“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

post by AnnaSalamon · 2021-02-14T03:32:24.985Z · LW · GW · 86 comments

This is in some sense a small detail, but one important enough to be worth write-up and critique: AFAICT, “PR” is a corrupt concept, in the sense that if you try to “navigate PR concerns” about yourself / your organization / your cause area / etc., the concept will guide you toward harmful and confused actions. In contrast, if you try to safeguard your “reputation”, your “brand”, or your “honor,” I predict this will basically go fine, and will not lead you to leave a weird confused residue in yourself or others.

To explain the difference:

If I am safeguarding my “honor” (or my “reputation”, “brand”, or “good name”), there are some fixed standards that I try to be known as adhering to. For example, in Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are safeguarding their “honor” by adhering to the principle “A Lannister always pays his debts.” They take pains to adhere to a certain standard, and to be known to adhere to that standard. Many examples are more complicated than this; a gentleman of 1800 who took up a duel to defend his “honor” was usually not defending his known adherence to a single simple principle a la the Lannisters. But it was still about his visible adherence to a fixed (though not explicit) societal standard.

In contrast, if I am “managing PR concerns,” there is no fixed standards of good conduct, or of my-brand-like conduct, that I am trying to adhere to. Instead, I am trying to do a more complicated operation:

  1. Model which words or actions may cause “people” (especially media, or self-reinforcing miasma) to get upset with me;
  2. Try to speak in such a way as to not set that off.

It’s a weirder or loopier process. One that’s more prone to self-reinforcing fears of shadows, and one that somehow (I think?) tends to pull a person away from communicating anything at all. Reminiscent of “Politics and the English Language.” Not reminiscent of Strunk and White.

One way you can see the difference, is that when people think about “PR” they imagine a weird outside expertise, such that you need to have a “PR consultant” or a “media consultant” who you should nervously heed advice from. When people think about their “honor," it's more a thing they can know or choose directly, and so it is more a thing that leaves them free to communicate something.

So: simple suggestion. If, at any point, you find yourself trying to “navigate PR”, or to help some person or organization or cause area or club or whatever to “navigate PR,” see if you can instead think and speak in terms of defending your/their “honor”, “reputation”, or “good name”. And see if that doesn’t make everybody feel a bit clearer, freer, and more as though their feet are on the ground.

Related: The Inner Ring, by CS Lewis; The New York Times, by Robert Rhinehart.

86 comments

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comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-14T03:56:23.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think another way to gesture at the distinction here is whether your success criteria is process-based or outcome-based.

If you're "trying to do PR," then you're sort of hanging your hopes on a specific outcome—that people will hold you in high regard, say good things about you, etc.  This opens you up to Goodharting, and various muggings and extortions, and sort of leaves you at the mercy of the most capricious or unreasonable member of the audience.

Whereas if you're "trying to be honorable" (or some other similar thing), you're attempting to engage in methods and processes that are likely to lead to good outcomes, according to your advance predictions, and which tend to produce social standing as a positive side effect.  But you're not optimizing for the social standing, except insofar as you're contributing to a good and healthy society existing in the first place (and then slotting into it).

I see this (the thing I'm describing, which may or may not be as closely related to the thing Anna's describing as I think it is) as sort of analogous to whether you do something like follow diplomatic procedures or use NVC (process-based), or do whatever-it-takes to make sure you don't offend anybody (outcome-based).  One of these is sort of capped and finite in a way I think is important, and the other is sort of infinitely vulnerable.

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast, AnnaSalamon, Yvain, ryan_b, tiarat2
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-02-14T07:04:15.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

PR is about managing how an antagonist could distort your words and actions to portray you in a negative light.

By contrast, for the concept of “honor” to mean anything, you have to be imagining that there’s a community of people who care about honor and approach that question with integrity. It assumes a level of charity and sophistication in the people you’re appealing to.

Replies from: pjeby, TAG, EpicNamer27098
comment by pjeby · 2021-02-16T21:59:46.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It assumes a level of charity and sophistication in the people you’re appealing to.

And that statement assumes you're trying to do PR instead of acting with honor. Having integrity isn't about whether you're appealing to people, but whether you're willing to stick to your principles even when they're not appealing to people.

I think the point of this article was that, the very moment you've chosen "always appealing to people" as your goal, you've already lost. (And it rather seems to point towards a reason for the current moral bankruptcy of corporations and political parties, these days.)

Replies from: AllAmericanBreakfast
comment by AllAmericanBreakfast · 2021-02-17T02:35:00.477Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a good thought.

I certainly think that some people attack principle P with conscious intent to erode it, based on valuing V, an alternative principle W, or trying to get X from you. Standing up for P in the face of such anti-P partisans can only be done by rejecting their anti-P stance.

However, people will also attack principle P for a variety of other reasons.

  • P is the foundation of principle Q, which they support. But anti-P propaganda has severed this link in their mind. Appealing for P on the basis of their value for Q might be more effective than a straightforward defense of P.
  • They actually support P, but they're surrounded by punitive anti-P partisans. You have to appeal to them by building trust that you're not an anti-P partisan.
  • They support P intellectually, but feel no urgency about defending it. You don't need to defend P to them, but to appeal to them by showing that P is under attack.
comment by TAG · 2021-02-15T01:57:25.644Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

By contrast, for the concept of “honor” to mean anything, you have to be imagining that there’s a community of people who care about honor and approach that question with integrity. It assumes a level of charity and sophistication in the people you’re appealing to.

That sort of thing isn't guaranteed to fail, but it easily can. The worst failure mode is a kind of just world fallacy, where you assume that you must eventually get your reward, in this world or the next, for doing the "right" thing, even if no-one in this world cares about that value of "right".

comment by EpicNamer27098 · 2021-02-15T07:34:28.541Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a world where everyone without fail, even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists, sacrifices honor for PR at the expense of A, can you blame A for championing PR?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T18:29:02.239Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If [everyone without fail, even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists, sacrifices honor for PR at the expense of A], can you [blame A for championing PR]?

Nope, given that condition.  But also the "if" does not hold.  You're incorrect that [everyone without fail, even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists, sacrifices honor for PR at the expense of A], and I note as a helpful tip that if you find yourself typing a sentence about some behavioral trait being universal among humans with that degree of absolute confidence, you can take this as a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right.

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-02-15T19:47:22.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

if you find yourself typing a sentence about some behavioral trait being universal among humans with that degree of absolute confidence, you can take this as a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right.

"Many orders of magnitude"? (I assume that means we're working in odds rather than probabilities; you can't get more than two orders of magnitude more probability than 0.01.) So if I start listing off candidate behavioral universals like "All humans shiver when cold", "All humans laugh sometimes", "All humans tell stories", "All humans sacrifice honor for PR when the stakes are sufficiently high", you're more than 1000-to-1 against on all of them? Can we bet on this??

(Yes, you were writing casually and hyperbolically rather than precisely, but you can't expect to do that on lesswrong.com and not be called on it, any more than I could expect to do so on your Facebook wall.)

I empathize with the intuition that "Everyone without fail, even [...]" sounds like an extreme claim, but when you think about it, our world is actually sufficiently small that it's not hard to come up with conditions that no one matches: a pool of 7.6·10⁹ humans gets exhausted by less than 33 bits of weirdness.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T20:07:55.905Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're neglecting the unstated precondition that it's the type of sentence that would be generated in the first place, by a discussion such as this one.  You've leapt immediately to an explicitly adversarial interpretation and ruled out meaning that would have come from a cooperative one, rather than taking a prosocial and collaborative approach to contribute the exact same information.

(e.g. by chiming in to say "By the way, it seems to me that Duncan is taking for granted that readers will understand him to be referring to the set of such sentences that people would naturally produce when talking about culture and psychology.  I think that assumption should be spelled out rather than left implicit, so that people don't mistake him for making a (wrong) claim about genuine near-universals like 'humans shiver when cold' that are only false when there are e.g. extremely rare outlier medical conditions."  Or by asking something like "hey, when you say 'a sign' do you mean to imply that this is ironclad evidence, or did you more mean to claim that it's a strong hint?  Because your wording is compatible with both, but I think one of those is wrong.")

The adversarial approach you chose, which was not necessary to convey the information you had to offer, tends to make discourse and accurate thinking and communication more difficult, rather than less, because what you're doing is introducing an extremely high burden on saying anything at all.  "If you do not explicitly state every constraining assumption in advance, you will be called out/nitpicked/met with performative incredulity; there is zero assumption of charity and you cannot e.g. trust people to interpret your sentences as having been produced under Grice's maxims (for instance)."

The result is an overwhelming increase in the cost of discourse, and a substantial reduction in its allure/juiciness/expected reward, which has the predictable chilling effect.  I absolutely would not have bothered to make my comment if I'd known your comment was coming, in the style you chose to use, and indeed now somewhat regret trying to take part in the project of having good conversations on LessWrong today.

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-02-15T20:46:10.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh. I agree that introducing a burden on saying anything at all would be very bad. I thought I was trying to introduce a burden on the fake precision of using the phrase "many orders of magnitude" without being able to supply numbers that are more than 100 times larger than other numbers. I don't think I would have bothered to comment if the great-grandparent had said "a sign that you're wrong" rather than "a sign that you are many orders of magnitude more likely to be wrong than right".

The first paragraph was written from an adversarial perspective, but, in my culture, the parenthetical and "I can empathize with ..." closing paragraph were enough to display overall prosocial and cooperative intent on my part? An opposing lawyer's nitpicking in the courtroom is "adversarial", but the existence of adversarial courts (where opposing lawyers have a duty to nitpick) is "prosocial"; I expect good lawyers to be able to go out for friendly beers after the trial, secure in the knowledge that uncharity while court is in session is "part of the game", and I expect the same layered structure to be comprehensible within a single Less Wrong comment?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T21:21:25.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean the willful misunderstanding of the actual point I was making, which I still maintain is correct, including the bit about many orders of magnitude (once you include the should-be-obvious hidden assumption that has now been made explicit).  

The adversarial pretending-that-I-was-saying-something-other-than-what-I-was-clearly-saying (if you assign any weight whatsoever to obvious context) so as to make it more attackable and let you thereby express the performative incredulity you seemed to want to express, and needed more license for than a mainline reading of my words provided you.

I also object to "would be very bad" in the subjunctive ... I assert that you ARE introducing this burden, with many of your comments, the above seeming not at all atypical for a Zack Davis clapback.  Smacks of "I apologize IF I offended anybody," when one clearly did offend.  This interaction has certainly taken my barely-sufficient-to-get-me-here motivation to "try LessWrong again" and quartered it.  This thread has not fostered a sense of "LessWrong will help you nurture and midwife your thoughts, such that they end up growing better than they would otherwise."

I would probably feel more willing to believe that your nitpicking was principled if you'd spared any of it for the top commenter, who made an even more ambitious statement than I (it being absolute/infinite).

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, habryka4
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-02-15T23:41:30.999Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also object to "would be very bad" in the subjunctive ... I assert that you ARE introducing this burden, with many of your comments, the above seeming not at all atypical for a Zack Davis clapback. Smacks of "I apologize IF I offended anybody," when one clearly did offend.

So, I think it's important to notice that the bargaining problem here really is two-sided: maybe the one giving offense should be nicer, but maybe the one taking offense shouldn't have taken it personally?

I guess I just don't believe that thoughts end up growing better than they would otherwise by being nurtured and midwifed? Thoughts grow better by being intelligently attacked. Criticism that persistently "plays dumb" with lame "gotcha"s in order to appear to land attacks in front of an undiscriminating audience are bad, but I think it's not hard to distinguish between persistently playing dumb, and "clapback that pointedly takes issue with the words that were actually typed, in a context that leaves open the opportunity for the speaker to use more words/effort to write something more precise, but without the critic being obligated to proactively do that work for them"?

We might actually have an intellectually substantive disagreement about priors on human variation [LW(p) · GW(p)]! Exploring that line of discussion is potentially interesting! In contrast, tone-policing replies about not being sufficiently nurturing is ... boring? I like you, Duncan! You know I like you! I just ... don't see how obfuscating my thoughts through a gentleness filter actually helps anyone?

more willing to believe that your nitpicking was principled if you'd spared any of it for the top commenter

Well, I suppose it's not "principled" in the sense that my probability of doing it varies with things other than the severity of the "infraction". If it's not realistic for me to not engage in some form of "selective enforcement" (I'm a talking monkey that types blog comments when I feel motivated, not an AI neutrally applying fixed rules over all comments), I can at least try to be transparent about what selection algorithm I'm using?

I'm more motivated to reply to Duncan Sabien (former CfAR instructor, current MIRI employee) than I am to EpicNamer27098 (1 post, 17 comments, 20 karma, joined December 2020). (That's a compliment! I'm saying you matter!)

I'm more motivated to reply to appeals to assumed-to-exist individual variation [LW(p) · GW(p)], than the baseline average of comments that don't do that, because that's a specific pet peeve of mine lately for psychological reasons beyond the scope of this thread.

I'm more motivated to reply to comments that seem to be defending "even the wonderful cream-of-the-crop rationalists" than the baseline average of comments that don't do that, for psychological reasons beyond the scope of this thread.

Replies from: Ikaxas, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Ikaxas · 2021-02-16T00:52:52.034Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

thoughts [don't] end up growing better than they would otherwise by being nurtured and midwifed? Thoughts grow better by being intelligently attacked.

I think both are true, depending on the stage of development the thought is at. If the thought is not very fleshed out yet, it grows better by being nurtured and midwifed (see e.g. here [LW · GW]). If the thought is relatively mature, it grows best by being intelligently attacked. I predict Duncan will agree.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-16T01:23:12.481Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

maybe the one giving offense should be nicer, but maybe the one taking offense shouldn't have taken it personally?

 

So, by framing things as "taking offense" and "tone policing," I sense an attempt to invalidate and delegitimize any possible criticism on the meta level.  To start out with the hypothesis "Actually, Zack's doing a straightforwardly bad thing on the regular with the adversarial slant of their pushback" already halfway to being dismissed.

I'm not "taking offense."  I'm not pointing at "your comment made me sad and therefore it was bad," or "gosh, why did you use these words instead of these slightly different words which I'm arbitrarily declaring are better."

I'm pointing at "your comment was exhausting, and could extremely easily have contained 100% of its value and been zero exhausting, and this has been true for many of the times I've engaged with you."  You have a habit of choosing an unnecessarily exhaustingly combative method of engagement when you could just as easily make the exact same points and convey the exact same information cooperatively/collaboratively; no substantial emotional or interpretive labor required.

This is not about "tone policing."  This is about the fundamental thrust of the engagement. "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" vs. "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?"

Eric Rogstad (who's my mental exemplar of the virtue I'm pointing to here, though other people like Julia Galef and Benya Fallenstein also regularly exhibit it) could have pushed back every bit as effectively, and on every single detail, without being a dick.  Eric Rogstad and Julia Galef and Benya Fallenstein are just as good as you at noticing wrongness that needs to be attacked, and they're better than you at not alienating the person who produced the mostly-right thought in the first place, and disincentivizing them from bothering to share their thoughts in the future.

(I do not for one second buy your implied claim that your strategy is motivated by a sober weighing of its costs and benefits, and you're being adversarial because you genuinely believe that's the best way forward.  I think that's what you tell yourself to justify it, but you C L E A R L Y engage in this way with emotional zeal and joie de vivre.  I posit that you want to be punchy-attacky, and I hypothesize that you tell yourself that it's virtuous so that you don't have to compare-contrast the successfulness of your strategy with the successfulness of the Erics and the Julias and the Benyas.)

clapback that pointedly takes issue with the words that were actually typed, in a context that leaves open the opportunity for the speaker to use more words/effort to write something more precise, but without the critic being obligated to proactively do that work for them

... conveniently ignoring, as if I didn't say it and it doesn't matter, my point about context being a real thing that exists.  Your behavior is indistinguishable from that of someone who really wanted to be performatively incredulous, saw that if they included the obvious context they wouldn't get to be, and decided to pretend they didn't see it so they could still have their fun.

Exploring that line of discussion is potentially interesting!

I defy you to say, with a straight face, "a supermajority of rationalists polled would agree that the hypothesis which best explains my first response is that I was curiously and intrinsically motivated to collaborate with you in a conversation about whether we have different priors on human variation."

I'm more motivated, etc.

It is precisely this mentality which lies behind 20% of why I find LessWrong a toxic and unsafe place, where e.g. literal calls for my suicide go unresponded to, but my objection to the person calling for my suicide results in multiple paragraphs of angry tirades about how I'm immoral and irrational.  EDIT: This is unfair as stated; the incidents I am referring to are years in the past and I should not by default assume that present-day LessWrong shares these properties.

The fact that I have high sensitivity on this axis is no fault of yours, but I invite you to consider the ultimate results of a policy which punishes your imperfect allies, while doing nothing at all against the most outrageous offenders.  If all someone knows is that one voted for Trump, one's private dismay and internal reservations do nothing to stop the norm shift.  You can't rely on people just magically knowing that of course you object to EpicNamer, and that your relative expenditure of words is unrepresentative of your true objections.

And with that, you have fully exhausted the hope-for-finding-LessWrong-better-than-it-used-to-be that I managed to scrape together over the past three months.  I guess I'll try again in the summer.

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-02-17T08:05:47.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the detailed reply! I changed my mind; this is kind of interesting.

This is not about "tone policing." This is about the fundamental thrust of the engagement. "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" vs. "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?"

Can you say more about why this distinction seems fundamental to you? In my culture, these seem pretty similar except for, well, tone?

"You're wrong" and "I don't think that's right" are expressing the same information (the thing you said is not true), but the former names the speaker rather than what was spoken ("you" vs. "that"), and the latter uses the idiom of talking about the map rather than the territory ("I think X" rather than "X") to indicate uncertainty. The semantics of "I'mm'a prove it!" and "Can we talk about why?" differ more, but both indicate that a criticism is about to be presented.

In my culture, "You're wrong, and I'mm'a prove it!" indicates that the critic is both confident in the criticism and passionate about pursuing it, whereas "I don't think that's right, can we talk about why?" indicates less confidence and less interest.

In my culture, the difference may influence whether the first speaker chooses to counterreply, because a speaker who ignores a confident, passionate, correct criticism may lose a small amount of status. However, the confident and passionate register is a high variance strategy that tends to be used infrequently, because a confident, passionate critic whose criticism is wrong loses a lot of status.

the exact same information cooperatively/collaboratively

Can you say more about what the word collaborative means to you in this context? I asked a question about this once! [LW · GW]

implied claim that your strategy is motivated by a sober weighing of its costs and benefits, and you're being adversarial because you genuinely believe that's the best way forward [...] you tell yourself that it's virtuous so that you don't have to compare-contrast the successfulness of your strategy with the successfulness of the Erics and the Julias and the Benyas

Oh, it's definitely not a sober weighing of costs and benefits! Probably more like a reinforcement-learned strategy?—something that's been working well for me in my ecological context, that might not generalize to someone with a different personality in a different social environment. Basically, I'm positing that Eric and Julia and Benya are playing a different game with a harsher penalty for alienating people. If someone isn't interested in trying to change a trait in themselves, are they therefore claiming it a "virtue"? Ambiguous!

I defy you to say, with a straight face, "a supermajority of rationalists

Hold on. I categorically reject the epistemic authority of a supermajority of so-called "rationalists". [LW · GW] I care about what's actually true, not what so-called "rationalists" think.

To be sure, there's lots of specific people in the "rationalist"-branded cluster of the social graph whose sanity or specific domain knowledge I trust a lot. But they each have to earn that individually; the signal of self-identification or social-graph-affiliation with the "rationalist" brand name is worth—maybe not nothing, but certainly less than, I don't know, graduating from the University of Chicago.

the hypothesis which best explains my first response

Well, my theory is that the illegible pattern-matching faculties in my brain returned a strong match between your comment, and what I claim is a very common and very pernicious instance of dark side epistemology [LW · GW] where people evince a haughty, nearly ideological insistence that all precise generalizations about humans are false, which looks optimized for protecting people's false stories about themselves, and that I in particular am extremely sensitive to noticing this pattern and attacking it at every opportunity as part of the particular political project I've been focused on for the last four years.

You can't rely on people just magically knowing that of course you object to EpicNamer, and that your relative expenditure of words is unrepresentative of your true objections.

EpicNamer's comment seems bad (the -7 karma is unsurprising), but I don't feel strongly about it, because, like Oli [LW(p) · GW(p)], I don't understand it. ("[A]t the expense of A"? What is A?) In contrast, I object really strongly to the (perceived) all-precise-generalizations-about-humans-are-false pattern. So, I think my word expenditure is representative of my concerns.

it's disingenuous and sneaky to act like what's being requested here is that you "obfuscate your thoughts through a gentleness filter."

In retrospect, I actually think the (algorithmically) [LW · GW] disingenuous and sneaky part was "actually helps anyone", which assumes more altruism or shared interests than may actually be present. (I want to make positive contributions to the forum, but the specific hopefully-positive-with-respect-to-the-forum-norms contributions I make are realistically going to be optimized to achieve my objectives, which may not coincide with minimizing exhaustingness to others.) Sorry!

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2021-02-17T20:53:51.423Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to quickly flag that I think the default way for this conversation to go in it's current public form isn't very useful. I think giant meta discussions about culture can be good, but require some deliberate buy-in and expectation setting, that I haven't seen here yet. 

Zack and Duncan each have their own preferred ways of conducting these sorts of conversations (which are both different from my own preferred way), so I don't know that my own advice would be useful to either of them. But my suggestion, if the conversation is to continue, is to first ask "how much do we both endorse having this conversation, what are we trying to achieve, and how much time/effort does it make sense to put into it?". (i.e. have a mini kickstarter for "is this actually worth doing?")

(It seemed to me that each comment-exchange in this thread, both from Duncan and Zack, introduced introduced more meta concepts that took the conversation for a simple object level dispute to a "what is the soul of ideal truthseeking culture." I actually have some thoughts on the original exchange and how it probably could have been resolved without trying to tackle The Ultimate Meta, which I think is usually better practice, but I'm not sure that'd help anyone at this point)

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-16T02:13:35.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One last point for Zack to consider:

I just ... don't see how obfuscating my thoughts through a gentleness filter actually helps anyone?

You could start by thinking "okay, I don't understand this, but a person I explicitly claim to like and probably have at least a little respect for is telling me to my face that not-doing it makes me uniquely costly, compared to a lot of other people he engages with, so maybe I have a blind spot here?  Maybe there's something real where he's pointing, even if I don't see the lines of cause and effect?"

Plus, it's disingenuous and sneaky to act like what's being requested here is that you "obfuscate your thoughts through a gentleness filter."  That strawmanning of the actual issue is a rhetorical trick that tries to win the argument preemptively through framing, which is the sort of thing you claim to find offensive, and to fight against.

Replies from: TurnTrout
comment by TurnTrout · 2021-02-16T02:54:17.140Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Without taking a position on this dispute, I'd like to note that I've had a similar conversation [LW(p) · GW(p)] with Zack ( / Said). 

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-02-15T21:33:13.466Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For whatever it's worth, I think I also disagree with the sentence including the caveat of "be about culture and psychology". I just know of a good number of universals, or almost-universals that seem to apply to humans at a cultural level, and I am usually quite interested when someone proposes a new one. 

I think the comment you responded to was indeed wrong, but I currently also just honestly don't know what it means, and I would appreciate a clarification by someone who has a more concrete interpretation of what the comment means. What is "A" referring to in the comment above?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T21:37:20.773Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that near-universals are ruled out by "everyone without fail."  I am in fact pointing, with my "helpful tip," at statements beginning with everyone without fail.  It is in fact not the case that any of the examples Zack started with are true of everyone without fail—there are humans who do not laugh, humans who do not tell stories, humans who do not shiver when cold, etc.

This point is not the main thrust of my counterobjection to Zack's comment, which was more about the incentives created by various styles of engagement, but it's worth noting.

Replies from: Zack_M_Davis, habryka4
comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2021-02-15T22:52:41.004Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

there are humans who do not laugh [...] humans who do not shiver when cold

Are there? I don't know! Part of where my comment was coming from is that I've grown wary of appeals to individual variation that are assumed to exist without specific evidence. I could easily believe, with specific evidence, that there's some specific, documented medical abnormality such that some people never develop the species-typical [LW · GW] shiver, laugh, cry, &c. responses. (Granted, I am relying on the unstated precondition that, say, 2-week-old embryos don't count.) If you show me the Wikipedia page about such a specific, documented condition, I'll believe it. But if I haven't seen the specific Wikipedia page, should I have a prior that every variation that's easy to imagine, actually gets realized? I'm skeptical! The word human (referring to a specific biological lineage with a specific design specified in ~3·10⁹ bases of the specific molecule DNA) is already pointing to a very narrow and specific set of configurations (relative to the space of all possible ways to arrange 10²⁷ atoms); by all rights, there should be lots of actually-literally universal generalizations to be made.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-02-15T21:45:02.697Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm, so I feel a bit confused here. I agree that the comment said "everyone without fail", but like, I think there is a reasonable reading where that translates to something like "all the big social groups, which of course have individuals not fully participating in what the full group is doing, but where if you aggregate over all the people, the group will invariable tend to have this be more true than false". 

And because the number of big groups is so much smaller than the number of all people, and because the variance of the average among groups is often so much smaller than the variance between individuals (since averaging over many people reduces variance), it's actually not that surprising to have a statement that is true about all big social groups. 

I guess concretely, I have a feeling that "everyone" was referring to something like "all the big social groups", and not "every single person". Which is a much less grandiose claim.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T22:06:25.050Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're going to apply that much charity to everyone without fail, then I feel that there should be more than sufficient charity to not-object-to my comment, as well.

I do not see how you could be applying charity neutrally/symmetrically, given the above comment.

I'm applying the standard "treat each statement as meaning what it plainly says, in context."  In context, the top comment seems to me to be claiming that everyone without fail sacrifices honor for PR, which is plainly false.  In context, my comment says if you're about to assert that something is true of everyone without fail, you're something like 1000x more likely to be wrong than to be right (given a pretty natural training set of such assertions uttered by humans in natural conversation, and not adversarially selected for).

Of the actual times that actual humans have made assertions about what's universally true of all people, I strongly wager that they've been wrong 1000x more frequently than they've been right.  Zack literally tried to produce examples to demonstrate how silly my claim was, and every single example that he produced (to be fair, he probably put all of ten seconds into generating the list, but still) is in support of my assertion, and fails to be a counterexample.

I actually can't produce an assertion about all human actions that I'm confident is true.  Like, I'm confident that I can assert that everything we'd classify as human "has a brain," and that everything we'd classify as human "breathes air," but when it comes to stuff people do out of whatever-it-is-that-we-label choice or willpower, I haven't yet been able to think of something that everyone, without fail, definitely does.

Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-02-15T22:36:47.207Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am not really objecting to your comment. I think there are a good number of interpretations that are correct and a good number of interpretations that are false, and importantly, I think there might be interesting discussion to be had about both branches of the conversation (i.e. in some worlds where I think you are wrong, you would be glad about me disagreeing because I might bring up some interesting points, and in some worlds where I think you are right you would be glad about me agreeing because we might have some interesting conversations). 

Popping up a meta-level, to talk about charity: I think a charitable reading doesn't necessarily mean that I choose the interpretation that will cause us to agree on the object-level, instead I think about which of the interpretations seem to have the most truth to them in a deeper sense, and which broader conversational patterns would cause the most learning for all the conversational participants. In the above, my curiosity was drawn towards there potentially being a deeper disagreement here about human universals, since I can indeed imagine us having differing thoughts on this that might be worth exploring.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T22:47:44.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreement with all of the above.  I just don't want to mistake [truth that can be extracted from thinking about a statement] for [what the statement was intended to mean by its author].

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2021-02-14T04:01:15.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks; I find this comment helpful and interesting, like part of a puzzle.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2021-02-16T00:01:46.716Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, this is a great clarification.

comment by ryan_b · 2021-02-16T13:15:00.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like this framing, particularly the intuition about being infinitely vulnerable.

I have an entirely different frame, which seems to pull in the opposite direction somehow: PR is a set of actions; reputation is a set of relationships.

  • The most quintessential PR thing is a press release; a nonspecific one-to-many communication. Pile up all the press releases, interviews, and ad campaigns and you have PR.

  • The most quintessential reputation thing is one party in a relationship telling a third party about it. Pile up all the things people you have done business with think about how you do business, and you have a reputation.

Reading what I just wrote suggests to me that my intuition is almost opposite of yours, where concern about reputation is much more about outcomes (I want everyone I do business with to feel like I did right by them) and PR is mostly sort of an organizational reflex that gets deployed whenever anyone says anything negative (issue a press release).

This framing strongly suggests that PR is largely inescapable, because third parties are going to talk about and form an opinion with or without information about our relationships, and responding to that situation is a challenge.

comment by tiarat2 · 2021-04-29T05:30:26.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A visual demonstration of this principle can found here

comment by Ronny (potato) · 2021-02-14T15:39:46.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I came here to say something pretty similar to what Duncan said, but I had a different focus in mind. 

It seems like it's easier for organizations to coordinate around PR than it is for them to coordinate around honor.  People can have really deep intractable, or maybe even fundamental and faultless, disagreements about what is honorable, because what is honorable is a function of what normative principles you endorse. It's much easier to resolve disagreements about what counts as good PR. You could probably settle most disagreements about what counts as good PR using polls. 

Maybe for this reason we should expect being into PR to be a relatively stable property of organizations, while being into honor is a fragile and precious thing for an organization. 

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, AnnaSalamon, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2021-02-16T14:22:20.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a counterpoint, one writer thinks that it's psychologically harder for organizations to think about PR:

A famous investigative reporter once asked me why my corporate clients were so terrible at defending themselves during controversy. I explained, “It’s not what they do. Companies make and sell stuff. They don’t fight critics for a living. And they dread the very idea of a fight. Critics criticize; it’s their entire purpose for existing; it’s what they do.”

"But the companies have all that money!” he said, exasperated.

"But their critics have you,” I said.

The conversation ended.

My point was that companies are so psychologically traumatized by the very prospect of controversy that many of the battles they may face are over before they begin. This mindset has four pillars: denial, avoidance, surrender, and expedience. It also has a basis in functional reality. In addition to the drain on financial resources, companies don’t have all day to sit around fighting issue-warriors and the “bathrobe brigade,” the diffuse army of millions who wage war on the world from their kitchen table laptops at no cost. Their critics are able to make decisions about prosecuting attacks in a fraction of the time it takes big organizations to figure out how to respond or whether to respond at all.

Companies are simply not set up to manage crises either mechanically or constitutionally, whereas their adversaries are. Corporate and institutional critics have passion, will, and the cloak of virtue. They want the attack to remain in perpetuity. Their targets, conversely, have a different mindset: They are motivated by institutional tranquility—they want the enterprise to keep humming along, quietly paying dividends and maintaining job security.

Despite the prevalence of corporate sales meetings that traffic in the conceit that executives are barrier-busting rebels, most corporate people find fights with issue-warriors to be distressing on a personal level and resist participating. This can be because of a basic sympathy with the critics’ positions, concern about doing anything that could escalate tensions, or a fear of the career consequences of being in the line of fire. I have been in hundreds of meetings and on phone calls with large organizations under siege, and the prevailing theme of these sessions is JUST MAKE IT STOP. Put differently, it is in no one’s self-interest to make a broader organizational challenge one’s own personal jihad, to try to preserve the organization more than it cares to preserve itself.

When it is under attack, an institution is little more than a collection of individuals angling for self-preservation. No one’s mental framework includes a career arc that places them in the middle of a Fiasco Vortex during a climate when there are dozens of data points that will be leaked or otherwise surface in discovery or depositions. One corporate client likened being on a crisis management team to being a character in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, never knowing which of his colleagues may end up killing him. His corporate enemies were gently nudging him into the spotlight hoping that if he became the face of the crisis, he, not they, would take the fall.

(Eric Dezenhall - Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal)

Replies from: ryan_b
comment by ryan_b · 2021-02-16T15:29:10.888Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is very interesting; I am going to add this to the list, but just from the quoted section I am reminded of the position that companies are too risk-averse when it comes to lawsuits, which leads to the baroque CYA verbiage which covers everything, and hospitals overpaying for malpractice insurance. The law is also a case where the company relies on experts unrelated to their core competency with an overwhelming focus on just making the bad thing go away.

comment by AnnaSalamon · 2021-02-14T21:47:05.533Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's much easier to resolve disagreements about what counts as good PR.

I mostly disagree. I mean, maybe this applies in comparison to “honor” (not sure), but I don’t think it applies in comparison to “reputation” in many of the relevant senses. A person or company could reasonably wish to maintain a reputation as a maker of solid products that don’t break, or as a reliable fact-checker, or some other such specific standard. And can reasonably resolve internal disagreements about what is and isn’t likely to maintain this reputation.

If it was actually easy to resolve disagreements about PR, I suspect we wouldn’t be so spooked by it, or so prone to deferring to outside “PR consultants”.

I… my thoughts aren’t coherent enough here to let me know how to write a short comment, so I’m gonna write a long one, while noting aloud that this is a bad sign about my models here.

But: it isn’t just a matter of deferring to polls. Partly because with “bad PR” or scandals, there’s a dynamicness to the mob. It isn’t about peoples’ fixed standards or comparisons, that you could get by consulting polls. (Or just by consulting a friend or two, the way you probably do when you are faced with normal ethical questions and you want help remembering what the usual standards are.) It’s some spooky other thing, involving dynamics that evolve, and experts that you pay to be a bit distanced somehow from your not-knowing and to be able to tell other people that of course you consulted an expert so that they won't shun you after the whole thing explodes.

It seems like it's easier for organizations to coordinate around PR

So, that does seem true, at least in the sense that lots of organizations and groups talk about “PR”; so there’s some tautological sense in which it’s gotta be easier for organizations to somehow end up talking about that. (Lately. It wasn't so in past centuries, FWIW. Possibly they just didn't know how.)

But I am a bit unclear on why.

One hypothesis that matches my own introspection, at least for small- to medium-sized organizations of the sort I’ve been involved in, is that we attend to PR because it’s somehow part of the received “everyone knows you should pay attention to PR” morality that was imparted to us, right next to “don’t drink and drive” and “get a college degree” and "remember to feel a sense of 'wow' if somebody mentions Harvard". And not because of inside-view/directly-perceivable advantages to attending to PR (vs reputation/brand/honor).

Of course, this just kicks the can down the road — why would this morality have been imparted to us? I’m honestly not sure. I don’t trust it. I do not personally notice myself or others making any worse decisions when we instead attend to "reputation".

Replies from: jsalvatier
comment by jsalvatier · 2021-02-16T22:16:59.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Modernity has made people quite averse to talking about and dealing with spirituality. I think maybe a big part of what's going on is that while PR is a material concept, honor is a spiritual concept. It deals with meaning directly rather than only indirectly. Honor matters for its own sake (or can), matters to your soul. Whereas PR can only ever matter indirectly, only as a consequence of other things. No one has PR in their soul.

That would mean that people end up avoiding thinking about and relating to things like honor and reputation because it just feels weird. It feel like the sort of thing that you're not supposed to deal with. It feels like something that science and technology have vaguely disproven.

Replies from: mr-hire
comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2021-02-17T02:55:36.768Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get how honor is a spiritual concept but don't really get how reputation is. It seems like reputation is precisely the thing PR is concerned with while it ignores honor.

This is very confusing to me when Anna in the original post talks about "reputation" "honor" and "brand" as equivalent. Reputation and brand are precisely worrying about how others think of you (PR), whereas Honor is about how you think of yourself.

Replies from: RobbBB, jsalvatier
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-02-17T03:39:40.795Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I'm confused about this too. I feel like the real distinction is three-way:

  1. Trying to embody specific virtues; vs.
  2. Trying to convince others that you embody those virtues; vs.
  3. Trying to make others approve of you.

Anna's original post sort of sounds like it was distinguishing 3 from 2 -- "PR" and "defending your reputation/brand" are both about optimizing what others think of you, but 2 is less corruptible because it has more content (assuming you care about the specific content of your brand/reputation, and your goal isn't just "have a positive brand/reputation"!).

Duncan's reply feels more to me like it's distinguishing 3 from 1 (while noting that 2 can sometimes emerge from 1 as a side-effect, because truly possessing a virtue can help convince others that you have that virtue).

I think the word "honor" encourages some sliding between 1 and 2: Anna's focus was on defending your honor, which is more of a reputation-y category-2 thing, whereas Duncan spoke of "trying to be honorable", which is a category-1 thing.

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-02-17T03:51:28.356Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A note of caution: I think the analytic-philosophy thing I'm doing, of trying to carve things up into a precise and exhaustive set of buckets, risks picking the wrong carving and missing subtleties in the thing Anna was gesturing at in the OP.

E.g., Anna said:

If I am safeguarding my “honor” (or my “reputation”, “brand”, or “good name”), there are some fixed standards that I try to be known as adhering to. For example, in Game of Thrones, the Lannisters are safeguarding their “honor” by adhering to the principle “A Lannister always pays his debts.” They take pains to adhere to a certain standard, and to be known to adhere to that standard. Many examples are more complicated than this; a gentleman of 1800 who took up a duel to defend his “honor” was usually not defending his known adherence to a single simple principle a la the Lannisters. But it was still about his visible adherence to a fixed (though not explicit) societal standard.

I feel like this is a deep-ish paragraph that's getting at some attitude shifts that haven't yet been fully brought to consciousness in this discussion. Like, I feel like there's a sense in which US-circa-2021 PR culture and "defend my good name" culture both have fixed standards, at any given moment in time. But there's something different about the attitude toward those standards?

It's like virtue and reputation ("honor") were one thing at the time, and now they're two things. So the very word "PR" has become a thing that feels manipulative, amoral -- no one thinks it's virtuous to do PR, it's just what's done.

I almost wonder if the problem is less "people stopped caring about being truly-intrinsically-virtuous" and more: People stopped rationalizing their reputation-management as virtuous; which fed into a "it's impractical and uncouth to care about virtue" cycle; which resulted in people having too many degrees of freedom, because it's easier to rationalize arbitrary actions as practical than to rationalize arbitrary actions as virtuous.

Replies from: BrienneYudkowsky, jsalvatier
comment by LoganStrohl (BrienneYudkowsky) · 2021-02-21T18:25:34.163Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's like virtue and reputation ("honor") were one thing at the time

When I read this, I thought (with my feelings, not my words) "It sounds like Rob thinks honor is a combination of virtue and reputation, but I do not think that honor is a combination of virtue and reputation."

So before I go and try to write a bunch about what I think honor might be, I'd like to check: Do you think that honor is a combination of virtue and reputation? Do you think that's basically right but incomplete description of honor? Do you think that honor is some other thing entirely, which you could state? Do you not know what honor is in a way that you could state without a lot of time and effort?

Replies from: RobbBB
comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2021-02-21T20:16:25.711Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be interested to hear what you think honor is. :) I think the word 'honor' is used to point at some 'inherently good things about a person' (things related to integrity, promise-keeping, fairness, respect, grace) and also to point at some things about how others perceive you (that you're seen as having honesty, principle, dignity, etc.). I wasn't trying to precisely define 'honor', just saying that honor seemed to involve both internal-virtue-like things and reputation-like things.

comment by jsalvatier · 2021-02-17T20:22:53.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's like virtue and reputation ("honor") were one thing at the time, and now they're two things.

I almost wonder if the problem is less "people stopped caring about being truly-intrinsically-virtuous" and more: People stopped rationalizing their reputation-management as virtuous; which fed into a "it's impractical and uncouth to care about virtue" cycle; which resulted in people having too many degrees of freedom, because it's easier to rationalize arbitrary actions as practical than to rationalize arbitrary actions as virtuous.

Yeah,  I was having similar thoughts.

comment by jsalvatier · 2021-02-17T20:20:29.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's a good point. Reputation is less naturally spiritual. I think you can experience it both ways. Imagine someone who thinks about reputation as painted on their heart. Versus someone who is is fine with trying to manipulate their reputation.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-14T17:58:33.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems true to me but also sort of a Moloch-style dynamic?  Like "yep, I agree those are the incentives, and it's too bad that that's the case."

comment by BarryGrimes · 2021-02-19T09:22:12.981Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a postgraduate diploma in public relations and I was a member of the UK Chartered Institute for Public Relations for several years. I'd like to defend the honour of the public relations profession by sharing the definition used by the CIPR:

Every organisation, no matter how large or small, ultimately depends on its reputation for survival and success.

Customers, suppliers, employees, investors, journalists and regulators can have a powerful impact. They all have an opinion about the organisations they come into contact with - whether good or bad, right or wrong. These perceptions will drive their decisions about whether they want to work with, shop with and support these organisations.

In today's competitive market, reputation can be a company's biggest asset – the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd and gives you a competitive edge. Effective PR can help manage reputation by communicating and building good relationships with all organisation stakeholders.

Our definition of Public Relations:

Public Relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

Of course, every PR professional knows that most people tend to use a much narrower definition of PR, usually equating it to media relations, crisis comms, or an underhand approach to shaping public opinion. That's why most of us tend to describe ourselves as communications professionals.

For anyone thinking about communications strategy and reputation management, I recommend the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework as the internationally-recognised best practice.

Replies from: ryan_b
comment by ryan_b · 2021-02-19T16:27:01.101Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I appreciate you showing up to give the when-it-is-done-right perspective. To strongly oversimplify, the CIPR position appears to be that the two things contrasted in the post should really be the same thing.

Question: how much penetration does the CIPR perspective have in companies in the UK (or AMEC globally)? I'm sort of operating under the assumption here that both organizations collect data on this, such that a "X% of public companies and government agencies successfully practice AMEC principles" or similar number is available.

Replies from: BarryGrimes
comment by BarryGrimes · 2021-02-19T17:12:27.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Ryan. I wouldn't say they're the same thing. Reputation is an asset (similar to social capital). Public relations is the work you do to increase the value of that asset.

I'm not aware of any data on how many organisations have adopted the framework I'm afraid. My very rough hypothesis is that the bigger the organization, the more likely they are to be using a framework along these lines.

 I did find this quote from the Executive Director of Government Communications in the UK:

Across the UK Government, the AMEC Principles have helped us to make sure we are measuring what matters.  The principles need to be applied in practice so I welcome this new AMEC Interactive Framework which brings these principles to life in a user-friendly way.

“It’s great to see the industry moving to reflect the integrated nature of modern communications and providing a framework for all levels – not just experts – to apply strong evaluation principles.

“This model aligns heavily with the Government Communication Service model I launched earlier this year and I would encourage everyone to use it to focus communications around outcomes to make communication demonstrably effective.

comment by Raemon · 2021-02-18T21:37:28.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Curated.

I think "PR-focus distorts good thinking and clear communication" is a fairly widespread problem. Somehow PR makes people anxious, and focusing on it tends to result in people engaging in weird social games at the expense of engaging or communicating directly about reality.

I'm curating this partly because Anna's suggestion of "replace 'PR' with 'defend honor'" seems like an interesting suggestion, which might directly help people who are currently PR focused. And partly because addressing the problem somehow seems fairly important, and several comments here seem fruitful to me for further exploring the issue.

Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2021-02-18T22:03:19.251Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm gonna try to 'defend my honor' more. And 'the honor of LessWrong'.

comment by ozziegooen · 2021-02-23T05:01:40.641Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel mixed about this. 

My guess is that Anna means something fairly specific by "honor", but there are many cases of people using honor or similar abstractions to justify some really terrible things (lots of violence, for example). So if you were to tell most people to "maximize honor instead of do PR", I could see this going quite poorly.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_honor_(Southern_United_States)

For one thing, for many people, in many important situations, "not saying anything at all" is a really good thing. Think of prisoners who don't plead the fifth, or many other legal cases or otherwise. Arguably Trump and Elon Musk have been fairly damaging on Twitter to themselves.

I think a lot of PR professionals are quite bad, but this is true for most professions. I imagine in a lot of (good) cases their advice is "don't say really stupid stuff", and much of the time their clients really could use hearing that. 

comment by Liron · 2021-02-14T13:49:44.951Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What are some examples of good PR that’s reputation-like and bad PR that’s not? It’d be interesting to analyze a failed high-budget public PR campaign.

comment by deluks917 · 2021-02-14T22:50:48.708Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you think of this article by Holden: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/gTaDDJFDzqe7jnTWG/some-thoughts-on-public-discourse [EA · GW]

Holden seems rather concerned with PR to me. The article explicitly supports your claim that 'PR concerns' push people towards not communicating at all. But it seems like Holden has quite good reasons to communicate less openly. 

To be honest I am not sure what exactly is being advised. It seems important in many contexts to avoid angering the wrong people. Maintaining 'good PR' is a valuable instrumental goal. To what degree are you saying we should ignore these concerns? Do you think trying to be 'honorable' will suffice to avoid bad outcomes? Are you just saying to be marginally less concerned with PR? Do you think Open Phil should do things differently?

Replies from: AnnaSalamon
comment by AnnaSalamon · 2021-02-15T01:22:55.454Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be honest I am not sure what exactly is being advised.

I am basically advising that you treat the concept of PR, and the word “PR”, the way you would treat a skilled but incredibly sleazy used car salesman. You may sometimes wish to deal with him anyway, if you can’t practically locate any other way to buy a car. But you’ll want to be very very alert to what’s being slipped into “your” “beliefs”, while you do so.

Sort of like if you were using a concept from Scientology to navigate a personal psychological issue.

Do you think trying to be 'honorable' will suffice to avoid bad outcomes?

I think that attention to “honor”, “reputation”, “brand”, etc. will get us most but not all of what we might hope for from PR, and including some things that PR itself won’t give, such as some kinds of longer-term freedom, grounding, and ability to think.

I would advise using this concept first (just, very simply, substituting the word “reputational concerns” for “PR concerns” in conversations, and seeing where this substitution gets you).

I don’t think it’ll do everything PR would do. And I’m not saying you should never care about the residual (although I am saying that the sleazy car salesman may have tricked us into sometimes thinking the residual matters more than it does).

Replies from: TAG
comment by TAG · 2021-02-15T01:51:56.186Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But you’ll want to be very very alert to what’s being slipped into “your” “beliefs”, while you do so.

Also consider what slips into your beliefs while you're sitting a bubble of people who mostly talk to each other, and think they are much better than the wicked world outside [LW · GW].

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-15T21:35:03.566Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My downvote here is not for TAG holding the hypothesis that the rationalist/LW bubble might be bad in various ways (this is an inoffensive hypothesis to hold, in my culture) but rather for its method of sly insinuation that tries to score a point without sticking its neck out and making a clear and falsifiable claim.

If I can be shown that I've misread TAG, I'll remove the downvote.

Replies from: habryka4, TAG
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2021-02-15T21:41:39.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, seems right to me. I would be interested in a concrete argument here, but it feels like the above could be said about any group, and it doesn't present me with any additional information or arguments. I can imagine TAG having a good critique here and would be interested in hearing it, but the above didn't do it for me.

Replies from: TAG
comment by TAG · 2021-02-15T23:56:53.059Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

it feels like the above could be said about any group

It was. Feeling that your in-group deals in The Truth is the default.

comment by TAG · 2021-02-15T23:53:24.333Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I can be shown that I’ve misread TAG, I’ll remove the downvote.

I think it would be fairer to downvote the OP for making sly insinuations about the PR industry.

Replies from: BrienneYudkowsky, Duncan_Sabien
comment by LoganStrohl (BrienneYudkowsky) · 2021-02-21T18:10:49.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just re-read the OP looking for something that I'd possibly describe as "sly insinuations about the PR industry", and I couldn't find any. What I read in it was a bunch of straight-forward claims about what the concept of PR tends to cause in people who use it, and some as-far-as-I-can-tell-completely-honest attempts to gesture at intuitions about how that works and why. Can you give an example of something in the OP that seems to you like it contains a sly insinuation about the PR industry?

Replies from: TAG
comment by TAG · 2021-02-21T18:49:34.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I read in it was a bunch of straight-forward claims about what the concept of PR tends to cause

What I didn't read was support for those claims. Well, maybe "PR bad" is a thing everyone knows..but maybe "ingroups can get delusional about their moral purity" is something everyone knows.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2021-02-16T01:27:47.546Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm.  For the record, I find this thought to be worth chewing on, so thank you.

comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-02-21T03:52:49.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this distinction is largely illusory. There's a continuum from less real standards (PR, brand) to more real ones (contract law, keeping promises), but it's all fragile, sometimes extremely so, and rests on the assumption that the societal conception of what those standards means won't change underneath you, and/or, in many cases, on the assumption that no one will call your bluff.

What is honor? Ask five people and you'll get at least three answers. What is ethical behavior? Ask five people and you'll get at least five answers, half of which will be incoherent and impossible to act on. Ask people what the brand of <Company X> is, and you'll get even more answers than that, and you'll be lucky if any of them are coherently actionable.

And if you (generic you, not 'specifically Anna Salamon') get together a panel today - maybe your organization's board - and give them a day to hash out a definition of what 'being honorable' means for your group, you'll get an answer. But if you bring them back next year, even if you give them today's consensus then, they won't get the same answer. Even if there are no major changes in the societal zeitgeist, which is a very unsafe assumption given that the last few years have given those to us on an annual basis, you're not going to have a stable picture of your target. (Examples: #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter redux, all had significant effects on what we culturally perceive as proper conduct. It's not enough for them all to be improvements on net, though I think they are, or even enough for them all to be purely-good uncaveated improvements, which is uncertain but plausible.) Even if all the changes are improvements, society getting a better picture of the moral good, they're still substantial changes which are neither predictable in advance nor backwards-compatible.

The obvious response to this is to stick to your current best working theory of what you ought to do to behave honorably. This has several complications. Firstly, assuming you are not a sole proprietorship or a startup small enough that the founders can make decisions by consensus and directly, personally relay them to everyone else in the org, you are not all going to make the same updates. You will not have one idea of honorable conduct; even if you start with one (already difficult!), when the underlying social reality changes, you will have many different ideas of what that means. You can attempt to reach consensus, but you will not succeed in a feasible timeframe, even if you take the time to hash it out until you're satisfied you've reached consensus; Hofstadter's Law is in full force, doubly so because you don't just have to resolve your disagreements with other people but also your internal disagreements between the elephants in your brains and their riders. Secondly, you have to decide how much to apply it retroactively, and you, y'all, and y'all's backers/customers/funders/supporters/audience, will each have a different idea of how much that should apply. This is where the 'call your bluff' bit gets into it. If standards change and you change along with them, you essentially must bluff your way past the obstacle of past behavior. For things which are in retrospect egregious, you can apologize and/or make restitution and move on, but for all the judgment calls, you're not going to have the time, energy, or bandwidth to check, so you have to 80/20 it and tacitly declare that good enough. This works most of the time, but you're bluffing, and if someone watching you (either externally, e.g. customers contemplating a protest, or internally, e.g. middle manager contemplating a leak) has a large enough difference of opinion, they might call your bluff and force you to have an opinion. This downside risk here is not small, and it is rarely practical to get compact. Your audience and employees are usually not out to get you, but that could, on a limited front, change at any time. You can try to route around this - but that's just back to 'PR', examining all the ways in which your environment might start being out to get you and hedging against all of them.

If you really want to get out of the game: get tenure. Literal tenure probably works, but I primarily mean metaphorical tenure. Have a full alternative stack such that you're not beholden to anyone outside your subculture (which is smaller, more uniform, and therefore much easier to get compact against than broader society). Be independently wealthy. (Hey, it worked pretty well for the psychedelics pioneers!) Establish an extremely robust UBI that can't be interrupted by retroactive declarations of criminality or wrongthink. Secede. Take over the world. Become god. In short: make yourself immune to other people's low opinion, directed along any of the thousands of levers by which they can express it tangibly in ways that may ruin your life.

It would be better, for everyone, if it was a feasible strategy to listen to Aral Vorkosigan. But, besides being fictional and therefore poor evidence, he was the Imperial Regent of three planets. "Let your reputation fall where it will and outlive the bastards" is much more feasible advice when you have an army, a navy, an immense family fortune, and the personal loyalty of everyone of consequence in the entire planetary government. Which I do not, and I'm fairly certain no one else does either. And even if someone does, it doesn't scale.

comment by Yoav Ravid · 2021-02-14T06:48:46.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice distinction! this feels connected to simulacra [? · GW]. people who try to safeguard their honor tend to do that even privately, at least to an extent. that no one sees them and no one will know isn't a good reason to do something they consider dishonorable. they don't just try to seem honorable, they try to be honorable. they're on level 1 [? · GW].

People who safeguard their PR are on level 2 [? · GW] (or higher). They pretend to be honorable, or keep a good name, but as Duncan said, are focused on the outcome "People think good of me" and not on the process of actually being honorable.

This also seems useful in spotting maze cultures [? · GW] and non maze cultures.

Replies from: daniel-amdurer
comment by Daniel Amdurer (daniel-amdurer) · 2021-02-15T00:09:30.117Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought that as I was reading this, but came to different conclusions. I see a focus on honour and reputation as a level 3 concern, while a focus on PR is a level 4 one.

Replies from: Yoav Ravid
comment by Yoav Ravid · 2021-02-15T04:59:59.091Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. What would the level 2 and level 1 of that then?

Replies from: johnswentworth
comment by johnswentworth · 2021-02-16T01:40:59.784Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There isn't really a level 1; caring what other people think is exactly what level 1 is not about. Level 2 would involve some sort of lying to level-1 people, but since there isn't really a level 1 in this context, there isn't really a level 2 either.

Although I think PR vs honor fits into level 3/4 best, it still doesn't seem like quite a perfect fit to simulacra in general. PR is a clean fit to simulacrum 4, but honor doesn't quite fit right in the simulacrum framework; it has elements of both "actually doing the thing" (i.e. level 1) and "making sure that other people know you're actually doing the thing" (i.e. level 3).

Replies from: Yoav Ravid
comment by Yoav Ravid · 2021-02-16T05:07:12.889Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, i guess what i thought of is the type of honor that you adhere to for yourself, even if no one else knows. but that's not exactly what the post talks about.

Replies from: daniel-amdurer
comment by Daniel Amdurer (daniel-amdurer) · 2021-02-18T21:51:18.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That sort of honour is probably level 1.

Replies from: Yoav Ravid
comment by Yoav Ravid · 2021-02-19T05:35:54.124Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe that's integrity, or something like that.

comment by epiphi · 2021-02-21T00:59:41.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another way to separate these two concepts is whether you're trying to hold yourself to an internal or external standard. This is captured by this Lois McMaster Bujold quote (though she uses "reputation" where you might use "PR"):

Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself. Guard your honor. Let your reputation fall where it will.

To me, internal vs. external seems like the more crucial distinction than "fixed standard" (reputation) vs. "modelled reactions" (PR) that you describe in the post.

Replies from: JacobKopczynski
comment by Czynski (JacobKopczynski) · 2021-02-21T04:02:29.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Heh, I wrote a very long comment and then ended it with "it would be nice if we could be Aral Vorkosigan". It's certainly a good concept, but my objection here is that, unlike the speaker of that quote, we do not:

  • control an army and navy, which can be used either directly to suppress the consequences of a very bad reputation or indirectly to merely suggest that we could and you therefore ought to be reluctant to act on your low opinion unless you have a very good reason
  • have a substantial family fortune to fall back on if we are unable or unwilling to use that bludgeon and can no longer rely on ever receiving resources from anyone else
  • have close bonds of personal/filial loyalty with everyone of any importance in the government, such that even if society judged your reputation sufficiently unforgivable, the chances of having our resources forcibly taken away are nil

In short, it's not something that works unless no one has power over you. Everyone has someone who has power over them.

comment by Vanilla_cabs · 2021-02-15T14:11:59.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At quick glance it seems just a slightly more complicated example of always telling the truth (a la Kant) VS lying strategically. But lying can be useful. Likewise PR can be useful.

comment by cistran · 2021-02-14T11:29:50.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

PR is something that can be done to you as in negative PR. There is no negative reputation, or negative honor, there is only slander.

Replies from: Vaniver, ryan_b
comment by Vaniver · 2021-02-15T19:39:35.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My dictionary has "dishonor" in it, as both a noun and a verb.

Replies from: cistran
comment by cistran · 2021-02-16T07:31:47.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But dishonor is rarely used in its transitive meaning. It is difficult to reduce someone's honor by dishonoring somebody, only your own honor can be dishonored by you.

comment by ryan_b · 2021-02-16T00:55:12.479Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find this idea shocking. Could you talk a bit more about your thoughts here?

By way of examples, how would you describe any the following:

  • The reputation of Exxon-Mobile or BP for environmental practices?
  • The reputation of the National Enquirer for news?
  • The reputation of the Soviet Union for free expression?

Relating to honor specifically, what are your thoughts on shame?

Replies from: cistran
comment by cistran · 2021-02-16T07:38:48.389Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

All your examples point to self-inflicted reputation loss. I am talking about reputation loss inflicted from outside.

Here is my counter-example: Doctor Ignaz Semmelweis, the inventor of hand hygiene in medical (specifically OBGYN) practice. He was reviled and ridiculed and driven insane by the medical establishment of Vienne. 

Replies from: ryan_b
comment by ryan_b · 2021-02-16T12:38:10.048Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aha; I failed to parse the second sentence in light of the first, and mistook them for an independent claim. Confusion resolved!

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-02-16T12:09:58.518Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Downvoting your comment for being low-quality is not the same as blocking it. 

Replies from: EpicNamer27098
comment by EpicNamer27098 · 2021-02-16T12:16:23.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was talking about an off-site interaction, not a downvote on here.

Replies from: ChristianKl
comment by ChristianKl · 2021-02-16T12:24:14.733Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Then it has no reason to be in this this thread. Generally, if someone wants Anna Salamon to spend time interacting with them and she doesn't think it's worthwhile to spend that time, blocking them  when they use private channels seems very reasonable.

comment by DaystarEld · 2021-02-15T02:50:35.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting post. I notice PR here being used in a mostly "avoid negative" way, and while I get why, I feel like it's just one side of the coin... and the comparison to adhering to honor doesn't quite capture the full thing either.

One of the ongoing struggles I write the protagonist in Pokemon: The Origin of Species as having with some of the others is that they grew up the children of famous people and so are immersed in a worldview in which PR is a good and important thing, while he did not and so it seems intrinsically dishonest or "slimy" to think in ways like "how will people react to this?"

Their major arguments against him is something like "PR isn't just about protecting your brand, it's also about putting yourself out there. If you want to be someone that matters in the world, someone that the public will listen to, you need some hustle, you need to promote yourself, and yes, sure, of course you should do that honestly, but if you just flat don't care about what others think of you, you give up low hanging fruit in ways to show positive parts of yourself that the public cares about, and are more prone to blunders that the hivemind of society has put more collective thought into than you have."

He is not fully convinced by this, but so far in the story he's becoming less sure of his resistance to it as well. I'm curious to know what you think of the above.

comment by Tomáš Gavenčiak (tomas-gavenciak) · 2021-02-20T17:20:00.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This brings up the concept of theory of mind for me, especially when thinking about how this applies differently to individual people, to positions/roles in society, and e.g. to corporations. In particular, I would need to have a theory of mind of an entity to ascribe "honor" to it and expect it to uphold it.

A person can convince me that their mind is built around values or principles and I can reasonably trust them to uphold them in the future more likely than not. I believe that for humans, pretending is usually difficult or at least costly.

What a corporation evokes, on the other hand, is not very mind-like. For example: I expect it to uphold bargains when it would be costly not to (in lawsuits, future sales, brand value, etc.), I expect leadership changes, and I expect it to be hard to understand its reasoning (office politics and other coordination problems). (The corporation is also aware of this and so may not even try to appear mind-like.)
An interesting exception may be companies that are directed by a well-known principled figure, where having a theory of their mind again makes some sense. (I suspect that is why many brands make effort to create a fictitious "principled leader figure" ).

"PR", as Anna describes it, seems to be a more direct (if hard) optimization process that is in principle available to all. 

I want to note that I am still mildly confused how a reputation of a company that would be based solely on its track record fits into this - I would still expect it to (likely) continue in the trend even having no model of its inner workings or motivations.

Replies from: tomas-gavenciak
comment by Tomáš Gavenčiak (tomas-gavenciak) · 2021-02-20T17:37:59.019Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Side-remark: Individual positions and roles in society seem to hold a middle ground here: When dealing with a concrete person who holds some authority (imagine a grant maker, a clerk, a supervisor, ...), modelling them internally as a person or as an institution brings up different expectations of motivations and values - the person may have virtues and honor where I would expect the institution to have rules and possibly culture (where principles may be a solid part of the rules or culture, but that feels somewhat less common, weaker or more prone to Goodharting as PR; I may be confused here, though).

comment by OttmarWest · 2021-02-19T12:12:42.842Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The concept of PR of course is to make something popular. But I would not say that it is a bad thing. Maybe it is more about the way how to use it. And, of course, who's using it.  Even though most of it is to show, or better to say, persuade other people to do something that other people want, or to be someone like other people tell you. But much of the good stuff I found, was because I saw it in ads or SM. In Germany, I was looking for an office to rent. If it wasn't for good PR, I would not find this Büro Stuttgart on the web, and this way, would not rent that beautiful place for myself. 

So, what I was trying to say. Everything, that we are having right now in our everyday life - are tools. They are bad only in bad hands. Plus, you also need to filter everything you hear, see, etc.

comment by Mitko · 2021-02-19T01:54:22.839Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing! This reminds me of a similar post I recently read on Commonplace.
https://commoncog.com/blog/gap-between-reputation-personal-brand/

One way I interpreted it is that our reputation is a second order effect of our actions - we cannot control it directly. Your insight about "honor" or "principles" such as "A Lannister always pays his debts" might be a valid to try to approach and communicate what we want our reputation to be and what actions we are taking to get there.