MORALITY: making tradeoffs (was: a topic we will not discuss)

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Mon Sep 17 2001 - 09:20:32 MDT

First, I want to thank Anders and Eliezer for making thoughtful
and considered responses to my previous suggestions. Second,
I want to acknowledge Mark Walker for providing insight from
a philosophical perspective that I would have been unable to

As Mark has suggested my reasoning is based on a very logical
"consequentialist" position. Some of you may have have seen
the Star Trek Voyager episode where the holographic doctor
discovered that his program had been rewritten by the crew
so as to delete his memory of a previous incident. During that
incident an attack occurred in which he had to make a choice
between saving 1 of 2 equally valuable lives. Making an "arbitrary"
choice of saving Harry Kim led to a conflict in his ethical
subroutines that eventually drove him crazy. The only solution
the crew could find at the time was to excise the memories of
the incident.

I fear that I may have pushed some of the list members over the
edge with my suggestions creating an inherent conflict in their
ethical subroutines and for that I apologize.

In medical terms what I may be considering is the process known
as "triage", "originally, the sorting of battle or disaster
casualties for those requiring immediate help, those who can wait,
and those beyond help" [The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary].
One of the questions I am raising is "Are there significant
fractions of humanity that are 'beyond help'?". I hear a lot
of people who seem to be suggesting that nobody is 'beyond help'
but I fear that in reality, that may not be the case.

Mark has also pointed out that Ander's perspective is framed
in "deontological" terms. This sent me off to my big dictionary:
"deontology" n. the science of duty or moral oblication (fr.
Gk deon (deontos), obligation + logos, discourse]. This seems
to me to be correct.

A simple way of looking at what was proposed is, "*When* do the
needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?".
Anders response would seem to be "never", excepting perhaps cases
when one is being personally assaulted.

Now, I realize that I was discussing a not so "few" people.
I also realize that it is not possible to set exact valuations
on the lives involved. However setting values on lives and
their loss *is* something that courts, juries, armed forces
officers and fire and police company commanders are required
to do on a regular basis. For example, assuming 5000 lives
at $50,000/yr over ~30 years gives a number of $7.5 billion
(even without doing a net present value calculation or considering
multiplier effects).

I am probably digging my grave deeper here but I have to ask,
"How many Afgani lives are worth $7.5 billion?". A show I watched
yesterday indicated that Continental is laying of 13,000 employees.
This is going to ripple out to many economies around the world.
A global economic slowdown will "trickle down" to the third
world likely decreasing incomes of the poorest of the poor
resulting in increased deaths from hunger and starvation.
The money that the U.S. will be spending to combat terrorism
will be money that cannot be spent to combat AIDS in Africa
(something that was beginning to become a priority before last week).

The point of all of this is to suggest that the Extropian Principles
may be incomplete or self-conflicting because I cannot look at them
and discover a clear path out of this situation. I find myself
asking myself, "Is it 'rational' to seek to preserve the lives
of people who prefer and propagate 'blind faith' and 'dogma'"
whose clear agenda is to destroy one of the most open societies
on the planet today?"

One of the things that seems likely to happen (if it already hasn't)
is a removal of previous restrictions on the CIA from involving themselves
with people with "dirty" hands. We seem to be returning to previous
"conventional" solutions, that from what I can see were, in large
part, responsible for creating the problem in the first place.
Who will we be training or funding to resolve the "bin Laden" problem
only to find them becoming the "bin Laden" of the next decade?
Because "conventional thinking" seems unlikely to resolve the
situation, I do not feel discussing "unconventional" solutions
is something that should be suppressed.


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