Rules for Epistemic Warfare?

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In partisan contests of various forms, dishonesty, polarization, and groupthink are widespread. Political warfare creates societal collateral damage: it makes it harder for individuals to arrive at true beliefs on many subjects, because their social networks provide strong incentive to promote false beliefs. To escape this situation, improving social norms and technology may help, however if only one side of a conflict becomes more honest, the other side may exploit that as a weakness, just as conquerors could exploit countries were less violent. Coming up with rules analogous to rules of war, may help ratchet partisan contests toward higher levels of honesty and integrity over time, enabling more honest coalitions to become more competitive. What follows is a naïve shot at an ethos of what such rules and norms might look like within a community:

Do not lie, deceive, or otherwise speak dishonestly, unseriously, or insincerely. Do not tolerate others that do. Beyond the context of silly banter, comedy, games, pranks, and jokes, where such communication is permissible, deception is harmful and should only be directed at valid enemies.

When justified, lies should be told to enemies, *not* about enemies. When everyone lies about their enemies, one can only trust information about potential enemies gained from direct experience. This leaves the faithful isolated from friends they should have had, and the skeptical vulnerable to attack by those they had been warned about.

Many of the worst lies are those that drive innocent people to action in harmful ways. Lies to the masses, lies to well intentioned decision makers, and especially lies about matters of life and death. The reputation of those who converse unseriously and deceitfully on such matters should be utterly and unmercifully destroyed should they not attempt to seriously evaluate the truth of their own statements and to right the wrongs caused by their deceit. Disproportionate and indiscriminate deception is epistemic war crime.

Though it should be avoided when possible, sometimes when it is necessary to deceive adversaries, it may also be necessary to deceive the innocent. In such circumstances, proportionality must be applied, and distortions imposed on the innocent must be justified in concrete, harm mitigating gains. Harms imposed on the innocent must be compensated by the imposer and lies to the innocent should never be allowed to go unaddressed and become permanent. Epistemic aggressors must take extraordinary efforts to mitigate collateral damage.

People should not be punished for what they believe, they should be punished for harmful actions and the intentions that their actions reflect. Punishing beliefs may sometimes enable good, but it makes it harder for groups to arrive at the truth. If you want to do good, you must be capable of finding out what is true, otherwise you only do good by *good luck.* Overall, societies should push toward higher levels of integrity and align the interests of their participants to make such possible. In virtuous competition, groups compete to achieve extreme credibility and treat their own members as allies, not useful idiots to be won over and pitted against each other. In the equilibrium of unvirtuous competition, where dishonest attacks are tolerated and launched with impunity, group members increasingly become useful idiots, and become treated as such.