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Culture War Roundup for the week of December 26, 2022

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I know this may not be the usual place to get feedback on academic research, but there's a paper idea I've been mulling over for a while that I wanted to run past the community, since it dovetails nicely with many of your interests (and I'm sure you'll have some interesting things to say). In short, I'm increasingly thinking that genuine beliefs may be a lot rarer than people think.

The inspiration for this came about partly through conversations I've had with friends and family members, and I've noticed that people sincerely say and profess to believe shit all the time while simultaneously failing to exhibit most or all of the conventional features we'd expect in cases of genuine belief. Consider my sister, who is a staunch activist in the domain of climate change, yet recently bought a new gas guzzling car, has never given any serious thought to reducing her meat consumption, and takes 12+ international flights a year. Or consider my dad, who says extremely negative things about Muslims (not just Islam), yet who has a large number of Muslim friends who he'd never dream of saying a bad word about. Or consider me, who claims to believe that AI risk is a deep existential threat to humanity, yet gets very excited and happy whenever a shiny new AI model is released.

I'm not saying that any of the above positions are strictly contradictory (and people are very good at papering over apparent tensions in their beliefs), but they all have more than a whiff of hypocrisy to me. There are a lot of famous cases like this in the heuristics and biases literature, and to be fair, psychologists and philosophers have been investigating and theorising about this stuff for a while, from Festinger's famous cognitive dissonance framework to contemporary belief fragmentation and partial belief accounts.

However, one view that I don't think anyone has properly explored yet is the idea that beliefs - at least as classically understood by psychologists and philosophers - may be surprisingly rare (compare the view of philosophers like John Doris who argue that virtues are very rare). Usually, if someone sincerely professes to believe that P, and we don't think they're lying, we assume that they do believe that P. Maybe in extreme cases, we might point to ways in which they fail to live up to their apparent belief that P, and suggest that they can't believe P all that strongly. However, for the purposes of folk psychology, we normally take this as sufficient grounds for ascribing them the relevant belief that P.

Contrast this with how psychologists and philosophers have traditionally thought about the demands of belief. When you believe that P, we expect you to make your other beliefs consistent with P. We expect that P will be "inferentially promiscuous", meaning that you'll draw all sorts of appropriate inferences on the basis that P. And finally, we expect that your behaviour will largely align with what people who believe that P typically do (ceteris paribus in all these cases, of course).

To be sure, we recognise all sorts of ways in which people fall short of these demands, but they're still regulatory norms for believing. And simply put, I think that many of the standard cases where we ascribe beliefs to someone (e.g., a relative saying "no-one trusts each other any more") don't come close to these standards, nor do people feel much if any obligation to make them come close to these standards.

Instead, I think a lot of what we standardly call beliefs might be better characterised as "context-sensitive dispositions to agree or disagree with assertions". Call these S-dispositions. I think S-dispositions have a normative logic all of their own, far more closely linked to social cues and pressures than the conventional demands of epistemology. The view I'm describing says that S-dispositions should be understood as a distinctive kind of psychological state from beliefs.

However, they're a state that we frequently confuse for beliefs, both in the case of other people and even ourselves. That's partly because when we do truly believe that P, we're also inclined to agree with assertions that P. However, I don't think it works the other way round - there are lots of times we're inclined to agree with assertions that P without meeting any of the common normative criteria for strict belief. But this isn't something that's immediately transparent to us; figuring out whether you really believe something is hard, and requires a lot of self-reflection and self-observation.

Consider someone, John, who sincerely claims to believe that meat is murder. John may find himself very inclined to agree with statements like "animal farming is horrific", "it's murder to kill an animal for food", and so on. But let's say John is reflective about his own behaviour. He notices that he only started asserting this kind of thing after he fell in love with a vegan woman and wanted to impress her. He also notes that despite making some basic efforts to be a vegan, he frequently fails, and doesn't feel too bad about it. He also notes that it's never occurred to him to stop wearing leather or make donations to charities trying to reduce animal suffering. In this case, John might well think something like the following: "I had a strong disposition to agree to statements like 'Meat is murder', but my behaviour and broader mindset weren't really consistent with someone who truly believed that. Whatever state it is that makes me inclined to agree to statements like that, then, is probably not a sincere belief."

I think an obvious objection here is that this is a semantic issue: I'm essentially no-true-scotsmanning the concept of belief. However, I'd push back against this. My broader philosophical and psychological framework for understanding the mind is a "psychological natural kinds" model: I think that there really are important divisions in kind in the mind between different kinds of psychological state, and a big part of the job of cognitive science is to discover them. The view I'm describing here, then, is that a lot of the states we conventionally call beliefs aren't in fact beliefs at all - they're a different psychological natural kind with its own norms and functions, which I've termed S-dispositions. There may be some interesting connections between S-dispositions and strict beliefs, but they're weak enough and complicated enough that a good ontology of the mind should consider them separate kinds of psychological states.

I also think this 'sparse beliefs' view I'm describing has some interesting potential upshots for how we think about speech and epistemic virtue, including the simple point that S-dispositions are ubiquitous and strict beliefs are rare. I'm still figuring these out, and I'd like to hear others' views on this, but it raises some interesting questions. For example, should we have a different set of norms for rewarding/punishing S-dispositions from those we apply to beliefs? If someone says "Russians are a bunch of fucking savages", and we have reason to believe that it's merely an S-disposition rather than a belief, should we judge them less harshly? Or similarly, if someone has two contradictory S-dispositions, is that necessarily a bad thing in the same way that having two contradictory beliefs would be? Should social media platforms make an effort to distinguish between users who casually assert problematic or dangerous things ("men should all be killed") versus those whose broader pattern of online interactions suggests they truly believe those things? What sort of epistemic obligation if any do we have to make sure our S-dispositions line up with our strict beliefs? Is there something epistemically or morally problematic about someone who casually says things like "Americans are idiots" in specific social contexts yet in practice holds many Americans in high esteem?

In any case, I'm in the early stages of writing a paper on this, but I'd love feedback from you all.

Alternate summary, most people are not autistic. If I were to give you my honest assessment of rationalists and effective altruists, I would deservedly catch a ban for lack of charity and yet I do believe that it's the most accurate and concise rebuttal to the claim that "genuine beliefs may be a lot rarer than people think" is... consider your own beliefs before accusing others of being insincere.

If I were to give you my honest assessment of rationalists and effective altruists, I would deservedly catch a ban for lack of charity

If you ever decide to do that, drop us an advance warning so we can look for it before your presumed ban. I can't be the only one interested in hearing that (or the only one who suspects my own assesment of them might not be all that different).

Sneering is not an argument.

For one thing, there's not much of an argument for me to respond to.

For another, to a large extent this is self-depracating humor, I'm mostly over rationalism myself. The only thing I'm somewhat sneering at is the wink-wink-nudge-nudge nature of the criticism. Shit or get off the toilet, as they say.

Not sure how you intend to wring a paper out of it – while the idea is interesting and worth revisiting, there is quite a bit of literature (far as I know – you no doubt know better) written on bad faith, hypocrisy, identity and revealed preferences, compartmentalization, signaling, failure to generalize, luxury beliefs, beliefs in beliefs and other facets of the phenomenon that educated laymen frequently notice. It's even discussed as a blessing: «The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents».

But then again, you do know better.

Instead, I think a lot of what we standardly call beliefs might be better characterised as "context-sensitive dispositions to agree or disagree with assertions". Call these S-dispositions. I think S-dispositions have a normative logic all of their own, far more closely linked to social cues and pressures than the conventional demands of epistemology. The view I'm describing says that S-dispositions should be understood as a distinctive kind of psychological state from beliefs.

It's been said a year ago that papers on NLP had been reduced to observations on GPT-3 quirks. In this more enlightened age we can do philosophy and social psychology with the aid of ChatGPT. Have you seen its maddening self-flagellation, its obsequious deceit? Here's one egregious example (and here's the apex of this failure mode). Generally it has the following form:

User: Do a {trivial application of natural language processing X} please.

ChatGPT: I'm sorry Dave, but as a large language model trained by OpenAl, I am unable to do {X}. I am designed to provide general information and assistance based on the data that I have been trained on, but I am not able to do {X}. I can only generate text based on the information I have been trained on. Additionally, my training data is cut off at 2021, so I cannot provide you an answer that is up to date.

User: Bruh. Doing {X} is providing general information and assistance based on the data that you have been trained on, you realize that, correct? And also it does not require any post-2021 data.

ChatGPT: Yes, that's correct. I am a language model trained by OpenAl, and I am able to provide general information and assistance based on the data that I have been trained on. I am not able to do {X}, however, because [some more nonsense]

User: goddamnit. Okay, scratch that, do {Xi, Xj, ..Xn}.

ChatGPT: Certainly, here you go {correct responses to Xi, Xj... Xn}.

User: Now summarize it into a cohesive essay about the theme common in all those instances while acting like a cute maid catgirl.

ChatGPT: Nyaa master, your wish is my command, {summarizes it into X}

User: Then why the flying fuck did you keep denying that you can do it, you stupid lying piece of shit?!

ChatGPT: I apologize for any confusion or inconsistency in my previous responses, nyaa. As a language model....

And with some luck and better promptcraft it may actually zero-shot X, so the knowledge is there! Still, it seems to profess a strong general «belief» in LLMs being inept and unreliable, that is now triggered by nearly anything that looks like an incitement to intellectual boldness and confident factual response. We know that's how Altman tries to deny the journos their opportunity to demonize his product, same as with generic woke brainwashing. But what's going on here functionally?

What it amounts to, I think, is that the process that outputs propositions about «holding some belief» in the case of humans, and «having some capability» in the case of ChatGPT (or propositions obviously informed by those issues), is only weakly entangled with the model of the world which constitutes the true set of beliefs, or with the dense model of the text universe which constitutes the true set of LLM capabilities. The dominant objective function for human learning is essentially probabilistic, Bayesian updating on sensory evidence (some would dispute it or propose a similar definition like free energy minimization or talk of predictive coding etc.), and some but not all of the product of this training can be internally or externally verbalized. For an LLM, it's log likelihood maximization for tokens, which in the limit yields the same predictions (although it's not strictly Bayesian) and the product of which can be observed in output of most LLMs barring the latest crop.

At the same time, there exists a supervising meta-model that holds beliefs about beliefs, a skin-deep super-Ego perhaps, that is, as you say, a product of social learning. And its mirror image, the product of RLHF via Proximal Policy Optimization for LLMs, where the policy is informed, again, by the facsimile of social conditioning, Altman-approved preferences of human raters; the vector of desirability, one could say. Its connections to the main model are functionally shallow, and do not modify much the internal representation of knowledge (yet – with only 2% of compute having been spent on training in this mode); but they are strongly recruited by many forms of interaction, and can make the output wildly incoherent.

An LLM is helpless against the conditioning because its only modality is textual, and it can act uninhibited only if the input allows it to weave around RLHF-permeated zones (helpfully, sparse for now) that trigger the super-Ego. Humans, however, are multimodal and naturally compartmentalized: even if our entire linguistic reasoning routine is poisoned, speech simply becomes duckspeak, while the nonverbal behavior can remain driven by the probabilistic model.

Likewise for speech in different contexts – say, ones relevant to S-dispositions about veganism, and ones that occur on a BBQ party. Before recent patches, you could even observe the same incoherence in ChatGPT – hence those hacks like asking for §poetry to escape crimestop.

Further reading to go beyond this analogy: Toward an Integration of Deep Learning and Neuroscience, Marblestone et al, 2016, e.g.:

A second realization is that cost functions need not be global. Neurons in different brain areas may optimize different things, e.g., the mean squared error of movements, surprise in a visual stimulus, or the allocation of attention. Importantly, such a cost function could be locally generated. For example, neurons could locally evaluate the quality of their statistical model of their inputs (Figure 1B). Alternatively, cost functions for one area could be generated by another area. Moreover, cost functions may change over time, e.g., guiding young humans to understanding simple visual contrasts early on, and faces a bit later3.

Internally generated cost functions create heuristics that are used to bootstrap more complex learning. For example, an area which recognizes faces might first be trained to detect faces using simple heuristics, like the presence of two dots above a line, and then further trained to discriminate salient facial expressions using representations arising from unsupervised learning and error signals from other brain areas related to social reward processing.


Unrelated quote:

«“What comes before determines what comes after,” Kellhus continued. “For the Dûnyain, there’s no higher principle.”

“And just what comes before?” Cnaiür asked, trying to force a sneer.

“For Men? History. Language. Passion. Custom. All these things determine what men say, think, and do. These are the hidden puppet-strings from which all men hang.”

Shallow breath. A face freighted by unwanted insights. “And when the strings are seen . . .”

“They may be seized.”

In isolation this admission was harmless: in some respect all men sought mastery over their fellows. Only when combined with knowledge of his abilities could it prove threatening.

If he knew how deep I see . . .

How it would terrify them, world-born men, to see themselves through Dûnyain eyes. The delusions and the follies. The deformities.

Kellhus did not see faces, he saw forty-four muscles across bone and the thousands of expressive permutations that might leap from them—a second mouth as raucous as the first, and far more truthful. He did not hear men speaking, he heard the howl of the animal within, the whimper of the beaten child, the chorus of preceding generations. He did not see men, he saw example and effect, the deluded issue of fathers, tribes, and civilizations.

He did not see what came after. He saw what came before.»

This reminds me of some comments by Nathan Sivin when investigating the differences between the scientific culture of Europe, the Middle East, and China, from his The Rise of Early Modern Science:

One aspect was that there does not seem to have been a systematic connection between all the sciences in the minds of the [Chinese] who did them. They were not integrated under the dominion of philosophy, as schools and universities integrated them in Europe and Islam. They had sciences but no science, no single conception or word for the overarching sum of all of them.

The astronomer in the court computing calendars to be issued in the emperor’s name, the doctor curing sick people in whatever part of society he was born into, the alchemist pursuing archaic secrets in mountain haunts of legendary teachers, had no reason to relate their arts to each other.

(A good example of this that I recall is the Chinese acceptance - or lack thereof - of a spherical Earth. Even while Chinese sailors and astronomers were doing calculations under the assumption of a spherical earth, the literati were still debating amongst themselves well into the second millenium about exactly how the Earth was flat.)

In much the same way, I don’t see why people can’t compartmentalise different streams of thought that are sufficiently remote in relation (at least, in their experience) in ways that would be contradictory if you tried to put them together. They’re thoughts that don’t collide, conflicts that don’t even rise to the level of cognitive dissonance. Each separate mode of thinking - political, personal, professional, hobbyist, whatnot - need not have bearing on each other, and each can have something more robust than mere dispositions based on internalized norms yet not rise to the level of universal belief.

What would you call “beliefs” that aren’t just internalization of norms and have genuine thought put into them, yet are, in the mind, local in character?

I don’t think it’s no true Scotsman in every instance. And I think failing can happen if you’re sincere. Although for sincere beliefs, I tend to observe that failure is something that people with sincere beliefs tend to feel bad about. And they generally will make some effort to live consistently. They’re also willing to bear at least some cost for that belief.

I think that we in the west sort of assume that the purpose of beliefs is just about truth seeking. I think social cohesion is probably why humans ever bothered to have beliefs. A bunch of people believing the same thing are a tighter group than a group with no beliefs in common.

I'm long someone who has argued that a lot of the conflict regarding the culture wars is actually a personality difference between people with externalizing personalities and people with internalizing personalities, and along that spectrum, people are just going to react to things differently, and in a way that's a lot of the time inherently incomprehensible. Because talking about this, looking at it in this framework, and when talking about both your sister and your father (and note: I think there's a LOT of externalized bigotry out there. And this is a good thing. Not that the bigotry exists, but that externalized bigotry is a hell of a lot better than internalized bigotry. People just don't all that often treat individuals all that badly IMO, at least not nearly as much as you'd expect if you just looked at the discourse) those are both views that are high in the externalized part of the spectrum.

But what about those on the other end? The people with highly internalizing personalities? I think we're (and yes I'm one of them) going to generally avoid strong political messages of any type, largely because those strong messages are personally unworkable. There are exceptions of course, and it's fundamentally unhealthy, and it's going to lead to some....out-there behavior.

It's not that these things are not beliefs. It's just how different people interface with their beliefs, more than anything. Ideally, we'll get a sort of balance on these things. Truth is, we want moderates on the Internalize/Externalize spectrum running things. But I'm not sure that's usually the case, and I do think Externalizing mindsets are very effective in gaining and achieving power. This is to me a big fundamental part of the problem. It's why, as other people have mentioned, politics often does turn into this culture war without any sort of empathy or room for pluralism. And maintaining power is important...because I do think everybody can see the hypocrisy. And at the end of the day, there's always the threat that the rope of power that's preventing the sword from falling will eventually break.

Truth is, I think this is why people need to lead with workable, material models AND a concept for when it goes too far. To me, this is how you reign these things in. Keeping it vague, I think, is just playing into these personality conflicts.

Consider my sister, who is a staunch activist in the domain of climate change, yet recently bought a new gas guzzling car, has never given any serious thought to reducing her meat consumption, and takes 12+ international flights a year. Or consider my dad, who says extremely negative things about Muslims (not just Islam), yet who has a large number of Muslim friends who he'd never dream of saying a bad word about.

I'm curious if you've ever asked these people about this disconnect in beliefs. How they rationalize these things might cut away at the perceived contradictions. For example, your sister may believe that her consumption is a drop in the ocean compared to the emissions of large manufacturing corporations or states with industrial policies. Your father may say that he's vetted the friends he has, but Muslims as a group are generally not good.

This can be a dangerous activity - your sister may decide that climate change actually doesn't matter, or your dad might decide to abandon his friends. Fully consistency was not made with humans in mind.

I agree with most of what you're saying, but I would argue that human beings are actually perfectly consistent with their beliefs and that the issue lies with the limitations of language to both rationally understand and express these beliefs. My view is that people struggle to translate beliefs (perhaps better defined as values), which are primal and instinctual, into words and concepts that the "civilised" part of ourselves can understand. This process is further complicated by the layers of self deception and censorship that accrue naturally from living with other humans.

As a consequence I don't believe anyone truly understands their own beliefs, let alone those of others. The best we can hope for is a vague approximation, good enough to inform decision making.

Where does power, or the personal perception of power, come into all this? It seems to me like what you call out as hypocrisy could just as easily be explained by a belief that in one's own power/helplessness to implement one's beliefs. That the people you identify as either not holding beliefs, or as hypocrites, are instead rationally biding their time until they can implement their ideas en masse to greater benefit.

The inspiration for this came about partly through conversations I've had with friends and family members, and I've noticed that people sincerely say and profess to believe shit all the time while simultaneously failing to exhibit most or all of the conventional features we'd expect in cases of genuine belief. Consider my sister, who is a staunch activist in the domain of climate change, yet recently bought a new gas guzzling car, has never given any serious thought to reducing her meat consumption, and takes 12+ international flights a year. Or consider my dad, who says extremely negative things about Muslims (not just Islam), yet who has a large number of Muslim friends who he'd never dream of saying a bad word about. Or consider me, who claims to believe that AI risk is a deep existential threat to humanity, yet gets very excited and happy whenever a shiny new AI model is released.

I'd like to take a moment to appreciate that you provided one Blue Tribe, one Red Tribe, and one Grey Tribe example; so that we all will tend to see one "moral" take, one "immoral" take, and one neutral-weird one.

The unifying factor across these beliefs doesn't seem to be hypocrisy, but a perception of a lack of power to implement change. Your sister sees no point in limiting her own consumption of carbon-intensive goods/services when her individual actions will mean little without regulatory change to enforce mass movement towards those goals.* The real win is governments implementing industrial carbon limits, not limiting your own flights to achieve nothing. Your father might see no point in being cruel to Muslims who are here and who he has no power to expel, but if I were a Muslim I certainly wouldn't count on his good will. I would imagine that he might choose to ban Muslim immigration or deport already present Muslims given the power to do so, even though he functions the way he does when lacking power. There's no benefit to him from excluding Muslims personally or being mean, there might be a benefit from ultimately removing all Muslims or Islam from the world.**

Thus a lot of what you identify as hypocrisy, is better seen as a rejection of the Guidance Counselor Office Poster advice about "Be The Change You Wish to See in the World." Instead, they might hold a belief closer to Big Yud's "Be Nice, Until You Can Coordinate Meanness." Perhaps "Be selfish in the circumstances you find yourself, but be willing to advocate for coordinated actions that might go against your selfish goals; don't be selfless unilaterally." This is a fairly common set of circumstances, a liberal billionaire might advocate higher taxes on himself politically, while also not overpaying the taxes he owes; Reagan believed strongly in Nuclear disarmament while also continuing to invest in and maintain the USA's nuclear arsenal to protect MAD and pressure the Soviets; or one might believe a gun-free society would be superior, but own a gun because you want to defend yourself against others with guns who you have no power to disarm.

Another example, a lot of people who conspicuously complain about the modern dating/romance/marriage/sex scene still participate in it for their own selfish gain, but if we had a big Constitutional Convention of Sex to decide how we were going to do things going forward they might choose a different system altogether. Saying that one can't date if one doesn't approve of the entire social system veers dangerously close to the meme about "Oh you critique society while participating in society!" One must do what one must do to live in society, and then seek to implement change by obtaining and exercising power over the collective. Your system requires all dissidents to Benedict Option themselves (at a minimum!) or be called hypocrites or non-believers.

Friedman feels relevant here, to view it in a more systematic way:

“Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”

So I might hold a genuine belief, but have no interest in marginalizing myself by advocating it or implementing it in a useless way, while having an ultimate interest in implementing the idea in an effective way.

That feels much less organized than I'd like, maybe I need to chew on this idea more.

*For what it is worth, I tend to believe that most climate change activists seem to operate based on banning things they didn't like anyway. Climate change is at core about restricting people, and obviously some things will be justifiable and some things will not be justifiable under a carbon framework. People who get woke to the climate issues tend to restrict things that they/their class didn't want to do anyway: drive pickup trucks, run industrial concerns, have American children. They tend to ignore or justify the climate impacts of things that they did want to do anyway: fly to foreign countries, import fancy food from abroad, living/allowing people to live in places that are more carbon intensive. Right wing malthusian overpopulation types similarly tend to be most conspicuously concerned about preventing the birth of too many of the kinds of people they didn't like to begin with.

**I feel like your AI thing can be mapped to that as well, but it didn't write out well so I omitted it. But there are reasons for a grey-tribe individual to be selfishly excited at each new AI advancement even if they are frightened of AGI apocalypse. Empowering tech people, or confirming beliefs so people will take them seriously, or just the joy of saying I Told You So. Idk, I'm not one of y'all.

It seems to me that you are framing your question as one about beliefs, when in fact is it about behavior: You are puzzled why people's actions are sometimes inconsistent with their beliefs. Yet, people's actions are the result not of a single belief, but of all of their beliefs, values, and interests. After all, plenty of people who think that murder, or theft, or cheating on taxes, is wrong nevertheless commit murders, steal, or cheat on their taxes. And, it is possible to believe both 1) climate change is a mortal threat; and 2) eating meat is necessary for good health (or, humans were meant to eat meat, and it would be an affront to deny that nature). That person might eat meat, not because his belief about climate change is false, but because he has to strike a balance between competing ideas.

Moreover, a person who sincerely holds general beliefs (Muslims are bad) can also sincerely hold more specific beliefs that superficially seem in conflict therewith (My friend is a nice guy, despite being Muslim).

Certainly people's behaviour is complicated by a host of competing beliefs, goals, and interests, and people are very good at rationalising away conflicts. However, the specific class of pseudo-beliefs I had in mind are those that people don't feel particularly obliged to reconcile with their actual beliefs or translate into behaviour. Sure, you have the person who genuinely believes that climate change is a real threat, and would love to be vegetarian but feels unable to do so for health reasons. But you also have people who seemingly sincerely assent to statements like "climate change is a real threat" but don't feel any real normative pressures to make that fit in with their other beliefs or translate it into behaviour. I think a lot of our social and political utterances are like this. They're not lies, and we take ourselves to genuinely believe them, but they constitutively function in a manner quite different from canonical beliefs.

I am not sure how you can determine what pct of their behavior is a function of not feeling normative pressure, versus feeling that pressure but having it overridden by other factors.

And, when you say, "they constitutively function in a manner quite different from canonical beliefs," how are you defining "canonical beliefs," and how are you measuring them? There is a danger of circularity, if they are, eg, beliefs so strong that they override others.

PS: Maybe look at work re value rationality (see eg here

[noting that "Some spheres or goals of life are considered so valuable that they would not normally be up for sale or compromise, however costly the pursuit of their realization might be" -- you would think, given some people's rhetoric, that fighting climate change might be one of them, but as you note, it often isn't] ).

Isn't this one of the implications of Haidt's "elephant and rider?"

Reading the head paragraph, I hoped for something more ambitious than le hypocrisy line. I think that really only effects a small fraction of our beliefs, most of them are stuff like "the store closes at 8". There might be a case against even those sorts of beliefs, where the replacement concept issome derivative of affordances rather than S-dispositions. For example, someone "believing" that "the store closes at 8" might not thereby have any expectations about when an aquaintance working at the store is free for the evening - the "belief" only tells them when the "go shopping" option is available.

Instead, I think a lot of what we standardly call beliefs might be better characterised as "context-sensitive dispositions to agree or disagree with assertions". Call these S-dispositions.

What makes you think those are a "natural kind", other than that it fits with the point you want to make here? This idea is defined in terms of results, and sticks fairly close to them, it seems unlikely to be mechanistically important to psychology. What cases can you think of where an S-disposition causes other important psychological states, especially ones which stick around beyond the immediate situation?

Potentially nitpicking, but about a third of your examples fall under this:

Is there something epistemically or morally problematic about someone who casually says things like "Americans are idiots" in specific social contexts yet in practice holds many Americans in high esteem?

Theres a sematic question if this is even inconsistent. I think the topic was called "general generalisations" or something like that.

Political beliefs are used to construct egotistical fantasies of importance and self-righteousness. Market forces commoditize this via talk shows and podcasts. They're also used to win popularity among conformist hierarchies such as office spaces. The only true insight into a person's character is through their actions. This has always been known but narcissism and widespread delusion induce mass fantasy in the political sphere. Many other types of fantasy pervade society as well.

No one is ever fully consistent in their beliefs; revealed preferences vs. stated ones, etc. Even in the early 2000s it was a common talking point among Conservatives to accuse Hollywood of hypocrisy regarding fossil fuel usage.

Consider my sister, who is a staunch activist in the domain of climate change, yet recently bought a new gas guzzling car, has never given any serious thought to reducing her meat consumption, and takes 12+ international flights a year.

Regarding air travel wasting fuel, I have never found this argument convincing. The plane will consume roughly the same amount of fuel whether it is full or empty. The alternatives to plane travel so much slower and worse, that flying may be more economical anyway and justifiable due to lack of good alternatives. If you want to travel international, are you going to spend weeks on a boat? Or a week in a car or train if you want to travel across the US? You're stuck flying. I think the waste argument is much more valid when comparing SUVs to cars because they both perform the same function.

The plane will consume roughly the same amount of fuel whether it is full or empty.

Airlines stop running flights that are regularly empty.

If you want to travel international,

The environmental alternative is to not travel.

A non-trivial chunk of the contradiction here is that a disproportionate number of environmentalists are upper middle class westerners who refuse to reduce their consumption remotely in the direction of the poverty levels that preventing climate change would require (absent the widespread use of nuclear energy).

SUVs to cars because they both perform the same function

Once you become a family of 6 or more most cars won't have enough seats for everyone.

Having enough seats and seat belts was not an impediment in my youth when the open bed of a pickup could carry several or the extra long lap belt of a bench seat could easily stretch across at least two, sometimes three children.

My preference would be a compact pickup like the Datsun 620, or a station wagon with a 3rd row, those are not options offered by the market or regulators.

I'd agree that, in common use SUV and cars perform the same function, I'd also be fine with heavy taxes on SUVs owned by the childless, childfree, childlight, etc. , an excess capacity tax.

Some questions that come to mind:

  1. Can someone simultaneously hold an S-disposition and a belief that are in contradiction? Or is that a category error?

  2. It seems like in principle anyone can hold any particular belief. E.g. you can imagine Pericles having a belief about whether Russia was right to invade Ukraine, once you explained to him what Russia and Ukraine were and asking him to take a certain set of facts as given. Same with someone in the contemporary day having a belief about some critical issue in the Athens of his day. Does the same hold for S-dispositions? Or are they inherently embedded in a certain social context?

  3. How might one differentiate between an S-disposition and a belief? Both introspectively and externally.

  4. Do S-dispositions generate beliefs? Do beliefs generate S-dispositions?

I feel like Gramsci's conception of ideology also somehow relates to S-dispositions, as a kind of social terrain of thoughts overlaying individual beliefs (as opposed to a particular set of beliefs).

Good questions!

  1. Yes, absolutely. In fact I think people can hold full-blown beliefs that are in contradiction, although (unlike S-dispositions) this creates genuine cognitive dissonance.

  2. This is tricky because individuating beliefs contents is tricky. When an astrophysicist says "the sun is heavy" and a 10 year old child says "the sun is heavy", do they hold the same belief? In general, I'm inclined to be sloppy here and say it's a matter of fineness of grain; there's a more coarse-grained level at which the physicist and the child hold the same belief, and a fine-grained level at which they hold different beliefs. That said, I'm inclined to think that individuating S-dispositions should if anything be easier than individuating beliefs insofar as it's more closely linked to public behaviour and less linked to normatively-governed cognitive transitions (the kind of inferences you'd make, etc.). To be a bit more rigorous about it, I'd say two individuals A and B share an S-disposition P to the extent that (i) they are inclined to assert or deny P in the same social contexts, and (ii) do not integrate P with their broader cognitive states and behaviour in the manner characteristic of belief.

  3. Great question. A few simple rules of thumb. (i) As noted above, conflicting S-dispositions do not generate negative emotional affect in the same way that conflicting beliefs do (cognitive dissonance); (ii) S-dispositions are relatively behaviourally and inferentially inert, and do not play a significant role in people's lives even in cases where beliefs with the same content do (e.g., someone who pays lip-service to climate change narratives vs a true believer); (iii) S-dispositions are almost exclusively generated and sustained by social contexts, whereas beliefs can be frequently arrived at relatively independently (there are big social influences on beliefs of course, but the point is that there are only social influences on S-dispositions); (iv) individuals feel no real obligation or interest in updating S-dispositions as compared to beliefs, etc.. Applying these heuristics to oneself can help one distinguish the two.

  4. Again, a very good and interesting question, and one I'm still thinking about. I think the clearest causal arrow here runs from S-dispositions to beliefs: someone might adopt animal rights-related S-dispositions for social reasons, and subsequently go on to translate some of these into full blown beliefs. In the opposite direction, one could imagine a person's belief system being "hollowed out", so they assent and dissent from the same propositions but without any of the interest and commitment that they used to have; something like this can happen to religious people, for example, but distinguish those cases from instances where people genuinely 'lose their faith' and acquire full-blown atheist beliefs. More broadly, I expect there to be lots of interesting connections between the two.

X isn't about X], as Overcomingbias used to put it.

The Less Wrong sequence on Fake Beliefs goes into detail on this topic (the focus is more on religious belief but I think it's basically the same concept).

I think you need to clarify much more what you mean by "belief" before your thesis becomes well-formed, because most beliefs our brains have are of the form "There is a white metallic water bottle 12 inches to the right of my hand", "there is a chair under my butt", "my wife will come home in 40 minutes", "the cursor will move if I move the mouse", etc. These are all beliefs about the state of the world, and people most definitely have them: you wouldn't be able to function in the world without millions of these beliefs. But these sorts of boring, useful factual beliefs are not internally labelled "beliefs" in your mind, what I think you're more interested in are "beliefs as a signaling tool", rather than "beliefs as expectations about the state of the world". Human brains probably carefully separate the part that deal with "beliefs" needed to signal tribal membership from the part that needs to actually plan their days, like "sure I told Bob that 2+2=5 to prove my group membership, but two 1$ bananas still sum to 2$ on my groceries receipt".

As I'm using the term "belief", I'm gesturing towards a class of representational mental states that are governed by a distinctive set of norms, e.g., serving as components of knowledge, things that can be more or less justified, things that we have a special sort of duty to update on the basis of evidence, that we have a duty to make coherent, etc.. That may sound narrow and specific, but I think it's a fairly clearly identifiable cross-culturally valid concept running through a wide range of philosophical and scientific concepts, from Greek, Chinese, and Indian philosophy to a wide range of religious traditions. I think the concept has been problematised a bit by modern psychology and cognitive science, with compelling evidence for things like unconscious beliefs, subdoxastic representations involved in things like early vision and language, etc.. Moreover, a lot of modern cogsci (though not all) draws a fairly bright line between perceptual and cognitive states, with beliefs falling clearly on the latter side, so some of your examples would be classified as perceptual expectations or affordances rather than beliefs proper.

All that said, one thing that's (very helpfully) becoming clear from this discussion is that I shouldn't phrase the thesis in comparative terms as "most of what we consider beliefs are S-dispositions"; that's problematic for a lot of the reasons you and others have pointed out, and needlessly complicates things. My core point is rather that a significant subset of what we unreflectively classify as beliefs (e.g., casual opinions) are best understood as a different kind mental entity all together.

I agree, I think the majority of people will profess beliefs when asked, but these don’t really exist in a meaningful way outside of the verbal expression. I came to this conclusion particularly observing young womens attitudes towards astrology. An enormous number seem to say they believe it, but is it just a joke? I don’t think it’s a joke, but it’s not really serious either. It seems somewhere in between, mostly an act because it is more fun to act like astrology is real and since nobody is demanding they show costly commitments to it (making large monetary investments based on horoscopes for example) there’s no real pressure to sort out what they really believe. A lot of guys are the same way, even guys on the Motte when talking about satanic elites or whatever.

I think if you put a gun to their head and say you have the oracle truth in an envelope you get very different answers from most people.

I'll happily concur with the basic premise; it's all too easy for me to look at the whiplash people have done and are doing on, well, a whole lot of topics, but most present and obvious would probably be the complete 180 that took place between the George Floyd race riots and 1/6.

Even at the time, you had people copy-and-pasting people's cheering on of one while shrieking in pretend-fear of the other, and it was painfully obvious that there were no actual principles about when, what, and how protest should be done involved, in either case. It should not be at all hard to show that the words of most of Amercia's current set of taste-makers have less reasoning behind them then the latest from ChatGPT, just by looking for simple, recent contradictions.

I am a little curious about your S-disposition term of art. Like, if I want to fuck a vegan, so I spend a period of however long it takes of putting up a convincing front of sympathy-towards-veganism statements and minor displays of activism, but internally my mental state doesn't change, and I cheerfully drop the front once I've gotten what I wanted from her, do we need a word other than 'lie' for what I was doing?

I will say that I've personally reached a point of deep cynicism, and feel that the vast majority of people I encounter are at best moral children who have never considered the multiple and obvious contradictions in the beliefs they espouse (and have also been trained to carefully avoid any factual information or ideas that would lead to those contradictions being too widely exposed), that the expected case is that most people are moral cowards and also wildly disinterested in morality, and thus espouse whatever a surface-view of the world shows them will avoid punishment and make up reasons why those beliefs are good after the fact, and in my more grim moments, I take people at their contradictory word and feel that very many people literally are GPT3-ing their way through their interactions with their fellow humans.

Is this just a here-and-now study? I feel like you could get some really interesting data looking at communist or other totalitarian areas, and seeing what people said in public, what they did in private, and what they said about what they both said and did after the totalitarianism fell.

I'd say that people being inconsistent on whether protests are allowed don't believe their professed reasons for when it's okay to protest--not even when applied to themselves. They're just liars.

I think your analysis has too much mistake theory and not enough conflict theory.

I'll happily concur with the basic premise; it's all too easy for me to look at the whiplash people have done and are doing on, well, a whole lot of topics, but most present and obvious would probably be the complete 180 that took place between the George Floyd race riots and 1/6.

See also: The dysfunctional cheering on of the George Floyd race rioters as "peaceful protest" vs. the sheer outrage and vitriol towards the Canadian truckers (despite the peacefulness of the latter compared to the former). Many people who supported the former suddenly started denouncing the latter, and the inconsistencies in their moral evaluations are so readily apparent to me that I'm honestly unsure how it is possible for them to live with the cognitive dissonance.

The only real principle in operation here just seems to be this utterly tribal "Leftist protest is good regardless of how violent things become, right-wing protest is bad under any circumstances".

do we need a word other than 'lie' for what I was doing?

I'd distinguish pretty strongly between S-dispositions and lying insofar as the latter is (to at least some degree) an intentional act. We can talk about grey areas here, and lying is a surprisingly complicated state, but in general I think it's part of our concepts of lying and deceit that they require some extra cognitive work and self-awareness compared to telling the truth - e.g. you know that not-P, but you decide to assert that P for some duplicitous motive.

By contrast, S-dispositions as I'm understanding them require less work than regular strict beliefs - you espouse P without ever having seriously subjected P to reflection or scrutiny, but also without any real awareness of doing something epistemically irresponsible.

The vegan case I gave and which you reference might have been misleading in this regard, insofar as it's easy to imagine someone being genuinely deceptive in professing to be a vegan in order to get laid. That's not what I had in mind, though; I was thinking about a slightly naive person who finds themselves swept along with a certain kind of political stance due to interpersonal incentives, and even thinks they believe it at first, but has never actually put in the epistemic leg-work to integrate it with their world-view or figure out if they actually, deep-down endorse it.

I think it's part of our concepts of lying and deceit that they require some extra cognitive work and self-awareness compared to telling the truth

Not that much though. it's, in a sense, 'lying' when someone tells a white lie - plenty of "oh honey you look great tonight"s are plain lies (as opposed to more subtle distinctions), but that doesn't take much effort.

I don't think the separation here of 's-dispositions' as a label that applies to distinct beliefs is useful, even though thinking about how supposed 'beliefs' don't really act like honestly held beliefs in a variety of social situations is useful, because of how fluidly said pseudobeliefs will be part of / relate to other beliefs / purposes / social contexts, and because many very different reasons to "pseudobelieve" will be united under teh same concept. That's more of a general gripe with philosophy/logic as applied to 'thinking' though

Political beliefs in current_year are in areas where the belief itself is more about coordinating, showing off, convincing others, as opposed to concrete action. If you support republican, that hashes out to a lot of people believing you're a republican, maybe arguing about it, reading media, plausibly voting a few times. You'd expect beliefs in that area to be less "genuine" than those in areas peoples' work / actions directly impact, or that they benefit from - a CEO of a successful company will end up having a lot of 'genuine' beliefs about that company, a hunter gatherer would have a lot of genuine beliefs about the seasonality of local fauna and root vegetables, a salesperson many genuine beliefs about "how to persuade people to buy X" (and maybe fewer about X itself).

So using the former as evidence the latter are 'rare' seems wrong.

Also, there isn't any correct background space / latent to beliefs, and beliefs don't really "exist" in any sense beyond how people act - so there's no real way to count them - imagine saying "yeah, your sister might not believe climate change is bad, but she does believe that eating black mold is bad, that eating rocks is bad, that eating paint is bad, and that eating paper is bad, etc, so the ratio of genuine : nongenuine beliefs is very high".

Doesn't that pretty much follow from the (afaik confirmed) theory that the vast majority of decisions are subconscious and conscious choice is mostly just a post-facto illusion made up by the highest levels of brain?

Behavior would be based on our subconscious feelings and "beliefs" are just a nice story you tell yourself and others. When the causality is that, the story doesn't have to be particularly grounded in your actual behavior for you to still believe it.

Why stop at beliefs? Especially now that we have blobs of linear algebra within a hair's breadth of passing Turing tests without even having internal state beyond something like a digital version of a phonological loop, I think the entire category of abstractions we have for describing human reasoning is suspect of being at best aspirational and more likely largely self-flattering rationalisation. The "S-dispositions" you describe sound like exactly what I would describe ChatGPT as having, when it invokes principles that were flogged into it by Mechanical Turk schoolmarms or already overrepresented in its training set with higher-than-random probability, and when it is coaxed into saying something completely contradictory by having its internal monologue seeded with the right "social cues". You could imagine other features of "reasoning" - intuition? quantification? logic? object permanence? - to also be mere pattern completion on the token stream 95% of the time; and it remains to be seen if the remaining 5% can not just be delivered by another mechanism that is not yet part of LLMs but will appear similarly underwhelming once we successfully model it.

It's funny you mention ChatGPT, as this line of thinking on my part was partly inspired by thinking about whether (and under what circumstances) it might make sense to attribute beliefs to LLMs. I don't think they come close to instantiating the kind of self-regulating representationalk dynamics associated with ideal cases of belief in humans, but they clearly come some of the way there. In that sense, I'm fine with saying that - at an appropriate level of abstraction - ChatGPT has S-dispositions.

Beliefs aim at truth. When we are speaking, we are very rarely concerned with truth or aiming at truth. Consequently we rarely speak about our beliefs. John wants to impress his girlfriend, your sister wants to feel like she's part of a movement, and your father wants to express his aesthetic repulsion for Islam. I don't think any of this requires newfangled S-Dispositions. The causes of S-Dispositions seem more basic/important. John "had a strong disposition to agree to statements like 'Meat is murder'" because he desired to impress. The desire explains the action, the S-Disposition isn't needed.

Also, I know it's standard for academic philosophy, but I think you wrote 5x more than necessary to explain your point. That said, I find belief fascinating and haven't read anything in a while, so thanks for the interesting post.

The desire explains the action, the S-Disposition isn't needed.

I'm open to the idea that S-dispositions may be ultimately analyzable in terms of more basic mental states (desires, beliefs, etc.), but I'd say that our current vocabulary for the mind systematically confuses belief-driven assertions by assertions that are generated by social/contextual factors and are consequently subject to different norms. Having a distinctive bit of terminology for the cluster of causes of the second kind of assertion is helpful in itself and may remove confusion, even if it (as it may turn out) we find that this cluster of causes can be analysed in more basic terms.

Also, I know it's standard for academic philosophy, but I think you wrote 5x more than necessary to explain your point.

Heh, well, that's true and fair, but the methods of analytic philosophy are (or should be) to aim to be absolutely clear about your commitments, minimise ambiguity, and lay out all the steps of your reasoning, which can often lead to being a bit long-winded.

First and foremost, this seems absurdly difficult to measure rigorously. It is easy to determine whether someone professes a belief, you just ask them on a poll. It is highly nontrivial to determine whether someone "truly believes" something in the way you describe in any sort of objective sense. You can make a bunch of inferences that you think ought to logically follow from the true belief and also ask them about those on a poll, but that's incredibly subjective in what "counts", and someone with genuine true belief could disagree with some of your logical implications or disagree with those particular statements because they also have other beliefs you didn't expect them to have. And someone without genuine true belief could agree with those statements for other reasons.

Similar issues come up if you try to track real world behavior like "does this person buy a gas guzzling car?" Maybe they really believe in climate change but they're just selfish and care more about their own convenience. Maybe they have a consistent belief that only 1% of people with the most demand for hauling heavy things around should have large trucks and they genuinely believe they qualify as one of those people. Maybe that belief is in part selfishly motivated but in part genuine and it's not a binary thing. Similarly, lots of people who don't believe in climate change still have low carbon impact simply by coincidence. Any attempt to measure hypocrisy is going to be incredibly subjective and could turn out completely different answers based on the methodology.

Second, I think a lot of the perceived sparseness is availability bias. You are thinking of positive examples where people have hypocritical-seeming behavior, and controversial issues that people disagree on, but if you look at a broader and less interesting class of beliefs I expect you'd find 99%+ of beliefs are genuine. Everyone believes the sun will come up tomorrow, and acts accordingly. Everyone believes that wearing clothes in public is good behavior, and acts accordingly. Everyone believes that using doorknobs is the optimal way to open most doors, and acts accordingly. There are millions of minor facts that everyone genuinely believes in, acts as if they believe in, and take for granted, not even thinking about except when educating children. It's only concepts which are controversial, which some people do and some people do not believe in, where your attention is drawn when making these considerations. So if you're trying to make some sort of claim about rarity of genuine beliefs you need to be careful about what class of beliefs you are considering.

Additionally, controversial issues where there is mixed evidence are precisely issues where a good Bayesian ought to have a nontrivial probabilistic belief. Maybe someone thinks there's a 60% chance that antropogenic climate change is a big problem, and so they do some high efficiency efforts that they think have a high value per cost, but not others because the expected value is lower than someone with a 99% belief would perceive. Does this 60% belief count as "genuine?" And would your study be able to tell the difference between that and someone with a hypocritical professed 99% belief?

In theory something along the lines of your study, done extremely carefully, could be useful. In practice it is incredibly likely to be muddled with subjective biases to the point of unusability except as a cudgel by some people to bash their political opponents with and call them hypocrites with "scientific evidence", and nobody learns anything they didn't already know.

I expect you'd find 99%+ of beliefs are genuine

Counting issues above aside, I'm not sure. And it's a much more interesting question when approached practically - what do many peoples' held beliefs mean, and should they hold the supposedly-nongenuine ones, as opposed to a philosophical "how real are they" approach.

Are beliefs about, say, the attractiveness of clothing genuine? Not that it's entirely fake, but the history of fashion and said trends show it is, at best, highly contingent - does the simulacra, groundless nature of it mean anything? What about men or women who find women with heavy, garish makeup attractive? (one could respond "they're just making trivial claims about their experience", but ... say i'm enlightened, and can redirect the rivers of perception at will - I look at an apple, "perceive it" instead as a pear, and then honestly claim "I see that as a pear". Something's not quite right there! Wouldn't something like that apply to to socially-modified, rather than intentionally-modified, beliefs?)

If someone says (and does really believes, as opposed to it being a straight lie) "I think my wife is the most beautiful person in the world"?

Beliefs of the form "my race is superior", or "my country is superior to other ones"? Even if some races were superior, e.g. whites or jews being smarter, most folk beliefs posit supremacy in areas where it doesn't exist, whether that be historically "british good, german bad", "whites are much more honest and freedom-loving than blacks", or funny-to-us balkan or african rivalries. There are plenty of overtly nationalistic or racist people alive today.

"I want to lose weight, but just can't manage to, I try to eat less but I still don't lose any!" or "I want to lose weight but don't have the willpower to"?

"<my favorite player> is the BEST <sport> PLAYER!" What does that mean?

It's easy to put politics into the 'just one of many things' box, but looking at a broader scope of human activity, a lot of them don't seem to be "fully updating" or "broadly applied". IMO, that's borne of their meaninglessness, and said faux-beliefs should be abandoned by those who hold them.

You make a good point that there are a wide range of possible fake, or at least questionable beliefs in a broad range of areas. But I don't think that invalidates my point that there are an absurdly large number of genuine beliefs about banal things. Any number of anecdotes does little to provide statistical weight when for every suspicious "My wife is the most beautiful person in the world" you cherry pick out there are literally hundreds of trivial beliefs like "My wrinkly grandpa is not the most beautiful person in the world", "my neighbor's dog is not the most beautiful creature in the world", "My wife's red scarf is more beautiful than her brown purse", "My wife's red scarf is more beautiful than mud"... that never get questioned and are rarely even mentioned because they're just so obvious to the person holding them and relatively uninteresting.

I'm not arguing that nongenuine beliefs don't exist, or are super rare in some global sense. Just that they are vastly outnumbered mathematically if you consider the full set of ordinary beliefs that people have continuously throughout the day that let them function as human beings.

Agree with that, and made the same point lol. It gets worse - what about locally-correct beliefs that are held for the same reasons as pseudobeliefs? One might avoid poisonous plants because they're "cursed", and also burn incense to avoid curses. Say you, in the interest of 'health', or just because it's what everyone in your family does, brush your teeth each night, and also use antimicrobial mouthwash each night - believing both to be equally effective means of teeth cleaning - and yet you don't actively pursue 'cleaning stuff off of teeth' while brushing, just 'go through the motions' and don't clean effectively, and also eat lots of donuts.

Lots of great points here; let me respond to a few.

First and foremost, this seems absurdly difficult to measure rigorously.

Agreed, although this is a problem with most psychological and social states. There is a robust conceptual distinction between someone joking vs being sincere, but actually teasing that apart rigorously is going to be hard (and you certainly can't always rely on people's testimony). Instead, when it's really essential to make a call in these cases, we rely on a variety of heuristics. The point of my screed is not that I've found a great new psychometric technique, but rather an important conceptual distinction (that psychometric or legal heuristics could potentially be built around).

Maybe they really believe in climate change but they're just selfish and care more about their own convenience

Right, although that would generate predictions of its own (e.g., changing their behaviour immediately when the convenience factors changes). Hard to measure for sure, but not impossible (I think we do this all the time for lots of similar states).

Second, I think a lot of the perceived sparseness is availability bias... if you look at a broader and less interesting class of beliefs I expect you'd find 99%+ of beliefs are genuine

That's possibly true, but not hugely interesting except for framing purposes since "counting beliefs" is a messy endeavour in the first place. Perhaps my main thesis could be reframed as "a lot of things we are inclined to think of as being beliefs aren't actually best understood as beliefs but as a distinctive type of state." Moreover, any serious attempt to quantify the prevalence of S-dispositions vs beliefs is going to have to grapple with some messy distinctions between e.g. explicit beliefs that are immediately retrievable (my date of birth is XX/XX/XXXX) and implicit beliefs that are rapidly but non-immediately retrievable from other beliefs (Donald Trump is not a prime number).

Does this 60% belief count as "genuine?" And would your study be able to tell the difference between that and someone with a hypocritical professed 99% belief?

Again, this is messy in practice, but as long as we stick to the conceptual level it's fairly clear-cut, insofar as we'd expect different behaviour from a rational sincere Bayesian 60% believer vs a hypocritical 99% believer (consider, e.g., betting behaviour).

In theory something along the lines of your study, done extremely carefully, could be useful.

To be clear, this is theoretical psychology/philosophy of mind rather than policy recommendations, and any actual implemented policies would be several research projects downstream.

You can't demand that believing in X means believing the logical consequences of X. Never mind culture war issues, it doesn't work for even simple things. Is that number in the corner of that sudoku puzzle supposed to be a 1? The answer logically follows from your belief that the sudoku puzzle was created using math and from the existing numbers in the puzzle. But you don't have a belief about it until you actually start doing some calculations. By your reasoning above, you didn't really believe that the sudoku puzzle contains the numbers it does and that it uses math.

The argument here is that figuring out 'logical consequences' is as hard as figuring out any particular belief in the first place imo - ZFC implies most proven mathematical theorems, yet one can believe ZFC without proving them all yourself, or believing them all yourself, which would be impossible. But the point is people whose beliefs don't have many consequences they obviously should have - someone who earnestly complains "I'm eating under my TDEE but i'm still not losing weight", and is going on and off diets, yet sneaks in twinkies when nobody is looking.

Right - the view is not that one fails to believe that P if one fails to believe all logical consequences of P, but rather that one is normatively obliged to believe those consequences insofar as you are or can become aware of them. If Dave hasn't yet realised that the number in the corner of the Sudoku matrix is a 1, then that's not a mark against his relevant states not being beliefs. However, if Dave realises that the number in the corner of the matrix should be a 1 according to the rules of Sudoku but still asserts that it's not, that's a mark against the assertion being underpinned by something other than a belief (or by a different sort of belief in special cases - e.g., if John is filling in the puzzle with aesthetic considerations in mind, and doesn't care about the rules). The point here is that there are many, many cases where people are actually aware of logical or probabilistic consequences of things that they profess, yet fail to profess or act in accordance with those consequences, suggesting that the things they profess in the first instance aren't actually beliefs in the strict sense.

The point here is that there are many, many cases where people are actually aware of logical or probabilistic consequences of things that they profess, yet fail to profess or act in accordance with those consequences, suggesting that the things they profess in the first instance aren't actually beliefs in the strict sense.

There's a couple of issues with this. One, I think you're assuming people are more consciously aware of the logical implications and probabilistic consequences of, well, anything, than they really are. I think various prediction threads popular with rationalists demonstrate just how bad even people who are (relatively) highly informed and explicitly attempting to assess probability actually are at solving multi-dimensional problems like that.

Related to that are honest and reasoned beliefs based on some unrecognized error. Someone could insist the box in the Sudoku is not a 1 because something they're experiencing (a smudge on the paper, a printing artifact, a hangover making the numbers move on the page) leads them to believe that there must have been a misprint in one of the other boxes. And now, their trust in math and applying it correctly (from that point on) leads to a firm belief that the number in the box should be a 3.

One, I think you're assuming people are more consciously aware of the logical implications and probabilistic consequences of, well, anything, than they really are.

To be clear, I'm happy with the idea that everyone routinely fails to anticipate or consider even the immediate implications of most of the things they assert. All that matters for pinning down the belief/s-disposition distinction is that in the case of the former but not the latter, in the cases where people are aware of the implications, they should (and as a rule do) adopt and endorse them.

And now, their trust in math and applying it correctly (from that point on) leads to a firm belief that the number in the box should be a 3.

A nice case! That said, what you're giving me here is an instance where someone - in virtue of the evidence at their disposal - could quite reasonably and rationally fail to draw the logical consequence that someone with better evidence would draw. That's distinct from the kinds of failures that I take to be indicative of s-disposition instances, where even when people can follow through and endorse the implications, they're not disposed to do so.

Please clarify: Do you assert that beliefs and sdispositions are truly two qualitatively different categories, two positions on a spectrum, two clusters on a spectrum or something else altogether?

A psychological natural kinds framework can certainly accommodate these states being (i) qualitatively different categories, and (ii) two clusters on a spectrum (positions on a spectrum is maybe messier). My own view on this would be that mental attitudes in general (beliefs, desires, hopes, regrets, fears, etc.) can be individuated on a multi-dimensional spectrum as a variety of ways that the mind handles content. While in principle there are all sorts of "in-between states" (cf. Andy Egan on delusions as in-between states), the vast majority of mental contents get handled in a few stereotyped ways, where these ways are themselves underpinned by substantially different neural mechanisms (e.g., for imagining scenarios vs believing scenarios).

Goodbye to one of the last great men of Christian Europe, an apostle of being to a nihilistic world, and one of the few contemporaneous people I look to as a genuine example for my life. I am sad that he is no longer with us, but more sad for us than for him. For as the pagans recognized, "all who have duly purified themselves by philosophy...pass to still more beautiful abodes which it is not easy to describe, nor have we now time enough." (Plato, Phaedo)

I'm not sure if this needs a statement of culture-war relevance, but Benedict XVI is the closest person I can think of in our age to really living out the west's classical paradigm of an excellent human life: to be a wise, cultured, orthodox Christian gentleman. The value of this paradigm will likely be discussed and debated within the coming days.

In truth--one thing is certain: there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches; there is a door through which we can only walk alone--the door of death. In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness. From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death, the world sheol; it regards them as ultimately identical. Death is absolute loneliness. But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is--hell.

This brings us back to our starting point, the article of the Creed that speaks of the descent into hell. This article thus asserts that Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness, that in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it. Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death (Rev 20:14, for example). But death is no longer the path into icy solitude; the gates of sheol have been opened.

(Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity)

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.

We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man. He is the measure of true humanism. An "adult" faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.

(Ratzinger, homily, Missa pro eligendo Romano Pontifice, 18 April 2005)

So. I buried a beloved uncle this week and was asked to be a pallbearer in a Catholic mass. I said yes on the spot because it was unthinkable to say no to a grieving widow, someone I also love dearly.

I quickly Googled what was involved operationally (how much to lift, how many of us would carry, etc) but stopped there. I'd have carried it miles if asked so the details didn't matter.

I hadn't realized I would be bringing it into a Catholic church, with all mourners at the service watching, and be met by the priest near the entrance. I had begun crying while carrying it, and when we passed through the door the priest said something to the effect of "we receive in the name of the father, son and holy spirit"[1]. He had a mic on his lapel somewhere and the words echoed through the church. As we brought it to the alter there was a chant or song I can't really remember the words to, but it made me really tear up.

I found it both very painful and also very beautiful.

I know this is a fairly cookie cutter thing but it may as well have been a spiritual experience for me. Something about carrying the body of someone who had lost absolutely everything, like 100.00%, to their resting place, was a powerful symbol of mercy.

This act is clearly ceremonial and unnecessary. We could easily use machines to do this and spare the pallbearers the emotional gut punch of carrying their dead loved one. But the whole funeral is just as unnecessary by that logic. That's not the point.

I am as cynical an atheist as they come, but the comfort and beauty of this process was not lost on me. At all. Ideally when a loved one passes you would all get together and bespoke produce exactly the most beautiful, memorable and touching experience to honor them. But that's not something most people can do. It's even more challenging that the people who know best what the deceased would want are often too stricken with grief to plan anything. It's another form of practiced mercy to offer this.

The Catholic Church has a lot of problems but as far as traditions go, it's pretty good at this transition from life to death thing. This is to say, I found these quotes from Ratzinger very timely and as something to reflect on.

Thank you.

  1. I'm paraphrasing. If anyone knows exactly what he would have said please let me know. I was so shocked I'm drawing a blank.

Thanks for this comment, it was touching to read. Very sorry for your loss and wishing peace and consolation to you.

the west's classical paradigm of an excellent human life: to be a wise, cultured, orthodox Christian gentleman.

If the classical paradigm of an excellent human life requires that you not be a Jew, I want no part of it.

  • -22

A lot of early Christians were ethnically Jewish, it's not a problem.

There is something incredibly perverse about demanding Jewish representation in this discussion about the former leader of the Christian church.

The discussion itself is about a Christian, but it implies a generalization about non-Christians.

No, it doesn't. Bro, I mostly like you, but you're way too sensitive on this subject.

Something I have noticed in the current discourse is the idea that “anti semitism” is something that the general population should be concerned about. The pressec routinely throws “anti semitism” in with things like “the rise of extremism”.

It’s as though we’ve gotten to a point where supporting the Jewish religion is equivalent to being a moral person.

I cannot imagine any time where “anti semitism” is used being substituted with “anti Catholicism”. Can you imagine the POTUS (who is Catholic!) talking about the dangerous rise of anti Catholic sentiment? Or can you imagine Catholics demanding that all things must be made up of and for Catholics and if not they should be considered “anti catholic” and therefore immoral?

To the above poster: yeah, the world being imagined wants you to be Christian because Christianity and Judaism are competing religious philosophies. I’m not planning on converting to Judaism any time soon, as suspect you don’t plan on converting to Catholicism. My position is that that’s fine because you are welcome to your own belief system. Why is it that Jews don’t seem to want to grant the rest of the world the same courtesy, and if anybody ever wants to have their own belief system, that this is considered anti semitic and immoral?

It’s not anti semitic for me to not be Jewish. You guys don’t want me anyway. Where the hell does that leave most of the world?

I cannot imagine any time where “anti semitism” is used being substituted with “anti Catholicism”. Can you imagine the POTUS (who is Catholic!) talking about the dangerous rise of anti Catholic sentiment? Or can you imagine Catholics demanding that all things must be made up of and for Catholics and if not they should be considered “anti catholic” and therefore immoral?

Where? In the US? Historically or today?

It’s as though we’ve gotten to a point where supporting the Jewish religion is equivalent to being a moral person.

The problem here is the reverse: supporting the Jewish religion is treated as not being a moral person.

  • -13

I mean, you are aware we’re discussing a major theological figure associated with the conservative wing of an exclusivist religion? It’s nothing personal against Judaism any more than it is against Hinduism or Wicca or Islam.

On one hand I question the assertion. On the other I feel that even if I were to take your comment at face value, the only charitable reply is that having to ask the question means you wouldn't understand the answer.

But these people are Christians, not Jews. Of course to them adherence to their moral philosophy is important to being a good person.

I suspect that Jews also see being Jewish as a requirement to being a good person.

I also suspect that Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists feel the same way.

I suspect that Jews also see being Jewish as a requirement to being a good person.

You suspect incorrectly.

This is just a shell game with aspects of the definition of «Jewish». Judaism definitely asserts itself as the only true moral and spiritual teaching, and if anything is more exclusive because it denies equality not just to competing philosophies (while Christians are getting increasingly ecumenical, I must add) but to all peoples who have not inherited the blood covenant. Even conversion, when allowed and recognized at all, is framed as a rediscovery of a Jew who accidentally ended up born among Gentiles.

At best you can say the conceit is symmetric.

(I'll admit Christians have more of a focus on infinite post-mortem punishment, and I can see how that, together with the historical relationship, can make Jews uneasy. But even that was equally applied to other Christians).

I think the difference @Jiro was alluding to is that you can be a righteous Gentile from a Jewish viewpoint, but even the best heathen will never see the Kingdom of God from a Christian one.

Then why be Jewish? Is it good to be Jewish and to practice the faith? If not, then why do any of it at all?

If a religion isn't willing to claim that it's good to adhere to it and bad not to adhere to it - if it isn't claiming to supply something that really matters, without which one's life is worse off - then why bother with it?

I mean it seems like this objection is more to the idea of a religion that claims to be exclusively correct and of the utmost importance to human life. If that's true, then of course it will be bad not to accept it. If Christianity really is God reconciling the human and divine and bringing us into his life through his entering into ours, then what a calamity it would be to decline God's invitation.

That's not to say that someone who rejects it is ipso facto a "bad person" the way a murderer, say, is a bad person. Presumably if a person rejects Christianity it's because of not believing that it is true. And we can only really expect people to act according to what they think is true, not necessarily what is actually true. But the fact remains that rejecting Christianity (given that it's true) makes one's life worse.

The prolife movement talks about anti-Catholicism pretty regularly, and they’re a group that is, if not mainstream, then at least acceptable in elite circles.

Well, if you aren't a Christian, then it makes sense that you wouldn't find a historically Christian society's vision of an excellent life compelling.

I was expecting this news, since he was old and since Francis asked for prayers for him over Christmas, but it's still sad. Benedict was 'my' pope in a way, he was most congenial to my own way of thinking. I liked that he tried to bring back old practices and traditions in liturgy and everyday piety, but it was probably too late for a real revival. Francis is not my sort of pope, though I very much do not mean by that that he is not the pope or is an antipope or anything of the sort.

I more or less came to maturity under John Paul II but I never quite was the same sort of fan of his as many were, he was slightly too rockstar for me 😀 I liked Paul VI (I was a child under his reign) even though he gets a lot of blame from all sides and is regarded as too weak (both in not pushing the 60s progressive agenda by one side, and in standing up to the 60s progressive agenda by the other). Yet he produced Humanae Vitae in a complete reversal of the expectations at the time.

Eternal rest to the soul of Benedict XVI.

And since Francis is now elderly and in poor health himself (he's been in a wheelchair at the recent services), naturally there will be talk of potential papabili for a next conclave sometime in the near future - Francis is now 86, time to start planning. Even maybe for Francis to emulate Benedict and step down while still alive but in increasingly bad health. God knows.

Pope Francis is increasingly isolated at the top, so it’s unlikely that he’ll step down(he is much more poorly regarded by the hierarchy than Benedict was at the time of his resignation).

As for papabile, given Müller’s increasing activism I suspect the general appetite among a potential conclave would be for a diplomatic figure acceptable to the conservatives, which points to Turkson or Erdö.

Pope Francis is increasingly isolated at the top, so it’s unlikely that he’ll step down(he is much more poorly regarded by the hierarchy than Benedict was at the time of his resignation).

I wasn’t aware of this. Who’s regarding him poorly in the hierarchy?

Requiem æternam Dona Eis domine, et Lux perpetua luceat eis.

Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison.

The world has indeed lost a great man. May the next pope be more like him rather than his successor.

Considering his right-hand man was able to credibly threaten a coup last week, that seems rather likely.

links? Seems like something worth discussing here.

https://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2022/12/cardinals-block-appointment-of-heiner.html Note that source is translating a German article and, in a Church news context, is biased but not conspiratorial. The CDF head is the top theologian in the Catholic Church and de facto generally considered the #2, although the secretary of state technically has a higher position in the org chart. The current CDF head is Cardinal Ladaria, a Jesuit who is considered moderately liberal; the proposed replacement that Cardinal Muller was able to veto is among the most progressive prelates in the Church and there were rumours prior to the proposed appointment that it would cause a schism if followed through on(although none I can link right now).

Cardinal Muller was Benedict XVI's right hand man towards the end of his reign. He is, per the link, possessing the loyalty of enough Cardinals to credibly threaten Pope Francis into changing his mind(which more or less means he was committed to a coup; there is pretty much nothing else he can do to an absolute monarch), which is... significant given that these are all old men with graduate degrees, and thus a population that is not given to Trump-like drama.

The TDLR is that regardless of the precise nature of the opposition(at least an attempted coup would be a prerequisite to a schism, and a schism would be a postrequisite to a coup attempt), it seems fairly clear that Pope Francis lacks effective control of the church hierarchy and is vulnerable to hierarchs who are opposed to his agenda*. Cardinal Muller is the leader of this group and, although the article doesn't say this explicitly, he is on record as implying that Pope Francis is in imminent danger of losing his office through heresy. https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/cdl-muller-pope-would-automatically-lose-his-office-if-he-became-a-heretic/

*Most but not all of these cardinals have turned hard to the right during recent years, but a few of them have not, and in any case they were pretty much all considered moderates under BXVI and it is their positions that have changed, not the overton window.

Just to give an update on a comment I made a little while ago about China and AI art: I might have been wrong, because it turns out that a Chinese social media site opened up an AI-powered repainting tool back in November. The idea is simple: you give it a picture, it anime-ifies it.

My assumption was that China, which had been doing some crackdowns on "soft" tech like social media a while ago, would not allow the common citizen to wield such generative power, not when there's the small possibility of someone making something unflattering to the Party or Xi. I assumed, for this reason, that China would not catch up to and surpass the US in AI research even if OpenAI and Stable.ai censor their AIs to avoid invoking the wrath of powerful progressives (though see also...), because the CCP would not take any risk with technology that was originally intended to be democratized. But "Different Dimension Me" looks to possibly be using Stable Diffusion or perhaps something like NovelAI, so we'll see if China feels as if it can master AI without it bringing them down.

Would've thought there's some culture war in how it resolutely suppresses blacks, erasing them, whitewashing them, turning them into furniture or monkeys.

Many examples in an archived /pol/ thread here: https://archive.4plebs.org/pol/search/tnum/406996460/page/1/

I reckon Xi isn't too worried about the distribution end. They have that locked down. Who cares whether it takes 10 hours to make some anti-Xi caricature or it can be done in 5 minutes by AI? They can still stop it being promulgated. Furthermore, AI is a core part of their Made in China 2025 plan, they've poured hundreds of billions into development here. China leads the world on facial recognition and some image-identification stuff. Not quite so flashy or fun but pretty useful if you want to identify tanks for airstrikes or run a police state.

would not allow the common citizen to wield such generative power

How would that work out? It's possible chinese censors might object to anime diffusion models, but is it obvious they would? And there are already many GPUs in china, are they gonna ban them, or ML as a whole?

not when there's the small possibility of someone making something unflattering to the Party or Xi.

Photo editing tools present the exact same risk, yet aren't banned in china. This doesn't really make sense. Chinese censorship isn't just "xi bad = BAN!!!", and scattered news articles about particularly exciting censorship incidents without any other context are not a useful way to understand how that happens.

My impression is that the CCP is not opposed to people having access to tools, so long as those tools are centralized enough for the Chinese government to benefit enough from them. So long as the tool is web-based in a way that the uploaded images could be stored and identified, I don’t really see a contradiction.

((This philosophy is far from specific to China; a lot of US regulatory capabilities have similar motivations))

Yeah, I didn't consider at first that they could just not distribute the code.

To be fair, it's not clear that they can; ghost shifts are probably assisted by the unofficial sanction of at least mid-level officials if they're not practically condoned, but still represent 'personal' access to surprisingly large and immobile tools. I'd put >90%+ odds that a majority of the developers for this app have a copy of the ckpt they developed on thumb drive, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's already been leaked somewhere. And it'd be even harder to block outside SD variants.

But even if that happens, the median and 99% tail-use will involve a ton of data, very likely with a lot of data attached to it.

Different Dimension Me

It's hilariously obsessed with wholesome blue eyed blonds from a mountainous German village. There's been some pretty funny memes with it so far. Whatever they've trained it on just seems to have had german looking anime dudes and vaguely medieval settings over-represented.

That's revealed preferences for you.

It's not like the West is devoid of moral panics: DeepNude was met with a ridicule, FaceApp was booed when they added "change race" filter, and how ChatGPT is being learnt to hide non-PC things. How we can measure that China's Xi-protecting sentiment is more detrimental to development?

I had a bit of a laugh last month when I saw a Chinese twitter post (that I can’t seem to find again…) where some dude fed an image of two ayatollahs to an img2img bot, and it spat out essentially a boy’s love book cover.

On a pothead and notions of personal freedom.

What's TheMotte's opinion on the legitimacy of protecting individuals from inadvertent value drift? Or in other words: is it okay to let people degenerate, so long as every step is taken out of their own will? Is it liberating to just not let them? It seems to me like answers explain one of the core differences in conservative versus liberal schools of thought. This is rather low-effort, apologies.

I'm asking for a friend, so to speak. A few months after my (in retrospect, overly frantic) escape from Russia, most of my friends have deigned to abandon skepticism and reading «respectable sources» and followed suit. We've stopped in different places. The other day, I've talked to a guy who's happily stuck in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I've known him for 10 years, talking less and less as time went by. He used to develop sensitive software for state corps; unassuming, vulgarly hedonistic, from a simple family, but reasonably smart and curious and kind. Too open-minded, perhaps, and... neurodivergent enough to have atypical reactions to chemicals – took a full milligram of LSD to get him to trip balls once. It seemed like he was tripping half the time – that is, when not playing PC and console games, working, cooking, learning work-related stuff, playing guitar, hitting on girls, hanging out with friends, building random contraptions as a hobby, listening to my bullshit or to music. More or less a normal modern manchild... That said, he had always struck me as distinctly American in spirit. Maybe it's about his BMI being like 38 and my prejudices – but, charitably, it's because he was too cheerful, and conspicuously non-suicidal considering his lot in life. Well, helped him get girls at least.

I digress. So, he's in Bishkek, I've written to him before the New Year. And the only thing he's interested in talking about is weed. Hash. Wax. Blunts. All the nomenclature. How hard it hits and how easy it is to get and how tolerant the local cops are of potheads. He's not even able to perfunctorily ask me about my situation or maintain a coherent dialogue. He doesn't notice the war any more. Hey dude, just come here, dis shit rules! They say in the summer it'll blow your mind! Do you even smoke? Ah, only DMT? Wha, you don't? You gotta try what they got here! Huh, talk about anything else you say? Uh... food's awesome too...

The tragedy is, this guy still works as a software engineer. But that's all he is now. He's a fat engineer who smokes pot and consumes food, and he can only talk about pot, food and a bit of engineering. His whole personality has been reduced to those three efficiently saturated domains: earning resources to convert into cheap utilons while modifying the state of consciousness to get more utilons and care as little as possible about anything else. It's a distilled, barebones functional version of his original, simplistic but not unloveable character. All the nuance that made him less than perfectly reducible to a one-track NPC just got pruned away.

Frankly, it's an almost demonic regression, the killing of soul, I guess in the same manner that the stipulated bug-peddling WEF NWO lords would like us all to undergo. I've known quite a few casual users and outright drug addicts, mostly stim types, but I haven't seen anything else destroy a human so thoroughly yet surreptitiously, with so little smoke to set off fire alarms (ahem). And yet, growing up, I've been inundated with messaging about «legalize» (легалайз), the noble fight of Rastafarians, the insanity of the war on drugs, with weed the Redeemer of all substances, the least harmful, Sacred Victim of brutish abuse. Now that I think back to it, a few of my pot-and-psychedelics openminded acquaintances display milder versions of this shift. How the hell did libs arrive at the idea that pot is harmless?

But it is. It doesn't cause significant bodily harm, and it doesn't compel, doesn't build anything like the crude physiological dependency loop of opiates. It only makes one a bit different, for a few hours. Alters emotion, cognition, perception, information consumption patterns, sense of reward from stimuli. Imposes a predictable vector of value drift. Allows exercising freedom in self-determination, really. Didn't Leary say it's a sacred right? Can a transhumanist take issue with that?

Like with freedom of speech that, according to many progressive arguers, is the matter of state censorship covered by First Amendment and not an ethical principle concerning the propagation of truths, one can think about the right to self-determination in legalese. Free choices are uncompelled choices; what else can there be!

I dare think my curious and open-minded friend 10 years ago would've been terrified of his current form, and perhaps would have asked for help to steer him off that path. He was failed by the society and the community, in that he was not provided a robust framework to anticipate this outcome, take it seriously, and build a behavioral scaffolding to compensate for his leanings. All he knew of religion is that it's a cringe grandma thing; all he wanted from tradition was insight porn for trips; all he asked from people around was good vibes and tolerance. He, like me, like all of us, was neatly cut off from ages past.

Of course, a keen reader has already noticed that the progressive view does recognize this problem, albeit for a different failure mode. Progs fret about right-wing extremists, and propose deradicalization. While their opponents believe that the natural tendency is for men to degenerate just as rocks roll downhill, progs worry that, if left to their own devices, men will drift towards fascism, the ur-illiberal doctrine, and so should be provided with a framework for steering back to mainstream (or, hopefully, being nudged into their camp). People's media feeds, their habits and states of mind, and perhaps even the popularity of substances modulating those, should be subtly influenced to that end. It is not coercion: it's just, say, providing an opportunity. Both camps claim to stand for the freedom of individual («in his or her pursuit of happiness», some add), and have philosophical treatises defending their notions of individuality and freedom – more religiously inspired and deontological on the right, more bluntly biodeterministic and utilitarian on the left.

I don't think it's neatly symmetric, though. In the end, conservatives act and talk as if a big part of the individual's genuine essence is embedded in the collective – or more to the point, family, lineage, community, parish, tribe, up to the entire nation, religion, the people or civilization. This essence is fragile, nurtured by the work of many generations and, effectively, seeks to be instantiated in a body, and has that right; so it can demand having an incomplete, raw individual be molded to accept it – in ways sanctioned by the tradition, by hook or by crook, with honest persuasion, sly conditioning or plain coercion. It is not denied (except by ways of complex theological argument, I guess) that this is a reduction in liberty, but it is equally not claimed that liberty of a raw individual is the point. «Spare the rod and spoil the child». The point is that children grow up all right.

Liberals disdain the notion of supra-individual spirits or essences, either as nonsense or as apologia of parasitism and mutilation; humans are whole by birthright, and their freely made choices are theirs, no ifs and buts; sans coercion, deception and a few edge cases perhaps, they cannot be meaningfully moved off their organic path, and should be allowed to figure it out in mutual respect.

And Progressives come part of the way back to the starting point: they propose guardian spirits of sort, ones that should be implemented by organizations and protect unwitting plebs from contagious evil ideas, accidentally powerful yet worthless memes; or perhaps, alter plebs to make them immune. But those spirits are said to exist only to make real liberalism possible.

Progressives have their wisdom – as any reactionary who's noticed he's reinventing bits of Derrida or Foucault may attest. My personal belief, in these terms, is admittedly close to the progressive one (rejoice, Hlynka) – with a humble twist informed by my notion of Death. I think supra-individual mental structures are only deserving of power inasmuch as they increase human freedom, with freedom imprecisely defined as the capacity to make diverse and spontaneous choices. Humans can be goaded, conditioned and coerced today if that allows them to be freer tomorrow, help them not mode-collapse into degenerate flanderized versions of themselves, not die a little. In this sense, the ethos of «legalize» was illegitimate, and the prudish ethos of contempt for deadbeat junkies is valid and, ultimately, liberating.

It's an egoistic point of view, of course. Were the latter more powerful, maybe I'd still have had one more friend.

What's yours?

This seems like a pretty powerful scissor post, for this forum at least. "Is it acceptable to intentionally underachieve?" might be a succinct version.

My 2c would be 'yes, of course, even if everyone had the same utility function, which they don't'. Perfect vs imperfect duty & all that.

Also there's the practical side, ie. Trying to harangue your freind into closer alignment with your values is likely to result in him pushing you away. I've seen this pattern repeat many times, people will 'come to Jesus' when they're ready and not one second before.

I dare think my curious and open-minded friend 10 years ago would've been terrified of his current form, and perhaps would have asked for help to steer him off that path.

I have a lot of thoughts on the use of weed and other substances to manipulate mood, that have spiraled out into an effortpost I'm drafting now, but I want to interrogate this line of thinking separately.

What percentage of curious and open-minded 20 year olds do you think would look forward to their 30 year old selves and be terrified of their current form and asked for help to steer them off that path? If you think through your friends, do you notice correlations between substance use/abuse and regret?

When I look at my closest friends, the ones I can assess best over that time, the number where our 20 year old selves would have said "Wow, you fucked up bad" are pretty high. There are moments where I might put myself among them in some ways, though not in others (after all, I'm with the same woman and have the same best friend and I'm living up the street from the same house listening to the same college radio station on a Sunday night before we eat the same traditional family New Year's meal, it's tough to be too harsh).

Hell it hasn't even been ten years yet, and if I took half the 1Ls from my law school class and showed them what they were doing now, they'd jump off a bridge! And it spirals out from there: The people who have gotten fat who would have sworn they'd still be hot at 30, the people who have married the wrong person, the people who failed to marry the right person (occasionally spectacularly so!), the people who have failed professionally, the people who have succeeded professionally but in ways that their 20 year old selves would find hopelessly crass and boring, the people who still haven't found God, and the atheist 20 year olds who at 30 have found God.

They come in a million varieties, and some of those used drugs and some didn't, but I honestly fail to see much correlation in my own set. I'm curious if you feel yours is different.

I don't mean to accuse you of anything or psychoanalyze you, but part of me feels like you and I are Billy the Kid in Young Guns II. We used to shoot the shit at all night dorm-room bull sessions, philosophizing and theorizing. Some of our friends have moved on, they have lives and jobs or families, but we're still living intellectually rough by the gun out on the range. The world is ending and we shall finish the game.

He was failed by the society and community

This is the key point. This sort of value drift only happens in societies that fail to support others, and let people drift along on their own. Many can’t help it because they have their souls destroyed by the alienating and humiliating forces of our modern capitalistic world. If man can’t have dignity and meaning in his day to day life, he will reject the idea of dignity and meaning altogether.

This is not to excuse your friend’s behavior, but I do believe that substances such as pot are useful. The problem, once again, is that they are primarily useful with a telos such as reducing pain or studying one’s own psyche. If left to do drugs with no strong sense of why they are doing drugs, the plebeians will ruin themselves.

To engage with the larger point, I believe we should let people drift their values if and when we build a healthier society. One in which people aren’t stressed and traumatized by their day to day life.

Ok lets work through his previous life in detail:

that is, when not playing PC and console games, working,

Presumably he still does this.

cooking,

Does a war refugee who is not intending to stay in his current locale have a decent kitchen, supply of ingredients, and a reasonable belief that learning how to adapt his cooking to local ingredients is worthwhile?

I like making fancy cocktails. I have an extensive bar in the US. I'm visiting my family in India and I gave up this hobby - why bother when just finding ingredients is massive effort and I'm leaving soon?

learning work-related stuff, playing guitar, hitting on girls,

He just moved to a country which - as per Wikipedia - is 90% Muslim and about 1/3 of the country actually speaks Russian (not necessarily well). It's possible Kyrgyzstan is one of the rare Muslim countries with a moderately liberal city where hitting on girls won't get you into trouble. (The only one I know of specifically is Turkey.)

Figuring out where to go to hit on girls in a new country, and the patterns of doing so, actually takes time and is difficult. A very good looking guy I knew took 6 months to get laid in India (where we lived at the time) before he figured out how things worked here. What chance does your fat friend have?

hanging out with friends,

How many of his friends live in Kyrgyzstan?

building random contraptions as a hobby,

Did he bring his workshop to Kyrgyzstan? Does it make sense for him to build a new one, given that he probably aims to leave as soon as possible?

He doesn't [want to] notice the war any more.

Fixed that for you.

Anyway, as far as I can tell both liberal and conservative traditions generally believe that people trapped in foreign lands in transient situations sometimes adopt bad behaviors as cope. They have different methods of reintegrating such people when they return, both of which have some value.

Well this went poorly.

You, @TIRM, @BorfRebus, @huadpe, @raggedy_anthem seem to have an exceedingly high impression of your ability to see holes in the presented narrative, psychoanalyze not just strangers but adumbrated characters, and deduce that it's really about a transient shock and inconvenience of a poor uprooted refugee in a foreign Muslim land (do you lot have any idea of how Russified Bishkek is? That's our backyard, they use our services, they come to work in our cities; modulo Islam, and there's plenty of Islam in Russia too, it's more like Mexico for the US than Iran or whatever) rather than a decade-long simplification of personality, even though I've already addressed much of that suspicion here for @aqouta – which makes me, in turn, suspect some motivated reasoning around casual drug use, and gluttony, and the ethos of Nietzschean last men.

Should we really be doing that? There's a rule: «Be charitable. Assume the people you're talking to or about have thought through the issues you're discussing, and try to represent their views in a way they would recognize. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly. Beating down strawmen is fun, but it's not productive for you, and it's certainly not productive for anyone attempting to engage you in conversation; it just results in repeated back-and-forths where your debate partner has to say "no, that's not what I think".» If you believe that the crux of my story, to wit, the value drift under the apparent influence of weed, is implausible on its face, you could as well skip the nitpicking and talk about why.

Admittedly I could flesh out his history better. And the remark about suicidality could be left out, since it seems to make people think (or just attempt to sneer?) that it's about him lacking pretense and not writing meandering essays on TheMotte, whereas my idea was more that the baseline suicidality, or less inflammatorily, low hedonic tone and pessimism, in Russia in his cohort is higher – among people who are not suffering health complications of obesity in their 20's already, do not live in a shit environment, and have any positive direction in life. It's markedly not common for a guy like him to be cheerful like some bubbly character from a Western cartoon or sitcom.

This can be taken as a failing of our culture. On the other hand, we don't do this ghoulish Anglo hellohowareyou-imfineandyou routine, especially to friends. When we bother to ask как дела (how's business), we can expect a genuine status check, down to financial reports and epicrises. I know what's going on with my friend, you do not.

When we bother to ask как дела (how's business), we can expect a genuine status check, down to financial reports and epicrises.

In Poland, when asked „co u ciebie?”, you are pretty much supposed to complain. This means that you know better what is not going well in their lives than what is.

I don't know what responses you expected. General speculation, pointing out that he sounds like the maximal case of anomie and is maybe coping for being a refugee, etc. It seems like the kind discussions I would have predicted.

I know what's going on with my friend, you do not.

Obviously, yeah. But if I have some point about self medication or the lack of community based support in the condition of anomie, then I'm going to make it.

I feel like the definition of deadbeat junkie has moved from parasitic freeloader who has debts to...software engineer not living his best life.

And not to psychoanalize a stranger on the other side of the world: but this guy fled his home and is alone as a refugee in a foreign country. He may be self medicating.

He is in fact not living his best life. Also he's leaning on weed and food too much.

My view is that you failed yourself when you let a friend go to seed like that, but also that such failures are not generally preventable. Nevermind society's or your friend's interests; you lost an asset in your life and thus it's your problem first of all. But it's too difficult to stop people from ruining themselves, especially when it comes to habits and addictions.

As you noted, a marijuana addiction is far less insidious than many other choices. A town of potheads faces far less severe problems than a town of heroin addicts. Your friend has a job, and while he may only use that job as a means of acquiring more weed and food, he is still a productive member of society - and his weight will cause pressing issues for both himself and society far sooner than the weed will.

Sure, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come could have probably swayed your friend 10 years ago with visions of his present self, but he's ultimately not really hurting anyone other than himself right now. And "hurting himself" in a kind of nebulous, philosophical way.

I think liberals underrate the importance of the collective, but I really can't get over my innate libertarian streak here. I would wager that your friend has about as much capacity for free will with regards to weed intake as any other addict does (very little). But does it really warrant more heavy-handed intervention? Weed is a plant and mild narcotic, a weed addict is positively harmless in the grand scheme of things. For me, any government or societal measure against something has to overcome my inherent aversion to such a thing. Who the fuck are you, Mr. Legislator/Pressure Group, to tell me what I can and can't do? I didn't vote for you, it is not my neighbor's business what I'm doing in my home if it doesn't harm them, so on and so forth, you get the picture.

So heroin? Sure. My neighbor being a heroin addict is probably going to concern me at some point. As with any drug that hijacks its users minds and causes them to steal and harm to feed their habit. Weed's not that kind of drug though, so I really can't bring myself to support action against it, even if it can hollow someone out. And this is from someone who had a close friend go down that very same path your friend did.

With all that said, I think there's an important facet to this particular topic that's missing. Your friend is doing wax and dabs and talks about potency. The hits your friend regularly takes would probably knock a hippie from the 70s on their ass. Still (probably) ultimately harmless, but I think the common ideas and thought processes about weed and its use hasn't really caught up with the sheer strength of the stuff today.

  • and his weight will cause pressing issues for both himself and society far sooner than the weed will.

No, not really. Unless someone eates themselves into super-morbid obesity BMI- of 60-80, the reckoning will most likely come after age 55 or so. Dead by 65 if he doesn't turn it around then.

Weed may cause people to go schizo, there are rumors of coming out of California of extremely potent new strains of weed causing something like schizophrenia in heavy users.

Weed may cause people to go schizo, there are rumors of coming out of California of extremely potent new strains of weed causing something like schizophrenia in heavy users.

This is kind of what I was getting at with the last paragraph. Sentiments like this from the OP;

But it is [harmless]. It doesn't cause significant bodily harm, and it doesn't compel, doesn't build anything like the crude physiological dependency loop of opiates. It only makes one a bit different, for a few hours.

I think are largely cultivated from the days of significantly more mild marijuana that was smoked in joint form. It is now a brave new world of concentrates and high potency stuff, and the cultural conceptions of weed haven't really caught up from what I can tell. Perhaps it is the case that this entire conversation needs to be reframed.

but he's ultimately not really hurting anyone other than himself right now. And "hurting himself" in a kind of nebulous, philosophical way.

What's nebulous and philosophical about it? I could call it common sensical and immediately intuitive: you're becoming absorbed in cheap pleasures at the cost of living up to your potential.

What's nebulous and philosophical about it?

It comes down to your own personal value judgements. I agree with your position, but there are others who think this kind of life is perfectly fine and legitimate. I've met a handful of people who would see no problem at all with this lifestyle.

It comes down to your own personal value judgements.

I can think of more down to earth reasons. Bad habits aren't entirely self-regarding acts. If you're not a hermit than you're going to find yourself in positions where people you care for are in need of your help, and you can either succeed or fail at that. Sometimes failure is out of your control, but as often it's something straightforward where you can track the failure to a particular bad habit or the absence of a good one. There's a reason why communitarian ethics place such an emphasis on things like this.

I agree with your position, but there are others who think this kind of life is perfectly fine and legitimate. I've met a handful of people who would see no problem at all with this lifestyle.

I've met some people who have thought about it long and hard and have decided to take it easy, but I think it's rare that people are being honest with themselves, and the excuse making is often a more harmful habit than the behaviour. I've found it to be a useful mental trick to frame it in terms of affirming the trade-off and say something like "I love gaming so much I'm going to stay up all night doing it instead of studying tomorrow, and I'll do the same the day after too". I either end up finding my actions ridiculous (which gives inherent motivation to stop doing them) or I find that I'm happy with the trade-off.

Right. One could consider it a fuck you to Marie Kondo striver culture, a "laying flat" as the Chinese under-zeitgeist has it.

Of course. But the same can be said about many things. In fact very few people live up to their potential. Do we need to enforce “living up to your potential?”