Can we dodge the mindkiller?

post by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-14T12:25:46.702Z · score: 7 (19 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 103 comments

I was thinking about the hazards of bad government, and wondering if there was a way for the LW community to do something to oppose them, and it occurred to me that we might be picking up the problem by the wrong end.

The usual way of thinking about political action is to start with one's political identity (progressive, libertarian, whatever), and that's likely to put one at odds with people who have opposed identities.

Instead, I believe there are projects which could appeal to rationalists across a wide range of the political spectrum. A couple I can think of are opposing the war on drugs and improving judicial systems. Any other suggestions?

103 comments

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comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-14T20:58:35.781Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I asked this question before in the politics thread and didn't get any answers: what does political instrumental rationality look like? What kind of political actions is it feasible to take, and how do I evaluate which one to take in a given political situation? Most political discussion among LW types seems to be about political epistemic rationality (figuring out what political positions are more or less likely to have something to do with reality) but I see very little discussion of political instrumental rationality, so I have a very poor understanding of what it's possible to do politically, and consequently I try not to spend time thinking about politics because I don't expect those thoughts to ever translate into actions.

So, a meta-project: figure out what political actions are feasible to take, what kind of resources are necessary to take them, what kind of payoff can be expected from taking them, how much good effective political action does relative to effective altruism and x-risk reduction, etc.

comment by atucker · 2013-06-15T10:10:49.272Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Political instrumental rationality would be about figuring out and taking the political actions that would cause particular goals to happen. Most of this turns out to be telling people compelling things that you know that they don't happen to, and convincing different groups that their interests align (or can align in a particular interest) when it's not obvious that they do.

Political actions are based on appeals to identity, group membership, group bounding, group interests, individual interests, and different political ideas in order to get people to shift allegiances and take action toward a particular goal.

For any given individual, the relative importance of these factors will vary. For questions of identity and affiliation, they will weigh those factors based on meaning being reinforced, and memory-related stuff (i.e. clear memories of meaningful experiences count, but so do not-particularly meaningful but happens every day stuff). For actual action, it will be based on various psychological factors, as well as simply options being available and salient while they have the opportunity to act in a way that reinforces their affiliations/meaning/standing with others in the group/personal interests.

As a result, political instrumental rationality is going to be incredibly contingent on local circumstances -- who talks to who, who believes what how strongly, who's reliable, who controls what, who wants what, who hears about what, etc.

A more object level example takes place in The Wire, when a pastor is setting up various public service programs in an area where drug dealing is effectively legalized.

The pastor himself is able to appeal to his community on the basis of religious solidarity in order to get money, and so he can fund some stuff. He cares about public health and the fate of the now unemployed would-be drug runners who are no longer necessary for drug dealing because of Christian reasons (since drugs are legal, the gang members don't bother with various steps that ensure that none of them can be photographed handing someone drugs for money -- the dealer gets the money then the runner (typically a child) goes to the stash to give the buyer drugs). Further, he knows people from various community/political events in Baltimore.

So far, so good. He controls some resources (money), has a goal (public health, child development), and knows some people.

One of the first people he talks to is a doctor who has been trying to do STD prevention for a while, but hasn't had the funding or organizational capacity to do much of anything. The pastor points out to him that there are a lot of at-risk people who are now concentrated in a particular location so that the logistics of getting services to people is much simpler. In this case, the pastor simply had information (through his connections) that the doctor didn't, and got the doctor to cooperate by pointing out the opportunity to do something that the doctor had wanted.

He gets the support of the police district chief who decided to selectively enforce drug laws by appealing to the police chief's desire for improving the district under his command (he was initially trying to shift drug trafficking away from more populated areas, and decrease violence by decreasing competition over territory), and it more or less worked.

That being said, I have more or less no idea what kinds of large-scale political action ought to be possible/is desirable.

I totally have the intuition though that step one of any plan is to become personally acquainted with people who have some sort of influence over the areas that you're interested in, or to build influence by getting people who have some control over what you're interested in to pay more attention to you. Borderline, if you can't name names, and can't point at groups of people involved in the action, then you can't do anything particularly useful politically.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-15T10:02:49.767Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what does political instrumental rationality look like?

Optimizing for maximum mindkilling (in your preferred direction)?

comment by satt · 2013-06-15T19:05:46.796Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I might be stating the obvious, but: to find out what political instrumental rationality looks like, look closely at politically instrumentally rational people & organizations. That is, find those who accomplished major political goals, and study what they did to fulfil those goals. This may be a less biased (and easier?) approach than speculating with other laypeople.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-16T04:32:53.852Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is, find those who accomplished major political goals, and study what they did to fulfil those goals.

Which level of goals are we talking about here. For example, Lenin succeeded in his goal of seizing power in Russia. He failed in his goal of turning Russia into a workers' paradise (assuming that was still his goal by that point).

comment by satt · 2013-06-16T11:05:26.106Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whichever level you want. If one wants to seize power in Russia, one might use Lenin as a role model. If one wants to turn Russia into a workers' paradise, one presumably wouldn't use Lenin as a role model.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-06-15T19:14:17.091Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is a good idea, but how do I distinguish an organization accomplishing its political goals because it was politically instrumentally rational from an organization accomplishing its political goals because the political climate happened to be favorably oriented towards it? (I guess I look for repeated successes?)

comment by satt · 2013-06-16T10:58:49.395Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure it's easy to separate the two categories cleanly, not least because some organizations deliberately exploit favourable drifts in the political climate, and other organizations actively alter the political climate to further their goals.

Setting that aside, I can't immediately think of good rules of thumb to answer your question; I'd probably try answering it on an ad hoc, case by case basis. Looking for repeated successes sounds like a sensible general heuristic, though.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-14T13:20:58.498Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those at the far ends of the political spectrum may not agree that improving the efficiency and efficacy of the liberal democracies LWers tend to live in is a good thing. If you want the US government to fall because it is irretrievably co-opted either by the class interests of a wealthy elite or a pseudo-Christian cult of power-mad propagandists run wild then competent technocratic management is probably contrary to your goals. If you're against government you might want them to be bad at it.

Other areas I would suggest: IP reform, tax code simplicity, science curricula and corporate subsidies. Really, there are tons of things progressives, neoliberals, leftists and libertarians can cooperate on. That part isn't hard. I would guess it is the reactionaries you'd have trouble accommodating. I look forward to seeing if they think this is plausible.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-14T13:40:18.894Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I said "a wide range of the political spectrum" rather than "the whole political spectrum" because I'm not expecting to pull everyone in.

I don't know know enough about reactionaries to say whether there's any overlap between their point of view and mine.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-16T15:42:22.742Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other areas I would suggest: IP reform,

Different people will have different opinion on the issue. Some want a abolishment of patents while others don't.

tax code simplicity,

That's a very difficult topic. There are a lot of people who pretend to want tax code simplicity but at the same time do favor specific tax deductions.

science curricula

I would guess that there are a fair number of people who oppose the idea of curricula.

corporate subsidies.

It's very difficult to outmatch a corporation who lobbies for their own subsidies.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-17T02:30:56.283Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Different people will have different opinion on the issue. Some want a abolishment of patents while others don't

The people who want to abolish patents would presumably also support shortening them and being more selective about granting them.

That's a very difficult topic. There are a lot of people who pretend to want tax code simplicity but at the same time do favor specific tax deductions.

Politicians do that; doesn't mean people here do. And even so, that doesn't prevent identifying particular deductions that everyone wants to eliminate.

I would guess that there are a fair number of people who oppose the idea of curricula.

But they would support improving it given that there is going to be one

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-17T11:10:28.888Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people who want to abolish patents would presumably also support shortening them and being more selective about granting them.

Shortening patent duration is a policy question but I'm not sure that everyone wants to short pharma patents. If we want to live to 1000 years it's useful to have a way for the inventor of a drug to make a lot of money.

Be more selective about granting patents isn't a direct policy question. It a vague fell good position.

We might very well disagree over specific approaches to be more selective about granting patents. For constructive political discourse it's not good to focus on agreeing on a problem. You have to agree on solutions.

Politicians do that; doesn't mean people here do. And even so, that doesn't prevent identifying particular deductions that everyone wants to eliminate.

And even so, that doesn't prevent identifying particular deductions that everyone wants to eliminate.

I know few nonlibertatiran people who want to get rid of tax deductions that they themselves use to pay less taxes.

Most of the time when everyone agrees to want to eliminate a particular deduction, it's just that the people who discuss the deduction lack the understanding of the tax system to understand why that deduction exists. That's a bad place to be to advocate political change.

But they would support improving it given that there is going to be one

Not every school teaches exactly the same thing. If you put a lot of energy into curricula development you make it more likely that all schools will get forced to follow the curricula.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-17T13:09:47.699Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused about what you're trying to accomplish with this discussion: Yes, the areas I suggested for agreement between liberals and libertarians were general and vague. The point was to cover the wide variety of possible issues, not actually identify specific policy options to agree on.

You seems like you're trying to win an argument but I have no idea what the argument is.

I also feel like the model you are using for different political actors is based on random partisans who aren't very thoughtful or nuanced. That doesn't seem like the right model for Less Wrong. Liberal policy wonks routinely write about getting rid of particular tax deductions. If everyone here researched the mortgage interest tax deduction for a month I'm quite sure the progressives would mostly be on board with eliminating it. My reason for thinking this is that I live in Washington DC and hang out with a bunch of lawyers and law students who have thought about such issues for more than two seconds and tend to converge.

I don't really want to dig into IP reform proposals to locate specific ideas with broad approval. I haven't the time. But progressive and libertarian bloggers and writers who think about IP often have similar ideas. Obviously progressives focus more on ideas like using government awards as incentives and libertarians focus more on shortening or eliminating certain classes of IP. Agreeing on problems is how you start. Then you start talking about solutions and see if any get agreed upon. How do we get the patent office to stop issuing silly, duplicate tech patents? Not every solution will appease everyone but it's an actual starting point because it is a concrete problem everyone wants to fix. Compare to: "how can we make the tax code more progressive?"

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-19T11:16:21.568Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused about what you're trying to accomplish with this discussion: Yes, the areas I suggested for agreement between liberals and libertarians were general and vague. The point was to cover the wide variety of possible issues, not actually identify specific policy options to agree on.

Policy debates should not appear one sided. At the moment at which it seems to you that as issue is completely on sided it's likely that you don't understand the actual issues that are at stake.

I also feel like the model you are using for different political actors is based on random partisans

No, my model of political actors is partly based on people actual political power in Berlin, which is the city I inhabit.

My reason for thinking this is that I live in Washington DC and hang out with a bunch of lawyers and law students who have thought about such issues for more than two seconds and tend to converge.

Basically you discussed law with people who aren't trained to think politically about law but technically about it. Those people might be thoughtful about the technicality but that doesn't mean that they are thoughtful about the politics behind the law.

I think you make a mistake when you assume that the way lawyers think about laws is representative to how thoughtful people in general think about laws.

I think people on LessWrong agree that Robert Hanson is in general a thoughtful person. Look at this post . There he proposes a way to make our tax system even more complicated. If you would ask Robert Hanson whether he wanted an easier tax code he would say yes. On the other hand he still makes proposals for increasing it's complexity. He isn't even a progressive who's big on government intervention in markets.

If someone like Robert Hanson isn't committed to tax code simplicity, why do you expect an average LessWrong reader to be committed to that idea?

If everyone here researched the mortgage interest tax deduction for a month I'm quite sure the progressives would mostly be on board with eliminating it.

If you get rid of the mortgage interest tax deduction, do you also get rid of support for 401k plans? If not, why do the people who buy real estage for their retirement get less support from the government than the people who invest in 401k plans?

If we don't have government incentives that get people to invest for their retirement, what does society do with those old broke people who can still vote?

comment by Jack · 2013-06-20T20:37:18.593Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is really simple actually which is why this extended exchange is so confusing. The question was basically: what are things liberals and libertarians can agree on. I just answered empirically. Look up the opinions of prominent American liberal writers, bloggers, think tanks and wonks on the mortgage interest tax deduction. Look up the opinions of their libertarian counterparts. Look at what economists say about it. There is a ton of agreement!

Basically you discussed law with people who aren't trained to think politically about law but technically about it. Those people might be thoughtful about the technicality but that doesn't mean that they are thoughtful about the politics behind the law.

Your model of DC lawyers is just broken. I don't know what to tell you. They spend probably an order of magnitude more time thinking about the politics of law than they do just learning doctrine.

No, my model of political actors is partly based on people actual political power in Berlin, which is the city I inhabit.

Politicians seem like obviously the wrong place to look for unmotivated, reasoned discourse about policy. The mortgage interest tax deduction, for instance, is very popular because people like getting free money. In the States, people with houses vote at higher rates than renters, tend to make up the narrow slice of undecided voters that determine elections. Moreover, because of framing effects renters don't see it as the tax on renting that it actually is. So American politicians aren't especially motivated to get rid of it even though plenty of them have heard from economists and technocrats that it is bad policy.

I'm unfortunately, not very knowledgeable about German politics (and apologies for the cultural hegemony of American politics) but I suspect German politicians are similarly more concerned with getting elected than promoting good policy (when the two conflict).

Policy debates should not appear one sided. At the moment at which it seems to you that as issue is completely on sided it's likely that you don't understand the actual issues that are at stake.

One place where were are very likely to find low-hanging fruit of one-sided policy proposals is with the very policies it would be hardest to change. This goes for corporate subsidies, popular tax deductions, drug legalization, reform of the prison system etc.

Policy debates should not appear one-sided because if they actually were one sided they would probably have been implemented! It would be the heroic cause of a problem-solving politician. And so the mantra against one-sidedness makes sense for any policy debate in a legislature or an election and most of the policy debates the pit ends of the political spectrum against each other. But there are cases where a policy is not implemented or championed-- not because it has much in the way of two sides, but because there is some other barrier preventing it from being popularized and implemented. I mentioned corporate subsidies in my initial post. They don't poll well. Both sides claim to oppose them. And they're bad policy. They persist because the coalition that benefits from them cares a lot more about them than the coalition that opposes them. So there are votes and financial support for maintaining or increasing them but opposing them won't yield any comparative political benefit.

I suspect there are a number of other one-sided policies that still go unimplemented due, not just to the structure and arrangement of interests but to cognitive biases in the way voters and politicians think about policy. Risk aversion, scope insensitivity, attention span, cognitive sophistication and in particular framing effects are going to make some good policies broadly unpopular with the median voter and cause politicians to shy away. This is the obvious place to look for the low-hanging fruit of a rationalist politics.

Which isn't to say that whole last paragraph isn't a minefield of possible bias blind spots and paternalism.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-21T10:43:59.310Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question was basically: what are things liberals and libertarians can agree on.

No, it wasn't. The question is about issues where liberals and libertarians can together engage in effective political action.

I'm unfortunately, not very knowledgeable about German politics (and apologies for the cultural hegemony of American politics) but I suspect German politicians are similarly more concerned with getting elected than promoting good policy (when the two conflict).

In general in US politics it's more important for politicians to impress corporate donors while in German politics it's important for politicians to impress fellow members of the same political party. Party members that go to regular party meetings. It's not like in the US where being a party member is about registering and then voting in primary elections.

Politicians seem like obviously the wrong place to look for unmotivated, reasoned discourse about policy.

Politics is inherently about the motivations of people. If you want to shield yourself from motivations then my charge of you and your DC Lawyer friends being educated about technical details of policy but not political ones is entirely accurate.

Of course you can start your blog and write a hundred blog posts about how the mortage tax deduction is crap but that won't have any meaningful political impact if you don't start taking people motivations into account and participate in motivated political discourse.

If you want to start to model political actors, it's important to model people with motivations. The idea that you can effectively model political actors without doing so, is strange to myself.

That said politicians do have some personal political views that deviate from their party line and which they don't hold because holding them is politically advantageous. In informal setting you can talk about them and why those views aren't party line.

Take the war on drugs. I know the background of the politics of how we in the city of Berlin doubled the amount of marijuana that one can carry around without being charged with a crime.

One place where were are very likely to find low-hanging fruit of one-sided policy proposals is with the very policies it would be hardest to change.

Being rational is about winning, so stop thinking of the policies that are hardest to change as low-hanging fruits.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-21T17:57:45.872Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No, it wasn't. The question is about issues where liberals and libertarians can together engage in effective political action.

No! That was never the question.

From the post:

Instead, I believe there are projects which could appeal to rationalists across a wide range of the political spectrum. A couple I can think of are opposing the war on drugs and improving judicial systems. Any other suggestions?

I was giving more suggestions of places where a lot of LWer might find agreement. And since the major political split seems to be left vs libertarian (with a vocal minority of rightists) the natural way to start was to look at what issues liberals and libertarians end up agreeing on when they study policy issues! This explains why this entire exchange has been so odd: like you were making demands of me when all I was doing was answering a question.

Politics is inherently about the motivations of people. If you want to shield yourself from motivations

Good lord... yes, I know that. But we're trying to find out what people in the Less Wrong community could cooperate on, not solve politics.

I'm not trying to model any political actor. I'm trying to model LW people as political actors. That's the point of the exercise.

Being rational is about winning, so stop thinking of the policies that are hardest to change as low-hanging fruits.

Low-hanging fruit as possibilities for agreement in this community. Not low-hanging as possibilities for actually changing something. Nevertheless, "hardest to change" policies might be the policies one has most confidence in being correct and that can conceivably outweigh easier to change but more more ambiguous policies. Hard to change also often means that the issue presently has little political interest such that the marginal difference of a small number of people doing something is higher. Immigration policy (say) might be much easier to change but joining in that shouting match is not likely to make a significant difference.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-20T20:57:11.415Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question was basically: what are things liberals and libertarians can agree on.

Not exactly, though I probably gave that impression because that's the two sorts of people I get along best with. A conservative/libertarian coalition could be worthwhile, and I can dream that there might be projects that would pull in a really wide range of rationalists.

One thing that I should have brought up is that my point of view is very American. There may well be collaborations and projects which are more oriented towards other parts of the world.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-20T21:16:39.847Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right, I understood that. The liberal-libertarian thing was more the version of the question I answered.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-18T01:07:57.340Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My reason for thinking this is that I live in Washington DC and hang out with a bunch of lawyers and law students who have thought about such issues for more than two seconds and tend to converge.

Yes, given that they're all in the same business and in the same place and thus benefit from the same subset of tax deductions and have had similar life experiences I don't see how this contradicts Christian's point. Also the key question is not how long they've thought about the issue but whether they have thought about it from perspectives other then their own and how many different perspectives they've thought about it from.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-18T19:27:52.192Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also the key question is not how long they've thought about the issue but whether they have thought about it from perspectives other then their own and how many different perspectives they've thought about it from.

I disagree that that is the key question. I have a model of a person slightly less smart than the average Less Wronger but who has thought quite a bit more about tax policy. These people tend to converge on similar views about tax policy. The fact that this group generally doesn't benefit from most tax deductions certainly may make it easier to oppose them: but that isn't an argument that they are biased. Obviously it is those who benefit from particular deductions whose judgments we ought to be suspicious of.

That's why, after all, these deductions remain in place despite being really bad policy. They benefit the groups that sway elections.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T04:32:47.465Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Other areas I would suggest: IP reform, tax code simplicity, science curricula and corporate subsidies. Really, there are tons of things progressives, neoliberals, leftists and libertarians can cooperate on.

Wait I'm confused, are they for or against those things?

comment by Jack · 2013-06-15T14:58:27.404Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What Multiheaded said, basically. Generally speaking: for IP reform, for tax code simplicity, improving science curricula, against corporate subsides.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-16T04:20:10.242Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience while progressives and leftists (is there a difference?) are in principle for tax code simplicity and against corporate subsides, they're also for the government making "smart investments in our future" which tend to look suspiciously like tax code loopholes and/or corporate subsidies.

As for improving science curricula I don't think the groups in question would agree on what an improved science curricula would look like, in particular a lot of libertarians would argue that government should get out of the business of setting school curricula entirely.

comment by Jack · 2013-06-17T02:26:57.034Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't be hesitant about applying your assumptions about progressives in general to progressives on Less Wrong.

, in particular a lot of libertarians would argue that government should get out of the business of setting school curricula entirely.

That doesn't mean they can't also have opinions about what should be in a science curriculum given that local governments legislate such things as a matter of fact. If groups are going to refuse to join in any political action that is inconsistent with their idealized world than probably no cooperation is possible at all. The whole point is to find narrow issues of reform where there can be temporary alliances. You can oppose the teaching of intelligent design in public schools while also wanting voucherized education and a you can favor eliminating the mortgage tax deduction while also wanting a social welfare state that ensures everyone has housing.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-15T12:24:17.630Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably they're for improving efficiency and government competence in the areas of each of those "things".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-16T04:15:09.020Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is that these groups have very different ideas for how to go about doing that.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T13:53:54.859Z · score: 7 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are both things I see strong libertarian support for and little support outside the libertarian sphere.

People have this remarkable tendency to believe that they personally have thought through all their political beliefs, but everybody else is just going along with their political identity. I've seen a handful of people for whom this is the case; the vast majority choose their political identity based on their political beliefs.

Personally I think those who think politics are a mindkiller are just guilty of a jilted hubris; it's easier to claim other people can't change their minds than to accept that your arguments aren't as universally compelling as you thought.

ETA: My point in this comment wasn't the mindkiller parts, it was to point out that what somebody is inclined to believe is a "rational" political belief probably isn't nearly so obviously rational as they would like to think - the opposition probably isn't just mindkilled into opposing it, that is. Your "rational" political beliefs probably have decent evidence and arguments, which is why you hold them; don't assume they're slam-dunks without any decent counterarguments.

comment by tim · 2013-06-14T15:06:03.792Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience it seems that people choose their political identity based on a few beliefs that are important to them and pick up the rest as part of the identity package.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T15:12:33.780Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What predictions would you make about a universe where this is the case for most people, as compared to a universe where it is the case for only a small but vocal minority?

comment by tim · 2013-06-14T15:54:13.526Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In a universe where the majority of people did not form clusters of beliefs centered around a political identity I would be extremely surprised to find so many people whose beliefs happened to match up perfectly[redacted] with one of only a few political stereotypes.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T16:08:27.118Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What makes you believe their beliefs match up perfectly?

comment by tim · 2013-06-14T16:28:52.081Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Perfectly was a poor choice of words. I would expect there to be much more variation in the combinations of beliefs that people hold than is observed. People who favor more aid to the poor are likely to also be pro choice. People who are pro war are likely to be pro life (these are true for US politics at least).

It is not obvious why these particular beliefs should be connected. I think you could make a convincing "just so" story for the sets of beliefs as they are and for their opposites.

edit: in a world where people thought through each of their beliefs independently I would expect the ratio of numBelieves(pro war, pro life) : numBelieves(pro war, pro choice) to be a lot closer to 1 than we observe.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T04:54:47.743Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It could be that the clustering you observe is caused by some other underlying clustering, e.g., class, personality type, a smaller set of fundamental "axiomatic" beliefs etc.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-06-14T15:12:34.220Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience it seems that people choose their political identity based on a few beliefs that are important to them and pick up the rest as part of the identity package.

Or, at a slightly different level, it seems that people choose their political identity based on a few beliefs that are important to those they wish to signal affiliation with and pick up the rest as part of the identity package.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-06-14T14:34:39.970Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

20% of Americans think the war on drugs is worth the costs. How many states just passed referenda legalizing marijuana use? This is not a fringe position.

I'm having a hard time finding polling on the justice system as a whole, but the supremes are around 40/40 split on approval/disapproval.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T14:41:17.787Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How many have voted on decriminalizing heroin use?

Are there -any- states which haven't passed laws in the past decade making it harder to produce methamphetamine?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-06-14T16:15:01.589Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The first poll stands. The war on drugs as a whole is wildly unpopular.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-16T15:21:33.594Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

20% of Americans think the war on drugs is worth the costs.

That might be true. There are a lot of conversatives who believe that most government programs aren't worth the cost. It however doesn't mean that those people are in favor of legalisation.

According to the latest Gallup poll 50% still believe that marijuana should be illegal.

That's just marijuana. When it comes to harder drugs even more people want them to be illegal.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-06-18T16:17:36.618Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

First, there's a difference between 'favored by less than 50% of the population' and 'fringe position'. If it's that popular already, your work is almost already done. And I don't care too much about the 20%'s reasons - it's the next 30%'s reasons for their positions, that matter a great deal more.Rationalists working together might be able to achieve something of note in influencing politics on an issue if it's merely unpopular to the tune of 4:1.

Opinions change. Based on evidence, even, sometimes. If the pot states work out, people might be willing to give it a chance. But it won't happen if its working out is not pointed out.

Second, there's a big difference between ending the war on drugs and legalizing everything. Simply reducing drug possession or use-without-a-vehicle-involved crimes to misdemeanors would be an enormous step in the right direction and would be way more palatable to the masses than wiping out the laws altogether.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-15T08:00:54.705Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Personally I think those who think politics are a mindkiller are just guilty of a jilted hubris; it's easier to claim other people can't change their minds than to accept that your arguments aren't as universally compelling as you thought.

I can't speak for everyone here, but I've had the experience of partially deconverting myself from a certain political philosophy, which was extremely... well, difficult is the wrong word, it usually didn't take much effort or willpower or courage, but it did involve unwinding a tremendous amount of rationalization and defensiveness. I'm not trying to claim perfection now, either, but ever since then I've found it useful to remember how dogmatism feels from the inside when I'm feeling defensive about one of my current beliefs or when I'm tempted to try to convert someone else.

And that seems to generalize fairly well. "Politics is the mind-killer" doesn't just mean everyone else's politics. It means that your thinking on anything you have an identity stake in is automatically suspect, and that you'd better be damned careful if you want to make major decisions based on it. This does imply as a corollary that partisan (or otherwise identity-bound) discussions on the Internet are spectacularly unlikely to be productive, but "my politics are perfectly rational, it's all the fault of those guys over there" is exactly the wrong message to be taking from it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-16T04:25:10.044Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This does imply as a corollary that partisan (or otherwise identity-bound) discussions on the Internet are spectacularly unlikely to be productive, but "my politics are perfectly rational, it's all the fault of those guys over there" is exactly the wrong message to be taking from it.

Orphan's point is that this is precisely the message the OP seems to take.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-06-16T04:43:58.711Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That seems uncharitable. I can see there being issues that go largely unaddressed by most of the major identity groups out there but which nonetheless end up looking important if we view the political landscape through a different set of filters as OP suggested, and those shouldn't run afoul of any of the pitfalls I brought up. They might be harder to find than OP's implying, though; political factions might be slow-moving and broadly irrational, but they're not entirely blind to potential unexploited planks.

The War on Drugs probably isn't one: opposition to it is near-ubiquitous among the LW commentariat, but I think that's because the groups most strongly supportive of it are badly represented around here. Judicial reform might be one, although I'd need to know which judicial reforms.

comment by somervta · 2013-06-14T14:05:22.229Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People who have genuinely thought through all of their political beliefs generally have few (solid) political beliefs.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T14:11:52.619Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could interpret that statement to mean that libertarianism, which holds few political beliefs at all, is correct. I could also interpret it to mean that pragmatism, which holds few -solid- political beliefs, is correct. I could also interpret it to mean that unchecked dictatorship, which holds few solid political beliefs (indeed, all it needs is one), is correct.

Indeed, I'm willing to warrant that any given person will be inclined to believe that statement applies to their own political beliefs.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-14T14:58:51.533Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A better interpretation is "if I identify with a specific political -ism, I have too many political beliefs".

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T04:58:44.898Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taboo "-ism".

comment by shminux · 2013-06-15T07:37:37.614Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Speaking of, don't identify with tabooism, either :)

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T15:06:45.152Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know Democrats whose sole intersectionality with Democrat politics is gay marriage; they have, for purposes of political -isms, exactly one political belief. That is too many?

The loudest voices on the Internet aren't necessarily the best representatives of the groups they claim to represent.

comment by shminux · 2013-06-14T15:21:03.789Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know Democrats whose sole intersectionality with Democrat politics is gay marriage; they have, for purposes of political -isms, exactly one political belief. That is too many?

Do you mean the single-issue voters who say "I'm a Democrat because I am pro-gay marriage, even though I support these mostly GOP or Libertarian economic policies, but they are not nearly as important to me as equal rights for all genders"?

The loudest voices on the Internet aren't necessarily the best representatives of the groups they claim to represent.

I have trouble understanding how this is related to the whole discussion. Are you replying to some implicit argument?

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T15:26:41.502Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you mean single-issue voters who say "I'm a Democrat because I am pro-gay marriage, even though I support these mostly GOP or Libertarian policies, but they are not nearly as important to me as equal rights for all genders"?

  • No. I mean single-issue voters who say "I'm a Democrat because I am pro-gay marriage." The "Even though" doesn't even need to enter into it.

I have trouble understanding how this is related to the whole discussion. Are you replying to some implicit argument?

  • I'm commenting on an implicit fact which may have a bearing on the argument. The loudest members of political groups tend to be those who believe in the political group itself, rather than its specific goals. (Which we should expect; somebody engaging in political signaling isn't likely to do so quietly, as that defeats a large part of the signaling to begin with.)
comment by RowanE · 2013-06-14T15:20:12.719Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That doesn't sound like they identify as Democrats as a specific political -ism at all.

If they're registered to vote democrat mainly because of their position on gay marriage, and I'm guessing also a negative opinion of the Republican party, and describe themselves as Democrats if asked about their political views because it's a convenient answer, that's not really the same thing.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-14T15:23:07.031Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that a No-True-Scottsman argument or is there something subtle I'm missing there?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-21T11:45:02.376Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You confuse party affilation with political beliefs. It's a mistake that comes from living in a two party state and having a media that tries to convince everyone that red and blue are the two political beliefs that one can have.

It's very worthile to have a mental concept of political beliefs that goes beyond party affilation.

George Orwell would say that the media tainted the language in a way that makes it impossible to analyse political beliefs in your vocabulary.

comment by RowanE · 2013-06-14T16:21:43.795Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think it's a no true scotsman thing, although as I was writing the comment I did worry that I was veering into that territory.

How one defines a Democrat varies, and only some ways of defining it make sense with the sort of Democrats you describe, and I don't think the overlap of "Democrats" and "people who identify with a specific political -ism" contains those. This will vary a bit depending on how one is interpreting "identify with a specific political -ism". I think this is where the disagreement lies.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-21T11:43:23.240Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could interpret that statement to mean that libertarianism, which holds few political beliefs at all, is correct.

Where do you get the idea that libertarianism don't have many political beliefs?

A liberatrian can usually tell you that a particular government program is bad without looking at the merits of the particular program.

Take minimum wage. I personally don't know whether it's a good policy. There are theoretical market based arguments that it's a bad policy. On the other hand the published empirical evidence suggest that it's no bad policy. But then the data we have isn't that good. We don't have randomized control trials of mininum wage laws.

I don't have a solid belief on the minimum wage. I have thought about the issue and I believe that the evidence to decide just isn't there.

comment by OrphanWilde · 2013-06-21T13:12:52.678Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you think beliefs about the efficacy of minimum wage are necessary to promote or reject it?

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-21T13:22:50.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No. There are many motives why someone might promote a policy even when he doesn't believe the policy is effective.

I would even find it plausible that most people promote or reject minimal wage laws based on a notion of fairness instead of effectiveness.

There are libertarians who believe that the state has no right to force a employer to pay a certain wage. On the other hand you have progressives who thinks it's unfair for an employeer to pay 3$ per hour to his employee and for that reason the state has to intervene.

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-14T16:03:18.864Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would interpret it to mean that people who have genuinely thought through all of their political beliefs aren't very sure about anything political.

comment by Yosarian2 · 2013-06-17T20:25:31.294Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those are both things I see strong libertarian support for and little support outside the libertarian sphere.

I don't think that's true at all; I would say that most liberals right now, and much of the country in general, are in favor of at least some movement on both of those issues. Legalization of marijuana, for example, now has majority support according to recent polls.

comment by elharo · 2013-06-14T19:00:26.518Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How can one tell if one has thought through their political beliefs? One piece of evidence might be that those beliefs have changed, significantly, from the beliefs you inherited from your parents and ealry environment. Even more so if you can say, because I learned facts X, Y, and Z, this changed my political beliefs.

At the same time, be careful not to confuse beliefs about fact with beliefs about values. I still have much the same political values I had 30 years ago. However I have very different political beliefs than I did then, primarily as a result of learning certain facts about 20th century history.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T04:51:35.362Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How can one tell if one has thought through their political beliefs? One piece of evidence might be that those beliefs have changed, significantly, from the beliefs you inherited from your parents and ealry environment.

Of course, this could simply mean you've changed your political beliefs to those that are more fashionable.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-14T13:17:05.966Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The political identity is not just a label you use for yourself; it usually also comes with some model of the world. It's often confused, some people using the same label may use different models, but I think that to some degree the political labels do pay rent in anticipated experiences. (People just don't check those experiences, or filter them heavily.)

For example, if I don't use any label for myself... but from my opinions it is obvious that I expect government to introduce bureaucracy and pervert good ideas, but I expect private companies to come with good ideas if given proper financial incentives... and someone else expects government to act in the interest of powerless opressed masses, and expects rich and powerful individuals to destroy everything for their own profit... then we kind of didn't use labels, but it's not like we can't easily infer them.

Perhaps even this is a step towards sanity. At least we make our models more visible, and are more likely to come with specific predictions, which may be falsifiable. But we can still be in a situation where our models recommend completely different actions, and an experiment to decide would be too expensive (e.g. we would have to work for 5 years using one model, and at the end we would have some evidence whether the model was correct). Although this situation might happen with some issues and not happen with other issues, so even some issues could be solved together.

A perfect outcome would be, if we could someone all have an approximately correct model of the world, and help each other propagate our beliefs. But I guess at that moment we would already stop using the political labels naturally. (And we would be already assigned some label(s) by the rest of the society. Probably just rounding us to some nearest cliche.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2013-06-14T15:28:53.731Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

At least one failure mode is avoided if "political identity" is a mere descriptive classification of the aggregate of actual beliefs, but these beliefs aren't formed based on the opaque political identity label. Ensuring accuracy in these beliefs is a more ambitious goal than just avoiding this common fallacy.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-15T13:30:41.556Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I expect government to introduce bureaucracy and pervert good ideas, but I expect private companies to come with good ideas if given proper financial incentives... and someone else expects government to act in the interest of powerless opressed masses, and expects rich and powerful individuals to destroy everything for their own profit

In other words, you're a thoughtful individual with deep and rational reasons for believing what you believe... while those silly people are naive, impractical and narrow-minded, with an unrealistic and one-sided view of the world?

Nice.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-06-16T09:16:51.392Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Technically speaking, I am a thoughtful individual, and the naive and narrow-minded people exist, too. But you are right that it was unfair to choose a nice example for one side and a stupid example for another side, because other examples also exist. Uhm, sorry for that.

I focused on the idea, that it will not do much good to avoid pronouncing our political labels, if we continue to keep their underlying models.

I could have used a different example, like that it is useless to avoid calling oneself a Christian, if one continues to argue that God wants this and Jesus Christ died for that. But I guess that is also a strawman example.

Funny thing, it kind of proves the point on a meta level. I didn't explicitly use any political label for myself in that comment, and yet it didn't solve the problem of mindkilling.

comment by rocurley · 2013-06-15T16:56:50.486Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is the problem that in his hypothetical, his point of view is more in-line with what you would expect from a Lesswrong member, or what?

comment by satt · 2013-06-15T15:11:35.460Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You omitted the start of that thought, where Viliam_Bur wrote, "For example, if". It's a hypothetical.

comment by Multiheaded · 2013-06-15T15:56:00.924Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a hypothetical.

Which doesn't matter in a debate on mind-killing, discourse, etc. Suppose I made a meta argument like his (which is actually decent, connotations aside) accompanied by a "hypothetical" that ridiculed proponents of capitalism by describing them as "people who believe that using 2000s technology on luxury goods and high-tech weapons while there's poverty even in the developed world is sane and logical... but that Evil Insane Tyranny would ensue if governments made a concerted effort to distribute resources differently.".

Because I'd be (rightly) torn apart by reducing all apologetics of capitalism to this - everyone would point to it as a prime example of mind-killed strawmanning - and yet it's not so different from how VB just described mindsets skeptical of the "free market".

comment by satt · 2013-06-15T17:28:09.469Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I see your point but I still think you're being unfair. Viliam_Bur's hypothetical leftish ideologue reads to me as only a little more strawmanish than his hypothetical libertarianish ideologue. I can imagine a right-libertarian Multiheaded from a parallel universe reading VB's post and complaining (for example) that "I expect government to introduce bureaucracy and pervert good ideas" is a terrible strawman on the grounds that all right-thinking right-libertarians are well aware that using "bureaucracy" as a derogative is an unreflective cheap shot, that government bureaucracies sometimes merely substitute for private bureaucracies, that governments have implemented good ideas without perverting them, and so on.

Admittedly, when I read Viliam_Bur's comments on politics, I do occasionally suspect the unconscious operation of the thought process you sarcastically identify (which is not to say it's ever the dominant thought process at work). In fairness, I think VB himself often detects it too, and tries to consciously offset that in-group sensibility bias when he notices it. But now I am piling one speculation on top of another.

In any case, I agree that Viliam_Bur's meta-level argument here is correct: ideologies make conflicting empirical claims as well as conflicting normative claims, and so empirical claims can reveal as much information about one's ideology as normative claims can. For a local example, look at the correlation between politics and expected probability of global warming on the last LW survey. (For an even more local example, see this thread.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-06-15T17:59:38.044Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if I concede that "I'm strawmanning one side only a little more than the other" accurately describes what's going on here, which I'm not sure I do, I'm still not sure I endorse it.

Admittedly, if representing the two sides is worth doing in the first place, and representing them without strawmanning them is not worth the effort, and representing them by strawmanning them equally is not worth the effort, then the above is probably the next best choice. But I'm not sure any of that is true.

Not that this thread is unique in this respect. Lots of threads on LW do this sort of thing. I assume that if it weren't for the anti-politics site norm there would be more of them; I expect that as this norm gets relaxed (as has been happening for the last year or so, and will likely keep happening) there will be more of them. Which is unfortunate, from my perspective.

ideologies make conflicting empirical claims as well as conflicting normative claims, and so empirical claims can reveal as much information about one's ideology as normative claims can.

Absolutely true.

comment by satt · 2013-06-15T18:15:34.396Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even if I concede that "I'm strawmanning one side only a little more than the other" accurately describes what's going on here, which I'm not sure I do, I'm still not sure I endorse it.

Agreed, but Multiheaded's full-throated sarcasm was a disproportionate response.

I assume that if it weren't for the anti-politics site norm there would be more of them; I expect that as this norm gets relaxed (as has been happening for the last year or so, and will likely keep happening)

I feel like there's less political poo flinging on LW now than there was a year ago and two years ago. But I have no firm evidence.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-06-15T18:28:26.902Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed, but Multiheaded's full-throated sarcasm was a disproportionate response.

Not disputing that.
I'm not sure what the "but" is doing there, though.
Is the inappropriateness of VB's comment somehow in tension with the inappropriateness of MH's reply?

I feel like there's less political poo flinging on LW now than there was a year ago and two years ago. But I have no firm evidence.

I'm delighted to hear that. I feel like there's more, but I don't trust my intuitions on the matter and haven't looked into it in a reliable form, so evidence that I might be mistaken makes me feel better.

comment by satt · 2013-06-16T10:31:05.810Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure what the "but" is doing there, though.
Is the inappropriateness of VB's comment somehow in tension with the inappropriateness of MH's reply?

Only rhetorically. I just wanted to emphasize that one needn't endorse unequal strawmanning to find Multiheaded's sarcasm unfair.

comment by jimrandomh · 2013-06-14T17:48:32.132Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, it is possible for LW community members to have productive discussions about politics. But not online, only in person (or maybe in small-group video chats). In person, it is possible to defend the quality of discussion by modelling the other participants to find common ground, and by excluding anyone who's particularly disruptive. Once an in-person discussion has formed, no one can dominate it just by spending more of their free time. On the internet, many topics will summon angry outsiders through Google Alerts; people with empty lives dominate because they have more time to spend; and and the participants are too many and too invisible to model.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-14T14:14:34.580Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was thinking about the hazards of bad government, and wondering if there was a way for the LW community to do something to oppose them.

Crime.

Long ago I was talking to a friend about the used booksellers in Portland. I suggested we form a union to help each other out. He said no, a syndicate was better. We help each other out under the table instead of at the negotiation table. Changed my life for the better to hear that.

comment by hylleddin · 2013-06-14T19:29:02.551Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This isn't unprecedented, though that post had a (quite facetious) disclaimer.

Downside: Advocating intentionally breaking the law would bring negative attention to the community, and in severe cases could bring legislative action against important members of the community. This would be less of problem for the meatspace community (Meetups and such) since everything they do isn't posted online.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-06-14T22:44:47.758Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Advocating intentionally breaking the law would bring negative attention to the community

We are in agreement that this is an international public online forum.

To follow your suggestion would mean agreeing to never again advocate cryogenics, futures markets, same-sex marriage or adoption, blasphemy, civil disobedience, reading poetry critical of the government or other things that break the law (somewhere). Bad governments ban these things. The crime of committing them is one way to oppose bad governments.

comment by hylleddin · 2013-06-15T00:18:56.997Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not suggesting anything, just pointing out downsides to be considered. Everything you stated (and the original post I linked to) I consider to be worth it.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T04:43:58.296Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

So basically you're advocating cooperating among LWers to engage in defection against other groups.

comment by orthonormal · 2013-06-15T00:36:16.917Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nobody's mentioned electoral reform yet? The current incentive structures for the US two-party system are laughably bad right now.

I've been wondering whether it's worthwhile to try and get people in Silicon Valley behind a local electoral reform (alternative vote or proportional representation or whatever, at the municipal level), on the theory that this is the only way to get momentum for larger-scale reform. Plus, there are plenty of things that seriously need reforming on the local level, but are dominated by the cartel of the few folks who currently vote in municipal elections. (Zoning being an obvious example; NIMBYism toward housing development in the Bay Area takes a staggering toll on everyone but homeowners.)

comment by Psy-Kosh · 2013-06-16T21:50:44.167Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alternative vote is Instant Runoff Voting, right? If so, then it's bad, for it fails the monotonicity criterion. That means that raising one's vote re a particular candidate doesn't necessarally do the obvious thing.

Personally, I favor Approval Voting, since it seems to be the simplest possible change to our voting system that would still produce large gains.

(Also, would be nice if we (the US, that is) could switch to algorithmic redistricting and completely get rid of the whole gerrymandering nonsense.)

comment by James_Miller · 2013-06-14T16:42:14.939Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To optimize our influence on the government the rationalist community should focus on stuff that almost no one else cares about but we find extremely important, for example legalizing prediction markets on events that won't happen for at least 20 years and don't involve people dying, or helping to get MIRI $1,000,000 a year of federal research funding.

comment by bogus · 2013-06-14T13:43:30.691Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Instead, I believe there are projects which could appeal to rationalists across a wide range of the political spectrum. A couple I can think of are opposing the war on drugs and improving judicial systems. Any other suggestions?

You won't know whether you're "appeal[ing] to rationalists across a wide range of the political spectrum" unless you actually pursue that as a goal. Trying to find some "project(s) that obviously everyone will agree with if they are rational enough" is emphatically not a good way of doing this.

Trying to do away with political identity is very hard, and may well be impossible, if the literature on pervasive cognitive and systemic biases is any guide. When dealing with such contentious matters, it may be better to embrace existing identities to a limited extent, and focus on building "bridges" and "compromises" that people who hold on to a variety of identities can actually agree upon.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-20T16:08:04.264Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the areas least open (though still not immune) to mind-killing are: 1) better, more consistent evidence for policies (good stats rather than govts commissioning policy-based evidence) 2) developing technical systems so they work better: the more techy the better. Making computer systems for processing pensions, tax or whatever that come in on budget and on spec would be a fantastic start. Though I guess even then, a libertarian might feel that giving the state more powerful and effective systems is counter-productive.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-21T04:55:09.659Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

1) better, more consistent evidence for policies (good stats rather than govts commissioning policy-based evidence)

Although when the stakes are sufficiently high (as they often are in politics) this tends to degenerate to people finding ways to bride, intimidate, or otherwise manipulate whoever is gathering and/or analyzing said evidence.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-21T06:21:52.209Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, everything has risks. But you can generally tell when people are doing that. And it's harder if the evidence is systematic rather than post-hoc reviews of specific things.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-25T02:08:03.436Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But you can generally tell when people are doing that.

Really, this is much harder than you seem to think.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-26T15:34:25.152Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to, so it's hard to respond. I think most of the damage done to evidence-gathering is done in fairly open ways: the organisation explains what it's doing even while it's selecting a dodgy method of analysis. At least that way you can debate about the quality of the evidence.

There are also cases of outright black-ops in terms of evidence-gathering, but I suspect they're much rarer, simply because that sort of work is usually done by a wide range of people with varied motivations, not a dedicated cabal who will work together to twist data.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-27T01:35:16.589Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think most of the damage done to evidence-gathering is done in fairly open ways: the organisation explains what it's doing even while it's selecting a dodgy method of analysis.

True, and this is generally hard to notice if your a non-expert, it is also hard to tell who is or isn't an expert if you're not one. As a result people tend to go with the "official position".

There are also cases of outright black-ops in terms of evidence-gathering, but I suspect they're much rarer, simply because that sort of work is usually done by a wide range of people with varied motivations,

True, unfortunately what tends to happen in practice is that enough people in the data pipeline manipulate the data for some reason or other that by the time the analysis is finished its correlation with reality is rather tenuous.

comment by DavidAgain · 2013-06-29T09:02:13.731Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

These are both risks. But the issue about manipulation at various points is presumably unlikely to add up to systematically misleading results: the involvement of many manipulators here would presumably create a lot of noise.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-30T05:53:31.255Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But the issue about manipulation at various points is presumably unlikely to add up to systematically misleading results

Not necessarily, one of the manipulators might get lucky and do something that overrides the others.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-16T15:45:18.977Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just because we agree that the war on drugs should be abolished doesn't mean that some of us aren't mindkilled when they think about the topic.

What are the interesting questions about the war on drugs?

Does is make sense to push for the kind of hyper burocratic rules that the Netherlands has or is it better to push for medical marijuana?

Can you legalise all drugs without harming evidence based medicine? What's the incentive for biotech companies and big pharma to fund studies that prove clinical effects if they can legally sell the drugs without having to get clearance from the FDA?

Which political forces are responsible for the war on drugs to continue? Why did Fast and Furious play out the way it did? Nobody going to prison for HSBC laundering billons of drug money? Ranbaxy?

How do you convince older people who fear that their kids go on drugs that the war on drugs is bad?

comment by CAE_Jones · 2013-06-16T16:46:01.298Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd push for finding a way to make rehabilitation cheaper and more effective, rather than focusing on imprisonment/fines, with regards the more addictive drugs (I don't think of myself as much of a family person, but my father is the only branch of his family not destroyed by drug abuse; even the one almost-rational one cannot find a stable place to stay that is not filled with crackheads, so she stays in trouble even though she has wanted out of it since the beginning. Long story in which I missed a perfect opportunity to save the day.). The trends that marijuana are currently following in the US seem to indicate that most people consider it relatively safe if used as prescribed (For the above reasons, my father's branch of the family--which is basically the household I live in--has an overwhelmingly negative view on recreational drugs categorically, but my sister still helped with the petition to get medicinal marijuana on the ballot in our state). The above-mentioned addict did once manage to out instrumentally rational my dad while high (he'd spent a lot of time, effort and chemicals scrubbing what she discovered to be the shadow of a fan ornament. Hilarity ensued.); I have no idea what she had been using, but that and other evidence points toward pot (she was putting more effort than usual into staying out of trouble around that time, for parenthood-related reasons).

In this particular case, I suspect what got her jailtime was stealing someone's wallet and using his checks/credits, which I'm quite certain (1.0-epsilon) was for drug money. The legal implications, here, are that any rehabilitation services would need to be applicable to crimes commonly influenced by addictive substances, if said substances can be reasonably considered a contributing factor. (I might have managed to get into my own place this time last year had a completely unrelated addict not ransacked the place while it was being repaired. He had just gotten out of prison, and now owes restitution that I have no expectation of ever getting. I also expect that the afore-mentioned cousin might have been able to reduce the need for repairs had she been staying there while I was at college, but crack/heroine-related conflicts prevented that. )

TL;DR: I think Marijuana's doing pretty well in the US. Perhaps a more constructive and less punitive approach to reducing the harm from harder drugs would be worth pursuing? The cousin I mentioned strikes me as being capable enough to improve her socioeconomic status enormously if she could find a non-addict peer group. Beyond most of the rest of the family (who dabble in meth and pot but mostly just overdo cigarettes and alcohol to the point of serious health risk. Except my grandfather, whose health baffles doctors and is predicted to possibly reach 100. That would put him in the 2030s, though there's this morbid family tradition where the patriarch hangs himself at some point past 80 on a whim. But I digress.).

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-06-16T20:10:36.778Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What exactly are you saying? "Yes, I'm mindkilled. I hold my political belief based on a few very emotional experiences instead of reading about broad statistics."

The cousin I mentioned strikes me as being capable enough to improve her socioeconomic status enormously if she could find a non-addict peer group.

That might be true, but besides the point. What kind of government intervention would put her into a non-addict peer group?

comment by turchin · 2013-06-15T09:09:23.611Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Life extension is one of the possible things to unite different groups. International Longevity party was created to promote it. http://www.facebook.com/groups/longevity.party/

comment by DanielLC · 2013-06-14T16:06:24.973Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can certainly think of quite a few political issues that should be changed. However, any attempt I make to change them has an opportunity cost in that I'm not helping, say, preventing malaria. As such, I don't think it would be a good idea to work together to oppose political issues.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-15T05:42:16.215Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Instead, I believe there are projects which could appeal to rationalists across a wide range of the political spectrum. A couple I can think of are opposing the war on drugs and improving judicial systems.

I suspect that while people from across the political spectrum agree that the judicial system could use improvements, they would strongly disagree on what those improvements are. As for ending the war on drugs, I'm not 100% convinced largely because of the issues raised here and here.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-16T00:57:40.435Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rationalists might be likely to agree that more research to improve forensics would be a good idea, and likewise for handling witnesses' memories with care. For example, you get better results if you show a witness possible suspects one at a time rather than all at once in a lineup. In the latter case, people are likely to choose the person who most resembles the criminal rather than admitting that none of them are an excellent match for what the witness remembers.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2013-06-16T04:10:44.317Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

research to improve forensics would be a good idea

Is anyone against this except to the extent it has to compete for funding with other priorities?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-06-16T08:13:57.997Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Improved forensics means that the people in charge might be proved to be wrong.

Not quite what you're looking for, but here's some resistance to using what has already been discovered.

comment by Yuyuko · 2013-06-14T16:25:04.295Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No.