Internal empowerment, over internal alignment

by TekhneMakre 2 min read15th Dec 20191 comment

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A dominant framework in rationality is internal alignment [citation needed]: sort out conflicts between parts of yourself, stop working at cross-purposes to yourself, stop doing internal violence, aim to take coherent action based on coherent beliefs towards coherent goals, etc. I think the alternate/complementary orientation of aiming for internal empowerment is often neglected / underemphasized. By internal empowerment I mean prioritizing giving each "part" (subsystem, motive, drive, goal, desire, subagent, whatever) the resources it needs to increase its capability to understand the world, know what it wants, and do stuff. This isn't a new idea, but my impression is that in practice rationalists underemphasize this in their actual practice.

Examples of prioritizing empowerment over alignment: you have a conflict, say, should I eat The Sugar. An alignment stance might prioritize: doing IDC or other negotiations; trying to extract from the pro / anti Sugar parts what they think, and what they want, and what they'd be okay with; being satisfied with the situation if one part "goes silent". An empowerment stance would prioritize giving each part access to the cognitive resources needed to grow into its full power: pay attention more at other times in life to [the qualia that tipped you off that you were conflicted about eating The Sugar] and to [the felt sense of not wanting to eat the sugar], so that the part that generates those qualia is more able to become known to you; for some time, let that part seek information, e.g. by doing nutrition research; for some time, let that part act, by temporarily blending as much as you can with that part and actually acting according to its will.

There's a sense of good action, action and thought that grows the capability of a part, sliding around the blocky blocks that comprise the current rut you're in, through the cracks, while not actually doing anything bad. There's a sense of accessing underlying drives, making contexts where it's safe to do that (e.g. alone and truly intending not to act before further deliberation); practicing being each part; unsuppressing, notifying already-negotiated treaties that the terms might expire soon (and that they were signed under duress in back-room dealings); feeding / nurturing / encouraging / loving / raising parts. Practice being your subagents, don't just talk with them. Ask, what does this felt sense want me to think about? And then think about that, and about the next thing.

Of course, alignment and empowerment are complementary and amphicausal: if you're better at conducting negotiations and preventing internecine suppression, then there's more space for part-wise empowerment, and on the other hand if your parts are stronger then they'll in general be more able to competently negotiate / work together / fuse / align.

On the other hand, I often find that if I take a statement someone made about internal alignment and then think of it as referring to members of a population of humans, it seems creepy and totalitarian.Sometimes internal alignment, at the margin, is internal suppression. Stability can be maintained by propaganda (I keep telling myself...), like the sixth iteration of the Matrix or a small world specialized to encompass many other small worlds. (Come home to the unique flavor of shattering the grand illusion. Come home to Simple Rick's.) If thread X in your life is working pretty well, and thread Y is something you'd want but don't have much traction on, then, locally speaking, starting up a pursuit of Y might create more internal conflict: the hope for Y might push against the status quo, and the cognition pointed toward X might try to push Y away from recruiting cognition. Here, internal alignment and internal empowerment come apart.

This consideration has me suspicious of certain kinds of meditation. Training yourself to let your desires whither on the vine is not a way to get what you want. Better to want two things, suffer the conflict and loss, and achieve one thing, than to want no things and achieve no things.

Parts may be greedy or jealous about cognitive resources, but their implicit claims usually aren't true; you've a lot of mental resources to go around. Leaving one of your children out in the wilderness to die is one way of returning peace to a troubled family, yes, but that is a high price. A limp ache in your soul and success in your feedback loops, or a real shot that might fail at your true goals; take your pick. You don't deal with conflicts between you and your child by teaching them to always submit to you, you find a temporary working compromise and spend most of your energy to raise them to the point where they can fully apprehend the issues in the negotiation. Well-developed parts are not equal negotiating partners with under-developed parts. First practice being each thing, so it gets a chance to be an agent, develop hooks into your whole world model, see what's possible, and see what it really wants; then do the negotiation if necessary.

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