Yesterday, in the The Terrible, Horrible, No Good Truth About Morality, Roko mentioned some good evidence that we develop an opinion first based on intuitions, and only later look for rational justifications. For example, people would claim incest was wrong because of worries like genetic defects or later harm, but continue to insist that incest was wrong even after all those worries had been taken away.

Roko's examples take advantage of universal human feelings like the incest taboo. But if people started out with opposite intuitions, then this same mechanism would produce opinions that people hold very strongly and are happy to support with as many reasons and facts as you please, but which are highly resistant to real debate or to contradicting evidence.

Sound familiar?

But to explain politics with this mechanism, we'd need an explanation for why people's intuitions differed to begin with. We've already discussed some such explanations - self-serving biases, influence from family and community, et cetera - but today I want to talk about another possibility.

A few weeks back, I was discussing harms with Bill Swift on Overcoming Bias. In particular, I was arguing that one situation in which there was an open-and-shut case for government restriction of private activity on private property was nuisance noise. I argued that if you were making noise on your property, and I could hear it on my property, that I was being harmed by your actions and that there was clearly just as much a case for government intervention here as if you were firing flaming arrows at me from your property. I fully expected Bill to agree that this was obviously true but to have some reason why he didn't think it applied to our particular disagreement.

Instead, to my absolute astonishment, Bill said that noise wasn't really a problem. He said he lived on a noisy property and had just stopped whining and gotten on with his life. I didn't really know how to react to this1, and ended up assuming either that he'd never lived in a really noisy place like I have, or that he was such a blighted ideologue that he was willing to completely contradict common sense in order to preserve his silly argument.

In other words, I was assuming the person I was debating was either astonishingly stupid or willfully evil. And when my thoughts tend in that direction, it usually means I'm missing something.

Luckily in this case I'd already written a long essay explaining my mistake in detail. In Generalizing From One Example,  I warned people against assuming everyone's mind is built the same way their own mind is. One particular example I gave was:

I can't deal with noise. If someone's being loud, I can't sleep, I can't study, I can't concentrate, I can't do anything except bang my head against the wall and hope they stop. I once had a noisy housemate. Whenever I asked her to keep it down, she told me I was being oversensitive and should just mellow out.

So it seems possible to me that I have an oversensitivity to noise and Bill has an undersensitivity to it. When someone around me is being noisy, my intuitions tell me this is extremely bad and needs to be stopped by any means necessary. And maybe Bill's intuitions tell him that this is a minor non-problem. I won't say that this is actually behind our disagreement on the issue - my guess is that Bill and I would disagree about government regulation of pollution from a factory as well - but I think it contributes and it makes our debate much less productive than it would have been otherwise.

Let me give an example of one place I think a mind difference *is* behind a political opinion. In Money, The Unit of Caring, Eliezer complained that people were too willing to donate time to charity, and too unwilling to donate money to charity. He gave the example of his own experience, where he felt terrible every time he gave away money, but didn't mind a time committment nearly as much. I fired back a response that this was completely foreign to me, because I am happy to give money to charity and often do it before I've even fully thought about what I'm doing, but will groan and make excuses whenever I'm asked to give away time. I also mentioned that this was a general tendency of mine: I have minimal aversion to monetary loss2, but wasting time makes me angry.

A few months ago, Barack Obama proposed a plan (which he later decided against) to make every high school and college student volunteer a certain amount of time to charity. Although I usually like Obama, I wrote an absolutely scathing essay about how unbearably bad a policy this was. It was a good essay, it convinced a number of people, and I still agree with most of the points in it. But... was completely out of character for me. I'm the sort of person who heckles libertarians with "Stop whining and just pay your damn taxes!" Although I acknowledge that many government policies are inefficient, I tend to just note "Hmmm, that government policy is suboptimal, it would be an interesting mental puzzle to figure out how to fix it" rather than actually getting angry about it. This Obama proposal was kind of unique in the amount of antipathy it got from me.

So here's my theory. My brain is organized in such a way that I get minimal negative feelings at the idea of money being taken away from me. We can even localize this anatomically - studies show that the insula is the part responsible for sending a pain signal whenever the loss of money is considered. So let's say I have a less-than-normally-active insula in this case. And I get a stronger than normal pain signal from wasted time. This explains why I prefer to donate money than time to my favorite charity.

And it could also explain why I'm not a libertarian. One consequence of libertarianism is that you have every right to feel angry when you're taxed. But I don't feel angry, so the part of my brain that comes up with rational justifications for my feelings doesn't need to come up with a rational justification for why taxation is wrong. I do feel angry about being made to do extra work, so my brain adopted libertarian-type arguments in response to the community service proposal. I predict that if I lived in one of those feudal countries with a work levy rather than a tax, I'd be a libertarian, at least until the local knight heard my opinions and cut off my head.

And I don't mean to pick on libertarians. I know different people have completely different emotional responses to the idea of other people suffering. For example, I can't watch documentaries on (say) the awful lives on mine workers, because they make me too upset. Other people watch them, think they're great documentaries, and then spend the next hour talking about how upset it made them. And other people watch them and then ask what's for dinner. You think that affects people's opinions on socialism much?

Imagine a proposal to institute a tax that would raise money for some effort to help mine workers in some way. Upon hearing of it, different people would have an emotional burst of pain of a certain size at the thought of hearing of a tax, and an emotional burst of pain of a different size at the thought of considering the mine workers. Neither of these bursts of pain would be proportional to the actual size of the problem as measured in some sort of ideal utilon currency (note especially scope insensitivity). But the brain very often makes decisions by comparing those two bursts of pain (see How We Decide or just the insula article above) and then comes up with reasons for the decision. So all the important issues like economic freedom and labor policy and maximizing utility and suchwhat get subordinated to whether you're secreting more neurotransmitters in response to money loss or images of sad coal miners.

If this theory were true, we would expect to find neurological differences in people of different political opinions. Ta da! A long list of neurological findings that differ in liberals and conservatives. Linking the startle reflex and the disgust reaction to the policies favored by these groups is left as a (very easy) exercise for the reader3.

This may require some moderation of our political opinions on issues where we think we're far from the neurological norm. For example, I am no longer so confident that noise is such a big problem for everyone that we would all be better off if there were strict regulations on it. But I hope Bill will consider that some people may be so sensitive to noise that not everyone can just shrug it off, and so there may be a case for at least some regulation of it. Likewise, even though I don't mind taxes too much, if my goal is a society where most people are happy I need to consider that a higher tax rate will decrease other people's happiness much more quickly than it decreases mine.

Other than that, it's just a general message of pessimism. If people's political opinions come partly from unchangeable anatomy, it makes the program of overcoming bias in politics a lot harder, and the possibility of coming up with arguments good enough to change someone else's opinion even more remote.


1) I am suitably ashamed of my appeal to pathos; my only defense is that it is entirely true, that I have only just finished moving, and that this post is hopefully a more appropriate response.

2) Actually, it's more complicated than this, because I agonize over spending money when shopping. I seem to use different thought processes for normal budgeting, and I expect there are many processes going on more complex than just high versus low aversion to money loss.

3) Possibly too easy. It's easy to go from that data to an explanation of why conservatives worry more about terrorism, but then why don't they also worry more about global warming?

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I'm frequently a victim of "your needs are uncommon, therefore no one else has to accommodate them" type reasoning. A compromise is necessary: I can't demand that the people around me not eat any mint candy (much less that everyone stop using mint toothpaste lest I encounter them an hour later) just because the smell is intolerable to me. Slightly more common needs (that people not invade my personal space) or needs that are supported by societal distaste (that people not smoke cigarettes in my school buildings) get accommodated. In my case, I know these things are at least partly hardwired - oversensitivity to sensory stimuli is par for the course with Asperger's - but I haven't noticed anyone get more sympathetic to this sort of thing when I so inform them unless they've been my friend for a long time (I think non-friends assume I'm making it up to get my way). Even with my friends, I suspect it's because my long-term friends assume anything I don't like must be a consequence of my wiring. I've stopped bothering to explain that my dislike of ginger doesn't mean anything except that I don't like ginger.

There's a danger, in accommodating preferences because they are ... (read more)

Not to sound vindictive, but ... You're also a victimizer of that type of reasoning too. I actually don't mean this as a criticism (not completely, anyway ...) It just suggests to me that, per Yvain, we will all, to some extent, fall on both sides of that reasoning, depending on the issue, and we should watch for where we trivialize others' concerns.
I don't think that dredging up Alicorn's comment from a distant thread in order to accuse her of hypocrisy adds anything to this exchange. If you think that a claim of uncommon needs in finding romantic partners is germane to that discussion, it would be significantly more productive and less antagonistic to link to this thread over there.
Did you read to the final paragraph? The point wasn't to accuse Alicorn of hypocrisy (although that was an excellent example of the general point), nor was it to point out my unusual situation (which I already did in that other thread). The point was that people who believe that their uncommon needs are not properly accomodated do the exact same thing to others and we should account for this in our disputes with others. I did not mean to imply Alicorn was somehow alone in this double standard, and I apologize if I made it seem that way.
It's not at all obvious to me how that comment is an instance of that reasoning.
-Claim that my needs are unusual? Check. -Claim that no one else should be doing or should have done anything different to accomodate me? Check. Implied connection of those views? Check. -Obviousness of how linked comment and surrounding is an instance of quoted reasoning? Check. -Annoyingness of this style of response? Check.
You haven't pointed out where in the comment I commit these behaviors, you've merely restated the kind of reasoning you've already accused me of.
Okay, here goes (and my remark applies to several of your comments but the linked one was representative): There, first you identified how my situation was strange in one of three ways. Then, you listed things I should do to adapt: There's nothing wrong with attempting to help with suggestions -- except for their grounding in ignorance of my situation -- but you are quite clearly saying that no one else should have done anything else accomodative on their end. Therefore, you both claimed that my needs are unusual, and no one else needed to accomodate them.
Somehow, I don't think saying "You're doing everything right, your lack of success is the fault of misbehaving others, and I'll be sure to tell them so if I ever meet the people in your social circle" would have been germane or helpful. Is it possible that people in your social circle aren't giving you enough of a chance or giving you enough leeway for your quirks? Sure. That's totally possible. I can't do anything about that, so I didn't focus on it. Secondly, I made no claims about your needs. I made statements of advice conditional on who you might or might not be acquainted with (I identified the relevant and mutually exclusive categories as: nobody, only men who haven't introduced you to any women, only men who don't know women, or some women who you find unacceptable). The only "need" that was involved was your interest in finding women who you could date, which, given the thread's context, was hardly unusual - and I never said it was!
The unusual need was not interest in finding women, but rather, interest in finding women while not having the superabundant resources you falsely assume everyone has. Remember, your original advice was basically, "Hey, just try your luck with one of the million women who have prefiltered you and see who you're spark-y with." a.k.a. "You can't find any bread? Well, why not just draw down your cake stockpiles?" You didn't seem to think that people like me could exist -- the very same unfortunate premise people treat you with.
The quote quite clearly does not say that, which is an oversite on Alicorn's part and probably the advice most applicable to what little of your situation was presented in the context. Nobody else should have done or should do anything else to accomodate your reproductive drives on their end. Once you acknowledge that much the rest becomes simple. Just absorb some relevant resources then devote (say) four hours a day for a year to the mating game. Assuming you have rudimentary intelligence (obviously) and a face (I assume...?) then the chance of success is relatively high.
No, if anything the reverse claim was made. Alicorn didn't comment on what other people should or should not do to accomodate you. The emphasis was on what you could do, which is far more useful. Dating is not a situation in which others can be expected to accomodate you.
SilasBarta claimed that he has special needs that are not being accommodated by the local dating advice. Alicorn claimed that there is something wrong with SilasBarta, so there is no reason for anyone to accomodate him. Alternate reading: SilasBarta claimed that he has special needs that are not being accommodated by the local dating advice. Alicorn claimed that there is something wrong with SilasBarta, and suggested ways to fix it so that the local dating advice could be used.
I made a series of "if" statements. I don't know who SilasBarta knows. I claim that something is wrong (and not necessarily "with him") if he knows exactly zero women. If he knows a nonzero number of women, the statement doesn't apply.
Okay, this is probably getting out of hand, but it was obvious even at the time that I didn't "know zero women". Yes, Alicorn, it sure sucks when people don't understand your situation, doesn't it?

If people's political opinions come partly from unchangeable anatomy

It's a big step to go from finding physical correlates of mental phenomena -- especially hypothetical ones -- to ascribing the mental phenomena to "unchangeable anatomy".

5Scott Alexander14y
I accept your correction.

I've created Typical mind fallacy article stub on the wiki, linking to the original article and to this one. LessWrong'ers, use it as an excuse to start contributing to the wiki.

"Other than that, it's just a general message of pessimism. If people's political opinions come partly from unchangeable anatomy, it makes the program of overcoming bias in politics a lot harder, and the possibility of coming up with arguments good enough to change someone else's opinion even more remote."

Only if you, like 99.999% of people, are approaching political change in the wrong way. Those few of us who are trying to change politics assuming political views are basically constant, however, have already taken this into account. A major p... (read more)

Not necessarily. A few scattered crazy people who don't know about each other are far less dangerous than a few crazy people all working together in support for their common crazy goal. When you have conflicting, politically homogenous societies living alongside each other, sometimes, you end up with wars. (On the other hand, civil wars are sometimes the worst wars of all...)
They are already going to know about each other; the internet is taking care of that part. Have you seen the blogosphere lately? The one upside is that, generally speaking, after filtering everything through their One Big Idea, small crazy groups are usually too detached from reality to accomplish any real damage.
Good point. Indeed, the Internet is a great boon to crazies of all kinds, including our little group here. ;)

Be warned some large speculation follows

There is a fairly strong liberal/conservative split between urban and rural areas. Now let us say that the human brain is slightly polymorphic and alters its structure dependent upon the population density it finds itself in.

In an urban environment the brain needs to worry somewhat about non-human threats, disease and fire. Raiding from bandits is less of a problem. Some form of taking of money (be it a protection racket or legitimate government) is very likely and in this situation it is unlikely to be able to be r... (read more)

My thought on the difference between rural and urban political beliefs is: The denser the population, the more pressing and pervasive the problem of externalities is. In blunt terms, when you're out in the country, everyone can pretty much "do their own thing" without much conflict, but in a dense urban area, you feel much more impact from much more trivial actions of others. -In the country, people can paint their houses ugly colors and it's largely ignorable, but in the city, a large, ugly building will be in constant view of lots of people. -In the country, land can be cleanly divided in terms of ownership, but in the city, millions of people will need "usage rights" in many more common resources. -The "nobody knows each other" effect in the city removes many of the social mechanisms built up to contain selfishness.

when you're out in the country, everyone can pretty much "do their own thing" without much conflict

For people living on their own in the wilderness with no neighbours for miles, perhaps. But both small town America and rural England are known for everyone knowing everyone else's business and their oppressive atmospheres for those who do not fit in, and even for those who do. For many people from those backgrounds, moving to the big city is a liberating experience.

This is an interesting thought. It's not a plausible evo-psych model, but maybe there is some frame other than evo psych that can be found as an explanation for some obsolete memes or behavioral patterns.
Agreed it is not quite a plausible model as it stands. There are quite a few examples of behaviour changes based on population density from animals, so some human behaviour might be echos of this. Exacerbated by memes etc.
I would have thought that in areas with more humans (like cities), human threats (thieves etc) would be more of a problem than in sparsely populated areas.
Thieves are livable with. People who steal your livelihood and women less so. Think pick pockets vs tribal warfare. Even burglary is minor compared to that.
This doesn't happen in cities? (When I wrote "thieves etc", the "etc" was specifically intended to avoid limiting the scope of reference to pickpockets, and instead to indicate the general problem of "other humans wanting what you have".) Ever heard of gang violence? But let's leave the specific examples of bad things aside, and focus on the general claim you have made. You have said that human threats are more of a problem where there are fewer humans than where there are more humans. Surely you have to concede that that is implausible, or at least counterintuitive, on its face.
Cities mean a higher density of criminals and targets, in equal proportion, so all else equal the probability of being targeted should remain about the same; but it also means authorities and witnesses are closer. In a city, you can scream for help and expect people to come; in a rural setting, you can't.
The more people you come across, the more likely you are to run into someone bad; and this doesn't even take into account what can happen when people -- thus in particular bad people -- get together in groups. It's possible that the nice-ifying effects of large populations on human behavior could cancel out the bad effects. But it's not obvious that they do -- and it's certainly not obvious that the former exceed the latter. The default presumption would be that people who live in ancestral-type environments face a variety of threats, both human and natural; and that as people move into larger population centers, the threats they face become less natural and more human.

Considering how vast are differences in political views, how tiny are differences in underlying biology, I'm extremely skeptical to any biological explanations.

Political distance between American left 2009 and American right 2009 is far smaller than political distance between average American 2009 and average American 1809, or than political distance between average North Korean 2009 and average Somalian 2009.

If those tiny American differences corresponded to big differences in biology, then people from different countries and times would have to be pretty much a different species. That's obviously not true, so I find such explanations extremely unlikely.

Your observation does not rule out a model in which cultural context predicts mean political behavior/views (within that culture) and individual biological differences predict individual variations in political behavior/views around the cultural mean.

Existence of such effect sounds plausible, but even within a single culture political views correlate extremely strongly with many other things like socioeconomic status, and presence of other meme complexes (religion, national identity etc.), so there's very little variance left for individual biological differences.
Razib's regression analysis on religion and abortion attitudes across countries is pretty illuminating in this regard. The hypothesis here isn't that personal characteristics determine policy preferences directly, but that they predispose a person to be more receptive to (e.g.) left vs. right arguments within their society. Context is everything, though: leaning conservative in Sweden means endorsing policies that would be radically left in the USA.
Wrong (with all due respect). Genes (a subset of biological differences) affect politics a lot. To give just one source of evidence, my first hit googling "genes politics" is this New York Times coverage. Not only does "socioeconomic status, and presence of other meme complexes (religion, national identity etc) leave a great deal of variance unexplained, they are also affected by genes.
Once we're into correlations with socioeconomic status, etc., we need Judea-Pearl-style causal analysis to suss out how determinative biological differences are. (Genotypes are presumably occasionally causes and never effects, but that won't apply to phenotypes.)
Even a slight innate difference is likely to be exaggerated by other effects; in-group loyalty, halo effects, evaporative cooling, &c. I'd file it under "sensitive dependence on initial conditions". Memetic attractors form around certain political views, and small innate differences send people spiralling to one or another.
Small differences can account for large effects.

A common reason economists say noise regulation is not needed is that noise doesn't travel very far, most noise sources don't move, and so one can easily find the offending parties. So as long as it is clear who has the relevant property right (to make noise or to stop noise) they can plausibly make a deal to achieve the efficient outcome, at least if the problem is big enough.

Silas has already come up with a good response, but...let's say this was implemented. And let's take the standard economic oversimplification of assuming mostly self-interested people.

And let's say I live in an apartment with six other people, one of whom is noisy. Five people are considerate and respectful of their neighbors, one is an inconsiderate asshole. I pay the asshole $100/month to do what everyone else does because they're a decent person. End result: being an inconsiderate asshole earns you $100/month. If you value fairness, this is already a bad outcome.

Now the other five people are upset, so they start making noise in the hope that I pay them $100. All this noise makes everyone unhappy, since everyone has at least some noise intolerance, and I don't have $500/month I can give away. I try to renegotiate the contract with the asshole, and he refuses. The other people can't back down, because they know this would ensure that they would never be respected as a bargaining partner again because even if I didn't pay them the money they would eventually stop making noise. The apartment becomes intolerably loud. This is an extremely bad outcome.

It becomes tempting to suggest th... (read more)

Wow, you and I think very much alike. I was actually in a similar situation, where a neighboring apartment felt it was okay to practice their band in their unit, involving extremely loud drums, and going so far as to say they had the landlord's permission (ETA: they didn't). In the end, I handled it by "fighting fire with fire". I banged on the adjoining wall whenever I didn't like their noise, in an attempt to unveil their own latent dislike of uninvited, loud noise. It eventually "worked": strained relations with the neighbors, but no more band practice. Trying to buy them off would have been stupid, for the reasons you gave. But our similarities pose a difficulty for your thesis here. If our psyches are so similar, why am I a libertarian ( well, kind of ) and you're not? Why do I see a prohibition on murder as a kind of property right (in one's body) while you see it as a government regulation? FWIW, I recognize the difficulties of noise for the "no initiation of force" libertarian framework, but I see it as a non-troublesome boundary case that boils down to: 1) Who was there first, 2) What are prevailing norms, and 3) is the "annoyance" "involuntarily observable"? Interesting, Rothbard, a hardcore libertarian, sees a right to freedom from noise pollution.

Why do I see a prohibition on murder as a kind of property right (in one's body) while you see it as a government regulation?

Property rights are government regulation. There are no such inherent rights.

The rights vs. regulation distinction is another example of gratuitous moral realist language that we should probably avoid.

Not so fast. People certainly think they are grabbing different clusters of thingspace with these terms, and you'd have to show how they reduce. Not that I see your claim as totally outrageous. Many property rights can be equivalently expressed as government regulation, and vice versa. I've certainly run into trouble on that issue in debating intellectual property with libertarians. However, the supposed similarity does break down quickly: while property rights have a definite owner, there generally isn't someone I can go to in order to buy back my right to own a tank, no matter what precautions I agree to take.
Actually, it's legal for private individuals to own tanks in the US, so long as the main gun has been decommissioned. You can get a Soviet T-72 starting at around 50k Euro. Know your rights, you sheeple!!!!111
Okay, take government regulation out of the picture. What's to prevent someone from walking onto your land and taking your stuff? Threat of physical force? They can do the same. If they overpower you, then it's "their" stuff, at least for now. Is it bad to take someone's things under threat of force? Of course! Why? Uhhh... because it's bad? And we're back to fundamental morals. ...but as always, fundamental human morals. Nearly universal in our species, certainly, but not inherent to the universe. The essential purpose of government regulation is to use threat of force to demand adherence to certain moral ideas; property rights are no different than any other such norm, other than perhaps being one of the most common such norms.
I see you've had a lot of experience arguing with stupid libertarians, but I can assure that you won't run into such inanity with this libertarian. The libertarian position is not to object to all force, or to all taking of things by force, but to doing so in contravention of a set of property rights they favor, and I can go into greater detail about what rights those are, but I just want to distinguish it from some general "rejection of force". I agree that property rights, like government regulations, act to enforce norms. However, like I mentioned before, there are morally preferable things about "that which we call property rights" compared to "that which would be a government regulation", and it is there that your equation of the two ceases to be helpful.
Actually, I try to avoid arguing with stupid people, as it's rarely productive. Most libertarians are well above average in regard to being non-stupid, which is part of why I find myself arguing with them more often than I should. I wouldn't impose on you to do so. I agree with 95% of what you would likely say and am very unlikely to be persuaded on the remaining 5%. Anyway, my example of "taking things by force" was not in reference to libertarian positions, but to illustrate what the "natural" state of affairs is. Most people reject this state; this rejection is broadly known as "civilization". Yes, precisely, but missing my point. They are morally preferable to you, not necessarily to everyone. The distinction between rights and regulation that you are drawing is based on your own moral weights which, as I am guessing you agree, are not inherent to the universe. This distinction between the two, which I agree is important, is derived entirely from the differing moral weights. In general, a moral principle one thinks is foundational is a "right". An enforced moral principle one merely accepts is a just law. A moral principle one rejects, or subordinates to a higher principle, is a meddlesome or unjust regulation. Not everyone puts a given moral principle into the same category everyone else does. This is why I said that your remark above is "realist moral language", cf. the linked post. Even if you are not (as I assume) a moral realist, you were using language deeply tied to such confusion.
Sure, I didn't mean to imply otherwise. But nevertheless, a huge part of why I hold those moral preferences is that I believe that they would also better satisfy the values of those who nominally "disagree". To me, libertarian serves more as a metasystem in which differing value systems can be tested, and the refusal of someone to subject their values to such a test is what makes them suspect to me. Or at least that's what my reptilian brain is tricking me into thinking...
I assumed as much, and this is why I was arguing for avoiding language that seemed to imply an objective difference between rights and regulations. The difference is purely a moral one and it behooves us as rationalists to avoid seemingly-objective terminology on things that are at best quirks of human nature. Otherwise we fall into the "Islam is a religion of peace" trap that has been discussed before. Whereas I tend to see large-scale libertarianism, in the conventional sense of a political organization promoting legislative goals, as being a concerted effort to impose on others an untested, anarchic context that stands a good chance of having dire and difficult to correct failure modes that will reduce the quality of life even for those who didn't want it, with a side helping of being unwitting pawns of plutocrats who want reduced government where it benefits them but plenty of regulation for everyone else (i.e., mainstream so-called "conservativism"). Perhaps that clarifies why someone with otherwise more libertarian views than not finds the philosophy disagreeable...
I believe you've allied yourself with a minority in American legal discourse. And against a significant portion of political philosophers. I don't know if this fact should bother you. But it might temper that sort of bald assertion. ETA: note: I am a moral realist.
Have you ever allied yourself with minority political positions? Does that bother you, or temper your assertions? Perhaps I should clarify my statement; "property rights" are not inherent in that if you go looking for them in nature, you will not find them. Outside of human society, this concept does not exist. Respect for property rights is an artifact of human culture, created by evolution's whims, and enforced by governments--just like prohibitions on murder or any other moral stance. To consider property rights as any more inherent than other moral concepts is to veer into gross moral realism. Uhm. I'm somewhat at a loss as to how you can spend as much time as you have on OB/LW and still hold this position. I'm not sure what else to say to at this point.
Compared to a world in which there are no noise regulations and people are randomly distributed across neighborhoods, the actual world has relatively little problems with noise. To what extent do you credit regulations and to what extent do you credit people's freedom of movement? We could also consider a third factor interacts with the other two, social norms.
I think social norms are probably much more important for people*. The reason why is my own personal experience in a dog-owning family; every time my parents would notice the dogs barking, they'd go yell at them or yell at me to yell at them, because they were afraid what the neighbors would think. (Sometimes they'd appeal to regulations/laws in justifying this to me, but we could both see how hollow an argument that was.) I notice that when I was very young, I couldn't've cared less about whether the dogs were barking or not, but that as I grew older, a nameless terror would descend upon me when the dogs began barking. * I say people because when I consider industrial settings or transportation, then regulation is more important than social norms; the airport doesn't care what the surrounding people think, but will care about lawsuits.
You do realize, though, that this is potentially symmetrical, right? I mean, five people aren't complaining about one, but there's one inconsiderate asshole who complains constantly, so why shouldn't that guy have to pay to change the behavior of the one he complains about? Different people have different norms about which behavior is asinine, and there's no objectively right answer, but the economic solution works without requiring one answer to be right, only that an answer is picked and then the parties involved are allowed to settle it personally.
But there's also a critical asymmetry: If the six others give Yvain a heaping dose of silence, he'll quite enjoy it. But if Yvain and five others team up and inflict the sixth's level of noise back onto him, he'd suddenly discover his love of quiet time. Not surprisingly, that's roughly how I dealt with the situation when it happened to me -- minus the accomplices. (Everybody has a love of quiet, you just have to lure it out.) If you suddenly find that you really hate when other people treat you the way you treat them, You're Doing It Wrong.
While I understand that that was your experience, it isn't universal. Some people really are more comfortable with constant noise and a loud party atmosphere, all the time. While I prefer quiet most of the time, I've had roommates who became nervous and uncomfortable without a nearly-full-volume TV going in the room, if by themselves (or just around me; I'm a pretty quiet person). There's no guarantee that Yvain's problem roommate wouldn't be ecstatic to have all these accepting party animals around him all the time.
Masochists don't enjoy every whipping. (You can quote me on that.) While people often do enjoy noisy environments, they actually enjoy a tiny subset out of all possibly noisy environments. The people you describe may like the TV on, but I doubt they run chainsaws next to their desks or play the sound of rivets being installed. Technically, yes, I didn't fight music with music; I fought it with wall banging. But there will always be a kind of noise that will get on their nerves. When they understand that other people can be just as inconsiderate along just the same dimension, they tend to "get it" ... at least in the sense of understanding what they just put you through.
There really is a large literature that has already worked this issue through in great detail. I'm just trying to give you a flavor of it. The fact that people will be tempted to pretend to want things they don't want to get better deals is a standard transaction cost that makes it harder to make deals. Given transaction costs it is better if the default property right is the efficient allocation. But the ability to change who you live with makes the transaction costs lower. And we can't make the default property rights efficient unless we know which is the efficient outcome, noise or no noise.
The fact that economists familiar with this literature dismissively suggest giving in to extortion, with all the inefficiencies and weakening of property rights and expectations that entails, causes me to be skeptical of the quality of this work, even without having read it. (I actually one time argued with an economist who demanded I read the classic Coase paper on externalities before discussing the issue with me, until he realized he misunderstood my position and thus the Coase paper is non-responsive.) By the way, what fraction of your wealth would you pay to buy out the rights of all Harley revvers?
There are more than two possible solutions to that problem, Yvain. And "government regulation" isn't even a particularly good solution. What happens when the government is run by rapists?
6Scott Alexander14y
Really, for maximal effect that comment should be followed by an "...OR DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?!?!?!"
Perhaps you'd prefer the traditional example of two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. The problem itself dates from time immemorial: the powerless have no way to compel the powerful. The only solution is to ensure that the powerful are on your side.
4Scott Alexander14y
The problem is you've presented a fully general counterexample to all possible policies, including (apparently intentionally) a law against rape. Possibly also a fully general counterexample to ever being part of a group with other human beings (what if they're rapists?!?) I don't really see your point, other than trying to live up to your name.
Not to all possible policies, and not fully general. Frankly, I'm rather surprised that you don't see any alternative solutions. It is perfectly possible to reward 'courtesy', and punish 'discourtesy', without resorting to government regulation - or regulation of any kind. If you have six roommates, one of whom is inconsiderate, you have a number of options. You can be inconsiderate towards the rude person in an attempt to dissuade their inconsideration. You can try to persuade the other five to exert social pressure on your behalf. You can move out. Sometimes you can't get what you want, period. The people who don't acknowledge that point either never consider that they could be on the receiving end of power, or believe that they have enough power and dominance to ensure that it'll never happen to them. What if your roommates - and everyone who learns of your conflict - believes you're the one being inconsiderate, and the 'inconsiderate' person to be behaving quite appropriately? Would you be willing to be subject to the same coercion you favor for others?
9Scott Alexander14y
You seem to be saying that once we accept the possibility of ever coercing anyone, we have to also accept the possibility of coercion being misused. You then suggest that since we don't want coercion to be misused, we can never coerce anyone, and we should accept a society where other people can do whatever they want. This is a lot like saying that since science could theoretically be used to bioengineer a plague, we should avoid all scientific thought. I don't demand - as you seem to think I do - that everyone do whatever I want. I demand that everyone work together for a solution that maximizes the utility of everyone. I believe that a society where we all realize that no one raping anyone leaves everyone better off is better than a society where everyone can rape whoever they want. Likewise, I think a society with certain minimum noise restrictions will leave everyone, whether noisy or quiet, in general better off than one where everyone is free to extort their neighbors for however much they want. This isn't new - Bentham and Mill worked out the details several hundred years ago. Yes, there are costs from the existence of enforcement mechanisms and the potential for the restriction of freedom to be greater than the benefits. But in some cases - like the case of please don't rape people - the benefits are clearly greater than the costs. Sometimes you can't get what you want. But most people who enjoy proclaiming that very loudly are just trying to signal how hard-headed and tough they are. If there's an easy way in which you can get what you want, there's no extra virtue in refusing to take it. Having restrictions about not committing violence against other people is one such easy way. I am not trying to say that I've thought about it and I'm absolutely sure there's no possible non-coercive way to solve the problem of rape. If you can think of one, you're welcome to post it. I'm just trying to say that your particular argument here that all coercive methods
Just that one demand is enough to make you an enemy of me. I don't intend to work towards any such solution, I don't think it's the right thing to do, and I will fight and die for the right to avoid it.
Somehow I don't see "I want to make the world a worse place for everyone" as an idea that's going to gain a lot of traction in society at large.
I don't either. 1. "I want to make the world a worse place for everyone" isn't something I was advocating 2. if "I want to make the world a worse place for everyone" was something I cared about, I wouldn't be dissuaded by how much traction it would gain in society at large. 3. I like living in a place where people have the right to work to make the world a worse place for everyone, within reasonable limits. 4. You fail at logic (see Alicorn's comment).
The negation of "working together for a solution that maximizes the utility of everyone" isn't equivalent to "making the world a worse place for everyone".
"Maximizing global utility", whatever that's supposed to mean, is grossly unlikely to involve maximizing everyone's individual utility. You're complaining that (in these hypothetical scenarios) your personal utility isn't being maximized and then demanding that things be changed so that you, personally, are as happy as possible. You state you want general maximization, then you demand that you want personal maximization at the expense of the general. Your words and your actions don't agree. Part of the problem here is that you're not saying what constitutes an "abuse" of the rules / system, and your actual meaning is one that would be rejected by others if you stated it explicitly.
It looks like you've misplaced this comment - it seems like it's a response to some comment, but not Alicorn's. Alicorn was just pointing out a nice bit of logic.
It's in response to Alicorn's post and things she's said earlier in this thread.
No, but vowing to so strongly oppose other people's attempts to maximize global utility, presumably in favor of demanding some other goal, means at minimum lost opportunity cost for effort that could be directed toward global utility, and at worst things that actively harm global utility in order to promote some orthogonal, unrelated goal. Ergo, making things worse, if only by default. If you view "working together for a solution that maximizes the utility of everyone" as a central, overriding goal, then from a cooperative standpoint thomblake's goals may as well be paperclip maximizing--there is no common ground.
Ah, I believe I see the confusion now. I was not vowing to oppose other people's attempts to maximize global utility, except inasmuch as they would force me to do it. I'm generally against people forcing me to do things I'm morally opposed to. But I have no interest in demanding any other goal for everyone, as I think that would be at least as reprehensible. It was "demand that everyone work together for X" that I mostly took issue with. Maximizing overall utility is really not as bad as a lot of other goals.
By that reasoning, anyone with any other goal may as well be paperclip maximizing, since it "means at a minimum lost opportunity cost for effort that could be directed towards global utility", "making things worse, if only by default." Thus, by that reasoning, there is no common ground between those who view "working together for a solution that maximizes the utility of everyone" and everyone else. Luckily for the rest of us, those people are a minority.
Indifference to a goal is not the same as the stance implied by "I don't intend to work towards any such solution, I don't think it's the right thing to do, and I will fight and die for the right to avoid it." I don't see how that statement implies anything other than "allowing people to make things worse is good". But, yes, I agree my initial statement was too strong. Consider it retracted.
I'm not interested in conversing with people who make long lists of assertions, then remove themselves from the discussion.
4Scott Alexander14y
...sigh. Okay, put it like this. We're clearly arguing past each other. I think your points are self-evidently wrong, and your arguments bordering on trolling. I am sure this is not how the discussion appears to you, and you may feel that my points are equally bad, but we're not making any progress here. And it's degenerating into a Standard Political Debate - basically a libertarian "no coercive government is ever okay" position versus a utilitarian "sometimes it's an optimal solution" position, which has been done about a billion times and about which there is very little left to be said. That leaves us with two options. We can either continue unproductively wasting time and energy on a particularly unproductive version of a cliched topic that neither of us can realistically affect, all the while breaking the Less Wrong gentlemens' agreement against explicit political discussions. Or one person can bow out and allow the other person to take the last word.
Wouldn't it have been more helpful to avoid mention of rapists and link to mention theory?
As a libertarian with Yvain's hatred of noise, I may have some insight on why this is a dissatisfying answer. But people can't quite anticipate all the ways that others can be jerks[1] and will therefore assume certain rights which other people, by will or accident, can find holes in: the relevant rights weren't defined like one might think. So, as I've ranted on my blog, imagine that it just so happens that your neighborhood doesn't prohibit the level of motorcycle noise that is just enough to drive you batty. Then, I come by and rev my motorcycle near enough to your window to annoy you, but not violate your rights. No problem, right? You "just" pay me to go away. Problem solved. Er, until the next biker, who hasn't sold his right to you, comes by and extorts -- that is the right word for it -- from you the same way. What next? Do you buy out everyone in the world? Do you sell your home? Well, who's going to buy the house with the Harley extortionists? At some point, Coasean bargaining breaks down and becomes extortion. I have a neat graphic for this too. Go here, scroll down, and replace "pollution" with "loud noise". (And maybe "Bob Murphy" with "Robin_Hanson"...) [1] Okay, okay, people with different psychological impressions of stimuli.
If you have the right to make noise and someone else wants to pay you to be quiet, you might pretend to like noise more than you do to get them to pay you more. But if you have the right to keep things quiet and someone else wants to pay you so they can make noise, you might pretend to like quiet more than you do to get them to pay you more. The fact that people can pretend to want things more than they do makes deals harder regardless of which is the efficient outcome.
The problem isn't that people might pretend to like noise. Their liking of noise is irrelevant. The problem is that a) Annoying people is a path to wealth, and b) Even paying them off doesn't make the problem go away, but draws in more people to try the same trick. The motorcycle revver could actually hate noise, but simply love extortion payments drawn from the wealth that society has -- or at least, has until people like him become too common and too tolerated.
It's all about incentives. Rewarding people for threatening to do, but refraining from, some action, will lead to people capable of threatening convincingly making a great deal of wealth, up to some equilibrium point where either the action is sufficiently tolerated by society or the people who don't like the action have become sufficiently poor that the public threats to do it are no longer rewarding enough.
Yes, exactly right, but ... did you mean that as a reply to RobinHanson?
Er, perhaps. I was generalizing a bit from what you said, so I wanted the context of your post. It was more directed at uninvolved readers, I think. But I haven't had much coffee yet today so I'm not sure.
Oh, okay. That works too. You have enough coffee; I'm just too combative today ;-)
If there's no public regulation of noise, and I feel like being noisy, why would I offer to pay a quiet-liker? I'll just be noisy and stop if someone pays me to. The situation isn't symmetric, because the quiet-liker wants the noise-maker to change their default behavior, but the noise-maker doesn't care about the quiet-liker's default behavior.
Regulation is different from property rights. People could have a property right to make noise, or to prevent noise, or there could be regulation to set a given level of noise or quiet.

So all the important issues like economic freedom and labor policy and maximizing utility and suchwhat get subordinated to whether you're secreting more neurotransmitters in response to money loss or images of sad coal miners.

If people's political opinions come partly from unchangeable anatomy, it makes the program of overcoming bias in politics a lot harder, and the possibility of coming up with arguments good enough to change someone else's opinion even more remote.

But a good first step would be to follow Greene's advice and change our moral language ... (read more)

That was my initial reaction as well. Sometimes the worst news is really the best news – at least we know exactly how horribly handicapped we are! [And if it turns out we were too hard on ourselves this time, that will be a pleasant surprise, too!]

I have minimal aversion to monetary loss², but wasting time makes me angry.

2) Actually, it's more complicated than this, because I agonize over spending money when shopping.

Exactly the same happens to me!

Yesterday, I overcame this by deciding which amount of money to spend before entering the store, and once inside I would only be deciding how to spend that amount (as though I had been given a gift card, though this analogy didn't occur to me yesterday).

You do realize that Obama college volunteer plan included a $30/hour refundable tax credit? It was basically paying young people very good tax free salaries to do volunteer work. Keynesian economics at its best!

We could compare how much more sensitive to noise you are than Bill by comparing how you each rate the distraction/impairment from various levels of noise.

I promise there is a decibel level that Bill thinks is damaging, and in need of regulation.

I just assumed everyone knew this

It shouldn't be surprising that psychological differences inform our political intuitions. Hollywood doesn't make people liberal. Artistic / creative people are more likely to be liberal, and they're more likely to move to Hollywood.

We can define a psychological dimension as authoritarian vs non-authoritarian. Non-authoritarian psychology makes people more experimental and creative. They color outside the lines. They are more interested in art, theater, acting or music. They are more likely to experiment with alternative religions and spiritual pract... (read more)

I have a strong pain signal from lost money and from lost time. To the extent that I can introspect on the workings of my insula, I think that this is one impulse for me, rather than two as Yvain describes - one for time and one for money.

If I am correct that my brain processes the loss of time using the same moral hardware as the loss of money, what could explain why some people have one impulse covering both cases, while other people have a separate one for each?

The most parsimonious explanation of what you observe is that it is human nature to be overconfident of the results of introspection.
I voted that up, because it's an important point, but I want to emphasize that I don't want to encourage the scientistic attitude of rejecting introspection as a valid tool either. Given the community I think that should have been emphasized.
I agree that introspection certainly can be a valid tool.

The idea that regulation is "for the good" of someone somewhere is a rationalization. It is primarily about power and revenue.

So it seems possible to me that I have an oversensitivity to noise and Bill has an undersensitivity to it.

That seems to imply that the typical case is the "correct" one, and that somehow your (or Bill's) case is invalid because it's non-typical.

If noise means that you can't sleep, study or concentrate, and you can't really help this, then this is a valid factor that should be taken into account.

[edit] though after reading further down i can see that you appreciate that.

Taken into account by courtesy, yes. But the standards of polite behavior and the standards of societal enforcement do not have to be the same, and it's often desirable that they be different. A neighbor who could easily reduce the noise that causes so much distress, but does not do so, may perhaps be rude. But if the law doesn't compel him to tone it down, it doesn't follow that the law is wrong or lacking.

Great post!

I like this post, because I really think that you are trying to understand other people instead of merely dismissing them.

What implications does this analysis have for those of us who have changed deeply held political beliefs (more than once)? Is it really a change in brain structure or chemistry? Have I been rewired to get upset about different things than I used to?

If you're going to talk about government regulation please understand that it is the epitome of the is-ought problem and you need a seriously rigorous chain of reasoning before I can take it seriously. I have yet to see a regulatory proposal that provides this.