False Faces

When we lose control of ourselves, who is controlling us?

(You shouldn’t need to know about Nonviolent Communication to understand this. Only that it’s “hard” to actually do it.)
Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication contains an example where a boy named Bill has been caught taking a car for a joy ride with his friends. The boy’s father attempts to use NVC. Here is a quote from Father.

Bill, I really want to listen to you rather than fall into my old habits of blaming and threatening you whenever something comes up that I’m upset about. But when I hear you say things like, “It feels good to know I’m so stupid,” in the tone of voice you just used, I find it hard to control myself. I could use your help on this. That is, if you would rather me listen to you than blame or threaten. Or if not, then, I suppose my other option is to just handle this the way I’m used to handling things.

Father wants to follow this flow chart.

But he is afraid he will do things he “doesn’t want to”. Blaming and threatening are not random actions. They are optimizations. They steer the world in predictable ways. There is intent behind them. Let’s call that intender Father. Here’s the real flow chart.Father has promised Father he can get what he wants without threats and blame. Father doubts this but is willing to give it a try. When it doesn’t seem like it’ll work at first, Father helps out with a threat to take over. It’s a good cop/bad cop routine. Father, who uses only NVC, is a false face and a tool.

Father thinks that Father is irrational. It’s a legitimate complaint. Father is running some unexamined, unreflective, incautious software. That’s what happens when you don’t use all your ability to think to optimize a part of the flow chart. But Father can’t acknowledge that that’s something he’d do and so can only do it stupidly. Father can’t look for ways to accomplish the unacknowledged goals, or any goals in worlds he cannot acknowledge might exist. He can’t look for backup plans to plans he can’t acknowledge might fail. Father’s¬†self-identified-self (Father) is the thrall of artifacts, so he can only accomplish his goals without it.

Attributing revealed-preference motives to people like this over everything they do does not mean you believe everything someone does is rational. Just that virtually all human behavior has a purpose, is based on at least some small algorithm that discriminates based on some inputs to sometimes output that behavior. An algorithm which may be horribly misfiring, but is executing some move that has been optimized to cause some outcome nonetheless.

So how can you be incorruptible? You can’t. But you already are. By your own standards. Simply by not wanting to be corrupted. And your standards are best standards! Unfortunately you are are not as smart as you, and are easily tricked. In order to not be tricked, you need to use your full deliberative brainpower. You and you need to fuse.

I will save most of what I know of the fusion dance for another post. But the idea, from your perspective, the basic idea is to anthropomorphize hidden parts of the flow chart and recognize your concerns, be they values or possible worlds that must be optimized, and then actually try and accomplish those optimizations using all the power you have. Here’s a trick you might be able to use to jump-start it. If you notice yourself “losing control”, use (in your own thoughts) the words the whole flow chart would speak. Instead of, “I lost control and did X”, “I chose to do X because…”. Turn your “come up with a reason why I did that” stuff on all your actions. Come up with something that’s actually true. “I chose to do X because I’m a terrible person” is doing it wrong. “I chose to do X because that piece of shit deserved to suffer” may well be doing it right. “I chose to do X instead of work because of hyperbolic discounting” is probably wrong. “I chose to do X because I believe the work I’d be doing is a waste of time” might well be doing it right. If saying that causes tension, because you think you believe otherwise, that is good. Raising that tension to visibility can be the beginning of the dialog that fuses you.

Why just in your own thoughts? Well, false faces are often useful. For reasons I don’t understand, there’re certain assurances that can be made from a false face, that someone’s deep self knows are lies but still seem to make them feel reassured. “Yeah, I’ll almost certainly do that thing by Friday.” And I don’t even see people getting mad at each other when they do this.

Set up an artifact that says you tell the truth to others, and you’ll follow it into a sandboxed¬†corner of the flow chart made of self-deception. But remember that self-deception is used effectively to get what people want in a lot of default algorithms humans have. I have probably broken some useful self-deceptive machinery for paying convincing lip service to socially expected myths in my purism. I have yet to recover all the utility I’ve lost. I don’t know which lies are socially desirable, so I have to tell the truth because of a lopsided cost ratio for false negatives and false positives. Beware. Beware or follow your “always believe the truth” artifact into a sandboxed corner of the flow chart.

This sandboxing is the fate of failed engineering projects. And your immune system against artifacts is a good thing. If you want to succeed at engineering, every step on the way to engineering perfection must be made as the system you are before it, and must be an improvement according to the parts really in control.

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