If Eliezer's art of solving confusing questions is the basic punch of rationality, and fighting akrasia and becoming personally effective is the basic front kick, I would like to master the loving hug. Here is a simple protocol to help us build stronger relationships and stronger communities:
In the spirit of Crocker's rules, I give you Nyan's rules: I hereby declare that you are allowed to love me. I will not judge you or hate you or stop talking to you. I will recieve and return your affection happily and gently let you know if you push my limits.
What's this all about? Here is the story:
I have strong feels of love and friendship for some of you that I met at minicamp, and some of you that I know from my meetup. On reflection, I see that I want to be deeply in (reciprocal) love with as many people as possible. I look forward to a future when I am smart enough to be in wonderful friendly love with all N billion of us.
I don't just want more feels, I want to be able to express them, too. I want to be able to tell you all that I love you and hold your hands and hug and cuddle and generally be nice without anyone feeling awkward or creeped out or conflicted.
Happiness research and personal experience suggests that more affection and closer relationships are generally a good thing. Mammals seem to like curling up together. Unwelcome affection is no good tho; the utility of affection seems to drop off past some point where people start to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I think if we tried, we would find that there is tremendous value in finding the right level of affection in our relationships. The problem at this point is how quickly the utility of affection drops off, and how unwilling people are to be explicit about their preferences here.
Currently, I feel like if I tell my friend that I love him or try to hold his hand, and he is not interested, this at best creates an awkward situation, and at worst irrevocably damages the friendship. It is a violation of fun theory to have a misstep that is this expensive. The usual method prescribed to deal with this is to be able to work up the curve slowly and get a feel for when you are reaching the limit. The location of the optimum also moves up, so building rapport like this is a pretty important skill. IMO, tho, it is too expensive to do things this way if we can avoid it.
We should be able to find and operate at the optimal level of affection with minimal cost. In the current social dynamic with my current skill level, even probing for information is so scary that I don't bother to play the game.
Many percieved social risks are imaginary, but if this one is, no one is being explicit about its non-existance, so it still scares me. If it scares me, it probably scares others. There may even be people who want to be more affectionate with me, and aren't able to work up enough courage to try. That makes me really sad.
This is all made worse by love being mixed up with romance. Romance brings a whole other bag of grenades to the love party. If, in some case, full-on romance is uncomfortable or inconvienient for someone, that doesn't mean the optimal level of affection is none. We can probably still have hugs and cuddles. Note that this is just a consequence of the optimal-affection idea.
So there are two things we need to do, I think, to create a better social dynamic in which we can optimize affection and relationships faster and better. We need to be more comfortable with being explicit about what we are comfortable with, and we need to try to flatten the tail of our affection->utility curve so that overstepping comfort limits is not such a disaster. This means not punishing people for overstepping the bounds the first time, just gently nudging them back to your comfort zone.
At minicamp, there were a couple moments where a few of us semi-deliberately made these changes. IMO, the result was huge; we probed each other's comfort boundaries and built loving relationships very quickly, and all came out of it happier. At least that's what it felt like to me. This is one of the sources of strong feels of love and friendship that I mentioned above. This post is an attempt to formalize what happened there into a useful protocol.
Human social dynamics is one of the most complex systems in the known universe. Hacking it naively is bound to hit some pitfall or other. Even so, it is our system, and we are rationalists; I think we can do better here.
The naive approach is to do like radical honesty and start expressing love honestly when you feel it. Even if this were explicitly endorsed and enforced by the group (good luck overcoming that momentum), it still has two big issues: It requires way too much courage, and punishes people who are not comfortable with saying they are uncomfortable. This is the same sort of thing, except worse, that sinks radical honesty. Forcing the new rules on people who are not ready is bad.
The solution, I think is the same as the solution to these problems for radical honesty: transform the intervention from a something forced on people who are not ready to an opt-in protocol where people who are ready invite others to initiate interactions under the new system. Radical honesty becomes Crocker's rules, really awkward affection becomes Nyan's rules (or something).
(if anyone has a better name...)
So here are the rules:
- I want to optimize the level of affection between us; I probably want more of your love.
- To make it easier for you, I will give you feedback about what I feel comfortable with. I am ready to do this and you don't have to worry that I am secretly uncomfortable.
- To make it safer for you, I won't punish you or hate you for going over my limits. I still expect you to respect them, but you can expect me to warn you before blowing up. (don't keep testing me tho).
- If you reach out to me, please be comfortable with being open about your own limits. You may be suprised at how much I love you back.
What does this get us? If this works as well as I think it should, it will become a major piece of the group rationality puzzle. Rationalists should be able to build strong emotional relationships faster and better than any Dark Side cult. Is this going to work? I think it is at least worth testing.
I feel so much love just waiting for an opportunity to come out. There are many people I would love to be more open and affectionate with, but don't want to risk making them uncomfortable or ruining a friendship. I can't force this on them; all I can do is do for others what I would like them to do for me.
So if you like, try this out at your meetups. Lets see if it works. It seems safe enough, so I'll be the first to awkwardly stick my neck out and say it:
It is safe to express love or be affectionate with me, really, I won't bite.