[SEQ RERUN] Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided

by Tyrrell_McAllister1 min read3rd May 20118 comments


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Today's post, Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided, was originally published on 03 March 2007. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):

Robin Hanson proposed a "banned products shop" where things that the government ordinarily would ban are sold. Eliezer responded that this would probably cause at least one stupid and innocent person to die. He became surprised when people inferred from this remark that he was against Robin's idea. Policy questions are complex actions with many consequences. Thus they should only rarely appear one-sided to an objective observer. A person's intelligence is largely a product of circumstances they cannot control. Eliezer argues for cost-benefit analysis instead of traditional libertarian ideas of tough-mindedness (people who do stupid things deserve their consequences).

Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was You Are Not Hiring the Top 1%, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

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Politics is the mind-killer. Arguments are soldiers. Once you know which side you're on, you must support all arguments of that side, and attack all arguments that appear to favor the enemy side; otherwise it's like stabbing your soldiers in the back.

A partisan actually interested in convincing opponents to switch sides would not do this. Instead, she would attempt to understand the reasons for which partisans of the other side (let's say, the Blues) reject her own Green arguments. Then she would refine Green arguments to beat those Blue counter-arguments.

Of course, in so doing, she puts herself at risk of being convinced by the Blue counter-arguments. Or of discovering that Blueness and Greenness are incommensurable; or that there are innate mental differences between Blues and Greens. Or that they were compatible all along. Or of discovering a compromise position or third way superior to both Blue and Green.

But nonetheless, the fact that most folks who engage in political argument don't study their opponents' strongest arguments, and refine their own accordingly, suggests that they aren't trying to convince their opponents. Blues aren't convincing Greens of anything. When someone does switch sides, it's often due to a change in their social surroundings (moving from Bluesville to Green River) or a personal crisis, rather than an argument-based update. Rather, Greens and Blues are rallying their bases, signaling loyalty, making the other side look bad ... in other words, playing politics.

The experimental evidence for a purely genetic component of 0.6-0.8 is overwhelming

Does anyone know the source for this?

I don't quite get the last couple of sentences in the post:

Unfortunately the universe doesn't agree with me. We'll see which one of us is still standing when this is over.

Here is the preceding paragraph:

I don't think that when someone makes a stupid choice and dies, this is a cause for celebration. I count it as a tragedy. It is not always helping people, to save them from the consequences of their own actions; but I draw a moral line at capital punishment. If you're dead, you can't learn from your mistakes.

Are these the claims about which the universe disagrees with him? If so, what is the sense in which he attributes the negations of these claims to "the universe"?

ETA: Perhaps he means that, contrary to his own beliefs, the universe "thinks" that people "should" die when they make certain kinds of mistakes in the sense that people do in fact die when they make certain kinds of mistakes.

ETA: Perhaps he means that, contrary to his own beliefs, the universe "thinks" that people "should" die when they make certain kinds of mistakes in the sense that people do in fact die when they make certain kinds of mistakes.

This was my interpretation.

ETA:Perhaps he means that, contrary to his own beliefs, the universe "thinks" that people "should" die when they make certain kinds of mistakes in the sense that people do in fact die when they make certain kinds of mistakes.

That, and that he wants to change that situation.

I particularly enjoyed this part, as it gave me that "click" and understand the difference between a reasonable and unreasonable extension of one's political beliefs:

Saying "People who buy dangerous products deserve to get hurt!" is not tough-minded. It is a way of refusing to live in an unfair universe. Real tough-mindedness is saying, "Yes, sulfuric acid is a horrible painful death, and no, that mother of 5 children didn't deserve it, but we're going to keep the shops open anyway because we did this cost-benefit calculation."

Sorry for the self-reply, but I wanted to make a different point whose voting will probably not correlate with the parent.

I think a lot of the basis for the mentality that "stupid people deserve to get hurt" comes from a feeling of insufficient respect/social status for those that do contribute to society through their greater intelligence, and who do take the care to avoid dangerous things.

There's a tradeoff between how much the victims of misjudgment should suffer for mistakes vs. how much everyone else has to suffer from restricted opportunities that result from limiting the downside of misjudgment. Like EY notes, saying that poor judgment should lead to death is obviously going too far. And the crtiique he gives in that quote shows why. I just thought I'd point out the resentment that makes people jump to such a conclusion.