I’m relatively new to lesswrong.com, but it seems to be a site where there’s a strong tendency for people to actually be respectful to each other in the comments, even when they disagree. How do we promote more of that in the world in general, where people seem less committed to rationality? I have a couple of thoughts on where to start.

The Dignity Index

The Dignity Index, started by Tim Shriver (Chairman of Special Olympics), is a way of rating communication with scores from 1 to 8, with 1 on the level of “let’s kill them all,” and 8 basically being “I hate no one and value everyone.” Students who learned how to rate communication using this scale reportedly became more conscious of how they themselves were communicating, and this led some to change their behaviors. What might happen if it were standard practice to teach all students how to rate our interactions this way (and that "policing" interactions this way scores low on The Dignity Index itself)? 

Also, one could envision The Dignity Index rating applied, through machine learning, to social media posts, with users being able to filter for posts and comments above some minimum Dignity Index level that they choose. I don’t know how much actual impact this could have on social media civility, but it seems like an interesting thing to try. 

The key thing I think needs to happen for The Dignity Index to catch on is for more people to become aware of it (hence, this post).

Anger Trigger Elimination Course for the Masses

Removing anger from “below the surface” of conversations could have a huge effect on making dialogue generally more productive, I believe. And techniques do exist to help people “remove” their anger triggers. I’m not talking about classic “anger management” (breathing, etc.) - I’m referring to actual removal of impulses to get angry when specific things (“triggers”) happen. The best online course I’ve found for this thus far is "Anger - Complete freedom from anger forever” by Angela Hardy on udemy.com. How do we get massive numbers of people to take such a course and use the tools from it to continue to remove their anger triggers over time? 

Beyond making an anger course part of standard education in school, defensive driving courses may point to a path forward. Insurance companies in many states offer a discount (typically 10%) on auto insurance for people who take a Defensive Driving Course every few years, and more than a million people per year in the U.S. take such a course. Could something similar be done with an anger trigger elimination course? It would likely require a study to see if taking a facilitated version of an online course, plus a few ongoing sessions to work on specific anger triggers could be shown to reduce automobile, health, and/or life insurance costs. If this were the case, insurance companies may be willing to offer discounts on the associated premiums for people who took the course, which could incentivize significant numbers of people to do so.

Other Thoughts?

An overhaul of the educational system to better promote emotional regulation, critical thinking, responsibility, love of learning, etc. seems like it would be incredibly helpful if it could actually be implemented, although our current shortcomings in productive dialogue seem like they'd make getting agreement on this quite difficult. Perhaps change could be made during a switch to AI-aided education? Anyone have other thoughts on how we could bring about educational reform on a massive scale and/or additional specific ideas for how to promote more productive dialogue in the world in general?

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The ending hints at the true problem: how do we go about implementing such change?

We already have more than enough tools: de Bono's thinking hats, 5-whys, CBT & a dozen other forms of therapy (+ drugs!), CFAR, gratitude journaling, meditation, anger management, post-mortems, pre-mortems, legitimate self-help, etc.

But the problem in deploying them are legion:

  • Can we truly make "the Masses" do anything? Doesn't that defeat the spirit of such an undertaking?
  • How do we know which tools to deploy to whom? In my own experience, people and even skilled practioners often guess at underlying issues, so multiple approaches are often necessary. To your own point about anger trigger elimination, what about the millions of people with the opposite problem who could actually use more anger to obtain more agency?
  • How do you deal with cultural taboos? One would imagine that Guess cultures would be more opposed to the more explicit forms of communication champion in circles such as this one.
  • There are many established power structures that would lose power because of this. Mafias, religious groups, political fanatics all stand to lose pretty much everything.

(I'll stop for the sake of time).

This is something I'm personally interested too. However, I've dialed down my dreams, so to say, and focus on two very local activities that blend in with my personal life:

  • Serve as an example of clear, thoughtful communication. Whenever I deal with neighbors, coworkers, family members, or even strangers, I deploy all I've learned from LW in a low-key way to get us toward a win-win situation. If someone is especially responsive, I nudge them toward LW or HPMoR.
  • Practice by hanging out with rationalists. I recently attended the NYC Megameetup and had so many amazing talks that I felt inspired to meet others more often and improve my own thinking. This also works to replenish my mental energy.

Now that I think of it, it seems like The Guild of the Rose is a good vehicle for spreading good thinking techniques because it ties them directly with gain in the sense of this Adam Smith quote:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.

I appreciate the comment, you keyed me in to a bunch of things I wasn’t aware of (The Guild of the Rose, NYC Megameetup, and more). I definitely agree that setting a good example in one’s own life is a great place to start. And yes, several established power structures do stand to lose if people become less easy to manipulate.

I’m still hopeful that there’s some way to make progress if we get enough good minds churning out ideas on how to enroll people into their own personal development. This makes me wonder, though - which is more difficult, human alignment or AI alignment?

I’m still hopeful that there’s some way to make progress if we get enough good minds churning out ideas on how to enroll people into their own personal development.

Me too! I hope my comment didn't come through as cynical or thought-stopping. I think this is one of the highest goods people can produce. It just seems like this is one of those problems where even defining the problem is a wicked problem in the first place--but falling into analysis-paralysis is bad too.

Please do write more on this topic. Ill try to make a post around the same themes this weekend :)

I look forward to your post. One thing I'll add at this point is that The Dignity Index group is working on rating politicians' speech using machine learning, in hopes that this could help shift political dialogue. I've done something similar with a bit more complicated rating system I developed independently. If you're interested, check out some ratings of politicians' tweets here: twitter.com/DishonorP. I don't feel that ratings systems by themselves will have a large impact on shifting behaviors, but seeing that some people put out actually non-partisan ratings may give others a tiny bit more hope in humanity.