Avoiding the emergency room

post by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-14T20:23:54.858Z · score: 7 (12 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 68 comments

Diana Hsieh interviews Dr. Doug McGuff about avoidable injuries and deaths.

He's an emergency room physician in South Carolina, so he's pretty much just talking about what he's seen-- different regions have different characteristic injuries.

He says that you're safest in the largest car you can afford, which raises some interesting ethical issues.

There's a fair amount about the risks of getting overfocused on getting something done. This adds tremendously to the hazards of using ladders.

Also, did you know trees can go sproing? One of hazards of chainsaws is that a good bit of energy might be stored in a twisted tree trunk. Don't just know your physics, apply it!

More generally, there are machines and situations (ATVs, chainsaws, airplanes, skiing, etc.) which tend to make people feel more competent than they are. 

On the other hand, injuries from rock climbing and horseback riding are less common than you might think. I don't know why the ancestral environment didn't give people a reflexive distaste against diving into water. Perhaps people back then had too much sense to dive much.

One of the pieces of advice-- to get out of stressful relationships-- is too general. This is mostly a good idea, but from what I've read, leaving a violent relationship can lead to more risk of violence. It's still a good idea to leave, but it's important to leave cautiously.

Both McGuff and Hsieh are objectivists, so some of the discussion might be in mind-killer territory.

Edited to add: It's possible that objectivism would be better discussed under a new post. It's certain that there's a bunch of interesting material in the podcast, and avoidable accidents are worth discussing.

Topic list:

 

 

68 comments

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comment by Prismattic · 2013-05-15T01:01:51.012Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure if I should put this here or the boring advice repository...

Even if you're not interested in martial arts, if you have the opportunity try to go to the first class of a session of judo or aikido and see if they'll let you take one class for free. Even if you only come the first time, the first lesson is the most instrumentally useful one -- how to fall down. Most people will never need to defend themselves in a street fight, but they're not at all unlikely to slip on a patch of ice, or misjudge a step on the stairs, or fall off a ladder, and our instincts for dealing with a fall are really counterproductive. Learning ukemi-waza may keep you out of the emergency room (one of my teachers did, in fact, fall off a ladder while cleaning his gutters, and walked away from it).

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-15T10:23:40.430Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Even if you only come the first time, the first lesson is the most instrumentally useful one -- how to fall down. Most people will never need to defend themselves in a street fight, but they're not at all unlikely to slip on a patch of ice, or misjudge a step on the stairs, or fall off a ladder, and our instincts for dealing with a fall are really counterproductive.

Is one lesson enough to make that movement sufficiently instinctive that it will work when having an unexpected fall?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-05-15T13:27:09.501Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

A related question: is one lesson enough to enable safe subsequent practice on one's own which, in turn, can make that movement sufficiently instinctive?

comment by Prismattic · 2013-05-15T22:53:06.672Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

One lesson might well be enough to practice on your own. As I replied to wedrifid's parallel comment, once you've been taught it once, you can also probably rely on YouTube for reinforcement.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-05-15T22:49:28.399Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No, but once you've seen what you need to practice, it can be done safely on your own on a carpet or grass (I would not recommend practicing on a hard surface; not that it won't work, but you'd get very sore doing it repeatedly).

Additionally, once you've had it shown to you in person, you can probably rely on YouTube if you need a refresher. I would not recommend skipping the actual lesson in favor of YouTube, however. It's best to have someone watching to see if you're doing the exercises correctly at least once.

comment by Izeinwinter · 2013-06-25T17:19:23.640Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

No. Ive had fall technique trigger in accidents I did not see coming - including literally having a ladder yanked out from under me, but that was after over 3 years of 2-3 times week judo and jujitsu. Martial arts, however do have one major selling point. As exercise goes, a good dojo is simply a lot of fun. This makes it much, much easier to keep up than a gym subscription. Milage may vary for people who do not enjoy being tossed around as much as I do. I do emphasize "good". Quality of teaching and social atmosphere vary very widely. If you want to do this, make sure whereever you go has a tone you are comfortable with, and that their teachings has some sort of reality benchmark related to why you go. If you want to do it as a sport, try to find a dojo that has people in it that win contests. If you want selfdefence, the one the police use for qualifying training ought to be good (.. if your local police force is at all competent) but taking up parkour is probably more useful.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2013-05-15T08:18:21.105Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(For street fights, if you think you might get in one, it seems like buying pepper spray and carrying it everywhere would be cheaper, take less time, and be more effective in a fight (in terms of disabling someone easily while also not going too far and actually hurting them).)

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-05-15T09:09:07.412Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

That and sprints, since they're good for lots of other health reasons anyway. The lowered status and accompanying stress from running away is more than made up for in not-dying.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-15T04:24:54.957Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've been meaning to do this for a while. Feldenkrais was big on the importance of your relationship to gravity. Poor balance and fear of falling make for near continuous anxiety.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2013-05-15T00:26:36.682Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

As a general rule, if you are linking to an external source, please don't mention irrelevant details about the author.

Relevant details, such as the fact the author is an ER doctor, provide evidence about the reliability of the information in the article.

Irrelevant details, such as the fact that the author is an objectivist, are at best just noise and at worst mind-killing distractions.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-15T03:08:58.722Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's not irrelevant-- it's not just that advice to drive the biggest car you can afford is given without consideration that it's zero-sum, there's also the bit about emergency rooms being overloaded because they're legally required to take all comers.

This being said, I probably shouldn't have mentioned it-- just let it emerge naturally if anyone listens to the podcast and has an opinion about it.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-05-14T23:38:28.172Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

#10: Allowing yourself to be forced into a car or trunk at gunpoint

So, people who allow themselves to be forced into a car or trunk at gunpoint go to the emergency room and people who don't do not. Is that because you only get injured if you do what they say, or because you only survive if you do what they say?

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-05-15T03:02:19.598Z · score: 15 (15 votes) · LW · GW

This is pretty standard advice from police and is probably not based on emergency room experience. The advice is to obey people who threaten immediate harm, except to refuse to go anywhere. The claim is that the main reason for transit is to go somewhere safer for the assailant, compared to shooting you on the street.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-05-15T09:13:17.752Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And running away works surprisingly well. It's way way harder to hit someone running with a handgun than most people estimate.

comment by ikrase · 2013-05-16T03:55:23.899Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Also, potential to survive wound. ~16% global mortality of single gunshot wound w/ medical treatment?

Criminal's payoff matrix also matters. For example, forcing somebody to move even a small distance can bump a fairly minor assault and/or robbery charge up to much more serious kidnapping charge, which means that simply executing you later will remove 1. a witness and 2. An incredibly cunning, desperate, and dangerous entity that may have hidden weapons, unexpected combat capabilities, and hidden means of calling allies, without increasing their sentence very much if they are caught.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-05-16T07:42:39.652Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There's also a significant chance they don't actually want to discharge the firearm in the current location and are hoping you just quietly go.

comment by ikrase · 2013-05-16T21:58:20.761Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That too, not to mention that murder specifically is always investigated but assault might not be.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-14T23:41:45.548Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The claim is that letting yourself be coerced into a vehicle means you'll be taken somewhere that you'll be even more vulnerable. It's better to risk being shot in a more public place while trying to get away or call for help.

None of advice is based on the premise that you can stay out of the emergency room by being dead.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-05-15T00:27:12.317Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

None of advice is based on the premise that you can stay out of the emergency room by being dead.

It sounds like it's based on what people who work at the emergency room saw. How could they possible know why you're not in the emergency room?

For that matter, how do they know it's not just that most people let themselves get kidnapped? If most of them do, and an equal portion end up in the emergency room, them most of the people in the emergency room will have let themselves get kidnapped.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-05-15T00:33:56.315Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure "driving the largest car you can afford" is a textbook case of everyone defecting in a prisoners' dilemma. A collision between two light cars is better than a collision between two heavy cars, but since the most disastrous outcome is to be in a light car colliding with a heavy car, everyone chooses the heavy car.

ETA: The above is wrong; see link in grandchild.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-15T05:27:11.709Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not entirely. You don't always hit another car. There is likely a countervailing benefit to all drivers as cars get heavier and don't decelerate as abruptly on collisions with immobile objects.

And yes, it does seem like an arms race to me too. Not just for weight, but for higher ground as well. I'd guess that's at least as important as weight - which car has the higher center of gravity and keeps it's passengers higher.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-15T10:45:20.995Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I thought (though I don't now remember where I heard it or how trustworthy the source) that although being higher up tends to make you feel safer it actually tends to make you less safe because the vehicle is more likely to end up rolling over. Is there any actual benefit to higher CoG?

(You can have higher passengers without higher CoG, which is probably good -- but then you need a load of extra mass at the bottom, which means higher fuel costs, more pollution, and maybe less manoeuvrability.)

[EDITED to fix a typo (missing space).]

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-17T08:09:40.206Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You're right about the rollover issue.

I was mainly picturing collisions. The vehicle with the higher CG more likely sheers up and plows through the passenger cage of the lower CG vehicle. Or so my physics would imagine.

Ha! You mention editing a missing space? My mean edits per post after post are probably 2+, and for more than a missing space. Seems impossible for me to put a coherent sentence on a page in the first try these days.

[edit] Had to edit this one because a dash was recognized as markup, made into a bullet, and indented the preceding paragraph. Ignorance of the markup law is no excuse. And had to edit again to indicate the edit.

Wait! Somebody had been telling me that they could drag the lower right corner of the text edit box to make it bigger, it seemed like it wasn't working for me. But I just did it! Yay! I can see a few sentences at once now. Maybe I won't have to edit my posts again and again now that I can see decent sized chunks at one time.

comment by knb · 2013-05-15T02:09:51.905Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

How do you know a collision between two light cars is better? (I'm not saying you're wrong, just that it isn't obviously true.)

For example, a car made ought of plywood would be lighter than a car made of steel, but it would also probably be much, much more dangerous. Of course there are other reasons why lighter cars are preferable ceteris paribus.

comment by Prismattic · 2013-05-15T02:23:38.426Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Materials that splinter rather than crumple would be problematic, but assuming we keep cars constructed basically as they are now, I would expect the collision between lighter cars to be better for basic F=MA reasons.

ETA: I stand corrected: See here on page 4:

The results have a clear pattern: reducing a vehicle's weight increases net risk in collisions with substantially larger and stronger entities, reduces net risk in collisions with much smaller and more vulnerable entities, and has little effect on net fatalities in collisions with vehicles of about the same size (although nonfatal injuries increase).

comment by Shrike · 2013-05-16T01:58:57.527Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I read a long time ago the following article about car safety:

Malcolm Gladwell's article Big and Bad

It is a strongly written and interesting article which I suggest reading. It really illustrates a lot of irrationality in consumer car-purchasing decisions, though one particular example (the cupholders thing) has been chewed over here before and I disagree with the author of the article's opinions on that one specific point. It also suggests at least some level of mystical thinking by the auto industry.

For those without the time, a short summary is provided:

It suggests that according to some statistics, the drivers of midsized cars are among the safest because the decreased 'passive' safety in driving smaller vehicles is compensated for by better 'active' safety in terms of better performance in accelerating, stopping, and especially turning to avoid problems - and that this second active safety effect is larger than the passive safety gains by switching . The safest of all is extremely large things like minivans because of details of their design and construction - being designed from the ground up for safety with e.g. crumple zones and so forth, but midsized cars are rather towards the safe end of things in terms of fatalities per millions of drivers. Finally, it suggests that the SUV is extremely unsafe but bought anyways for psychological reasons - people like to feel 'big' and 'high up' even if that is objectively safe. This works to the extent that at one time automakers made a back window smaller to make drivers feel like others couldn't see in, and thus feel safer even though larger windows are objectively safer.

I know that I personally think it is less safe for me to be driving an SUV or truck compared to a smaller car; The giant mass feels great psychologically, but after driving a smaller car a lot, the larger ones I have driven feel too sluggish and slow to avoid things.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-15T09:35:51.289Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would expect the collision between lighter cars to be better for basic F=MA reasons.

It may be that collision between lighter cars is better. If so the reasons are not 'basic F=MA reasons". In the basic collision model neither m nor a change. The relevant mass is the mass of the persons body and the acceleration is determined by the collision speed and the degree to which the cars crumple. The mass of the (identical) cars is irrelevant (for 'basic' purposes).

Again, there may be more complex reasons why more mass in the cars makes them more dangerous. For example if shrapnel is considered a relevant factor and 0.5% of the mass of the car creates shrapnel then lower mass becomes desirable all else being equal. (Cars designed with modern engineering standards should in theory eliminate most reasons why lighter could be better, basically by bringing the reality closer to the basic model and reducing the extent to which 'chaotic moving car parts' cause injury on top of the 'human stops suddenly' problem.)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-15T03:42:25.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why you think you're corrected. Your quote seems to imply that larger cars for safety is defection because they increase safety for their occupants while reducing safety for people in smaller cars.

comment by rocurley · 2013-05-15T06:18:14.373Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but if I'm reading this right, the payoff matrix is different from the PD. If two large vehicles collide, it's about as bad as two small vehicles colliding. This means that if everyone drove a huge truck, safety would be improved overall (trees won't get bigger to match, and no one cares about their safety). If all you care about is safety, the optimal situation is everyone in a large vehicle.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2013-05-15T09:11:24.439Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

but you have to offset by QUALY's you could have bought with the extra gas money.

comment by Eneasz · 2013-05-15T17:33:30.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

And the extra money for the car (larger and heavier tend to be more expensive) and the extra destruction of the environment (when aggregated across everyone who drives)

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-05-20T08:47:39.447Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm pretty sure "driving the largest car you can afford" is a textbook case of everyone defecting in a prisoners' dilemma.

No. Look at crash test data: big cars have more room to crumple, so the dummy is considerably less damaged.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-05-16T19:16:53.765Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This advice suffers from massive survival bias. Essentially it's a list of bad things that can happen to people after which they survive (or almost survive) to the extent that they are taken to the ER and not to the morgue.

For people interested in actual causes of death, governments publish quite detailed tables with the data. I'd think it would be a better starting point for conclusions.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-05-17T01:50:03.160Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You want to avoid death if you can, but you also want to avoid serious injury.

comment by Zaine · 2013-05-14T21:16:11.934Z · score: 3 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why objectivists seem to be held in low regard here. My exposure is limited to browsing a forum of objectivists[1] - they were indistinguishable from those here, though much more focussed on personal instrumental rationality in their topics.

I know they are formally a closed loop belief system limited by the writings of Ayn Rand (which I've not read), and have heard this belief system is flawed in some way. That sounds like a straw man.

I'm only interested in the steel man. What is the difference between rationality and objectivism?
The only one that comes to mind: Objectivism implies there is only one true way of some things, while rationality allows for individual variety in thinking processes (resulting from different information, experiences, terminal values, etc.)

However, if for one person their most desired thing is happiness - which can only be achieved through quasi-altruistic deeds - then I cannot see it as anything but objective and rational to carry out those deeds. Objectivism applied to the fulfilment of one's desires appears indistinguishable from rationality to me. Where am I wrong on this - or am I playing semantics?

[1] Knowing what to look for, I discovered the site again. They indeed are very skilled at applying instrumental rationality to various areas of their lives (exempli gratia what type of plastic surgery yields the most natural results?) - however in the Philosophy and Ethics sections, Ayn Rand philosophy abounds. They are describing the intent of an Important Figure (scary), without doing so for the purposes of then breaking it down; those that try the latter attack straw-man versions and are refuted.

comment by prase · 2013-05-14T23:46:03.634Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

What is the difference between rationality and objectivism?

I have had few discussions with Objectivists and read few other discussions where Objectivists took part and I haven't seen particularly high level of rationality there. Objectivism as actually practiced is a political ideology with all downsides - fallacious arguments of all kinds, tight connection between beliefs and personal identity, regarding any opposition as a threat to morality by default and so on.

Objectivism as philosophy is a mix of beliefs often mutually incompatible, connected by vague net of equivocations. You may have been mislead by the etymology of "Objectivism" to thinking that belief in objective reality and morality is the distinguishing characteristic belief of Objectivists. But it is not so. To be an Objectivist, you ideally have to agree that

  • For all X, X=X
  • The only terminal value is survival.
  • There are natural human rights to life, property and liberty, and no other rights.
  • Selfishness is a virtue and altruism is a vice.
  • Laissez-faire capitalism with minimal to non-existent state is the only moral political system.
  • All above could be derived step by step by mere logic from the first axiom, no observational data needed.
  • Ayn Rand was one of the greatest thinkers of 20th century (and perhaps of all history of mankind).

That "there is only one true way of some things" is not a steelman version of Rand's Objectivism, it's a vague nearly tautological statement which almost everyone is bound to agree with, Objectivist or not.

comment by Vaniver · 2013-05-15T01:28:15.929Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have had few discussions with Objectivists and read few other discussions where Objectivists took part and I haven't seen particularly high level of rationality there. Objectivism as actually practiced is a political ideology with all downsides - fallacious arguments of all kinds, tight connection between beliefs and personal identity, regarding any opposition as a threat to morality by default and so on.

Agreed. I'll also note that several of the Objectivists who I've shown LW have reacted positively, often saying things along the lines of "this is what I wanted out of Objectivism."

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-15T04:49:59.513Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The only terminal value is survival.

Not true. Last I heard the debate was between life "qua man" and a flourishing life.

All above could be derived step by step by mere logic from the first axiom, no observational data needed.

I believe that's mistaken as well. She was not a rationalist in that sense. Concept formation came from observational data.

comment by prase · 2013-05-15T06:37:25.903Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I had always been under impression that the value of life "qua man" is derived from the value of life in general, because human life which is not "qua man" is actually equivalent to death, as living "qua man", whatever it means, makes one human. Am I mistaken?

I think you are right in your second objection, there is some limited role for observation in Objectivist philosophy.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-15T09:21:55.010Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had always been under impression that the value of life "qua man" is derived from the value of life in general,

Not life in general, but your life, to you. As Rand would say, value is not a conceptual primary - it presupposes value to whom for what.

I believe her transition from life to "life qua man" is untenable. What you describe would have been more consistent in my eye, if your life is what makes the concept of right and wrong possible, it should be the objective standards for your life that matters, not the life of Man, Mammal, Biped, or Bowler. But the requirements of life wouldn't have taken her where she wanted to go.

Playing the essentialism card allowed her to smuggle in a boatload of values masquerading as implicit in the choice between life and death. The requirements for your concrete life get subordinated to the standards of Man's life qua Man. And then it's "Man can't live as this, Man can't live as that", no matter how many men have managed to do so.

I think she's wrong on the basic question - life isn't what provides a standard of right and wrong, it's preference. Her example of the immortal, indestructible robot undermines her case. The robot would still make choices, and could stlll have preferences, even if immortal and indestructible. '“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.' The robot can still act to gain or keep things - it can still have values.

Indeed, it would be perverse, even from an Objectivist perspective, for values in life to be impossible without the possibility of death.

I think she fails, like all do, in demonstrating an objective code of values. But I found the sense of life in the novels liberating and moving, and the criticisms of altruism empowering.

comment by prase · 2013-05-15T18:58:42.804Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Not life in general, but your life, to you.

By "value of life in general" I meant value of one's own life for oneself (the "in general" qualifier was there to mark the absence of "qua man").

Playing the essentialism card allowed her to smuggle in a boatload of values masquerading as implicit in the choice between life and death. The requirements for your concrete life get subordinated to the standards of Man's life qua Man. And then it's "Man can't live as this, Man can't live as that", no matter how many men have managed to do so.

That's what I find most annoying and in the same time bizarre with Objectivism. On the one hand, it asserts that my life belongs to me and nobody else, on the other hand it prescribes what I am entitled to do with my life and what not, lest be considered a looter. Among other freedoms, I want my freedom to be altruistic if I choose to.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-17T08:00:14.642Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Free to be altruistic. Wouldn't that be nice. But freedom is precisely what most everyone would deny you, including Rand. Some say you have a duty to be altruistic, while says you have a duty not to be, but both agree that you're evil unless you submit and do your duty.

If you want a philosopher who leaves you free to be an egoist, you want Stirner, the egoist. Egoism isn't the opposite of altruism, it is the opposite of theism, the belief the you were born a slave to a cause not your own. Rand says she doesn't believe in God, but does she believe in Good any less than the most fanatical theist believes in God? Does she condemn those who won't serve her Good any less harshly?

Youtube atheists had a big stink over the definition of atheism - is it disbelief in God, or a lack of belief in God? And round and round they went. And both sides were wrong, because they took belief in the sense of "belief in the existence of", which really isn't the point with respect to theism. There have been no end of people worshiped as gods by other people. It wasn't that these "gods" didn't exist for their respective atheists, it's that their atheists did not believe they were born slaves to these gods. In Paradise Lost, Satan certainly knows God exists, but does it make any sense to thereby call him a theist? Isn't he an atheist precisely for his refusal to be a slave, his Non Serviam?

Rand actually started off very close to really being an egoist. Anthem and We the Living were just assertions of freedom over people and ideologies who demand your submission. IMO, it wasn't enough for her to be free, she wanted to be right, and for other people to be wrong. A will to power, even in philosophy.

And while Nietzsche was all for that, and went about consciously trying to impose his vision on others, I don't think Rand got the joke. She was a true believer in her truth, Stirner would say possessed by it, and wasn't consciously serving her own will, but dutifully served her truth instead.

it asserts that my life belongs to me

Funny you should put it that way. Stirner's "Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum" is alternately translated "The Unique One and His Property", or "The Ego and His Own". It's about what you can own, and what it means to have an attitude of ownership to your own life and the world. Your life may or may not belong to you, but that depends on you and the attitude you take toward it.

comment by whateverfor · 2013-05-15T01:09:34.556Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

The problem is Objectivism was actually an Ayn Rand personality cult more than anything else, so you can't really get a coherent and complete philosophy out of it. Rothbard goes into quite a bit of detail about it in The Sociology of the Ayn Rand Cult.

http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard23.html

Some highlights:

"The philosophical rationale for keeping Rand cultists in blissful ignorance was the Randian theory of "not giving your sanction to the Enemy." Reading the Enemy (which, with a few carefully selected exceptions, meant all non- or anti-Randians) meant "giving him your moral sanction," which was strictly forbidden as irrational. In a few selected cases, limited exceptions were made for leading cult members who could prove that they had to read certain Enemy works in order to refute them."

"The psychological hold that the cult held on the members may be illustrated by the case of one girl, a certified top Randian, who experienced the misfortune of falling in love with an unworthy non-Randian. The leadership told the girl that if she persisted in her desire to marry the man, she would be instantly excommunicated. She did so nevertheless, and was promptly expelled. And yet, a year or so later, she told a friend that the Randians had been right, that she had indeed sinned and that they should have expelled her as unworthy of being a rational Randian."

This is not to say Rand didn't have any valid insights, but since Rand really believed that things she said were by definition rational since she was rational (and as a bonus, the only possible rational thing)... there's a lot of junk and cruft in there, so there's no real good reason to take the whole label.

comment by syllogism · 2013-05-15T05:34:39.416Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Objectivism comes with a bunch of baggage about e.g. economics and psychology that's simply untrue, empirically. For instance an objectivist would say that status seeking inhibits self-actualisation. The objectivist plan is to learn to care less about status. As I understand the evidence, this is bad advice for almost all humans, as almost nobody can self-modify to just not care about their place on the totem pole.

In a nutshell, I think objectivists live in the "should universe", and this leads to a bunch of whacky nonsense.

comment by Watercressed · 2013-05-14T21:50:34.726Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Objectivisim includes an ethic that many here dislike.

comment by jamesf · 2013-05-14T21:51:55.184Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the main sin of Objectivism is that, though most Objectivists don't really think of it as a closed belief system, they focus too much on the writings of Ayn Rand, who for reasons of both insufficient rationality and insufficient available evidence, believed a lot of things that are now generally thought to be false (humanity's "state of nature" probably the most relevant and fundamental thing she was wrong about).

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-15T05:20:55.337Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know they are formally a closed loop belief system limited by the writings of Ayn Rand

Some of them are, and some of them are not. David Kelley is at least a leader of those who are not, and previously posted to LW to point out the error of this assumption.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/m1/guardians_of_ayn_rand/h16

Objectivism applied to the fulfillment of one's desires

But Objectivism is not about fulfilling your desires, which Rand would consider "whim worshipping subjectivism".

It is only by accepting “man’s life” as one’s primary and by pursuing the rational values it requires that one can achieve happiness—not by taking “happiness” as some undefined, irreducible primary and then attempting to live by its guidance.

I don't understand why objectivists seem to be held in low regard here.

Many people believe in altruism and their feelings of self worth are based in it. Even those not particularly moved by it generally grant that it is moral. She condemns altruism as an evil in harsh, explicit, and effective terms. People are unaccustomed to that, and don't like it. That makes her a natural object of hatred for altruists, as probably the most well known "egoist" philosopher, particularly in the US.

they were indistinguishable from those here, though much more focused on personal instrumental rationality in their topics.

Interesting. Not my experience. I'd say they are more focused on instrumental rationality here than in objectivist lists I've been on previously. Almost entirely theoretical, to the extent that I can recall. Maybe that was because it was the very early days of the internet, and people hadn't gotten pontificating out of their systems yet.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-15T07:56:03.579Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

She condemns altruism as an evil in harsh, explicit, and effective terms.

And she uses the original definition of altruism (approximately: reversed survival instinct), which most people don't even know today.

Instead of blaming her, I would rather blame the people who use the word "altruism" as an applause light. Successful Dark Arts maneuver here -- 1) invent a new word describing something horrible, and say it is the best thing ever and all humans should do that; 2) wait for your opponents to publicly criticize the word; 3) change the definition of the word to something nice and pretend the original version never existed... now all your opponents look like horrible, evil people.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-15T10:57:57.113Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

the original definition of altruism (approximately: reversed survival instinct), which most people don't even know today

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (which is generally very trustworthy on such things),

  • the oldest meaning of the English word altruism is "disinterested or selfless concern for the well-being of others, esp. as a principle of action" (which seems to me to be more or less the standard meaning today);
  • the word is derived from French altruisme, coined by Auguste Comte in his "Positivist Catechism" (and the OED has a citation for the English word from the same year as that work was published).

In that work, Comte says of positivism "It is by its nature thoroughly altruistic, or unselfish" which seems to indicate that he takes altruism to mean something like "being concerned directly for others rather than only or primarily for oneself" -- which is pretty much the standard present-day meaning.

Here's a longer quotation from the same work of Comte; it doesn't happen to use the word "altruism" but seems to me to make it clear that he isn't calling for the abandonment of self-interest, never mind its outright reversal:

Only remark that unity in the altruistic sense does not, as the egoistic unity does, require the entire sacrifice to itself of the inclinations which are contrary to it in principle. All it asks is, that they shall be wisely subordinate to the predominant affection. When it condenses the whole of sound morality in its law of Live for others, Positivism allows and consecrates the constant satisfaction of our several personal instincts. It considers such satisfaction indispensable to our natural existence, which is and always must be the foundation for all our higher attributes.

On what basis do you say that the original definition of altruism is "approximately: reversed survival instinct"?

comment by arundelo · 2013-05-15T17:02:26.297Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

George H. Smith talks about what Comte meant by altruism here. Excerpts below. Assuming his summaries are accurate and his quotes are selected charitably, this is not what most people mean nowadays by altruism.

Comte's altruism went far beyond the conventional moral beliefs that we should exercise benevolence and charity toward our fellow human beings. Altruism, for Comte, was the absolute duty of humans to subordinate all personal interests (other than eating and other rudimentary necessities of physical survival) to the interests of others, and ultimately to "humanity" as a whole.

[...]

Consider Comte's reaction to the Golden Rule, which many philosophers had cited as exemplifying the principle of justice, "Do to others as you would be done unto." This will not suffice as a guide to social interaction, Comte argued, because it introduces "a purely personal calculation" and is therefore inherently egoistic. Even what Comte called "the great Catholic formula: Love your neighbor as yourself" retains the "stain of selfishness" and is therefore inadequate. One should love one's "neighbor" more than oneself.

Only Comte's doctrine of altruism, according to which we should "live for others" exclusively -- again, with the "sole limitation" of basic life-sustaining activities, for only the living can live for others -- can satisfy "the definitive formula of human morality." "Live for others" is the "motto" of human beings at their highest stage of moral development. This is why Comte condemned suicide; to kill oneself, say, to escape intolerable pain is a selfish act that eliminates one's potential service to humanity: "For our life is less even than our fortune or any of our talents at our arbitrary disposal, since it is more valuable to Humanity, from whom we hold it." There can, after all, be no self-sacrifice without a self to sacrifice.

According to Comte, love, not the desire for personal gain, should be "the sole source of voluntary cooperation." [...]

[...]

In appealing to happiness as the consequence of exercising our altruistic sentiments, Comte might be accused of introducing an egoistic element into his altruistic scheme, so he set the record straight. Although altruism is the only possible source of true happiness, happiness may or may not result from altruistic acts. In no case, however, should personal happiness be the motive for altruistic acts. Whether or not we "gain" happiness from serving humanity is irrelevant. To behave altruistically because we want to be happy is to taint altruism with an egoistic motive; it is to degrade our duty to serve humanity to the level of a selfish desire for personal happiness.

[...]

[...] We are born loaded with obligations of every kind, to our predecessors, to our successors, and to our contemporaries. Later they only grow or accumulate before we can return any service. [...]

comment by gjm · 2013-05-15T21:48:11.892Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, first of all, none of that indicates even slightly that "altruism" ever meant anything like "reversed survival instinct". (Which, to me, implies an outright preference for death.)

Secondly, it is not necessarily right to assume that Comte intended "altruism" to mean "the entirety of what Positivism says people should think, feel and do". It looks to me, from an admittedly cursory look at his book, as if he took "egoism" to mean "acting for oneself" or "caring about oneself" and "altruism" to mean "acting for others" or "caring about others", and the key moral content of his quasi-religion was: "altruism should totally dominate over egoism". If I'm right, this dominance is part of Positivism but not part of what he meant by "altruism", and any action or attitude based on caring about others is "altruistic" in his sense even if the person involved cares a lot about himself too.

Assuming his summaries are accurate and his quotes are selected charitably,

Those don't seem to me like safe assumptions.

Altruism, for Comte, was the absolute duty of humans to subordinate all personal interests (other than eating and other rudimentary necessities of physical survival) to the interests of others, and ultimately to "humanity" as a whole.

No, I don't think it was. I do think Comte believed in something like that duty (though I think Smith is overstating it a little) but it doesn't seem to me that that duty was what he meant by "altruism".

Comte's doctrine of altruism, according to which we should "live for others" exclusively

That isn't (in my reading, at least) Comte's meaning of "altruism", merely one of his doctrines about altruism. And, further, I think "exclusively" is an exaggeration: see the passage I quoted above, which seems to me to be saying that although the welfare of humanity as a whole is the One True Ultimate Goal it's necessary and proper for people to care about themselves because if they don't they'll end up being no use to the rest of humanity.

To summarize my position:

  • even taking Smith's not-necessarily-quite-fair summary of Comte at face value and assuming that Comte meant "altruism" to encompass everything he taught about "living for others", that still doesn't make the meaning anything like "reversed survival instinct"
  • Smith's not-necessarily-quite-fair summary is not necessarily quite fair, and Comte's position wasn't quite as extreme as Smith would have us believe
  • Comte didn't intend "altruism" to be another word for "how Positivism says we ought to live", but to be one of two kinds of motivation (egoism, caring for oneself; altruism, caring for others) about which Positivism then made a further claim (altruism should dominate over egoism)
  • the meaning of "altruism" in ordinary English, aside from technical discussions of Comte's writings, never seems to have been much like "living for others and not caring at all about oneself" (never mind "reversed survival instinct")

and it seems to me that even Comte's meaning is actually pretty close to what "altruism" usually means today, even though he believed things about it that few other people do.

[EDITED to fix formatting]

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-17T08:44:05.755Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

the meaning of "altruism" in ordinary English, aside from technical discussions of Comte's writings, never seems to have been much like "living for others and not caring at all about oneself"

I disagree. Altruism is almost always put in opposition to egoism. If you care about your family because you love them, and put their needs above the needs of others, that's less altruistic than putting the needs of another family over the needs of your own.

I think Rand is correct on the current usage. One is altruistic to the extent that one sacrifices your own interests to the interests of others.

You can always leave yourself an out with "at all about yourself". Yes, even most people who praise altruism will allow you a moment to do something for your own happiness. How generous they are! But you are praised to the extent you sacrifice your own happiness for the sake of others, and condemned to the extent that you don't. It's not how much happiness you produce in others, it's how much happiness it costs you that matters. If you do exactly as you please but thereby still make millions happier, you are not an altruist by the usual calculations.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-17T15:42:33.318Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Altruism is almost always put in opposition to egoism.

If you think that contradicts what I was saying, then I fear you have misunderstood my point. Altruism is (according to what I think was Comte's usage) the opposite of egoism in the same way as loving is the opposite of hating: they point in opposite directions but the same person can do both -- even, in unusual cases, both at once.

A single action will rarely be both altruistic and egoistic, just as a single action is rarely both loving and hating. But "altruism" doesn't mean "never thinking about your own interests" any more than "loving" means "never hating anyone". A typical person will be altruistic sometimes and egoistic sometimes; a typical person will sometimes be moved by love and sometimes by hate.

But you are praised [...] and condemned [...]

There are probably people who hold that everyone should be as completely altruistic and non-egoistic as possible. Perhaps Auguste Comte was one of them. That's an entirely separate question from whether "altruism" implies the total absence of egoism; still more is it separate from whether "altruism" means anything like "reversed survival instinct", which you might recall is the claim I was originally arguing against and which no one seems at all inclined to defend so far.

It's not how much happiness you produce in others, it's how much happiness it costs you that matters.

There may be people who believe that, but it certainly isn't part of the meaning of "altruism". And the example you give doesn't support that very strong claim. If you do something with the purpose of making millions happier and not out of considering your own welfare then (at least in my book) that is an altruistic action whether it happens to help you or harm you. If people are reluctant to apply the term "altruistic" to actions that benefit the agent, I suggest that's just because it's hard to be sure something was done for the sake of others when self-interest is a credible alternative explanation.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-19T21:03:10.406Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Altruism is (according to what I think was Comte's usage) the opposite of egoism in the same way as loving is the opposite of hating:

Bad analogy. Loving and hating are different emotions with different qualities, while egoism and altruism are different in the objects of their intent, not the quality of the intent. The intent is to serve the interests of the object - whose interests are to be served is what is at issue. Basically, it's whose love matters to you, your own, or the other guys?

And your continued disavowal of absolute Altruism as the meaning of Altruism is self contradictory - Altruism is what it is, and allowing people to be less than 100% does not change the quality that we're measuring in percentages.

More altruistic means more willing to sacrifice your interests for the interests of others. It's the balance of the trade off that matters. The more you lose, the more altruistic you are. The smaller the gain to others for what you lose, the more altruistic you are. The more you hate the beneficiary, the more altruistic you are. It's the ratio of marginal cost to yourself (including actually caring for the beneficiary) versus marginal benefit to the beneficiary.

Of course, one should not just waste value inefficiently, destroying your own values to jack up the cost to yourself, or minimizing the value you create for others to minimize the benefit to others. But as you maximize net total weighted utils, it's the relative weight you assign to your utils and their utils that matters.

But I admittedly said this poorly

It's not how much happiness you produce in others, it's how much happiness it costs you that matters.

I was just trying to get at the issue of the trade off here. Setting myself on fire willy nilly is not necessarily altruistic, it's only altruistic if it's done as an intended and efficient tradeoff for the benefit of others.

If you do something with the purpose of making millions happier and not out of considering your own welfare then (at least in my book) that is an altruistic action whether it happens to help you or harm you.

I wrote:

If you do exactly as you please but thereby still make millions happier, you are not an altruist by the usual calculations.

You've changed the scenario. In mine, You did exactly as you pleased and it happened to make others happier. You changed it to "with the purpose of making millions happier". That was not the purpose. Satisfying yourself was the purpose.

So, in my scenario, are you altruistic according to you, or not?

comment by gjm · 2013-05-20T16:07:05.676Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Bad analogy.

I don't see why. I was trying to point out a feature of the logical structure. If the difference between love/hate and egoism/altruism that you point out invalidates that, I'm not currently seeing why.

your continued disavowal of absolute Altruism as the meaning of Altruism is self contradictory

If (as I think is the case) your objection is simply that generally optimizing for one thing gets you suboptimal results by any other standard, so that e.g. if you optimize for others' wellbeing then usually you end up worse off yourself, then of course I agree with that.

We seem to be agreed that (1) whatever the exact definition of "altruism", it is possible to say coherently that a person, or an individual action, is somewhat altruistic and somewhat egoistic, and (2) altruism doesn't mean actively preferring worse outcomes for oneself. In which case, I think we are in fact agreed about everything I was trying to say.

You've changed the scenario.

Yes; that was the whole point. Your scenario was relevant to the question "is altruism about intentions or about outcomes?", but we never had any disagreement about that; of course it's about intentions. I was aiming at the question "is altruism about acting for others or about suppressing one's own interests?". Though I'm not sure my scenario actually addresses that very well, and I suspect it's almost impossible to give clear-cut examples of. (Because in most circumstances there's no observable difference between the results of caring more for others, and those of caring less for oneself.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-20T19:29:16.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We're agreed on 1 but not on 2.

As I maintained, a crucial part of altruism is the trade off between your interests and the interests of others. The more you've sacrificed of your interests to others, the more altruistic you are. If nothing else, there is always an opportunity cost associated with pursuing the interests of others over yourself.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-20T23:56:40.593Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think we may be at cross purposes about #2, but there's a related point I want to attend to first.

You have made a few times an argument that I'll paraphrase thus: "If A is willing to sacrifice more of his own interests than B is for a given amount of gain for others, then A is more altruistic than B. Therefore altruism is all about how much you hurt yourself, not how much you help others".

This argument addresses the question of what counts as being more altruistic, but not the question of at what point altruism begins. And that (purely terminological) question matters in this discussion, for the following reason. Objectivists, so I understand, say that altruism is a Bad Thing. But depending on where one draws that terminological line that could mean anything from "making huge personal sacrifices in exchange for tiny gains to others is a Bad Thing" to "making tiny personal sacrifices in exchange for huge gains to others is a Bad Thing". You'll get a lot more agreement with the first of those than with the second.

So. Suppose I'm considering my own welfare and that of some other person or people similar enough to me that we can compare utilities meaningfully between persons. (At least for the tradeoffs under consideration here.) For each of the following, (a) would you consider it altruistic, (b) would you approve, and (c) would you expect Ayn Rand to have approved?

  1. I choose (X+10 utils for others, Y-1 utils for me) over (X for others, Y for me).
  2. I choose (X+1.1 for others, Y-1 for me) over (X for others, Y for me).
  3. I choose (X+1 for others, Y-1.1 for me) over (X for others, Y for me).
  4. I choose (X+1 utils for others, Y-10 for me) over (X for others, Y for me).

My own answer: I would consider all of those altruistic, because in every case my motivation seems clearly to be benefit to others. I would certainly approve of #1, would want to look at the rest of the context for #2 and #3, and would think #4 usually a stupid thing to do. My impression is that Ayn Rand would have disapproved heartily of all four, but I am not an Ayn Rand expert.

Now, back to your argument. If the only point it seeks to make is that generally different people's interests aren't perfectly aligned and therefore caring more about others will lead to getting less benefits for oneself, then of course I agree and indeed I've already said so. But if you're making the stronger claim expressed in my paraphrase then I disagree. The statement "A is more altruistic if he's willing to accept more personal loss for a given gain to others" is exactly equivalent to "A is more altruistic if he's willing to accept less gain to others for a given personal loss", and if the first of these shows that altruism is all about embracing personal loss then the second shows that it's all about seeking gain for others.

And, finally, back to issue 2 from the parent and grandparent comments. "Actively preferring worse outcomes for oneself" can mean two things, and I think you've taken a different meaning from the one I intended. What I meant by #2 was that altruism doesn't mean actually preferring, other things equal, worse outcomes for oneself. Of course it does mean being prepared to accept, in some cases, worse outcomes for oneself in exchange for better outcomes for others.

I like books. I buy quite a lot of them. They cost money, and as a result I have less money than if I bought fewer books. That doesn't mean I actively prefer having less money; it means that in some cases I value a book more than the money it costs me.

I care about other people. Sometimes I do things to help them. That costs money or time or opportunity to benefit myself in other ways, and as a result I am sometimes worse off personally than I'd be if I didn't care about other people. That doesn't mean I actively prefer worse outcomes for myself; it means that in some cases I value a benefit to others more than what it costs me.

Does the Objectivist objection to "altruism", as you understand it, extend to all instances of the schema in the foregoing paragraph? That is, does it advise me never to let any benefit to others, however great, outweigh any loss to myself, however small?

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-25T20:00:52.072Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Objectivists, so I understand, say that altruism is a Bad Thing.

The analysis of Objectivism is further complicated by Rand's act essentialism. As I would characterize her view, it's the principle of the act, the intent of a policy involved, not the particular consequences that matter.

Just as life wasn't your living and breathing, but life "qua man", altruism for her would be an intended policy of sacrificing your values for the values of others, which is just what Comtean altruists suggest as the moral policy.

I care about other people.

Per Rand, your feelings are not the standard of morality. Acting because you feel like it is "whim worshiping subjectivism", per Rand. Me, I'm a whim worshiping subjectivist, so if you care about people and want to help them, great, knock yourself out. Where I part company with most altruists is on the belief in a duty to be altruistic. I don't condemn people who aren't altruistic, but instead have other values they wish to pursue, as long as they aren't infringing on what I consider to be the rights of others.

Does the Objectivist objection to "altruism", as you understand it, extend to all instances of the schema in the foregoing paragraph?

You have a prior problem with Rand here. You have not defined a moral code based on principles, but are making ad hoc evaluations of preference. You unprincipled, whim worshiping subjectivist, you.

That is, does it advise me never to let any benefit to others, however great, outweigh any loss to myself, however small?

You're analyzing in a different schema than she does. You're analyzing the particular concrete, while she analyzes the "essentials" of the act. The practical answer is no. Sometimes the correct moral code will seem to be a sacrifice of your interests to others in a particular situation. For example, she would be against stealing even when you're "sure" you will get away with it.

But if your intent is to sacrifice your values to the values of others, if that is the standard by which you judge the morality of the act, then you're acting on the basis of an evil moral code.

comment by gjm · 2013-05-25T21:50:27.424Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Per Rand, your feelings are not the standard of morality.

I wasn't suggesting that they are. Per Rand, my feelings are the standard of whether I'm being "altruistic" or not, and my question was about that.

You have a prior problem [...] You have not defined a moral code based on principles, but are making ad hoc evaluations of preference.

I don't see how you infer from what I wrote that I "have not defined a moral code based on principles".

if your intent is to sacrifice your values to the values of others, if that is the standard by which you judge [...]

It seems obvious to me (perhaps this makes me a whim-worshipping subjectivist) that neither "always sacrifice your interests to those of others" nor "always sacrifice your interests to those of others" is remotely a sane policy. (I've put "interests" in place of your "values" because I don't think anyone's really talking about sacrificing values.)

Suppose I propose the following policy: "Consider your own interests and those of others as of equal weight". Does Rand, and do Objectivists generally, consider that policy "evil"?

What about "Consider your own interests as weighing, so far as one can quantify them, 100x more than those of strangers and some intermediate amount for family, friends, etc."? Note that living according to this policy will sometimes lead you to act in a way that furthers your own interests less than you could have done in favour of the interests of others; even of strangers.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-17T08:59:22.935Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And she uses the original definition of altruism (approximately: reversed survival instinct),

I don't think that's the definiction she gives, although given the sum of her beliefs, you could say that. Reversed "interests" instinct seems about right. It's about who is the intended beneficiary of the action - if it's them, it's a good action, and if it's you, it's a bad action. Now you put that together with life as your fundamental interest, and you could say "reversed survival instinct", but I think that conveys a too narrow concept for most people.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-17T08:30:21.227Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Have they redefined altruism it to something nice when I wasn't looking?

Altruism as the desire to help others is fine and dandy. But who means that by altruism?

Everyone seems to mean that slave morality which states that working for the happiness of others is good, and working for your own happiness is evil.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-17T09:16:40.218Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Altruism as the desire to help others is fine and dandy. But who means that by altruism?

Uhm, almost everone?

I am not sure, because people typically don't provide their definitions of words like "altruism" when they use them. They assume that everyone knows exactly what it means, and if you ask for a definition, that seems like trolling.

Everyone seems to mean that slave morality which states that working for the happiness of others is good, and working for your own happiness is evil.

That too, actually. Perhaps the word is usually used to mean a set of this all. You know, the wider the meaning, the greater the chance that at least some part of it can be defended successfully in a debate.

(Anti-epistemology as usual: oppose "tabooing" words, and only use narrow definitions for the things you don't like.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-05-19T20:25:07.961Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

They assume that everyone knows exactly what it means,

Most importantly, themselves.

and if you ask for a definition, that seems like trolling.

Yes. If you suggest they're conceptually muddled, instead of attempting to demonstrate their conceptual clarity, which should be trivial to do if they have it, they will get huffy and declare you a troll.

That too, actually. Perhaps the word is usually used to mean a set of this all. You know, the wider the meaning, the greater the chance that at least some part of it can be defended successfully in a debate.

That's the true Dark Art. Endlessly equivocate on the meaning of your terms. It's so dark, you can manipulate yourself into believing that you know what you're talking about. See Rand and "life" for details.

comment by atorm · 2013-05-15T00:28:11.054Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Upvoted for asking a good question and showing you'd thought about it and looked for answers.

comment by Manfred · 2013-05-14T22:02:59.181Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What is the difference between rationality and objectivism?

Only one of them is like a political party but more so.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-05-15T08:06:42.961Z · score: -4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Two reasons.

First reason -- all the flaws described in this discussion.

Second reason -- it was not invented here and our kind can't cooperate.

When someone is pretty good, but not completely perfect, instead of helping them or cooperating with them, it is much more fun (read: high status) to mock them.

This is why Ayn Rand thought everyone (except for Aristotle) was stupid.

This is why Eliezer thinks Ayn Rand was stupid.

This is why the next supergenius born in 2020 will think Eliezer was stupid.

This is why our kind will do many awesome things individually or in small groups, but at the end, the barbarians will always win.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-05-15T09:23:27.698Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is why Eliezer thinks Ayn Rand was stupid.

No it isn't. (There may be other people who Eliezer thinks are stupid for this reason. Ayn Rand is not one.)

This is why the next supergenius born in 2020 will think Eliezer was stupid.

Probably not and said person probably will not think Eliezer is stupid. In the same way Eliezer doesn't think Janes, Douglas Hofstadter and others who fall into approximately the correct contrarian cluster to be stupid.

This is why our kind will do many awesome things individually or in small groups, but at the end, the barbarians will always win.

The essay you link to does not support the position you are expressing. I agree with the article and suggest your "at the end, the barbarians will always win" is a hasty generalisation.

comment by hedges · 2013-05-16T19:33:55.438Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Being rational while sitting in your room browsing the internet is often hard enough, but how about behaving rationally in an emergency? I've been in emergencies, or "black swan events", and I'm willing to admit that I acted much less optimally than I would have predicted.

All schools in the US do fire drills. The first lesson in the SAS Survival Guide is to be prepared. Reducing the likelihood of disaster is one step, but practice and preparedness are just as essential. Not only will you behave more optimally with practice, but a prepared person is much less likely to fall victim to normalcy bias, which is a major cause of death in disasters. It's why you see safety demonstrations on every flight, why every school has fire drills - because even a simple reminder that a disaster is possible, is enough to increase survival rates. If the disaster is a completely foreign event, a real black swan, people are much more likely to simply freeze and refuse to believe that something so unlikely and abnormal is happening to them.

Be prepared. It doesn't cost much, and it can save your and other people's lives.