The league of Rationalists

by toonalfrink2 min read23rd May 201813 comments


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(Continuing the discussion about status/social capital. Other posts with this theme are Give praise, Affordance Widths and A Self-respect Feedback Loop)

(Epistemic status: somewhat daring, but strong intuitions)

Human beings are satisficers. An unsatisfied satisficer is a maximizer. Those that claim otherwise have never been satisfied.

Maslow had it mostly right. A hierarchy of needs that we work on one by one. Once a need has been satisfied to a certain threshold, we move on to the next one.

Until we meet status, and we run into a wall.

Imagine a world where, every few years, 90% of it’s highest status inhabitants are selected to replace the remaining 10%. If you’d want to remain in this world indefinitely, how much status would you need? Indeed, from the perspective of our genes, only the maximum is good enough.

Status is inherently corrupt. You make an impact for status, but pretending to make impact works just as well. The elephant in the brain is that we’re merely goodharting.

So we don’t want impactmakers to be status-deficient at all, or anything-deficient for that matter. From a security mindset perspective, we want impact to be made for the sake of impact only.

Bear with me as I tackle this from another angle.

Human beings are negative utilitarians. Psychologically, happiness is a constant background process. Suffering is just those programs that get in the way of happiness. Pleasure is just a double negative. Something that momentarily inhibits suffering.

Suffering is the distraction that arises from the difference between what is and what could be achieved with effort. It’s opportunity cost. It’s cognitive dissonance. A coup of your mind by the subagent representing one particular need, lowering the entropy of your mind by ruining it’s unity, defecting on an iterated prisoner’s dilemma.

(If that last paragraph was a bit much, you only have to agree with it’s first sentence)

It doesn’t just induce corruption. It also makes us less effective. We really don’t want anyone making impact to be incentivized by suffering. A perceived lack of status is suffering. We really don’t want anyone making impact to be incentivized by a perceived lack of status.

But how? With memes. We program social reality in such a way that status deficiencies don’t arise from it.

Programming social reality

Pointing at a problem is easier than providing it's solution. What follows isn't my policy recommendation. It is a first stab at what a policy could look like. It's an instance to get a better sense of the borders of solution space.

Delving into it:

Suffering = s1-perceived possible status - s1-perceived status

Suffering would be minimized most effectively in an environment where status is naturally provided but hard to obtain. This is what you get when you base status on something that cannot be strongly affected, like formal membership or amount of time spent working on the cause. A lack of opportunities doesn't remove the need, but lays it to rest, and we forget about it.

Enter the league of Rationalists. Once you’re a member, you’re recognized as having proven your worth. It means that you’re deserving of the highest respect. Within the league, everyone has the maximum amount of social capital. No more or less. If you’re a member, you’re like a sibling to everyone else. You're made. You're baptized.

Surely the league would be abused and untenable, if not for it’s high entry cost. Membership is to be strictly delineated, to further strengthen the certainty of belonging. Before membership there is a tough initiation period that serves as a filter for dedication.

Note that during initiation, exactly the same problems would reign as the ones we have here and now: goodharting and status deficiencies. The league would be an island within which people would be freed from these pressures to do whatever they want.

And all that remained of what they want would be impact. Human beings are satisficers, after all.