Re: evolved viruses

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 12:02:27 -0500

Pat Fallon wrote:
> >I think it was Eliezer S. Yudkowsky who wrote
> >To solve the crack ghettos I need to ... use force-evolved viruses to
> >target cocaine supplies.
> And I suppose you would have been in favor of engineering a blight during
> alcohol prohibition in order to "solve" the problems caused by bathtub gin,
> had it been technologically feasible?
> I don't want you, or the nanny state, "protecting" me from "evil" drugs.

I had this discussion the last time I proposed using biotech. As I said then:


I've been convinced that drugs are evil. I wouldn't continue the current police-based War on Drugs, not because the means are unjustified, or because of my Libertarian principles, but because it doesn't work. It's not my way in any case - if I go after drugs it will be with bioengineered viruses, not guns and policemen and warrantless searches. Nor would I ever attempt to stop (via force), say, David Pearce from taking drugs - his ethical system says it's okay, and I respect that. But it has to stop. Have you ever read O'Rourke's description of a crack neighborhood? It reads like a description of Hell. In fact, as an SF reader, I have to say that there are quite a few Hells - and not lighthearted ones either - where I would rather be, as myself, than in a crack neighborhood as a denizen. Niven and Pournelle's "Inferno" comes to mind, or the concentration camps of the Holocaust. The worst that can happen is that you die a horrible, painful death.

I am a human first and a Libertarian second. Would you, as a Libertarian, have kept the U.S. out of World War II, knowing that if you did so the Holocaust would continue and Hitler would rule the world? Why should your principles as a Libertarian stop at the U.S. border? Don't the people ruled by dictators have rights too? Shouldn't they, too, be protected against their government? Don't the Libertarian principles - or any principles, taken to their logical extreme - demand that one attempt to conquer the world?

There are laws above morality; they are called ethics. There are laws above ethics; they are called "game theory" or the laws of symmetry and doubt. Every theory of ethics demands that the user conquer the world and convert the inhabitants to their own ethical system; it's an inevitable consequence of the concept of "innocent children". What holds you back can only be the conviction that you might be wrong and that if everyone followed this logic, there would be a major war.

So my ethical system (and, I admit, my morality) says that drugs are evil, it says that the crack neighborhoods are evil, and it says that screaming, abandoned infants born addicted to crack have the same rights as I do. I will not strike out with police and guns and force, nor attempt to turn any human from the path they have chosen with more than words. Not because it is not justified - I have no problem with others doing that, except that it only makes the problem worse - but because it is not my way. The problem lies not within any humans but within the chemicals making up crack and the plants producing cocaine.

I deny to those plants the right to live; I deny their products the right to exist. At them, I will strike. Some may consider those plants and chemicals their private property, and I admit that those rights may be violated. Imagine a virus which causes the infectee to believe that the virus is his property, "choose" to spread it, and then kills the victim. Is this virus protected by Libertarian principles? Certainly if the person is inoculated, his right of private property is violated.

The Libertarian principles depend on free will. When people who have free will but "not enough wisdom to use it" - such as children - become involved, the Libertarian principles are either modified or abandoned entirely, depending on the Libertarian. When a substance such as crack starts infecting the population, the Libertarian principles cannot provide a simple solution; they are up against a problem of a higher order than the principles, one having the ability to modify the postulates on which the principles depend. Under the circumstances, I think that my response - that of obliterating drugs (but not users!) without coercive force - is restrained, mild, and appropriate.

It violates the Libertarian principles, but so does crack. The substance, in and of its action on the human brain, is a violation of the Libertarian principles as strong or *stronger* than a mere bureaucrat telling you what to do, because the government cannot yet control your mind directly. Two wrongs don't make a right, but sometimes coercive force has to be used against criminals or governmental thugs. I think that we should estimate the number of innocent lives destroyed by crack on a yearly basis, divide by fifty, and call that the acceptable number of civilian casualties to cut drug use in half. My plan, which involves no coercive force at all, just a plague which would affect certain private properties, is as Libertarian a solution as you're ever going to get.

Consider crack to be a hostile government equipped with mind control.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.