1049: "Bookshelf"

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J Thomas
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Wed May 16, 2012 10:20 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:
"We" keep "our" nukes locked up precisely because "we" don't trust random citizens not to steal them or set them off. We don't make them easily available and then charge people with reckless endangerment after they try to do something particularly stupid.
And I'm not suggesting that we hand out nukes on every street corner to anyone who wants them. "We" who built the nukes we have can decide to keep them locked up safe and sound and that's probably a very good idea. And if someone finds the materials and starts building one and someone goes "whoa whoa, you can't be trusted to control that kind of power safely!" -- well, then we investigate that accusation, and if it turns out to be true (quite plausible), then we've established that this person is doing something reckless, threatening imminent harm to people, and thus have grounds to threaten them with harm (punishment) if they're not reasonable enough to stop.

How do you know If people are going to do something stupid with their nukes or barrels of anthrax? How do you even know that they have them on their property? Do you think authorities should just start searching someones property when their neighbour complains? That's not very libertarian of you. On the other hand probably the neighbour won't/can't complain because he has no idea what goes on in his neighbouring compound surrounded by walls. So if I decide to build and detonate a nuke on my premises, and I have walls around it - then nobody should stop me.Nobody is allowed to set foot on the citizen property without his permission and when also nobody should stop a citizen buying fissionables etc. without a licence (pfft. licences very unlibertarian). Then it makes so that I could buy whatever stuff I want, retreat to my compound behind the walls and nobody will make a peep.


You set up conflicting rights. There is an obvious way around this one. We can declare that there is no right to privacy.

You can do absolutely anything you want provided nobody else thinks they are hurt by it. And you have no right to keep it secret. Problem solved, in principle. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_AzEeIGznU&feature=plcp

John Barnes made a forceful argument for something like this in his great novel Orbital Resonance. He expresses a political philosophy kind of like Ayn Rand does, but much shorter, far better written, he doesn't preach about it, and the ideology all sits in the background while he tells a fine story. The heroine an adolescent girl, is ashamed of her individualist mother who used to have a prestigious job but now sits in her room reading escapist fantasy about people surviving in alien environments. Her father is a great psychologist who is in charge of social engineering for the community, and the daughter would get lots of status from him but her Unco mother wipes it all away. Then a geeky kid joins her school. He's only a little smarter than anybody else, but socially he's a complete geek. She and her closest friends decide to help him fit in, but he infects everybody with an alien individualist philosophy and they start cheating at games. Then when they realize what's happening they mob him and the heroine and her friends arrange a rescue. Her mother hears about it and violates her personal rights as punishment, and while they both are immobilized in the ambulances, being sent off for their separate therapy, she delivers a three paragraph monologue. All her problems came from people trying to keep secrets. When she's in charge she'll take all the locks off doors, she'll repair the broken CCTV locations that everybody uses for privacy, she'll set up communal bathrooms with no shower curtains, she'll make all information available to everybody. It's the right thing to do. If you like to read novels that make a case for political philosophies you probably haven't thought of yet, John Barnes is your author.

Because you know it is mine own business that I do there. Or when somebody accuses of their neighbour of something hideous enough - then "f*** this talk about liberty we will investigate all his businesses and properties?". So you have eliminated the evil requirement to prove your capabilities to handle hazardous materials before I do so - with a much more moral procedure of squeal at your neighbour - "Who knows what things they do behind their home walls." (And if you don't think these kind of complaints shouldn't be taken seriously - then again in this case we can actually do nothing about the guy who hoards hazardous shit in his house as long as he does it secretly.)


Given adequate technology, it should be possible to install discreet surveillance on everybody without actually inconveniencing them much. The equipment doesn't have to be very obtrusive. Problem solved!
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Thu May 17, 2012 6:46 am UTC

Yep, conflicting rights are all the rage for me. In this case right to use stuff untested vs. right of privacy vs. right to not be blown to smithereens.
It just is that we will get conflicts of rights all the time. In this particular case I would prefer the rights of privacy and rights to live over the right of using dangerous equipment without a test for capability to do so. (<sarcasm>I know it is weird of me - such a basic human right compared to frivolous stuff like the others</sarcasm>)

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu May 17, 2012 9:14 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:Sure. My point is that when we approach agreement about norms we like, there's no particular reason to think we are coming closer to any absolute or objective norm. Still, in my opinion it's worth doing. If I thought it was not worth doing then I would make efforts to break the addiction.

I think I've asked this before, but how do you define 'objective'? I define it as something like 'unbiased' or 'impartial', and so if we are coming up with normative solutions to address everybody's needs equally without privileging any individual or group (including a majority) over another, then we are approaching objective norms. Our judgements of reality are grounded in things just as subjective, such as our senses, but that doesn't stop us from calling a model of reality which satisfies everybody's senses (observations), everywhere, always, without privileging any (literal) point of view, "objective". We can't ever say that we have found that model, because there are infinitely many observations to account for and we only ever have finitely many of them to check against, but that gives us something to aim for and a standard by which to measure our judgements of what's real or not. There's nothing stopping us from doing anything less with moral judgements; and before you say "but people's desires conflict", so do people's perceptions, and that doesn't stop us. Consider the three blind men and the elephant: all of their perceptions (a snake, a rope, a tree) were wrong, but the truth (an elephant) explained all of their sensations (which they had misinterpreted) satisfactorily. The trick is to reconcile not the things that people say, but the reasons they say them.

I don't understand your question. Say you look at a real grape. You can ask "Is it a purple grape?" "Is it a sweet grape?" "Is it a moral grape?". You can ask an infinite number of different questions about the same objects. I expect that was your point and that by agreeing on this I have agreed with something I don't remember. I'll be interested to see where it leads.

No, that's not quite where I was going. "Is this a purple grape?" and "Is this a sweet grape?" are asking about the factuality of two different states of affairs (or rather, two different partial descriptions of states of affairs). It's not asking two different questions of exactly the same object, by which I don't mean a physical object but a logical, grammatical object. Think of it as a function: it-is-the-case-that(P), for some description of some state of affairs "P", returns true if that description matches reality and false otherwise. P is the object the function operates on, and "It is a purple grape" and "It is a sweet grape" are different values of P (even though P may be fleshed out as something like "is-purple(grape)" or "is-sweet(grape)", themselves different functions on the same object, but each still a different object of the function I'm talking about). "Is it a moral grape?" has a superficially similar grammatical structure, and so confuses many people into trying to come up with what kind of property exactly "morality" is; some complex natural property involving some psychological states of humans? some irreducible non-natural property? But for every property any object might have, we can evaluate not only it-is-the-case-that(has-property(object)), but it-ought-to-be-the-case-that(has-property(object)).

Or in plainer language, a normative judgement differs from a factual judgement not in the state of affairs being judged, but in the attitude toward the state of affairs: an intention, desire, or appetite that it be so, as opposed to a belief, perception, or sensation that it is so. (Which doesn't stop us from reaching for unbiased, impartial intentions, any more than we reach for unbiased, impartial beliefs, as per above). So, back to the interchange that started this tangent, if I ask "is this something to be intended?" (is it good, is it moral) and you reply "it is something to be believed" (it is true, is is real), that answer is non-sequitur; as non-sequitur as replying to "is this grape purple?" with "that grape is sweet". Sure, ok, that may be so, but it doesn't answer my question either way.

I hope you agree that us rational people want to encourage the behaviors we like and discourage behaviors we don't like, and punishment is just one of the specialty tools in the toolbox -- one that should be used rarely because it fails for many purposes. If we start punishing each other because we disagree about what other rational people should do, we are attempting to achieve by sheer force what we could not achieve rationally.

"Negative reinforcement" is a tool that works better, a whole lot of the time. Sometimes it isn't easy to see the difference between those. A couple of things to remember about negative reinforcement -- people who feel powerful will try to negatively reinforce you for negatively reinforcing them. And when it works, it encourages people to avoid the things that lead to negative reinforcement, and one of the things that leads to negative reinforcement is associating with you.

I would say that punishment is one type of negative reinforcement. There are other types, certainly, and they are much better to use long before we ever get to the point of punishment, however...

That sounds like a good idea to me. Except, you seem to be talking about letting insane people go about their random business until they do something that's provably harmful, and then do things in response.

The alternative is letting people who are just as likely to be crazy as anyone else preemptively control everything.


That's not the only alternative. If the only tool in your toolbox is punishment when you have proven somebody has done something you don't like, then -- jeeze, man, that's sick.

...when we're talking about "letting" people do something or not, that sounds to me like we're talking about whether or not to punish people for doing it. If you make reasoned arguments, emotional pleas, bargains or bribes, anything like that, but stop short of physically stopping them, and they still go through with it, then you let them go through with it; you didn't stop them, sure you tried to dissuade them, but in the end you let them. I am certainly all for talking to people who look like they might be headed in the direction of doing something bad; I'm not advocating just ignoring everybody and not speaking up until something bad happens. I'm advocating not preemptively harming people until they are imminently about to harm someone else (or already have). Any kind of legal prohibition boils down to "if you (don't) do this, we will hurt you", and I am saying that the circumstances in which it is ok to hurt someone to shape their behavior (and therefore the circumstances under which it's ok to legally prohibit something) are far more limited than most legal systems think they are. And in lieu of that preemptively hurting people, yes I absolutely endorse other means of persuasion like you are gesturing toward.

It sounds like you make a distinction between things it would be good to do, versus things that other rational people should punish us for not doing.

Yes. The kind of things we shouldn't let people do, vs the kinds of things we should merely discourage people from doing; the kinds of things we shouldn't let people not do, vs the kinds of things we should merely encourage people to do.

And I say that if rational people agree that a particular action should be done more, then they should encourage people to do it more in ways that actually work to encourage them. If they agree that a particular action should be done less, then they should encourage people to do it less. And when I say they "should" do something, I mean that I want to encourage them to do it, not that I will punish them if I find an example where they didn't do it.

Agreed completely. But when we're talking about what to make legal or not, we're not just talking about encouragement or discouragement; we're talking about what acts or omissions to punish.

One way or another, everything about a society will depend on enough people being sane enough; sane enough to at least accurately recognize who is more sane than themselves and defer governance to them, even if not sane enough to govern themselves as would be ideal. If we can't meet that criteria, nothing we try to do will help, because crazy people will delegate power to more crazy people. And if we can meet that criteria, then we've no need for authority seized by force.

I think it's safe to say that at the moment the USA does not meet that criterion. What should "we" do about it?

Foster reasoned dialogue. Get people to work together on the same team looking for mutually beneficial solutions. Get people to think outside their mutually exclusive Us & Them boxes, looking for third ways out of their false dichotomies. Collaborate without compromising.

How to do that on a large scale, I don't really know. That's a practical political problem and I'm not very good at playing the politics game. I try to do my small part by engaging people in discussions like this one wherever I can. I have a neat idea for a debate/game show that might draw this kind of thinking more into the public eye. Maybe small organizations adopting these kinds of principles and achieving great success with them might inspire more widespread adoption. But this part is really outside my area of expertise.

The scientists themselves can make progress even if the public ignores them.

To the extent that they don't care about advancing the state of human knowledge in general but only their own, sure. And to the extent that they don't need public support for funding (if nobody cares about science, why would anybody pay a scientist to do science?), or permitting them to continue work (I have a Mr. Galilei on the line with some words to say about that), or simply to replenish their numbers as they die off (when the last scientist dies, there will be no more science).

I say that the people who are actually rational (as opposed to officially rational) will see this is a valuable goal for them. Sane people do not like being surrounded by crazies. "We" should use whatever methods work toward that. Appealing to reason has a bad track record. Appealing to people's actual motivations to get them to think, might be better. Whatever works. Not just one single ideal method.

Appealing to people's actual motivations sounds pretty reasonable to me. Compared to "do this, or give us lots of money, or go to jail, or get shot" which is a pretty common method right now. Granted, some things deserve that method: "don't take that money, or else you will have to give us lots of money, or else you will go to jail, or else you will get shot", or "don't shoot that man, or else you will go to jail, or else you will get shot". But "don't travel faster than X mph on this street, or else you will have to give us lots of money, or else you will go to jail, or else you will get shot"? Sounds kind of ridiculous, but that's what it means when you get fined for speeding ("...or give us money"), an arrest warrant for not paying the fine ("or go to jail"), and gunned down for resisting the arrest ("or get shot").

And if you agree to the goal of encouraging people as a whole to be more sane and rational, then don't you agree that rational people should avoid driving people crazy?

Yes, but not that we should hurt them for doing so.

--------

@fifste, you seem to be under the same impression JT was above, that I think we should completely ignore any warning signs and not talk to anybody until something explodes and then just clean up the resulting limbs, heads, and smoking craters scattered all over the place. I don't. Under current systems or mine, someone first needs to find out somehow that someone is doing something {prohibited|dangerous} before anyone can investigate anything; people can get away with doing prohibited things right now if they don't get caught, that's not a weakness peculiar to my proposal. The only difference is that when conducting the investigation, what we are looking to see is not merely "are they doing X without our permission?" but "are they posing an imminent threat to anyone by doing X?". You can think of it, if you like, as giving retroactive licenses to anyone caught doing whatever without a license safely. Except that that's not really licensing then, because you're not punishing people for doing things without prior authorization, since you withhold the punishment upon your posterior authorization.

Consider drivers' licenses, for example. Right now, someone can (it is possible, if not permitted, for them to) drive without a license, do so perfectly safely, and get away with it. In fact, most people driving safely without a license will get away with it, because as they are driving safely, there is little reason to investigate them (pull them over), so nobody will notice that they're doing something prohibited without a license. But, if they do get investigated for some reason unrelated to safe driving, and it is discovered that they are driving without a license, they will be punished for it. For something which, as we have stipulated in this thought experiment, was not only harmless but not even dangerous. The people who drive dangerously will get in trouble with or without a license. So punishing people for driving without a license beyond merely punishing the people who drive dangerously, necessarily, only punishes safe drivers who have committed the horrible crime of not asking permission first. We are threatening people with violence for doing something harmless and safe without asking us first. You don't see anything wrong with that?

As for conducting investigations, and how to deal with rights to privacy (which is really just a right to one's own property: if someone can find something out about you without violating any 'other' rights, then they haven't violated any 'right to privacy' either); if we really believe that there is an imminent threat of harm somewhere so strongly, then it might be worth risking a violation of someone's rights to stop it. If there really was an imminent threat of harm, then nobody's rights were actually violated, because those rights extend only up to the point that the don't conflict with others; taking a gun you're about to murder someone with is not in violation of your rights, even if taking a gun you have stored safely in a gun safe at home is. This is precisely what I mean by rights cannot conflict; you cannot have a right to murder someone and someone else simultaneously have a right not to be murdered, so their right not to be murdered entails that you lack the right to murder them, and anything else that that entails, such as a limit on your right to possess a gun in some circumstances, like when you're trying to murder someone. ("All swans are white, except this one" is not a conflict between "all swans are white" and "this swan is not white"; it is a limited variant of "all swans are white" which does not conflict with "this swan is not white", in conjunction with "this swan is not white".)

If we are mistaken, and there really was no threat of imminent harm, then we will have violated someone's rights, and should be held accountable for that mistaken violation of rights, and make repairs for any harm done in the process; but that is incentive for us to conduct our investigations and interventions by the least invasive means possible. So, if we're going to shoot someone to stop a murder, we'd better make damn sure that it's actually going to stop a murder and that shooting them is the only way; if there's any other way to stop them, we'd have to use that way anyway, and if it turns out they're not actually about to commit a murder, then we have fewer amends to make for our mistake than we would if we shot them.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Arancaytar » Thu May 17, 2012 10:46 am UTC

StClair wrote:
stardek wrote:All I can think is that if "therefore, be a huge asshole to everyone" represents 10% of each sentence then she probably has a problem with run-on sentences.

You have no idea.
The infamous rant goes on for pages.


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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Thu May 17, 2012 10:52 am UTC

I'm talking about limiting peoples access to dangerous equipment only in case they don't prove their skills to handle it properly. If they can handle it properly they can take a test and prove that they can handle it. If they fail the test then why should we allow them to use it. If they are rational then they want their skills tested beforehand anyway.
So only people who's "liberties" are offended are - "I really want to own a lot of high explosives but dang I might fail the test confirming that I can handle them safely - whaaaaaaa!". A train of thought like this kind of confirms that these people have no clear for of thought at this subject and they should have limited rights and responsibilites for the protection of themselves and others.
There are of course situations where the test and licence are discriminating or expensive that is actually a real concern. But denouncing all licensing on a principle has not to do with it.. For what I think there should be licences but it should be thoroughly investigated that the exterminators are not corrupt and that licences like gun licence or drivers licence should also be cheap/free (removes discrimination of poorer people)(If funds permit there could even be free education on such commonly useful jet dangerous equipment). A government provided free licensing service will benefit you even if you yourself do not want to make a licence. . If you want to handle dangerous equipment you can test your capabilities for it. If you don't want to handle dangerous equipment you benefit for the safety occurring from the fact that people who are not capable of handling dangerous equipment are having harder time to access it.
Look at the case C. in my examples - When there is a requirement of making sure that your client buying guns, chemicals etc. has to produce a licence then It falls to you as a shop-owner to confirm it. If you do not confirm it then you are doing something dangerous to society - giving up hazardous stuff like candy without confirming to whom exactly should be considered it. I do think that this warrants a punishment on the shop owner. (If the unlicensed buyer uses the stuff reasonably then he should have no penalty or something small, if he does something awful with it some of the damages should also be put against the shop-owner).
So we can leave the confirm that you are not selling dangerous stuff to morons,madmen or criminals on the shop-owner. For example when someone steps in my gun-shop. I will say "Good day dear citizen it seems that you are interested in this assault rifle over there. I can give it to you for a bargain! After you have filled this questionnaire on our local gun laws and general questions about gun maintenance. Also we will take a little test on the shooting-range back there and you can show me how you dismantle, clean and reassemble this concrete piece of equipment".
But why is levying the responsibility on the shop-owner better, than to have one single test session by professionals after which the licensee will have a document to show in any and all gun-shops. Or do you think that shop-owner shouldn't care when someone obviously incapable steps into his shop and demands something? IF you do agree that in this case he shouldn't sell his wares, then what is wrong to make his life easier buy having a document that acts as a guarantee that the person buying his wares is adequate? The licensing entities might be even accredited private enterprises. And I do repeat again - a rational person WILL want to test his skills before handling dangerous equipment. So you are vehemently fighting for irrational peoples rights to use dangerous stuff.

I will present a hypothetical scenario.In this case no licences are required for any purchase and no-one is to ask me why I buy something.
I am an enthusiastic moron who has just acquired some inheritance and I want to start my own pool cleaning business. Having vaguely heard that chlorinating is something cool to do I will go and buy a several 1 tonne containers of liquidised chlorine from a chemical company. I let them be loaded on a semi trailer I rented. I have no experience driving with them nor do I know anything about handling chemicals - but being an enthusiastic moron I am - I will be sure that it will all work out somehow. I give some pedal to my semi-trailer, crash it and suffocate a city-block or two.
Well this could be avoided when guy in chemical company or truck rental would have asked me what the hell am I doing and after hearing/seeing my incompetence not giving it to me. But when you agree that they should be allowed to deny me stuff, and they should be required to make sure I'm not woefully incompetent then why will you vehemently fight against a piece of paper that they could demand me that would prove my competence in an instant.
If you don't think they have the right and responsibility to determine my competence. Then the above gassing of a city-block is a quite likely occurrence.

Also (as a bonus) if I do have to have licences, and I have acquired my chlorine and truck without those (say through bribes or theft) and the police inquire me at a lunch-stop for some minor violation or threat (muddy headlights or what gives), they can, in case I don't have a licence, immediately stop me from continuing my suicidal trip without taking (who knows how long and intricate) test on the spot to determine my competence/incompetence.

So if you vehemently fight against licensing then you either fight for the incompetent morons rights to drive hazardous materials around or make it so that every institution selling dangerous stuff should have a competent testing team for their clients capabilities (to avoid being irresponsible) and you'd be making life much more difficult for sane rational people who want to buy/sell stuff at different locations without constant testing.

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Thu May 17, 2012 2:31 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:Yep, conflicting rights are all the rage for me. In this case right to use stuff untested vs. right of privacy vs. right to not be blown to smithereens.
It just is that we will get conflicts of rights all the time. In this particular case I would prefer the rights of privacy and rights to live over the right of using dangerous equipment without a test for capability to do so. (<sarcasm>I know it is weird of me - such a basic human right compared to frivolous stuff like the others</sarcasm>)


I would consider the right not to get unnecessarily blown up the central one here.

If incompetent people blow you up, that's bad. When we have a blowing-up-style accident, afterward we get experts to decide what happened, and almost always they decide that somebody who should have known better did not actually follow correct procedure. Even though they had taken tests that were supposed to make sure they knew better. Testing does not prevent accidents, though it probably helps some.

If you have a right to not be blown up or poisoned, then you have a right to make sure that people are not about to blow you up or poison you. But if they have a right to privacy that says they can blow you up or poison you without letting you see any of their preparations, then you are out of luck. Those are directly opposed rights.

If you have the right to keep other people from doing X (where X is something you have the right that people not do, not one particular drug) then they do not have the right to do X secretly. They must be subject to enough observation to tell that they aren't doing it.

There is no right to privacy. If there is something you don't want people to know, then get over it. In practical terms, the right to privacy amounts to the right to be blackmailed. Just don't go there. You have no such right and that privilege is bad for you when you do have it.

People say that in a democracy if your vote is known then powerful people can punish you for voting against their interests. But secret ballot allows massive voting fraud. If you aren't brave enough to vote your own interests in spite of people who want to punish you then you don't deserve a vote. It's that way pretty much down the line. Arguments in favor of privacy are bogus arguments.

I want my privacy. There are things I'm ashamed of that I don't want people to know. And maybe I can get together with all the other ashamed people and pretend we have a right for people not to find out. Well, but no. Whatever I'm ashamed of, it's my responsibility to come to terms with it.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Adam H » Thu May 17, 2012 2:56 pm UTC

I'm not sure which is more painful, John Galt's speech or this thread. On the one hand, this thread has more than one viewpoint (bonus points for being somewhat reasonable, too). On the other hand, John Galt's speech is about eleventy-one times more concise.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby exadyne » Thu May 17, 2012 3:24 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I would say that punishment is one type of negative reinforcement. There are other types, certainly, and they are much better to use long before we ever get to the point of punishment, however...

Just felt like dropping in here with some pedantics.
Negative reinforcement is not punishment - this is a commonly misused term.
Reinforcement is always something that strengthens a behavior, punishment reduces a behavior.
Negative reinforcement would be removing something unpleasant to encourage a behavior. It is easy to confuse the two, for example, electrifying part of the floor you want people to stay off is positive punishment, removing electric shock from the part of the floor you want people to BE ON is negative reinforcement. Very subtle in such a case, but different. The more obvious case of negative reinforcement would be putting someone in a stinky room with paperwork, and removing the smell as they did the paperwork.

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Thu May 17, 2012 4:57 pm UTC

fifiste wrote:I'm talking about limiting peoples access to dangerous equipment only in case they don't prove their skills to handle it properly. If they can handle it properly they can take a test and prove that they can handle it. If they fail the test then why should we allow them to use it. If they are rational then they want their skills tested beforehand anyway.


Suppose there are four different private testing organizations. Then we want to be be clear that the testing organizations are all competent. We need to test them and make sure they do the testing right. On the other hand, suppose there is one government-mandated testing organization. If it doesn't test properly, you don't have any real alternatives, do you?

And anyway, just because somebody passed a test sometime doesn't mean they aren't having a bad day today.

Your idea of testing people should on average reduce the frequency of accidents. But it is not at all a perfect solution. So we run into a quantitative question. Is the degree that it reduces accidents worth the costs? The costs include the financial cost of running the organization and paying for it and for the testing, the cost of checking certifications, and the moral cost of coercing people in the hope of reducing (but not eliminating) accidents. I'm guessing that Pfhorrest would say that the moral cost is more than the reduced accident rate is worth. I don't have a firm opinion myself, since I don't have the numbers on how many accidents get avoided or how much the program really costs, and I have no idea how to compare those numbers against a moral cost.

So only people who's "liberties" are offended are - "I really want to own a lot of high explosives but dang I might fail the test confirming that I can handle them safely - whaaaaaaa!". A train of thought like this kind of confirms that these people have no clear for of thought at this subject and they should have limited rights and responsibilites for the protection of themselves and others.


What if it turns out that the damage due to accidents is reduced below the intentional damage due to terrorists etc? People who intend to do bad can get licenses -- all that does is make sure they're competent at their evil, that they won't blow themselves up by accident before they do their intended damage. If we do things to prevent accidents, shouldn't we also do things to prevent intentional damage? But what if the terrorists are right and they ought to do their damage to help take down an evil government?

In practice the US government thinks there's a great big difference between good terrorists who try to overthrow a government we don't like, versus bad terrorists who act against governments we do like. So it's fine for Israel to use US aid money to send weapons to Baluchistan to terrorists who act against Iran, but it's treasonous to send weapons to Palestinians who might try to defend themselves against Israel. And when the US government switches sides, an arms dealer who thought he was doing what the US wanted can suddenly find himself a criminal.

How do we decide which side is right and deserves our support, and which side is wrong and deserves our condemnation and drone attacks?

.... For what I think there should be licences but it should be thoroughly investigated that the exterminators are not corrupt and that licences like gun licence or drivers licence should also be cheap/free (removes discrimination of poorer people)(If funds permit there could even be free education on such commonly useful jet dangerous equipment).


I think you have a typo there ... a couple of typos....
In a world where we want to kill terrorists, I don't think it's politically acceptable to teach everybody who wants to learn how to be competent at handling improvised weapons.

.... So you are vehemently fighting for irrational peoples rights to use dangerous stuff.


Whenever somebody takes a purist moral position, it will look crazy like this to moral relativists. We are used to compromising our morals for reasons that seem practical to us. I'm not sure how to resolve this issue.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby SpringLoaded12 » Thu May 17, 2012 8:47 pm UTC

GUYS.
You are taking this way too far.
Play Bioshock and then move on with your lives.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby fifiste » Fri May 18, 2012 6:53 am UTC

Adam H wrote:I'm not sure which is more painful, John Galt's speech or this thread. On the one hand, this thread has more than one viewpoint (bonus points for being somewhat reasonable, too). On the other hand, John Galt's speech is about eleventy-one times more concise.

Jep. I also took a look at my own ramblings and was rather apalled at my "literary skills". So I will go on and just stop right now. But I must say this thread had been so much entertainment to read that after a while I just couldn't help myself to start posting. I guess I missed the stupidest part of it.The remaining JTHomas and Pfhorrest are quite intelligent types as much as I can tell. Not starting to name anyone out on the stupid part of course :D .I must say that the overview of the thread so far by xainxodik on page 17 was hilarious and quite a good intro on the madness going around.)
SpringLoaded12 wrote:GUYS.
You are taking this way too far.
Play Bioshock and then move on with your lives.

One of the best ideas put forth in this thread ever. I have accepted that there are a lot of people wrong on the internet and will now turn more of my attention to my SO (thanks Randall for this hilarious comic http://xkcd.com/386/)

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Fri May 18, 2012 8:39 pm UTC

fifiste wrote: ....
Jep. I also took a look at my own ramblings and was rather apalled at my "literary skills". So I will go on and just stop right now.


If you want your literary quality to be better, just save your work and come back to look at it an hour or more later, and do a second draft. Second drafts are reliably far, far better than first drafts. However, you have to consider the math. Say you can read somebody's comment and understand it perfectly in 5 minutes. Writing a first draft of a reply of comparable quality will probably take you 20 minutes. A great second draft will average an hour. So your lag will be close to 3 hours, including about an hour and a half of you time! To respond to a comment you can read in 5 minutes and pass by....

If you settle for a first draft then your time spent and your lag will both be closer to half an hour. Is literary excellence worth it to you?

.... I have accepted that there are a lot of people wrong on the internet and will now turn more of my attention to my SO (thanks Randall for this hilarious comic http://xkcd.com/386/)


If you have to argue with wrong people until they stop being wrong then you will have a terrible time. But somebody doesn't have to be right about anything to help you improve your own thinking. There's nobody who's such a fool that you can't learn anything from him.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Sat May 19, 2012 4:46 am UTC

Yeah, writing quality posts takes time. Time that I usually enjoy, because I love intelligent debate, but time nevertheless.

On which subject, some shit has come up in life and I suddenly don't have much time here, so I'm going to have to lurk on this subject for a while.

I'm kind of disappointed that all the Randians who would normally be arguing... not exactly on my side, but at least against the people arguing against me... all went silent as soon as I said anything vaguely in defense of something vaguely on their side-ish.

How exactly did I get into this debate anyway? I told myself I was going to sit this thread out... guess I should get back to that.

For now.

EDIT: Damnit I have to reply to at least one broad point in here.

Whenever somebody takes a purist moral position, it will look crazy like this to moral relativists. We are used to compromising our morals for reasons that seem practical to us. I'm not sure how to resolve this issue.

And to people like me, moral relativists look intellectually lazy and morally cavalier.*

A falliblist universalist about any subject, including morality -- someone who believes there is some sort of correct answer to a question, not just baseless opinions about it, but that nobody can say with absolute certainty what it is, only compare the faults of alternative propositions -- seeks to understand as best as possible the principles which underly the subject in question. We are thus infuriated when what you might call absolutists (that term is ill-defined, I prefer 'fideists'), such as religious fundamentalists, start claiming to know for certain what the correct answers are and won't even listen to any argument against their opinions. But we are equally infuriated when relativists (or what they really amount to, nihilists) claim that there are no correct answers at all and won't listen to arguments against their preferred, but admittedly baseless, opinions. Both are excuses not to reconsider your opinions: either "I'm absolutely right, therefore you can't possibly prove me wrong" or "Nobody's really right or wrong, therefore you can't possibly prove me wrong". It's doubly infuriating when authority is supported on relativist grounds: "Nobody's really right or wrong, therefore whatever this guy/these guys say is the best we can do." Sure, if nobody's really right or wrong then somebody's decree is the best we can do... but anybody's decree will do as well as another, so why should anybody care about his/theirs in particular, over their own, or their best friend's, or their favorite movie star's?

I'm getting off track here, but the point I was trying to get to is that people like me want to rigorously understand the principles which underly proper normative decision-making. There is lots of room to argue about what those principles are, just like there is lots of room to argue about what the laws of physics are, and both are ultimately accountable to practical matters. But saying "lol moral principles, people want different things, just be practical about it" is like saying "lol laws of physics, stuff happens, just be practical about it". We have to be practical, yes, but extrapolating principles from practice and applying them back to practice is what makes for intelligent practice. So dismissing principles on principle and just "being practical" is impractical. The point of principles is to make for better practice.

So by all means, find practical faults with particular principles. But then refine the principles to account for that. Don't just dismiss principles altogether. If, for a commonly-heard example, you agree that theft is wrong, and that forcing someone to buy something is still theft, and that taxes buy civilization, and that you are forced to make that purchase, but that it is nevertheless not wrong to force people to make that particular purchase... how do you reconcile that? As stated, that conjunction is in contradiction with itself. (~P, and Q->P, and R->Q, and R; but R->Q->P; but ~P; so P and ~P!) Maybe taxation is not wrong, but it would appear that a logical consequence of that would be that theft is not always wrong. It's the doublethink of "theft is wrong, but taxes are ok", without any sound explanation of why taxes are not a forced purchase, or why this forced purchase is not theft, or why theft in this case is not wrong, that is frustrating to someone thinking things through from principles to practice. You don't get to keep the principles and then ad hoc waive them when it's convenient. If the principles have unacceptable consequences, then change the principles; but don't abandon principles altogether.

Which is why relativism appears either intellectually lazy or morally cavalier. You're either not bothering to ground your practice in principles at all (intellectually lazy), or you accept some principles but then blow them off when they get in the way (morally cavalier). If you really need to break your principles for some urgent practical matter, then you need to find new ones to replace them that won't break in those circumstances.

*(I want to add that I'm not accusing you, JThomas especially but anyone else here either, of being intellectually lazy or morally cavalier as people. Rather, I am appealing to your presumed intellectual discipline and moral concern in an argument against relativism, by showing it to be contrary to those character traits).
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sat May 19, 2012 2:45 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
Whenever somebody takes a purist moral position, it will look crazy like this to moral relativists. We are used to compromising our morals for reasons that seem practical to us. I'm not sure how to resolve this issue.

And to people like me, moral relativists look intellectually lazy and morally cavalier.*

A falliblist universalist about any subject, including morality -- someone who believes there is some sort of correct answer to a question, not just baseless opinions about it, but that nobody can say with absolute certainty what it is, only compare the faults of alternative propositions -- seeks to understand as best as possible the principles which underly the subject in question. We are thus infuriated when what you might call absolutists (that term is ill-defined, I prefer 'fideists'), such as religious fundamentalists, start claiming to know for certain what the correct answers are and won't even listen to any argument against their opinions. But we are equally infuriated when relativists (or what they really amount to, nihilists) claim that there are no correct answers at all and won't listen to arguments against their preferred, but admittedly baseless, opinions. Both are excuses not to reconsider your opinions: either "I'm absolutely right, therefore you can't possibly prove me wrong" or "Nobody's really right or wrong, therefore you can't possibly prove me wrong". It's doubly infuriating when authority is supported on relativist grounds: "Nobody's really right or wrong, therefore whatever this guy/these guys say is the best we can do." Sure, if nobody's really right or wrong then somebody's decree is the best we can do... but anybody's decree will do as well as another, so why should anybody care about his/theirs in particular, over their own, or their best friend's, or their favorite movie star's?


I want to respond to this but I know you want not to respond again. I want you to know that if you don't answer, I won't take it as any indication that you couldn't find a good answer or you admit that I'm right or anything of that sort.

Here's my metaphor. Say you have an undecided math question. You'd like to prove it true or false given a set of axioms, but so far you haven't found a way to do that. If you look hard, you might find a proof that some solution exists. Or you might not. Or possibly you might find a proof that the question is undecidable. Or you might not.

On the question of "What morals are objectively correct", the fideists say "I know my solution is correct" when they have no proof. The nihilists say "I know there is no solution" when they have no proof. You say "I believe there is a solution" when you have no proof. But the proper response for mathematicians (I say, others may disagree) is to accept that there is no proof yet, that there may be a solution or there may not be any. Look for proof, and the problems you have finding a proof will give you hints how to construct a counterexample. Look for a counterexample, and the problems you have doing that will give you hints how to construct a proof. Try it both ways until you either get a result or you decide to spend your time some other way.

I tend to think there is no objective morality from my attempts to prove there is. I can construct things that look like counterexamples by imagining societies of intelligent spiders or intelligent Komodo dragons in which very little morality makes sense. But I can't prove there's nothing special about human beings that would imply a universal objective morality for human beings but not for anything else. It seems to me (though you might start from different beginnings and get a different result) that any proof that there is an objective morality would have to be based on something special about human beings, and the objective morality would only be true for entities which had that special something. And I expect it to be hard to define what that special something is, or prove that human beings mostly have it. And yet there could be such a thing even if it's hard to define or measure. And possibly my hypothetical intelligent spiders would also have it, and I didn't notice. So I don't really know.

When you say there is an objective morality, I tend to say there isn't when what I should say is that there may not be. It's worth following up both possibilities, and you do a good job of following up the first.

I'm getting off track here, but the point I was trying to get to is that people like me want to rigorously understand the principles which underly proper normative decision-making. There is lots of room to argue about what those principles are, just like there is lots of room to argue about what the laws of physics are, and both are ultimately accountable to practical matters. But saying "lol moral principles, people want different things, just be practical about it" is like saying "lol laws of physics, stuff happens, just be practical about it". We have to be practical, yes, but extrapolating principles from practice and applying them back to practice is what makes for intelligent practice. So dismissing principles on principle and just "being practical" is impractical. The point of principles is to make for better practice.


Agreed, kind of. I like it when you come up with reasonable moral ideas. The more that people can agree about that sort of thing, the better. Powerful people can follow your ideas whenever they think it doesn't hurt them. And when it's public they can get prestige by looking moral.

But there are some things that powerful people are unlikely to budge on. Basicly, if I see that it's moral for me to give up my power and let it be distributed widely or given to somebody else, I have to stop and think. If somebody else manages to grab power, will they be more moral than I am? Will they be afraid that I could grab it back? I don't want somebody more powerful than me to be afraid of me. As long as I hold onto power I can be as moral as I like with it. Probably better than the next guy. As soon as I give it up I stop getting those choices and then we depend on luck-of-the-draw. That's a hard decision to make.

And it's only a small step from "I don't want to give up power" to "I will do anything it takes to hold onto power". That's a principle that can interfere a whole lot with any other morality.



I have some criteria for how an objectively good morality should behave.

1. The result of discovering the good morality should be good in the medium run. For example, suppose that you discover the right morality and proselytize it, and the result is a worldwide revolution and a nuclear war that exterminates humanity. I would consider that a bad result. If you discover a morality that is likely to have that result, you should not reveal it. And the morality itself should say you should not reveal it until those circumstances change.

2. A society which contains a small minority of people who follow the good philosophy should be better off than a similar society with none. Not just by its own standards -- the large majority of people should feel that they are better off having a few people around who have the good morality.

3. A society which contains a large minority who follow the good philosophy should be better off than a similar society with fewer. The large majority of people should feel they are better off.

4. A society which contains a majority who follow the good philosophy should be better off. Most of the minority of nonusers should agree they are better off.

5. A society which contains a large majority who follow the good philosophy should be better off. It would be a good thing if the majority of nonusers agree they are better off. This one is hard, though, because the smaller the minority the more likely they have crazy grievances.

6. The icing on the cake: If possible, it would be really great if the people who take up the philosophy each individually feel they are better off for doing it.

If you have #6 and it's good at getting people to feel like they're better off, then you have an invasive philosophy. Notice the Randites who claim how great Randism has been for them? If it isn't invasive and doesn't spread well, that's a minus. If people get exposed to the right way and they don't follow it, if some lesser philosophy tends to outcompete it, that's not good.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby basilmemories » Tue May 22, 2012 4:35 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:
Kaylakaze wrote:[vitriol]


1) Labor prices are not a race to the bottom. Anything that takes more than a day to learn has semi-decent value in the market place. It's only things that require little to no skills, especially people skills, e.g. line cook, warehouse worker, that are shit jobs with shit pay. Because any ex-con could do those jobs. But even a shit job doing data entry requires some minimal technical skills, which is why it pays $10/hr vs minimum wage. Also, fuck data entry.
2) If all labor prices drop, so does the sales price. You need people to buy the goods that are being made. Cutting everyone's wages 50% does jack shit because then prices have to fall 50%, and doubling everyone's pay does jack shit when prices double.
3) The middlemen do have a huge amount of value in society. You think 50 workers just arrive someplace and start making furniture?
4) All costs of business are labor costs, somewhere down the line.
5) It's not too hard to start a business, but expanding is where government regulations, and more importantly the legal system, start to become a choke. I think around 15 employees, EEOC kicks in, and more regulations kick in at 100 employees. If a business is beyond that hurdle, it's already beyond that hurdle. Almost all regulations favor the big businesses by limiting competition.


1) It's also becoming the last refuge for the growing number of "overqualified" people who are now graduating from college, are victims of larger corporations downsizing, or are recovering from personal tragedy and can't return to their original position.
2) No. When he hit the recession, our electricity bills didn't go down, our water bills didn't go down, our medical costs didn't go down. What went down were costs on foods that could be lowered, some luxury items, and the like. Because of the housing market crash, also housing went down, and to a degree rent prices also fell. However for the most part when you look at what prices fell vs what didn't? the prices that fell were for perishable items, non-essential services/items for enjoyment, and things with an over-saturated market. What stayed the same were things that... you guessed it, were needed for day-to-day living. If we raise wages, yes overall there will be an increase, but more people will be able to afford that increase, the only other option is to regulate essential services and goods, and that gets libertarians and conservatives all puffed up like an angry pride of cats faces with a vacuum.
3) Do you think a void in the system wouldn't be filled? Hell no. If someone needs furniture, then someone will fill that role.
4)True! I own a tiny little business, and there's some much time and money budgeting that you don't think about when you dive in. That's why I figure once I expand to a larger workforce, I want to look at preventive measures for my employees. Health care so I don't have to face the problem of a valued worker leaving me because he can't do this job and take care of himself. Understanding the employees needs and wants so I can have a happy workforce, because that's a productive and loyal workforce. Being open and honest about what I can and can't do, because anyone in a business partnership (and it IS a partnership, we are supplying each other with something we want) deserves that honesty. And most importantly, making sure what I provide can cover their needs, so they can provide labor and goods that allow my company to continue, thus covering my needs. If we're going to dehumanize employees by reducing them to "labor costs", then let's also look at what they are: assets. If I want to expand and grow my company in a way that is profitable AND enjoyable, I need to do so with a team that will have my back. Without that, I am nothing, I'll be back to one person running a little cottage business on the internet.
5) Corporations are still considered legal persons, and some of the most surly and litigious ones at that. I say we should be cutting them down first before we look at the legal quagmire that are the business ownership laws. Because they do need work and refinement, but right now there are bigger fish to fry.

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby basilmemories » Tue May 22, 2012 6:20 am UTC

sanjavalen wrote:
Kaylakaze wrote:
sanjavalen wrote:So, look...I'm happy to answer questions about Objectivist ethics.


Yet I ask a number of direct questions about your Objectivist ethics and receive no response.


Sorry; I'm happy to answer honest questions from people who are nice. Not people who's purpose is just to pick a fight, or who call me a monster. I hope its obvious why I'm not interested in that.


Nice tone argument bro.

Here's the deal, so far you've evaded questions or painted yourself as the nice guy who's also a mercenary. Affibly evil, if we're going by the trope example (though honestly, the last part I disagree with. the moral scale is really just a sliding range of grays). You even say that you have a large collection of other like-minded friends, family, and business relations. That's fair, any subgroup is going to understand each other's cues more effectively and more often than not agree on it's core virtues. This is true of just about any branch of faith, political leaning, or even organized outlook on life.

However to me, and like that fellow you talked to, it's also creepy. A scientoligist may help a community because it's in their personal beliefs as per taught by their group, but also what's taught is to disconnect from anybody who might be "contaminating" their enlightenment, or even legally do anything to destroy that person if they feel that individual is a danger to scientology. An objectivist might make a deal with you one day, but then screw you over legally if it's no longer in their best interest, they can get away with it, and you really can't do anything in retribution. Traditional media has labeled this sort of thinking "cult-like", I call it "risky business that I want to avoid". These people are not evil by any means, but their worldviews can be dangerous to my health, well-being, and means of making money. In the case of some churches, groups, or connected individuals (if say. any actually cared about me), more importantly it could spill over onto others I know, care about, or even who are just collateral damage... and that's something I can't allow.

The problem I have is not with Ayn Rand's followers, (though there have been some who have left a very bad taste in my mouth), or even part of her ideas (One should be wary of one's government), but how she handled criticism and people who challenged her views, and also how her past colored her policies. This is where some lovely history kicks in, now she was a Leningrader, birthplace of the revolution and also a pretty cosmopolitan city compared to other parts of Russia. Now it hit hard and she fled her nice little life and well. If that happened to you that would affect how you looked at socialism. it doesn't hurt that she was around middle class and then all these worker "parasites" come in and divvy up the spoils. And really if more objectivists would cop to that and admit there's flaws and take everything with a grain of salt, then I don't think there'd be so many problems about how most people don't supposedly "understand" Rand's work. It's like looking at Jacob Burckhardt's work on the renaissance and ignoring that he was very much writing it from a 19th century view and with his own biases. His work still has merit, but it's still a beast of the times, and so you need to take it with a grain of salt. The same should be said of Marx. Now I'm a down and dirty deviant Marxist sympathizer, but I readily admit that there are massive and gaping holes, some of the work just wouldn't happen in reality, and also that he wrote some pretty damn anti-semetic things and that he was a bastard for that. I'm not going to say that people are just not "understanding" the work.

That leads me to the biggest issue. Now on donahue he once had her on, and was taking questions. A woman, young, stood to say that she once believed in Rand's philosophy, but didn't anymore because of some issues, which she raised. Ayn Rand immediately cut her off "I don't answer these type of questions anymore." Donahue replied "But that's what you're here for." It took him prodding her verbally for a bit until she would give some sort of answer. In my opinion criticism is sharp, yes, but it serves to show the flaws in a work, and more importantly, spurs the need to find solutions to these issues. It's a flame that tests and strengthens a work, and especially for a worldview that's supposed to be rooted in rationality, that's important. It doesn't matter if the question is worded politely, rudely, or anything in between, if the question has merit then it should be considered. The very creator of this philosophy refused to entertain questions that went to the root of her works, and that for me said the most.

so yeah, tl;dr that's why Objectivists unnerve me and why these posts of yours have me leaning a little from the screen. On the other hand thank you for your honesty, most people would rather have to deal with a wolf than a wolf in sheep's clothing, at least they know what might be coming.

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Tue May 22, 2012 2:26 pm UTC

basilmemories wrote:
CorruptUser wrote:
1) Labor prices are not a race to the bottom. Anything that takes more than a day to learn has semi-decent value in the market place. It's only things that require little to no skills, especially people skills, e.g. line cook, warehouse worker, that are shit jobs with shit pay. Because any ex-con could do those jobs. But even a shit job doing data entry requires some minimal technical skills, which is why it pays $10/hr vs minimum wage. Also, fuck data entry.


1) It's also becoming the last refuge for the growing number of "overqualified" people who are now graduating from college, are victims of larger corporations downsizing, or are recovering from personal tragedy and can't return to their original position.


Sure. People tend to go by their personal experience. When you're young and see possibilities opening up, it looks like anybody who doesn't grab those chances is just lazy. A fresh engineering graduate may have multiple opportunities for entry-level jobs. The same guy looking for work when he's 40 has it harder. Employers assume he's good at what he worked on before, which isn't quite what they need. They assume he isn't up on the latest techniques. If he can show that he's as good as a brand-new graduate outside his little specialty, then there's the question -- if he's so great why is he even interested in an entry-level position? There must be something wrong with him or he'd be making more money. So when you first graduate and have a choice of jobs, be careful to pick the one that you think will still be expanding in 20 years. Similarly with research, where aging scientists need to be running labs full of younger people, or else go into administration.

In general, when there are simply not as many jobs as there are people to fill them, somebody has to lose out. When you play musical chairs, the winner can say that anybody who was alert and quick could have won. And that's true supposing the guy who makes the music stop was honest. But even if everybody is alert and quick and ruthless in their play, still at the end of the game there is only one winner.

2) If all labor prices drop, so does the sales price. You need people to buy the goods that are being made. Cutting everyone's wages 50% does jack shit because then prices have to fall 50%, and doubling everyone's pay does jack shit when prices double.


2) No. When he hit the recession, our electricity bills didn't go down, our water bills didn't go down, our medical costs didn't go down. What went down were costs on foods that could be lowered, some luxury items, and the like. Because of the housing market crash, also housing went down, and to a degree rent prices also fell. However for the most part when you look at what prices fell vs what didn't? the prices that fell were for perishable items, non-essential services/items for enjoyment, and things with an over-saturated market. What stayed the same were things that... you guessed it, were needed for day-to-day living. If we raise wages, yes overall there will be an increase, but more people will be able to afford that increase, the only other option is to regulate essential services and goods, and that gets libertarians and conservatives all puffed up like an angry pride of cats faces with a vacuum.


Where I live, after the housing crash first rents went down some, and then they went up. The JustSo story I read about that, was that people who used to own their own houses were now in the rental market bidding up prices. Presumably the banks who owned their houses did not want to rent them out. It would have been better if they had, provided that could actually be arranged. Call in the people who can't make their payments and offer to let them stay in their own houses, renting. Easier on everybody except that traditionally rents were at least as high as payments so somebody who couldn't afford their mortgage probably couldn't afford the rent either. Also, the former owners might feel bitter about it.

Lots of businesses can't afford to reduce prices. If they reduce prices but sales don't go up to match, they lose money even faster. And if they have loans they have to pay off, their only hope comes by maintaining a decent price. Say hospitals reduce their prices and then they can't pay off their construction loans, that's bad.

I know an old man who goes to McDonald's every night. It's a social experience for him. He says McDonald's business has been booming since the recession started, and he bought stock. His JustSo story was that people who before could afford better food, now go to McDonalds instead. Like the old saying, it's a cold wind that doesn't warm anybody.

Still, why is it that CorruptUser's simple economic idea fails? It's not supposed to fail, it's supposed to be a basic economic idea that can never fail. Let's see. You realize that it's a recession and yet everybody but the homeless still needs electricity. So you quick start your own power company and sell electricity cheap. You get all the business and the corrupt power companies go broke! You get rich! The good guys win! Why doesn't it happen the way it ought to?

Incidentally, I want to push the concept of the JustSo story. When you don't actually have enough data to know what's going on, but you have a theory that is long on explanations, it's easy to make up details that make the theory fit what you do know. This can be a good method for persuasion, when you need to persuade people to do what you want. But it is no substitute for actually finding out what happened. CorruptUser's idea that prices have to come down because consumers can't afford stuff, fails because it came from a theory that doesn't much fit the facts. Similarly my idea that rents rose because people who used to own their own homes no longer could, is a JustSo story that makes sense from what I know, but it has hardly any data behind it. There could easily be some other reason I don't know anything about.

3) The middlemen do have a huge amount of value in society. You think 50 workers just arrive someplace and start making furniture?

[3) Do you think a void in the system wouldn't be filled? Hell no. If someone needs furniture, then someone will fill that role.


Well, but doesn't CorruptUser have a point here? When somebody else fills that role, they'll probably charge as much as the old guys did. If you thought that middlemen had no value and you shot them all, still brand-new fearless middlemen would rush in to fill the void.

4) All costs of business are labor costs, somewhere down the line.

4)True! I own a tiny little business, and there's some much time and money budgeting that you don't think about when you dive in. That's why I figure once I expand to a larger workforce, I want to look at preventive measures for my employees. Health care so I don't have to face the problem of a valued worker leaving me because he can't do this job and take care of himself. Understanding the employees needs and wants so I can have a happy workforce, because that's a productive and loyal workforce. Being open and honest about what I can and can't do, because anyone in a business partnership (and it IS a partnership, we are supplying each other with something we want) deserves that honesty. And most importantly, making sure what I provide can cover their needs, so they can provide labor and goods that allow my company to continue, thus covering my needs. If we're going to dehumanize employees by reducing them to "labor costs", then let's also look at what they are: assets. If I want to expand and grow my company in a way that is profitable AND enjoyable, I need to do so with a team that will have my back. Without that, I am nothing, I'll be back to one person running a little cottage business on the internet.


What you say is true and good, and yet it is not true that all costs of business are labor costs. There are also rentier costs.

If you were to run a business selling illegal drugs, you would have to pay the police not to arrest you, and you might also pay them to arrest your competitors. The amount of labor it takes the police to not arrest you will have very little to do with how much you pay them. And the amount you pay the police will have little to do with the costs to your customers, unless you pay the police so much that the price has to be very high.

5) It's not too hard to start a business, but expanding is where government regulations, and more importantly the legal system, start to become a choke. I think around 15 employees, EEOC kicks in, and more regulations kick in at 100 employees. If a business is beyond that hurdle, it's already beyond that hurdle. Almost all regulations favor the big businesses by limiting competition.


5) Corporations are still considered legal persons, and some of the most surly and litigious ones at that. I say we should be cutting them down first before we look at the legal quagmire that are the business ownership laws. Because they do need work and refinement, but right now there are bigger fish to fry.


I believe all three of us think that government encourages large businesses over small ones. Large businesses are easier to regulate because they can be required to do a lot of the work themselves. Smaller businesses can't afford to do that. But new technology could make this a lot easier. For example, there is no particular reason to have several competing credit card companies. If instead we had one federal credit card company that gave credit cards to all residents, various sorts of overhead would disappear. It would be far easier for the government to track what businesses are doing, because a great deal of the information would simply be already present in its own records. The government would not have to charge for credit card transactions because it would already collect the taxes that pay for the credit card system. It should only charge by the transaction if it sees reason to limit the number of official financial transactions.

So the less paperwork that small businesses have to do for government, the less the government has to encourage large size. (Or possibly I have the logic backward here. Maybe government prefers large businesses for other reasons, and enforces paperwork as a method to get that result.)

Anyway I want to push my own agenda. If competition and free enterprise are extremely important virtues, as CorruptUser and I believe, then we should encourage those virtues by encouraging large companies to divide into smaller competing companies. If a company that doubles its size then divides into two smaller companies, both could have the same virtues the original company had while it was doubling its size. They are likely to both thrive, and perhaps both will double their size again and result in four companies, and perhaps even eight companies. They will not face the challenge of creating a business model and an organization for a company that's eight times as large. They can all continue to do the things which have already been successful.

I'm not sure what the maximum allowable size should be for a company, whether it should be 50 or 500 or 5000 employees, but if we start by requiring the biggest corporations to divide, and then every few years set the maximum size smaller, we're certain to do more good than harm for the next 40 years.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed May 23, 2012 9:47 am UTC

I have a moment to spare again and want to ask some (hopefully quick) questions:

J Thomas wrote:I tend to think there is no objective morality from my attempts to prove there is. I can construct things that look like counterexamples by imagining societies of intelligent spiders or intelligent Komodo dragons in which very little morality makes sense. But I can't prove there's nothing special about human beings that would imply a universal objective morality for human beings but not for anything else. It seems to me (though you might start from different beginnings and get a different result) that any proof that there is an objective morality would have to be based on something special about human beings, and the objective morality would only be true for entities which had that special something. And I expect it to be hard to define what that special something is, or prove that human beings mostly have it. And yet there could be such a thing even if it's hard to define or measure. And possibly my hypothetical intelligent spiders would also have it, and I didn't notice. So I don't really know.


I am curious, analogously, what (counterfactual) experiences might have lead you to believe that there is no objective reality? Is the objectivity of reality subject to the same skepticism, or is that a foregone conclusion, unlike the objectivity of morality?

And with mathematics, every proposition is a necessary proposition, and a proof of undecidability is essentially a proof that some formula is not necessarily true (though for certain values of its variables it may be contingently true). I don't deny that the same applies to morality; it may be proven, for example, that what flavor of ice cream you ought to prefer does not have an answer. That just means that preferring a flavor of ice cream is not obligatory; that you are free to prefer any flavor and there is no moral law against it. That presence or absence of obligation is still universal, however; just as a proof that a mathematical theorem is undecidable is a proof that it is universally undecidable, not that its truth is up to a local popular vote.

(Also, when I reason about morality, I am also considering potentially non-human applicability, and appeals to "human nature" for universality rub me wrong. I consider persons -- which are not necessarily humans -- to be moral agents and objects of moral concern. Anything which meets the abstract criteria of personhood counts, regardless of species.)

6. The icing on the cake: If possible, it would be really great if the people who take up the philosophy each individually feel they are better off for doing it.

If you have #6 and it's good at getting people to feel like they're better off, then you have an invasive philosophy. Notice the Randites who claim how great Randism has been for them? If it isn't invasive and doesn't spread well, that's a minus. If people get exposed to the right way and they don't follow it, if some lesser philosophy tends to outcompete it, that's not good.

This criterion doesn't seem a reasonable expectation, because any individual who is not concerned with objective morality will always be able to find an asymmetrical arrangement which is more preferable to them at the expense of others. The problem is that others would prefer a different asymmetrical arrangement, so nobody would ever agree on which arrangement was "best". A more reasonable variant of this criterion would be that everyone who takes up the philosophy would prefer it over any other symmetrical arrangement.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Wed May 23, 2012 5:06 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:I have a moment to spare again and want to ask some (hopefully quick) questions:

J Thomas wrote:I tend to think there is no objective morality from my attempts to prove there is. I can construct things that look like counterexamples by imagining societies of intelligent spiders or intelligent Komodo dragons in which very little morality makes sense. But I can't prove there's nothing special about human beings that would imply a universal objective morality for human beings but not for anything else. It seems to me (though you might start from different beginnings and get a different result) that any proof that there is an objective morality would have to be based on something special about human beings, and the objective morality would only be true for entities which had that special something. And I expect it to be hard to define what that special something is, or prove that human beings mostly have it. And yet there could be such a thing even if it's hard to define or measure. And possibly my hypothetical intelligent spiders would also have it, and I didn't notice. So I don't really know.


I am curious, analogously, what (counterfactual) experiences might have lead you to believe that there is no objective reality? Is the objectivity of reality subject to the same skepticism, or is that a foregone conclusion, unlike the objectivity of morality?


I start with my own experience, which is mostly constructed. Like, people who go for a long time blind who then get to see, have to learn how to see and it's a long complex task. Things look different from different directions, perspective, etc. Most of what I think of as my perception turns out to be interpretation.

When people interpret their environment in ways that don't match up, typically they each decide the other is crazy. There's a lot of that going around even though we put tremendous effort into creating a consensus reality. And nobody expects anybody else's dreams to match up to their reality. Or even their own dreams. What would have to happen to show me that my experience does not reflect objective reality? I can't think of anything that would do it....

It used to be, most europeans talked to God or at least to one of his representative saints. Now people mostly don't. I've done it. I was ready to believe it was God because He acted like I thought he would act. For example, when I told God that Julie Stiteler was bad and mean and I prayed he would help her become a better person, God told me to pray for myself instead of praying against her. I'd know when I got good enough to pray for other people. That wasn't what I wanted or expected, but afterward I could see it was right. Are my experiences part of objective reality? I wouldn't mention them to a psychiatrist because currently they are considered symptoms of insanity. A personal relationship with God is not an acceptable part of consensus reality.

Modern science gives us a view of reality that is far more coherent than anything else I've seen. It fits together lots of stuff that otherwise doesn't fit, and in a rather simple way. It is a beautiful elegant construct, a fine interpretation. It implies that my senses reflect reality in ways that tend to aid my survival, and that most of what is really there gets filtered out. It could be true. I use concepts from science every day, being the sort of person I am. Do the science concepts actually reflect objective reality very well? I dunno. Let's check back with science in 200 years and see what they say then. The science of 200 years ago seemed very good at the time, but a lot of it has gotten considerably refined since then....

I don't know whether or not there is an objective reality, and the question doesn't make a lot of difference in my life. I do what I do regardless.

And with mathematics, every proposition is a necessary proposition, and a proof of undecidability is essentially a proof that some formula is not necessarily true (though for certain values of its variables it may be contingently true). I don't deny that the same applies to morality; it may be proven, for example, that what flavor of ice cream you ought to prefer does not have an answer. That just means that preferring a flavor of ice cream is not obligatory; that you are free to prefer any flavor and there is no moral law against it. That presence or absence of obligation is still universal, however; just as a proof that a mathematical theorem is undecidable is a proof that it is universally undecidable, not that its truth is up to a local popular vote.


Given a finite set of axioms, some things can be proven true, some can be proven false, some can be proven undecidable, and perhaps some cannot be proven true, false or undecidable although in fact they happen to be true, false, or undecidable given those axioms.

You can take something that is undecidable and make it decidable by adding an additional axiom that decides it. Then with the extra axiom, it will still be true that some things can be proven true, some can be proven false, some can be proven undecidable, etc. It takes at least an infinite number of axioms to get everything settled.

It isn't universally undecidable. It's undecidable with a particular set of axioms. Perhaps you can construct a space that satisfies the axioms where it is true, and another space that satisfies the same axioms where it's false. Its truth is up to a sort of local vote.

(Also, when I reason about morality, I am also considering potentially non-human applicability, and appeals to "human nature" for universality rub me wrong. I consider persons -- which are not necessarily humans -- to be moral agents and objects of moral concern. Anything which meets the abstract criteria of personhood counts, regardless of species.)


OK, read up on komodo dragons, and then imagine intelligent ones. (What I think I know about them may be out of date.) They hatch more or less alone and defenseless. They eat bugs, and maybe 10% of the diet for adults is the babies and juveniles. The babies take their chances until they are old enough to climb trees and eat bugs etc there -- but if they climb too young then bigger juveniles will eat them. Adults have a reputation for eating smaller adults, but they have been observed keeping a sort of pecking order where the biggest adult tolerates smaller ones provided they defer enough. During mating females tend to act rather annoyed and must be immobilized by a larger male.

We don't really know how intelligent komodo dragons are. It isn't easy to develop the level of trust needed to do careful testing. A lot of their intelligence appears to be devoted to understanding camouflage, hiding, attack patterns, etc. Juveniles appear to have a subtle understanding about when they can get away with scavenging meat by rolling in shit, and when they need to hide instead.

If komodo dragons evolved to be as smart as we are, what sort of morality would they develop? What sort would be appropriate for them, apart from how or whether they could develop it?

6. The icing on the cake: If possible, it would be really great if the people who take up the philosophy each individually feel they are better off for doing it.

If you have #6 and it's good at getting people to feel like they're better off, then you have an invasive philosophy. Notice the Randites who claim how great Randism has been for them? If it isn't invasive and doesn't spread well, that's a minus. If people get exposed to the right way and they don't follow it, if some lesser philosophy tends to outcompete it, that's not good.

This criterion doesn't seem a reasonable expectation, because any individual who is not concerned with objective morality will always be able to find an asymmetrical arrangement which is more preferable to them at the expense of others. The problem is that others would prefer a different asymmetrical arrangement, so nobody would ever agree on which arrangement was "best". A more reasonable variant of this criterion would be that everyone who takes up the philosophy would prefer it over any other symmetrical arrangement.


Randites prefer Objectivism over philosophies that say they can take whatever they want. They believe in being honest, in fulfilling contracts, in providing perceived value in their bargains. They believe in never coercing anybody who has not violated their rights. They could instead choose a philosophy that says "Me everything -- you nothing" but they don't choose that. I think they feel they are better off with what they choose instead. Maybe really they feel like they're making personal sacrifices by not going for rape and plunder, but I don't think so. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

I'm not asking that everybody has to think they personally are better off if they choose the best moral philosophy. People are variable, they're going to think lots of things. But I'd prefer it if the best moral philosophy happens to be set up so that a whole lot of the people who choose it believe that they personally are better off for choosing it. Because I want it to turn out that the best philosophy actually does get widely accepted. I want it to outcompete worse memes. If the best morality becomes available, and yet people prefer something else and it languishes or even goes extinct, then I say there's something wrong somewhere. In the philosophy, or in the world, or well somewhere.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Pfhorrest » Wed May 23, 2012 6:45 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:Modern science gives us a view of reality that is far more coherent than anything else I've seen. It fits together lots of stuff that otherwise doesn't fit, and in a rather simple way. It is a beautiful elegant construct, a fine interpretation. It implies that my senses reflect reality in ways that tend to aid my survival, and that most of what is really there gets filtered out. It could be true. I use concepts from science every day, being the sort of person I am. Do the science concepts actually reflect objective reality very well? I dunno. Let's check back with science in 200 years and see what they say then. The science of 200 years ago seemed very good at the time, but a lot of it has gotten considerably refined since then....

I don't know whether or not there is an objective reality, and the question doesn't make a lot of difference in my life. I do what I do regardless.


I agree that reality (like morality) is, very loosely speaking (as you've described), "constructed"; in the sense that (wrt reality) we are constructing interpretations of our many subjective observations, and "reality" is whatever corresponds to the model we are gradually trying to construct, the one which accounts for all possible observations.

The scientists involved in this undertaking act on the working assumption that it is possible to construct such a model, otherwise trying the impossible would be futile and pointless. I suppose a better rephrasing of my question to you would be, what would justify them discarding that working assumption and giving up on trying to construct that model? Could anything?

And then, to the point I was going to get to after that, what about the moral analogue of that? In trying to solve moral problems we act on the working assumption that there is some as-yet-unconstructed model which accounts for everyone's genuine moral concerns, as that is what the solution to a moral problem is, and if it were impossible to construct such a thing there would be no point in trying. At what point would we ever be justified in discarding that working assumption and giving up trying?

(Also, when I reason about morality, I am also considering potentially non-human applicability, and appeals to "human nature" for universality rub me wrong. I consider persons -- which are not necessarily humans -- to be moral agents and objects of moral concern. Anything which meets the abstract criteria of personhood counts, regardless of species.)


OK, read up on komodo dragons, and then imagine intelligent ones. (What I think I know about them may be out of date.) They hatch more or less alone and defenseless. They eat bugs, and maybe 10% of the diet for adults is the babies and juveniles. The babies take their chances until they are old enough to climb trees and eat bugs etc there -- but if they climb too young then bigger juveniles will eat them. Adults have a reputation for eating smaller adults, but they have been observed keeping a sort of pecking order where the biggest adult tolerates smaller ones provided they defer enough. During mating females tend to act rather annoyed and must be immobilized by a larger male.

We don't really know how intelligent komodo dragons are. It isn't easy to develop the level of trust needed to do careful testing. A lot of their intelligence appears to be devoted to understanding camouflage, hiding, attack patterns, etc. Juveniles appear to have a subtle understanding about when they can get away with scavenging meat by rolling in shit, and when they need to hide instead.

If komodo dragons evolved to be as smart as we are, what sort of morality would they develop? What sort would be appropriate for them, apart from how or whether they could develop it?


It is certainly possible for there to be creatures with a biology which means they can't be moral and still live. That would simply make them something like what TVtropes calls "Always Chaotic Evil"; someone who just has to die as a matter of moral course, like many fantasy monsters who are just born (or created, or whatever) irredeemably evil.

Consider if there was some weird zombie disease that made some people unable to live without eating live human brains. No substitute will do; somehow or another, they absolutely must kill living humans and eat their fresh brains to survive. If that were the case, and it's morally wrong to kill innocent humans, then tough luck for the poor people with this disease; we can't let you kill to survive, so I'm sorry, we have to let you die.

Now consider if there were a race of people born like that. Their biology requires them to murder to live. This is a familiar plot device with vampires, and lots of work-arounds have been devised in modern works, but if those work-arounds were not available, then tough luck for the vampires.

It sounds like komodo dragons don't biologically have to do some of the nasty things they do to survive, they're just biologically inclined to do them. (No doubt those inclinations were useful for survival, but that's different from the has-to-eat-living-brains-or-will-die kind of biological necessity above). Humans have a lot of biological inclinations which go against sound moral reasoning too, and a virtuous person is someone who can subjugate those urges to his reason and do what's right anyway. For our hypothetical intelligent komodo dragons to be moral agents and objects of moral concern, they would need to have the capacity to do so; and their individual morality would hang on the exercise of that capacity.

Randites prefer Objectivism over philosophies that say they can take whatever they want. They believe in being honest, in fulfilling contracts, in providing perceived value in their bargains. They believe in never coercing anybody who has not violated their rights. They could instead choose a philosophy that says "Me everything -- you nothing" but they don't choose that. I think they feel they are better off with what they choose instead. Maybe really they feel like they're making personal sacrifices by not going for rape and plunder, but I don't think so. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Objectivists (Randites) explicitly believe in an objective morality though, and what I was saying was that a better variant of your criterion would be something like "everyone who is concerned with objective morality prefers this over any alternative". Those who are not so concerned will be happy to tell everyone to fuck off and die so long as they get everything they want, much like religious zealots whose beliefs are not founded on reason or evidence won't care what kind of evidence you give against their beliefs.

If the best morality becomes available, and yet people prefer something else and it languishes or even goes extinct, then I say there's something wrong somewhere. In the philosophy, or in the world, or well somewhere.

Agreed that this is completely possible, if you have an insufficient ratio of moral people to amoral ones; "moral person" not meaning someone who happens to obey the right moral code, but someone who is concerned about being moral, interested in figuring out what the right moral code is and following it. If nobody cares about being moral, then handing them the solution to all moral problems on a silver platter will do nothing for them; just like if nobody cares about science, handing them the Grand Unified Theory of Everything won't even faze them.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Wed May 23, 2012 8:07 pm UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Modern science gives us a view of reality that is far more coherent than anything else I've seen. It fits together lots of stuff that otherwise doesn't fit, and in a rather simple way. It is a beautiful elegant construct, a fine interpretation. It implies that my senses reflect reality in ways that tend to aid my survival, and that most of what is really there gets filtered out. It could be true. I use concepts from science every day, being the sort of person I am. Do the science concepts actually reflect objective reality very well? I dunno. Let's check back with science in 200 years and see what they say then. The science of 200 years ago seemed very good at the time, but a lot of it has gotten considerably refined since then....

I don't know whether or not there is an objective reality, and the question doesn't make a lot of difference in my life. I do what I do regardless.


I agree that reality (like morality) is, very loosely speaking (as you've described), "constructed"; in the sense that (wrt reality) we are constructing interpretations of our many subjective observations, and "reality" is whatever corresponds to the model we are gradually trying to construct, the one which accounts for all possible observations.

The scientists involved in this undertaking act on the working assumption that it is possible to construct such a model, otherwise trying the impossible would be futile and pointless. I suppose a better rephrasing of my question to you would be, what would justify them discarding that working assumption and giving up on trying to construct that model? Could anything?


A model which accounts for all possible observations? No, that would not be falsifiable at all. We want a model which correctly predicts which observations will be made, and which will never be made.

Science is useful in restricted circumstances regardless whether it's generally applicable. Like, you can use scientific method for direct mail. You can send out 20,000 pieces of junk mail with 4 inserts and one return mail address, and 20,000 pieces of junk mail with 5 inserts and a different return mail address, and see which gets more responses. You ca find out what works. But when you find out, it might be different for a different part of the country, or if you target a different ethnic group, or a different class, etc. You can't ever be sure you are finding ultimate truth. You are only using scientific method to find out what works now.

There's absolutely no reason to give up constructiong working models when they are so useful in the short run. If you are trying to construct an ultimate model that can explain everything, then good luck! Maybe it will pay for itself as it goes along, or maybe there will be some big jackpot in the future which will make it worth doing.

And then, to the point I was going to get to after that, what about the moral analogue of that? In trying to solve moral problems we act on the working assumption that there is some as-yet-unconstructed model which accounts for everyone's genuine moral concerns, as that is what the solution to a moral problem is, and if it were impossible to construct such a thing there would be no point in trying. At what point would we ever be justified in discarding that working assumption and giving up trying?


Whoa! Moral ideas are useful in the short run too! You can use a moral idea to create lots of moral outrage and then harness that feeling to get things done. You can use moral ideas to reach agreement with people who otherwise would not be inclined to cooperate with you. It's often easiest to find somebody you both agree is immoral and unite against hm. A crusade to destroy evil can generate a lot more urgency than just something that seems like a good idea. If people who own slaves get together and hash out a morality that mostly keeps them working together and not raiding each other for slaves, that's probably good for them and it could likely even be good for the slaves. Since people mostly go for the short run rewards, it makes no sense to say to give up if you think that there is no single ultimate final goal which will solve everything for everybody.

(Also, when I reason about morality, I am also considering potentially non-human applicability, and appeals to "human nature" for universality rub me wrong. I consider persons -- which are not necessarily humans -- to be moral agents and objects of moral concern. Anything which meets the abstract criteria of personhood counts, regardless of species.)


OK, read up on komodo dragons, and then imagine intelligent ones. (What I think I know about them may be out of date.) They hatch more or less alone and defenseless. They eat bugs, and maybe 10% of the diet for adults is the babies and juveniles. The babies take their chances until they are old enough to climb trees and eat bugs etc there -- but if they climb too young then bigger juveniles will eat them. Adults have a reputation for eating smaller adults, but they have been observed keeping a sort of pecking order where the biggest adult tolerates smaller ones provided they defer enough. During mating females tend to act rather annoyed and must be immobilized by a larger male.

We don't really know how intelligent komodo dragons are. It isn't easy to develop the level of trust needed to do careful testing. A lot of their intelligence appears to be devoted to understanding camouflage, hiding, attack patterns, etc. Juveniles appear to have a subtle understanding about when they can get away with scavenging meat by rolling in shit, and when they need to hide instead.

If komodo dragons evolved to be as smart as we are, what sort of morality would they develop? What sort would be appropriate for them, apart from how or whether they could develop it?


It is certainly possible for there to be creatures with a biology which means they can't be moral and still live. That would simply make them something like what TVtropes calls "Always Chaotic Evil"; someone who just has to die as a matter of moral course, like many fantasy monsters who are just born (or created, or whatever) irredeemably evil.

Consider if there was some weird zombie disease that made some people unable to live without eating live human brains. No substitute will do; somehow or another, they absolutely must kill living humans and eat their fresh brains to survive. If that were the case, and it's morally wrong to kill innocent humans, then tough luck for the poor people with this disease; we can't let you kill to survive, so I'm sorry, we have to let you die.

Now consider if there were a race of people born like that. Their biology requires them to murder to live. This is a familiar plot device with vampires, and lots of work-arounds have been devised in modern works, but if those work-arounds were not available, then tough luck for the vampires.

It sounds like komodo dragons don't biologically have to do some of the nasty things they do to survive, they're just biologically inclined to do them. (No doubt those inclinations were useful for survival, but that's different from the has-to-eat-living-brains-or-will-die kind of biological necessity above). Humans have a lot of biological inclinations which go against sound moral reasoning too, and a virtuous person is someone who can subjugate those urges to his reason and do what's right anyway. For our hypothetical intelligent komodo dragons to be moral agents and objects of moral concern, they would need to have the capacity to do so; and their individual morality would hang on the exercise of that capacity.


Under current circumstances they need to eat their young -- they live to be around 50 and the females lay something like 20 eggs a year. If the komodo dragons don't cull their own, who else can do it for them? If they were to develop a technology that included birth control etc, they might not need that. But before they developed such a technology they would presumably spend around a million years evolving. And eating their young would not see like such a terrible thing to them, it would simply be their necessary custom. If humans had 20 babies a year we would not make a big thing of infanticide either. (Incidentally, virgin dragons can reproduce parthenogenicly, and all the babies are male.)

I just now discussed this with my wife, and she says that komodo dragons cannot love. Love always starts from the relationship between mother and child, and dragons have no such relationship. I'm not sure she's right. There could be some other basis for love (or something enough like love). But I don't right off have any examples of definite obvious love in species that don't have parental care.

Anyway, I wanted to imagine a species that could be perfectly viable and workable but which does not fit your preconceptions. And your response is that if they are not cut out to fit your universal morality then they ought to go extinct! Fie, sir! Fie! A morality that prescribes death for all but the chosen? Jeez, man, that's sick.

Randites prefer Objectivism over philosophies that say they can take whatever they want. They believe in being honest, in fulfilling contracts, in providing perceived value in their bargains. They believe in never coercing anybody who has not violated their rights. They could instead choose a philosophy that says "Me everything -- you nothing" but they don't choose that. I think they feel they are better off with what they choose instead. Maybe really they feel like they're making personal sacrifices by not going for rape and plunder, but I don't think so. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Objectivists (Randites) explicitly believe in an objective morality though, and what I was saying was that a better variant of your criterion would be something like "everyone who is concerned with objective morality prefers this over any alternative". Those who are not so concerned will be happy to tell everyone to fuck off and die so long as they get everything they want, much like religious zealots whose beliefs are not founded on reason or evidence won't care what kind of evidence you give against their beliefs.


I don't expect everybody from any group to agree on any one thing. My criterion is a little more subtle. I want a big fraction of the people who believe in it, to believe that they personally benefit from it. A philosophy which demands that all its members sacrifice themselves for it, will never recruit a large majority of the population.

If the best morality becomes available, and yet people prefer something else and it languishes or even goes extinct, then I say there's something wrong somewhere. In the philosophy, or in the world, or well somewhere.

Agreed that this is completely possible, if you have an insufficient ratio of moral people to amoral ones; "moral person" not meaning someone who happens to obey the right moral code, but someone who is concerned about being moral, interested in figuring out what the right moral code is and following it. If nobody cares about being moral, then handing them the solution to all moral problems on a silver platter will do nothing for them; just like if nobody cares about science, handing them the Grand Unified Theory of Everything won't even faze them.


What if a whole lot of people want to be moral, but most of them choose a moral code that's only pretty good when the best is available?

"I heard about that one. You have to think a whole lot, right? I just want to know the answers and let somebody else think about it."
"Hey, with the one I picked you get to have sex with anybody who'll let you."
"Some people say the one I picked is the best, and even the leaders of your way say that mine is pretty good."
"You guys are the ones who're always thinking about the best thing to do, right? It doesn't sound like you have a lot of fun."
"I heard about some of you making moral stands against some stuff that's popular. Go with the flow, man."
"I listened to some of you guys, and frankly you all sound stuffy. I don't want people to think I'm like you."

There can't be any guarantees, but I'd like it if some morality turns out to be the best, that it also spread well.
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Spiny Norman
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 16, 2012 2:13 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:Randites prefer Objectivism over philosophies that say they can take whatever they want. They believe in being honest, in fulfilling contracts, in providing perceived value in their bargains. They believe in never coercing anybody who has not violated their rights. They could instead choose a philosophy that says "Me everything -- you nothing" but they don't choose that. I think they feel they are better off with what they choose instead. Maybe really they feel like they're making personal sacrifices by not going for rape and plunder, but I don't think so. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Is that so? Or is it just more subtle? The rand ideology - I will never call it a philosophy - is a ruler's ideology. Its attraction is that it tells you it's OK to be rich. The poor are only poor because they are lazy, everyone who attempts to impose rules upon you is an evil parasitical communist. The rand crap is simply the most convenient thing to believe as long as you are rich (or a dominant country) and it's also persuasive because it makes everything seem easy. It has nothing to do with the real world though.

I'm not asking that everybody has to think they personally are better off if they choose the best moral philosophy. People are variable, they're going to think lots of things. But I'd prefer it if the best moral philosophy happens to be set up so that a whole lot of the people who choose it believe that they personally are better off for choosing it. Because I want it to turn out that the best philosophy actually does get widely accepted. I want it to outcompete worse memes. If the best morality becomes available, and yet people prefer something else and it languishes or even goes extinct, then I say there's something wrong somewhere. In the philosophy, or in the world, or well somewhere.

Survival of the best morality?? What decided which is the best? You'd need something of a morality to start with so you can judge that.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Thu Aug 16, 2012 4:01 pm UTC

Spiny Norman wrote:
J Thomas wrote:Randites prefer Objectivism over philosophies that say they can take whatever they want. They believe in being honest, in fulfilling contracts, in providing perceived value in their bargains. They believe in never coercing anybody who has not violated their rights. They could instead choose a philosophy that says "Me everything -- you nothing" but they don't choose that. I think they feel they are better off with what they choose instead. Maybe really they feel like they're making personal sacrifices by not going for rape and plunder, but I don't think so. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.


Is that so? Or is it just more subtle? The rand ideology - I will never call it a philosophy - is a ruler's ideology. Its attraction is that it tells you it's OK to be rich. The poor are only poor because they are lazy, everyone who attempts to impose rules upon you is an evil parasitical communist. The rand crap is simply the most convenient thing to believe as long as you are rich (or a dominant country) and it's also persuasive because it makes everything seem easy. It has nothing to do with the real world though.


Yes, that's the hypocritical form of it.

"What's that? You say it isn't fair? But everybody gets to make their best choices and profit from them. I own a coal mine. You don't own anything. You want to eat so you get to choose the job you like the best. You can work in Joe's gold mine for $4/hour, only he won't hire anybody who isn't a Libertarian. Or you can work in Bob's silver mine for $3.90/hour, he only hires Christians. You can work in Sam's coper mine for $3.80/hour, he only hires Republicans. Or you can work in my coal mine for $3.20/hour, I don't care what you think as long as you work hard and follow orders. Take your time. When you decide I'll be over by my Olympic-size pool, getting a swimming lesson from my lovely $7/hour naked swimming teacher, or a massage from my lovely naked $8/hour masseuse.

"What, you don't think it's fair? I do important work. I make decisions. If I make the wrong decisions it will affect millions of people and I will lose money. If I make too many bad decisions I will lose the coal mine and somebody who's better at making decisions will run it in my place. I deserve everything I have because I'm good at my work."

And yet, isn't it a good thing to be honest, to fulfill your contracts, to provide value to others in your dealings, and avoid coercing people who have not violated your rights?

Try this analogy. Suppose we all agree that murder is bad and we shouldn't do it. And then some powerful people argue that in fact they are good people who never murder anybody. "I didn't murder Sam. The truth is, after 48 straight hours of torture he begged me to kill him. I was just following his wishes." Even though powerful people twist the idea, still it's good not to murder people. I feel the same way about some of the Randite ideals.

I'm not asking that everybody has to think they personally are better off if they choose the best moral philosophy. People are variable, they're going to think lots of things. But I'd prefer it if the best moral philosophy happens to be set up so that a whole lot of the people who choose it believe that they personally are better off for choosing it. Because I want it to turn out that the best philosophy actually does get widely accepted. I want it to outcompete worse memes. If the best morality becomes available, and yet people prefer something else and it languishes or even goes extinct, then I say there's something wrong somewhere. In the philosophy, or in the world, or well somewhere.

Survival of the best morality?? What decided which is the best? You'd need something of a morality to start with so you can judge that.


Yes, exactly. There is in fact survival of the most survivable moralities. It's just a part of meme survival. I would prefer that moralities I think are good are the ones that survive well. There's something wrong somewhere if they don't. It would be kind of absurd to start out by looking at the moralities that have survived the best and argue that they must be good for something other than their own survival. That might be true -- it isn't impossible -- but there's nothing in sheer survival that says it has to correlate with anything else we would find valuable.

But the other way round.... If the moralities I think are good do not prosper, then there is something wrong with my moralities or something wrong with the world. I should do what I can to fix whichever is broken.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Aug 17, 2012 9:20 pm UTC

J Thomas wrote:And yet, isn't it a good thing to be honest, to fulfill your contracts, to provide value to others in your dealings, and avoid coercing people who have not violated your rights?

There's like maybe 5 people who answer that description in the whole human history. The rest of them will apply some form of coercion, for example, beating the life out of anyone who wants to start a union. Or they'll simply focus on short time gain and act a bit irrational, never mind that say, their petrol contains lead that is encredibly poisonous in the long run. People need some control of themselves, that's why societies develloped rules. If you insist on calling that coercion, well, I'd have to say a small amount may be unavoidable. Because you can't just assume everyone will always do the right thing, whether it's poor people or big companies.

I'm not so much concerned with absolute personal freedom here, I'm thinking of how to organise society with the least amount of injustice. No-rules capitalism has in fact been tried back in the 19th century and lead to widespread misery (because, surprise, the industrialist enterpreneurs did not pay fair, rational wages). We've advanced since then to outlaw things like child labour and inhuman conditions. It's ludicrous to say firstly, that such a simple solution could work, and secondly, to think that it's never been tried before.

J Thomas wrote:Yes, exactly. There is in fact survival of the most survivable moralities. It's just a part of meme survival. I would prefer that moralities I think are good are the ones that survive well. There's something wrong somewhere if they don't. It would be kind of absurd to start out by looking at the moralities that have survived the best and argue that they must be good for something other than their own survival. That might be true -- it isn't impossible -- but there's nothing in sheer survival that says it has to correlate with anything else we would find valuable.

But the other way round.... If the moralities I think are good do not prosper, then there is something wrong with my moralities or something wrong with the world. I should do what I can to fix whichever is broken.

It beats me how christianity ever got hold on so many people, I can't see how turning the other cheek will give it an evolutionary advantage. If anything morality is contrary to the laws of nature, where the weak are eliminated. This is not a statement, simply something I don't quite see how it happened.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby KrytenKoro » Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:11 pm UTC

"Turning the other cheek" is basically hyperbole (tinged with sarcasm) to communicate that you should not seek revenge. This is different from protecting yourself and others, and while Jesus himself didn't go around advocating war, Adonai most certainly did when they were "for the good of His people".

So, there's no real conflict with evolutionary survival there. Revenge may be an efficient way to coerce someone (by threatening it), but it's almost defined as being a "cut off the nose to spite the face" sort of act, and I think we can all agree that revenge-based paradigms like the Cold War weren't exactly optimum solutions for survivability.

EDIT: Sorry for sounding so pompous there.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sat Aug 18, 2012 4:59 pm UTC

Spiny Norman wrote:
J Thomas wrote:And yet, isn't it a good thing to be honest, to fulfill your contracts, to provide value to others in your dealings, and avoid coercing people who have not violated your rights?

There's like maybe 5 people who answer that description in the whole human history. The rest of them will apply some form of coercion, for example, beating the life out of anyone who wants to start a union. Or they'll simply focus on short time gain and act a bit irrational, never mind that say, their petrol contains lead that is encredibly poisonous in the long run. People need some control of themselves, that's why societies develloped rules. If you insist on calling that coercion, well, I'd have to say a small amount may be unavoidable. Because you can't just assume everyone will always do the right thing, whether it's poor people or big companies.


Most libertarians or anarchic capitalism enthusiasts I've talked to at least pay some sort of lip service to that. They figure that you have rights that should not be violated, and then they propose some mechanism to keep them from being violated. Some sort of legal system, usually, with some sort of enforcement. Pretty often they want to depend on community standards to enforce whatever rules get decided. That does tend to work in practice. (Also it gets way out of hand sometimes.) Mostly our legal system doesn't get involved until after community standards etc have failed.

I can't say how well any of the utopian approaches they advocate would work, but they do consider the problem and they invent solutions. My own thought is that social systems evolve, and nobody really understands the details of how they work. So when somebody tries to invent an entire system inside his head and then wants to argue about whether it would work....

I'm not so much concerned with absolute personal freedom here, I'm thinking of how to organise society with the least amount of injustice. No-rules capitalism has in fact been tried back in the 19th century and lead to widespread misery (because, surprise, the industrialist enterpreneurs did not pay fair, rational wages). We've advanced since then to outlaw things like child labour and inhuman conditions. It's ludicrous to say firstly, that such a simple solution could work, and secondly, to think that it's never been tried before.


We certainly didn't try no-rules capitalism! We had lots of rules for poor people. Just, the rules mostly didn't apply to people who had the power to bend the rules. If we could somehow get an egalitarian society working with egalitarian customs that people supported, how long could it last before some people became powerful enough that the rules didn't apply to them? I don't know. It would depend. In general, I don't think the libertarians I've met would like the idea of a society that has mechanisms in it that keep any one person from getting too far ahead. And yet, when you play a game of Monopoly and one person wins, the game is over. When one person owns everything that everybody else needs, they can be his abject slaves or his pampered slaves. He can allow them lots of freedom of speech if he chooses to. But still they are his slaves unless they choose to rise up and grab stuff from him.

J Thomas wrote:Yes, exactly. There is in fact survival of the most survivable moralities. It's just a part of meme survival. I would prefer that moralities I think are good are the ones that survive well. There's something wrong somewhere if they don't. It would be kind of absurd to start out by looking at the moralities that have survived the best and argue that they must be good for something other than their own survival. That might be true -- it isn't impossible -- but there's nothing in sheer survival that says it has to correlate with anything else we would find valuable.

But the other way round.... If the moralities I think are good do not prosper, then there is something wrong with my moralities or something wrong with the world. I should do what I can to fix whichever is broken.

It beats me how christianity ever got hold on so many people, I can't see how turning the other cheek will give it an evolutionary advantage. If anything morality is contrary to the laws of nature, where the weak are eliminated. This is not a statement, simply something I don't quite see how it happened.


I see Christianity as a response to the Roman Empire. The Romans knew that everybody hated them, and resolved to be strong enough to win anyway. They did things that got a lot of people hating them. The system maintained itself. By refusing to hate, by voluntarily doing more than they were forced to, Christians perhaps broke that pattern. People argue about why the Roman Empire collapsed. There are lots of reasons, but I think one central thing is that Christians ripped out its heart by loving people who didn't know how to defend against it.

As KrytenKoro points out, forgoing revenge can have some good consequences. It isn't a good start toward getting rich, because if you start to look wealthy people will take stuff from you knowing you won't try to hurt them. Rich people don't make good christians for a variety of reasons. But it can have advantages for people who don't try to reach the top. And there can be survival advantages in not trying to get too far ahead of the other people.
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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby chenille » Sun Aug 19, 2012 1:58 am UTC

J Thomas wrote:There are lots of reasons, but I think one central thing is that Christians ripped out its heart by loving people who didn't know how to defend against it.

This seems like a strange principle to apply to an empire that officially adopted Christianity, then was reduced to an eastern remnant by Germanic tribes who had also adopted Christianity. I guess you're applying it to some earlier point in time?

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Re: 1049: "Bookshelf"

Postby J Thomas » Sun Aug 19, 2012 4:49 am UTC

chenille wrote:
J Thomas wrote:There are lots of reasons, but I think one central thing is that Christians ripped out its heart by loving people who didn't know how to defend against it.

This seems like a strange principle to apply to an empire that officially adopted Christianity, then was reduced to an eastern remnant by Germanic tribes who had also adopted Christianity. I guess you're applying it to some earlier point in time?


I have a subjective idea about this that would be hard to provide strong evidence for even if I was a professional historian who specialized in the area. It looks to me like Rome lost its heart. When they fought Hannibal, when they fought Spartacus, they were ready to do anything necessary to win, and they were not willing to accept less than total victory. Later they chose to let german tribes live in their land -- those tribes had nowhere else to go, and the land was available, and they might be useful. It made sense by the logic of the time. I think the old romans would have slaughtered them, though, or perhaps let them escape to be slaughtered by the people they were running from.

I can't quantify it, but I have a sense that the old Romans believed they had no alternative. they had to stick together and build armies that were the world's best killing machines because otherwise they would be enslaved, the men likely castrated and the women kept to weave etc, possibly allowed to mother slaves by fathers no one bothered to track. And later at times when there were no obvious threats, they could examine their own slaves. If they didn't keep to their ideals somebody would treat them the way they treated their own slaves. They had to believe they were special. If they weren't the best at doing whatever it took, they would be taken over by the Persians or somebody. So they wound up with a lot of men who could look somebody in the eye while they stuck an iron bar in his gut and twisted it, and smile, and that night sleep happily. Romans were as weird as Cherokees and a lot weirder than Nazis.

Something changed. The army became merely a profession, a chance for a poor man to buy a farm. Lots of women decided they did not owe it to Rome to marry and give birth to a lot of sons. They decided they could and should be free of carnal lusts. Lots of men decided that they didn't have to be Romans, they could be part of a peaceful pluralist society. There was enough of that sort of thing that Rome couldn't continue as before. I want to call the ideas that produced that "Christianity" though parts of it got stamped out by other christians and parts of it may have been unrelated. Part of it could have come from slaves who loved their masters and forgave them. If you do horrible things and breed implacable enemies then you have no choice but to be stronger and harder than them, forever. But if they forgive you and love you and give you a choice? I don' t know where I got that idea. Maybe from Cecil B DeMille movies. It feels right to me.

Of course there was a lot else going on. Roman soldiers found themselves fighting other Romans when a competent general got too popular and looked like a possible threat. Roman farmers couldn't compete with vast irrigated Egypt. The old virtues must have looked like they were disconnected from reality in lots of ways. But it had to be important that there was an alternative. That you didn't have to keep your family alive, that helping them into heaven was worth more....
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