"Politics is the mind-killer" is the mind-killer

by thomblake1 min read26th Jan 201299 comments


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Summary: I propose we somewhat relax our stance on political speech on Less Wrong.

Related: The mind-killer, Mind-killer

A recent series of posts by a well-meaning troll (example) has caused me to re-examine our "no-politics" norm.  I believe there has been some unintentional creep from the original intent of Politics is the Mind-Killer.  In that article, Eliezer is arguing that discussions here (actually on Overcoming Bias) should not use examples from politics in discussions that are not about politics, since they distract from the lesson.  Note the final paragraph:

I'm not saying that I think Overcoming Bias should be apolitical, or even that we should adopt Wikipedia's ideal of the Neutral Point of View.  But try to resist getting in those good, solid digs if you can possibly avoid it.  If your topic legitimately relates to attempts to ban evolution in school curricula, then go ahead and talk about it - but don't blame it explicitly on the whole Republican Party; some of your readers may be Republicans, and they may feel that the problem is a few rogues, not the entire party.  As with Wikipedia's NPOV, it doesn't matter whether (you think) the Republican Party really is at fault.  It's just better for the spiritual growth of the community to discuss the issue without invoking color politics.

So, the original intent was not to ban political speech altogether, but to encourage us to come up with less-charged examples where possible.  If the subject you're really talking about is politics, and it relates directly to rationality, then you should be able to post about it without getting downvotes strictly because "politics is the mind-killer".

It could be that this drift is less of a community norm than I perceive, and there are just a few folks (myself included) that have taken the original message too far.  If so, consider this a message just to those folks such as myself.

Of course, politics would still be off-topic in the comment threads of most posts.  There should probably be a special open thread (or another forum) to which drive-by political activists can be directed, instead of simply saying "We don't talk about politics here".

David_Gerard makes a similar point here (though FWIW, I came up with this title independently).


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I think the politics taboo is one of the best things about Less Wrong.

Yes, it's also a frustrating thing, because politics is important and full of relevant examples about rationality. But if you think you have an insightful, rational point to say about politics that will not degenerate into a sprawling discussion with negative utility... you are probably wrong.

1Curiouskid9yThere are actually some of these sprawling discussions of negative utility on LW already if you look at some of the seasteading threads.

I like the idea of starting a Politics Open Thread if it means I won't see any more political comments elsewhere on LW. Also it would work as a nice experiment to convince libertines like you that encouraging political discussion isn't a good idea, or convince curmudgeons like me that it is.

I like the idea of starting a Politics Open Thread if it means I won't see any more political comments elsewhere on LW.

It won't. Instead, what will happen is that people will start attaching the mental labels of "Blue" and "Green" to other commenters, based on encounters in such a thread, and these labels will apply everywhere, and consequently distort the discussions and the voting on all topics.

I agree with thomblake that the original intent of the "Politics is the Mind-Killer" doctrine wasn't to ban politics (and even that post itself wasn't intended as official Overcoming Bias policy, just advice from Eliezer!), but I am also 100% with Raemon in endorsing the anti-politics norm that has subsequently developed.

But note that the norm itself, like most human norms, is not an absolute or rigid one, just a scale of increasing costs or penalties with increasing severity of "violations". It's always been okay to mention politics in a way that shows you "know what you're doing" (proof: I have); high-status people are allowed more leeway than the lower-status (except for the very highest-status individuals, on whom norms are often s... (read more)

It won't. Instead, what will happen is that people will start attaching the mental labels of "Blue" and "Green" to other commenters, based on encounters in such a thread

I can already do this to many commenters based on their comments in the existing threads.

[-][anonymous]9y 12

It won't. Instead, what will happen is that people will start attaching the mental labels of "Blue" and "Green" to other commenters, based on encounters in such a thread, and these labels will apply everywhere, and consequently distort the discussions and the voting on all topics.

This. I can' tell you how grateful I am that I have no idea about the politics of most posters I'm familiar with.

Perhaps any forum for political discussions here should allow (force?) people to choose a secret identity (i.e., separate nickname) for use only there.

4cousin_it9yNice! Encouraging alternate identities, combined with thomblake's idea of refraining from voting, could go a long way toward having a sane politics discussion thread.

The problem is that the norm of the politics-ban is quite broad. Basically everything that the "Personal is Political" crowd would label political is swept in.

Not only is discussion of the latest maneuverings of Newt vs. Mitt prohibited, but discussion of democracy vs. authoritarianism, feminism, the purpose of juries, etc. are considered off limits by a vocal portion of LessWrong. I have no desire to debate whether Obama's State of the Union was good policy or good politics, but the broadness of the negative reaction excludes a lot of conceptspace, to the point that there are real world problems it's very difficult to discuss here.

In short, there's a reason why I was talking about a Political Theory Open Thread, not a Politics Open Thread.

I like the idea of a political theory thread, but before I do it, I think it's worthwhile to think about some ground rules in order for it to be productive.

  • Arguments still aren't soldiers. Being mindkilled is still bad.
  • Read posts charitably, even if you intend to steelman
  • Don't say "Your position requires you to kick puppies" unless you genuinely believe the poster is unaware of that fact.
  • What happens in Political Theory Open Thread stays in Political Theory Open Thread. Edit: In short, beware the halo effect.

Any other points I should add (particularly about voting/karma)?


  • Distrust your impulse to vote on something. Particularly if you are emotionally engaged. Politics is the mindkiller.
  • Extreme contrarianism for its own sake is probably not valuable.

"Arguments are soldiers" is practically the definition of democracy. In theory, if my arguments are persuasive enough it will determine whether or not my neighbors or I can continue doing X or start doing Y without being fined, jailed, or killed for it. Depending on what great things I like to do or what horrible things I want to prevent my neighbors from doing, that's an awfully powerful incentive for me to risk a few minds being killed.

Now, in practice we mostly live in near-megaperson cities in multi-megaperson districts of near-gigaperson countries, whereas my above theory mostly applies to hectoperson and kiloperson tribes. But my ape brain can't quite internalize that, so the subconscious incentive remains.

But that's not even the worst of it! I try to read a range of liberal, conservative, libertarian, populist etc. news and commentary, just so that the gaps in each don't overlap so much... but it requires a conscious effort. Judging by the groupthink in reader comments on these sites, most people's behavior is the opposite of mine. Why not? Reading about how right you are is fun; reading about how wrong you are is not.

It would be very easy for new would-be L... (read more)

9TimS9yRespectfully, that's not a correct use of the metaphor. The point is that unwillingness to disagree with other positions simply because those positions reach the desired conclusion is evidence of being mindkilled. You don't shoot soldiers on your side, but for those thinking rationally, arguments are not soldiers, so bad ideas should always be challenged. This is a real risk, but it's worth assessing (and figuring out how to assess) how likely it is to occur.
3roystgnr9yBy "thinking rationally", you must mean epistemically, not instrumentally. If (to use as Less-Wrong-politically-neutral an allegory as I can) you are vastly outnumbered by citizens who are wondering if maybe those birds were an omen telling us that Jupiter doesn't want heretics thrown to the lions anymore, I agree that the epistemically rational thing to do is point out that we don't have much evidence for the efficacy of augury or the existence of Zeus, but the instrumentally rational thing to do is to smile, nod, and point out that eagles are well-known to convey the most urgent of omens. In more poetic words: you don't shoot soldiers on your side. The metaphor seems to be as correct as any mere metaphor can get. Is it such a stretch to call an argument a "soldier" for you when it's responsible for helping defend your life, liberty, or property?
3TimS9yFirst, that's not the metaphor [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gw/politics_is_the_mindkiller] we were discussing. Second, the metaphor you are using allows arguments to be soldiers of any ideology, not simply democracy.
1roystgnr9yI have read "Politics is the mindkiller" and am discussing the same metaphor. For that matter, I'm practically recapitulating the same metaphor, to make an even stronger point: not only can politics provoke irrational impulses to support poor arguments on your "side", politics can create instrumentally rational incentives to (publicly, visibly, not internally) support poor arguments. Sometimes you support a morally dubious soldier because of jingoism, sometimes you support him because he's the best defense in between you and an even worse soldier. Would you be more specific about how you think my use of the metaphor is different and/or invalid? I do think I've given a compelling counterexample to "bad ideas should always be [publicly] challenged". (my apologies if the implicit [publicly] here was not your intended claim, but the context is that of a proposed public discussion) Have you changed your mind about that claim, or do you see a problem with my reasoning? For that matter, in my hypothetical political forum would you be arguing for atheism or for more compassionate augury yourself? The preposition of your second sentence suggests a miscommunication of my initial claim. I didn't intend to say "arguments are soldiers of democracy", but rather "arguments are soldiers in a democracy". You're still right that this also applies to non-democracies: in any state where public opinion affects political policy, incentives exist to try and steer opinion towards instrumentally rational ends even if this is done via epistemically irrational means. Unlimited democracy is just an abstract maximum of this effect, not the only case where it applies.
1TimS9yIn brief, I think my interpretation is right because it is consistent with the intended lesson, which is "Don't talk about Politics on LessWrong." In other words, I understood the point of the story to be that treating arguments as soldiers interferes with believing true things. I agree that "bad ideas should be publicly challenged" is only true if what I'm trying to do is believe true theories and not believe false theories. If I'm trying to change society (i.e. do politics), I shouldn't antagonize my allies. The risk is that I will go from disingenuously defending my allies' wrong claims to sincerely believing my allies' wrong claims, even in the face of the evidence. That's being mindkilled. In short, engaging in the coalition-building necessary to do politics is claimed to cause belief in empirically false things. I.e. "Politics is the Mindkiller."
1roystgnr9yMy interpretation could be summarized in similar fashion as "really, really, don't talk about politics on LessWrong" - whether this is "consistent" or not depends on your definition of that word. I agree with your interpretation of the point of the story... and with pretty much everything else you wrote in this comment, which I guess leaves me with little else to say. Although, that's an example of another issue with political forums, isn't it? In an academic setting, if a speaker elicits informed agreement from the audience about their subject, that means we've all got more shared foundational material with which to build the discussion of a closely related subsequent topic. Difficult questions without obvious unanimous answers do get reached eventually, but only after enough simpler related problems have been solved to make the hard questions tractable. Politics instead turns into debates, where discussions shut down once agreement occurs, then derail onto the less tractable topics where disagreement is most heated. Where would we be if Newton had decided "Yeah, Kepler's laws seem accurate; let me just write "me too" and then we're on to weather prediction!"
-4bio_logical7yTo me, this just shows that a ban on political argumentation is the very last thing that Lesswrong needs. The accusation of being "mind-killed" is levied by those whose minds are too emotionally dysfunctional for them to tell the difference between abolition and slave ownership (after all, one is blue and the other is green, and there couldn't very well be an objective reason for either side holding their position, could there?). The ability to stifle debate with an ad hominem and a karmic downgrade is the mark of a totalitarian (objectively unintelligent) forum, not a democratic (more intelligent than totalitarian) one. Now a libertarian and democratic forum with smart filters? That's smarter still. In hindsight, everyone agrees so, but in present scenarios, many people are corrupted or uneducated, and lack comprehension. This is one of the primary reason posts are labeled as mind-killed --because those posts are actually higher-level comprehension and what people don't understand, they often attempt to destroy (especially where force is involved --people generally hate to be held accountable for possessing evil beliefs, and politics is the domain of force). Every argument I make, no matter how seemingly mind-killed it is, is always able to be defended by direct appeal to the evidence. Many people don't understand the evidence, though, or they deny it. Evidence that places sociopaths and their conformists on the wrong side of morality will always be fought, tooth and nail. To test this out, tell your entire family that they're all thieves, no better than the Nazis who watched train cars of Jews go by in the distance, at your next Thanksgiving meal. (Don't actually try this. LOL.) Still, at some point, there was a family gathering prior to Nazi Germany, where all hope hadn't been lost, and someone told their family that they should all buy rifles and join the resistance. That person was right. He was reported, sent to prison, and murdered by the prevailing "cons
1fubarobfusco7yIf you cannot speak without insulting your audience, you probably aren't going to convince anyone. This comment would be much better, therefore, without the insults — the "emotional dysfunction", the "totalitarian (objectively unintelligent)", the "corrupted or uneducated", the "sociopaths and their conformists", and so on, and so on, ad nauseam.
0Lumifer7yNo, he was wrong. The right thing to buy was tickets overseas. I see a certain... tension between these two sentences.
-2bio_logical7yAre some ideologies more objectively correct than others? (Abolitionists used ostracism and violence to prevail against those who would return fugitive slaves south. Up until the point of violence, many of their arguments were "soldiers." One such "soldier" was Spooner's "The Unconstitutionality of Slavery" --from the same man who later wrote "the Constitution of No Authority." He personally believed that the Constitution had no authority, but since it was revered by many conformists, he used a reference to it to show them that they should alter their position to support of abolitionism. Good for him!) If some ideologies are more correct than others, then those arguments which are actually soldiers for those ideologies have strategic utility, but only as strategic "talking points," "soldiers," or "sticky" memes. Then, everyone who agrees with using those soldiers can identify them as such (strategy), and decide whether it's a good strategic or philosophical, argument, or both, or neither.
2Strange78yYou seem to have excluded a middle option, namely "I am in favor of heretics not being thrown to the lions, and no amount of bird-related omen interpretation will sway my opinion on the subject one way or another."
-4bio_logical7yHere on Lesswrong, I'd favor such an argument. However, What happens when you look at a giant crowd of people with their bird masks on, and all of them are looking at you for an answer, and they're about to throw the heretic to the lions, because they lack moral consciences of their own? It's hard to argue against a "dishonest" strategic argument that still allows the heretic to live, when logic is out-gunned. Even so, I think that such a thing could be stated here, especially with an alias, in case you're called for jury duty in the future and want to "Survive Voir Dire." ...This is an old political question. There are a lot of people who were forced to answer it in times when right and wrong suddenly came into clear focus because it became "life or death." Anne Frank is hiding in the attic: you have to be "dishonest" to the Nazis who are looking for her. In that case, dishonesty is not only "legitimate" it's the ONLY moral course of action. If you tell the truth to the Nazis, you are then morally reprehensible. You are morally reprehensible if you don't even lie convincingly. Here's another example where the status quo is morally wrong, and (narrow, short-term, non-systemic, low-hierarchical-level) dishonesty is the only morally acceptable pathway: A fugitive slave has escaped, and is being pursued by Southern bounty-hunters and also Northern judges, cops, and prosecutors. He can be forcibly returned on your ex parte testimony, and you'll even get reward money. Yet, if you don't make up a lie, you're an immoral part of a system of slavery, and an intellectual coward. Here's an example that is less clear to the bootlickers and tyrant-conformists among the Lesswrong crowd: You're called for jury duty. The judge is trying to stack the jury full of people who will agree to "apply the law as he gives it to them." Since the other veniremen are simpletons who have no curiosity about the system they live under that goes beyond the platitudes they learned in their gover
-1Lumifer7yYou haven't said much besides "I'm right and you're wrong". I am wary of people with black-and-white minds.
7Viliam_Bur9yI don't read about how I am wrong. I only read about how other people (sometimes including my former selves) are wrong, and that's fun too.
0AlexanderRM6ySeconded on the different site, unconnected karma and unconnected pseudonyms. Also, it'd be nice if it could somehow be somewhat dissociated from LW... might be useful to have a link to it easily visible, actually, but if there is one it should be right next to a specification explaining the idea and linking to "politics is the mind-killer". Separately, the idea of retaining a taboo on things like discussing politicians or the like, and restricting it to mostly issue discussions, also sounds useful.
6thomblake9yDownvote spam, but otherwise avoid voting up or down - we're likely to be voting for biased reasons.

That's an awesome idea. Maybe amend it to "downvote spam, otherwise vote everything toward 0" so a minority of politically-motivated voters can't spoil the game for everyone else?

2TimS9yIn addition to my other comment, I think it will be hard to enforce a voting norm that is so inconsistent with the voting norms on the rest of the site.
8erratio9yDisagree, there are successful instances of using karma in ways inconsistent with the rest of the site. The most important counterexample here is Will Newsome's Irrationality Game [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2sl/the_irrationality_game/] post, where voting norms were reversed: the weirdest/most irrational beliefs were upvoted the most, and the most sensible/agreeable beliefs were downvoted into invisibility. Many of the comments in that thread, especially the highest-voted, have disclaimers indicating that they operate according to a different voting metric. There is no obvious indication that anyone was confused or malicious with regard to the changed local norm.
1TimS9yHmm. I like the idea that expressing an idea well is rewarded, which your suggestion doesn't allow. Trying to figure out how to decide between them.
4TimS9yHmm. How about: Spam is not engagement, but the poster whose posting led to this discussion post was not really interested in a discussion.
5thomblake9ySounds good. Has a side-effect of there being a perceived cost for posting in the thread; you're more likely to be downvoted. I generally counsel not downvoting for disagreement anywhere on the site. I think this needs to be stronger.
2TheOtherDave9yMm. I sometimes upvote for things I think are good ideas, as an efficient alternative to a comment saying "Yes, that's right." I sometimes downvote for things I think are bad ideas, as an alternative to a comment saying "Nope, that's wrong." While I would agree that in the latter case a downvote isn't as good as a more detailed comment explaining why something is wrong, I do think it's better than nothing. So, consider this an opportunity to convince someone to your position on downvotes, if you want to: why ought I change my behavior?
9thomblake9yVoting is there to encourage/discourage some kinds of comments. We don't want people to not make comments just because we disagree with their contents, so we shouldn't downvote comments for disagreement. If someone makes a good, well-reasoned comment in favor of a position I disagree with, that merits an upvote and a response. It might be nice to have a mechanism for voting "agree/disagree" in addition to "high quality / low quality" (as I proposed 3 years ago), but in the absence of such a mechanism we should avoid mixing our signals. The comments that float to the top should be the highest-quality, not the ones most in line with the Lw party line. And people should be rewarded for making high-quality comments and punished for making low-quality comments, not rewarded for expressing popular opinions and punished for expressing unpopular opinions.
1TheOtherDave9yI agree that good, well-reasoned comments don't merit downvotes, even if I disagree with the position they support. I agree that merely unpopular opinions don't merit downvotes. I agree that low-quality comments in line with the LW party line don't merit upvotes. I agree that merely popular opinions don't merit upvotes. I agree that voting is there to encourage and discourage some kinds of comments. What's your position on downvoting a neither-spectacularly-well-or-poorly-written comment expressing an idea that's simply false?
1saturn9yI don't think that type of comment should be downvoted except when the author can't take a hint and continues posting the same false idea repeatedly. Downvoting false ideas won't prevent well-intentioned people from making mistakes or failing to understand things, mostly it would just discourage them from posting at all to whatever extent they are bothered by the possibility of downvotes.
0thomblake9yI agree with User:saturn.
-1bio_logical7yAn idea that's false but "spectacularly well-written" should be downvoted to the extent of its destructiveness. Stupidity (the tendency toward unwitting self-destruction) is what we're trying to avoid here, right? We're trying to avoid losing. Willful ignorance of the truth is an especially damaging form of stupidity. Two highly intelligent people will not likely come to a completely different and antithetical viewpoint if both are reasonably intelligent. Thus, the very well-written but false viewpoint is far more damaging than the clearly stupid false viewpoint. If this site helps people avoid damaging their property (their brain, their bodies, their material possessions), or minimizes systemic damage to those things, then it's more highly functional, and the value is apparent even to casual observers. Such a value is sure to be adopted and become "market standard." That seems like the best possible outcome, to me. So, if a comment is seemingly very well-reasoned, but false, it will actually help to expand irrationality. Moreover, it's more costly to address the idea, because it "seems legit." Thus, to not sound like a jerk, you have to expend energy on politeness and form that could normally be spent on addressing substance. HIV tricks the body into believing it's harmless by continually changing and "living to fight another day." If it was a more obvious threat, it would be identified and killed. I'd rather have a sudden flu that makes me clearly sick, but that my body successfully kills, than HIV that allows me to seem fine, but slowly kills me in 10 years. The well-worded but false argument is like a virus that slips past your body's defenses or neutralizes them. That's worse than a clearly dangerous poison because it isn't obviously dangerous. False ideas are most dangerous when they seem to be true. Moreover, such ideas won't seem to be true to smart people. It's enough for them to seem true to 51% of voters. If 51% of voters can't find fault with a fal
0TheOtherDave7yWell, to the extent of its net destructiveness... that is, the difference between the destructiveness of the idea as it manifests in the specific comment, and the destructiveness of downvoting it. But with that caveat, sure, I expect that's true. That said, the net destructiveness of most of the false ideas I see here is pretty low, so this isn't a rule that is often relevant to my voting behavior. Other considerations generally swamp it. That said, I have to admit I did not read this comment all the way through. Were it not a response to me, which I make a habit of not voting on, I would have downvoted it for its incoherent wall-of-text nature.
1TimS9yI think the norm is pretty strong. I tend to downvote for stupid, not just wrong. But it will need to be explicitly reinforced. Edit: The norm on the site is also different if you are participating in the conversation (try not to downvote at all) or simply observing.
4TheOtherDave9yTo call "don't downvote if I'm in the conversation" a local norm might be overstating the case. I've heard several people assert this about their own behavior, and there are good reasons for it (and equally good reasons for not upvoting if I'm in the conversation), but my own position is more "distrust the impulse to vote on something I'm emotionally engaged with."
1TimS9yI like that, and I think I'll use something like that in the guidelines.
3thomblake9yTo echo Alejandro1 [http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/9l4/politics_is_the_mindkiller_is_the_mindkiller/5rlz] , downvotes should also go to comments which break the rules.
-2bio_logical7y― Robert A. Heinlein (There's no way to break the rule on posting too fast. That's one I'd break. Because yeah, we ought not to be able to come close to thinking as fast as our hands can type. What a shame that would be. ...Or can a well-filtered internet forum --which prides itself on being well-filtered-- have "too much information")
-1lessdazed9yDownvoted for fallacy of gray, and because I'm feeling ornery today.
2thomblake9yThere's no fallacy of gray in there. Since votes count just as much in the thread, and our votes will be much more noisy, it would often be best to refrain from voting there. If anything, I might have expected to be accused of the opposite fallacy.
0lessdazed9yThis qualification makes it not the fallacy of gray. If that qualifier was implicit from context above, I simply missed it.
1thomblake9yI still don't see how that would relate to the fallacy of gray [http://lesswrong.com/lw/mm/the_fallacy_of_gray/]:
1[anonymous]9yPerhaps a norm of using the anti-kibitzer for the thread?
1thomblake9yI'm not sure that's a help for biased voting patterns (which would probably come from the views being expressed), but it might help preventing local mind-killing from spilling out onto the rest of the site. But I don't think there's an easy mechanism for that, and comments will still show up in 'recent comments' under discussion.
-3bio_logical7yIf your forum has a lot of smart people, and they read the recommended readings, then the more people who participate in the forum, the smarter the forum will be. If the forum doesn't have a lot of stupid, belligerent rules that make participation difficult, then it will attract people who like to post. If those people aren't discouraged from posting, but are discouraged from posting stupid things, your forum will trend toward intelligence (law of large numbers, emergence with many brains) and away from being an echo chamber (law of small numbers, emergence with few brains). I wouldn't stay up late at night worrying about how to get people to up-vote or down-vote things. They won't listen anyway, but even so, they might contain a significant amount of the wisdom found in "the Sequences," and wisdom from other places, too. They might even contain wisdom from the personal experiences of people on the blue and green teams, who then can contribute to the experiential wisdom of the Lesswrong crowd, even without being philosophically-aware participants, and even with their comments being disdained and down-voted.
1Desrtopa7yIf the forum can be said to have an intelligence which is equal to the sum of its parts, or even just some additive function of its parts, then yes. But this is not reliably the case; agents within a group can produce antagonistic effects on each others' output, leading to the group collectively being "dumber" than its individual members. This is true in much the same sense that it's true that you can effectively govern a country by encouraging the populace to contribute to social institutions and discouraging antisocial behavior. It might be true in a theoretical sense, but it's too vague to be meaningful as a prescription let alone useful, and a system which implements those goals perfectly may not even be possible.

Data point: during the Melbourne LessWrong meetups, discussion of politics proved (a large fraction would say significant) net negative.

For what it's worth, I read Politics is the Mind-Killer as almost the opposite of your interpretation: that politics is a mind-killer, so why would you want to drag that awful mess into examples that could otherwise be clean. ie, avoid politics at significant cost, and this includes in otherwise sterile examples.

To some extent I wonder why we'd need to avoid politically-charged examples if we were capable of actually talking about politics; I feel like if that was the case it would be Politics is the Comment-Thread-Exploder, and we'd only avoid it because a throwaway example would case a huge, well-reasoned, rational but off-topic discussion.

8Alicorn9yUpvoted for this phrase.
2thomblake9yTo be clear, I'm not advocating starting a thread on how the Greens will triumph over our hated enemies the Blues. Even when posting about a political issue, it would be best to steer clear of color politics. But if someone wants to make a post about a relevant political issue, there should be a place for that. Possibly with a clear warning at the top that the post is about politics, and comments should remember to avoid color politics. Maybe a standard infobox or something.
1duckduckMOO9yshouldn't that be the make-comment-threads-explode-er?
0shokwave9yIt's Politics is the Mind-Killer, i.e., politics kills the mind, politics is a killer of minds. So it should be Comment-Thread-Exploder, because politics would explode the thread, politics would be an exploder of threads. Good catch. For reference, the grandparent originally used the phrase "Politics is the Make-Comment-Threads-Exploder".
0bio_logical7yI'm interested to know what rational people should have done in 1930 Germany to prevent politics from killing minds there. Is there a general consensus here on that issue? I mean, if ever there were an issue worthy of rational prioritization, I would think that the construction of deathcamps and the herding of people into them, should be prioritized. How might one rationally prioritize one's actions in that type of situation? I honestly would like to know if there's a "non-mind-killing" approach possible in such a situation. If the answer is not "political engagement" or "attempting to exert influence at the ballot box," and the answer is not "urge people you love to leave Germany," and the answer is not "buy black market firearms and join the resistance," and the answer is not "roll over on your back and bear your belly in submission," and the answer is not "mind-killing political discussion," then I'd like to know what a rational course of action is in that type of situation. I ask this question for purely narrow, purely selfish reasons. I am now holding approximately equal numbers of federal reserve notes and one-ounce gold pieces and silver pieces, and I can't help but notice that every year I hold the notes, they are worth less and less, in relation to the gold and silver. Since 1970, I've lost money on the notes, and gained money on the gold and silver. Is there any rational principle at work here? Am I being stolen from, or am I simply not lucky? Is there any sort of system I should adopt? What course of action is most rational? And how can I decide without engaging in mind-killing thought? I'm really trying to minimize the mind-killing thoughts, and other crime-think. The last thing I'd like to be is a filthy mind-killed (brain dead?) crime-thinker. Also, for those not wanting to dirty themselves by replying to political threads (presumably because they're building strong AGI, which is a seriously better use of their time), how and why would ANY thread

I downvoted those comments because they sucked. They were wrong in systematic ways indicative of a killed mind.

People who err on the side of shutting down discussion and debate are commonly known as authoritarian in nature. I don't think that's a good thing. I would expect lesswrong to err more on the side of preservation of information, and free speech absolutism, designed for ease of reading and information preservation.

Just look at that snippet. The first sentence is awkwardly worded such that I can't tell whether he's committing the bandwagon fallacy, the fallacy of appeal to nature and arguing by definition, or the bandwagon fallacy and the fundamental attribution error. The second sentence is a crude rhetorical appeal. The third sentence wraps the usual total failure to understand that policy debates should not appear one-sided within cringe-worthy phrases pretending the position advocated is nuanced and pragmatic.

I don't have a policy of downvoting political pieces. I have policy of downvoting crap, and downvoting political comments is just what tends to happen.

-3bio_logical7ySeems pretty clear to me that there's an honest point being made. Let's analyze your allegations of bias. The bandwagon fallacy: You labeled the comment as a possible "bandwagon fallacy" or "appeal to popularity of an idea, so as to avoid the merits of the idea." (Wikipedia defines this fallacy as a mixture of "red herring" which distracts from the point under discussion, and also "genetic fallacy" origins of the idea are referred to and argued against, rather than the idea itself.) In order for this to be the case, he'd need to be trying to unite those on lesswrong against those who possess an authoritarian philosophy, simply because authoritarians are unpopular (not because something in the common authoritarian method is fallacious). However, that would mean that the poster would not have a point that "the tactic of silencing debate" is itself an authoritarian tactic, the fallacy of "the appeal to force." (Appeals to force are the worst form of argumentational fallacy --the drowning out legitimate criticism with noise.) If there are those who now dispute that appeals to force are not authoritarian, or that the karma diminishing of voting rights, etc. are not "shutting down discussion" and therefore indicative of authoritarian philosophy, or at least authoritarian behavior, then I don't know what can be said to offer rational evidence here. Authoritarian in nature should clearly be shortened to "authoritarian," period. Nowhere is the appeal to nature indicated by an honest reading of the above quote. The nature of the tactic "shutting down discussion and debate" is authoritarian. By definition, it is. Look up the word authoritarian, if you don't know what it means. At http://www.lp.org [http://www.lp.org] there's a link to a political quiz that indicates it's the philosophy that is antithetical to libertarianism. It would be proper to reason that authoritarians have an indefensible view of reality, and that that viewpoint relies on shutting down debate --the idea

I think it would be interesting if we had a politics thread where we held off on proposing solutions and spoke only in facts/questions. I'm not sure it's sustainable.

"Here's a question that I'm sure you all think you know the answer to but which you're not allowed to answer," is probably a good way of making some heads explode.

2Normal_Anomaly9yI think Alicorn's idea is that one could answer questions with lists of what you consider the relevant facts [http://lesswrong.com/lw/8sb/just_the_facts_maam/], possibly stating a conclusion at the end, possibly not.

The no-politics norm isn't just on LW; it's widespread. But these norms are a defensive adaptation, and I don't think they can be dropped safely.

Instead, I think we should have a designated politics day, on which all no-discussing-politics taboos are lifted in all contexts, and people who normally avoid politics are encouraged to post position papers. I think this would produce most of the benefits of talking about politics, while limiting the damage.

Several people have agreed with the idea of a politics thread and jumped to discuss implementation details, while others have expressed opposition, with both stances receiving upvotes. I think we need a poll. Response comments to this one include for, against, and karma balance.


Vote this up if you agree with creating a politics thread.


Vote this up if you disagree with creating a politics thread.


'Politics' is a massive category, and has a disproportionate share of the important issues (relative to, say, randomly selected academic topics). In the long run (assuming there will be a long run), reinforcing the intellectual norm that politics is low-status and impossible to productively discuss is surely a bad thing if we think that it's at all important to get political questions right. It will function to make politics increasingly intellectually impoverished and divisive, as we keep seeing more and more of the calmest and sanest thinkers avert their... (read more)

1BerryPick68yI think yes. Are the chances of this happening >20%?
1Rob Bensinger8yProbably not in the near future, but I need more feedback to have confident estimates. It sounds like there's some interest in the idea, so I think I'll start a new Discussion page to drum up more ideas and concerns.
1elharo8yFascinating idea, especially hiding usernames and identity. I do think it's important to track and expose identity within a thread, but that may be all. Then again maybe not even that.
0Rob Bensinger8yWe could assign random usernames to each person in each thread, which are held constant within but not between threads. I'm not sure how useful that would be, or how much it would erode the general anonymity benefits. It depends on how the forum is structured; if individual threads tend to be very long then preserving identity within threads will carry similar risks to nonymity in general.

I only have two kinds of political discussions now:

  1. Pure trolling for emotional catharsis
  2. Finding a way to evade the political part of the issue (in other words, if you're concerned about making medical care cheaper, can I think of a way to help you achieve your goal that doesn't require anyone to vote a particular way?)

The second is, I sincerely believe, the best way for us non-politicians to solve problems. The first is something I just kind of like doing. It's pure hate and I don't pretend it's anything else.

I'm curious what you mean by "well-meaning troll". The way I use the word, a "troll" is someone who posts for the enjoyment of disrupting discussions, pissing people off, or wasting people's time and making them look foolish. As such, "well-meaning troll" is an oxymoron.

5thomblake9yBasically, the posts were exactly what a troll would post, but I get the impression they were not posted by way of trollish intentions. Since consequences are what matters, 'troll' is still a good description. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is useful to refer to "that duck" even if you think it's not a duck. It is actually a cleverly-disguised kitten with a speech impediment.
5Nornagest9yThis probably isn't what the OP means by it, but I've encountered a number of trolls who justified, or rationalized, their trolling by claiming to act as a counter to groupthink, or as predators in the ecosystem of ideas, or as some kind of Socratic gadfly. It's up to you how much you want to trust those claims, but they are arguably altruistic and do seem consistent with the definition you offer.
0lessdazed9yWould the sentence "As such, "well-meaning troll" is an oxymoron by definition," have a different meaning than what you wrote?
2fubarobfusco9yYes, it would. My intent was to present my definition and ask what one the poster was using, since it clearly differed.

In general, I am extremely suspicious of claims that things are just fine the way they are. But this is one of those cases where I'm in that color.

A recent series of posts by a well-meaning troll

Doesn't this summarize lots of good reasons to keep imposing sharp costs on politics talk at Less Wrong? Looking at that guy's comment history makes me want to be even more aggressive at keeping it elsewhere.

1Solvent9yYeah, but the guy was obviously an idiot, and everyone could have easily just ignored him, and he got downvoted into oblivion. If the experienced members of the site generally don't post about politics, then the people who post about politics are less likely to be sensible, coherent, and/or intelligent.
5JGWeissman9yIn my experience, when everyone could ignore an obvious idiot/troll who get downvoted into oblivion, some people don't actually ignore it, and low quality discussion ensues. Unless a group is highly coordinated, it doesn't seem useful ask what the group could do, what actions are available to the group. The group is not an coherent agent that considers its available actions and chooses one. You could ask usefully what a group member could do, but then the actions of other group members are a fact about the environment, there is no "could" about it.
2Vladimir_Nesov9yI follow the policy of downvoting replies to worthless comments, regardless of replies' quality. More people following this policy would quench the worthless discussions of that kind.

I don't see what the win from more discussion of politics is. Your vote doesn't count. Get over it. We have higher return things to attend to.

1J_Taylor9yWell, I really think it would be cool to have a thread about optimal political opinions. That is, how to optimize one's opinions for signaling purposes.

I had been thinking about making the same suggestion. Some pros of a politics thread include:

  • Having a place to take the long subthreads on politically-charged topics that sometimes inevitably arise by topic drift on other posts, making LW a more pleasant experience for politics-allergic readers.

  • A place to test whether our rationalist skills are up to the task of discussing mind-killing topics in a non-mind-killing way.

  • Some would enjoy the possibility of discussing political topics in a "rational" atmosphere (truth-searching, not us-vs-them

... (read more)

I would rather see politics at LW done in a way that playfully respects the complications that are obvious, and ends up doing something surprising and hopefully awesome. Let me see if I can develop this a bit...

Imagine starting with a pool of people who think their brains are turbo-charged and who "enjoy the possibility of discussing political topics in a 'rational' atmosphere (truth-searching, not us-vs-them, aware of biases and fallibility, etc.)". If they're really actually rational, you'd kind of expect them to be able to do things like Aum... (read more)

2Vaniver9yThe reason why I am not optimistic about this sort of thing is because many people know someone clever who has radically different political opinions from them, and they often talk about politics quite a bit. So those sort of Aumann updates often happen, but they often end at a stance like "we both understand each other's opinions of the facts, but have different value systems, and so disagree" or something like "we both assign the same likelihood ratio to evidence, but have very different priors."
4JenniferRM9yI guess my thought was that LWers are likely to think that its possible to implement values incoherently (ie correctably), and so might have much more to say (and learn) other than your average "clever person". Scope neglect, cognitive dissonance, etc, etc. My guess would be that really solid rationalists might turn out to disagree with each other over really deep values, like one being primarily selfish and sadistic while another has lots of empathy and each can see that each has built a personal narrative around such tendencies, but I wouldn't expect them to disagree, for example, over whether someone was really experiencing pain or not. I wouldn't expect them to get bogged down in a hairsplitting semantic claim about whether a particular physical entity "counts as a person" for the sake of a given moral code. And "we just have different priors" usually actually means "that would take too long to explain" from what I can tell. Pretty much all of us started out as babies, and most of us have more or less the same sensory apparatus and went through Piaget's stages and so on and so forth. Taking that common starting point and "all of life" as the evidence, it seems likely that differences in opinion could take days or weeks or months of discussion to resolve, rather than 10 minutes of rhetorical hand waving. I saw an evangelical creationist argued into direct admission that creationism is formally irrational once, but it took the rationalist about 15 hours over the course of several days to do (and that topic is basically a slam dunk). I wouldn't expect issues that are legitimately fuzzy [http://lesswrong.com/lw/gz/policy_debates_should_not_appear_onesided] and emotionally fraught to be dramatically easier than that was. ...spelling this out, it seems likely to me that being someone's aumann chavutra could involve substantially more intellectual intimacy than most people are up for. Perhaps it would be good to have some kind of formal non-disclosure contract or s
0torekp9yAll of our lives, or even a month of it, probably imparted to us far more evidence than we could explain to each other in a month of discussion. The trouble is that much of the learning got lodged in memory regions that are practically inaccessible to the verbal parts of our brains. I can't define Xs and you can't define Ys, but we know them when we see them. "We just have different priors" is probably not the best way to describe these cognitive differences - I agree with you there. But we could still be at a loss to verbally reason our way through them.
1JenniferRM9yI don't think people have any sort of capacity to fully describe their entire audio/video experience in full resolution, but if you think about the real barriers to more limited communication I predict that you'll be able to imagine plausible attempts to circumvent these barriers for the specific purpose of developing a model of a particular real world domain in common with someone with enough precision to derive similar strategic conclusions in limited domains. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but my impression is that this is what extensive definitions [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extension_%28semantics%29] and rationalist taboo [http://lesswrong.com/lw/nu/taboo_your_words/] are for: the first to inspire words and the second to trim away confusing connotations that already adhere to the words people have started to use. The procedure for handling the apparently incommensurable "know it when I see it" concepts of each party is thus to coin new words in private for the sake of the conversation, master the common vocabulary, and then communicate while using these new terms and see if the reasonable predictions of the novel common understanding square with observable reality. A lot of times I expect that each person will turn out to have been somewhat confused, perhaps by committing a kind of fallacy of equivocation [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivocation] due to lumping genuinely distinct things under the same "know it when I see it" concept, which (in the course of the conversation) could be converted to a single word and explored thoroughly enough to detect the confusion, perhaps suggesting the need for more refined sub-concepts that "cut reality at the joints" [http://lesswrong.com/lw/o0/where_to_draw_the_boundary]. When I think of having a conversation with a skilled rationalist, I expect them to be able to deploy these sorts of skills on the most important seeming source of disagreement, rather than having to fall back to "agreeing to disagree". They migh

It might be that my current opinion is skewed by the present political situation in my country (Italy). I haven't enough knowlegde of foreign internal politics to judge if the italian situation is typical or not, brief conversations with foreign people on the subject suggest it's worse than in the average developed countries, but not that much. To the point.

There's one main problem of talking about politics: that it doesn't work like it should work, and there's little way to collect enough information to produce a good model of the reality. In practice: po... (read more)

1thomblake9yCertainly skewed by looking at Italy, but most of what you're talking about would be familiar to cynics anywhere. But "politics is the mind-killer" is more about the tribal affiliation aspects of associating oneself with a party.
1Cthulhoo9yThis is, in my opinion, a consequence of what I wrote above. You can't properly evaluate politicians and parties and you can't reliably predict their behavior, so you end up reacting emotionally and attaching yourself to one of the "teams". If you could reliably predict what a party will do if it wins the election, then you could evaluate and discuss the precise program without being "mind-killed". Since you generally cannot, you end up cheering for one of the team that you somewhat feel is more or less aligned with your position.

I would like there to be a politics open thread. I don't know how it would be for the health of the forum in general, but I think I would enjoy reading it.

0Nectanebo9yBecause of the issues with the health of the forum, I am not sure if I support a politics open thread, but I definitely think that I would enjoy reading it, and that latter thought only materialized into words after reading your comment. Thanks.

For what it's worth, I think that the realm of politics could be a great way to make discussions that need to be driven by truth-seeking and not tribal loyalties, give good opportunities to watch and guard against balance, and provides an opportunity to carefully calibrate confidence. I can see all the reasons why people (including me) couldn't handle it because we're not ideally rational, but if there was any discussion that gave LessWrong the ability to walk the talk and raise the sanity waterline, that discussion would be politics.

This is not likely to be implemented easily here. When I looked at the poll it was around 20 for and 20 against having a politics open thread.

What could be done easily is start a subreddit lesswrongpoliticsbeta and if there did happen to be a great discussion on some topic ongoing there then put a pointer to it in the discussion sections here.