Re: Meritocracies and freedom of information

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Sat Oct 13 2001 - 10:26:20 MDT

On Sat, Oct 13, 2001 at 02:09:15AM -0700, Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
> I am going to propose that "information" should not be free.
> This is based on the idea that if you are insufficiently
> educated with regard to the information you cannot properly
> evaluate its significance and use it responsibly (extropically).

And if you cannot get at the information, how are you supposed to learn

> So, for example, a limited knowledge of molecular biology, genetic
> engineering, etc. has given a large number of people an axe to
> grind against AgBio companies. As recent experiments have shown,
> the Monarchs do not seem to be at risk from GM crops. No significant
> ill effects have been demonstrated for GM crops. And yet it seems
> likely that people will continue to purchase "organic" crops
> disproportionately to any benefit that they can reasonably expect
> to receive from them. I.e. people can be "programmed" to behave
> irrationally (events of the last month being a possible case in
> point).

Actually, in my research for my book on the Swedish genetics debate I
have come to a different conclusion. It is not an issue of limited
knowledge, since when you educate people they tend to just believe more
in their previous positive or negative views of GMOs. What makes take
these positions is instead underlying values and worldviews of how
things really work and what they mean. In the common romantic worldview
of many people, there exists a natural order which is inherently the
best and most moral state, and any change of it is for ill and
unethical. This can then be shored up with religious arguments,
environmental arguments and cited facts, but at the core it is based on
an ethical view that isn't based on knowledge or facts.

> To take two recent Extropian topics --
> "Aging isn't a disease"
> -- Do we have any question that Laura Bradbard from the FDA has
> done the extensive survey that Robert Freitas has done
> to begin a rational classification of what "is" or "is not"
> a "disease"?

Actually, I think she is basing her statement on a long debate in the
community of medical philosophers that has largely reached a conclusion
like this. She might not have come up with it on her own, but it is the
result of quite some thinking.

In fact, Robert is the lone outsider I think most medical philosophers
would regard as badly informed and educated. We might agree with his
views and think they make sense, but to convince the rest of people
involved in this issue requires a lot of writing and debating, extending
and refining the ideas enormously.

> "Fwd: Secrecy foe scrubs data on Internet"
> -- Do we have any evidence that any potential terrorists have
> not already obtained the information on these sites (in which
> case scrubbing it is pointless) or that scrubbing it will be
> likely to increase security? (It may decrease it since the
> scrubbing may not allow members of the general public to know
> what potential targets may exist and exercise a right to avoid
> proximity to such targets).

I would be surprised if they had obtained any information from these
sites - there are still many more non-net sources of relevant
information of terrorist interest. The scrubbing likely decreased the
utility to terrorists very slightly, while decreasing it for everybody
else far more (even when multiplying the terrorist utility with
devastation potential).

> Should the knowledge to manufacture chemical weapons or biological
> weapons be available to those who would use them unextropically?
> I believe the concept developed in the Aristoi -- that one had
> to develop the skills to use knowledge productively and the
> trust relationships that you would use such skills in an extropic
> fashion are worthy of consideration.

Note that you here seem to be talking about *information*, not being
allowed to *do* things. Nothing in Aristoi suggests that nanotech
information was kept secret from people, just the actual nanotech.
Having restrictions on behavior is something entirely different from
restrictions of information.

Also, _Aristoi_ is to a large extent a brilliant deconstruction of the
political system described therein. Instead of just saying "this is
wrong and won't work in reality", Williams imagines a best case
situation where the enlightened despots really are enlightened (even the
villains!), the best possible people for the job and with the tech to do
it. Still, the system doesn't quite work on several levels.

> I do not believe we have
> successfully dealt with the issue of when "freedom" is extropic,
> e.g. from Extropian Principles 3.0, Section 5, "Open Society":
> "freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom of experimentation"
> runs directly up against, Section 6, "Self-Direction":
> "independent thinking, indepdendent freedom, personal responsibility"

In what way? I think you read it as "I have the right to do whatever I
want, to whoever I want" and hence see a contradiction. But the
principles are based in the liberal "my rights end where yours start"
scheme of things, where there is no contradiction - I am free, as long
as I do not diminish your freedom.

I think the problem here is that when Max wrote the principles he was
leaning on a *huge* literature of political and philosophical thinking
on these issues, and it is assumed as a background. If you just read
them literally with no intellectual context they make far less sense and
might even look ridiculous (a few swedish social democrats I tried them
on simply could not undertand them).

> Do you have the freedom to speak for the destruction of a people?
> Do you have the right to act towards such a goal?

The traditional liberal/libertarian answer would be that that all
speech, even hate speech, should be free while acting on the hate speech
would not be allowed. There are some subtelities about whether certain
forms of speech constitutes an action which has been debated extensively
by legal scholars.

> Should "independent thinking" be promoted if it is "irrational"
> (violating principle 7)? "Remaining open to challenges to our
> beliefs and practices" seems to leave open the door to people
> being willing to sacrifice their lives to challenge your beliefs
> and practices.

If you try to only allow independent thinking that is rational, you are
going to end up with dependent thinking - you only allow *some*
acceptable thoughts, and the true independent thinkers will express
their independence by becoming irrational. What you should do is to
*promote* rational and independent thinking.

Your interpretation of the "remaining open" text is downright bizarre. A
stone is not an argument.
> This is a fundamental question for me -- on the one hand I would
> certainly like the information to be available to overthrow an
> oppressive government dedicated to limiting my freedoms. At the
> same time I am reluctant to adapt a position that makes such
> information available to people (essentially "other tribes")
> that would like to use it not only to destroy my security shield
> but *my* way of thinking entirely (be it *either* a U.S. self-preservation
> or an extropic maximization of information content perspective).

I have already answered this in my previous post (they arrive in a
strange order, must be my EPR bridge acting as a time machine again).

> Should access to information be based on accreditation?

No. I have already given ethical and practical arguments for why free
information is good, and there are many more in the literature.

If you have a piece of information you might of course choose not to
reveal it to me or anyone else, and I support your right to do so. But
once information is out, it is out there and cannot be put back into the
bottle. Hence accreditation will not work other than act as a partial
filter of information, which is quite likely worse than having no filter
at all - you get people with *partial* dangerous information.

Also, the accreditation service is going to be a dangerous bottleneck.
What happens if it is corrupt or has an agenda? Even worse, if the
information can only be judged by someone knowledgeable in it, how can
others hold the accreditors accountable? Imagine a situation where
medical knowledge was only given to members of the medical community,
and outsiders not allowed access to it, even when they suspected
something malicious was going on.

I consider the accreditation idea chillingly similar to something Bill
Joy would propose (don't give him the idea! :-)

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

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