Like other rationalists, I’ve written about the dangers inherent in our instincts for tribalism. Unlike other rationalists, I think that instead of being suppressed tribalism should be indulged in a productive manner. That’s why I take a couple of hours each week, alone or with friends, to scream at a TV showing some sports game that involves Carolina, Tottenham or the Philadelphia Eagles.

So there I was on Saturday as the Eagles went into a playoff game against the Falcons as 3.5 point underdogs. Philadelphia had the best team in the league for most of the season, but in week 14 their star player Carson Wentz tore his ACL on a meaningless play and was replaced by Nick Foles, a loveable goofball whose career was so up-and-down-and-down-and-down that he considered retiring from football at age 26.

Foles, who hasn’t practiced with the rest of the Eagles’ first-string offense, played poorly in the last three weeks of the regular season. Every preview of the upcoming playoff game talked about the Eagles having to run the ball, pass conservatively, and win with their defense, given how unlikely it was that Foles could play well.

The game started, and Nick Foles dropped back to attempt his first playoff pass in four years. But instead of dumping the ball for a short pass, Foles launched a 42-yard bomb as if he were a battle-tested superstar.

The pass missed the receiver by ten feet.

And the thing I screamed at the TV was: “Yes! That’s how you f%#&ing do it!!!”

Continue reading on Putanumonit.

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3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:34 AM

Excellent content, would be even beter in a shorter post.

As a 5-minute exercise, I'm coming up with some more examples:

  • assume that you can make progress on AI alignment
  • or at least, assume that there is some way in which you can contribute to saving the world
  • run fast enough to win the race, even if it means you won't make it to the finish
  • assume you will earn enough money to survive while doing things you care about
  • assume the brain of the person who stopped breathing is still alive
  • sign up for cryonics
  • assume your epistemology is good enough to ignore "common sense" and not be crazy
  • assume your readers like your writing
  • assume your readers like your writing enough so that there's really nothing you need to prove to anyone anymore
  • assume you don't need to prove your worth to other people
  • assume your best ideas will be understood

I'd like to know more about the argument for why tribalism should be indulged rather than surppressed. Anyone got any good links for the topic?

I know that in psychology almost nothing replicates, but it seems likely to me that most attempts at suppressing emotions lead to either their occassional outbursts, or mere denial. An archetypal example would be a person screaming with red face about how they are not angry -- that seems obviously harmful, even more so for a wannabe rationalist. On the other hand, if you redirect your anger into e.g. exercising, you can improve your health.

If people could reliably turn off their tribalism by pressing a button... I guess I would still have some doubts about turning off something that has an obvious evolutionary purpose... but I would be okay with other people doing potentially harmful experiments on themselves. But seems to me that when people e.g. avoid expressing membership in the rationalist tribe (sometimes proclaiming that they want to keep their identity small), what usually happens is that they already identify as members of some other tribe, and understand that double membership would create a few conflicts. It would be more honest to admit that, though.

But if you know that your brain is designed to create strong feelings about this or that tribe, and that those feelings can e.g. motivate you to overcome akrasia and do stuff that is approved by given tribe, you might harness that power by choosing a tribe whose goals appeal to you. Please understand that I am not saying that you should maximize the feelings of tribalism, or anything like that. Instead, simply accept that they exist, and choose a useful channel for them to flow in, as opposed to letting them find their own channels.