The Just-Be-Reasonable Predicament

post by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T03:17:52.926Z · score: 5 (9 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 24 comments

If people don't see you as being “reasonable”, then you are likely to have troublesome interactions with them. Therefore, it is often valuable to be seen as “reasonable”. Reasonableness is a general perception that is determined by the social context and norms. It includes, but is not limited to, being seen as fair, sensible and socially cooperative. In summary, we can describe it as being noticeably rational in socially acceptable ways. What is “reasonable” and what is rational often converges, but it is important to note that they can also diverge and be different. For example, it was deemed “unreasonable” to free African-Americans from slavery because slavery was deemed necessary for the economy of the South.

 

The just-be-reasonable predicament occurs when you are chastised for doing something that you believe to be more rational and/or optimal than the norm or what is expected or desired. The chastiser has either: not considered, cannot fathom or does not care that what you are doing or want to do might be more rational and/or optimal than what is the default course of action. The predicament is similar to the one described in lonely dissent in that you must choose between making what you to believe to be the most rational and/or optimal course of action and the one that will be meet with the least amount of social disapproval. 

 

An example of this predicament is when you are playing a game with a scrub (a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about). The scrub might criticise for continuing to use the best strategy that you are aware of, but that they thinks is cheap. If you try to argue that a strategy is a strategy, then the argument is likely to end with the scrub getting angry and saying the equivalent of “just be reasonable”, which basically means: “why can’t you just follow what I see as the rules and the way things should be done?” When you encounter this predicament, you need to weigh up the costs of leaving the way or choosing a non-optimal action vs. facing potential social disapproval. The way opposes being “reasonable” when it is not aligned with being rational. In the scrub situation, the main benefit of being “reasonable” is that you are less likely to annoy the scrub and the main cost is that you are giving up a way to improve for both you and the scrub. The scrub will never learn how to counter the “cheap” strategy and you won’t be looking for other strategies as you know you can always just fall back to the “cheap” strategy if you want to win.

 

In general, you have three choices for how to deal with this predicament: you can be “reasonable”, explain yourself or try to ignore it. Ignoring it means that you continue or go ahead with the ration/optimal course of action that you had planned and that you also to change the conversation or situation so that you don't continue getting chastised. Which choice you should make depends on thecorrigibility and state of mind of the person that you need to explain yourself to as well as how much being “reasonable” differs from being rational. If we reconsider the scrub situation, then we can think of times when you should, or at least most people would, avoid the so called “cheap” strategy. Maybe, it is a bug in the game or it’s overpowered or your goal is fun rather than becoming better at the game. (Note, though, that becoming better at a game often makes it more fun).

 

The just-be-reasonable predicament is especially troubling because, like with the counter man syndrome, repeated erroneous thinking can become embedded into how you reason. In this case, repeated acquiescence can lead to embedding irrational and/or non-optimal ways of thinking into your thought processes.

 

If you continually encounter the just-be-reasonable predicament, then it indicates that your values are out of alignment with the person that you are dealing with. That is, they don’t value rationality, but just want you to do things in the way that they expect and want. Trying to get them to adopt a more rational way of doing things will often be a hard task because it involves having to convince them that their current paradigm from which they are deriving their beliefs as to what is “reasonable” is non-optimal.


Situations involving this predicament come in four main varieties:

  • You actually should just be “reasonable” – this occurs when you are being un”reasonable” not because the most rational or optimal thing is opposed to what is currently considered “reasonable”, but because you are being irrational. If this is the case, then make sure that you don’t try to rationalize and instead just be “reasonable” or try to ignore the situation so that you can think about it later when you are in a better state of mind.
  • Someone wants you to be “reasonable”, but hasn’t really thought about or cares about whether this is rational – this might occur when someone is angry at you because you are not following what they think is the right way to do things. It is important in this situation to not use the predicament as a way of avoiding thoughts about how you might be wrong or how the situation might be like from the other person’s perspective. This is important because, ultimately, you want to change the other person’s opinion about what is “reasonable” so that it matches up more with what is rational. To do this well you often need to be empathetic, understanding and strategic. You need to be strategic because sometimes you may need to ignore the situation or be what they think is “reasonable” so that you can reapproach the topic later without it being contaminated with negative valence. A good idea if you want to avoid making the other person feel like you are imposing is to get them to agree to try out your more rational method on a trial basis. This is also useful for two other reasons: what you think is more rational may turn out not to be and the “reasonable” way of doing things, on reflection, may turn out to be more rational than you think. Something additional to consider is that everyone has different dispositions, propensities and tendencies and what might be the most optimal strategy for you might not be for someone else. If this is the case, then don’t try to change their strategy, but just try to explain why you want to use yours.
  • Someone is telling you to be “reasonable” as a power play or as a method of control – this situation happens when someone is using their power to make you follow their way of doing things. This situation requires a different tact than the last one because your strategies to explain yourself probably won’t work. This is because being told to “just be “reasonable”” is a method that they are using to put you in your place. The other person is not interested in whether the “reasonable” thing is actually rational. They just want you to do something that benefits them. This kind of situation is tough to deal with. You may need to ignore and avoid them or if you do try to explain yourself make sure that you get the support of others first.
  • You don’t want to explain yourself – sometimes we notice that what people think is “reasonable” is not actually rational, but we do the “reasonable” thing anyway because the effort or potential cost involved with explaining yourself is considered to be too high. In this case, you either have to be “reasonable” or try to avoid the issue. Please note that this solution is not optimal because avoiding something when you don’t have evidence that it will go away is a choice to reface the same or worse situation in the future and accepting an unsavoury situation in resignation is letting fear control and limit you.

If you encounter the just-be-reasonable predicament, I recommend running through the below process:  

 

Some other types of this predicament would be “just do as you’re told”, “why can’t you just conform to my belief of what is the best course of action for you here” and any other type of social disapproval, implicit or explicit, that you get from doing what is rational or optimal rather than what is expected or the default.

24 comments

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comment by Jiro · 2015-07-16T15:57:14.192Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Remember reason as memetic immune disorder.

"Be reasonable" is often a type of cultural immunity to crazy ideas. And someone who wants to "be rational" instead of "being reasonable" may actually be in a position where his "rationality" is bypassing this cultural immunity.

It could be that you're just rational enough to understand that "be reasonable" isn't a rational argument, but you're not rational enough to explicitly figure out what's wrong with this specific idea now that you've bypassed the general immunity to bad ideas.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-17T03:30:38.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. Would you say that this is the problem: when you are rational, you deem your conclusions more valuable than those of non-rational people. This can end up being a problem as you are less likely to update your beliefs when they are opposed. This adds the risk that if you make a one false belief and then rationally deduce a plethora of others from it you will be less likely to update any erronous conclusions.

I think that the predicament highlights the fact that going against what is reasonable is not something that you should do lightly. Maybe, I should make this more explicit.

If you are going against the crowd, then there is a good chance that you have made a mistake somewhere in your reasoning and that your conclusion is crazy or does not work. Reasonable things are not normally like this because they need to be circulated and disseminated. If they were crazy or didn't work, then this could not happen. But, this doesn't mean that they are optimal or that they are right.

If you are going against what is reasonable, then this is a serious reason to doubt your beliefs. It is not a reason in and of iteself to believe that something untrue or irrational.

What do you think is the best way to overcome this problem? This is from the post:

How can you tell when you have removed one set of blind spots from your reasoning without removing its counterbalances? One heuristic to counter this loss of immunity, is to be very careful when you find yourself deviating from everyone around you. I deviate from those around me all the time, so I admit I haven't found this heuristic to be very helpful. Another heuristic is to listen to your feelings. If your conclusions seem repulsive to you, you may have stripped yourself of cognitive immunity to something dangerous.

I would add that it is a good idea to try and explain your beliefs to other people, preferably someone you believe is rational and the more people the better. Try to seriously doubt your beliefs and to see them anew. If other people reach the same conclusion, then you can become more sure of your beliefs.

comment by RowanE · 2015-07-16T10:30:35.922Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think the word "reasonable" is used enough as an applause light rather than an actual descriptor that it should probably be put in "scare quotes" to defuse it through most of this essay.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T12:13:10.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Done. Thanks for the suggestion.

comment by Elo · 2015-07-16T08:18:57.225Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

“why can’t you just be a good [insert relevant religion here] boy or girl”

could probably in improved to read:

"Why can't you just be a good conformist"

or

"Why can't you just conform to my belief of what is the best course of action for you here"

Other than that, I like it. I believe this does a good job of explaining a process that probably comes naturally to a lot of people. Making it hard to describe. For conditions such as asbergers it would come in handy where the natural social conditioned process is not always automatically created by the user.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T12:14:04.062Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good idea. I replaced it with "Why can't you just conform to my belief of what is the best course of action for you here". Thanks.

comment by Unknowns · 2015-07-16T04:17:48.701Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If "being rational" means choosing the best option, you never have to choose between "being reasonable" and "being rational," because you should always choose the best option. And sometimes the best option is influenced by what other people think of what you are doing; sometimes it's not.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T12:35:23.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that rationality and reasonableness can be similar, but they can also be different. See this post for what I mean by rationality. The idea of it being choosing the best option is too vague.

Some factors that may lead to what others think is reasonable being different from what is the most rational are: the continued use of old paradigms that are known to be faulty, pushing your views as being what is reasonable as a method of control and status quo bias.

Here is are two more examples of the predicament

  • Imagine that you are in family that is heavily religious and you decide that you are an atheist. If you tell anyone in your family you are likely to get chastised for this making it an example of the just-be-reasonable predicament.
  • Imagine that you are a jury member and you are the cause of a hung jury. They tell you: “the guy obviously did it. He is a bad man anyway. How much evidence do you need? Just be reasonable about this so that we can go home”. Now, you may actually be being irrationally under confident or perhaps you are not. The post was about what you should do in this situation. I consider it a predicament because people find it hard to do what they think is the right thing when they are uncertain and when it will cause them social disapproval.

Also, I have updated the below:

The just-be-reasonable predicament occurs when in order to be seen as being reasonable you must do something irrational or non-optimal.

To this to try and more clearly express what I meant:

The just-be-reasonable predicament occurs when you are chastised for doing something that you believe to be more rational and/or optimal than the norm or what is expected or desired. The chastiser has either: not considered, cannot fathom or does not care that what you are doing or want to do might be more rational and/or optimal than what is the default course of action. The predicament is similar to the one described in lonely dissent in that you must choose between making what you to believe to be the most rational and/or optimal course of action and the one that will be meet with the least amount of social disapproval.

comment by B9013C87 · 2015-07-17T11:08:19.508Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Obvious question (not related to the opener so let's keep it brief) everyone apparently failed to ask :

are you Satoshi Nakamoto? Why did you pick this name if you aren't?

comment by ChristianKl · 2015-07-23T11:20:45.744Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

are you Satoshi Nakamoto? Why did you pick this name if you aren't?

Very likely not. As far as the background goes someone tried to impersonate Satoshi Nakamoto in the comment threads of Overcoming Bias in a Bitcoin related discussion. This seems to me like a likely follow up.

But then I'm happy about someone writing decent articles on LW.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-07-16T15:15:29.812Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Why did you choose this login name?

comment by welp · 2015-07-16T13:19:11.787Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For example, it was deemed “unreasonable” to free African-Americans from slavery because slavery was deemed necessary for the economy of the South.

Why do you deem it rational?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-07-16T21:33:54.339Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

... well... because it is a massive violation of the preferences of the slaves, and the writer takes those preferences into account to a significant extent?

I'm not sure why you deemed this question interesting enough to ask. Would you disagree with that answer?

ETA: why was this downvoted? Welp (for I will not assume the downvote was from welp) didn't say what e meant. What e meant was what e said below, which would have been much clearer. This appears to be a reasonable answer to the given question.

comment by welp · 2015-07-16T22:16:04.402Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It strikes me as strange to designate this as "rational" rather than say, "moral", and then use this as the example of the difference between "rational" and "reasonable". If this is considered rational simply because it's a direct, one-step application of your moral values, then the real difference here lies between your terminal values and the terminal values of the general population; both you and the general population are acting rationally. There are surely better examples to use, where your terminal values coincide with society, and your actions optimize them while societal norms do not. Charity for instance.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-17T02:54:05.991Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that this is probably not the best example. The scrub one is better.

I think that "moral" is similar to "reasonable" in that it is based on intutition rather than argument and rationality. People have seen slavery as being "moral" in the past. Some of the reasons for this is false beliefs like that it's natural that some people are slaves, that slaves are inferior beings and that slavery is good for slaves,

I guess I was thinking about it from two points of view:

  • Is it rational to have the moral belief that there should be slaves. A rational person would look at all the supporting beliefs and see if they are themselves rational. For example, are slaves inferior beings. The answer, as we know, is no. In terms of the mass slavery of large portions of people, this has often been due to some characteristic like high levels of melanin for the slaves in America. These characteristics don't make people inferior and they sure don't make people inhuman.
  • With the system set up the way it was, was the alternative to slaves inferior? I am not an expert on this, but I was thinking that the alternative was not inferior. Perhaps, it would have been slower in terms of growth, but America still could have thrived as a nation if the south abolished slavery without war.
comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-07-18T02:07:54.474Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Is it rational to have the moral belief that there should be slaves. A rational person would look at all the supporting beliefs and see if they are themselves rational. For example, are slaves inferior beings. The answer, as we know, is no. In terms of the mass slavery of large portions of people, this has often been due to some characteristic like high levels of melanin for the slaves in America. These characteristics don't make people inferior and they sure don't make people inhuman.

On the other hand, high levels of melanin were correlated with lower intelligence.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-07-17T15:12:03.768Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It seemed rather more like the post was referring to 'unreasonable' argument, regardless of the source of disagreement. So it doesn't even NEED to be a disagreement based on differences of rationality, to be a good example.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-07-16T07:54:03.359Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The scrubs you mention seem comparable to bruce.

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T12:15:12.335Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. They seem pretty close to me. I think it is a bit different though. I think the bruce article was trying to convey the idea that Bruce was a kind of gaming masochist. That is, he wanted to lose.

An example quote is:

If he would hit a lucky streak and pile up some winnings he would continue to play until the odds kicked in as he knew they always would thus he was able to jump into the pit of despair and self-loathing head first. Because he needed to. And Bruce is just like that.

The difference as I see it is that bruce loses through self sabotage because of unresolved issues in his psyche and the scrub loses through self sabotage because they are too pedantic.

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2015-07-16T21:30:20.987Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think pedantry is anything like the key element of scrubbitude. As I understand it, a scrub is interested in 'fairness', which tends to mean shallow learning curves, balance between options (even when it is not called-for), and their winning.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2015-07-16T18:02:53.245Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

the scrub loses through self sabotage because they are too pedantic.

Which is also a psych problem. But I agree that it is different. They don't want to loose but they also don't want to win. Seems like an in-between state.

comment by VoiceOfRa · 2015-07-16T06:40:41.645Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You missed one important case: sometimes the right solution is to continue being rational and not care what the "reasonable" person thinks of you. In particular just because you're rational doesn't mean you'll be able to change everyone's mind.

comment by gjm · 2015-07-16T12:39:54.995Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this the "avoid the issue" path through the flowchart?

comment by Satoshi_Nakamoto · 2015-07-16T12:18:52.934Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think I was very clear. I meant for this case to be covered under "avoid the issue". As by avoiding the issue you just continue whatever course of action or behaviour you were previously undertaking. I have edited the post to make this a bit clearer.

I thought about this later and think you were right. I have updated the process in the picture.