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John_Maxwell_IV comments on What does Trump mean for EA? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 November 2016 08:49:34AM *  20 points [-]

I am excited by the prospect of other EAs redirecting our efforts and working together on political organizing.

Organizing in support of particular candidates is not a neglected area. I'm much more optimistic about working to fight the root causes of political polarization and bring an end to the culture war. Lending support to one side or the other risks accelerating the feedback loop that got us to this point. Lots of people are fighting for one side or the other. Very few are thinking about how to negotiate peace.

Perhaps the single most important fact about American politics is this: the people who participate are more ideological and more partisan, as well as angrier and more fearful, than those who don't.

...

American politics is increasingly driven by a small group of highly ideological, highly partisan, highly politically engaged people.

From this article.

My interpretation: If you think it's obvious that one side is thoroughly good and the other side is thoroughly evil, don't go in to politics. There are already lots of people like you in politics, and your marginal impact will be small. Your impact might even be negative: Since you're convinced that the other side is evil, you'll be willing to break the rules in order to win. The other side will use this rule-breaking as evidence that your side is evil. This is how polarization accelerates.

But if you're someone who can get along with both sides, you should strongly consider going in to politics. Most people who are fair-minded enough to see the merits of both sides find conflict stressful, and avoid politics for that reason. But politics desperately needs people like this.

I suspect the most tractable approach is to brainstorm solutions for deeper incentive issues. From the second article:

The increasing levels of anger and fear in the electorate are, from the political system's standpoint, a feature, not a bug. Pew finds that the angrier and more afraid you are, the likelier you are to actually donate or volunteer.

Incentives facing media organizations are also extremely important.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 12 November 2016 11:36:18AM *  10 points [-]

I'm gonna elaborate on why I think partisanship is super key to what's going on here.

Most of you are probably familiar with Scott Alexander's red tribe/blue tribe distinction. The red tribe leans right politically and is oriented towards nationalism. The blue tribe leans left politically and is oriented towards internationalism.

Donald Trump made history the way he got newspapers endorsing his rivals. And yet he won the election. The opinions of people working in the media and the opinions of the public seem out of sync to a historically unprecedented degree.

A lot of the early attacks the media made on Trump were for things he said about culture war topics like immigration. Culture war issues are hyper-partisan issues marked by unusually high levels of fear, anger, and mistrust. Most politicians will apologize when the media calls them out for being racist or sexist. Trump didn't, and this made him really unusual.

Later attacks were based on non culture war topics like whether Trump could be trusted with the nuclear codes. You'd think every American wants a president we can trust with the nuclear codes. But Trump got elected anyway. Why?

I suspect many Trump supporters thought something like this: "The media says Trump would be a terrible president because he won't apologize for his culture war stances. But the media is not on my side in the culture war. (Democrats outnumber Republicans in the media 4 to 1.) The media also says Trump's rash personality is a threat to the world peace. But I don't trust the media, and it sounds like they are saying that mainly to get their way in the culture war. I know they've made hysterical statements to get their way in the past. Trump has demonstrated that the best way to win the culture war is to never apologize. Therefore, we shouldn't apologize for Trump's rash personality."

By running culture war attacks alongside global stability attacks, the media implied that unapologetically having the wrong opinions in the culture war and threatening global stability were equivalently bad. Take the popular Trump=Hitler analogy. Hitler is someone who refused to apologize for his politically incorrect opinions. He's also someone who had a tremendous negative impact on global stability. But I never saw anyone making this analogy clearly specify which of these issues they were more concerned about. It's easy for me to see how a person from the red tribe could have dismissed the Trump=Hitler analogy as unjustified hysteria, based on their perception that the media exaggerates how terrible people in the red tribe are. This could have lead to them dismissing the possibility of Trump having a tremendous negative impact on global stability. The person offering the analogy is not making this distinction--you'd have to steelman their analogy in order to make it yourself.

To put it another way, the initial culture war attacks on Trump made him antifragile. People rejected these attacks as invalid, and that made it easy to reject further attacks as invalid. The media was the boy who cried wolf.

Red tribe people and blue tribe people have different values. Because the tribes collectively determine who gets the nuclear codes, we would like them to thoughtfully negotiate peaceful compromises.

In a good compromise, each party offers to give up some things it doesn't care about much in order to get the things it cares about a lot. What we saw in this election was the opposite of a good compromise. The largely blue tribe media cared so much about their ability to extract apologies from candidates that they did not make a principled distinction between having the wrong opinions and threatening global stability. Trump's largely red tribe support base told the media they cared so much about removing this ability, they'd elect someone who was a threat to global order to make their point. With no credible third party to referee the negotiation, Trump got elected.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 14 November 2016 11:15:47PM *  -1 points [-]

My interpretation: If you think it's obvious that one side is thoroughly good and the other side is thoroughly evil, don't go in to politics. There are already lots of people like you in politics, and your marginal impact will be small.

I think you'll have to do much more to establish the futility of partisanship efforts, especially if the sources for this are an assortment of op-eds and blogs. Politics is an adversarial game, as opposed to being a tough technical or economic problem, so the traditional 'neglectedness' criterion might not apply so well. From what I have seen, game theory models of conflict seem to predict the absence of this kind of effect.

Since you're convinced that the other side is evil, you'll be willing to break the rules in order to win. The other side will use this rule-breaking as evidence that your side is evil.

I think there's a pretty clear alternative here; namely, don't break rules.

But if you're someone who can get along with both sides, you should strongly consider going in to politics. Most people who are fair-minded enough to see the merits of both sides find conflict stressful, and avoid politics for that reason. But politics desperately needs people like this.

This is not clear; there are large coalitions of centrist Republicans and blue dog Dems who are around the middle of many issues. And you'll find that many of them are grossly unpopular both with people on the opposing side and with the hard liners in their own party. Moreover, the value of getting them elected is lower than if you got a solid candidate in office.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 15 November 2016 02:08:33AM *  1 point [-]

the sources for this are an assortment of op-eds and blogs

This is a DH1 argument.

Politics is an adversarial game, as opposed to being a tough technical or economic problem

I agree with these sentences from Scott Alexander:

Systems are hard. Institutions are hard. If your goal is to replace the current systems with better ones, then destroying the current system is 1% of the work, and building the better ones is 99% of it. Throughout history, dozens of movements have doomed entire civilizations by focusing on the “destroying the current system” step and expecting the “build a better one” step to happen on its own. That never works.

My view: agents in our political system are incentivized to make people think governance is an easy problem, and all the difficulties are caused by people of the opposing faction. I don't think this is actually true.

I think there's a pretty clear alternative here; namely, don't break rules.

I'm less worried about partisans going in to politics if this is their philosophy. But "don't break rules" is not a simple principle. There are lots of legal ways to behave in an underhanded way. I expect a partisan is more likely to (a) see the behavior of their opponents as underhanded even when it isn't (b) engage in behavior their opponents will see as underhanded without realizing it (c) rationalize underhanded behavior as justified.

In general, I am much more optimistic about trying to change the rules of the game than playing the game. If you're playing to win, your actions are often predetermined by the game's structure. My model: someone who works to make the game better for everyone, in a way that doesn't strongly favor one side or the other, often finds this surprisingly tractable due to lack of opposition.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 15 November 2016 03:48:12AM -2 points [-]

This is a DH1 argument.

No, an ad hominem would be if I said, "Scott Alexander is a loon, and he's saying that politics has lots of toxoplasma; therefore, politics must not have lots of toxoplasma." But that's not what I'm saying. I am saying "you're backing up your argument by taking a bunch of blogs and op eds as evidence, but blogs and op eds aren't a very good authority so you haven't supported your claims well."

Something more effective would be to just reference, say, the Pew study looking at American political attitudes. That would be a good data point, and it would be easier than pouring through an op ed. That way we know that you're supporting your argument with good evidence and we can immediately see how it's relevant to the issue at hand. And we aren't being told to accept the elaborate narratives and points of view of bloggers and editors at face value.

In any case I would encourage you to avoid calling out fallacies as a rhetorical strategy, as explained here: https://www.reddit.com/r/philosophy/comments/1lh4ip/what_is_the_name_of_this_type_of_logical_fallacy/cbz62ls/

I agree with these sentences from Scott Alexander:

Well the 1% and 99% figures are clearly over-exaggerated. And I don't think this is much of an issue at all with typical political cycles. SCOTUS rulings, for instance, get made and overturned with fairly equal difficulty (just have the president and senate appoint judges with the right views; it's essentially symmetric). Major legislation gets repealed, but rarely; even the ACA might be preserved in part, because of the need for it and the reliance upon it.

On the flip side, making new institutions is not particularly difficult; it's practiced all the time with passing new laws, establishing new agencies, etc., and this does not seem to be an overwhelmingly difficult practice to me. Most of American governmental history has been the successive construction of new and better government institutions against resistance, not a destructive war in which institutions are constantly created and destroyed.

I think it would be worthwhile to take a more detailed look at legislative history in order to pursue this line of thought.

If you're playing to win, your actions are often predetermined by the game's structure.

Whew, I hope you don't expect everyone to read through that when they see your comment. I see that and I hear, "If you've read Scott's winding 10,000 word essay, you're in my ingroup and you get to know what I believe and why I believe it. If you haven't, then come back to me after you've finished; otherwise, you don't know enough to refute my argument, because I'm using it as a source."

Scott's essay is about game theoretic problems between actors leading to inevitable conflict. I'm not sure in what sense you use the term 'predetermined' but it certainly isn't the case that pushing a side in partisan politics leaves the world no different.

My model: someone who works to make the game better for everyone, in a way that doesn't strongly favor one side or the other, often finds this surprisingly tractable due to lack of opposition.

This, again, is something that would warrant an investigation of policymaking history, especially since you're citing a blog by someone who, as far as I know, has not played a key role in any policy shifts, despite presenting it as their chosen strategy.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 15 November 2016 05:05:01AM 0 points [-]

The institutions discussion seems to have gone off the rails. Our original disagreement was about whether governance constitutes a tough technical and economic problem. I think it does. You apparently think it doesn't. I don't think we're going to make progress resolving this disagreement easily.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 15 November 2016 01:35:32PM -1 points [-]

Our original disagreement was about whether governance constitutes a tough technical and economic problem.

No, our original disagreement was over whether partisan political activity is better than trying to systemically reform political arenas.

You apparently think it doesn't.

No, I just think that partisan political activity is a good avenue of improving governance. I'm not making any broad claims about governance being easy or not.

I don't think we're going to make progress resolving this disagreement easily.

Of course not, if you want to pursue a discussion about policymaking without actually referring to legislative history.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 November 2016 10:56:09PM 1 point [-]

You said: "Politics is an adversarial game, as opposed to being a tough technical or economic problem". I was responding to that.

I'm tapping out of this discussion.