Re: evolved viruses

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Tue, 16 Sep 1997 20:29:26 -0500

Arjen Kamphuis wrote:
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky <> wrote:
> >I've been convinced that drugs are evil.
> This is highly irrational, even for you. If you call drugs evil you should
> also call the sun evil (causes skincancer right?). The effects of illegal
> drugs may be undesirable, the effect of a .308 bullet can also be. Doesn't
> make the bullet 'evil'. The way drugs are treated by the state causes
> 'emerging' effects that are bad for people. don't blame the thing, blame
> the people making the policy.

It's the pain and brain damage that are evil, not the drugs. But I
can't wave my magic wand and make the pain and brain damage go away while
keeping the drugs. There's a great deal of evil out there. What you assign
it to determines your attitude towards the drug problem, and that determines
how you'll try and solve it. If you decide that drug users are evil, you
might well decide to let them all rot as long as they don't go after honest
citizens ('As long as I'm not hurt...')

> >It's not my way in any case - if I go after drugs it will
> >be with bioengineered viruses,
> I hope you will also take responsenbility incase of a mutation causing,
> say, 11 million deaths? How will you control them from killing of humans,
> livestock or crucial agricultural spiecies?

Obviously I'm not going to take those kind of risks. I don't see why having a
virus that eats crack is any more dangerous than the common cold, which can
already live in humans. Just because I'm designing something deliberately
doesn't make it more likely to get out of control. If I started adding in
immunity to penicillin, then would be a good time to start getting worried...

> >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.
> ???????? Wow... *this* from *you*

Yes. If I had to make a choice based on personal preference alone, and
somebody said: "You can go to a concentration camp or be addicted to crack.
Choose." - then you know my choice. I find the prospect of having my mind
burnt out FAR more horrifying than being starved and tortured. What can be
done to the brain by torture and what can be done to the brain from the inside
differ as much as watching something on TV and seeing it in person. This I *know*.

Frankly, I'd much rather die cleanly, and I'd be much more likely to be able
to make (and carry out) that decision in a concentration camp than as a crack addict.

> >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?
> In a very differnt way you seem to come to the same conclusion as I did
> that any and all human-rights violations should be ended (by force if
> neccecary) by a sort of world governement. Altough I would never use the
> term conquer the world. Just remove the dictator and then organize
> elections A.S.A.P and get out.
> And I'd like their to be *lots* of controls on the UN.

But I don't think that would work. And no matter how urgent the ethical
issue, "It wouldn't work" trumps any proposal...

I simply don't think a U.N. world government would work. Democracy has to
spread a country at a time before all the democracies can be unified, and even
then you'd run into trouble. A world government is not escapable if things
start going wrong.

> >So my ethical system (and, I admit, my morality) says that drugs are
> >evil,
> I'm still confused how you came to conclude this in any rational manner.

If we were sticking to objective ethical terms, then the pain and the
burnt-out minds are what is 'evil'. But what are you going to do about that?
Be compassionate? Anybody who considers the issue long enough will start
assigning emotional-level evil and revulsion to something. I prefer to make
the choice deliberately so I can make sure I'm not targeting any human.

> >it says that the crack neighborhoods are evil
> No not evil, Satan is evil, crack neighborhoods are highly undesirable
> living envoronments for humans. Don't drag in all the mystical words, it
> only clouds the discussion.

If I thought I had a choice...
Like it or not, humans are not completely rational. The question is not
whether you should call something evil. The question is what.

Mind you, I'm not relying on the emotional reaction for ethical justification.
The pain is my justification. What is 'evil' determines the attitude with
which I approach the problem. Previous approaches have targeted humans. This
didn't work. Therefore, my decision is to target something else. That's
different, so it has a chance of working.

> >The problem lies not within any humans but within the
> >chemicals making up crack and the plants producing cocaine.
> If some humans want to smoke, snif or shoot-up with anything at all. You
> have no right whatsoever to deny them this. If they commits crimes while
> under influence, you can punish them for this. If they neglect their
> children, they will lose their rights as parents. If you say crack should
> remain illegal on the basis of its harmfull effect on heath you should also
> prohibit:
> Smoking, drinking, eating to much red-meat/fat/minerals/vitamine-C, riding
> motorcycles-without-a-helmet, parachute jumping, mountain climbing, working
> too hard....

Practicality above all. "It won't work" is sovereign. You keep on thinking
in terms of repressive governments. I'm not blaming the humans who want to do
crack. I'm not saying that doing crack is wrong. That approach has been
tried. I'm saying crack, and only crack, is wrong. I am not conducting this
as a paternalistic intervention to save people from themselves, which would be
the default ethical-to-emotional conversion. I am removing crack from
existence. There it ends.

As for the spreading activation you describe - when there are alcohol ghettos,
I'll do something about it. There's a lot of pain in life and I can't target
it all. And mountain climbing would never be targeted, because death is not a
problem in the way crack is. Again, I am not targeting foolishness, and I am
not targeting danger, and I am not targeting people doing things I don't like.
I am targeting crack.

> (Gosh, I'm beginning to sound like an honest-to-god-libertarian)
> >Consider crack to be a hostile government equipped with mind control.
> Consider crack just another addictive drug whose negative effect and high
> price are cause primarily by the fact that it is illegal, every time a
> shipment of crack is intercepted by the governement the price goes up,
> making the trade more interesting for people who have *nothing* to lose
> anymore.

I no longer care about how the crack ghettos came into existence, except to
make sure it doesn't happen again. It could be the government's fault, or the
KGB's fault, or the fault of green beings from Pluto for all I care.
Legalizing crack would not fix the problem, although needless to say it should
be done in any case. We must wipe crack out of existence, not just legalize it.

> I once saw an interview with a Colombian coke-farmer. He was asked whether
> he was bothered by the fact that American teenagers die from drugs he
> helped to produce. His answer: "My children are nearly starving, they could
> never afford such an expensive way to die..."

Yes, I would certainly have to consider how to support these people after
depriving them of their livelihood. It might be necessary to build a few
arcologies, both to provide the ex-crack-addicts with living space and to
house the farmers who have been adversely affected by my man-made natural disaster.

> The people producing and distributing drugs have no reason to feel anything
> for the western vicitms of 'their' drugs since they themselves are living
> in their own hell. They will not stop producing something that has such a
> profit-margin, why would they? They are taking care of themselves, just
> like us.

I don't blame them a bit! They're people, right? So I can't target them.
And if I target their crops, then I have to compensate them for it. They have rights.

> As long as drugs remain illegal prices will remain high, trade will be
> interesting.

"As long as drugs remain" was as far as I got in that sentence before agreeing.

> Ask why people use drugs in the first place. The demand is the problem. Not
> the supply. Addres that and you will be going some were.

Rebuilding the economy and increasing human willpower will go a long way
towards that... but it isn't enough. The crack ghettos are now
self-sustaining and no longer have root causes which I can attack indirectly.
I still am not advocating a frontal attack in the current War-On-Drugs sense,
but I can't use my usual elaborate indirect methods either. There are no weak
points in the cycle. I still don't have to attack humans, either the users or
growers (both of whom are my fellow humans), but I can attack the drugs, and
do something about addiction.

Obviously it does no good to bust up a crack ghetto at great cost, if they
form again in a few weeks.

Of all objections to my ideas, "It won't work" is always sovereign. You are
correct, I would need to bust up the root causes before bursting the ghetto.
Like the difference between crushing an egg and a frozen egg. But one still
would need to bust the ghetto at one point or another. As I said, it's self-sustaining.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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