RE: Voluntary Exchange

From: Smigrodzki, Rafal (
Date: Sat Dec 29 2001 - 15:24:26 MST

I wrote:

> The only basis for coercion is the need to protect innocent life-wish,
> protect truth, and protect freedom - all of these are code phrases for
> very complex memes, which I would be happy to discuss, if you wish.

You encouraged me to:

Fire away!

### OK, here we are:

Above all I wish to survive. It's nice to be free, have a good standard of
living, but what really counts for me is my survival. The only criterion I
use to evaluate a society is it's ability to enhance my long-term survival.
At first pass of the analysis it doesn't matter how, only the results count.

That's why the optimal political system for me would, conditionally, be a
theocracy, or absolute tyranny - with the condition of me being the deity,
or maybe just an emperor. However, since it would be unrealistic to expect
others to share my vision, I have to direct my attention to systems that
could be accepted by a sufficient number of persons to make them viable,
while still affording good chances for my personal survival.

Such system would have to be based on shared, or compatible, individual
wishes. The idea of reciprocity is strongly embedded in our collective
cognitive framework, so the society has to incorporate this idea as well.
So, in the second pass of analysis, I have to give a sincere consideration
to other person's needs, if I want my wishes to be respected.

As far as I know, for the vast majority of adult humans, including me, there
are three absolutely basic needs - life, truth, and freedom.

We want to live, we are very upset about being lied to or manipulated
(because under the natural conditions of evolution, those who were too
easily lied to, tended to die early), and we really dislike being forced to
do something against our will (restricting our freedom of choice), because
under natural conditions of evolution... you know what.

A successful society has to allow maximum expression of these three wishes.
Additionally, the rule of reciprocity absolves us from having to respect the
wishes of those who disrespect ours. It makes sense - you do not improve
your survival chances by helping somebody who wouldn't help you if the roles
were reversed. We can then add a limiting clause to our three main
commandments - it is "innocent" life, truth, and freedom wish that must be
respected. Innocent in the first commandment sense is a person who never
killed, or tried to kill an innocent person. Similarly with the other
commandments. The current full formulation of my moral commandments is as

1) The innocent person's wish to remain alive (shall not be thwarted/must be
2) The truth shall not be denied (= you may not lie, except if absolutely
unavoidable to comply with the First Commandment)
3) The freedom to do as you wish shall not be abridged (physically limited
by a premeditated action of an entity), except to uphold 1 and 2.

I derive essentially all my opinions about politics from these three rules,
or as Eliezer might say, the supergoals, aided by scientific epistemology.

The hierarchy of the three commandments(3C) is not strict - life without
freedom isn't worth living, and without truth it tends to be short anyway.

All other moral values are either derivable from the 3C, or invalid. The
right to own property, of free speech, to carry a firearm, even the idea of
justice, fairness, and duties - all are only elaborations of the basic 3C.
Some ideas, like "Pacta servanda sunt", are moral heuristics derivable from
3C through careful observation of their impact in real-life situations.

So much for an introduction. Now let's try to put coercion and violence in
this context.

Coercion is the use of a threat of death (against C1), or bodily harm
(usually against C3). From C1 it follows that the first type of coercion may
only be used against non-innocent humans, or against humans who previously
agreed to be coerced, thus relinquishing their life-wish. You may kill a
killer or somebody trying to kill you, if you are innocent. You may execute
a person reneging on a contract, if such contract contained a clause
allowing it, as in some military situations. You may not intend to kill an
innocent person to save your own life - because thus you are no longer
innocent. You may kill an innocent person if it is absolutely necessary to
save at least two other persons, because refraining from such action would
thwart a person's life-wish.

Why are taxes sometimes morally acceptable?

There are some life-prolonging services which for technical reasons are
difficult to provide on an individual basis, as in a free market. Military
defense usually requires maintaining control over a geographic area. It
would be difficult to provide this service to only a subset of the
inhabitants, especially if two or more groups would try to purchase such
service from different providers. Therefore, if innocent life is to be
protected from evil invaders, all inhabitants have to receive the service
from one provider. Now, those unwilling to accept and pay the local provider
may be forced to leave, or else financial support for the provider might be
insufficient, with more and more persons hoping to freeload, until defense
is impossible.

A very similar argument applies to the support of basic scientific research.

So, if taxes are used to support necessary defense and research, they are
morally right, especially if the taxpayers have the option of leaving the
area in search of other providers.

The whole argument is based on long-term survival prolongation, as verified
by empirical data. Taxation, or even initiation of violence, do not have
independent moral significance, they are only evaluated in the context of
the 3C. In general, the practical conclusions I draw from 3C are quite
similar to libertarianism but with a few important exceptions, some of which
I already mentioned.

This grew into an excessively long post, so let me finish here.


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