Monthly Archives: December 2023

Discursive Warfare and Faction Formation

Response to Discursive Games, Discursive Warfare

The discursive distortions you discuss serve two functions:

1 Narratives can only serve as effective group identifiers by containing fixed elements that deviate from what naive reason would think. In other words, something about the shared story has to be a costly signal of loyalty, and therefore a sign of a distorted map. An undistorted map would be advantageous for anyone regardless of group membership; a distorted map is advantageous only for people using it as an identifying trait. Commercial mapmakers will sometimes include phantom towns so that they (and courts) can distinguish competitors who plagiarized their work from competitors who independently mapped the same terrain. Point deer make horse can catalyze the formation of a faction because it reduces motive ambiguity in a way that "point deer make deer" could not.

"Not Invented Here" dynamics are part of this. To occupy territory, an intellectual faction has to exclude alternative sources of information. I think you're talking about this when you write:

LessWrong rationalism might be able to incorporate ideas from analytic into its own framework, but the possibility of folding LessWrong rationalism into analytic, and in some sense dissolving its discursive boundaries, transforms the social and epistemic position of rationalist writers, to being more minor players in a larger field, on whose desks a large pile of homework has suddenly been dumped (briefing on the history of their new discursive game).

2 Individuals and factions can rise to prominence by fighting others. You can make a debate seem higher-stakes and therefore more attractive to spectators by exaggerating the scope of disagreement.

The opposition to postmodernist thought on LessWrong is enacting this sort of strategy. Analytic philosophy attracts attention in part by its opposition to Continental philosophy, and vice versa. LessWrong is broadly factionally aligned with the Analytic party, in favor of Modernism and therefore against its critics, in ways that don't necessarily correspond to propositional beliefs that would change in the face of contrary evidence. Eliezer can personally notice when Steven Pinker is acting in bad faith against him, but the LessWrong community is mood-affiliated with Steven Pinker, and therefore implicitly against people like Taleb and Graeber.

These two functions can mutually reinforce.

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Why I am no longer anti-Trump

The first time Trump was the Republican nominee for President of the United States, I strongly advised readers to vote against him in the 2016 election. I no longer think that there is strong reason to believe that he's an exceptionally bad actor or likely to be exceptionally harmful. Paul Christiano has asked via Facebook1 for the best arguments against Trump's exceptional criminality or destructiveness, and this seems a good time for me to render an account of how and why I changed my mind.

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