This is part of a semi-monthly reading group on Eliezer Yudkowsky's ebook, Rationality: From AI to Zombies. For more information about the group, see the announcement post.

Welcome to the Rationality reading group. This fortnight we discuss Part F: Politics and Rationality (pp. 255-289)This post summarizes each article of the sequence, linking to the original LessWrong post where available.

F. Politics and Rationality

57. Politics is the Mind-Killer - People act funny when they talk about politics. In the ancestral environment, being on the wrong side might get you killed, and being on the correct side might get you sex, food, or let you kill your hated rival. If you must talk about politics (for the purpose of teaching rationality), use examples from the distant past. 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. If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it, but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican/Democratic/Liberal/Conservative/Nationalist Party.

58. Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided - Debates over outcomes with multiple effects will have arguments both for and against, so you must integrate the evidence, not expect the issue to be completely one-sided.

59. The Scales of Justice, the Notebook of Rationality - People have an irrational tendency to simplify their assessment of things into how good or bad they are without considering that the things in question may have many distinct and unrelated attributes.

60. Correspondence Bias - Also known as the fundamental attribution error, refers to the tendency to attribute the behavior of others to intrinsic dispositions, while excusing one's own behavior as the result of circumstance.

61. Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? - People want to think that the Enemy is an innately evil mutant. But, usually, the Enemy is acting as you might in their circumstances. They think that they are the hero in their story and that their motives are just. That doesn't mean that they are right. Killing them may be the best option available. But it is still a tragedy.

62. Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence - The world's greatest fool may say the Sun is shining, but that doesn't make it dark out. Stalin also believed that 2 + 2 = 4. Stupidity or human evil do not anticorrelate with truth. Arguing against weaker advocates proves nothing, because even the strongest idea will attract weak advocates.

63. Argument Screens Off Authority - There are many cases in which we should take the authority of experts into account, when we decide whether or not to believe their claims. But, if there are technical arguments that are available, these can screen off the authority of experts.

64. Hug the Query - The more directly your arguments bear on a question, without intermediate inferences, the more powerful the evidence. We should try to observe evidence that is as near to the original question as possible, so that it screens off as many other arguments as possible.

65. Rationality and the English Language - George Orwell's writings on language and totalitarianism are critical to understanding rationality. Orwell was an opponent of the use of words to obscure meaning, or to convey ideas without their emotional impact. Language should get the point across - when the effort to convey information gets lost in the effort to sound authoritative, you are acting irrationally.

66. Human Evil and Muddled Thinking - It's easy to think that rationality and seeking truth is an intellectual exercise, but this ignores the lessons of history. Cognitive biases and muddled thinking allow people to hide from their own mistakes and allow evil to take root. Spreading the truth makes a real difference in defeating evil.


This has been a collection of notes on the assigned sequence for this fortnight. The most important part of the reading group though is discussion, which is in the comments section. Please remember that this group contains a variety of levels of expertise: if a line of discussion seems too basic or too incomprehensible, look around for one that suits you better!

The next reading will cover Part G: Against Rationalization (pp. 293-339). The discussion will go live on Wednesday, 12 August 2015, right here on the discussion forum of LessWrong.


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3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:09 PM

Share a story about a time that you have been mind-killed.

(That's a good prompt, right?)

I first really, really noticed this happen to me about a month ago when I was having a debate with an extremely politically conservative person about whether or not women should be banned from being scientific researchers. They re-appropriated the words of Tom Hunt to describe their position, and this is where a lack of granularity took me off track; I ended up conflating what the conservative person believed with what Tom Hunt might believe, overestimating how much I could infer about Tom Hunt's beliefs from a small sample, and honestly, basically failing journalistic ethics 101 when you look at it from the outside. And the stupid thing is that Tom Hunt really had nothing to do with it. I didn't need to assert anything about his beliefs at all. The conservative person was just re-appropriating his words; all I had to do was argue about banning women from research. I started counting points instead of writing down facts. I think you really have to supervise your thoughts in political debate, and just straight System 2 it; keep a good verbal formulation of what question you want to answer and consider everything else as it bears on that question, keep close track of subthreads, don't jump around too much.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

In college, I saw that the Marxists had a tendency to hold lots of anti-Israel protests. Since I'm Jewish and Zionist, this rather pissed me off so thoroughly that I refused to have anything to do with the Marxists and became a social democrat.

That was a mistake I corrected upon having a bad experience at a job.