Duncan Sabien: "In Defense of Punch Bug"

post by Davis_Kingsley · 2018-05-03T08:26:30.641Z · LW · GW · 187 comments

This is a link post for https://medium.com/@ThingMaker/in-defense-of-punch-bug-68fcec56cd6b

Cool new post from Duncan Sabien (formerly active here under that name and Conor_Moreton).


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Zvi · 2018-05-03T19:27:19.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Duncan, if you do still come here on occasion, thank you for a careful attempt at expressing a potentially risky opinion on a potentially risky subject.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-03T21:03:08.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just wanted to chime in with "same".

comment by Zvi · 2018-05-03T19:25:00.886Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Typical mind spot-check: If I saw the comment from D to C of "ugg, X in my feed" I would consider this (effectively) a request to not post Xs at all (especially when it comes from a housemate!), or at least a note that it causes substantial disutility to be considered. That's a pretty strong negative signal. When C says they'll stop Xing, and D responds "I didn't mean for that to happen, you're overreacting!" it feels disingenuous at best. D made the mistake slash did the thing slash owns the thing, not C, so if D didn't mean that, D should say "I'm sorry, I came on way too strong, you don't need to do that." Yet Duncan seems to treat this as, if anything, C over/strongly reacting.

What do others think of this?

Replies from: Raemon, Sniffnoy, cata, query, tcheasdfjkl
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-04T04:12:20.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mention with some carefulness (since it brings _another_ dimension of political pendulum swinging for people to have strong opinions about), that, in particular, "ugh, X, dead animals in my feed" pattern matches pretty explicitly to a particular vegan social move that's clearly designed to convince people to stop posting about dead animals.

comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-04T04:01:37.097Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed; if I were just annoyed about this but didn't want the person to stop, I would certainly not post something like that. I think D is not expressing themself clearly in that example.

(Note that to my mind, the appropriate reaction for D in such a case is to hide the post.)

comment by cata · 2018-05-04T07:06:02.377Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought just the same as you. It's extremely confusing to me that D would say "ugh" and then be unhappy when C changes their behavior. I didn't know this was a way people felt.

That said, I don't interpret "ugh" as a very strong comment. I wouldn't bother thinking to change my behavior because one person said "ugh."

comment by query · 2018-05-03T22:39:31.399Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feel similarly; since Facebook comments are a matter of public record, disputes and complaints on them are fully public and can have high social costs if unaddressed. I would not be worried about it in a small group chat among close friends.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-05-19T04:34:29.613Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, agree.

And to be clear I have absolutely had interactions where I was basically in D's situation where I express a mild annoyance that I don't mean to be taken very seriously, and then someone takes it way more seriously than I wanted them to, and I do find this extremely frustrating. But in this situation I don't see how C could possibly have interpreted it differently!

comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-04T04:18:37.409Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hoo boy, I have a number of things to say on this.

First, to get this out of the way, I fricking hate punch bug. That would definitely not have been my choice of example, that's for sure. But, we can substitute in similar things that don't involve, you know, literally punching people. Other, lesser, sorts of unannounced roughhousing, say. At the very least, I want to assert "The rule 'never touch anyone without asking' is not workable" as a sort of minimal example.

But none of that is the real point, and I think is a post that gets at a lot of important things. I do worry that it's conflating some things, but, oh well, we can peel these apart later.

My comments, from smallest / least related to largest / most core:

  1. It is useful to be able to express weak preferences and have them treated as weak preferences. I notice I can't do this with some people -- any expressed preference is treated as a strong preference, so instead of just being able to say "weak preference in favor of X", you have to judge for yourself whether to mention X at all. That said, it's not clear to me that this is in general necessarily due to "social ownership of the micro"; perhaps that's one thing that can cause it, but that does not at all seem to be the only context this comes up in. Also seeing how "social ownership of the micro" seems to go together with "being explicit about things", stating explicitly "weak preference" seems like it would avert much of the problem here. But yes it is useful to recognize that not every stated preference is a strong preference even if "weak preference" is not explicitly stated.

  2. I want to expand on one point in there -- there's this idea out there that, when judging what's socially OK and what's not, the only two options are "judge by your actual effects on people" or "judge by your intentions". These are not the only options! "Judge against an agreed-upon standard of reasonableness" is also absolutely an option and has a lot of advantages. (I mean ultimately you have to go by consequences, but always trying to avoid any negative effects on people results in, well, the pathologies that Duncan describes.)

  3. ...you know what, I'll put the rest of what I have to say in a separate reply comment, because this could get long and also touchy, and it probably deserves its own comment...

Replies from: Sniffnoy
comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-04T05:47:18.727Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, um, OK, time to step in it. Hoping this doesn't count as a "hot-button political issue". This is going to echo some things I've said over in the comments at Thing of Things, but I'm not going to go digging for those links right now...

It seems to me that some of what Duncan describes here is closely related to that infamous problem which led to such writings as Scott's old "Meditations" series, Scott Aaronson's "comment 171", etc. It's not so much a matter of "social ownership of the micro", but rather micro-vs-macro interpretations of certain instructions. Let's consider the situation in Vignette #1. In it, Alexis and Blake both correctly observe that how you ask a person about something may, at a micro level, affect how comfortable they feel with the possible responses to it.

(This may be a different sense of "micro". After all -- if this micro-emotional effect affects their actual decision, it then necessarily has macro effects! Which is to say, our brains' all-or-nothing decision systems can take the micro and amplify it. The "micro" here isn't so much in terms of results but in terms of the fact that what things hinge on here is, things that are small. The details of how a request is phrased or the tone it's presented in.)

So, if a person X reads writings -- written by people thinking in macro terms, or who don't recognize that these micro-influences exist -- about how it is wrong to ever pressure anyone, but interprets them in a micro manner... yeah. You see how it goes. That's not a matter of "social ownership of the micro", but it is a matter of recognizing the micro and considering it as morally relevant and attempting to account for it.

Let me step away from this narrow and hopefully not too hot-button point to make a broader one: We need what I'll call "a theory of legitimate influence"; I think the lack of one is a big part of where Alexis/Blake situations (or the more controversial one I just mentioned) come from. (What do I mean by "we"? Um. I dunno. People. I dunno.)

What do I mean by a "theory of legitimate influence"? Well, let me start by presenting three examples:

  1. "Classical liberal" theory of legitimate influence -- People are more or less rational agents who can be trusted to act in their own interests. So force, coercion, and lying to people to get them to do what you want are wrong, but basically anything else is OK; so long as you're honest and don't use force it's not like you'll thereby get people to do things they don't want to do.

  2. "Nerd" theory of legitimate influence -- People are kind of like rational agents, but can be biased by all sorts of arational considerations. So, influencing people via reasoned argument is OK, as you're just helping them by providing them with good reasoning, but attempting to influence them by other, necessarily arational means is wrong.

  3. "Sociopathic" theory of legitimate influence -- Other people don't really have preferences, or to the extent they do they don't matter; do anything you want.

The thing here is that I don't think any of these three theories are tenable. #3 is blatantly immoral. #1 is better but fails to rule illegitimate things such as, say, badgering a person -- no, it's not using violence or threats or lying, but it's still wrong. Meanwhile #2 makes the opposite mistake -- it's impossible not to influence people arationally, every interaction you have with other people is full of such things, so to take this seriously leads to total paralysis.

(And to be clear I am not in any way restricting this to the sorts of situations I initially implicitly mentioned at the top here -- this is a generic phenomenon, one that comes up in any request or offer or attempt to organize people to do something. That said, it obviously has an especial relevance to such situations, because clearly being charming -- which is a thing that one does that influences other people's responses! -- should be considered legitimate influence, it would seem.)

So, by a "theory of legitimate influence", I mean a theory of which ways of influencing other people are -- without having to do constant consequentialist reasoning -- morally permissible (reasoned argument: definitely OK) and which are not (death threats: definitely not OK).

And I think in order to develop one that works, there are several insights one needs to take into account, that commonly expressed ones don't. A few I can think of:

  1. Once you go micro enough, once you get to the level where people can be influenced, you hit the problem that at such a level there often isn't really such a thing as preexisting un-influenced preferences. If your theory assumes people always have definite preferences, or says that doing anything that shapes other people's preferences is wrong, it's not going to work.

  2. On the other hand, to state the obvious, sometimes people really do act like agents and have actual preferences -- on the larger scale this approximation definitely holds -- and if you ignore this then you also will have a problem. (I mean, duh, but worth restating in light of #1.)

  3. An important factor that doesn't seem to go much remarked upon, but which to my mind is crucial, is, well, how the person being influenced feels about it! That is to say: There are forms of influence that feel like another person imposing their will upon you, and there are those that make you more likely to do something but just... don't. Ego-dystonic vs ego-syntonic influence, one might call it. To my mind this is really morally relevant, not just in the heuristic sense I'm mostly talking about but also in a more direct consequentialist sense. But it seems like commonly-expressed theories of influence don't really take any notice of this, even as the people expressing those theories don't in fact condemn ego-syntonic influence as their explicitly stated theories make it seem like they would; they just seem to fail to recognize such things as influence at all, as if of course the way the request was phrased had no effect on their response because they had a fixed preexisting preference, duh. (Important note: Getting someone else to internalize some burdensome moral obligation that they feel terrible about and can't actually enact and have to doublethink around is also not OK, just in case that was not clear! This doesn't really fit cleanly into either of the two categories above -- the obligation isn't exactly external, no, but it still feels bad -- it's its own third thing; but morally it's clearly on the bad side of the line.)

  4. Maximizing autonomy -- maximizing the ability of the person you're talking to both to say "yes", and to say "no", and to say "I reject the question" -- may not always be possible. Ideally you could accomplish all of these simultaneously, but in reality they often trade off against one another. At a macro level, if you don't sweat the micro, you can of course accomplish all three, by just, you know, not putting people under horrible pressure or anything, and also explicitly noting the "I reject the question" option, which people often have a hard time coming up with for themselves. But if you care about the micro level, well, a that level there will likely be a tradeoff, and if you don't account for that or just refuse to make any tradeoffs, you may encounter a problem.

I don't know -- it's possible I just have less definite preferences / am more influenceable than other people and so think of this as more important; e.g. in previous discussions over at Thing of Things, Nita responded to my comments on the matter with, no, I really do have definite fixed preferences, none of this applies to me. So, IDK, typical mind fallacy very possible here. But, I think this is important, I think this is worth pointing out.

Replies from: Nick_Tarleton, Hazard, Benquo
comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2018-05-06T23:26:04.312Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

IMO, the "legitimate influence" part of this comment is important and good enough to be a top-level post.

Replies from: Sniffnoy
comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-08T03:47:15.030Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK, give me some time and maybe I'll post it, expanded with some related notions that are less relevant to the original context but which I think are worth writing about...

comment by Hazard · 2018-05-05T01:40:56.017Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to second the need for a Theory of Legitimate Influence. Well, maybe not a need, but I certainly would like to think more clearly in that space. I think I've gone back and forth on this a lot.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-16T16:39:07.701Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is really good and important, but I think you're making the problem too hard by thinking about universal rather than local norms.

Institutions that can produce interesting long-run technological improvements have to be optimizing for building shared maps, not exploiting existing maps for local efficiencies in ways that erode those maps. A norm that this is the legitimate incentive gradient to follow within such institutions - and that more generally creating shared capacity is more interesting than reallocating existing capacity - is the generator of the different legitimate influence ideologies you mentioned.

Such institutions are necessarily exclusive, at least for now. We shouldn't try to have accountable standards for this that we can apply to everyone - we have to actually use our judgment about who's trying and exclude those who aren't. Institutions like this do well if they learn to recognize and cooperate with other institutions creating surplus, even if their methods and internal norms are different - this normset scales up gracefully because you're generally happy if other people are also creating surplus value. Such communities can then coordinate in conflict or cooperation with other institutions that don't create surplus, depending on which stance is advantageous.

If you have closed systems for having these nice things, you don't have to remake norms everywhere to have nice things in your community. You definitely don't have to make war on people who don't want these nice things and demand they adopt your standards.

Replies from: Sniffnoy
comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-17T03:03:25.874Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So, I don't actually understand most of this comment. So, one thing at a time here...

This is really good and important, but I think you're making the problem too hard by thinking about universal rather than local norms.

Well, I'd just say I failed to specify that these might just be local norms, but sure, that's a good point -- local norms vary. E.g. I've noticed people in the LWsphere writing about how asking twice about something might be considered pressuring, whereas to my mind asking twice is completely ordinary and it's asking three times that's over the line. But yes we have to account for the fact that there's not necessarily going to be one universally applicable "theory of legitimate influence", except possibly at a high level that's not directly applicable.

Institutions that can produce interesting long-run technological improvements have to be optimizing for building shared maps, not exploiting existing maps for local efficiencies in ways that erode those maps.

OK, I don't understand what you're saying here, or at least not how it's relevant. Could you give an example?

A norm that this is the legitimate incentive gradient to follow within such institutions - and that more generally creating shared capacity is more interesting than reallocating existing capacity - is the generator of the different legitimate influence ideologies you mentioned.

I don't really understand what you're saying here and to the extent that I do I find the claim confusing. Again, could you give examples of how this might occur?

For an example of why -- like, I'd say that the "nerd" theory here arises from bad observation. It's not something people actually follow, because that's impossible, though they might sometimes try. Basically, the question of legitimate influence is one of those social micro-things that ordinary people just can't really talk about because their common sense gets in the way; theories of legitimate influence are mostly left implicit. Attempts to make them explicit get filtered through the lens of common sense, yielding instructions that are untenable if taken literally... though nerds will try all the same. (E.g. a common thing I've seen recently is explicitly stating #1, but implicitly redefining "coercion" as needed to mean whatever you need it to mean. Common sense allows statement to diverge from practice heavily.)

In short #1 and #2 above were meant to be examples of theories that people state, not that people follow.

If you have closed systems for having these nice things, you don't have to remake norms everywhere to have nice things in your community.

Indeed! But I think the important thing to recognize here is that I'm (mostly) not talking about remaking norms at all. When I say "we need a theory of legitimate influence", I (mostly) mean "We need to learn how to make explicit the norms that we're already following". Or perhaps I should say the norms that normal people are already following. :P Once we understand that, then perhaps we can begin to adjust them, if adjustments are needed. Trying to do things the other way around -- starting from reasoned-out theories, then trying to practice them -- just leads to untenable theories like the nerd theory.

You definitely don't have to make war on people who don't want these nice things and demand they adopt your standards.

I... never suggested that?

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-17T05:23:59.206Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think I totally failed to communicate to you what I was trying to say, so I'm gonna try saying it a different way instead of responding on the object level to your questions.

It seems like you're trying to do something sort of like derive object-level life guidance from the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative actually doesn't have enough content to do that. It's a constraint on moral systems, not a sufficient basis for one. In particular, there's a bunch of contextual information it doesn't include. So you end up shifting the burden of sensitivity to context to the individual, in a way that's not actually sustainable, and for related reasons, very difficult to formalize. Another way of saying this is that it seems like you're committing something sort of like a Geek Social Fallacy, assuming that no good community should reject anyone who's a good member of some good community.

What I'm proposing as an alternative, is a way to define the attributes of a class of desirable norms, as a generalization on the desiderate you seem to be optimizing for. I tried to explain the class of norm I mean in the humility argument for honesty and against neglectedness considerations.

Different well-intentioned institutions will try different sets of norms within this class. Each particular institution will have object-level standards suitable for some ways of life but not for others. As long as these different institutions can coexist, it's not all that bad that some of them reject people who would make perfectly good members of other institutions, or punish behavior that is not intrinsically wrong, or accept people or behaviors that would be perceived as damaging elsewhere.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-17T22:12:34.791Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
It seems like you're trying to do something sort of like derive object-level life guidance from the Categorical Imperative.

Could you say more about what gives you this impression?

(It seems like you're trying to offer a correction to or refinement of Sniffnoy's post. But I'm having trouble making sense of it, I think because I don't yet understand the problem that you're pointing out. I suspect Sniffnoy might be in the same position.)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-18T04:30:10.243Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Things like this seem like they're infinitely recursive:

An important factor that doesn't seem to go much remarked upon, but which to my mind is crucial, is, well, how the person being influenced feels about it!

How the person feels about it is of course a function of what the existing norms of interaction are. But Sniffnoy is trying to define a norm that takes how the other person feels into account. This seems like the kind of generalization you get if you aren't willing to use concepts like "local norms" as an intermediate abstraction.

If you are willing to use that abstraction, then the thing is to start thinking about whether they're unjust enough to rebel against, or just enough to cooperate with, or something else. This heuristic should satisfy the Categorical Imperative, but there's a range of local norms that can be just, and a different range that are unjust, such that the object-level correct decision in an otherwise identical interaction will often be different depending on context.

Replies from: Sniffnoy
comment by Sniffnoy · 2018-05-18T05:22:16.908Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm very confused how the categorical imperative is supposed to be relevant here. I don't see how the bit you've highlighted relates to it at all.

I think you've misread what I'm saying. I am not trying to define that as a norm. I am pointing it out as an important consideration, not a definition.

More generally, I'm not trying to define anything as a norm. As I stated above, what I'm trying to do is not define new norms -- certainly not from any sort of first principles -- but to make some tiny initial progress towards making explicit the norms that already exist. Which, as you say, vary, but I can at least speak to what I've seen. The numbered points above are, as I said, considerations that I think need to be accounted for, and I think failing to account for those points is a big reason previous attempts have failed and ended up somewhere near "classical liberal" or "nerd", neither of which is at all close to the actual norms anywhere.

comment by moridinamael · 2018-05-03T16:02:40.974Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A: (punches B) Slug bug!

B: (immediately punches A back, roughly equally hard)

A: Hey! You don't get to hit me back. That's the rules.

B: I understand. However, I was actually playing Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. And so were you, by the way. Furthermore, I wasn't aware that we were playing Slug Bug, so my prior has to be that you were actually just demonstrating or testing your physical dominance over me.

A: We're friends! We've known each other for forty years! You're godfather to my children! I'm married to your sister! Why would I be demonstrating physical dominance over you?

B: I guess this is one of those better-safe-than-sorry situations. I actually do trust you to lay down your life for mine, but I don't trust you to perfectly and continuously control your human status impulses. You stepped over a line, I checked you on it. Now we can proceed with neither of us wondering if that punch had any hidden implications to our relationship. By the way, now that you've announced we're playing Slug Bug, I'm game for it.

A: But I wasn't playing this "status-regulation-prisoner's-dilemma" that you're describing, I was playing Slug Bug. Under my rules, I should just punch you a second time!

B: Do what you must. Be aware that I will just punch you back, again.

A: You're so insecure! I bodily carried you through a minefield and on a separate occasion threw myself onto a grenade to save you.

B: I consider the fact that you obviously love and cherish me to be completely separate from the issue of instinctive dominance and status behavior. Put it this way: if you expect the dynamics our relationship, and its base of sacred trust, to permit you to punch me for no apparent reason, then you must symmetrically expect our relationship to permit me applying a very mild, exactly proportionate corrective measure. In fact, I'm far more concerned that you're surprised and angry that I punched you back, than I was concerned that you punched me in the first place. Your concern implies that you did assume an asymmetry in our positions. I'll put it even more clearly: You can't punch somebody, expect them not to make a big deal of it, and then proceed to make a big deal of it when they punch you, regardless of what game you think you're playing in your own mind.

A: (punches B) Slug bug! You weren't paying attention.

B: Dammit.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2018-05-03T16:20:57.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this essay has interesting insights, but I am left disturbed by something that is not made entirely clear. In Sabien's ideal world, am I allowed to opt out of the game of "punch bag"? Because, although it is the first time I hear about this game, I already hate it. Not in the "this is wrong for complicated social, political and/or ethical reasons" sort of way, but in the "I personally find it very annoying, gross and unpleasant" sort of way.

So, if Sabien proposes a world in which one cannot opt out of "punch bag" (and if so, the same probably applies to many other things I would want to opt out of), then I really don't want to live in that world. Speaking of pendulums that swing too far, maybe we can have a world where people don't do the "social ownership of the micro" thing, but also where personal freedom and autonomy is respected?

Replies from: Zvi, aaron-teetor, norswap
comment by Zvi · 2018-05-03T19:05:09.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like that was what school was like for many, and this certainly rings true given my school experiences - if you're in school, then you're physically forced into proximity with people who will punch you whenever they feel like it, and it's supposed to teach you an important lesson, or something. Duncan seems unsure whether we have too little of this, or too much.

Note that he says if you tell them you're not playing, they respond "It sure looks like you're playing, you're not punching me back." Which I think (at least, unless you can call in Reasonable Authority Figure and have them be punished appropriately without becoming a pariah, but actually even then) makes it a moral obligation to punch them. As hard as you can. Right in the face. And ideally then walk away, silently.

So, yeah, not being able to opt out of that seems pretty terrible. I think there's a lot of value in playing such a game, especially that it forces you to pay attention to the world around you and also to make it clear that the occasional punch/whatever really isn't a big deal, on an easy-to-actually-get level. Plus, it's just fun. I think I cried tears of joy during the preview for the movie Tag. But the idea of not even being allowed to opt out of it seems pretty terrible.

And I hereby opt into the game with Duncan and only Duncan. Cause otherwise it's a asymmetric pickoff, plus I don't know how to punch well.

Replies from: plct
comment by plct · 2018-05-16T21:50:52.322Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Note that he says if you tell them you're not playing, they respond "It sure looks like you're playing, you're not punching me back." Which I think (at least, unless you can call in Reasonable Authority Figure and have them be punished appropriately without becoming a pariah, but actually even then) makes it a moral obligation to punch them. As hard as you can. Right in the face. And ideally then walk away, silently.

My intuition is that that's neither the moral obligation, nor an effective way to resolve the issue - I would guess that the right thing to do would be to punch back, but roughly in kind (with regard to power and location).

In the case of a "gentle tap", as Duncan describes it, I guess I would probably tend towards verbal rebuke, escalating to a mild punch if they gave me shit over it? Can't say for certain, and context matters, but it feels consistent with my behavior as an adolescent in these sorts of situations. He holds that this can get you ostracized hard, but the world's a big pond, and it doesn't really match my life experience, so I'm tentatively not buying that claim.

Escalating what is meant as relatively playful or mild violence to actual violence is probably not moral under most common belief systems, and is likely to make enemies where you could have asserted yourself at less cost.

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2018-05-21T14:21:19.872Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed that you shouldn't escalate violence in response to violence - punching them back roughly 10% less hard than they punched you (since aiming at this will make you get it right) is the right response at that point. The not-playing-around sucker punch is the response to their statement that you not punching them back is you playing the game.

comment by tinyanon (aaron-teetor) · 2018-05-03T18:58:34.052Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's more about situations that have insufficient information. The initial example has him being called "rapey" for a light tap on a friends shoulder for the first time. It's different if he were to slug them hard and it's different if the recipient already expressed they aren't interested. But if the first time someone taps their friend on their shoulder is compared to actual rape in any way then we clearly need to reevaluate something.

A bit about my history that colors this - I grew up being taught in a way that I thought going up to someone, especially a woman, introducing myself, and extending my hand for a handshake was vaguely rapey. People with different experiences than mine may find the article a lot less important than I do. In my personal pendulum swing I still avoid punch buggy like things towards people who have said no to them but am a lot more open to trying it for the first time with a new person who seems like the type who'd enjoy them.

comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T13:01:26.006Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My read it is that he mostly criticizes people who object to the game on ideological grounds. Typically, you wouldn't hit hard, it's a playful thing.

It's about making a big thing out of a small thing, when it would be equally easy (easier, ultimately) to ignore it and play along.

Now, surely we can imagine an abusive scenario. What to do? I think it requires social finesse. Either you're being hit too hard and you think you have a good case to be made for that. You just say: you hit me too hard, stop doing it. That might work. But maybe the person thinks you're objecting on unreasonable ideological ground, or maybe he's just a jerk. Then don't mount your high horses, just punch them back.

If I could give advice to my younger self, one of the most important one would be: throw a few punches. I was never bullied, but people did give me a lot of flack because I was a good students (and with hindsight, there are other things I could have done to ease the situation, but I digress). I should have punched one or two students who gave me a hard time. Even if I ultimately got beaten. The point is to send a signal that messing with you is costly, it has consequences. It's not a matter of debate.

comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-05-19T06:37:45.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Having finally read this - here are things I agree with:

  • there is such a thing as too much attention paid to small harms, and this can trap people in increasingly convoluted rules aimed at preventing harms of a magnitude smaller than the harm caused by the convoluted rules themselves; arguably it's not even possible to prevent harms that small, and trying to do so is more harmful than just being okay with the notion that sometimes you may inevitably slightly harm someone you care about
  • this dynamic can break "we"-ness by creating a "fault" rather than "fault analysis" mindset -- but not necessarily just by creating an adversarial dynamic - it is just as bad, possibly worse, if the individuals place the fault on themselves. I've been in this situation where I want to be able to say "I find this thing that happened slightly unpleasant, and I want to tell you about that because I want you to know about my experiences, and maybe we can think about whether this is easily preventable in the future, but if it isn't that's really okay" and this gets taken as "I'm sorry for hurting you I will do better" which is not at all what I was trying to go for and which makes things worse for me
  • implicit disagreement about burden of proof breaks discourse in predictable ways, and it is better to make this disagreement explicit
  • different worlds
  • some of the pro-sensitivity people in the vignettes are unreasonable (most notably Alexis, Elliott, maybe Harley). in Alexis's case I even agree that the primary reason they are being unreasonable is because the possible harm is too small to matter
  • it is often a good change for some individuals to try and go about their lives paying less attention to whether they might accidentally make someone uncomfortable. it is a change I in particular have been trying to make, for one.


  • The reason Elliott is being unreasonable is primarily not because the effect of Finley taking off their shirt is too small to matter (though that's part of it), it's primarily because what the hell, Finley's body belongs to Finley and not to bystanders, Finley gets to choose what to do with it.
  • More broadly - this essay suffers from not having a concept of sovereignty, of what is YOURS. Your body is yours, so you should be able to choose whether you wear a shirt or not. -- BUT ALSO, your body is yours, so people shouldn't punch it unless they have good reason to believe you want them to. -- I just don't think these situations are really parallel, because to me the sovereignty question is huge. (and I say this as a more-or-less-utilitarian, even; I just think that in general people are happier with more sovereignty over their bodies.) -- Having to make sure you dress in a way that never upsets anybody is a huge burden. Having to make sure you never say something that accidentally makes someone uncomfortable is a huge burden too (though people should take this on to some extent, without going overboard). Having to just not punch people is not actually a huge burden.
  • The autistic meltdown is not micro what the hell. You mention that it is within the bounds of culturally accepted behavior, but... I don't see how that's particularly relevant to your point? You focus on "Kelly's objection is specifically to the disregard of autonomy, so they presumably would have objected even to a small disregard of autonomy, so this was a small objection" but in fact I do not think this was a small disregard of autonomy at all! You don't have to believe that five-year-olds should be able to make all choices autonomously to think that it's not a good idea to drag them into a thing they are incredibly distressed about! And I do think that incredibly distressing experience + being forced into a thing one doesn't want with no apparent weight put on one's preferences is a particularly bad combination.
  • I don't think I agree with you about the pendulum model being the way things usually go. Or rather, I think that with any new change for the better, some people will overapply it, but I don't think that's necessarily the dominant dynamic.
  • You're right that the people who most needed any given change are maybe not the best equipped to see when the change has gone too far or hurt someone - but neither are the people who didn't need the change well equipped to see whether the change has gone far enough to meet its goal. I don't really know if there are any individuals well positioned to see both - maybe people who are at the intersection of different competing needs, such that they personally have to be sensitive to the tradeoffs involved? But generally I think this needs to be a collaborative effort with input from people with different kinds of experiences - which I think is what you say too, I just think you're wrong to say that people most helped by the initial change are uniquely unsuited to see when it's gone far enough.
  • anyway I guess the gist is that I agree with you that there exists a threshold of magnitude of harm such that harms below that magnitude should be mostly disregarded because trying to account for them creates more harm than it prevents; however, I think I disagree with you pretty strongly about where the threshold should be, and also about what kinds of actions/behavior are and aren't reasonable to expect in the service of preventing harm.
Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-19T15:18:21.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with almost all of this, disagree with a couple of minor things, have some other comments, and overall think this is a good comment.

But—could you make your bulleted list into a numbered list? This will make it a lot easier to respond to individual points!

Replies from: tcheasdfjkl
comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-05-19T20:31:32.647Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I... don't want to for some reason, so I won't. (Possibly the reason is that I don't feel like my individual points are really important or distinct enough to merit being numbered? I do sometimes number my points for the specific reason you cite, it just doesn't feel correct here)

comment by cousin_it · 2018-05-05T22:14:05.340Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm firmly on the side of guess culture on this. If you're good enough at reading my nonverbal signals that you can punch me without making me feel defensive or creeped out, go for it. If you aren't good enough, you aren't good enough, and I won't hesitate to tell you as much.

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2018-05-21T14:23:22.686Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The question is, what accuracy rate is acceptable here? If being wrong and making someone feel defensive potentially could ruin your entire life then no one is good enough to do this even if they're 99% right. That seems quite bad. Whereas if you're only running 60%, you should probably just stop doing it without asking first.

comment by Zvi · 2018-05-03T19:07:03.629Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting side question to ponder, under various variations of the rules: in a world of Punch Bug, would you want to drive a bug?

comment by Dagon · 2018-05-03T19:48:52.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting, but not correct or helpful. Asymmetric games based on likely-unpleasant effects should simply always be opt-in. Circle game, arm cross, slug bug, are all common, and are all fine among friends who've agreed and find it helps them. They're never fine to start without a pretty strong signal that it's welcomed. Yes, this extends to catcalling and verbal slugging.

Replies from: norswap
comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T13:11:02.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's take the example of catcalling, because it's even more clear-cut than slug bug.

Ideally you're right. Pragmatically there is nothing you can do to stop catcalling on a big scale. Hence you're better off not letting it bother you rather than uselessly railing against it or letting it embitter you.

As for slug bug, it doesn't help anyone, it's just something people do for fun. You'd certainly never start slug bug by holding a conversation "oh, slug bug will help our feeling of cohension, let's play it". You just try it out. And then maybe someone says they don't like it. Then it's up to you and that's what the post discusses.

Replies from: Dagon
comment by Dagon · 2018-05-04T16:21:34.283Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For both cases, pragmatically the victims can't stop the instigators. Whether they're better off reacting strongly (over-reacting, in some views) or by accepting and ignoring is up for debate.

For slug-bug, the pattern of "just try it out" is very small harm, but harm nonetheless. This harm is even smaller, to the point that it may be worth it, among groups where casual semi-violence is already part of the fabric. I've removed myself from such groups as I identify them, so I'm not sure.

My "fuck that!" reaction to being hit as part of an unstated game is IMO a reasonable way to express that not only do I prefer not to participate, I want you to know and internalize that I want to be asked before being assumed to participate in such things.

Note that I _do_ participate in such games. My wife's family sometimes does this "draw an X on someone's arm and then (lightly) punch them". I can't tell exactly why, but when they're doing it and reminiscing about things, I join in. I've also been in semi-organized groups where a subset plays "the circle game", where if you can get someone to look at a circle you're making with your finger and thumb below the natural line of sight, you get to hit them. There was a weird "punch harder to show respect" thing that I didn't particularly like, but it was purely consensual and opt-in, with only people who'd drawn a circle on their badge participating.

Replies from: norswap
comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T21:12:10.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read your reactions as being completely in line with what Duncan describes in Part 5 (social ownership of the micro), and what would be interesting is how you react to his arguments.

Personally, I think magnitude matters. "Very small harm" (for slug bug, feels like an overstatement) does not warrant the reactions Duncan outlines. They are not born of any actual real-life impact, but of ideologically motivated grandstanding. To me, this signals you're going to be a very bothersome person to deal with, because you're going to see evil where there is none (or more accurately wrongdoing rather than evil). Duncan goes into great details about this - but essentially, I have no intention to cause harm (not even very small), but I can never be sure what might cause very small harm, and so this leads to paralysis. He says more smart things, like outrage giving power under this paradigm — an abuse I have witnessed quite a few times.

Frankly, even this conversation is ridiculous to an outside observer. The reactions Duncan gets even more so. Whatever harm slug bug might cause, I can guarantee that any ideological argument about slug bug is going to cause more. I am going to be wary of any person that is willing to make this trade-off, start an ideological argument on the hypothetical of very small harm. And at worse I will give them a wide berth, but some people get angry. And I think it's understandable. Making much ado about basically nothing is not a nice reaction. You're actually making a fuss (not something pleasant to be involved with) about something that doesn't actually do harm, but rather on the premise that it might. There is an underlying assumption of defending a general principle (e.g. refusal of participation in unstaged games), but again: magnitude matters. Enlisting someone into slug punch is not the same as enlisting them in a wrestling match, and no one is arguing that it is. I would have chalked that down to that oh-so-elusive common sense, but quite clearly that won't do.

Ultimately, Duncan does not argue people should *initiate* slug punch. Rather than if you're dragged into a game of slug punch, you should play along because not doing so will cause much more harm both to you and others. And it will lead to a toxic environment of outrage and blame-shifting without any kind of spontaneity.

Replies from: Dagon
comment by Dagon · 2018-05-05T01:36:13.596Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect Duncan (and you) never had the experience of such a game imposed on you where the instigator hit hard enough to cause pain, from an instigator who'd hit for other reasons in the past and could be expected to retaliate if the roles were reversed.

You're just not going to convince me that playful cover for hitting people out of the blue is OK. The conversation _is_ ridiculous, but not in the way you seem to think. I'm not saying it's the end of the world, or that people who try to spread this without permission are evil (or even that they have any bad intent whatever). I'm just saying there are a LOT of situations where it's hard to distinguish from other kinds of violent intimidation, especially when the direction is from the strong to the weak.

Replies from: vedrfolnir, norswap
comment by vedrfolnir · 2018-05-16T19:02:16.950Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
You're just not going to convince me that playful cover for hitting people out of the blue is OK.

Yes, that's the operative filter.

I have a pretty different class background from most LW posters (think "banlieue"), and "social ownership of the micro" reads to me like the fable of the princess and the pea. The egalitarianism of the lower classes is that, since not everyone can insist that the single pea be removed from under their twenty mattresses, no one is allowed to -- and instead, you're required to become the sort of person who doesn't even notice it.

Another operative factor is that the appearance of being useful if the shit hits the fan is a desirable trait. No one likes a weakling, and squeamishness at the sight of blood is decidedly uncool. But people also like people who are socially useful; and since you can tell she's a princess because she notices the pea, that pattern is countervailing.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-16T20:34:40.451Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I have a pretty different class background from most LW posters (think "banlieue")

For others who weren't familiar with the connotations of this word:

In France, a banlieue (French: [bɑ̃ljø]) is a suburb of a large city. [...] However, since the 1970s, banlieues increasingly means, in French of France, low-income housing projects (HLMs) in which mainly foreign immigrants and French of foreign descent reside, in what are often called poverty traps.

(If you just google it, the result that comes up says "suburb", so I thought it was worth calling out that an American-style wealthy or middle class suburb is not the right connotation.)

comment by norswap · 2018-05-05T10:54:05.603Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My point is that you need to set a line: if it's below the line, ignore it, if it's above the line, react. I said as much in a reply to another comment. If someone hits you in a way that is not okay, hit back.

Replies from: ialdabaoth, Dagon, CronoDAS, mr-hire
comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-05T12:26:53.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless they've already demonstrated a sufficient power differential that it's common knowledge that they get to do what they want and you can't object.

In which case, learn to submit.

Replies from: ialdabaoth
comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-05-13T19:46:24.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious why this is downvoted - if someone can legitimately dominate you, and you can't rally other resources to protect you from domination, how is learning to submit NOT the correct response?

comment by Dagon · 2018-05-17T22:56:34.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The OP was suggesting that you shouldn't set the line above slug-bug. If you do, the aggressor now gets to take offense and socially (or physically - if you "punch back", you've defected and are now fair game for retailiation) punish you for it.

It's a bad equilibrium and I won't support it. I don't often fight against it, but that's mostly because I no longer feel the helplessness and fear I sometimes did as a kid, and I feel bad when I see it and do nothing.

comment by CronoDAS · 2018-05-06T01:00:48.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If my wife hits me, should I hit her back?

Replies from: norswap
comment by norswap · 2018-05-12T21:55:48.677Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This feels like a not-completely-honest question. But here is my honest answer: "hit back" is a shorthand/metaphor for "react". It's an example with a very particular scenario in mind, but I'm sure you can generalize. Do something effective about it, the keyword to search for here is "domestic violence".

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2018-05-13T13:18:02.640Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This was not entirely a hypothetical question. My wife has attacked me several times. She hits me hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to injure. She had said several times that my refusal to fight back makes me less of a man and less attractive to her. The last time this happened, I did fight back, and she ended up with a nasty bruise on her stomach which was tender for days afterward. I also went to the local police station and filed a report, declining to press any charges. It has not happened since, although it could just be a matter of time.

(I am not the only person that my wife has attacked. She says that if she gets mad enough, she "blacks out" and can't remember what happens. Apparently, years ago, she went to the hospital to visit a close relative, only to be rudely told by a doctor "You can't go into that room, that person's dead." She doesn't remember what happened next, but supposedly she tried to strangle the doctor and had to be restrained by the people who went with her to the hospital.)

Replies from: sarahconstantin
comment by sarahconstantin · 2018-05-13T19:12:30.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is not normal behavior on her part. This is domestic violence. The standard advice is to leave people who hit you. Possibly after clearly stating that you are not okay with being hit and you will leave if it continues, and giving her a chance to change her ways. Maybe she should work with a professional to help with her anger problems. But there is a significant risk that a person who regularly attacks you will escalate.

comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2018-05-06T21:37:23.069Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the central question that Duncan is getting at in the article is where the line should be. Society is putting it more towards micro, Duncan thinks it's swung to far and wants to be towards macro. But it's clear that just saying "have a line" doesn't help with the dilemma very much (unless people don't have personal boundaries, in which case saying "Have a line" is definitely helpful advice).

Replies from: norswap
comment by norswap · 2018-05-12T21:57:56.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought the point was that people don't set a line in some cases. This leads to situation where something that doesn't actually bother people gets pushed back against based *on principle* only.

But it could very well be that you are right, or that we both are.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-16T00:34:38.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[Edited first paragraph to moderate tone]

I'm very worried about people unilaterally claiming the right to initiate physical violence against me with impunity. (It's additionally worrying when the occasion for this is being reminded of a prominent German brand; ironically, I have the exact same worry about the "punch Nazis" advocacy I was seeing on the internet a few months ago, given the general unwillingness to work out a legible standard by which Nazis might be identified.)

Asymmetric "no punch back" rules are special, and there's a long history of such things being used to build momentum towards mass murder. The Jewish holiday of Purim specifically commemorates the political maneuvering required to persuade the Great King of Persia to specifically disavow a "no punch back" rule implied by a prior edict authorizing a day of pogroms. The prior edict was not repealed, but the repeal of the "no punch back" rule was considered sufficient cause for repeating the celebration annually.

The casual acceptance and signal-boosting of posts like this is part of why I don't feel safe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rationalist community.

ETA: For the last sentence, read instead: The casual acceptance and signal-boosting of a post like this is a good example of why I don't feel safe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rationalist community.

[Mod Note by Raemon – I've responded to some additional concerns about this comment and others over here [LW(p) · GW(p)]]

Replies from: Raemon, Benito, Raemon, Zvi, Raemon, ESRogs
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T04:07:47.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m flagging individual comments that clearly violate norms with brief mod-notes, which link back to this comment.

Before I dive into them, I wanted to summarize my understanding of Benquo’s position, based on our conversation yesterday.

  • Ben’s epistemic state is that the Punch Bug article is advocating for a change with a decent chance of escalating into violence with serious consequences.
  • Most of his concern is not about what Duncan said or intended to say, but in what the likely consequences of it getting promoted are. One important consideration here is downstream effects as the message gets propagated and simplified by the sorts of people who don’t make serious efforts to interpret 14,000 word texts and retain their nuance.
  • Independent of whether Ben was right in his assessment of the chance of serious escalation, he considered important that, at least in principle, there could be posts on LessWrong advocating for things with dangerous downstream consequences, and we should be cognizant of how our discourse norms will affect our ability to talk about that.
  • Ben’s model of why and how the post is likely to lead to bad outcomes are informed by the mechanics of how anti-Jew pogroms (and Nazis in particular) have functioned. This is not a claim about the magnitude of how strong the concern is, but it is a claim about the nuances of the dynamics involved. (He specifically noted: it very much would not have made sense to compare it to other forms of escalating violence, genocide, etc, because the dynamics there are different).
  • Ben experienced a lot of frustration that it is difficult to communicate about this sort of claim without people assuming the claim is about magnitude. In particular, he wanted it recognized that if our discourse norms include “Nazis are special, and either can’t be used as examples or comparisons, at least without a lot of additional interpretive effort on the part of the commenter”, this is creating a world where specific classes of behavioral patterns are harder to talk about.
  • That all said, by the end of the conversation, Ben and I seemed mostly in agreement on most of the specific areas where I considered his points clearly over the line. (see next section).

Bright Lines

There are a few specific bright lines that Benquo crossed. I don’t think avoiding these specific issues would have been sufficient for this discussion to have gone well, but it’s easiest to start with the clearest issues:

  • Irrelevant, inflammatory points – In Ben’s original comment, while I was generally worried about casually invoking Nazis and pogroms for rhetorical emphasis, the “german car” quip seemed particularly unjustified. Maybe it was an important part of Ben’s thought process that helped him notice something subtle, but as an argument it was clearly irrelevant to the broader point – I doubt Ben’s concerns depend on whether kids had invented Punch Bug or Punch Ford.
  • Attributing words to Duncan that he didn’t say – It’s not okay to substitute different words with different connotations and then ascribe them to someone as if they’d made a different claim. It’s doubly not okay when the connotations are as intensely bad as “ghetto.”

    LessWrong does need to be the sort of place where, if you think someone is advocating for something with bad consequences, you are able to describe those consequences. But it is not okay to do that without clearly indicating that this is an inference you are making.

    I think this issue was exacerbated by an issue Duncan noted, of Ben pointing towards norms that are indeed good and valuable, without acknowledging that Ben had already violated them.
  • Ascribing “Violent Sadist” as a motivation – This comment had a number of things going wrong with it. First, it was worded in an inflammatory way that made the discussion more adversarial. Ben reworded the comment in an attempt to alleviate that. I don’t think he went far enough in the rewording. But mostly I think the comment has a deeper, underlying issue – a failure of some combination of charity, imagination, empathy, or curiosity.

    Said recently made some comments about penalizing “inner workings” rather than outward actions. I think there is something important to that – at the very least I think LW users (and mods) have a responsibility to be very careful with that sort of reasoning.

    In this case, I can lay down some concrete rules/policies – if you find yourself making guesses about the motivations of someone you’re debating, and your explanation is “violent sadism”, you have a responsibility to at least come up with one alternate explanation. A serious explanation, not “house elves are stealing our magic [LW · GW]”. (You should probably generally do this whenever someone advocates for something you find baffling)

    But this rule doesn’t really feel sufficient to me. It accounts for this particular failure mode, but doesn’t quite carve reality at the joints and prevent a broad class of related issues. And here we get into a bit less “bright line” territory.

    I have guesses about what inner-generator Ben was running here. In our in-person conversation we chatted a bit about it. While wearing my official moderator hat, what I feel comfortable saying is:

    There will be times when we see a user making a string of bad comments. We need to be able to both say “this is bad for this specific reasons”, and also “something about your inner generator that is producing these comments is reliably degrading LessWrong discourse, and it is your responsibility to figure out what, and do something differently.” It cannot always be the full responsibility of the LessWrong team to tell all commenters precisely what needs to change.

Importantly, I think that even if Ben had avoided the error modes listed above, there’s a good chance the conversation still might have deteriorated (perhaps creating an even harder moderating challenge, since instead of clear over-the-line comments to critique, there would have been a bunch of juuuuust under-the-line comments requiring difficult judgment calls).

I don’t have anything specific to say here, other than “in a thread like this (where the primary discussion is about shifting social consensus), I think it’s important for everyone to spend more than what-feels-like-their-fair-share of charity and interpretive effort, because otherwise things tend to slowly escalate.”

Towards Clearer Policies

We had considered straight-up deleting some of Benquo’s comments a week ago. We didn’t end up doing so. I don’t think we had principled reasoning one way or the other, but my own post-facto introspection is that, at least for myself, it felt like most ways we could intervene had a strong chance of making things worse. It felt important to talk to Ben in person, and in general take the time to think and gather information before taking much explicit action.

There are certain moderation tools that would have made this easier to handle – I think we probably should have locked the entire thread after our initial warning and Ben’s subsequent reply, until we’d had a chance to talk in person.

I am embarrassed to note that I explicitly considered and discarded the idea that we could manually lock replies on each individual comment (since we do have the tool to do that), which would have taken maybe 10 minutes of effort, and my brain just straight up slided off that because it felt silly to spend 10 minutes doing a thing that I could envision how to automate.

There were a few other actions we could have taken with minimal effort that would have made this experience much less stressful for everyone involved without making major tradeoffs, and all I have to say is that none of us thought of them. In some cases I notice specific biases that led to us not thinking of it, in other cases it was just a matter of “this is a high dimensional problem space that we were not very experienced in – we had not yet formed good models of it to make thinking about it easier.”

Over the past week we’ve collectively spent a couple dozen hours thinking about both this specific discussion, and moderation in general. I don’t think our next major moderation crisis will be anywhere near perfect, but I do expect us to be better at noticing quick, low-cost actions we can take to communicate better and keep the situation from escalating.

I also expect that at least for situation similar to those we’ve faced before, we’ll be able to act faster.

Explicit Warnings

With all that in mind, specific mod notices for Ben.

  • For blatant violations of the type described above, we’ll be aiming to quickly flag comments that are crossing the line. Depending on circumstances, we may delete comments that cross the line, with an explanation of why (note: our delete button sends the user a PM containing the text of the comment, so the content isn’t lost)
  • In the future, in discussions where you notice yourself tempted to make comments similar the ones we’re flagging here, I ask that you put a lot more effort into ensuring the comments are high quality. This is important both for avoiding the explicit bright lines as well as grey-area-just-under-the-line comments.

    Yes, this is a cost that makes certain kinds of conversations harder. And we should be cognizant of that. But my current take is that this is just a necessary cost we have to pay.
  • I’m fairly confident, based on extended conversations I’ve had with Ben over the years as well as the one last night, that the situation won’t escalate past the point of periodic warnings. I disagree with Ben on some important object level (and meta level) things, but I trust Ben’s underlying goals, principles and error-correction algorithms to be aligned with LessWrong’s overall mission.

    But because we do need legibly clear rules, it’s important to note that if this sort of discussion became a pattern, we would follow a policy of “warnings of increasing severity and publicity, followed by escalating temp bans.”
Replies from: Raemon, Benquo, Benquo, SaidAchmiz
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T04:08:32.469Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also want to note what I think is the biggest, most obvious mistake I made here. When I wrote the initial comment criticizing Benquo, I went through several drafts. Some of them focused more on specific examples of why I thought the comment was unacceptable and where it crossed the line. Other drafts focused on an overall lack-of-charity, in a discussion where charity was crucial.

Those drafts felt long/meandering/hard-to-parse, and after a couple hours I said “gah, fuck it, ship it”, and then while in fuck-it-ship-it mode, deleted a couple paragraphs in an attempt for brevity. In the process, I gutted the actual core point, leaving a pretty superficial criticism about “don’t literally invoke Nazism please.”

I think this was the point where making slightly different choices with a clearer head could have had a huge impact on the overall frame of the conversation.

Then I didn’t really re-examine the comment until a few days later. And at that point, it had seemed to me that it made more sense to wait till I’d talked to Ben, and then write a more thorough comment that fully addressed everything. I still wasn’t modeling costs to Duncan, and didn’t fully understand that until the point where Duncan called them out explicitly.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T16:02:48.631Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're saying that I generated not only a wrong but an unreasonably wrong hypothesis, implying that it's on the level of "house elves are stealing our magic." I'd like you to say exactly what you think that hypothesis was, because it's entirely unclear to me.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T17:03:15.910Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, sorry – I was saying something slightly different:

I'm not sure if I think "people enjoy X because violent sadism" is a reasonable hypothesis or not. I brought up house-elves-steal-magic" to describe, not that hypothesis, but whatever second hypothesis you might generate.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T07:36:57.489Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree the "german car" bit was wrong, and I'm sorry I included it.

On the second and third points, I can see reasons to discourage how I said what I said regardless of what I meant by it, but dispute some of the characterization of my point of view in those comments.

The connotations in my head when I think "ghetto" are pretty mild. Maybe you're thinking specifically about the way they were used during WWII as staging areas for genocide, but they'd been around for hundreds of years before that & weren't really considered atrocities on their own, just ... places people lived, that helped keep a minority group visibly distinct. Ghettos aren't some sort of unspeakable horror, just an obviously dangerous precedent.

"Violent sadists" wasn't a good way to say it, but I still worry that you're not parsing the literal content of my words there. In the specific context of that comment, the hypothesis that my interlocutor thought everyone would derive some benefit from getting to punch others with impunity sometimes was a reasonable hypothesis to generate. I can see how the emotional valence of the term I used would make this hard to see, though.

On the other hand, the bullet points directly trying to describe my overall point of view seem like a basically fair summary. Thanks for doing that work.

Replies from: Raemon, Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T16:45:12.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Ghettos aren't some sort of unspeakable horror, just an obviously dangerous precedent.

I think this is a plausible interpretation of ghetto in-a-vacuum, but the associations with are strong enough that you basically can't bring up the world ghetto without going out of your way to disclaim that.

And if you're bringing it up as a description of someone else's words, I think you actually need to substitute the definition for word. For a more extreme but hopefully clear example: If you say about someone "I'm not saying they're going to put people in a literal nazi ghetto, I'm just saying <whatever you're actually saying>", one of the primary actions you're doing is associating them with the phrase "literal nazi ghetto", even if you specifically said you were not doing that, because that's how language and brains work.

In this particular case, I'm honestly a bit skeptical that you think the connotations of ghetto are mild – maybe they're mild in isolation, but your whole point was that this wouldn't remain in isolation (which is the exact reason why ghettos game to have their associations in the first place)

In general, I think a policy of "if you're going to bring up things associated with Nazi Germany, you are responsible for putting a much larger share of interpretive labor in, moreso than I usually think is necessary for an overton-window-fight.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T18:16:35.129Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This reads to me like a demand that I try to cooperate with attempts to prevent common knowledge of the likely bad consequences of policy proposals for me and people like me. Maybe that's not what you mean and you've thought through the relevant balance. If so, I'd like an account of that, or a clear description of what aspects of this you still consider unsolved problems / asymmetric burdens. The latter could be a comparatively easy way to remove some time pressure for the former.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T18:54:13.380Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This does not seem to follow from what I'm saying at all. (in particular, it seems extremely reasonable to me to not attribute words to other people that have different/stronger/worse connotations)

I'm asking you to cooperate with the general principle of building a conversational structure where we can actually talk about anything important, because if we do the thing you're doing here you don't get to have that.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T20:49:46.232Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm asking you, if you enforce a norm that there should be a very high burden of interpretive labor for using terms like "ghetto" in that way, to equally enforce a norm that there should be a very high burden for promoting proposals to create things that at all resemble ghettos, since the former norm makes those proposals substantially more difficult to criticize within the bounds of accepted discourse. Insofar as you're asking me not just to abstain from literally saying that Duncan's a Nazi or planning a genocide (I didn't, and as far as I can tell he's not), but from referring to structural similarities between his comparatively mild proposal and some things widely acknowledged to be bad, it seems like there should be a similarly sized avoidance zone around proposals like his, and unambiguously approving linkposts to such proposals.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T21:43:33.233Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have two responses, one very strong/confident, one less confident.

1) Strong/Confident – It is definitely not okay to attribute words to people they didn't say, in the first place. This is a fundamental cornerstone of How to Have Nice Things. The fact that I'm further increasing the burden for highly-charged rewordings doesn't seem like it should be coming into play here.

You literally said Duncan said people who didn't like punchbug could have a ghetto. He didn't say that. That isn't okay.

If someone is advocating for something that will lead to ghettos, the way to say that is "All the interpretations I can think of how to implement this sound like a ghetto." This does not seem at all like an unreasonable burden.

2) Weaker claim that I'm less certain of:

I think there is stronger pressure (on LW and elsewhere) not to say things that pattern-match to anything resembling abuse, than there is to not talk about Nazis. (Moreover, outside of LW, there is the reverse pattern – comparing people to Nazis is incentivized so badly that for LW to be different than mediocre internet discourse, it has to exert a strong counterpressure to be more cautious with it).

Meanwhile, the last two times Duncan attempted to say anything nuanced that vaguely pattern-matched to "thing that might possibly be dangerous", he got hounded with hateful internet rhetoric. Most of the the responses I've seen to Punch Bug have ranged from "this makes good points but I don't like Punch Bug" to "this seems abusive and bad." There might be possible worlds where this is risking escalating off a cliff, but this world doesn't seem to be one of them.

Yes, it is important that we build a place with rules that protect everyone. I think they are in fact protecting you. But people are always incentivized to notice the times when the system is imposing costs on them.

Replies from: Benquo, Raemon, Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T22:06:12.696Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You literally said Duncan said people who didn’t like punchbug could have a ghetto. He didn’t say that. That isn’t okay.

Thanks for making this clear and direct.

I characterized what I thought Duncan's words meant, in my own words.

The first time I did this I quoted the passage I thought implied this in the same comment. I don't think it's a plausible construal of this at all that Duncan had literally written the words not explicitly quoted, which were directly pointing to a following, overtly blockquoted, verbatim quote.

The other times I did this, on the same page (but sometimes not in the same thread), it's more plausible that a reader who hadn't carefully read the whole page could get that impression. But this is not the same thing as a literal assertion that Duncan had said that thing in those words.

Usually when person X writes "person Y said that Z", there is some ambiguity about whether Z is a quotation (exact or approximate) or a characterization in Y's own voice. I meant to say the latter, but I see how I was unclear in a way that let people wrongly infer the former. If anyone was genuinely misled by this, I'm sorry for my negligence.

Your specific proposal seems like a substantial improvement over the way I worded things, and I hope to meet that standard in the future. I think that I made an inadequate effort to distinguish between those two possible construals. But it's hard for me to engage with criticism that pretends that a case with genuine ambiguity is unambiguous.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2018-05-30T23:15:40.392Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems like a fair response in isolation; if the only thing were paraphrasing Duncan's suggestion as forming a ghetto, that seems plausibly acceptable. In particular, my understanding is that some school cafeterias are entirely peanut-free (including barring children from bringing products containing peanuts from home) in order to make the environment more safe for children with peanut allergies; a proposal to move from that environment to one in which there is simply a peanut-free section of the cafeteria could be said to be isolating those students with allergies. Calling that ghettoizing those children might be extreme (because of the difference in scale), but would be correct about the direction of the change (especially since it is 'for their protection,' which was originally true of many of the Jewish ghettos in Europe).

It seems to me like the primary question then is something like: "is enough of the original claim maintained that this summary seems fair, at least to an outside observer?" (The original author agreeing is probably too high a standard, as a summary that's harsh but fair is unlikely to be acknowledged as fair.) A paraphrase that loses too much in the way of nuance, or which ends up being too hostile or uncharitable, seems like it should call for some sort of criticism or correction. It's easiest to settle claims about whether or not direct quotes are accurate, but it's also important to be tracking whether summaries or interpretations are fair and sensible.

Furthermore, moderation often involves noticing patterns of behavior and responding to them as a whole, using particular pieces of behavior as examples and evidence rather than independent cases, so that a long sequences of small pieces of slack doesn't result in large amounts of unaccountability. In the context of the whole conversation, it seems difficult to separate the question of whether or not this paraphrase is fair or accurate from the question of whether or not a picture is being painted of Duncan as proto-Nazi in ways that are epistemically unsound. (That is, the Litany of Tarski applies here; if Duncan is actually a proto-Nazi, I desire to believe it, and if not, I want to not believe it, and that relies on having epistemic machinery that reliably points towards the truth.)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-31T06:46:08.529Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was specifically objecting to the details of Raemon's framing. I agree that in the context of the other things I said I should have been much more careful about the term "ghetto." I strongly agree that moderators should attend to things like this. Your explanation basically makes sense to me.

I'm very unhappy that this ended up in a place where "is Duncan a proto-Nazi?" is a plausible framing of the question. I'm going to put quite a bit of thought to whether there was a way to object to this clearly and vividly, in a way that didn't obscure the underlying threat model, without accidentally making it about Duncan personally.

Replies from: Raemon, Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-31T20:00:54.234Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[note: Somewhat off the cuff]

One important thing I notice, that I hadn't said, and I think would have been really helpful to figure-out-and-then-say-much-earlier:

If you find yourself wanting to communicate a concept that feels likely to get misinterpreted or escalate tensions in the conversation, I'd be very enthusiastic, both as a mod and as a person who knows Ben and thinks he's trying to do and say important, nuanced things, to try to help do that. (esp if we hash out some thoughts privately before you post publicly)

This is easier the earlier it is in the conversation. I think it'd have been better if we reached out in that frame about your initial comment here, and it'd have been better still if you'd noticed as you were writing the comment that it was the sort of thing likely to get misinterpreted, and (if we had an easy way to do so), reach out to us about how to approach the conversation.

i.e. I think this sort of conversation requires a lot more interpretive labor than normal, but I'm happy to help that. (With limited bandwidth I can't do this all the time, but it seems like a good approach insofar as we can, and worth prioritizing)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-06-01T09:24:12.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, good to have this offer :)

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-31T19:51:50.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I think there was something off about my framing, especially for a comment I was tagging as "high confidence." I basically endorse Vaniver's take here, and I think a more accurate and fair thing I would have said was:

1) I have strong sense, that I am quite confident is pointing at a real, important thing, that the ghetto comment was the sort of thing that reliably leads to a deteriorating discussion (and that this should be relatively common knowledge)

2) I had a moderate confidence that the shape-of-the-reason was close to the reason I gave (but, it did depend on context with other things), and I should have been some combination of "express less explicit confidence that I'm getting the details right" and "maybe orient more curiously about what some details/nuances were."

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T21:45:02.299Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Note: I am running low on bandwidth to talk about this particular issue. I'll respond up to 2 more times to clarify any remaining points)

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T22:19:56.168Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

On point 2, I think this is one of those cases where depending on your metric, there's a strong power gradient in one or the other direction.

On one hand, I agree that Duncan's faced a lot of often quite nasty criticism on the internet. While I haven't looked at the stuff on Tumblr, I'm ready to believe that a lot of it was terrible and unfair. There is also a lot of criticism in the comments to this linkpost, and not a lot of praise or agreement by volume.

On the other, Duncan's employed as an instructor at CFAR - an official representative of the community's rationality standards, insofar as there's any official apparatus at all - and the post was approvingly linked by another CFAR staff member.

Also, at the time of my initial comment, one of the top comments - maybe the most-upvoted at the time, not sure - was thanking Duncan for his bravery in writing this, with a response by a LessWrong moderator endorsing this. Other fairly central members of the Bay Area Rationalist and LessWrong communities participated in Dragon Army.

I agree that individuals' perceptions of costs are likely to be biased in the way you say. I'm not asking you to privilege my perspective here.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T17:17:15.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
the hypothesis that my interlocutor thought everyone would derive some benefit from getting to punch others with impunity sometimes was a reasonable hypothesis to generate.

So I think, from your epistemic state, that this is a plausible interpretation of what's going on (esp. because neither Duncan nor anyone else has actually given much account here of why Punch Bug might be fun). But yes, I'm pretty confident I understand what you're saying here, and think you're missing important stuff. (At the very least, enjoying violence isn't the only thing going on)

Some things that may or may not be going on with Punch Bug (I haven't actually formed a clear opinion on this and it is a a bit confusing so I'm sympathetic here) include:

  • competition – sports are often filled with pain, but the enjoyment is largely about physicality, competition, overcoming difficult obstacles. Something like boxing is explicitly about punching people, and I'm sure "enjoying punching" is part of that, but I bet the sort of person who likes that cares more about proving themselves against a live opponent.
  • part of the whole point here is that pain can be calibrated, and if you're calibrated to find a moderate punch to be something you can shrug off, that changes the nature of how you perceive it. Compare with verbal fencing – some people enjoy trading barbs/quips/trashtalk. And one thing that can happen with a clever insult is that people feel genuinely hurt/ashamed by it, but another thing that happen is that everyone involved is thinking something more like "ah, what clever competitive art we are engaging with."
  • I think part of the thing with roughhousing in general is just getting to touch other humans. (and if you're calibrated to the pain of a punch a la above, then you're mostly getting a particular flavor of the positive-aspects of that, rather than the negative.)

I'm not just worried about the emotional valence of violent sadist, but that those words, together, convey a clear(ish) connotation that goes beyond "person that enjoys inflicting pain."

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T18:24:10.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These all seem like things that would strongly favor games like "sometimes roughhouse with your friends with punchback allowed and sensitivity over repeated interactions to how people are feeling about the whole thing" over games like "punchbug". I'm justified in deprecating hypotheses somewhat that would predict different things than the ones that actually happened.

I'm definitely not claiming to not be missing important stuff. A more clearly grounded query would have been way better, of course, but as it turned out, generating more hypotheses about the appeal of punchbug would have been entirely beside the point, as the problem turned out to be that SilentCal thought I meant something much narrower by "asymmetric," which excluded formally symmetrical rules with disparate impact.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-06-02T20:14:03.061Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

note: our delete button sends the user a PM containing the text of the comment, so the content isn’t lost

FYI, I don’t think this feature actually works.

I see two PMs of the “Comment deleted…” type in my inbox. When I click on one, here is what I see:


(On GreaterWrong, I see something different; I have no idea whether these things are related.)

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-06-02T21:23:39.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hrmm. Well that definitely shouldn't happen. Browser and other specs?

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-06-02T21:45:52.753Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Same thing happens with Firefox 60.0.1 (same machine), and with Opera 49.0.2725.64 (also same machine).

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-05-21T22:55:05.327Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edit: Welp no, I wrote a silly comment. While I think that this comment points somewhat to why a certain subset of people find punch bug morally wrong, this is not responding to the OP well at all and does not describe it accurately. The OP is not about punch bug, it is about social ownership of the micro, and is only discussing that aspect of punch bug. I do not think physical dominance is at all what the post is about, and if there was a standard alternative to punch bug that involved no physical dominance then my model of Duncan would also use it in the post. My apologies to Duncan for writing a silly comment.


Thanks for this comment, it helped me understand the OP much better.

In particular, one of the significant aversions I have to punch bug is not that I get punched. It's that I remember where punch bug came from. It came from being at school, a place where my sovereignty was consistently overruled by the institution. And we kids were in the same boat, all being trampled over.

But then the kids realised you could do the same to others. They could punch you and you couldn't punch back, not because of any agreement you'd come to, but because it's the rules. The conversation-stopper that makes the decision unquestionable. I remember the gleeful explanation the other kids would give when they realised they had free reign to dominate you.

(This had a similar - but not physically violent - cause to the rules of the game 'jinx', where if you and someone else said the same thing at the same time, if you said 'jinx', then the other person was not allowed to talk again until a particular magic word was said by the jinxer. This one didn't catch on too much though, perhaps because it had a continuous cost to the person obeying the rules, which meant a higher amount of submissiveness was required to follow the rules.)

It seems that if you create a place with a norm that you defer to a centralised authority whenever they say so even if it violates your sovereignty significantly, then others who want to dominate you will be incentivised to use that power against you.

And the reason punch bug only happened to me at school, is because this was the part of my life that had the most regular and powerful submission to authority. I can speculate that the OP was inspired by a desire to be able to better coordinate about such an authority, although it seems quite like a lost purpose to optimise for the game created by those who wanted to dominate and took advantage of the free power this system gives as a side effect. Especially without any discussion of who gets to decide 'the rules' or anything, and I can see why Ben would feel fear about the proposal of such a norm.

"Let's bring back a norm that was created by people who wanted an arbitrary excuse to dominate you when you deferred to authority a lot, and I'll say nothing explicit about what authority this norm should support" is scary, and seems to me like a pretty reasonable interpretation of this post. I could see this argued for possibly if the adherence to the authority was super important, but it's not even discussed in the OP.

My model of Duncan here says that he certainly doesn't want to do it because he feels joy at randomly dominating people, and we shouldn't commit the genetic fallacy of saying an idea is bad because of where it came from. But then I would respond that the genetic heuristic [LW · GW] applies, and that if you're finding that a norm creates value for you which was created by those who wanted to dominate for pleasure, then you should be very skeptical of how that norm is in fact creating value for you.

Added: I like the point made elsewhere by SilentCal that "we as a society draw a line in the sand at nonconsensual physical violence that the punch is in any sense closer to the murder. But this line in the sand is exactly what Duncan is asking us to reconsider". The part of Duncan's post that's best is the discussion of moving the micro/macro boundary of what's significant. But bringing back a norm predicated on an abuse of power is a uniquely terrible suggestion of how to improve the situation.

Added2: Another response Duncan could give is that the whole point of his post is that punch bug is not that bad. Reminding ourselves that deferring to authority can often be pretty low-cost on an absolute scale (while, if done right, allowing for valuable coordination) means this is good.

(Mod notice: Btw, I am currently NOT AT WORK because I have all the deadlines at university right now and so am not able to e.g. set time aside to think about the moderation discussion. I did find Ben's comment rather insightful in a way that no other comment on this post has been anywhere on the web - I made all the above connections because of Ben's comment - and so one reason for adding this post was to add that datapoint to currently working mods' info. I'm commenting here in my capacity as person-with-a-LW-habit, not as a person who is working at my job at LW.)

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-19T03:20:19.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[In this comment I have my moderator hat on]

Ben, I think this comment is crossing an important line, that is necessary that LessWrong preserve.

The short, easily-followed-guideline-version is:

  • Comparing people you're debating with to Nazis is a rhetorical trick with a long history of making it harder to argue in good faith, as well as degrading the seriousness of literal Nazis. Sometimes it's actually necessary. This did not seem like one of those times.

More generally, and nuancedly... important, contentious discussions about the Overton window are where it's hardest to keep things truth-oriented, and in good faith.

It matters if we've obliviously building momentum towards violence that will escalate beyond anyone's control. It matters if (as Duncan argues), we're overreacting to a cluster of fears relating to violence and consent and creating a world where people are subtly starved for important human interactions. It matters if both are true and we'll be needing to make a lot of careful judgment calls with a clear head.

There are going to be a lot of questions and overton-window-fights that are at least as important as these ones, and it matters that rationalists can reliably have conversations about them that stays as oriented-as-possible towards truth, even in adversarial conditions. You are one of the people I learned from, that it's important to build longterm capacity for knowledge building over short rhetorical advantage.

Overton fights are always going to be somewhat epistemically dicey and involve more coalition-building-rhetoric than usual, and I don't know if it's possible or desirable to reduce it to zero. But this comment seemed to me to fall clearly over the line of "we are better than this."

Replies from: Raemon, Benquo
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-19T13:07:24.774Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(To be clear, I think the substance of the comment is perfectly fine, and think the subsequent discussion has been well within bounds as-of-the-time-I-write this)

[quick edit as I write more details replies: I wrote this before Benquo wrote his comment about sadists and describing Duncan as having suggested people who don't want Punch Bug to live in a ghetto, both of which are both wrong in substance and harmful. While my comment here includes the "as-of-the-time-I-write-this" clause, I think leaving this comment up in a crowded thread contributed to the deterioration of this post's comments as well as the surrounding discourse]

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-20T11:20:25.863Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I actually would not have generated the substance of the parent comment (or been able to articulate the follow-up explanations) without the pattern-matching described in the analogy you criticized. I can see a case for avoiding this sort of rhetoric regardless, but want to make sure it's clear that your proposed standard would have required me to do substantially more up-front interpretive labor before getting any evidence someone would listen, with the most likely result of me not making the point at all.

This would be totally fine if anyone else were making that point. I strongly encourage people who want more civil discourse and have the time and patience to do it, to preempt or outcompete me! I'd be so very happy if that happened consistently on things like this.

Replies from: Vaniver, Raemon
comment by Vaniver · 2018-05-21T15:55:53.272Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I actually would not have generated the substance of the parent comment (or been able to articulate the follow-up explanations) without the pattern-matching described in the analogy you criticized.

This is not a fully formed take yet, but something about this rubs me the wrong way. It seems to me like you're saying "this reasoning step was correct because it resulted in me reaching conclusion X, which seems correct," but this doesn't seem like an adequate response to "this conclusion seems suspect, because it was generated by a reasoning step that seems suspect." I would expect suspect reasoning steps to be self-reinforcing (because they provide their own support, indirectly, through the conclusions that they make seem convincing), which makes procedural-level injunctions ("hmm, it seems like this reasoning step is suspect for global reasons, even though it looks locally correct") rather important.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T16:32:23.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Raemon was criticizing my rhetoric, specifically distinguishing that from a criticism of my argument, and claiming I could make the same argument a different way. I'm saying, no, this is actually how I figured out the thing, and it would be dishonest to pretend otherwise.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-20T23:12:11.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
This would be totally fine if anyone else were making that point.

It seemed to me that other people were making the same point, AFAICT. (This comment by Dagon [LW(p) · GW(p)], this one by Vanessa [LW(p) · GW(p)]). (I have more thoughts on this matter but focusing that response into another comment, see elsethread)

Replies from: Zvi, Benquo
comment by Zvi · 2018-05-21T15:12:44.278Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As Benquo says, these are related points, but my reaction and my anticipation of others' reactions to those comments are completely different, and neither Dagon nor Vanessa, while their comments were good and helpful, invoked the 'oh, yeah, that's pretty terrible' thing in the way or on the level that Benquo did. If anything, that's evidence that what Benquo is doing here is necessary to communicate the point.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T00:30:40.220Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's substantial overlap between my comment and theirs, but neither one of those covered the implied group dynamics, which were the whole point of referencing examples of the connection between asymmetric standards and organized violence against political minorities.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-20T10:48:58.056Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to note that one and only one side of this debate has argued for initiating physical violence here. The side doing that is not mine.

I'd be able to accept this sort of criticism gracefully if I saw you policing that line as well. But as it is, your initial reaction was to second Zvi's praise of Duncan's bravery in advocating unaccountable violence. I haven't bothered enumerating all the symmetries here because that would be tedious, but please try to assess them before picking a side in a debate like this.

ETA: This is a symmetry argument against "no-punchback" rules, not an argument from my own perspective that Duncan's post was out of bounds on the object level. I actually think Duncan's arguments for a higher tolerance of physical violence aren't obviously wrong. But if you're going to have bright-line rules, and accusing people of physical threat using particular words that one might naturally be inclined to use to describe the threat compactly is out of bounds, it seems pretty important to acknowledge that this makes it more difficult to complain about those kinds of physical threat, and police things that are plausibly actual impositions of physical threat accordingly.

Replies from: Raemon, Duncan_Sabien, ESRogs
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-20T23:06:09.796Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[Moderator hat still on because it's sort of dishonest to take it off, although this comment is much more off the cuff and not intended as a definitive LW Moderator Take, and the mod-hat in this case is more "I'm speaking as a guy with opinions on discourse which are informed by being a LW mod"]

First, while I stand by the "have a higher bar for invoking Nazis" guideline, the most important bit here is, as Zvi says in the Second Circle [LW · GW], remember to win. We are here to figure things out. I'm not confident I'm getting all the nuances here right, and making the right judgment calls is more important than having easy-to-follow guidelines. (With a further caveat that we do at least need good enough guidelines that there doesn't always have to be a huge discourse when this sort of thing comes up)

With that in mind:


So, I see basically four ways to look at the situation:


1. Discussion/promotion of Punch Bug in particular, or anything relating to a combination of physical violence and opposition to BDSM style consent norms, is forever off the table – completely over the line.

2. It's not intrinsically over the line, but it requires a lot of care and higher-than-average standards, and Duncan failed to meet those standards.

3. It requires care/higher-than-average-standards, and Duncan did meet those standards

4. LW (or related spaces) doesn't have a strong stance on matters of consent or violence.


Options #1 and #4 both seem pretty bad to me. To be clear, #4 seems *worse* than #1, by a lot. Having a space for extreme truthseeking requires lower Maslow tiers to be satisfied.

But one of the most important points of LW, to me, is actually being able to say "hey, what if we're wrong about our basic assumptions" even when it's scary. We need to be able to have conversations that, if they go well, shape our future light-cone, hopefully for the better, and this will necessarily require resolution of meta-level conflict between people with very different values and frames. (If it didn't involve such disagreements, this wouldn't because "we picked the right frame and values", it'd just be because we filter bubbled ourselves into an echo chamber)

It'd be convenient if that style of conversation could take place entirely in far mode without ramifications on the world we live in and the way we interact with each other on a day-to-day basis, but it doesn't, and this means someone is going to feel threatened at least on occasion.

I can definitely imagine debating #2 vs #3, and I think adjaecent debates of "what exactly are the meta-level norms that we can agree on that reasonably satisfice on as many people as possible feeling safe enough to have the kinds of conversations we need to have" are important.

From what I can tell, you're basically advocating for #1. (I'm also happy to debate #1, since, like, it's a necessary part of the process. But, my current take is a strong "no")

Replies from: Raemon, Benquo, countingtoten
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-20T23:10:46.558Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Duncan Right?

[taking off my mod hat, insofar as I honestly can]

I think the essay makes a lot of good points. I don't like Punch Bug – I think it was the wrong choice of symbol to carry the argument forward, in particular because "no-punch-back" rules on non-opted-in games seem like bullshit to me, and importantly so. I'm not certain about roughhousing in general or the threshold of "punch" being the correct line.

But I think the essay is well within bounds. It is an important case study for attempting a deep/aesthetic double crux on a topic that normally would involve completely talking past each other.

And as much as I think no-punchback-rules are bullshit, I think they are importantly not on the same level as pogroms.

It so happens you can more easily paint a visceral picture of how no-punchback-roughhousing-games leads to pogroms, than, say, how bad economic policy might lead to pogroms. But I think bad economic policy is probably more relevant (or at least tied). Economic policy is also hard to get right, and there's a lot of room for i.e. people arguing for and against minimum wage pointing at each other and calling each other monsters, and that clearly isn't the environment you want for figuring out good economic policy, and I don't think it's the environment you want for figuring out interpersonal societal norms either.

In an adjaecent comment, Ozy describes BDSM consent norms, and notes that "a light tap doesn't count as violence." In the present-day world, I think it's fair for people to note, if someone says "punch buggy no punch backs" and does a light tap, they are totally setting up a potential future situation where harder punches might happen.

But I can imagine a world, 20 years from now, where consent norms more firmly solidify, and someone hypothetically manages to invent "tap on the shoulder no tap back" without the historical baggage, and people react just as strongly as they are to the punching thing now. I think this would most likely be real bad.

And the argument here is that this has already happened, or is a about to happen. Humans adapt to treat pain signals as relevant depending on their context, and the feedback loop of treating smaller and smaller pain thresholds as suffering is bad – not actually reducing suffering on net, and meanwhile crimping a lot of important needs regarding touch, both gentle and rough.

I'm not sold on this argument, but it's not obviously wrong.

The part where I think the essay is most wrong is where it doesn't engage with the notion of actual abuse, with Punch-Bug-No-Punchbacks being a cover for bullying. But I feel like the correct response to this is more like "okay, this essay obviously misses this thing", and then think about how to take the essay's points seriously and do the thesis/anti-thesis/synthesis dance.

(I think this is mostly what's been happening – pretty much every thread I've seen re: this post has included people bringing up those points, and at least some amount of synthesis, and I think this is basically correct)

Replies from: Wei_Dai
comment by Wei_Dai · 2018-05-21T01:46:35.250Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is an important case study for attempting a deep/​aesthetic double crux on a topic that normally would involve completely talking past each other.

I've never done a double crux as such or even watched one before, so my understanding here is limited, but I don't see how someone who disagrees with Duncan is supposed to find the "double crux" with him, given that (1) the OP doesn't engage with three important counter-arguments in the post itself: cover for actual abuse/bullying, slippery slope towards a lot more violence, people who hate Punch-Bug-No-Punchbacks and wouldn't just get used to it (how is the analogy to "peanut-free zone" actually supposed to work?!) and (2) the author seems to have no intention of engaging with critics who subsequently bring up these counter-arguments.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-21T05:27:07.427Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, I was stretching/abusing the definition of double crux here. I'd edit the original but I'm actually not sure how to quite phrase what I meant.

There's a concept I've been thinking about lately I've been internally calling "aesthetic doublecrux" or "deep doublecrux." In an in-person-conversation, I'd expect it to take at least a full day of discussion, quite likely much more.

The OP would essentially be the *first* stage of the discussion. (In person, it'd actually be an interwoven with the two people trying to explain all their background assumptions and mash their worldviews together. Online, in essay format... well I don't know exactly how it'd work, but there'd need to be at least four stages of Essay/Response/Counter-Response/counter-counter-response (and it'd only end there if the counter-counter-response was "ah, I agree with your counter-response").

In the spheres where Duncan has been commenting (which doesn't include LW), I have noticed the pattern you point to (i.e. he hasn't been engaging with the three major criticisms), and yeah this post does not earn the term "deep doublecrux" until he actually does that, and I think it makes sense to be wary about the fact that he hasn't.

The version of my remark I'd endorse is something more like "whatever you want to call it, the original post was a huge amount of effort, and I think fairly successful at being the first stage of an extended disagreement, of a class that normally doesn't even get to the first stage. And it makes sense to hold up the bar that says 'you aren't actually done until we get to the end', but I think it's also important to at least acknowledge the effort so far."

(The situation on how to consider the post and subsequent LW is a bit confusing, since Duncan didn't post it here)

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T00:39:30.315Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm saying something sort of like 2, but the specific thing I'm saying is the thing you're asking me not to say, so I'm in something of a double bind.

The creation of an implied "we" who are to unaccountably administer violence to a minority defined by a strong preference for rule-following, and by a comparative lack of affinity for violence outside the apparatus of a legitimate state, whenever this minority wanders out of the specific delineated space "we" have defined for them, is not really a thing it's necessary to propose in order to address the general question of whether our society's threshold for censurable violence needs to be higher than it is. The fact that it was proposed is pretty salient to me, and I'm not interested in legitimizing a discourse where asking whether people like me should effectively be confined to a ghetto is within the bounds of acceptable discourse, but indirectly alluding to historical examples where this has worked out pretty poorly for the people thus confined is outside the bounds.

I'm done with this conversation for the time being, and I'm considering whether legitimizing LessWrong at all is a thing I still want to do, given the current direction of moderation.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-21T02:42:12.940Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I'm done with this conversation for the time being, and I'm considering whether legitimizing LessWrong at all is a thing I still want to do, given the current direction of moderation.

Perhaps you and Duncan have found something to agree on ;-)

comment by countingtoten · 2018-05-23T00:11:53.554Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I mean, physically assaulting anyone is a crime; so the OP arguably violates one of these existing rules [LW · GW]. This is definitely true (technically) if he suggested doing anything like that with newcomers to a LW meetup unless they specifically say not to. While we likely want a looser approach to enforcement (compared to a zero-tolerance policy that would ban Duncan) it sounds to me like you should tell him not to do it again.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-23T01:01:35.849Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One important bit of context is that Duncan has already left LW because he didn't like the moderation policies (it's sort of an awkward grey area where other people post and link to his stuff and talk about it).

I don't currently have bandwidth to respond in more detail about the main point you're making. I think that having some kind of principled way to address either this sort of post (possibly), or ones that are not too far removed from it, is very important. And I don't think we have such a principled approach yet, and that we should.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T01:29:01.913Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It’s also worth noting that typing the phrase ‘initiating physical violence’ in bolded and italicized text to refer to acts that don’t even merit a middle school detention is exactly analogous to people who put catcalls and rape in the same bucket.

I’m not sure why you would elide those differences when they’re extremely important; if you’re trying to say something more complex like ‘this is the start of a slippery slope that ends with serious violations’ (which seems to be part of your thesis, from looking at other comments) then say that, and explain the lines of causality that make it so.

As it is, this reads (to me, at least) as disingenuous at best and deliberately attempting to manipulate your audience at worst.

Replies from: Benquo, Benquo, jimrandomh
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T07:41:19.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These differences are in fact important, as you say.

I read Raemon as suggesting there should be bright-line rules. I meant to reply that IF we have bright-line rules against certain sorts of statements, advocating initiating physical violence seems like one natural line to consider, and it seems like there's an inherent asymmetry in policing the language with which people respond to (perceived) threats, but not the (perceived) threats themselves.

There's separately the object-level question of whether the proposed policies in your post actually have the outcome I claim they would have, and the question of whether my construal of the policies themselves is reasonable. But I think Raemon was claiming that even if for the sake of argument we grant that my point of view were correct on those two questions, it would still be objectionable to draw the comparisons I drew because they constitute a sort of rhetorical damage to the commons. That's the (perceived) context I was responding to.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T08:25:37.689Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I am noting places where I am upvoting benquo's writing.)

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T18:51:56.651Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've added a clarification to the comment you're referring to. It seems like a pretty bad sign about LessWrong as a venue for conversation that basic symmetry considerations like this are so hard to get across, and not sustainable to do this amount of interpretive labor, but it's not fair to externalize the costs of that onto you and let a comment stand that might cause people to assume that you're directly advocating initiating strong violence. You're obviously not.

If the explanation I added seems inadequate and you explain how, I'll seriously consider further amending it. But I won't assume a nonreply is an endorsement either.

comment by jimrandomh · 2018-05-29T02:27:15.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wrote a long reply to this, but it engaged with the object-level disagreement in such a way that I decided it would be better to save it until the meta-level has calmed down.

comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-20T11:06:16.440Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I want to note that one and only one side has overtly argued for physical violence against a class that includes the other side.

It's not clear to me that this is true, though I might not have read Duncan's post closely enough (I confess that I skimmed).

I had interpreted Duncan as advocating that punch-bug is a fine game to play. Not that you should play punch-bug with people who don't want to.

Did you interpret him as advocating the latter?

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-20T11:44:38.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The following sure seems like it to me:

I don’t have a clear and comprehensive solution. But I have an inkling of what’s needed, and according to me, it’s punch bug.
(Here I am using punch bug as an archetype, an example, a metaphor, and a flag. I’m not advocating the specific game, but rather using it as an instance of a class and trying to point at the thing that generated it, the type of culture that endorses it, and the characteristics of a person who grew up playing it.)
What happens in the game of punch bug?
You’re pretty routinely having your sovereignty violated.
You’re pretty routinely experiencing non-negligible physical pain (I tap very gently these days, but back in primary and secondary school, we … y’know … punched).
The pain and violation are mostly coming from people you care about—people you trust and who are supposed to have your back.
You’re heavily constrained in your ability to respond (a key ingredient of serious trauma)—pretty much the whole game is “no punching back,” and people who break that rule can get ostracized hard. You don’t even have the opportunity for retributive justice until there’s another Volkswagen beetle, at which point you’re basically just as likely to get hit again.
(And if you say “I’m not playing,” people will often smirk and reply, “well, you’re not hitting me back, so it sure looks like you’re playing.”)

This is at least an approving reference to punching people who express objections to playing punch-bug.

(I edited my comment's first sentence to remove "overtly" & "against a class" because I'm not quite sure that's right.)

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, Benquo
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T00:48:34.673Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not understand how you could have possibly construed approval, here—this is a list of overtly bad things which are connoted as bad in their very description. Sovereignty violations are bad, pain is bad, betrayal is bad, constraint is bad (I note that it's a key ingredient of trauma!). Usually, in a list of five things, the last entry is not meant to have the exact opposite connotation of the previous four.

The fact that the list is followed by a "but"—that I pose the hypothesis that perhaps a small, measured amount of these unquestionably bad things might be instrumentally valuable—does not in any way mean that I approve of them generally, which should be obvious in the first place and which would definitely emerge from a reading of the piece which is either deliberately charitable or at least seriously questions its own knee-jerk rejections.

(Here I point to the literally hundreds of words I spent validating the other side of the debate in multiple places in the essay, including honoring their clearly philanthropic motives and making an explicit attempt to pass their ITT along with an explicit recognition that I might've failed. I would like you to attempt to meet the same standard of charity that I myself was shooting for, in the OP.)

Two analogies:

  • Murder and property destruction are bad. Sometimes we go to war. The murder and property destruction that take place thereby are no less terrible for the fact that war is occasionally justified. One can advocate for the actions of soldiers in justified wars, and yet also not be fundamentally pro-violence.
  • Cutting into people with knives is bad. Sometimes, people need surgery. The pain and injury that takes place thereby is no less terrible for the fact that it was inflicted in the service of further healing. One can advocate for the existence of surgeons and surgery, and yet also not be fundamentally pro-cutting.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T08:13:54.617Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think you said or meant to say that punch-bug has no costs. But it seems to me like the quoted text (1) expresses approval of punch-bug, and (2) defines punch-bug to include punching those who express objections to the game and don't otherwise participate.

The sentence that expresses approval:

I don’t have a clear and comprehensive solution. But I have an inkling of what’s needed, and according to me, it’s punch bug.

The sentence that defines it to include punching those who express objections to the game and otherwise don't participate:

(And if you say “I’m not playing,” people will often smirk and reply, “well, you’re not hitting me back, so it sure looks like you’re playing.”)

The reason I quoted a longer block initially, rather than just those two very short excerpts, was to keep them in context so that readers would have an easier time noticing if they disagreed with my reading.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T20:10:18.764Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Leaving out the immediately next line

And yet, despite all of that, literally millions of people still play the game (voluntarily!) and have a grand ol’ time while doing so.

... which contains the crucial phrase "despite all of that" and the surprise-signaled "voluntarily!" which makes the whole section way less open-to-interpretation and makes your reading more close-to-objectively incorrect.

(And leaving out the three lines after that, where I took the time to brainstorm three possible explanations that were 'inconvenient' to the point I was trying to make, and which explicitly turn the reader's eye toward coherent frameworks in which people might be acting against the good when they play punch bug, i.e. in which the things on the list are bad and not even instrumentally valuable.)

From my own personal perspective, I do not agree that you can reasonably claim to have been a) trying to be neutral/charitable, or b) have been holding a sufficiently high bar for "does the territory justify me holding my opinion here?" From my own personal perspective, and according to the standards that I think you and I and all of us should be striving to meet (which I acknowledge plenty of smart and good people may reasonably disagree with), if you had been doing due diligence as a rationalist, you could not in this case have ended up typing the sentence:

This is at least an approving reference to punching people who express objections to playing punch-bug.

...your truth-tracking algorithms should've stopped it at the border, or at the very least, if it slipped past in a moment of emotion or inattention, you should now unequivocally retract it.

(I reiterate that boiling things down into a pure binary of approves-or-disapproves is the wrong move in the first place; this is an oversimplification à la bucket errors.)

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-20T12:01:14.868Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be fair, he does suggest that people who don't want to play Punch Bug be accommodated with permission to live in a ghetto instead:

If there are people among us who, because of their particular makeup, need a space safe from punch bug, I say we provide it the same way we provide a space free of peanuts for the allergic (rather than by banning peanuts entirely).

[Moderation Note – this comment is attributing things to Duncan he didn't say, swapping in words with importantly different and inflammatory connotations. More thoughts on this here [LW(p) · GW(p)]. – Ray]

[ETA (by Ben): Duncan strongly disputes the "ghetto" characterization. I don't see how else the "safe spaces" proposal would work out, but "ghetto" is an inference I'm drawing, not the literal text of the OP.]

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T00:39:55.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since apparently literally no one else will say it, even after nine days:

This is grotesquely uncharitable and patently false even just from the quotation you cite in support. There is no ghetto into which we place people with peanut allergies; I went to school with them, went to summer camp with them, have worked with them, and have flown on planes with them.

I do not know what lens it is that you are using, as you read through my writings and attempt to judge my intentions and my character, but it is a lens with flaws, and it is causing you to reach alarmingly false conclusions all over this thread and in other places where we have interacted. Your statement is both wrong in truth and does not follow from its alleged source.

(This comment was edited to remove a false claim that wasn't relevant to the central point anyway, pointed out in the subthread below. Appreciation to ESRogs for the highlight.)

Replies from: jimrandomh, ESRogs, Benquo
comment by jimrandomh · 2018-05-29T01:35:23.551Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, the grandparent post is bad: it uses an unfair and extremely-inflammatory analogy which predictably made the conversation worse. But: Please ease up on the time pressure.

Earlier on in this thing (on Friday), I started a long post with an overview of what happened here as I understood it, and things everyone involved could have done differently to make things go better. ~6 hours in I set it aside because I wanted to be sure to get it right, because an outside view suggested that a cooldown would be wise, and because it was threatening to compete for time with paid work. To the extent that I've had time to devote to this narrative since, it's been spent on collecting perspectives and on replying on easier-to-deal-with tangentially related to threads.

The overall situation pattern-matches somewhat with an experience I had in the Boston community awhile back; the main takeaway I took from that was that time pressure makes everything worse. Several people in that narrative felt like nothing was happening, and acted to create pressure to ensure their concerns hadn't been dropped, but actually things were happening and this instead forced people into a defensive-reactive mode. (The end result was terrible for everyone involved.)

(Note: I am kinda-technically a moderator, in the sense that I have moderator power, but due to time constraints since the site launched I have not done any moderating.)

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T01:40:21.118Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're not crediting the fact that having upvoted, unobjected-to libel of one's personal character on LessWrong can be an active and ongoing hurt/threat; that in this case the LessWrong platform was being unfairly abused by Ben to make my life actively worse, and that this was allowed to go on for more than a week as if that hurt to me is of no consequence whatsoever.

Expecting some public action to be taken in nine days does not feel, to me, like an unreasonable request of a moderation team with at least five people on it. We'll never know how long it would've taken, if I hadn't caved and responded myself, but I think it's reasonable to posit that it would've been at least a few more days, meaning something like two weeks in total.

It is the job of moderators to moderate. If, in nine days and with plenty of pointing, none of the moderators could manage to get here and just drop a quick note like "We're going to follow up on this privately, but just for the record, this doesn't match my reading of the quote," then something has gone deeply wrong with moderation as a whole.

That one sentence would've been enough, to signal that Ben's statement was recognized as problematic without harming Ben. Instead, users have been coming by for nine days and seeing an upvoted comment and drawing from that whatever conclusions they will—both about me and about the norms of the site as a whole.

Replies from: habryka4, Benquo
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-05-29T02:45:14.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't want to engage with this too much right now, but do want to give a tiny bit more background that I don't think settles this issue, but does complicate it a bit:

In practice, on this specific issue, the moderation team consisted of just Ray and me and not really anyone else. We discussed the issues with other moderators, but because of the high-stakes nature of this conflict, I thought that it was important that the relevant decisions and comments were made by the people who I thought had the most detailed background on both the people involved, and the long-term goals of LessWrong moderation. This usually would have also included Ben Pace, but he isn't around for this month.

I don't think that in retrospect (mostly implicitly) restricting moderation action on this issue to just Ray and me was a bad call, given the constraints at the time. I think criticizing us for not having scaled our moderation team better, and establishing procedures that allow everyone on the team to meaningfully contribute to this situation, is a valid criticism, and something I do think we could have done better. I also think that even with just me and Ray, being more immediately transparent would have been achievable, and something I plan to be better at in the future. But I do think the error is significantly less severe than it would have been had we had access to 5 moderators instead of just 2.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T02:48:39.000Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I appreciate this for its position in the Venn diagram of (true things) and (olive branches).

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T19:04:01.580Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I too would have preferred it if something like this had happened.

comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-29T00:57:44.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The people who upvoted you here must have done so out of personal politics, and not out of adherence to the goals of LessWrong

I agree with everything in your comment except this line. I think you are neglecting alternative explanations. For example, whenever someone answers a question I've asked them I upvote the response, whether I agree with it or not.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T01:10:30.331Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's true.

I'm editing the original post to correct this overreach, which I agree was an uncharitable overreach and an example of me not reaching the correct standard.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T07:50:57.027Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I should have been clearer. I don't think you're imagining a ghetto when you think of this proposal. I'd have to know the inside of your mind to know that, and only you know the inside of your mind.

I do think that the particular dynamics of a no-punchback rule push towards the creation of that sort of thing: there's a particular sort of person who, when they wander out of their specially designated space without wearing a clearly visible marker of their minority status, gets punched by others but doesn't punch others.

I don't think most people who read the post actually bothered to imagine what a safe space with respect to punchbug in particular would look like.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T08:02:39.520Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
only you know the inside of your mind.
Duncan makes it clear that the reason he doesn't punch people hard is because he doesn't think he can get away with that right now

In two places in this conversation so far, I have noticed you verbally espousing and endorsing a good and virtuous norm while not noticing that you have previously violated it. The other example is when, after accusing me of wanting to ghettoize people, you endorsed a norm of not attributing to people things they didn't actually say.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T08:05:07.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be clear: I do not want to be interacting with benquo on this thread. I asked for moderation for days and days and days and in the meantime no one stepped up to speak true words in my defense in the public sphere where damage was being done. I am here in violation of a very strongly held personal desire not to be posting on LW anywhere outside of meta. If anybody else is willing to take up the torch of preventing benquo from making comments as though he has not clearly been doing damage to me in order to make his points, I will gladly vanish and stop posting replies here.

Replies from: Raemon, Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-30T00:03:49.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quick further update: my full response to Benquo is written, waiting on getting a final round of feedback from other moderators.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-29T18:59:44.879Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm in the process of writing a series of replies here.

comment by Zvi · 2018-05-21T15:10:47.014Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

[This is my reaction to the entire thread as of writing this, and I saw the OP only after the tone editing]

I praised Duncan for writing this, not because I think everyone should be playing Punch Bug, or that it should be an opt-out game. I strongly disagree with that, and like many, think it was a poor choice of central example. I praised him, and I stand strongly by this, because this essay felt extremely risky to write due to the exact concerns it was complaining about, and opened up the author to very over-sized retaliation. I'm not brave enough to write such things, and as Talib points out repeatedly in Skin in the Game, I should feel shame about that. Which I do.

Also, I didn't notice the point Benquo is making, until Benquo made it. At which point, I saw it very, very clearly. He came to my apartment last Purim and we read the Megillah together, so shared cultural context doubtless helped. Despite that context, I think that saying the word pogrom (or similar) here is necessary to make the point. I wouldn't have gotten there reliably without it, even with a very Jewish background and outlook, so it seems very necessary in general.

We need to defend the need for people to physically interact with the world, and potentially have some of those interactions be unfun, without invoking patterns of behavior that really do lead to terrible things. The line "you sure look like you're playing" should scare the living hell out of you. So should Duncan's statement about what should be done with those who don't want to play. There's a reason I think 'punch them as hard as you can right in the face' is not only allowed, but the correct reaction, and I'm not one to advocate violence, including Nazi punching.

If you're trying to point out that something pattern matches and leads to things very over the line and feels deeply unsafe, you may need to mention those unsafe things. It obviously needs to be done carefully, and perhaps the OP's first version was not sufficiently careful, but current version is, and as noted the resulting discussion utilizes this to make important points rather than to inflame. It does not turn into a demon thread except (perhaps) insofar as we have a potential reaction to moderation issues.

So I think the 'literal Nazi' exception to Godwin's Law applies here, and Nazis are being treated with the appropriate seriousness. If after reading this thread you don't think that, I worry that you haven't groked the thing Benquo is trying to point at. I am sympathetic to the point that once you break the absolute prohibition things could go quite badly, and I think it's good to point out that this line is being crossed and we're nervous about it, but frankly: I'll allow it.

Replies from: Vaniver, Benquo, SilentCal
comment by Vaniver · 2018-05-21T16:32:52.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
We need to defend the need for people to physically interact with the world, and potentially have some of those interactions be unfun, without invoking patterns of behavior that really do lead to terrible things.

I notice some level of confusion here.

Suppose Alice came to me with an argument like the following (about which I will make a meta-level, not an object-level, point; I don't endorse the entirety of what follows):

1) The life satisfaction of humans in general depends heavily on whether or not they can bring their authentic selves to the social sphere, and this means the satisfaction of LGBT individuals in particular depends on how gender identity and relationships are policed culturally.
2) One method of policing such relationships is 'gay bashing,' but note that the perception of counterfactual gay-bashing is perhaps more important than the statistics of actual gay-bashing because people make decisions based on what they perceive their constraints to be. (The actual world could have everyone hiding themselves, and no one getting gay-bashed, which looks safe from the statistical view but doesn't let us know what would happen if people didn't hide themselves.)
3) One causal factor leading to gay bashing is the culture of sports and physical fitness, both because of historical factors and practical factors. (For example, it is simply easier for a physically fit athlete to intimidate or injure a normal person.)
4) Therefore, in order to maximize life satisfaction, we need to ban all sports, and all discussion that could lead to a culture of sports.

How would you go about responding to this argument? (Not the logical details or content of your response, but the methodology of how you give it.)

Personally, I point out that I'm a gay man, and thus have a license to discuss the object-level details because I'm sympathetic to the concerns of LGBT individuals, and then proceed with the object-level discussion of the argument. But imagine the hypothetical straight me, or even worse, the hypothetical straight athlete me. It seems like there's some chilling going on where straight Vaniver is being punished not for actually gay bashing, but for doing anything perceived as the other party as potentially providing cover for gay bashing.

Though here I should take a step back, and look at the phrase "actually gay bashing." In doing some fact-checking for this comment I discovered that the phrase "gay bashing," which I had originally heard in the context of physical violence leading to hospitalization or murder, covers both verbal and physical abuse, both actual and threatened. Obviously verbally bullying someone for their sexual orientation is unacceptably cruel, but I find myself wishing there were some obvious threshold (on the level of injury, perhaps, instead of mere verbal vs. physical, which doesn't carve reality at the joints) and short word to point to "intimidation of gays above this threshold," so that I could say things like "I am opposed to people who hospitalize gays because they unacceptably damage the social fabric and freedom of expression for gays, while I support people who argue that some methods that reduce hospitalization of gays aren't worth their other costs because they're part of how society correctly handles difficult decisions about tradeoffs" with pre-existing categories for both, so that it was an easier sentence to write.

It's not obvious to me that Alice feels my desire for such a threshold, or would find it convenient if that threshold existed. It seems to me that when Alice follows her own logic, she ends up being convinced that providing cover for gay bashing is bad for the same reasons that gay bashing is bad, even if it's not as bad. The sort of callousness that I see as probably necessary to make good tradeoffs is of the same kind as the callousness that Alice hates, because it doesn't oppose the evil she opposes.


So it seems plausible to me that straight Vaniver would not engage with the argument, because the environment around the argument doesn't give him any place to bring his actual self and actual views. Perhaps he feels a pang of ironic sympathy when considering point (1) of the argument.

Replies from: Zvi
comment by Zvi · 2018-05-21T17:01:30.514Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed that we should ignore the object-level, so I'm doing my best to ignore it.

This argument sounds like it is saying we should ban such consensual actions and discussion as a society/nation, rather than a website. In that case, I'd respond with the usual reasons why banning the action is folly, and banning discussions that could lead to 'a culture of X' is madness. Mumble mumble free speech, free association, etc. But of course, I'd also defend someone's right to advocate for such decisions.

On the website level, I don't get that easy an out, but I want to be clear I wasn't suggesting I was against discussion of or advocacy of punch bug. I just wish Duncan had hit upon a better rallying cry slash central point, think trying to make this a thing without checking with people first would be pretty bad, and think it's really important that we let Benquo point out that there's something dangerous and alarming here if he senses that (even if we don't think he's right).

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T15:22:23.426Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just to make sure we have complete clarity around exactly what words seemed outside the bounds of acceptable discourse here to Raemon, my original unedited comment began:

As a Jew, I'm very worried about people unilaterally claiming the right to initiate physical violence against me with impunity because they were reminded of a prominent German brand. (Ironically, I have the exact same worry about the "punch Nazis" advocacy I was seeing on the internet a few months ago, given the general unwillingness to work out a legible standard by which Nazis might be identified.)
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-21T17:40:53.577Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
If after reading this thread you don't think that, I worry that you haven't groked the thing Benquo is trying to point at.

I definitely haven't grokked the thing Benquo is trying to point at, at all. (I'm plenty Jewish by any anti-semite's definition, fwiw). I don't see what's asymmetric about the 'no punch back' rule at all--the punchee is free to spot the next bug, in which case they will become the beneficiary of the 'no punch back' rule.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T18:05:57.379Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it hard for you to imagine that some people might not be violent sadists?

ETA: I meant this literally, not as an insult. People who enjoy punching others are going to disproportionately be punch-bug initiators. People who either don't enjoy causing others (ostensibly minor) suffering, or don't enjoy doing so through (ostensibly minor) physical violence, are not beneficiaries of the right to punch with impunity, and are potential beneficiaries of the right to punch back.

However, I think SilentCal's subsequent behavior justified more interpretive labor than my initial comment extended. One should sometimes make this sort of false-negative error, but it's important to own up to it when one does. This comment was bad for the commons. I'm sorry. Oops!

[Moderation Note: After Ben's most recent edit, I still think this comment is a) crossing important rhetorical lines, and b) making some underlying errors. More thoughts here [LW(p) · GW(p)]. – Ray]

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-21T19:52:29.667Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let me back up. Zvi convinced me there was a big important click to be had here, and I'm bothered that I haven't had the click. My current understanding of your argument is unpersuasive. That probably means it's an incorrect understanding.

Maybe our crux is that I don't think the Punch Bug game was ever significantly about hurting people who don't want to play it?

Replies from: Benquo, Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T23:09:33.071Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think "aboutness" is really a helpful concept here. Strategies might be implemented by minds that don't fully understand the strategy.

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T15:36:21.910Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let me clarify: I believe that if you took all of the people who currently want to play Punch Bug, and put them all in one one community, they would continue to play Punch Bug. They would *not* find that the absence of unwilling victims spoiled the fun, because unwilling victims were never the source of the fun.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-22T16:52:07.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree and my objection doesn't rest on those grounds. Thanks for clarifying. Overall your last several comments did a lot to shift my perceptions towards the possibility of being heard, which has updated me towards a higher level of interpretive labor on my end being appropriate.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T20:39:09.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why would getting to punch other people be compensation for being punched, then? In what way is someone who doesn't enjoy that deriving a benefit from it?

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-21T21:58:27.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get that part. Yes, the Punch Bug game is disparately impactful against those who value not-being-punched more than they value getting-to-punch, especially if they value getting-to-punch at zero. You could say the same about many things, such as throwing loud parties.

That said, I think there's an important difference between a policy chosen in spite of the fact that it harms some people, and one chosen because of that fact. Yes, the latter has been known to masquerade as the former, but I don't think that's what's going on here (this is what I proposed as a crux). I also think that policies that tend to harm a preexisting group are suspect in a way that ones that harm an essentially-random set of people aren't. "People who don't want to punch and be punched" isn't a random group, but it's also nowhere near as suspect a group as "Jews" (maybe this is our crux?).

With those mitigating factors in place, allowing Punch Bug seems to me more like allowing loud parties and less like declaring a day of pogroms. The only thing that aligns it with the pogroms is the involvement of physical violence--and even then, I'd suspect most people would plot 'punch in the arm' closer to 'annoyingly loud music' than to 'mass murder' on the scale of harms. It's only because we as a society draw a line in the sand at nonconsensual physical violence that the punch is in any sense closer to the murder. But this line in the sand is exactly what Duncan is asking us to reconsider, and I don't think you intend to say there's no way to reconsider that line without setting off the mass-murder alarms (unless you do... a third possible crux).

(And to be clear, none of the above conflicts with doing a cost-benefit analysis and saying Punch Bug is a bad idea overall. IMO playing the game by default is dubious at best, and making opt-out onerous or impossible is a terrible idea. Duncan seems to have missed the fact that the vast majority of people age out of the game for reasons unrelated to his thesis. I could go on...)

Replies from: Benquo, SaidAchmiz, Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T23:42:51.731Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The only thing that aligns it with the pogroms is the involvement of physical violence--and even then, I'd suspect most people would plot 'punch in the arm' closer to 'annoyingly loud music' than to 'mass murder' on the scale of harms.

A friend of mine recently suffered a concussion after being punched on the street. It was cognitively compromising for a couple of weeks. Maybe you just think he's oversensitive and that if he got concussed more often he'd learn to just roll with it, but if you're willing to accept for the sake of argument that perhaps a particularly hard punch can cause substantial physical injury worth worrying about, it seems pretty bad to play a game that trains people not to react to street assault.

Also, loud parties generally don't come with a no-loudback rule.

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T14:26:48.532Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"A punch" and "a punch in the arm" are quite different, largely in that the latter is unlikely to cause brain injury.

(Posted early by accident, ETA:)

That said, I get the argument about training people to ignore street violence. I'm a bit doubtful of the effect size here, given that I think there are clear markers of a friendly hit, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

As for no loudback: suppose a neighborhood had a policy against loud noise unless you register a party. Only one party can be registered per night. Registration is first come first served. Tell me how this "no loudback" role changes anything?

Alternatively, would you withdraw your objection if the game were "punch bug maybe punch back", where the punched party is allowed to return the punch if they wish?

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-22T16:44:45.413Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

suppose a neighborhood had a policy against loud noise unless you register a party. Only one party can be registered per night. Registration is first come first served. Tell me how this "no loudback" role changes anything?

That seems like a really weird policy for a neighborhood to have, given diminishing marginal cost of noisy parties, and I'd be really confused about what incentive gradient they were following. I don't currently see a way that would be a problem, though.

(NOTE: The interpretive framework I just used is the one that generates the objection to "punch bug." Rules aren't totally arbitrary; they're things particular people institute and enforce for particular reasons in particular contexts, and this - and how they play out - contains important information beyond the formal content of the rule!)

Part of the difference is that retaliatory violence is part of how people police their boundaries. If you're not allowed to opt out, and you're not allowed to punch back, then there's no interface by which to do that. Likewise, for something I don't mind so much, and definitely don't consider to be violent for the most part: I'm all for chilling out about casual touch among people who interact repeatedly, but it would be pretty terrible if people who aren't up for that couldn't opt out except in their ghettoes. [ETA: Duncan strongly disputes the "ghetto" characterization. I don't see how else the "safe spaces" proposal would work out, but "ghetto" is an inference I'm drawing, not the literal text of the OP.]

Alternatively, would you withdraw your objection if the game were "punch bug maybe punch back", where the punched party is allowed to return the punch if they wish?

I wouldn't like that proposal, I would still object to it, but it wouldn't seem terrifyingly creepy in the same way. It would just seem a bit unpleasant.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-22T15:09:56.294Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could say the same about many things, such as throwing loud parties.

You could indeed, which is why throwing loud parties in residential areas without adequate soundproofing (i.e., disturbing your neighbors with your noise) is also very unethical.

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T16:09:53.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I'm trying to figure out is what important qualitative trait Punch Bug shares with a day of pogroms, that an absence of noise ordinances doesn't also share. (All three of these things share the traits of being bad policy, and of hurting some more than others)

'Involvement of physical violence' is one such trait, and you could build a colorable argument that we shouldn't encourage even small amounts of physical violence, but I didn't think that was Benquo's whole argument.

Other than that, there's the no-punch-back thing. I guess I just don't get the significance of the distinction between a punch back on the spot (which the game forbids), and a punch back later when you see a Beetle (which the game encourages). The latter is more annoying to use as a form of deterrence, sure, but not impossible.

Replies from: Benquo, SaidAchmiz
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-22T16:37:07.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The no-punchback rule is really the main thing for me, especially in conjunction the "it sure seems like you're playing" no-opt-out rule and the proposal that "we" ghettoize people who don't want to participate. If Duncan were just saying people should get into friendly fights more often, I wouldn't like the proposal, but I don't think it would be terrifyingly creepy to me.

Additionally sketchy is the way this was folded into a long and otherwise-reasonable discussion of why we should chill out about casual infliction of minor harms on others in the course of preference-discovery, as though these were the same thing.

[ETA (by Ben): Duncan strongly disputes the "ghetto" characterization. I don't see how else the "safe spaces" proposal would work out, but "ghetto" is an inference I'm drawing, not the literal text of the OP.]

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T18:05:29.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So I definitely will join you in condemning the no-opt-out rule. The ghettoization proposal... honestly, I think it was too absurd to me to even generate a coherent image, but if I try to force my imagination to produce one it's pretty horrible.

I'm not sure I see the folding-in problem as keenly as you do. I read Duncan as saying "there's a problem in that we freak out too much about accidental micro harms. My proposed solution is a framework of intentional micro-harms". The first part is on firmer ground than the second, but I don't think it's illegitimate to pair them.

And it's the deep creepiness of the no-punchback rule that I mainly don't get. Like, if the puncher only said "Punch Bug", and the possibility of a punch back were not discussed, I think the default assumption would be that a punch back is forbidden. That's pretty what it means for the original punch to be socially sanctioned. Making the "no punch back" part explicit is, I guess, rubbing the punchee's face in that fact? Is the face-rubbing the problem?

Wait, maybe I get it? Is the terrifying scenario being envisioned, essentially that of a bully saying, "I'm hurting you. For fun. And I've found a socially-sanctioned way to do it, so you're beyond the reach of the forces you normally count on to prevent that!"

Perhaps thinking of 'bullies' as a group is the key insight here? I don't believe Punch Bug is primarily a form of bullying, but the *marginal* impact of banning opt-out *is* mostly to facilitate bullying. That, I could get being deeply creeped out by.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-22T20:01:48.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The ghettoization proposal… honestly, I think it was too absurd to me to even generate a coherent image, but if I try to force my imagination to produce one it’s pretty horrible.

This is actually a huge part of what I was upset about, and it's really helpful to have you make that explicit: The fact that no one else seems to have bothered to take the initiative to concretely visualize this proposal and respond to the implications of its literal content. And then, when I tried to point out the problem by pointing out a structural analogy to a thing there's some agreement is bad, a mod criticized me for doing that. Which is, itself, a sort of epistemic "no punch-back" rule.

It's not so much that "bully" is a natural group now, as that proposals like this make that particular division - between people who like punching people with no punchback and people who don't take initiative in that sort of game - more salient, and create a visible minority group that's fair game for (initially mild) abuse by the punching caste. (The "safe space" proposal made that really, really obvious to me once I noticed it.)

Jews are interesting because they're a cultural and ethnic group that actually does noticeably resemble punchbug noninitiators. For just under two millennia, the Jewish strategy was to basically assume that while they'd face the occasional damage from a crusade or pogrom or expulsion from a country, this was an acceptable rate of loss, and keeping a low profile and mostly not bothering people would be a better deal than fighting back ad hoc, which would most likely lead to much more organized persecution by the authorities, or trying to create a nation-state, which would both require them to engage in organized violence (which is very much neither fun nor productive) and make them a more obvious target (this strategic shift was a response to three successive failed rebellions against the Roman empire). The 20th Century was pretty strong evidence that in the modern world this is not a reliably stable or sustainable arrangement, as about a third of Jews worldwide were rounded up and murdered within a single generation.

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T20:40:32.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, I think I see where you're coming from. I've definitely updated towards considering the OP proposal scarier. Thanks for spelling things out.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-05-22T17:25:59.901Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I’m trying to figure out is what important qualitative trait Punch Bug shares with a day of pogroms, that an absence of noise ordinances doesn’t also share.

Why assume that there is such a thing? (Or, even if there is, that it would be relevant to the objections/discussion at hand?) One person’s modus tollens is another’s modus ponens; having loud parties (which is the comparable act, by the way—not “absence of noise ordinances”) is lower on the scale, but I see no reason to presuppose that it’s qualitatively different. (Maybe it is, but the assumption is unwarranted until justified.)

I guess I just don’t get the significance of the distinction between a punch back on the spot (which the game forbids), and a punch back later when you see a Beetle (which the game encourages).

The distinction is very simple:

Unilateral imposition of rules.

It doesn’t matter what specific rule you decide to impose on me, in what specific way you choose to limit my actions; the fact remains that you, unilaterally, at your whim, have decided that you have the right to dictate to me what actions I can and cannot take—taking that right away from me.

That cannot be allowed. It is a naked power grab (and its arbitrariness is, of course, not incidental, but in fact central; it demonstrates your ability to impose any rule you like). The only strategically justifiable (from a personal standpoint) and ethical (from a community/societal standpoint) response is to fight back, immediately and forcefully. Failure to do so results in the quick erosion in practice of rights and of autonomy.

Replies from: SilentCal
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T19:25:42.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Why assume that there is such a thing?

I took Benquo to be saying there was such a qualitative difference. I already agree there are lots of reasons Duncan's proposal would likely do more harm than good.

Unilateral imposition of rules.

What Duncan is proposing is a general societal agreement to allow the Punch Bug game, on a dubious but IMO sincerely-held theory that this would be to the general benefit. It's no more a unilateral imposition than a law you voted against.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T22:45:08.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I don't see what's asymmetric about the 'no punch back' rule at all


Replies from: Vaniver, SilentCal, habryka4
comment by Vaniver · 2018-05-21T23:45:01.581Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might help if you pointed at the groups you think the asymmetry is between, as I suspect you and SilentCal are imagining different lines here.

I think you see the asymmetry as being between "people who want to punch others" and "people who don't want to punch others," as only the first group sees any possible value from punch bug (in the short term*), and SilentCal sees the two people as "the person who saw the bug first" and "the person who didn't see it," where the only asymmetries are related to people's abilities to spot bugs (and thus playing punch bug with the blind would raise these sorts of symmetry concerns).

*There are purported long-term benefits of playing the game, that Duncan describes in his post; in particular, it seems likely to make people more likely to notice cars of a particular type. You could use this to your benefit, as in the case where you're attempting to get better at noticing motorcycles on the road, because you think that'll make it less likely that you get into an accident with them, by playing a modified version of punch bug based on that thing.

Indeed, I note that lots of rationalist conversation norms fail to mesh with other conversational norms because rationalists are playing something like punch bug where the equivalent of the Volkswagen are various patterns of reasoning or argument. ("Why are you being mean to me?" "I was just pointing out an error in your thinking--you should feel free to do the same to me too." "But that only makes sense as a deal if I want the ability to be mean to you with this sort of 'no criticize back' rule.")

comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-21T23:33:19.376Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably best to taboo 'asymmetric' at this point. Based on your example I thought it meant "explicitly discriminatory" and not just "disparately impactful".

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-05-21T22:55:55.828Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I can't find the sentence fragment you are quoting here anywhere else on the page. I assume it's been edited since you wrote this?)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-21T23:05:41.497Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-05-21T23:20:21.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, cool. I only read the immediate comment you were replying to in detail, and when I used CTRL+F I had a space after "all", which didn't catch the original.

comment by Raemon · 2018-05-29T07:17:06.693Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Quick update: Last week I'd asked Ben if we could chat privately rather than continue hashing things out in public. We finally got to do that tonight, which I think went productively. I'm sorry that this took a long time and that I didn't communicate well about it (to either Duncan or Habryka, who I think might have made different decisions if he hadn't been assuming I'd touched base about it. Habryka wrote more detailed thoughts on why it's taken us a while to close the loop on this here [LW(p) · GW(p)], with some thoughts on how we can improve in the near and longer term).

Tomorrow I'll be writing up more detailed thoughts on where and why I think several of Benquo's comments break important norms, without which I think LessWrong would fail as a discussion platform.

comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-16T02:26:22.180Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The casual acceptance and signal-boosting of posts like this is part of why I don't feel safe in the San Francisco Bay Area Rationalist community.

Could you clarify what you mean by "posts like this"? This is the only one I can think of that celebrates a childhood game that involves punching, and I can't think of anything else that comes close to advocating violence.

Is my memory just failing me? Or is approval of some kind of violence not the relevant thing?

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-16T07:46:53.785Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was worried about the initial military framing of Dragon Army (yes, also by Duncan, yes, people did get upset about that one, but many others thought it was actively good.) Other people did express disapproval in that case, but mostly along the lines of worrying that having a hierarchy or standards might enable internal abuse, not on the grounds that the whole point of an army is to physically attack the outgroup, armies are institutions optimized for performing that specific goal, and no particular enemy had been named.

I don't recall other posts in particular that seemed to be promoting the idea of unaccountable physical violence, but I also haven't been tracking this sort of thing carefully for very long. I do have a feeling that this isn't the first time I've seen something like this here, but the thing I'm beginning to track and scared of isn't actually direct advocacy of violence against me. It's more like, an underlying obliviousness to the possibility of covert aggression or coordination towards violence, combined with actual or threatened tone policing of people who try to clarify the situation while upset about it.

I found your question helpful, by the way :)

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, ESRogs, ESRogs
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T05:29:20.343Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I was worried about the initial military framing of Dragon Army (yes, also by Duncan, yes, people did get upset about that one, but many others thought it was actively good.) Other people did express disapproval in that case, but mostly along the lines of worrying that having a hierarchy or standards might enable internal abuse, not on the grounds that the whole point of an army is to physically attack the outgroup, armies are institutions optimized for performing that specific goal, and no particular enemy had been named.

This seems to me to be an example of something I might call "weaponized disingenuousness." The book Ender's Game is well-known in both our broader culture and our specific, narrow subculture, and was specifically referenced in my Dragon Army post. This comment, though, acts as if that fact is either unknown or irrelevant, and as if the mere presence of the word "army" overrides the highly relevant context, and cannot be in any way metaphorical or tongue-in-cheek.

(That context being that we're all taking part in a community focused on the long-term thriving of humanity, and that "Dragon Army" is an overt reference to a group of school-age children in a laser tag league, in training for a pan-cultural mission to defend the entire human race from an extraterrestrial existential threat, and therefore not really a model that should trigger the nodes "gonna attack the neighbors." I'm particularly intrigued by the implication that Ben is in my outgroup; if so, it's by his choice, not mine; my circle of concern by default includes him.)

In short, the aforementioned deep concern cannot be labeled rational unless there are other, unmentioned cruxes in the mix. The implication is unjustified by the words Ben spent justifying it.

(That doesn't mean that there may not have been reasons for concern that aren't mentioned here, of course.)

Given the dogged way in which Ben is promoting claims of the form "Duncan/Duncan's views are violent and dangerous/will lead to violence and danger/will make the world worse," though, and the fact that he's never bothered to check whether any of his representations or stereotypes of me are accurate or pass my ITT (or to hash things out at all, really; he refused my last offer to participate in a conversation facilitated by a moderator who was already explicitly on his side) all the while throwing them around on the internet with the weight of his reputation behind them and no acknowledgement of uncertainty or incomplete information in sight ...

... given all that, the available space of hypotheses in which he is all of [neutrally well-intentioned], [clear-thinking and perceptive], and [attempting to be straightforward in his arguments rather than deceptive or manipulative] is rapidly dwindling. I already suspect that at least one of the above must be false; I'm the type of human who often misses things and gets things wrong, so that's not strong evidence of anything, but it's looking like the safe bet so far.

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T07:31:51.026Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't mean to claim that you're uniquely terrible here. You're just unusually clear and honest about messages our culture seems to be nearly saturated with. I'm upset about that, not about you. I'm sorry I haven't been able to make this more clear.

My sense of what you were trying to with Dragon Army is: you noticed that organizations with structured expectations and clear lines of authority can sometimes do things that disorganized humans can't, and tried to create one based in part on thinking the problem through, and in part on examples you'd either seen work or heard of working. This seems basically admirable.

Unfortunately, a very large number of our stories about such things are about organized killing:

That context being that we’re all taking part in a community focused on the long-term thriving of humanity, and that “Dragon Army” is an overt reference to a group of school-age children in a laser tag league, in training for a pan-cultural mission to defend the entire human race from an extraterrestrial existential threat, and therefore not really a model that should trigger the nodes “gonna attack the neighbors.”

This seems to me like it is literally a story about how humanity bands together to attack the neighbors, by creating an abusive environment in which promising children are trained / filtered to create an elite fighting force. (Of course there are mitigating factors - the neighbors attacked first and are very scary and we're asked to believe for plot reasons that abusing a bunch of children really is the least-bad option, although it's not clear to me that the reader should fully believe the characters making these claims.)

The second book in the Ender's Game series deals with the first book's protagonist coming to terms with the genocide he was manipulated into committing in the first book. The third book is titled "Xenocide."

Replies from: Unreal, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Unreal · 2018-05-29T21:24:54.426Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am fascinated by this conversation/disagreement about Ender's Game. I think it might be really important. I am upvoting both comments.

Some things it makes me consider:

a) When is violence / attacking the outgroup justified?

b) Would it have been abusive if the children hadn't been lied to? (I lean no. But given that they were lied to, I lean yes.)

c) Is it OK to sometimes frame "the default ways of the universe" as a kind of outgroup, in order to motivate action 'against' them? Ender's Game was about another sentient lifeform. But in ways, the universe has "something vaguely resembling" anthropomorphizable demons that tend to work against human interests. (We, as a community, have already solidified Moloch as one. And there are others.) In a way, we ARE trying to mobilize ourselves 'against the outgroup'—with that outgroup being kind of nebulous and made-up, but still trying to point at real forces that threaten our existence/happiness.

Q for benquo:

How do you feel about sports (or laser tag leagues)?

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T02:02:35.981Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To clarify, I'm not saying that forming an army is always the wrong choice; I'm just saying that it's one that makes sense when you want to attack the outgroup. Often attacking the outgroup is the correct move! That's why biological and cultural evolution equipped us with that ability. On (c), I don't like the "OK vs not OK" framing. It's more that any particular mode of organization is going to capture some cognitive and coordination efficiencies at the price of limiting the kinds of things it can do somehow. Militaries are optimized to randomize* the target, which is pretty much the opposite of what we'd like to do with the future of humanity, unless we're up against an utility-minimizer.

Play-fighting like laser tag and sports seems basically good; I haven't prioritized it in my life and I'm probably paying some cognitive cost for not getting much of that.

* This is more literally true of weapons than of militaries, but militaries are optimized for the ability to credibly promise to randomize arbitrary targets, sometimes subject to particular rules of engagement, sometimes optimizing directly for "credibly" in social reality via intimidation tactics rather than actual force-projection capacity.

Replies from: Nick_Tarleton
comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2018-05-31T00:36:21.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see you as having come close to establishing, beyond the (I claim weak) argument from the single-word framing, that the actual amount or parts of structure or framing that Dragon Army has inherited from militaries are optimized for attacking the outgroup to a degree that makes worrying justified.

Replies from: Benquo, John_Maxwell_IV
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-31T06:27:10.526Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This definitely doesn't establish that. And this seems like a terrible context in which to continue to elaborate on all my criticisms of Duncan's projects, so I'm not going to do that.

My main criticisms of Dragon Army are on the Dragon Army thread, albeit worded conservatively in a way that may not make it clear how these things are related to the "army" framing. If you want to discuss that, some other venue seems right at this point, this discussion is already way too broad in scope.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2018-05-31T01:58:18.799Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since Benquo says he thinks sports are good, I'd be curious whether he is also worried about sports teams with names that suggest violence. Many teams are named after parties in a violent historical conflict or violent animals: Patriots, Braves, Panthers, Raptors, Bulls, Sharks, Warriors, Cavaliers, Rangers, Raiders, Blackhawks, Predators, Tigers, Pirates, Timberwolves...

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, Benquo, Benquo
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-31T02:21:34.525Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a vague and unspecified concern (which might be unfair, and which I hope you will call out if you find it to be unfair) that this might be the beginnings of a drift across the line into scoring points, or the start of a snowball rolling downhill.

Like, you're almost certainly just genuinely curious about the gears of benquo's model. The word "army" raised a flag ... does the word "warriors" raise a similar flag? This is an entirely valid question for finding the boundaries of benquo's beliefs.

But I would be sad if other people piled on after this comment with a whole bunch of "do you think [innocuous thing] is bad or not?" comments. I fear something like, the conversation turning into an inquisition? A sense that the crowd gets to demand that benquo's model defend itself, but the crowd isn't symmetrically required to defend its model?

I want to firmly reiterate that I think there's literally zero to object to in the above comment, both in content and tone; it's more about a (very weak) gut-level intuition about what comes after it. I also note the possibility that these four paragraphs may not be worth the space I've spent on them—that this concern is too trivial to have taken up this much time. But since (boy howdy) this has been quite the week for things spiraling out of control, I am more motivated than usual to raise the ghost-of-a-concern before it becomes an actual concern. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't have said anything.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-31T05:45:35.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just wanted to say I appreciate the above comment a lot – the comment here is exactly the sort of thing I struggle the most with how to respond to (either when wearing a mod hat or just as a conversational participant), since there's nothing wrong (either technically or in spirit), and yet it's (at least sometimes, often enough to notice) the spark of something beginning to spiral.

And if we weren't already knee deep in a thread that's done some spiralling, I often feel the most helpless when I see the first such comment in a thread, and saying anything about it feels likely to do more harm than good.

[noticing that me responding to this in this way could also be the beginnings of some kind of spiral, but I'm hoping it's the good kind]

This is the sort of thing that motivated the Demon Thread concept, and part of my goal there was to get the concept enough in the zeitgeist that there's a critical mass of people who, early on in a thread, see a comment like that, or notice themselves about to make a comment like that, and just... shift their tone a little to ensure it goes well without having to draw attention to it.

Writing this out is leading me to notice that a particular flaw in the term "Demon Seed" that I used there, which is in itself a bit of an inflammatory term, which makes it a poor handle to use to refer to the sort of comment that's first in the chain, that's perfectly fine except for being slightly shaped in a way that might build into a pattern.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-31T07:12:46.416Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think part of what's going on here is that "armies are for organized violence" feels very similar to "armies are the outgroup and people associated with them should be scapegoated," especially to people in the actor mode [LW · GW]. I don't actually think the latter, though, just the former.

I liked Ender's Game a lot, and I'm enjoying Orson Scott Card's new Fleet School series, which has a really good treatment of friendship and trust. The fictional Dragon Army wasn't inherently bad, it was just a military unit of elite child-soldiers. That's a very specific sort of thing, and one should be pretty careful in generalizing leadership lessons from it to nonabusive peacetime conditions like the ones Duncan set up for his group house.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-31T06:33:08.621Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be honest, I think Eliezer's "Rationality Dojo" framing was somewhat unfortunate in hindsight. Some sorts of adversarial intelligence are going to be part of a well-rounded human mind, but framing that as coextensive with rationality seems ... bad.

Sports is a zero-sum contest, so names that suggest adversarial players seem appropriate.

comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T07:50:11.105Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you had at any point bothered to investigate the person whose character and opinions you were confidently summarizing left and right, you would know that I have tattooed on my hand "What would Ender do?" and yes, that includes the lessons of Speaker for the Dead and Xenocide and the times that Ender repeatedly put his life on the line to forestall the repeat of history's mistakes, and to protect the last survivor of the Formic race. You have no need to educate me on the lessons of the Ender saga; that still doesn't make Dragon Army itself, nor what Ender did with the soldiers in it any kind of flag of threat against you or anyone. If I'd named my project "Colonel Graff Did Nothing Wrong," then sure.

The next time you want to demonstrate upsetness with a zeitgeist and not with an individual, try avoiding making repeated libelous strawmans of that specific individual's positions and beliefs.

Replies from: Benquo, Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-31T16:49:51.242Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying that your house was a specific threat to any particular person. The actual criticism of the house paradigm is not something I trust this forum to deal with well, and my track record of explaining that sort of thing without causing you or someone else to construe it as a *personal attack* is not very good, so I'm reluctant to go into it here.

What I was responding to in the above comment was your claim that the Dragon Army brand shouldn't trigger anyone's threat detection. This doesn't make any sense to me given the content of Ender's Game. If you'd instead said, "yes, I can see how naming something after the military unit of abused children that carries out a genocidal war would trigger someone's threat-detection, but I promise I'm genre-savvy about this because I've read the sequels and internalized their lessons," I wouldn't necessarily believe the claim, but I'd understand what I was being asked to believe.

I genuinely don't understand how your comment was meant to be reassuring, and while I can come up with some hypotheses, I basically don't expect that I can share those hypotheses in a way that doesn't actually start another heated exchange.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-31T19:00:26.348Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My real crux here is something like Bayes.

I think you and I disagree strongly about the base rates of threat à la Scott Alexander's "different worlds." From your perspective, I imagine I'm coming across like someone saying that muggings never happen, because I grew up in an affluent suburb and am typical minding that everywhere else is just like that; from my perspective, it feels like your priors are skewed similar to those of parents who are anxiously preoccupied about child abductions because of overexposure in the news, and who don't attend to base rates.

In other words, I don't think I disagree with your actions given high priors of threat and need-to-defend; I just disagree that those priors are appropriate.

(I note that you've mentioned being missed or mischaracterized several times, so I'm sensitive to the possibility that I'm addressing a stereotype that doesn't match the real you/your real beliefs.)

But basically, the whole lens of "military unit of abused children that carry out a genocidal war" feels false/disingenuous/inappropriate to me, given my priors. Like, to look at a nerd in a community of nerds proposing a group house modeled after the aesthetic of Dragon Army and have those nodes trigger seems (to me) to be waaaaaaaay miscalibrated, just as it would be miscalibrated to hear about Uber and immediately think of coordinated kidnappings to feed sex trafficking organizations.

But you may live in a meaningfully Different World.

One interesting thing about Tumblr and the SJ­sphere in particular is that because its members come disproportionately from marginalized communities, it has this sort of natural prior of “people often turn out to be abusers, every situation has to be made abuser-­proof or else it will be a catastrophe.” I once dated someone I knew on Tumblr who did a weird test on me where (sorry, won’t give more details) they deliberately put me in a situation where I could have abused them to see what I would do. When they told me about this months later, I was pretty offended—did I really seem so potentially­ abusive that I had to be specifically cleared by some procedure? And people explained to me that there’s this whole other culture where somebody being an abuser is, if not the norm, at least high enough to worry about with everyone.
I’m not sure what percent of the population is more like me vs. more like my date. But I think there’s a failure mode where someone from a high-­trust culture starts what they think is a perfectly reasonable institution, and someone from a low-trust culture says “that’s awful, you didn’t make any effort to guard against abusers!” And then the person from the high-­trust culture gets angry, because they’re being accused of being a potential abuser, which to them sounds as silly as being accused of being a potential terrorist (if you told your Muslim friend you wouldn’t hang out with him without some safeguards in case he turned out to be a terrorist, my guess is he’d get pretty upset). And then the person from the low-trust culture gets angry, because the person has just dismissed out of hand (or even gotten angry about) a common­sense attempt to avoid abuse, and who but an abuser would do something like that?

In my world and my experience, there is so-close-to-literally-zero-threat from people proposing stuff like Dragon Army that it's hard to empathize with your concerns even when I deliberately boot up empathy and think about all the times I've been wrong or overconfident. Ender's Game is much more salient (to me and people like me) as a story about bright kids having a destiny and being treated with respect/given agency, and cool near-future technology, and Paying Steep Personal Costs To Literally Save The World. The specific aspects that you lift out are equally valid and present and are indeed occasionally discussed, but they're not what naturally comes to mind. Those concerns are in the realm of terrorism, where it's so rare that (for a median person in middle-class America) worrying about it is ~objectively wrong, as opposed to being in the realm of car accidents, where it happens to people all the time and ordinary people need to be on guard.

I think I'm getting that that's not your experience, but I still don't understand why. And I don't know how to address your concerns within your perspective without spending time in a way that feels like a disproportionate waste, as well as "confessing" to dangerousness that is false in my own frame.

i.e. it feels like if I validate your concerns sufficiently to pass your ITT and then assuage them, people watching in my culture will be like, "wait. Wait wait. Why's he talking so much about abuse and violence? Why didn't he just dismiss that out-of-hand? Doth he protest too much? Maybe he is crazy, why else would he validate this stuff/have it so close to the forefront of his mind? I mean, normal people don't think about/go on about all of this so much...this is a bad sign..."

Replies from: Benquo, Zvi
comment by Benquo · 2018-06-01T08:39:45.033Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interpretive labor request: I'd like people to try to read this comment (and for that matter pretty much all my comments) under the assumption that a demon has cast a spell on me to make me word things in a way that sounds more like scapegoating than I mean, and on you to interpret them that way whenever there's any potential ambiguity. This isn't an excuse for failures on my part to be clear, it's just a request. If you see ways in which the demon has tricked me, I want that information so I can fix the problem.

Duncan, thanks for the interpretive labor you're extending. I agree that given what I seem to you to be saying, you're in a difficult position here.

I want to restate that my threat model was not primarily that things like the Dragon Army house resort to violence. (It didn't!) It's more that the appeal of proposals like Dragon Army is a really bad sign about the broader culture's coordination protocols. We live in a world where violence is increasingly being compressed into tail events. Accordingly, I'm worried about ambient cultural protocols favoring violence leading to sudden phase transitions.

I'm not claiming that you are an especially important causal node in that phase transition. I am claiming that your project's framing was important evidence about the state of that system.

The specific problem DA exemplified to me was the conflation - again, not specific to you - of getting things done with attacking the enemy such that even projects as obviously peaceful as living well together in a house end up using a military paradigm to project seriousness. The poverty of other paradigms is deeply worrying to me. (Likewise "Rationality Dojo" in hindsight seems like a bad sign, even though I'm not particularly worried about people beating me up with rationality techniques.)

Similarly, it's not terribly worrying to me that one person in the community, with a high level of physicality, used Punch-Bug as an example when advocating a higher harm threshold. What seemed really terrible was that with a bunch of comments already, several of them approving comments from other prominent people who I respect, no one seemed to be attending to the systemic dangers of a game institutionalizing injustice with respect to physical violence. (Possibly pretty mild, although your post was at best ambiguous to me on this point and I don't think it's OK to expect people to reliably round potential threats down. This is a secondary factor that substantially increased my visceral sense of threat when writing my initial comment - a sense that vagueness about the level of violence proposed felt a bit like testing the waters with plausible deniability. This is not a confident assertion that that was your intention - just, that's how it pattern-matched to me. Again, if I believe your assurances that you'd never initiate a substantially abnormal level of violence, then I'm not worried about direct threat from you, but get a lot more worried about what the normal level of violence is likely to become within the next decade.)

Posts I've written about how we seem to be using fundamentally adversarial operating protocols and moving towards a war of all against all:

Posts I've written laying out a partial model of how we seem to have wound up in a state of permanent wartime mobilization:

comment by Zvi · 2018-06-01T12:42:04.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Noting that my salience for Ender's Game (which I like a lot, but not like Duncan likes it) wasn't about kids treated with respect and given agency. It's about a system that ruthlessly manipulates and exploits and lies to those kids, especially Ender, despite it taking a huge toll on all concerned, because the world needs saving and it's time to be the SOBs that do what it takes to get them ready and motivated, and get results. And then the sequels are about him dealing with the consequences of that, plus some Mormonism.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-06-01T19:26:37.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

And thus it is not surprising that you were resonating with both me and Ben at different times in this thread.

comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T07:56:13.328Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What have I said about your character?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T08:00:54.937Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Duncan makes it clear that the reason he doesn't punch people hard is because he doesn't think he can get away with that right now
To be fair, he does suggest that people who don't want to play Punch Bug be accommodated with permission to live in a ghetto instead
I want to note that one and only one side of this debate has argued for initiating physical violence here. The side doing that is not mine.

You've been careful to avoid directly calling me any names, but you've made multiple statements that would come from someone who believes I'm a violent xenophobic sadist ten times more frequently than they would come from someone who believes I'm a good, kind, welcoming, and careful person; they are clear and strong Bayesian evidence and readers will overwhelmingly interpret them as such. And that's just this thread, as opposed to the times you stated explicitly on FB that you feared for your physical safety because I and my house were in your neighborhood.

More broadly, notice that you've ended up retracting or walking back multiple negative claims about me, but have yet to err on the side of being too charitable or saying something too nice. All of the mistakes that you yourself have acknowledged thus far point in the same direction, which in mechanical terms is what we mean by the word "bias."

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-29T08:17:21.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Duncan makes it clear that the reason he doesn’t punch people hard is because he doesn’t think he can get away with that right now

On rereading I don't see direct textual support for this, so I'll edit. Thanks for pointing out the error.

the times you stated explicitly on FB that you feared for your physical safety because I and my house were in your neighborhood.

I explicitly stated the opposite when I noticed there appeared to be ambiguity on that point. I can see how the presence of that ambiguity in the first place would be unpleasant for you. On the whole I regret that interaction, except insofar as it persuaded me to spend less time on Facebook.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Duncan_Sabien · 2018-05-29T08:28:25.674Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I am noting places where I am upvoting benquo's writing.)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-30T07:47:01.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I also upvoted Duncan's direct response, it was much easier to evaluate and respond to than most of the other criticism I got on this and related threads. I'd like to encourage more criticism like this, tagging specifics. At this point I'm seriously considering the hypothesis that this would have gone better - and better for me - in a forum moderated by Duncan.)

comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-16T09:48:36.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
... the thing I'm beginning to track and scared of isn't actually direct advocacy of violence against me. It's more like, an underlying obliviousness to the possibility of covert aggression or coordination towards violence ...

I'm curious about this. I don't think I share this concern (perhaps I'm one of the oblivious ones), but I'm also not sure I understand exactly what the concern is. (And maybe I would share it if I understood it.)

When you say that you're not worried about direct advocacy of violence towards yourself, but you are worried about coordination towards violence, do you have in mind a slippery slope kind of thing where no one's advocating violence now, but we're also not being sufficiently vigilant with some things we're saying and doing and it might lead to violence somewhere down the line?

I would have thought the odds were pretty low for our community turning violent, mostly just on base rates for well-educated, coastal, liberal-ish people. (Though I suppose the punching Nazis phenomenon and the Berkeley protests in the last year update me slightly towards violence being more likely in our vague reference class.)

If we do disagree about that, do you have any idea what, from your perspective, might be missing from my model? (I realize this might not be an easy question to answer.)

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-16T16:20:09.283Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The line between overt physical, informational, and structural violence is blurry in our world. A toy example of the sort of violence that could actually happen quite soon is that people coordinate to subtly gaslight one of my friends, my friend starts acting strangely as a result, people call the police on them for acting strangely, and due to a not very surprising misunderstanding my friend is shot to death.

I'm not worried about this happening to me personally, because I'm good at explaining myself, and because I have a level of privilege sufficient not to rely on this community for meeting some of my basic needs - I can just leave, and did so for a few months. But I'm safe because I'm treating my environment as unsafe. (Around the same time I checked out physically, another friend checked out mentally, which resulted in them having some pretty unpleasant experiences.) I and people like me don't end up investing in this community as much as we might - this is part of why my post about the Berkeley REACH had the tone of "if you people want nice things you should fund them" rather than "here's a great thing for the community we're building."

The mechanism by which posts like Duncan's promote this outcome is that they build consensus that appeals to a shared sense of justice are naive, and we should only be able to appeal to utility directly (which imposes adverse externalities on people bearing illegible costs) or to a general sense of what our sort of people do.

The post is very long. Most of it is making the basic point that you can't and shouldn't actually ban imposing costs on others. Definitely some people argue against punch-buggy on nonaggression purism grounds, and Duncan correctly argues that those people are confused - but this is a weakman. The central example being discussed is punching people. [EDITED TO SAY: While Duncan describes his present behavior (prior to the paradigm shift he's advocating for) as gentle taps, the paradigmatic case described in the post is punching hard.] I would actually not be able to think in common or public spaces with that ambient level of physical threat.

Elsewhere in the comments here people pointed to a common social media behavior-policing tactic that Duncan [EDITED TO SAY: rounds off to] just someone expressing their feelings. This is especially creepy after what happened to Z. M. Davis, whose sense that he was being lied to about gender - regardless of whether he was correct or mistaken about the specific alternative hypotheses he suggested - was initially met with quite a lot of social policing against overtly entertaining hypotheses that might hurt someone's feelings. Look back to my first paragraph. He didn't actually get shot, but to some extent that's just luck.

I'm not saying the SF Bay Rationalist community is worse than others. I'm only pointing out that it fails to meet this standard because I think some people in it might be interested in meeting that standard. The usual way this works is that if people can't appeal to justice, they're silenced and try to conform, they're scapegoated and things go badly for them, or they simply leave. If we want discourse we need to do better.

ETA: Since people have been reading a lot into what I've been saying, I want to clarify that I'm not attributing any of what happened in the Davis case to Duncan. It's an unrelated example of how direct physical threats can emerge fairly naturally from current social dynamics.

Replies from: FeepingCreature
comment by FeepingCreature · 2018-05-16T17:45:57.196Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would actually not be able to think in common or public spaces with that ambient level of physical threat.

As I understand the argument, the claim is that you (or rather, the reference class of people who feel like you) only react like that because you are hypersensitized to harmless (ie. with a short physiological return to baseline) threats due to lack of exposure.

If I am around a spider, I am in a state of mild to severe panic, depending on size. But this is not a fact about the inherent horribleness of spiders, but about my phobic mindset, and attempting to make the world spider-free would be a completely undue cost compared to treating my phobia.

To me, the question with Punch Bug is whether the suffering imposed on people who are naturally ill-suited to mild violence outweighs the suffering caused by lack of physicality and possible neuroticism (?) due to underexposure in people well-suited to mild violence.

Replies from: ESRogs
comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-16T18:23:26.607Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
To me, the question with Punch Bug is whether the suffering imposed on people who are naturally ill-suited to mild violence outweighs the suffering caused by lack of physicality and possible neuroticism (?) due to underexposure in people well-suited to mild violence.

Do we have to choose between everyone playing punch-bug and no one playing punch-bug?

It seems like the ideal would be that everyone who thrives in a kind of rough-and-tumble, highly physical environment would play punch-bug with each other. And the kind of people who go, "Wtf, you're pro-punching?" would not. And everyone would be able to tell who's who at a glance, and never mistake one for the other.

Replies from: ozymandias
comment by ozymandias · 2018-05-17T18:03:43.660Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would point to (the ethical parts of) the BDSM community as an example of useful norms about this.

1) You do not hit people who do not want you to hit them.

1a) Outside of the context of a relationship in which it can be assumed your partner generally wants you to hit them, you ask someone before hitting them.

2) You do not engage in consensual violence around nonconsenting individuals. (A light tap is not violence; punching someone is.)

2a) Bystander consent may be assumed if the bystanders are at a party or social event arranged for the specific purpose of facilitating people consensually hitting each other.

3) If you are going to be playing games where "no" doesn't mean "no" (for example, "you're not hitting me back so I guess you are playing punch bug!"), you establish a safeword ahead of time which means "no".

Replies from: Benquo
comment by Benquo · 2018-05-18T20:59:39.953Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems like about the best one can do for shared spaces that don't require nonconsensual hitting to function. If people like Duncan want to delineate spaces for modes of coordination that do require this, then it's not obvious that we should do much more than try to make sure people have a viable way to exit those spaces if they want to - as long as the space is clearly delineated, it's not threatening to outsiders the way forming a military barracks might be.

In practice it seems difficult to guarantee adherence to BDSM norms for some groups such as small children, since many of them seem to have a strong drive to hit each other nonconsensually from time to time.

comment by ESRogs · 2018-05-16T08:52:47.111Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for your reply, that's helpful! And glad to hear my question was useful :-)

comment by norswap · 2018-05-04T13:07:21.178Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love this article. It's illuminating and well written.

I do agree with the conclusion, although I probably would have been less generous in my treatment.

I'm firmly on the "micro-ignoring" side of things. But, interestingly, I notice my own small reactions more and more. It's something I've been working. And I noticed them precisely so that I don't let them affect me, even unconsciously.

That is also the goal of zen, mindfulness, etc... Become aware of your thoughts and feelings, accept them and let them go.

I'm truly baffled that people would become very self-conscious of all the small unease of everyday life and then choose to elevate them as major inconveniences. It's a bit like discovering who holds your chains and redoubling in bondage and obedience to this silent master.

I'm reminded of the quote:

A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble in the road.

This is how it feels to me, with small feelings substituted in place of the sense of humor.

Replies from: vedrfolnir
comment by vedrfolnir · 2018-05-07T10:16:30.904Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I'm truly baffled that people would become very self-conscious of all the small unease of everyday life and then choose to elevate them as major inconveniences. It's a bit like discovering who holds your chains and redoubling in bondage and obedience to this silent master.

Nobles can take offense at peasants, but peasants can't take offense at nobles.

Peasants are expected to take care not to offend nobles, but nobles aren't expected to take care not to offend peasants.

Maybe it's a bit like that.

(More generally, we can imagine a sort of "metaperennialist" framework, whereby there are, for whatever reason, common human behavioral modules that can be activated when certain conditions obtain, even if no one involved is thinking in terms of these modules and in fact they all think they're doing something completely different. (Cf. standard perennialism, whereby there are metaphysical truths underlying all religions, which can be mystically experienced even when no one involved is thinking in terms of these truths and in fact they all think they're being visited by the Holy Spirit or talking to Jibril or whatnot.) One advantage of this framework is that it can easily explain why people would choose to pay such attention to the micro -- and why certain people would make this choice, and certain others would not. Frankly, the people who pay the most attention to the micro tend to remind me of Captain Aguilera.)

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-05-03T14:49:43.919Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Promoted to frontpage.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2018-05-05T14:02:30.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
I should note, for my readers in less sensitive and explicit cultures: I think that the fact that Harley was able to surface and articulate these beliefs is a good thing, on balance.

Really? These anecdotes sound really awful and exhausting to me. They're going out of their way to start status-threatening conflicts over minor inconveniences.

edit: Reading further it seems OP essentially agrees that this behaviour is unhealthy.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2018-05-06T01:08:06.992Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's a lot better than some other ways that could have gone - Harley could have just said "Fuck you, asshole, this wasn't any of your business" and stormed off. It's better to be able to understand and articulate what and why something is causing you distress than to simply react to distress.

comment by romeostevensit · 2018-05-04T19:39:55.146Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a term for distinguishing between disagreements where the two people are arguing over how to weight the different factors in a model vs disagreements/misunderstandings where they have different factors in their models? Extra layer of complication when languaging doesn't directly point at the factors but only references them. I've been calling them factor disagreements vs model disagreements.

I bring this up because I see written stuff needing to do scaffolding to build this concept up from scratch repeatedly.

It's also a useful concept for delineating two types of cruxing. The kind where you discover that two different weightings for a factor can be calibrated by data, and the kind where you find out things about unshared parts of the ontology of the problem.

Replies from: mr-hire
comment by SilentCal · 2018-05-22T17:08:12.276Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Since I'm in another thread doing a thing that's sort of weirdly adjacent to supporting Duncan's post, let me say what I think of it overall.

I played a bit of Punch Bug as a kid (actually, it was 'Punch Buggy' where I grew up). In my social circles the punches weren't hard, it was basically a token gesture to make spotting a Beetle first into a form of 'winning'. I'd compare it to nonviolent games such as jinx or five minutes to get rid of that word). Personally I found all of these a little fun, a little annoying, no big deal either way.

I don't think my opinions of these games has changed much since then. I wouldn't particularly mind getting randomly hit lightly in the arm, and I might enjoy the little victory of being the one to make a spot. Duncan has my permission to play Punch Bug with me if we ever meet IRL (not that he cares).

**But**, what I personally think of the game does not dictate my opinion. People differ a lot, and it strikes me as an egregious and reckless typical mind fallacy for Duncan to assume that everyone would experience the game the way he does if they gave it a chance, no matter how much they say otherwise. I'm guessing that his evidence for his beliefs is an observation that people who play Punch Bug are more resilient overall. This is probably true, but can be fully explained by causation in the other direction. And not only would many people experience the game as a net negative, but also a significant tail would experience *outsized* negative impact, often to the point of not being able to travel a public road in company at all.

Moreover, it's quite easy for this to be an opt-in game. If Duncan were proposing that people consider for themselves whether they want to train their micro-resilience by opting in, I'd have no problem with his post. But instead he wants to overrule the judgment of people who think the Punch Bug game would be bad for them, in the hopes of building a world more to his liking. This is an indefinite linear combination of dangerous epistemic arrogance and solipsistic disregard for others' well-being,

comment by totallybogus · 2018-05-05T02:35:43.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is Duncan/Conor OK with you linking his content here at LW? (There are of course reasons why I think this is a sensible question to ask, but I won't be going into them here.)

Aside from that, the post is very much of the TL;DR variety, and should ideally be broken into a series of self-contained posts, each pointing out some well-defined inferential step. I'm really quite skeptical that productive discussion about the OP is feasible as is. (But I'm of course willing to be proven wrong, if anyone wants to try!)

Replies from: Raemon, Davis_Kingsley
comment by Raemon · 2018-05-05T03:02:51.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was linked on his FB wall by a friend of his, so I think that's fine.

I actually think this post essentially needed to be as long as it is. Most of the points are not _new_ and if seen in isolation, would be sort of "okay, sure, now what?" The reason they're all necessary is to actually process an entire alternate worldview at once to talk about something that people will have a lot of extreme, knee jerk reaction to.

comment by Davis_Kingsley · 2018-05-06T14:07:44.459Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Is Duncan/Conor OK with you linking his content here at LW? (There are of course reasons why I think this is a sensible question to ask, but I won't be going into them here.)

Yes, he Is.