Give praise

by toonalfrink1 min read29th Apr 201887 comments


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The dominant model about status in LW seems to be one of relative influence. Necessarily, it's zero-sum. So we throw up our hands and accept that half the community is just going to run a deficit.

Here's a different take: status in the sense of worth. Here's a set of things we like, or here's a set of problems for you to solve, and if you do, you will pass the bar and we will grant you personhood and take you seriously and allow you onto the ark when the world comes crumbling. Worth is positive-sum.

I think both models are useful, but only one of these models underlies the emotional need we call status. I think it's the latter.

Another assumption: humans are satisficers. Those that claim to the contrary have never been satisfied. An unsatisfied satisficer acts like a maximizer. I think that Maslov got pretty close with his hierarchy of needs. Not the specific set of needs, not necessarily their order, but the idea of humans working on one need at the time, until satisfaction, so that the next need comes up.

It seems to me that many of us are stuck at the status level, and I think getting past it makes us surely happier and plausibly more effective.

How is worth generated? Quite simply, by giving praise. You either find your behavior exceeding a standard that the community agreed on, or someone actually tells you you're doing well. The latter seems more powerful.

I've asked around, and it even seems to be considered "normal" in most (non-systematizing) communities to habitually give praise. It's even apparently something people regard as necessary for proper psychological health. But honestly, apart from volunteering at CFAR, I can't recall getting much praise for anything I've done for the community. As a result I never quite feel like I'm doing enough, edging on burnout a few times. Reminds me of pica. Does working on AI Safety ever get me the sense of worth I'm looking for, or should I give up?

So I'd like to suggest we try for Giving Praise as a rationalist virtue. It might just be a staple of group rationality.