I'm not at all confident I'm carving reality at its joints here, but this has been my path, so there's got to be something of reality mixed up in it somewhere.

  1. Rationality, general learning ability
  2. Social mechanics, tactics
  3. Political dynamics, strategy

First, I learned to think clearly. While that gave me the potential to be good at anything, since it is a general learning multiplier, I was naturally, not immediately good at everything. On the contrary, learning rationality overwrote a lot of of my old instincts. While some of those instincts were completely valueless, others were a mix of good and bad. Overwriting them granted me many advantages, but also undid some good, particularly in social areas.

Second, I turned my fany new general learning ability on social mechanics, in time returning to my old social ability, and then surpassing it. Additionally, I'm doing so on purpose and by design, rather than accidentally. It's been said that a gentleman is one who never offends on accident, and now, I am one who (less often, anyway) doesn't commit faux pas by accident. Where once I was exasperatingly clueless, now I am a mixture of charm and purposeful offense. It's great!

Third, and this is really only just beginning, because I'm really only about halfway done with the second step, by my estimation, I'm beginning to perceive how all the individual social rules and possible maneuvers combine. I begin to see how whole groups are influenced, what governs them, how to squeeze power out of them. This has helped me appreciate that there are efforts to make people into useful contributors to groups, like cogs in a machine, in order to empower those groups, in order to create a store of political capital to be taken advantage of by those who know how to make withdrawals.

And that led me to realize that the teaching of rationality directly undoes these efforts. It is much harder to manipulate rationalists on the sly. Direct threats and rewards and so on are still available, of course, but you can't, to use one trick as an example, change the definition of a word and think that a proper rationalist will act any differently as a result. A rationlist would see through the illusory web of words to the essence beyond, to the concepts at play and how they relate to each other, with no import placed on which word-labels are used to refer to those concepts.

This particular trick makes for a great example of something else. When I learned to see with the clear sight of conceptual vision, to taboo words, to think in terms of hyperdimensional concept space, a great many, perhaps a solid half, of arguments of all kinds, including political ones, became child's play to me. If you don't know the trick of seeing the substance rather than the symbol, this may sound quite arrogant, to think one so completely above and beyond half of all arguments, but if you do know the trick, you're probably pretty familiar with how easily this trick can accomplish just that. Those of us who have learned this have no particular cleverness; we're not doing anything impressive when we use this insight, it's just that once someone learns it (and almost anyone could), it really does undo a great edifice of contemporary argument.

But this trick's benefit was only defensive at first; you couldn't control me just by getting people to change their word choice, true...On the other hand, I had trouble relating to others. I found I couldn't teach them what they needed to know in the course of a single discussion, and even those whom I saw with frequency were generally uninterested in learning at my hand (for status reasons, if I had to guess; accepting another as a teacher is to debase one's self). I couldn't use this trick to dissolve arguments for others, only for myself. My offensive power to influence was actually decreased, as, to my mind, there was only one response to give to definitional disputes, but that one response was no good for influencing others.

So, I had this dearth of power that needed resolving. I had to go back and learn how to deal with definition disputes without dissolving them. I had to focus on making others hear the truth, not just on speaking truth that they could not hear. I had to meet them where they were, and try to move them a single step in the right direction, rather than insisting on an all-or-nothing attempt to complete the journey in a fell swoop.

It feels awkward trying to alter people's concepts while acting like words have "true" meanings, like I've added an extra layer of interface, or am trying to manipulate knitting needles through a sheet (and I know we all know what that's like), but I do the best I can. And so, learning rationality undid some of my ability to influence people socially, but then returned that power to me twofold. From rationality to social maneuvering. And then came the next transition, from social understanding to political understanding, an understanding of how groups are made and moved.

To understand how this trick applies to politics (by which I mean the actual process of politicking (manipulating coalitions of people) and don't mean anything about any specific parties or political issues), it helps to ask a question. Why do political movements care about redefining words? The naive rationalist will say "it doesn't change anything about how things actually work to just use different labels for them or to attach old labels to new concepts; what's the point?" Near as I can tell the answer is as follows, and is one of the tools of power wielded by politicians who know what they're doing, the weapons of demagogues and statesmen:

If you take word "x" and say what it "really" refers to is concept y, then you distort people's perception to make them feel like concept y has some of the feeling of concept x. You've removed concept x from the equation, but you've given concept y the associations that concept x earned for itself. (the use of quotation marks in this paragraph is significant; with marks = word, without = concept or referent).

For example, if people associate marriage itself with ideas of respectability, then you can give an air of respectability to something by getting people to call it "marriage." This is why some people protested redefining marriage to include gay couples, and also why it wasn't satisfactory to just use a different word for gay couples and grant them the same governmental treatment that marriage had. That would accomplish all the overt intentions of the gay marriage movement, but not the covert ones which included warping people's perceptions to give gay marriage that unofficial respectability that can't be mandated by law.

This is also why people insist on saying "baby" or "fetus" depending on which side of that debate they're on. Possibly also why the correct word to use for racial or handicapped groups seems to change over time...

Now, to be precise, the reason most people insist on these word choices is not to warp perceptions by swapping associations between concepts via changing vocabulary, but simply to signal their fealty to their tribe, to recite the ingroup's talking points. But where do the talking points come from? People who understand this key of power (and others) purposefully design such talking points in an attempt to turn the people who do whatever their ingroup says into machines that eat up reality and spit it out with funhouse mirrors attached to war people's perceptions.

Of course, the process has been going on long enough that it's really about getting people to eat up one kind of warped reality and spit out another.

Rationalists see through the warping, because they don't think words have "real" meanings, so word choice doesn't warp their vision of the concepts behind the words. In theory, anyway. No doubt there are some lingering instincts, but anyway, it's a step in the right direction. (It seems reasonable to suppose that since rationalizing people ruins their value as political pawns, there might be some effort to keep people from learning those things which do so, but I don't know of any examples of that, so I really couldn't say).

As I said before, I'm really only halfway through step 2, and just starting to see glimpses of step 3, but this seems to be the natural progression. Once I learned to see clearly enough, I could learn social chess, and putting those social rules together until I start to see the points of leverage and power over groups has slowly started to reveal political gaming to me.

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16 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:48 AM

I am wondering about a trend I see in at least a couple of your posts. Of course I might be completely off the mark here but I will tell you and maybe something interesting will come of it.

It seems to me that a significant part of the posts are devoted to a kind of self affirming "I know something that other people don't". Now, it so happens that I have found myself in that kind of mentality many years ago and I needed a bit of a shock to start getting out of it. It seems to be that when a person really acquires knowledge they get on with applying the knowledge in the world instead of trying to inflate their self image through peer appraisal or other means. When the knowledge is not real or mature on the other hand, paradoxically, a very common behaviour is to try to teach!

There are many parts in the posts that imply certainty about exceedingly complex things and also, in some cases, seem to disregard moral ramifications. Talking about “how to squeeze power out of them”, “A rationalist would see through the illusory web of words to the essence beyond”, “I found I couldn't teach them what they needed to know”, “I had this dearth of power that needed resolving”, “It feels awkward trying to alter people's concepts while acting like words have "true" meanings” etc.

I am open to the possibility that you have found truth but I am not really sure that this and a couple of other posts do much more than stating confidence.

I am also worried that the last few posts have been making a lot of confident claims while sending a lot of ingroup signals, but not actually teaching me that much. I.e. I don't actually know what I was supposed to learn from reading this post.

I think what you're seeing is to some extent a response to a massive campaign by the "normies" as described in prior Bound_Up posts to deny that an individual can know things the normies don't, or really that knowing things at all is a thing.

Even if I grant this as the goal, I don't think the post provides good evidence for that claim. There's a claim that the author knows how groups are made and moved, but that's made abstractly without any example that shows that the author actually made or moved a group in a way that normies can't.

This comment made me reconsider my comment below, and while I still don't really feel like I learned something real from the last few posts, I am less skeptical of the type of content the author is trying to produce.

I am also less impressed with this article than with the previous ones, however...

It seems to be that when a person really acquires knowledge they get on with applying the knowledge in the world instead of trying to inflate their self image through peer appraisal or other means.

What if the acquired knowledge contains things like "you can't do this (efficiently) alone; and whether other people join you depends more on how impressed they are with your image, rather than the actual quality of your plan"?

In such case "applying the knowledge in the world" and "trying to inflate one's image though peer appraisal" would happen to be the same thing.

Yes, it is a sad truth that it is easier to explain a math equation to people if you're good-looking, have a nice voice, competently play social games and other things that should be, but are not (and we must come to terms with that), irrelevant

I believe your logic is sound. A bare bones example of using people instrumentally could be needing to move a stone for building something. Or maybe, if the goal is to kill the people in question, they can be manipulated into dying under the rock that they are themselves carrying...

To me the idea of knowledge has a moral element as it does not only tell you how to do something but also what to do. Or maybe knowledge tells you 'how' and wisdom tells you 'what'. It depends on how we are defining our terms. I like to use knowledge as containing both.

So yes, you are right that in my sentence there is the implied assumption, which is also the foundation of my critique of this post, that Bound_up does not exercise knowledge but is simply gathering attention and inflating his/hers self image by assuming superiority. In this light my statement is clumsily formulated as a supporting argument.


So, it's been two years... How much power did you get?

It seems reasonable to suppose that since rationalizing people ruins their value as political pawns, there might be some effort to keep people from learning those things which do so, but I don't know of any examples of that, so I really couldn't say

To me this sentence feels bad. It feels like it comes from the kind of people who invent wrong conspiracy theories.

In the German Chaos Computer Congress (CCC) I found people who are actually can reason well about hidden political information. Andy Müller-Maghun spoke in 2007 about how the NSA has access to the German internet long before the Snowden revelations and was right about that. At the time I spoked to someone doing parliamentary supervision of the intelligence service of the city of Berlin (Verfassungsschutz) and that person was relatively certain that this wasn't the case.

The CCC does a really good job at keeping wrong conspiracy theories from their stage. The mindset that comes with that is to focus on actual facts while being skeptic instead of doing pattern matching. High IQ people are good at finding patterns that don't exist when they try to do pattern matching.

You also seem to do a poor job at applying your own principles by using a phrase like "political pawns" here. Nobody in power is going to get up in the morning in a Western democracy and think about how to change the education system in a way to turn people into political pawns. On the other hand, a person might think about how to transform the education system in a way that it produces more trustworthy signals for employers to know which prospective employees will do the job well.

The desire for employers having trustworthy signals then lead to the push for standardized testing. If you grade political education by standardized testing you need tests that have standardized answers that the student has to guess instead of giving the teacher the ability to grade original thinking well. You could pattern much "turning people into pawns" to this but that's not going to give you a good understanding of the complexities involved in the decisions around No Child Left Behind and similar efforts in other countries. To do that you actually need to study those issues in detail instead of trying to project dynamics onto them based on the kind of reasoning that lead to this post.

As for conspiracy theories, you may well be right. My first thought is that rationalists don't make up a strong enough faction, nor do they "infect" others enough to be worth paying attention to. It's also possible that, practically speaking, you don't turn a lot of normal order-following people into rationalists, you only turn nerds into rationalists, which is hardly a loss worth noticing.

Speculation aside, as I said, I have no reason to think this is happening; I mention a prediction that this whole system would make (or, at least, what might superficially seem like an appropriate prediction) as a way of clarifying it, by addressing it from another angle.

Hacker culture and the CCC don't use the rationalist label, but they represent what nerds who think well about politics can do. Julian Assange (who I heard to times speaking at the CCC) makes enough of a slash to be worthy paying attention to.

I probably should have been clearer.

Good players in general are trying strengthen political coalitions in the form of political parties, special interest groups, political movements, etc. So, there's a natural push to grow each of these groups, that is, to fill them with people who will receive orders and carry them out in the form of reciting the groups talking points.

Then, the talkings come top-down, and are designed to use those groups, and the order-following, talking points-reciting pawns that make them up as vehicles to carry their vision, ie, the perception of the world that is warped to benefit them in some way.

As such, I wasn't really thinking about how to make humans into adults that follow the "orders" of their tribe; it's my impression that human are naturally tribe's-order-followers, so, no need to make the schools produce them or anything like that. The effort is focused on getting those humans into your tribe rather than into one of your competitors.

The problem is that your argument seems to be theoretical in nature instead based on the empiric observations of the actors in question.

I have knowledge about how politics works where I live that comes from in person conversations and my knowledge of what I know about US politics comes from reading about it but I find it unlikely that even US politics is going to work the way you present it to work.

It seems like you equate the skill to convince a friend that to repeat Democratic or Republican talking points as being about political coalition building in the sense you need to become a politician. It isn't. The way most people interact with politics is like watching football. They are fans or one party but they aren't politically active. When you get to people who are actually politically active they have a lot of other concerns. They have personal stakes and there career depend on it. They also know a lot more boring details about the actual issues that are involved.

If you want a post on coalition building Raemon wrote based on his own experience https://www.lesserwrong.com/posts/mL7PJKu3NEkHLZ9vP/melting-gold-and-organizational-capacity . The post doesn't advocate getting blind followers to recite talking points but shows a lot more practical concerns in getting people involved.

I'm not quite sure how I've managed to give this impression. The rank-and-file, order-repeating members of most coalitions don't necessarily have any skills at all. Naturally, some do; some are personable and charming and creative and so on, but that's not my point at all. Their ability to get others to join their coalition is probably just about being good representatives of their coalition, seeming nice and powerful, while also offering status to joining members, I suppose. I think of them them as completely different from the people who decide what talking points they want the group to adopt and why, who are also probably more aware of PR needs and stuff. Those are the people who actually have to know how politics works, while most people just need to know how social interaction works and then repeat what they're told to.

Thank you for the link; I'll check it out. Writing about this stuff has garnered a great many fascinating links :)

As far as fighting politics via words go, it's worth noting that it's not something universal in politics. In German political discourse politicians spend relatively little energy into fighting about word definitions. More recently there's pressure to adopt Anglo-norms and as we Germans like to copy the US you get rebrandings lik turning "Arbeitslosenamt" (department for the unemployed) into "Jobcenter" but there are many cases where we still use normal German words that are intended to be descriptive.