(Edit: Thanks for the helpful comments. Also, downvoting this thread to oblivion was probably a good idea —and it'd better stay buried. Sorry for the noise.)
(Sorry for the mind-killing topic, but here is the only place I can hope for something remotely rational.)
Lately, I have noticed the existence of what seems to amount to two meme-clusters.
On the one hand we have the Left-wing Alarmist, which want to have wealth more equitably distributed, warns about our dead soil, our resources consumption run amok, our (West) exploitation of the South, and above all, the unsustainability of our society (collapse often due before 2 or 3 decades). One particular flaw in this vision is the complete disregard for possible technology developments. Typically, this one will call for (classical) anarchy, localization and de-industrialization of (preferably organic) food production, economy of physical resources, reduced work-hours, sometimes even a simplification of every-day technology. The bottom line is, the world is currently worsening.
On the other hand, we have the Right-wing Optimist, which wants free markets, believes in growth (often defined as GDP growth) to solve most of our problems, is confident about the development of new technologies, and above all believes in our ability to adapt. One particular flaw in this vision is the complete disregard for the adaptation by starvation and war that often happen. Typically, this one will call for deregulation of the economy, the reduction (or elimination) of welfare, maximizing economies of scale and the law of comparative advantages through globalization, and the privatization of nearly everything. The bottom line is, the world is currently improving.
Of course, it's not all that clear cut. More likely, there is a spectrum between those two extremes.
Now, I'm especially puzzled by the correlation between political sides what seems to be the Enlightenment/Romanticism divide. Where could it possibly come from?
Also, there's got to be evidence one way or the other. The problem is, it's likely difficult to process. For instance, while Steven Pinker will tell you that violence is steadily decreasing by showing decreasing violent death rates, Noam Chomsky will tell you that violence is _increasing_ for a while, by showing "structural" violence like poverty, starvation, or unwanted pollution. So, does anyone know of a way to process the evidence rationally?
Examination of this sentence should set alarm bells ringing. The world is wide and things (and people) can vary in many ways. To just focus on a skinny line in this wide world is to throw away almost all of your information.
Actually, I wrote this sentence because my own alarm bells rang. It could not actually be that simple, right? The problem is, it feels that simple.
Moldbug's views are off the right-left scale.
The point is rather that everyone's views are not on a straight line between two points (though, vectors being neat, everyone's views can be projected onto any line). Not on a line between two political views: complete the pattern: "Nobody is exactly on a line between two political views."
I agree on how people should separately form their opinions on individual matters (or avoid politics altogether). I also agree with your statement: nobody is exactly on a line between two political views. However, most people fit so close to the line it would be accurate to identify them according to a one-dimensional scale.
The notable exceptions (e.g. libertarians, anarchists) can have their views accurately represented on a 2D plane, in which the X-axis represents economic freedom and the Y-axis represents represents personal freedom. A 2D plane is still negligibly small in the multi-dimensional field of politics.
Moldbug, as a contrast, is so unique in his views compared to the mainstream he needs tens of dimensions in order to accurately plot his views against other independently-minded people.
Honestly? I'm just mildly annoyed you non-sequiter'd my comment by doing reflexive pattern-completion for some guy you like and I don't care about.
For how large n can this be generalized to "any n political views form a hyperplane on which no other political view held by any person exactly lies"?
d-1, at least.
Given that political views can be arbitrary propositions, at some point thinking of them as embedded in n-dimensional space for some n stops being useful.
Under what meaningful time frame could he claim this to be true? When has the world every been wealthier and less violent?
Less violent deaths: since the dawn of humanity, in fact. Acording to Pinker, whether you look at recent millenia or recent decades, the trend is: decreasing violence.
Wealthier: I'm not sure. Possibly since the Renaissance.
More structural violence: Of the (unreliable) top of my head, 5 decades to 2-3 centuries. Since the industrialization, in fact. (But I may exagerate Chomsky's view. For instance, he also says the "manufacturing consent" situation is slowly improving for a few decades.)
I've noticed two meme clusters, which one is correct?
If each meme cluster proceeds in a commonly understood way from a single disputed issue, then calling it a "cluster" is misleading. Ask yourself which side of the disputed issue is correct.
If instead they really are clusters of N orthogonal memes, the fact that you see 2 clusters instead of 2^N clusters is evidence that neither group is entirely correct; clearly groupthink is causing people to overvalue partisan arguments and self-segregate into semi-arbitrary groups.
The internet is the Land of Self-Segregated Semi-Arbitrary Groups, by the way, and LessWrong is afraid of being drowned in partisan groupthink and going down the same path. Downvoted for adding to that risk. "How optimistic or pessimistic should we be about the future, and why?" could have been asked in a less politically trollish way.
That would explain a lot. The people I see and talk to are mostly in science or technology. That's one hell of a biased sample. It would take only a moderate amount of groupthink to see 2 clusters instead of 2^N.
Oops. I didn't think it was actually risky. Sorry.
Definitely. But I also wanted to lift my confusion around my false dichotomy.
Then that's two questions, worth 2 discussion / open thread posts.
Yep. I'll be more careful in the future.
I find it rather pitiful that a group of supposed rationalists skitter away in terror from political conversations. There's some part of reality that all this rationality simply cannot handle. Defeat Death and Conquer the Galaxy. No Problem. Talk about the minimum wage. Aiiieeeee! Run away!
I grant that it is a difficult problem, to have a rational discussion about politics. Or even identify what one would look like. Wouldn't tackling exactly that kind of problem be the proof of the pudding for this place?
I think that LW could benefit by relaxing a bit the politics taboo, but this is a comparison of apples to oranges. Nobody in this forum is actually conquering the galaxy (yet?); the proper comparison is between discussing about conquering the galaxy and discussing about the minimum wage, and since there are established political tribes around the second question and not the first, it is not implausible that the second discussion could become mind-killing faster than the first one.
How can you be so certain?
Shhhhh! It's misdirection!
There ought to be a mailing list (e.g. a Google group) for political and metapolitical discussion. As a name for the list, I suggest "rational-metapolitics" rather than "rational-politics", in order to preempt ideological colonization of the list by people who mostly want to push a set of object-level views they have already figured out. I don't mean that object-level discussion would be off-topic, quite the contrary, but giving the list a "meta" name would establish political agnosticism as the default starting point, rather than any particular political worldview which already identifies itself as rational.
It's not about being unable to handle political arguments at all. The point is that we should focus on what we can do best, which is refining the art of human rationality.
I think you're severely misunderestimating the problems here. People do not fight each other IRL over the best way of conquering the galaxy. They frequently do so when political issues are involved.
And wouldn't this imply that discussing politics is a much more challenging test of your skills as a rationalist, much the better to refine those skills?
If we actually had the power to conquer the galaxy, you don't think that would become a political question on how to do it? Is this refined art of rationality only for talking about things that are easy to talk about and don't matter today?
Not exclusively so. Discussing politics (or more to the point, doing politics) in anything approaching a rational way involves a variety of skills in mediation, adaptation, compromise, creative thinking and so on. There's nothing wrong with developing these skills persay, but LW is not the most appropriate site for doing this. We would be far better off with a specialized effort.
But I didn't discuss doing politics, I discussed discussing politics. In fact, being able to make the distinction is probably the first step in keeping politics from becoming a mind killer.
The problem is, you may think you're only discussing politics, but some politically minded folks might show up at any moment and take issue with your "discussion" or try to bias it toards their preferred side. Historically, that's the reason freedom of speech is expressly recognized as a basic right in constitutional law. Politically minded folks wanting to participate in an online discussion are not quite the same as oppressive rulers, but they're still annoying, and it makes sense to deal with them in a way that will boost our real-world credibility.
In any politically-charged discussion, we'd need to assume the worst, i.e. that we're actually exerting some kind of real-world influence, with all that entails.
I'm not sure I see the correlation. On the one hand, some right-wingers do support deregulation and believe that the market will sort things out, while some left-wingers believe that urgent action is needed to avoid collapse. This would suggest that right-wing is Enlightenment and left-wing is Romanticism. On other issues, especially social or moral issues, leftists believe that new technologies will be a force for good and should be freely available, while rightists believe they are a threat to ("traditional") morals and should be curtailed. That would suggest that the right is Romanticism and the left is Enlightenment. I suspect the reason for this apparent divide is that the parties and their constituencies are choosing their positions based on pro-business, pro-religion, or pro-intellectuals'-signalling-based-opinions, rather than by adherence to consistent Enlightenment or Romantic ideas.
: To be specific: financial markets, oil drilling, farming practices are issues where this pattern appears most visibly.
: Specifically: euthanasia/right-to-die, stem cell research, genetic engineering of crops or people.
Odd. Among those I'm exposed to, the strongest voices against genetic engineering of crops and nonhuman animals seem to be left-leaning, generally those aligned with the Green spectrum. Genetic engineering of people is so far outside the Overton window that I've never come across a strong political opinion for or against; the consensus view among both the left and the right seems to be that it's vaguely icky, although it rarely appears at all. Who're you thinking of?
This is a minor point, though. I agree with most of your analysis.
You're probably right about that. One thing complicating the question is that "the left" is a mix of technophilic, science-cheering, Keynesian-esque intellectuals and Greens, who are more concerned with the environment and what's "natural" than other leftists.
Okay, I think I am beginning to see a glimpse of my mistake. Thank you.
Our minds are spectacularly good at generating simple ways to categorize political debates- it's almost as if that's what our intelligence originally evolved to do. Just because this dichotomy feels like an epiphany to you doesn't mean it's there.
Nor does my skepticism mean it's not a real thing. But the point is, you can't get anywhere with armchair reasoning about the political discourse- there are just too many ways to slice it. If you really think this is worth investigating, look for patterns in the General Social Survey.
Downvoted for politics, false dichotomies and a host of other fallacies. Feel free to restate your question, as it pertains to rational thought, using less polarizing examples.
Politics: Sorry, but I fear I cannot leave the object level on this one. (Edit. Err, maybe I could have, after all.)
False dichotomies: Of course. Quoting myself: "I'm especially puzzled by the correlation between political sides what seems to be the Enlightenment/Romanticism divide." My own "false dichotomy" alarm bells long rang, yet I would like to find out how my brain managed to pattern-matched it in the first place.
Host of other fallacies: Can you please specifically point them out for me? If I knew I was committing them, I would probably have avoided them. Plus, it may help me lift my confusion about the question itself.
It's too difficult to be rational when trying to consider so many ideas at once. Focus on one, specific, well defined question and evaluate it and build up from there.
It might seem to be easier to try to evaluate large numbers of vague claims at once but that's because you aren't really evaluating them.
Look at long term trends. See this fantastic video showing why trends mostly support the optimistic view.
Evolutionary progress has led to progress in cultural evolution - and this does seem to suggest an even brighter future.
Object level problem: I don't think the political landscape actually factors cleanly into the two categories you provided at all. E.g., if you'd asked me to provide two buckets to group people into, I'd have never thought to put "optimist" and "right-wing" on the label of the same bucket. The groupings you provide are not natural clusters in belief-space; at best they are accidents of history.
Meta-level problem: When people group things, typically they then ask "which side is most right", get an answer, and then staunchly defend that side (arguments are soldiers, that sort of thing). Really that whole "get an answer" step is just not a good operation, because both sides are likely to be more or less correct on different issues. You're much less likely to kill your mind if you just try to decide what the most correct position is for each issue without ever collapsing all that information down into "yay blue" or "yay green". Making the groups in the first place encourages that deadly collapse...
Eh, the Enlightenment and Romantic backlash to it, perhaps? But I'm sure it didn't start then.
That is, ideas have genealogies too.
There are many explanations of this sort of divide out there. There are two I would recommend reading: first, Part I (Part II is mostly fluff) of A Conflict of Visions, by Thomas Sowell, and second, The Future and Its Enemies by Virginia Postrel. I recommend those two in particular because they look at this from very different lenses- Postrel uses terminology like yours, but Sowell uses almost the opposite terminology. (Which is, incidentally, a reason to read Sowell's first.)
I usually recommend the Postrel book because I think of it as effective capitalist libertarian propaganda - not sure I'd recommend it to someone here.
I recommend it primarily because she uses a divide like loup-valliant's, and the contrast should be between two intellectuals who have thought about this long enough to write a book on it, rather than between Sowell's view and loup-valliant's view.
Not sure how to say this without excessive partisanship, which I don't desire.
My first response to your essay is that I don't think your example of leftist intelligentsia (Noam Chomsky) is representative of all leftist thought.