Re: Arguing with a Power Was: Moral Complexity

Peter C. McCluskey (
Sat, 28 Feb 1998 08:04:44 -0800 ( writes:
>On Fri, 20 Feb 1998, Peter C. McCluskey wrote:
>> Abstract ideas aren't very compelling without some personal incentives
>> to back them up. Without knowing what a power can forsee, it is hard to
>> tell whether the incentives you've identified will work.
>Of course. Surely, every little bit helps. I wonder: Do you think the
>injunction "Respect rights" is less abstract than "Respect diversity"?

No. I think the injunction "don't write to a file without permission of
its owner" is less abstract, and most rights that will be important to
uploaded beings can be built out of such injunctions.

>> I don't agree that power/knowledge-assymmetries neccesarily makes shared
>> rights unreliable.
>Do you agree that an historical case can be made for the claim that
>massive power/knowledge assymmetries often *have* permitted or even
>encouraged systems of rights to perform less reliably?

Yes, this is what makes this discussion important. Some systems of rights
magnify this problem, others deter it.

> I think mutual respect for property rights is a kind
>> of right which, once firmly established, essentially all participants have
>> an incentive to defend the system, and adding mechanisms to discriminate
>> between entities that want to use it would detract from the system.
>Isn't the problem that what will constitute "respect for property rights"
>(think of state "takings" or urban squatting, etc) is always open to
>interpretation, and in the face of the kinds of *massive* power/knowledge
>assymmetries we're talking about when we're talking of Power/mehuman
>"relations", it's a safe bet just whose "interpretations" will stick.

No, one point I was trying to make when I referred you to the Agorics
papers is that the ambiguities that cause such disputes can be avoided
if the adjudication method consists of software. The Unix filesystem is
an example of a system of property rights which is not open to differing
interpretations (at least as long as only one person has the password to
each account).
For other ways of seeing the same point, read Nick Szabo's smart contracts
paper or Mark Miller's Extro 3 talk Computer Security as the Future of Law.

>Not to suggest that there aren't obvious differences in play here, but I
>scarcely imagine you feel the diversity of your diet is challenged by a
>refusal of cannibalism?

It seems pretty obvious to me that my diet would be less diverse,
although that wouldn't be much of a challenge.

>> I don't see how valuing diversity implies giving plants a different
>> status than animals.
>Part of valuing diversity is respecting sentience and the forms it takes
>in the world. That animals are sentient and plants are not is a
>difference in status that isn't exactly arbitrary to take note of, surely?

It's not arbitrary, but I don't see how it's relevant to diversity.
I gather you use "diversity" to mean something more than I do. I'm
trying to use the standard definition I got from ecology textbooks
back in the 70's when I studied that kind of thing, which is roughly
"no single species occupies a large fraction of the available space"
(for many meanings of species, including "people with memeset X").
What do you mean by "diversity"?

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