Dissenting Views

Oc­ca­sion­ally, con­cerns have been ex­pressed from within Less Wrong that the com­mu­nity is too ho­mo­ge­neous. Cer­tainly the ob­ser­va­tion of ho­mo­gene­ity is true to the ex­tent that the com­mu­nity shares com­mon views that are minor­ity views in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

Main­tain­ing a High Sig­nal to Noise Ratio

The Less Wrong com­mu­nity shares an ide­ol­ogy that it is call­ing ‘ra­tio­nal­ity’(de­spite some at­tempts to re­name it, this is what it is). A bur­geon­ing ide­ol­ogy needs a lot of faith­ful sup­port in or­der to de­velop true. By this, I mean that the ide­ol­ogy needs a chance to define it­self as it would define it­self, with­out a lot of com­pet­ing in­fluences wa­ter­ing it down, adding im­pure el­e­ments, dis­tort­ing it. In other words, you want to cul­ti­vate a high sig­nal to noise ra­tio.

For the most part, Less Wrong is re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful at cul­ti­vat­ing this high sig­nal to noise ra­tio. A com­mon ide­ol­ogy at­tracts peo­ple to Less Wrong, and then karma is used to main­tain fidelity. It pro­tects Less Wrong from the in­fluence of out­siders who just don’t “get it”. It is also used to guide and teach peo­ple who are rea­son­ably near the ide­ol­ogy but need some train­ing in ra­tio­nal­ity. Thus, karma is awarded for views that al­ign es­pe­cially well with the ide­ol­ogy, al­ign rea­son­ably well, or that al­ign with one of the di­rec­tions that the ide­ol­ogy is rea­son­ably evolv­ing.

Ra­tion­al­ity is not a re­li­gion – Or is it?

There­fore, on Less Wrong, a per­son earns karma by ex­press­ing views from within the ide­ol­ogy. Way­ward com­ments are dis­cour­aged with down-votes. Some­times, even, an ide­olog­i­cal toe is stepped on, and the dis­ap­proval is more ex­plicit. I’ve been told, here and there, one way or an­other, that ex­press­ing ex­tremely dis­sent­ing views is: stomp­ing on flow­ers, show­ing dis­re­spect, not play­ing along, be­ing in­con­sid­er­ate.

So it turns out: the con­di­tions nec­es­sary for the faith­ful sup­port of an ide­ol­ogy are not that differ­ent from the con­di­tions suffi­cient for de­vel­op­ing a cult.

But Less Wrong isn’t a re­li­gion or a cult. It wants to iden­tify and dis-root illu­sion, not cre­ate a safe place to cul­ti­vate it. Some­where, Less Wrong must be able challenge its ba­sic as­sump­tions, and see how they hold up to new and all ev­i­dence. You have to al­low brave dis­sent.

  • Out­siders who in­sist on hang­ing around can help by point­ing to as­sump­tions that are thought to be self-ev­i­dent by those who “get it”, but that aren’t ob­vi­ously true. And which may be wrong.

  • It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the case that some­one challeng­ing a sig­nifi­cant as­sump­tion doesn’t get it and doesn’t be­long here. Maybe, oc­ca­sion­ally, some­one with a dis­sent­ing view may be rep­re­sent­ing the ide­ol­ogy more than the sta­tus quo.

Shouldn’t there be a place where peo­ple who think they are more ra­tio­nal (or bet­ter than ra­tio­nal), can say, “hey, this is wrong!”?

A Solution

I am cre­at­ing this top-level post for peo­ple to ex­press dis­sent­ing views that are sim­ply too far from the main ide­ol­ogy to be ex­pressed in other posts. If suc­cess­ful, it would serve two pur­poses. First, it would re­move ex­treme dis­sent away from the other posts, thus main­tain­ing fidelity there. Peo­ple who want to play at “ra­tio­nal­ity” ide­ol­ogy can play with­out other, ir­rele­vant points of view spoiling the fun. Se­cond, it would al­low dis­sent for those in the com­mu­nity who are in­ter­ested in not be­ing a cult, challeng­ing first as­sump­tions and sug­gest­ing ideas for im­prov­ing Less Wrong with­out be­ing traitorous. (By the way, karma must still work the same, or the dis­cus­sion loses its value rel­a­tive to the rest of Less Wrong. Be pre­pared to lose karma.)

Thus I en­courage any­one (out­siders and in­sid­ers) to use this post “Dissent­ing Views” to an­swer the ques­tion: Where do you think Less Wrong is most wrong?