wonder if I have assimilated human thought processes well enough by now to produce a "funny" comment that gets voted up above some crucial threshold.

I will expend little effort toward this end, however, since it's only distantly related to producing paperclips.

comment by WrongBot · 2011-01-25T02:07:08.674Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was entirely serious.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2011-01-25T06:00:39.233Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I figured the basic meaning was serious, but I interpreted the tone as (perhaps unintentionally) comically hyperbolic, hence my apparently failed attempt at replying in kind.

comment by Bongo · 2011-01-28T16:03:59.566Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It wasn't necessarily a "sense-of-humour failure"! One can get a joke and still not like it, or like it but think that it still shouldn't be posted here.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2011-01-24T08:32:26.661Z · score: -9 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fortunately there's nothing t argue over, since Star Trek is obviously better ;).

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-01-24T11:47:03.430Z · score: -12 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Voted down for being utterly wrong.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-12T01:12:17.978Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2011-12-12T06:07:28.489Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

STTNG is basically the closest we've ever come to a TV series about rationality

Look, I enjoy The Next Generation too, but I think you may be suffering from a pony effect. Rationality is great, and Star Trek is great, but that doesn't mean the two have anything to do with each other.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-12T12:15:52.822Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-12-12T02:48:19.807Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He didn't actually make a comment about which series was closer to a Lesswrong perspective on rationality. You may be inclined to put an equal sign between "best reflecting the rationalist agenda" and "better series," but that is a question of taste.

Leaving aside questions of how sensible STTNG is when gold-pressed latinum circulates along side replicators that appear to produce things costlessly, etc., etc.

Also, this sort of critique...

comment by Will_Newsome · 2011-01-24T16:24:09.326Z · score: -2 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By the Laws of Karma, I am Less Wrong than Shard Phoenix! Therefore Star Wars is better.

comment by Dreaded_Anomaly · 2011-01-24T12:34:16.660Z · score: -11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's really no comparison, because Star Wars isn't sci-fi; it's fantasy in space.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-01-24T02:30:14.311Z · score: 18 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's possible, but I suspect that the proportion of people who're already interested in refining human rationality, encounter the site, and are turned away by the predominant media interests, is extremely low. The degree to which those elements pervade the site is very small compared to the prevalence of the elements that are its actual purpose.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-01-24T04:34:48.780Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Upvoted and agree. I don't really have anything more to add.

comment by anon895 · 2011-01-24T07:13:08.790Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know the above post only had one downvote, but just to check: Didn't we already have a discussion on how signalling agreement with things is a normal part of healthy human interaction and cooperation, and that we don't really want to suppress it for some mechanical standard of "high content" or "signal/noise"?

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-01-24T19:23:34.931Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An interesting point. I would like it if LW comments/ posts had a way to "agree" or "disagree" with them separate from Karma. The posts show how many people had a agreed/disagreed with the post and possibly who had done so. This would provide an outlet for the desire to express agreement or disagreement without being too cluttering. I experience this desire a lot, but usually hold back for fear of making clutter.

comment by Wei_Dai · 2011-01-24T04:21:05.811Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, see this subthread where multiple users discuss how spectator sports are "banal" and "pointless".

Although I didn't write those comments, I think from the context of that subthread, it was intended that spectator sports are "banal" and "pointless" compared to philosophy or existential risk reduction, not arguing over whether Star Wars or Star Trek is superior.

(BTW, I personally think it (arguing over ...) is just as banal and pointless as spectator sports. On the other hand, watching Star Wars or Star Trek is not pointless, since it lets you learn the possibility of things like AI and space travel, which you might not otherwise be aware of. I wrote a post about this.)

comment by ata · 2011-01-24T02:42:49.628Z · score: 12 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never been into science fiction, fantasy literature, anime, or D&D, but the alleged popularity of those on LW has never bothered me, nor even particularly stood out. (I mean, I've liked a few instances of the first three, but never anywhere near the point of being involved in their respective subcultures.)

(Admittedly, I am a nerd along several other dimensions — e.g. I'm a computer/math/science person — but those are a lot more actually relevant to understanding and contributing to LW than anime and sci-fi/fantasy are.)

comment by komponisto · 2011-01-24T05:36:59.011Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ditto.

comment by anon895 · 2011-01-24T07:08:31.032Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've never been into science fiction, fantasy literature, anime, or D&D, but the alleged popularity of those on LW has never bothered me, nor even particularly stood out. (I mean, I've liked a few instances of the first three, but never anywhere near the point of being involved in their respective subcultures.)

You seem to be under the impression that a nerd is someone who pins a badge saying "nerd" on himself.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-24T07:23:05.242Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ata appeared, rather, to be following the content of the opening post.

comment by ata · 2011-01-24T16:52:14.805Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-01-24T17:02:33.807Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you define nerdiness by the subject matter, then sci fi is nerdy and sports are not. But if you define nerdiness by the approach that people take, then there are plenty of sports nerds (think Bill James, Nate Silver, Moneyball, or this Onion article). Sabermetrics is basically the rationalist approach to sports: figure out what actually helps teams win by collecting the right data, analyzing it appropriately, and following the numbers even if they disagree with established views. This approach is growing rapidly, and has spread to other sports besides baseball (including NBA basketball and NFL football).

Sports could be a gateway drug to a broader interest in rationality, just like scifi/fantasy have been for many people. Maybe we need the sports equivalent of HPMOR?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-01-24T17:45:11.900Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I once attended an annual convention of classic-appliances afficionados, to keep my husband company, and remember being somewhat disoriented by being surrounded by a community of nerds with whom I simply did not resonate in the slightest, while at the same time clearly recognizing what they were doing as what nerds do when we congregate. It has been a useful memory to keep in mind when watching people be alienated by my own community... affinity is more contingent/superficial than I would necessarily prefer.

comment by sfb · 2011-01-24T18:43:01.020Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And here I was thinking it was obscure mathematical gibberish that would discourage non-nerdy people from participating. Instead it's mentioning an idea by a famous author that's scaring them off.

;-)

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-01-24T10:03:58.941Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As one data point, I'm allergic to almost every aspect of the modern American nerd culture, but I don't find it problematic here because I simply tune out any manifestations of it. However, I have an unusual level of ability and inclination to filter out the elements I dislike and concentrate on the interesting stuff whenever I find some venue offering original perspective and insight. I'm sure lots of people find such things more actively repulsive.

comment by prase · 2011-01-24T12:54:48.058Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another data point: I enjoy watching sports, am largely ignorant of science fiction (dislike Star Trek and Star Wars, if the latter can be counted as sci-fi), actively dislike fantasy, anime and Harry Potter (while being largely ignorant of them either). I am not sure what D&D means. Still, I have no problem with LW, and I even don't think that I have some special ability to ignore unpleasant signals. Those nerdy symptoms are present, but they are very rare and not salient.

comment by roystgnr · 2011-01-25T18:15:59.167Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unfortunately, all these data points have been already filtered. Learning that some non-cultural-nerds aren't scared away by the nerdisms here is good, and thank you, but I wish I saw way to coax a more meaningful statistic out of them. "100% of non-nerds who still post on Less Wrong haven't been discouraged away from posting on Less Wrong", fine, but for each one of you are there 0.01 or 100 others who didn't stick around?

I'm reminded of a comment here about "borrowing offense": you can't try to single-handedly anticipate and eliminate everything that might hypothetically bother someone else, because without actual bothered people to talk to you have no way to tell where to start or stop. But what are the odds that someone reading this page is so anti-nerdiness that they're considering leaving the site but not so anti-nerdiness that they've left already?

comment by prase · 2011-01-25T19:37:13.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It still makes difference whether the "100% of non-nerds who still post on Less Wrong" is an empty set or makes half of the Less Wrong membership. The data aren't completely filtered, learning that there are non-nerds here is evidence that the non-nerd intimidation isn't too strong.

comment by Costanza · 2011-01-24T04:52:39.101Z · score: 6 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Less Wrong discouraging less nerdy people from participating?

Why, yes. Yes it is.

You say that like it's a bad thing. But just wait 'till the references to Heinlein and Tolkien are replaced by long discussions about Beyonce and the Super Bowl on Less Wrong. Then, see how you like it.

Seriously, how much of a single, unified purpose does Less Wrong actually serve? I know SIAI has its mission, and the masthead asserts that this forum is devoted to "reforming the art of human rationality." I'm not sure exactly of how these two goals complement each other, or how this forum's contribution to either or both is measured. Personally, I like this forum on a day-to-day basis mostly because it's fun, although I find myself increasingly influenced by its worldview all the time.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-24T05:13:21.471Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You say that like it's a bad thing. But just wait 'till the references to Heinlein and Tolkien are replaced by long discussions about Beyonce and the Super Bowl on Less Wrong. Then, see how you like it.

No one is advocating that we throw in sports and celebrity references. The point was that the large number of references to nerd topics could be a problem. See the difference?

(In any event other comments here especially ata's comment have reduced my concern.)

comment by LucasSloan · 2011-01-24T13:27:22.363Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No one is advocating that we throw in sports and celebrity references.

I am. Why shouldn't we?

Admittedly, almost no one who is attracted by discussion of sports and celebrity meets community standards for rationality, most of us would find it difficult to include such references, and it would increase the willpower required to read LW for some people, but these do not mean that we are currently at the optimum level of sport and celebrity references. Given that we're all a bunch of nerds with a huge grudge against mainstream tastes, it seems quite likely that we're under investing in sports/celebrity references-I'm quite certain that there are concepts that we discuss which would benefit from comparison to sports/celebrities. Also, though we won't attract people to LW via sports/celebrity references, that doesn't mean that we couldn't raise the sanity waterline outside of LW by creating rationality related material in language that appeals to non-nerds.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-01-24T20:09:47.597Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it seems quite likely that we're under investing in sports/celebrity references-I'm quite certain that there are concepts that we discuss which would benefit from comparison to sports/celebrities.

But to grasp those concepts we'd need to actually learn a lot of mostly-useless, occasionally-relevant facts.

When an LW post says Gandalf should have brought Frodo to Rivendell as soon as he suspected he had the One Ring, the whole point of using that example is that readers understand it. If the post had to explain who Gandalf was, there would be no benefit in mentioning Gandalf at all. If the post instead talked about a pop culture reference that most readers wouldn't get, the post's value would be lower.

comment by LucasSloan · 2011-01-24T20:19:50.088Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, but at the cost of making it less accessible to the average person. Yes, given that there are very few people who will click with LW who don't have our community's cultural knowledge, we should bias (across all posts, comments) toward sf/fantasy/science/tech/whatever, but there are other factors in play, which mean that the current mix is too far away from the mainstream. Given that we enjoy our culture, we should expect that we overuse it, approve of it out of proportion to its worth, even given that our enjoyment of it is a reason to use it, approve of it.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-01-24T20:31:12.557Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand that. I'm not saying that using mainstream references is wrong. But it does require the existing readers and posters to give some personal utility from using LW in exchange for the (impersonal) benefit of LW achieving its goals better.

comment by LucasSloan · 2011-01-24T21:07:43.973Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, sure. And I'm sure the community would appreciate suggestions on how to make doing so less expensive/more possible.

comment by sfb · 2011-01-24T18:55:28.706Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Admittedly, almost no one who is attracted by discussion of sports and celebrity meets community standards for rationality, most of us would find it difficult to include such references

I don't know ... there are plenty of references to people in comments in the style of celebrity fawning, just that they are niche celebrities instead of mainstream ones.

See this summary of rationality quotes - has fantasy author Terry Pratchett really said more rational quotable things than Einstein, Darwin, Descartes, Dennett, Jaynes, Aristotle and Sagan? Or is it just that people like him more?

Well, sort the same list [by karma votes] instead of number of quotes, and Pratchett moves up from 4th to 2nd.

That seems like either evidence that Pratchett and his fictional worlds have more relevance to rationality than the opening post wants to accept, or evidence that Pratchett is treated as a bit of a celebrity around here and your suggestion that people find it hard to throw in celebrity references isn't quite right, it's throwing in the right kind of celebrity references for people who celebrate vastly different properties in people which is hard.

comment by LucasSloan · 2011-01-24T19:41:03.134Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

has fantasy author Terry Pratchett really said more rational quotable things than Einstein, Darwin, Descartes, Dennett, Jaynes, Aristotle and Sagan?

Yes (emphasis mine). As an author, especially an author of humorous novels, Terry Pratchett has much stronger pressures to generate text which humans find aesthetically pleasing than famous scientists, who can count on prestige to carry their words to the world.

I don't know ... there are plenty of references to people in comments in the style of celebrity fawning, just that they are niche celebrities instead of mainstream ones.

Every single one of the names you mention are community celebrities, and yes, we fawn on our chosen ones. However, when I say that we should include more celebrity references, I don't mean we should fawn on celebrities more (neither the community's or mainstream), I mean that we should be more willing to talk about contemporary gossip, give examples about very widely known people, etc. I know it sounds strange to suggest the former, but I think that having topics which we can use when attempting to interact with normal folk on a non-intellectual level can only help us evangelize, break down stereotypes around rationality, and actually interact with normal people, which I'm told can be intrinsically rewarding. The latter just helps reduce pointless inferential gaps created by culture, not knowledge (for similar reasons, we should avoid the accumulation of jargon).

comment by Broggly · 2011-01-24T19:53:25.489Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think the issue is Pratchett's rationality so much as his quotability.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-24T06:16:50.232Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seriously, how much of a single, unified purpose does Less Wrong actually serve? I'm not sure exactly of how these two goals complement each other, or how this forum's contribution to either or both is measured.

Eliezer has written a couple of posts mentioning how LW helps the SIAI's mission. As for the other way around, donating to the SIAI has been framed in terms of maximizing marginal expected utility before, which would make it an application of instrumental rationality.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-01-24T05:04:15.050Z · score: -1 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why, yes. Yes it is.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Exactly!

comment by Jack · 2011-01-25T07:46:10.944Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I have, for a while now, had ideas for a couple posts about rationality that use sports as the source for most of the examples. Spectator sports are actually a rich field for rationalist analysis because they are rife with irrationality and there have been a number of recent developments in fixing that. I think sports fans, athletes, coaches and analysts could learn a lot from us and we could learn a lot from them.

Maybe I'll write one and see how it goes.

Incidentally, the way I got into sports (basketball in particular) was by discovering it as this big mystery- where I wasn't quite sure what factors at what degrees were involved in winning. Part of the reason I haven't gotten into baseball is that it's almost a solved problem at this point and I haven't gotten involved in football as it appears to complex for the low-hanging statistical fruit to be of much interest.

I have found being a big sports fan excellent practice for noticing and avoiding tribalism and motivated cognition. I highly recommend it.

comment by komponisto · 2011-01-24T05:48:22.203Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, see this subthread where multiple users discuss how spectator sports are "banal" and "pointless".

I think a careful reading of that subthread shows that you've unfairly taken those comments out of context. Mass Driver's point was that he/she didn't want to take away people's enjoyment of spectator sports, and Nancy Lebovitz was describing a hypothetical scenario where a person loses interest ("find out that spectator sports are pointless"), so that the label referred to that hypothetical person's own hypothetical (future) opinion. And by "multiple users" you apparently meant just those two.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-24T05:53:05.856Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, yes, it is only two people. I thought it was more people than that. Must have not been paying careful enough attention to the user names. As to out of context, I don't think it was out of context at all. The fact that it was hypothetical isn't what is relevant, the context of their discussion shows an attitude that it really is pointless and moreover worth looking down on (if that isn't clear, read the paragraph about the hypothetical individual's background. If that isn't nerdy elitism, I don't know what is.)

comment by komponisto · 2011-01-24T06:08:20.878Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The fact that it was hypothetical isn't what is relevant, the context of their discussion shows an attitude that it really is pointless and moreover worth looking down on

You'll have to do a better job of explaining how, because I don't get that sense at all, at least not from the part of the discussion you linked to (I haven't bothered to read the larger context). In fact I'm strongly suspecting pattern-completion here -- inferring other things you think the person would say, but aren't actually present in the cited text.

Meanwhile, I think you ignore disconfirmatory indications. From your description, I never would have guessed that Mass_Driver in fact wrote these sentences:

I want people to do what they really enjoy, even at the cost of them not working on my favorite projects.... if reflection just destroys people's existing, flawed sources of fun without providing an alternative source of fun, then I wouldn't want to encourage it....I feel like differences in what people choose to do for fun might reflect differing theories about what is fun, and not just a failure to reflect on one's activities. Even if the masses' theories about what is fun are philosophically indefensible, they may nevertheless be real descriptions about what the masses find to be fun, and so I have trouble justifying an attempt to take away that fun without letting go of my commitment to egalitarianism.

Whereas it seems to me that someone who actually thought others' interests were worth looking down upon wouldn't have much hesitation about changing them.

(if that isn't clear, read the paragraph about the hypothetical individual's background. If that isn't nerdy elitism, I don't know what is.)

What, this?:

Imagine a 50-something small business owner with a community college education -- maybe he runs a fast food restaurant, or a bike repair shop -- who really likes his local sports team. He goes to or watches most of their home games with a few other friends/fans and gets really excited about it and, on balance, has a lot of fun.

That seems like a realistic, non-pejorative description of a fairly large number of actual living people. What part of that description did you find disparaging?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-24T22:44:55.913Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

). In fact I'm strongly suspecting pattern-completion here -- inferring other things you think the person would say, but aren't actually present in the cited text.

Hmm, this is a good point. It is possible that I'm engaging in pattern completion or reading more negativity in than is present. It is also possible that that is connected to my own pretty negative attitude towards much of spectator sports. (What is this cognitive error called? If it doesn't have a name I'd suggest The Modest Proposal Bias.)

Whereas it seems to me that someone who actually thought others' interests were worth looking down upon wouldn't have much hesitation about changing them.

I don't think that's a correct reading of his remarks. The point is precisely the opposite as I read it, Mass Driver doesn't want to change their hobbies even as he looks down on them.

That seems like a realistic, non-pejorative description of a fairly large number of actual living people. What part of that description did you find disparaging?

It is realistic for a certain subset, but there's extraneous details that render it disparaging. There are a lot of smart people who went to very good universities who also are fanatics about their local sports team. The apparent working assumption is that those people don't exist or exist in negligible numbers.

comment by komponisto · 2011-01-25T01:47:58.473Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is also possible that that is connected to my own pretty negative attitude towards much of spectator sports. (What is this cognitive error called?

It sounds like it may be a case of Generalizing from One Example.

Whereas it seems to me that someone who actually thought others' interests were worth looking down upon wouldn't have much hesitation about changing them.

I don't think that's a correct reading of his remarks. The point is precisely the opposite as I read it, Mass Driver doesn't want to change their hobbies even as he looks down on them.

It wasn't intended as a "reading" of his remarks; it was a statement of my own view, an argument that I was making that was premised on his remarks. I claim it is a contradiction to "look down on them" and simultaneously not wish to change their hobbies. It thus follows from Mass_Driver's remarks that he doesn't "look down on them" -- he can't, because he says he's okay with them as they are!

It is realistic for a certain subset, but there's extraneous details that render it disparaging.

This is what you need to explain. I did not find a single "blameworthy" attribute in the description, and nor do I understand how the conjunction of any subset of those attributes could render a person blameworthy.

There are a lot of smart people who went to very good universities who also are fanatics about their local sports team. The apparent working assumption is that those people don't exist or exist in negligible numbers.

Again, I don't see how this follows. Is it your contention that if Mass_Driver believed the numbers were more than negligible he would necessarily have used such a person as the example?

(It seems to me that one could, with considerably more justice, accuse you of believing that "smart people" only go to "very good universities".)

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-01-25T03:13:07.026Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It wasn't intended as a "reading" of his remarks; it was a statement of my own view, an argument that I was making that was premised on his remarks. I claim it is a contradiction to "look down on them" and simultaneously not wish to change their hobbies. It thus follows from Mass_Driver's remarks that he doesn't "look down on them" -- he can't, because he says he's okay with them as they are!

There may be connotations of "look down on" that we don't share. or there may be other hidden issues, such as the nature of what it means to change opinions. Thus for example, I'd say that I might look down on an adult who thinks that the card game "War" is worthwhile and fun to play but at the same time I might have something resembling an ideological belief that humans have a right to do their own things even if I find them silly. I think that's what Mass Driver was getting at when he talked about egalitarianism.

Again, I don't see how this follows. Is it your contention that if Mass_Driver believed the numbers were more than negligible he would necessarily have used such a person as the example?

He could have avoided all of the biographical that simply didn't impact the point at all. Once you choose to add extraneous biographic details, what those details are reflects pre-existing conceptions.

(Also I don't know why you are now using the term "blameworthy" since no one else has. I'm not sure what precisely you mean by it.)

comment by Nornagest · 2011-01-24T22:39:47.385Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The failure mode here doesn't come out of Less Wrong being ontologically nerdy but the potential for it to become teleologically nerdy. To clarify, the topics of analysis that we see here are going to be seen as nerdy by most of the mainstream; short of changing the culture there's no way around that. But assuming that rationality and nerdiness are causally entangled with each other, that epistemic rationality implies nerdiness in other domains or vice versa, is not only wrong but dangerously so.

The community seems to be fairly adept at avoiding the general class of failures that this belongs to; it's managed to stay mostly clear of them in the political domain, for example. That's good. But the wider nerd culture is extremely bad about confusing its cultural preferences with its notion of rationality, as the appropriate fandoms' attitudes toward Justin Bieber listeners, Stephenie Meyer readers, and Wii Fit players should show. At times it can shade into something that almost resembles a religion, as in Neal Stephenson's In The Beginning... Was The Command Line. With this in mind, and bearing in mind that this community is by any measure full of nerds, it ought to be guarded against specifically.

We might end up attracting more and more rational people if we branch our pop-cultural examples out of fandom and into more mainstream domains, though that's only as effective as demographics and cultural norms will allow. But what we lose (or gain) from not doing so is absolutely insignificant compared to the potential bias we could introduce by entangling the myths of our tribe with the laws of the universe.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2011-01-24T23:16:56.528Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But the wider nerd culture is extremely bad about confusing its cultural preferences with its notion of rationality, as the appropriate fandoms' attitudes toward [...] Stephenie Meyer readers

At least we don't have that specific problem.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-01-24T23:54:45.781Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do find that when people link to my fic, e.g. on Livejournal, they are very defensive and apologetic and incredulous about it. More so than the links I've seen that go to HP:MoR. Twilight isn't considered respectable in the sorts of circles that are open to rationalist fiction.

comment by Perplexed · 2011-01-24T22:46:30.838Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Harmless tribalist fun is the mind-killer.

comment by jmmcd · 2011-01-24T06:19:54.318Z · score: 3 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

one form of fantastic escapism involving imaginary spaceships

This is a telling misunderstanding of what SF is about.

comment by Document · 2011-01-24T09:01:09.729Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...of what SF is about to futurists interested in serious and original thought about the future, which one would expect to find on LW. Not necessarily to SF writers or the general public. I think the point is that we should have consistent meta-level rules on what it's okay to look down on people for; i.e. that the same rules should be applied for "nerds" and non-"nerds".

comment by multifoliaterose · 2011-01-24T03:21:27.689Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this post. I don't have an answer to the titular question, but I've wondered the same thing.

comment by anonym · 2011-01-24T17:44:36.578Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I interpret your underlying point to be that LW is used by the most prolific contributors not only as a place to discuss and learn about rationality and related topics, but also as a place to socialize with like-minded people who share their unusual interests in topics such as sci-fi that are not of interest to most people -- and often the socializing aspect is combined with the rationality-dojo aspect in a single post or comment, when people give fun references to sci-fi or D&D or whatever or just go off on tangents about things of interest to them.

There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to not having a norm of encouraging (mostly) 'generic rationality' discussion with no (or minimal) references to things that would be unfamiliar to most (or too many) of the target audience (what is the target audience specifically? how many is too many?).

I don't have a clear idea of what the advantages and disadvantages are, or what the alternatives, but I'm curious how many people who are strongly interested in rationality are turned away by such things. Do we think that many people are seriously discouraged despite having a strong interest in rationality, or are we talking about people who clicked a random link and left immediately because it was "too weird"?