In defense of common-sense tribalism

by toonalfrink2 min read2nd Nov 20175 comments


Bucket ErrorsTribalism
Personal Blog

(crossposting from the LW Netherlands facebook)

"Have you seen those normies? They're slaves to groupthink! Slaves to the system! Them darned cultists, with their flags and their songs and their pledges of allegiance. Have they no individuality? Holy fallacy, holy bias, what places of despair do their symbols and their rituals lead them? What will become of them?"

Quite a lot, actually. It works. If you look at the data, it turns out that normal people are considerably happier than rationalists. That should be enough to QED this whole thing and wrap it up, but let me elaborate.

I see a large bucket error going on. Not just in the rationality community, but in the much greater set of people that are "like us" in the sense that they find it obvious that death is wrong, AI is dangerous and EA is a good thing.

A bucket error is an error where you accidentally entangle the truth of different ideas. A few examples: I thought that egoism is a bad thing because I assumed egoism implies that people would just kill each other over minor contrivances. People say death is a good thing because otherwise we would have overpopulation. People believe we need not worry about friendly AI because as the AI gets smarter, it will just learn about morality and decide to act accordingly.

Formally, a bucket error is when you reject A because you believe A -> B and not B, while you actually should be rejecting A -> B.

The rationalist bucket error is that tribalism is wrong because it implies {ingroup bias, status-quo bias, bandwagon effect, anchoring, ...}, which implies less happiness and productivity. Supposedly, the apparent irrationality of those things makes them unforgivable, therefore we shouldn't even bother with tribalism.

I'm not even saying that we explicitly think that way, but there is surely an implicit s1-tendency to avoid uniforms and pledges, maybe even group membership itself.

And this makes sense given our backgrounds. If you're like me, you've been trained in high school to dissent from the group equilibrium because, quite frankly, that would usually lead to better outcomes. We're smart, to put it bluntly.

And then there is this large part of our demographic that has just never succeeded in a tribal environment at all. They've given up on it, opting for hyperindividualism instead.

Surely we've rationalised it away. "Who would want to give in to groupthink if that groupthink leads you to believe in stupid shit like religion, or go to war, or just sit around and just smoke weed all day, or find yourself forced to adapt to standards that don't fit you? That's like, evil, man."

But given that the only thing our group imposes is "whatever works best for the most people", you should only find yourself stuck in groupthink when you should be stuck in groupthink. i.e. when groupthink is better than you-think. If it is not, then groupthink will update towards you.

That is to say, we already solved the problem of tribalism-without-the-bad-parts. An antidote to those bad parts is baked into our very ideology. Feel free! Release your restraint! We've made it.

Why am I writing about this? Because, coming from a fraternity background, I have *wanted* to implement tribal shit for a while. It makes me happy. It makes me productive. I suspect it will make everyone else happy and productive too. I still suspect that ~90% of our cognitive effort is wasted on fitting in, but we're not taking the shortest path because we shun the very thing itself.

I want to found a club. With a board, and commissions, and *daily* activities, and organised holidays, and group houses, and introduction periods, and paid membership, and titles, and finished-the-sequences celebrations for individual members, and hoodies with imprinted inside jokes, and a logo, and a partition of subgroups with about 10-15 members each, and prom nights, and spiritual-ish rituals. I want to use all that social technology that normies use.

But we shun it, because it's what normies use.

Let's release this burden of connection without tribalism. Tribalism is the bread and butter of connection. Without it, we're just going to be stuck in the dark.


5 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 6:33 AM
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There are many differences between normal people and rationalists other than level of tribalism. For example, rationalists are disproportionately likely to be LGBT and autistic, and for various reasons LGBT and autistic people are more likely to be depressed. You don't seem to have provided any evidence that level of tribalism is the important factor here.

It seems basically confused to imagine that we start with a bunch of individuals who might choose to get along in liberal society, and then some defect causes them to gratuitously engage in tribalism. Rather, humans are social animals who evolved to function well in groups with a lot of shared local information and norms, and liberal individualism is a comparatively unusual practice built on that substrate. If we want to sustain it outside its historical origins, we need to understand the social technologies necessary to support it.

This also means that it's confused to try to "do tribalism" in a consumerist way, as one in a range of separate, more or less independent things you participate in. The norms of your community - and the vast majority of us are part of the global cosmopolitan liberal community, even the conservatives, neoreactionaries, and other such pseudo-old-fashioned weirdos among us - are how you come to be someone in particular in the first place. Tribal rituals and affiliations that don't get integrated into the fabric of our way of life will die out as they go out of fashion. The others will change us. We should take care to change ourselves for the better.

If you look at the data, it turns out that normal people are considerably happier than rationalists.

Towards what data are you pointing?

The LW survey results on mental health.

I think most rationalists are way more in favor of tribal stuff than you're implying. The Solstice is just one example.

We're not shunning it because it's what normies use, it's just hard to start it from scratch. If you start doing these things, I bet a lot of people would be interested in them.