On LessWrong/​Rationality and Political Debates

Epistemic status: rough ideas. Very open to criticism and will try to respond to every reply.

First and foremost, I, like many people here, agree with the sentiments and rationales of Politics is the Mind-Killer. A central reason why I like this place is that discussions are not just bogged down to blind tribalism like most places on the internet—and I’m satisfied with the current way things are.

What motivated me to post this is my reflection on this comment. It leads to realization departing from the Politics is the Mind-Killer article 14 years ago:

  • People in the English world has appearing to be more and more divided. This can be a positive—at least I believe the appearance of increasing divisiveness means that our range of accepted debates have been increasing: we have previously-fringe ideas like UBI or decentralized journalism (?) being put out in the open, and I believe that most people would consider it a net positive.

  • However, being more divided would also unfortunately mean people can agree on less and less common priors in discussions. This is problematic because we can’t not talk about politics since we can’t just start a discussion with common knowledge expecting the readers would agree anymore—the best we can do is to not explicitly talk about politics, but even if we aren’t talking about politics, our System 1 still process these information (like wording or the way one choose examples) and apply internal tribalistic biases to them (a context would be the comment linked above).

  • In the American (or North American if you count Canada, which is pretty polluted by the US as well) context, the past couple of years has caused a lot of things to change drastically, but I feel the most important change is that the line between political and non-political debates have become more and more fuzzy: one less triggering example is the handling of the pandemic (although not as good as evidence since the last time the US had a pandemic was a hundred years ago), or the connotations of this very community by the recent NYT article.

This begs the question: when should we talk (and not talk) about politics in a place that discourages tribalism?

I’ve read previously about a heuristic to only talk about politics when absolutely necessary and use historical or culturally insulated examples when doing so, but I still wonder what can be done in the receiving end of a potentially political debate:

  • One thing I’m doing to actively combat tribalism is by giving the other participant the maximum benefit of the doubt, and try assuming them to be from the same tribe as I am firstly—I know this is probably not the most “aesthetic” way, and I fear this might actually reinforce my inner tribalistic attribution.

  • Another possibility is to mentally set my account on mute on all topics that can be correlated with politics in any form. This still feels unsatisfactory as I am actively not seeking new information through updating my priors.

Any ideas/​suggestions?