Dark Arts 101: Winning via destruction and dualism

post by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T01:53:02.169Z · score: -13 (41 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 53 comments

Recalling first that life is a zero-sum game, it is immediately obvious that the quickest and easiest path to success is not to accomplish things yourself—that's a game for heroes and other suckers—but to tear down the accomplishments and reputations of others. Destruction is easy. The difficulty lies in constructing a situation so that that destruction is to your net benefit.

The problem with destruction is that it invites retaliation. Even when your talent for lies, slander, and other dirty work is superior to your opponent's, he will still manage to cause you difficulties. When there is a third, uninvolved party, all they need do is stay out of it until you and your opponent have beaten each other down, and they emerge the winner.

It is therefore crucial that you prepare the way for your destructive ascent by polarizing the field into two camps. There must be no third parties or positions. If there are three political parties, you must begin by crushing the weakest. If there are three or more possible opinions on a matter, you must introduce terminology that conflates them and makes it appear that there are only two. Uniting your opponents is not beneficial, but making them appear to be united is, as it allows your attacks to strike them all at once. The vicious arts can thrive only when the apparent choices are first narrowed down to two.

(The mirror tactic is to narrow down the number of choices to one, and present them as two. We shall cover that in Dark Arts 201.)


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-21T02:44:16.362Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW · GW

Recalling first that life is a zero-sum game

It's not a zero-sum game, and you know it, and good dark artists know it, so either this post is supposed to be funny, you're straw-manning dark artists to signal you aren't one of them, or you're trying to shock us with how dark you are. Probability of useful material about how dark arts work, intended to defend against them: low. Probability of useful material about how to succeed darkly by a skilled dark artist: low.

The arena you're practicing the dark arts in also isn't immediately clear. Eventually it looks like you're talking about politics, which makes it unlikely that you've actually put this to practice successfully.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T02:55:03.060Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the players of the game are the all minds in concept space (with the appropriate weightings, since this set is infinite), then I think it might be reasonable to say that life is a zero-sum game.

There are some players have no ability to control the world unless we simulate them. However, since it is possible for us to simulate them, if we wanted to represent life as a game, we would have to include all of them as at least potential players.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-21T03:04:43.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

We couldn't simulate all of them. We won't simulate most of them. A mind is not a player unless it actually shows up and makes some decisions. Most minds won't.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T03:11:51.596Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Fine, maybe there are some non-computable minds in concept space, but that is okay. I think that all the minds that we could potentially simulate should be counted as players. Usually in game theory, you don't talk about new players being added, so I think that the correct model is that these potential players choose a strategy which only has an effect if their minds are simulated.

Further, I think this is a very important ethical question. I think clearly we should not give equal rights to all potential minds that are not simulated, because many of them cancel each other out. I feel like my morals only care about the actually realized minds (i.e. those that at some point gain some kind of power), which makes me wonder if maybe I should care about minds with an amount proportional the amount of power that that mind has over the world.

comment by Mestroyer · 2013-09-21T03:27:57.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's not just non-computable minds, there are minds that require too much computing power. Anyway, the zero-sum game where you give equal weight to agents that actually exist and agents that have almost no chance of existing is not the same game PhilGoetz was modeling reality with when he originally called it zero-sum.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T03:33:39.647Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, but even with minds that could be simulated, the same argument works.

And you are right, while I think this is an important question, it has nothing to do with with the fact this PhilGoetz's model.

comment by Desrtopa · 2013-09-21T19:00:16.328Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This doesn't seem like a very practical way to represent "life" in terms that human beings actually have to deal with.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T19:03:27.322Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

From a selfish game theory perspective, no, but I think it is interesting to think about when trying to figure out exactly what you mean by things like "utilitarianism"

comment by shminux · 2013-09-21T05:17:34.478Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why you postulate that "life is a zero-sum game" in this post. What is this one person's gain that is another person's loss here?

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-21T12:44:06.468Z · score: 24 (24 votes) · LW · GW

Since he believes life is zero-sum, maybe he's altruistically trying to get us to down-vote him so we can benefit from his misfortune.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-21T14:00:24.745Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It finally makes sense.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T19:47:45.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've already replied above, but I respect you, RobbBB, so I'll reply here also. I don't believe life is zero-sum. I believe that people who think it is are more likely to act like the narrator of this post.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-21T19:50:16.385Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's OK; I didn't believe you believed life was zero-sum.

comment by Alejandro1 · 2013-09-21T19:46:08.191Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

But, if getting downvoted is what he wants, then it is not a misfortune...

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T19:45:04.049Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't understand why anyone thinks I'm speaking seriously and in my own voice. I don't think life is a zero-sum game. That kind of thinking leads to "dark side" behavior, and motivates people to behave the way this post's narrator recommends.

Contrast the reception this post has had with my earlier post on presuppositions, which had all the same attributes being downvoted here. LessWrong, you are inconsistent.

comment by Risto_Saarelma · 2013-09-23T12:43:38.401Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

So is everyone expected to be familiar with you as someone with a long-established track record that will be contrasted with what you write in this post? I'd expect a bunch of people coming in will not have any sort of model of you and draw all their conclusions about whatever your actual voice is like from this one post.

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-21T20:42:44.749Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

one of those posts refers to real life examples and does not present itself in a vacuum with a blatantly untrue or not always true messages.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-22T00:31:39.006Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The agent LessWrong is a big community of different people who are likely to come and go and change a lot over a 2-year timespan, so 'you are inconsistent' is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis. (And not necessarily a criticism!)

Your previous post strikes me as fun and well-written, but thin. Good for a one-off joke, but I'd expect follow-ups to be more detailed, and to link back to old antecedents or background material. It's not super surprising that a similar concept could fail if we don't control for execution; and the concept you're trying to teach here is a lot more obvious and widely acknowledged than the Using Presuppositions concept, so this has much lower VOI.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-22T04:22:35.931Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's a fair critique, if it is widely acknowledged. I don't think I've ever heard it before, thought. I've never heard anyone say, "Let's present three alternatives, because we know what happens if you only present two."

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-22T04:27:00.024Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I mean that the polarizing effect of false dichotomies is pretty obvious. I should clarify that the part of your post that isn't obvious, also doesn't seem at all plausible to me, and isn't defended, if part of the message is supposed to be that dualism is always to be avoided when possible. Frequently, it's much better to present two options than three -- it's simpler, and any trilemma can in any case be converted into a disjunctive dilemma.

comment by shminux · 2013-09-22T01:17:46.382Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Knowing your style, I did not assume it's your actual position. Still, your assumptions were not clear to me, so I asked.

comment by ChrisHallquist · 2013-09-21T21:11:19.462Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Okay, so after reading this a couple of times and reading the comments, I kinda see what Phil was trying to do with this, but the questionable game theory of the first two paragraphs obscures the legitimate point in third paragraph. The questionable game theory is really unnecessary - frame it, if you like, not as assuming life is a zero-sum game but as about creating zero-sum games where they didn't exist before.

comment by maia · 2013-09-21T19:27:19.507Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So my current guess about your posts is that you're making them progressively more sarcastic to see at what point most of the comments stop being, "Are you serious?"

I'm not sure if this post is being downvoted because people think you're serious, or because it is a silly* post complaining about the two-party system which might be better suited to the Open Thread, or some other reason.

*The complaint itself isn't silly. I tend to agree with a lot of it. But the way it is made here is rather over-the-top.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T19:41:49.828Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It is not complaining about the two-party system. It is about a much more general phenomenon, found widely in academia. It is important to note that in any domain, whenever you reduce the number of alternatives to two, it sets the stage for vicious partisanship. I happen to think it's a very important point.

The post isn't sarcastic; it's humorous, taking on the persona of a Dark Arts instructor.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-22T00:06:54.895Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is important to note that in any domain, whenever you reduce the number of alternatives to two, it sets the stage for vicious partisanship.

Only a sith would think that only a sith deals in absolutes. I reject your absolutist opposition to absolutes.

Sometimes there really are just two choices. Dualisms get a bad rap.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-09-21T23:36:45.178Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

whenever you reduce the number of alternatives to two, it sets the stage for vicious partisanship.

So that step one in the Light Arts is to increase the alternatives?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-22T19:25:53.812Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Dunno about "step one" or "Light Arts", but that's usually among my first responses to being offered a forced choice between A and B... what are the alternatives that aren't being considered?

Not so much to avoid vicious partisanship... people can be viciously partisan for their side no matter how many competing sides there are... but because it's hard to consider the merits of options that have been arbitrarily excluded from consideration, and those options often prove viable when their merits are considered.

I am especially prone to this for subjects where certain positions have become popular tribal markers.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-21T20:39:31.260Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Could you give academic examples?

comment by BrotherNihil · 2013-09-21T05:14:11.788Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If there are three parties, why not employ Ernst Stavro Blofeld's strategy, which he illustrated with the parable of the Siamese fighting fish and applied at SPECTRE vis-à-vis the US and the USSR, whereby you incite the other two parties to fight each other, and when the fight is over you swoop in and attack the weakened victor?

comment by metatroll · 2013-09-21T08:35:41.697Z · score: -2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Sithlord_Bayesian says you're a poseur...

comment by FiftyTwo · 2013-09-22T21:55:29.835Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

48 laws of power has been mentioned before on LW and is a pretty good introduction to 'Dark Arts' (in the sense of acting purely self interestedly). It discusses the idea of seperating people into enenmies and friends in more detail than this.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-09-21T23:59:22.716Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Recalling first that life is a zero-sum game

People are treating this particular point as a straw man, when I think it's basically true. But the rest of the post is an inaccurate portrayal of such a Dark Artist. IMO, many people think that the world is full of players and chumps, and they intend to be the former rather than the latter. That's not a straw man.

But I don't think such people are concerned with political parties. Unless you're particularly well situated to become king, attempts to manipulate political dynamics is another chump's game. Cozying up to power is not. Flattering the powerful is not. To the extent that tearing down others is useful, it's main use is to flatter those who are not the others, and get on their good side.

In short, the player is more likely to spend his efforts telling people what they want to hear, instead of tearing them down.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T02:18:12.192Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am feeling a strong urge to either vote up or vote down, but I am not sure which.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-21T02:58:05.435Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You've destroyed the third position of not voting.

comment by Dorikka · 2013-09-21T04:26:24.821Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I am guessing that this is actually the position that he took.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T04:49:46.853Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I voted up. I think the post is dumb, but it had enough down votes to go below threshold already, and it made me laugh.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T04:51:52.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, it sparked a short conversation that I found interesting.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T18:52:35.552Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am not sure why I am being punished. l have 4 theories:

1) People think this kind of sarcastic humor is not appropriate for less wrong enough to punish me for disagreeing.

2) People think that my vote was influenced by the votes of other people, which is an action they are trying to discourage.

3) I have signaled alliance with a common enemy.

4) The act of publishing your votes potentially destroys anonymity.

Please let me know.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2013-09-21T23:13:04.742Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think that you should vote things that you think are dumb down rather than up, and also agree with your (2) that you shouldn't let other people's votes influence you. However I didn't downvote the grandparent since that might only have the effect of stopping you talking about your voting.

comment by Kawoomba · 2013-09-21T20:43:53.069Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You've presumably stated your reasoning in the grandparent to elicit feedback; the feedback you receive is in the form of that comment's karma score. Speculatively (I didn't vote), it's not a punishment but rather a "I disagree with upvoting posts based on sarcastic humor alone strongly enough (signal/noise and all that) that I will express my disagreement via voting when I encounter such a policy".

Don't make it personal by construing such feedback as "punishment".

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T20:52:32.461Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That makes sense. Thanks. I was not trying to ask for feedback on my voting. There was a belief stating that I did not vote, so I corrected it. I can, however, see why it was interpreted that way. I didn't take it personally. "Punishment" seemed like the most accurate word, but I do not care that much. I was just surprised.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T19:49:28.496Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to LessWrong.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T20:16:14.071Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think your LessWrong karma experience is very different from the average member, judging by the fact that your current 30-day karma is 12 with 52% positive. That is 144 down votes in 30 days.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-21T20:29:18.404Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Phil has considered that metric.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2013-09-21T19:59:36.971Z · score: -6 (16 votes) · LW · GW

It's hard for me to draw any conclusion other than that the LessWrong community has become too stupid to communicate with. It would be one thing if people didn't see the phenomenon described here as universal and important. They would be wrong, but understandably wrong, the kind of wrong you can engage with.

But what happened instead, judging from the comments, is that most readers were unable to identify this as a post written adopting a fictitious persona, to get inside the head of someone who would deliberately use such techniques. That autistic-level literal-mindedness, not trying to see what ideas a post presents, not sitting back and taking a few seconds to try framing it different ways, but simply diving in looking for some proposition to object to, is what is ruining LessWrong.

comment by Rob Bensinger (RobbBB) · 2013-09-22T01:39:30.552Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think most people misunderstood your post; I think a bigger factor was that the content wasn't seen as particularly novel or interesting. ('My joke alludes to something important!' can only do so much to make up for a rubbish joke.) To the extent they did misunderstand, you can probably do more to prevent such misunderstandings by modifying your own behavior than by telling them to modify theirs. And to the extent you can usefully modify their behavior, using 'stupid' and 'autistic' as terms of abuse isn't an effective way to do it.

comment by Coscott · 2013-09-21T20:13:11.048Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think you are wrong. The persona you set up is a straw-man, and I think that is why most people voted it down. I doubt very many people thought you were being serious.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2013-09-21T20:48:14.092Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Comparing the scores on Mestroyer and Shminux's comments, I guess that 1/3 of the voters match Phil's description and 2/3 match yours.

comment by Dentin · 2013-09-21T20:57:16.566Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW


I downvoted because it's an obvious troll. The entire post could have been an integral part of a larger document with an intro/discussion/conclusion and been upvoted; but in isolation, it's of very little value.

comment by drethelin · 2013-09-21T20:41:17.037Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

people have been making stupid posts that get downvoted and then commenting about how that shows how dumb lesswrong is for YEARS.

Considering the most active people over those years are some of the same people, is it more likely that lesswrong is now really stupid or that you made a really stupid post?

Even taking completely at face value your intent to portray a fictional persona, you didn't actually say what anyone should or can do about such a persona or anything of any use. This was no better than copy-pasting apologetics as an exercise in trying to get us to understand the mind of christians.

comment by ChrisHallquist · 2013-09-21T21:00:22.955Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Downvoted the post for being such a ridiculous straw man.... then downvoted this comment for not getting why other people are downvoting. When I saw you had a post at -12, knowing you were a respected member of the community, I initially assumed the community had gone crazy; after reading the post I concluded otherwise.

comment by knb · 2013-09-22T22:54:05.306Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think Less wrong is too stupid to communicate with, but I do think a weird social norm against saying things in interesting ways has taken over. It reminds me a bit of Wikipedia, where the enforced style is very dry and dull--without having the advantage of being simple and easy to understand.