Sunday, July 6, 2014

UPB Comment, page 28-30

Page 28: According to UPB, a valid theory is logically consistent and empirically testable. 

Page 29: Moral propositions claim that human beings should act in a particular manner, or avoid acting in a particular manner. 
Page 30: A personal preference is what?
A universal preference, is what is objectively required, or necessary, assuming a particular goal. If I want to live, I do not have to like jazz, but I must eat. “Eating” remains a preference – I do not have to eat, in the same way that I have to obey gravity – but “eating” is a universal, objective, and binding requirement for staying alive, since it relies on biological facts that cannot be wished away. Isn't all human action goal oriented? Life is a universal goal? Is this the same as universally preferable?
Ethics as a discipline can be defined as any theory regarding preferable human behaviour that is universal, objective, consistent – and binding. Where does this come from?
Page 32: If you want to live, it is universally preferable that you refrain from eating a handful of arsenic."   it is universally preferable that your theories be both internally consistent and empirically verifiable. “Universally preferable,” then, translates to “objectively required,” but we will retain the word “preferable” to differentiate between optional human absolutes and non-optional physical absolutes such as gravity.
One adopts a goal, then a causal relationship exists between the goal and the means of achieving it. Sometimes the means is unique, sometimes many means are equally preferable. Why talk about preference or preferability at all?
Similarly, if ethical theories can be at all valid, then they must at least be both internally and externally consistent. In other words, an ethical theory that contradicts itself cannot be valid – and an ethical theory that contradicts empirical evidence and near-universal preferences also cannot be valid.
What does that mean? How can an ethical theory contradict empirical evidence, since it is not a factual claim? Feasibility? What are near-universal preferences?

Thus in ethics, just as in science, mathematics, engineering and all other disciplines that compare theories to reality, valid theories must be both logically consistent and empirically verifiable

Social Contract, Holocaust, chattel slavery, North Korea

Is there anything in the idea of the social contact that should have protected Jews from the Holocaust?  If not, what is it worth? If we must trump the social contract with other principles of justice, why not just stick to the principles of justice and forget the social contract?
Does North Korea have a social contract? How can the people of North Korea request a renegotiation?
Did chattel slavery somehow violate the social contract? If so, why didn't anyone notice at the time?
Why should this philosophy-flavored pacifier satisfy anyone?

Comment on UPB page 49

Certain preconditions must exist, or be accepted, in order for ethical judgments or theories to have any validity or applicability. Clearly, choice and personal responsibility must both be accepted as axioms. If a rock comes bouncing down a hill and crashes into your car, we do not hold the rock morally responsible, since it has no consciousness, cannot choose, and therefore cannot possess personal responsibility. If the rock dislodged simply as a result of time and geology, then no one is responsible for the resulting harm to your car. If, however, you saw me push the rock out of its position, you would not blame the rock, but rather me. To add a further complication, if it turns out that I dislodged the rock because another man forced me to at gunpoint, you would be far more likely to blame the gun-toting initiator of the situation rather than me. 
Should we count situations of coercion as exceptions to moral principles, or violations, for the purpose of enforcement or self-defense? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Penn cops out on global warming

I just listened to Penn Jillette's podcast (Penn's Sunday School, May 31, 2014). He briefly discussed his change of heart on global warming, which I would paraphrase as "whether or not global warming is a problem, this is all stuff we want to do." This is a cop-out.
Sure, some things that have been discussed as reducing carbon emissions or ameliorating the effects of global warming would be beneficial. They might save lives. But are they more beneficial or more life-saving than other things we could do instead? What is the goal here, and what assumptions are we making?
Don't forget, trying to save lives by reversing global warming prevents us from trying to save lives in other ways, some of which could be more effective.
My point is, there are many things we want to do, but we can't do them all. If the politics of global warming did not impose unwelcome costs on anyone, no one would complain, and the controversy would never have exploded.
Global warming is both a scientific and a political challenge. What do we know, and how certain are we? What can we do about it? Can we get the entire planet to agree? How will the agreement be enforced? We will not solve these problems easily, and no one would embrace them without strong motivation. Certainly we would prefer to avoid catastrophe, but do we actually know how? And finally, in response to Penn, if global warming is not that big a problem, no, we don't want to do all those things anyway.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Debunkery: Motivation

A lot of ideas I took for granted when I was young now seem questionable, or just wrong. Motivation provides a good example. I used to think, if you don't want something to happen, attach a cost or punishment to it. If you want something to happen, attach a reward.
Psychologists have attacked this idea. Alfie Kohn wrote a book on this, titled "Punished by Rewards." Punishment is complicated by factors such as the certainty, swiftness, and severity. But even rewards have unexpected limits and complications. Intrinsic motivation taps in to persons' understanding of the world, their identity, and the meaning and significance of the activity. Motivation can be affected by group morale, effective leadership, and other factors. And none of this is uncontroversial, psychologists disagree with each other, and business consultants will be happy to sell you help based on theories old and new.
Maybe it's a good thing we can't quite figure his out. If it was easy, advertisers would have us buying robotically, our bosses would have us filling out TPS reports enthusiastically, and the legislature would prevent us from having any sort of fun.


If we want to help, or try something new, or opt out of something we dislike, yes, we can. We seek a society where everyone strives to rely more on cooperation, empathy, and mutual respect, eliminating coercion where we can. We should not need to ask permission to do a good deed, never face denial or coercion. Conscience without law may be confusing. Law without conscience is tyranny.

6/8/14 consciousness stream

What activities erode the psychology of obedience and the dogmatic belief in justified coercive authority? What beliefs and practices strengthen society? 
Once someone has noticed the danger, they can study psychology, starting with the Milgram experiment. But what sort of experiences could help them notice that things might not be okay, and once they notice, make them more and more aware? We needs some Cognitive dissonance jujitsu. Or aikido. What will make people notice the things they'd rather ignore?
People who visit the local DMV will experience bureaucracy. Trying to start a business will do it.
What positive experiences help us learn to cooperate without coercion?
James Howe challenges voluntaryists, if you will be able to deal with armed gangs in your utopia, why can't you deal with them now? I'm working on an answer, here are some notes. It has less to do with the gang than it does the defenders and the bystanders. Currently, the bystanders are rooting for the gang, and this gives the gang a serious advantage. In utopia, cognitive dissonance and Stockholm Syndrome will not frustrate defenders.
People study criminology. What about copology?
Thaddeus Russell: Cops don't enforce laws if they have no cultural acceptance. Plenty of laws on the books, but not enforced.
Success is not an option. Fail often, fail big. (And don't give up.)
Proto utopia, where many ideas get tested and fail, so that we can find a few that succeed.
The economy is an ecosphere of desire.
What is the endgame for China? Ordinary people there know that their government is corrupt. What makes the supersaturated solution crystallize? What prevents it? What might prevent them from producing an even more corrupt, tyrannical successor?
I don't want to talk people into doing things my way. I want to do things my way, and invite them to join me.
What would teach me that I am wrong? Someone would have to discover a better way to predict the future, a way to learn that is better than trial and error, a hierarchy that outperforms a swarm. They would need to find a way for central planning to work better than a market.
The day the average guy understands the basics of how the Internet works, will be the day coercive authority dies of old age. Learning the psychology of motivation will speed it up.
I'm not sure Rothbard transcended the old one-size-fits-all paradigm. I think he saw success as "the entire US/world goes libertarian all at once." 
Optimistic signs: public key crypto, the Internet, the web, collapse of the Soviet Union, Baochan Daohu, gnu/Linux/FOSS, bitcoin, name coin, Silk Road, BitTorrent, 3d printers.
Still to come, P2P versions of amazon, google, etc. DIY food, power, protection ( personal, environmental, etc.), dispute resolution, education, housing. Antifragility, tolerance, cooperation.