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Most forms of signalling fall into one of two categories - "ability" signalling and "commitment" signalling. (Not all forms of signalling - e.g. wealth - fall easily into one of these, but I think the distinction is a useful one). The clearest example of ability signalling is Bryan Caplan's model of education - you go through a rigmarole in order to demonstrate intelligence, which employers look at when choosing employees. Engagement rings are a form of commitment signalling.

The whole point of a commitment signal is that it is costly to the signaller - it is a sacrifice which would be utterly senseless if one were not committed to a particular course of action. Hence banks building expensive buildings that mean they're attached to a particular location; people from minority groups taking the time to learn languages which will not allow them to communicate with anyone outside the group; etc. Ability signalling, on the other hand, need not involve any such sacrifice for the signaller. Rather, it should be difficult or expensive for people who do not possess the trait being signalled; for those who do possess it, the cheaper the signal is the better! Hence the value of a degree is not that you found it difficult to get a top grade, but that someone of lower intelligence could not have done so (except perhaps with extremely hard work).

(One consequence of this: taxing commitment signals doesn't necessarily harm the signaller, but taxing ability signals does.)

So ability signalling should be cheap to the signaller, commitment signalling expensive to the signaller, and both can involve costs to society (through wasted resources and through the weakening of other people's signals). Weakening of other people's signals is perhaps (?) inevitable, and the whole point of a commitment signal is to be expensive to the signaller. This suggests that ways to improve the efficiency of signalling should include at least two categories: reducing wasted resources from commitment signalling, and making it cheaper to signal ability.

Philanthropy is a mixture of wealth signalling (which I lack a good model for - intuitively it feels more like an ability, but seems to function more like a commitment) and commitment signalling (giving money away only makes sense if one cares about other people, or at least about other people's opinions of oneself). Most of your suggestions fall into the category of reducing wasted resources; the exception is your idea of increasing on-the-job assessments as a way of reducing the need for higher education, which it seems to me is more about making ability-signalling cheaper.

Can we differentiate between "Atheists ought logically to be moral nihilists" and "If you are an atheist, you are necessarily a moral nihilist" ? I take you to mean the second of these, which is indeed plainly false.

The first of these statements is not obviously false. It is (epistemically) possible that there are no good non-religious grounds for moral realism (which is not to say that there are good religious grounds for it either). That said, I do wonder if Robertson actually believes it. If he ceased to believe in God, would he really start behaving "immorally" whenever it turned out to be in his self-interest?

Separate question which we should probably have a community policy on: should the existence of these alternative comment threads be mentioned at SSC? On the one hand, assuming we do succeed in getting high-quality discussion going on here, it would be good for people to be able to read it. On the other hand, if the average SSC commenter starts reading the LW-based threads then they may well start commenting here and thus drag the level of comments here down to the level of SSC. (Third alternative for consideration: mention the existence of these threads at SSC, but specifically ask people not to come over here to comment?)


Taken. Looking forward to seeing the results!

I listened to the audiobook of Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics" over the summer and would recommend it. (That said, I got it while it was on offer and it appears to be rather more expensive now).

I don't know if you are also interested in podcasts, but in case you are I would recommend The Sequences (via Castify) in general, and possibly other things depending upon your personal interests.

I'm not aware of any complete compilations of his fiction in one place; that said, you can presumably find most of it by going through the "fiction" tag on SSC, the fiction section of his website and the fiction tag on his old LiveJournal.

Motor homes might well make more sense for this. The reason I came to this view is that I like canals and so houseboating seemed like a pleasant idea; at around the same time, I read this NY Times piece suggesting that home ownership is not necessarily a good thing. Houseboating seemed like a way of dealing with that; motorhomes simply didn't occur to me as a (probably better) alternative.

Indeed. I would in principle be willing to apply a similar argument to RVs, but (since living in an RV holds no aesthetic appeal for me, whereas houseboating does) I am rather less aware of what the logistics would be like.

Where I live there is an abundance of canals. "Most people" is perhaps an exaggeration, but the main points in defence of increased houseboating would be:

(1) a house is a large, expensive, immobile and illiquid asset. A houseboat is rather less expensive, which frees up capital for other purposes.
(2) the internet makes it less necessary for most people to live in cities.
(3) there would be less costs associated with moving between different areas.


[Please read the OP before voting. Special voting rules apply.]

It would be of significant advantage to the world if most people started living on houseboats.

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