Extremists Compete

Extremists hold extreme views, and struggle to persuade others of their views, or even to get them to engage such views. Since most people are not extremists, you might think extremists focus mostly on persuading non-extremists. If so, they should have a common cause in getting ordinary people to think outside the usual boxes. They should want to join together to say that the usual views tend to gain from conformity pressures, and that such views are held overconfidently.

But in fact extremists don’t seem interested in joining together to support extremism. While each individual extremist tends to hold multiple extreme views, extremists groups go out of their way to distance themselves from other extremist groups. Not only do they often hate close cousins who they see as having betrayed their cause, they are also hostile to extremists groups on orthogonal topics.

This all makes sense if, as I’ve suggested, there are extremist personality types. Extremist groups have a better chance of attracting these types to their particular sort of extremism, relative to persuading ordinary folks to adopt  extreme views.

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  • solipsist

    > This all makes sense if, as I’ve suggested, there is an extremist personality type.

    I wouldn’t count extremists’ mutual antagonism as evidence for a common extremist personality type. Mutual antagonism is even better explained by dissimilar personality types.

  • efalken

    I dunno. The things I have extreme beliefs on I find best to keep to myself. Most people who agree with you on some subject agree for different reasons, and given the extreme nature of the belief (by assumption), one finds that your fellow believers on these issues are moon-bat crazy zealots, not fellow travelers who agree that evidence x supports improbable belief y. I would like to converse with fellow believers in y (due to evidence x), but I have no interest in conversing with people who believe improbable things because it’s in their constitution.

    But then, I have no interest in changing the world on these issues. They are just fun to contemplate.

    • Ken Arromdee

      I think this brings up a larger point: Extremists will consist of two groups: those who hold extreme views for personality-related reasons, or those who hold extreme views because of normal logical processes. You’re just not going to be able to generalize about extremists without realizing that there are two separate kinds.

      The best places to observe this are in the past–groups such as atheists 100 years ago or believers in gay marriage 50 years ago would have had sizable components who were extremists for reasons other than zealotry (although even those who didn’t become extremists out of zealotry probably ended up more zealous than they’d otherwise be).

      • STINKY

        Not to get lowbrow, but I’m reminded of that episode of “South Park” where Mrs. Garrison is shown to be a bellicose religious bigot, until Richard Dawkins shows the slightest bit of compassionate romantic interest in her, at which point she immediately pivots and becomes a bellicose atheist bigot.

  • Tom

    As you have defined it, extremist means holding opinion(s) different from the majority. It makes sense that such people will hold more than one “different” opinion because they have probably found a significant error in the majority opinion. Why should people like that want to join a group about it? Where is your evidence that they “hate close cousins”? The idea that people have discreet or enduring “personalities” at all is dubious (or trivial). The existence of an “extremist personality type” seems even more dubious. People with differing views are often smart and can see more than one error in majority views.

    • brendan_r

      “The idea that people have discreet or enduring “personalities” at all is dubious (or trivial).”

      Tom, “enduring” is a pretty vague word, but by any meaning I can think of (innate, or correlated across time?) your claim is absurd.

      • Tom

        Personality only correlates across time based on simplified questionnaires that are based on other questionnaires. “Personality” has little more basis in fact than zodiac signs. It’s a cultural belief that people reinforce because it’s a cultural belief. Basically a tautology for important traits and a trivial for others. It’s a highly misleading concept which does more harm than good. Indeed, Robin’s post illustrates the silliness of the notion. One could as easily argue that most tourists have “extreme personalities” when in culturally different countries. Or that Robin will have an “extreme personality” if he travels to North Korea.

      • brendan_r

        Each of your sentences is a slightly different claim, each sort of inconsistent with the others. A perfect set-up for playing whack-a-mole as they’re knocked down. Which makes sense since you’re claiming personality doesn’t exist!

        “Personality only correlates across time based on simplified questionnaires that are based on other questionnaires.”

        Among people with several adult children, I wonder if a single one in the entire world would agree with you.

  • brendan_r

    Tom is right: if you become convinced that conventional wisdom is wildly, mindbogglingly wrong in a particular domain, it affects how you see everything.

    I’ll just be blunt: In addition to libertarians, futurists, and rationalists, Robin’s blog is read by a cluster of “race realists” (these four groups overlap to varying degrees). Among race realists, yes, there’s the *innate personality* extremists as described by Robin: they’re gold-bugs, they’re monarchists, they’re basically anti-conventional wisdom across the board, they even use weird words.

    But there’s a large swath of “race realists” that (anecdotal) seem perfectly normal. Yeah, they’re skeptical of much conventional wisdom, but my sense is it stems NOT from anything innate, but from what Tom describes: rational skepticism stemming from experience.

    And they get along just fine and seem to enjoy cooperating.

    I guess my point is Robin’s generalization is too broad.

    [Might the OCEAN taxonomy handle the personality aspect of this? Extroversion+Disagreeableness=Extremism]


    “This all makes sense if, as I’ve suggested, there is an extremist personality type.”

    Well yeah, that’s precisely what it is, a personality type. It’s never a 50-year old dull housewife that reads a pamphlet and then becomes an extremist (well unless you tell her she’ll burn in hell if she doesn’t).

    • What do you call Sarah Palin?

      But, seriously, U.S. Tea Party extremists seem often to have been formerly nonideological, even apolitical.

      • IMASBA

        “But, seriously, U.S. Tea Party extremists seem often to have been formerly nonideological, even apolitical.”

        Only on the outside: these people usually already were very socially conservative and vulnerable to old-testament citations.

      • Well, yeah, but that doesn’t favor an extremist personality type. What the Tea Party illustrates is people not noted for their extremism becoming extremist because of the interaction between culture and new exigencies (here, the Great Recession). Folks gravitating to positions according with their cultural values is
        the opposite for evidence for a general extremist personality type.

        I don’t perceive that extremists generally aim to convert other extremists–or that it’s easier to than to convert moderates. In the 60s in the United States, the “extremist” left of the time aimed at liberals, not other leftists, certainly not rightists. By personal observation regarding the far left, people who join one tendency tend to remain with them, not join other far-leftists, certainly not the right.

        Robin seems to be generalizing from a certain rarified intellectual contrarianism to “extremism” in general.

      • brendan_r

        “Robin seems to be generalizing from a certain rarified intellectual contrarianism to “extremism” in general.”

        Agreed, and I think the problem is general. I think IQ (or something like IQ) confounds personality categorization.

        For example, disagreeableness manifests starkly different in low IQ populations vs. high ones. Dumb Disagreeables perceive non-existent personal slights everywhere they look. But Smart Disagreeables compose LessWrong and Robin’s readership. I’d guess the correlation between disagreeableness and rationality is negative at low IQ, positive at high IQ.

        Is disagreeableness a useful personality construct if it predicts such different behavior in different IQ strata?

        I think this relates to what Ken said:

        “Extremists will consist of two groups: those who hold extreme views for personality-related reasons, or those who hold extreme views because of normal logical processes.”

      • IMASBA

        It’s a combination of multiple things: political “activation” of people who grew up with what are today considered extremist ideas and (ab)using the threat of eternal hellfire or feeding people conspiracy theories (ie. making it look like extremists are actually the norm, so people with normal personalities will support extremists without even knowing it). But there’s a sizeable core of people who really were already extremist and knew it, they just weren’t active politically. With younger people you can really see they have certain personalities (they’re not all the same), no matter their affilitiation.

      • Ideas are comprised of sub-ideas. Rarely do humans insist on correctness among all sub-ideas. By allowing social intolerance (social conservatism) to contaminate the “conservative” ideology, (whose only legitimate part might be called “consistent fiscal conservatism”), the initial libertarians who began the Tea Party were overwhelmed by larger numbers of people who didn’t have the same intellectual capacity or desire for consistency and morality.

        Thus did “social conservatism’s” inclusion under the banner of “conservatism” destroy the movement. We already have a socially-intolerant big government. Therefore, what the Tea Party is fighting for is internally self-contradictory.

        The sociopathic socialists who run the USA love it when they are opposed by ineffectually ask for both big government and small government at the same time. This means they can either give them the bad things they want, or condemn the good things they want without fear of repercussions. If they choose to condemn the good things they want, they can do so by associating those good things with the bad things they want.

        This is how Ted Cruz defeats individual freedom while claiming to fight on its behalf. I saw him speak at a few “Lincoln Reagan” dinners in Texas, and he condemned the Democrats for gun control and failing to enforce the drug laws in the same speech.

        He’s “a special kind of stupid,” like the other Tea Partiers, who don’t realize that 100% of their legitimacy is libertarianism, and everything else is pure big-government fascism.

  • Eliezer Yudkowsky

    I have tried to offer general, cause-neutral training in evaluating contrarian ideas for correctness, and I have espoused that all correct contrarians should have a common and centralized interest in teaching those skills.

    • And the prediction is that the demand for this will be small, relative to the expected demand under the other theory of extremists.

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky

        Is that the same as hypothesizing that correct contrarians are rare relative to contrarians, or is it saying that correct contrarians are forged of 90% contraryness and at most 10% correctness?

      • I think I’m suggesting both – that some people just like to be contrarian, and while they might also like to be correct, for most that second effect is weaker.

      • I agree that this is very generally true, but then this is just generally a complaint that “most people are stupid” and/or “most ideas are not communicated in complete and consistent form, due to the limits of human comprehension and language.” Also: as noted above, it may be necessary for people to be contrarians (nonconformist) in order for them to find correct information that leads them to become “correct contrarians.” Doug Casey is one such “correct contrarian.”

      • It’s important to ask “At what hierarchical level?” is someone “correct.”

        Religious people frequently defend the free market using god as their top philosophical level of defense. The reasons for this are varied: perhaps they have an intuitive (perhaps non-language-based, visually-oriented or model-based) grasp of economics, and the morality of economics that prohibit theft, but they can’t formulate it into a cogent argument. Yet, in terms of “what are you willing to forcefully defend?” “economic freedom” is one thing that is of utmost importance. So, they say “god wants economic freedom,” –which negates their having to draw the image in their mind of emergent systemic wealth creation. That being the case, they actually correctly identify the thing of utmost importance, and they successfully defend the thing of utmost importance (because the network of lesser thinkers is impacted by their reasoning), even if they do so with incorrect reasoning.

        One of the first values necessary to be a “correct contrarian” is being willing to risk the outrage, condemnation, scorn, derision, sarcasm, and dismissal of one’s ideas. Ie: It’s important to have the bravery to be contrarian, in order to get to the “promised land” of “correct contrarianism.” Those who survive this filter then occupy the “contrary ideas” space in society. This places them near to other “contrarians,” many of whom may have found their way into that space for moral reasons. Thus, at the core of the person who is morally outraged and reasons out the cause of his moral outrage, and at the core of the person who is morally outraged and can’t comprehend the causes of the conditions that caused his outrage, there are two contrarians whose moral outrage caused them to be contrarians. A few things can happen from that point: The one who is more logical can explain the situation to the one who has substituted rationalizations for his lack of explanatory ability. Or, The one who is more invested in his prior rationalizations can defeat the rational explanation with sophistry.

        Because nearly all ideas are made up of component ideas, various permutations and combinations of the prior are also possible, and likely.

        For example: There were religious people whose belief that returning Fugitive Slaves was wrong, who were motivated by their belief in god. (Just as there were slaveowners who excused their support for slavery based on religious arguments.) Interestingly, the false belief in “god” coincides with rational empathy, which is the most valid reason for not returning slaves to slavery. But rather than say “I’m not going to fight against slavery until I can get a better reason than ‘It just seems wrong,’ I’m going to fight against slavery with the reasons I obtained from my local preacher.”

        I have a lot of personal experience that shows me that the “meme” view of ideas (Dawkins, “The Selfish Gene”) is correct: that all ideas can be broken down into sub-ideas, and that a entire idea or any sub-portion can be “sticky” or “easily transmissible” among human minds. Often such ideas are incorrect, and often they contain a portion of correctness. Science is what gradually expands the stickiness of “correct” (mostly correct) ideas. Also, ideas can serve science and reason without being correct. (Much like an idiot with a shotgun can angrily and loudly stop the lynch mob who is trying to kill a scientist, saying “Let the man talk!” Moreover, he can defend that scientist for reasons unrelated to the truth of the scientist’s ideas.) The prior might be called “carrier memes” being analogous to the exterior shell of a virus that communicates the virus’s DNA.

        Contrarians are often promiscuous network node “carriers” of memes. (Kevin Kelly calls humans the sexual organs of ideas / technology.) This value as carriers often comes from their inherent disbelief that the consensus is correct. Sometimes it comes from their clear knowledge or evidence that the consensus is incorrect. The smarter the contrarian, the more correct and consistent his contrary ideas, but the better a communicator, the more valuable a contrarian is to the network’s possession of all ideas. Networks should contain all ideas, and then delete / exterminate the bad ideas, like an immune system clears the body of viruses by creating antibodies to them. In this way, the more promiscuous a contrarian is (the less selective) the more they contribute to rationality of the network (the network’s immune system that protects it against bad ideas). Ie: the network says “We encountered this stupid idea back in 1978, and it looks like it’s rearing its ugly head again. We’d better get the quotes from Doug Casey ready to combat this latest round of economic BS.” (And yes, I know that the network behavior is emergent, not personified.)

        All memes can be identified and broken down to percentages of occurrence in society. Also, these percentages are always in flux.

        So, when you say 90% contraryness, and 10% correctness, those are many distribution curves, associated with each “sub-idea.” Some portions of the idea are likely to be 100% correct, or overlapping perfectly with the relevant (action-producing) portion of a correct idea.

        Almost everyone has a “race-based slavery is wrong” meme. Many people believe slavery is wrong because “It goes against god.” Those people fit into the unexamined consensus, but their ideas are not “correct.”

        Very few people have the idea that “All slavery is wrong.” Yet, those contrarians fit unexamined into the consensus, because they typically aren’t violent, and their ideas are mutually-inclusive of science and technology and expanding human comfort. Contrarians are necessary to challenge these ideas, because one such a contrarian idea is “Let people have whatever wrong ideas that make them happy. Don’t interfere with or challenge people about their philosophies.”

        A growing number of people who are consistently anti-slavery are arriving at a Hayekian consequentialist viewpoint, because that viewpoint successfully defends itself from all manner of rational criticism. Seemingly, that contrarian view is “correct.”

        Also, many of the people who are adopting this view were people who were previously simply “incorrect contrarians.” However, had they never rejected significant portions of the consensus, they never would have met a Hayekian, or read Hayek. A part of contrarianism is also internal argument. (Getting conflicting ideas to compete, rather than holding internally-inconsistent views.)

        There’s another reason why the 10% and 90% are weak estimates: Those numbers are continually in flux, and the one percentage acts as a filter on the other. If you’re not willing to buck the mainstream view, you’re never going to examine the “extreme” view enough to adopt it. (So, perhaps pre-internet, incorrect contrarianism would have outnumbered correct contrarianism as a percentage 90% to 10%, and after the internet, that percentage gradually becomes 70% to 30%, with the 70% being less certain and consistent, and the 30% having taken market share because better information about consistency has become available and taken market share among their neurons.)

        The person whose prisoner number I’m using as my profile was destroyed by the evil of the consensus. Interestingly, he was destroyed by his belief that individuals shouldn’t be violent towards other people. Yet, the consensus is unaware that the establishment destroys people for consistently applying this view, and promoting it. (They are often aware of it, but refuse to consciously recognize it, because their belief systems then compels them to stand up against organized evil, which is both painful and dangerous. It’s easier to be a coward and leave evils unexamined.)

        So how does one become a contrarian? Often, it’s through rebellion against a system of enforced cowardice that refuses to examine its own failings. When individuals notice a clue that this is the kind of system they inhabit, they become “contrarian” merely by searching for correct ideas.

        This then causes them to adopt “interim” or “incrementally-incorrect” ideas. Which is better than static existence in an unexamined state of consensus, in my opinion.

        At least when I meet “more wrong” communists and marxists, they often state their opposition to the suffering of the people in the giant industrial prisons of the USA. These are system-rejecting contrarians, in search of “right,” but they are often unintelligent, and also in search of fellow unintelligent contrarians to associate with. (If you’re a stupid, poor marxist, you can at least find a stupid poor marxist girl who will hang out with you to produce stupid marxist kids. But if you’re a stupid marxist who strives for the truth, and you become a stupid Hayekian, you’ll need to find a stupid and uninformed Hayekian to have kids with –and that might not be possible. So, you’re internally pressured to avoid the truth once you’re invested in untruth.)

        Now, if only they knew something about technology, economics, philosophy, history, or law, …they would be active supporters of the individual freedom we all need to live long, happy lives.

        Some of them learn.

        I know this because I was a contrarian who opposed the system on moral grounds, due to many of its bad results. I slowly realized that the things I opposed were a small but very damaging part of the overall system. This changed me from being a poorly-self-educated socialist to a well-self-educated capitalist.

        The educational institutions I attended were not very rigorous, and didn’t include anything by Hayek, Milgram, von Neumann, etc. I had to read all of the prior (and many more) after finishing college. Luckily, since then, the internet’s alternative media sources have blossomed, and I can find updates that include portions of the truth at Kurzweilai, freedomainradio.com, infowars.com, etc.

        Sure, much of the prior information is truncated, or otherwise incomplete. Like most information, it is comprised of both signal and noise, and “chatter.” (Chatter gives some information, but it isn’t a part of the communication. Often, philosophical “chatter” is a “carrier.”)

        So, while uninformed contrarianism is a big annoyance when it occupies leadership positions, I don’t think it’s a good thing to discourage it, other than by questioning and engagement. Urging conformity is the very worst thing that could be done, especially as totalitarian systems fail. Totalitarian systems thrive on conformity.

      • My prediction (to the contrary) is that the provider will learn to give customers what they really want: the appearance of objectivity.

      • Providing “customers” what they want is a process that is subject to evolutionary pressure. Giving “incorrect contrarians” the appearance of objectivity (and rationality) is what they want, more than being correct. However, they want being correct more than they want the negative reinforcement of being seen as an obviously incorrect anomaly.

        So, before there is a superintelligent synthetic sentience, those who claim that such a thing is impossible are “incorrect contrarians,” and there’s a ton of evidence that they’re wrong, but they get a thrill out of being wrong, because then people listen to them and debate them, and they like debate and being listened to.

        After superintelligent sentiences arrive though, and there is easily-available direct evidence that they do, in fact, exist, those incorrect contrarians have a few choices: stay committed to their wrong idea, modify it so it isn’t quite as wrong, or abandon their contrarianism on that issue.

        Every time a contrarian abandons their contrary stance on an issue, it’s an indication that their contrarianism is –at least to some extent– born from a desire to find the truth.

        I have a deeply-held belief that putting people in prison for non-crimes is morally wrong. That led me to learn something about the law, social order, and economics. Before I began that learning, I allowed my morality to lead me to incorrect economic ideas. Eventually, I was faced with enough countermanding evidence (plus the internal inconsistency from the few ideas I initially had correct) that I abandoned my totally incorrect economic ideas. Areas of economics that I currently don’t understand are now in the category of unknown, and I don’t have a strong opinion for or against them.

        I’ve stopped being a “contrarian” on the issue of economics, because I now have a position on the relevant issues and how they impact human morality. Now I simply oppose the ideas I see as incorrect, and less vociferously and with more curiosity.

        Let’s examine two sets of contrarian idea clusters (being angered by the roadside theft from motorists, anger at the victimless crime laws)(being a marxist). The first contrarian idea was at first initially supported by the fact that marxists lyingly claimed to share my anger towards those ideas. (They wanted to recruit me to their entire thinking, and then use me to obtain political organizational work.)

        However, building a bigger state means more police on the roads, not fewer. It also means more laws for them to enforce, not fewer. It also means more politicians, and more powerful politicians.

        If more politicians, and more powerful politicians resulted in the feeding of the poor, and the optimization of the system, we’d now be living in a paradise.

        However, the facts of the matter became clear the more I searched for answers.

        My “true rejection” was the totally indefensible punishment of innocent people, which results in a dramatic negative for all concerned (taxpayers, society as a whole, the punished party, their family, the education system, etc).

        Once identified, though, I couldn’t accept “the system” as I saw it. I simply didn’t see it that clearly, or with enough comprehension of what I saw. After all, I’m a stupid human.

        Now, when I recognize the same errors I once made in other contrarians, I don’t begrudge them their errors. They’ll figure it out, if they’re moral people.

        On the other hand, I’ve met people who are contrarians (mostly Islamic, sometimes Christian) because they think that homosexuals should be stoned to death in public. Those kinds of people are completely different from me, and I share little in common with them. However, they still will try to find common areas of agreement, and then twist them to their overall reason for being contrarian. In such people, they have a core reason that is very different from my “true rejection.” Often, they wish to be the coercers of social conformity, because they imagine a fantastical theocracy to be to their liking, with themselves as rulers.

        There are also contrarians who are motivated by the desire to debate (more neutral, less of a positive or negative). I encourage their contrarianism, because long term, such contrarians have no real stake in the outcome, and being more rational helps them get into the debates and discussions that they so enjoy. Such people are necessary for network communication, and sometimes “fact finding” and conflict resolution. However: Such people should not be put into leadership positions! (As much as they might like to occupy them, this is a common mistake!)

        For example, the FBI, when they infiltrate an anti-government group they wish to neutralize, they work hard to promote all the ineffectual “contrarians-first, ideologues second” and demote those who are “morally driven but rationally-committed to the specific contrarian cause.” The latter make good figureheads and leaders. The former will usually never do anything of significance. (See: Peter Matthiessen’s book “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse”; Hunter S. Thompson’s “Hell’s Angels”; and John Douglas’ “The Anatomy of Motive”)

        Often contrarians (libertarians, in my example) will meet and dicker about which sub-issue is “most important,” rather than moving toward the agreed-upon existing highest-priority goals. The people who are very concerned about their own personal “sub-issue on which they are best-educated” will try to hijack the group so that that’s all it talks about or cares about. This is a good example of contrarianism for its own sake, and not contrarianism motivated by some sort of core rejection of general values.

        There are all kinds of minds in this world.

      • A rightfully angry 1936 Jew whose family had just been beaten to death by brown-shirts would be called an “extremist” in this sloppy analysis. Especially if he was calling for Jews to “arm themselves” to fight the government.

        A discussion of “extremism” irrespective of evidence for the “extreme” view negates the importance of human logic and reason. Often, extremism is the response of a mind trying to explain extreme conditions (such as poverty, suffering, etc.). Without a solid grasp of the causes of the suffering, the resulting “extremism” is wrong. (Ie: Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s poverty. He also blamed “gold” and not fiat currency. Had he had more economic knowledge, he would not have needed to use as much force to achieve his ends, and he might have been more successful at making Germany a world power. Since most people don’t require rational consistency from their philosophical outlook, this would have been profoundly bad. Ie: It could have made Germany into a successful anti-Semitic world power.)

        Those who now oppose the nazification (sociopath-control) of the USA are now called “extremists.” The person whose prisoner number I use as my profile number is one such person. He is sitting in a hellhole of a prison without having committed a single crime against anyone at all.

        His family is broken apart, he has been crushed by the American police state, which is every bit as evil and destructive as a nazi police state, with one exception: the sociopaths who control the USA understand that if they were to obviously and publicly kill their opposition, a significant percentage of the public would take up arms against them.

        Their strategy is longer-term than Hitler’s strategy, and far more likely to be successful.

        “Non-extremists” (conformists) don’t see any problem with this.

        …Much as the German non-extremists didn’t see any problem with carting those filthy Jews and other “undesirables” off to concentration camps.

    • When those general, cause-neutral ideas are connected together, they build a rather impressive philosophical structure (such as the label(s) you assigned yourself in “Is that your true rejection?”).

      So, when you have this connected, mutually-inclusive set of ideas, and you realize you are living in the Weimer Republic in 1936, what action should you take? (Firearms have just been banned, so your philosophical knowledge of human primates indicates to you that the situation is about to decay into systemic, organized instances of brutal violence.)

      In the prior situation: If you get followers to adopt a few of your ideas, with full comprehension, you have a fragmented army that believes a mixture of inconsistent and often mutually-exclusive ideas. (Ie: The police should be able to stop gays from marrying, and even prevent the creation of “obscenity” based on range of the moment definitions based on religious unreason, and yet, we’re also for “minimal government.”) Such a group of people can be united by some other “extremist leadership node” by appealing to higher-hierarchical-level positions. (Ie: Simply making the claim that “My philosophy/label is the real answer”).

      Or, you can try to get people to identify with your label, retain control of your label, and populate a set of “mid-level-leadership nodes” that has (ideally) at higher levels of network “authority,” higher levels of consistent comprehension.

      In short: It is rational to use the inherent unreason of the majority to achieve noble goals, so long as those goals actually are noble. (To diminish of state power, for example.) Leftists will accuse libertarians of “just wanting power over others, so long as they’re in control.” However, this is a false accusation. The truth is more subtle: Libertarians who attempt to access power on a platform of desiring to diminish state power can be analyzed for whether or not they conform to the label, and how strongly they conform to the label, at all stages of their transition to power. The more internally and rationally they are fought or criticized (beyond correction for purposeful infiltration), the more likely they are to be infiltrators themselves, and thus _not_libertarian_.

      That the Libertarian Party (and broader libertarian movement) in the USA has not had a “John Lilburne,” is simply testament to the very very low level of education in the USA. This low level of education (resulting in a low philosophical, economic, biological, historic, and legal comprehension) makes such a highest-domain charismatic “leader” improbable, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility. Such a leader would almost certainly need to be self-taught, as the education systems in the USA fail horribly to unite in any one person a grasp of both ethics and political organization.

      …But it’s not inherently physically impossible.

      Such a person would be literally forced to appeal to emotions, above rationality. However, when pressed for details, they should be able to explain their actions rationally.

      It is absolutely necessary to deal with (manipulate) irrational and semi-rational networks or people in order to prevent systemic chaos.

      As civilization slowly emerges from chaos, it does not emerge in its final, ideal form. Rather, it emerges as a mixture of reason and unreason, with reasonable memes slowly replacing unreasonable memes. Those reasonable meme creators should be as close to perfect as possible: they will then best see when a compromise is failing to produce optimally, and when to retrench.

      Right now, a near-perfect concise explanation of the current political system is possible, and would be highly valuable. Some people even come very close to having delivered it already. Typically, failure to either fully comprehend emergence, or inability to explain it, stands in their way. Also, such systems typically exclude any clear comprehension of sociopathy, because it’s a difficult subject for most people to deal with honestly.

      • IMASBA

        “So, when you have this connected, mutually-inclusive set of ideas, and you realize you are living in the Weimer Republic in 1936, what action should you take? (Firearms have just been banned, so your philosophical knowledge of human primates indicates to you that the situation is about to decay into systemic, organized instances of brutal violence.)”

        The Weimar Republic did not exist anymore in 1936. Firearms were not banned in 1936 (in fact they were never banned at all in Germany, even in 2014 Germans can legally possess firearms) and Jews were such a tiny minority compared to the Nazis and the powerful German military that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway (the Soviets with their tanks and airplanes still lost millions of soldiers against the German military).

      • You wrote: “The Weimar Republic did not exist anymore in 1936. ”
        You are correct, I changed my example and forgot to change the dates. My bad. The point I made still stands on its own, even if you exchange “Third Reich” for “Weimar Republic.” (I was going to use increased enforcement of the 1928 Weimar gun registration and licensing measure as the date, got too lazy to look up the date because I couldn’t remember it, and only went back and changed part of the text, unfortunately for my argument surviving for those place more importance on details than essentials.)

        You wrote: “Firearms were not banned in 1936 (in fact they were never banned at all in Germany, even in 2014 Germans can legally possess firearms)”

        That’s untrue. Obviously, they were never banned to the democidal and genocidal ruling establishment, because gun bans never apply to the ruling establishment. Guns were banned to Jews and other “undesirables” in 1938. Before that, they were banned to those without a state-approved permit (the “unlicensed,” in a tiered licensing system, much like the current USA has).

        Again: you are superficially correct, but your criticism is solely correct at the detail level. Even there, you are not materially correct, as the 1928 firearms law was used to raid unlicensed manufacturers, dealers, importers, and carriers of firearms. If the licensing was made sufficiently onerous by 1936, (as it had been), it was used to raise the cost of self-defense beyond the threshold where most people could afford to be competent with firearms. Moreover, such licensing destroys any “gun culture” by raising the cost of firearms practice and possession beyond what most people are willing to pay.

        Moreover, just two years after 1936, the German Weapons Act was Passed by the Nazis. Here’s what it accomplished, in addition to denying enemies of the Nazis, including Jews, from possessing firearms:

        The 1938 German Weapons Act

        The 1938 German Weapons Act, the precursor of the current
        weapons law, superseded the 1928 law. As under the 1928 law, citizens
        were required to have a permit to carry a firearm and a separate permit
        to acquire a firearm. Furthermore, the law restricted ownership of
        firearms to “…persons whose trustworthiness is not in question and who
        can show a need for a (gun) permit.” But under the new law:

        Gun restriction laws applied only to handguns, not to long guns or
        ammunition. The 1938 revisions completely deregulated the acquisition
        and transfer of rifles and shotguns, as was the possession of

        The legal age at which guns could be purchased was lowered from 20 to 18.[4]

        Permits were valid for three years, rather than one year.[4]

        The groups of people who were exempt from the acquisition permit
        requirement expanded. Holders of annual hunting permits, government
        workers, and NSDAP members were no longer subject to gun ownership
        restrictions. Prior to the 1938 law, only officials of the central
        government, the states, and employees of the German Reichsbahn Railways were exempted.[3]

        were prohibited from possessing any dangerous weapons, including
        firearms. They were also forbidden from the manufacturing or dealing of
        firearms and ammunition.[3]

        Under both the 1928 and 1938 acts, gun manufacturers and dealers were
        required to maintain records with information about who purchased guns
        and the guns’ serial numbers. These records were to be delivered to a
        police authority for inspection at the end of each year.

        On November 11, 1938, the Minister of the Interior, Wilhelm Frick, promulgated Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons. This regulation effectively deprived all Jews living in those locations of the right to possess firearms or other weapons.[5]
        You wrote:
        ” and Jews were such a tiny minority compared to the Nazis and the
        powerful German military that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway (the
        Soviets with their tanks and airplanes still lost millions of soldiers
        against the German military).”

        This indicates that you completely lack a comprehension of how countries that have an “individual rights gun culture” are made more free by that gun culture, either before or during a totalitarian occupation. If it’s before a totalitarian occupation, it makes the “progress” (in the sense of the term “progressive”) toward totalitarianism slower, by offering a disincentive to government-authorized murder and theft.

        In the case of the gun culture persisting after a totalitarian occupation, the gun culture results in that occupation being made vastly more costly on the occupiers, and makes territory vastly more difficult to occupy, ultimately resulting in the expulsion or deaths of the totalitarian occupiers. (As in Vietnam, and as in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.)

        In all cases where individuals own guns, they do not attempt to “take and hold territory” in the military sense. They always induce losses on the occupiers via guerrilla warfare. This is an intelligent strategy, given the existence of even a few firearms.

        In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a handful of Jews (less than 50) decided to arm themselves as best they could and resist, under the leadership of Mordecai Anielewicz. They held off the strongest division of the German Army for over 2 months, until the Nazis burnt the ghetto to the ground.

        From the Wikipedia article on Anielewicz:

        “A connection with the Polish government in exile in London was made and the group began receiving weapons from the Polish underground on the “Aryan” side of the city. On 18 January 1943, Anielewicz was instrumental in the first act of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, preventing the majority of a second wave of Jews from being deported to extermination camps. This initial incident of armed resistance was a prelude to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that commenced on 19 April.”

        Some sources I’ve read that, with less than 50 handguns, those handguns were then used to kill German soldiers, and take their rifles, significantly expanding the number of people who could shoot another Nazi.

        Also, even though my sense of what is likely, and my historical education cannot be perfect (I’m not the world’s most intelligent guy, and I wasn’t there), there is strong evidence from seemingly honest holocaust survivors that there was the strong possibility of a Jewish resistance, but that the total lack of a “gun culture” prevented it from happening, to the dramatic detriment of the Jews and other German minorities.

        Here’s an interview that strongly bears this conclusion out:

        Now, I do know a few things about my individual capacity to use a firearm. I know that I have the ability to shoot a paper dinner plate from about 30 yards with my handgun. That’s a lot closer than I need to be to shoot a rifle-carrying totalitarian thug, and take his rifle. Additionally, the USA has over 30,000,000 guns in around 5,000,000 hands. Most of those people don’t work for the DEA, ATF, IRS, EPA, or other gestapo-like organization.

        Of course, there needs to be a culture that resists totalitarian oppression in addition to resisting “gun control” (really, “gun chaos” or “slave control”).

        It may well be that this Nation of Cowards implodes simply because it lacks the internal will to survive, and because the government schools have done such a great job of creating people who are so narrowly specialized that they don’t prefer a free republic to a national socialist police state.

        Of course, in order for that to happen, nearly 100% of the people would still need to be disarmed, and that would need to happen AFTER jury trials are completely eliminated. (Right now jury trials are mostly-eliminated due to judges and prosecutors use of “voir dire” to stack the jury with people who mindlessly believe “the law is always right” and conform to that belief by “applying the law as the judge gives it to them.” If jury trials are made improper in this manner, then they mostly “don’t exist” or at minimum, “fail to serve their intended purpose.”)

        No military can successfully impose a long-term totalitarian regime on a free people who remain armed. This is because even one firearm can kill up to six soldiers before a reload. And, if you wait to do the killing at night, you can probably get a soldier and his firearm, too. Try holding territory in an area where people who are armed are determined that you will not be able to hold that territory.

        The extreme threat of long-term imprisonment for increasingly minor political agitation –like that from which the person whose prisoner number is my username suffers– is what currently keeps “whipped dog” Americans in line. America is a nation of cowards, and it needs its share of vocal contrarians to help restore it to its free market ideal.

        I hope that clarifies my admittedly poorly-constructed initial argument.

  • > They should want to join together to say that the usual views tend to
    gain from conformity pressures, and that such views are held

    Wouldn’t this be a public (or at least, shared) good and so underprovision precisely what an economist ought to expect without recourse to theories about personality?

    • The common good would likely be under-provided relative to their group optimum, but we’d still expect to see efforts to coordinate to provide it.

      • There are hundreds, if not thousands or tens of thousands, of minority views. Any attempt to justify extremism would see a particular group benefit something like 1/10,000 of the return. Even assuming that one can reasonably effectively advocate for extremism (not at all obvious, since if you had such powers of persuasion why isn’t your group doing better?), the return is so miserable, would we expect to see anything beyond what we do? What does 1/10,000th look like? I’d suggest it probably looks a lot like the current world.

      • Simple rebuttal: People vote in elections despite even smaller returns to investment.

      • …You’re trying to explain the absence of an anomaly by an anomaly? Does that argument work for anything at all? (‘Prices in prediction markets will converge on accurate estimates due to the monetary incentives’ ‘ah, but *voting*! QED, prediction markets can’t work’)

      • I’m supporting Hanson’s (implied) contention that even remote group interests will inspire some efforts at coordination.

      • What does ‘some’ of 1/10000th look like? Does it not look like our current world? What would you expect to see differently if it were 0 rather than 1/10000th? As it stands, you and Hanson are arguing in a vacuum and are barely even wrong.

      • *All* social groups of any substantial size face such free-riding coordination problems. Nevertheless, we see organized groups of substantial size with substantial coordination, when people have some common interests.

      • Yes, and generally, all social groups focus on object-level goals which directly benefit them, and avoid meta-goals with wildly diffused benefits. Exactly in line with the public good explanation, without any need to resort to psychological theories.

      • I don’t know how you generate your “object” vs “meta” classification. Lots of social groups pursue goals far from direct material benefit to individual members.

      • If you are unable to distinguish between levels of meta, how can you hope to distinguish between extremists directly pursuing their interests and pursuing a meta goal of helping extremism in general? What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      • I think I can see that they don’t seem inclined to coordinate to promote extremism, without having to decide if that is a “meta” goal.

      • If you cannot even classify how these actions are supposed to help the groups’ goals, I’m not sure how you think you could observe their presence, absence, optimal level, or rationale for any variation of these.

      • Hanson doesn’t require making this classification. You’ve proffered an arbitrary characterization and then chastise Hanson because it doesn’t apply to reality.

      • What does ‘some’ of 1/10000th look like?

        You’re relying on the assumption under dispute: that the impetus to coordinate is proportional to the rational incentive. But voting is no anomaly: it expresses the human instinct to coordinate around common interests. Salient interests inspire coordination efforts, even when a realistic appraisal shows that the efforts will be futile.

        Name another interest besides the common interest of extremists that bring forth no readily apparent coordination efforts.

      • > Name another interest besides the common interests of extremists that bring forth no readily apparent coordination efforts.

        I will note the irony of making this demand on OB, of all blogs. Also, you still haven’t explained why an anomaly like voting should preempt a normal rational explanation like extremist coordination being a public good & hence underprovided.

      • Because, as your interlocutors have said repeatedly, the datum to be explained isn’t underprovision but no readily apparent efforts to coordinate.

        (Yudkowsky–if he’s serious about “rationality”–should explore whether extreme Disagreeableness isn’t a personality trait that produces its own form of irrationality–muleheadedness.)

      • > Because, as your interlocutors have said repeatedly, the datum to be
        explained isn’t underprovision but no readily apparent efforts to

        What on earth? If there’s going to be an undersupply, how can there not also be no apparent efforts to coordinate? Now I’m wondering if my argument has been understood at all, even though I tried to frame it in as standard terminology as possible.

      • IMASBA

        “Simple rebuttal: People vote in elections despite even smaller returns to investment.”

        Voting is not the same thing: people vote on large blocs that have a chance of winning and individual instincts play a role in actually wanting to vote. Extremist groups are small minorities and groups are ruled by different instincts than inidividuals.

        Also, I don’t see why we’re automatically buying Robin’s statement that cooperatively increasing interest in extremism is logical. Coalition politics means sometimes cooperating on those goals you have in common and sometimes it means trying to destroy your opponents. There is no clear proof that it would always be better for communists to cooperate with fascists to increase interest in extremism and grow both their memberships, fighting it out afterwards, versus first fighting it out first and when victorious working on increasing membership.

      • An understanding of emergent hierarchies seems to indicate that there are few “leadership” nodes in any network, and lots of “follower” or “conformist” nodes. (Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch, Philip Zimbardo). The “leadership” nodes are preoccupied with the use of force, and very few of them are benevolent (Robert Hare, Philip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram). Once they access state power, they have a built-in mechanism for dramatically increasing their market share: the use of force. This causes people who respond to threats (a large number) to capitulate to them or even join them (an even larger number).

        The empaths who secretly oppose them are then rendered ineffective.

        Therefore, it makes sense to expand the “leadership nodes” who promote your ideology first, and make them as effective as possible. The Libertarian Party, and even small-L libertarians in general, grossly fail at this elemental comprehension and execution of “introductory politics.” Why?

        Because most of them are contrarians. They like to be the lone voice of moral condemnation and opposition. They find collective engagement repulsive, often due to the low moral character of conformists (moral indecisiveness in conditions that call for an extreme moral response), and the repulsive nature of political machinery, once power is won. (Ie: They are not suitably motivated to take their politics seriously enough to win.)

        In short: If you get a “non-extremist” on your side, you have someone on your side who is a passionless idiot, someone who can’t decide whether it’s a good idea to “kill all the jews” or “not kill all the jews.” Such people may support you passively, but they won’t support you actively, and they won’t recruit ten more people to your cause. In order to be a leadership node, you have to have a strong (extreme) opinion about the subject. In order to be a libertarian leadership node, you have to side very strongly with “not kill all the jews.”

        All other ideologies that are “extreme” either don’t mind using coercion to achieve their goals, or they are weakly (inconsistently) libertarian.

  • Bill

    Apologies, posted this on the wrong thread first time . . .

    I’m not so sure about this. It seems to me that far right and far left
    groups quote one another approvingly on US foreign policy all the time.
    Unz.com is a good example.
    Similar things are true on the economy as well. Both the far right and
    the far left view things like TARP or quantitative easing as giveaways
    to financial oligarchs. They don’t seems particularly hostile to one
    another to me.

    • I think you’re wrong that the far right and far left quote each other approvingly. As with unz.com, a few highly contrarian rightists may quote leftists, but far-leftists almost never quote rightists.

      One way of explaining this one-directional movement and appeal is by way of my theory of ideological types. (See A taxonomy of political ideologies based on construal-level theoryhttp://tinyurl.com/6pt9eq5 )

      The way it would apply: The far-left, is … far, combining far-mode choice of issues with far mode-solutions and means. The far-right is usually Demagogist, sometimes Monomaniacalist, each using far-mode on issues or on solutions, not both. Since near-mode (Managerialism) is the norm, there will be more regression from the mean in Utopianism (consistently far-mode) than in Demagogism and Monomaniacalism.

  • In the period between world wars, there was an intense competition between the two main modern forms of “extremism,” Communism and Naziism. There was in Spain a civil war between these factions, and in Germany, the fundamental drive of the Nazis was to annihilate the Soviet Union and destroy the mass German Communist Party (succeeding only in the second).

    So we can test your theory that there’s an ultimate affinity between extremes: if you’

    • Viliam

      > Communists did not aim and did not often in fact recruit Nazis and Fascists

      People from post-Communist countries could give you examples of former Nazis becoming Communists…. when it became obvious that Communists were the winning side.

      There were even political jokes about this — A man comes to some official institution and says a greeting: “Heil!” The bureaucrats are horrified and tell him: “What are you saying, comrade? Don’t you know that it’s a new era already?” The man says: “Sorry, a force of habit. It may be the new era, but you are still the same old guys.”

  • Storewars News

    read! Very informative. Did you know that Apple in talks to buy Japan chip
    venture to secure iPhone supply chain? Full story here: http://on.fb.me/1fNGfRA

  • I don’t know why it took me so long to put this together, but contrarianism and extremism simply aren’t synonyms. The mistake may be mine in reading too much into Robin’s title, although his contrast between middlers and contrarians suggests he may not have distinguished the two. But if you substitute “contrarian” for “extremist” throughout the piece, I think Robin is entirely correct.

    The difference between contrarian and extremist is that extremist ideology is defined primarily as ultra-right and far-left, and contrarian ideology is defined primarily by deviations from both left and right. So, there are contrarian leftists, contrarian rightists, and contrarian centrists, but their contrarianism is by virtue of deviations from spectrum consistency. Libertarians are termed contrarians because they are rightists who abjure social conservatism and (particularly) authoritarianism. We don’t, on the other hand, call extremist Tea Partiers contrarians (Rand Paul being the exception proving the rule.)

    Contrarians don’t have the personality or cognitive style associated with the far-right or the far-left (which I think are also distinct from each other, although that point is controversial). In my scheme ( http://tinyurl.com/6pt9eq5 ) Monomaniacalism is contrarianism. (A supporting point another commenter brought me to see: contrarianism is strongly correlated with Disagreeableness. I don’t think that’s true for extremism.) Monomaniacalism is over-represented at universities for reasons I discuss in “The Practical Basis for Mass Ideologies” — http://tinyurl.com/6uqusqc )

  • Robert Koslover

    I knew an extreme leftist (at least, from my perspective) about a decade ago, who regarded himself as an especially moderate fellow. We had many discussions and differences of opinion. He complained often about the many extremists he often observed, whose main extremisms (or so it seemed to me) was that they did not agree with him about how society should be run. Since I also lamented how extremists were destructive to our society, I pointed out the following to him: (1) extremists were truly dangerous and there was no point in pretending otherwise, (2) that it was hopeless to reason with them, and thus (3) we should round them all up and execute them. “Death to the extremists!” I declared. “Death?” he responded. He was initially a bit surprised/shocked, but upon further discussion he pretty-much started to accept the idea, i.e., that for the good of humanity, there simply was no other practical/effective means to get rid of all those many dangerous extremists other than by executing them. Oh, and did I mention that this person was an engineer? An educated person no less, respected for his work. And, so it would seem, a monster at heart. A polite-enough monster to encounter day-to-day in the office, but a monster nonetheless. And that, my friends, is an example of a *genuine* “extremist,” i.e., anyone who truly believes that the rule “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs” (per Stalin, among others) should be applied to mold society as he or she sees fit!

  • Dara

    For what it’s worth, at least one extremist organization is attempting to do exactly what you’re bringing up extremists not doing.