Re: Values (was Re: Singularity-worship)

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Wed, 11 Dec 1996 22:25:30 -0800 (PST)

> Maybe I'm just being "picky", but I believe that there is a difference
> between "If I understand you correctly, this seems to be mystical nonsense."
> and the terse "What mystical nonsense." that you wrote.

Fair enough. I suppose after 10 years on the Net, I have grown
accustomed to the direct from-the-hip approach. I find it very
productive and economical (note that your version is 11 words to
my 3). If I were writing for an unknown lay audience as opposed
to a specialized list like this, I might be more concilliatory.
But even there I find the trend of assigning "tolerance" to be a
virtue of speakers rather than of listeners to be dangerous, and
being deliberately provocative is one way of fighting that trend.

How's this: "Given my understanding of your words, and the chance
that you may have misspoken your real intentions, my personal set
of values would rate that idea as mystical nonsense, but that's
not to imply that you are an inherently evil person who eats
children or anything, just that my particular set of values, no
doubt influenced by an upbringing and life experience different
from yours, would evaluate the idea that way. Or not."

That's 73 words. I think I'll stick to my 3.

> >A slave may know, for example, that there are values attainable with
> >freedom far beyond what he can attain in his present condition. But if
> >he values mere biological life incomparably high to those values, then
> >he will logically not risk his life for freedom, but choose to remain
> >alive and in chains.
> Okay, I will accept that my original word "insane" was grossly mistaken and
> pejorative. However, there *does* seem to be a major difference between us
> which may not even be open to judgement. Would you trade *any* values you
> have (short of your life, of course) for some sum of money?

I certainly wouldn't criticize you for being pejorative. :) The short
answer is yes, but of course I have to measure the money in terms of
the condition of my life after the trade--if the offer is for my head,
the money isn't worth much to a corpse. Perhaps a better way to make
such measurements is indirectly with "risk" rather than "trade". Would
I take a 1 in 2000 chance of death in a year to make a certain 5-figure
amount I don't care to disclose here? Yes, I do it every day when I
drive to work. That's a pretty simple comparison of a safe life of
poverty to a risky life of reasonable wealth.

> [finger-chopping story]
> Clearly, ones values of various things depend on ones circumstances. They also
> very much depend on the discount rate which one applies to future value versus
> present value, but that's a whole other discussion topic.

I wouldn't quite put it that way, but I think I agree. The "cirumstances"
/are/ the values in that case. Some kinds of lives ("freedom") are more
valuable than other kinds of lives ("slavery"). That doesn't mean that
the "value of life" is unknowable--just that the latter definition is
insufficiently precise.

> This is very true and very elegantly written. Ayn Rand couldn't have done any
> better. :) I am not trying to disparage any of this. However, I believe that
> many people who are to adamant about this sometimes forget the value of human
> interpersonal attributes such as love, honor, loyalty, joy, etc. which are only
> very indirectly related to money.

I don't really buy that (no pun intended). Such things might very well be
what makes life worth living, but no matter how much passion one puts
into them, their value is still measurable. I cannot help but think that
to treat them otherwise is just a product of prejudices against money
hammered into our brains by fuzzy-thinking altruists who just don't want
to face the hard work of finding values rationally.

> >[measurement of values is required for rational choice of action]

> I don't agree with this. Either in a given set of circumstances they would be
> incomparable (I always use this in the mathematical sense) and not be capable
> of being in conflict, or in another set of circumstances, they would be
> comparable and again not in conflict.

Again, the circumstances and consequences of a choice are part and parcel
of the value being measured. Only after that final evaluation is made,
and the two wholes compared, can one make a rational choice.
Of course, there's also game-theory conditions where randomness is a
rational part of the decision process, but then the choice to use such
methods and abide by the results is a value as well.