How do you accept others even when they're so irrational?

post by InquilineKea · 2011-01-06T22:45:10.830Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

I don't think that it's possible to convince most people to be more rational. It usually causes more problems than it's worth. And as a result, I often have to make white lies or pretend to believe in things I don't believe in, even though those things kill me inside. 

And the truth is, that the most rational decisions you can make for yourself are decisions that take the irrational feelings of others in account (and the immalleability of them). It's hard to empathize with the irrational feelings of others. But there may be creative ways to trick myself into accepting them.

For example, I think that "overmoralization" is one of the major sources of social irrationality. For example, people are willing to take drastic actions (to irrational extents) to punish victimless crimes like marijuana smoking. The "make-work" bias documented in Bryan Caplan's "The Myth of the Rational Voter" is another irrational bias that comes from "overmoralization" (certainly there are good reasons to stigmatize unemployment on a societal level, but the level that it takes is often irrational). And as someone with both Asperger's and Attention Deficit Disorder (both cases far more severe than the cases of anyone else I know), I've often had to take extremely untraditional approaches in order to learn as well as I can (or in other words, there are certain rules and norms that I *will* break), even though many people find these untraditional approaches to be morally jarring (which comes from the "overmoralization" of fairness and respect for the rules). Furthermore, some people do act like altruistic punishers even when it isn't in their best interest to do so (since it can alienate them from others) - breaking a friendship because you disapprove of someone's victimless action is sort of like "altruistic punishment", although it may not be actually altruistic if the person's values against that victimless action really are so fundamental to himself/herself. 

Of course, I can hide potentially objectionable things that I do from others. And I do try to think of ways in which I could be more normal (and creative ways to reframe social norms in a system that's more acceptable than me), and I've managed to talk myself out of using Asperger's as an excuse. But hiding things makes me emotionally distant from just about everyone, and I'd like to hear suggestions on what to do, or maybe on how to accept people even when they're irrational like that. And of course, I understand that enforcing the rules (in a way that people *perceive* as consistent) is often necessary for maintaining some stable system that people are inclined to trust (even though enforcing the rules often results in substantial costs in *some* individual cases). 

EDIT: In no means do I "disbelieve" in morality. Rather, I just have a strong aversion towards the word because others have abused the word beyond recognition. I'm a near-vegan who just hates it how society uses Puritan-like moral justifications to prevent others from having the freedom to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 


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comment by Costanza · 2011-01-06T23:40:56.559Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jesus!* Your post provokes an emotional reaction in me, which I will now try to translate into something sensible.

I am irrational, trying to become less so. I've got a way to go. Also, I think I am less intelligent than much of the Less Wrong community. I'm sorry to say I don't expect this to change soon.

It's a continuum, not a discrete or binary division. There are people smarter and there are people more rational than you (for pretty much anybody who will read this.) So how can they accept you?

One of the things that drew me to Eliezer Yudkowsky's writings and to Less Wrong was the profound moral component. As I understand it, his mission isn't just for you smart folks, it's for everyone, including those of us who may be deluded and irrational and of merely normal intelligence, or below-normal intelligence. For example, it wasn't that long ago that he commented that cryonics (for example) should be for " all human beings and, just in case, chimpanzees ." I could think of other examples of what I take to be the moral dimension of this forum. I think it's fundamental to this forum.

* I don't actually believe in Jesus. Just a way of signifying an emotional reaction.

comment by InquilineKea · 2011-01-07T00:03:20.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah yes, well, I do have some moral values - I'm still very much against actions that hurt sentient beings, and I do believe that it is better off for society if everyone has some basic living standards (in fact, I think that society imposes far too many artificial barriers to let people experience "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" - and then society uses "morality" as a way to justify this denial - it's sort of like Puritanism). And I'm almost a vegan, for that matter. I just happen to have the morals that others tend to take issue with, which is why I've developed a strong aversion to the word "morality", if not the concept. =/ The word "morality" has just been abused beyond recognition.

For example - cryonics. How are people really going to justify opposition to that? There are few utilitarian arguments against cryonics. Most of the arguments against them come from the instinctive "disgust" reaction, which is closely tied in with perceptions of moral violation. People will use moral arguments to justify why they're against it. That's one of the main reasons why I'm so averse to the word "morality", because it is used so disingenuously.

In general though, I generally try to find all sorts of justifications to be tolerant to everyone (because I've often experience intolerance, and do not want to propagate the very thing that has hurt me so much). It's as easy as that, so I easily accept people whoever they are (and I also often hate it how people often judge others based on intelligence).

comment by Marius · 2011-01-07T04:59:39.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are few utilitarian arguments against cryonics

The cost involved is exorbitant and could be much better spent; as you point out it may also cause disgust reactions in your loved ones instead of promoting closure upon your death.

Or do you mean "against cryonics' legality", since happiness is rarely produced by banning wasteful extravagances?

comment by Eneasz · 2011-01-08T00:11:21.513Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cost involved is exorbitant

That's not really true. Sure, it's out reach of most of humanity, so in that sense you're right. But for the average middle-class person in the developed world - which is the majority of people who'll ever read your comment - this is not true. A basic life insurance policy is easily within their means.

comment by Marius · 2011-01-08T15:24:15.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We are talking about a cost on the order of magnitude of $100k to preserve your body - about as much as the average American manages to save for retirement. A dozen times the cost of a standard funeral. Enough to save dozens of lives. You may not be able to be reanimated, and there may be large future costs of reanimation as well as curing whatever fatal diseases you may have.

The benefit, hopefully, is "enjoy long life in a high-tech future." That may well be worth the expense to you. But if we are just optimizing utils in the world, we might focus on shorter-term goals. Even if we hypothesize that life in that future world is amazing, we could commission a eugenically-optimized baby in the future world rather than preserving our own flawed selves at great cost. The desire that the future beneficiary be me rather than someone else is not coming from a strictly Utilitarian place.

comment by EternalArchon · 2012-06-10T07:07:30.270Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're pretty close to an optimized cryonics sales-pitch for Objectivists.

comment by DanArmak · 2011-01-08T12:53:21.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But for the average middle-class person in the developed world - which is the majority of people who'll ever read your comment

Make that 'in the US and a very few other countries'. I live in Israel, am middle class and can see myself becoming quite wealthy in the future, but - no cryonics for me.

comment by Costanza · 2011-01-07T00:25:41.977Z · LW(p) · GW(p) I easily [emphasis added] accept people whoever they are ...

I may be misunderstanding your original post, or maybe it's not so easy as all that to accept other people in all their...shall we say...variety.

comment by InquilineKea · 2011-01-07T00:33:23.718Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, sorry for my mistake. I easily accept people if and only if I feel like they'll accept me first. But this is of little significance, because people won't even talk to me if they don't accept me. In reality, I'll talk to anyone who wants to talk to me (and who won't try to impose too many of their values on me).

comment by Costanza · 2011-01-07T01:53:01.680Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let me just spout out some reactions:

There are levels of "acceptance." Personally, I'm intimate with very few, friendly with far more, in theory I have good will towards almost everybody, and (also in theory) I think that in principle I could regard certain individuals as true enemies. At what level would you propose to "accept" people who are irrational?

Case in point-- consider me! I've never met you and don't know you in meatspace. We have LessWrong in common, so I'm closer to you in that way than I am to...very, very many people. However, I wouldn't necessarily declare that very specific interest of mine just as soon as we met, assuming we met by chance. I'd probably stick to general pleasantries and conventional etiquette until I knew you a bit better. So what would you do with me?

comment by InquilineKea · 2011-01-07T03:16:25.528Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, good point. There is a point where I might get uncomfortable with irrationality, even if this irrationality did not manifest itself in intolerance (it often does, but in some cases, it is annoying at worst). But, of course, I'm not completely consistent. Some things, like believing in astrology, will make me quickly uncomfortable. That being said, a smart person who believed in astrology could conceivably convince me otherwise (just as I have a lot of respect for some smart Christians).

So what would I do with you? Hm, it probably depends on the context. I used to have a problem of getting attached to people far too quickly. And it actually seemed to work, for a while (young teenagers in the environment of school seem to be more open to fellow classmates). So I'd probably declare that interest of mine as soon as we met. But I'm trying to change a bit to the pleasantries and etiquette.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-01-07T17:50:39.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even irrational people have experienced near-mode rationality, otherwise known as "common sense" (cached response: if only it was) - being subject to it, even if not being able to exercise it. So if you can somehow keep small bits of that in play in the conversation, you can establish that conversations involving you are expected to employ at least a bit of sense. Even that they will involve potentially having to show one's working at some stage, even if not right now (and even if you don't ever call them on it).

Of course, then they'll cut'n'paste something from the Daily Mail/Fox News (delete as appropriate) into the conversation and you'll have an urge to hit them with a hammer. It's a tricky one.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-01-07T13:09:36.089Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a hard time understanding what people mean by "accept" in this usage. You obviously don't doubt the fact of the matter that many people are irrational. It sounds like you might mean that this fact makes you angry. By "accepting others" do you mean that you're looking for advice on how to be less angry?

comment by InquilineKea · 2011-01-08T08:40:17.490Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pretty much yeah. I would prefer the word "frustrated" though.

comment by alexflint · 2011-01-08T04:32:51.158Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could think of discussions with certain people as fun rather than an exchange of ideas. If you're in a discussion in which you feel neither side is likely to learn from the other, then just optimise for fun -- fun for both parties, that is. Change topics rapidly, make light of statements that in other situations you would analyse, guide the discussions towards fun topics rather than informative ones.

If you're talking to someone with unbearably absurd beliefs and all else fails, then just have fun seeing how far you can go making unreasonably extreme random statements. Don't be rude, though :)

comment by MartinB · 2011-05-20T12:33:58.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most talk is not done as discussion, changing ideas, but status play and dumping of caches.

My M/O is to listen more, talk less. Ask questions. Trying to understand what the other person beliefs and why. Which is really really really hard for me to do. But could be interesting.

Other things I occasionally did: Model the argumentative strategy of the person, and use the same strategy on a different topic. Try to claim to have weirder beliefs then them. Change topics from things that I do not want to talk about to those I do. Including but not limited to life experiences.

Some of them do not really work. I now perceive many discussions as stupid cardboard mash-up of cached ideas, where nothing really ever changes. But it helps to ignore this sentiment in many cases.

One thing that did work great in many formal discussions about social topics was to throw in a question about the definition of the actual topic being discussed. That usually elicits a heated argument of everyone involved but me without anyone realizing they do not actually talk about the same thing, or even caring to resolve that. Usually that gives you half an hour of free time. In one case a discussion round about 'democracy' was spent it this stage without ever reaching something like a conclusion on what to actually talk about.

References to Arguing about Definitions, and a certain story in Feynmans book.

Trying to have fun is a great advice. But also try out many different ways.

comment by alexflint · 2011-05-20T15:22:34.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most talk is not done as discussion, changing ideas, but status play and dumping of caches

Yes, also for gossip and homour

comment by MartinB · 2011-05-20T15:32:41.749Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. So much beautiful time wasted.

comment by nhamann · 2011-01-07T00:50:26.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that it's possible to convince most people to be more rational. It usually causes more problems than it's worth. And as a result, I often have to make white lies or pretend to believe in things I don't believe in, even though those things kill me inside.

This is a problem, and unfortunately my only solution is to cease (or at least minimize) the contact I have with such people. I say "unfortunately" because 100% of the people I know IRL are uninterested in rationality, so the net result is generally that I spend all of my free time on the internet.

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-05-20T17:28:30.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I often have to make white lies or pretend to believe in things I don't believe in, even though those things kill me inside.

Having a stable relationship with one person who has a flexible mind works well for me. I don't have to lie, and I don't get lonely.

Flexibility is more important than rationality. A person can learn rationality if they are flexible, but if they aren't flexible they can't learn anything at all.

I spent, or perhaps wasted, 8 years on my first marriage to learn the information in the previous paragraph, so pay attention. If you don't want to spend large amounts of time on relationships that go nowhere, you have to judge people and reject the ones you don't like, rather than compromise about things you care about. Too much acceptance can be a problem.

comment by MartinB · 2011-07-09T12:29:14.787Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For relationships that are short term I found that it works well to look what people do, not what they think or belief in FAR mode. And I basically compartmentalize my friendships.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-01-07T05:17:11.053Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It looks to me like your problem is getting other people to accept you. Your options seem to be: lie, follow their standards, and convince them to accept you without following their standards.

You can do a combination, like get them to accept some things, follow some standards, and lie about some things.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-01-07T01:27:05.373Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you call "overmoralization" I would call "undermoralization". Wouldn't you agree that locking someone in a cage or taking their property without sufficient reason is immoral?

comment by ata · 2011-01-07T03:07:24.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Moralization" is as distinct from "morality" as "rationalization" is from "rationality". :)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-01-07T15:52:22.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That is funny, but runs counter to current usage in the field of ethics (where "moralization" means to make moral).

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-01-07T16:14:41.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

interesting, because I think of ata's usage being similar to typical usage.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-01-07T17:14:16.986Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I propose searching JSTOR for "moralization" and checking the sense in which the word is used in the first 10 articles as a adequate test of current usage. If my belief about the current usage fails this test, I will change my mind.

comment by beriukay · 2011-01-08T23:56:49.419Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this may be an issue of colloquial use conflicting with academic use. I have always heard it used to mean talking about your morality, but when I looked it up I also saw that it could mean improving morals.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-01-09T22:23:01.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is what I meant.