Followup to: Ask and Guess

Ask culture: "I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. Is it cool if I crash at your place?" Response: “Yes“ or “no”.

Guess culture: "Hey, great news! I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip!" Response: Infer that they might be telling you this because they want something from you, conclude that they might want a place to stay, and offer your hospitality only if you want to. Otherwise, pretend you didn’t infer that.

The two basic rules of Ask Culture: 1) Ask when you want something. 2) Interpret things as requests and feel free to say "no".

The two basic rules of Guess Culture: 1) Ask for things if, and *only* if, you're confident the person will say "yes". 2) Interpret requests as expectations of "yes", and, when possible, avoid saying "no".

Both approaches come with costs and benefits. In the end, I feel pretty strongly that Ask is superior. 

But these are not the only two possibilities!

"I'll be in town this weekend for a business trip. I would like to stay at your place, since it would save me the cost of a hotel, plus I would enjoy seeing you and expect we’d have some fun. I'm looking for other options, though, and would rather stay elsewhere than inconvenience you." Response: “I think I need some space this weekend. But I’d love to get a beer or something while you’re in town!” or “You should totally stay with me. I’m looking forward to it.”

There is a third alternative, and I think it's probably what rationalist communities ought to strive for. I call it "Tell Culture".

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what's going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.

Suppose you’re in a conversation that you’re finding aversive, and you can’t figure out why. Your goal is to procure a rain check.

  • Guess: *You see this annoyed body language? Huh? Look at it! If you don’t stop talking soon I swear I’ll start tapping my foot.* (Or, possibly, tell a little lie to excuse yourself. “Oh, look at the time…”) 
  • Ask: “Can we talk about this another time?”
  • Tell: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

Here are more examples from my own life:

  • "I didn't sleep well last night and am feeling frazzled and irritable today. I apologize if I snap at you during this meeting. It isn’t personal." 
  • "I just realized this interaction will be far more productive if my brain has food. I think we should head toward the kitchen." 
  • "It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you're meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it's only about 3 useful to me. If you'd rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around." 

The burden of honesty is even greater in Tell culture than in Ask culture. To a Guess culture person, I imagine much of the above sounds passive aggressive or manipulative, much worse than the rude bluntness of mere Ask. It’s because Guess people aren’t expecting relentless truth-telling, which is exactly what’s necessary here.

If you’re occasionally dishonest and tell people you want things you don't actually care about--like their comfort or convenience--they’ll learn not to trust you, and the inherent freedom of the system will be lost. They’ll learn that you only pretend to care about them to take advantage of their reciprocity instincts, when in fact you’ll count them as having defected if they respond by stating a preference for protecting their own interests.

Tell culture is cooperation with open source codes.

This kind of trust does not develop overnight. Here is the most useful Tell tactic I know of for developing that trust with a native Ask or Guess. It’s saved me sooooo much time and trouble, and I wish I’d thought of it earlier.

"I'm not asking because I expect you to say ‘yes’. I'm asking because I'm having trouble imagining the inside of your head, and I want to understand better. You are completely free to say ‘no’, or to tell me what you’re thinking right now, and I promise it will be fine." It is amazing how often people quickly stop looking shifty and say 'no' after this, or better yet begin to discuss further details.

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"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

I read this suggested line and felt a little worried. I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you. That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction. Maybe so, and you want to bring it up with me later. Or maybe you decide you overreacted to a comment I made, which you now believe you misinterpreted. Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass, and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Interesting, I have the exact opposite gut reaction. It could be rephrased in slight variations, e.g. "until we've figured that out", or, as shokwave below suggested, with a request for assistance, but in general, if someone said that to me, I would, ceteris paribus, infer that they are a self-aware and peaceful/cooperative person and that they are not holding anything in particular against me.

Whereas when someone leaves a conversation with an excuse that may or may not be genuine, it leaves me totally stressed-out because I have no idea what's going on and now I have the burden of figuring everything out on my own, about another person who is obviously intent on not sending many informative signals. Great.

Yes, my version of this always goes, "I'm finding this conversation aversive and I don't know why. Hold on while I figure it out." In other words, it doesn't delay a conversation until later, but it does mean that I close my eyes for 60 seconds and think.

I'm finding this conversation and I don't know why.

You accidentally a word, I think?

If you speak the words fast enough and with enough conviction, your audience's brain will fill in the gap with whatever pleases them while you retain full plausible deniability. Win!

I also find that line a bit strange. In nearly all cases where I would expect that someone says: "I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why" I think I would take it as a topic change to why the conversation might bring up negative emotions in the person.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

If we are in an environment of open conversation and I say something that brings up an emotional trauma in another person and that person doesn't have the self-awareness to know why he's feeling unwell, that's not a good time to leave him alone.

?! Depends. If you don't understand that person intimately or aren't experienced at helping less self-aware (aka neurotypical) people process emotional trauma, it's probably a very good time to leave him alone. Politely.

If you don't understand that person intimately

You don't need to understand another person to help them. Even if you do understand another person well enough to know what triggered them, telling them can be invasive and therefore needs some amount of implicit of explicit permission.

Being there and being a stable anchor is often better than trying to interfere with their state. That means if you are mentally flexible about changing your state opening up on your side and allowing the emotions to rise in you to a level that similar to the other person but more calm. If you are not flexible and can meditate, that usually a good state to go to.

For me the only reason to leave is if I'm myself not in a stable emotional place. But I can certainly understand if other people generally don't see themselves in a position to help.

Interesting.

My default move would be to sit quietly in their presence and pay attention, rather than leave.
Why would leaving be better?

I hope rationalist culture doesn't head in that direction.

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable. Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

To the latter, your interlocutor says (or likely, thinks to themselves):

"Uh, actually, I was rather enjoying that conversation. I thought it had value. But I guess I was wrong; it seems you do not find me interesting, or think that I am annoying. That hurts."

Working as intended?

Actually when a person is hurt they might not be in a state of mind to phrase it like that. I know that I tend to focus on the feeling of being hurt first, and it is incredibly difficult to not react indirectly with defensiveness which would be directed at something other than "I guess you don't find me interesting", because that shows vulnerability. A person (like unreflected me) might instinctively attack in a different area to "retaliate" to what they felt was a surprise attack on their self-worth. I am working on this, but I doubt most people with this problem are.

Which should be kept in mind, I think: I agree with ChristianKI that open communication is preferable here, but in a situation where you create emotions in the other person they might find it impossible to stay rational even if their system 2 wants to.

Solution? I actually do like the idea of ending useless conversations very much. I would rephrase it less bluntly which reduces the confrontation. What bothers me about this one is definite statements, e.g. "We should stop". It implies you expect the other person to have the same opinion as you, which isn't in the spirit of Tell Culture.

Suggestion: "I got the feeling that this conversation is not really helping me right now. What is your impression on this? If you agree with me, perhaps we could switch topics?" (or offer to shift the conversation into a specific direction that you would enjoy)

Generally I would match the carefulness to my impression of how much the other person enjoys the conversation.

Alternately, they say: "Uh, actually, I was enjoying that conversation. In particular, I was interested in the part where [stuff]. Maybe we could focus on talking about that part?" And then maybe you compromise on a conversational topic, rather than interpreting the rejection of the conversation as a rejection of you.

Or in the ideal case, "Oh, I wasn't actually enjoying it either, I was just talking about it because I thought you still wanted to. Great, let's change the subject."

Yes. Getting good social feedback is valuable. If the person says that you can reassure them that you generally like them as a person but that going down that particular argument to decide who's right just doesn't interest you.

There are arguments about who's right that are unproductive and stopping them and explaining your reasoning to the other person can be valuable for a person with low social skills even if it hurts them a bit.

I rather prefer getting honest social feedback and not getting looked down upon to not knowing what I'm doing wrong and getting looked down upon.

But it does depend on the culture in which things are said. There are situations where one can be open and other's where it's more difficult.

There might also be cases where the other person think the conversation has value and says: "Actually you making that argument is the first time I heard it, so even if you already made in ten times in the past, I'm really interested in understanding that argument better."

That's very useful information and hearing it might make the conversation a lot more fun for both participants.

The sentiment could be worded nicer, but it does achieve it's ends.

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

The end is you getting out of a conversation that annoys you with total disregard for the other person's feelings? Because the way shokwave phrased it is really incredibly blunt.

There are plenty of unproductive discussions in rational circles where you can reasonably assume that the other person is arguing to win a debate and not because he finds a discussion interesting.

I think those discussion are situation where shokwave might say those words. In those cases they are spoken with the interest of the other person in mind.

Of course you can be wrong about that in your reading of the situation. If you pay attention to the other person you should notice when they have a meaningful emotional reactions to the words that you are saying.

In those cases you can readjust the emotional impact by telling them something nice about them and starting a new thread of discussion in the process.

While I personally wouldn't be as blunt I have meet plenty of people who have no problem being that blunt while also doing enough to signal that they like the person they are interacting with to avoid harming them strongly.

Additionally I would personally prefer that if I'm walking around with body odor that someone would tell me, even if he would tell me in a way that produces a bit of temporary emotionally displeasure. I would predict that a significant amount of people who are part of the rationalist community share that preference.

I like getting honest feedback from other people. If someone puts me in a state of deep emotional turmoil I think they are responsible to stay there and do what they can to fix it if they aren't requested to leave. But to the extend that I do have control over myself I won't look down on them for providing honest feedback.

really incredibly blunt

It's possible that it is too blunt. My instinct (calibrated on around half a hundred nights of conversation with Australian LessWrongers in person) says that it's not, though.

Something like "I'm finding this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. Can you help me figure it out?" would be way more preferable.

It seems that preferences must vary on this one. This one seems much more potentially problematical because it pulls the other into your (already aversive) emotional world. It can work if there is already a huge amount of rapport and intimacy but the other more independent request seems safer.

Something in rationalist culture that I actually do like is using "This is a really low-value conversation, are you getting any value? We should stop." to end unproductive arguments.

I really do like whatever variants of the theme "Agree to d̶i̶s̶a̶g̶r̶e̶e̶ STFU" that can be made to work.

"I'm beginning to find this conversation aversive, and I'm not sure why. I propose we hold off until I've figured that out."

[I do not endorse that particular conversation move. Nor do I particularly discourage it, between Tell culture users.]

I observe that this objection to the exit strategy the problem is that 'Tell culture' is not being used by the receiving party. The receiving party is interpreting the information through the filter of some variety of non-Tell culture and essentially reading a different message than the one sent. This is a real problem but it is a real problem relating to speaking a language different to the audience, not a problem that applies to the communication via the language itself.

Speaking 'Tell Culture' phrases to someone who is not both familiar with the communication style and happy to use it should not be expected to work well.

There are plenty of times when I agree a policy of frankness can be useful, but one of the risks of such a policy is that it can become an excuse to abdicate responsibility for your effect on other people.

The complimentary risk here is that your opposing policy can become (or inherently is) an excuse to abdicate responsibility for ones own thoughts and behaviour onto someone else. Neither are particularly healthy habits.

If you tell me that you're having an aversive reaction to our conversation, but can't tell me why, it's going to stress me out, and I'm going to feel compelled to go back over our conversation to see if I can figure out what I did to cause that reaction in you.

Note that the speakers words explicitly claim responsibility and even go so far as to propose that even if the other person can figure the stuff out the speaker still has to figure it out for herself before the condition is met. It also contains no more (in fact, almost certainly much less) information than is contained in the uncontrollable communication via facial expressions, voice tone and body language while ending the conversation. The difference is there isn't level of social 'role play' where people pretend that information has not been communicated and where if that information is formally acknowledged to be communicated it is the equivalent to shouting or using all-caps.

That's a non-negligible burden to dump on someone.

Or if looking at from the perspective of assigning responsibility to the active party that's a non-negligible burden that, someone walked up and forcibly took as there own because it wasn't kept hidden. The speaker actually set up boundaries around the aversion-experience-analysis territory that imply that would be somewhat presumptive (or irrelevant) if the listener assumed responsibility for the analysis. The listener's problem is that she has incompatible 'Guess culture boundaries.

If, instead, you found an excuse to leave the conversation gracefully (no need for annoyed body language), you can reflect on the conversation later and decide if there is anything in particular I did to cause your aversive reaction.

Being able to reliably suppress natural body language is a powerful (and rare) skill and makes all sorts of social tasks easier. Of course even in the limit of perfect emotional emulation and poise any listener familiar with your skill an propensity to hide aversion is, on average, left with exactly the same p(I did something that caused an aversive reaction) as they would with the transparent person. The probability mass is simply shifted away from the correct outcome to the false ones. ie. You have to spend effort guessing whether as well as what.

Or maybe you decide you were just anxious about something unrelated. Overall, chances are good that you can save me a lot of stress and self-consciousness by dealing with your emotions yourself as a first pass,

(I do actually agree entirely. There is no way I'm going to go about sharing half-baked emotion revelations. That gives people the impression that can or should interfere with my internal decision making structures that my emotions are part of. I'll tell people things when it is useful for me and I know what I want.)

and making them my problem only if (upon reflection) you decide that it would be helpful to do so.

Again, as a Tell culture communication (to an appropriate audience) this isn't making it their problem. And this isn't just referring to 'ideal Tell Culturites in a vacuum'. In my experience more as a recipient of that kind of statement than a speaker it really doesn't provoke stressful rumination or analysis of fault. It is a whole heap more relaxing than the inevitable underlying friction that aversive feelings produce.

Conclusion: The moral here is that making (incompatible) Tell Culture revelations to people living in a Guess Culture mindset can be tactless, selfish, ineffective and frustrating to both parties.

If I'm having some kind of internal experience that may color my interpretation of what my interlocutor is trying to tell me, I feel like I owe it to them and whatever we're discussing to stop the conversation as soon as I realize something is wrong, since if e.g., it turns out I'm sleepy, taking a nap wouldn't (I think) be sufficient to fully counteract the negative opinion of the topic I formed when I was crabby.

Could you give an example of a graceful exit? For me, interrupting a conversation without saying why I'm actually doing it feels dishonest/rude, especially if we're discussing something that's important enough for me to care that I treat it fairly.

Yeah, absolutely.

Having been raised in a Guess culture and subsequently indoctrinated into a strong Ask culture, I have in the decades since evolved a strong personal version of what you're calling a Tell methodology here (what I personally think of as a high-context Ask culture).

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

My experience since has been mixed. It works well within communities where self-awareness is prized, and frequently elicits hostility elsewhere. Ask-culture people tend to appreciate it, Guess-culture people are frequently irritated or offended by my insistence on making explicit what is properly left obscured. (This makes sense to me... I, too, am irritated when people do publicly what I've been conditioned to treat as private.)

I first noticed it explicitly in my twenties, upon hearing myself say to a departing guest "I invite you to think about how many times, in your culture, someone has to invite you to take leftovers home before you're allowed to accept, and then behave as though I'd invited you that many times." Which caused the entire room to burst into good-natured mockery, but many of them took leftovers.

This being what wit (which is a synonym for "intelligence" for good reason) is for.

Tragedy of the commons, the shared resource being mutual trust. The first one to defect reaps the rewards of his faux signals being taken at face value ("I don't mind at all sticking around", wow, such pleasantness, many social laurels, wow), degrading the network of trust a "tell culture" relies upon.

It's like saying "wouldn't we as a society benefit overall if hidden negative externalities were internalized", yea well, first one to secretly pollute the river gets some bonus shares next quarter (wow, such money, many boni, wow)! Same with a trust culture ending in a race to the bottom.

I'm not suggesting all of society is ready for this. I'm suggesting we work toward it among highly rational peers and allies. This is how, and much of why, my close social circles work. Now that I'm used to it, I'd have it no other way.

among highly rational peers

Tricky (like most anything).

I wouldn't say "among rational peers" so much as "among EA-oriented peers". For our specific community, there is significant overlap in the Venn diagram depicting those two qualities, but those two are very much distinct qualities nonetheless.

A community of HPMOR!Quirrell variations would have your very post in main, with plenty of upvotes, all the while secretly whetting their blades. Perfectly rational.

The more established the trust culture, the more vulnerable it would be to a traitor, a cunning red-pill bastard who plays the trust-network like a fiddle to the tune of his/her egotistical agenda.

Trust -- the quintessential element of your so-called "tell culture" -- and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

When the social circle is small enough as to resemble an expanded family unit, a clan, it may work. A strong sense of ties that bind to keep the commitment to honesty honest would tend to keep a "tell culture"' social circle's cardinality well below Dunbar's number.

Trust -- the quintessential element of your so-called "tell culture" -- and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin.

That's true in general. In network security circles, a trusted party is one with the explicit ability to compromise you, and that's really the operational meaning of the term in any context.

A community of HPMOR!Quirrell variations would have your very post in main, with plenty of upvotes, all the while secretly whetting their blades. Perfectly rational.

I really don't think so. A community of Briennes, which is not a community of HPMOR!Quirrells but shares some relevant features, would recognize the overwhelming benefit of coordination. Any given individual would be much stronger if she had the knowledge of all the other individuals, or if she could count on them as external memory. And because she would be stronger that way, she knows that they would be stronger if she also remains trustworthy. Her being trustworthy allows her to derive greater benefit from the rest of the community. Other people are useful, you see. With Tell culture in place, you can do things like feed your model of the world into someone else's truth-checker and get back a more info-rich version. You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans.

I'd love to hear what culture Eliezer thinks an entire community of Quirrells would create.

If they all started off in a symmetrical position, they'd use Unbreakable Vows to keep from killing each other and then proceed to further affairs, not necessarily cooperatively.

Wouldn't this require one Quirrell to agree to sacrifice a part of his power before any other Quirrell does? (Assuming that all of the vow rituals taking place at the same time would require each Quirrell to take part in more than one ritual simultaneously, which doesn't seem possible.) It seems to me that a Quirrell wouldn't agree to this.

You don't have to sacrifice your own power for that, the bonder sacrifices power. And the Unbreakable Vow could be worded to only come into force once all Vows were taken.

But, in this case, the bonder is another Quirrell picked from this all-Quirrel community, right?

Of course, if we allow the ritual to depend on the completion of other rituals, then the problem is moot.

It strikes me that this conversation really hinges on just how evil HPMOR's Quirrell turns out to be, which is problematic since you know a few chapters more plot than I do...

(Also, since I find myself having a conversation with you, might I say that I very much like HPMOR, and that I would like it even more if you were to amend chapter 19 so that Quirrell didn't perpetuate one or two myths about martial arts, a subject on which I focus a certain amount of my own nerdly attentions? I posted a review under "James", but the short version is that (1) martial arts aren't particularly Asian, and (2) "I'm a sixth dan" means no more than "I once got a B- in a class whose subject I won't divulge except to say that it was 'Math'.")

The great-grandparent comment did make me consider unbreakable vows as a theory of what happened on Halloween. E.g. to prevent one of his Horcruxes from later killing him, Voldemort made an unbreakable vow not to magically interact with his alter egos (this causing Harry's sense of Doom around Quirrell). Doesn't seem necessary, though.

A community of Briennes, [...], would recognize the overwhelming benefit of coordination.

But it would pay the price Tell comes with. And the Briennes wouldn't need it because they know all their rules and could easily use the more efficient Guess.

"You only defect if the expected utility of doing so outweighs the expected utility of the entire community to your future plans." These aren't the two options available, though: you'd take into account the risk of other people defecting and thus reducing the expected utility of the entire community by an appreciable amount. Your argument only works if you can trust everyone else not to defect, too - in a homogenous community of Briennes, for instance. In a heterogenous community, whatever spooky coordination your clones would use won't work, and cooperation is a much less desirable option.

Signaling pleasantness is sometimes near to signalling low status. In some situations it will give you benefits in others it might not.

One the web you find plenty of material that recommends that you will get more social success by being more confident. One way to be confident is to go the ask road instead of the guess road.

I have read a lot of self help and didn't come across one that substantially focuses on acting in a guess culture way.

Signaling pleasantness is sometimes near to signalling low status. In some situations it will give you benefits in others it might not.

Quite so. Which is why constraining yourself to honesty precludes you from always choosing the personally beneficial path.

Is the Prisoners' Dilemma really the right metaphor here? I don't really get what the defector gains. Sure, I like them better for being so accommodating, but meanwhile they're paying the costs of giving me what I want, and if they try to invoke some kind of quid pro quo than all the positive feelings go out the window when I find out they were misleading me.

Ya know, after thousands of years of trying it out in all kinds of environments, it seems as though almost every culture on Earth settles on "Guess", with maybe a touch of "Ask" in the more overbearing ones. A common modification to "Guess" is "Offer", where the mere mention of a possible opportunity to help out is treated as creating almost a positive obligation to notice the need and make a spontaneous offer.

From where I sit, that's pretty strong evidence that "Guess" or maybe "Offer" is more suited to collective human nature. There's a pretty heavy burden of proof on any "rationalist" who wants to change it.

It's also not so obvious that you can effectively change conventions like these by just starting in and asking others to change. If you tried your "developing trust" tactic with me, I'd probably play along to avoid conflict on one occasion, and avoid YOU after that.

It's evidence that Guess is the Nash equilibrium that human cultures find. Consider that the Nash equilibrium in the Prisoner's Dilemma (and in the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma with known fixed length) is both defect. It's a common theme in game theory that the Nash equilibrium is not always the best place to be.

Ya know, after thousands of years [...] every culture on Earth settles on "Guess",

As far as my knowledge of cultures goes I'd guess that this is indeed the optimum for "settled" cultures where there are lots of rules and customes everybody knows from early on (precisely the conditions I gave in my earlier comment).

But that just means that it is applicable to 'normal' situations. Not under stress. Not for fast societal change. And maybe not for rationalists dealing with each other.

If I'm understanding your comment correctly, I strongly disagree with this way of framing such suggestions. It seems anathema to the rationalist enterprise. Many rationalist simplifications of or modifications to (social) interaction, or other not-strictly-rationalist approaches that are regardless endorsed by us, are hit by your argument. E.g. requesting tabooing words, requesting predictions of differing anticipated experiences, Crocker's rules, confessing noticing confusion, etc. etc. on through the Sequences et al.

A core of the rationalist ideal is to take approaches that promote the discovery, recognition, and sharing of truth except where there are situational reasons to hold off on doing so in those specific cases. For example, I agree with warnings that have been raised in the comments on this post about trying Telling without a cooperating or rationalist receiver. But that's in the same way that asking a Muggle to taboo their words can be a not-so-great idea.

I suspect that high-profile Bay Area (and possibly New York?) rationalists would bear this out. As a specific example, as far as I can tell, Alicorn seems to be the rationalist master of Telling and generally avoiding beating about the bush when she wants something, and wins because of it. More generally, from what I gather as a spectator, there seem to be a lot of techniques or behaviours on instrumental, emotional, and interpersonal fronts that are making the Bay Area awesome and an ever-stronger attractor to rationalists around the world, but which the broader rationalist/LW community does not necessarily hear about.

The success of the Bay Area subcommunity's approach seems somewhat unknown. And I think that means that when someone comes along from there and says to the broader community, 'Hey, we should try Telling more,' there is a lot of cultural context (of the Bay Area generally, and all the interrelations with communication systems, openness, etc.), experience, and success underlying that suggestion that is not visible. I think if enough commenters adopted this approach, it would becomes recognised, not be misinterpreted, and work. Now Brienne's posted this, possibly even people can link to this post to try to prevent being misinterpreted when they are Telling on LW.

A lot of the Bay Area's success seems to come from people taking simplifying approaches to communication seriously and cooperating. When you say

It's also not so obvious that you can effectively change conventions like these by just starting in and asking others to change. If you tried your "developing trust" tactic with me, I'd probably play along to avoid conflict on one occasion, and avoid YOU after that.

that pretty much feels like the complete opposite, i.e. writing off the suggestion and anyone who takes it seriously. I'm not sure if I'd call it defection, but it has a similar feel. On a collective level, both the receptive and the skeptical attitudes are self-fulfilling, because these kinds of things really do seem to work when enough people take them seriously, and will certainly fail if everyone scorns them. (E.g. look at how many memes from the Sequences are pretty much unanimously taken seriously.)

(I acknowledge that I might have completely misread your comment.)

So, as long as we're Telling, I'm going to talk about my own internal state. I think at least some aspects of my reactions may be shared by other people, including people whom readers of this thread may be interested in influencing or interacting with. Anybody who's not interested in this should definitely stop reading. I promise I won't be offended. :-)

Although I still think I had a point, if I look back at why I really wrote my response, I think that point was mostly "cover" for a less acceptable motivation. I think I really wrote it mostly out of irritation with the way the word "rationalist" was used in the original posting. And I find myself feeling the same way in response to some of your reply.

My first reaction is to see it as an ugly form of appropriation to take the word "rationalist" to mean "person identified with the Less Wrong community or associated communities, especially if said member uses jargon A, B, and C, and subscribes to only-tangentially-rational norms X, Y, and Z". Especially when it's coupled with signals of group superiority like "don't try this with Muggles" (used to be "mundanes"). It provokes an immediate "screw you" reaction.

I expressed my irritation only as hopefully-veiled but still obnoxious snark(for which I am sorry), but it was there.

The Bay Area, and presumably New York and the world, contain people who are committed to rationality by almost any definition, yet who've never read the Sequences, probably wouldn't want to, and probably have no great interest in the community I think you mean. Some of them have pretty high profiles, too. Making a land grab for the word "rationalist" probably doesn't make most of those people want into the club, and neither does name calling. Both seem more likely to make them think the club is composed of jerks.

On another, but perhaps related, front...

By my last paragraph's description of my reaction, I didn't mean to write off the "Tell" suggestion completely as a suggestion about what social norms should be, whether in a subculture or in The Wider Culture(TM). I'm pretty skeptical about the idea, but I wasn't trying to be completely dismissive there.

In that part, I was, perhaps amid more snark, trying to warn about a possibly inobvious reaction. What I was trying to describe was how I, as an individual, actually envision myself reacting to the stated tactic for introducing the "Tell" approach.

I used to spend a fair amount of time, in the Bay Area and elsewhere, with communities that overlap with, and/or could be seen as antecedents of, the Less Wrong/CFAR/MIRI "rationalists". In those communities, I met a lot of people who had unconventional approaches to interacting with others. I often found some of those people annoying and aversive. That's true even though I'm no grandmaster of "normal" social approaches myself, and even though I suspect that I am far less sensitive to deviations from them than the average bear.

What I would truly expect to go through my mind would be something like "Oh, no, yet another one of those people who think removing all filters will improve society, and want me to be part of the grand experiment"... or possibly "Oh, no, yet another one of those people who don't realize that filters are expected at all", or, worse "Oh, no, one of those people who think they can use some kind of philosophical gobbledygook to justify inconsiderate passive-aggressive pushiness". Because I've met all of those more than once.

That would cause discomfort, and in the future I'd tend to avoid the source of that discomfort. I was trying to point out was that the strategy might appear to work, but still backfire, because the immediate feedback from the interlocutor wouldn't necessarily be honest.

Maybe I'd get over it, but maybe I wouldn't, too.

For the record on your first paragraph, I'm really, really skeptical of Crocker's rules working over the long term, but I admit I've never tried them. I don't think the rest of the things you mention are similar.

I don't know of any common social norm against, say, tabooing words, or asking about anticipated experiences. I think you can use those sorts of methods with more or less anybody. You may run into resistance or anger if somebody thinks you're trying to pull a nasty rhetorical trick, but you can defuse that if you take the time to cross the inferential distance gently, and starting on the project before you're in the middle of a heated conflict where the other person will reject absolutely anything you suggest.

For that matter, you can often just quietly stop using a word without saying anything at all about "tabooing" it.

Likewise, I don't think most people mind "I'm confused"... unless it's obviously dishonest and meant to provide plausibly deniable cover to some following snark.

On the other hand, I do see lots of social norms around what tactics are and are not OK for getting somebody else to do something for you, and also around how much of your internal state you share at what stages of intimacy. So I think this is different in kind.

And of course I may also have completely misread your comment...

[On edit, cleaned up a couple of proofreading errors]

Thanks for elaborating on your motivations and experience.

I would be somewhat surprised if there is really appropriation of 'rationalist' taking place; I think moreso the motivation is simply convenience, and I don't think I've ever been confused as to whether someone was referring to x-rationalists or some other group with the word. I at least would not use the term 'rationalist' in this way to a broader audience for the reason you mentioned, but your comment makes me think that avoiding ambiguity and not appropriating is not enough and perhaps even using it among ourselves is to be avoided, e.g. for the benefit of those 'looking in from the outside' who might be preemptively alienated.

I do think that 'Muggle' makes a useful distinction (something like a distinction for those receptive to LW-school ideas and techniques?) in quickly conveying the referrent's mindset. I do remember that the first time I saw Eliezer use the term in that way, I was not entirely convinced it was a 'savoury' word to use, and your reaction is enough evidence for me to put a moratorium on it in my own usage at least until I have a chance to think about it more, because it does indeed seem like it might foster a counterproductive resentful or oppositional mindset.

I anticipated and agree that Crocker's rules are by far the most risky of the things I mentioned.

I agree that there are possibly-significant (I'd have to think about it more) differences between Telling and some of the Sequences examples I gave. Perhaps more accurate would've been for me to say that your original argument could have been applied to the LW-rationality approach generally, or to the bias-correcting approach based on the heuristics and biases literature. I certainly have a friend who dislikes Eliezer's take on heuristics and biases and seems to have sort of become a bias denialist, although that's obfuscated by the possibility they just got thrown by Eliezer hitting them where it hurts (the English Literature).

My intuition won't let me update as much as one might expect on you mentioning people being obnoxious in using nonconventional approaches to communication, and is asking for specific examples. I reserve some fair probability that there were clear differences in type between the obnoxious attempts and the successful ones, such that your experiences would not be very strong reference class evidence for e.g. Telling. But I'm also suspicious of that hesitation because it feels a bit like experience-denial.

I also retain the possibility that your reaction to the approaches you disliked was overblown, though my credence for that is far lower now than it was, based on your comment and your claim to be less fazed than average by nonconventional approaches. I am uncomfortable with this hesitation on my part too because it pattern-matches to something like what one might call victim-blaming. But sometimes people really are just Scrooge! :3

Obviously it might not be practical for you to give specific examples, for various reasons.

Have you also accounted for the potential for the negative communication approaches to stick in your mind more than ones you accepted or adopted?

Bonus questions (again, I can see why you might not answer these, though feel free to PM me or I can PM you my e-mail address):

(1) What's your general take on the picture painted by http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/05/24/going-from-california-with-an-aching-in-my-heart/

(2) Why do you no longer spend much time in some of the communities you used to? And if you moved away from California, why?

This may be getting into private-message territory. I haven't paid enough attention to the norms to be sure. But it's easy to not read these...

your comment makes me think that avoiding ambiguity and not appropriating is not enough and perhaps even using it among ourselves is to be avoided, e.g. for the benefit of those 'looking in from the outside' who might be preemptively alienated.

I am, perhaps, "looking in from the outside". I have a lot of history and context with the ideas here, and with the canonical texts, and even with a few of the people, but I'm an extreme "non-joiner". In fact, I tend toward suspicion and distaste for the whole idea of investing my identity in a community, especially one with a label and a relatively clear boundary. I have only a partial model of where that attitude comes from, but I do know that I seem to retain an "outsider" reaction for a lot longer than other people might.

I may be hypersensitive. But I think it's more likely that I'm a not-horrible model of how a completely naive outsider might react to some of these things, even though I can express it in a Less-Wrongish vocabulary.

And of course these posts are indeed visible to people who are only vaguely exploring, or only thinking about "joining", for whatever value of "joining". This is still outreach, right?

Perhaps more accurate would've been for me to say that your original argument could have been applied to the LW-rationality approach generally, or to the bias-correcting approach based on the heuristics and biases literature.

I agree that there are a ton of things that people do all the time that don't seem very useful. If I'm not going to accept all of them, I'd better have a good reason to think this particular social-interaction issue is different.

My reason is that I don't think that epistemic rationality, or even extreme instrumental rationality, has been a critical survival skill for people until very recently (and maybe it still isn't). It's useful, but it doesn't overwhelm everything else, and indeed it seems very likely that the heuristics and biases themselves have clear advantages in many historical contexts.

On the other hand, social cooperation, and especially avoiding constant overt conflict with members of one's own society, are pretty crucial if you want to survive as a human. So I tend to expect institutions and adaptations in that area to be pretty fine-tuned and effective. I don't like a lot of the ways people behave socially, but they seem to work.

Not that strong, I know, but then I haven't seen anything that strong on any side of this.

I reserve some fair probability that there were clear differences in type between the obnoxious attempts and the successful ones, such that your experiences would not be very strong reference class evidence for e.g. Telling.

I don't think I can provide detailed descriptions, but it is definitely true that there are meaningful differences, even major differences, between most of the experiences I've had and the example approach.

The thing is that, if presented with the example approach in real life, I don't think I'd notice those differences. I think I would react heuristically to the unexpected disclosure of internal state, and provisionally put the person into the "annoying/broken" bucket before I got that far.

Then, if I weren't being very, very careful (which I can't necessarily be in all circumstances), the promise that "everything will be OK if you say no" wouldn't be believed, and might even be interpreted as confirmation that the person was going into passive-aggressive mode, and was indeed annoying/broken.

And in the particular example given, I'm being asked to have this presumptively-broken person stay in my house overnight, which is going to make me more wary.

If I were in perfect form and not distracted, I might catch other cues and escape the heuristic, but I think it would be my likely reaction most of the time.

YMMV if, for example, I have prior information that the person is an honest Teller, rather than somebody who incorrectly believes themselves to be a Teller or is just outright dishonest.

I don't have as much discipline in not applying heuristics, or in turning them off at will, as many people here. On the other hand, I have more such discipline than a lot of people... probably including some people here, and definitely including people I suspect one might wish to avoid putting off of the community, should they come exploring.

I also retain the possibility that your reaction to the approaches you disliked was overblown, though my credence for that is far lower now than it was, based on your comment and your claim to be less fazed than average by nonconventional approaches.

I could also be wrong about being less fazed. I know that many nonconventional approaches don't bother me even though they seem to bother others. That doesn't mean that I'm not unknowingly hypersensitive to these nonconventional approaches. I haven't calibrated myself systematically or overtly on them, and they do tickle personal boundary issues where I'm especially likely to be more sensitive than normal.

Have you also accounted for the potential for the negative communication approaches to stick in your mind more than ones you accepted or adopted?

Sure. That's one reason I believe I'd react negatively to the example approach. I haven't been talking about the right way to react. I've been predicting how I likely would react (and saying that I think others might react the same way).

(1) What's your general take on the picture painted by http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/05/24/going-from-california-with-an-aching-in-my-heart/

It rings true to me in a lot of ways. I usually say that I miss the Bay Area's "geekosphere". I miss what is cheesily called the "sense of possibility". I miss the easy availability of tools and resources. I miss the critical mass of people who really want to do cool, new things, whether they want to change the world, or make something beautiful, or even just make a bunch of money they're not sure how to spend. I miss the number of people who really are willing to look hard at how things work, and then change them... in the large if need be. Now that I have a kid, I really miss the wide availability of approaches to education that don't feel so much like "shove 'em in the box and make 'em like it".

On the other hand, that description sounds a little starry-eyed. I've had a bit too much contact with the "hippies" to think they're really always about peace and love, too much contact with the programmers to believe they're nearly as smart as they think they are, and too much contact with the entrepreneurs for "competent" to be the first description that comes to mind. I've also seen some people use "abandoning hangups", or "social efficiency", or whatever, as an excuse to treat others callously. You get a lot of that in the poly community, for example.

I might have missed those issues, or ignored them, 20 or 30 years ago. I might have said things about "wacky leftism" back then, too, things I wouldn't say nearly so strongly now that I know a bit more about how all the parts fit together. It's not that the leftism isn't wacky, it's that the capitalism is wacky, too.

I have not had direct contact with the "cooked" LW-rationalist community, so I can't speak to that. I was in only-somewhat-related circles, I was never very, very social, and I left the area almost 7 years ago after largely "disappearing" from those circles a year or two before that. So I can't confirm or deny what it says about that particular community.

(2) Why do you no longer spend much time in some of the communities you used to? And if you moved away from California, why?

The usual stuff: life intervened. I got busy with other stuff. I went back to work... in the Bay Area or in tech, that can be pretty consuming, and it turns out that it's harder to take the "changing the world" jobs when you're supporting other people. I got divorced. I got depressed. I had personal and romantic ties in Montreal, so I moved... and then I built a life here, with its own rewards and its own obligations and its own web of connections to people who also have reasons to be here. Moving back would be hard now.

But I do still miss it a lot.

I am really very pleasantly surprised with how this comment tree turned out and these are useful warnings. The level of internal insight was higher than I would have expected even if our first two comments hadn't been vaguely confrontational. Thank you!

I'm coming to this party rather late, but I'd like to acknowledge that I appreciated this exchange more than just by upvoting it. Seeing in depth explanations of other people's emotions seems like the only way to counter Typical Mind Fallacy, but is also really hard to come by. So thanks for a very levelheaded discussion.

I recognise your concern acutely - I've had the same "one of those people who has poor social skills and yet wants me to behave more like them" - and I think stressing the "whenever you suspect you'd both benefit from them knowing" part of rule one much more seems like it would help a lot in that direction.

As a specific example, as far as I can tell, Alicorn seems to be the rationalist master of Telling and generally avoiding beating about the bush when she wants something, and wins because of it.

I am terribly flattered and completely unable to connect your screen name to a human to determine what evidence you are using!

I'm not someone you know of; that's just based off what I've gleaned from yours and others' comments.

Ya know, after thousands of years of trying it out in all kinds of environments, it seems as though almost every culture on Earth settles on "Guess", with maybe a touch of "Ask" in the more overbearing ones.

That's a strong claim. Is it really true? I'll grant that it certainly seems like the overall culture would be at least leaning towards Guess almost everywhere. But I don't think that the original Metafilter post and various other posts that were inspired by it would have been so broadly linked and discussed if there weren't also strong enough strains of Ask culture that lots and lots of people intuitively recognized the existence of both. I seem to recall seeing people talking about how they grew up in an Ask or Guess family and how that led to conflicts when they ran into people raised differently, etc. That makes it sound like the two cultures are very much co-existing.

I don't have sociological statistics on that, and will have to retract "almost every culture" as a statement of fact.

My general impression is that the US and Western Europe are about as "Ask" as it gets, and in a lot of other cultures you're pretty unlikely to find any "Ask families" at all. I do know that "Offer" exists.

My impression is that Russia (and I would assume that much of Eastern Europe would be similar) is Askier than Western Europe. I may be wrong here, though, and my experiences could be a consequence of individual variation.

One might note in this context is that some of this might be reflected in conventionalized linguistic politeness strategies. For example, Russian constructions used for polite requests are very Asky, and would be incredibly rude if translated literally into English or German. Of course, this is only very weak evidence that present-day Russia has more of an Ask culture than the West.

For example, Russian constructions used for polite requests are very Asky, and would be incredibly rude if translated literally into English or German.

Could you give some examples? (I speak Russian and English.)

I was specifically thinking of "будь(те) добр(а/ы)" + Imperative is a very "Asky" way of phrasing a request, which is pretty direct and intrusive in English. If you add "я тебя очень прошу", the translation becomes plainly absurd. And as far as I know - I might be miscalibrated, so correct me if I'm wrong - simple Imperative + "пожалуйста" is also more polite than the English translation would be.

I must admit that can do something similar to the "будь добр" construction in my variety of German, but it's slightly less polite than the Russian counterpart, I think. In general, (my variety of) German loves indirection, like English, which Russian doesn't really have. Cf. also the simple "ты не закроешь окно?", whose translations are very rude. (I'm told that "ты не будешь закрыть окно?" works like "won't you close the window?", but my experience with Russian is to scarce to know that first-hand.)

Hmm.

"будь(те) добр(а/ы)"

I would render this into English as "would you be so kind as to ...", which doesn't seem rude.

"я тебя очень прошу"

This has no analogue in English that I know of; you're right, a literal translation would sound rather absurd (something like "I'm asking you, please"... no, that's not quite right, but yes, I agree.

simple Imperative + "пожалуйста"

"Please do X"... seems reasonably polite, for a direct request. I'm not sure I see the difference.

indirection, like English

Hm? Example please?

"ты не закроешь окно?"

Actually, this is more direct and less polite than what seems to be the direct English translation: "won't you close the window?" Admittedly, if instead you render this as "will you not close the window?", it becomes less polite. Perhaps the contraction makes it a "standard polite asking phrase", rendering it less direct? I'm not sure.

"ты не будешь закрыть окно?"

This is ungrammatical. I'm not sure what you were going for with this one, but it's not a thing people say.

I guess the question is, how do you normally ask people to do things in English? What are some examples of things you might ask people to do, or ask people for; and what are rude or polite ways of phrasing those things? We might compare them with their Russian versions, then.

I would render this into English as "would you be so kind as to ...", which doesn't seem rude.

But that is not remotely a literal translation, which is my point.

This is ungrammatical.

Yeah, that was a performance error. It should, of course, have read "ты не будешь закрывать окно".

Default strategies for making requests in English, which are very indirect: "Would you mind doing X?" and "Could you (please) do X?" I feel that "please" + imperative is extremely blunt to the point that I would never use it. I suppose "do X, will you?" is a possibility in English, but only in very informal contexts. For "won't you do X", see below.

Actually, this is more direct and less polite than what seems to be the direct English translation: "won't you close the window?" Admittedly, if instead you render this as "will you not close the window?", it becomes less polite. Perhaps the contraction makes it a "standard polite asking phrase", rendering it less direct? I'm not sure.

Wait, what? In my experience, "won't you close the window" is a politer version of "you're supposed to close the window, so do it already".

["будь(те) добр(а/ы)" -> "would you be so kind as to ..."]

But that is not remotely a literal translation, which is my point.

Uh, what? I struggle to imagine how you would get a more literal rendering without breaking English syntactical rules. Hm, perhaps removing the "would you" — "Be so kind as to ..." — would make it absolutely literal. Is that really a large change in effect, though?

"ты не будешь закрывать окно".

That makes grammatical sense, but it's somewhat weird to phrase a request like this. Like, "hey, will you be doing X?" — that seems like a question. It could be a request... but only in Guess culture. I've almost never heard someone say this and just mean it as a request on its own; sometimes that sort of construction is followed by a request...

Wait, what? In my experience, "won't you close the window" is a politer version of "you're supposed to close the window, so do it already".

Huh??

We seem to be running into some serious differences in experience here...

Default strategies for making requests in English, which are very indirect: "Would you mind doing X?" and "Could you (please) do X?"

In Russian, you could say (and people often do): "Не мог бы ты закрыть окно?" — which by direct translation becomes "Could you close the window?" — but the Russian phrase is quite polite-sounding, whereas the English phrase is less so.

Of course, we've been using the informal "you" ("ты") in these phrases, but using the formal/polite "you" ("вы") makes any of these phrases even more polite: "Не могли бы вы закрыть окно?"

Plus, in conversation, I've usually experienced such a phrase following a sort of "warning of request", like so:

"У меня к вам такая просьба... " (interlocutor says "Да?" or "Я вас слушаю?") "Не могли бы вы закрыть окно?"

Which, rendered in English, looks like this:

"I have the following request for you [formal/polite]..." ("Yes?" or "I'm listening?") "Could you [formal/polite] close the window?"

I don't know... that seems "Asky" to the extent that you are asking someone for something, rather than making them guess, but I don't see it as any more direct, per se, than the English equivalents.

Uh, what? I struggle to imagine how you would get a more literal rendering without breaking English syntactical rules. Hm, perhaps removing the "would you" — "Be so kind as to ..." — would make it absolutely literal. Is that really a large change in effect, though?

How about "Be kind/nice, do X"? It's grammatical - of course, it's a weird thing to say, but the entire point was that the literal translations are weird and/or pushy. "would you be so kind as to" is indirect in virtue of being a question and not containing an imperative; of course, it's the correct translation, but it's really a very different construction.

That makes grammatical sense, but it's somewhat weird to phrase a request like this. Like, "hey, will you be doing X?" — that seems like a question. It could be a request... but only in Guess culture. I've almost never heard someone say this and just mean it as a request on its own; sometimes that sort of construction is followed by a request...

Good to know. I once read that it has something of "you were supposed to do it, so are you gonna do it or what?" about it, but as I said, I have no personal experience with it.

In Russian, you could say (and people often do): "Не мог бы ты закрыть окно?" — which by direct translation becomes "Could you close the window?" — but the Russian phrase is quite polite-sounding, whereas the English phrase is less so.

Yes, I agree. I would guess that the counterpart of "could you hold that for a minute?" would perhaps be "подержи, пожалуйста, на минутку" - but "hold that for a minute, please" strikes me as really very rude in English.

I don't know... that seems "Asky" to the extent that you are asking someone for something, rather than making them guess, but I don't see it as any more direct, per se, than the English equivalents.

Well, for one thing, I feel it's weird to say "I have a request for you" in English. You'd normally say "could I ask you for something/a favor". In that, the Russian formulation is already more direct.

Of course, as I said, all that is not exactly strong evidence in favor of Russia actually having more of an ask culture, only very mildly suggestive. You can behave in an Ask or Guess culture way in either language, it's just that the conventionalized politeness strategies of English make a lot of use of indirection (questions, and usually moralized, virtually never imperatives), whereas in Russian, when saying something that is equivalent in politeness to a certain English construction, you mention the request somewhat more directly (although, as you point out, there is the more indirect "могли бы вы" strategy).

By the way, do you live in Russian or another Russian-speaking country? Because I've seen a study that showed that heritage speakers of Russian (i.e. speakers who live in a different linguistic community but learned the language from a parent) adopt more English-like politeness strategies. The reference is here.