Guest Post on Testimonialism

by Alain Kassabian
“Testimonilaism is a series of standards including operational language, often applied to law, social systems, and incentives. The main (meta) incentive such analysis gives access to is described in Sheepdog, Logos, Stoicism, etc – technically the incentive is net agency. Testimonialism operationalizes operational epistemology: in order to facilitate that sort of high science you seem to need a high trust culture.
The act of testimony is fundamental to high trust society, military, law, science, markets, and personal matters. Testimony (ideal application of speech) creates all the advantages of these institutions, that emerged by necessity when the West chose sovereignty as an organizing principle to maximize agency. Recognizing the connections here re-frames human speech, detailing the magnitude of the processes we evoke with our words and our actions. The institutions and norms we use to further our values are built out of the incentives we’ve faced and how we’ve integrated them.
As intuitive as refining our speech is, it is also intuitive to obscure our speech to indulge vices and pettiness. Reducing anything, especially values down to just information and not bias is by it’s very nature going to dig at what people value. So, to the extent each of us undermines this norm, we enable the continuing parasitization and atrophying of our commons (presently: western civilization). We slim down our chances for positive Black Swans and become ever more vulnerable to the negatives Black Swans. Holding the inverse position (antifragility) seems attainable and highly useful (as in negative common law removing exposure to negative black swans and opening up the various goods and positive black swans), so again, no guarantee – but maybe altering stress response to serve rather than undercut agency by knowing the value of and how to use what we have remaining. Completing the task of optimization is all we can guarantee, investing ourselves beyond that is spiting nature (stoics make it obvious how this makes you fragile and petty).
All language is motivated, and motivations promote symbiosis or they do not. Incentives can thus be divided into two catagories: incentives for net agency (Sheepdog, Logos, Law, Empiricism) and incentives that sacrifice the ideal for more immediate gain (every time any of us obscure our testimony wittingly or otherwise). Seems Biohistory’s C would be the biological conditions required to recognize/measure/optimize conditions for this incentive and V would be the conditions required to defend such an incentive. In an atrophying society perhaps the window for those higher incentives is more narrow, and the costs greater for opposing malincentives baked into leviathan like social structures, although the ultimate cost of abandoning healthy, pro-net-agency incentives is obviously greater if you frame it honestly.
The precision Testimonialism affords for stoic analysis of how incentives stack and run through micro and macro social operating systems (norms) seems to reduce cognitive load. It doesn’t solve everything but it addresses the meta question of how to measure and optimize available responses (Doolittle’s “efficient capture of calories”as in Testimonialism, Propertarianism, Sheepdog, Antifragility, etc.). It shifts the focus to questions of agency and sovereignty (the conditions that underlie the various goods we pursue). On the micro level, the macro framing and organized elimination of fallacies makes shorter work of life planning, selecting information, and training your fast thinking. It’s not hard to detect when yourself or someone else is bringing your attention to something other than evidence – appealing to loading etc.
Part of the micro optimization resulting from and reinforcing Testimonilaism as a norm is that removing loading and solving for agency shifts the focus to improving rather than squabbling over primordial struggles (stoicism again). This affects physical health and offers an extremely integrated sense of meaning (ie. clear definition of symbiosis across scales). You mentioned in another thread that part of the aesthetic of bothering at all against such odds, is that demonstrating value as best we can, is worth it regardless of if those odds are overcome. I agree, and consider the counter aesthetic/value system to be parasitism (not strengthening the ecosystem from which you come), which in terms of objective usefulness and my own bias provides no legitimate alternative.
The first signs I usually notice of downward drag and misintegrated incentives are usually myself or someone else choosing loading and overloading over parsimony, the better one can recognize striking directly at the truth, the more obvious evasive substitutes become (hence military reporting is loud and direct, asking for only the facts). It’s a que that someone is skipping over something or semi to un-consciously avoiding information they perceive as counter to their incentives. To some degree (might depend on specifics), animosity can be inferred when incentives are guarded with deception, whether or not the person admits or realizes the incentives they answer to by operating in willful ignorance. In my mind, it stands out if I think, write, or speak something with loading – and that seems to be habituation of my fast thinking systems, so there’s less of a knee-jerk response to use careless loading (although it takes energy to realize the amount of loading people use, and then to discern when it’s appropriate – when it clarifies and transfers notions that survive empiricism).
I also think letting empirical descriptions of incentives speak for themselves rather than telling people outright what to do, makes one appear more trustworthy – not to be confused with hiding one’s own biases. People seem to intuitively mistrust loading against their own biases whereas they actively look for information regarding their incentives. Although, inflating language isn’t always a bad idea, Curt had a post about how inflationary speech can actually be used to lower costs of communication and therefore further the expression of operational language, as long as we’re packaging realities to the best of our ability.
Limits are also a key concept that Operational Epistemology and Sheepdog underscore the importance of, and by their very nature, grate against value systems… it’s very easy to not want to find the limit of a “beloved” notion. Yet, every statement has a limit and any view of the of the world is disjointed without sufficient emphasis on limits – this seems a common sub-optimal adaption (people refer to where their notions apply, not where they don’t – no complete testing or even guarantee it’s testable).”
“The closest thing to criticism I see for Testimonialism, Sheepdog, Logos (symbiosis raising agency) is regarding the practical access the higher tiers of incentives. I see potential pitfalls as sensible considerations for optimal application, not as contrary to the notion of Testimonilaism, ie.:
1 The idea of solving everything with words is absurd (strawman of Logos) – in reality we can use precise language to shift conditions towards the net agency (meta-incentive)
2 The idea of society not collapsing under prosperity seems far fetched and challenging (strawman of Sheepdog) – in reality solving for agency, c, v, etc. using testimonialism offers value as an optimization, not a guarantee
3 The idea of to more ideal institutions (martial societies, due diligence, warranties, honest prosecution) seems like brutal and far fetched LARPING to the modern mind (strawman of Testimonialism/Propertarianism) – in reality these are descriptions of the norms we cycle through from high to low trust
The reason I don’t see these as criticism is that the process discussed is a natural one with historical precedence. People are naturally intolerant of slights against their own interests and we have produced high levels of key items like precise law, high trust, c, and v. Additionally, the fragility of modernity and of successful civilizations in general is obvious. So to criticize a map of the biological and social systems detailing what happens as you either build up or tear down pro-trust norms as some impossible ideal is to miss the point. Things will never be perfect but we can incrementally suppress predation, parasitism, and the negative sides of co-operation, and at higher levels of Agency, C, and V, it should start looking about as ideal as it gets in reality.
Again, a stoic shifting of attention to optimization rather than searching for some imaginary guarantee of success is more useful and therefore congruent with any value system you have that actually represents striving for good (symbiosis). So these measures that further testimonialism by sustaining high trust (symbiosis) are the point and throwing away the tools of measurement because “life is really hard” and “that’s impossible” is clearly not as useful. There isn’t even technically a requirement to do anything any harder, picking up better tools can make it easier to do what you already do (especially if they’re built around empiricism, operational epistemology, incentives, clarity, parsimony).
The other potential criticism that jumps out is for testimonialism is that “it’s censorship”, although, I see it as assumed (and Curt has also stated) that reserving access to free truthful speech is important. So, it might seem overbearing and authoritarian, but the fact is we have been and should continue to suppress deceptive behaviour that undermines our agency, sovereignty, and antifragility. This is the idea of preserving and expressing natural authority over arbitrary authority because it aligns with a meta incentive (agency gives you more of whatever you value).
I sometimes wonder if this sort of adaption is innate to being or sentience regardless of what happens to any particular species: Logos, Sheepdog, the natural advantages available given sentience. Again, I agree that for personal sanity and maximized success across larger scales, a focus on what is in our control (demonstrating value) is a better frame for considering the odds, than to consider them primarily for how bad they seem (a result affected by our actions, but ultimately beyond our absolute control). Excuses for not taking the best shot is weak in the micro and macro sense, especially in terms of survivability and aesthetics. Again, I suppose the counter aesthetic is parasitism (not bothering to strengthen the ecosystem from which you come) and that’s home how valid too (producing alienation, evasion, and excess fragility in the macro and micro)? Maybe it’s bias to prefer the pole that corresponds to the in built non-psychopath intuition (as poorly as we stick to it at times) – but it seems justified describing the empirical realities of each pole (high and low trust).
There are a few versions of this list, but these are essentially the 6-8 standards of measurement referred to in

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