Re: Ad hominem? I think not.

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Nov 21 2001 - 12:54:31 MST

Just because violence has occurred, and further violence may be necessary,
is no reason to switch off the cerebral cortex. "National security" is
not the root password to the Constitution, and "war" is not the root
password to rationality. I am particularly disturbed to hear phrases like
"If America doesn't retaliate, we'll look weak," or "A man is chasing you
with a bloody ax..." These are not good principles to drive international
relations. It sounds to me like this could have been said by both
defenders and aggressors in every war with which I am even vaguely
acquainted and probably every war for the last hundred millennia, and I'm
sure not all of those were good ideas.

I am horrified when I hear we need to "look strong" or that expressing
dissent is a threat to your personal survival which therefore needs to be
suppressed. These mistakes have been made often enough over humanity's
lifetime, thank you very much.

National honor isn't defended by getting a reputation for an itchy trigger
finger; national honor is defended by having a clear set of consistently
applied moral principles that other nations can observe to be honorable.
Justice which runs slow and formal, but massive and sure, appears just as
formidable and impressive as an instant eruption, and it gathers a lot
more respect.

When someone proposes that America go to war, I want to hear a description
of which general principles for maintaining international peace are being
applied, so that I can judge whether these are principles that will work
to generate a stable world order. "Remove from power those governments
aiding terrorists attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction, even
if it involves harming the captive civilian populations of those
governments" sounds to me like a reasonable principle, even if it can't be
applied consistently because some such governments are too big to be
spanked by the present democratic community of nations. Even if applied
inconsistently, this principle still reduces risk.

"Any nation that is hurt must declare war as revenge" is NOT a good
principle for international relations. "When somebody is threatening you
with a knife, don't ask why, just shoot them" is NOT a good principle for
international relations. I would propose "When somebody is coming at you
with a knife, shoot them, but at least *try* and get the formal consent of
the Security Council or even the General Assembly first."

Not all arguments in favor of a good thing are good arguments. Even if
the war on Afghanistan is a just war, that doesn't mean all arguments
ending in the conclusion "therefore the war is good" are rational. I've
heard some damned lousy arguments for the Singularity in my time. Someone
who blows holes in flawed pro-Singularity arguments is doing us all a
service by keeping the ideosphere clean, not "threatening the survival of
the human species by arguing against the Singularity". Irrationality in
the service of liberty is no virtue. What I see right now is people who
want all arguments in favor of the war to be correct, and all arguments
against the war to be incorrect, and who regard any departure from this as
a personal insult or even a personal threat. Very human, of course, and a
token of normality rather than idiocy, but I'd thought that longtime
Extropian list members would be less normal than that.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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