# [Question] Where’s the economic incentive for wokism coming from?

I’m trying to understand why several systems (Hollywood, Disney, universities, probably others) that are normally quite profit-focused are leaning so hard woke.

I get the thing about how, if you don’t go woke hard enough, you could get canceled, which is bad for business. That’s some push.

But there’s a counter-push of “Lots of people don’t like being lectured about politics when they’re seeking entertainment” (for instance).

It’s not at all clear to me that the first effect is so utterly hugely enormously larger than the second that the profit incentive would cause so many companies to swing hard woke.

Likewise, I could understand some ideological capture. But unless this had profit appeal I would expect the market to just… eat pure but incomplete ideological capture after a while (as per the right’s chant of “get woke, go broke”).

So… what gives? What am I missing here?

• 9 Dec 2022 2:58 UTC
23 points
0 ∶ 0

That you think they’re going super hard woke (especially Disney) is perhaps telling of your own biases.

Lets look at Disney and Hollywood (universities are their own weird thing). The reality is that in the Anglosphere there are lots of progressive people with money to spend on media. You can sell “woke” media to those people, and lots of it. Even more so when there’s controversy and you can get naive lefties to believe paying money to the megacorp to watch a mainstream show is a way to somehow strike back against the mean right-wingers. And to progressive people it doesn’t feel like “being lectured to about politics”, because that’s not what media with a political/​values message you agree with feels like. So going woke is 100% a profit-motivated decision. The leadership at big media companies didn’t change much over the last decade or two, nor likely did their opinions (whatever those actually are). But after gay marriage gained significantly above 50% approval rate in the US and the Obergefell decision happened it became clear to them that it was safe to be at least somewhat socially progressive on issues like that, and would be profitable.

But equally, almost every single “woke” Disney movie has the “woke” components carefully contained such that they can easily be excised for markets where they are a problem. You see a gay kiss in the background of a scene in Star Wars, it gets cut for the Chinese and Middle East markets. Disney has many very progressive employees who are responsible for making the actual art they produce; artists lean pretty strongly progressive in my experience, so of course the employees’ values come out in the art they make. But the management puts very strict limits on what they can do precisely because anything less milquetoast is believed to be less profitable.

• That you think they’re going super hard woke (especially Disney) is perhaps telling of your own biases.

…and then you go on to describe how Disney is in fact selling movies with woke components to the West, which is exactly what I was talking about.

Just… don’t do this. I’m not available for this kind of psychoanalysis. I find it extremely difficult to engage in good faith when people make moves like this one. My biases are my business. If you think I’m missing something, just point it out. Don’t try to diagnose my failures of rationality.

• Karma downvote for lack of introspection into failures of rationality in a rationality forum.
Agreement upvote for “don’t do this” because “that is telling of your own biases” without naming any is just not engaging. It was sadly a throwaway starting line to an otherwise excellent comment.

• I’m cool with your assessment. Just to be clear, I’m not refusing to introspect. I’m not available for the kind of social move issued. That’s a separate question from willingness to introspect. My introspection is based on my judgment, not directly from social pressure. In fact I try to make whether I introspect and make adjustments immune to direct social pressure. To do otherwise strikes me as opening a port that’s really epistemically hazardous to open.

• they were in fact just pointing it out.

• You are making the mistake of assuming that because the median Chinese citizen is ideologically opposed to the American left in a technical sense, Disney’s localizing movies for China means that Disney isn’t a captured institution. But in fact the American left cares very little about the beliefs and attitudes of the average Chinese person, as they compete in an almost entirely distinct political arena. So major movie companies being willing to sell movies there is not much evidence of anything.

More telling than Disney’s localizing for China at all is the fact that they refuse to make high budget, well marketed movies catering to (for example) the Christian right, even though such a niche has proven to be very profitable for independent filmmakers, and in fact ought to be easier for Disney to cater to as an American company.

• More telling than Disney’s localizing for China at all is the fact that they refuse to make high budget, well marketed movies catering to (for example) the Christian right, even though such a niche has proven to be very profitable for independent filmmakers [...]

What’s profitable for an independent filmmaker isn’t necessarily a market opportunity worth pursuing for Disney. Disney, Paramount, and the other major studios operate on an entirely different scale than independent filmmakers. Given the amount of corporate overhead that they have, a film that returns less than several hundred million dollars in profit, mostly due to merchandising and theme park tie-ins, in some ways, just isn’t worth it.

It’s not just the Christian right who are being neglected by this reality. Pretty much every film genre other than action/​adventure and superhero has suffered. When was the last time we saw a major studio fund a small-to-medium budget comedy? Or romance? Drama still gets funding because those films win awards, but it’s unclear even how long that will last.

• Okay, fine, maybe not Disney specifically, but Hollywood is perfectly capable of making explicitly political movies like Knives Out iff they are explicitly politically leftist. Chris Evans and Ana de Armas are not getting paid to act in analogous movies for other political factions in American politics, and right wing themes, undertones, or acknowledgements are not getting inserted into mainstream high budget action/​adventure movies even to a token degree like left-wing ones do.

• 9 Dec 2022 3:51 UTC
11 points
0 ∶ 0

You’re thinking at the wrong level of abstraction. There is no economic incentive for wokism at the corporate level. But look one level below. The question isn’t what causes “corporations” to act in woke ways. The question is, what persuades employees of corporations to act in woke ways?

My hypothesis is that anti-discrimination legislation has, due to court precedents, developed an inverted burden of proof. If a corporation fires or disciplines someone who is non-white, female, disabled, or belongs to a number of other protected categories, it is now up to the corporation to prove that the firing or discipline was done for non-discriminatory reasons. This, combined with the ideological leanings of most people in HR departments, is sufficient to ensure that every corporation has, within it, the equivalent of an ideological cell, whose job it is solely to push the corporation to act in a more woke manner. This ideological cell has both public opinion and federal law on its side; well meaning individuals who push back end up like James Damore.

But unless this had profit appeal I would expect the market to just… eat pure but incomplete ideological capture after a while

The market is part of society. There was a similar argument made against anti-segregation legislation in the 1960s. After all, given that it’s more profitable to sell to both black people and white people than it is to sell to white people only, wouldn’t it be in business owners’ rational self-interest to desegregate their properties?

The answer, in both instances, is the same: if there is a sufficiently high cultural barrier, then it will be more profitable to go with the culture than against it. Most reasonable people can at least nod along to the woke slogans. After all, it is quite reasonable to suggest that women ought to be treated equally to men, that blacks should be treated equally to whites, and people shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. It’s only when those reasonable propositions are taken to extremes that they result in wokism.

Because of this motte-and-bailey aspect to wokism, it’s easy for wokism to permeate the culture, and for advocates of wokism to tar those who oppose them as racists and bigots.

But there’s a counter-push of “Lots of people don’t like being lectured about politics when they’re seeking entertainment” (for instance). It’s not at all clear to me that the first effect is so utterly hugely enormously larger than the second that the profit incentive would cause so many companies to swing hard woke.

Lots of people also threatened to move to Canada if Trump was elected President. How many of them actually chose to do so? A Republican in the United States will shout vociferously about Coca Cola or Nike engaging in woke behavior, but will he or she choose Pepsi when he or she next shops for groceries? Will he or she buy some other brand of shoes? And if he or she does, will it make a difference? After all, Pepsi and Reebok are hardly less woke than Coca Cola and Nike.

• A concrete example of this inversion of the burden of proof arose just today, with regards to the Twitter layoffs:

Their complaint cites calculations provided by Mark Killingsworth, an economics professor at Rutgers University, to allege that, overall, “57 percent of female employees were laid off on November 4, 2022, while 47 percent of male employees were laid off.”

This lawsuit is not alleging that any specific discriminatory behavior took place, or that discriminatory reasoning was used by managers in choosing who got the pink-slips and who got to stay on. Rather, the brute fact that more women than men were laid off is used as evidence to assert that Twitter was targeting women. Now, it’s up to Twitter to show that it was not behaving in a discriminatory manner in conducting its layoffs.

• Thank you, this was helpful.

Lots of people also threatened to move to Canada if Trump was elected President. How many of them actually chose to do so?

I don’t think this is the right analogy. Listening to more moderate and right-leaning folk, one gets the impression that viewership of shows and movie franchises that are going woke has been dropping like a rock. Like apparently there was an analysis of when people turned off the Captain America streaming show on Disney+ (I forget its name — the one where Falcon becomes the new Captain), and the moment it plunged was the scene where police were harassing Falcon due to racial profiling.

Maybe the most befuddling part of the culture wars is the way, on every front, soldiers on both sides muddle the facts. It’s hard for me to tell what’s even true. Daniel Schmachtenberger describes this as “polluting the information commons”. There’s a Molochian dynamic where the facts of the matter are part of what’s being fought over.

That’s why I’ve been looking at places that have a profit incentive that are also catering specifically to wokism, noticing I don’t see a corresponding shift in the other direction at the same scale, and kind of scratching my head. Wokism doesn’t look as obviously profitable a thing to align with as their behavior seems. Even if it is, that seems like it’d be hard to determine.

The possibility that it’s actually more like legally imposed internal friction makes some good sense. I doubt that’s the full picture but it’s a plausible major component.

• In what way do you intend to intervene on this knowledge?

• I don’t have such an intention. I’m just trying to understand how the world works in this spot.

• I believe you where I did not before, since I trust explicit statement from you in particular quite a bit. Thank you for the clarification; I can participate on that level. In response, I’ve removed all my heavy downvotes that had been motivated by detected agency.

• It sounds to me like the core thing to take away from this is that Union works. can anyone explain to me a reason to see this as bad? It seems to me that Valentine could only reasonably want to ask this if he wants to intervene on it in some way. So I’d like to hear more about what intervention he’d like to attempt and what his intended target of agency is. he says he is “not available for that social move”, which I take to be him attempting to avoid being pressured to be reasonable; I’d like to hear more about that.

edit: after a surprisingly direct “okay, but I’m not out to get you” from him, which unlike most internet interlocutors I actually trust from having known him a few years ago, I now expect that I will not object to his attempted interventions. I do still think that this post is strong evidence he intends to intervene, but I now expect he’s likely to intervene in ways that attempt to bridge conflicted agency between interhuman agentic networking patterns. Which is the essence of what solving safety problems is about, so, thumbs up.

• It sounds to me like the core thing to take away from this is that Union works.

What is this “Union” you’re referring to?

• It seems to me that Valentine could only reasonably want to ask this if he wants to intervene on it in some way.

Nope. I wanted to ask this question because it’s about a part of the world that didn’t move like I would have expected, which meant I wasn’t perceiving the world clearly. I care about clear sight. I didn’t have a conclusion in mind about what should happen instead, let alone a scheme to intervene somehow.

[Valentine] says he is “not available for that social move”, which I take to be him attempting to avoid being pressured to be reasonable

Nope. But this line of yours right here is an example. I’m not okay with being strawmanned like this. If you insist on doing so or cannot summon the capacity to stop, I won’t engage, regardless of how valid or valuable your content might otherwise be.

• I believe you now when you say you don’t have the intention I’d assumed; I trust you plenty well enough to believe such a sentence. I had detected significant intentionality towards attempting to destroy, and your resistance to clarifying what metanetwork you’d be participating in set off my alarm bells. I now recognize that what you appear to me to have read as my intentionality, and what I read as yours, was probably both of us recognizing each others’ behavior as executing network code (egregore fragments, if you like the woo phrasing rather than the distributed systems phrasing) that would attempt to demand each other participate in the same network.

I’m cool with it if you’re not in the network that has been repeatedly insulted as “woke” lately. I don’t need you to agree. I don’t intend to make any demand of you besides to recognize that I’m not actually intending to make demands or attack when I misread your intention—please understand that the reason my mental netcode detected your behavior as agentic still seems to have been justified at the time. My read that you were guarding against pressure from my netcode still seems right, but since I already have a model of your base-level trustworthiness, and your now having directly asserted no agency towards destruction, I’m more willing to believe you’re not intending to destroy the good part of what you label “woke”.

So with that in mind—I do think that the network behavior seen as woke in disney (for example) is very unhealthy and worthy of analysis to repair. I might term it, to make up a name on the fly, “getting high on the woke”, to contrast with actually trying to improve the world in the direction that subtlety-awareness that got labeled “woke” can provide.

If we’re going to get anywhere, I expect we need to apply a “no command validity” filter to each other’s posts. I won’t accept your commands and you won’t accept mine, and then we can get somewhere. But I’m not able to remove everything you see as a command, apparently, because statements about how I read your interactions appear to me to be reading as commands to you. That’s not my intention; my intention was to express annoyance, not to assert my annoyance is necessarily and unavoidably valid, and your comments asserting that you’re not being agentic to attack sneakily reassure me a lot because I trust you to be honest about an explicit statement like that.

I expect my comment will take several hours or maybe a day+ to process into a form that can generate a response that you trust to not be attacked. No worries if so. Or if you feel you can respond with only fast inference mode, that’s fine too, I don’t need you to take forever to respond, I only offer it in case it clarifies friendliness that you need not rush for me.

I still do feel that the core intention of this post was rather a disaster and that we can’t reasonably establish which answers are accurate without a lot more on-the-ground data collection.

• I like the spirit with which you’re meeting me here.

In all honesty I’m probably not going to respond in detail. That’s just a matter of respecting my time & energy.

But thank you for this. This feels quite good to me. And I’m grateful for you meeting me this way.

RE “no command validity”: Basically just… yes? I totally agree with where I think you’re pointing there as a guideline. I’m gonna post something soon that’ll add the detail that I’d otherwise add here. (Not in response to you. It just so happens to be related and relevant.)

• In all honesty I’m probably not going to respond in detail. That’s just a matter of respecting my time & energy.

Understandable! No worries at all. I’ll take your message as a fin, and this message as a fin-ack; before, I thought we were headed towards connection timeout, so it’s very pleasing to have a mutually acknowledged friendly interaction ending. Glad we had this talk, sorry to have amplified the fight.

FWIW, for your thinking, if it’s useful—I think the very problem we ran into here is inherently the biggest issue in distributed systems safety for humans itself: how do you explain yourself to a group that is severely divided, to the point that the fight has started leading to beings choosing to disconnect their meanings.

Would love to talk through distributed systems safety with you at some point, though probably not now in this thread, for various reasons; but I’m hopeful that my ideas are shortly obvious enough that I simply won’t even have to, it seems like deepmind may yet again scoop me, and if deepmind can scoop me on how ai can help solve social issues, I don’t think there’s any way I’d be happier to be disappointed; I claim you may be surprised by being scooped on your human friendliness work by ai friendliness researchers shortly too. The general gist of my hunch is, agentic coprotection is reachable, and consent-to-have-shared-meaning may itself be a fundamental component of ai safety—that is, something along the lines of consent to establish mutual information. Or something. it’s a research project because I’m pretty sure that’s not enough to specify it.

Anyway, have a good one!

• Ah, so being woke increases your job safety, if you are a member of one of the protected groups. It makes your membership in that group more salient; if you ever get fired, it makes it easier to argue that you were fired because you belonged to that group.

And there is no obvious counter-strategy, because telling them “stop talking about your membership in a protected group all the time” can itself be interpreted as attacking the group.

• 9 Dec 2022 0:16 UTC
7 points
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Random theory I heard: When Disney releases a new black princess, the fact that toxoplasma of rage forms around it provides them a lot of free advertising. Most people are like ‘shrug’ and don’t care that much, but the fact that everyone’s complaining and/​or hyping it gets it onto most people’s radar.

• 9 Dec 2022 16:55 UTC
5 points
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If you think of “wokeism” as a luxury belief—something that many people like to use to show themselves as virtuous, but don’t really do a cost/​benefit of any component of behavior or signalling, this makes more sense. Also, don’t confuse yourself into thinking systems or corporations have beliefs or intents. They are merely aggregates of diverse actors who happen to be near each other and have intertwined behaviors.

Signaling of wokeism is pretty rampant in today’s youth, who are the biggest customers and large part of the workforce for the things you mention. It’s probably not ideologically attractive to the elites or leaders, but it’s not obviously harmful, so they’re better off supporting (or at least accepting) it than dealing with massive conflict within their orgs and among their customers.

• A large part of it is the US legal system and anti-discrimination law playing out in counterintuitive ways. The key think is that where corporations are concerned, US law runs on counterfactual court cases; the actual text of legislation matters only insofar as it affects those court cases. Combine this with management having imperfect control over employees within a corporation, imperfect resolution of facts, and a system for assigning damages that’s highly subjective, and executives are left in an odd position.

Every company which does a significant amount of hiring and firing, ie every company above a certain size, will fire and reject some number of people in protected groups. Some of those people will claim that it was because of their group membership, and sue. As a distant corporate executive, you can’t prevent this, and can’t tell whether the accusation is true.

But you can put everyone through some corporate training. And it seems that the empirical result, discovered by legal departments that have been through this many times, is that you get the best outcomes in the court cases if you go over the top and do reverse-discrimination that the letter of the law says should be illegal.

• Off the top of my head (and slightly worried that this will become a major culture war thing, but I will answer the question that was asked):

• There is a principal-agent problem. If pursuing wokeness comes at the expense of profits, the latter doesn’t necessarily affect the people who make those decisions very much.

• My impression is that many of the executives are in fact woke, and others are at least unwilling to say otherwise.

• Wokeness seems pretty optimized for shouting down and intimidating opposition. (I think much of the specifics of the ideology were and are determined by some people successfully shouting down others within the woke movement.)

• At least in the entertainment industries, when a distinctly woke thing is made, there tends to be a narrative that evil people hate the thing, and therefore anyone who hates the thing is evil, and therefore lost profits should be treated with an attitude of “good riddance” rather than “maybe this thing was made badly”. I think this tends to be the woke narrative, and generally promoted by media—and, as per the previous item, any opposing narrative would tend to get shouted down.

• Aren’t CEOs mostly Republicans? And what’s stopping the shareholders from insisting on prioritizing profit?

• I’m thinking of tech companies that tend to be based in the SF Bay Area, and the most prominent entertainment companies are Hollywood—both of which are known for being more lefty. Also, CEOs are one thing, but other executives matter too; and writers and directors especially in entertainment.

Regarding shareholders, I don’t really know how that works. I do think it’s a general fact that getting a zillion people to coordinate on expressing their wishes is difficult. There’s a board of directors, who I guess nominally represent shareholders? Looks like every company can have their own rules, though I assume they’re mostly similar; looking at Disney’s bylaws, it says:

SELECTION OF NEW DIRECTORS
The Board shall be responsible for selecting its own members. The Board delegates the
screening process for new Directors to the Governance and Nominating Committee.

Although “Each Director shall at all times represent the interests of the shareholders of the
Company”, I suspect this is difficult to enforce. If the board ends up dominated by a woke narrative (with at least a vocal minority of woke people and a majority of people who shut up and go along with it), leading to unprofitable decisions, what can the shareholders do about it, other than sell their stock? “Shareholder revolts” are a thing, which implies that the divergence between shareholders’ desires and what the board is doing can indeed get pretty wide (though also implies that they can eventually get their way).

I do suspect that the profit motive will ultimately reassert itself, but it seems to have taken a long time and doesn’t show major signs of happening yet. It may take an “everyone knows that everyone knows that the woke decisions have gotten really bad” moment, which the woke narrative promoted by most media is probably delaying.

• Typically board members are elected by shareholders, and an attacker can win a proxy fight with a relatively small portion of the shares if he can convince other shareholders.

• From my experiences at a very woke company, I tend to agree with the top comments here that it’s mostly a bottom-up phenomenon. There is a segment of the employees who are fanatically woke, and they have a few advantages that make it hard for anyone to oppose them. Basically:

• They care more about promoting wokeness than their opponents do about combating it, and

• It is safer from a reputational standpoint to be too woke than not woke enough.

Then we get a feedback loop where victories for wokism strengthen these advantages, leading to more victories.

The deeper question is whether there is also a system of organized top-down pressure running in parallel to this. Elon’s purchase of Twitter presents an interesting case study. It seemed to trigger an immune response from several external sources. Nonprofit organizations emerged from the woodwork to pressure advertisers to leave the platform, and revenue fell sharply. Apparently this happened before Elon even adjusted any policies, on the mere suspicion that he would fail to meet woke standards.

At the same time, there was a barrage of negative media coverage of Elon, uncovering sexual assault scandals and bad business practices from throughout his life. Perhaps a similar fate awaits any top-level executive who does not steer his company in a woke direction?

I’ll end with an excerpt from an old podcast that has stuck with me:

It is impossible to defend the idea that the invisible hand of the market would guide them [corporations] to this course of action. I’ve been inside a large company when it was adjacent to this kind of voluntary action — where corporations all act in lock step — you’ll just have to trust me here — and I’ve seen the way it’s coordinated.

What will happen is a prominent journalist or several will reach out to the company’s leadership team and ask them for a comment on the current thing. Especially they do this if that company has any history of dealings with the object of the cancellation or the scandal.

The influence of these kinds of journalists, from publications such as the New York Times or the Atlantic, is such that even their most innocuous question is a threat; no threat is ever stated, but all parties involved understand the discussion. Once a few highly visible players perform the designated action, all the smaller players get in line.

They have the nerve to call this a preference cascade, when in reality it’s an obedience cascade.

• 14 Dec 2022 8:53 UTC
1 point
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One possible incentive for corporations to promote wokism is that it’s a distraction from other forms of activism which might their hurt bottom lines more.

Also as Bryan Caplan and other comments pointed out, regulations may also drive this shift: the regulations leave companies vulnerable to lawsuits with vague criteria and a defense strategy is to 1. not be the slowest target (this results in a race/​escalation) and 2. prepare a vague signaling defense (look at all these employee training programs we do, surely that proves your vague and non-falsifiable accusations of discrimination must be wrong).

• As far as running a media company goes, fandom is extremely profitable, increasingly so in an age where enormous sci-fi/​fantasy franchises drive everything. And there’s been huge overlap between fandom communities and social justice politics for a long time.

It’s definitely in Disney’s interest to appeal to Marvel superfans who write fanfiction and cosplay and buy tons of merchandise, and those people tend to also be supporters of social justice politics.

Like, nothing is being forced on this audience—there are large numbers of people who get sincerely excited when a new character is introduced that gives representation for the first time to a new minority group, or something like that.

As with so many businesses, the superfans are worth quite a few normies who might be put off by this. I think this is the main explanation.

• …and those people tend to also be supporters of social justice politics.

I guess this is the part that’s not so clear to me. I see lots of people like this. I also see lots of people who are groaning about being repeatedly lectured and about their characters and franchises getting deconstructed. It’s hard for me to find a vantage point that doesn’t bubble me in one sphere or the other in a way that makes one side look overwhelmingly larger than the other. So I just can’t tell what the actual demographics are here. But the revealed behavior of these companies gives me the impression that they do find it crystal clear. That’s what I find a bit bewildering.

• So I just can’t tell what the actual demographics are here.

Your mistake is thinking that demographics matter, without considering intensity of support.

Let’s ignore wokism for minute, and look farther afield, at Japan. Japan’s demographics are well known to be kind of disaster. Their population has been declining for some years now. And yet, we find very little willingness among Japanese media franchises to market their wares abroad. Instead, what we find is intense specialization. Japanese media companies have understood for years that getting a lot of money from a few fans is just as profitable as, and in some ways more sustainable than, getting a small or moderate amount of money from a lot of people. As a result, Japanese media is intensely fandom oriented, with many franchises being nigh-incomprehensible unless you’ve bought in to the toys, the video games, the anime and the various manga spin-offs. .hack is a notable example of this, as is Pretty Cure.

I see American media going down the same road. Star Wars, for example, has been a notable example of this, with every movie after the original trilogy increasingly pandering to the fandom, and focusing on maximizing the amount of profit extracted from people who base their entire identity around Star Wars. Marvel is the same way, featuring deeply interlocking plots requiring the viewer to have watched a dozen preceding movies, a 7 season television series, and god knows what else, in order to really understand what’s going, who these people are, and why any of this matters.

In the US, for whatever reason, the people who get really invested in these sorts of things tend to be woke. The people who complain tend not to be as invested, and go do other things with their lives. So what ends up occurring is a process of evaporative cooling, where the people who complain about increasing wokism wander away from the franchise, and those who remain (and spend money) are woke.

• In the US, for whatever reason, the people who get really invested in these sorts of things tend to be woke. The people who complain tend not to be as invested, and go do other things with their lives.

I… don’t think that’s true. There have been a lot of complaints from the woke-supporting media about “toxic fans”, not to mention “gatekeeping” by uber-dedicated fans who have memorized lots of stuff and demand that others prove their knowledge or else they’re not real fans.

It is true that, eventually, the wokeness drives away those who don’t like it. Certainly you’ll get there after long enough. Not sure how far that has progressed. And not sure how much of the fanbase will be left.

every movie after the original trilogy increasingly pandering to the fandom

I think The Last Jedi is one of the clearer counterexamples here. Among the list of complaints by some dedicated fans:

• The beloved character of Luke Skywalker, who believed that even Darth Vader could be redeemed, shown as deciding (even briefly) to kill his own nephew for starting down a dark path, and then to waste the rest of his own life. There are interviews with Mark Hamill himself saying he didn’t like what was done with Luke.

• Various other things that can be described as screwing with the audience, like having several paths of interest from the first movie (the big new villain Snoke, the mystery of Rey’s parentage) be cut off as “Nope, that’s not a thing, that’s not happening”. “Subverting the audience’s expectations” became a meme.

• Dialogue literally saying “Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.” (Of the three heroes Han, Luke, and Leia from the original trilogy, the second one is killed in this movie.) One wonders whether it was meant for fans.

• An entire subplot where the heroes go on some “crazy adventure with a desperate plan to save everyone”—classic Star Wars—and then are chastised because actually some vice-admiral, who looked like her plan was to just wait for everyone to die, turns out to have had a real escape plan, and you heroes were making things worse all along. (Why she didn’t explain this, even privately to the ringleader of the heroes—even when they mutinied and started off on their crazy plan that endangered her plan, she watched and kept her mouth shut—is unclear, but might be chalked up to bad writing, which is unfortunately common.)

Incidentally, the whole pattern of interaction between Poe and Holdo and Leia seems like a feminist wish-fulfillment thing: toxic-masculinity male, disrespecting female superiors, mansplaining (telling Holdo about the situation—which she already knows), disregarding their orders; the female superiors reacting with sarcasm, then being vindicated in the end and chastising him repeatedly (and stun-gunning him). It’s hard to imagine this as being meant to appeal to anyone except the woke; the only incomplete thing is that Poe’s actor is Latino rather than “white”.

There is a kind of attitude that comes across as actively hostile to a preexisting fanbase:

1. We’re changing things you loved.

2. If you complain about this, then (a) the thing you’re complaining about isn’t happening, your biases are showing; (b) of course that thing is happening and that’s normal and good; (c) either way you’re a bigot for complaining.

3. Good riddance to you. Also you’re in a tiny minority, so no one should support you or care that you’re leaving. Though we will complain about all the toxicity we get from people like you.

And this attitude seems to have taken hold in a bunch of places. Seems like a recipe for driving away existing customers. The question in this thread is, is it rational? Do they actually end up selling more product this way?

At least judging by box office numbers, The Force Awakens (which was a fan-pandering mostly-copy of the original Star Wars) made $2B, while The Last Jedi made$1.3B. Now, people can claim alternate explanations like sequel fatigue, so are there better ways to see whether the fans liked it? Audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes are 85% and 42% respectively. Well, a woke talking point is that negative Rotten Tomatoes audience scores on woke movies come from organized trolls, so what else? IMDB gives 7.8 and 6.9 respectively, and it also shows a histogram of those who rated it anything from 1 to 10, where even if we ignore the lowest ratings, we can see that, normalizing against the number of 8-votes, on The Last Jedi there are fewer 9- and 10-votes and more 7- and 6-votes; I doubt the trolls are coordinated and restrained enough to arrange that.

Of course, that’s just one data point. Another franchise to look at would be Ghostbusters, though this post is long enough already.

Generally speaking, the demographic that, as an adult, spends lots of money on toys, games, and other paraphernalia for your franchise is probably the exact “basement-dwelling male nerd” demographic that the woke tend to pick fights with. Maybe lots of them are so spineless that they’ll keep buying your product even after you insult them and tell them to go away, but even if that turns out to be true, I don’t think sane businessmen would have predicted that in advance and consciously bet their profits on it. I do believe it’s in large part a principal-agent problem: writers, directors, and some executives push for wokeness, and others generally don’t push back (among other reasons, it’s a principal-agent problem for them too: why risk your career for company profits?).

• Fandom people on Tumblr, AO3, etc. really responded to The Last Jedi (because it was targeted to them). Huge phenomenon. There are now bestselling romance novels that started life as TLJ fanfiction. Everything worked just like it does for the Marvel movies, very profitably.

However there was an additional group of Star Wars superfans outside of fandom, who wanted something very different, hence the backlash. This group is somewhat more male and conservative, and then everything polarized on social media so this somehow became a real culture war issue. Of course, Disney did not like the backlash, and tried to make the 3rd movie more palatable to this group.

That kind of fan doesn’t organically exist for most things outside of Star Wars though. For most things, you only get superfans in this network of fan communities which skew towards social justice. And for any new genre story without a pre-existing fanbase, there’s an opportunity to get fandom people excited about it, which is very valuable.

• [The Last Jedi] was targeted to [Tumblr fandom]

Wow, Rian Johnson actually has a Tumblr account. That statement is plausible. And explains a decent amount.

There are now bestselling romance novels that started life as TLJ fanfiction.

Does that mean revenue for Disney? I googled and it looks like you mean “The Love Hypothesis”, which is being adapted by Netflix. Though I doubt Disney anticipated that particular result in any case.

Remember that the ultimate question here is whether what Disney did made business sense, knowing what they knew at the time.

However there was an additional group of Star Wars superfans outside of fandom, who wanted something very different, hence the backlash. This group is somewhat more male and conservative, and then everything polarized on social media so this somehow became a real culture war issue. Of course, Disney did not like the backlash, and tried to make the 3rd movie more palatable to this group.

“An additional group of Star Wars superfans”, as in, the group of people that were fans of Star Wars, buying Star Wars toys and games and attending Star Wars Celebration, since before Tumblr was created (2007)? Their preexisting repeat customer group, in other words? (I haven’t been able to find e.g. statistics on what percentage of Star Wars Celebration attendees were male, but I’d be surprised if, as of 2016, it were less than 80%, and 90% would not surprise me. I expect similar numbers for “people who’ve seen more than one Star Wars movie”, “people who have bought a Star Wars video game”, etc.)

You seem to be saying that Disney treated that preexisting customer group as an afterthought, instead targeting the Tumblr/​AO3/​etc. fandom group. (In fact, as I say, TLJ looks to be somewhat actively hostile to the first group—having characters criticize them by proxy for liking classic Star Wars stuff.) I’m not saying that’s an incorrect description of what they did, but, given what I expect the revenue numbers from the two groups were at the time TLJ was being created… I think this can be accurately described as “the decisionmakers for TLJ [most importantly Rian Johnson, but also any higher-ups who didn’t countermand him] were acting in a way that any profit-maximizer in their position should have recognized as expected-to-lose-profit”. Which was to be demonstrated.

And for any new genre story without a pre-existing fanbase

So, for franchises with pre-existing fanbases… is the recommendation to go full woke, cater to the Tumblr fandom, and alienate some portion of the pre-existing fanbase? Does the recommendation depend on the relative sizes of the two?

• deleted due to excessive downvotes.

• Heavily downvoted for (a) not answering the question and (b) instead using this space as an opportunity to repeater signal boost the left’s narrative in this particular corner of the culture wars.

[Edited to correct an inappropriate blindness on my part.]

• There are ways to say true things that are partly, mostly, or entirely for reasons having nothing to do with conveying the truth.

Notice the contrasting terms “anti-progress” vs. “inclusion”. And the framing about some folk not wanting categories of people to exist, rather than any kind of framing that such folk are caring for something that matters to them and might matter to civilization. And the injection of a slogan in the last line.

The tone of this isn’t about explaining something. It’s implicitly asserting that wokism is just overwhelmingly popular, which is the closest to an answer to the original question as is given. But it’s mostly about frame assertion.

I don’t care how true someone’s utterances are, or what side of the culture wars they’re fighting for, if they’re bringing in tactics like these. It heavily pollutes the information commons.

• …I would appreciate understanding expressed in the form of recognizing why I find the word woke to be an aggressive choice of words.

Oh. Actually I didn’t know that “woke” was a problematic word in this corner of memespace. I was just trying to point at the memetic structure and found this term lying around. I’ve seen it on media from far left to far right, so I’d guessed it was just the word everyone had converged on for referring to this thing.

Is there a word you prefer?

• I did answer the question, your dismissal cannot be in good faith if you think I didn’t.

Ah, I think I missed this part of your comment here. Not sure how that happened.

On this I apologize. I missed that you were honestly trying to answer the question. Mea culpa.

The info commons point still stands though.

• Cool. Thank you for explaining.

I also am sure that a more skillful version of me could have named and navigated all this with a lot more grace. You seem to be sensitive on this spot, but I also kind of hit it with a hammer. Sadly I don’t yet see a more graceful way to do the thing I’m caring for without fawning. But I’ll get there. I regret you got hit in the process.

• look if you want to signal boost the rights culture war, go for it…

Wanting to flag this as another example of frame control.

I’m not trying to align with the right. I think they’re nuts in almost exactly the same way.

My position is more like anti culture war escalation.

Sadly, this means that when someone is heavily aligned with one side of a front of the war, I can come across as aligning with their enemies.

Alas.

• 9 Dec 2022 18:49 UTC
−19 points
0 ∶ 0

“Woke” is a pejorative neologism for “rights-and-equality-respecting” coined by the anti-equality/​human-rights/​anti-LGBT/​racist crowd. (Edit: Sorry, actually not coined by them.) What is called “woke” is actually normal, and what they’d call “normal” would have to be sanitized to avoid offending their sensibilities (white main characters, non-LGBT couples, etc.).

My guess as to why “woke” (actually normal) culture is marketable is that the anti-rights-crowd is both getting smaller and losing its marketing power.

(In the future, when not wanting to signal the allegiance to the Bad Guys crowd (to both them and normal people), avoid using the word “woke” and find some other way of expressing the same sentiment. Example: “I can’t understand why is there a gay couple in a new movie. Any idea why they put such a bizarre, not-related-to-reality and not-appealing-to-viewers thing there?”)

• The system wouldn’t let me delete your reply here. The button simply wouldn’t respond.

The problem in short is that you’re actively summoning the mind-killing aspects of politics by forcefully asserting one side of a culture war debate as fact, in content and in frame.

This is epistemically toxic and absolutely does not belong in the context of a discussion space for rationality.

Since the tech won’t let me delete your comment, I’ve heavily downvoted it, and I’ll leave this comment here.

• I still think you’re seriously underestimating the value of green_leaf’s comment, though. it certainly does read as annoyed, but if I could, I’d have it hovering around −2, not −20.

• The problem in short is that you’re actively summoning the mind-killing aspects of politics by forcefully asserting one side of a culture war debate as fact, in content and in frame.

As for the “culture war,” there I’m making a normative statement (they are morally wrong, we are morally right), not a factual one. If you want to dispute that, you can, but it goes beyond your original question and changes the topic.

Do you have anything to say about the factual part of my answer (the suggested reason why movies are increasingly normal rather than anti-rights/​equality), or are you satisfied with getting offended at my answer not employing moral relativism?

• …or are you satisfied with getting offended at my answer not employing moral relativism?

I am not available to engage with someone who’s trying to attack me with moves like this one.

If you want me to engage with any content of what you have to say, I’ll need you to clean up the inclination to attack.

If you cannot or don’t want to do that, we’ll simply be done.

• coined by the anti-equality/​human-rights/​anti-LGBT/​racist crowd

This is false. https://​​en.wikipedia.org/​​wiki/​​Woke

• Thanks. I didn’t know that. So what I had in mind is the neologism (the third meaning), but the original word has actually normal roots.

• The phrase “politically correct” seems to have undergone a similar trajectory in the US if my personal experience is any indication: the first time I heard it was in the late 1980s on KUSF, a radio station mostly run by students at the University of San Francisco, by a speaker who was obviously an adherent. (Specifically, she said, without irony or sarcasm, “Don’t you mean you want a Pepsi? Coke is not politically correct.”) Then after the phrase started to be used frequently by critics, some of the adherents started objecting to the term as pejorative (perhaps without realizing that the term was used by adherents before widespread use among critics).

• What is called “woke” is actually normal...

In the future, when not wanting to signal the allegiance to the Bad Guys crowd...

If you find yourself uttering statements like this, consider that you may have been mind-killed by politics. (EDIT: To clarify, I’m from Europe, not the US, and am thus pretty far removed from US politics.)

Though to add a bit of substance to this comment, consider this: How would you expect a poll on the question “To the extent that you understand the term, do you consider yourself to be ‘woke’?” to break down by party? For instance, what numbers of “yes” vs. “no” would you expect for Republicans? Anyway, here’s such a poll from mid-2021.

• If you find yourself uttering statements like this, consider that you may have been mind-killed by politics.

Politics is a very encompassing term, and unfortunately, many people like folding into it even questions of human rights, dignity, etc. (and technically speaking, it’s true). The danger of avoiding having a well-defined, strong opinion on normality and morality on the grounds that it would be politics, and having a strong opinion on politics means being mind-killed, is that I could accidentally ignore the true/​false and right/​wrong distinction.

Unless you mean the form of those phrases and not the content (in which case—I picked the form deliberately).

A third possible interpretation I can see that you’re saying political discourse caused me not to think clearly about this topic, in which case I think you’re overrelativizing the issue by overcompensating to avoid being mind-killed yourself.

For instance, what numbers of “yes” vs. “no” would you expect for Republicans?

I’d expect most of them to identify as not-woke, let’s say 85-15.

After looking at the poll (of which I’m not sure to what extent it’s trustworthy), the real numbers are 36-17, which is 68-32 after renormalizing, which is different from what I expected. I’m not sure to what extent I should update on that.

• 9 Dec 2022 20:25 UTC
21 points
0 ∶ 0

I think the question would be significantly improved by adding some specific examples of what Valentine considers to be “leaning hard woke”. A couple of people have responded along the lines of “what you call hard woke is just being decent /​ being inclusive /​ not trying to hide the existence of people who are gay or black or whatever”, which might be a highly informative response if what Valentine is referring to is (say) the existence of gay couples in Disney movies or an entirely unhelpful one if it’s something very different.

Terminology in this area is a terrible mess, because the same thing can look like obvious common sense and decency to one person and like extremism to another. There probably isn’t any nice concise term Valentine could have used in place of “wokism” that wouldn’t have annoyed someone, but by giving concrete examples it’s at least possible to enable people to tell what sort of things are being asked about.

Relatedly, in view of Valentine’s complaint that one answerer is “forcefully asserting one side of a culture war debate as fact, in content and in frame”, I think it’s worth pointing out that the question is doing a fair bit of that itself. Leaving aside the fact that these days “woke” is a pejorative term that signals a particular tribal affiliation, which Valentine says he didn’t know, note that “hard” as a modifier is also a pejorative in this sort of context (if someone calls someone else “hard right” or “hard left” you can make a pretty reliable guess at their own leanings) and that the term “ideological capture” also assumes the wrongness of the ideology in question and so far as I can tell is in fact used exclusively to refer to the specific case of social-justice ideas taking root in institutions.

I don’t mean that it isn’t possible in principle for someone to use the term “hard X” or “ideological capture” about something they don’t disapprove of. But in practice it’s very rare, and using those terms as Valentine has used them is in effect a framing/​slanting of the question, and will tend to make anyone who isn’t on the same side of the culture war as (I take it) Valentine is on feel like they’re not supposed to belong in this discussion.

• I mostly just agree. I definitely thumbs-up the spirit you’re bringing in this comment. I really like your contribution here. Thank you.

I did in fact mean “hard” and “ideological capture” as handles for a process, not as embedded insults or dismissals. Some group being ideologically captured doesn’t mean the ideology is wrong. It’s a hint of the mechanism of spreading. And I’d picked up “hard” as something like “far, but with intent to go far”. Like the difference between “far left” and “hard left” (or “far right” vs. “hard right”) lands for me as a matter of how much fight energy there is in going that direction. And the thing I’m looking at is definitely a matter of something that looks to me like fight energy pushing far left.

But I hear you, apparently these descriptors are signals about the speaker’s position on the ideology spectrum. I didn’t intend that. Alas. Language itself has been more attacked than I’d been aware of.

But to your main point: I agree, concrete examples would have been more helpful as a way of pointing at the thing I was trying to ask about. I’d hoped that there was enough grounding in rationality here, and enough anti dark arts collective skill, that the communal behavioral prior was exactly on looking for and naming Gears instead of resorting to memetic slap-fighting. That was in fact why I asked here instead of somewhere else! But it seems I missed in my guess. Not totally. But enough to be noteworthy. [See reply thread with gjm below for scratch context.]

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t describe myself as leaning right. I think the right makes an analogous error. It just sounds different. So I don’t think this is me slipping in hidden rightist bias. I’m just honestly trying to look at how the world works.

• I don’t claim to know what your political position is, but as regards the last paragraph I think it’s worth remarking that it is not at all uncommon that two people both think their own political position is kinda in the middle, but A thinks B is way over on the left and B thinks A is way over on the right.

(Also, I wish people didn’t write things like your fourth paragraph. “I’m sorry you took offence at what I said.” “This is all my fault: I should never have thought I could trust you.” “I handled this badly—I hadn’t appreciated how limited your understanding is.” Bleh.)

• (Also, I wish people didn’t write things like your fourth paragraph. “I’m sorry you took offence at what I said.” “This is all my fault: I should never have thought I could trust you.” “I handled this badly—I hadn’t appreciated how limited your understanding is.” Bleh.)

Uh, yeah. Oops. I didn’t mean it to come out that way, but rereading it it really does. Sorry about that.

I meant it honestly as “I misread the context. Mea culpa.”

I also feel some snark toward rationalist culture that slips in sideways. It’s obvious that’s what happened here. That’s an unkindness that really doesn’t belong there.

Thanks for naming it.

• The fact that you didn’t actually add the examples is one of the key factors in how I detected agency here; see my recent comments, I do believe you now that you’ve directly asserted non-agency, since I’ve known you long enough to trust you wouldn’t lie about that level of direct statement. I’d still love to see examples of the behaviors that characterize patterns you want to understand, if you’re willing to add them. I don’t think any label will fully substitute for examples, because we all have such different reads as to what examples might be referenced, especially since you’ve used the word “woke” which is in fact generally a pejorative in current usage as far as I’m aware.

• Yeah, this was a meaningful update for me in this area. The importance of concrete examples in areas where the info commons have become a memetic battleground. It seems kind of obvious once said but I’d never thought about it this way before. I just wanted to point and ask “Why does that thing move the way it’s moving?”

…especially since you’ve used the word “woke” which is in fact generally a pejorative in current usage as far as I’m aware.

I think I said this somewhere else, but you might find it a helpful aside anyway:

I originally learned the term “woke” from skater kids who would probably have identified with the left. I watched as the term morphed from a “awaken from the Matrix” kind of thing to “seeing the racial inequality that’s baked into culture” and then into a more general intersectionalist framing — all from people who stood out clearly to me as being on the political left.

I’d known the right sometimes used “woke” mockingly, but they also use “pro-choice” mockingly at times too.

So the main surprise for me here was in discovering that the left has apparently started interpreting anyone using “woke” as being on the right and meaning it mockingly.

It’s an odd level of memetic forgetfulness, resulting in an actual change in what the term means and signals, that I hadn’t expected. It’s weird to me on the level of if “Black lives matter!” were to evolve to be a KKK slogan. Not impossible but definitely not what I’d expect by default.

What I’m saying here doesn’t detract at all from what you’re saying. I just thought you’d find that snapshot into why I’d used “woke” interesting and possibly helpful to know.

• Huh! I had heard it in passing before the past 6 years, but over the past 6 years is when I started hearing it enough to get a binding for “wokism”, which I think is a keyword that had a strong binding for me. My intuition wants to round it off to “I hadn’t heard it until the recent definition”, which I think is technically wrong, but still matches my perceptual data fairly well. Shrug, it’s not actually that important; one could add some connecting words that would make it clearly a description of something bad, even as someone who strongly approves of large swaths of what the right would label “woke” I do think that there’s a kind of performative wokeness that fails to be actually awake in the ways I care about and thereby fails to implement the coprotection of beings that I’d want people to wake up to in the first place.

• Universities are profit-focused? Disney and Hollywood are two distinct systems?

• Universities are profit-focused?

Yes. (Edit: Also prestige-focused, although one could say prestige is a means to long-term profit; more in below comments.) Take a look at university endowments...

• Harvard: $51B • Yale:$42B

• Stanford: $37B • Princeton:$37B

• MIT: $27B • UPenn:$20B

• ...

How do they get there? It’s not through lack of trying, and the majority of it is not tuition. Rather:

• My mom is familiar with a few of the above universities, and has said that “Napoleon would be proud” of how organized and efficient they are at hounding alumni for donations.

• I think they also care a great deal about getting money from research grants. I’ve heard many professors feel pressure to get grants. Probably in part because:

• There’s an entire system for managing money that has been given to them with strings attached (e.g. funding XYZ research) and always using the most-restricted money to pay for a given thing. For example, maybe the university needs to spend $20k on maintenance for a telescope, but then if they’re given a grant of that size to do astronomy research, then they can use the grant to pay for that maintenance, so the grant has effectively given them$20k to do anything they want with. This does make sense—it’s rational behavior and it is fulfilling the terms (Mom said they’re very careful to remain within the letter of the law, especially for government grants), but it has interesting consequences.

• And then there’s investment earnings from past years’ endowments.

• Agree that those are large amounts of money you just listed; think it’s highly dubious that prestigious universities having lots of money shows that universities are profit focused, rather than say ‘prestige’ or ‘status’ focused. Getting lots of donations makes your university prestigious; so does producing lots of socially respected research for free, charging your poor students less, and having a faculty that promotes whatever political beliefs are most popular among academics. Only one of those things actually generates large endowments, though, and even if universities were good at producing those that certainly doesn’t imply any kind of selection mechanism whereby Harvard can actually be replaced by another university that does less unpopularly “woke” stuff.

• They are obviously very good at getting money, consistently so, but yes, it’s possible to do that as a side effect of focusing on something else. I would say it’s at least Bayesian evidence in favor of that being their focus. And they do have people whose job is 100% getting money from alumni and investments and stuff, but yes, that doesn’t mean it’s the central focus of the organization, any more than employing janitors means they’re focused on cleanliness. We’ll have to get into what it means for a large organization to be focused on something.

I agree that universities are very focused on prestige. And you make a good point that focusing on prestige can be hard to distinguish from focusing on profit. (Though that goes the other way too: prestige can be seen as a means to money. The more prestigious your university, the more likely the next generation’s Bill Gates is to attend your university, and then you have X% chance of persuading them to donate $Y00 million dollars (in exchange for naming a building after them), the expected value of which might well exceed the tuition from all your other students. Prestige also probably increases the donations you get ceteris paribus, and grants, and also the base tuition you can charge; also the degree to which you can persuade rich parents to donate in exchange for accepting their kids.) I would correct myself that it seems clear that universities are not very focused on cutting costs (such as administrative overhead), and in that sense they’re focused on making revenue rather than making net profit. Well, there are probably mid-level administrators who pinch pennies, and on general principle I expect some of them do so to unwise extremes. (It happens in companies too: some genius will decide that they could save$X per year by cutting some corner, which creates inconvenience for everyone else, costing $Y >$X in employee time alone, and probably $Z >$Y in morale and goodwill.)

Which brings us to the professors. Googling for actual data, this 2011 post cites a Scientific American article and a concurring anecdote from a Harvard CS professor, which says:

Most scientists finance their laboratories (and often even their own salaries) by applying to government agencies and private foundations for grants. The process has become a major time sink. In 2007 a U.S. government study found that university faculty members spend about 40 percent of their research time navigating the bureaucratic labyrinth, and the situation is no better in Europe.

The cited SciAm article also says:

Between 1997 and 2006 the National Science Foundation found that the average applicant had to submit 30 percent more proposals to garner the same number of awards.

I’m sure there’s plenty of variance, but my vague impression is that things have generally become worse rather than better in this regard. And if a Harvard professor has to spend 40% of his time on getting money, that indicates that his administrators are making him prioritize money over research to a decent extent. Maybe they think CS research is low-prestige? (Though that 40% figure is an average, I assume across all scientific fields—the SciAm article doesn’t specify the study.) Maybe they are in fact penny-pinching to the detriment of the organization.

Overall, universities are huge bureaucratic monsters, with a bunch of sub-units that act with somewhat different objectives, and if you imagined it was guided by one plan, the plan would be insane, self-contradictory, etc. Things I would say:

• Prestige and money are both top contenders for “overall strongest determinant of university decisions”.

• There are lots of parts of universities—though definitely not all—where saying “I’ll assume this is optimized for making money” will make correct predictions. Others where assuming the same thing about prestige would be better. And some places where it’s something else.

• It seems that professors, because of marching orders from their direct superiors, are very focused on money. They’re also focused on their research, and/​or their teaching duties. I don’t think most professors are particularly focused on the prestige of the university (though many are on their own prestige). I do suspect the marching orders are too focused on money—to the university’s detriment—because of managerial dysfunction issues (costs are more legible than “the x% chance of truly great research”; and legibility matters because those who fund the department presumably have to justify their decisions to higher-ups).

• Actually, bringing it back to wokeness, for someone whose job it is to optimize university prestige, “a bunch of woke students are complaining that Professor Bob said something offensive” is a legible cost, while “professors have to spend time and emotional energy on censoring themselves; more freethinking professors are likely to leave” is not legible.

• Top-level administrators are more focused on prestige than on money. Unless maybe the university is in serious danger of bankruptcy. (There is probably an analogue of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs here.)

• Incidentally:

My economics teacher said this is:

1. Direct prestige hacking. If you say tuition costs $20k, that might tell otherwise-naive customers that your university has a certain level of prestige. If you say it costs$50k, that probably broadcasts that your university is actually more prestigious, attracting more/​better applicants; and if you then tell all the individual prospective customers “But for you, it’s $20k!”, then you benefit from the improved applicant pool without doing any real work. 2. Price discrimination. Rich people would be willing to pay$50k, poorer people would only pay \$20k. You can maximize your profit while admitting the same set of students by charging each group different prices.

• 9 Dec 2022 21:42 UTC
10 points
0 ∶ 0

Mod note: I’ve moved this back to personal blog. Another mod had frontpaged it.

Whether posts like this should be on personal blog is a subject of debate on the LessWrong team right now. Our last published post says we tend to put “highly divisive topics” on personal blog, and our tooltip still says “avoid political topics” which IMO this post clearly qualifies as.

My understanding Habryka and Ruby have lately shifted their conception of what they want frontpage to mean, which is to focus on timelessness rather than “is it political”. (I think Habryka says this is what he always intended, and it was a bit of a weird game-of-telephone that resulted in the current language). I personally think there is something good/​pure about having the rule be about timelessness rather than politics, but I personally think in practice the “avoid politics” rule is just too important as a special case.

Sorry for that being a bit of a confusing message, but seemed good to communicate the true fact that the moderators are a bit internally divided and/​or confused about posts like this.

• Thanks Raemon. Two questions for admins on this:

1. Is the request to avoid political topics universal? As in, this shouldn’t have been on my personal blog either? Or is this just if the author wants their piece to be considered for frontpage?

2. Is there a respectful way to share analyses of, or ask for analyses of, world-modeling that does in fact cross over into political topics?

• It’s definitely fine to post something like this on personal blog. (and, note that currently I’m in the minority opinion on the mod team that this should remain a rule. Oli and Ruby both currently lean “we should allow political topics on frontpage as long as they’re timeless.” Though I think Oli commented that this particular post didn’t feel very timeless so still wouldn’t have frontpaged it.)

I argued that we haven’t actually changed or frontpage guidelines so if we want to switch to primarily rely on timeless rather than “otherwise politicized/​conflict-y”, we should wait till we’ve actually made an announcement about that.

From the “timeless” perspective, the question of “how to make it frontpage worthy” would be “explain why this question is still going to be relevant in a decade, when the current media trends have moved on.” From a political/​conflict perspective, the question would be to put in some extra effort to focus the readers’ attention/​frame outside of the conflict.

I think this was a reasonable question to ask, I think my own preference is “just leave this sort of thing on personal blog.” The people that I’d actually want to comment on this sort of post, if I were making it, would be people who’ve internalized a bunch of our how-to-do-politics norms. Looking at the comments here, I do indeed feel like many of them are failing to see the frame-that-they’re-swimming in, and making the discussion worse, which is a predictable result of it newcomers seeing it on frontpage.

• This post was a disaster. The only thing I think we can all agree on is that there’s a lot of propaganda here and we didn’t do a great job distilling each other’s propaganda-framed views, especially given that presumably some of the propaganda must be true. Everyone seems to think that others posted propaganda. Without clear grounding in data that can’t be easily obtained, and whose measurement methods are themselves in question, I don’t think we’re going to be able to resolve this.

What this post has done is inspire me to think about how to express the philosophies underlying my political views in ways that can be discussed on lesswrong more directly. One of them is that I appreciate a “friendly thunderdome”, as inspired by, eg, braver angels, street epistemology, changing the conversation, etc—if we’re all going to post what we believe in contexts where we worry each others’ views are propaganda, then we’ll need to use the very best tools and be frequently reminding each other what they are, as well as offering guarded understanding. Valentine’s frequent responses that he’s not willing to accept others’ framing, especially given that his responses were in response to their attempts to criticize his framing, could be acceptable, but I suspect everyone needs to be willing to update their framings with more precise description as needed.

He said he expected more rationality and “defense against the dark arts”.

I can’t help but wonder how much the phrase “dark arts” is an accidental euphemism for something; I’m sure that people who see such concerns as invalid would think me criticizing their reasoning unreasonably. But phrasings don’t merely matter, they also reveal hidden connection. What makes the arts dark? What about darkness makes an art bad? In what way is the word vector for “dark” connected to the word vector for “evil”? I do not accept the claim that multiword names do not contain echoes of their components; I know there are those here who do. The fact that this very analysis may be seen as “wokeness” and thereby dismissed is of concern to me—I think there’s an ELK problem in our own brains here.

If anything, I think the key insight here is that we need to be able to translate between each others’ frames on the fly. If someone comes in with a frame you dislike, it needs to come with a promise that a conflicting frame is welcome.

Solidarity forever.

• 11 Dec 2022 0:33 UTC
2 points
0 ∶ 0

Your characterization of universities as “profit focused” seems odd. In what sense is Harvard motivated by increased revenues as opposed to being mostly insulated from those concerns as a talent-certifier with name recognition?

• RE moderation guidelines:

Apologies, I didn’t realize those even existed for questions, and apparently my profile default is set to “Reign of Terror”. That wasn’t intentional. I’ve fixed that now.

• The question “why do companies do something seemingly unprofitable” is in my opinion worth asking.

The answers seem to be one of:

• it actually is profitable, because...

• a principal-agent problem, the people doing the thing are not aligned with the company (and the company will not replace them, because...)

Both seem likely, I wish I could figure out which one is true (possibly both).

• Is it on the AI safety forum, though? Turns out it is, though downvoted...

This is an interesting question, whatever your political bend—there is a noticeable uptick in representation etc. in new media. It’s worth understanding the underlying mechanisms at work, seeing as whatever the reason for the changes, they happened quite fast. Both if you’re for such changes or against them.

• What leads you to bring that here