This kind of argumentation is circular, and commits the classic logical fallacy of trying to argue away absolute (religious) truth:

- Whenever a group of people think they have "the truth" they become biased and evil- Many religious groups (ex. Evangelical Christians) often claim to have "the truth"- Therefore these religious groups are evil- Let's form our own group, based on our declaration of knowing that all other groups that espouse "the truth" are misguided- Our group has "the truth" about "the truth"- Oh wait, that makes us evil, too!

See how ridiculous this gets?

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Robin is basically cautioning against every dinner party i have ever been to. And he's right!

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I always found sports fans annoying. Now I am part of an in-group that considers them evil! Thanks Robin!

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In Defense of Rationalist Clubs

Inspired by Pascal Boyer's latest piece in Nature, Robin Hanson reminds us that he's a preacher's son:We feel a deep pleasure from realizing that we believe something in common with our friends, and different from most people. We feel an...

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Robin: Is it evil because it swamps the "getting the facts right" signal with a "I'm a member of the in-group" signal? (Thus inclining you to spend less energy getting the facts right, and more demonstrating your membership of the in-group with loud protestations of your belief in their stated ideas?) Or is there some other aspect of this that I'm missing?

Nancy: I think guidance about emotions being evil is pretty hard to use (this also comes up in Christian teachings, with Jesus telling people more-or-less not to get angry or lustful). What is useful for me is to see them as signposts to a bad place. For example, when I'm feeling a certain kind of self-satisfied righteous anger, I know I'm about to say or (more commonly) post something that I will later regret. It's not that the feeling is evil--the feeling's morally neutral. But that feeling is also a signal that I'm likely to be doing a bad job of thinking through what I say. Similarly, it's really important to recognize that when you're scared, angry, horny, embarrassed, etc., those feelings have an impact on how you think, and impose a certain kind of bias on your perception of reality.

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You say it's evil to take pleasure in certain beliefs. I say it's nonsensical to take pleasure in any belief. While many activities may be pleasurable (swimming, eating, movie-watching, scientific experimentation, etc.), it's a stretch to include "believing" in that number. A belief is but a temporary locus of stability, a local maximum, for an inquisitive mind. I enjoy swimming, and look, I swam all the way out to that island! I enjoy eating, and look, I ate that whole pie! One would not renounce swimming or eating after a particularly satisfying result in either activity. And yet beliefs seem to be stationary markers: here is where my mind stopped! Fun!

One may use her recent results in any activity as a status symbol or whatever, but results are secondary to the activity itself, and somewhat contingent anyway. If one's beliefs give her pleasure, the source of the pleasure is not any particular belief but rather her status-seeking and whatever other activities her belief enables. Even though success in, for example, swimming might similarly enable status-seeking etc., swimming is actually a potentially pleasurable activity in and of itself. Believing is not. Thinking may be a pleasurable activity, but these things are not the same. If one finds one's beliefs to be beautiful, then perhaps contemplation of belief might be pleasurable, but that's rather far off the track. I know several thoughtful people who profess traditional religion, and I think even they would deny pleasure in belief. Thoughtless people of course take pleasure in any number of questionable things.

I try to avoid beliefs as such. I have instead habits of mind, which I try to change on a regular basis. I try not to let "truth" distract me from method and practice. Evil is problematic in the mental context, in any case. Let's reserve this word for actions in the corporeal realm.

Roko, don't be defensive. Your comment was the thread-winner; the haters are just tone-deaf.

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I enjoyed your post, Robin.

It'll keep me coming back for more and maybe I'll become smarter, more rational and less biased.

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And by corrollary, take no pleasure in agreement with a majority for its own sake. Correct?

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good point well made, Robin.

This reminds me of the so-called "Galileo Gambit", the cliche that someone who disagrees with the majority opinion on a given question, is therefore virtuous and probably right. I'm sure that you can think of plenty of examples of people with unpopular ideas who wear their status as a "heretic" as a positive badge of honor. They're prominent amongst global warming skeptics, creationists, historical revisionists, etc.

I think the "Evil Pleasure" that Robin alludes to is part of this, but there's also the fact that the Western intellectual tradition encourages us to question everything, "think for ourselves" and "take no-one's word for it". That goes back to Socrates. Unfortunately it's easy to take it too far.

I write about this here

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The example given is peculiar in that it allows rationalists to collectively scoff at those religious types throughout history who created gods in their own image. This may have actually created a comments thread version of circling the wagons against such irrationality; 'Oh no, we would never believe such a thing. Those who do are not as wise as we, banding together in such shared understanding as we do.'

Let's try expanding the principle to prick the conscience of all. People project their own ideals and positions onto a politician (who indeed depends on being a sufficiently blank slate to fit the purpose). We might blithely adopt assumptions about people we date, only to discover that, months or years later, Sally does not like children or John does not appreciate the benefits of suburbia.

I don't think that this is a conscious or deliberate ploy, but rather a tacit desire to experience camaraderie.

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I think we need to distinguish between two sorts of "groupthink".

One is the rational kind, where a person sides with a group because doing so is a decent heuristic. If I know nothing about finance, I may be inclined to believe people I think know more than me (Ben Bernanke, the media, etc) when they say we are in a financial crises. I don't see anything irrational or evil here. If everyone is running away from a building you're in screaming about a bomb, is it irrational to follow them?

What Robin seems to be talking about is a desire to side with a specific group over another because it signals my devotion to that group. If I am a liberal, I may be inclined to believe there is a financial crises because it makes conservatives look bad. I would say this is evil, because acting on these desires almost always obscures the truth.

The most successful societies seem to have ways of signaling loyalty to social norms without polluting the truth of things. For example, we no longer have to be loyal to a specific politician (or monarch) or a specific religion in order to be seen as "part of the group" and thus worthy of trust.

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Roko: "- well, perhaps you could call it scary. But it binds us together..."

I hope you're joking.

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There is plenty of research under the label of "group polarization," "conformity effects," "social desirability bias," etc. What does 'groupthink bias' mean to you?

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Robin Hanson,maybe there's a tremendous miscommunication going on, but I think that there's a groupthink bias and I think that most people who read this blog think so. If you agree with my assessment of the audience, then you should definitely write about it!

(I suppose this post indicates a reason why we would fabricate a groupthink bias.)

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Z.M Davis: "I was doing this too, the other night. Scary, isn't it?" - well, perhaps you could call it scary. But it binds us together...

Anti-Reductionist: "Thank you for providing such an excellent demonstration of the typical rationalist's intellectual maturity." - I was trying get a bit of self-effacing humor in there...

You know, perhaps we are seeing this article the wrong way. Perhaps we are rather like pacifists who refuse to use weapons because "war is evil".

If we make effective meme-spreading techniques "evil" then only "evil" memes will spread effectively.

Perhaps we could see this article as support for the idea that we need a rational religion, somewhat like the Cosmic Engineers.

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Patri, I'm not sure there is clear evidence of a "groupthink" bias. Maybe I should do a post on that.

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