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Eliezer doth protest too much, methinks

Less Wrong: I’m Not Saying People Are Stupid.

The real question isn’t whether people are stupid. The real question is whether people make decisions that matter a lot incorrectly.

I claim that we’ve already, as a society, decided that they do.  We’ve replaced kings — human beings — with artificial rule-based decision procedures based on vote-counting and other random esoterica.  Likewise the governance of large business enterprises.

We don’t need friendliness in either market or politics — that’s what they already provide, in the sense that there will be a boycott or groundswell against a really bad policy, and some minimal incentive for beneficial ones.  What we need (i.e. don’t have now) is competence.

And that will continue to be true when they are completely mechanized.

8 Responses to “Eliezer doth protest too much, methinks”

  1. Parade E. Makewater Says:

    A pittance of competence?

    Competence does have the word compete within it, and as everyone knows that’s a huge no-no.

  2. TMLutas Says:

    A big portion of the problem, I believe, is that we don’t even agree on what competence is for making big decisions. Why do we have such diverse CEOs and legislators? It’s blind boardmembers/voters trying to suss out the elephant of competence.

  3. Kimw Says:

    I once saw a comment about the Battle of Gettysburg, to the effect that the Army of the Potomac after two years of war, could be defeated because it’s commanding generals were not up to the task, but that the competence of the junior officers and NCO’s would prevent its destruction. At Gettysburg, the Army of the Potomac finally got a competent commander in Meade.

  4. Seerak Says:

    The real question isn’t whether people are stupid. The real question is whether people make decisions that matter a lot incorrectly.

    Certainly. But there are three explanations for why that happens, and in the material provided here thus far, there have only been two considered.

    The first is the one you reject: that people are “stupid”. The second is the one Eliezer hints at with his little story: that people are “crazy”. Both of these are a variant on the dominant idea that somehow, it is human beings per se which are “defective”.

    There is a third explanation, one I rarely hear outside of a certain “fringe” at the moment: that there is nothing wrong with people per se, that they just as sane and intelligent as they have always been… but are currently operating on a lot of bad ideas (such as the idea that human beings per se are “defective”).

    I’ll skip all the explanations as to why that perfectly common-sense, um, idea is so uncommon for the moment, and suggest that you should think about that it for a moment in connection with your claim that what we need now is competence.

    If someone is putting a really bad idea into practice, disaster results. It follows, therefore, that someone who is extremely competent in the implementation of bad ideas brings us to the catastrophe at the end of that road much faster and more completely than would such a person who is incompetent. Competence was not Stalins’ problem. Nor was it so for Mao, or Pol Pot.

    On the contrary, if those had been incompetent men, many millions might have survived them.

    So, I would say that so long as the mainstream is dominated by the various bad ideas that define it at the moment, I’d actually prefer incompetence in certain quarters (*cough* government).

    And that, too will continue to be true when things are mechanized; to mechanize an error is still to commit it.

  5. Rich Rostrom Says:

    I don’t see that we have replaced kings with voting, except in the limited case of referendums and initiatives.

    Voting, in civil and corporate governance, is used to choose decision-makers.

    Though there is also the practice of using the vote of a panel of decision makers, such as a legislature. That however is hardly new. Councils and Senates have voted their decisions for millenia.

  6. SenatorMark4 Says:

    The real question is not whether people are stupid but whether the people that are selected to lead will follow the example painted by their words when they are striving for that position. Nope. That’s why our Bill of Rights is short on words generally but long in meaning…”Congress shall pass no law..” constrains them more than 1100 pages of healthcare reform will ever reform anything. Short but sweet is the solution to problems because then the people can understand it without getting lawyers involved. IRS Form 1099-GOV for all…understandable, easy, and fair.

  7. Tennwriter Says:

    3 SF authors…
    Ringo says in The Last Centurion that most of the reasons we pick a president are wrong. Our Founders were monarchists, and we should pick a prez on the basis of ‘this is the guy who’ll make life and death decisions about me’.
    LE Modestit argues that prosperity is claimed to be the child of various policies and techniques but what the basic factors are 1)controlling corruption 2)controlling excessive greed.
    Heinlein argued in Starship Troopers that the point of gov’t was trying to find some group of people that would look out for the general welfare on a longer term basis, and that humanity had tried various schemes for that through the years until it hit upon the ‘risk your life to gain teh franchise’ method. This is a personal character created for a social class idea.

    Lastly, a brilliant little book called The Rules argues that our current attempt to substitute The Big Book of Rules for human judgment is a fault of both sides and is causing a lot of problems. Gotta run.

  8. Tennwriter Says:

    To expand and refine my quotes…

    Ringo argues that your lead idea that we’ve dropped kings is wrong. You might counter by pointing out that the method of king selection has changed, and that’s really your point.
    The Constitution can be seen as wisdom embedded in rules. A lot of people understand enough to know ‘Constitution Good’ even if they don’t understand or even agree with the ideas behind the Constitution like “Original Sin” and “Free Marketplace of Ideas”. If your robotic solons had such authority, they’d have to have the very deep respect the Constitution has from the populace.
    TMlutas touches on an issue brought up in the Book…every man did that which was right in his own eyes. First there has to be a unity of agreement about the moral aims, and then there has to be the rules created to balance out those aims. I don’t see this moral unity being created any time soon.

    With Modestit, we move on to the point that a lot of morality is really quite simple. Its the doing of it that gets hard. If your Solons are somehow able to get the deep respect they need, this might work out. I’m wondering how intrusive our Solons would be. Or it could be that they are wired to support a minimum morality, and to offer non-binding advice beyond that.

    With Heinlein, we move on to the point that Instapundit’s made…our whole elite, in both parties, is corrupt. This is why some of the more thoughtful like Palin. She cleaned out the Republicans in Alaska. Hopefully thats a precursor to her damming up the Pontiac and running it through the Capitol Building. This of course, goes back to Modestit.

    With my last ‘quote’, I’m not sure how bright a Solon would have to be. Gaming the system, even using computers to run sims to find ways to game the system, would be huge at first. Perhaps you’d need AI’s to run things, or something less intelligent might be able too. It is a fact that our bueraucracies are an attempt to do just what you are saying. They want to substitute the Big Book of Rules for human judgment. Perhaps this is merely a good idea before its time, a matter of trying to run Quake 2 on a 286, but currently its a horrible idea. We need to drastically downsize the regulatory code, and reestablish the notion of human wisdom and courage.

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