*How* people shut down thought because of high-status respectable halos

post by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-20T14:09:07.504Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 21 comments


A detailed look at the belief that high status social structures can be so much better than anything one can think of that there's no point in even trying to think about the details of what to do, and how debilitating this is.

Discussion of the essay


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by gwern · 2016-10-21T01:50:46.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't find it convincing. Even though it's long, I don't recognize any of the examples as being 'Ra' ness and I can't think of any examples of 'Ra' in my own experience, the concept draws a complete blank. The name 'Ra' is also not that great as unlike some of the other reifications going around like Yvain's 'Moloch', which at least have some intuitive connection with their concept, 'Ra' seems pretty much arbitrary. In contrast, the first time I read about the prisoner's dilemma/tragedy of the commons, it hit me like an epiphany and I went 'of course! this explains everything, from people littering and cutting across the grass to war!' (And since Moloch is just coordination problems in general, it made equal sense to me.)

EDIT: Obormot and saturn2 on IRC note that 'Ra' seems in her telling to slightly overlap with the whole complacent-elite meritocracy going on in the Ivy League & Wall Street, of the Twilight of the Elites type.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-21T13:01:38.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you read James C. Scott's The Art of Not Being Governed? I recommend it in general, but I think his description of southeast Asian empires has them displaying a lot of Ra-ness. People in empires are self-described as being better even when their lives as similar to-- but worse-- than the lives of people outside the empire.

comment by gwern · 2016-10-22T15:24:13.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've read Seeing like a State but not that one. I'm not sure how that kind of ethnocentrism is Ra-like.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-22T16:21:47.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The thing is, it isn't ethnocentrism. Sometimes the people inside the empire and outside the empire are of the same ethnicity. It's just that people inside the empire have a very strong system of self-congratulation.

comment by korin43 · 2016-10-20T18:52:06.305Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If I had to summarize it quickly, I'd say this is an article about how boring / generic things are seen as more legitimate, especially if large groups of people do them. For example, if you spend every waking moment working on some futuristic technology, people will see you very differently if you're doing it in your garage (alone), working for a small startup (small group, presumably all working on similar projects), or working for IBM (large group, doing unrelated work). Also, we don't like to talk about people's opinions, and we'd rather talk about the "opinions" of organizations like political parties.

I thought it was interesting, but I can't help feeling like it would have been a much better article without a Ra metaphor. It seemed like a huge stretch and a significant portion of the article was trying (and in my opinion, failing) to justify the metaphor.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-20T20:18:45.145Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm improving the subject line-- I agree that I need to do better with the summary.

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-20T16:00:23.927Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Megyn Kelly walked by me once. If she had handed me a knife and asked me to remove my own heart and give it to her, part of my brain would have felt obligated to comply.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2016-10-20T21:38:28.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This doesn't sound like an example of Ra-ness. Could you (or someone else) elaborate?

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-21T01:14:40.553Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's more to the title than article. Megyn Kelly's halo, by virtue of her being a high-status beautiful women, had the (unused) ability to hijack my will

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-21T12:57:55.177Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your reaction was a lot of why I changed the title-- I clearly wasn't saying what I meant.

The original title (from memory) "Blinded by the light-- how people shut down thought because of high-status halos". It still could use some work.

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-10-22T23:45:48.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. I like the article more as it goes on - but, for example, the author couldn't even get through one essay before calling people "Ra-like". This would be very disturbing if it actually worked as an insult.

(On a possibly related note, she gives the example of someone implying "a negative-utilitarian belief that humanity ought to be annihilated." Now this does sound like something I've encountered and attributed to runaway signaling. But we should consider the possibility that the speaker mistrusted his interlocutor in particular. Perhaps he thought he had good, solid reasons to believe any future that person created would be worse than death.)

comment by ernestdezoe · 2016-10-22T16:07:26.161Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's why I am glad I reached sexual maturity during the age of high speed internet pornography....it "teaches" how not to put women on the pedestal and deal with them like you would deal with a man : money upfront and contracts to regulate every exchange and most importantly not to ever trust them ..... evolution selected for traits and behaviors necessary to procure resources for their future offspring , they would not hesitate to do so at other agents expenses

comment by James_Miller · 2016-10-22T19:37:25.522Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, I am a lot older than you.

comment by JohnReese · 2016-11-01T00:33:17.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm...immediately brings to mind the Challenger disaster and the story of Feynman's investigation into the disconnect between risk assessments made by engineers (group 1 above) and management (group 2).

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-25T10:23:54.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I stopped reading at "Ra hates communication and introspection."
The marked difference between that post and Scott's Moloch is that the Scott had a lot of examples all pointing at the same concept. Here the author seems to have in mind one concept but starts explaining all the ramifications, without bothering to defining it. I still think that Ra doesn't exists, it's just a coalescence of many things that feel like they should come from a single source, only that source has never been defined.
That does it for me.

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-21T16:12:38.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sooo... brief comments while I read along.

He mentions "Moloch", and while attributes it's genesis to Ginsberg, he is clearly referring to Scott's Moloch, as per link on the first mention. But then:

What they have in common is that the Establishment is primarily an upper-class phenomenon, that it is more about social and moral legitimacy than mere wealth or raw power

which is nothing like the Moloch, which is a race to the bottom caused by lack of coordination, and is thus more pertinent to the lower strata of the population.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-10-21T16:44:15.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I look forward to more of your comments-- readalong comments for longform writing is a good idea.

The author is Sarah Constantin.

You've got a good point about Moloch and Ra not having that much in common, though I could make a case that Ra greases the path for Moloch.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2016-10-21T05:11:05.643Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Surely someone more important than me in the organization has checked that this plan is legal before asking me to execute it."

comment by hairyfigment · 2016-10-20T17:24:51.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hate this essay immediately, though a lot of that may be your false summary. (The link tries to make clear it is not about "high-status halos" in general.) Defending priests who raped children was not, I think, "primarily an upper-class phenomenon." Those who did the same for Roman Polanski were often rich, but for very different reasons.

comment by MrMind · 2016-10-25T10:10:45.081Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So far, what defines Ra:

Ra is something more like a psychological mindset, that causes people to actually seek corruption and confusion, and to prefer corruption for its own sake

Ra is a specific kind of glitch in intuition, which can roughly be summarized as the drive to idealize vagueness and despise clarity.

The worship of Ra involves a preference for stockpiling money, accolades, awards, or other resources, beyond what you can meaningfully consume or make practical use of

When an organization seems shiny, full of the best and brightest, and is presumed to be potentially good at everything, it is appealing in a very Ra-flavored way.

In my mind I synaesthetically imagine Ra as radiant white light and smoothness

Ra is evident in marketing that is smooth, featureless, full of unspecified potential goodness

When someone is willing to work for prestige, but not merely for money or intrinsic interest, they’re being influenced by Ra.

and I should stop, because I'm basically quoting the entire article. So far, nothing is given that feels like a good principle underlying all these stuff.
Basically, this whole article feels like an undefined, shiny blob. This article about Ra is very much Ra.