I'm aware there are some sensitive subjects that have been debated to death among rationalists, if not on LessWrong, than elsewhere online, such that it would in general be fruitless to start the conversation over instead of following what has been debated thus far. I'm curious if this is considered to apply to potentially literally any single socially, culturally or politically sensitive subject. It has been several years since I've checked but my impression from before is that the prevailing norm on LessWrong was based on a particular interpretation of "Politics is the Mind-Killer" that amounts to "politics=anti-rational=downvote on site." This seems contradicted by the original post: 

I’m not saying that I think we should be apolitical, or even that we should adopt Wikipedia’s ideal of the Neutral Point of View. But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it. If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it—but don’t blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party; some of your readers may be Republicans, and they may feel that the problem is a few rogues, not the entire party. 

It seems like the alternative interpretation, though, was adopted because nobody stuck to that and so it was more convenient for reinforcing norms of civility in discourse to go with the "politics=anti-rational=downvote" interpretation.

Is that still a norm? Even if someone like myself posts about it in a way that doesn't suck, is the concern still that others will lower the quality of discourse with their comments, and downvote anyway? (I'm aware there are not formal rules but I'm in essence asking if according to social norms what categories of topics are considered forbidden by default.) 

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I don't think writing about abortion will automatically be downvoted, but a lot of things people want to say about abortion aren't a good fit for LessWrong. In particular, most abortion articles on the internet are about how the outgroup are obviously-wrong monsters and/or idiots. I have a vague worry that it would be hard to write something interesting about abortion given that people mostly agree on the facts (how fetal development works) and disagree about moral intuitions, but maybe you do have something interesting to add?

I wouldn't worry too much about people in the comments making a good post bad. If you're worried about it, you could just remove any off-topic comments (I think LessWrong gives post writers some moderation powers).

It's not as much about moral intuitions to me so much as rational arguments. That may not hold up if someone has some assumptions diametrically opposite of mine, like the unborn being sacred or otherwise special in some way that assigns a moral weight to them incomparably higher than the moral weight assigned to pregnant persons. That's something I'd be willing to write about if that itself is considered interesting. My intention is to ask what are the best compromises for various positions being offered by the side of the debate opposite myself, so that's very different from perspectives unfit for LW.

Original source.

Eliezer gave several tests there to be applied when one considers posting on a politically contentious subject. The particular subject you mentioned is the most politically contentious of all, at least in the USA where most LessWrong readers and writers are. [ETA: It's clear from your reply to korin43 that this is indeed the specific subject on your mind.]

Discussion of such subjects observably tends to lead away from rationality. (Evidence: the Internet.) Can you hold your own writing to the required standard, and also justly weed the comments that do not meet it, showing no favour to any conclusion and judging only by the standards of rationality? You are the only one who can answer this question. [ETA: The straw man you imagined in your reply to korin43 is not a hopeful sign.]

"Social norms" are cached thoughts, simplified, memorised answers to the question of what is appropriate to post. Do not enquire of the cache, but flush it and recompute the answers yourself.

I meant to include the hyperlink to the original source in my post but I forgot to, so thanks for catching that. I've now added it to the OP. 

It seems like the kind of post I have in mind would be respected more if I'm willing and prepared to put in the effort of moderating the comments well too. I won't make such a post before I'm ready to commit the time and effort to doing so. Thank you for being so direct about why you suspect I'm wrong. Voluntary explanations for the crux of a disagreement or a perception of irrationality are not provided on LessWrong nearly often enough.

As to the question of whether I can hold myself to those standards and maintain them, I'll interpret the question not as a rhetorical but literally. My answer is: yes, I expect I would be able to hold myself to those standards and maintain them. I wouldn't have asked the original question in the first place if I thought there wasn't at least a significant chance I could. I'm aware of how I'm writing this may seem to betray gross overconfidence on my part.

I'll try here to convince you otherwise by providing context in terms of the perceived strawmanning of ... (read more)

4Richard_Kennaway2mo
That is a rather narrow range of ideas. A benefit of open discussion is that the participants will be exposed to ideas that they would never have thought of themselves.
2Evan_Gaensbauer2mo
I'm aware it's a rather narrow range of ideas but a set of a few standard options being the ones most people adhere to is how it's represented in popular discourse, which is what I'm going off of as a starting point. It has been established in other comments on my post that isn't what to go off of. I've also mentioned that to be exposed to ideas I may not have thought of myself is part of why I want to have an open discussion on LW. My goal has been to gauge if that's a discussion any significant portion of the LW user-base is indeed open to having. The best I've been able to surmise as an answer thus far is: "yes, if it's done right."

Earlier this year, the LW team added the ability to hide posts from logged out users, and to prevent newly created accounts from commenting. I think I feel better about abortion discussion if we applied those filters.

I think abortion debates are quite likely to attract the wrong sort of people, and I agree with other commenters that it'd really need to be an actively good article with a novel take in order to be worthwhile. I also think now is a particularly bad time to do it – I think there is some interesting philosophical stuff to examine about abortion through a lessWrong lens, but bringing it up right now is most likely to be swept up in a tribal conflict that is neither "effective altruism" (due to overcrowdedness) as well as not really focusing on the aspects I think LW could do a good job with,

But that all said, you're welcome to make the post. Mods might do something to limit it's visibility.

Earlier this year, the LW team added the ability to hide posts from logged out users, and to prevent newly created accounts from commenting.

Why don't you give that ability to authors of posts?

2Raemon2mo
Mostly just haven’t gotten around to it, I think.

I'm thinking of asking as another question post, or at least a post seeking feedback probably more than trying to stake a strong claim. Provoking debate for the sake of it would hinder that goal, so I'd try to writing any post in a way to avoid that. Those filters applied to any post I might write wouldn't hinder any kind of feedback I'd seek. The social barriers to posting raised by others with the concerns you expressed are seeming high enough that I'm unsure I'll post it after all.

If a post had a strong opening, where it was clearly insightful on the topic and something you're not going to find elsewhere, I expect it would do well.

On the other hand, that's a high bar!

It's still a norm, but at least for me, I won't downvote if I think the post was high quality. For example, I strong upvote all of Zvi's Covid posts. On the other hand, I strong downvoted the Heard/Depp post from the the other week because I found it shallow and toxic.

I would strongly advise against posting on such topics until you've been around longer and written more on less charged subjects. You will almost certainly mess up if you try to do it right out of the gate, and nobody will give you the benefit of the doubt since you won't have a reputation to protect you.

I'm not an active rationalist anymore but I've 'been around' for a decade. Sometimes I occasionally post on LessWrong still because it's interesting or valuable enough for some subjects. That the rationality community functions the way you describe and the norms that entails is an example of why I don't participate in the rationality community as much anymore. Thank you, though, for the feedback. 

Even if someone like myself posts about it in a way that doesn't suck, is the concern still that others will lower the quality of discourse with their comments, and downvote anyway?

When writing about heavily political topics, the bar isn't to write a post that doesn't suck. It's to write a post that's actually good. If you write a post that's at the quality level of the average newspaper article there are good reasons to vote that down. 

To refer to another sequence post policy debates should not appear one sided.

When discussing a topic with potential reputational harm like the abortion debate, I think there's another impetus to make your arguments ideally in ways that use language that's intellectual enough that it's not easily quoted out of context.

I am thinking of making a question post to ask because I expect there may be others who are able to address an issue related to legal access to abortion in a way that is actually good. I expect I might be able to write a post that would be considered to not only "suck" but might be so-so as opposed to unusually good. 

My concern was that by even only asking a question, even asked well in a way that will frame responses to be better, I would still be downvoted. It's seeming like if I put serious effort into it, though, the question post would not be sup... (read more)

4ChristianKl2mo
Part of the trouble with highly charged political discussions is that it's usually not drawing people in a way to discuss in a way that's actually good. The issue is not just reputational harm to individuals but also reputational harm to LessWrong itself. If you would write posts that bear a good risk for reputational harm to LessWrong itself but provide relatively little value to pay for that, it makes sense to downvote those. Charles A. Murray who wrote The Bell Curve made the point that while he's criticized a lot his for the book his critics seldomly quote anything from the book when criticizing it. He spent a lot of effort in writing his book in a way where you can't easily attack it by taking passages out of context. When having highly political discussions it's worth striving to have the discourse happen on that kind of level.

Writing about politics isn't discouraged because of sensitivity, but because political positions tend to be adopted for bad epistemological reasons, have poor predictive power and little to do with rationality. Correspondingly, framing a topic politically is a good indicator that the author has resorted to poor argumentation and is very unlikely to update their views based on superior argument or evidence, which is a little annoying and not less wrong. These are general problems not limited to discussing politics but for politics it's especially bad.

My impression has been it's presumed that a position presented will have been adopted for bad epistemological reasons and that it has little to do with rationality without much in the way of checking. I'm not asking about subjects I want to or would frame as political. I'm asking if there are some subjects that will be treated as though they are inherently political even when they are not. 

The problem with political discussions is they:

a.  Have almost no information in them.  Often there are far more than 2 valid policies that could be considered for a situation, but the nature of USA politics mean at most 2 have any chance of being enacted.  So it's literally an argument over 1 bit.

b.  Most participants, even here on lesswrong, have been indoctrinated and totally convinced of 1-2 kneejerk slogans and have done no independent thought on it.  For example of this I keep seeing coming up even though it's not a R/D issue: bring up nuclear energy around techies.  You will instantly see a bunch of factually inaccurate propaganda they spout.  Either it will be exaggerating the risks of radiation releases or a number of false claims about the benefits of nuclear power.   (I bring this up because what is interesting is that both sides that typical reasonably educated people will take on this issue are false and essentially useless opinions)

c.  All sides of the argument enter the argument with a deep set belief that will not be changed, and they leave with the same belief.  So there was no reason to have the discussion to begin with.