Re: Things extropians agree on

Date: Thu Jan 25 2001 - 18:10:42 MST

Charlie Stross asks,
> If you disagree with any of these memes, could you wave a hand and
> explain why?

I'm going to be a bit nitpicky here, because these are complex issues
and seldom will a one-liner be completely true.

> 1. Forcing our fellow human beings to live their lives as we see fit
> is unethical. (Persuading them of the error of their ways so that
> they _choose_ to live their lives by our lights is another matter.)
> 2. Initiating violence against someone is wrong; self-defense is right.

These two contradict each other. If someone wants to live their life in
such a way as to commit violence, and we make them stop, we are forcing
them to live their lives as we see fit. We don't just try to persuade
them not to be violent, to help them see the error of their ways. We
make them stop.

Furthermore, it is often difficult to distinguish what constitutes
initiation of violence from what is self-defense. It is common in human
relations to see a gradual escalation of hostility between two sides.
Each side claims that they are responding in self-defense to the violence
initiated by the other. In practice, each is guilty of a degree of
escalation. But no one act in the chain can easily be singled out as
the initiation of violence.

> 3. The scientific method provides a better way of evaluating reality
> than any religious dogma.

True for today's religions, but not necessarily true in the future.
If God (or AI) came into existence and laid down His transcendental laws,
these might be a superior guide to the truth than the laborious task of
scientific investigation.

> 4. Progress (increases in human intelligence, longevity, wealth, and
> happiness) is possible.

Yes; unfortunately reductions in these measures are also possible.

> 5. Central control is usually less efficient than distributed control.

It depends on the situation, the transaction costs, the distribution
of information, etc. We see firms under centralized control competing
with each other in a decentralized market. There is a large body of
economics literature that analyzes when centralized vs decentralized
approaches are more efficient.

> 6. Empowering people to learn, work, and transcend their limits is a good
> thing.

"Empowering" is a somewhat vague and loaded term. It will not usually
be possible to "empower" someone without costs. These costs must be
balanced against the gains. For example, maybe it would be nice if
someone would "empower" me to go back to school for more education.
Fine, but who will support my family then? And will the costs of the
absence of my productive efforts in society be less than the benefits
which my empowerment brings?

I don't really disagree with all these points in the broadest terms.
As rules of thumb, or starting points in an analysis, they are reasonable.
But particulars matter. Slogans are no substitute for dealing with the
complexity of the world.


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