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Vaniver
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Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 07, 2007 2:40 am UTC

In Belial's story, he's not actively enjoying watching the guy suffer. He just doesn't care.
So I watched him bleed for a bit. Got some popcorn. Took the time to file the edges off my nails. Felt pretty great about myself. Then he died, and it got boring, so I went about my day.
That strikes me as actively enjoying.

[edit]And, by doing nothing, you generally at most allow pain to continue. Sure, if I did nothing about my bills I would be bringing pain down on myself. But, doing nothing about my neighbor's bills?

The fundamental amount of responsibility I have for strangers is very low. I like to think that I'm a good person for doing more than the least I could do, instead of thinking that I'm a bad person for doing less than the most I could do. It might be a biased viewpoint, but it's one that rewards me for doing more, and so I find it more useful.
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Postby Belial » Sat Apr 07, 2007 2:52 am UTC

Vaniver wrote:
In Belial's story, he's not actively enjoying watching the guy suffer. He just doesn't care.
So I watched him bleed for a bit. Got some popcorn. Took the time to file the edges off my nails. Felt pretty great about myself. Then he died, and it got boring, so I went about my day.
That strikes me as actively enjoying.


Actually, I was really only watching because it was interesting. I was feeling pretty great about myself because I'm a pretty awesome guy, and I don't feel guilty at all about letting this guy bleed to death.

No moral obligation and all.
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Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:28 am UTC

I was feeling pretty great about myself because I'm a pretty awesome guy, and I don't feel guilty at all about letting this guy bleed to death.
And I would count "feeling pretty great about myself" as enjoying; but that's just how I tally enjoyment.
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Postby Belial » Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:29 am UTC

Taking pleasure in something particular is different from just a general sense of how awesome I am.
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Postby Yakk » Sat Apr 07, 2007 12:19 pm UTC

This is a story of Alice and Bob.

Alice has a dream.

Alice wants to cure cancer. Or go to space. Or give her child the life she didn't get. Doesn't matter: she has a dream.

So Alice works. She ruins her health, her social life, she spends every waking hour trying to get enough resources to realize her dream: and she even cuts into her sleep time.

In the end, Alice gathers a bunch of money: she is rich, but she is still short of her dream. For the sake of argument, she does it all honestly and productively.

Bob has a dream, but he decides it isn't worth that much effort. Bob survives. He's comfortable, but not rich. He has a social life, he gets enough sleep, and his low-stress life and plenty of time to look after himself keeps himself healthy.

Then disaster strikes. Economic collapse. Bob is reduced to having just enough money to survive.

Alice, meanwhile, is reduced to more than that. But she is still far short of her goal.

...

Now, Charlie shows up. Charlie needs 1000$ or he dies. Charlie asks both Bob and Alice.

Bob says "I wish I had the money Charlie, but I don't. I'm broke, barely making it by."

Alice says "I have the money, but I want it for my own goals. I'm sorry Charlie, I wish I had enough money to fullfill my own goals and to save you, but I won't."

I'm presuming you find Alice evil, and Bob not?

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Postby cmacis » Sat Apr 07, 2007 12:48 pm UTC

I'm going to take the lateral approach and say that their state is in the wrong for not having social care. :P
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Postby Belial » Sat Apr 07, 2007 1:00 pm UTC

I'm presuming you find Alice evil, and Bob not?


Unimportant. What's your thought?
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Postby Nomic » Sat Apr 07, 2007 3:02 pm UTC

The future of mankind is simple. We'll all die. Such is the fate of all mortal. How long it takes to happen and why, that I don't know (although from the looks of things, I'm suprised if we survive another millenia).

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Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 07, 2007 7:03 pm UTC

I'm going to take the lateral approach and say that their state is in the wrong for not having social care. :P
This is inconsequential. The question is whether an individual has any responsibility for another.

But, if you want to bring up that side track, let's say the state *does* have social care- it only goes up to $100, and considers anything more a luxury. If saving you is that expensive, you need to be valuable enough to pay for it yourself.

Unimportant. What's your thought?
Neither of them. It's Charlie's responsibility to provide for his own survival, or to be the dependent of someone who cares enough to ensure his survival.
But, why is your opinion unimportant?
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Postby Shadowfish » Sat Apr 07, 2007 8:17 pm UTC

This is a story of Alice and Bob.


Let's add a new character. Dick was born rich. His parents provided him with an expensive education, and his rich buddies provided him the opportunity to be installed as an executive in a tobacco company. He was incompetent, and treated the people under him like shit. He also did a bunch of other stereotypical evil corporate bastard stuff.

After the market crashes, he has exactly as much money as Alice. At this point, Charlie comes by and asks Dick for $1000. Dick refuses, because he's a dick.

Question:

Is there any difference between Alice refusing to give Charlie the money and Dick refusing to give Charlie the money?

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Postby Vaniver » Sat Apr 07, 2007 10:09 pm UTC

Dick refuses, because he's a dick.
Clever.

Is there any difference between Alice refusing to give Charlie the money and Dick refusing to give Charlie the money?
In what sense? The difference will be what they say and how they act. But, the reality is, neither of them owe him the money and neither of them give him the money.
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Postby space_raptor » Sat Apr 07, 2007 11:10 pm UTC

Belial wrote:
Sure it is. I don't think there's a moral obligation to give to charity, if you earned your huge sums of money. It would be very good of you to help those less fortunate, but it's not immoral not to. You don't need to feel guilty for something that's not your fault.


Yeah, I know the other day, when I was walking past a man bleeding to death on the sidewalk, I thought to myself "Wait...shouldn't I try to help? Or call someone? Or *do* something?"

And then I was like "Wait, I don't really have an *obligation*. I mean, it's not my fault he's bleeding to death. I can just leave him."

So I watched him bleed for a bit. Got some popcorn. Took the time to file the edges off my nails. Felt pretty great about myself. Then he died, and it got boring, so I went about my day.


Heh. Bleeding dude. Mr. Drama, over here.

So, let's say that after my bills and food and rent, I have 10% of my income left over each month. I should feel guilty for not giving that to the homeless, right? Instead of, say, saving it for my retirement/kid's college fund? Or even spending it on my speedboat c/w poledancers? After all, it's money that I earned.

I should move into low income housing, eat ramen every day, and only drink water because I am EVIL for using the money I earned when other people don't have enough. Nah. I'm still happy spending what I earned on what I think I should spend it on.

If I won the lottery, I would sing a different tune. "Earned" is the important word here. People don't have an obligation to give money they earned to charity. I would, and I do, but not because I feel bad about having it. I just want to help. I think most people do want to help. That said, it's not inherently wrong to have something and not share it.
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Postby Shadowfish » Sat Apr 07, 2007 11:30 pm UTC

Sorry for the terrible pun.

To clarify, my question is, which of these is true:

1) Alice deserves the money because she worked for it, and it will eventually use it to accomplish great things.

2)Alice deserves the money because she has no obligation to her fellow human beings. This is equivalent to saying that Dick deserves to keep his money.

3)Both Alice and Dick have an obligation to give Charlie the money.

4)Something else.


I really can't imagine how you could defend 2.

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Postby space_raptor » Sun Apr 08, 2007 12:33 am UTC

I like #1.

I would say that humans certainly have a moral obligation to others, up to a point. I wouldn't say it extends to income sharing, though.
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Postby Fluff » Sun Apr 08, 2007 12:48 am UTC

Shadowfish wrote:
2)Alice deserves the money because she has no obligation to her fellow human beings. This is equivalent to saying that Dick deserves to keep his money.

3)Both Alice and Dick have an obligation to give Charlie the money.

4)Something else.


I really can't imagine how you could defend 2.


Of course they deserve to keep their money. Both of them! First of all, what has Charlie ever done for either of them? Why should he deserve their money? Charlie can do one, as far as I'm concerned!

Also, who's to say that Dick's dad didn't work his arse off in order to provide a sheltered, rich life for his son? It's nobody else's business. The fact is, someone worked for that money, or earnt it, or was given it, and it's just been handed down the family tree. The only people who complain about it are the ones who are jealous of such a posh life. Sorry Charlie - Too bad. Life is not fair, and it never will be.

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Postby Belial » Sun Apr 08, 2007 5:12 pm UTC

But, why is your opinion unimportant?


Because I haven't precisely formed one yet.

Mostly, I'm trying to figure out the difference between leaving someone bleeding to death on the sidewalk (which I can tell is wrong) and leaving them to starve or otherwise die from lack of money, which I am less sure of.
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Postby Vaniver » Sun Apr 08, 2007 5:36 pm UTC

I really can't imagine how you could defend 2.
Property rights.

Man, that was too easy.

Mostly, I'm trying to figure out the difference between leaving someone bleeding to death on the sidewalk (which I can tell is wrong) and leaving them to starve or otherwise die from lack of money, which I am less sure of.
The only significant factor here is guilt. Whether or not you see pictures of starving children does not influence whether or not they actually starve; it does influence your knowledge of the situation, and thus, your guilt. It's different to say "oh, I didn't know it was happening, and that's why I didn't help" and "Yeah, I know that hundreds of thousands die each year. Why do you think I should do something about it?", but the opinion of the person does not change their fundamental obligation to others.

Now, you can argue that differing standards of guilt are indicative of differing ethical standards ("yeah, I mugged that old lady. So what?"). But, just because our ethical standards differ doesn't make one of them wrong.
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Postby Shadowfish » Sun Apr 08, 2007 7:54 pm UTC

Come on, people. We need to think about how morality in general should be formed, and after that, all these questions will be a lot easier to answer. Here's a theory. It's probably got some holes but its a start.

Axiom A: There exist some set of rules such that if everyone followed them, the general quality of life of everyone on earth would be as good as possible, with every individual's importance weighted equally.

Axiom B: It is an person's moral obligation to follow the closest approximation of these rules that they can come up with.

Property rights.

Man, that was too easy.


I basically asked how you justify property rights, and you said "property rights".


Here's the standard argument for property rights: Consider Alice. Assume whatever work she was doing was honest and productive. Because of this, people benefited from Alice's drive to accumulate wealth. Say there was no guarantee that if a person was able to accumulate wealth, that they would be allowed to keep it. Then, Alice would not have any motivation to work, and other people would suffer. Therefore, Alice should have a guarantee that she will never have to give up her money.

Notice how this argument does not work for Dick. You might say that there is not a practical and fair way to distinguish between Alice and Dick, and so the same rules should apply to both of them.

So, here we have a good argument the the law should protect property rights. We have failed to create an argument that Dick does not have an moral obligation to voluntarily give up his rights to help Charlie. Alice may not have this obligation, as she is going to do good things with her money.

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Postby Vaniver » Sun Apr 08, 2007 9:09 pm UTC

Axiom A: There exist some set of rules such that if everyone followed them, the general quality of life of everyone on earth would be as good as possible, with every individual's importance weighted equally.
I don't agree with this axiom. Why should I weight the quality of life of my neighbor as much as my own? I'm not the one who experiences his life. If I weighted them equally, I would consider it just as good to give my neighbor an ice cream cone as to eat it myself- regardless of who paid for it. It would just be a question of hunger and preference.

In my real life, I'm the one that eats or doesn't eat the cone, and, unsurprisingly, I matter to me.

I basically asked how you justify property rights, and you said "property rights".
I didn't realize you were attacking the moral basis of property rights. The easiest response is to take as given the right of life, liberty, and property; and then, hey look, we assumed what we wanted to prove. That was useful.

Here's the standard argument for property rights
Using your axioms. I would argue that property rights is an axiom of its own; but I tend to favor individualism, especially when it comes to economics. Free to Choose is one of the books that formed my opinion on the matter, and so I would suggest it to you if you have not read it.

The problem we have with moral discussions like this is that which axioms people pick is arbitrary. Unsurprisingly, people tend to pick the axioms that benefit them most- the person who gains from weighting everyone equally generally wants to do so, and the person who loses from weighting everyone equally generally does not want to do so. What we must do then is look at the results of picking various axioms, and sort them using our arbitrary preferences... and so forth.

We have failed to create an argument that Dick does not have an moral obligation to voluntarily give up his rights to help Charlie.
I feel we still have not created an argument that Dick has a moral obligation to voluntarily give up his rights to help Charlie.
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Postby cmacis » Sun Apr 08, 2007 9:17 pm UTC

I've always felt that a lot of debates were hindered by the two sides not agreeing on the axioms used. Here we have gotten to the axioms pretty quickly, and look set for agreeing to disagree or a stalemate. We are psychologically programmed to defend our axioms at all costs, even sacrificing logic and reason.
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Postby Shadowfish » Mon Apr 09, 2007 12:16 am UTC

I did not choose these axioms because to favor my point. I chose them because they are concise, and by their definition, they try to make everyone happy. Also, they are consistent with all reasonable moral opinions I've seen, and at the same time easily prohibit a lot of obliviously immoral things, like murder, rape, theft, dishonesty, and racism.

These axioms* can also favor points that I do not agree with. In fact, I am having trouble coming up with a solid argument for Dick having a moral obligation to Charlie. I am much more attached to these axioms than to my opinion of property rights.

I don't agree with this axiom. Why should I weight the quality of life of my neighbor as much as my own? I'm not the one who experiences his life. If I weighted them equally, I would consider it just as good to give my neighbor an ice cream cone as to eat it myself- regardless of who paid for it. It would just be a question of hunger and preference.


The axiom does not say that you have to weight the quality of life of your neighbor as highly as your own. The rules you follow do. It may be that the best way to insure that everyone has a good quality of life is to have everybody only look out for their own interests only. If this was the case, then it would be morally right to not give a damn about whether your neighbor lives or dies.

In real life, the correct way to insure that everyone has the best quality of life is probably neither that everyone spend all their time trying to help their neighbor, nor that everyone only look out for themselves.

I have not read Free to Choose. However, it sounds to me that his arguments basically implied axiom A.

customer review wrote:Milton Friedman was an economics professor at the University of Chicago who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his development of monetary economics. This book briefly explains how an economy works. Yet "Free to Choose" is something more. It's a personal statement that we should embrace free markets and freedom for all of us as individuals to make our own decisions. When we freely choose, the economy is more fair because individuals make their own choices with their own benefits and consequences. The economy is more prosperous and more efficient because the economy competed for customers and the best win out. A controlled economy is a huge mistake. The proper role of government should be that of a referee to ensure fair play - not run the game itself. Friedman's ideas moved the global economy ahead to more efficiency and prosperity, yet his ideas were based on the old ideas of liberty and free markets.


Fair, efficient, prosperous, all sound to me like "better approximation of everyone having a good quality of life."

*They are really just utilitarianism.

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Postby Vaniver » Mon Apr 09, 2007 1:40 am UTC

In real life, the correct way to insure that everyone has the best quality of life is probably neither that everyone spend all their time trying to help their neighbor, nor that everyone only look out for themselves.
Agreed. But, I find that given the subjectivity of one's duty to one's neighbor, I think that the best guideline is to prohibit some things and leave it up to the judgment of the individuals as to what they should actually do, instead of obligating them to do certain things.

Fair, efficient, prosperous, all sound to me like "better approximation of everyone having a good quality of life."
It's close to Axiom A, just like it's close to utilitarianism. But there are enough differences that I would feel uneasy equating them.
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Postby Yakk » Mon Apr 09, 2007 3:13 am UTC

The idea that "design a social system without knowing which part of the social system you will exist in".

edii:: ... is an incomplete sentence.

Try again:

The idea that "design a social system without knowing which part of the social system you will exist in" is a decent way to determine if a system is socially just, is a pretty common one.

Then again, there are the people who look at a society and say "given my place in society, is there any way to change this society so that I'm even better off?" as being the only way to look at the level of justice in a society. These people are often called "evil".

(Note that trying to optimize your own place in society is a good thing: but ignoring the well being of all other beings in the society when making value judgements about the society as a whole isn't.)

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Postby Shadowfish » Mon Apr 09, 2007 7:27 pm UTC

Agreed. But, I find that given the subjectivity of one's duty to one's neighbor, I think that the best guideline is to prohibit some things and leave it up to the judgment of the individuals as to what they should actually do, instead of obligating them to do certain things.

I agree that we should not force an individual to give up their property, for this reason. Still, I think there is a difference between "No one has the right to take my money" and "I have the right to own five Porches while my neighbor starves".

It's close to Axiom A, just like it's close to utilitarianism. But there are enough differences that I would feel uneasy equating them.

I don't think utilitarianism is some kind of absolute truth. Instead, it is a handy principle, and it turns out that most reasonable* opinions are compatible with it.

I does not matter if Friedman does not frame his arguments in a utilitarian way. What is determines their validity is not how he says them, but if people would be better off if everyone followed them.

The idea that "design a social system without knowing which part of the social system you will exist in" is a decent way to determine if a system is socially just, is a pretty common one.

I generally like this view.

*here, reasonable means "I agree with it"

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Postby Vaniver » Mon Apr 09, 2007 7:53 pm UTC

Still, I think there is a difference between "No one has the right to take my money" and "I have the right to own five Porches while my neighbor starves".
The first one guarantees the second one. The second one can be seen as a misuse of that right; but it cannot be seen as a misuse of that right in the context of that right. You're stingy, sure, but you're not legally wrong.

What is determines their validity is not how he says them, but if people would be better off if everyone followed them.
To the utilitarian; while Friedman uses the arguments of superior growth and prosperity to counter the arguments of his opponents (primarily that communism and socialism will lead to better growth and shared prosperity), I don't think that's the sole reason he or I prefer freedom. One can make a (probably weaker) argument for it on solely philosophical grounds, and so I am reluctant to argue just the empirical benefits.
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Postby Yakk » Mon Apr 09, 2007 8:44 pm UTC

So, to inject a personal bit into this:

I think that log-sum average welfare is a decent way to combine individual welfare functions.

It reflects the position that becoming 10% better off makes you just as happy when you are poor as when you are rich, but 10$ to a poor person makes more difference than 10$ to a rich person.

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Postby Shadowfish » Mon Apr 09, 2007 9:39 pm UTC

The first one guarantees the second one. The second one can be seen as a misuse of that right; but it cannot be seen as a misuse of that right in the context of that right. You're stingy, sure, but you're not legally wrong.

The first one does not imply the second one. The first has to do with the law, the second with morality.

There is a difference between how law should be structured and how morality should be structured. The law can only enforce a very rough approximation of morality before it becomes intrusive or cumbersome. This means that individuals have a certain obligation figure out how to act morally on their own. This is not a legal obligation, nor one imposed by one's peers.

Now, you might say that an obligation with no one to enforce it is made up. You would be right. But it is also made up that people have an inalienable right to do what they please with their money. In fact, any idea of morality has no basis in reality. Instead, it is some silly thing we make up, to help people live together, and social living is a reality.

edit:

So, to inject a personal bit into this:

I think that log-sum average welfare is a decent way to combine individual welfare functions.

It reflects the position that becoming 10% better off makes you just as happy when you are poor as when you are rich, but 10$ to a poor person makes more difference than 10$ to a rich person.

I'm not quite sure I get what you are saying. Could you elaborate?

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Postby Vaniver » Mon Apr 09, 2007 10:01 pm UTC

The first one does not imply the second one. The first has to do with the law, the second with morality.
It seems silly to me to compare the two in this fashion; the old apples and oranges bit. Perhaps it will suffice to say that laws without hearts are just, and men without hearts are cruel? (while I disagree with some of the implications, it sounds considerably better in a short form)

I'm not quite sure I get what you are saying. Could you elaborate?
We should evaluate benefits or costs to people based on its ratio to their income/wealth; a payout of $1,000 on someone who has $1,000,000 in their bank account is equivalent to a payout of $1 on someone who has $1,000 in their bank account. Likewise, a tax of $20,000 a year on someone who earns $100,000 a year is equivalent to a tax of $20 a year on someone who earns $100 a year.

It has its flaws, but they are generally less than something that considers, say, a payout of 1k to both the man with 1M and 1k to be equal, or the tax of 20k on the person who who earns 100k and .1k to be equal.
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Postby Owijad » Mon Apr 09, 2007 10:54 pm UTC

Doesn't most of this belong in

http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?t=2933
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Postby Vaniver » Tue Apr 10, 2007 2:36 am UTC

Possibly. I had no idea that thread existed.
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Postby Yakk » Tue Apr 10, 2007 1:51 pm UTC

/shrug, we need a metric to determine if the future of mankind proposed is a good or bad one. :)

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Postby Shadowfish » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:18 pm UTC

This is a pretty open-ended topic, but I think we are about done with the wealth distribution problem*.

Re-rail:
I know it's fun to talk about the incredible possibilities of the distant future, like upgraded people and interstellar travel, but I'm a lot more worried about what will happen in the next fifty years or so.

So, anyone have an idea of how we will/should deal with global warming? What about AIDS? Or energy?

*Unless someone brings up a new view, I'm pretty bored of it by now.

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Postby Belial » Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:23 pm UTC

Well, the aids answer is pretty mundane: Either we'll develop a vaccine, or we'll have to focus on containing the spread of the disease. Unless there's some other option for dealing with virii that I'm not aware of?
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Postby LE4dGOLEM » Tue Apr 10, 2007 4:30 pm UTC

Belial wrote:Well, the aids answer is pretty mundane: Either we'll develop a vaccine, or we'll have to focus on containing the spread of the disease. Unless there's some other option for dealing with virii that I'm not aware of?


Kill the infected. But that's not likely.
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Postby Yakk » Tue Apr 10, 2007 4:31 pm UTC

Belial wrote:Well, the aids answer is pretty mundane: Either we'll develop a vaccine, or we'll have to focus on containing the spread of the disease. Unless there's some other option for dealing with virii that I'm not aware of?


Adaptation. Virii that kill their hosts tend to die out. Most Virii, over time, become better at infecting the host and worse at killing the host.

As an example, the SIDS source virus for AIDS doesn't cause nearly as much harm to the host critters as HIV does to us.

Humanity could also adapt to it: the drug regimine will allow AIDS infected children to grow up and have children of their own. Those that AIDS causes less harm to will probably do better. Repeat for a few generations and throw in some people who are bad at taking their drugs, and you end up with breeding AIDS-resistent people.

There is evidence that AIDS-immunity exists: the prostitutes who work in an insanely high AIDS infected community who don't have HIV.

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Postby toysbfun » Mon Apr 23, 2007 2:59 am UTC

Do you want the dream?

ITER succeeds and we learn how to harness a sustainable nuclear fusion reaction. Thermal depolymerization gives us all the oil we want and makes for an easy transition. We are now only limited by our imaginations and engineering abilities. Prosperity comes to every tribe and nation. A united Earth becomes a Kardashev type-I civilization. Millennia pass and humanity evolves into posthumanity, spreading out across the stars. Their thoughts are incomprehensible to us, but their society is one of fairness and justice.

...or do you want the despair?

The Fermi paradox asks why we cannot detect any signs of intelligent life. The answer is that no species in our sector has advanced to a detectable level, having all succumbed to the last variable of the Drake equation. We are no different from them. Any number of horrible scenarios befall us, crippling out civilization. Humanity reverts to an agrarian or nomadic state. Industry will never return to Earth; the readily available fossil fuels and metal ore have already been used. Homo sapiens becomes extinct in the next 2x10^5 to 8x10^6 years.


Personally, as a religious being, I believe that if the Beast of Revelations is going to make himself manifest, it'll be in the twenty-third century. If he doesn't appear by then, humanity gets either the first scenario or like the Martians in C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet", depending on our species' progress. Just my personal apocalyptic speculations...nothing I'd bother trying to convince anyone of.


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