Don't Get Offended

'Normality' doesn't mean common sense or folk wisdom.

Actually, yes it does. The results of the theory should agree with our common sense and folk wisdom when dealing with situations on ordinary human scales (or whatever the appropriate analog of "ordinary human scales" is).

I'm not sure I understand quite what this means.

To clarify: if at a given time common sense and folk wisdom are understood to predict a result R1 from experiment E where E involves a situation on ordinary human scales (or some appropriate analog), and at some later time E is performed and gives result R2 instead, would you consider that state of affairs consistent with the rule "the results of the theory should agree with our common sense and folk wisdom", or in conflict with it?

8Rob Bensinger7yYou're making two claims here. First, you're making a substantive claim about the general reliability of human intuitions and cultural institutions when it comes to the human realm. Second, you're making a semantic claim about what 'It all adds up to normality' means. The former doctrine would be extremely difficult to substantiate. What evidence do you have to back it up? And the latter claim is clearly not right in any sense this community uses the term, as the LW posts about Egan's Law speak of the recreation of the ordinary world of perception, not of the confirmation of folk wisdom or tradition. The LessWrong Wiki explicitly speaks of normality as 'observed reality', not as our body of folk theory. Which is a good thing, since otherwise Egan's Law would directly contradict the principle "Think Like Reality []": "Quantum physics is not "weird". You are weird. You have the absolutely bizarre idea that reality ought to consist of little billiard balls bopping around, when in fact reality is a perfectly normal cloud of complex amplitude in configuration space. This is your problem, not reality's, and you are the one who needs to change. "Human intuitions were produced by evolution and evolution is a hack." Indeed, I would say that this claim, that our natural intuitions and common sense and folk wisdom and traditions are wont to be systematically mistaken, is one of the most foundational LessWrong claims. It lies at the very core of the utility of the heuristics/biases literature, which is a laundry list of ways we systematically misconstrue or imperfectly construe the truth. LessWrong is about not trusting your intuitions and cultural traditions (except where they have already been independently confirmed, or where the cost of investigating them exceeds the expected benefit of bothering to confirm them -- and in neither case is this concession an affirmation of any intrinsic trustworthiness on the part of 'common
4TimS7ySo the Aztec add up to normal? Because I'm not seeing how a culture that thought human sacrifice was a virtue has much folk wisdom in common with the modern era.

Don't Get Offended

by katydee 2 min read7th Mar 2013592 comments


Related to: Politics is the Mind-KillerKeep Your Identity Small

Followed By: How to Not Get Offended

One oft-underestimated threat to epistemic rationality is getting offended. While getting offended by something sometimes feels good and can help you assert moral superiority, in most cases it doesn't help you figure out what the world looks like. In fact, getting offended usually makes it harder to figure out what the world looks like, since it means you won't be evaluating evidence very well. In Politics is the Mind-Killer, Eliezer writes that "people who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue." Don't let yourself become one of those zombies-- all of your skills, training, and useful habits can be shut down when your brain kicks into offended mode!

One might point out that getting offended is a two-way street and that it might be more appropriate to make a post called "Don't Be Offensive." That feels like a just thing to say-- as if you are targeting the aggressor rather than the victim. And on a certain level, it's true-- you shouldn't try to offend people, and if you do in the course of a normal conversation it's probably your fault. But you can't always rely on others around you being able to avoid doing this. After all, what's offensive to one person may not be so to another, and they may end up offending you by mistake. And even in those unpleasant cases when you are interacting with people who are deliberately trying to offend you, isn't staying calm desirable anyway?

The other problem I have with the concept of being offended as victimization is that, when you find yourself getting offended, you may be a victim, but you're being victimized by yourself. Again, that's not to say that offending people on purpose is acceptable-- it obviously isn't. But you're the one who gets to decide whether or not to be offended by something. If you find yourself getting offended to things as an automatic reaction, you should seriously evaluate why that is your response.

There is nothing inherent in a set of words that makes them offensive or inoffensive-- your reaction is an internal, personal process. I've seen some people stay cool in the face of others literally screaming racial slurs in their faces and I've seen other people get offended by the slightest implication or slip of the tongue. What type of reaction you have is largely up to you, and if you don't like your current reactions you can train better ones-- this is a core principle of the extremely useful philosophy known as Stoicism.

Of course, one (perhaps Robin Hanson) might also point out that getting offended can be socially useful. While true-- quickly responding in an offended fashion can be a strong signal of your commitment to group identity and values[1]-- that doesn't really relate to what this post is talking about. This post is talking about the best way to acquire correct beliefs, not the best way to manipulate people. And while getting offended can be a very effective way to manipulate people-- and hence a tactic that is unfortunately often reinforced-- it is usually actively detrimental for acquiring correct beliefs. Besides, the signalling value of offense should be no excuse for not knowing how not to be offended. After all, if you find it socially necessary to pretend that you are offended, doing so is not exactly difficult.

Personally, I have found that the cognitive effort required to build a habit of not getting offended pays immense dividends. Getting offended tends to shut down other mental processes and constrain you in ways that are often undesirable. In many situations, misunderstandings and arguments can be diminished or avoided completely if one is unwilling to become offended and practiced in the art of avoiding offense. Further, some of those situations are ones in which thinking clearly is very important indeed! All in all, while getting offended does often feel good (in a certain crude way), it is a reaction that I have no regrets about relinquishing.


[1] In Keep Your Identity Small, Paul Graham rightly points out that one way to prevent yourself from getting offended is to let as few things into your identity as possible.