Followup to: Ask and Guess

Ask culture: "I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. Is it cool if I crash at your place?" Response: “Yes“ or “no”.

Guess culture: "Hey, great news! I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip!" Response: Infer that they might be telling you this because they want something from you, conclude that they might want a place to stay, and offer your hospitality only if you want to. Otherwise, pretend you didn’t infer that.

The two basic rules of Ask Culture: 1) Ask when you want something. 2) Interpret things as requests and feel free to say "no".

The two basic rules of Guess Culture: 1) Ask for things if, and *only* if, you're confident the person will say "yes". 2) Interpret requests as expectations of "yes", and, when possible, avoid saying "no".

Both approaches come with costs and benefits. In the end, I feel pretty strongly that Ask is superior. 

But these are not the only two possibilities!

"I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. I would like to stay at your place, since it would save me the cost of a hotel, plus I would enjoy seeing you and expect we’d have some fun. I'm looking for other options, though, and would rather stay elsewhere than inconvenience you." Response: “I think I need some space this weekend. But I’d love to get a beer or something while you’re in town!” or “You should totally stay with me. I’m looking forward to it.”

There is a third alternative, and I think it's probably what rationalist communities ought to strive for. I call it "Tell Culture".

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what's going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.

Suppose you’re in a conversation that you’re finding aversive, and you can’t figure out why. Your goal is to procure a rain check.

  • Guess: *You see this annoyed body language? Huh? Look at it! If you don’t stop talking soon I swear I’ll start tapping my foot.* (Or, possibly, tell a little lie to excuse yourself. “Oh, look at the time…”) 
  • Ask: “Can we talk about this another time?”
  • Tell: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

Here are more examples from my own life:

  • "I didn't sleep well last night and am feeling frazzled and irritable today. I apologize if I snap at you during this meeting. It isn’t personal." 
  • "I just realized this interaction will be far more productive if my brain has food. I think we should head toward the kitchen." 
  • "It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you're meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it's only about 3 useful to me. If you'd rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around." 

The burden of honesty is even greater in Tell culture than in Ask culture. To a Guess culture person, I imagine much of the above sounds passive aggressive or manipulative, much worse than the rude bluntness of mere Ask. It’s because Guess people aren’t expecting relentless truth-telling, which is exactly what’s necessary here.

If you’re occasionally dishonest and tell people you want things you don't actually care about--like their comfort or convenience--they’ll learn not to trust you, and the inherent freedom of the system will be lost. They’ll learn that you only pretend to care about them to take advantage of their reciprocity instincts, when in fact you’ll count them as having defected if they respond by stating a preference for protecting their own interests.

Tell culture is cooperation with open source codes.

This kind of trust does not develop overnight. Here is the most useful Tell tactic I know of for developing that trust with a native Ask or Guess. It’s saved me sooooo much time and trouble, and I wish I’d thought of it earlier.

"I'm not asking because I expect you to say ‘yes’. I'm asking because I'm having trouble imagining the inside of your head, and I want to understand better. You are completely free to say ‘no’, or to tell me what you’re thinking right now, and I promise it will be fine." It is amazing how often people quickly stop looking shifty and say 'no' after this, or better yet begin to discuss further details.

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"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

I read this suggested line and felt a little worried. I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you. That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction. Maybe so, and you want to bring it up with me later. Or maybe you decide you overreacted to a comment I made, which you now believe you misinterpreted. Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass, and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Interesting, I have the exact opposite gut reaction. It could be rephrased in slight variations, e.g. "until we've figured that out", or, as shokwave below suggested, with a request for assistance, but in general, if someone said that to me, I would, ceteris paribus, infer that they are a self-aware and peaceful/cooperative person and that they are not holding anything in particular against me.

Whereas when someone leaves a conversation with an excuse that may or may not be genuine, it leaves me totally stressed-out because I have no idea what's going on and now I have the burden of figuring everything out on my own, about another person who is obviously intent on not sending many informative signals. Great.

Yes, my version of this always goes, "I'm finding this conversation aversive and I don't know why. Hold on while I figure it out." In other words, it doesn't delay a conversation until later, but it does mean that I close my eyes for 60 seconds and think.

I'm finding this conversation and I don't know why.

You accidentally a word, I think?

If you speak the words fast enough and with enough conviction, your audience's brain will fill in the gap with whatever pleases them while you retain full plausible deniability. Win!

I also find that line a bit strange. In nearly all cases where I would expect that someone says: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why" I think I would take it as a topic change to why the conversation might bring up negative emotions in the person.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

?! Depends. If you don't understand that person intimately or aren't experienced at helping less self-aware (aka neurotypical) people process emotional trauma, it's probably a very good time to leave him alone. Politely.

If you don't understand that person intimately

You don't need to understand another person to help them. Even if you do understand another person well enough to know what triggered them, telling them can be invasive and therefore needs some amount of implicit of explicit permission.

Being there and being a stable anchor is often better than trying to interfere with their state. That means if you are mentally flexible about changing your state opening up on your side and allowing the emotions to rise in you to a level that similar to the other person but more calm. If you are not flexible and can meditate, that usually a good state to go to.

For me the only reason to leave is if I'm myself not in a stable emotional place. But I can certainly understand if other people generally don't see themselves in a position to help.

Interesting.

My default move would be to sit quietly in their presence and pay attention, rather than leave.
Why would leaving be better?

Because if you don't know them intimately, you're likely to make them feel uncomfortable by intruding on their trauma.

Is the likelihood of that greater than the likelihood of making them feel uncomfortable by abandoning them in their (recalled) trauma?

(I realize that "abandoning" is a very connotationally loaded term; I choose it here to counterbalance "intruding." I'm happy to switch to less loaded terms if you prefer.)

It's likely to be worse than leaving them politely. Whether it's worse than just getting up and leaving depends on the person and situation.

Fair enough. I'm not at all sure that's true -- certainly when I'm experiencing recalled trauma I would far prefer that people sit quietly with me than that they politely leave, but of course one data point isn't especially useful in this case -- but certainly if it is true the rest follows. Do you have any data to support that?

No data, just introspection and personal observation. Maybe it's a variation in people's preferences.

I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable. Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

To the latter, your interlocutor says (or likely, thinks to themselves):

"Uh, actually, I was rather enjoying that conversation. I thought it had value. But I guess I was wrong; it seems you do not find me interesting, or think that I am annoying. That hurts."

Working as intended?

Actually when a person is hurt they might not be in a state of mind to phrase it like that. I know that I tend to focus on the feeling of being hurt first, and it is incredibly difficult to not react indirectly with defensiveness which would be directed at something other than "I guess you don't find me interesting", because that shows vulnerability. A person (like unreflected me) might instinctively attack in a different area to "retaliate" to what they felt was a surprise attack on their self-worth. I am working on this, but I doubt most people with this problem are.

Which should be kept in mind, I think: I agree with ChristianKI that open communication is preferable here, but in a situation where you create emotions in the other person they might find it impossible to stay rational even if their system 2 wants to.

Solution? I actually do like the idea of ending useless conversations very much. I would rephrase it less bluntly which reduces the confrontation. What bothers me about this one is definite statements, e.g. "We should stop". It implies you expect the other person to have the same opinion as you, which isn't in the spirit of Tell Culture.

Suggestion: "I got the feeling that this conversation is not really helping me right now. What is your impression on this? If you agree with me, perhaps we could switch topics?" (or offer to shift the conversation into a specific direction that you would enjoy)

Generally I would match the carefulness to my impression of how much the other person enjoys the conversation.

Alternately, they say: "Uh, actually, I was enjoying that conversation. In particular, I was interested in the part where [stuff]. Maybe we could focus on talking about that part?" And then maybe you compromise on a conversational topic, rather than interpreting the rejection of the conversation as a rejection of you.

Or in the ideal case, "Oh, I wasn't actually enjoying it either, I was just talking about it because I thought you still wanted to. Great, let's change the subject."

Yes. Getting good social feedback is valuable. If the person says that you can reassure them that you generally like them as a person but that going down that particular argument to decide who's right just doesn't interest you.

There are arguments about who's right that are unproductive and stopping them and explaining your reasoning to the other person can be valuable for a person with low social skills even if it hurts them a bit.

I rather prefer getting honest social feedback and not getting looked down upon to not knowing what I'm doing wrong and getting looked down upon.

But it does depend on the culture in which things are said. There are situations where one can be open and other's where it's more difficult.

There might also be cases where the other person think the conversation has value and says: "Actually you making that argument is the first time I heard it, so even if you already made in ten times in the past, I'm really interested in understanding that argument better."

That's very useful information and hearing it might make the conversation a lot more fun for both participants.

The sentiment could be worded nicer, but it does achieve it's ends.

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

There are plenty of unproductive discussions in rational circles where you can reasonably assume that the other person is arguing to win a debate and not because he finds a discussion interesting.

I think those discussion are situation where shokwave might say those words. In those cases they are spoken with the interest of the other person in mind.

Of course you can be wrong about that in your reading of the situation. If you pay attention to the other person you should notice when they have a meaningful emotional reactions to the words that you are saying.

In those cases you can readjust the emotional impact by telling them something nice about them and starting a new thread of discussion in the process.

While I personally wouldn't be as blunt I have meet plenty of people who have no problem being that blunt while also doing enough to signal that they like the person they are interacting with to avoid harming them strongly.

Additionally I would personally prefer that if I'm walking around with body odor that someone would tell me, even if he would tell me in a way that produces a bit of temporary emotionally displeasure. I would predict that a significant amount of people who are part of the rationalist community share that preference.

I like getting honest feedback from other people. If someone puts me in a state of deep emotional turmoil I think they are responsible to stay there and do what they can to fix it if they aren't requested to leave. But to the extend that I do have control over myself I won't look down on them for providing honest feedback.

really incredibly blunt

It's possible that it is too blunt. My instinct (calibrated on around half a hundred nights of conversation with Australian LessWrongers in person) says that it's not, though.

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable.

It seems that preferences must vary on this one. This one seems much more potentially problematical because it pulls the other into your (already aversive) emotional world. It can work if there is already a huge amount of rapport and intimacy but the other more independent request seems safer.

Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

I really do like whatever variants of the theme "Agree to d̶i̶s̶a̶g̶r̶e̶e̶ STFU" that can be made to work.

"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

[I do not endorse that particular conversation move. Nor do I particularly discourage it, between Tell culture users.]

I observe that this objection to the exit strategy the problem is that 'Tell culture' is not being used by the receiving party. The receiving party is interpreting the information through the filter of some variety of non-Tell culture and essentially reading a different message than the one sent. This is a real problem but it is a real problem relating to speaking a language different to the audience, not a problem that applies to the communication via the language itself.

Speaking 'Tell Culture' phrases to someone who is not both familiar with the communication style and happy to use it should not be expected to work well.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

The complimentary risk here is that your opposing policy can become (or inherently is) an excuse to abdicate responsibility for ones own thoughts and behaviour onto someone else. Neither are particularly healthy habits.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you.

Note that the speakers words explicitly claim responsibility and even go so far as to propose that even if the other person can figure the stuff out the speaker still has to figure it out for herself before the condition is met. It also contains no more (in fact, almost certainly much less) information than is contained in the uncontrollable communication via facial expressions, voice tone and body language while ending the conversation. The difference is there isn't level of social 'role play' where people pretend that information has not been communicated and where if that information is formally acknowledged to be communicated it is the equivalent to shouting or using all-caps.

That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

Or if looking at from the perspective of assigning responsibility to the active party that's a non-negligible burden that, someone walked up and forcibly took as there own because it wasn't kept hidden. The speaker actually set up boundaries around the aversion-experience-analysis territory that imply that would be somewhat presumptive (or irrelevant) if the listener assumed responsibility for the analysis. The listener's problem is that she has incompatible 'Guess culture boundaries.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction.

Being able to reliably suppress natural body language is a powerful (and rare) skill and makes all sorts of social tasks easier. Of course even in the limit of perfect emotional emulation and poise any listener familiar with your skill an propensity to hide aversion is, on average, left with exactly the same p(I did something that caused an aversive reaction) as they would with the transparent person. The probability mass is simply shifted away from the correct outcome to the false ones. ie. You have to spend effort guessing whether as well as what.

Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass,

(I do actually agree entirely. There is no way I'm going to go about sharing half-baked emotion revelations. That gives people the impression that can or should interfere with my internal decision making structures that my emotions are part of. I'll tell people things when it is useful for me and I know what I want.)

and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Again, as a Tell culture communication (to an appropriate audience) this isn't making it their problem. And this isn't just referring to 'ideal Tell Culturites in a vacuum'. In my experience more as a recipient of that kind of statement than a speaker it really doesn't provoke stressful rumination or analysis of fault. It is a whole heap more relaxing than the inevitable underlying friction that aversive feelings produce.

Conclusion: The moral here is that making (incompatible) Tell Culture revelations to people living in a Guess Culture mindset can be tactless, selfish, ineffective and frustrating to both parties.

If I'm having some kind of internal experience that may color my interpretation of what my interlocutor is trying to tell me, I feel like I owe it to them and whatever we're discussing to stop the conversation as soon as I realize something is wrong, since if e.g., it turns out I'm sleepy, taking a nap wouldn't (I think) be sufficient to fully counteract the negative opinion of the topic I formed when I was crabby.

Could you give an example of a graceful exit? For me, interrupting a conversation without saying why I'm actually doing it feels dishonest/rude, especially if we're discussing something that's important enough for me to care that I treat it fairly.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction. Maybe so, and you want to bring it up with me later.

That can easily be exploited, however. If people know this is your reaction, then they have an easy button to push to exclude you from any conversation where they don't want your voice heard.

EDIT: I will retract this statement if someone explains what's wrong with it.

One of the issues with the comment is that it presumes that the people with whom you are interacting socially aren't trustworthy. To the extend that we want improve culture, we usually want to create environments where people trust each other by default.

Secondly it assumes that people don't learn. If I have a button that causes me serious discomfort that makes me want to escape a conversation and I understand the button, then I work on the issue and the next time it comes up it might not cause me to leave.

There are also topics which are just boring. It's probably not hard to find topics that predicatively bore me and that you could bring up to make me want to leave a conservation.

Let's say I'm talking with Alice and Carol. Alice really wants to talk about some women issue with Alice with no guy around. She could bring up the topic of how the supermodel XY did something and how nobody should do that.

If I find that topic boring and leave the conversation, nothing bad happened. I can spend my time elsewhere. Alice seems to be getting utility from discussing the topic with Carol, so overall utility might be gained by finding a way to request gracefully that I leave the conversation.

If I value staying in that conversation and really want to stay to talk with Alice and Carol I wouldn't leave the conversation.

One of the issues with the comment is that it presumes that the people with whom you are interacting socially aren't trustworthy. To the extend that we want improve culture, we usually want to create environments where people trust each other by default.

Secondly it assumes that people don't learn. If I have a button that causes me serious discomfort that makes me want to escape a conversation and I understand the button, then I work on the issue and the next time it comes up it might not cause me to leave.

That makes very, very good sense. I need to process; I'll be back later after I've finished updating.

That makes a lot of sense indeed. I find that disengaging from a three-way conversation is very different from ending a conversation between two people. I think I perceive such indirections and excuses quite more in the former case, because there they serve the purpose of not disrupting the conversation for the rest of the participants.

Yeah, absolutely.

Having been raised in a Guess culture and subsequently indoctrinated into a strong Ask culture, I have in the decades since evolved a strong personal version of what you're calling a Tell methodology here (what I personally think of as a high-context Ask culture).

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

My experience since has been mixed. It works well within communities where self-awareness is prized, and frequently elicits hostility elsewhere. Ask-culture people tend to appreciate it, Guess-culture people are frequently irritated or offended by my insistence on making explicit what is properly left obscured. (This makes sense to me... I, too, am irritated when people do publicly what I've been conditioned to treat as private.)

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

This being what wit (which is a synonym for "intelligence" for good reason) is for.

Tragedy of the commons, the shared resource being mutual trust. The first one to defect reaps the rewards of his faux signals being taken at face value ("I don't mind at all sticking around", wow, such pleasantness, many social laurels, wow), degrading the network of trust a "tell culture" relies upon.

It's like saying "wouldn't we as a society benefit overall if hidden negative externalities were internalized", yea well, first one to secretly pollute the river gets some bonus shares next quarter (wow, such money, many boni, wow)! Same with a trust culture ending in a race to the bottom.

I'm not suggesting all of society is ready for this. I'm suggesting we work toward it among highly rational peers and allies. This is how, and much of why, my close social circles work. Now that I'm used to it, I'd have it no other way.

among highly rational peers

Tricky (like most anything).

I wouldn't say "among rational peers" so much as "among EA-oriented peers". For our specific community, there is significant overlap in the Venn diagram depicting those two qualities, but those two are very much distinct qualities nonetheless.

A community of HPMOR!Quirrell variations would have your very post in main, with plenty of upvotes, all the while secretly whetting their blades. Perfectly rational.

The more established the trust culture, the more vulnerable it would be to a traitor, a cunning red-pill bastard who plays the trust-network like a fiddle to the tune of his/her egotistical agenda.

Trust -- the quintessential element of your so-called "tell culture" -- and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

When the social circle is small enough as to resemble an expanded family unit, a clan, it may work. A strong sense of ties that bind to keep the commitment to honesty honest would tend to keep a "tell culture"' social circle's cardinality well below Dunbar's number.

Trust -- the quintessential element of your so-called "tell culture" -- and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

That's true in general. In network security circles, a trusted party is one with the explicit ability to compromise you, and that's really the operational meaning of the term in any context.

A community of HPMOR!Quirrell variations would have your very post in main, with plenty of upvotes, all the while secretly whetting their blades. Perfectly rational.

I really don't think so. A community of Briennes, which is not a community of HPMOR!Quirrells but shares some relevant features, would recognize the overwhelming benefit of coordination. Any given individual would be much stronger if she had the knowledge of all the other individuals, or if she could count on them as external memory. And because she would be stronger that way, she knows that they would be stronger if she also remains trustworthy. Her being trustworthy allows her to derive greater benefit from the rest of the community. Other people are useful, you see. With Tell culture in place, you can do things like feed your model of the world into someone else's truth-checker and get back a more info-rich version. You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans.

I'd love to hear what culture Eliezer thinks an entire community of Quirrells would create.

If they all started off in a symmetrical position, they'd use Unbreakable Vows to keep from killing each other and then proceed to further affairs, not necessarily cooperatively.

Wouldn't this require one Quirrell to agree to sacrifice a part of his power before any other Quirrell does? (Assuming that all of the vow rituals taking place at the same time would require each Quirrell to take part in more than one ritual simultaneously, which doesn't seem possible.) It seems to me that a Quirrell wouldn't agree to this.

You don't have to sacrifice your own power for that, the bonder sacrifices power. And the Unbreakable Vow could be worded to only come into force once all Vows were taken.

But, in this case, the bonder is another Quirrell picked from this all-Quirrel community, right?

Of course, if we allow the ritual to depend on the completion of other rituals, then the problem is moot.

It strikes me that this conversation really hinges on just how evil HPMOR's Quirrell turns out to be, which is problematic since you know a few chapters more plot than I do...

(Also, since I find myself having a conversation with you, might I say that I very much like HPMOR, and that I would like it even more if you were to amend chapter 19 so that Quirrell didn't perpetuate one or two myths about martial arts, a subject on which I focus a certain amount of my own nerdly attentions? I posted a review under "James", but the short version is that (1) martial arts aren't particularly Asian, and (2) "I'm a sixth dan" means no more than "I once got a B- in a class whose subject I won't divulge except to say that it was 'Math'.")

The great-grandparent comment did make me consider unbreakable vows as a theory of what happened on Halloween. E.g. to prevent one of his Horcruxes from later killing him, Voldemort made an unbreakable vow not to magically interact with his alter egos (this causing Harry's sense of Doom around Quirrell). Doesn't seem necessary, though.

A community of Briennes, [...], would recognize the overwhelming benefit of coordination.

But it would pay the price Tell comes with. And the Briennes wouldn't need it because they know all their rules and could easily use the more efficient Guess.

"You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans." These aren't the two options available, though: you'd take into account the risk of other people defecting and thus reducing the expected utility of the entire community by an appreciable amount. Your argument only works if you can trust everyone else not to defect, too - in a homogenous community of Briennes, for instance. In a heterogenous community, whatever spooky coordination your clones would use won't work, and cooperation is a much less desirable option.

Signaling pleasantness is sometimes near to signalling low status. In some situations it will give you benefits in others it might not.

One the web you find plenty of material that recommends that you will get more social success by being more confident. One way to be confident is to go the ask road instead of the guess road.

I have read a lot of self help and didn't come across one that substantially focuses on acting in a guess culture way.

Signaling pleasantness is sometimes near to signalling low status. In some situations it will give you benefits in others it might not.

Quite so. Which is why constraining yourself to honesty precludes you from always choosing the personally beneficial path.

Is the Prisoners' Dilemma really the right metaphor here? I don't really get what the defector gains. Sure, I like them better for being so accommodating, but meanwhile they're paying the costs of giving me what I want, and if they try to invoke some kind of quid pro quo than all the positive feelings go out the window when I find out they were misleading me.

Think of it as having an additional tool in your shed, a really important one: it confers unto you an additional degree of freedom: You can manipulate someone else's state of mind by signalling various faux states of mind of your own (no longer are social signals a tell-culture mandated 1-to-1 mapping, but you can choose whatever input leads to the desired reaction). Social signals and the benefits they confer are sufficiently vague that often you won't find out they were misleading you. Or you may find out ("The last years that person X worked for me I always thought she looked up to and admired me, turns out she always just pretended so she could keep the job!"), but the defector already reaped the (transient in time) rewards. Nothing is forever, the traitor can milk you like a gullible cow (or a gullicalf, living in California) then leave, harm done.

Ya know, after thousands of years of trying it out in all kinds of environments, it seems as though almost every culture on Earth settles on "Guess", with maybe a touch of "Ask" in the more overbearing ones. A common modification to "Guess" is "Offer", where the mere mention of a possible opportunity to help out is treated as creating almost a positive obligation to notice the need and make a spontaneous offer.

From where I sit, that's pretty strong evidence that "Guess" or maybe "Offer" is more suited to collective human nature. There's a pretty heavy burden of proof on any "rationalist" who wants to change it.

It's also not so obvious that you can effectively change conventions like these by just starting in and asking others to change. If you tried your "developing trust" tactic with me, I'd probably play along to avoid conflict on one occasion, and avoid YOU after that.

It's evidence that Guess is the Nash equilibrium that human cultures find. Consider that the Nash equilibrium in the Prisoner's Dilemma (and in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma with known fixed length) is both defect. It's a common theme in game theory that the Nash equilibrium is not always the best place to be.

Ya know, after thousands of years [...] every culture on Earth settles on "Guess",

As far as my knowledge of cultures goes I'd guess that this is indeed the optimum for "settled" cultures where there are lots of rules and customes everybody knows from early on (precisely the conditions I gave in my earlier comment).

But that just means that it is applicable to 'normal' situations. Not under stress. Not for fast societal change. And maybe not for rationalists dealing with each other.

If I'm understanding your comment correctly, I strongly disagree with this way of framing such suggestions. It seems anathema to the rationalist enterprise. Many rationalist simplifications of or modifications to (social) interaction, or other not-strictly-rationalist approaches that are regardless endorsed by us, are hit by your argument. E.g. requesting tabooing words, requesting predictions of differing anticipated experiences, Crocker's rules, confessing noticing confusion, etc. etc. on through the Sequences et al.

A core of the rationalist ideal is to take approaches that promote the discovery, recognition, and sharing of truth except where there are situational reasons to hold off on doing so in those specific cases. For example, I agree with warnings that have been raised in the comments on this post about trying Telling without a cooperating or rationalist receiver. But that's in the same way that asking a Muggle to taboo their words can be a not-so-great idea.

I suspect that high-profile Bay Area (and possibly New York?) rationalists would bear this out. As a specific example, as far as I can tell, Alicorn seems to be the rationalist master of Telling and generally avoiding beating about the bush when she wants something, and wins because of it. More generally, from what I gather as a spectator, there seem to be a lot of techniques or behaviours on instrumental, emotional, and interpersonal fronts that are making the Bay Area awesome and an ever-stronger attractor to rationalists around the world, but which the broader rationalist/LW community does not necessarily hear about.

The success of the Bay Area subcommunity's approach seems somewhat unknown. And I think that means that when someone comes along from there and says to the broader community, 'Hey, we should try Telling more,' there is a lot of cultural context (of the Bay Area generally, and all the interrelations with communication systems, openness, etc.), experience, and success underlying that suggestion that is not visible. I think if enough commenters adopted this approach, it would becomes recognised, not be misinterpreted, and work. Now Brienne's posted this, possibly even people can link to this post to try to prevent being misinterpreted when they are Telling on LW.

A lot of the Bay Area's success seems to come from people taking simplifying approaches to communication seriously and cooperating. When you say

It's also not so obvious that you can effectively change conventions like these by just starting in and asking others to change. If you tried your "developing trust" tactic with me, I'd probably play along to avoid conflict on one occasion, and avoid YOU after that.

that pretty much feels like the complete opposite, i.e. writing off the suggestion and anyone who takes it seriously. I'm not sure if I'd call it defection, but it has a similar feel. On a collective level, both the receptive and the skeptical attitudes are self-fulfilling, because these kinds of things really do seem to work when enough people take them seriously, and will certainly fail if everyone scorns them. (E.g. look at how many memes from the Sequences are pretty much unanimously taken seriously.)

(I acknowledge that I might have completely misread your comment.)

So, as long as we're Telling, I'm going to talk about my own internal state. I think at least some aspects of my reactions may be shared by other people, including people whom readers of this thread may be interested in influencing or interacting with. Anybody who's not interested in this should definitely stop reading. I promise I won't be offended. :-)

Although I still think I had a point, if I look back at why I really wrote my response, I think that point was mostly "cover" for a less acceptable motivation. I think I really wrote it mostly out of irritation with the way the word "rationalist" was used in the original posting. And I find myself feeling the same way in response to some of your reply.

My first reaction is to see it as an ugly form of appropriation to take the word "rationalist" to mean "person identified with the Less Wrong community or associated communities, especially if said member uses jargon A, B, and C, and subscribes to only-tangentially-rational norms X, Y, and Z". Especially when it's coupled with signals of group superiority like "don't try this with Muggles" (used to be "mundanes"). It provokes an immediate "screw you" reaction.

I expressed my irritation only as hopefully-veiled but still obnoxious snark(for which I am sorry), but it was there.

The Bay Area, and presumably New York and the world, contain people who are committed to rationality by almost any definition, yet who've never read the Sequences, probably wouldn't want to, and probably have no great interest in the community I think you mean. Some of them have pretty high profiles, too. Making a land grab for the word "rationalist" probably doesn't make most of those people want into the club, and neither does name calling. Both seem more likely to make them think the club is composed of jerks.

On another, but perhaps related, front...

By my last paragraph's description of my reaction, I didn't mean to write off the "Tell" suggestion completely as a suggestion about what social norms should be, whether in a subculture or in The Wider Culture(TM). I'm pretty skeptical about the idea, but I wasn't trying to be completely dismissive there.

In that part, I was, perhaps amid more snark, trying to warn about a possibly inobvious reaction. What I was trying to describe was how I, as an individual, actually envision myself reacting to the stated tactic for introducing the "Tell" approach.

I used to spend a fair amount of time, in the Bay Area and elsewhere, with communities that overlap with, and/or could be seen as antecedents of, the Less Wrong/CFAR/MIRI "rationalists". In those communities, I met a lot of people who had unconventional approaches to interacting with others. I often found some of those people annoying and aversive. That's true even though I'm no grandmaster of "normal" social approaches myself, and even though I suspect that I am far less sensitive to deviations from them than the average bear.

What I would truly expect to go through my mind would be something like "Oh, no, yet another one of those people who think removing all filters will improve society, and want me to be part of the grand experiment"... or possibly "Oh, no, yet another one of those people who don't realize that filters are expected at all", or, worse "Oh, no, one of those people who think they can use some kind of philosophical gobbledygook to justify inconsiderate passive-aggressive pushiness". Because I've met all of those more than once.

That would cause discomfort, and in the future I'd tend to avoid the source of that discomfort. I was trying to point out was that the strategy might appear to work, but still backfire, because the immediate feedback from the interlocutor wouldn't necessarily be honest.

Maybe I'd get over it, but maybe I wouldn't, too.

For the record on your first paragraph, I'm really, really skeptical of Crocker's rules working over the long term, but I admit I've never tried them. I don't think the rest of the things you mention are similar.

I don't know of any common social norm against, say, tabooing words, or asking about anticipated experiences. I think you can use those sorts of methods with more or less anybody. You may run into resistance or anger if somebody thinks you're trying to pull a nasty rhetorical trick, but you can defuse that if you take the time to cross the inferential distance gently, and starting on the project before you're in the middle of a heated conflict where the other person will reject absolutely anything you suggest.

For that matter, you can often just quietly stop using a word without saying anything at all about "tabooing" it.

Likewise, I don't think most people mind "I'm confused"... unless it's obviously dishonest and meant to provide plausibly deniable cover to some following snark.

On the other hand, I do see lots of social norms around what tactics are and are not OK for getting somebody else to do something for you, and also around how much of your internal state you share at what stages of intimacy. So I think this is different in kind.

And of course I may also have completely misread your comment...

[On edit, cleaned up a couple of proofreading errors]