Straw Hufflepuffs and Lone Heroes

I was hoping the next Project Hufflepuff post would involve more "explain concretely what I think we should do", but as it turns out I'm still hashing out some thoughts about that. In the meanwhile, this is the post I actually have ready to go, which is as good as any to post for now.

Epistemic Status: Mythmaking. This is tailored for the sort of person for whom the "Lone Hero" mindset is attractive. If that isn't something you're concerned with and this post feels irrelevant or missing some important things, note that my vision for Project Hufflepuff has multiple facets and I expect different people to approach it in different ways.

The Berkeley Hufflepuff Unconference is on April 28th. RSVPing on this Facebook Event is helpful, as is filling out this form.



For good or for ill, the founding mythology of our community is a Harry Potter fanfiction.

This has a few ramifications I’ll delve into at some point, but the most pertinent bit is: for a community to change itself, the impulse to change needs to come from within the community. I think it’s easier to build change off of stories that are already a part of our cultural identity.*

* with an understanding that maybe part of the problem is that our cultural identity needs to change, or be more accessible, but I’m running with this mythos for the time being.

In J.K Rowling’s original Harry Potter story, Hufflepuffs are treated like “generic background characters” at best and as a joke at worst. All the main characters are Gryffindors, courageous and true. All the bad guys are Slytherin. And this is strange - Rowling clearly was setting out to create a complex world with nuanced virtues and vices. But it almost seems to me like Rowling’s story takes place in an alternate, explicitly “Pro-Gryffindor propaganda” universe instead of the “real” Harry Potter world. 

People have trouble taking Hufflepuff seriously, because they’ve never actually seen the real thing - only lame, strawman caricatures.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is… well, Pro-Ravenclaw propaganda. But part of being Ravenclaw is trying to understand things, and to use that knowledge. Eliezer makes an earnest effort to steelman each house. What wisdom does it offer that actually makes sense? What virtues does it cultivate that are rare and valuable?

When Harry goes under the sorting hat, it actually tries to convince him not to go into Ravenclaw, and specifically pushes towards Hufflepuff House:

Where would I go, if not Ravenclaw?

"Ahem. 'Clever kids in Ravenclaw, evil kids in Slytherin, wannabe heroes in Gryffindor, and everyone who does the actual work in Hufflepuff.' This indicates a certain amount of respect. You are well aware that Conscientiousness is just about as important as raw intelligence in determining life outcomes, you think you will be extremely loyal to your friends if you ever have some, you are not frightened by the expectation that your chosen scientific problems may take decades to solve -"

I'm lazy! I hate work! Hate hard work in all its forms! Clever shortcuts, that's all I'm about!

"And you would find loyalty and friendship in Hufflepuff, a camaraderie that you have never had before. You would find that you could rely on others, and that would heal something inside you that is broken."

But my plans -

"So replan! Don't let your life be steered by your reluctance to do a little extra thinking. You know that."

In the end, Harry chooses to go to Ravenclaw - the obvious house, the place that seemed most straightforward and comfortable. And ultimately… a hundred+ chapters later, I think he’s still visibly lacking in the strengths that Hufflepuff might have helped him develop. 

He does work hard and is incredibly loyal to his friends… but he operates in a fundamentally lone-wolf mindset. He’s still manipulating people for their own good. He’s still too caught up in his own cleverness. He never really has true friends other than Hermione, and when she is unable to be his friend for an extended period of time, it takes a huge toll on him that he doesn’t have the support network to recover from in a healthy way. 

The story does showcase Hufflepuff virtue. Hermione’s army is strong precisely because people work hard, trust each other and help each other - not just in big, dramatic gestures, but in small moments throughout the day. 

But… none of that ends up really mattering. And in the end, Harry faces his enemy alone. Lip service is paid to the concepts of friendship and group coordination, but the dominant narrative is Godric Gryffindor’s Nihil Supernum:


No rescuer hath the rescuer.
No lord hath the champion.
No mother or father.
Only nothingness above.


The Sequences and HPMOR both talk about the importance of groups, of emotions, of avoiding the biases that plague overly-clever people in particular. But I feel like the communities descended from Less Wrong, as a whole, are still basically that eleven-year-old Harry Potter: abstractly understanding that these things are important, but not really believing in them seriously enough to actually change their plans and priorities.

Lone Heroes


In Methods of Rationality, there’s a pretty good reason for Harry to focus on being a lone hero: he literally is alone. Nobody else really cares about the things he cares about or tries to do things on his level. It’s like a group project in high school, which is supposed to teach cooperation but actually just results in one kid doing all the work while the others either halfheartedly try to help (at best) or deliberately goof off.

Harry doesn’t bother turning to others for help, because they won’t give him the help he needs.

He does the only thing he can do reliably: focus on himself, pushing himself as hard as he can. The world is full of impossible challenges and nobody else is stepping up, so he shuts up and does the impossible as best he can. Learning higher level magic. Learning higher level strategy. Training, physically and mentally. 

This proves to be barely enough to survive, and not nearly enough to actually play the game. The last chapters are Harry realizing his best still isn’t good enough, and no, this isn’t fair, but it’s how the world is, and there’s nothing to do but keep trying.

He helps others level up as best they can. Hermione and Neville and some others show promise. But they’re not ready to work together as equals.

And frankly, this does match my experience of the real world. When you have a dream burning in your heart... it is incredibly hard to find someone who shares it, who will not just pitch in and help but will actually move heaven and earth to achieve it. 

And if they aren’t capable, level themselves up until they are.

In my own projects, I have tried to find people to work alongside me and at best I’ve found temporary allies. And it is frustrating. And it is incredibly tempting to say “well, the only person I can rely on is myself.”

But… here’s the thing.

Yes, the world is horribly unfair. It is full of poverty, and people trapped in demoralizing jobs. It is full of stupid bureaucracies and corruption and people dying for no good reason. It is full of beautiful things that could exist but don’t. And there are terribly few people who are able and willing to do the work needed to make a dent in reality.

But as long as we’re willing to look at monstrously unfair things and roll up our sleeves and get to work anyway, consider this:

It may be that one of the unfair things is that one person can never be enough to solve these problems. That one of the things we need to roll up our sleeves and do even though it seems impossible is figure out how to coordinate and level up together and rely on each other in a way that actually works.

And maybe, while we’re at it, find meaningful relationships that actually make us happy. Because it's not a coincidence that Hufflepuff is about both hard work and warmth and camaraderie. The warmth is what makes the hard work sustainable.

Godric Gryffindor has a point, but Nihil Supernum feels incomplete to me. There are no parents to step in and help us, but if we look to our left, or right…


Yes, you are only one
No, it is not enough—
But if you lift your eyes,
I am your brother

Vienna Teng, Level Up 


-


Reminder that the Berkeley Hufflepuff Unconference is on April 28th. RSVPing on this Facebook Event is helpful, as is filling out this form.


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The description of a Hufflepuff as "the one who does all the work" still sounds like a one-dimensional characterization. The focus on a Hufflepuff's work ethic in attempts to portray the house as being strong (with a side of "loyalty" and "friendship" used as buzzwords) feels woefully incomplete. It's largely the emotional labor that makes the work ethic possible, so saying "Hufflepuffs are hard-working, we should be more like that" is basically like saying "Ravenclaws are smart, we should be more like that".

An issue I face is that there's two very different audiences I need to write for to make this work: people who are naturally hufflepuff-inclined who want to be part of the community but don't feel welcome, and people who are naturally ravenclaw/slytherin-inclined who are really worried about losing the things that make the community make the community valuable to them.

Writing for everyone at once is hard, so this post is mostly for people who are similar to 11-year-old Harry. The description I quoted is from the book, and it's not a coincidence that the hard work is the part that 11-year-old Harry was able to understand viscerally as important (while the other aspects seemed vaguely good but not important enough to be worth expending the effort to change his habits and approach.)

This post is meant to resonate with people who are turned off by the stereotype of Hufflepuff as soft and unambitious and persuade them that there is something here that is worthwhile, important and exciting. (In later posts I'll be talking more about why the emotional labor is important and the actual nuts-and-bolts of how we're getting from here to there)

(I did edit the final section of the post to make it at least slightly more clear that loyalty/friendship aren't just buzzwords. Also updated the disclaimer at the beginning to say more straightforwardly "this is written for people attracted to the lone hero mindset." I think it's still relevant for people who are frustrated by the lone hero mindset but mostly in form of "this is a thing I'm trying to fix" rather than "this post is going to resonate with you")

This makes sense. Thanks for updating the end -- the way these values are portrayed contributes a lot to how seriously they are or are not taken.

"Ravenclaws are smart, we should be more like that" seems like a reasonable if very lossy summary of the whole rationalist project. If there was a useful book on how to be smarter and how to use my intellect more effectively, I would read that book. If a useful book on how to be hardworking and how to effectively benefit from teamwork were written, I would probably also read that book. (I know of and have read several of each of those books actually, though how useful they are varies.)

Writing a book of Hufflepuff and stopping there seems like it would miss the point however. While the natural form of "How to be a Ravenclaw" is as a book to be consumed by lone smart scholars, the natural form of "How to be a Hufflepuff" is probably as a community- it's the best way to learn that skillset, the best way for those who are naturally good at the skillset to teach it, and the end goal of the skillset. (C'mon Ravenclaws, admit it- our end goal is usually to have more books ;) )

the natural form of "How to be a Hufflepuff" is probably as a community- it's the best way to learn that skillset, the best way for those who are naturally good at the skillset to teach it, and the end goal of the skillset.

+1 to this. The whole point of writing blog posts that muse on the nature of having good communities is to have it actually bottom-out at some point in practice. Which means going into the world and actually trying to make our communities better.

"Ravenclaw wanted to have better communities, so they wrote a book about it and other Ravenclaws all separately read the book, and nothing further happened" sounds like such a probable way for this to fail that it'd be almost as funny as it would be sad. I assume Raemon has foreseen this possibility and has some plan to counteract this. To be clear, writing a book (or a series of blog posts) is a good way to get an idea across to Ravenclawish people, and emotional/mythic calls to action like this seem like a good piece of that plan.

As a datapoint, at the end of reading this post I was feeling inspired and positive about the project. That doesn't seem to have bottomed out into any useful actions, but I'm pretty geographically isolated, and I did spend some time thinking of virtual community-focused actions that might be helpful.

Then again, "read a book about community, which prompted introspective thought about abstract community building plans" also sounds like a stereotypical Ravenclaw action. Darn.

Edit: I'm not saying Ravenclaw tendencies are a bad thing or that we want to diminish those values. Those values are some of my favourite things about this community. I am saying (while attempting to be humorous) that writing and abstractly thinking about how to Hufflepuff might be sort of like trying to mix lots of shades of blue in order to get green. Sometimes you need yellow as a primary source, and can't engineer it out of blue.

"Ravenclaw wanted to have better communities, so they wrote a book about it and other Ravenclaws all separately read the book, and nothing further happened" sounds like such a probable way for this to fail that it'd be almost as funny as it would be sad. I assume Raemon has foreseen this possibility and has some plan to counteract this.

Part of the plan seems to be "Get people together for an unconference to talk".

Our community does seem to have enough pull to Ravenclaw Together that CFAR workshops are a thing and everyone ends up moving the the Bay (or New York). Though that does seem like a pretty strong failure mode. And as Raemon mentioned below, there is the unconference in the works.

Also, if posts about how to change your thinking can sway the way so many of us conduct ourselves, posts about changing the ways we act and feel could surely make enough headway with a significant enough portion of the community.

Side note: your last few bits did shed light on why it may be important to emphasize Hufflepuff work ethic among Ravenclaws :P

Our community does seem to have enough pull to Ravenclaw Together that CFAR workshops are a thing and everyone ends up moving the the Bay (or New York).

CFAR does teach skills about emotional awareness like Focusing. If the skill that's to be developed is ""Effortful attention to your own emotions and the emotions of others" CFAR helps.

This was a reminder that I forgot to include the link to the Unconference at the end. (added now).

If you're geographically isolated, good next actions might include putting out a call to see if there's interest in a meetup in your area. (I'd suggest very different things for people who don't have an existing community that the sort of stuff Project Hufflepuff is trying to do - Project Hufflepuff is more of set of possible actions for communities that have hit a baseline "bunch of people exist who are interacting with each other"

C'mon Ravenclaws, admit it- our end goal is usually to have more books ;)

The internet and kindle have really screwed with the Ravenclaw aesthetic. (It's a good thing HPMoR is set in 1991)

Tony Stark is where that aesthetic is now, for better or for worse.

Hrm, you're right. We clearly need to come up with an aesthetic modification for smartphones that makes them at least as cool as undetectable extension pouches.

It's largely the emotional labor that makes the work ethic possible

Huh?

Emotional labor can go into the noticing and motivation of the work (ie "the host of the party is busy making food, so I will clean up this mess" or "this person does not like cleaning and I notice that their table is sticky, so I will wipe it down for them"). It's easy for non-Hufflepuffs to ignore tasks like these or take them for granted unless they're explicitly asked to do something.

"the host of the party is busy making food, so I will clean up this mess"

That's not emotional labour, that's just a sense of fairness. And I understand "work ethic" along the lines of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which has nothing to do with emotional labour, either.

It's easy for non-Hufflepuffs to ignore tasks like these

I don't think so. If you consistently ignore these things you'll get a reputation as a moocher / free-rider and that's obvious to anyone sufficiently smart to notice this.

If you consistently ignore these things you'll get a reputation as a moocher / free-rider and that's obvious to anyone sufficiently smart to notice this.

A problem Project Hufflepuff is aiming to solve is this is, in fact, false, in the in-person rationalist circles I've frequented. (I have no idea how common it actually is elsewhere). I can count the number of people I can reliably count on to actively notice these sorts of things (outside of specific events where it's extremely emphasized and called attention to) on one hand.

this is, in fact, false

Well, let me put it this way. This willingness to be helpful (I still find the term 'emotional labour' weird) depends on two things. One is the the ability to notice that it would be useful to do something. This is partially a function of the social awareness/skills, an area where the, um, rationalist community is not at its strongest. Especially guys, girls have it easier here.

And two, whether you care enough. One might notice that, say, cleaning up would be very welcome, but still not care enough (in terms of reputation/status/relationship with the host and others/etc.) to get up and do it. "Not my problem" in certain contexts in an entirely valid attitude.

I don't think the two are the only concerns.

If I hear a friend having a problem I often notice and I do care but I'm not sure that they would welcome my help.

Offering and receiving help for big emotional issues isn't easy.

I'm not sure that they would welcome my help

Part of trying to actually help is figuring out what kind of help will be useful (in this case: accepted).

It's possible to provide someone useful help by giving them information about their weaknesses but still be treated negatively as a result.

Telling someone to use more deodorant when they are smelly is useful help. The person might still hate you for it even if they actually use more deodorant as a result.

The social act of offering help also has an emotional aspect. A shy person can estimate that they could provide help and care about providing help and still not offer to help as a result of their shyness.

It's possible to provide someone useful help by giving them information about their weaknesses but still be treated negatively as a result.

Sure, so? You just have to figure out whether it's worth it.

People who work hard tend to burn out in a few years if they don't have a good support network.

I am not sure that's true (I think individual variation is too great for popular wisdom like this to be useful), but my question has to do with terminology.

What is "emotional labor" -- is it a vaguely Marxist term for keeping yourself together and not going to pieces? Or is it this kind of emotional labor? Does "work ethic" mean work as a monomania?

Then I don't understand "emotional labor ... makes the work ethic possible".

It's noticing that your movement is not made up of value-maximizing automatons. You cannot just put food, sleep, education in one end and get high-quality insights/altruism out the other. Individual variation is too great for standard wisdom to be useful.

Emotional labor is helping people be people; mapping their emotional/mental landscape, clearing out baggage, deciding what it is they want, enjoying what they have, smoothing out the ruffles when their idiosyncracies clash with someone else's. Some people can manage it on their own, or stumble on ways to be sustainably productive regardless of how okay they're doing internally. But most people benefit from a little assistance, especially when they hit negative spirals.

If no one does emotional labor, then your best workers are obsessives and manics. But helping people stay balanced frees up a lot of their effort for focusing on work. Feeling good makes them more generous with their effort as well.

(re: the 50s link It is true that emotional labor traditionally falls more on women. In a healthier reconstruction of the roles, men specialize in managing acute crises more than in keeping long-term balance. Big gestures instead of everyday ones.)

It's noticing that your movement is not made up of value-maximizing automatons.

Looks like straw. Anyone is NOT noticing that?

Emotional labor is helping people be people; mapping their emotional/mental landscape, clearing out baggage, deciding what it is they want

Um. You can try to map my emotional/mental landscape, to the best of your ability -- I do not promise to cooperate and may, in fact, do some database poisoning in the process. But if you want to decide what it is that I want, you will be told to fuck off in no uncertain terms.

I see your point, but I still think of this as basic awareness of what's happening around you. Sure, you want to help your friends who hit a rough patch. If you happen to be a manager, sure, you have to deal with the various emotional states of your minions. But that's no more "emotional labour" than doing, say, mechanical engineering is gravitational labour because gravity is there and you can't just ignore it.

Maybe I just have too many economic associations with the word "labour" -- I think of it as something you sell for money (or barter). If you are just aware and compassionate and helpful, I wouldn't call that "labour".

emotional labor traditionally falls more on women

Women are just better at it. Sometimes much better.

Maybe I just have too many economic associations with the word "labour" -- I think of it as something you sell for money (or barter).

If you spend all day chopping wood, and selling it, vs spend all day chopping wood, and then people take it because it's just sort of assumed that the wood is there for the taking without expecting anything in return, either way you spend the whole day chopping wood.

If the term 'labor' is distracting we can taboo it, but we need a word for "the effortful thing that you sometimes get paid for and sometimes don't."

Um. You can try to map my emotional/mental landscape, to the best of your ability -- I do not promise to cooperate and may, in fact, do some database poisoning in the process.

I'm confused about this. Why does it help you to make other people harder to figure out what you want? (Bear in mind this includes lots of things you DON'T want and avoiding those things too).

This is not about FORCING you to do the thing-I-think-you-want. The mark of someone who is good at emotional skills is noticing when they were wrong and adjusting on the fly.

either way you spend the whole day chopping wood

But if you start applying the " labour" term to everything, it would get quite silly. You spent some time talking to your friends? That was "talking labour". You went for a walk? That was "walking labour". You played a game? That was "gaming labour".

A living creature constantly expends energy. Most everything you do in life takes some effort. It seems simpler to me to just accept this as a baseline fact.

the effortful thing

The word "effort" doesn't look too bad. Sometimes you can cruise through social situations on autopilot expending little effort, sometimes you need to pay attention and spend more effort/energy to interact.

Why does it help you to make other people harder to figure out what you want?

It depends on whether I trust those people to act in my best interests. For example, I block most of the tracking in my browsers -- I don't want those people to figure out what I want.

This is not about FORCING you

Usually not. But power games and manipulation are, let's say, common in social situations.

ETA: Oh, I see. I read "deciding" in "deciding what it is they want" as making a decision. But there is another reading which is treating "deciding" as figuring out. Is that what you had in mind?

You spent some time talking to your friends? That was "talking labour". You went for a walk? That was "walking labour". You played a game? That was "gaming labour".

I can imagine situations where this actually makes sense. Such as:

You want to organize a LW meetup, but all places in your town are insanely expensive. Exploring more and more crazy options, you find out there is this one cheap place you could reserve... for playing World of Warcraft.

Such are the rules of the place: the owner is a huge fan of World of Warcraft, and is willing to rent the place cheaply for people who will play the game there. Desperately you say: "Yeah, yeah, we are all fans of World of Warcraft, that's what we are going to do; just give me the keys." But the owner says: "Ok, but because some people already tried to abuse my trust, and then use the room for other purposes, here are my conditions -- you only get the discount for the rent, if you afterwards show me at least 5 characters that gained at least 3 levels each during that afternoon." You agree, thinking that this shouldn't be a problem for a group of rationalists.

But when the day comes, everyone is just talking about cool topics, and no one wants to help you. So you spend the whole afternoon running between 5 computers, levelling up those 5 characters. You leave completely exhausted, without having heard any of the lectures or debates, and decide that you are never going to do this again.

This would literally be the "gaming labor", in Raemon's sense.

I can imagine situations

Oh, I can imagine a great deal, but it doesn't illuminate much except for my own imagination.

By the way, if you want a simple example of gaming labour, it's called a Chinese gold farmer.

Is that what you had in mind?

Yeah (or rather, since someone else wrote that, I'm fairly confident that's what you meant)

But if you start applying the " labour" term to everything,

The part where this starts to matter is when particular types of labor are undersupplied, or people start getting frustrated that their relatively rare skills are undervalued (i.e. they are getting neither money nor respect nor other things they may want).

As far as I understand many women would like that their husbands is more open about what's emotionally happening with him and share it with the woman.

The husband might get a benefit from getting listened to his emotional issues but looking at the interaction in terms of supply and demand ignores the real dynamics of the interaction.

when particular types of labor are undersupplied, or people start getting frustrated that their relatively rare skills are undervalued

Are we talking economics now?

There is supply and demand. If your type of labour is "undersupplied", this implies there is high demand which means you should get more (money, status, sex, etc.) for your labour. If there is some mechanism that prevents you from getting more, well, the labour will continue to be undersupplied for obvious reasons. The other side of this coin is that if you offer more, the labour should stop being undersupplied.

When people think their skills are "undervalued" this means that the demand for them is lower than they expect (or think it should be). This might well frustrate them, but I don't see anything wrong here. Unless you want to start manufacturing demand, I'm not sure what do you want to do other than adjust expectations.

Basically, if you want more of a particular kind of behaviour (say, "emotional labour"), reward it more. And if people think their behaviour is insufficiently rewarded, well, maybe no one values it enough to reward it "sufficiently". It's all Incentives 101 -- why do you think this is complicated?

Basically, if you want more of a particular kind of behaviour (say, "emotional labour"), reward it more

This is, in fact, one of the things Project Hufflepuff is aiming to do. The point is that right now we do not have enough emotional labor (this is making people lonely and burnt out), and one of the reasons there is not a greater supply of emotional labor is that people who are good at emotional labor do not feel valued and therefore are not attracted to the community.

Another reason is that people don't understand why it is important, and so don't cultivate the skills themselves.

Hey, everyone! We have a visitor here from Econ-101-Land!

Here in what we like to think of as the real world, people don't appear to be perfect utility-maximizing machines, and as a consequence it is possible for situations to arise where the rewards available for different kinds of work, or work performed by different groups of people, don't exactly match up with the value received by the people doing the rewarding.

These discrepancies may get ironed out over time -- after all, there is benefit to be had from doing so -- and one mechanism by which that happens is by the less-rewarded people (or others who take an interest for whatever reason) complaining about it and encouraging others to think about whether they're handing out rewards in a way that matches the value received. Which is what's happening here: it's not a failure to understand Incentives 101, it's how the Incentives 101 thing happens.

Another thing about the real world: sometimes people here think things are suboptimal even though they are outcomes the market produces. (I know, it's weird.) So it may happen that (1) a certain amount of some kind of labour is supplied and (2) it receives a certain level of payment, and (3) the amount of labour and the amount of payment are what the operation of the relevant (actual or metaphorical) market products, and yet (4) someone considers that it would be better for the amounts to be different -- perhaps (strange though it sounds) even for the amounts to be ones that the market would not be produced. Some people (I have to confess that I am among them) think it may be reasonable to air such concerns, and to consider whether there might be ways to change things so that the market produces a "better" outcome, or even to let the allocation be done by (whisper it not in Gath) a non-market mechanism.

We have a visitor here from Econ-101-Land!

/me looks around. /me is confused. Where are all the spherical cows that should be floating in vacuum?

discrepancies

The point isn't to talk about fairness (or lack of it). The point is what do you need to do to get the results you want. And the notion that if you reward something you get more of it applies to real-life humans perfectly well.

The issue isn't whether you achieve a perfect balance -- it's all about where do you need to push to get movement in the desired direction.

and yet (4) someone considers that it would be better for the amounts to be different

Sure, but I don't see how it's different from that someone considering that it would be better if he had a pony.

Again, I make no claims about the fairness of outcomes, all I'm pointing out is that the easiest way to get more of something is to pay (not necessarily in money) more for it.

Note that "market" is a synonym for "voluntary exchange of value". For example, if you want to you can always pay more than the minimum price the seller will accept -- no market nanny will come to scold and punish you. In a similar way, "non-market mechanisms" generally imply that the "voluntary" characteristic gets dropped and we get some coercion involved.

the notion that if you reward something you get more of it applies to real-life humans perfectly well

Oh yes, indeed it does. But the notion that that's all that determines what people do doesn't apply so well. Your comment three upthread from this one seems to take it for granted that what "emotional labour" gets done, and how it's rewarded, are completely determined by market mechanisms: people will do more if it's rewarded more, and reward it more if it's scarcer, and that's all there is to be said about it. I suggest that that assumption is not obviously correct.

I don't see how it's different from that someone considering that it would be better if he had a pony.

I don't think there is anything wrong with considering that it would be better if one had a pony, or with saying so. Of course it's then reasonable to ask how they propose to get one.

"non-market mechanisms" generally imply that the "voluntary" characteristic gets dropped and we get some coercion involved.

Coercion is one kind of non-market mechanism. (And sometimes a very reasonable one. We use it to restrict the supply of murder, for instance; and to collect taxes, which for all the bad press they get in certain quarters I consider an important and valuable mechanism.) There are others. For instance, giving things away. (In some cases the things were first obtained by coercion, but by no means always.) For another instance, appeals to ethics. (Of course appealing to ethics is no guarantee that what you're trying to make people do is actually a good idea.) For another instance, attempting to modify people's preferences (which in some cases -- "try it, you'll like it" -- may be done for their sake and with effects that benefit them; sometimes, not so much.)

the notion that that's all that determines what people do

A funny notion. Did you bring it up to compensate for the lack of spherical cows?

are completely determined by market mechanisms ... and that's all there is to be said about it

Oh, yes, in vacuum. These cows should definitely be in vacuum.

I don't think there is anything wrong with considering that it would be better if one had a pony

Are you familiar with Popehat? :-D

Coercion is one kind of non-market mechanism ... There are others

Yes. A lot of communities, from small (e.g. families) to large (e.g. feudal empires) use non-market mechanisms. However here we are talking about a voluntary association of quite diverse people where no one has much in the way of coercive powers.

Wouldn't it make things easier if rationalists liked virtue ethics more than consequentialism? :-)

spherical cows [...] vacuum

An interesting rhetorical tactic. I suggest you're being simplistic, and you respond not by showing that you weren't being, nor by admitting that you were being, but by ... well, I'm not sure, actually. I suppose you're making fun of the idea that anyone might think your earlier comments were simplistic. That's certainly easier than showing that they weren't or that they were right to be, and easier on the ego than admitting they were.

Are you familiar with Popehat?

Yup. And with the pony trope more generally, which I think Ken got from someone at Crooked Timber, who of course got it from Calvin and Hobbes. But laughing at something is not actually the same thing as demonstrating that it deserves only laughing at.

where no one has much in the way of coercive powers

Gosh, if only there were non-market mechanisms other than coercion. ... I'm getting a funny sense of deja vu here; how about you?

I suppose you're making fun

Mea culpa, I do that :-)

showing that they weren't or that they were right to be

You do realize this is casual discussion on the 'net, not an academic text intended to be used as a reference with all the Is dotted and Ts crossed?

got from someone at Crooked Timber

Did he? I don't read Crooked Timber regularly, but I don't remember them being excited about ponies.

I'm getting a funny sense of deja vu here; how about you?

Oh, I just see a mulberry bush :-P

Did he?

I may be misremembering. I thought that was where I first saw the C&H pony cartoon being used in the way we're talking about, but I could very well be wrong -- or of course I could be right about that but wrong to think that was its first influential emergence. Here is a 2004 example, not from CT itself, but from one of its leading contributors.

Actually, upon second thought I think squidious (and I guess I) are probably using a looser definition than the wikipedia article. "Effortful attention to your own emotions and the emotions of others" is maybe a more accurate description.

Effortful attention to your own emotions and the emotions of others

That's not labour. That's just being aware of yourself and others.

Various past conversations with you + this one suggest that you have a pretty different experience of how various interpersonal stuff works, which hasn't seemed true for me or most people I talk to, as well as a disinterest in the possibility that other people have a different perspective and that what works for you doesn't work for others.

Which is fine, but makes me skeptical that discussing this much further is especially useful.

I am more aware of my surroundings and emotions and the emotions of others both because I spent effort in the past training skills and because I spend effort in the present that takes nonzero energy to maintain. This seems true for most people, and people seem to vary in how much effort it takes. This seems important to understand and factor into what you expect people to do without being incentivized to do it. You can call it whatever you want.

I'm just reading "Who's Got Your Back?" Keith Ferrazzi which is a book about how to build deep friendships that help you to grow.

I don't think the mindset of "Person A does emotional labor for person B" is anywhere in the book. The book rather promotes the mindset: "If person A is open to give and welcoming of accepting generosity from B that's really great for both of them".

I am more aware of my surroundings and emotions and the emotions of others both because I spent effort in the past training skills and because I spend effort in the present that takes nonzero energy to maintain.

I do have a well-trained ability to perceive the state of other people. For myself. it doesn't cost any energy to be in touch on the emotional level. It rather gives me energy.

Even though I do have a history of being more introverted I ask myself whether this might be the dynamic people mean when they say: "Extroverts recharge through being with other people while introverts recharge through being alone?"

you have a pretty different experience of how various interpersonal stuff works

Probably true. People are different.

a disinterest in the possibility that other people have a different perspective

Quite untrue, which is demonstrated by the fact that we are having this conversation.

In any case, I think that expressing "Being actively helpful leads to doing more work" as "emotional labor ... makes the work ethic possible" is a pretty awful way of putting it.

How about we don't carry the idea of exclusivity of virtue too far? Nobody should identify with any of these houses, everybody should strive to develop in all ways. For narrative purposes, it's a neat metaphor to split kids into groups which highlight different aspects of a functioning adult, but it would be a horrible, dystopian, broken society that did this with real humans.

It's fine to say "I think we're undervaluing the things that HPMOR described as Hufflepuff virtues", but trying to make that into a membership/identity thing were we're hoping to attract people to identify as Hufflepuff-sorted heroes is way over the line.

I'm not sure if I understand this well enough to know if it's the thing I'm trying to do (and/or the thing I'm doing, regardless of my intent)

I will say that I'm trying to do something pretty nuanced, but that I think building motivation and interest in a thing requires laying out some strong, salient examples. (For reference, there is a sense in which I think it was ridiculous and epistemically unsound for Eliezer to include fictional stories about a Secret Bayesian Order of Monks among his posts about decision theory and AI, but those stories did in fact play an important role in causing a community to exist and a lot of good things to happen)

In the end, my goal here is to have trust/communication/emotional skills feel sufficiently exciting that people actually take them seriously. Not have them become the be-all-end-all of a new tribal identity.

In the end, my goal here is to have trust/communication/emotional skills feel sufficiently exciting that people actually take them seriously. Not have them become the be-all-end-all of a new tribal identity.

Your post doesn't conjure up an image of a person who has trust/communication/emotional skills.

You don't get an inspiring myth by doing literary criticism. When you want to research how a good model of a person who has those skills looks like neither EY writing nor Rowlings work provide a good foundation.

I don't think I've ever helped someone with a significant project.

(I also don't think I've ever performed a project of my own that required more effort than running a D&D adventure. I'm not sure if the moral is (1) I'm lazy, or (2) I'm optimizing for projects that don't require high effort to get started.)

Question: what's an example of a time when you found out about someone else's project, thought it was awesome, put in more than an hour of effort helping them with it, and were happy with the result?

In my case, helping out with the first Effective Altruism summit is the most salient example.

(This was at a time when it was more like "help out a friend with their project" than it was like "help out an institution", which is meaningfully different. Although it was still a little bit like the latter)

I like this post. It points to things I hadn't thought about, and now I'm seeing a deeper distinction into what you're pointing at. I've also realized that I probably identify more w/ Hufflepuff the way you're using it than I previously thought.

If I were to summarize what I think you're saying, it would be like this:

Rationality on the one hand is a very individualistic path to take. To develop good critical thinking and reasoning skills requires doing a lot of work on your own. After all, rationality requires training the mind. We are, by definition, the only ones who can actually know our own minds. Others can provide guidance, advice, useful concepts, methods, and tricks, but ultimately you will be the primary driving force in improving your own rationality.

That said, the entire reason to be a good rationalist is to be better at being a person - a person who is a part of a community and part of a society. Ultimately there are goals that we'd like to accomplish that will be easier to attain if we are more rational and also if a group of rational individuals works together. Additionally, we'd all like to be happier, and most of human happiness necessitates human companionship and camaraderie.

Of course that all sounds uncontroversial and obvious. Where does the problem lie then? On the one hand, rationality as an individual endeavor seems to encourage individualistic behavior. On the other hand there could also be a slight selection effect going on. We might like the fact that we can develop a sense of self-worth and efficacy that does not immediately require creating strong social bonds. People who are drawn to rationality might be drawn to it because, wherever most people seem to develop their "purpose in life" or find meaning, they didn't, for whatever reason. I would naively say it was probably because they were introverts. They never developed very strong friendships or groups to be a part of, and turning to rationality allowed them to feel like they had importance despite that and an opportunity to develop. (And an online community where they felt they finally had people to talk to who would understand them.)

What that means is that we have a lot of people with individualist personalities who are developing themselves in a way that is primarily an individual endeavor. That sort of makes trying to have well-organized group projects a bit of a challenge. I think if you're arguing that we should encourage people to develop their social skills, I wouldn't be opposed to that at all. I think the only sort of challenge you'll get from taking that route is how to do it without compromising qualities that make us rational (for example, how do we prevent social pressures that encourage irrationality from taking hold).

I think that it is a mistake to treat "individualism" (or "introversion") as a 1-place word. And that it is critical for the rationalist community to understand this.

How you feel among other people, and how you interact with them, that depends not only on you, but also on those other people. To quote a friend: "I thought I was introverted, but I guess I just never met the right kind of people before."

To provide an analogy with computer programming, imagine that you are the best programmer at your high school. Your classmates can barely produce code that runs, you develop applications for fun in your free time. It will make sense for you to ignore your classmates in this area, because you have nothing to learn from them. -- But a decade later, when you get your first programming job, the situation is different: your colleagues are good at their work (not necessarily all of them), and there are even more smart people outside, so you have to learn using google and StackExchange, etc. If you remain stuck in the "I have to do everything alone, because everyone else is incompetent" mindset, you will soon find yourself outcompeted. The strategy that worked for you once, doesn't work anymore; it's time to update and get new skills.

I think this is what happens to many smart people in mostly stupid society. They learn, during childhood, that the best strategy is to think for themselves, try to do things alone, never rely on anyone, etc. It is a strategy that works well in a certain context. But when the context changes, many of them are unable to change the strategy accordingly. -- Mensa is an archetypal example, but many of us are not much better. Too focused on signalling superiority to environment, we fail to notice an opportunity to actually cooperate. Which actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because... well, if the other person refuses to cooperate with you (working under the common "knowledge" that cooperation between you is impossible), then indeed, the cooperation between you becomes impossible. But only because it requires two people to change their strategy at the same time, something that probably neither of them did before, and neither of them has any practice at doing... yeah, it can be difficult, especially on the emotional level, and concluding that "it's impossible (and unnecessary) anyway" is the convenient way out.

Your "individualism" is partially how your environment has made you. It is not the only way things could be. Now it's time for you (us) to start making your (our) own environment.

This is obvious in hindsight and I thank you for bringing it up.

What that means is that we have a lot of people with individualist personalities who are developing themselves in a way that is primarily an individual endeavor.

The term gamification has been bandied about a lot to the point of uselessness, but it seems this community benefits directly from such re-framings. Individual endeavours could be considered Level 1.

That sort of makes trying to have well-organized group projects a bit of a challenge. I think if you're arguing that we should encourage people to develop their social skills, I wouldn't be opposed to that at all. I think the only sort of challenge you'll get from taking that route is how to do it without compromising qualities that make us rational (for example, how do we prevent social pressures that encourage irrationality from taking hold).

Level 2 (or 1000, since it seems rather difficult). The trick is to somehow provide "HOWTOs". Lesswrong speedruns (sic) consist of a hodgepodge of absorbing the Sequences, HPMoR, SSC and this site, depending on how far back one wants to go.

An rather disturbing thought crossed my mind when I was thinking of a good reply. You're against the lone hero mindset - explained your reason for doing so - and yet once you've established groups, haven't you introduced the lone group mindset? You have focused entirely on Hufflepuff, but asked no Ravenclaw what their thoughts on the matter are. No Slytherin was asked how to make your project crumble and the leader be exiled or better yet, usurped. No Gryffindor was asked what kind of bravery is needed for such a project, although I believe you'd get a cheerful smile at the very least for doing what you believe is right.

So do please tell me, what, exactly, are the reasons for not including others.

I have actually been asking Raveclaws and Slytherins for help since day one (this may not be obvious because I did that elsewhere while I was still fleshing this all out). Also, I'm a Ravenclaw.

The point here is not replace us with Hufflepuff, the point is to strike a better balance

As a Ravenclaw/Slytherin/Gryffindor (anything really but Hufflepuff), I can attest that I felt extensively listened to, and had the sense that Ray had been extensively seeking feedback from people with a large variety of virtue mindsets, backgrounds and mentalities.

I'm enough of a non-Hufflepuff (leaning Ravenclaw & to a lesser extent Slytherin) that the name "Project Hufflepuff" still creeps me out a bit, and Raemon has made strong active efforts to get my perspective. "Why didn't you ask people from different perspectives?" starts from a false premise. If you think Raemon is missing something, best to just tell us what it is.