Rationality by Other Means

post by DataPacRat · 2012-12-26T14:52:56.424Z · score: -4 (18 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 6 comments

Political violence is a terrible thing - but, sometimes, not quite as terrible as the alternative. I recently commented that a post focusing on such things might be worthwhile, and since the voting has been positive, here we are.

From a Bayesian/rationalist/winningest perspective, if there is a more-than-minuscule threat of political violence in your area, how should you go about figuring out the best course of action? What criteria should you apply? How do you figure out which group(s), if any, to try to support? How do you determine what the risk of political violence actually is? When the law says rebellion is illegal, that preparing to rebel is illegal, that discussing rebellion even in theory is illegal, when should you obey the law, and when shouldn't you? Which lessons from HPMoR might apply? What reference books on war, game-theory, and history are good to have read beforehand? In the extreme case... where do you draw the line between choosing to pull a trigger, or not?

I've cobbled together /a/ set of answers to such questions, based on what I've learned so far of economics, politics, human nature, and various bits of evidence. However, I peg my confidence-levels of at least some of those answers as being low enough that I could be easily persuaded to change my mind, especially by the well-argued points that tend to crop up around here.

As just one starting point, 'freedom', 'liberty', and 'justice' (often with a halo effect list of other virtues) are often considered some of the highest values to rally around, and to fight for. And it's certainly quite attractive to be able to say you're fighting for them - but I have a suspicion, and a rather strong one, that that such reasoning may be closer to post-hoc rationalizations than is generally considered.

An old saying goes, 'Amateurs study weapons; professionals study logistics'. For a number of reasons, economies tend to do best when as much competition as possible is done within them. Since a natural tendency of individuals and groups who achieve economic success is to use their leverage to push for even greater success relative to others, even if doing so causes others to pay externalized costs, it requires special efforts to promote the efforts of the 'little guy' against entrenched interests to allow new entrants into a market to have any chance of competing successfully in it. Thus, those economies which tend to perform best tend to be those with the most focus on individual rights, of allowing small-scale enterprises to successfully use the legal system, of allowing as many individuals as possible to put their hand to taking advantage of whatever opportunities they find. As those states with better economies tend to win wars against those with worse ones, it is easy to observe that those states with a greater focus on liberty tend to beat those with a lesser one... and thus quite natural to conclude that those values are, in and of themselves, the values worth fighting for.

A similar line of argument could be made about the important virtues of the democratic process not being what's commonly said about it.

 

Even such a rudimentary analysis of the principles many people think are worth fighting for puts the whole prospect of political violence in new light. Even if the analysis itself is wrong, it seems to open up uncommon avenues of thought, which could lead to a more accurate estimation of large-scale conflict, of which side is more likely to win, what reasons will be proclaimed for the victory, and what the most valuable efforts might be to nudge the odds one way or the other.

Then again, I could be wrong. In which case, I'd prefer to know as soon as possible.

6 comments

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comment by Emile · 2012-12-26T15:19:22.522Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Even though I'm somewhat sympathetic to libertarian arguments, your main paragraph, "and thus quite natural to conclude that those values are, in and of themselves, the values worth fighting for." sounds somewhat stretched, and I expect equally convincing paragraphs could be written in defense of government monopoly on everything, or of redistributive policies, or even of corporate ownership of the state. "those states with a greater focus on liberty tend to beat those with a lesser one" doesn't seem that supported by History - the Soviet Union was pretty strong militarily and scientifically, and yeah, the US eventually had the first place alone, but it doesn't seem that far fetched that China will eventually get the first place.

But more importantly, when you talk of "a more-than-minuscule threat of political violence in your area", I think of the breakup of Yugoslavia, or maybe the LA riots, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution - and in those cases I don't see where some abstract tough about "freedom" or "justice" is going to be of any help. So I'm not really sure of what you're thinking of when you talk about "political violence".

comment by Dorikka · 2012-12-27T01:59:24.338Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I feel slightly confused. The introduction seems to indicate that the post will provide guidance on what to do if you find yourself in an area where there is a non-negligible risk of political violence, but the rest of the post does not seem to do this. Maybe one, the other, or both should be clarified so that the link is clear?

comment by Manfred · 2012-12-26T17:19:00.691Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For a number of reasons, economies tend to do best when as much competition as possible is done within them.

And for a number of reasons (nonconvexities of a certain sort, mostly involving duplication of labor), they also tend to do worst. When you add these reasons together, you get a curve that is not a priori best or worst at any extreme.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-26T16:11:23.083Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A rule not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion. States rely on laws enforced by men ready to do violence against lawbreakers. Every tax, every code and every licensing requirement demands an escalating progression of penalties that, in the end, must result in the forcible seizure of property or imprisonment by armed men prepared to do violence in the event of resistance or non–compliance... Violence isn’t the only answer, but it is the final answer.

I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force.

  • Karl Popper, The Open Society
comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-12-26T23:18:39.294Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A rule not ultimately backed by the threat of violence is merely a suggestion.

You can threaten non-violence, like a boycott.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-12-27T04:20:45.938Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Mr. Donovan is speaking of rules. A boycott as a rule, a government-mandated boycott, will be backed up by the forcible seizure of property or imprisonment by armed men prepared to do violence in the event of resistance or non–compliance.

Opt-in boycotts, boycotts not required by rules, can be non-violent as you rightly point out.