The geeks, ideally, prefer to keep their beacon emitting on a very narrow, specific frequency band only – they’d prefer to keep all others out besides genuine geeks, and therefore their signal will need to be practically invisible to everyone else. This is kind of how I imagine the early proto-rationalist subcultures, you basically have to know exactly where to look to be able to find them, and already possess a large fraction of the required background knowledge.
It would have continued like that, if it wasn’t for the fact that they eventually needed people with the skills to attract attention, resources, and who had the charisma to motivate a lot of work being done. In other words, they needed sociopaths – they didn’t need MOPS so much at first, but they probably thought it would be easier to attract the sociopaths by attracting lots of MOPs first. The sociopaths feed off of the attention and approval of MOPs, therefore you need the MOPs to get the sociopaths. It is unlikely the sociopaths will be attracted to the original, pure-geek subculture at first.
But I think the key here is that there are no good reasons for the geeks to start emitting on a wider frequency band unless they desperately need help. But generally, when they first start to do this, it is sort of done haphazardly and without real knowledge of the full consequences. That’s not to say it’s ever done with negligence, it’s just usually extremely difficult to make good predictions about the full effects, since we’re operating at much higher complexity here.
I don’t see a lot of great solutions around this because, as you mention, the sociopaths will invariably seek control. And if you don’t give them control, they will leave, or worse, demolish your reputation, so that you aren’t able to seek support from anyone ever again.
It seems only reasonable then to introduce unbreakable rules. The downside of course is that lots of rationalists are against this sort of thing by their natures—even I feel weird suggesting it—and they prefer the freedom from social norms and expectations, and are more partial to consequentialist ways of behavior. MOPs, however, probably operate more comfortably within rule-systems, which forces the sociopaths to abide by them as well, since it’s much easier for the MOPs to notice and react when a rule has been broken.
You can’t include a rule like “The most trustworthy person is so-and-so” because then the sociopaths will simply try to tarnish that person’s reputation. And you can’t include a rule like “All of our content-creation and decision-making must be accomplished anonymously”, because even though it prevents sociopaths from taking control, they gain nothing from membership in the group. The sociopaths must be able to gain what they want from membership in the group, but they also have to be beholden to the operating protocols of said group without being able to manipulate those protocols. The only way to do that, I think, is to make the protocols very explicit and clear, and have mechanisms that make it very obvious when they are being broken.
I think you’re underrating MOPs here and overrating sociopaths, for the same reason people overrate Ra.
Would you mind fleshing this out a bit more? I feel like when you say “overrate Ra” this could be meant in more than one sense—i.e., to overvalue social norms or institutions in general, or, in the specific sense of this discussion, to regard sociopaths as having more inherent worth to an institution or group than they truly have.
Happy to try!
I mean specifically those things, not social institutions generally. Ra and Sociopaths are both optimized for getting people to wave a flag that says X, but not necessarily for getting people to do X.
Less confident about this, but I think a lot of the perceived value of Sociopaths is just that they’re willing to give MOPs instructions, when Geeks are confused and trying to treat the MOPs like defective Geeks instead of their own thing. (I am totally guilty of this.)
The interesting question to me is, are sociopaths ever useful to have or are they inherently destructive and malign? You used the analogy of an anglerfish, and I don’t think there are many better comparisons you would want to make if your goal is to show something at the furthest (negative) edge of what we consider aesthetically pleasing—one of the most obviously hostile-looking creatures on the planet. To me that certainly seems intentional.
There are sort of three definitions of “sociopath” that get used here, and they often overlap, or perhaps are sort of assumed to be the same. One is the traditional definition of sociopath—someone who basically lacks morals and empathy—and the others are some combination of the Gervais Principle Sociopath and the Chapman Sociopath. The Gervais sociopath seems to be someone who actually is capable of doing good things sometimes, because they are the only ones with both the creative vision and the charisma to organize and convince a bunch of people to do stuff, but they often lie and cheat and create delusions in order to get there. The Chapman kind is similar, but is also someone who comes into social groups just to prey on people and feed their own ego or whatever it is they really want. And they usually cause destruction, which is different from the kind of sociopaths that create value to society or an economy or something like that.
But with respect to community building, or Effective Altruism, the question is, given that your group will invariably eventually become composed of various personality types, some geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths, is your primary goal to filter this pool down—let’s say by making it hard for sociopaths to find their way in—or just by making it so that everyone’s objectives are in some way aligned with the overarching goals, without removing anyone?
By the way, this question does not at all apply to your choice of how to write your posts. I think if you want to write in a way that acts as a high-fidelity signal but not be the brightest beacon possible, that makes perfect sense for personal writings.
The distinction between these types of “sociopath” is quite important, thanks for making it explicit.