by Basil Marte2 min read31st Aug 20209 comments


Personal Blog

Content warning: conjunction fallacy. Trigger warning: basilisk for anxiety.


Interestingly, I think I see the difference between leftists and liberals become more important for Americans as well — at least among the coastal, educated middle classes where outright conservatives are rare enough to make the other two turn on each other in fits of online culture warring, just like game theory would predict. In a pure Thrive environment the ways leftists and liberals agree become nothing more than background scenery and the divisions start to stand out.
Fundies – in all of their Bible-beating gun-owning cousin-marrying stereotypicalness – have so far served as the Lower Class With Which One Must Not Allow One’s Self To Be Confused. But I think that’s changing. Sorting mechanisms are starting to work so well that, at the top, the fundies just aren’t plausible.


Over the last decade, the coalition between socialists and liberals has visibly become increasingly tenuous in America. This suggests to me that a rearrangement, such that the two political coalitions would not be separated along the thrive-survive axis but along the cognitive (de)coupling axis, is somewhat probable within a decade (10-50%, I'm uncertain whether my crystal ball works at all). Conditional on this happening, I find it much more probable that the existing party brands would move "clockwise" (Democrat couplers, Republican decouplers) than the contrary. To my mind, the most salient trigger (or "factor that is currently missing") is a libertarian (rather than Up) Republican presidential candidate.

Where would memes develop, particularly of the hypothesized Left+Up coalition? There's already a lot of anti-capitalism, anti-decoupling (of the "math is racist" sort), and ancestry-based category-essentialism applied to people. These can be expected to be intensified once they no longer have to please the erstwhile allies, the liberals. Furthermore, the makeup of the respective coalitions would by itself create a situation where the currently (in 2020) narratively-approved ethnicities would be joined on the L+U side by the "fundies" who are at this point a fargroup which can be condescended to. Conditional on the shift happening, I consider it mildly probable (no %, ball fogged up) that the narrative would change to disapprove specifically of Asians and/or a traditional middleman minority, given the preexisting stereotypes of high-decoupling and capitalism.

This leads to a counterintuitive conclusion that, for the time being, having authoritarian "right-wing" politicians/figureheads in office benefits traditionally persecuted groups. They cannot do anything against them (because that pattern-matches to a known form of evil) but they might delay the above-described shift.


Overall, I'm hypothesizing a rearrangement of the Red/Blue tribes, which seems absurdly unlikely; but the internal fraying of the Liberal+Socialist coalition (mostly along the Blue/Gray tribe boundary) seems to be a driving fashion; electorally, "free radicals" (sorry) have to bind somewhere; and one tribal rearrangement is a force that can cause another.

P.S. Elevating self-esteem as one of the most important virtues leaves a trap under it. Its logic goes, "If you don't feel happy, that's sinful, and you should feel bad for it, then notice that you aren't happy." (I did promise a basilisk for anxiety, right?)


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I also(?) have a sort of intuitive sense that this post is Not Less Wrong, in some sense. (Probably because "contemporary politics, boo."


At the same time, I'm glad you wrote it, glad I read it, and I got useful things from it. Since I wouldn't have read it if you hadn't posted it here, that kind of commits me to thinking it's lucky for me that you did. 


I don't find the categories confusing, I'd speculate that this is because there's a lot of overlap in the ontologies being used by you, me, and Nerst- these feel like clusters-I-recognize-and-care-about rather than gerrymandered-feeling ones. But this is interestingly subjective- a lot of people mentally carving reality in ways that seem gerrymandered to me are doing that because they care about different features of category membership than I do, not being dishonest or disingenuous or even making any kind of mistake. This leaves me without any principled way to determine how much rigor is really needed- any level less than "infinite" is gonna confuse some people.


I'm trying to keep the content enumerated in this comment to LW-approved/LW-typical topic areas- I get a lot of value out of this place, getting banned would suck, and I really do owe the people running it a certain amount of consideration. This is also why my comment says things like "I'm glad I read this, and I guess I'm glad you posted it here so I could" rather than "AWESOME ARTICLE! Thanks so much, I have all kinds of thoughts about this!" but I do wanna convey my sincere gratitude. 


I'm interested in how you think this fits the trajectory we've seen since you wrote it- a few things jumped out to me, there- but I think I'm gonna wait and ask you about that somewhere I can be sure I'm not violating norms. (I'm not great at intuiting ambiguous or unarticulated social norms, so I try to leave myself a lot of slack- there's a decent chance I may need it later). I think I actually know you from twitter- I'm like 97% confident you're the same person, both based on username and conversational content- so venue-shuffling doesn't seem likely to present much practical difficulty.


One more marginal comment: I have the strong sense you're doing truthseeking here- trying to actually model the physical world. I've just come from an argument about politics on another blog that I gradually realized was... not about that, at all, after I'd already emotionally invested in it some. That's locally a very disheartening experience- it doesn't last, but you feel pretty bad for the next hour. This kinda pulled me out of it, and I'm thankful.

Retrospectively, I'd say that I was doing counterintuitiveness-seeking.  "Hey, look at this, the commonly used extremely simple model says that definitely P, while this more complex model (which seems to me to be more descriptive of the world) says that maybe not P."  This is mildly dangerous on its own, because while it runs on truthseeking, it also subordinates that to contrarianism.  And doing this on a political topic was particularly stupid of me.

Speaking about the fraying of Liberal+Socialist coalition without defining what you mean by other of those terms seems political thinking that's lower quality then what I think should have room on LessWrong.

This is exactly why I put the sources, including the "tilted political compass" model I'm referring to, right at the top. Technically the author uses the label "left" for what I'm calling "socialist", but his description of the quadrant's internal logic very clearly fits with what is usually called socialism, including by many of the people the label refers to. He even remarks:

"This has lead to a game of linguistic musical treadmills where liberals try to claim an identity apart from the left without joining the right, while leftists try to prevent them from doing so."

I edited the post slightly, hopefully it will be less ambiguous.

Technically the author uses the label "left" for what I'm calling "socialist", 

Those two terms are quite different. 

Socialism traditionally is about class. From the socialist perspective the goal is unity among the working class and it doesn't matter whether someone is a poor Black or White. On the other hand critical theory produces new priorities where some people on the left consider identity more important then class. 


Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, "left" is commonly understood to mean the whole Thrive coalition. I figured that using "left" would be more confusing/absurd-looking than using "socialist".

For the purposes of the argument, I'm using a model where political behaviors are largely a result of personality traits (thrive/survive, cognitive decoupling, and cultural class membership) with most people using the theories as justification. I.e. theories have negligible influence, they are not causes but consequences of coalitions. This is a simplification, but not an unreasonable one ("all models are wrong, some are useful").

The issue isn't so much the word that you used but that you didn't put in the effort to define what you mean with it.

For the purposes of the argument, I'm using a model where political behaviors are largely a result of personality traits 

If that's the argument you want to make, then how about being explicit about the assumptions of your model and why you believe that those assumptions hold?

LW isn't a space to have political discussion with a bunch of vague terms and implicit models that the reader is supposed to guess for which no justification is given.

Again, this is exactly the reason I put the references there. They are not a signalling device saying "look at me, I read all these things" but a tool so that I don't have to recreate their respective authors' arguments as to their respective models' degree of explanatory adequacy and why that makes sense in terms of what most of their readers already accept. This saves time for those readers of this post who have at some earlier point read some (or perhaps all) of these articles, as well as for me. The models are explicit.

The terms are, on the other hand, necessarily vague. This is a general principle of all models (to be computationally tractable for the human brain, models need to simplify and admit some level of uncertainty and errors) as well as a particular feature of political coalitions where individual people and even groups of people sometimes support/vote for some party "for idiosyncratic reasons", which expression pretty much means "for reasons that I don't bother to model because I expect that doing so wouldn't be worth the effort". I can't give you the Moon, the exact list of how every person is going to vote in the 2024, 2028, etc. elections, but I can point my finger toward the Moon and say "you know, socialists".

I don't think expecting readers to read a bunch of long post before engaging with political posts on LessWrong is a reasonable demand. Furthermore you didn't use the terms as defind in the posts you referenced.

I think it's reasonable to say "I assume X to be true because argument from Y source" but that's not how your post goes.

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