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Culture War Roundup for the week of August 14, 2023

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Are you stupid or am I evil?

There is a political quote which says that "the Right thinks the Left is stupid while the Left thinks the Right is evil". Today/yesterday there was a poll floating around rationalist twitter which I think is the best example I've ever seen of this dynamic.

It asks you to choose between two options:

  1. (Blue pill)
  2. (Red pill)

And what happens is that:

- if > 50% of ppl choose blue pill, everyone lives
- if not, red pills live and blue pills die

Now if you think about it for even 30 seconds, it clearly makes sense for everyone to choose Red Pill here: if everyone chooses Red Pill nobody dies, which is the best case scenario from choosing blue, and on top there is no personal risk to yourself of dying. You can even analyse it game theoretically and find that both 100% blue and 100% red are Nash equilibria, but only 100% red is stable, and anyways, choosing red keeps you alive with no personal risk (not present in case you choose blue), so everyone should just choose Red, survive and continue on with their lives. Indeed this poll is equivalent to the following one (posted by Roko):

  1. Walk into a room that is a human blender
  2. Do nothing

And what happens is that:

- if you choose the blender, you will die, unless at least 50% of people choose the blender as well, in which case the blender will overload and not work, making you live
- if you do nothing, you live

You would have to be monumentally, incorrigibly stupid to choose the blue pill (walking into the blender) here and we should expect Lizardman's constant level support for blue.

If only our world were really that simple...

The poll can be found here on Twitter: . Currently there is a 65% majority for choosing the blue pill ::facepalm:: . At least this number is over 50% so nobody is dying. What justification is provided for people choosing Blue over Red? Well, one of the top replies is that "red represents the values of intolerance and fascism". Now this is an extreme example of a reply but even then personally I am stunned that there are a non-negligible proportion of people who actually think in this way. The best response explain what's going on here seems to be this one:

I’ll take the over on preference falsification driving these results.

If all voters were in a position where the non-zero chance of death for a blue vote vs zero chance of death for a red vote was salient and believable, red would win.

Cost-free signaling is a hell of a drug.

Perhaps expectedly enough, no matter how many Red supporters try to explain to people that choosing Blue is stupid, making the choice really really clear using examples like this:

Your plane crashes into the sea. Everyone survives, and exits the plane with their life vest.

Someone says, “If over half of us turn our life vests into a raft, it can save everyone without a life vest! Otherwise, we’ll drown!”

Everyone has a life vest.

Everyone wearing a life vest will not drown.

Do you build the boat, or just put on your vest?

And yet, large amounts of people still support blue (taking your life vests off to build a raft). The fact that such people get to vote (and make up a majority of at least this twitter poll) is a fucking scary thought. This is why we can't have nice things people!

</rant over>

In more encouraging news also ran this poll here: . Fortunately people there were sensible enough to vote for Red by a 90-10 margin, which is basically everyone once you discount the ultra-edgy maximally contrarian nodule on the site ("I want to die, so I pick blue") which will always vote to pick the maximally dramatic option (which on the site would be Blue).

I'd be interested in trying this out here on the Motte too, but unfortunately we don't have poll functionality on this site...

&&Blue Pill&&
&&Red Pill&&


For people who say "Blue" is the right choice for pro-social reasons:

Consider a slightly changed version of the poll where instead of choosing for yourself whether you have Red/Blue you are making this choice for a random stranger who's also taking part (and in turn some other random stranger is making the choice for you). In this case it makes sense from a selfish perspective to choose Blue for that random stranger, since there's a chance that the person choosing for you chooses Blue for you as well in which case you'd want 50%+ Blue as you want to live, while from an altruistic perspective it makes sense to choose "Red" for your stranger, since that way you're saving them from potentially dying.

In this case we'd expect everyone to end up choosing Blue if they play rationally, even though the "altruistic" pro-social option is to choose Red. If you still think that everyone should choose Blue then you agree that there are cases where the non-(pro-social) thing is the right thing to do.

If you say that in this case we should each of us now choose Red as that's the socially good option then since people generally value their own life at least as much as the life of a stranger (note: I say "at least as much", not "more" here) you must also agree that it's just as fine for people to choose "Red" in the case where they're deciding for themselves instead of a stranger.

Some thoughts on the conversation this post has generated this far:

Much of people’s moral reasoning about this dilemma centers on the question How much agency does each participant have in his or her choice? It’s very interesting that @Meriadoc intuited immediately that there will inevitably and undeniably be some non-zero number of people who pick blue. That proposition probably wouldn’t have occurred to many of the more right-leaning users here - it probably wouldn’t have occurred to me - but in hindsight it is somewhat obviously true. So then we get into the question of why those people picked blue: Was it by accident? On purpose? Were they tricked? Did they do so in a moment of aberrant psychosis or a self-destructive impulse, which is not representative of their normal behavior? Or is their choice symptomatic of a larger pattern of behavior/shortcoming, such that given the choice to redo the selection several times, they’d still pick blue every time?

Recognizing that this poll isn’t merely a frivolous internet meme, but rather a chance to publicly hash out and enforce local political/philosophical default norms, we can extrapolate this to thinking about the types of real-world societal dilemmas the poll is supposed to invoke, and we can recognize that progressives believe that there are people who are born having already picked blue. Racial minorities, gays, trans people, the disabled, etc. They were never actually given the opportunity to pick red. By the simple fact of one or more of their identities being inherently blue, they will on some level always be reliant on the communitarian protective instincts of the larger society. Taking it as a given that such people exist, and that they will never have the option to “switch pills”, blue becomes a far more compelling moral option even for those of us who personally gain nothing by picking blue.

Someone who refuses to decouple the poll from its larger political implications will also intuit that even though the poll specifically fails to enumerate any actual benefits from selecting blue - it’s merely a choice to avoid bad outcomes, and offers no positive-sum outcome over and above that - in the real world the communitarian option actually does offer very clear benefits to everyone involved, including the selfish fucks who picked red. Subsistence farmers may not be reliant on the kindness of strangers, but they’ll also never successfully launch a rocket to the moon, nor cure cancer, nor build Notre Dame Cathedral. Thus, a poll that sought to more accurately model real life would have to include a clause that “if 50% or more people choose blue, all participants are given $5000, and anyone who chose blue gets an additional $5000.”

Also in real life, many people do have the ability to “switch pills” at any time, based on an observation of the choices made by those around them. People who made terrible choices early in life can choose to make better choices in the future. Drug addicts can get clean, people can go to trade school or get a second degree to improve their economic prospects, etc.

So then we have to actually parse out which people are genuinely stuck with blue no matter what, versus how many people were just demoralized and psyopped into picking blue, because they thought they could never hope to hack it on their own without society propping them up, whereas they were in truth fully capable of thriving independently if just given more effective coping strategies. Psychopaths, schizophrenics, and people with profound mental disabilities will never be able to Git Gud, but people with minor depression and transitory suicidal ideation mostly can just choose to snap out of it at any time if nudged in the right direction.

But then what do we do with the people who actually are stuck with blue? The people who will definitely die, or at least have very bad life outcomes, unless we all dedicate some not-insignificant level of effort and resources, and incur some level of personal risk, in order to provide a safety net for them?

One way to think about it is to deny that they are stuck with blue; to harangue them into making a better choice, to deny that they are innately blue, to blame their “culture” and to tell them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Maybe every time they pick blue, we insult them and tell them to pick again, until they pick red. (Except of course, as we established, you could do this a thousand times and they’re still gonna pick blue.) By convincing yourself that they had agency the whole time, you not only absolve yourself of feeling any responsibility for the consequence of their decision, you also maintain the certainty that your own choice was 100% the result of agency, and therefore you morally flatter yourself.

The other way to think about it is: Yes, they’re stuck with blue, I could never have saved them, and it’s actually a good thing that they’re gonna die. Leaving aside the question of whether or not you could have saved them - in the poll, it was possible, but in real life? I’m not so sure - we do have to actually grapple with the question of whether or not the vast majority of us are better off without the people who were stuck with blue. The profoundly mentally/physically disabled, those who are born with the psychological equivalent of glass bones and paper skin, etc. Those who are essentially utility monsters - burdens with no hope of creating a positive-sum contribution, into whom we must continually sink our own resources to keep them from destroying themselves.

Several users brought up children; the thing with children, though, is that the vast majority of them will eventually grow up into people with agency. Any sacrifices we make for them now are actually an investment, made with the assumption that it will produce a positive future outcome. This is fundamentally different from the sort of sacrifices we make for adults with Down Syndrome, who will still have Down Syndrome at every point in their life, and will never “get better” and never repay the investment. How many times do I need to pick blue, putting myself at significant risk, in order to stave off the inevitable for these people? Because that’s the other thing about picking blue: you don’t actually get to just pick it once and then everything works out for everyone. You’re actually going to be given the same choice over and over throughout your life, and so will your children and their children and so on into perpetuity. But perhaps if enough of us pick red enough times to cull the people who keep forcing us to make these choices, we can buy ourselves some length of time wherein we can just thrive for a while as productive, normal people, until enough people who are blue-by-default start to accumulate again and we’re once again forced into unpleasant choices.

that there will inevitably and undeniably be some non-zero number of people who pick blue.

There is literally no possible way to know that a priori once you're faced with the choice.

There's at worst a probability distribution of people picking blue, which includes zero as an option, there might very well be zero who are compelled to pick it.

Further, if you're including people lacking agency, you're including the chance that there are people who PICK RED without it being a choice.

And suddenly this creates the risk of missing the threshold because those red-pickers made the 'wrong' choice.

So there's some real special pleading going on here to assume that we must save people who are helpess to make any decision other than pick blue, when I can just as easily point out that there are a number of people who are helpless to make any other decision than pick RED, and these folks might very well thwart our attempts to coordinate to save those other blue pickers.

There's no reason to assume that people who aren't making rational choices are only picking blue.

So the real meta-question becomes: How many NPCs are there in your population?

So then we get into the question of why those people picked blue

Honestly? Going by the comments I've seen on the original Twitter post and a lot of the arguments here, people pick blue to show off how morally superior they are. "I have to save the idiots who made the wrong choice". "I'd rather be dead than live in a world where people are so selfish as to pick red" and the rest of it.

It'd be easy to turn the good/evil framing around on them.

By signaling that you are the kind of person that would pick blue, you are pressuring everyone around you to risk their death or else they'll live with yours on their conscience. I love my family and my friends, I would prefer they NOT put themselves at such a serious unnecessary risk of death, especially not my sake.

The only truly selfless moral choice (assuming no one is reading this post or applying meta reasoning) is to signal that you're the kind of person who'd chose red and then secretly chose blue. It's also quite a stupid choice, I think.

You've caught me! I have no principles, hate everything and everyone, and have no desires but to virtue signal as I do the opposite of what I teach. How'd you do it? You must be very smart to have seen my true nature through the dozens of comments defending the logical basis of blue-pilling which I crafted to obscure it.

I and each of the other 60-70% of people who picked blue are master charlatans, nothing more, and have not a neuron in our brains not devoted to the endless task of status- and rent-seeking. I'll have to inform the others that you're onto us.

Aha, the secret of my success is that I'm a down and dirty no-good wicked horrible selfish fascist red pill picker, you see. That's how I can tell lack of morals in others by the simple results of an Internet play poll, birds of a feather flock together!

I don't think you're entirely wrong. I don't think blue pillers are status-seekers, but there's a variant of that where people choose the altruistic option in online polls and choose the selfish option when things get real. That said, in the past when things have gotten real humanity has had a remarkable ability to cooperate. I would hope this would be the same, and people would actually be more altruistic when it comes down to it.