The Slider Fallacy

Inspired by this thing John Beshir said about increasing collectivism:

Overall I kind of feel like this might be kind of cargo culting; looking at surface behaviours and aping them in hopes the collectivism planes will start landing with their cargo. A simplistic “collectivist vs individualist” slider and pushing it left by doing more “collectivist” things probably won’t work, I think. We should have some idea for how the particular things we were doing were going to be helpful, even if we should look into collectivist-associated ideas.

  • Here are some other “sliders”:
  • Writing emails fast vs writing them carefully.
  • Writing code cleanly vs quickly.
  • Taking correct ideas seriously vs resistance to takeover by misaligned memes.
  • Less false positives vs less false negatives in anything.
  • Perfectionism vs pragmatism.
  • Not wasting time vs not wasting money.

In each of these spaces, you have not one but many choices to adjust which combine to give you an amount of each of two values.

Not every choice is a tradeoff. Some are pareto wins. Not every pareto win is well-known. Some choices which are tradeoffs at different exchange rates can be paired off into pareto improvements.

Also: if the two things-to-value are A and B, and even if you are a real heavy A-fan, and your utility function is .9A + .1B, then the B-fans are a good place to look for tradeoffs of 1 of A for 20 of B.

So if you’re a B-fan and decide, “I’ve been favoring B too much, I need more A”, don’t throw away all the work you did to find that 1 of A for 20 of B tradeoff.

For example: if you decide that you are favoring organization too much and need to favor more having-free-time-by-not-maintaining-order-you-won’t-use, maybe don’t stop using a calendar. Even if all the productive disorganized people are not using calendars. Even if they all think that not using a calendar is a great idea, and think you are still a neat-freak for using one.

It’s often not like the dark side, where as soon as you set your feet on that path and say to yourself, “actually, self-denial and restraint are bad things”, put on some red-and-yellow contact lenses and black robes, you are as good at getting the new goals as you were at the old ones.

“Adjust my tradeoffs so I get less false positives and more false negatives” and similar moves are dangerous because they consider a cost to be a reward.

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