A Little Overwhelmed

(Reminder to self: It doesn’t need to be perfect or even represent me perfectly. It just needs to be readable and honest.)

My audience is suddenly a lot bigger. I posted on the Less Wrong facebook group asking for a mentor. I wanted to know if any other people out there belong to the (aspiring) rationalist group and the (reluctant) politicians group, or if my little Venn Diagram section is populated by only me. (So far, there is one other person in this intersection, who ran for office in the Finnish Parliament several years ago…but he didn’t win, so I’m still the only known resident.)

Then Eliezer Yudkowsky shared my blog on facebook…and tagged Robin Hanson and Carl Shulman. Then somebody created a post on Less Wrong announcing my existence.

I have a lot of emotions about this. Here are a few:

1) Guilt, or something like it. “I don’t deserve this attention. There are lots of people in the rationalist community who are smarter than I am and whose thoughts are more deserving of attention, whose careers have and will accomplish more than my career, who are smarter and more-educated and more thoughtful than I.”

2) Nerves. “Now I have one more community to represent (edit: I mean represent in the general sense, not in the sense of voting in the legislature), and it’s a community I respect a lot. If I make a bad choice or say something ridiculous…”

3) Excitement. “All these extremely intelligent people who’ve put a lot of work into educating themselves and overcoming the flaws in their hardware are now aware of my existence and my goals and able to give me advice. This can only be a good thing.”

The guilt is dumb, because people aren’t paying attention because they think I’m the smartest or the best-educated or the most thoughtful around. They’re probably paying attention because I’m doing something unusual in the rationalist community, and they’re curious about how it will go. Let’s shelve the guilt. The excitement makes the most sense.

…Posts I’m planning on making soon:

Advice Received So Far

Is the New Hampshire State House Optimized for Good Decisions?

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Have Voted for Me (or Anybody Else)


I can’t worry about getting every blog post exactly right, because then I’ll never publish a post, obviating the purpose of having a blog.

I might need to repeat that sentence at the beginning of every post, so don’t be surprised if you see it a lot.

What is my purpose in starting this blog? Transparency. I want the people in Manchester Ward 4 to be able to come here if they’re confused about why I voted the way I did.

I also think it will be helpful as a record for myself. If I make a mistake in my thinking, it will be recorded here, and I will be able to look back on it and learn from it.

Here is my big confession: I am in a state of flux. My opinions are not fixed. I am capable of changing my mind.

What can change my mind? Evidence. If you have strong evidence that a policy will have good results, please bring it to me, and I will consider that policy.

You might be wondering: if I’m not confident in my beliefs, why did I run for office? Isn’t ego the engine that drives politicians?

Here is how I originally decided to run for office:

Fundamental goal: helping people by reducing the causes of human suffering. (This hasn’t changed.)

I believed government is a major cause of suffering. E.g. war, the prison-industrial complex, the criminalization of poverty.

I believed as a general rule, peaceful, voluntary interactions (liberty) are superior to coercion (government). I self-identified as a libertarian and moved to New Hampshire as part of the Free State Project.

I saw some wins for liberty in the State House and some losses. I wanted to help liberty “win” in the State House, so I decided to run for state representative.

After I won my primary, I realized that I could very well have power (albeit a small slice, 1 seat out of 400 in 1 out of 2 chambers of the legislature, in 1 out of 3 branches of the government) and that my decisions would affect other people. I decided it was time to read the Sequences on the blog Less Wrong. I started with How to Actually Change Your Mind. I knew that I would hear a lot of arguments at the State House, some good and some bad. I wanted to be persuaded by good arguments and fail to be persuaded by bad arguments. I wanted to be certain that I was thinking clearly and rationally.

As it turns out, such certainty is hard to come by.

As an aspiring rationalist, I started questioning everything. Well–not everything. I still think suffering is bad. I still want to reduce suffering and promote flourishing. But all my assumptions are under consideration.

If you’re a libertarian reading this and you think that the weight of the evidence is on “your side,” this should not be cause for alarm.

If you’re not a libertarian and you have good evidence for a specific policy you think I should support, please e-mail me at ecomstockedwards (at) gmail (dot) com. Anecdotes are insufficient.

I’m going to do the best I can.