Slippery slopes are themselves a slippery concept. Imagine trying to explain them to an alien:
"Well, we right-thinking people are quite sure that the Holocaust happened, so banning Holocaust denial would shut up some crackpots and improve the discourse. But it's one step on the road to things like banning unpopular political positions or religions, and we right-thinking people oppose that, so we won't ban Holocaust denial."
And the alien might well respond: "But you could just ban Holocaust denial, but not ban unpopular political positions or religions. Then you right-thinking people get the thing you want, but not the thing you don't want."
This post is about some of the replies you might give the alien.
Abandoning the Power of Choice
This is the boring one without any philosophical insight that gets mentioned only for completeness' sake. In this reply, giving up a certain point risks losing the ability to decide whether or not to give up other points.
For example, if people gave up the right to privacy and allowed the government to monitor all phone calls, online communications, and public places, then if someone launched a military coup, it would be very difficult to resist them because there would be no way to secretly organize a rebellion. This is also brought up in arguments about gun control a lot.
I'm not sure this is properly thought of as a slippery slope argument at all. It seems to be a more straightforward "Don't give up useful tools for fighting tyranny" argument.
The Legend of Murder-Gandhi
Previously on Less Wrong's The Adventures of Murder-Gandhi: Gandhi is offered a pill that will turn him into an unstoppable murderer. He refuses to take it, because in his current incarnation as a pacifist, he doesn't want others to die, and he knows that would be a consequence of taking the pill. Even if we offered him $1 million to take the pill, his abhorrence of violence would lead him to refuse.
But suppose we offered Gandhi $1 million to take a different pill: one which would decrease his reluctance to murder by 1%. This sounds like a pretty good deal. Even a person with 1% less reluctance to murder than Gandhi is still pretty pacifist and not likely to go killing anybody. And he could donate the money to his favorite charity and perhaps save some lives. Gandhi accepts the offer.
Now we iterate the process: every time Gandhi takes the 1%-more-likely-to-murder-pill, we offer him another $1 million to take the same pill again.
Maybe original Gandhi, upon sober contemplation, would decide to accept $5 million to become 5% less reluctant to murder. Maybe 95% of his original pacifism is the only level at which he can be absolutely sure that he will still pursue his pacifist ideals.
Unfortunately, original Gandhi isn't the one making the choice of whether or not to take the 6th pill. 95%-Gandhi is. And 95% Gandhi doesn't care quite as much about pacifism as original Gandhi did. He still doesn't want to become a murderer, but it wouldn't be a disaster if he were just 90% as reluctant as original Gandhi, that stuck-up goody-goody.
What if there were a general principle that each Gandhi was comfortable with Gandhis 5% more murderous than himself, but no more? Original Gandhi would start taking the pills, hoping to get down to 95%, but 95%-Gandhi would start taking five more, hoping to get down to 90%, and so on until he's rampaging through the streets of Delhi, killing everything in sight.
Now we're tempted to say Gandhi shouldn't even take the first pill. But this also seems odd. Are we really saying Gandhi shouldn't take what's basically a free million dollars to turn himself into 99%-Gandhi, who might well be nearly indistinguishable in his actions from the original?
Maybe Gandhi's best option is to "fence off" an area of the slippery slope by establishing a Schelling point - an arbitrary point that takes on special value as a dividing line. If he can hold himself to the precommitment, he can maximize his winnings. For example, original Gandhi could swear a mighty oath to take only five pills - or if he didn't trust even his own legendary virtue, he could give all his most valuable possessions to a friend and tell the friend to destroy them if he took more than five pills. This would commit his future self to stick to the 95% boundary (even though that future self is itching to try to the same precommitment strategy to stick to its own 90% boundary).
Real slippery slopes will resemble this example if, each time we change the rules, we also end up changing our opinion about how the rules should be changed. For example, I think the Catholic Church may be working off a theory of "If we give up this traditional practice, people will lose respect for tradition and want to give up even more traditional practices, and so on."
Slippery Hyperbolic Discounting
One evening, I start playing Sid Meier's Civilization (IV, if you're wondering - V is terrible). I have work tomorrow, so I want to stop and go to sleep by midnight.
At midnight, I consider my alternatives. For the moment, I feel an urge to keep playing Civilization. But I know I'll be miserable tomorrow if I haven't gotten enough sleep. Being a hyperbolic discounter, I value the next ten minutes a lot, but after that the curve becomes pretty flat and maybe I don't value 12:20 much more than I value the next morning at work. Ten minutes' sleep here or there doesn't make any difference. So I say: "I will play Civilization for ten minutes - 'just one more turn' - and then I will go to bed."
Time passes. It is now 12:10. Still being a hyperbolic discounter, I value the next ten minutes a lot, and subsequent times much less. And so I say: I will play until 12:20, ten minutes sleep here or there not making much difference, and then sleep.
And so on until my empire bestrides the globe and the rising sun peeps through my windows.
This is pretty much the same process described above with Murder-Gandhi except that here the role of the value-changing pill is played by time and my own tendency to discount hyperbolically.
The solution is the same. If I consider the problem early in the evening, I can precommit to midnight as a nice round number that makes a good Schelling point. Then, when deciding whether or not to play after midnight, I can treat my decision not as "Midnight or 12:10" - because 12:10 will always win that particular race - but as "Midnight or abandoning the only credible Schelling point and probably playing all night", which will be sufficient to scare me into turning off the computer.
(if I consider the problem at 12:01, I may be able to precommit to 12:10 if I am especially good at precommitments, but it's not a very natural Schelling point and it might be easier to say something like "as soon as I finish this turn" or "as soon as I discover this technology").
Coalitions of Resistance
Suppose you are a Zoroastrian, along with 1% of the population. In fact, along with Zoroastrianism your country has fifty other small religions, each with 1% of the population. 49% of your countrymen are atheist, and hate religion with a passion.
You hear that the government is considering banning the Taoists, who comprise 1% of the population. You've never liked the Taoists, vile doubters of the light of Ahura Mazda that they are, so you go along with this. When you hear the government wants to ban the Sikhs and Jains, you take the same tack.
But now you are in the unfortunate situation described by Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, but we had already abandoned the only defensible Schelling point
With the banned Taoists, Sikhs, and Jains no longer invested in the outcome, the 49% atheist population has enough clout to ban Zoroastrianism and anyone else they want to ban. The better strategy would have been to have all fifty-one small religions form a coalition to defend one another's right to exist. In this toy model, they could have done so in an ecumenial congress, or some other literal strategy meeting.
But in the real world, there aren't fifty-one well-delineated religions. There are billions of people, each with their own set of opinions to defend. It would be impractical for everyone to physically coordinate, so they have to rely on Schelling points.
In the original example with the alien, I cheated by using the phrase "right-thinking people". In reality, figuring out who qualifies to join the Right-Thinking People Club is half the battle, and everyone's likely to have a different opinion on it. So far, the practical solution to the coordination problem, the "only defensible Schelling point", has been to just have everyone agree to defend everyone else without worrying whether they're right-thinking or not, and this is easier than trying to coordinate room for exceptions like Holocaust deniers. Give up on the Holocaust deniers, and no one else can be sure what other Schelling point you've committed to, if any...
...unless they can. In parts of Europe, they've banned Holocaust denial for years and everyone's been totally okay with it. There are also a host of other well-respected exceptions to free speech, like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Presumably, these exemptions are protected by tradition, so that they have become new Schelling points there, or are else so obvious that everyone except Holocaust deniers is willing to allow a special Holocaust denial exception without worrying it will impact their own case.
Slippery slopes legitimately exist wherever a policy not only affects the world directly, but affects people's willingness or ability to oppose future policies. Slippery slopes can sometimes be avoided by establishing a "Schelling fence" - a Schelling point that the various interest groups involved - or yourself across different values and times - make a credible precommitment to defend.
I wonder how many people would use this example nowadays if they knew that it comes from a WW1-era U.S. Supreme Court opinion upholding a ten year prison sentence for sedition against an anti-war activist -- whose crime was to distribute pamphlets arguing that military conscription is unconstitutional under the 13th Amendment, which prohibits "involuntary servitude."
(By the way, speaking of slippery slopes, the following year the same court upheld another ten year conviction for a speech whose content was carefully crafted to remain within the bounds of the sedition laws, but which was still judged to be illegal on the grounds of intent and indirect implication.)
As an interesting side note, the grimly ironic pinnacle of these American WW1-era sedition laws was the ten-year sentence (another one!) against a certain Robert Goldstein for defying the censorship of his film about the American Revolution. The film was deemed to be seditious on the theory that it incited hostility towards Britain, a war ally.
You may be correct, but the speaker in that case was probably referencing the Italian Hall Disaster, a genuine precedent. A rationalist can't just chose to ignore a data point like just because they don't like the way it's normally used.
Wow. The 'fire' thing doesn't even fit well as an analogy in that context. Your country scares me!
My country?! I'm not American. I haven't even been to the U.S. in several years.
(That said, you're Australian, right? I've definitely seen stuff written on LW that is technically illegal in Victoria -- google for "serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule," with the quotes.)
The fire analogy must be understood in the context of the legal test of "clear and present danger" that the court was upholding. The theory is that just as the shouting "fire" in a theater creates a clear and present danger of a stampede in which people get hurt, so does the anti-war agitation create a clear and present danger of subverting the war effort, in this case by inciting resistance to conscription.
Of course, you may reply that this "clear and present danger" stuff can be stretched this way without limit, but that is the point. (By the way, in U.S. jurisprudence, this standard has in the meantime been superseded by a much clearer one of imminent lawless action, which, whatever its overall merits and faults, has shown in practice to provide for a very strong Schelling point.)
My apologies. I assumed too much from your evident awareness of US internal politics.
Without at all claiming that examples don't exist it isn't technical illegality that concerns me but actual instances of punishments, along the lines of the two cases of 10 year incarceration.
As you have illustrated, things being legal or otherwise is not too important. Far more important is the inclination of the judge (and the surrounding political incentives) to punish any given behavior. Both of the cases you cite illustrate how easily laws can be ignored by introducing a fully general excuse along the lines of "except when it is really politically expedient to do so!"
The Victorian law is one of those laws whose real meaning is quite different from its formal one. Read literally, it is a sweeping law that criminalizes anyone who says anything unkind about any religion. (It's literally criminal to "behav[e] in a way that encourages... revulsion or ridicule of another person, because of the other person's... religion," or to "encourage... severe ridicule of... [a] class of persons, because of their... religion.") Yet in practice, of course, it's tacitly clear what kinds of people should watch their mouths or else fear prosecution under this law, and who can in turn safely ignore it. (Generally, throughout the Western world, with the U.S. as a lone exception, modern speech restrictions commonly have this form, providing effectively a broad mandate for ideological censorship.)
Note also that a century ago people were tougher and had less to lose, so that much more severe penalties were necessary to get them in line. Also, a criminal or ... (read more)
I take pleasure in reading this. Sanity is out there somewhere!
Yes, but it certainly hasn't won out when you look at the way Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding are remembered nowadays...
How they're viewed has little to do with these decisions. Harding is seen as a weak President who was manipulated by those around him and who allowed corruption to flourish in his administration. The most famous example of this was The Teapot Dome Scandal. He may also, much like his successor Coolidge, have become associated with the boom that preceded the Great Depression.
Wilson is, unfairly I think, rewarded for leading America during WWI. This is in spite of the fact that he promised to keep America out of the war and managed to lose the peace that followed. Besides upholding sedition laws he did a number of other thoroughly un-liberal things.
That is true, literally speaking. The point, however, is that the qualities that got Wilson celebrated and Harding forgotten or despised in the century since then were actually the same ones that led the former to fill jails with political prisoners and the latter to consider it unacceptable to preside over a country whose jails are filled with political prisoners. Besides, compared to the way things were done under Wilson, holding these petty corruption scandals as a heavy sin against Harding shows a complete lack of perspective.
But here we are getting into a historical and ideological discussion for which this forum is probably not a good place.
Thinking about this article a bit more, you're missing a very important point. Namely, a "Schelling fence" is often of supreme importance even when there aren't multiple interest groups involved. (Nor even time- or value-inconsistent versions of the same party.)
This is because in most cases of conflict, pre-commitments are difficult to communicate. If you're maintaining some line of defence against an opponent and you're credibly pre-committed to defend even if the cost of defence is higher than the value of the prize fought over, you're safe against a rational opponent who perceives this pre-commitment correctly. However, if you have no such pre-commitment, the opponent has the incentive to mount an overwhelming attack even if the cost of the attack is higher than the prize -- since in that case you'll find it rational to retreat and avoid fighting.
The trouble is, communicating pre-commitment credibly is difficult, since it's always in your interest to assert pre-commitment to defend as credibly as possible, but secretly plan to withdraw if your bluff gets called. So this is where the Schelling points come into play: a conspicuous Schelling point helps create a meeting... (read more)
Another approach to (or rather away from) slippery slopes is to see the entire slope as a single thing à la TDT. Gandhi, contemplating his willingness to make the trade to become 95% Gandhi, can also foresee that 95% Gandhi would make a similar trade to 90% Gandhi, and so on. So his first decision is acausally linked to the whole of the slope, and to decide to take one step is to decide to go all the way.
The concept predates explicit TDT and can be found in popular wisdom: how often have I heard "there is no just once" in fiction, whether a policeman asked to break the rules just this once, an alcoholic offered just one drink, etc. Kant's Categorical Imperative is similar.
Cf. the maxim "Everything you do is a decision about who you want to be", or the outside-view version, "The way a person does one thing is the way they do everything."
No no no. His first decision is causally linked to the whole of the slope. If you draw out the DAG of causation, there's an arrow going right from "became 95% Gandhi" to "became 90% Gandhi", and an arrow going from "became 90% Gandhi" to "became 85% Gandhi", and so on (with some intermediate nodes depending on resolution).
I get the impression that "acausal" is an applause light here.
You are correct.
It's a funny sort of deontology that is justified by the agent's preferences over its consequences ...
I'd like to mention that I had an entire family branch hacked off in the Holocaust, in fact have a great uncle still walking around with a number tattooed on his forearm, and have heard dozens of eye witness accounts of horrors I could scarce imagine. And I'm still not okay with Holocaust Denial laws, which do exist where I live.
In part, this is just my aversion to abandoning the Schelling point you mention; but lately, this is becoming more of an actual concern: My country is starting to legislate some more prohibitions on free speech, all of them targeting one side of the political spectrum, and one of the main arguments touted for such laws is "well, we're already banning Holocaust denial, nothing wrong came of that, right?".
The slope can be slippery indeed...
Given the discussion, strictly speaking the pill reduces Ghandi's reluctance to murder by 1 percentage point. Not 1%.
A true pedant would insist on correct spelling of Gandhi's name.
Touché. I'll have to tear up my Pedantry Association membership card.
Couldn't the alien argue that slippery slopes slip both ways? If we start allowing Holocaust denial, soon it will be legal to yell "fire!" in a theater.
You know... if I actually yelled "Fire!" in a theater I think I'd just end up with people looking at me like I was a dick.
The example when coined almost certainly was a reference to the famous Italian Hall Disaster in which it seems 73 people died because of someone falsely yelling "fire".
If you shout from the middle of the crowd - probably so. If you enter - visibly exhalirated - just to shout "Fire!", there is a risk.
Very good post! I feel like I understand the concept of slippery slopes much better now. The breakdown into different categories of "slippery slope argument", and cases where they would be valid, is one I find especially useful.
It does make me wonder whether the existence of "slippery slopes" is based on the flawed design of human brains, i.e. hyperbolic discounting, and just the general tendency to alter beliefs for self-consistency or because they sound/feel better. (An example of this would be a real-life version of Gandhi's pill, where starting out with a small not-very-bad act which someone can justify within their moral system, like stealing candy, could lead someone to be more comfortable with stealing in general and end up stealing much bigger things.) Would a non-human 'perfectly rational' alien, one that didn't hyperbolically discount and had no tendency to automatically update their beliefs/moral system so that their past actions weren't evil, still need to worry about slippery slope arguments?
I think you are dismissing the abandoning the power of choice argument unfairly. I'll try to give it a better formulation than you did.
There is a decision to make. The question is not just "A or B?" It is "How shall this type of choice be made?" and "Who shall make this type of choice?"
Changing how decisions of this type are made and who makes them are dangerous. "Holocaust denial is verboten," implies "There are authorities who decide what beliefs are acceptable." and "Individuals cannot be trusted to seriously consider all alternatives for belief." The second is true, because by removing the ability to reject the holocaust removes the ability to consider if the histories are reliable.
For the Civilization example. "I should decide on when to go to sleep based on a prior rule I accepted." is a different principle than "I should decide on when to go to sleep based on my current enjoyment of whatever I am doing now."
Admittedly, I rarely make arguments of the slippery slope form. I prefer to point out the toxic principles being accepted.
A thought inspired by an exchange upthread with Vladimir, but more general than what we were immediately discussing:
It seems that (e.g., political) extremism may be a result of a certain perception of where the Schelling points are and an application of meta-level thinking to the slope, even where basic preferences aren't changed much. Suppose that it is 11:30 and you are playing Civ. You want to play until 11:40 and then stop, but you know that if you do you'll want to play until 11:50 and then stop, etc.
If you think everything is a nice round number, you can just say "I'm going to stop at 11:40" and then do it. This is great if you're not lying to yourself, which you probably are. If you think :00s and :30s are nice round numbers, you can compare how you feel about stopping now, 10 minutes earlier than your current ideal, to stopping at midnight, 20 minutes after it. Trivially so for whatever other round numbers you might see, &c.
But suppose to yourself: "but why should my night be dictated by what I think at 11:30?" Well, because that's who you are at this point in time, and thus whose desires reason consists in fulfilling, obviously. But: you are in a s... (read more)
You should look closer, they're banning speech left and right all across Europe under variety of trivial reasons.
And let's not forget the speech being banned under American influence.
Pedantic-lawyer Tim says the exception is for falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.
Edit: But the general point is right. Lots of law is some implementation of: "Better decided clearly now than decided correctly some vague time in the future."
I am surprised that pedantic-lawyer Tim does not also point out the origin of that phrase.
Specifically, the case Schenck v United States in which "falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater" was used as an analogy for protesting the draft.
I have therefore always been troubled by the origin of the phrase, even though it feels like a reasonable exception to make.
Edit: And now I see that Vladimir_M has already posted this.
Great post. Very clear and concise as usual. I recently read an interesting article by Eugene Volokh on slippery slopes focused specifically on gay marriage, which you can find in pdf form here. (If you don't like pdf's, the title is "Same-Sex Marriage and Slippery Slopes.") Interestingly, he also discusses the US's first amendment as something like a Schelling point, though he doesn't use the same terminology.
From what Volokh says in the article, it seems that many countries aside from the US don't have as strong of protections for freedom of speech. E.g., in Canada and Sweden ministers have been prosecuted for comments condemning homosexuality.
I am new to the website. So new that this is my first comment and I didn't even particularly want to sign up. I found it interesting having just come from reading Eleizer's post about 0 and 1 not being probabilities to here I immediately had a question form in my mind.
How certain of a thing do we have to be in order to prescribe that the state be able to end someone's life for their speaking it?
There are several points in this question that require some unpacking. The most prominent being about the state being able to end someone's life. Though people are generally self-seeking and somewhat rational in being so (so taking a prison sentence over engaging in a shootout with police), any action we ask the state to police is then done so with the threat that the state has total authority to use lethal force in the case of serious non-compliance. If we grant that the state has the right to put people in prison for an action, we grant that the state has the right to kill someone for refusing to comply with the states right to put them in prison.
So how certain of a thing do we have to be in order to grant the state the right to kill someone who questions it? Can any... (read more)
Beyond a certain probability (say 99.9% confidence that a story is true in its generality, even if one is less sure of some of the specifics), it seems to me that the truthfulness of the story is no longer the main consideration in whether to instigate such a law. In that case I would be more interested in how such a law would alter the incentives of society and the knock-on effects of such. Not making a decision due to imperfect information can often be a mistake.
The point about granting the state authority to end a life for breaking any law isn't something I'd thought about before and is a very interesting one. I feel like it possibly proves too much if relied on too heavily to make decisions about which laws to implement - I can apply the same argument to speeding but that isn't a strong argument against speeding laws. The strength of the argument depends on how often one would expect such a death to occur. Assuming this list is typical, the argument is much stronger in e.g. the US than in Europe (where it can be all but ignored).
I do think that Holocaust denial laws are problematic if you're not allowed to say anything even slightly less sev... (read more)
>Give up on the Holocaust deniers, and no one else can be sure what other Schelling point you've committed to, if any...
>...unless they can. In parts of Europe, they've banned Holocaust denial for years and everyone's been totally okay with it.
I'd say this has aged poorly, except it was evident at the time this was written as well, if not quite as much. Europeans have managed to slippery-slope from banning Holocaust denial to banning political speech that could be painted as related to an oppressed group in any way, so you get people prosecuted for objecting to immigration or to trans politics.
After I read Wikipedia’s article on Schelling points (a.k.a. “focal points”), this article made much more sense. I recommend reading it – it’s only three paragraphs at the moment.
In short, a Schelling point is a point that everybody agrees is an “obvious” cutoff point. That knowledge helped me understand this article’s point that Schelling points make good fences to precommit to because you can’t justify moving the fence anywhere else later – the other points are not nearly as “obvious”.
Isn't this all the time, though? Whenever a policy changes, if nothing else, the incumbent policy changes, which will affect people's willingness or ability to oppose future policies. Looking at the history of politics and law, it looks like slippery slope arguments are right more often than they're wrong.
Senses of history are vague, but still informative. It's not clear to me there's much value in digging up examples.
I don't consider 1950 to be long ago.
No, and I did not mean to imply that they did. Many intentionally begin slippery slopes to lead to outcomes they like; foot-in-the-door techniques can be seen as an example. The takeaway is that the slippery slope meme doesn't appear to actually be fallacious- if you think that A will increase the chance of B, and you dislike B, it's often the correct strategic move to oppose A, even if you think A in isolation is a good thing. The challenge is getting the correct model of how A will impact the chances of B.
Many very smart people wouldn't unreservedly agree that the Terror was bad, either. If you're far left enough to cheer the Terror or far right enough to boo civil rights or rebel in a clown suit enough to do both, you should be used to not being the default audience and practiced at separating such "obvious" examples from the formal role they play in the argument.
You are ignoring the fact that the historical developments commonly known as "civil rights" have in fact led to a progression of ever more extreme policies (i.e. a slippery slope) whose present outcome is controversial even in the mainstream. This is indisputable no matter what position (if any) you happen to support in these controversies.
This slippery slope can be roughly described with the following progression:
1: Government-mandated discrimination across racial/ethnic/religious groups.
2: Libertarian/classical liberal position: procedural equality for everyone as far as the government is concerned, freedom to discriminate (or not) for private parties.
3: Prohibition of overt discrimination even for private businesses and organizations.
4(a): Affirmative action -- the government (and private parties under its influence and pressure) actively try to equalize statistical outcomes across groups by favoritism towards members of groups that do worse on average.
4(b): Disparate impact doctrine -- even if there is no overt discrimination, unequal statistical group outcomes are considered as evidence of discrimination by themselves, and any institution that produces such outcomes can be held legally liable on that basis alone.
While 1-3 are no longer controversial in the mainstream, 4(a) and 4(b) are still matters of intense public controversy. (Admittedly, for unclear reasons, 4(b) gets far less publicity than 4(a), despite its arguably even greater impact in practice.)
Aren't you smuggling in the conclusion? Incremental change that builds on previous changes is generally called a "slippery slope" only when the consequences are undesired. Is the gradual increase in homosexual rights good? Then it won't be called a slippery slope.
More generally, there aren't many changes that "most everyone can agree was clearly not-bad." If everyone thought it would be a good idea, society wouldn't have been doing things some other way.
I think I can describe the 'slippery slope' to an alien and I think this description offers an obvious (if difficult) solution.
The 'slippery slope' is what we call a situation in which good judgement and a certain algorithmic response to something correspond in one case, but not in others, such that following that algorithm in similar cases will cause us to diverge from our good judgement at some point. 'Slippery slopes' come up when our good judgement about something is partially but not entirely captured by a particular algorithm.
Our solution to slippery... (read more)
Or could precommit: he takes the deal every time, sending something like 100m to charity, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. He unfortunately kills one person and goes to prison for life, but that's still net hundreds of thousands of lives.
(This is too utilitarian for the real Ghandi, of course, who told the Jews to just let Hitler kill them.)
Regarding what you call abandoning the power of choice, here is an example from HPMoR that looks more like a slippery slope.... (read more)
I think your idea about a Schelling point deserves further thought. But, why (and how) select the point arbitrarily? Why now presume that rational 100% Gandhi would perform an optimisation, according to his personal utility function, calculating the good the offered money could do against the harm done to the world by becoming less pacific?
Since you've already posited a third party, in your example, engaged to destroy Gandhi's prized possessions for deviations, why not just have Gandhi charge the man to shoot him as soon as he shows any sign of ... (read more)
And Ghandi spoke, "I will pay you a million dollars to invent a pill that makes me 1% more pacifist."
"Refuse to adjust your utility function because you will no longer be you, unless the adjustment improves you in terms of your own values" seems to be an important general principle, and it should be enough for Gandhi to turn down the pill.
There is a potential negative consequence, when groups are together against a reasonable project, but can not agree on the alternative they actually prefer. That can be viewed in action in Germany with big infrastructure projects. In particular at the moment with the reconstruction of the Train Station in Stuttgart. Many groups are against the project, but have not compatible ideas on what to do instead. If contrarian groups get better at coordinating their protests you might end up in a situation where no productive project is possible any more.
In politics it leads to a part of the population to always vote for the other guy.
Here's an argument I found that "hyperplastic agents" (i.e.,Strong AI) cannot make use of Schelling Fences: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidRoden/hyperapocalypse-rev
"One evening, I start playing Sid Meier's Civilization (IV, if you're wondering - V is terrible)" THANK YOU. ;D
Man, this article hits different now that I know the psychopharmacology theory of the FTX crash...
[block]<quote>"There are also a host of other well-respected exceptions to free speech, like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater."</quote>[/block]
The case that this quote came from was overturned 40 years ago. If you intend to continue using the analogy, please read the attached link first. It makes a good argument for retiring the phrase.
Orthogonal to the main point, but I think the banning of holocaust denial seems a really stupid policy. Not for freedom of speech reasons, but because the policy is "aimed badly", failing to cover some of the people we would presumably like to restrict, and restricting (at least if the law is taken literally) some viewpoints that seem harmless.
If there is a person with Neo-Nazi politics running around in uniform intimidating people then I have a serious problem with that person and can see the point in a law designed to limit their neo-Nazi-ing. But, that ... (read more)
I am a hyperbolic discounter. Now I can see it clearly. I always default on my own promise to myself that I will stop at doing things that just waste my time (like reading fanfiction, or just plainly procrastinating) at some specific point in time. Then when that time point finally arrives I just continue wasting my time, and I make the same promise as before. I tell myself the same lie as before. However, now I know the problem and I have the tool - the Shelling fence. Now I can face the problem straight ahead and concur it. Wish me well.
I've read the comments, and nobody seems to have mentioned the different functions of speech, and the different goals of limitations. Yvain's examples of Holocaust denial and "shouting fire" are not the same sort of thing.
Speech as an act causally linked to a desired consequence unrelated to communication, like falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, or commanding a subordinate to shoot someone, or etc., isn't really protected (I'm not very familiar with US Law, but I can't think of counterexamples). These limitations don't usuall... (read more)
I feel like the following game-theoretic model might be illustrative. Suppose that you have N people ordered by radicalness. These people will repeatedly vote on the proposition of killing the most radical among them (with a simple majority needed to succeed). Assume that each person's preferences are such that they would prefer to have people who are more radical than they are killed but not at the cost of being killed themselves.
This is a game of perfect information and is not hard to analyze. The result is that people will be killed until a power of... (read more)
i really enjoyed reading this thank you. best article i've read on here so far. fantastic examples and the examples really 'make' it - i shall try not to plaguerise but from now on when arguing about this stuff i will definitely give examples that show the progression.
the big one here in europe at the minute is 'hate speech' - arguments between whether it's an exception that's dangerous and damaging enough to be worth an exception or whether it's a dangerously low point on that slippery slope.
Economist Jeff Ely recently blogged an interesting example of a slippery slope. http://cheaptalk.org/2012/03/27/the-slippery-slope/
Is "demonstrably optimal policy" a shelling point or not?
I never thought I would hear a plausible defence of slippery slope arguments.
An interesting analogy is with the Sorites or 'heap' paradox, and mathematical induction. In the paradox you show that one grain of sand is not a heap, and that two grains are not a heap, and three.... so you generalise that for if N grains of sand is not a heap then N+1 grains is also not a heap. Therefore 10^1000 grains of sand cannot be a heap, and there are no heaps!
Obviously the problem is that the premise isn't true for any arbitrary N, (unlike cases of mathematical inducti... (read more)
Thanks, I've seen that before. What interested me about the reaction to it was every commentator decried them for suggesting babies should be killed, said that it would give weight to the arguments of anti-abortionists or that it showed how out of touch academics were with public opinion. But no-one gave an argument in response about why an 8 month abortion and a born baby are different in a morally relevant way. I had underestimated how much in general public discourse even discussing a morally condemned act was itself condemned.
In the context of slippery slopes, again this is moving between two adjacent points not showing you can just as easily move to any point on the scale.
Great post Yvain!
By the way, seems to be small typo:
Upvoted; enjoyable anecdotes.
You don't really need to figure out who the Right Thinking People are. You just need to figure out who the Horrendously Completely Almost-Unassailably Wrong Thinking People are.