Under-acknowledged Value Differences

I’ve been read­ing a lot of the re­cent LW dis­cus­sions on poli­tics and gen­der, and no­ticed that peo­ple rarely bring up or ex­plic­itly ac­knowl­edge that differ­ent peo­ple af­fected by some poli­ti­cal or gen­der is­sue have differ­ent val­ues/​prefer­ences, and there­fore solv­ing the prob­lem in­volves a strong el­e­ment of bar­gain­ing and is not just a mat­ter of straight­for­ward op­ti­miza­tion. In­stead, we tend to talk as if there is some way to solve the prob­lem that’s best for ev­ery­one, and that ra­tio­nal dis­cus­sion will bring us closer to find­ing that one best solu­tion.

For ex­am­ple, when dis­cussing gen­der-re­lated prob­lems, one solu­tion may be gen­er­ally bet­ter for men, while an­other solu­tion may be gen­er­ally bet­ter for women. If peo­ple are self­ish, then they will each pre­fer the solu­tion that’s in­di­vi­d­u­ally best for them, even if they can agree on all of the facts. (It’s un­clear whether peo­ple should be self­ish, but it seems best to as­sume that most are, for prac­ti­cal pur­poses.)

Un­for­tu­nately, in bar­gain­ing situ­a­tions, epistemic ra­tio­nal­ity is not nec­es­sar­ily in­stru­men­tally ra­tio­nal. In gen­eral, con­vinc­ing oth­ers of a false­hood can be use­ful for mov­ing the ne­go­ti­ated out­come closer to one’s own prefer­ences and away from oth­ers’, and this may be done more eas­ily if one hon­estly be­lieves the false­hood. (One of these false­hoods may be, for ex­am­ple, “My preferred solu­tion is best for ev­ery­one.”) Given these (sub­con­sciously or evolu­tion­ar­ily pro­cessed) in­cen­tives, it seems rea­son­able to think that the more solv­ing a prob­lem re­sem­bles bar­gain­ing, the more likely we are to be epistem­i­caly ir­ra­tional­ity when think­ing and talk­ing about it.

If we do not ac­knowl­edge and keep in mind that we are in a bar­gain­ing situ­a­tion, then we are less likely to de­tect such failures of epistemic ra­tio­nal­ity, es­pe­cially in our­selves. We’re also less likely to see that there’s an el­e­ment of Pri­soner’s Dilemma in par­ti­ci­pat­ing in such de­bates: your effort to con­vince peo­ple to adopt your preferred solu­tion is costly (in time and in your and LW’s over­all san­ity level) but may achieve lit­tle be­cause some­one else is mak­ing an op­po­site ar­gu­ment. Both of you may be bet­ter off if nei­ther en­gaged in the de­bate.