When is Winning not Winning?

Lately I’d gotten jaded enough that I simply accepted that different rules apply to the elite class. As Hanson would say, most rules are there specifically to curtail those who don’t have the ability to avoid them and to be side-stepped by those who do—it’s why we evolved such big, manipulative brains. So when this video recently made the rounds it shocked me to realize how far my values had drifted over the past several years.

(the video is not about politics, it is about status. My politics are far from those of Penn)

It’s good we have people like Penn around to remind us what it was like to be teenagers and still expect the world to be fair, so our brains can be used for more productive things.

By the measure our society currently uses, Obama was winning. Penn was not. Yet Penn’s approach is the winning strategy for society. Brain power is wasted on status games and social manipulation when it could be used for actually making things better. The machinations of the elite class are a huge drain of resources that could be better used in almost any other pursuit. And yet the elites are admired high-status individuals who are viewed as “winning” at life. They sit atop huge piles of utility. Idealists like Penn are regarded as immature for insisting on things as low-status as “the rules should be fair and apply identically to every one, from the inner-city crack-dealer to the Harvard post-grad.”

The “Rationalists Should Win” meme is a good one, but it risks corrupting our goals. If we focus too much on “Rationalist Should Win” we risk going for near-term gains that benefit us. Status, wealth, power, sex. Basically hedonism – things that feel good because we’ve evolved to feel good when we get them. Thus we feel we are winning, and we’re even told we are winning by our peers and by society. But these things aren’t of any use to society. A society of such “rationalists” would make only feeble and halting progress toward grasping the dream of defeating death and colonizing the stars.

It is important to not let one’s concept of “winning” be corrupted by Azathoth.

ADDED 5/​23:

It seems the majority of comments on this post are people who disagree on the basis of rationality being a tool for achieving ends, but not for telling you what ends are worth achieving.

I disagree. As is written “The Choice between Good and Bad is not a matter of saying ‘Good!’ It is about deciding which is which.” And rationality can help to decide which is which. In fact without rationality you are much more likely to be partially or fully mistaken when you decide.