Hi everyone, my name is Jesse. I was introduced to LessWrong by my sister, Julia, a couple years ago and I've found the posts here fantastic.

Since college, I've been a professional atheist. I've done communications/PR work for three secular nonprofit organizations, helping to put a friendly face on nontheistic people and promoting a secular worldview/philosophy. It doesn't exactly pay well, but I like knowing that I'm part of making the world a more rational place.

I'm fascinated by a lot of the same things you are - psychology, rationality, language. But as a communications director, I have a particular passion for effective communication and persuasion. The "A Human's Guide to Words" sequence was invaluable in shaping my understanding and practice.

The question currently on my mind (among others) is: "Does it make sense to call a particular persuasion technique unethical? Or does it entirely depend on how it's used?"

Let me know what you think, and I look forward to being a part of this community!

  • Jesse
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Since college, I've been a professional atheist.

First I thought "Oh great, another believer in n gods for n=0", but after looking through your site I realized that it is much more about rationality and a secular approach to life, not just telling people that faith is a bad thing.

As for the morality of a particular persuasion technique, "do unto others..." is still a golden rule, despite its inherent biases and religious connotations.

1kilobug9yI would say that any persuasion technique that requires plain lies is unethical. Lies are contagious [http://lesswrong.com/lw/uw/entangled_truths_contagious_lies/] and break trust, while trust is required for any constructive communication. Now, it may be a lesser evil in some situations. But a lesser evil is still evil, and should be avoided every time it can be. So yes, to me, you can call a technique itself unethical. Some exceptional situations may force you to do something unethical, because the alternatives are much worse, but that can be said to anything (you can always construct an hypothetical situation in which a given ethical rule will have to be broken), so if we want to keep that "ethical" word, we can apply it to something like openly lying.
20Eliezer Yudkowsky9ySome questions to ask: * Am I making people stronger, or weaker? * What would they think if they knew exactly what I was doing? * If lots of people used this technique, would the world be better off or worse off? Is that already happening and am I just keeping pace? Am I being substantially less evil than average? * Is this the sort of Dark Art that corrupts anything it touches (like telling people to have faith) or is it more neutral toward the content conveyed (like using colorful illustrations or having a handsome presenter speak a talk)? (I've recently joked that SIAI should change its motto from "Don't be jerks" to "Be less evil than Google".)

Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

by orthonormal 1 min read12th Aug 2010805 comments

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