Missing Alliances

Eliezer Yudkowsky writes:

It is a non-so-hidden agenda of this site, Less Wrong, that there are many causes which benefit from the spread of rationality – because it takes a little more rationality than usual to see their case, as a supporter, or even just a supportive bystander.  Not just the obvious causes like atheism, but things like marijuana legalization … If the supporters of other causes are enlightened enough to think similarly…

Then all the causes which benefit from spreading rationality, can, perhaps, have something in the way of standardized material to which to point their supporters – a common task, centralized to save effort – and think of themselves as spreading a little rationality on the side. … Atheism has very little to do directly with marijuana legalization, but if both atheists and anti-Prohibitionists are willing to step back a bit and say a bit about the general, abstract principle of confronting a discomforting truth that interferes with a fine righteous tirade, then both atheism and marijuana legalization pick up some of the benefit from both efforts.

So is there a workable natural alliance between more-rational-than-average folks?  Consider two related but unpopular alliances:

Extremists – People who hold extreme views seem to have a common cause in persuading others that central/conventional views are less reliable than they may seem; they agree outsiders deserve more chances to prove themselves without being dismissed just for holding extreme views.

Folks Who Think They'd Win Bets – People who think their views will eventually be vindicated seem to have a common cause in promoting the creation of, use of, and deference to betting markets; they expect market odds to discount opponents who deep down know their arguments are weak.

My experience is that such alliance members are seen as low status, making others reluctant to join them.  Since on average crazy folks tend to be more attracted to extreme views than sane folks, most kinds of extremists try to distance themselves from other kinds.  And since on average lowbrow folks find open betting markets and track records more engaging, most elite-aspiring intellectuals avoid open betting markets and forecast track records.  I conclude that the proposed alliance of rational folks will only fly if can find a way for its members to be seen as high, not low, status.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as:
Trackback URL:
  • Unnamed

    Another link between rationalist causes is that rationalists will tend to approve of each other’s causes. One rationalist’s Favorite Project might be something other than marijuana legalization, but he’s still likely to think that legalization is a good idea. That makes it a easier for him to ally with legalization supporters in spreading rationality, since rationality gains that get channeled to legalization aren’t completely wasted in his eyes. Extremists don’t have this connection – they’re more likely to disapprove of each other’s causes (since extremist causes are generally disapproved of). And Folks Who Think They’d Win Bets should be about neutral, on average, about the causes supported by other such folks.

  • frelkins

    And since on average lowbrow folks find bets and track records more engaging, most elite-aspiring intellectuals avoid bets

    What – has no one here ever met an English gentleman? The Harrovians and Old Etonians live to this day by the honor of the Gentleman’s Bet. Even if the stakes are only a token bottle of Scotch, the real currency is respect, which matters immensely to these folks.

    I’m still with Caplan – a real scholar and a true gentleperson will bet. It’s the refusal to bet that calls your status into question. The refusal shows an unwillingness to stand behind your word, and a disbelief in the value of reputation as an honor currency.

  • Julian Morrison

    Those sound like forced examples. Compare the most well known coalitions of disparate folks (more or less) pulling together: the two main American political parties.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Julian, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that no coalitions every work.

    frelkins, I changed to wording from “bets” to “open betting markets.” Gentlemen may well respect bets with other gentlemen, but they are put off those willing to bet with just anyone.

    Unnamed, that seems right, but I don’t see that it makes the coalition much more feasible.

  • Mark Stoehr

    My guess is that the best chance for making intellectual bets high status is for the stakes to be large enough. I.e. when somebody makes, say, over a million dollars on a bet made in a prediction market then we will probably see more status conferred to such markets.

  • ShardPhoenix

    frelkins – there’s a difference between a token bet with implied 50-50 odds, which is usually only taken when both sides are fairly certain they’re right, and a sports-style bet where the magnitude of the disagreement is probably much less and so you only bet if you’re getting profitable odds.

    In other words, saying “I’ll bet you a bottle of scotch that (arbitrary proposition)” might be high-status in some circles, but arguing over whether the odds against some economic event happening should be offered as 9-1 or 10-1 is less likely to be seen in a positive light.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/robinhanson Robin Hanson

    Shard, I don’t think non 50/50 odds puts gentlemen off so much as betting with non-gentlemen. But yes betting non-cash is more comfortable than cash for them.

    Mark, million dollar lottery winners don’t make lotteries high status.

  • Cyan

    There’s no implication of skill when one wins the lottery. A better argument against Mark’s suggestion is that beating a prediction market by a significant amount tends to show that the winner did better at aggregating and processing information than the market did, so all the status accrues to the winner, not the market. There was a blogger who actually did this and blogged it for the past U.S. primary season, but I can’t find the link.

  • Grant

    I agree with Cyan. Top poker players who win a lot of money in big tournaments are often considered high-status. People who win at games of pure chance (slots?) are not.

    Ultimately I think its a marketing problem. Eventually the profit motive will win out, and betting markets will be used (or used more than they are now) in the production of private goods. If this lends creditability and status to the process, public and intellectual goods might come next.

  • ad

    I wonder if the most valuable use of betting markets would be pedagogical. If politican X proposes to use huge tariffs to “protect the nations economy”, arguments against the plan cannot easily be fitted into a soundbite and will be ignored by a rationally-ignorant voter.

    On the other hand, if you could point to the betting markets and say that the smart money thinks that this plan would hurt the nations economy, even the most rationally-ignorant voter might be persuaded.

  • D Bachmann

    I do not think that rationality somehow inherently boosts certain causes, not even its own. You use rationality to optimize the outcome of your chosen cause, but you cannot use it to pick your cause in the first place. The idea that “all rational people ought to agree” on something always implicitly presupposes a shared goal, such as, humanity, less suffering, world peace, increased general wellbeing, etc. I.e., causes that are widely shared, but not necessarily in themselves “rational” in any way.
    So, unless you are very clear on the goal you are trying to pursue rationally, no amount of rational thought is going to give you any directive on how to act.