Counterfactual Coalitions

post by Larks · 2012-02-16T21:42:52.639Z · score: 23 (23 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

Politics is the mind-killer; our opinions are largely formed on the basis of which tribes we want to affiliate with. What's more, when we first joined a tribe, we probably didn't properly vet the effects it would have on our cognition.  
 
One illustration of this is the apparently contingent nature of actual political coalitions, and the prima facie plausibility of others. For example,

 
This suggests a de-biasing technique; inventing plausible alternative coalitions of ideas. When considering the counterfactual political argument, each side will have some red positions and some green positions, so hopefully your brain will be forced to evaluate it in a more rational manner.
 
Obviously, political issues are not all orthogonal; there is mutual information, and you don't want to ignore it. The idea isn't to decide your belief on every issue independently. If taxes on beer, cider and wine are a good idea, taxes on spirits are probably a good idea too. However, I think this is reflected in the "plausible coalitions" game; the most plausible reason I could think of for the political divide to fall between these is lobbying on behalf of distilleries, suggesting that these form a natural cluster in policy-space.
 
In case the idea can be more clearly grokked by examples, I'll post some in the comments.

29 comments

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comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-02-17T04:15:36.801Z · score: 22 (22 votes) · LW · GW

The "plausible alternative coalitions" game seems to illustrate — by contrast — the historical processes by which actual political positions came about. For instance, the anti-abortion position didn't actually come about through an "expanding sphere of moral worth" extending rights to fetuses; and the fact that anti-abortion folks are not the same people as animal-rights folks is evidence that it didn't.

Early anti-abortion jurisprudence in England and the U.S. categorized a woman taking an abortifacient as felo de se — a felon against herself — the same standing as a suicide. [1] The crime was not defined in terms of the fetus possessing rights, but in terms of a violence against the woman's body. On similar reasoning, many first-wave feminists opposed medical abortion as a violent intrusion;[2] while they were interested in reproductive freedom, for many of them this meant the right of a wife to choose when and whether to have sex with her husband.

Other issues involved in banning abortion in the U.S. included the legal establishment of the medical profession (with physicians using the law to drive midwives out of business) and eugenics. The major customers of abortion in the 19th century were middle- and upper-class native-born white women; and eugenicists raised the concern that these desirable classes would commit "race suicide" and be outbred by undesirable immigrants and poor people. [3]

The modern religious "pro-life" anti-abortion position, although it is often stated in terms of fetal rights, is also entangled with other motives: among these, religious opposition to contraception in general, and opposition to the social consequences of individual control over reproduction, viz., sexual freedom or license.

Few of these actual historical entanglements have the sense of an "expanding sphere of moral worth" towards the fetus; in other words, a moral foundation of fairness and justice. They show patterns more attached to other moral foundations — care towards the woman herself; loyalty towards racial and class groups; religious authority; and sexual sanctity or purity.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-17T19:15:53.189Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The major customers of abortion in the 19th century were middle- and upper-class native-born white women; and eugenicists raised the concern that these desirable classes would commit "race suicide" and be outbred by undesirable immigrants and poor people.

Conversely they were in favor of abortion and sterilization (frequently forced) for the poor and undesirable.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-02-18T00:29:35.607Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily the same eugenicists, of course.

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-17T07:12:56.444Z · score: -10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Did you know that when Republicans banned partial-birth abortion in 2003, they limited the penalty to a maximum of two years? Two years, for what pro-lifers consider murder?

Of course, the pro-choice side has its hypocrisies too. But they at least have can claim the moral high ground by being slightly more protective of bodily autonomy, and much more protective of the disadvantaged.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-02-17T16:25:57.387Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a little worried about politics being the mind-killer here. So I'm not going to get too involved. But I'd point out that not everyone who is pro-life is certain that abortion is murder. Moreover, you are talking about legislation, and legislation always involves compromises. So having a punishment that is less harsh than what their articulated beliefs would call for is not an indication of hypocrisy.

Now, what is hypocritical and is very similar, is that the people who say that abortion is murder aren't out spending time bombing clinics. Whenever a clinic is bombed or a doctor killed, they rush out to say that they don't support it. But if they did actually believe, then they would. However, there may be some degree of scope insensitivity and other cognitive biases at play here rather than simple hypocrisy.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-17T21:54:16.962Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Now, what is hypocritical and is very similar, is that the people who say that abortion is murder aren't out spending time bombing clinics. Whenever a clinic is bombed or a doctor killed, they rush out to say that they don't support it. But if they did actually believe, then they would. However, there may be some degree of scope insensitivity and other cognitive biases at play here rather than simple hypocrisy.

So by that logic where all the pre-civil war abolitionists except John Brown were hypocrites.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2012-02-17T16:43:37.151Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Now, what is hypocritical and is very similar, is that the people who say that abortion is murder aren't out spending time bombing clinics.

What would the analogy be for people who think that the death penalty is murder? How about for people who think that war is murder?

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2012-02-18T08:49:55.991Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why assume that everyone believes all murders should get the same punishment? It seems to me that even though some "animal rights activists" might believe that slaughtering a cow is murder, they still might not think it deserves the same penalty as murdering a human. I don't believe there is necessarily a contradiction here.

comment by taelor · 2012-02-17T05:57:36.331Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Freedom of speech advocates for benevolent dictatorship ( Democracy incentivizes attempting to impede the spread of memes opposed to one's ideology, whereas a sufficiently powerful autocrat doesn't have to give a fuck what people say or think).

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-02-17T10:17:10.931Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW

whereas a sufficiently powerful autocrat doesn't have to give a fuck what people say or think).

The sufficiently powerful autocrat doesn't have to give a fuck what people say or think if and only if his/her utility function is composed only of "staying in power". But people are more complicated than that and they tend to like to have other people share their views. Even most contrarians (who can be said to delight in having unorthodox views) try to convince other people of their views.

In the real world, the more powerful the autocrat, the more absolute the dictatorship, the more they care about what people say or think, the more restricted free speech is. I don't have any reason to believe that at some magical "sufficiently powerful" point, that direction gets reversed.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-17T19:10:19.661Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In the real world, the more powerful the autocrat, the more absolute the dictatorship, the more they care about what people say or think, the more restricted free speech is.

I think you may have reversed cause and effect there.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-02-17T19:32:49.619Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Cause and effect are entangled in the history of human deeds, since anticipation of effects becomes the cause of deeds that produce those effects.

But to offer a counterexample to your belief, did Turkmenbashi's renaming of months and days increase the security of his power? Or did he rename them because he already had near-absolute power and it was his whim to control even further how people talked and thought? I think the latter.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-21T03:18:34.749Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good point.

comment by taelor · 2012-02-18T08:37:42.855Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think what Eugine_Nier meant is that people who already have an interest in controlling other's ideas are morelikely to seek out office in an autocratic government, as opposed to autocracy having some magical corrupting nature that makes people want to engage in arbitrary censorship. This would pose a practical problem that hypothetical advocates of might or might not be able to resolve in a satisfactory way. I should note that the marriage between freedom of speach and democracy hasn't always been all sunshine and daisies: it took less than a decade after the ratification of the first amendment for the US to pass the sedition act.

comment by ArisKatsaris · 2012-02-20T09:37:22.804Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think what Eugine_Nier meant is that people who already have an interest in controlling other's ideas are morelikely to seek out office in an autocratic government,

Eugine_Nier should then communicate more clearly what he meant.

And this wouldn't explain why hereditary absolute monarchs that did NOT seek out office are also likely to censor and control speech.

as opposed to autocracy having some magical corrupting nature that makes people want to engage in arbitrary censorship.

Nothing magic here, I believe people wanting influence over other people's thought-processes is a part of human nature. When people can fully satisfy physical wants, influencing how other people think becomes their main goal then. When they're movie-makers, they make movies. When they're philosophers, they write papers, When they're autocrats, they send their secret agencies against dissenters.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2012-02-17T00:41:34.743Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Since small 'c' conservatives support the status quo, or the status quo a generation ago, "conservatives for X" is a plausible counterfactual coalition for any X that could exist stably in society for a generation without destroying either itself or the society.

comment by jmmcd · 2012-02-17T15:57:34.765Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Conservatives for free love!

After all, that's what our honoured ancestors of the 1960s golden age were for.

comment by Larks · 2012-02-16T21:43:54.693Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW
  • Pro-animal rights, pro-life.
  • Nationalists for homosexuality
  • Anti-Unionist UK Conservative party.
  • Pro-war nuclear disarmament advocates (disarm the rest of the world first!)
  • Anti-slavery evangelicals.
  • Pro-inequality environmentalists (poor people consume a higher % of their income, and on more material things)
  • Libertarians for conscription.
  • Pro-cannabis-legalization prohibitionists
  • Anti-abortion feminists
  • Socialists against trade unions
  • Nationalists against the family
  • Trade unions against free higher education

Obviously, some of these are real historical coalitions

comment by Vaniver · 2012-02-16T22:23:37.818Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's not clear to me what you mean by "counterfactual" and "prima facie plausible" for these.

When you talk about real historical coalitions (like, say, anti-slavery evangelicals), in what way is that a "counterfactual" rather than, say, a "factual"?

Likewise, the one that you put on the list twice (pro-homosexual nationalists and anti-family nationalists) strikes me as prima facie implausible (if you have to grow it in competition, rather than having it in isolation and hoping it's stable).

Some of the combinations do highlight real intellectual divides- "libertarians for conscription" calls to mind Hayek's potential acceptance of a conscription law so long as it didn't impede the ability of individuals to plan. (Mandatory two-year service would work, whereas lotteries might not.) This was seen as a major disagreement by natural rights libertarians, who view conscription as slavery (and thus objectionable). But there seems to be a lot more chaff here than wheat.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2012-02-16T22:48:44.541Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Anti-slavery evangelicals.

I'm not sure why this one seems included. Evangelical Protestants such as they existed in the 19th century were a major part of abolitionism. The only reason this doesn't completely work is that modern evangelicals as we understand them were different in many ways from the closest thing in the first half of the 19th century.

This does however seem like a potentially interesting idea overall. The animals-rights/pro-lfe example is particularly striking. Pro-life/pacifists might be another possibility.

One thing that is actually similar to this is how often people presume that coalitions in other countries line up in ways that match one's own. For example, one common misconception among Americans about Israeli politics is that the nationalist/Zionist sentiment is coming from the ultra-Orthodox(charedim), when in fact many of the charedim don't want a Jewish state at all and it is the moderate Orthodox who are strongly nationalist.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-18T00:17:20.455Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Pro-life/pacifists might be another possibility.

I think most young Catholics are pro-life and pacifists.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-02-17T02:48:47.082Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sort of:

Nationalists for homosexuality

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-strange-strange-story_b_136697.html

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-17T16:00:46.565Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He has an odd notion of what a fascist is if he thinks someone like Pim Fortuyn was one.

comment by CharlieSheen · 2012-02-17T21:19:18.690Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Generally speaking anyone to the right of me is a fascist, anyone to the left a dirty commie.

comment by J_Taylor · 2012-02-17T19:37:39.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It is quite a normal notion. It just happens to be historically problematic.

comment by CronoDAS · 2012-02-17T04:33:42.276Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Libertarians for conscription.

I've actually met one... or someone who claimed to be one, anyway. I think what he said was: "It's in the Constitution; if the government wants you to go kill some people, then you've got to go kill some people."

comment by MileyCyrus · 2012-02-17T06:39:15.517Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I met a libertarian who was allegedly in favor of the poll tax. It was sort of a Poe's law situation.

comment by roystgnr · 2012-02-17T18:27:48.372Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

They were probably serious. Extreme libertarianism (as well as many other ideologies) judges the terminal value of a law based on the law alone; the system by which the laws get made (absolute democracy? constitutionally-limited democracy? benevolent dictator?) is then just a means toward that end. The belief that a financially-limited franchise would infringe less on liberty might still be wrong, but it's not inherently self-contradictory.

We tend to lump ideas like "freedom", "democracy", and "self-government" into a big halo effect box of happiness, despite there being serious historical and modern conflicts between any pair of them. If a majority of people desire to ban flag-burning, under what conditions is it right for a minority to ignore that desire? If a large majority of people in some locality want strict enforcement of a particular religion's edicts there, does it matter if they're greatly outnumbered by non-locals who disagree? Does the answer to the previous question change if I insert "don't" before the word want?

comment by [deleted] · 2012-02-16T21:58:55.470Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nationalists for homosexuality