Social Insight: When a Lie Is Not a Lie; When a Truth Is Not a Truth - Pt. 2

post by Bound_up · 2017-08-15T00:53:19.954Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 29 comments

'"If people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold."'  People misinterpret this as indicating that I take a policy stance in favor of regulation.  It indicates no such thing.  It is meant purely as guess about empirical consequences." - EY (http://lesswrong.com/lw/h2/blue_or_green_on_regulation/)

 

Try this a few times, and you'll stop thinking you can make "guess[es] about empirical consequences" (or say anything about empirical consequences (or say anything about empirical anything)) and have people hear anything except you showing off your policy stances. Showing off whom you associate with and what virtues you possess.

 

Once your eyes open to how hard it is to convince people that your sentences about how markets function are meant to describe how markets function, you give up and stop trying.

 

Well, if you have the time to convince people you're actually trying to say something about how the world works and not just proudly waving a verbal banner in favor of the home team, and you have the ability to make interesting a subject so much less accessible and exciting than politics (we've all seen it, haven't we, how little they care once they realize that we really are trying to describe market functions?), and the time to actually do it properly, all without alienating important people in the process...

Then, yeah, maybe. And those sets of circumstances absolutely happen and I'm glad that we do teach each other things.

 

But, I really, really understand why most politicians can't do anything remotely like this, and thus, say the words "If people have a right to be stupid, the market will respond by supplying all the stupidity that can be sold" only if they want people to hear "I am taking a policy stance in favor of regulation."

 

If you do want people to hear that, then this is a very effective way of communicating that. If you know that saying this will lead people to holding that belief about your stance, then saying it is honest, even if you don't believe that markets work that way. You're not saying/they're not hearing anything about markets, so none of your beliefs about markets can be misrepresented by saying these words. You believe something, you want to honestly communicate that belief, so you use symbols. We think of words as our symbols, but whole sentences can be symbols, too. A sentence has no "true" meaning any more than a word does. And if we define that sentence according to the common usage...

 

Think through some other possibilities. Maybe you don't believe there's a market for stupidity, but you do take a stance in favor of regulation. If you say you don't believe there's a market for stupidity, you'll knowingly deceive a large group of people (the social thinkers) whom you know will hear "I oppose regulation" when you say there's no market for stupidity. In contrast, if you say you do believe there's a market for stupidity, you'll communicate your endorsement of regulation to that group, but will be interpreted as saying something untrue by another group of people who think that you're saying something about market functions and only about market functions and that you've said nothing about your stance on regulation, so wouldn't we be jumping to conclusions to assume anything either way (nerds/empirical thinkers)?

 

Most people aren't empirical thinkers (and those that are often aren't when it comes to politics), so as a matter of practicality, politics is spoken in the language of social reasoning. Knowing this, you're shooting yourself in the foot if you listen to these people's words as a way of modeling their beliefs. You have to listen to their sentences, and understand their definition according to the common usage. "Blah blah market for stupidity blah blah" is defined as "I endorse regulation" according to the common usage (no matter what you substitute in place of the blah blah's).

 

There's a whole music to this social language, and if you start to catch the rhythm, you may find that the absolute garbage that is presidential debates (I use to marvel that the apparently top candidates for president never had anything new or interesting to say, surely such people should be a fountain of insight and formidable competence) resolves itself into something interesting after all.

Ah, yes, now I see. First he waves the flag for group X, then he waves the flag for group N. Many people are members of both tribes and feel really connected, while those people who belong to only one are quite tolerant of this particular outgroup. And the members of X who actively oppose group N are disproportionately single-issue voters, so this comes out as an effective appeal as measured by vote-grabbing...

 

It's also interesting to hear new ways of saying "I'm with them" over and over again about the commonest groups to appeal to ("God bless America") or compete over (How can they say "I support our troops" more strongly than their opponent? It's a real exercise in creativity). And, of course, amid the majority of people, this is the language of power, and you may find it useful to know how to move within this world, to act upon it, to make yourself respected, and to move people.

 

Most people (citation needed) talk and think like this all the time. They are social thinkers, not empirical thinkers. Everything they "know" about the minimum wage is how to use it as a vehicle for talking about social things, their own status, their group status, and their virtues. Except they don't do so consciously, but automatically. Humans are social creatures, and to think socially, and not in terms of abstract propositions about the function of the world is their first and natural instinct. Always remember, we're the weird ones. Possessors of an inhuman power with a price.

 

Find some non-nerdy types you may not usually associate much with. Go clubbing and ask all the people wearing something you find appalling their opinions on the minimum wage. After their initial summary of "I'm with them," whichever "them" they might happen to be with, inquire a bit more deeply. Go a little Socratic on them and ask about their reasoning, and ask them to confirm your guesses about which observations they would take as evidence for and against their position. You might want to personally note all the times they (it seems to you) change the subject, contradict themselves, or use any of a thousand flavors of fallacy.

 

Now, review the conversation (which you carefully recorded, of course), but this time, ask yourself if there's any way to interpret each of their statements (which sound like propositions about the function of markets and the nature of human rights) instead as signals about tribal loyalty, personal status, and personal virtue. Write down what these statements might say about the tribe and the person. Incredibly, you may find that what once was a cacophony of contradiction has resolved itself. In another key, it was all perfectly mainstream, run-of-the mill, straightforward, vanilla, dry, unremarkable clarity. Seen this way, the mystery dissolves into something so ordinary as to face-palmingly obvious in retrospect.

 

They're just saying how great they are and how great their people are and how awesome they all are and what good people they are. Charming.

 

My last discussion of this found many respondents thinking that it was mean to think such lowly things of other people. It is curious to me that they seem to take it for granted that it is lowly. Humans are naturally political; why call our native tongue lowly? There are a thousand stories about the plucky hero who cares about the work, and it's all about the work, and they have to jump over the hurdles that are the regular humans who are into office politics and are so shameful as to not care about the work for its own sake (who do they think they are, not being fascinated with blood spatter analysis or awesome architecture?). Why fetishize this work-over-politics bit? Oh, sure it's responsible for everything lasting that humanity has ever created and all, but...well, as hobbies go, politics is humanity's first and natural choice. People enjoy it; they optimize for it. I'm nerdy and happen to fancy the romance of abstract propositions about reality, but I don't begrudge those who don't feel the same way.

 

Perhaps more importantly, I need to learn their language, the language of social power, if I am to get them to do what is needful regarding reality despite their native disinterest. Tim Urban's the best speaker our community has, probably, and it still takes all of 2 minutes before it's completely obvious he's a nerd and proud of it. Julia Galef's up there, too, but with a similar weakness when it comes to getting non-nerds to get on board with important political movements. Robin Hanson's alright...

 

But we need a proper Draco. As galling as it is, there is very much a place for a Trumpesque speaker who can get a certain kind of person participating in important things that they...really aren't naturally inclined to care about. We need Steve Harvey and Barack Obama and MLK and someone who can talk to anybody. Or at least who can talk to somebody other than the nerds who are already half-way on our side (and will be more and more as consensus consolidates around the correct answer).

 

A good map of reality, Knowledge, is power, to bind the universe to our service. But status, respect, prestige. That is the power to move humans. It is, of course, contained within knowledge itself. But the time has come to train the versatile laser focus of knowledge upon social Homo Sapiens and learn how we're really going to get them, all of them (not just the nerds), to save the world.

29 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by cousin_it · 2017-08-15T13:54:54.345Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

My main problem is with the mood of your post, not its overt message. Maybe the best way is to explain how I think of moods.

All people are always in some kind of mood. How does it feel, right here right now, behind your eyes? Is there a whiff of joy, or boredom, or resentment, or emptiness? What flavor invisibly fills your head at this moment?

We nerds have trained ourselves to disregard moods in favor of facts. To accept the truth no matter how it makes us feel, and therefore ignore how we feel. Over time we can even learn to be depressed without realizing it! Few of us notice our own current flavor, much less use it in decision-making or change it consciously.

Think of an exciting person you know, someone who's a joy to be with. What you're feeling isn't some innate quality of that person, but rather the flavor they carry in their head, like a sparkly wine. It can be felt in everything they say or do. More likely than not, they have mental tricks to make the right flavor happen. Maybe you've had such moments yourself!

Now reread your post. It reflects your emotional state at the time of writing. Is that state good and worth sharing with the world? Or is it more of a bitter frustration that wants to cease, to replace itself with something happier? If so, why would you lead anyone else to feel it? After all, it's not the essence of you, nor something you must be faithful to, but just a temporary flavor in your head that you don't even like.

Focus on the space behind your eyes... notice the flavor that hangs there invisibly... and imagine a different flavor in its place, one that would make everything feel right. It's not easy or quick, especially if you've never tried to be creative with moods before, but it's amazing when it works. Everyone around you will feel it too, as soon as you smile :-)

comment by Bound_up · 2017-08-18T18:49:38.661Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Would it be fair to say you don't think the post is inaccurate so much as you think it is unkind?

comment by cousin_it · 2017-08-18T21:16:17.270Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, my objection is not about kindness to others. It's more like I feel that the post is coming from an unhappy painful feeling that doesn't realize that it's unhappy, or that alternatives are in arms reach.

comment by Bound_up · 2017-08-19T13:54:38.473Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So, more that it's not so much inaccurate as it is coming from an unnecessarily unhappy place?

comment by cousin_it · 2017-08-19T14:25:29.688Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-08-19T18:25:12.411Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think it is both. I said before why I think this idea is inaccurate. All human beings use words both for communicating facts and for other purposes, usually with a good deal of mixture. And of course some people are farther towards the side of communicating facts, and others farther towards other purposes, but there absolutely is not a division into two groups, fact communicators and other purpose communicators.

comment by bogus · 2017-08-16T06:38:56.673Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I for one didn't find issue with the "mood" of OP's post. Of course, the content is not exactly news either - we all are familiar with the 'X is not about Y' pattern! But it's nice to see a well-written reminder of this every once in a while.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2017-08-16T03:12:09.333Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is my favorite comment in a long while.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-15T15:24:53.607Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

We nerds have trained ourselves to disregard moods in favor of facts

Nope. These are just separate magisteria: we understand that moods do not influence facts, but it does not follow that moods are not important and can freely be ignored.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-08-16T01:34:43.030Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

moods do not influence facts

First of all, if you are in a sad mood, it is a fact that you are in a sad mood, and if you are in a happy mood, it is a fact that you are in a happy mood. So moods influence facts, and these cannot be separate magisteria, but overlapping.

Second, many nerds do ignore their moods, even though this is a bad idea. The result is not that the moods do not influence their beliefs and actions, but that they do not notice the influence of their moods on their beliefs and actions.

In a similar way, if you think that only facts influence your beliefs, and not other elements of your utility function, it will not mean that your beliefs are not influenced by other elements of your utility function. It will just mean that you will not notice that influence. You are better off admitting the truth, namely that other elements of your utility function in fact influence your beliefs.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-16T14:54:47.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

if you are in a sad mood, it is a fact that you are in a sad mood ... So moods influence facts

Don't be silly.

The result is not that the moods do not influence their beliefs and actions, but that they do not notice the influence of their moods on their beliefs and actions.

I hear what you are saying, but that's more prevalent among normies, if anything. I suspect the nerds are more likely to fight the influence of mood on facts (and usually lose), while the normies just wholeheartedly embrace it.

other elements of your utility function in fact influence your beliefs

Yes, of course they do. But "facts" and "beliefs" are very different things.

comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-08-16T15:02:54.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Don't be silly.

It's not silly, but an important fact about reality. The mood you are in influences your behavior and therefore the consequences of your behavior, and thus the future state of the world and all the facts about it. This is directly related to the other point I made about ignoring moods.

I hear what you are saying, but that's more prevalent among normies, if anything.

It might be equally prevalent.

I suspect the nerds are more likely to fight the influence of mood on facts (and usually lose)

Yes, but quite often with a good deal of ignorance about the mood, and this contributes to the losing.

But "facts" and "beliefs" are very different things.

Sure.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-16T16:10:10.845Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

an important fact about reality

The observation that you yourself are part of reality is trivial. Of course anything trivial can be spun as important.

It might be equally prevalent.

Evidence?

comment by entirelyuseless · 2017-08-17T01:28:15.104Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The observation that you yourself are part of reality is trivial. Of course anything trivial can be spun as important.

It may be trivial, but it is also important, and in practice it is a triviality that people very often ignore, to the detriment of their understanding. Let me give some examples:

  1. What we are talking about. People often make plans which take no account of the fact that they have feelings and desires and beliefs that may entirely prevent those plans from taking place. So they are acting like those things are not part of reality.

  2. The reason people object to the idea that they do not have a soul which is completely separate from their body. It is easy to see that there is nothing specifically horrible about bodily parts which could prevent them from taking care of the functions of a soul. Suppose there was a spiritual part that had those functions: any objection that you could make to the bodily parts doing that function, could be made to the spiritual part doing that function. So the real reason is wanting to think that you are not a part of reality.

  3. In the discussion of the Smoking Lesion, the reason people think it is important to "change the probability" that they are going to get cancer is that they think that they themselves and their decision are not part of reality, but something coming in from outside and changing it. In reality they are just a part of what is there, so there is no need to change anything, but it is fine not to have cancer, by choosing not to smoke.

  4. Yudkowsky used to talk about imposing his goals on a supposedly indifferent universe. This of course is impossible: he himself is a PART of the universe, and any goal that he seeks, the universe is seeking, just in that part which happens to be him. It also follows that the universe is not indifferent, since its parts are not indifferent.

  5. In a similar way, people on LW talked about "resisting entropy" and supposedly resisting the "goals" of the universe. But again since people are part of the universe, they can resist it in no way: whatever they do, the universe does. And since they are physical parts of it, resisting entropy is impossible, since they will follow the second law of thermodynamics just like everything else. It is true that people occasionally lower the entropy of some things, but only by increasing the entropy of the whole system more than ever. In other words, far from resisting the universe's supposed goal of entropy, they themselves promote it by everything they do, since they are parts of the universe.

Evidence?

Principle of indifference. I see it very often in both and nothing has convinced me it is more prevalent in one place than in the other.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-15T15:22:16.698Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think you need to find yourself a better social circle.

I need to learn their language, the language of social power

Correct. However you need to know which language you are speaking at the moment and not allow yourself to get confused between the two.

We need Steve Harvey and Barack Obama and MLK and someone who can talk to anybody.

Who is "we" and what do you need them for?

comment by Bound_up · 2017-08-16T11:52:26.898Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That's my greatest fear about this.

We're all in our social bubbles, such that some of us don't know a single Young Earth Creationist or Trump fan (or hardly do), so we reject out of turn the idea that so many humans might work this way simply because the ones we hang out with don't.

I could find a better social circle; it sounds like you have, and I don't doubt it's more enjoyable for you. But, either way, let's not forget that the people we don't hang out with still exist, and there's a reason we don't enjoy hanging out with them as much as we do people like us. There's a reason they enjoy politics and partisanship and don't want to hear about your market functions unless what you really mean is how cool some group is.

And there's a reason they're the cool ones that wield all the power.

Humanity's current expenditure of resources is pathetically misaligned with its goals, and fixing that means power.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-16T15:18:52.766Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

some of us don't know a single Young Earth Creationist or Trump fan (or hardly do)

We might not know any personally, but the elven magic of the intertubes makes it easy to read what they say, both as thoughtful essays and as casual chat.

let's not forget that the people we don't hang out with still exist

Sure, but so what?

they're the cool ones that wield all the power

No, I don't think so.

An old EY post was recently mentioned here and there is a relevant quote in it:

One of the major surprises I received when I moved out of childhood into the real world, was the degree to which the world is stratified by genuine competence.

People who wield all the power can usually speak the social language, but those who merely speak that language do not wield the power. It's those who both can speak the language AND deal with reality that do.

Humanity's current expenditure of resources is pathetically misaligned with its goals, and fixing that means power.

I am not quite sure I will trust the rationalists to define the goals of the humanity. I am quite sure I will not trust them with enough power to upend the society to end this "pathetic misalignment".

comment by WalterL · 2017-08-15T15:13:18.818Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I generally agree with you in terms of diagnosis (people don't mean what they say, don't take your words to mean what they say, it is pointers all the way down), but I'm not sure I get exactly what you are recommending.

Like, Lesswrong is Animal Farm, where the nerds drove out the jocks (or rather, ran off and hid from them). Cool. And you are pointing out that we don't speak jock, and won't be able to communicate with surrounding farms. Cool.

So..what to do about that?.We need somebody to take levels in Jock to be our interpreter? Like, people can tell if you cross class, yeah? Like you said, the stench of nerd comes through a few minutes in. Anyone who is 'us' enough to understand us isn't 'them' enough to do the signalling dance well.

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-15T15:30:42.353Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Anyone who is 'us' enough to understand us isn't 'them' enough to do the signalling dance well.

Counterpoint from esr:

Once you realize this it’s easy to understand why the incidence of socially-inept nerdiness doesn’t peak at the extreme high end of the IQ bell curve, but rather in the gifted-to-low-end-genius region closer to the median. I had my nose memorably rubbed in this one time when I was a guest speaker at the Institute for Advanced Study. Afternoon tea was not a nerdfest; it was a roomful of people who are good at the social game because they are good at just about anything they choose to pay attention to and the monkey status grind just isn’t very difficult. Not compared to, say, solving tensor equations.

I recommend the whole post.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2017-08-16T07:35:29.406Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well that was one hell of a read. For some reason it reminded me of this old classic by Eliezer. Thanks for sharing.

comment by bogus · 2017-08-16T07:49:10.454Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another 'old classic' by esr, that's quite related to Eliezer's point.

comment by bogus · 2017-08-16T07:02:50.592Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suspect that the real skill is knowing when the mating^H^H^H^H^H^H signaling dance is worth the effort. Among your fellow geniuses at the IAS? That's a clear 'yes' even if emulating monkey-level neural circuitry does require some effort. In politically-relevant settings as mentioned in the OP? That's another 'yes'. However there are many, many environments where being the top monkey gives you nothing except more mediocrity!

comment by Lumifer · 2017-08-16T15:00:21.046Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

many environments where being the top monkey gives you nothing except more mediocrity

First, what's the alternative? Getting more mediocrity compared to getting nothing doesn't sound too horrible.

Second, your biological hardwiring will automatically provide some hedons just for being the top monkey, even if your minions aren't all that impressive.

comment by Bound_up · 2017-08-16T10:03:16.273Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Try for a while. You might be surprised how easy the game becomes once you explicitly understand the rules

comment by jmh · 2017-08-17T16:15:08.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Two thoughts -- one perhaps very trivial. 1) If you believe the statement about the market response to stupidity then you're you essentially attempting to supply a good with very little demand?

2) Maybe part of the issue is context -- whenever the average person talks about economics I think it's more in the political economy context, so perhaps inseparable from politics -- leading to the direct linkage between market outcomes and regulatory aspects (after all, even in a pure neoclassical analysis the underlying -- if generally unstated -- assumption is that a host of rules underly and define market actions, incentives and results).

Perhaps such a comment in a setting where the discussion is more about science or engineering, or even baking, assuming the comment fits in somehow, I would think the reaction might not immediately jump to that of a pro regulatory response.

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comment by cousin_it · 2017-08-15T12:54:35.618Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So my main problem is with the mood of your post, not its overt message. Maybe the best way to get it across is to explain what moods are.

People are always in some kind of mood. How do you feel, right here right now, behind the eyes? Is there a whiff of joy, or boredom, or resentment, or emptiness? What kind of emotional cocktail are you mixing in your head this moment, and offering it for others to drink? Because it comes across.

We as nerds have trained ourselves to disregard moods in favor of facts. To accept the truth no matter how it makes you feel, and therefore ignore how you feel. Over time we can even learn to be depressed without realizing it! Few of us notice our own current flavor, much less use it in decision-making or change it consciously.

Think of a naturally happy person you know, someone who's a joy to be with. What you're feeling isn't some innate property of that person. It's just the flavor of the drink they carry in their head, maybe some kind of sparkly. It comes across no matter what they say or do. Maybe you've had such moments yourself, and then forgot!

Now come back to your post and reread it. It's a reflection of your emotional state at the time of writing. Is that state good and worth sharing with the world? Or is it more of a bitter frustration that wants to stop itself, replace itself with something happier? If so, why share it at all? It's not the whole of you, it's just a drink that you don't even like. Focus on the space behind your eyes... notice the flavor... and imagine a different flavor in its place, one you'd want to enjoy and spread.

comment by JEB_4_PREZ_2016 · 2017-08-15T10:54:08.704Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm enjoying these posts. Each time it's another red pill. Well done!

comment by bogus · 2017-08-16T06:41:06.222Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree. I also like your username!