Soldier Mindset, Scout Mindset … Scout Sniper Mindset

If you aren’t familiar with any of these terms, you can watch Julia’s talk about Scout Mindset and Soldier Mindset here.

Soldier mindset is about defeating the enemy. Actions are reflexive, protective, and can be adrenaline loaded. One imagines a soldier with a helmet: they are less vulnerable to attack if seen, but less able to see and hear well in the first place.

Soldier and Scout.png

Scout mindset is about understanding. The scout seeks to make an accurate map, and to notice features of the terrain which will be decision relevant. The scout does not fight, so they aren’t weighed down with the armor, weapons, and the biases of the soldier.

But on their own a scout doesn’t win the battle either, it is the soldiers that fight. In adversarial competitions, this is a rather annoying state of affairs: those with the most accurate models are not necessarily the winners. A scout can determine the course of battle and be far more important than a soldier, but this is if the scout is listened to by a competent general in an army that has soldiers. If soldier mindset is too costly to have in a community for truth seeking/epistemic reasons, then you need another mindset to win when the problems you face are adversarial:    scout-sniper

The Scout Sniper mindset is about both achieving objectives and modeling the world accurately. Though a scout sniper will carry some of the biases of the soldier, their sight won’t be as obscured by fighting. A scout sniper avoids most fights by blending in, and aims for completing the most important objectives before anyone can stop them.

If your goals are good, this can be a great strategy: don’t start conflicts until you are positioned to win, minimize collateral damage,  be precise in not going too far, pay attention and be patient before you decide you should jump into a conflict, or just quietly get stuff done on your own without feeling the need for tribal motivations/ gaining status. There are obviously downsides: if you are never directly mean to anyone, you might not really deter  or reduce certain bad social behavior via rapid feedback (though nice conversation is still an option to do so!). You might also accidentally go too far, and get a reputation for being Machiavellian or unstable, having been nice before then suddenly taking harsh action to stop someone. Worst of all might be unilateralist’s curse, where if there are many people making their own decisions about taking actions, many seemingly good actions will be taken more than optimal: causing potentially worse outcomes than when people are more tribal and conformist.

Overall though, I still think this is a mindset that would be nice for certain (but not all) rationalists to have access to at times. The rationality community seems strong on scout mindset, and weak on soldier mindset. This is great in so many ways (people actually try to say true things!), but rationality is about winning and when against pure scouts, soldiers win. Having a bias toward action is instrumentally useful for many goals, winning in policy probably requires a lot of allies with something closer to soldier mindset at times, with people arguing, advancing their groups, and denying opponents ground to stand on. Likewise, preventing certain people from doing harm to the community requires strategic response, uncoordinated scouts can’t really eject people from the community, and the occasional soldier type in the community just ends up making themselves and the community look bad when their response is disproportionate or mean.

In all cases which you can foster cooperation and beat the prisoner’s dilemma, you should do so! This is may be the majority of conflict situations you will run into, and getting lots of virtuous circles going with people cooperating in harmony is great! But for the times cooperation is not an option due to the nature of your adversary, situations where you will be attacked even if you are cooperative, General Mattis says it best:

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everyone you meet…”

JK, don’t plan to kill people! But do have a plan for how to still achieve good goals when you are opposed, and consider not being a unilateralist when you can’t take back mistakes! You could be wrong.


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