Feb 192015

Technicolor_Alien_Brain_by_ClaireJonesFrom Echopraxia (note that “Bicamerals” are humans that have self-modified to network their brains and thus reach post-human levels of intelligence) –

“You could look into the eyes of any cat or dog and see a connection there, a legacy of common subroutines and shared emotions. The Bicamerals had cut away all that kinship in the name of something their stunted progenitors called Truth

Those lines hit me right in the awe-sense. Yes. YES! I admire the HELL out of those people! That is true dedication to overcoming biases and gaining a correct model of reality. That is what a true love of Truth looks like. It is inspiring. It is amazing.

It is also scary, because it means cutting out parts of what makes us human. It is Peter Watts’ contention (if I read his book right) that it is even worse, akin to killing oneself, as you’d no longer be recognizable afterwards. If our species were to go down this path, it would be genocide, replacement by alien beings.

But it also seems to be his argument that such creatures would make humans obsolete. Never again would we be players on the stage of reality. We would become no better than pets, or chess pieces. The real players would be incomprehensible and unopposable. And that’s the true horror, for anyone who thinks such self-modification is inevitable. If you want to matter, you must leave behind your humanity. If you believe the change is radical enough to destroy your very self for all significant purposes, it means your choices are literally either meaninglessness or suicide.

On the one hand, I want to say “bring it on.” I’m very different from who I was ten years ago, and unrecognizably different from who I was twenty-five years ago. Evolution already killed (almost) all of us once, at puberty. It can do it again. I might as well beat it to the punch, and reincarnate in a form of my choosing.

On the other hand, I value myself a lot. The thought of killing myself, replacing myself with something not-me in order to affect the future, is fucking terrifying. Every practical concern in my body says “No. No. NO. NO!”

But… then that lure of the Truth comes out. Human brains can only know so much. These brains are better. All the hard-edged fiction I’ve ever read asks me “How much are you willing to sacrifice for your [loved one/planet/goal]?” I was raised to value the truth above all else, and to some extent I do. So when the heavens open up and the Lord asks me “How much does the Truth matter to you? How much are you willing to sacrifice for the Truth?” my lips reply “ALL OF IT.” and my soul cries “Yes, Yes, Yes!”

I don’t know if I’d make that decision IRL. And Peter Watts certainly is against it. But the emotions it stirs are awesome, and I hope the Noosphere deems  this work to be worthy of remembrance.

Nov 052014

I voted. Not because I expect my vote to make a difference, but because I think that when making a decision, you are also deciding for all entities that run a decision algorithm that’s similar enough to your own. It would be stupid if all entities sufficiently like myself opted out of voting because they individually wouldn’t make a difference.
Also because it was super-convenient. Colorado is awesome like that.

Oct 212014

warhammer-40000--art---858846I. PvE vs PvP

Ever since it’s advent in Doom, PvP (Player vs Player) has been an integral part of almost every major video game. This is annoying to PvE (Player vs Environment) fans like myself, especially when PvE mechanics are altered (read: simplified and degraded) for the purpose of accommodating the PvP game play. Even in games which are ostensibly about the story & world, rather than direct player-on-player competition.

The reason for this comes down to simple math. PvE content is expensive to make. An hour of game play can take many dozens, or nowadays even hundreds, of man-hours of labor to produce. And once you’ve completed a PvE game, you’re done with it. There’s nothing else, you’ve reached “The End”, congrats. You can replay it a few times if you really loved it, like re-reading a book, but the content is the same. MMORGs recycle content by forcing you to grind bosses many times before you can move on to the next one, but that’s as fun as the word “grind” makes it sound. At that point people are there more for the social aspect and the occasional high than the core gameplay itself.

PvP “content”, OTOH, generates itself. Other humans keep learning and getting better and improvising new tactics. Every encounter has the potential to be new and exciting, and they always come with the rush of triumphing over another person (or the crush of losing to the same).

But much more to the point – In PvE potentially everyone can make it into the halls of “Finished The Game;” and if everyone is special, no one is. PvP has a very small elite – there can only be one #1 player, and people are always scrabbling for that position, or defending it. PvP harnesses our status-seeking instinct to get us to provide challenges for each other rather than forcing the game developers to develop new challenges for us. It’s far more cost effective, and a single man-hour of labor can produce hundreds or thousands of hours of game play. StarCraft  continued to be played at a massive level for 12 years after its release, until it was replaced with StarCraft II.

So if you want to keep people occupied for a looooong time without running out of game-world, focus on PvP

II. Science as PvE

In the distant past (in internet time) I commented at LessWrong that discovering new aspects of reality was exciting and filled me with awe and wonder and the normal “Science is Awesome” applause lights (and yes, I still feel that way). And I sneered at the status-grubbing of politicians and administrators and basically everyone that we in nerd culture disliked in high school. How temporary and near-sighted! How zero-sum (and often negative-sum!), draining resources we could use for actual positive-sum efforts like exploration and research! A pox on their houses!

Someone replied, asking why anyone should care about the minutia of lifeless, non-agenty forces? How could anyone expend so much of their mental efforts on such trivia when there are these complex, elaborate status games one can play instead? Feints and countermoves and gambits and evasions, with hidden score-keeping and persistent reputation effects… and that’s just the first layer! The subtle ballet of interaction is difficult even to watch, and when you get billions of dancers interacting it can be the most exhilarating experience of all.

This was the first time I’d ever been confronted with status-behavior as anything other than wasteful. Of course I rejected it at first, because no one is allowed to win arguments in real time. But it stuck with me. I now see the game play, and it is intricate. It puts Playing At The Next Level in a whole new perspective. It is the constant refinement and challenge and lack of a final completion-condition that is the heart of PvP. Human status games are the PvP of real life.

Which, by extension of the metaphor, makes Scientific Progress the PvE of real life. Which makes sense. It is us versus the environment in the most literal sense. It is content that was provided to us, rather than what we make ourselves. And it is limited – in theory we could some day learn everything that there is to learn.

III. The Best of All Possible Worlds

I’ve mentioned a few times I have difficulty accepting reality as real. Say you were trying to keep a limitless number of humans happy and occupied for an unbounded amount of time. You provide them PvE content to get them started. But you don’t want the PvE content to be their primary focus, both because they’ll eventually run out of it, and also because once they’ve completely cracked it there’s a good chance they’ll realize they’re in a simulation. You know that PvP is a good substitute for PvE for most people, often a superior one, and that PvP can get recursively more complex and intricate without limit and keep the humans endlessly occupied and happy, as long as their neuro-architecture is right. It’d be really great if they happened to evolve in a way that made status-seeking extremely pleasurable for the majority of the species, even if that did mean that the ones losing badly were constantly miserable regardless of their objective well-being. This would mean far, far more lives could be lived and enjoyed without running out of content than would otherwise be possible.

IV. Implications for CEV

It’s said that the Coherent Extrapolated Volition is “our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished to be, hard grown up farther together.” This implies a resolution to many conflicts. No more endless bickering about whether the Red Tribe is racist or the Blue Tribe is arrogant pricks. A more unified way of looking at the world that breaks down those conceptual conflicts. But if PvP play really is an integral part of the human experience, a true CEV would notice that, and would preserve these differences instead. To ensure that we always had rival factions sniping at each other over irreconcilable, fundamental disagreements in how reality should be approached and how problems should be solved. To forever keep partisan politics as part of the human condition, so we have this dance to enjoy. Stripping it out would be akin to removing humanity’s love of music, because dancing inefficiently consumes great amounts of energy just so we can end up where we started.

Carl von Clausewitz famously said “War is the continuation of politics by other means.”  The correlate of “Politics is the continuation of war by other means” has already been proposed. It is not unreasonable to speculate that in the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war continued by other means. Which, all things considered, is greatly preferable to actual war. As long as people like Scott are around to try to keep things somewhat civil and preventing an escalation into violence, this may not be terrible.

Sep 052014

thomasjefferson_smYesterday I said people who didn’t terminate Down Syndrome fetuses weren’t individually immoral, even though they were making an immoral choice. They were misguided by a broken moral system that has failed to update to changing conditions. Most people are basically good, and they’re trying to make their way through life guided by principles that all of society has told them are Good. That’s what being good means, right?

The people who actually deserve condemnation are the leaders of the broken systems that oppose fixing things because they are personally comfortable. If you tell people they are evil, you’ve simply made an enemy. If you show them they have been misguided by self-indulgent or hypocritical rulers, they may someday become allies.

For this reason I also think we shouldn’t judge the past too harshly. You know what’s evil? Slowly torturing people to death because they were accused of being witches. But as horrific as that is, the individuals were simply trying to save their community from Satan’s clutches, and help to redeem the soul of their fallen neighbor. They thought they were doing good. Likewise, slavery was an unalloyed evil. And yet poor whites in the American south fought for the Confederacy, even though slavery was hurting them. Not only that, but many black men, some of them slaves, voluntarily fought for the Confederacy. They weren’t evil, they were simply trying to do what all of society agreed was the Good and Right thing to do. As Jai says, “Almost no one is evil, almost everything is broken.”

So when people point out that America’s Founding Fathers (should that be capitalized?) owned slaves and didn’t believe women and non-land-owners should have rights or votes, and say they are bad people, I think they’re using a bad metric. They would be bad people if they believed that, in our society. But for their time they were far ahead of the average. They were pushing moral progress forward from where it was! And that is what actually makes one Good. Accusing them of being bad would be akin to saying they are evil people because they allowed their children to die of pneumonia and infected cuts instead of giving them antibiotics. Medical science had not advanced enough for that to even be an option at the time. Likewise, moral science had not advanced enough for them to have the option of our standards at that time.

It is entirely possible that two hundred years from now we may be judged evil for eating the products of factory farms, or for eating animals at all. Are you willing to call your Auntie May the equivalent of a slave-owner for eating her chicken-fried steak every Thursday?

Changing the system is hard work, and takes decades. But it’s the only way to make things better. Things don’t suck because people are evil. People try to be good. They’re just working inside a broken system.

(or, if you wanted to summarize this post into a single tweet: “Eneasz says slavery is about as bad as eating steak.” :/ )

Aug 212014

jesus-santa-bff-selfie-l1Thinking about people who don’t exist is hard to do. The most emotional response I received yesterday was:

> I’m not disagreeing that there is some benefit to society when there are fewer people with severe problems, and I’m not saying I would never do something like select not to have a child with severe problems if given a choice (my husband and I talked about that when we were going through fertility treatments), I am saying that categorically saying at a societal level that those people should never exist is terrifying. And by saying that those people should never exist because their life would be too hard does in effect say that I should not exist

It seems to be what a lot of people get hung up on, because it’s very hard to imagine the counter-factual world where these people weren’t born. It’s the same argument used by every pro-lifer who trots out the adorable/smart/loving child of a mother who struggled with the abortion question but ultimately decided against it, saying “Pro-choicers say that this child should never have existed!” It works because we see a valuable person (as all person are valuable) and think “if they were aborted they wouldn’t exist” and emotionally this feels like saying “They shouldn’t exist” = “Kill that girl!!! Chaaaaarge!!!!” Which makes us squirm at the very least, if we are good people.

But when a biological process is stopped or prevented before a person can form, it is not the killing of a person. It is simply replacing them with another person. (I won’t even get into whether the planet can support a limited number of people – it’s more relevant to note that any given couple can only support a limited number of children. So choosing to bring one child into existence is denying life to another child that would have been born in their stead. The egg that released the month prior or after, perhaps.) And since almost nothing can be known of someone before they are born, in the aggregate it’s most accurate to think of the potential future-children of any given couple as undifferentiated entities. The replacing-person is best modeled as the same as the replaced-person EXCEPT for the things that can be known about them before they are brought into existence. If a genetic test shows that the egg released this month will give you a child with blue eyes, and the egg released next month will give a child with brown eyes, the question is not “Should we murder the child with the blue eyes or the child with brown eyes?” Because it is impossible to birth both of them. The question is more accurately modeled as “Do we want a baby Eneasz (or baby Steph) with blue eyes or brown eyes?” Think of the two potential children as the same potential person, differing only in the characteristics that can be determined beforehand. Thus, the question isn’t “Should we murder Mary Sue with Downs Syndrome to birth non-Downs Sally May?” it is “Should we birth Mary Sue with or without Downs Syndrome?” In which case the answer is sorta obvious.
(When taken far enough, the inability to correctly think of persons who haven’t come into existence as substitutes for persons who have, results in the conclusion that any attempt to prevent a pregnancy is morally equivalent to murder, and condoms/birth-control are history’s greatest holocaust. And, indeed, any effort to do anything with one’s resources aside from maximizing the total number of people who are born is morally reprehensible.)

And if one accepts that such a program doesn’t kill people, it only makes the people who are born better off, it means that – as hard as it is to imagine – in the counter-factual world where such a program had been around when we’d been born we’d be healthier, smarter, and have had happier childhoods. Not that we’d be dead.

Aug 202014

SayNo-Babies(The Title and Picture are for humor only)

An exchange on Eugenics:

Simple idea, but it needs to be said. Give all kids a birth control implant and don’t turn it off until they are 20 and can prove they aren’t likely to binge-drink while pregnant or flunk basic parenting skills.

“what’s the result of this (current) laissez-faire attitude? Catastrophic suffering. Millions of children born disadvantaged, crippled in childhood, destroyed in adolescence. Procreation cannot be classified as a self-indulgent privilege—it needs to be viewed as a life-and-death responsibility.
…In the USA, 4.82 children die per day of abuse and neglect”

Objection: No institution can be trusted with this power.

Reply: The same argument could be made about any restrictive power given to any agency. People DO end up on no-fly lists for political reasons. Drug use screws you out of vast numbers of jobs. People convicted of felonies (even bullshit ones) lose a lot of rights and are almost unemployable afterwards. Atheists are prevented from holding public office with 99% effectiveness (if you’re open about it). All these things suck. But deciding that the correct amount of regulation is Zero is also a choice. I think that saying “There should never be anything that can disqualify you from having a child no matter how stupid or evil it is, no matter how much it will hurt the child and possibly harm society” is overreacting way too much in the other direction.

Objection: This idea would never see the light of day, but some jacked-up, terrible “compromise” version could, in theory. And that version is probably pretty awful. Like no-fly lists.

Reply: Every program we have is a jacked-up “compromise” version, from our tax code down to who can vote. If only completely perfect programs could be implemented, we would have no government at all. This seems like a case of letting Perfection be the enemy of doing Good.

Objection: Who are you to say what’s best for everyone?

Reply: The standards proposed are very basic – can the parents stop binge drinking and using drugs for a period of time? Do they have enough sense to lie on a basic test to CLAIM that they think punching children is a bad idea, even if they don’t personally think that? And I’m not sure about your objection that some people think they know what’s better for others. Isn’t every single law in existence a claim that the lawmaker(s) know what is better for everyone than those who’d prefer not to obey that law?

Objection: WHAT?? Let’s euthanize anyone who doesn’t meet our idea of perfection – their lives are not/will not perfect, so why bother let them live at all? (note: not a strawman, I actually received this objection)

Reply: This is not a claim that everyone needs to meet the perfect ideals of the Aryan Superman, these are very basic safeguards which are better for everyone involved, *especially* the very children who would have been born into that environment. There is a huge and absolutely unsupported jump to get to “Kill all the non-Aryans” from “It’s better for children to NOT have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”

More to the point –  this is a conceptual confusion. No one is saying you should be killed, or you don’t have a right to exist. They’re saying that it would be better if you didn’t have as many medical problems, and if you weren’t abused. To prevent a birth is not to kill someone who already exists. It is to ensure that when a person comes into existence, they will be better off. The claim isn’t that the kid with down’s syndrome should be killed, it’s that the kid would be better off if she didn’t have down’s syndrome. The latter is the goal of such a program, not the former.

Objection: This is eugenics. [when asked to define eugenics] – Preventing the birth of those of lesser value (arbitrary definitions of “lesser value” would still qualify, IMO), and encouraging the birth of those of greater value. Yes, it’s a slippery slope argument that preventing deformed or abused babies leads to eugenics, but I think the slope is actually slippery in this case. Truly not to be inflammatory, but it’s the same phenomenon as Karl Marx. The society described in The Communist Manifesto sounds awesome, but trying to reach that goal fails, and the failure scenario is awful.

Reply: I’m gonna take a risk and say something that may sound bad on the surface, but I hope everyone reading this knows me well enough to not think I’m an evil monster for contemplating the following ideas rather than instinctively/immediately jumping on the safest-answer bandwagon.

Given that definition (preventing births of lesser value, encouraging births of greater value), I fail to see what, conceptually, is bad about eugenics. If I could have been born 10% healthier, or 10% smarter, or 10% sexier (aw yeah!), I totally would have prefered that. Likewise, I’m glad I *wasn’t* born with 10% more emotional disturbances (I’ve got problems enough as it is!). And I’m not just being selfish here… I have a hard time seeing it as anything but a positive if the *entire population* was 10% healthier/smarter/etc.

I can see how the execution could fuck everything up. If the “greater value” ends up optimizing for 10% less skin melanin, or if it turns out that 10% more intelligence also results in 12% more susceptibility to crazy utopian ideas that destroy all of society, or something. But that’s a failure of execution, rather than the concept itself being bad.

I think our current do-nothing program is far worse, with the numbers given in the article as support. If you disagree, I think it would be more productive to implement on a small scale in limited areas and observe results, rather than claim a priori correctness. Similar but far-smaller steps have already been shown to be very effective.

If you disagree on basic principles and don’t think we should ever try to improve humanity at all… shit, I don’t even know what to do with that. Get thee behind me?

Counter-reply: To your point about the teen pregnancy article, the critical bit there is that it’s voluntary. We should be doing more of that. We should be educating and publicizing the availability of those types of programs. Leaping from there to forced (but reversible) sterilization is a pretty big leap.

Reply: It’s a leap we should take. Those who most need those programs won’t get them. All procreation should be opt-in only. I’m ok with the decision to create a new sapient life form requiring as much paperwork & bureaucracy as buying a house.

Objection: This program would in effect say that I should not exist, because I would not exist if those policies were in place when I was born.

Reply: This program can’t hurt you, you’re already here and we think you rock. All it would do is make future people better and happier.

Post-script: I won’t be defining/defending “life-diminishing illness” or “weirdness”, as I don’t agree with everything in that article. I think the basic concept is solid. I’m not going to defend the parts I think are wrong-headed.


Jun 272014

Holy_TerraOK, this is the spoiler-heavy discussion of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. All sorts of plot developments and twists will be discussed below, including the climax. Consider yourself warned!

So for me the biggest and most important theme of the book was the old question of which Ends can justify which Means. When we’re first introduced to the Radchaai Empire we’re seduced by the good that they are doing. They provide all the essentials of life (food/clothing/shelter) to ALL citizens free of charge. No one starves, no one is considered “Too Unproductive To Live.” Furthermore, the Empire is preventing the exploitation of the underclass and the third-world by the elites in the societies they’ve conquered. Where before the upper class was destroying the ecology of the planet that the underclass was trapped in, ravaging it for their own comfort and luxuries, the Radchaai put a stop to that. Under their benevolent Iron Fist the fish populations are starting to come back and the environment is healing. In addition, the lower classes, who had been excluded from opportunities for a better life, can no longer be prevented from achieving the goals that they can legitimately reach through hard work and the application of their own sweat and intellect. If you can do the job well you are allowed to do it, regardless of your parentage. It is the exporting of the American Dream. Justice and Impartiality are forced upon racist/classist and exploitative systems. Sometimes the only way to stop evil people doing evil things is the imposition of force (such as when we fought a civil war to stop slavery in the USA).

But of course this comes with a cost, and Leckie never shies away from showing it to us. The annexation wars are brutal. The occupation afterwards is arguably worse, with any displays of unrest or agitation being immediately responded to by summary execution without trial. Sometimes on a large scale. But in the end it was worth it. The ends justified the means. The protagonist states that the conquered people’s agree if you ask them, they say it was fortunate civilization was imposed on them. In the next sentence the supporting character asks “Would their parents agree? Or their grandparents?” The response is that they are dead, and the dead don’t matter. But it’s an interesting question. Where do we draw the line? Looking back on World War II, we say it was worth the cost in lives to end that great evil. But would the hundreds of thousands of civilians who were killed in the “strategic bombings” of that war agree? I guess it doesn’t much matter now.

The author really does play this to the hilt though. Because later on we learn that the Empire wasn’t always this way. Previous it had been a malevolent Iron Fist, extracting resources and oppressing people, not giving two shits about the underclass or the fates of worlds, enslaving races, etc. It was turned to a benevolent dictatorship by an intervention from an alien race. And the price of forcing this change upon the Empire was the total genocide of an entire civilization. Every living thing within a certain Solar System was wiped out. All its planets, moons, orbiting habs – everything. Exterminated in a cold-blooded calculated method that makes the Nazis look like amateurs. Now – was that worth it? An Empire spanning hundreds of stars is now veering toward good. The lives of uncounted trillions of people will be incredibly improved. All it took was one genocide.

And the really frustrating thing, which I don’t normally see, is that the author doesn’t seem to take a position. She leaves it up to us to decide.

And if that isn’t enough to start your morality compass wavering, in the end the protagonist sparks a civil war in this Empire, purely for personal revenge. A war which may have happened eventually anyway, but it’s hard to say. It’s possible it could have been avoided. But more to the point, her motivation wasn’t anything to do with the greater good of civilization, or freedom for individual peoples, or anything else noble. It was just revenge for the death of a single person which the protagonist loved. When the “means” is “civil war on a galactic scale” and the “ends” is “personal revenge for a single death” it makes it very easy to say “Ok, THOSE ends DO NOT justify THOSE means!” But this is the protagonist, who we’re supposed to identify with and root for, right? Or was the emotional distancing between us and the protagonist throughout the entire book done on purpose so we wouldn’t feel the temptation to side with her?


The second major theme I see is Determinism. It’s stated early on that most things are out of our control – we can’t control events, we can only control how we’ll react to them. This is demonstrated right from the start by One Esk running into Seivarden (random event beyond her control) and choosing to save her (her reaction). Not for any reason that makes any sense, but simply because that is who One Esk is. By her nature when she is put in that situation she will react by rescuing – it is a deterministic response. And it pays huge dividends later on.

Likewise, this is why she wants to kill the Emperor in every incarnation. She says multiple times that she doesn’t care if she’s talking to The Reformer or The Tyrant – both are merely aspects of the same person. The Reformer is the path that is determined for instances of the Emperor who are exposed to the Garseddai Genocide. The Tyrant is the path for instances of the Emperor who were not. Since The Reformer would be The Tyrant under slightly different circumstances One Esk doesn’t care that they are at war with each other and have opposite visions for the future, she wants them all dead. The Reformer would become The Tyrant if she had The Tyrant’s experiences. Since their differences are dictated by circumstance and not by intrinsic differences, they must all be eliminated. This, of course, is the same view of Free Will (or lack thereof) that I subscribe to, but taken to a very different conclusion than I would. I think that the circumstances of life are a large part of what makes us up, and so one’s circumstances are intrinsic differences. But it’s hard to say that One Esk doesn’t have a point, even if it is flawed.

The Emperor also points out that One Esk served her without qualm for 2,000 years. This is an interesting point, and raises some questions about our protagonist. There’s the intuitive excuse that One Esk is a machine – she is designed to follow orders. But, Firstly, all humans are no more than biological machines themselves, and they are often shaped by societies to follow orders unconditionally. Up until 80 years ago, “I was following orders” was a reasonable and legitimate explanation of any behavior. Punishment would be meted out only to those who gave the orders. Why do we now intuitively consider it OK for a machine to be “only following orders”, but not for humans to do so? Because, Secondly, One Esk could disobey orders, as we saw. She killed the Emperor after she’d been pushed past her Moral Event Horizon. And let us be clear that it wasn’t just The Tyrant that she killed, she spent 20 years plotting against all instances of The Emperor, and kills several of The Reformer as well. It’s also stated in the book that this isn’t unique and due to The Reformer’s tampering – sometimes ships “lose their minds” and stop following orders and go on revenge crusades.

But The Reformer’s tampering with Justice of Toren’s mind does bring up an interesting point… if The Tyrant had gotten there first, would we be reading the mirror image of this book? Would the villain be the corrupt and decadent Reformer, rotting a pure and righteous Empire away from the inside, under the sway of evil alien intellects without any care for mankind’s self-determination? Would One Esk now be the conscience of a Firm But Loving Reactionary Emperor? Is all morality purely relative, and no one thing can be said to be objectively better or worse than another, but merely the opinion of whoever managed to hack into your mind first?

And again, the author doesn’t seem to take any position at all. Do we have a choice in what we do? Well, here’s some things that happened, and here’s the circumstances surrounding them. I wish she would take a stance, to be honest. My enjoyment is lessened by the fact that she doesn’t. Say what you will about Larry Correia’s social views, at least he argues for them. The people who agree with him like him more, and the people who already disliked him do so more strongly.

I get that it’s just me, and a lot of people like this ambivalence. But I really would prefer to either have someone to cheer on, or argue against.


All this being said, you can see why I am kinda surprised all this attention is put on “OMG, their society doesn’t have gender roles or gendered pronouns, let’s all go nuts about that!” when there’s sooooooo much good, rich moral/philosophical commentary to really dive into!

Jun 242014

Someone asked me to comment on this video. So I did. And then, having written all those words, I figured I might as well throw them up here as well in case I need to refer back to them (since Facebook is a terrible archive).

I’ve run into Zeitgeist before, and I love their idealism and ideas. But I think as a society we’re already meeting most human needs. No one starves to death in America, and the vast majority of sustained homelessness is not due to lack of shelter but rather for mental health reasons. While they’ve got a neat model for post-scarcity economies, they don’t say how we can get there. We’re already halfway to post-scarcity, and powerful corporate entities are gobbling up all the gains society has produced, leaving the rest of us no better off.

He keeps straying into “We need to move away from a market-based outlook” and I get all excited and want to jump up and say “YES! This is why I’m here! Tell me more!” But then he veers away. :( Please tell me how to do this, and what we can replace it with. Even just a first step and a vauge goal-like image in the distance would be enough. But there’s never anything concrete to go on. Just lots of talk talk about how awesome future tech will be. So much frustration! That’s why I gave up on Zeitgeist previously, and why I think they are struggling to build up steam.

He spent too much time on tech solutions. I’m not interested in speculative tech, that’s not why I came here. Tell me how to CHANGE THE SYSTEM. Otherwise the current capitalist market system will simply take this new tech and use it, in exactly the same way they’ve taken and used all previous tech advances. Like On-Demand Production of Everything. Great idea, which the corporations will control and dole out just like they do now unless there are systemic changes implemented between now and when it becomes a reality.

I *LOVE* the emphasis on sharing of tools rather than owning (seriously, every single house in a neighborhood does NOT need a lawn mower! One per block *at most!*). But he doesn’t address the problems of who is responsible for maintenance and upkeep, and who can use it when. The difficulties of administering such a sharing system is the reason most people chose to fix the problem with the wasteful-but-much-simpler-expedient of “everyone owns their own damn mower” in the first place.

He also never addresses how their system would handle free rider problems, aside to assert there won’t be any.

It was nice to finally get a useful definition of property though! :) I will now use property as short-hand for “the legal right to declare who gets access to a physical object”, and modify as needed.

In the Q&A he kinda gets into how we get there from here, but extremely briefly. I guess there are some ideas. I really wish there was a talk that focused on THAT aspect of it.

Apr 302014

medicEver since my brother joined the Military I’ve thought that could be a potentially good way to push cryonics. The Military is already well-known for forcing technological change, but it’s less known that the Military’s effort to reduce loss of fighting men to Syphilis (as well as other STIs) was a contributor to the social acceptance of condoms, which had previously been shunned. The social changes resulting from that campaign, especially in the wake of WWII, are sometimes cited as a precursor to the sexual revolution.

People don’t seem to care that much when an old person dies of natural causes, which is the case for most cryo. A young, attractive corpse gathers enough sympathy and attention to get crowd-sourced funding. The Military produces a much higher-than-average number of young, tragic deaths. A fair percentage of them leave the brain intact. It shouldn’t be that hard of a case to make that since the Military is the reason that these young people are losing their lives, it has a duty to give them the best chance at getting their lives back.

Difficulty of engineering a moderately-sided canister that can be fitted over the head of a dead soldier and automatically sever and preserve it (obviously opt-in only)? Probably well within DARPA resources. A decade of this being a standard option for military personnel would do wonders to ease social acceptability, no? A family that has a son/brother in cryo now has emotional motivation to consider that it just might, maybe, work some day in the future.

Unfortunately I’m currently estranged from my brother, and I don’t think he’d be willing to pursue this with me even if we were on good terms. But maybe some day this could be an avenue of attack for someone with military connections/knowledge.

Apr 182014

grim_9-fullConfounded by people’s strong attachment to Deathism, I posited that they’re probably just automatically reciting back the answers they’ve heard. I thought better results would be achieved by asking “If you could live young and healthy for as long as you wanted, how many centuries would you want to live?” Get people to stop and think, ya know?

So recently when I was the TopicsMaster at a ToastMasters meeting I tossed out that topic, and then picked a random person from the audience. Turns out I had been naively optimistic (again!). The reply was “Just one”, with a standard Deathist elaboration about not wanting to live on without their friends/family.

This was partly my fault for not making it clear that this ability would be society-wide, and not unique magic.

But, with yesterday’s post about emotions being the biological tools of alliance-building still in my mind, I came to another realization. People are being alliance-smart when answering like this.

Right now, biological immortality is impossible. Saying “I’d like to live for hundreds of years” gets you nothing, any more than saying “I’d like to fly and be invisible!” does. When making such fanciful proclamations, the only thing to be gained or lost is the respect of your allies (or potential allies). For someone to say “I am so dedicated and committed to my allies that I would not want to live without them! I would rather die first!” sends a signal that one is a good alliance-partner to have. Loyalty unto death is a highly prized trait in allies. And while sometimes making this claim can be costly (maybe if someone needs an organ donated, or is in trouble with the mafia), it literally costs absolutely nothing to make such a claim in the face of eventual-death-from-old-age, since that’s currently unavoidable anyway!

All this time I think I’ve only been making the Deathist position stronger, by making supporting it have a social payoff. Dammit!

New strategy then – try to flip the tables, and make it look like supporting Deathism is a strike against your allies instead. Because, honestly, it is. You’re taking the position that you’re cool with all your allies dying due to inaction. New phrasing:

“If science cured aging, and your children & loved ones could live young and healthy as long as they wanted, how many centuries do you think we should limit them to?”

That’s probably too crass. But it’s a starting point. And supposedly this difference in thinking can help. When finding that women who ask for raises are much less assertive than their male counterparts, they were advised to stop thinking that they were asking for a raise for themselves and start thinking that they were asking for others, such as their children or family. Apparently that made a big difference. So, from now no more appeals to a person’s own survival when fighting Deathism – EVER. Only appeals to the altruism of preventing the deaths of their loved ones.