Just do it

[originally from November 22nd, 2014]

*imagine hissing voice and sinister smile yourself*
You know that spreading rationality is a strong net positive, right? How many lives could we save if people just stopped for a while and though about stuff in a relatively unbiased way? Even then the population of purely selfish but rational agents could do better than we do – and people usually aren’t purely selfish. If we could only spread rationality better. But you know as good as I do: it’s exactly the biases that make demagogy almost always sounds more convincing than the truth. It is so hard, so frustrating to explain the bitter truth, while competing against comforting lies, pushing all the buttons that – you’ve learned it – almost guaranteed to make one agree.
But what if you could do a little bit of… you know… marketing? Oh, spreading rationality through irrationality sounds so hypocritical!.. deontologically. But you’re utilitarian, you know how to make trade-offs. And you know better than to make trade-offs against some general principles that may be reasonable rules of thumb, but don’t even start to encompass the actual people and their happiness. How did you put that – shut up and multiply? Well, go on, multiply: billions of lives saved against millions slightly offended. And here is the thing – before learning about biases they won’t be able to recognize your little tricks, and the job would be already done. Many will probably agree that it would have been net positive. Oh, your reputation could be damaged? Well, I though you were an altruist.
Can it even get any worse than it is now? I’m not even talking about the marketing of commodities – adding a little bit of your marketing isn’t gonna change anything at all, even if you still believe in those deontological ideas. I’m talking about the market of ideas. You compete against people who learned some of the tricks, but use them with malicious intents, not for the benefit of the consumer. But you know better. They vaguely learned some buttons from classical novels and books by liberal arts majors. You learned how the whole machine works, with mathematical modelling. You know what buttons to push to make your point sweeter ans stickier. You can crush all that irrationality all at once.
After all, there are no arguments without any flavor with them. It’s just that you either select to give the randomness and subconsciousness to choose the flavor, and call it “fair”, or purposefully select the flavor, and call it “trickery” and “marketing”. But since when do rationalists consider obliviousness better than knowledge?
Why do you choose to not use your force for good? What stops you? What’s your choice?

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3 thoughts on “Just do it

  1. That’s an interesting point. Although, people that live and breathe either emotive or deceptive thinking seem like they would probably be quite good at that sort of marketing. And unlike rational people (rationalist != consequentialist != utilitarian), they can shape the belief to suit the marketing, whereas presumably someone who’s rationality was based on truth-seeking would not have that luxury. Also, rule utilitarianism might have something to say here 🙂

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    1. Being restricted by only telling the truth is exactly the point that I’m half jokingly addressing here. If you drop the deontological commitment to not lie, widely spreading a slightly corrupted, but more marketable version of rationality may be net positive over having a smaller number of people with better skills.

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      1. Makes sense. I still don’t know which path you’re suggesting, but that might be part of the reason I like this article. I hope more like it are on the way. Your comments are welcome over on my blog too.

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