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Culture War Roundup for the week of August 14, 2023

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Are you stupid or am I evil?

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

It asks you to choose between two options:

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

And what happens is that:

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

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

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

And what happens is that:

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

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

If only our world were really that simple...

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

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

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

Cost-free signaling is a hell of a drug.

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

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

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

Everyone has a life vest.

Everyone wearing a life vest will not drown.

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

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

</rant over>

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Try this opposite reframing:

The final two candidates in the election in a democratic yet absolute dictatorial country make statements:

  • Red: If elected, I will have everyone who didn't vote for me executed
  • Blue: If elected, I won't have anyone executed based on this vote

Who do you vote for?

For true equivalence, we probably have to assume that the candidates are otherwise equivalent. But if we choose Red in this scenario, it's scary to imagine that Red could even "mug" us by also having worse policies that we'd sacrifice for the "guaranteed survival".

At first this comment annoyed me - you can't reframe it this way, it completely changes the question! But upon further thought, it helped me see why the original poll might have turned out the way it did. To a rational person, like most of you here, the pills can be treated as machines. Pull lever A, you might die. Pull lever B, you are guaranteed to not die. Obviously you pull B. However, to a socially driven person, like those on Twitter, nothing is merely an object. Everything has character, and which you choose reflects on you. You don't drive a car: you're a Toyota driver. You don't enjoy a movie: you're a Star Wars fan. You don't vote for a politician: you're a Burnie supporter. I don't think the blue pillers are literally imagining their choice as an election, but the framing was the kick I needed to see things in the society centric way. If you don't choose the blue pill, you're signaling that you're anti-social. This is the essence of culture war: when everything is viewed from the tribal perspective, all choices are made in judgement of others.