Dec 16, 2022Liked by Sarah Constantin

"The limits on self-governance are clear: a community cannot do things that the state de facto forbids. The state employs men with guns who will try to stop you from doing certain things; organizing with some like-minded people into a “community” does not change this fact.

So, a community based around a private code has to distinguish itself from the surrounding culture by being stricter, not looser, than the range of what’s de facto permitted outside the community."

But in order for the law to be enforced, rule violations have to be reported to authorities. So that a norm against reporting certain types of offenses can create more lenient rules. For example, a fraternity can enable underage drinking because there is a strong social norm encouraging it.

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Dec 15, 2022Liked by Sarah Constantin

Oh boy so I have a bunch of thoughts on this!

1. Professional associations with teeth: So there's an obvious failure state to to be wary of here, which can be seen from the fact that the lawyers' and doctors' guilds already *have* teeth, they just don't use them. Like, from what I gather, they seem to have gotten into a state where, rather than attempting to maintain trust in their professions by expelling wrongdoers, they instead attempt to maintain trust by *not* expelling wrongdoers except in the worst cases, figuring that the way most people tend to think means that each expulsion will contribute to the impression that lawyers (or doctors) in *general* are untrustworthy, rather than that the remaining ones must be trustworthy. This has the obvious consequences.

I do have to wonder if perhaps a factor here is that their teeth are maybe too strong, i.e., you're not allowed to practice at all without being a member. But this seems like a failure mode that could happen regardless, and indeed it seems like we do see essentially the same phenomenon in some academic fields as well, even where there are basically no teeth at all; basically it seems to be pretty common. So the big question is how to avoid it? That's not something I have any answer to, but it really requires an answer.

...is this one of the things that "anyone, even an outsider, can start an investigation" is meant to address? It does seem likely to me that the sticking point is largely *starting* investigations, not biasing the verdicts. (Although I assume the point about the juries is meant to address that, too.) So maybe this would help here.

Of course, letting anyone start an investigation means that -- like with real courts -- you then also need some way to prevent people from abusing that, i.e., some way to have frivolous cases dismissed early. You probably can't fine people for bringing frivolous cases (or can you? if you set it up right maybe you can), but if someone does it repeatedly you can them from bringing more cases, I guess? (In real courts that's rarely done because preventing from someone from suing is, y'know, really bad, but doing it in this more informal setting may not be such a problem.)

Except, some of the abusive uses might come in ways that *aren't* so easily dismissed as frivolous. Thinking about medicine again, there's already a problem of legally-defensive healthcare; doctors aren't really worried so much about losing their license, but they are worried about being sued for malpractice. How do you impose more consequences without making things even more *defensible* rather than more *correct*? This seems troublesome. But I guess you were thinking of this more in the fact context rather than the medical context? I was just thinking of the medical context because it seems there like the AMA is a dysfunctional example of professional-association courts. (With, I guess, the public courts being dysfunctional in the *opposite* direction in this context -- one not strict enough, the other too strict.)

2. Argument trees! (Or graphs.) Argument graphs are so great. They are so underused. To respond to your and Rand's discussion of Wikipedia -- sure, Wikipedia can summarize a controversy, but only to a certain depth before they start pruning it, and they sure don't have argument graphs!

Man, the whole thing where people just ignore or misrepresent their opponents' arguments instead of actually responding to them annoys me a lot. Although, once a position becomes sufficiently common, it can happen that people bothering to actually argue for intelligently largely vanish, leaving it appearing unsupported.

Like I remember being really glad to see you write this essay a while ago: https://srconstantin.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/in-defense-of-individualist-culture/ It's a point that, though it once needed to be argued for, has faded into the background so much that few arguing for it are really sure *how* to, leading to primarily arguments against it getting circulated; and those arguments against it largely ignore the arguments for it, because they're largely not made, while the few arguments made for it address their opponents only weakly because they just haven't really learned the better arguments. It's a real stupid equilibrium.

(...I need to actually write some of those poltical essays I keep talking about, problem is I'm already overloaded for time, writing about politics is unpleasant, and I have a huge math backlog... maybe after March I'll have some time...)

...jumping back to the topic of argument graphs, and getting a controversy properly written down, can I go on a tangential rant here about how people misrepresent Sabine Hossenfelder? There is so much rounding off of what she says to "dark matter is probably wrong and modified gravity is probably right", even though if you read her actualy posts her position is pretty clearly that the orthodox position is probably mostly correct and that her complaint is that the alternative positions are being misrepresented and underexplored compared to their probability, but not that that probability is higher than that of the orthodox position. And the arguments she makes for this seem to be basically ignored and not responded to as far as I've seen! Are they right? It's hard to say when people aren't properly addressing them! Put it all in an argument graph and make this plain, I say. :P (I mean, I would encourage Hossenfelder to be less sensationalist, and sometimes she seems to pretty clearly emphasize the wrong thing, but that's another matter.)

...OK I thought I had more to say on this but I can't remember it. Oh well.

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I think we discussed a similar concept on twitter a bit ago? IMO it would be really good to create a system like this, and it seems like something that it would be natural for the rationalist community to work on.

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Dec 17, 2022Liked by Sarah Constantin

The European Mathematics Society has a possibly embryonic version of something like this:


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Dec 15, 2022·edited Dec 15, 2022Liked by Sarah Constantin

David Brin has written extensively about this exact topic.


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Dec 14, 2022Liked by Sarah Constantin

How does this compare to Wikipedia?

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There is profession which you didn't reference that has many features described in your article: the profession of arms i.e. the military. There is a clear and distinct military tradition amongst Five Eyes/ABCANZ countries which has the following notable features: (1) entry into the profession is voluntary (2) membership rosters are publicly accessible and there are reliable public signals of membership (3) the profession is governed by standards and norms which are *much* more strict than the those of societies they serve (4) at the national or branch level, the profession has a core ethical code which promotes shared values and punishes defectors (5) the investigation, assessment and punishment of defectors is carried out by professional bodies, in many case by professional courts (6) the severity of punishment imposed by professional courts range from minor fines and extra duties up to life imprisonment and being marked for eternal shame in the public record.

I think the example of the military deserves some thought, not because the profession of arms is a paragon of rational discourse and pragmatic problem solving, but because more often than not it's the opposite! The military can be such a quagmire of dysfunction and bullshit that it's a miracle that the institution retains such a high degree of public trust. The profession hedges against this by creating sub-cultures, many of which are almost fully realized professions in themselves e.g. high level commanders and their staff, Special Operations Forces, and pilots. Entry into these sub-professions imposes successively higher standards and more specific cultural norms, both of which are enforced by select group of peers. Entry into more select sub-professions does not (in theory) exempt an individual from their basic commitments to the profession and society at large.

It is very difficult to human-proof institutions at scale because whatever structure or regulatory regime you impose (whether official or unspoken) can be gamed by individuals or small coordinated groups ("boys clubs") whose selfish interests do not align with professional virtues of such as honesty, duty, and pragmatism. This suggests that the problem of mutual accountability has as much to do with scale as it does with standards.

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What isn't said here is that Eric Drexler himself has been traumatized by much of his scientific community which attacked him for his book/beliefs (maybe a science court could have prevented this).

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Interesting, but… Why "Anglo-American common law" (i.e. hunt-for-precedents) specifically, as opposed to directly-written-and-other-judges-don't-bind-this-one "Roman law"?

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