The Prototypical Negotiation Game

Upvoted for providing an important deepening of the popular understanding of “Schelling point”

The feeling of breaking an Overton window

More generally, “portray yourself as an empathetic character” is a social skill I find myself using often. Basically copy the way the protagonists talk on This American Life, where even the ones who’ve done crazy things tell you their side of the story in such a way that you think “sure, I guess I can relate to that”.

The feeling of breaking an Overton window

If I reply with the naive factual response, “Yes I’m stocking up to prep for the virus”, and leave it at that, there’s a palpable awkwardness because all participants and witnesses in the conversation are at some level aware that this carries the subtext, “Yes I’m smartly taking action to protect myself from a big threat while you are ignorantly exposing yourself to danger”, which means a listener has to wonder if they’re stupid or I’m crazy. Even if the listener is curious and doesn’t take any offense to the conversation, they know that I’ve made a social error in steering the conversation to this awkward state, because it’s mutual knowledge that a savvy conversationalist needs to be aware of the first-order subtext of the naive factual response. The objective social tactlessness of my naive response provides valid evidence to update them toward me being the crazy one.

I think a more tactful response is, “Yeah, I know a lot of people say it’s not a big deal and I hope they’re right, but I think there’s enough risk that extra supplies might come in handy”.

If I first acknowledge and validate or “pace” the background beliefs of mainstream society, then it’s socially graceful to segue to answering with my honest beliefs. Now I’ve portrayed myself as an empathetic character, where any listener can follow my reasoning and see that it’s potentially valid, even if it doesn’t identically match theirs.

“PR” is corrosive; “reputation” is not.

What are some examples of good PR that’s reputation-like and bad PR that’s not? It’d be interesting to analyze a failed high-budget public PR campaign.

Quadratic, not logarithmic

A lot depends on what type of “interactions” we’re considering, and how uniform the distribution is: indoor/outdoor, masks on/off, etc. If we assume that all interactions are of the identical type, then the quadratic model is useful.

But in a realistic scenario, they’re probably not identical interactions, because the 100 interactions probably divide across different life contexts, e.g. 5 different gatherings with 20 interactions each.

Therefore, contrary to what this post seems to imply, I believe the heuristic of “I’ve already interacted with 99 people so I’m not going to go out of my way to avoid 1 more” is directionally correct in most real-life scenarios, because of the Pareto (80/20) principle.

In a realistic scenario, you can probably model the cause of your risk as having one or two dominant factors, and modeling the dominant factors probably doesn’t look different when adding one marginal interaction, unless that interaction is the disproportionally risky one compared to the others.

On the other hand, when going from 0 to 1 interactions, it’s more plausible to imagine that this 1 interaction is one of the most dominant risk factors in your life, because it has a better shot of changing your model of dominant risks.

Technological stagnation: Why I came around

“Go into a room and subtract off all of the screens. How do you know you’re not in 1973, but for issues of design?”

At least if you’re in an average grocery store, you can tell it’s the 2000s from the greatly improved food selection

Covid 1/14: To Launch a Thousand Shipments

Another amazing post. How long does each of these take you to make? Seems like it would be a full-time job.

The Power to Teach Concepts Better

Thanks :) Hmm I think all I can point you to is this tweet.

The Power to Demolish Bad Arguments

I <3 Specificity

For years, I've been aware of myself "activating my specificity powers" multiple times per day, but it's kind of a lonely power to have. "I'm going to swivel my brain around and ride it in the general→specific direction. Care to join me?" is not something you can say in most group settings. It's hard to explain to people that I'm not just asking them to be specific right now, in this one context. I wish I could make them see that specificity is just this massively under-appreciated cross-domain power. That's why I wanted this sequence to exist.

I gratuitously violated a bunch of important LW norms

  1. As Kaj insightfully observed last year, choosing Uber as the original post's object-level subject made it a political mind-killer.
  2. On top of that, the original post's only role model of a specificity-empowered rationalist was this repulsive "Liron" character who visibly got off on raising his own status by demolishing people's claims.

Many commenters took me to task on the two issues above, as well as raising other valid issues, like whether the post implies that specificity is always the right power to activate in every situation.

The voting for this post was probably a rare combination: many upvotes, many downvotes, and presumably many conflicted non-voters who liked the core lesson but didn't want to upvote the norm violations. I'd love to go back in time and launch this again without the double norm violation self-own.

I'm revising it

Today I rewrote a big chunk of my dialogue with Steve, with the goal of making my character a better role model of a LessWrong-style rationalist, and just being overall more clearly explained. For example, in the revised version I talk about how asking Steve to clarify his specific point isn't my sneaky fully-general argument trick to prove that Steve's wrong and I'm right, but rather, it's taking the first step on the road to Double Crux.

I also changed Steve's claim to be about a fictional company called Acme, instead of talking about the politically-charged Uber.

I think it's worth sharing

Since writing this last year, I've received a dozen or so messages from people thanking me and remarking that they think about it surprisingly often in their daily lives. I'm proud to help teach the world about specificity on behalf of the LW community that taught it to me, and I'm happy to revise this further to make it something we're proud of.

The Power to Demolish Bad Arguments

Ok I finally made this edit. Wish I did it sooner!

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