Cards Against Rationality 2012-06-16T02:23:42.941Z
Self-modification, morality, and drugs 2011-04-10T00:02:53.215Z


Comment by fubarobfusco on Paranoia testing · 2017-08-25T16:52:43.923Z · LW · GW

I might make the move of saying: "Let's pretend for a moment, that people really conspire. Would that be really that problematic?"

We do really conspire! Conspiring is at best a handy social and economic coordination activity. At worst it is a big bunch of no fun, where people have to pretend to be conspiring while they'd really rather be working on personal projects, flirting, or playing video games; and everyone comes out feeling like they need to hide their freakish incompetence at pursuing the goals of the conspiracy.

We usually call it "having meetings" though.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, June 26 - July 2, 2017 · 2017-06-28T15:29:16.709Z · LW · GW

Are you claiming that a being must be a moral agent in order to be a moral patient?

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, June. 19 - June. 25, 2017 · 2017-06-22T01:18:22.070Z · LW · GW

I was on an Android tablet, which I use in a laptop-like fashion (landscape mode, with keyboard) but which usually gets the mobile version of sites that try to be mobile-friendly.

Comment by fubarobfusco on S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them · 2017-06-20T23:53:13.362Z · LW · GW

The section presumes that the audience agrees wrt veganism. To an audience who isn't on board with EA veganism, that line comes across as the "arson, murder, and jaywalking" trope.

Comment by fubarobfusco on [deleted post] 2017-06-01T03:26:09.087Z

Advanced rationality techniques, at least when applied to one's self-conception and life choices, are basically therapy. "Failures of basic rationality" are often better described as "mental health issues". Therapy is how you deal with mental health issues. People with mental health issues need more therapy/advanced rationality, not less! I've seen it hypothesized that one reason we have so many mentally ill rationalists is because people with mental health issues must learn rationality in order to function, at least to some degree that is more than most people need.

This reminds me of Romeo's comment over here:

Comment by fubarobfusco on Why Most Intentional Communities Fail (And Some Succeed) · 2017-05-23T19:56:46.695Z · LW · GW

I'm curious if there's much record of intentional communities that aren't farming communes.

Oneida comes to mind. They had some farming (it was upstate New York in the 1850s, after all) but also a lot of manufacturing — most famously silverware. The community is long gone, but the silverware company is still around.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Reaching out to people with the problems of friendly AI · 2017-05-17T03:30:56.361Z · LW · GW

We should increase awareness of old fairy tales with a jinn who misinterprets wishes.

The most popular UFAI story I'm aware of is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice".

Sticking with European folktales that were made into classic Disney cartoons, maybe the analogy to be made is "AI isn't Pinocchio. It's Mickey's enchanted brooms. It doesn't want to be a Real Boy; it just wants to carry water. The danger isn't that it will grow up to be a naughty boy if it doesn't listen to its conscience. It's that it cannot care about anything other than carrying water; including whether or not it's flooding your home."

Thing is, much of the popular audience doesn't really know what code is. They've never written a bug and had a program do something unintended ... because they've never written any code at all. They've certainly never written a virus or worm, or even a script that accidentally overwrites their files with zeroes. They may have issued a bad order to a computer ("Oops, I shouldn't have sent that email!") but they've never composed and run a non-obviously bad set of instructions.

So, aside from folklore, better CS education may be part of the story here.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, May 8 - May 14, 2017 · 2017-05-13T16:37:03.207Z · LW · GW

Why do you care if you're running in a simulation? Well, if you're a piece of malware, like a computer virus or Internet worm, you care whether you're being analyzed by an anti-malware researcher. If you're running in a researcher's lab instead of actually infecting target systems, you'd want to shut down so the researcher can't observe your real behavior and find out how to exterminate you. However, this means that if you can be fooled into believing you're running in a simulation when you're not, you can be made to shut down in the wild.

Yep, that happened. It's not even the first time.

The WannaCrypt worm contained logic that basically said, "Look for the following properties in the Internet. If you observe them, that means you're not running in the real Internet; you're running in a simulation." But the researcher was able to cause those properties to become true in the real Internet, thereby convincing the live malware that was infesting the actual Internet to believe it was in a simulation and shut down.

Anti-analysis or anti-debugging features, which attempt to ask "Am I running in a simulation?", are not a new thing in malware, or in other programs that attempt to extract value from humans — such as copy-protection routines. But they do make malware an interesting example of a type of agent for which the simulation hypothesis matters, and where mistaken beliefs about whether you're in a simulation can have devastating effects on your ability to function.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Bad intent is a disposition, not a feeling · 2017-05-02T00:45:21.512Z · LW · GW

Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit" introduced the distinction between lies and bullshit. The liar wants to deceive you about the world (to get you to believe false statements), whereas the bullshitter wants to deceive you about his intentions (to get you to take his statements as good-faith efforts, when they are merely meant to impress).

We may need to introduce a third member of this set. Along with lies told by liars, and bullshit spread by bullshitters, there is also spam emitted by spambots.

Like the bullshitter (but unlike the liar), the spambot doesn't necessarily have any model of the truth of its sentences. However, unlike the bullshitter, the spambot doesn't particularly care what (or whether) you think of it. But it optimizes its sentences to cause you to do a particular action.

Comment by fubarobfusco on The 2017 Effective Altruism Survey - Please Take! · 2017-04-25T04:17:46.365Z · LW · GW

Thank you.

Comment by fubarobfusco on The 2017 Effective Altruism Survey - Please Take! · 2017-04-24T22:33:04.454Z · LW · GW

Caution: This is not just a survey. It is also a solicitation to create a public online profile.

In the future, please consider separating surveys from solicitations; or disclosing up front that you are not just conducting a survey.

When I got to the part of this that started asking for personally identifying information to create a public online profile, it felt to me like something sneaky was going on: that my willingness to help with a survey was being misused as an entering-wedge to push me to do something I wouldn't have chosen to do.

I considered — for a moment — putting bogus data in as a tit-for-tat defection in retribution for the dishonesty. I didn't do so, because the problem isn't with the survey aspect; it's with the not saying up front what you are up to aspect. Posting this comment seemed more effective to discourage that than sticking a shoe in your data.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Apr. 17 - Apr. 23, 2017 · 2017-04-20T23:25:27.336Z · LW · GW

Just a few groups that have either aimed at similar goals, or have been culturally influential in ways that keep showing up in these parts —

  • The Ethical Culture movement (Felix Adler).
  • Pragmatism / pragmaticism in philosophy (William James, Charles Sanders Peirce).
  • General Semantics (Alfred Korzybski).
  • The Discordian Movement (Kerry Thornley, Robert Anton Wilson).
  • The skeptic/debunker movement within science popularization (Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner, James Randi).

General Semantics is possibly the closest to the stated LW (and CFAR) goals of improving human rationality, since it aimed at improving human thought through adopting explicit techniques to increase awareness of cognitive processes such as abstraction. "The map is not the territory" is a g.s. catchphrase.

Comment by fubarobfusco on April '17 I Care About Thread · 2017-04-20T21:16:08.481Z · LW · GW

Maybe starting the Church of the Frost Giants and declaring cryonic suspension to be a religiously mandated funerary practice would work to that end.

I think actually reviving some ice mice might be a bigger step, though.

Comment by fubarobfusco on April '17 I Care About Thread · 2017-04-18T17:29:26.584Z · LW · GW

What does "successful" look like here? Number of patients in cryonic storage? Successfully revived tissues or experimental animals?

Comment by fubarobfusco on The Ancient God Who Rules High School · 2017-04-07T01:04:32.472Z · LW · GW

In many towns in the US, high school sports (especially football) are not just a recreational activity for students, but rather a major social event for the whole community.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Mar. 27 - Apr. 02, 2017 · 2017-03-28T03:27:21.647Z · LW · GW

This is an algorithm for producing filter bubbles, rather than for discovering or implementing community norms.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Mar. 20 - Mar. 26, 2017 · 2017-03-20T18:36:37.452Z · LW · GW

String substitution isn't truth-preserving; there are some analogies and some disanalogies there.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Mar. 20 - Mar. 26, 2017 · 2017-03-20T17:59:58.639Z · LW · GW

One possibility: Ensure that the benefits of AI accrue to everyone generally, rather than exclusively to the teeny-tiny fraction of humanity who happen to own their own AI business.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, March 13 - March 19, 2017 · 2017-03-17T02:56:59.212Z · LW · GW

Composing a comment and then deciding not to post it can be a good form of rubber-ducking.

Comment by fubarobfusco on I Want To Live In A Baugruppe · 2017-03-17T02:17:03.633Z · LW · GW

I think this idea is worth seeking.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, March 13 - March 19, 2017 · 2017-03-15T23:47:11.044Z · LW · GW might be a start.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, March 13 - March 19, 2017 · 2017-03-15T23:46:27.669Z · LW · GW

And "domain registration", which many web hosting providers will do for you. You can also start with the domain and then add services such as web sites and email, for instance via Google Domains:

Comment by fubarobfusco on [stub] 100-Word Unpolished Insights Thread (3/10-???) · 2017-03-11T19:59:13.638Z · LW · GW

Your claim seems to factor into two parts: "There exist charities that are just selling signaling", and "All charities are that kind of charity." The first part seems obviously true; the second seems equally obviously false.

Some things that I would expect from a charity that was just selling signaling:

  • Trademarking or branding. It would need to make it easy for people to identify (and praise) its donors/customers, and resist imitators. (Example: the Komen breast-cancer folks, who have threatened lawsuits over other charities' use of the color pink and the word "cure".)
  • Association with generic "admiration" traits, such as celebrity, athleticism, or attractiveness. (Example: the Komen breast-cancer folks again.)
  • Absence of "weird" or costly traits that would correlate with honest interest in its area of concern. (For instance, a pure-signaling charity that was ostensibly about blindness might not bother to have a web site that was highly accessible to blind users.)
  • In extreme cases, we would be hearing from ostensible beneficiaries of the charity telling us that it actually hurts, excludes, or frightens them. (Example: Autism Speaks.)
  • Jealousy or competitiveness. It would try to exclude other charities from its area of concern. (A low-signaling charity doesn't care if it is responsible for fixing the thing; it just wants the thing fixed.)
Comment by fubarobfusco on Dreaming of Political Bayescraft · 2017-03-07T18:02:01.358Z · LW · GW

See Scott's "The Goddess of Everything Else" for a poetical exposition on the subject.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open Thread, Feb. 20 - Feb 26, 2017 · 2017-02-23T16:35:58.872Z · LW · GW

So what was the wrong idea "geocentrism" about, then?

Some tribal lore tells us that it had to do with the centrality of humanity in God's plan; or the qualitative difference between earthly and celestial things: the sun, moon, and stars belong to the heavens; the earth is below them; and hell is under the earth.

But maybe it's more to do with a wrong idea of "revolving" instead. The ancients had no concept of freefall. When they imagined an object revolving around another, they may have imagined a sling-stone being swung in a sling. "If the earth were swinging around the sun, surely we would fall off!" The earth has discernible features such as oceans, trees, and people which might "fall off" under motion, but the sun doesn't, being a seemingly featureless body of light: so the evidence of ordinary terrestrial experience favors the stability of the earth and the motion of the sun.

Even after heliocentric cosmology, it took more than a century to come up with the unification of celestial and terrestrial gravity: that the same rules govern the motion of the planets and moons that also govern cannonballs.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open Thread, Feb. 20 - Feb 26, 2017 · 2017-02-22T16:24:24.494Z · LW · GW

Politically, taxing gasoline is utterly commonplace and accepted. Every developed country except Mexico does it, and every U.S. state.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Allegory On AI Risk, Game Theory, and Mithril · 2017-02-17T16:56:06.658Z · LW · GW

Is there a directory of the gods and monsters somewhere? If not, I think I'll start one.

Comment by fubarobfusco on X Is Not About Y: Technological Improvements and Cognitive-Physical Demands · 2017-01-16T01:46:08.443Z · LW · GW

It's been commented on before, once or twice!

Hitherto [1848] it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to effect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish. Only when, in addition to just institutions, the increase of mankind shall be under the deliberate guidance of judicious foresight, can the conquests made from the powers of nature by the intellect and energy of scientific discoverers become the common property of the species, and the means of improving and elevating the universal lot.

— John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy

Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist.

— Karl Marx, Capital

Comment by fubarobfusco on Defusing Hate: A Strategic Communication Guide to Counteract Dangerous Speech · 2017-01-15T17:50:06.848Z · LW · GW

It is written by the sage Brandeis that "the remedy [to harmful speech] is more speech, not enforced silence."

In order for this remedy to be applied, someone has to actually compose the "more speech" that rebuts the harmful speech. This paper appears to be a set of recommendations for how to go about doing that; crafting "more speech" so that it actually constitutes an effective and relevant rebuttal against speech that advocates violence. I didn't notice anything in this paper that recommended suppression or censorship, or even that those were up for consideration.

(Also, it's really okay to not like genocide; for "let's massacre the tribe next door!" to be among the "views you don't like". As it is written by the rhetor Goldwater: "moderation in the protection of liberty is no virtue.")

Comment by fubarobfusco on [LINK] EA Has A Lying Problem · 2017-01-13T16:40:27.085Z · LW · GW

"I got caught lying — again — so now I'm going to tell you why lying is actually better than telling the truth."

Seriously ... just stop already.

Comment by fubarobfusco on How to talk rationally about cults · 2017-01-11T04:03:58.546Z · LW · GW

It's possible to fool people's sense of "feeling informed".

For instance, LSD seems to often induce a sense of insight and significance ... including sometimes attributing cosmic meaning to the patterns perceived in the pebbles in a concrete wall.

Or, for that matter, as some of the psychological studies described in Cialdini's Influence or Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow appear to have failed to replicate, what is there to say about the sense of feeling informed that accrued to many of us who took them to be insightful?

Comment by fubarobfusco on How to talk rationally about cults · 2017-01-10T21:27:07.939Z · LW · GW

They may offer to install a group-sanctioned web filter, or otherwise let you outsource the information filtering to them.

Which cult currently does this? Do you know of any?

Scientology did this ... about two decades ago.

Edited to add: This is presented as an example of how someone might have heard of "cults doing web censorship" as a story, without it being current.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Dec. 26, 2016 - Jan. 1, 2017 · 2016-12-31T20:46:53.739Z · LW · GW

As with "violence" itself, it seems like some uses of "bullying" strike me as being somewhat metaphorical rather than literal; but the folks using it those ways may not agree.

That said, my experience in school was that physical violence and "word stuff" could be combined arms in an effort to create misery or to drive someone away: perpetrators could use physical harm when they expected to get away with it; aggressive posturing (e.g. miming a punch) to remind the victim of the possibility of physical harm; and verbal attacks when they expected to get away with those.

Comment by fubarobfusco on A quick note on weirdness points and Solstices [And also random other Solstice discussion] · 2016-12-23T23:14:39.579Z · LW · GW

Not sure what else to add, but if I think of anything later I'll do so.

Comment by fubarobfusco on A quick note on weirdness points and Solstices [And also random other Solstice discussion] · 2016-12-23T06:18:11.651Z · LW · GW

Berkeley, and the Sunday Assembly one in Mountain View. I care more about the Berkeley one, and much of the reason I went to the other was to see what differences that group was doing with their liturgy. Much more sedate emotionally, although pretty energetic musically: they have a rock band instead of a choir; they opened with "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog". They still did "When I Die" and "Do You Realize?" though, and their venue allowed candles. Also, I think they have a running gag about playing "Wonderwall" that I didn't quite pick up on.

Comment by fubarobfusco on "Flinching away from truth” is often about *protecting* the epistemology · 2016-12-23T03:59:51.026Z · LW · GW

"Just being stupid" and "just doing the wrong thing" are rarely helpful views, because those errors are produced by specific bugs. Those bugs have pointers to how to fix them, whereas "just being stupid" doesn't.

I'm guessing you're alluding to "Errors vs. Bugs and the End of Stupidity" here, which seems to have disappeared along with the rest of LiveJournal. Here's the Google cached version, though.

Comment by fubarobfusco on A quick note on weirdness points and Solstices [And also random other Solstice discussion] · 2016-12-23T03:43:18.043Z · LW · GW

Things that persistently work for me at Solstice:

  • Having it happen at all.
  • Group singing, particularly "Brighter Than Today" which has gotten to be pretty much the song of the season for me.
  • Acknowledging and working with dark themes — cold, danger, extinction, loneliness — and facing them as a community and as humanity. This is a big part of what makes Solstice work as a ritual for me. I'm going to come in vaguely mopey and anxious but glad to see people; completely break down crying at least once during the ritual; hug a lot of people; reconnect with a community I don't see nearly as much as I should; and have an awesome night.

Things that seem like areas for improvement:

  • Both events I went to this year had microphones cutting in and out. Even with experienced sound people involved, this still happens. It's easy for me to laugh off technical problems, but they still are disruptive.
  • The Berkeley event seemed to have a lot of extra food. It's much better to overprovision than underprovision, but the error seemed pretty high. I found myself wondering if the dinner aspect of the event wasn't well publicized.
  • Even with the suggested donation above the ticket price for the Berkeley event, the overall price was much less than I would be willing to pay. This is inefficient! Sure, I can add the extra to my end-of-year donations, but mumble mumble fuzzies and utilons mumble.

Things I don't like that didn't happen:

  • "X Days of X-Risk". It wasn't in the Berkeley program this year, and honestly I had kinda forgotten about it until seeing this post. I find "Twelve Days of Christmas" annoying for being repetitious, and "of x-risk" is too many consonants to sing. It wouldn't have ruined it ... but I will gladly take "When I Die" over "X Days of X-Risk" any day.

Things I am not worried about:

  • Cultiness. It is totally okay for Solstice to be the cultiest thing we ever do. It's certainly the cultiest thing I did all year.
Comment by fubarobfusco on Extortion and trade negotiations · 2016-12-19T05:34:47.249Z · LW · GW

I think it goes beyond violation of norms. It has to do with the sum over the entire interaction between the two parties, as opposed to a single tree-branch of that interaction. In one case, you are in a bad situation, and then someone comes along, and offers to relieve it for a price. In the other case, you are in an okay situation and then someone comes along and puts you into a bad situation, then offers to relieve it.

This can also be expressed in terms of your regret of the other party's presence in your life. Would you regret having ever met the trader who sells you something you greatly need? No. You're better off for that person having been around. Would you regret having ever met the extortionist who puts you into a bad situation and then sells you relief? Yes. You'd be better off if they had never been there.

It matters that the same person designed the situation, causing the disutility in order to be able to offer to relieve it. Why? Because an extortionist has to optimize for creating disutility. They have to create problems that otherwise wouldn't be there. They have to make the world worse; otherwise they wouldn't be able to offer their own restraint as a "service".

Tolerance of extortion allows the survival of agents who go around dumping negative utility on people.

Contrast the insurer with the protection racket. The insurer doesn't create the threat of fire. They may warn you about it, vividly describe to you how much better off you'd be with insurance if your house burns down. But the protection racket has to actually set some people's stuff on fire, or at least develop the credible ability to do so, in order to be effective at extracting protection money.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Nov. 7 - Nov. 13, 2016 · 2016-11-09T20:15:38.047Z · LW · GW

Are you looking for solutions at the "how healthcare should work in this country" level or at the personal "this person should do that" level?

I'm not looking for solutions right now. I'm looking to describe a problem, specifically at the individuals-in-our-community level rather than the national or state policy level.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open thread, Nov. 7 - Nov. 13, 2016 · 2016-11-09T19:24:07.710Z · LW · GW

Hold off on proposing solutions.

Do not propose solutions until the problem has been discussed as thoroughly as possible without suggesting any.

The problem: There are a number of folks in the LW-diaspora (and adjacent circles) who live in the U.S. and are living with disabilities and chronic medical conditions. Many of these people have benefited from increased access to health care in the past few years due to the Affordable Care Act. This increased access may very well be going away soon, putting these folks' health, well-being, and in some cases lives at rather increased danger.

What are other aspects of this problem?

Comment by fubarobfusco on *How* people shut down thought because of high-status respectable halos · 2016-10-21T05:11:05.643Z · LW · GW

"Surely someone more important than me in the organization has checked that this plan is legal before asking me to execute it."

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open Thread, Sept 5. - Sept 11. 2016 · 2016-09-11T19:06:34.590Z · LW · GW

It's really silly.

If we lived in the kind of universe where learning didn't help, where drawing more-correct conclusions and fitting your behavior better to the environment didn't help, then evolution and indeed biological life wouldn't work either. The kind of world where maps don't have anything to do with territories is a dead world, one in which there are no maps because becoming a mapper is worthless.

"Every communication is inaccurate" is inaccurate, but more-or-less true. "Every communication is equally inaccurate" is very much less accurate, to the point of being a flat lie.

After all, if communication didn't work (better than non-communication), then there wouldn't be any. The existence of falsehoods implies the existence of (relatively accurate) truths, because if there wasn't such a thing as a truth, then why would we bother making up lies? A lie only fools anyone because they believe it to be a truth.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Preference over null preference · 2016-09-05T17:49:02.007Z · LW · GW

It's not as if LW has a problem of too much material these days.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open Thread, Aug. 15. - Aug 21. 2016 · 2016-08-17T21:27:02.710Z · LW · GW

This seems plausible to me. Also compare "torture vs. dust specks" (intended as a thought experiment about aggregating disutility over hypothetical people) with "the ticking bomb scenario" (intended as an actual justification for actual societies developing torture practices for actually torturing actual people).

Comment by fubarobfusco on Are smart contracts AI-complete? · 2016-06-23T20:07:44.207Z · LW · GW

With the internet of things physical goods can treat their owner differently than other people. A car can be programmed to only be driven by their owner.

Theoretically yes, but that doesn't seem to be how "smart" devices are actually being programmed.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Crazy Ideas Thread · 2016-06-18T07:20:03.136Z · LW · GW

Someone should pay to install and maintain a printing press and supply of ink and paper, installed in the public square, for all comers to print pamphlets and disseminate their views, ads, rants, wedding invitations, conspiracy allegations, and so on. Surely this would be an excellent and effective contribution to public discourse... and if not, to the wage of the cleaner who sweeps up litter.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Improving long-run civilisational robustness · 2016-05-11T01:38:38.971Z · LW · GW
  • Legislating for individuals to be held more accountable for large-scale catastrophic errors that they may make (including by requiring insurance premiums for any risky activities)

If I blow up the planet, neither my insurance nor your lawsuit is going to help anything. Which is to say, this proposal is just a wealth transfer to insurance companies, since they never have to pay out.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Rationality Quotes May 2016 · 2016-05-06T22:08:22.736Z · LW · GW

This seems to be a complicated, abstruse way of saying "reading statements of knowledge doesn't thereby convey practical skills".

Comment by fubarobfusco on Open Thread April 25 - May 1, 2016 · 2016-04-30T07:50:18.724Z · LW · GW

The 1916 case United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola did not recognize Coca-Cola as containing an incipient intelligence, nor did 2013's United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton contemplate dinosaur necromancy.

Titles like this just represent the legal fiction for in rem cases, in which a case is brought against a piece of property — originally e.g. unclaimed property or contraband.

Comment by fubarobfusco on Exercise in rationality: popular quotes, revisited · 2016-04-26T18:40:30.438Z · LW · GW

"discretion is the better part of valour"

This is a (slight paraphrase of a) quote from a character who is offering a rationalization for cowardice. It wasn't intended as a positive thing in the original work.