Is altruistic deception really necessary? Social activism and the free market

post by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-26T06:38:16.032Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 96 comments

I've said before that social reform often seems to require lying.  Only one-sided narratives offering simple solutions motivate humans to act, so reformers manufacture one-sided narratives such as we find in Marxism or radical feminism, which inspire action through indignation.  Suppose you tell someone, "Here's an important problem, but it's difficult and complicated.  If we do X and Y, then after five years, I think we'd have a 40% chance of causing a 15% reduction in symptoms."  They'd probably think they had something better to do.

But the examples I used in that previous post were all arguably bad social reforms: Christianity, Russian communism, and Cuban communism.

The argument that people need to be deceived into social reform assumes either that they're stupid, or that there's some game-theoretic reason why social reform that's very worthwhile to society as a whole isn't worthwhile to any individual in society.

Is that true?  Or are people correct and justified in not making sudden changes until there's a clear problem and a clear solution to it?

Examples, I think, of good social reform, were the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  Those movements didn't require wholesale lying and sleight-of-hand, because they could make valid and true one-sided arguments.  It's hard to come up with a good counter-argument to "plantation slavery is bad".  Even women's suffrage and Prohibition didn't require lying.

If you're backing a cause which doesn't inspire the action you think it deserves, and you find yourself twisting the truth a bit for dramatic effect, how strong evidence is that that your cause is less worthy than you think it is?  Can you give examples where you would go ahead and twist the truth anyway?

For example, if you want to build an asteroid defense system for Earth, and the numbers say that the odds of it being needed in any given human generation are 0.0001%, it might not ever be worth it to any "purely selfish" human to pay the taxes to build that system.  I'm ruling that example out, because it is really about the questions of how to discount the future and how to value future human lives.  That's a known problem which this angle provides no new insight into.

If you want people to cooperate to reduce risk from AI, or to cure aging, but hardly anyone seems to care, would that fact affect your judgement of the task's true value to most people?

Essentially I'm asking whether you believe in the free market of ideas, in which the effort people put into different tasks is the real measure of their value, or whether you think we need some good-old Marxist centralized planning of values.  Answer carefully, because I don't think you can both support the manipulation of public opinion wrt social issues or existential threats (because the public is too stupid to know what it should value), and still believe the free market can solve economic problems (because people are smart enough to know what they value).

A consequence of this observation is that we should expect Marxists, who believe the free market doesn't work, to lie much more often than capitalists, who think it does.  Empirically, however, Democrats seem to lie much less than Republicans (see, e.g., a recent NY Times report on PolitiFact checking of the Presidential candidates), even though Republicans have much more faith in the free market.

96 comments

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comment by Viliam · 2016-02-26T08:59:46.158Z · score: 10 (18 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to come up with a good counter-argument to "slavery is bad". Even women's suffrage and Prohibition didn't require lying.

That's bullshit. More precisely, it is quite possible that you don't consider any of the counter-arguments to be good. But you should not generalize it for everyone. A "good argument" is a 2-place word; it means that a given person accepts the premises of the argument and its style of reasoning. Also, there is a lot of hindsight bias and social pressure here: we already know which side has historically won and which is associated with losers; but before that happened, people probably evaluated the quality of the arguments differently.

I could start playing Devil's Advocate and give examples of specific arguments that would seem good to some people, but I am not sure the readers (and our stalkers at RationalWiki) would focus on the meta-argument of "it is possible to make good arguments for X" instead of taking the arguments as literally my true opinions (plus opinions of everyone who upvoted this comment, plus opinions of everyone who didn't throw a tantrum and publicly leave LW after seeing me publish this comment there).

"There are no good arguments for X" is simply how having a successful social taboo against X feels from inside.

For example, many debates with real-life feminists about women's suffrage assume that men had universal voting rights since ever, and women only got them recently. But the truth is that "men's suffrage" (a voting right of every adult man) also only came historically recently. In some countries, both men and women got the universal voting right at the same year. But you wouldn't guess that by listening to debates about women's suffrage in that country.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2016-02-26T23:18:06.357Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think addressing PhilGoetz's example about slavery as unsuitable doesn't invalidate his main point at all as it is only intended to provide an example. It may not be a good example but I think we can imagine good ones instead.

The central point is whether lying (at the very least intentional selection on information provided) to groups of people is required to achieve some common goods. And this is not even posited as true but asked as question (and I see no answer to that only comparably minor nitpicking).

comment by username2 · 2016-02-28T12:20:01.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a nitpicking which is barely related to the main point of the post.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-26T16:07:43.936Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I fail to see how men having only recently gotten the vote is a good argument against women getting the vote.

You neglected to include a good argument in favor of slavery.

If you look at my earlier post, and my examples in this post, you'll see that "altruistic deception" is when you present something that is false and unworkable in order to motivate people to do work that you hope will contribute to a real solution. Your objection amounts to saying that we can't say that anything is false, or even that one X is more false than another X.

Let's test your idea that "There are no good arguments for X" is simply how having a successful social taboo against X feels from inside:

"There are no good arguments for the phlogiston theory of chemistry" is simply how having a successful social taboo against the phlogiston theory of chemistry feels from inside.

"There are no good arguments for Ptolemaic astronomy" is simply how having a successful social taboo against Ptolemaic astronomy feels from inside.

"There are no good arguments for Aristotelian physics" is simply how having a successful social taboo against Aristotelian physics feels from inside.

Marxism is less able to make correct predictions, and more thoroughly empirically refuted, than any of those theories. It is a false theory. It is a not-even-wrong theory. If you ask a Marxist to predict whether a corn blight will make the price of corn go up or down, he can only say, "Markets are a tool of the bourgeois, and their prices are commodity fetishization." Marx deliberately removed the concept of market price from the Marxist ontology, so Marxists can't be tempted to make quantitative predictions and be proven wrong.

Christianity, my other example, is also bad at making predictions. I object to your implication that we cannot say that the theory of Christianity is less probable than the theory of evolution.

comment by DanArmak · 2016-02-26T17:55:44.817Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're misunderstanding Viliam's point. Your examples, other than Marxism, aren't proposing empirically testable theories: they're moral revolutions, or social ones that demand valuing some people differently from before. Slavery, suffrage, Christianity or Prohibition aren't right or wrong in some objective non-moral sense. Arguments for or against such things are inevitably about convincing people, not about some objective truth.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-27T03:51:52.493Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Slavery, suffrage, Christianity or Prohibition aren't right or wrong in some objective non-moral sense. Arguments for or against such things are inevitably about convincing people, not about some objective truth.

Well three of those four things are essentially government/societal policies, and one can argue about what the consequnces of adopting or not adopting those policies are.

comment by DanArmak · 2016-02-27T11:52:25.143Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's possible to make predictions and arguments about how letting women vote would affect society, or men in particular. But the people who fought for women's suffrage did so on moral grounds of equal rights; even if they had believed suffrage would in fact harm society in some way they wouldn't have changed their minds. Fiat justitia ruat caelum.

Christianity is even more clearly about moral precepts and not about "worldly" benefit. Anti-slavery is too, although the US civil war mixed that up with a lot of other causes. About Prohibition I don't know enough to say.

comment by Viliam · 2016-02-27T17:05:42.851Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I fail to see how men having only recently gotten the vote is a good argument against women getting the vote.

It wasn't meant as an argument against women getting the vote, but rather as an example against the argument that good causes don't require lying. Well, strictly speaking, maybe the lying wasn't necessary, but such is the human nature that even when a good cause becomes a political topic, people immediately start lying and spreading lies that make their cause seem even better.

For example, women's suffrage was not only believed to fix a specific legal inequality, but also to end all wars, etc. The idea of "no difference between men and women other than a few anatomical details" is probably recent; the original argument for women in politics was that women were better than men. To see how serious were historically feminists about the idea of "equality of sexes", note that some famous feminists supported the white feather campaign, and influential feminist organizations opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. So there was and still is a lot of lying involved.

Debates about slavery are often framed as "evil white men enslaved peaceful black people", ignoring the historical fact that slave trade was popular in Africa before white men started participating in it. If we are going to condemn slavery as a principle (as I believe we should) then it is a lie by omission to speak about American white masters, and ignore the whole culture of slavery in Africa... plus another huge elephant in the room, the traditional Islamic slavery, which is even supported in their holy book, specifically encourages sexual slavery, and existed since the very beginning of their religion, and still exists today. Also, current debates about slavery completely erase all the white slaves / indentured servants, and their descendants are ironically told to "check their privilege" and feel ashamed for having benefited from slavery.

And Prohibition? Uhm, what is your opinion on the current "War on Drugs" and how exactly it differs?

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-28T07:23:58.238Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You neglected to include a good argument in favor of slavery.

Some people aren't intelligent enough/don't have high enough time preferences to function in modern society. Thus you either need to have them under the control of a master, or you wind up having to put them on the public dole and institutionalize the many of them anyway.

comment by bogus · 2016-02-28T08:15:35.829Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some people aren't intelligent enough/don't have high enough time preferences to function in modern society.

Why should we have a moral expectation that people have to "function in modern society" or else be enslaved/institutionalized? Our adaptive environment is small forager tribes, not "modern society".

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-28T19:12:03.567Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Our adaptive environment is small forager tribes, not "modern society".

Well, in case you haven't noticed aren't in small forager tribes right now.

Why should we have a moral expectation that people have to "function in modern society" or else be enslaved/institutionalized?

You're right, I left out a few alternatives. We could also deport them to a haunter-gatherer society, let them go around engaging in tribal-style raids (although that tends to interfere with the functioning of modern society for those who can function in it), or let them starve to death.

comment by Vaniver · 2016-02-27T18:48:56.028Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You neglected to include a good argument in favor of slavery.

Is conscription slavery? Are there good arguments in favor of conscription?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T02:36:36.018Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, but please note I made my comment about slavery while using the abolition of American black slavery as an example of a good cause which did not require lying. Substituting "conscription" for "slavery" makes it no longer relevant to my statements.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2016-02-27T16:10:15.020Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you think the early Marxists were lying? I'm inclined to think they were telling the truth as they saw it. Later Marxists--after it was clear that Marxism was leading to poverty rather than prosperity-- are a different story.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T02:17:04.031Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't matter to me whether they were lying deliberately or not. The abstract question I'm trying to ask is whether a need to tell untruths is strong evidence against the worthiness of a cause. Whether the person telling the untruths knows they're untrue is irrelevant.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-28T03:41:06.689Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The abstract question I'm trying to ask is whether a need to tell untruths is strong evidence against the worthiness of a cause.

Define "worthiness".

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:01:45.486Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you'll check the original post, you'll see I phrased it in terms of the separate valuations of the individuals deciding whether to mislead people, and the individuals deciding whether to follow such people. It does not posit an objective "worthiness". That was shorthand to try to avoid spending my life writing paragraphs like this re-writing the details of my post every time I reply to a comment about it.

comment by username2 · 2016-02-27T11:02:22.576Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

This is not a central example of slavery but still. Some people claim that military conscription is a form of slavery. And enough people think that there are enough good arguments in favor of military conscription that many countries practice it.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-27T03:47:49.262Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Let's test your idea that "There are no good arguments for X" is simply how having a successful social taboo against X feels from inside:

"There are no good arguments for the phlogiston theory of chemistry" is simply how having a successful social taboo against the phlogiston theory of chemistry feels from inside.

"There are no good arguments for Ptolemaic astronomy" is simply how having a successful social taboo against Ptolemaic astronomy feels from inside.

"There are no good arguments for Aristotelian physics" is simply how having a successful social taboo against Aristotelian physics feels from inside.

There are in fact good arguments for all three of those theories, and better arguments against. I'm guessing you don't know either arguments, and base your belief in all three based on argument from authority.

Edit: Also the situation isn't exactly analogous due to the difference between debates about physical facts, and debates about policy.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T02:20:05.521Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There were good arguments for all of those things when they were still in use. There are no good Arguments today for favoring Aristotelian physics over Newtonian physics, Ptolemaic over Copernican, or the phlogiston theory over the oxygen theory, where an Argument means a complete consideration of the evidence and the individual arguments.

Viliam's comment, which I'm sad to see has 10 points on LessWrong, uses the impreciseness of what I meant when I said "no good arguments" to crowbar in a claim that we just can't say some theories are wrong. We can.

It should be obvious to anybody reading my original post that digressions into what is a "good argument" are irrelevant; the point is that many activists motivate people by advocating ideas that are false, or deceptively one-sided to the point that they are lies of omission. My question is what the distribution of the degree of necessary lying is as a function of a cause's social utility.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-28T07:02:12.205Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Stop hyper-focusing on individual words to try to score debating points when the intent behind their use is clear from the context, everybody on LessWrong.

There were good arguments for all of those things when they were still in use. There are no good Arguments today for favoring Aristotelian physics over Newtonian physics, Ptolemaic over Copernican, or the phlogiston theory over the oxygen theory, where an Argument means a complete consideration of the evidence and the individual arguments.

I'm not trying to score debating points. I have a serious point, namely that chances are you don't actually know most of the arguments involved, either here or in the political debate. Instead you rely on appeals to authority. This raises the question of how reliable are the authorities. Probably reasonable reliable in the case of physics, rather less so in the case of political issues.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T06:54:21.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I did not appeal to any authorities. I relied on the readers here being well-educated. I am and was familiar with the history of these ideas, and with the specific arguments that at one time made Ptolemaic astronomy seem more reasonable, such as the apparent diameter of stars caused by atmospheric refraction, and that made phlogiston (which was just "negative oxygen") seem reasonable, which are recounted in detail in Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I'm not familiar with any arguments giving Aristotelian physics advantages over Newtonian physics. It probably wasn't immediately obvious to some people why things floated in water, or why hot air balloons rose; I suppose that could count.

I don't think questions of appealing to authorities are relevant here. There are theories that are wrong. There seems to be a positive correlation between theories of action that require lies to inspire action, and theories that are wrong. My post asks about the strength of that correlation. Not knowing which theories are correct makes it harder to answer the question, but neither ignorance, nor knowledge, of the correctness of theories makes that question itself go away.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-27T03:54:01.229Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to come up with a good counter-argument to "slavery is bad".

I rather like Stefan Molyneux's (anarchist fellow on youtube) analysis of slavery across time, as an evolving institution to extract value from a subject population.

Under that analysis, we are tax cattle on the human ranch. We seem to go about free because the ranchers have found that "free range" tax cattle are more productive. Free range tax cattle work harder, more effectively, and produce more, than tax cattle physically yolked in a chain gang.

And a lot of people find this is a wonderful situation.

comment by Val · 2016-02-27T18:36:34.046Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard to come up with a good counter-argument to "slavery is bad".

It's not that hard if you look at them from a contemporary perspective instead of a modern one.

Let's consider a tribal level of society which can barely survive using solely a subsistence economy, where previously the only thing you could do to prisoners after a fight with a neighboring tribe was to kill them all. You can't release them because the enemy will have higher numbers in the next battle, and you can't afford to just feed them because you can barely survive yourself.

Now enter a reform: they are allowed to live, but they have to work. (just a side remark: this is what slavery meant for the ancient tribes in the old testament, which often gets quoted outside context to claim that Christianity "advocates" slavery). Also, if I remember correctly, it only lasted at most seven years? Even in that case it is of course cruel by modern standards, but our current economic model allows for the upkeep of prisoners of war, and for a rehabilitative prison system supported by taxpayer money instead of penal labor. A stone age or early bronze age economy didn't.

comment by 27chaos · 2016-02-27T21:52:24.622Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A consequence of this observation is that we should expect Marxists, who believe the free market doesn't work, to lie much more often than capitalists, who think it does. Empirically, however, Democrats seem to lie much less than Republicans (see, e.g., a recent NY Times report on PolitiFact checking of the Presidential candidates), even though Republicans have much more faith in the free market.

This is an extremely terrible proxy for the question you're interested in.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T01:36:10.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Don't be distracted by the question of whether Democrats are Marxist. That's not the issue. My implication was that a survey would show much greater faith in the free market among Republicans than among Democrats. I expect that's true.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-02-28T07:22:13.672Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Politics is the mindkiller. Don't use highly political examples where people are likely to disagree with you when you don't want to talk about them because they draw themselves into attention.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:08:07.291Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Politics is the mindkiller, but I have no other data on that point.

comment by 27chaos · 2016-02-28T06:40:30.705Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I couldn't help but be distracted, sorry.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:08:56.695Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I should have written it in a less distracting way. I shouldn't have expected people to treat it as a non-political example.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2016-02-26T22:32:33.915Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW
  1. We become increasingly poorly calibrated in the extreme tails
  2. Model uncertainty increases a lot in the tails, justifying skepticism
comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-01T06:42:09.308Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"The argument that people need to be deceived into social reform assumes either that they're stupid"

I think the relevant point isn't what is needed, but what is possible. If lying wins, people will do it. Though stupidity is relevant.

I look at politics, and MoreWrong seems to win just fine. In fact, it wins better than LessWrong. When you fail to avail yourself of the Dark Side, you're failing to avail yourself of power. When the enemy doesn't, you lose.

When some people are much more intelligent than others, the Dark Side will work:

Poets priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission

'Cause when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

You can win by having the better argument, or win by being the better arguer.

With some people, there's a cultural value of honesty in disagreement. No lies. And such people make liars and their compatriots pay a price when caught, so that they are deterred from lying. That makes for a culture with great social capital in trust and cooperation.

But if that culture stops making people pay a price for lying, I don't see how that culture survives defectors. This is especially a problem when the champion arguers on both sides are simply much better at it than their audiences. They can lie to and manipulate their audiences, such that liar detection breaks down and the contest reverts to Us vs. Them.

Further, honesty simply isn't a universal value. Honest people arguing with liars and dissemblers is a contest in persuasion. The honest grant strikes, while the liars do not. The honest retreat, and the liars take ground.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:03:42.762Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When you fail to avail yourself of the Dark Side, you're failing to avail yourself of power. When the enemy doesn't, you lose.

You're sidestepping my question, which is whether an ideology or an action issue that requires the Dark Side is considerably more likely to be wrong than one that doesn't.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-01T10:32:09.981Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wasn't really sidestepping, I was just dancing my own jig a bit in the direction of an answer. I think I lost my train of thought, and just ended.

For your question, I think most of my jig was relevant. If we're talking about political power, given the tribal nature of the competition, and the realities of democracy, and population IQ variation within populations, and the political culture of significant dishonesty, then it seems to me that most any political cause requires the Dark Side, so needing the Dark Side is not particularly predictive of a bad argument.

The need of the Dark Side does not come from the particulars of the argument, but from the context in which the associated political power is decided.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-27T03:46:46.065Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A consequence of this observation is that we should expect Marxists, who believe the free market doesn't work, to lie much more often than capitalists, who think it does.

Another way of spinning the problem.

Is it likely that someone who feels they have the right to rule you by force would refrain from lying to you to achieve the same obedience?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T01:55:49.869Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, that's why looking at Democrats vs. Republicans is a better way of getting at that hypothesis, because there are fewer other differences.

comment by Dagon · 2016-02-27T21:17:06.816Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Absolutely. Many police officers, for instance, will violently enforce a law and not lie in the process. (many do both, of course, but a good portion of them are honest violent enforcers).

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-01T05:31:46.142Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bad example for you. Cops feel entirely free to lie to suspects.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:18:13.209Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I'm skeptical of the claim that police lie less than non-police. They probably lie less than criminals, but that's not the right comparison.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2016-02-26T15:28:24.604Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Even women's suffrage and Prohibition didn't require lying."

I'm pretty sure that Prohibition was often advanced by the argument that drinking alcohol is morally wicked, and I am very confident that this is false.

In any case, as Viliam has already pointed out, this is just a question of what you consider good arguments, and there were plenty of people who thought there were good arguments against any reform that you might support.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-26T16:23:49.003Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No. Marxism is an obvious, recurrent example of an ideology that avoids factuality in order to inspire its adherents. It is perhaps the most thoroughly refuted theory in all of history.

Why are you confident that the argument that drinking alcohol is morally wicked is false? You, in the 21st century and on LessWrong, probably parse it as, "Drinking alcohol decreases utility for any individual." But someone in the early 19th century would be more likely to parse it as, "Drinking alcohol is on average detrimental to society, when we properly weigh respectable social values above trivial ones like entertainment and animal pleasure." I think that was probably true. Variation in evaluations of that claim may depend on values more than on facts.

Marxism, OTOH, is false. The argument that increased production causes prices per unit to go down and therefore causes wages to go down is false. The argument that division of labor causes wages to go down is false. The argument that capitalism in the 19th century caused a centralization of power, which was more distributed under the absolute monarchies of the 18th century, is false. The argument that market prices are a sort of hypnotic spell cast over consumers by capitalism (see commodity fetishism), rather than any meaningful reflection of value, is false. The claim that workers do not have family ties under capitalism is false. The claim that workers were happier under feudalism is probably false. Almost every statement in the Communist Manifesto is factually false except for the ones admitting the benefits of capitalism. The claim that labor power is a commodity, yet its price is not subject to supply and demand, is false. Marxism claims to be an economic theory, yet I have never seen a Marxist "economist" consider a single real-world data point.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-26T18:10:08.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I have never seen a Marxist "economist" consider a single real-world data point.

How about Karl Marx?

:-)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T00:42:53.230Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Nope. "67 out of 103 workers surveyed said they were less happy than they were 20 years ago" would be data. "Workers are getting unhappier" is not data. "Taking the number of job descriptions and their inflation-adjusted hourly wages from the 7 factories in table C, a log regression shows 0.8^(average $/hr) ~ number of job descriptions)" would be data. "The division of labor decreases wages" is not data. There is no data [was "there are no economic numbers"] in Marx's writings. He did not provide empirical evidence for any of his claims. (This is a common fault among intellectual descendants of Hegel.)

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-28T03:38:47.301Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There are no economic numbers in Marx's writings. He did not provide empirical evidence for any of his claims.

You are flat out wrong. Go read Das Kapital.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:39:01.454Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You'll have to quote something to me, because I can't find any. I haven't got a complete, unabridged version of Kapital, but I've got 100 pages of it here in front of me, and there's no data in it. It's got a lot of numbers, true; I should reword that. But they aren't empirical evidence. They're made-up examples with made-up numbers. Cite me a passage from Marx that uses real-world data.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-01T15:38:16.644Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

E.g. here. Or here.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T20:45:26.320Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're right! Thank you for correcting me.

He has not got much data, though. That which he has is nearly all in his footnotes, and so far I haven't seen any of it used to support his major claims, but only on tangential matters.

Skimming the first 200 pages (8 chapters) of an unabridged version (Penguin) of Capital Book 1, this is all the data I find. All but the first two were relegated to footnotes, and I don't immediately see that any of it supports important claims. So this is one tangential piece of data per 20 pages.

So the reason I read so much Marx without seeing any data could be that, when one abridges Marx to present only Marx's explanation and justification for his important ideas, there is very little data in that part.

Or it could be that abridgers don't think data is important. After all, students won't be tested on the data.

What he has much, much more of is (a) reasoning without data, and (b) working-out of examples of made-up data, e.g., "Suppose that in spinning cotton, the waste for every 115 lbs. used amounts to 15 lbs., which is converted, not into yarn, but into “devil’s dust.” Now, although this 15 lbs. of cotton never becomes a constituent element of the yarn, yet assuming this amount of waste to be normal and inevitable under average conditions of spinning, its value is just as surely transferred to the value of the yarn, as is the value of the 100 lbs. that form the substance of the yarn...".

Book 1 Chapter 3

Section 3: Money

"Vanderlint, who fancies that the prices of commodities in a country are determined by the quantity of gold and silver to be found in it, asks himself why Indian commodities are so cheap. Answer: Because the Hindus bury their money. From 1602 to 1734, he remarks, they buried 150 millions of pounds sterling of silver, which originally came from America to Europe. [40] In the 10 years from 1856 to 1866, England exported to India and China £120,000,000 in silver, which had been received in exchange for Australian gold. Most of the silver exported to China makes its way to India."

Data, but it does not support the claim he's using it to support.

"To what extent this transformation depends upon the general conditions of production, is shown, to take one example, by the fact that the Roman Empire twice failed in its attempt to levy all contributions in money. The unspeakable misery of the French agricultural population under Louis XIV., a misery so eloquently denounced by Boisguillebert, Marshal Vauban, and others, was due not only to the weight of the taxes, but also to the conversion of taxes in kind into money taxes. [55] In Asia, on the other hand, the fact that state taxes are chiefly composed of rents payable in kind, depends on conditions of production that are reproduced with the regularity of natural phenomena."

Not really data, but at least references to external reality.

Footnote 46: "According to a Parliamentary document of 1864 on the gold and silver import and export of India, the import of gold and silver in 1863 exceeded the export by £19,367,764. During the 8 years immediately preceding 1864, the excess of imports over exports of the precious metals amounted to £109,652,917. During this century far more than £200,000,000 has been coined in India."

Data, but he didn't supply any other data to use together with this to enable any conclusion to be drawn from it.

Footnote 53. "As an example of how little ready money is required in true commercial operations, I give below a statement by one of the largest London houses of its yearly receipts and payments. Its transactions during the year 1856, extending to many millions of pounds sterling, are here reduced to the scale of one million.

Receipts. Payments. Bankers’ and Merchants’ £533,596 Bills payable after date £302,674 Cheques on Bankers, &c. payable on demand 357,715 Cheques on London Bankers 663,672 Country Notes 9,627 Bank of England Notes 22,743 Bank of England Notes 68,554 Gold 9,427 Gold 28,089 Silver and Copper 1,484 Silver and Copper 1,486
Post Office Orders 933
Total £1,000,000 Total £1,000,000 “Report from the Select Committee on the Bank Acts, July, 1858,” p. lxxi."

Footnote 56. "Although the average effective circulation of bank-notes in Scotland is less than three millions sterling, yet on certain pay days in the year, every single note in the possession of the bankers, amounting in the whole to about £7,000,000, is called into activity. On these occasions the notes have a single and specific function to perform, and so soon as they have performed it, they flow back into the various banks from which they issued. (See John Fullarton, “Regulation of Currencies.” Lond. 1845, p. 86, note.)"

Footnote 59: "About 25 years ago the ratio expressing the relative value of gold and silver was 15-1/2:1; now it is approximately 22:1, and silver is still constantly falling as against gold. This is essentially the result of a revolution in the mode of production of both metals. Formerly gold was obtained almost exclusively by washing it out from gold-bearing alluvial deposits, products of the weathering of auriferous rocks. Now this method has become inadequate and has been forced into the background by the processing of the quartz lodes themselves, a way of extraction which formerly was only of secondary importance, although well known to the ancients (Diodorus, III, 12-14) (Diodor’s v. Sicilien “Historische Bibliothek,” book III, 12-14. Stuttgart 1828, pp. 258-261). Moreover, not only were new huge silver deposits discovered in North America, in the Western part of the Rocky Mountains, but these and the Mexican silver mines were really opened up by the laying of railways, which made possible the shipment of modern machinery and fuel and in consequence the mining of silver on a very large scale at a low cost. However there is a great difference in the way the two metals occur in the quartz lodes. The gold is mostly native, but disseminated throughout the quartz in minute quantities. The whole mass of the vein must therefore be crushed and the gold either washed out or extracted by means of mercury. Often 1,000,000 grammes of quartz barely yield 1-3 and very seldom 30-60 grammes of gold. Silver is seldom found native, however it occurs in special quartz that is separated from the lode with comparative ease and contains mostly 40-90% silver; or it is contained, in smaller quantities, in copper, lead and other ores which in themselves are worthwhile working."

Chapter Six: The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power

Footnote 14: "In London there are two sorts of bakers, the “full priced,” who sell bread at its full value, and the “undersellers,” who sell it under its value. The latter class comprises more than three-fourths of the total number of bakers. (p. xxxii in the Report of H. S. Tremenheere, commissioner to examine into “the grievances complained of by the journeymen bakers,” &c., Lond. 1862.) The undersellers, almost without exception, sell bread adulterated with alum, soap, pearl ashes, chalk, Derbyshire stone-dust, and such like agreeable nourishing and wholesome ingredients. (See the above cited Blue book, as also the report of “the committee of 1855 on the adulteration of bread,” and Dr. Hassall’s “Adulterations Detected,” 2nd Ed. Lond. 1861.) Sir John Gordon stated before the committee of 1855, that “in consequence of these adulterations, the poor man, who lives on two pounds of bread a day, does not now get one fourth part of nourishing matter, let alone the deleterious effects on his health.”"

Chapter Seven: The Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value

Footnote 18: "Laing estimates that in England (and Wales) the livelihood of 11,300,000 people depends on unskilled labour. If from the total population of 18,000,000 living at the time when he wrote, we deduct 1,000,000 for the “genteel population,” and 1,500,000 for paupers, vagrants, criminals, prostitutes, &c., and 4,650,000 who compose the middle-class, there remain the above mentioned 11,000,000. But in his middle-class he includes people that live on the interest of small investments, officials, men of letters, artists, schoolmasters and the like, and in order to swell the number he also includes in these 4,650,000 the better paid portion of the factory operatives! The bricklayers, too, figure amongst them."

Chapter Eight: Constant Capital and Variable Capital

Footnote 5: "In The Times of 26th November, 1862, a manufacturer, whose mill employed 800 hands, and consumed, on the average, 150 bales of East Indian, or 130 bales of American cotton, complains, in doleful manner, of the standing expenses of his factory when not working. He estimates them at £6,000 a year. Among them are a number of items that do not concern us here, such as rent, rates, and taxes, insurance, salaries of the manager, book-keeper, engineer, and others. Then he reckons £150 for coal used to heat the mill occasionally, and run the engine now and then. Besides this, he includes the wages of the people employed at odd times to keep the machinery in working order. Lastly, he puts down £1,200 for depreciation of machinery, because “the weather and the natural principle of decay do not suspend their operations because the steam-engine ceases to revolve.” He says, emphatically, he does not estimate his depreciation at more than the small sum of £1,200, because his machinery is already nearly worn out."

comment by Lumifer · 2016-03-02T15:32:13.757Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

He has not got much data, though.

That is true. But then, he was formulating a conceptual framework and not building statistical models.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-28T06:16:15.510Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed with Lumifer, Marx's writing have a lot of empirical evidence.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:36:59.408Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See above.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2016-02-29T05:08:28.849Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that Marxism is a bad theory of history and of economics, but it simply isn't that case that Marx didn't rely on data in his work. His work (and, perhaps to an even greater extend, Engel's work) is chock-full of data that confirms his theory. This is actually one of the examples Popper uses to demonstrate the uselessness of data-theory fit as a demarcation criterion for science. Confirmation is simply too easy to come by (especially, when you are more or less avoiding places where disconfirming data is likely to show up).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:40:39.902Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Quote some. I took an entire class on Marx, and read hundreds of pages by him, and don't recall seeing any data. Nor can I find any, now, going through Selected Writings (ed. David McLellan). EDIT: See above.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-02-27T07:16:45.666Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A consequence of this observation is that we should expect Marxists, who believe the free market doesn't work, to lie much more often than capitalists, who think it does. Empirically, however, Democrats seem to lie much less than Republicans (see, e.g., a recent NY Times report on PolitiFact checking of the Presidential candidates), even though Republicans have much more faith in the free market.

There a lot of wrong with that paragraph. The main problem is that's based on the lies. The lie that the political spectrum being well partitionated into left and right. After that none of the Democratic presidential candidates are Marxists the suggestion that they are is deeply flawed. In 2008 the Democrats outraised the Republicans. They got more money for corporate donors. In the election Obama had more economic professors as economic advisors than McCain who had a bunch of supply side advisors which happens to be a strain of thought not believed to represent the truth by mainstream economists.

In 2008 Berny Sanders isn't raising money from corporate donors. On the other hand he supports the status quo enough to pledge to support Hillary Clinton should she be elected, even when people like Ralph Nader think that giving away a lot of power to influence change.

On thing that most economists agree on is that free trade is great. The leading Republican presidential candidate doesn't believe in free trade. It was disgust in 1988 of how US politicians allow free access to US market to foreign actions and then talked that it the issue might motivate him to run for office in the future.

Lastly it was Marx who came up with the idea of seeing everything as a struggle of capitalism vs. marxism. It's worth noting that you are advocating for marxist ideas.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T01:46:04.316Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

A. People who believe that free competition between goods and companies will lead to high social utility are also likely to believe that free competition between ideas will lead to high social utility.

B. Capitalists have more faith in the free market than Marxists do.

C. Republicans have more faith in the free market than Democrats do.

Suppose B and C are true. If A is true, then we should find, all else being equal, that Marxists lie more than capitalists, and that Democrats lie more than Republicans.

I agree I should have worded my post differently, but I did not mean to imply that Democrats are Marxists, or share any traits with them. Only that they contrast with Republicans along the free-trade dimension in the same direction that Marxists contrast with "capitalists".

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-02-28T07:30:31.341Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

People who believe that free competition between goods and companies will lead to high social utility are also likely to believe that free competition between ideas will lead to high social utility.

What evidence do you have for that claim to be true?

Capitalists have more faith in the free market than Marxists do.

That really depends on how you define the terms. Marx thought that free markets are really powerful. Powerful enough that change via democratic institutions is impossible and the only possible way to create systematic political change is through violent revolution.

C. Republicans have more faith in the free market than Democrats do.

That depends really on the issue and the people involved.

Trump thinks that the free market does work less well internationally than Clinton and has to free trade as currently practiced is bad for the US.

Republicans on the whole are more opposed to the act of sex being sold on the free market.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:16:19.549Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What evidence do you have for that claim to be true?

The comment, and the original statement in the post, which you are replying to, is the proposed evidence. I'm not setting forth A as evidence to prove something else; I'm setting forth other evidence in favor of A.

You're right that Republicans aren't pure libertarians. Here's a poll saying that Democrats currently support free trade more than Republicans do.

Foreign trade shouldn't be included for this purpose, however. "Belief in the free market" means believing that a free market maximizes social utility for everyone participating in the market. When considering foreign trade, a US politician isn't considering utility for the world; they're considering utility for the US. It is not inconsistent to believe that free markets maximize total utility, and also to believe that the US can benefit more (though necessarily at the expense of others) from restricted foreign trade than from free trade.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-01T17:27:03.278Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's not much different than saying that the 1% get a slice of the cake that's too large and we need regulation, so that more wealth get's distributed to the 99%.

That also still leaves the example of prostitution where more Demorcrats than Republicans are in favor of a free market.

Both Republicans and Democrats don't have context independent views on free markets. It always depends on the case.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-01T06:45:42.307Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But if Marxists actually are out there struggling to overthrow capitalism, recognizing that is simply recognizing reality.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-01T16:31:34.564Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But if Marxists actually are out there struggling to overthrow capitalism, recognizing that is simply recognizing reality.

On of the tenets of Marxism is to see every conflict as the struggle between the capitalist class and the workers class. That's wrong. There are a lot of conflicts that are not driven by the fight of the two classes.

Apart from that corporate Democrats that outraise Republicans simply aren't Marxist in any meaningful sense.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-02T00:31:21.702Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The identity politics Democrats engage in is fundamentally Marxist. Plug in dichotomy, identify oppressor and oppressed end of the dichotomy, rinse, lather, repeat. Collectivism. Class consciousness, False consciousness.

Not marxists economically, but ideologically. And even while they're not marxists economically, they are certainly anticapitalist, as most problems are attributed partially to capitalism, and the solutions to those problems are less capitalism and more government control of markets.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-03-02T10:43:02.940Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The identity politics Democrats engage in is fundamentally Marxist. Plug in dichotomy

To that extend the OP is a Marxist. He's focusing on the dichomtomy.

Collectivism

Ideologically postmodernism leads to the acceptance that Black people can live in a Black community and don't have to integrate into White society. Ideologically today's left puts value on protecting native cultures and doesn't believe in pushing modern Western cultural values on other societies.

That's very much against Marx idea that everything is supposed to come together.

Today's left considers that everybody is entitled to his own identity and there no need for individuals to integrate into the collective norms of identity. There's no belief that there one correct identity and that if history finally advances to communism everybody will have that collective identity.

Diversity ideologically valued when Marx didn't value it.

comment by Viliam · 2016-03-11T08:11:35.184Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Seems to me that you and ChristianKl disagree on how many specific details can one remove from Marx and still call the result "fundamentally Marxist". Specifically, whether you can remove "class struggle" and replace it with any "X struggle" (such as gender struggle or race struggle or otherkin vs non-kin struggle).

I suspect that you could both more or less agree that identity politics uses similar rhetorical tools as Marxism, only replacing class struggle with other values of X. And that the thing you disagree at is whether the rhetorical tools themselves should be called "Marxist"; because for you "Marxism" is in the rhetorical tools themselves, while for ChristianKl "Marxism" is the specific application of those tools to the class struggle.

Or I may be completely wrong here, but this was the first impression.

comment by gjm · 2016-03-02T12:48:45.980Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seems worth distinguishing "has something in common with Marx's ideas" from "is fundamentally Marxist", especially as "Marxist" is a pretty inflammatory term because of the horrors perpetrated in the name of Marxism in the 20th century.

So, what are these ideas you're calling fundamentally Marxist? I think it comes down to this: "Sometimes one group of people has more power and resources than another, and acts in ways that harm the worse-off group. We should frame such situations in terms of conflict between the two groups, even though some people in the worse-off group may not see it that way."

I'm not sure I'd want to endorse those ideas, but they seem to me to fall far short of justifying the description as "fundamentally Marxist".

certainly anticapitalist

Advocating more regulation of markets is not at all the same thing as opposing capitalism. I think you are confusing capitalism with, I dunno, libertarianism or something.

Capitalism means having lots of privately owned industry and trade. Anyone who isn't advocating large-scale nationalization, or something more drastic than that, is not being anticapitalist in any useful sense.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-02-27T03:39:29.233Z · score: 1 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Empirically, however, Democrats seem to lie much less than Republicans (see, e.g., a recent NY Times report on PolitiFact checking of the Presidential candidates)

You're taking the New York Times and PolitiFact as unbiased estimators of the truth of Democrats and Republicans?

Literally, I laughed out loud.

comment by username2 · 2016-02-27T14:27:48.871Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

NYT and Politifact may be biased, but your comment is very bad argument. "Agree with me, because otherwise I'll laugh at you"? Shouldn't LWers strive to root out these kinds of arguments instead of upvoting them?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-28T03:49:47.810Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

but your comment is very bad argument. "Agree with me, because otherwise I'll laugh at you"?

That comment was not an argument.

A wise man would have interpreted it as a warning: "You're being ridiculous".

comment by buybuydandavis · 2016-03-01T05:38:42.693Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

My incredulousness was as much for the statement as for Phil making that statement. Maybe I have Phil all wrong, but I really don't picture him as a fan of the New York Times either.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:27:41.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're right that the people behind PolitiFact are biased. It says so on their website. I suppose I shouldn't have cited them. I let my own unquantified belief that Republicans lie more often overrule my standards. I realize on consideration that what I probably believe is that Republicans (since Newt) pull dirty tricks more often, which isn't the same.

Perhaps data on conviction rates by party is available. This list of Congressman convicted of crimes appears to my casual inspection to have more Democrats than Republicans on it.

comment by Dagon · 2016-02-26T15:10:37.753Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The argument that people need to be deceived into social reform assumes either that they're stupid or [clause which should be replaced with "selfish"].

What probability do you assign to the belief that 70% or more of current living humans are stupider, more short-sighted, and selfish than you are? I'm somewhat selfish in that I care far more about people I interact with than about distant (in time or space) strangers, but still likely in the top quartile on that dimension, and much higher on the first two.

I agree it's worth questioning your beliefs in what reforms are useful to what segments of the population, and what segments will suffer (temporary and non-righteous, we hope) losses. but I don't believe that the current population mix is capable of long-term self-governance without forceful guidance of elites.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-26T16:03:17.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your answer!

But do you believe the free market can be effective at solving problems such as externalities if the proper incentives are put in place? If so, why do you believe people who are stupid and short-sighted can properly follow those incentives?

comment by Dagon · 2016-02-27T02:59:32.467Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But do you believe the free market can be effective

Nope! humanity is doomed to suffer from it's own stupidity, regardless of whether that suffering is traded for or imposed.

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-26T18:11:40.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

solving problems such as externalities if the proper incentives are put in place?

Does that mean making former-externalities become not-externatilities-any-more?

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-02-28T09:34:50.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Solving any problems means former-problems become not-problems-any-more. How are externalities special?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-02-28T17:11:54.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're tripping up on jargon.

In economics, an "externality" is a consequence to some action which does not affect the actor (or which the actor does not care about). What makes it "external" is that it does not enter the actor's optimization process and thus does not afffect the decisions he is making.

The problems with externalities is that they are a weapon of Moloch, that is, they subvert distributed coordination mechanism like markets. Pollution is a classic externality.

There are ways of dealing with externalities and the two main ones are:

  • Direct control by a central authority. If you don't want coal power plants to emit sulfur into the atmosphere, you just make (and enforce) laws which forbid them to do do.

  • Changing the rules of the game. If you make it so the externality becomes a cost for the actor -- that is, if you bring it into his optimization process -- the problem disappears "naturally" because it's not an externality any more. One way of doing this is giving the actor some property rights in whatever is worsened by the externality. Another is to make him liable for the problems so that they have costs for him (e.g. via lawsuits).

comment by Dagon · 2016-02-27T21:21:12.743Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Externalities are in the map, not the territory. Calling something "external" just means your model is ignoring something that actually matters.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T02:02:48.732Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No; "externality" is an economic term meaning a cost or benefit imposed by a transaction on agents who were not parties to that transaction.

comment by Dagon · 2016-02-28T18:00:14.492Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. It's an economic term for "easily foreseen consequences that we excluded from this simple transactional model of a decision".

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-02T02:29:47.623Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Externalities exist in the transaction (the territory), not in a model of the transaction (the map). The "decision", remember, is not "a" decision made by a World Ruler. It's a market transaction made by multiple parties, subject to agreed-on rules or arbitration. Externalities are created by the terms of the transaction. The terms of the transaction are only a model of the transaction in an extreme Marxist analysis such as Althusser would make (who basically turned materialism into strict behaviorism by saying ideas don't exist, only actions--e.g., he would say a contract isn't a transaction; people pushing green pieces of paper across the table is a transaction).

comment by Dagon · 2016-03-02T05:55:03.033Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm starting to think there are a couple of different ways to frame the question. I'd been thinking of it along the lines of "my economic exchange model doesn't include that the actors can understand the larger world", which is definitely map, not territory: the exchange model of decisionmaking is simply missing a lot.

One can also think of it in terms of general decision theory - in this case "externality" isn't something missing from the model, but something that the agent doesn't care about as much as the analyst applying the term wants them to.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2016-02-26T08:06:15.016Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure it's relevant to this post, but your description of your old post seems to be opposite to what it actually says. Here you say that practical directions come first and are deceitfully simplified to generate energy. There you said that naive energy creation comes first and later people harness and direct it. The difference seems important to me because in this post the person is trying to steer society, while in the previous post it seemed to me that the practical second person was just trying to harness the energy to personal benefit and maybe not even steering society at all where the naive first person wanted to go.

Added: Well, I guess the phrasing "Every Paul needs a Jesus" puts Paul logically first, matching this post. But the point about trying to steer society still seems an important difference.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-02-28T06:19:33.712Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This all depends on your goals and what you're optimizing for, as an agent. If your goals require lying, then from a rationalist perspective, you should lie. The requirement of lying is not evidence for or against the value of your goals. These are orthogonal issues.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:07:09.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The requirement of lying is not evidence for or against the value of your goals. These are orthogonal issues.

That's the question my post asks. I posted a small amount of empirical evidence that goals that appear to me to be more worthy are less likely to require lying. So I would rather you present a counter-argument, or other evidence, or an explanation of why my evidence is invalid, rather than a simple declaration of your position.

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2016-03-01T19:49:34.607Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough.

1) I would say that that weird, counterintuitive, and non-obvious goals are those that would be most likely to benefit from lying. This is independent from whether these goals are worthwhile.

1A) I would agree with the OP that it is more likely for worthwhile goals to benefit less from lying, as it should ideally be easier to convince people of their benefit truthfully. However, considering the amount of irrationality in the world, there will be plenty of goals that are worthwhile and would not be easy to convince people of using only truthful methods.

2) Lying may be a more efficient way to accomplish worthwhile goals than not. By denying the tool of lying, one's options are limited.

2A) Now, this does not mean that lying is a worthwhile tool to use. It may be more efficient, but also more risky. Likewise, some goals may be undermined by using the method of lying to get to them. A rational agent is best off calculating the expected utility of lying as a tool before using it.

comment by DanArmak · 2016-02-26T18:00:57.589Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you're backing a cause which doesn't inspire the action you think it deserves, and you find yourself twisting the truth a bit for dramatic effect, how strong evidence is that that your cause is less worthy than you think it is? Can you give examples where you would go ahead and twist the truth anyway?

Ideally, I would estimate the negative effects: how many people would later learn I lied and abandon my cause, and how enemies of the cause might use the fact I lied against it, and the reputational harm to my other causes and to my allies.

To stop me from lying, a moral theory that says lying is wrong for me as a person would have to give this greater weight than some non-negligible factor in the success of a cause which could drastically affect millions of people for the better, e.g. Abolition.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-27T03:43:23.090Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, I would estimate the negative effects: how many people would later learn I lied and abandon my cause, and how enemies of the cause might use the fact I lied against it, and the reputational harm to my other causes and to my allies.

Not to mention the damage the people who believe your lies might do by acting on them.

comment by DanArmak · 2016-02-27T12:06:36.208Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I had in mind lies that were intended to be acted on, to further my cause.

For instance, suppose my cause is to prevent the growth of a hole in the ozone layer. I tell people they must stop using CFCs. Actually it would be enough to limit the use of CFCs below some sustainable limit. But not everyone is going to listen to me, and I need to offset their CFC-use with even lower levels of usage from my followers. So I lie to my followers and tell them everyone in the world must stop using CFCs absolutely for the ozone hole to mend. That's a lie I want them to act on.

There are other kinds of reasons why one might lie in the service of a cause, where my logic doesn't hold. For instance, suppose my cause is to win a war. I need to convince my people to keep fighting and not accept the enemy's armistice terms. So I lie to them, saying the enemy is building a magical doomsday weapon that can strike our people from afar, and only taking over the enemy's lands can prevent its construction. After we win the war, my people torture and kill many of the enemy population because they refuse to reveal the location of the doomsday weapon I made up.

In this case, I didn't want people to actually act on the lie; I just wanted its side effect of making them fight in my war.

There are other cases. For example, the main supporters of my cause happen to come from the Purple Tribe, whose religion says the germ theory of disease is false. I know they're wrong, but to gain their support for my cause, I must lie and publicly say they are right. Then they help me win my cause, while I help them stop effective disease prevention measures - a successful alliance.

comment by Torchlight_Crimson · 2016-03-02T02:37:52.244Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In this case, I didn't want people to actually act on the lie

Unfortunately, if your lie is successful people will act on it anyway.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-28T07:04:34.495Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For instance, suppose my cause is to prevent the growth of a hole in the ozone layer. I tell people they must stop using CFCs.

Well, that raises issues about just how serious a threat was the "hole in the ozone layer", and how much if anything it had to do with CFCs.

comment by DanArmak · 2016-02-28T09:20:51.451Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Suppose for the sake of the example that it was a huge threat, caused purely by CFCs, but limiting CFCs (instead of stopping using them entirely) would have been enough to resolve the issue.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-27T03:41:49.551Z · score: -3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Those movements didn't require wholesale lying and sleight-of-hand, because they could make valid and true one-sided arguments.

Yes they did, in particular the false claim that there are no significant diffrences between blacks and whites.

It's hard to come up with a good counter-argument to "slavery is bad".

Well, "slavery is bad" isn't even an argument it's either an asertion or at best a value judgement. The fact that this wasn't obvious to you is a sign you haven't thought much about the topic.

Even women's suffrage and Prohibition didn't require lying.

Well, consider how the latter turned out. Prohibition involved making false statements (they might not technichally have been lies only because some of the people making them believe them) about how much of the contry's crime was caused by alcohol. Some counties even sold off their jails after prohibition passed, figuring that without alcohol there'd be no crime so there would be no need for it.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-02-28T01:57:14.653Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes they did, in particular the false claim that there are no significant diffrences between blacks and whites.

That's false. The abolition movement never claimed there were no significant differences between blacks and whites. Read the transcripts/summaries of the Lincoln / Douglas debates.

comment by Old_Gold · 2016-02-28T07:19:29.203Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

True, however, the civil rights movement did.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2016-03-01T07:19:20.222Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Oh. True.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-02-28T09:49:58.131Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why the hell was this comment downvoted?

comment by gjm · 2016-02-28T15:14:26.124Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Because it was a disagreement with Old_Gold, who is the same person as Eugine_Nier and Azathoth123 and VoiceOfRa and TheLion, and who is not in this for the sake of mutually beneficial debate but in order to fight a culture war, and that's what he does.

comment by bogus · 2016-02-27T07:31:50.700Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yes they did, in particular the false claim that there are no significant diffrences between blacks and whites.

Um, this is just plain wrong historically: "I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, ... and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. ... I will add to this that I have never seen, to my knowledge, a man, woman, or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between [blacks] and white men." --Abraham Lincoln

Prohibition involved making false statements (they might not technichally have been lies only because some of the people making them believe them) about how much of the contry's crime was caused by alcohol.

It's not at all clear that this is the case. Alcohol consumption before Prohibition was quite high, and this was definitely a significant social problem. One could even make the case that Prohibition was in some sense successful; some studies estimate that alcohol consumption after repeal was as much as 20% lower compared to the pre-Prohibition level.