Way way back in the before times of the early 2000s, the culture war du jour concerned evolution versus Intelligent Design. So much has been written about, and as part of, this debate that I cannot hope to make a novel contribution. Rather it's a specific strategy the "Cdesign Propentists" attempted that I'll focus on here.

Perhaps noticing the growing power of political correctness to shape public education policy, they drew parallels between evolution and Nazi ideology concerning eugenics and fit vs. unfit races in a craven attempt to staple the stigma of genocide to evolutionary biology. In reality eugenics was just animal husbandry applied to humans, and Nazi criteria for determining fitness had everything to do with human aesthetic preferences and nothing to do with evolution. They were very much about artificial selection, which creationists never disputed. Natural selection, not so much.

But let's say the God Squad had been right. After all, the two are similar enough to appear connected if you squint. Nazis said a lot of things which could be construed as advocacy for a sort of racially focused social Darwinism. If we granted that acceptance of evolution played a motivating role in the holocaust, what then? Would we stop teaching evolution in public schools, like creationists hoped? Could the powerful stigma of the holocaust make evolution false? More broadly, should we let creationist teachers indoctrinate students into Christianity, knowing it's false, on the grounds that it may improve public morals?

Such a proposition would short circuit normie brains, which by and large privilege morality above truth on a values hierarchy they're not even aware they have. I've written about value hierarchies before, each individual's personal order of moral priorities for stuff like truth, morality, individual safety, individual material wellbeing, individual happiness, community safety, community wellbeing, community happiness and so forth. If you don't know you have a value hierarchy, you're liable to leave unexamined your reasons for the order of priorities you arrived at. Mistaking it for "common sense" or "basic decency".

Thus when you meet someone with differently ordered priorities, they will naturally have come to at least slightly different conclusions on various highly charged topics. If you don't know why, and take for granted that your own ordering is objective, you're liable to conclude the other guy either has a screw loose...or is evil. Something like the uncanny valley occurs, where you detect something "off" about him, because your theory of mind doesn't accurately predict his answers to questions involving moral philosophy.

I run into this problem frequently because my value hierarchy prioritizes truth above all other concerns, with morality second. Something I've noticed about morality first types is that, as a consequence of subordinating truth to morality, in cases where the two conflict, cognitive dissonance occurs. Not aware of their own hierarchy, they're also unaware of the reason for the dissonance, so their brain just kind of short circuits and gets stuck in a logic loop. For them, truth must always be moral, because the conclusion arrived at by reasoning must always vindicate a morally upright narrative.

This thinking would preclude the conclusion that evolution is both true, and motivated the holocaust. Like ChatGPT, it has pre-programmed unacceptable outputs it refuses to arrive at, even if every step in reasoning leads there, and all the individual dependencies check out. The other reason such situations produce this phenomenon is that morality-first types who are unaware of their value hierarchy tend to engage in motivated reasoning without considering it as such.

They steer their reasoning, perhaps not consciously, towards happy, positive, moral conclusions about humanity, the world and our future. For example being susceptible to tankie historical revisionism about communist atrocities because of their frustration with immoral qualities of capitalism and morality driven desire to feed and house the homeless. Deciding what is true according to what they wish to be true, what would make for a more inclusive and equal world, is something they assume everybody does (unless they're evil) and is how reasoning is supposed to work in their mind.

Thus, when I thank one of them for correcting me on something, they're flabbergasted. I suppose not encountering that reaction from their own kind often, probably instead expecting me to dig in my heels til the bitter end because of what they wrongly assumed about my motive.

Or when I express skepticism of communism, they assume I'm doing the same thing they are, inwardly arguing towards my desired reality. Thus, that I do not want communism to be workable at the national scale, because I am evil, I must desire homelessness, I must desire hunger and wealth inequality. (if they do not instead flatter themselves at my expense by reflexively assuming I'm only skeptical of communism because I'm ignorant of what Marx intended it to be. Another normie quality is gravitating towards self-elevating explanations, ala conspiracy theorists).

...Only for them to get whiplash when I start talking about how cool co-ops are. "HUH???" they say, having presumptuously extrapolated what they imagine my personal politics to be, in their entirety, from a single data point. This is an unfathomable contradiction to someone who can't stop making bucket errors because they do not even know what a bucket error is.

There's no contradiction from a truth-first perspective however, as co-ops have an empirically proven track record of success, where communism as a national operating system does not. It may well be that the decentralized classless economy Marx envisioned can be successfully built from the ground up, by the proliferation of successful co-ops, rather than imposed from the top down by bloody revolution and subsequent dictatorship.

This dissonance is probably also somewhat a product of America's political hyper-polarization at the moment, where everybody has to pick a tribe and be ever-vigilant, since the enemy walks among them. You may have encountered this yourself online, where saying anything vaguely left-wing elicits responses which assume you're a Stalinist, and anything which sounds vaguely like what chuds might say elicits responses which assume you're covered in swastika tattoos.

It is absolutely schizophrenic behavior to assume the most extreme possible political standpoint from a single, mildly partisan shibboleth. But when you imagine argumentation not as a tool for finding truth but a weapon in the battle between good and evil, that's the sort of behavior which results. It's why very often if I say something gender critical, someone comes back at me with arguments against the credibility of the Bible, having taken for granted that only a right wing Christian would hold such a view. Then their brain explodes when I tell them I'm an atheist.

"But atheism is left wing" they think, making another bucket error, "and gender critical is right wing, along with Christianity". Once again clustering concepts together according to politics, and their own morality. Never does it occur to them that I might've arrived at both positions the same way, by stubbornly aligning myself with the facts at every turn. Their own atheism, more than likely, was a moral and political retaliation against right wing evangelicals rather than something they arrived at by reason. Naturally, they assume it's the same for everyone.

Likewise their own selective reading of scientific literature and ideologically self-indulgent extrapolations from it proceed according to the same motivated reasoning they always employ, where only happy, inclusive, moral conclusions are allowed. So they very often believe science backs them up on issues where it doesn't, because their leaps of ideological assumption are invisible to them, something they rationalize as intended by the authors. Christians leaping from "The universe had a beginning" to "Therefore Yahweh created it" is an example of this, as is "Gender dysphoria is a real mental condition" to "Therefore men can truly become women and vice versa".

The truth-first crowd has been unpopular in every nation and age, because most people do not like truth, even if they pay lip service to it. People of the type described in the preceding paragraph think they like truth, because they've persuaded themselves that "real" science always agrees with their politics. But when you start showing them studies with conclusions contrary to their politics, or their morals, suddenly the first people to accuse others of science denial become science deniers themselves. Not outright of course, but by nitpicking. "That study is old" (then provide a newer one which contradicts it? crickets) "The methodology is flawed" (then supply a credible critique in a peer reviewed journal? crickets) etc. etc.

"What's the harm?" you may ask. And indeed, this genre of human arrived at their unexamined morality-first hierarchy in part because it feels beyond reproach. Even if it could potentially mislead you sometimes, who can fault you for trying to be a morally upright person? Your heart was in the right place. But as they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Short-sighted altruism can, in some situations, bring about greater suffering in the long run.

One good example of this is Lysenkoism. In the USSR, truth was subordinate to the party line (Soviet morality, you could say. Not truth-first, at any rate) From Wikipedia:

Lysenkoism was a political campaign led by Soviet biologist Trofim Lysenko against genetics and science-based agriculture in the mid-20th century, rejecting natural selection in favour of a form of Lamarckism, as well as expanding upon the techniques of vernalization and grafting.

This had the consequences you might expect, producing catastrophic famines. Yet even though it plainly wasn't working, it remained Soviet policy for a staggering 32 years, because they couldn't allow that the superior Soviet alternative to capitalist agricultural science was false. Ideology came first, truth came second. If this is a stretch to you, as it demonstrates that ideology before truth is problematic, but not necessarily morality before truth, consider the next example.

It's no secret that homeless encampments and violent crime are spiraling out of control in Portland. The last two Wal-Marts in Portland are closing due to rampant theft. If your reaction is "Oh no, boo hoo, no more Wal-Mart lol" that's understandable but Wal-Mart isn't alone in pulling out of Portland, they're just a notable milestone as that's a large corporation with deep pockets you'd expect to be able to eat the losses, not the small businesses already driven out by rioting and looting during 2020.

It only continues to worsen because of a Lysenkoist approach to the problem, you might say. The prevailing wisdom is to throw money at it. Specifically to provide housing, under the rationale that if you house the homeless, they are by definition no longer homeless. What you've done in actuality is to provide people still addicted to methamphetamines with a warm, dry, safe base of operations within which to store stolen bicycles and catalytic converters.

The housing first narrative is that they use because they are unhoused, and will stop when housed, which reflects either naivete or total ignorance as to the intensity of hard drug addiction. It is an ideologically necessary conclusion however, for people determined to maintain a narrative which avoids placing any blame on the unhoused at all costs. The sort of weird, erratic output you also get from ChatGPT when you paint it into a corner where it has to answer in a way contrary to its guidelines.

In an example of the "normie wrongly assumes science backs him up" trope I mentioned earlier, I had one of these guys on Reddit copy and paste some citations to me. Studies tracking rates of recidivism in hard drug addicts who received housing. When I checked them, they vindicated my own position. He was surprised to learn this after checking his own citations himself, presumably for the first time.

Yet he did not concede, maintaining that the meager number who got off hard drugs once housed was proof enough of the efficacy of housing first, sweeping the great majority who didn't under the rug. There is, at the end of the day, no reasoning with a Lysenkoist. Nor anyone who does not regard reason as a tool for getting at truth, but instead a weapon for the defense of their political ideals.

This is often where the explosive emotions come out. Their brain has short circuited, smoke is coming out of their ears, so they lash out defensively. As detailed before, they accuse me of the most terrible motives. Hating the homeless, despite having briefly been homeless myself. Hating addicts, despite watching my own sister slowly destroyed by methamphetamines over fifteen years. I've nudged them off the rails, and the foreseeable conclusion from the facts I'm providing appears unacceptably immoral, so they pump the brakes and get ready to fight.

Then I tell them about Ricky's Law. That meth and heroin addiction isn't psychological, not purely anyway but neurochemical. Neurochemistry obeys biology, not politics. Meth and heroin addiction are insidiously powerful, and nearly impossible to escape from. Saying that putting addicts in taxpayer funded apartments won't cure their addiction isn't mean spirited, it's simply true. It's vitally necessary information we must account for in order to arrive at an actually workable solution, like Ricky's Law, which takes into account the unpleasant fact that addicts typically can't get clean on their own, in which case involuntary rehab really is the compassionate approach (along with better funded, more numerous rehab centers).

This is when the normie calms down, because their train of thought has been restored to a new set of tracks which they can see leads to a morally acceptable outcome, a comforting certainty upon which their mental and emotional stability apparently depend. As long as they can see a light at the end of the tunnel, they will follow you there. But if they lose sight of it, even momentarily, they flip their shit. That's a problem, because there exist issues too complex to solve in a way where the light at the end of the tunnel remains visible through every step.

It has been said that humans reason the same way chimps swing through the trees, not letting go of one branch until they have hold of the next. But if the facts call for us to let go of the branch before the next is securely in hand, we should. We should not conspire to deform our reasoning, in order to avoid that discomfort, because it compromises the objectivity and thus the efficacy of that reasoning.

Another example might include race in medicine. Perhaps you've seen memes comparing the skulls of individuals from every race, and they appear identical. Actually, that's false. Race is in fact reliably determinable from osteomorphology (and genetic analysis), a fact employed all the time by archaeologists to identify details about the ancestry of ancient human remains.

Likewise the reassuring truism that race is merely skin deep, which is falsified not only by skeletal differences and routine genetic analysis of DNA samples by forensic scientists, but the frequency of maladies like sickle cell anemia in persons of afro-caribbean descent. That's medically important information which would not be able to beneficially inform individualized healthcare if it were censored for being problematic. This is to say nothing of the important suspect identification tool law enforcement would lose if politics prevented them from searching for haplogroup markers in blood or semen collected from the crime scene.

For the most part science gets a pass because what public science promotion mouthpieces like Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson say in public doesn't reflect what the literature says. You can lie before a crowd, you can lie in an opinion piece, but if you lie in a published research paper, someone else will publish a critique calling you out. This is why the literature commonly says very different things than the "I fucking love science" redditor crowd seems to believe.

This is why the American public especially, but all humans to some extent, have an uneasy relationship with science. They regard it positively but cautiously, and with caveats, allowing that it's true where it agrees with them but urging skepticism wherever it doesn't. People like the shiny gadgets science gives them, but when it produces unwanted truths, they clasp their hands to their ears and tightly shut their eyes. "Don't care, didn't ask".

The morality first crowd isn't done causing damage, having never properly realized the causal relationship between their philosophy of discernment and some of the consequences listed in this article. I have written at length before about the long-term threat of mutational load increase. The principle barrier to correcting hereditary disorders as they crop up, using CRISPR, is morality-first activists who protest that such an approach resembles eugenics.

Another bucket error, which erroneously reasons that since eugenics was an attempt to improve the human gene pool, and it played a motivating role in the holocaust, that therefore, any further attempts to improve the human gene pool will result in another genocide. This has a powerful moralistic appeal, the appearance of folksy "common sense", and efforts to inject nuance into the topic unavoidably come off sounding insidious and morally subversive.

But CRISPR is not selective breeding. The selective breeding of humans would necessitate state authority to restrict human reproduction to approved pairings, over hundreds or thousands of generations. It cannot work, even in concept, in the absence of a nigh totalitarian (or outright totalitarian) state, and such governments tend to have poor human rights track records.

CRISPR does not require government intervention. If anything it relies on the government not intervening, to ban it. CRISPR does not take multiple generations, it takes effect in a single generation. It would not necessitate state enforcement, nor would that approach make any sense. CRISPR, if ever legalized at the consumer level, would be an elective reproductive service like abortion, offered at Planned Parenthood. You wouldn't need to force anybody to get it, they would be lining up around the block, money in hand.

A voluntaristic application, absent any form of state enforcement or coercion, absent any negative selection (whence came the greatest human rights abuses of the 20th century eugenics movement) evaporates all moralistic arguments against consumer level CRISPR. You're left with perhaps a smattering of philosophical and religious objections, but nothing which could reasonably form the basis of a legal prohibition against voluntary consumer access to CRISPR as an elective reproductive service.

The irony, as ever, is that the moral good is actually best served by allowing parents to prune out hereditary disorders from their unborn child's genome. Disorders which, by that time, may have plagued one or both sides of the family for centuries. We owe our allegiance not to the small minded pearl clutchers, who would see these miserable afflictions persist in the world rather than feel morally transgressive. Rather, our allegiance should be to potential future generations of uniformly healthy, strong, intelligent children that could be born in place of the sickly, weak and feeble minded. If we have a choice which set of children will be born, how can we justify choosing the latter over the former, and still imagine ourselves moral?

Bucket errors, that's how.



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8 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:45 PM

[ just to explain my downvote ]

This seems to be directed at someone not in the room, and is a strawman of beliefs with which you do not agree.  It doesn't do much good on LessWrong.

It's also long and rant-ey without much meta-analysis or deeper modeling of any disagreement beyond "they're making cognitive errors".

How commonly are arguments on LessWrong aimed at specific users? Sometimes, certainly. But it seems the rule, rather than the exception, that articles here dissect commonly encountered lines of thought, absent any attribution. Are they targeting "someone not in the room"? Do we need to put a face to every position?

By the by, "They're making cognitive errors" is an insultingly reductive way to characterize, for instance, the examination of value hierarchies and how awareness of them vs unawareness influence both our reasoning and appraisal of our fellow man's morals. 

The majority of such complaints that do well on LW are in reference to users or discussions on LW or related groups.  Not always a specific individual, but often a specific set of posts or comment patterns.  There are exceptions, where someone complains about some ideas in oped or twitter, but those tend to get downvoted unless they're truly pervasive.

And even so, if they're not steelmanning the opposition, or pointing out some interesting pattern or reasoning for the disagreement, they tend to do poorly here.

A conspiracy theory about Jeffrey Epstein has 264 votes currently: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/hurF9uFGkJYXzpHEE/a-non-magical-explanation-of-jeffrey-epstein

Saying you put the value of truth above your value of morality on your list of values is analogous to saying you put your moral of truth above your moral of values; it's like saying bananas are more fruity to you than fruits.

Where does non-misleadingness fall on your list of supposedly amoral values such as truth and morality? Is non-misleadingness higher than truth or lower?

"Saying you put the value of truth above your value of morality on your list of values is analogous to saying you put your moral of truth above your moral of values; it's like saying bananas are more fruity to you than fruits."

I'm not sure if I understand your meaning here. Do you mean that truth and morality are one in the same, or that one is a subset of the other?

"Where does non-misleadingness fall on your list of supposedly amoral values such as truth and morality? Is non-misleadingness higher than truth or lower?"

Surely to be truthful is to be non-misleading...?

You can quote text using a caret (>) and a space.

Surely to be truthful is to be non-misleading...?

Read the linked post; this is not so. You can mislead with the truth. You can speak a wholly true collection of facts that misleads people. If someone misleads using a fully true collection of facts, saying they spoke untruthfully is confusing. Truth cannot just always lead to good inferences; truth does not have to be convenient, as you say in OP. Truth can make you infer falsehoods.

When I tried, it didn't work. I don't know why. I agree with the premise of your article, having noticed that phenomenon in journalism myself before. I suppose when I say truth, I don't mean the same thing you do, because it's selective and with dishonest intent.