Jul 21, 2019

ITT in the wild

Although Caplan's ideological turing test (a) is a live meme in some of the circles I traffic in, it's rare to see examples of it in the wild.

But a lovely one occurred last week! I was delighted to come across it.

Reproduced in full below.

Raemon's attempt:

Let me know how this sounds as an ITT:

Thinking and building a life for yourself

Much of civilization (and the rationalsphere as a subset of it and/or memeplex that's influenced and constrained by it) is generally pointed in the wrong direction. This has many facets, many of which reinforce each other. Society tends to:

  • Schools systematically teach people to associate reason with listening-to/pleasing-teachers, or moving-words-around unconnected from reality. (Order of the Soul)
  • Society systematically pushing people to live apart from each other, to work until they need (or believe they need) palliatives, in a way that doesn't give you space to think. (Sabbath Hard and Go Home)
  • Relatedly, society provides structure that incentivizes you to advance in arbitrary hierarchy, or to tread water and barely stay afloat, without reflection of what you actually want.

By contrast, for much of history, there was a much more direct connection between what you did, how you thought, and how your own life was bettered. If you wanted a nicer home, you built a nicer home. This came with many overlapping incentive structures reinforced something closer to living healthily and generating real value.

(I'm guessing a significant confusion was me seeing this whole section as only moderately connected rather than central to the other sections.)

We desperately need clarity

There's a collection of pressures, in many-but-not-all situations, to keep both facts and decision-making principles obfuscated, and to warp language in a way that enables that. This is often part of an overall strategy (sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious) to maneuver groups for personal gain.

It's important to be able to speak plainly about forces that obfuscate. It's important to lean fully into clarity and plainspeak, not just taking marginal steps towards it, both because clear language is very powerful intrinsically, and there's a sharp dropoff as soon as ambiguity leaks in (moving the conversation to higher simulacrum levels, at which point it's very hard to recover clarity)

[Least confident] The best focus is on your own development, rather than optimizing systems or other people

Here I become a lot less confident. This is my attempt to summarize whatever's going on in our disagreement about my "When coordinating at scale, communicating has to reduce gracefully to about 5 words" thing. I had an impression that this seemed deeply wrong, confusing, or threatening to you. I still don't really understand why. But my best guesses include:

  • This is putting the locus of control in the group, at a moment-in-history where the most important thing is reasserting individual agency and thinking for yourself (because many groups are doing the wrong-things listed above)
  • Insofar as group coordination is a lens to be looked through, it's important that groups a working in a way that respects everyone's agency and ability to think (to avoid falling into some of the failure modes associated with the first bullet point), and simplifying your message so that others can hear/act on it is part of an overall strategy that is causing harm
  • Possibly a simpler "people can and should read a lot and engage with more nuanced models, and most of the reason you might think that they can't is because school and hierarchical companies warped your thinking about that?"

And then, in light of all that, something is off with my mood when I'm engaging with individual pieces of that, because I'm not properly oriented around the other pieces?

Does that sound right? Are there important things left out or gotten wrong?

Benquo's response:

This sounds really, really close. Thanks for putting in the work to produce this summary!

I think my objection to the 5 Words post fits a pattern where I've had difficulty expressing a class of objection. The literal content of the post wasn't the main problem. The main problem was the emphasis of the post, in conjunction with your other beliefs and behavior.

It seemed like the hidden second half of the core claim was "and therefore we should coordinate around simpler slogans," and not the obvious alternative conclusion "and therefore we should scale up more carefully, with an uncompromising emphasis on some aspects of quality control." (See On the Construction of Beacons for the relevant argument.)

It seemed to me like there was some motivated ambiguity on this point. The emphasis seemed to consistently recommend public behavior that was about mobilization rather than discourse, and back-channel discussions among well-connected people (including me) that felt like they were more about establishing compatibility than making intellectual progress. This, even though it seems like you explicitly agree with me that our current social coordination mechanisms are massively inadequate, in a way that (to me obviously) implies that they can't possibly solve FAI.

I felt like if I pointed this kind of thing out too explicitly, I'd just get scolded for being uncharitable. I didn't expect, however, that this scolding would be accompanied by an explanation of what specific, anticipation-constraining, alternative belief you held. I've been getting better at pointing out this pattern (e.g. my recent response to habryka) instead of just shutting down due to a preverbal recognition of it. It's very hard to write a comment like this one clearly and without extraneous material, especially of a point-scoring or whining nature. (If it were easy I'd see more people writing things like this.)

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