Summary: I don't think 'politics is the mind-killer' works well rhetorically. I suggest 'politics is hard mode' instead.


Some people in and catawampus to the LessWrong community have objected to "politics is the mind-killer" as a framing (/ slogan / taunt). Miri Mogilevsky explained on Facebook:

My usual first objection is that it seems odd to single politics out as a “mind-killer” when there’s plenty of evidence that tribalism happens everywhere. Recently, there has been a whole kerfuffle within the field of psychology about replication of studies. Of course, some key studies have failed to replicate, leading to accusations of “bullying” and “witch-hunts” and what have you. Some of the people involved have since walked their language back, but it was still a rather concerning demonstration of mind-killing in action. People took “sides,” people became upset at people based on their “sides” rather than their actual opinions or behavior, and so on.

Unless this article refers specifically to electoral politics and Democrats and Republicans and things (not clear from the wording), “politics” is such a frightfully broad category of human experience that writing it off entirely as a mind-killer that cannot be discussed or else all rationality flies out the window effectively prohibits a large number of important issues from being discussed, by the very people who can, in theory, be counted upon to discuss them better than most. Is it “politics” for me to talk about my experience as a woman in gatherings that are predominantly composed of men? Many would say it is. But I’m sure that these groups of men stand to gain from hearing about my experiences, since some of them are concerned that so few women attend their events.

In this article, Eliezer notes, “Politics is an important domain to which we should individually apply our rationality — but it’s a terrible domain in which to learn rationality, or discuss rationality, unless all the discussants are already rational.” But that means that we all have to individually, privately apply rationality to politics without consulting anyone who can help us do this well. After all, there is no such thing as a discussant who is “rational”; there is a reason the website is called “Less Wrong” rather than “Not At All Wrong” or “Always 100% Right.” Assuming that we are all trying to be more rational, there is nobody better to discuss politics with than each other.

The rest of my objection to this meme has little to do with this article, which I think raises lots of great points, and more to do with the response that I’ve seen to it — an eye-rolling, condescending dismissal of politics itself and of anyone who cares about it. Of course, I’m totally fine if a given person isn’t interested in politics and doesn’t want to discuss it, but then they should say, “I’m not interested in this and would rather not discuss it,” or “I don’t think I can be rational in this discussion so I’d rather avoid it,” rather than sneeringly reminding me “You know, politics is the mind-killer,” as though I am an errant child. I’m well-aware of the dangers of politics to good thinking. I am also aware of the benefits of good thinking to politics. So I’ve decided to accept the risk and to try to apply good thinking there. [...]

I’m sure there are also people who disagree with the article itself, but I don’t think I know those people personally. And to add a political dimension (heh), it’s relevant that most non-LW people (like me) initially encounter “politics is the mind-killer” being thrown out in comment threads, not through reading the original article. My opinion of the concept improved a lot once I read the article.

In the same thread, Andrew Mahone added, “Using it in that sneering way, Miri, seems just like a faux-rationalist version of ‘Oh, I don’t bother with politics.’ It’s just another way of looking down on any concerns larger than oneself as somehow dirty, only now, you know, rationalist dirty.” To which Miri replied: “Yeah, and what’s weird is that that really doesn’t seem to be Eliezer’s intent, judging by the eponymous article.”

Eliezer replied briefly, to clarify that he wasn't generally thinking of problems that can be directly addressed in local groups (but happen to be politically charged) as "politics":

Hanson’s “Tug the Rope Sideways” principle, combined with the fact that large communities are hard to personally influence, explains a lot in practice about what I find suspicious about someone who claims that conventional national politics are the top priority to discuss. Obviously local community matters are exempt from that critique! I think if I’d substituted ‘national politics as seen on TV’ in a lot of the cases where I said ‘politics’ it would have more precisely conveyed what I was trying to say.

But that doesn't resolve the issue. Even if local politics is more instrumentally tractable, the worry about polarization and factionalization can still apply, and may still make it a poor epistemic training ground.

A subtler problem with banning “political” discussions on a blog or at a meet-up is that it’s hard to do fairly, because our snap judgments about what counts as “political” may themselves be affected by partisan divides. In many cases the status quo is thought of as apolitical, even though objections to the status quo are ‘political.’ (Shades of Pretending to be Wise.)

Because politics gets personal fast, it’s hard to talk about it successfully. But if you’re trying to build a community, build friendships, or build a movement, you can’t outlaw everything ‘personal.’

And selectively outlawing personal stuff gets even messier. Last year, daenerys shared anonymized stories from women, including several that discussed past experiences where the writer had been attacked or made to feel unsafe. If those discussions are made off-limits because they relate to gender and are therefore ‘political,’ some folks may take away the message that they aren’t allowed to talk about, e.g., some harmful or alienating norm they see at meet-ups. I haven’t seen enough discussions of this failure mode to feel super confident people know how to avoid it.

Since this is one of the LessWrong memes that’s most likely to pop up in cross-subcultural dialogues (along with the even more ripe-for-misinterpretation “policy debates should not appear one-sided“…), as a first (very small) step, my action proposal is to obsolete the ‘mind-killer’ framing. A better phrase for getting the same work done would be ‘politics is hard mode’:

1. ‘Politics is hard mode’ emphasizes that ‘mind-killing’ (= epistemic difficulty) is quantitative, not qualitative. Some things might instead fall under Middlingly Hard Mode, or under Nightmare Mode…

2. ‘Hard’ invites the question ‘hard for whom?’, more so than ‘mind-killer’ does. We’re used to the fact that some people and some contexts change what’s ‘hard’, so it’s a little less likely we’ll universally generalize.

3. ‘Mindkill’ connotes contamination, sickness, failure, weakness. In contrast, ‘Hard Mode’ doesn’t imply that a thing is low-status or unworthy. As a result, it’s less likely to create the impression (or reality) that LessWrongers or Effective Altruists dismiss out-of-hand the idea of hypothetical-political-intervention-that-isn’t-a-terrible-idea. Maybe some people do want to argue for the thesis that politics is always useless or icky, but if so it should be done in those terms, explicitly — not snuck in as a connotation.

4. ‘Hard Mode’ can’t readily be perceived as a personal attack. If you accuse someone of being ‘mindkilled’, with no context provided, that smacks of insult — you appear to be calling them stupid, irrational, deluded, or the like. If you tell someone they’re playing on ‘Hard Mode,’ that’s very nearly a compliment, which makes your advice that they change behaviors a lot likelier to go over well.

5. ‘Hard Mode’ doesn’t risk bringing to mind (e.g., gendered) stereotypes about communities of political activists being dumb, irrational, or overemotional.

6. ‘Hard Mode’ encourages a growth mindset. Maybe some topics are too hard to ever be discussed. Even so, ranking topics by difficulty encourages an approach where you try to do better, rather than merely withdrawing. It may be wise to eschew politics, but we should not fear it. (Fear is the mind-killer.)

7. Edit: One of the larger engines of conflict is that people are so much worse at noticing their own faults and biases than noticing others'. People will be relatively quick to dismiss others as 'mindkilled,' while frequently flinching away from or just-not-thinking 'maybe I'm a bit mindkilled about this.' Framing the problem as a challenge rather than as a failing might make it easier to be reflective and even-handed.

This is not an attempt to get more people to talk about politics. I think this is a better framing whether or not you trust others (or yourself) to have productive political conversations.

When I playtested this post, Ciphergoth raised the worry that 'hard mode' isn't scary-sounding enough. As dire warnings go, it's light-hearted—exciting, even. To which I say: good. Counter-intuitive fears should usually be argued into people (e.g., via Eliezer's politics sequence), not connotation-ninja'd or chanted at them. The cognitive content is more clearly conveyed by 'hard mode,' and if some group (people who love politics) stands to gain the most from internalizing this message, the message shouldn't cast that very group (people who love politics) in an obviously unflattering light. LW seems fairly memetically stable, so the main issue is what would make this meme infect friends and acquaintances who haven't read the sequences. (Or Dune.)

If you just want a scary personal mantra to remind yourself of the risks, I propose 'politics is SPIDERS'. Though 'politics is the mind-killer' is fine there too.

If you and your co-conversationalists haven’t yet built up a lot of trust and rapport, or if tempers are already flaring, conveying the message ‘I’m too rational to discuss politics’ or ‘You’re too irrational to discuss politics’ can make things worse. In that context, ‘politics is the mind-killer’ is the mind-killer. At least, it’s a needlessly mind-killing way of warning people about epistemic hazards.

‘Hard Mode’ lets you speak as the Humble Aspirant rather than the Aloof Superior. Strive to convey: ‘I’m worried I’m too low-level to participate in this discussion; could you have it somewhere else?’ Or: ‘Could we talk about something closer to Easy Mode, so we can level up together?’ More generally: If you’re worried that what you talk about will impact group epistemology, you should be even more worried about how you talk about it.

New Comment
109 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

"Hard mode" sounds too metal. The proper response to "X is hard mode" is "Bring it on!"

Therefore I object to "politics is hard mode" for the same reason I object to "driving a car with your eyes closed is hard mode". Both statements are true, but phrased to produce maximum damage.

There's also a way that "politics is hard mode" is worse than playing a video game on hard mode, or driving a car on hard mode. If you play the video game and fail, you know and you can switch back to an easier setting. If you drive a car in "hard mode" and crash into a tree, you know you should keep your eyes open the next time.

If you discuss politics in "hard mode", you can go your entire life being totally mind-killed (yes! I said it!) and just think everyone else is wrong, doing more and more damage each time you open your mouth and destroying every community you come in contact with.

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"? There may be a tiny handful of people wise enough to try it - and ironically, those are probably the same handful who have a tiny ... (read more)

Can you imagine a human being saying "I'm sorry, I'm too low-level to participate in this discussion"?

I use the phrase "I don't know enough about this to have an opinion" in real life on a pretty regular basis.

"I don't know": About a hundred times in 14 months.

One way of beginning to address that problem might be to use 'X is hard mode' as a schema for a lot of other things people have trouble talking about. It can also be agent-relative; 'sorry, eugenics is hard mode for me' is a nice stock-phrase alternative to 'sorry, I find eugenics triggering' (which might be objectionable if the 'trigger' isn't literally a PTSD trigger; or, if it is a PTSD trigger, the sufferer might not want to divulge that much). If the group of common 'hard modes' includes a lot of things that are more intuitively unsavory than 'politics', there's less bravado risk.

Though I don't think bravado is a very large concern, here and now and in practice. (At least compared to the kinds of things I tend to worry about re group norms.) Regarding politics, your comment is more cynical than my post; but regarding memes and conversation, I think my post is the more cynical. Neither of us trusts people to talk politics well, but I also don't trust people to talk about not-talking-about-politics well. So I suggested a meme that I think is useful, but also can fail gracefully in normal, everyday usage.

LW is not at risk anytime soon of falling in love with politics, but it is a... (read more)

LW is not at risk anytime soon of falling in love with politics, but it is at risk of appearing arrogant, dismissive, insulting, thoughtlessly-opposed-to-local-politics-and-groupcraft, etc.

This might be the crux of our disagreement.

I don't have statistics for Less Wrong, but here are some for SSC. The topic is "median number of page views for different types of post throughout 2014".

As you can see, interest in charity and statistics is the lowest, followed by interest in transhumanism and rationality. Politics is the highest of the group that clusters around the 3000s. Then comes "race and gender" at 8000, and "things i will regret writing" (my tag for very controversial political rants that will make a lot of people very angry) at 16000, ie about five times the level for rationality or transhumanism.

This seems to correspond to how things work on Less Wrong, where for example a basic introduction of misogyny and mansplaining got almost twice as many comments as Anna's massive and brilliant post resolving a bunch of philosophy of mind issues and more than three times as many as Luke's heavily researched primer on fighting procrastination.

Not to ment... (read more)

2Rob Bensinger
It sounds like we agree it'd be bad for LW to go political, but we're worrying about different scenarios. Some of my concerns: * 'Politics is the mind-killer', as most people use it, carries approximately the same content as 'boo politics'. If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we're more likely to alienate people with the connections and expertise needed to handle politically charged blow-ups, group dynamics, etc. well. From what I can tell, when organizations, communities, and movements avoid getting dragged through the mud due to misinformation being circulated online, it's frequently because they have friends who are skilled or connected e.g. at social media, diplomacy / PR. Having fully general counterarguments against your hated enemies, and lots of blog posts readying your troops for battle with those hated enemies, is not generally a winning way to avoid getting into lots of messy time-wasting fights. On my understanding, cultivating targeted social skills/habits (for preventing, diffusing, and redirecting conflict) and allies/connections works better. * If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we'll thereby by setting ourselves up as the Anti-Politics Tribe, a hated enemy of the Politics Tribes. The Politics Tribes are precisely the people we're trying to avoid picking fights with, especially not fights framed as tribalistic no-holds-barred absolutist sloganeering shouting matches. Going meta is not a secure safeguard; it just means that any political partisan or activist community can potentially object or take offense, since we're now talking about politics as a totality. That's not my experience, but if that's true, then a lot of the people I'm interested in building ties to are in that high-value has-a-nuanced-position minority. My own opinion of LW shifts up and down by increments based on how nice I see people being, and I see a lot of my friends fluctuating up and down in opinion based on incidents like 'this person co

Politics is the mind-killer', as most people use it, carries approximately the same content as 'boo politics'. If one of LW's top catchphrases is 'boo politics!', we're more likely to alienate people with the connections and expertise needed to handle politically charged blow-ups, group dynamics, etc. well.

I think this conflates "people who are good at group dynamics" and "people who argue a lot about abortion" into the category "politics people". I doubt there is much of a correlation between the two categories. If we really wanted people who were good at handling these sorts of things, I would look for business managers, sports team captains, and people with nonprofit experience before I started looking for people marked by an interest in politics.

From what I can tell, when organizations, communities, and movements avoid getting dragged through the mud due to misinformation being circulated online, it's frequently because they have friends who are skilled or connected e.g. at social media, diplomacy / PR.

Huh. That's neither of the two things I previously accused you of conflating. It's a third thing.

Having fully general counterarguments agai

... (read more)
Unfortunately, it's more complicated than this. There are tribes who believe that you should automatically join them... and if you refuse to join them at least partially, for whatever reason (including an explanation that as a matter of principle you ignore such requests from all tribes), then in their eyes you have kinda joined the enemy side. Because there is only their side and the enemy side, and no one can be neutral. Saying "I am neutral" is just a bullshit for "sorry, I have already joined the enemy side, I just want to avoid a direct conflict with you personally". These people are offended by criticizing politics, and will even accuse you of hypocrisy: how can you criticize politics, when your actions (your refusal to join us) make it obvious that you support the enemy side? An explanation they will give you is probably something like this: In a conflict between a stronger side and a weaker side, a decision to stay neutral is de facto a decision that the stronger side should win. In this metaphor, they are the weaker side, and their perceived enemy is the stronger side; so if you don't join them, you support the enemy. One thing that doesn't quite fit is this: If you are the weaker side, how is it possible that you come and bully me, and expect me to immediately give up? This doesn't seem like a typical behavior or weaker people surrounded by stronger people. (Possible explanation: This side is locally strong here, for some definition of "here", but the enemy side is stronger globally.)
You are right, and I am entirely comfortable with such tribes being treated as enemies (or at least opposed or dismissed contemptuously in that particular regard). Another explanation could be that the side is dominant in one form of battle (moralizing) but weak at another kind (economic power, prestige, literal battle) and wish to play to their strengths. More often it is merely the already powerful bullying whoever they can. Discrimination is worst against subgroups that have not formed alliances and mobilised sufficiently to have made discrimination them a legitimate moral claim. (Short people?)
See also Yvain on social vs. structural power.
Certainly related. I'd perhaps categorise the core battle here as between different forms of social power but the same kind of breakdown of power kinds applies. Sometimes there is bleed-over into structural power as well (for both 'sides' at various times.)
Asians in USA (internment camps, college quotas...) They deal with discrimination by working harder, which doesn't bring them media attention, but maybe it is a winning strategy in long term. Also, no one cares about Asians being underrepresented on LW. 這不公平!
It is interesting the unlike the other underrepresented groups, this difference isn't explained by differences in IQ, and in fact becomes more mysterious. I suspect the cause is the large emphasis on conformity in Asian culture (and possibly generic adaptations to it).
I do think there exist quite a large number of groups who would fall into the category of the politics tribe. In fact from what I've seen much of the spectrum of social activists. From there point of view they may identify the status quo that is considered apolitical from the main stream point of view, to in fact have harmful effects for some. On these issues they identify 3 groups. Those who agree with them that the status quo has issues. Those who disagree and wish to actively maintain the status quo. Those who have not engaged with the issue but inadvertently are supporting their political enemies due to Status Quo Bias
I think at least in my case, what associations I have behind the symbol "politics" is a bit different from the way you view it. I see how your arguments are consistent from that perspective, so I think that a lot of the difference in view might come from that difference. In my view something that is political need not be something related to any formal party politics, but includes the set of any group power dynamics. In my case I can imagine political people as both people who are interested in partisan conflicts, but also I would consider the main skill of managers of people to fundamentally be to manage the politics of the group.
I wonder if the number of comments might be a better heuristic for measuring the variance in people's perspective on the article. If you look at those 3 examples, the first had the most comments, but the least upvotes and lowest percentage positive. If someone feels that they are in agreement and their viewpoint is already present in the discussion they might have a lower likelihood of adding another comment, but if there is a larger variance in the viewpoints on an issue than people would be more likely to have what they feel is unique information to add to the discussion.
As a continuation of that idea though. One of the prerequisites of factionalization / triblization is the existence in enough variance in viewpoints to create distinct independent clusters. Others in the same cluster become the in group, and those outside of the cluster become the out group. However, while variance is required for clustering, clustering isn't always present with high variance. You can still have more uniform distributions with large spreads. Being aware that clustering effects are more likely in areas of high variance seems to me to a a good heuristic to internalize.
Or maybe just "sorry, I find it difficult to discuss eugenics calmly"?
6Ben Pace
Actually, I think one good way of getting the message across that doesn't give the impression of looking down on the other person might be to say "I'm sorry, I don't think I'm able to think clearly enough about politics. It's the mind-killer." Showing that it effects you is probably a better way of using the phrase.
3Rob Bensinger
I like this approach. Better still is 'it mind-kills me,' since 'it's the mind-killer' invites universal generalization and can always be read as a veiled attack. 'X is the stupidity-bringer' just isn't safe grammatically.
Yes, this is what I thought of when I read this: It's not that politics isn't important to get right, it's just that talking about has negative expected value. Nearly every political argument between two people makes at least one person further entrenched in error. Maybe "politics is like that scene in a thriller where the two guys are fighting to reach a single gun; but in this case the handle and trigger are actually poisoned."

"politics is like that scene in a thriller where the two guys are fighting to reach a single gun; but in this case the handle and trigger are actually poisoned."

If we're looking for simple, popular, fictional metaphors for the importance and danger of politics, it's convenient that Peter Jackson adapted one into a blockbuster trilogy that sold three billion dollars worth of tickets.

Politics is my precious...

Initial reaction: Yeah! Politics is the one ring! That's way more succinct! 30 seconds later: "Politics is the One Ring" - waaaiit, this doesn't quite seem like an accurate representation of the proper incentive structure....
So -- the single most important thing in the world? Worth any sacrifice? I don't think this metaphor works well...
Worth any sacrifice not to use for itself, but to keep its full potential power from being used against you. As for "the single most important thing in the world", not quite, but "permanent stagnation under totalitarianism" is usually (IMHO correctly) near the top of lists of existential risks.
Personally, I think mind-killer is jargony, hard mode less so, and hard mode can also convey the idea that you should be humble when approaching that discussion, that you should take more seriously an "I think we're getting off track" or "I think we are talking around some fundamentally different assumptions" from other discussants. And no, the consequences of talking about politics are not that grave. I mean you seem to blog about politics all the time and you have not yet imploded.
The consequences of talking about politics have historically made empire-sweeping changes about religion, slavery, gender, warfare, welfare, culture, honor, social stigma, social divide, economics, prosperity, technology, and even politics itself! Talking about politics has also started wars and made people start involving themselves in the slave trade and other such unhappy things. And because the Internet Law calls for it: Talking about politics is what caused Hitler to become propped up by other people to the authority he had and what caused other people to listen to him and do those things I don't need to mention. Every political fanatic you've ever heard of, who showed up in a newspaper because he burned down a preschool in the name of [insert ideology], got to the point of doing that because of people talking about politics (or sufficiently politics-like topics). I think the consequences are grave enough to warrant Yvain's level of concern.
1Alex Vermillion
P(Talking Politics | Bad Things Happen) != P(Bad Things Happen | Talking Politics) The left is represented by "Talking about politics is what caused Hitler..." and the right by "the consequences of talking about politics". They are not able to be compared outright without proper admiration for lots of edge cases that make the argument probably too loose for you to use the evidence that you did.
This is precisely why people should be encouraged to do it more. I've found that the more you admit to a lack of ability where you don't have the ability, the more people are willing to listen to you where you do. I also see interesting parallels to the relationship between skeptics and pseudoscience, where we replace skeptics -> rationalists, pseudoscience -> religion. Namely, "things that look like politics are the mindkiller" works as "things that look like pseudoscience are obviously dumb". It provides an opportunity to view yourself as smarter than other people without thinking too hard about the issue.

I don't think "Politics is hard mode" conveys the point.

Any mention of politics is a minefield of unintended triggers. In the "politics is the mind-killer" post Eliezer refers to the mind-killing properties politically charged examples have on any discussion, precisely because of these triggers. That's the reason that

political examples should not be used in a non-political discussion.

Just like any trigger-heavy example should not be used unless explicitly intended to trigger people. (I used it in one my posts for that purpose.)

TL;DR: the original meaning of "politics is the mind killer" is "avoid unintended triggers in your arguments".

Unfortunately, this slogan became a catch-all "boo! politics" attitude. Maybe what is needed is a post "How to discuss politics (race/gender/...) rationally". Unless one has been written already, though I came up empty after a cursory look.

A better slogan for that purpose might simply be "Politics makes for bad examples". Straight to the point. It needs explanation, just like the "mind-killer" slogan, but after the explanation it is easy to remember the reasoning behind it.
I am not sure this conveys the point, but it is certainly an improvement on "politics is a/the mind-killer". The issue is making clear that one should avoid unnecessary/unintended polarization in an argument, and, especially in the US context, political arguments and examples are especially prone to this failure mode.
4Rob Bensinger
That's true. 'Politics is the mind-killer' has been used in lots of different ways, and I'd be happy to see it replaced with several more specific catchphrases or arguments. 'Politics is hard mode' mainly works for cases where 'politics is the mind-killer' is intended to squelch a discussion about politics, which seems to be most common. I don't see people use it as often in Eliezer's original sense, and I'm not sure how best to encapsulate (or begin-a-persuasive-conversation asserting) 'confine politics to politics discussions'.
It should probably be an instance of "avoid trigger-inducing examples". The Godwin's law points to one of the limit points of neglecting this.
For reasons relating to politics being - ahem - hard mode, however, it would probably be unwise to actually use the word "trigger"
Why? is the word trigger itself a trigger?
Because its typical internet usage is an exaggeration. It is wrong to call every form of sadness a "depression", every form of aversion a "trigger", every lack of social skills an "autism", etc. No, unless there is some weird form of torture when the prisoners are shown a word "trigger" written on screen, immediately followed by pain. So that even months or years after their torture ended, when they see the word "trigger", their hearts automatically starts beating fast, and they crouch and scream incontrollably. Mere "I am so annoyed when I see someone speaking about triggers" is not a trigger.
The word trigger is itself the subject of significant political dispute. There are at least three sides: * The side that thinks "trigger" means specifically something which brings back traumatic memories in a person who has the psychological disorder of PTSD, and other usage is overbroad; * The side that thinks "trigger" means anything that causes someone to recall past trauma, or more broadly anything that upsets someone due to some association with past trauma; * The side that thinks a good part of side #2 is a bunch of oversensitive whiners; some members of which claim to be in side #1, arguably as a sort of concern trolling, whereas others purport to disbelieve in the whole concept. It would be hard to use the word 'trigger' with any meaning at all, without taking some side here.
I would call it a definition, not a side. I agree that definitions of ambiguous/loaded terms must be explicated before use. I disagree that this is taking sides.
Definitions and word choice are a form of framing. Framing and other meta-discussion is a powerful tool for shaping the object-level discussion. I am fairly suspicious of claims that framing attempts are neutral and apolitical. Of course, this is complicated by the fact that good definitions that reflect underlying reality are useful. But both modifying those definitions to be overly broad or overly narrow, and trying to prevent that modification, can be a subtle form of taking sides.
Side #3 there looks more like a strawman/weakman of side #1 - surely there isn't much of a movement to eschew the word "trigger" or the concept of triggers in the context of medical discussion of PTSD? Or to disbelieve in one of the principal symptoms of one of the most normalized and well-publicised mental disorders in modern America?
I think it's more that there seems to be a cluster that will vocally declare anything that is short of the clinical definition of PTSD trigger, to be completely invalid morally. IE there is no moral value or obligation to markup our language with these warnings and it is completely the responsibility of others to toughen up and handle it. This is in opposition to the viewpoint of side two who argue that we should invest effort to create more pleasant and safer environments. Hence side 2 and 3 argue different moral claims while side 1 associates the term without considering moral obligations in the use of language.
And yet LW is full of political discussions. (e.g. I'm trying to think how someone could think of advocacy of race realism as "not political". I suspect this is a problem that changing the saying to "politics is hard mode" won't remedy, however.)
Yes, and Eliezer's post about politics is the mind-killer doesn't argue that there should be no political discussions on LW. Just don't use political examples when you are not wanting to make a political point.
The book Nonviolent Communication might be a good starting answer to the question "How to discuss politics (race/gender/...) rationally". I can also recommend Leadership and Self-Deception. If you really want something that's been posted to LW, may I submit a couple of my posts? And Scott Alexander has good social justice stuff on his blogs, e.g. this (though he might make too many object-level statements for his to be good material for canonicalization).

While "politics is hard mode" is technically closer to the truth than "politics is the mind killer", it fails to serve the phrase's social function as well.

There is a common adage that good startup ideas are worthless. This is false. However, there are a lot of people with bad or not-unusually-good startup ideas, which they think are great, but which aren't worth spending time on. It is usually bad to tell people that their ideas suck, or that they aren't even worth listening to. So instead, we have a standard piece of wisdom that all startup ideas are worthless, and use this to deflect frustrating conversations in a way that won't cause offense.

When a political topic comes up, I look around the room. I predict who is likely to be triggered, I check my own mental state, and I predict how the conversation is likely to go. If I expect it to go badly, I say: politics is the mind killer. It's not you, it's everyone, now let's talk about something else.

(Sometimes I forget to do all that, and regret it. And sometimes "the room" is a public thread on the internet, which usually means fools will come crawling out of the woodwork.)

(Please don't explain this to people who would be hurt by that knowledge.)

6Rob Bensinger
Because 'politics is hard mode' is closer to the truth, and less likely to offend, it's harder to argue against. (To the extent 'politics is the mind-killer' is the harder one to argue against, it's probably because it's hard to tell what that catchphrase means, so it's easier to just nod along. 'Something something politics bad thing. Gotcha.' But I'm not sure obscurantism is a good strategy here.) And once 'politics is hard mode' is granted as a premise, it too conveys 'it's not you; it's all of us', and in a way that's harder to resist. Someone who proceeds to talk politics anyway is then making a claim to a special, privileged status: they're saying they're masterful enough at epistemic rationality to handle hard mode. They'll have to proceed with caution if they don't want to come off as arrogant and overconfident; and they'll have to be on their best behavior in light of having implicitly invited everyone else to judge whether they're as great as they claim to be. Egalitarian instincts can be used as tools for rationality. If instead you get the group to accept 'politics is the mind-killer,' and some subset of the group starts talking about politics, they aren't claiming to have a high-status expertise, of the sort people can safely demand evidence for. Instead, they're claiming to lack a disease/disability/weakness/flaw, and if you question their lack of this flaw, you're insulting and attacking them. Doubting someone's diseaselessness and doubting someone's extraordinary excellence feel very different, even if you have a belief floating around your brain to the effect 'lacking this disease would demand extraordinary excellence,' or 'this disease is humanly universal'. You can say 'we are all sinners', but in practice accusing someone of a sin, framed as a sin, is still a pretty big faux pas. Pulling it off effectively requires a lot of rapport / social superpowers / group cohesion. Part of the lesson I'd like to see generalized from my post is that we sh
I concur with the problem assessment: its social function in practice is to assure the group that other people's politics are mindkilled, whereas their own politics are just the normal background. This has a number of fairly obvious problems. Being mindkilled feels from the inside like clear thinking.

Being mindkilled feels from the inside like clear thinking.

Seems to me that being mindkilled feels from the inside like being so sure about something that no thinking is necessary.

Yeah, I mean it feels like the obvious results of clear thinking, even if it was effectively cut'n'pasted in.
Not exactly. Clear thinking often has all those telltale feelings of humility where I change my mind and learn new things. Unfortunately most of our conclusions are cached and being mindkilled makes us incapable of (or uninterested in) distinguishing between cached clear thoughts, cached mind-killed conclusions or new mind-killed reasoning created on the fly.
Maybe not. Only slightly more charitably, they may admit that they get mind killed in political arguments as well. Everyone does, there's no point in discussing it, no one will ever change their minds, etc. That would be the usual taboo against arguing about strongly held views, whether religion, politics, morality, etc. I'd emphasize that the phrase tends to only be applied to arguments with The Other, not discussions with Our Side, though logically the other side of the pancake would have the same issue. I predict that a lot of people who use the phrase against political discussion here, still have tons of political discussions with like minded people. Fundamentally, it's a general memetic protection tactic, that successfully prevents serious encounters with conflicting memeplexes. Christianity has "never argue with the Devil, he's smarter than you and has had more practice in arguing". Other ideologies find similar strategies to keep the Bad Ideas away. The ideas that possess people, are the ones that work to keep them.

How about "politics is a minefield"?

I see that shminux & Yvain have already used that phrase in their comments.

7Rob Bensinger
People think they already know what that means, so it won't signal 'stop! new idea incoming!' And it's losing its status as metaphor, in the same way 'that's the way the cookie crumbles' is no longer a vivid, attention-grabbing comparison to mentally simulated baked goods.
1Scott Alexander
That sounds like a pretty good compromise.

Let's make explicit that we're talking about politics specifically in the US.

My experience (in Germany) is very different. Here parties need to be in coalitions in order to get majorities; so they need to remain on speaking terms and know each others positions well enough to find compromises. Our political discourse is a lot less polarized than yours, which makes it more complex, and that complexity selects for other people to participate in it. I know a bunch of politicians personally (a few very well) and they tend to be intellectual, thoughtful people with strong consciences that do care about the truth.

So I can't really comment on whether "hard mode", "mind-killer" or any other term is appropriate on your side of the Atlantic, but please remember you're not describing a universal phenomenon.

Same applies to Italy and yet Italian politicians aren't that much saner than American ones. So an American-style two-party first-past-the-post system aren't a necessary condition for politician craziness (though it does help).
A more precise description of the Italian system is: if the centre-right coalition comprises 40% of the parliament, the centre-left coalition comprises 45% of the parliament, and the lone contrarian party comprises 15% of the parliament, then the lone contrarian party gets to decide everything (except questions on which the centre-right coalition and the centre-left coalition agree, which aren't likely to be voted on in the parliament in the first place) without needing to be in a coalition, and hence without needing to be sane enough to be in a coalition. (BTW, nobody actually likes the centre-right coalition or the centre-left coalition: people vote for the centre-right coalition just because they dislike the centre-left coalition and don't want it to get a plurality of seats and vice versa.) (I'm not familiar with German politics so I don't know what prevents this dynamic from occurring there too.)
How often do the center-right and center-left coalitions look the crazy thing the lone contrarian party wants to do, go "lol, nope" and make a centrist compromise with each other? Is that possible/common?
The trouble with being a kingmaker is that you can't choose the people that have a shot at becoming king. The lone contrarian party isn't in a position to dictate terms; all it can do is decide whether it wants the country to be center-left or center-right on a given issue, which sounds okay for preventing partisan insanity but bad for coherence on anyone's part. I can only see compromise being a winning move if one of the mainstream coalitions wants to do something that won't work without agreement between several different policy domains, and if it's willing to sacrifice a lot to get it. Otherwise there's no incentive: pissing off the crazies isn't a good strategic move if it implies concessions to your real enemies.
That was covered by “except questions on which the centre-right coalition and the centre-left coalition agree” but Nornagest said it better.
The debate is not about politicians getting mind-killed but mainly about normal people getting mind-killed. The fact that a professional politician manages to think clearly doesn't indicate that the average person on the street also thinks clearly. At the moment I'm having a facebook discussion with a German friend (I'm also German) who thinks that the US is definitely responsible for shooting down that plane in the Ukraine. While it's possible, it's also plausible that the rebels simply wanted to shoot down a military plane and mistakenly hit the civilian aircraft. I do think "mind-killed" is a pretty good description for that behavior. In the city of Berlin a few years ago the Berlin government wanted to have a database with the names of all students and with schools the student goes to. There are cases where a student get's accepted in two schools and then both schools run with a higher head count and the schools are late in reporting back that they have a lower student count. That makes it harder for the central school administration to distribute teachers so the central school administration wants a database with student names and their school. The German pirate party opposed that program because it's about centralized storage of personal data and all centralized storage of personal data is supposed to be fought. I also think that the label "mind-killed" is fitting at that point. There also quite good experimental evidence that people who can successfully use Bayes theorem when given non-political examples with numbers fail to use it when given political examples with are otherwise identical. I have no reason to doubt that only happens with Americans who think about politics and that it doesn't happen in Germany. That's not much different than the US. In the US bills usually net support from some senators of both parties to avoid getting filibustered. A big difference in Germany is that we don't have privately funded political TV ads. We also have politi
Alternatively they understood that "no centralized storage of personal data" is a much better Schelling point than "no centralized storage of personal data except in a few obviously harmless cases". Or that allowing it in a harmless case can lead to a slippery slope. Beware of assuming that anything you don't understand is mindkill.
I do understand the relevant political field. There are people in the privacy movement who prefer that the police in Berlin routinely breaks the law to locate people who confess to attempting suicide via the telephone over the police having the legal authority to locate those people. At the same time the pirate party did very little to protest centralized storage of medical information because that wasn't a topic on the agenda of the mainstream media. They don't have the power whether or not to allow it or to enforce a Schelling point. As a strategic choice it's very bad to not have the debate about privacy in a way where you argue based on rational arguments why certain state actions aren't worth it. Without engaging in rational discourse but instead fighting for a Schelling point that way outside of what you can push through, you don't effect political choices. The German pirate party effectively did get nothing done on a political level in the face of the Snowden leaks right in front of a general German election because they didn't fight for specific political goals to move public policy in the right direction. That's very sad. They also damaged themselves through infighting to the point of not entering the German federal parliament. Things would have played out differently with competent people at the head of the pirate party. In that case we would have at least some decent pro-privacy laws passed and we would have a pirate party in the German federal parliament.

‘Hard Mode’ lets you speak as the Humble Aspirant rather than the Aloof Superior. Strive to convey: ‘I’m worried I’m too low-level to participate in this discussion; could you have it somewhere else?’ Or: ‘Could we talk about something closer to Easy Mode, so we can level up together?’

Playing humble and stroking other people's egos is an often useful tool for influencing others. But it is far from generally applicable and remarkably prone to backfiring when people do not already perceive you as such. People sometimes see it as condescending, which they should because that's precisely and literally what it is.

Pick an influence and signalling strategy that actually works for you when you use it and (where possible and sufficiently convenient) conveys what you actually mean.

When people start debating notoriously political subjects using the same tired, shoddy motivated cognition that I've seen a hundred times before I have no particular inclination to convey "I'm worried I'm too low-level to participate". I'm not going to participate in such conversations for the same reason I try not to feed trolls. It would be outright dishonest to pretend that I considered myself unabl... (read more)

Even if you ignore the tribalism problem, politics is still a giant black hole for cognition. 90% of people gain nothing more than entertainment from thinking or talking about it. It's a mind killer in terms of opportunity costs.

7Rob Bensinger
I never said politics wasn't the mind-killer.
Does something being purely entertainment make it a mind-killer? If so, I'm not sure that something being a mind-killer is necessarily bad.
it would be fine if people treated political discussions like hpmor threads but they act like the conversation is extremely important.
HPMOR threads are often better sourced than discussion on politics. People also change their minds on /r/HPMOR more often than in anything political. If anything, on the surface it looks like people take their Harry Potter fanfiction more seriously than politics.
yes the fact that there is a single text which everyone can refer to is part of what makes discussions about hpmor more interesting and less vindictive. But since there isn't a single readable description of the state of the world, politics doesn't have that advantage.
People (though not, generally, here) also treat which Harry Potter characters should hook up with which as a question of apocalyptic significance. Something being "pure entertainment" does not preclude identifying strongly with it or acting like it's extremely important, whether or not it is. Though the reverse is also true.
I think you underrate the difference between politicians who feel like they are accountable to a public that watches their actions and politicians who don't.

While politics makes things worse, invoking insider memes without explanation in mixed company is just a bad idea no matter what.

I clicked on this post initially because I saw "Politics Is Hard Mode" expecting any one of:

  • An analysis of the difficulty of optimising decisions as a function of the number of participants.
  • A comparison between human competency at social politics and other far more simple 'intelligence' requiring tasks like arithmetic, logic, calculus and general relativity.
  • A 'comparative advantage' angle that considers things like the likelyhood of low hanging fruit existing in an area that most of the billions of humans that have ever existed have spent the
... (read more)

As a less wrong lurker this thread did a great job at putting into words the main reason I've been very hesitant to get more involved with the community.

I do think that anything politic is some of the hardest materiel to have any sort of discussion about while remaining rational and effective and not falling prey to our bias.

On the other hand from my experience I strongly agree that what is and isn't political is highly contextual and variable for different people. I worry that the aggregate limits of what can and cannot be discussed as political are to ... (read more)


Yes, we need to shift emphasis from "boo politics" to "politics is a much more difficult topic to discuss rationally than others".

But "hard mode" doesn't have nearly the emotional kick needed to dissuade the omnipresent Dunning-Kruger effect in politics. Running with the video game metaphor, I'm thinking something more along the lines of the feeling of great apprehension induced before playing I Wanna Be The Guy, Kaizo Mario, or the Zero Mercy Minecraft maps. But all the phrases used to refer to that particular cluster o... (read more)

"It's quiet... too quiet"

"I'm confident... too confident"

If there is no plan to actually start discussing politics more, sentences like "Could we talk about something closer to Easy Mode, so we can level up together?" take on an air of "I think you're failing at politics, and also I'm going to lie to you." Or to look on the flip side, channeling Cialdini, if we start doing this consistency will pressure us to discuss partisan politics more.

No thanks.

How about more neutral language? We seem to have a reasonably high tolerance for complete sentences around here, you could probably get away with something like "discussing politics is usually a bad use of my time, even though arguing with strangers online appeals to my tribal instincts."

The general problem 'contrarians get a happiness/adrenaline spike when they see someone being sassy and biting and iconoclastic, so they find sassy/biting/iconoclastic memes more interesting and remember/deploy them more independent of their persuasiveness or informativeness' is a very hard one to solve, though, and I'm not sure what to do about it.

It's our subculture's version of the very common problem in-groups have, where angry and aggressive and cut-through-the-bullshit posts catch people's attention more, which makes them more memorable and widely propagated, which causes the culture to increasingly shift in the direction of aggression and negativity. The Internet loves happy hate spirals, and LW's variation on this theme (the reason our kind can't cooperate) might be called a 'happy cynicism spiral' or 'hypercritical supercriticality'.

I'm not sure what the best method is for making kindness/friendship/love seem badass and novel and cool. I guess the MLP fan demographics are some small cause for hope..

5Rob Bensinger
I'm not sure I understand the scenario you have in mind, but I'll reply and you can elaborate if I seem to be missing your point. It might come off as beating-around-the-bush, yes, if you talk too indirectly and rely too much on metaphor. In my experience, LWers generally err in the opposite direction, of phrasing things too harshly and pejoratively, so I'm more interested in brainstorming strategies for mitigating our negativity than brainstorming strategies for mitigating our self-censorship. Both are important, but I'm not sure how to teach any techniques that require moderation and context-sensitivity if it can always be objected that they can be overused, or used unskillfully. Maybe the solution is to look at specific examples of conversations and ask what the best move would have been at various junctures, so we can talk in more concrete detail. Why? Because we talk about apolitical things that are also 'hard'? When in doubt, yes, use complete sentences. But neutral language is harder than most people think, and if your audience doesn't associate a super positive affect with you, 'neutral' assertions can come across as very negative (especially online). E.g., for the specific example you gave: a not-especially-disposed-to-be-sympathetic reader who likes politics can take you to be implying some combination of 'politics is a waste of time,' 'your time is less valuable than mine (hence it matters less if you waste yours on politics),' 'you're being tribalistic (biased, savage, irrational...)', and 'you're bringing up politics because you want to get into pointless internet arguments'. Before adopting general-use rhetorical patterns, consider (reasonable) worst-case scenarios. When you say something atypical, people will try very hard to fit you into a known pattern to compress your message. You can work to repeatedly correct their misconceptions until they finally create a never-before-used schema to fit you in, but in the meantime it's helpful if the inter
I guess the scenario I'm concerned about is dishonest politeness. If I think someone is failing at politics, it is honest and polite to say "I would prefer not to discuss politics - let's talk about X instead." This case, and generalizations of it, are where I see the whole "let's not talk about politics" topic come up most often. It would be rude to say "you've been mindkilled, stop talking about politics." It would be dishonestly polite to say "I'd love to discuss politics with you, but it's too hard for me, so let's talk about X instead."

"Politics is hard mode" draws people to it, because they think they can handle it - "I can talk about politics without problems, even though it's hard, aren't I cool?" On the other hand, "Politics is the mind-killer" is too general (there are people who aren't mind-killed by politics), too dismissive of people interested in politics, and too dismissive of politics as a topic worth talking about. The best way to put it would be something that conveys that talking about politics rationally is difficult and being able to do it doesn't give you status, but it's not something to be avoided altogether, either. No short slogan comes to mind, though.

I'd love to see a place for aspiring rationalists to discuss politics, but not on the main site. It's a shame that the subreddits feature was never turned on for discussion

It seems to me that the issue could be made clearer by making a distinction between three different levels/types of politics.

  1. The territory itself. Not the whole territory is relevant here. Let's call relevant part preimage of politics . More about this later.
  2. Methods of thought and style of thinking commonly used in politics. It seems to me that there are some issues that are understood as "archetypically" political (e.g.elections, election campaigns) and other things are deemed political (or not) by whether they are thought about in a manner
... (read more)
I don't think that game theory is inherently a different style than politics. If it isn't than game theory itself would be useless anyway because it couldn't predict how political actors make their decisions.
I'll comment on your first sentence only, because I am not sure I understand the second one correctly. Could you clarify what do you mean? Indeed, the distinction might be blurry. I might have overly narrow view of politics, but it seems to me that while boundaries between them are not clear, the "central examples" seem to be different. I'll try to present an example of what seems to me an archetypical example of politics. I do not claim that it describes all political discussions everywhere. Imagine a parliament or some other group of people each of whom is of some political ideology. Suppose they have an issue in an agenda. If the issue is uncontroversial, everybody just uses their common sense and moves on to the next issue. However, if an issue at hand is controversial and complicated (where there is no clear and easy solution), then self-identified blues often default to doing what blues are supposed to do and self-identified greens default to doing what greens are supposed to do. Therefore some people would probably say that politics are best described as a clash(es) of ideas or a clash(es) of ideologies (e.g. there are many books with similar titles, also compare this to the clashes between candidates before the elections). Debates between people supporting different sides of these clashes are possibly the most central part of democratic politics. How exactly these debates are won or lost is of secondary importance (a good politician is one who can win such debates). Game theory can be useful here e.g. to determine what concessions should a group of people make to strike a deal (possibly metaphorically) with another group of people to obtain a stronger position in a debate (by e.g. obtaining a winning majority). However, it seems to me that in this case game theory is used solely to reason about the level 2, and not about the level 1, i.e. it is used to determine how political actors would behave in such and such situation. However game theory seems to be r
Game theory is an extremely influential and toxic idea that had a huge influence on policy making in the last decades. If you know German is a long podcast between two influential people from the Chaos Computer Club and co-publisher of one of the biggest German newspapers that goes more into the details. Alan Greenwich confession about his mistake was partly about his mistake to assume that corporations act in their own self interest. Yes, there might be issues like abortion that are very far from the area that game theory is about where the idea of game theory doesn't have much effect but that doesn't mean that it had no effect on the general political discourse.
I feel that I should read more about the influence of game theory on politics to say anything productive about the topic. I might have underestimated how much of an influence game theory has on policymaking. It seems plausible that some people, who had success of using it in one situation, might be inclined to use it more, potentially even in situations where it cannot (or is not enough to) capture some relevant and important features of reality (of course, in some situations the opposite might be true and game theory might be underutilized, it is probably difficult to tell these cases apart a priori). However, things like these might depend on a country in question, I might have generalized from one country and most visible parts of politics in other ones (e.g. I do not remember seeing a single instance of any politician (or any other public figure) publicly using game theory based arguments for any political issue in my country (of course, it's possible that I do not follow politics close enough. It is also possible that they simplify their arguments when speaking to the media)). Public choice theory is related but seems to be somewhat distinct. I might have to ask an actual political scientist about this before saying anything else. Sadly, I do not speak German (although it is one of the languages I would like to learn some day). Anyway, I would like to withdraw from this discussion about influence of game theory on politics because I feel that I lack necessary knowledge to say anything substantial. In my original comment I mentioned game theory only as one possible example. P.S. On a totally unrelated note, thank you for replying to my first ever Lesswrong comment!

And selectively outlawing personal stuff gets even messier. Last year, daenerys shared anonymized stories from women, including several that discussed past experiences where the writer had been attacked or made to feel unsafe. If those discussions are made off-limits because they relate to gender and are therefore ‘political,’ some folks may take away the message that they aren’t allowed to talk about, e.g., some harmful or alienating norm they see at meet-ups.

Let me say that:
a) those stories were published, in multiple articles, and there was a big deb... (read more)

3Rob Bensinger
I'm not claiming LW is outlawing politics. I cited daenerys because Scott used her posts as examples of things that don't belong on LW because it's overly political. I'm also not claiming LW shouldn't go ahead and outlaw politics -- just noting that we'd have to be very careful about how we define 'politics' and how we implement such a policy.
Define "political purpose" in this context, and distinguish from definition of "not a political purpose". (Your response seems to pattern-match regarding their concern for problems that happen to them personally as "political" because those problems don't happen to you, but I can't point to anything that would let me reasonably directly assert that about you.)

I am a member of a political tribe. We believe that there exists a powerful opposing tribe that oppresses women. Our proposed solution is to give more power to members of our tribe, so that we can improve the situation for women.

(The analysis of the oppression of women may be correct, incorrect, or partially correct. However, as a rational member of homo sapiens I should be aware that I run on a corrupted hardware which has "...and therefore my tribe should be given more power" pretty much hardwired as the bottom line, so any analysis that leads to this conclusion has a decent chance to be a rationalization.)

Our preferred way of getting more power is preventing the members of the opposing tribe from expressing their opinions, and punishing them if they do. I demand that LW make this a community norm. LW refuses to comply. I realize that LW is not automatically my ally. So I try to find an argument that will make LW believe that the best way to reach their goals is to give my tribe more power.

One strategy that our tribe uses successfully a lot is to focus on the experiences of women, excluding the experiences of men. The strategy works, because if women really have a worse... (read more)

That was one of the best practical analyses of human 'morality' in practice that I've ever seen (at the comment level).

The standard disclaimer here is that all human social behaviour described in terms of the pragmatic motivations and cause and effect will tend to sound abhorrent to the majority of the people who are deeply embedded into the game. Or, I should say, it will sound incomprehensible to the majority of people but among those sufficiently intelligent and literate it will sound abhorrent (or sometimes merely uncouth or banal).

Villiam would have no trouble describing the political activism inherent in his own comment in similar crude terms. By my interpretation the lesson here isn't "Daenerys is bad" but instead it is a foundational primer on moral politics. To the extent that message is lost because it happens to be on one side of a political battle I again curse the Mind Killer.

Yes, but only in the sense that pretty much everything that impacts real life is political. The other problem is when people have discussions they consider "nonpolitical", but other people consider "political". You'll see this one play out on techie sites quite a lot.
In some sense you are right. But not everything that impacts real life is an obvious power grab. Here are a few things one could try as solutions to the "women as a group are underrepresented in rationalist groups (possibly because they don't feel welcome)" problem: * Emphasise the work already done by women in the rationalist community. For example, make a collection of online videos of female rationalists giving lectures on rationality / AI topics. (This could encourage any woman hesitating about making her own contribution.) * Write an article or a series of articles about women who contributed significantly to mathematics / computer science / heuristics and biases / AI. (Just do your research well, and instead of "Ada Lovelace invented programming" meme write something about Grace Hopper.) * Make a "Women Debate Thread" on LW, a space for women to express their opinions and experiences. Men can join the debate only by linking a comment from an Open Thread. Alternatively, men can join only 24 hours after the thread was created, and even then cannot post top-level comments. (Let those women speak for themselves; they don't need anyone to be their speaker.) There are also some good off-line ideas (invite a female scientist to give a lecture at the meetup; make a presentation of rationalist community at some school with mostly female students; create a rationality seminar specially for women... you could probably get some grant money for that), but I guess it's not fair to ask that much on a website where most people participate only virtually. Just saying that if making a rationalist community a space for women is very important for someone, there is a way. How are these suggestions different? Seems to me the main difference is that they don't have an enemy. There is no blaming anyone, attacking anyone, asking the LW community to take a side against anyone. I believe almost all LW readers would be okay with them (okay, the third one would be more controvers
Your examples have the same problem that you criticized daenerys for: Your first two examples amount to focusing of the accomplishments and contributions of women at the expense of the (much larger) accomplishments and contributions of men.
Technically you are right, but there is a difference in context: Saying "Grace Hopper wrote a COBOL compiler" can show some readers that "some women made significant contributions to computer science", but is unlikely to make them think that all (or majority of) significant contributions were done by women. (Okay, I can imagine doing that in a crazy way which could completely confuse a very naive reader... but I don't suspect anyone would do this on LW, or that such kind of a naive reader could survive on LW.) But in internet debates... well, sometimes I have this impression that some people really do believe that experiences like "people devalue my opinions because of my gender or because of my looks" are specifically female experiences, as opposed to generally human experiences. Then a discussion about this kind of experiences, focused only on women, serves to strenghten this prejudice. -- It would be an equivalent of saying "please send me a list of computer languages and people who wrote their compilers, but only if those authors are men". Then publishing the list to show everyone that writing compilers is a uniquely male experience.
Probably not, but it might make them think that a significant minority (or even nearly 50%) of contributions were done by women, which is false.
Are you familiar with the tone argument? In the sort of political problem you are describing, it's claiming that an apparent objection to a viewpoint is actually an objection to the way the arguments are made. This tends not to convince people who don't already agree with the arguer.
No, the "pleasant tone" is a strawman. I am speaking about a difference between: a) suggesting to fix a problem directly; and b) suggesting that your tribe should be given more power, and then your tribe will fix the problem. The proponents of the latter solution may believe that all solutions of the former type are obviously doomed to fail, thus they are not even worth considering. (Motivated stopping.) Or even invent rationalizations about how all solutions that don't give more power to their tribe would actually make the whole problem worse. EDIT: There is usually also a lack of specific details. Let's say that every mention of politically incorrect topics on LW would be banned, and that feminism would become an official belief and moderation policy. How specifically would that bring to LW more women interested in artificial intelligence and rationality (as opposed to merely interested in evangelizing feminism among people interested in rationality). Uhm... I guess there is only this vague belief that what is good for feminism is by definition good for women, therefore the problem will either magically fix itself, or we will have to find some other guy to blame. (Maybe after a few iterations we will decide that Eliezer's writings are irrepairably sexist, or maybe that the whole idea of rationality was just rich white cishet males' invention to oppress the voodoo believers.)
Not everything that effects real life breaks down into tribalism.

I think this is a valuable suggestion for ameliorating a real problem. Kudos (whether or not the broader community decides to adopt it.)

I also like shminux's suggestion of a post on how to rationally discuss politics. But even still, the 'mind-killer' phrasing does demonstrably cause issues.

Robb's link goes to Miri's blog and not the specific post. As such I was going through the history looking for the post in question. Most of Miri's blog posts consist of her getting horribly mind-killed about gender issues, with the occasional post on a topic not related to gender which shows that she is perfectly capable of better quality thought when not being mind-killed.

Politics are dicky, tricky, and treacherous.



What "politics is the mind killer" did/does for me is bring back the same equivocation applied to "fear" in Frank Herbert's DUNE novels.

I want to deter discussions of politics. “Politics is hard mode” does not feel like a deterrent.

I actually really like your suggestion of "politics is spiders." Let's switch to that!

Certain conversations make people upset, tribal, and Manichean. I want to avoid/prevent those. But “politics is the mindkiller” is a merely a heuristic—of course it isn’t perfect:

  • Some people are really good at discussing politics dispassionately.
  • Sometimes it’s necessary.
  • People often get upset, tribal, and Manichean about things that no one would call political.
... (read more)

Barack Obama stands up to give a speech. Instead he starts screaming. Out of his mouth flies an endless stream of spiders. Elected officials in the room panic. Secret service is powerless. An evil laughter with no source echoes through the room.

Politics is SPIDERS.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply