Shared interests vs. collective interests

post by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-28T22:06:50.911Z · score: 21 (11 votes) · LW · GW · 10 comments

This is a link post for https://blog.obormot.net/Shared-interests-vs-collective-interests

Contents

  Shared interests
  Collective interests
  Details & implications
    Preservation of interests
    Infiltration
    The universal collective interest
    Illusions
None
10 comments

Suppose that I, a college student, found a student organization—a chapter of Students Against a Democratic Society, perhaps. At the first meeting of SADS, we get to talking, and discover, to everyone’s delight, that all ten of us are fans of Star Trek.

This is a shared interest.

Shared interests

A shared interest—in the way I am using the term—is nothing more than what it sounds like: an interest (in the broad sense of the word) that happens, for whatever reason, to be shared among all members of a group.

The distinction I want to draw is between a shared interest (of a group) and a collective interest (of a group). The former is a superset of the latter; all collective interests are, by definition, shared interests; but not all shared interests are collective interests.

Collective interests

What is a collective interest?

Well, suppose that I found another student organization (extracurricular activities look great on a résumé). This one is a Star Trek fan club. At the first meeting of Campus Trekkies United, we discover, to no one’s surprise, that all fifteen of us are fans of Star Trek.

… well, of course we’re all fans of Star Trek. That’s why we’re in the fan club in the first place! Anyone who’s not a fan, has no reason to join the fan club. And so: Star Trek fandom is a collective interest of Campus Trekkies United.

A collective interest is an interest that is shared by every member of a group in virtue of being a member of that group. Anyone who does not share that interest, will not be a group member.[1] And thus, by modus tollens: anyone who is a member of the group, will share that interest. It is guaranteed that every member of the group will share that interest.

Details & implications

Several important consequences follow from this.

Preservation of interests

Unlike a collective interest, a shared interest is not at all guaranteed to stay shared among all group members. Nothing stops someone from joining the Students Against a Democratic Society, who does not like Star Trek. At that point, Star Trek fandom ceases to be a shared interest of SADS. (Which may lead to some awkward consequences if, for instance, we had decided to start wearing colorful jumpsuits to our political rallies.)

Infiltration

I said earlier that “[i]t is guaranteed that every member of the group will share [a collective] interest”. But is this really true? Well, it’s true if the condition for an interest being a collective one holds: that anyone who does not share the interest, will not join the group.

But it is dangerous to simply assume that this condition holds, in the absence of any mechanism by which it is ensured to hold! Is Campus Trekkies United actually making sure that non-Trekkies do not join? Certainly it seems like they have no reason to want to join, but is that sufficient to keep them out?

Suppose a fan of Star Wars, incensed at the idea that the university would grant meeting space and funds to fans of the rival franchise, decides to pose as a Trekkie, and signs up for Campus Trekkies United under false pretenses. He hates Star Trek, and wants nothing more than to see the club cease all Trek-related activities, and transform into, say, Campus Jedis United. Now Star Trek fandom is no longer a collective interest of the members of Campus Trekkies United—because they did not ensure that the condition of a collective interest holds.

In fact, it would be more precise to say that Star Trek fandom was never a collective interest, only ever a shared one—because the condition of a collective interest never held in the first place!

The universal collective interest

A collective interest of Students Against a Democratic Society (ostensibly) is being against a democratic society. A collective interest of Campus Trekkies United (ostensibly) is being a fan of Star Trek.

But there is one sort of collective interest that will be present in any organization:

The continued existence of the organization itself.

Groups are how humans achieve their goals. Organization is power. It is in the interest of any member of an organization that the organization continue to exist. Any other shared interest may fail to be a collective one—except for this one.

Illusions

Suppose that a proper subset of a group’s members share a certain interest. This may be coincidence—nothing more than a consequence of base rates of that interest in the general population. But it may also be due to the fact that a proper subset of the group’s members itself constitutes a coherent group, which has collective interests of its own.

This also manifests in a more interesting way, as follows:

Suppose it is claimed that a certain interest is a collective interest of a given group. However, investigation reveals group members that do not share that interest.

The claimant(s) may cry “No true Scotsman”, “infiltrator”, etc. But another (and, it seems to me, more likely) explanation is that the claimed collective interest is indeed a collective interest—not of the whole group it’s claimed of, but rather of a proper subset of the greater group (which subset, however, may find it advantageous to be identified with the greater group).

(Finding examples of this dynamic is left as a fairly straightforward exercise to the reader.)

[1] Note that the inverse—that anyone who does share the interest, will be a group member—need not be true!

10 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by agc · 2018-05-29T14:40:42.458Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I feels like you have some specific examples in mind, but are deliberately not sharing them. That makes me reluctant to comment, as I want to know what I am discussing.

Initially I have two issues: a) I think you are using two different meanings of the word interest: things you find interesting, and things you gain utility from. b) Groups only rarely enforce strict rules for joining, so there are hardly any true collective interests by your definition.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T00:24:42.051Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW
I feels like you have some specific examples in mind, but are deliberately not sharing them. That makes me reluctant to comment, as I want to know what I am discussing.

I also had that sense, but I actually appreciated the effort here to factor out the object level discussion into a post about general principles, that fits the frontpage criteria.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-29T14:47:30.141Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are using two different meanings of the word interest: things you find interesting, and things you gain utility from.

The former is a subset of the latter.

Groups only rarely enforce strict rules for joining, so there are hardly any true collective interests by your definition.

See this comment [LW · GW].

comment by philh · 2018-06-03T09:11:59.033Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A Star Wars fan could also infiltrate the group with the intent of stirring up trouble until the university shuts them down, or the members all hate each other to the point of disbanding, or something. In that case the continued existence of the organisation is explicitly not an interest of that member, and so not a collective interest.

Or if that fan does turn the group into a Star Wars fan club, then the original members will have no particular interest in its continued existence.

comment by Dacyn · 2018-05-29T13:34:31.333Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you say that the Star Trek group doesn't have Star Trek as a collective interest just because of the possibility of someone infiltrating it, then it is hard to see what a true example of a collective interest would look like.

With "continued existence of the organization itself" I think you are making a pun on the word "interest". There's no particular reason people should find it interesting to work towards the continued existence of the organization, in the way that they find it interesting to talk about Star Trek.

People have an instrumental interest in preserving an organization insofar as they value their interactions with that organization, or insofar as they value the goals the organization is working towards. But e.g. an employee might not feel any particular loyalty to the survival of the company he works for beyond its instrumental usefulness in paying his salary.

I am not sure what would distinguish the case where an interest is a collective interest of a proper subset from the opposite case. Trivially, we could consider the set of all people who have a particular sub-interest, and by definition this sub-interest would be a collective interest of this set. I guess you are more interested in the question of whether this set of people interacts with each other in a subgroup-like way?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-29T14:07:15.631Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you say that the Star Trek group doesn’t have Star Trek as a collective interest just because of the possibility of someone infiltrating it, then it is hard to see what a true example of a collective interest would look like.

It is, if you like, a matter of asymptotically approaching the unreachable in-principle case. Enforcement of the condition is what makes the difference.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-29T14:05:43.323Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

With “continued existence of the organization itself” I think you are making a pun on the word “interest”. There’s no particular reason people should find it interesting to work towards the continued existence of the organization, in the way that they find it interesting to talk about Star Trek.

No, it’s not a pun. As I say, I use the word “interest” in the broad sense of the term. I make no claim at all about whether anyone finds it “interesting”, in the narrow sense, to do something.

Trivially, we could consider the set of all people who have a particular sub-interest, and by definition this sub-interest would be a collective interest of this set. I guess you are more interested in the question of whether this set of people interacts with each other in a subgroup-like way?

The distinguishing property is the question of whether the subgroup is defined by something other than the trivial property of sharing the interest in question.

comment by Dacyn · 2018-05-29T14:33:07.761Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, it seems like interest in Star Trek is "interest" according to Definition 1 here, whereas interest in an organization's continued existence is "interest" according to Definition 3. I get that the two definitions bear some relation to each other but it doesn't seem to me that there is any broader concept that they are both special cases of.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-29T14:45:48.895Z · score: 6 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Definitions 4, 7, 10, and 11 are all relevant.

comment by Dacyn · 2018-05-29T19:04:17.963Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So, I agree that someone interested in Star Trek can be said to place a value/importance on talking about Star Trek, which is the same sort of thing as placing a value on the continuing existence of an organization. However, I think from the inside "being interested in Star Trek" feels different from "placing a value on talking about Star Trek" -- being interested or curious is an object-level thing whereas placing a value on talking feels more meta-level. Anyway, maybe we have gone on too much of a tangent.