The signal democratization double-bind

by Crispy Chicken

Often the ability to play certain social games proficiently becomes a social class marker or a social class in and of themselves. Think fencing.

If we want to level the playing field from the current status quo we usually end up in a double bind.

The charity method” to help people out is to teach some lucky few to play the given game proficiently. This causes Goodharting on whatever the selection criteria is for choosing who gets these fencing lessons”; usually it’s just another layer of social networking. Regardless of what the selection criteria are, this enforces the status quo and the hold of the marker actually grows stronger as the marker ends up being a more reliable predictor of future success, whether it’s because the system is good at scouting out people who deserve more credit or because it reinforces a new social networking method.

The modern method” to help people out is to enforce strict rules against the marker. This causes extreme Goodharting on whatever markers can come to stand in for the old marker, as the system total has learned to rely on the status quo. All the assumptions about unwritten rules, who is trustworthy, etc. rely on these social signals and so people will decide on new markers that seem like they might cause similar outcomes. Due to being artifical, these new markers will be played because they are easy to manually coordinate around without shame (no social standards around these new markers likely exist yet) and without the nebulosity tradition lends as different groups interpret tradition differently.

I’m no huge fan of Chesterton’s Fence—why shouldn’t we wonder about whether people who make fences tend to be fools?—but I think Chesterton’s Fence is subsidized by people’s failure to change status quo for the better due to the above dynamics.