Link: Facing the Mind-Killer

post by Larks · 2010-12-18T00:57:08.114Z · score: 8 (15 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 34 comments

I've long opposed discussing politics on Less Wrong. Elsewhere, however, I have been known to gaze into the abyss; and so it came to be that I wrote a handful of blog posts of the Oxford Libertarian Society Blog. I had the deliberate intention of bring a little bit of rationality into politics - and so of course ended up writing in something like Eliezer's style.

I wanted to establish some theory first, so the initial posts were about The Conservation of Expected Evidence and Reductionism, and then one particular Death-Spiral.

As you'll probably notice, one of my defences against the little-death has been to err on the side of attacking Libertarian positions; I provided an account of Traditional Socialist Values so we remember that our enemies aren't inherently evil, and then analysed an abuse of The Law of Comparative Advantage, showing cases where it didn't apply.

I can't promise I'll update at all regularly.


Post inspired by Will Newsome and prompted by Vladimir Nesov.



Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-18T06:41:10.344Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

political conflicts fall away when you study history extensively. after a while you realize you are on nobody's side (because nobody is on your side heh).

comment by Manfred · 2010-12-19T00:47:21.785Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This actually seems like a problem. Do you have no preference on policies, do you not think that any change in government will have an effect on the world, or is it something else?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-19T02:02:07.874Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My opinions are too abstract. If I tried to apply them to derive concrete policy proposals the is-ought problem is returned.

I have opinions about the role the relative costs of attack and defense have played in civilization. I have opinions about how financial innovation has affected war. I have opinions about contract law. I have opinions about demographic transitions. Do these opinions make me a democrat or republican? Um.

As for politics affecting my life? My life is affected by the possibility of natural disaster, but I don't get angry at earthquakes. You buy yourself an earthquake kit and try to live your life. How much you spend on the earthquake kit is based on your updates of their probability. For that you survey expert opinion every now and then. If a bunch of volcano experts with good prediction records tell you that your house will be covered in lava next week you pack up and move. If you told me that you were angry at the lava because you believed it maliciously destroyed your house I'd think you were a little dumb, but in a very usual way for humans; I wouldn't hold it against you.

I tried to rewrite this a few times to avoid looking like I'm trying to signal sophistication and aloofness but I did not entirely succeed. I don't regard weirdness as cool for the record. If I need to avoid signaling weirdness I will dance around some sort of toned down libertarianism that is fairly equally innocuous to most sorts of people.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T02:58:33.554Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's important to distinguish between having opinions about policy and having opinions about politics. Having political opinions != identifying with a political party. I have lots of strong opinions about policy but few about politics.

Fyi, your post still came off as aloof, I think it's largely because of the word 'abstract'. I have a hard time understanding what it means to have an abstract opinion about either policy or politics, especially in a environment like LW where something like utilitarianism is more or less assumed. It seems to me that you either have strong opinions on politics or policy or you don't. Opinions don't seem to vary along an abstractness dimension in an interesting sense.

It is often the case that when more rational that average people say they are 'discussing politics' they actually mean they are discussing policy. You sound like you're trying to signal sophistication because you sound like you're pointing out that you've realized that it's policy not politics that's important, and among more-rational-than-average people this is a very obvious conclusion.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-19T06:50:51.763Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't distinguish between politics and policy.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T08:37:22.674Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

er, why not? Seems like a natural distinction to make

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-19T10:23:03.371Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Because it would have to pay rent and I don't see how it does. I can not predict the impact of any policy at all except with near useless qualitative predictions in limited cases. When the keynesians, monetarists, and austrians all agree I make a note of it. Otherwise I have much MUCH more useful things to do than have any belief about the structure and execution of politics.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T16:54:25.811Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If your point is that you aren't interested enough, then obviously you're entitled to that, but then I don't see why you made the original post.

Even in the specific case you cite, there is a truth to the matter and it has real world consequences.

Incidentally, I Silas Barta and/or I will hopefully eventually post to LW on that very topic (monetary economics).

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-19T17:09:49.452Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

everything has real world consequences. do you have any useful predictions?

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T17:51:14.502Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, an economic analysis of different global warming policies will predict whether how good of a job they do of avoiding global warming costs (say cap-and-trade vs. some particular geoengineering policy). A theoretical understanding of different monetary policy regimes will help you predict which ones will lead to fewer recessions. A theoretical understanding of different tariff policies will help you predict what policies will lead to higher welfare.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-20T04:26:41.493Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

people who devote their lives to those topics don't seem to be making useful quantitative predictions about them. I don't think I can do any better.

comment by Emile · 2010-12-19T10:14:09.198Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In French, it's the same world, politique, so I expect French-speakers are less likely than English-speakers to distinguish the ideas of "someone with strong political opinions" and "someone with strong opinions on policy"; or "a political debate" and "a debate on policy".

(Not that I'm insinuating nazgulnarsil is French or anything)

comment by Manfred · 2010-12-19T04:34:32.908Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't feel it came off as aloof, but maybe I read it literally where you read it figuratively - I'm bad at knowing when to do which sometimes.

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T04:40:09.113Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It came off aloof to me, maybe it doesn't to most others.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-12-19T04:05:35.763Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

With nazgulnarsil's analogy in mind, are your "strong opinions about policy" different in character than your opinions about natural disasters?

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-19T04:34:21.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As far as being emotional what policies are better than other policies? I'm sure I'm somewhat more emotional about policy than natural disasters. I rarely get angry at anything, though. Most of my strong opinions about policy of of the form, policy X leads to more desirable outcomes than policy Y (for example, "lower immigration restrictions leads to more desirable outcomes than higher immigration restrictions").

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-20T05:22:57.827Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My life is affected by the possibility of natural disaster, but I don't get angry at earthquakes.

Getting angry at earthquakes doesn't affect their behavior, getting angry at people does.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-20T05:42:54.311Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I disagree.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-20T19:54:24.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't believe that getting angry at someone affects how they will behave towards you in the future?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-21T02:03:27.353Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

who should I get angry at in order to affect policy?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-21T05:14:44.444Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

By itself, you getting angry will not affect politics much, although on a small scale it will affect how people treat you.

However, a group of like minded angry (and ideally at least minimally coordinated) people will have an affect on policy.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-21T09:42:10.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What actions can a group take to affect policy that is better than pursuing wealth generation for each individual member?

so this conversation doesn't continue indefinitely I'll jump to the end. If you aren't directly contributing to SENS, SIAI, etc you should probably be getting rich so you can throw money at them. I have a limited amount of time and resources, I'm devoting them to increasing my own wealth generation rather than political conflict. If there is a policy that will have a direct effect on this avenue (such as say stem cell legislation) that is something I will be interested in. You have to pick your battles.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-21T17:54:45.385Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What actions can a group take to affect policy that is better than pursuing wealth generation for each individual member?

Making sure the government doesn't pursue economic policies that make this all but impossible for starters.

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-21T23:56:31.047Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

sure, and that is one of the points of agreement between all economists. but economic policy is affected by nobel prize winners and billions upon billions of dollars. in contrast existential risk management is a multimillion (and in the low millions) dollar project all told. I'm picking my battles. tech, especially transhumanist tech, helps move the goalposts.


comment by Manfred · 2010-12-19T03:02:10.414Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Let's totally ignore "democrat or republican." Returning the is-ought problem on concrete policy proposals would seem to indicate that government policy isn't causally connected to things you value. This would also explain your view of politics as an uncontrollable natural disaster (although so could some other things). Do you think that the outcome of any specific piece of legislation is totally unpredictable?

comment by nazgulnarsil · 2010-12-19T06:48:41.085Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

yes. not totally but close enough not to matter.

comment by loxfordian · 2011-10-31T02:41:53.473Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree!

comment by jsalvatier · 2010-12-18T06:32:51.611Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I came to OB and LW though an interest in policy (econ blogs -> overcoming bias -> yudkowsky -> LW) . I imagine there are others like me who like the idea of "thinking like an economist" and just need the right introduction to start learning the methods of rationality, so I applaud you.

Your posts are decent, but I think you need to proofread more, you have quite a few sentences that jump out at me as grammatically incorrect, poorly worded or confusing.

comment by ata · 2010-12-18T06:20:34.545Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As a non-libertarian, I've been finding this enjoyable, informative, and intelligent.

comment by Manfred · 2010-12-18T05:30:02.329Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

analysed an abuse of The Law of Comparative Advantage, showing cases where it didn't apply.

This is a pretty tame analysis of comparative advantage, in the family of analyses of comparative advantage.

Good job in general, though. Much better job of taking opposing views actually into account than is typical. Not perfect, but better.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2010-12-18T05:10:31.506Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"to air"

to err

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2010-12-18T01:20:36.260Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think it makes sense to call socialist values "traditional" in any meaningful sense of the term.

comment by magfrump · 2010-12-18T01:40:48.550Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I would disagree. I know a variety of socialists and there are a large number of values that underpin their beliefs and are considered a foundation for the particular brand of political discourse.

I would not hesitate for a moment to call these "traditional values."

comment by Larks · 2010-12-18T01:26:38.278Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The sorts of values that socialists traditionally have? Socialists have been around in strength for over a century, and there're certain values that they tend to have, and tend to have had.

That list is slightly diluted, however, with the values of my idealised-socialist, who holds the socialist beliefs I find most credible.