Being saner about gender and rationality

by[deleted]10y20th Jul 200998 comments


It seems that LessWrong has a nascent political problem brewing. Firstly, let me re-iterate why politics is bad for our rationality:

People go funny in the head when talking about politics.  The evolutionary reasons for this are so obvious as to be worth belaboring:  In the ancestral environment, politics was a matter of life and death.  And sex, and wealth, and allies, and reputation...  When, today, you get into an argument about whether "we" ought to raise the minimum wage, you're executing adaptations for an ancestral environment where being on the wrong side of the argument could get you killed.  Being on the right side of the argument could let you kill your hated rival!

Politics is an extension of war by other means.  Arguments are soldiers.  Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back - providing aid and comfort to the enemy.  People who would be level-headed about evenhandedly weighing all sides of an issue in their professional life as scientists, can suddenly turn into slogan-chanting zombies when there's a Blue or Green position on an issue.

Politics is especially bad for the community if people begin to form political factions within the community. Specifically, if LessWrong starts to polarize along a "feminist/masculinist" fault-line, then every subsequent debate will become a proxy war for the crusade between the masculinist jerks and the femenazis.

Alicorn has contributed in several ways to the emerging politicization of LessWrong. She has started name-calling against the other side ("Jerkitude" "disincentivize being piggish"), started to attempt to form a political band of feminist allies ("So can I get some help?  Some lovely people have thrown in their support,"), implicitly asked these new allies to downvote anyone who disagrees with her position ("There is still conspicuous karmic support for some comments that perpetuate the problems"), and asks her faction to begin enforcing her ideas, specifically by criticising, ostracizing or downvoting anyone who engages in a perfectly standard use of langage and thought: modeling the generic human female as a mechanical system and using that model to make predictions about reality. She has billed this effort as a moral crusade ("unethical"). I am sure she isn't doing this on purpose: like all humans, her brain is hard-wired to see any argument as a moral crusade where she is objectively right, and to seek allies within the tribe to move against and oppress the enemy. [notice how I objectified her there, leaving behind the language of a unified self or person in favour of a collection of mechanical motivations and processes whose dynamics are partially determined by evolutionary pressures, and what a useful exercise this can be for making sense of reality]

We should expend extreme effort to nip this problem in the bud. As part of this effort, I will delete my account and re-register under a different username. I would recommend that Alicorn do the same. I would also recommend that anyone who feels that they have played a particularly large part in the debate on either side do the same, for example PJeby. That way, when we talk to each other next in a comment thread, we won't be treating the interaction as a proxy war in the great feminist/masculinist crusade, because we will be anonymous again.

I would also implore everyone to just not bring this issue up again. If someone uses language in a way that mildly annoys you (hint: they probably didn't do this on purpose), rather than precipitating a major community feud over it, just ignore it. The epistemic rationality of LessWrong is worth more than the gender ratio we have. A 95% male community that manages to overcome a whole host of problems in instrumental and epistemic rationality is worth more to the world than a 80% male community that is crippled by a blood-feud between a feminist faction and a masculinist faction.