The importance of Not Getting the Joke

by CharlieSheen2 min read17th Jul 201117 comments


Personal Blog
One of my favorite genres in the prestige press is the Self-Refuting Article. These are articles that contain all the facts necessary to undermine the premise of the piece, but reporters, editors, and readers all conspire together in an act of collective stupidity to Not Get the Joke.

-Steve Sailer, here

But why do people conspire in an act of collective stupidity to  Not Get The Joke?  Before I proceed let me first admit that it is indeed hard to identify such situations with any reasonable level of certainty, its seems difficult to do, when "Not Getting the Joke" is good for our side its subjectively harder to spot (see  mind killer). I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but it seems to me that three obvious things are going on here:

  1. The author and the audience share many of the same biases. Maybe they really don't get the joke 
  2. bandwagon effect, even if the overlap in biases isn't that great people are lazy thinkers and prefer a given answer.
  3. The right answer happens to be  enemy attire  and might provoke accusations or suspicion from others in the in group.

Now, perhaps not so obviously, could it be people have some incentives to say and even believe or at least try to believe things that are obviously wrong even to people of their tribe (political/religious/ect. affilation)? Why would something like this arise? My mind at this point wandered to  conspicuous consumption.

Conspicuous consumption  is lavish spending on goods and services acquired mainly for the purpose of displaying income or wealth.

Could there be such a thing as  conspicuous wrongness?

"Look how much I identify with our group, I'm even willing to buy even if it dosen't do us much good. If I wasn't so virtuous I could never believe something this silly."

But why would sticking to the script when its blatantly false to others in the tribe boost your status and self-esteem? Well, sticking to it when its blatantly obvious to most people dosen't cost you anything now does it? Sticking to it when its merely uncertain only costs you the esteem of the out group (worthless in most cases)?



Sticking to the script, when everyone knows the script is false, is a sign of either cleverness or innocence, and more than that it is a sign that that cleverness or innocence is perfectly aligned to the interests of the tribe.


So my question is, if there is anything in the sequences that already covers this or was my speculation faulty?*


*(only just started reading the sequences)

1st Edit: Less goofy presentation.
2nd Edit: Spacing problem resolved.


17 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 8:13 PM
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[-][anonymous]10y 15

I think that of all the LessWrong articles I've read, this one has to be the worst presented. It reads like a 14-year-old's AIM profile. Why, why would you ever link to the Icelandic Google Image Search for the word "no"?

I did my best to try to read past the presentation to see if you were actually making a point somewhere. I couldn't find it. Try again.

Not Icelandic. Swedish.

No was linked at the world completely different for the person who would have taken this sentence literally:

Often seeing things this way is due to one's biases, of course they would think this is like that but its actually completely different.

The point was that, no it is not completely different. I guess the whole thing overwhelmed with links in every second sentence together with every second sentence being a tangent or joke. Damn, being bi-winning is hard. Maybe I should spend less time as Charlie Sheen and try something less demanding? Maybe being Bob, that sounds hard to screw up.

Ok, I'll do a major edit and see if it comes out any better.

Edit: Any better?

Bryan Caplan makes a similar argument in The Myth of the Rational Voter -- in a nutshell, the probability that a vote will actually have much of an effect in an election is negligible, and therefore also the individual voter's costs of choosing poorly. On the other hand, the benefit of voting in a way that feels right -- matching self or group image, for example -- may be notable. Likewise most political argument?

*Is that a good enough applause light? Not sure if X isn't about Y still what all the cool kids are saying...

Reading that comment of yours made me remember something I learned from testing.

Picture + words loosely associated with picture + internet = funny

Now give me karma.

I've got a bad feeling about this. But I'm going to do it anyway:

Overcoming bias guy.

Edit: lulz it seems the original X isn't about Y list Robin Hanson gave is now complete!

  • Food isn’t about Nutrition
  • Clothes aren’t about Comfort
  • Bedrooms aren’t about Sleep
  • Marriage isn’t about Romance
  • Talk isn’t about Info
  • Laughter isn’t about Jokes
  • Charity isn’t about Helping
  • Church isn’t about God
  • Art isn’t about Insight
  • Medicine isn’t about Health
  • Consulting isn’t about Advice
  • School isn’t about Learning
  • Research isn’t about Progress
  • Politics isn’t about Policy

GLaDOS's Frustrated LessWrong guy, now easily exploitable and with two of my own humble additions.

(1) seems pretty common, and from what I know of Mr Sailer, I imagine it underlies most of his examples- there'll be an article highlighting some inequality or problem and the "facts which undermine the premises of the piece" are the suggested causes, the "joke" is that the author's see the outcome as undesirable while Sailer sees attempts to change the outcome as foolish.

Conspicuous wrongness sounds close to belief as attire (the article with the pagan lady who believed something she obviously didn't think was true) but with the addition that someone believes it's true, so the motive is not to disagree with them. I think ideologues often identify each other by the viewpoints they can be certain nobody else shares- how else to explain why the unreadable Atlas Shrugs remains more popular than Rand's other books, which are no less strident but considerably more appealing to outsiders.

I have a problem with the editing here:

When I type two words like so in the submit article section, it comes out like it should. But when I save the thing or post it, it comes out likeso.

This happens with links, bolded and italic text. In order for it to be readable I need to use double spacing, which just looks odd. Can anyone tell me what I'm doing wrong here? I'd really appreciate the help.

Use double spacing anyway? I don't know what caused that problem (I didn't have it editing articles, the WSIWYG editor seems to work fine), but I'd expect any double spacing in edition will look like a normal spacing in the final article.

Thank you! Double spacing shows up as a single space, hadn't noticed that, it seems I didn't put it everywhere.

You have neglected the possibility that the stuff Mr Sailer thinks is obviously wrong isnt obiously wrong.

[-][anonymous]10y -2

Taboo wrongness please.

What exactly are you proposing is going on in the mind of someone participating in this? Plain cognitive dissonance? My intuitive answer would be that what you are talking about is more or less covered by compartmentalization encouraged by incentives. Or perhaps Not Getting The Joke is basically just a game when enemy attire is convenient but not fashionable.