Dagens ord


Ansvar väger tyngre än frihet - Responsibility trumps liberty

28 jan. 2016

Purpose

"What's the Purpose? People keep mentioning it."

"I wish I knew." [...] "No one has ever told me. I have to make guesses, based on what I see from people who act like they know what it is." [...]

"And what is your guess?" [...]

"Ty shrugged. "Humans have always -"

He was about to say deluded themselves bit didn't want to make a poor impression [...]

"- preferred to believe that there was a purpose to the universe. Until the moon blew up, they had theories. After Zero, the theories all seemed kind of stupid. Fairy tales for coddled children. No one thought about the big picture for a few thousand years. We were all scrambling to survive. Like ants when their nest has been destroyed. On those rare occasions when we thought about the big picture, it wasn't really that big - Red versus Blue or what have you. There was surprisingly little thinking about the Agent. Where it came from. Whether it was natural or artificial, or even divine." [...]

"Some people - some Red, some Blue, and some ambiguous folks [...] seem to think they know something."

"Do they?" [...]

"I have no idea," said Ty. "But from what I've seen, they're not stupid. Even if they are -"

He paused, groping for words. [...]

"It's a way - the Purpose is a way - of saying there's something bigger than this crap we've spent the last week of our lives dealing with."

"Red versus Blue crap?"

"Yes. And even though no one is sharing anything with me - yet - I like the feeling of that. People who claim they are motivated by the Purpose end up behaving differently - and generally better - than people who serve other masters."

"So it is like believing in God."

"Maybe yes. But without the theology, the scripture, the pig-headed certainty."

[The others] nodded and looked thoughtful. But also, or so it seemed to Ty, a little let down.

"Sorry I didn't have an answer to your question," Ty said.



Neal Stephenson (2015), Seveneves, p. 859-860

23 jan. 2016

Vegorätt blev vegofel




Redan när jag såg trailern för några veckor sedan började jag ana oråd. Jag skrev en kort kommentar på SVT:s Facebook-sida om att det luktade onödigt mycket "hippie" och "hipster". Och fick en del medhåll av andra tittare. Men jag tänkte att det var bäst att vänta med kritiken tills första avsnittet hade sänts i sin helhet. Min oro till trots kunde jag inte föreställa mig hur illa det faktiskt skulle bli.

Direkt efter sändning kastade jag mig över tangentbordet. På SVT:s Facebook-sida inledde jag med den återhållsamma kommentaren:
Det nya programmet Vegorätt motverkar sitt syfte * genom att fokusera mer på livsstil, stämningar och scenografi än på fakta och konkretion.
Den följdes snart av många fler, betydligt utförligare, kommentarer av andra upprörda tittare. (Och har hittills fått 25 gilla-markeringar.)

Efter sändning öppnade SVT också en timmes chatt med programledarna. Jag insåg snart att den var starkt censurerad modererad eftersom inga kritiska kommentarer eller frågor släpptes igenom.

Sedan dess har jag följt diskussionen av programmet. Det har varit terapeutiskt att ta del av den stora mängd av delvis välriktad kritik som i stora drag har artikulerat mina egna åsikter, utan att jag själv har behövt anstränga mig för att sublimera min frustration till text. Samtidigt har jag förvånats över luckorna i både positiva och negativa kommentarer.

Mina kollegor har försökt att provocera mig, men jag har hittills lyckats hålla mig ganska lugn.

Så idag läser jag på bloggen Edit, "SVTs mötesplats för dig som gillar populärkultur", en artikel av Tara Moshizi med rubriken "Efter kritiken mot Vegorätt: Vi applåderar utsvävande manliga kockar, men går i taket när kvinnor gör samma sak". Artikeln avslutas så här:
Kritiken mot ”Vegorätt” är inte ett dåligt betyg till SVT. Det är ett stort, fett underkänt till oss i tv-publiken som applåderar åt alla utsvävande manliga kockar, men som går i taket när kvinnor får lov att göra samma sak.
Nu har jag fått mitt lystmäte av ovidkommande utspel och reaktioner. Och så har jag lite tid över, så här en lördagskväll. En annan läsare, Andreas, har redan reagerat:
Jag håller verkligen inte med dig Tara. Mycket av kritiken mot programmet har varit saklig och riktat sig mot innehållet, och inte haft något med det faktum att det är två kvinnor i rutan.
Tack för det, Andreas! Jag fyller själv på med följande:
Jag vet i alla fall att om första avsnittet av Vegorätt hade sett exakt likadant ut; om programledarna hade uppfört sig på exakt samma sätt och sagt och gjort exakt samma saker, med den enda skillnaden att de hade varit män - ja, då hade jag fortfarande tyckt exakt lika illa om programmet som jag gör nu - och av exakt samma skäl. 
Nu har fördämningarna brustit och jag tar bladet från munnen. Här kommer det som hittills har saknats. Och som inte har något att göra med programledarnas kön.
Man kan vara intresserad av vegetarisk kost av tre skäl: 1) djurrätt; 2) personlig hälsa; och 3) miljöhänsyn. Men oavsett vilket av dessa skäl som ligger närmast just dig, som enskild individ, så bör vi alla i dag vara överens om att miljö- och klimathänsyn är mer än tillräckliga skäl för att gå över till en mer vegetarisk kost. Vegetarisk kosthållning är bara en av många åtgärder som vi som individer och samhälle bör - måste - sträva efter för att långsiktigt bevara såväl våra gemensamma livsbetingelser som vår hälsa. 
Programmet Vegorätt har fått mycket kritik, men väldigt lite av den kritiken har uttryckligen tagit upp det faktum att ett SVT-program om vegetarisk mat bör utgå just från miljöperspektivet - det vi alla delar. Bakom ord som "trend", "trams" och "hipster" döljer sig en besvikelse över att programmet i stället upphöjer en egocentrisk livsstil där världsfrånvända människor strävar efter att skapa sig unika identiteter utan koppling till livets realiteter. 
Viktigare än att äta vegetariskt är att äta miljö- och klimatsmart. Att äta miljösmart utan att äta (helt) vegetariskt är betydligt rimligare än motsatsen: Att äta vegetariskt utan att också äta miljösmart är fåfängt och inskränkt. Men det är just vad programmet uppmuntrar till - eller åtminstone inte avråder ifrån. Problemet med "exotiska ingredienser" och råvaror som inte är "i säsong" är inte i första hand att de är "svåra att få tag på" eller att de inte "passar in i vardagen". Nej, det stora problemet är att de ofta har genomgått led efter led av förädling, och att de har transporterats långväga. Ofta har de också besprutats och hållits nedkylda under långa tidsperioder. Dessutom kommer de ofta i miljöbelastande förpackningar.
Programseriens producent bemöter kritiken genom att hävda att Vegorätt är ett livsstilsprogram snarare än ett vegetariskt matlagningsprogram. Och möjligen är det så han och programledarna har uppfattat sitt uppdrag. I så fall måste kritiken i första hand riktas direkt mot uppdragsgivaren, SVT. Oavsett om uppdraget faktiskt sett ut så, eller om SVT av olika skäl har valt att fullfölja produktionen och sända programmet trots att det inte motsvarar det ursprungliga uppdraget, så är det likväl mycket olämpligt och mycket provocerande att sända programmet Vegorätt i stället för ett matprogram som sätter miljöfrågorna i första rummet, och som tar dem på allvar.

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* Vilket syfte beställare och programmakare har haft kan diskuteras. Men om programmet ska vara relevant för en stor del av SVT:s tittare, och därmed Sveriges befolkning - vilket det ska - så måste syftet vara något mer än att låta någon "göra sin grej". Programmet tar plats i tablån - plats som behövs för ett program som ger maximal miljöeffekt.


Se också: Vegorätt är bara början

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Uppdatering 24/1:

En vän reagerade så här:
Största felet i din text är väl att du (fortfarande) tror att SVT skulle ta sitt folkbildande public service-uppdrag på allvar.
Och han har säkert rätt, som vanligt. Men jag tänker så här - och det är ett genomgående tema här på bloggen:
Mänskligheten må vara dömd på förhand. Men om ingen tror på mänskligheten (SVT i det här fallet) så är den definitivt dömd.
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Ny uppdatering 24/1:

Diskussionen på Helen Alfvegrens blogg fortsätter:


Helen Alfvegren

Om din kommentar är längre än själva inlägget är det inte längre en kommentar utan ett eget inlägg. Du bemöter inte det jag har skrivit om du copy pastar samma inlägg över hela www utan syftet blir enbart att förklara för mig, samt andra här och i andra kommentarsfält, hur det egentligen är. Det finns ord för det.

Mitt inlägg handlar om att Karoline och Eleonore är sig själva till 100% vilket är självklart för de som följer dem i sociala medier. http://sverigesradio.se/sida/a...

I ditt inlägg nämner du "en egocentrisk livsstil där världsfrånvända människor strävar efter att skapa sig unika identiteter utan koppling till livets realiteter" vilket bara visar att du inte har den minsta förståelse för andra människors olikheter och inte drar dig för att, copy paste, trycka ner de som har det. På köpet tar du inte hänsyn till det jag skriver ovan om att programmet utgår från dem och inga andra.

"Att äta vegetariskt utan att också äta miljösmart är fåfängt och inskränkt." Nä, inte det minsta. Att slentrianmässigt äta djur, blunda för fakta om djurindustrin och fnysa åt alternativ är det däremot.

Fokus och syfte med Vegorätt har aldrig varit miljöfrågan. Miljö får man på köpet som vegetarian. Fundera lite över varför inte du, eller någon annan för den delen, lagt det ansvaret på ett enda matprogram som lagar kött.


bjorn_a_bengtsson

Ditt svar förstärker mina argument.


Helen Alfvegren

What?


bjorn_a_bengtsson

Vi verkar prata förbi varandra. Din främsta poäng verkar vara: "Klaga inte på tjejerna", vilket jag till stor del (men inte helt) kan hålla med om. Min främsta poäng är: "Det är verkligen på tiden att SVT sänder ett matlagningsprogram med miljöfokus". Jag tror att du kan hålla med om det också.

Du skriver: "Fundera lite över varför inte du, eller någon annan för den delen, lagt det ansvaret på ett enda matprogram som lagar kött." Det är en mycket bra poäng, tycker jag. Jag håller också med dig och andra (t.ex. Tara Moshizi på SVT:s sajt Edit) om att en stor del av den kritik som riktas mot Vegorätt lika gärna kan och bör riktas mot många andra matlagningsprogram (ofta med manliga programledare). Personligen har jag (mest i tysthet) reagerat mot dessa program, på ungefär samma sätt som jag nu reagerar på Vegorätt.

Du skriver också: "Att slentrianmässigt äta djur, blunda för fakta om djurindustrin och fnysa åt alternativ är [inskränkt]". Ja, det håller jag verkligen med dig om. (Men just *därför* är det ju så viktigt att nu sända "rätt" matprogram, med "rätt" alternativ.)

Det är förståeligt och beklagligt att min och andras relativa tystnad inför andra, tidigare matprogram får den aktuella kritiken att framstå som om den vore riktad mot just dessa programledare; mot just deras livsstil, o.s.v.. Men det är inte vad (det mesta av) kritiken egentligen handlar om.

Så långt hoppas jag att vi kan vara överens. Om några andra saker är vi nog inte överens (jag tar dem sist).

Ytterligare några saker verkar ligga i ett gränsland: En del av den kritik som jag vill rikta mot samhällsfenomen uppfattar du i stället som kritik mot programledarna eller mot dig personligen. Jag tror att tyvärr att det är oundvikligt. I detta gränsland ligger t.ex. din uppfattning att jag "inte har den minsta förståelse för andra människors olikheter".

Jag misstänker att du och jag har väldigt olika världs- och människobilder. I min värld är ansvar viktigare än frihet. För mig finns inget egenvärde i att människor får "göra sin egen grej" om den grejen påverkar andra negativt.

Så, ja, i den mån programledarna utövar eller uppmuntrar till en livsstil där miljöhänsyn får stå tillbaka för personlig tillfredsställelse, så bör de kritiseras. Inte främst som individer, utan som (kanske ovetande) representanter för det budskap som SVT (kanske obetänksamt) så kraftfullt för ut i och med att just detta program sänds just nu.

Slutligen några saker där jag tycker att du har fel. Och där dina svar "förstärker mina argument".

1) "Fokus och syfte med Vegorätt har aldrig varit miljöfrågan."

Det är möjligt. Men det *borde* ha varit så. Detta lastar jag inte programledarna för, utan SVT.

2) "Miljö får man på köpet som vegetarian."

Nej, det får man sannerligen inte. Detta är en av huvudpoängerna med min kritik.

3) "Att äta vegetariskt utan att också äta miljösmart är [inte] inskränkt."

Jo, det är det. Man kan, som jag skriver ovan, ha olika ingångar och prioriteringar som grund för sin vegetarianism. Men att inte *också* anlägga ett miljöperspektiv är just inskränkt.


Helen Alfvengren

Mina främsta poänger är:

1. När SVT annonserade ett vegetariskt matlagningsprogram väcktes många tanker, hopp och idéer, särskilt bland vegetarianer och veganer. Som vegan var min främsta förhoppning om att programmet skulle vara veganskt och inte vegetariskt då mjölkindustrin går hand i hand med köttindustrin osv. Mina tankar delade jag med SVT i mars, summerade och bloggade om här: http://www.helalf.se/2015/03/13/svt-vego/

När detaljerna kring programmet avslöjades i september visade det sig att ogräsmarmelad och annat stod på schemat vilket fick mig att sänka förväntningarna och godta att just det här programmet kommer skilja sig från det jag hade tänkt mig. Bloggade om det här: http://www.helalf.se/2015/09/0...

Sen dess har jag inte förväntat mig att Vegorätt skulle vara annat än 100% Karoline och Eleonore. Med andra ord, mina förväntningarna är på en helt annan nivå i januari än de var i mars. Mångas förväntningar är fortfarande kvar på mars-nivån.

2. Varför är vi så snabba med att döma ut ett program efter ett avsnitt? Ge dem programserien ut. Vem vet vilka ämnen och samtal som kommer dyka upp?

3. SVT är modiga som ger två okända kvinnor chansen att göra programmet till sitt. Jag ser inte att de ansvarar för hela vegosverige bara för att de är först ut. Vegorätt är bara början.

Det är mina poänger.

Du skriver: "Det är förståeligt och beklagligt att min och andras relativa tystnad inför andra, tidigare matprogram får den aktuella kritiken att framstå som om den vore riktad mot just dessa programledare; mot just deras livsstil, o.s.v.. Men det är inte vad (det mesta av) kritiken handlar om." Jo, det är ju exakt det den gör. Två privatpersoner dessutom.

Jag tycker inte att de eller SVT ensamt har ansvar för att föra ut ett vegobudskap på ett visst sätt. Jag tycker att all media har det. Nu råker de bara vara först. Eller näst först om Mat i munnen räknas. https://vimeo.com/matimunnen

20 jan. 2016

A difference of degree


Here again, it is necessary to note that none of the great historic visions has been either 100 percent unconstrained or 100 percent constrained. Difference of degree among unconstrained visions are often crucial as regards the significance of truth - and of force. In a very pure unconstrained vision, such as that of Godwin, reason is so powerful - "omnipotent" was his characterization - that neither deception nor force was justified in pursuing the public good. Thus, even though the wisest and most beneficent might be on a far higher plane than most people as of a given time, their ultimate ability to gain public assent was virtually inevitable. But where the unconstrained vision of human potential postulates more resistant frictions en route to realizing the goal, falsehood and force become not merely rights but duties, for the enormous benefits of an irreversible breakthrough go on for centuries, over which time the initial costs are to be amortized. 
If one believes, like Lenin, that a level of popular consciousness spontaneously achievable is inherently insufficient to the task, the more far-seeing elites have an enormous historic role to play and must employ whatever means are necessary. Although both Godwin and Lenin rejected the naturally evolved systemic processes which are central to the constrained vision, the differences in degree in their assumptions about human knowledge and reason produce profound differences in kind as to the role of truth and force. Relations between believers in Lenin's version of Marxism and believers in democratic socialism have historically been very bitter. A small shift of assumptions can have profound effects on the vision - and on the action that follows from it.


Thomas Sowell (2007), A conflict of visions, revised edition, p. 62-63

16 jan. 2016

Steady state: Scientific republic or totalitarianism?

My previous post, The Bullerby Beef, was picked up over at Häggström hävdar (Thanks, Olle!) These are my initial thoughts. I look forward to an interesting discussion, here and there.

Raphael: School of Athens

First of all, I would like any readers of my previous blog post to know that I am acutely aware of the problems and dangers of moving towards a more authoritarian society. (It may not be obvious from that text.)

Nevertheless, my main motivations for advocating drastical restrictions to individual and corporate liberties, are (a) the unacceptable consequences for the environment and for human well-being * that will otherwise ensue; (b) the moral repugnance of laissez-faire and the injustices it engenders; and (c) the sheer needlessness of the uninhibited, pampered and childish behavior currently being encouraged in the West. We are letting ourselves be exploited by commercial brain-washing in what has become a self-enhancing loop.

To my mind, so called paternal libertarianism and ”nudging” - currently in vogue - is clearly insufficient. Laughable, even. It reminds me of Naomi Klein’s recent comment on the Paris climate agreement:

It’s like going: ‘I acknowledge that I will die of a heart attack if I don’t radically lower my blood pressure. I acknowledge that in order to do that I need to cut out alcohol, fatty foods and exercise everyday. I therefore will exercise once a week, eat four hamburgers instead of five and only binge drink twice a week and you have to call me a hero because I’ve never done this before and you have no idea how lazy I used to be.’

The road to Plato’s Republic is (often, but not always) paved with good intentions. Still, whether such a society (or something similar) could ever turn out to be palatable is a different matter. The answer depends on who you ask, and when. (See, e.g. Rebecca Goldstein’s book: Plato at the Googleplex.)

I often ask myself if I could live a good life in such a society; as a ruler, as a soldier, or as a craftsman. And, of course, if everyone else could - simultaneously - live good lives as well. And my tentative answer is: I think so. At least, I hope so. I, for one, would be just as happy with but a tiny fraction of the possibilities and luxuries I have access to today. Not because I am ascetic, but because, as it is, I am literally drowning in excess - along with many Westerners.

There is, of course, the inevitable problem of (1) knowing who knows best. There is also the practical problem that (2) power corrupts. And (3) what to do with those who will not play along. Contrary to popular opinion, I view the concern that (4) restricted liberties entail a diminished quality of life - subjectively or objectively - as a non-issue, for reasons given below.

When it comes to (1) I would say that we do have a pretty good answer. It’s not perfect, but let’s not make perfect the enemy of good. So who’s ”we”, and what is the answer? Bluntly: science and scientist. Yes, there are lots of complications, but comparing the current state of affairs to one in which science plays a more prominent role in politics, the path forward is clear enough. And yes, it is self-centered, exclusive and elitist. Well, let’s just get over ourselves and get on with it, shall we? (I highly recommend the writings of Danish philosopher Klemens Kappel et al, e.g., "The proper role of science in liberal democracy"; "Freedom of Expression, Diversity, and Truth” **)

As to (2) there are surely better alternatives than appointing a single autocrat to be commander-in-chief, and then sit idly by for decades as he or she grows increasingly heady on the power rush. (Well, this is how critics depict the only possible alternative to Western democracies, as implemented today.) Plato himself had some ideas. The founding fathers made an impressive attempt to build on the Roman lessons and strike a reasonable compromise, but in the end they opened up for a dog-eat-dog society governed by capitalist plutocrats assisted by manipulative sophists. During the last two centuries, too little constitutional and legislative progress has been made, in Europe as well as in the U.S. There are plenty of reasons for this, not least the rise of hyper-consumerism. But to declare the end of history is complacent - if not cynical or downright stupid.

Regarding (3) I would like to see something a little more ambitious (and strict) than resigning ourselves to letting the mavericks set the standards.

My dismissal of (4) concerns about diminished quality of life is based primarily on the phenomenon of shifting baselines ***. Basically, you don't miss what you don't know. Subjectively, you compare your situation to that of your peers. As long as the fundamentals are in place (roughly, the base of Maslow's pyramid), you're objectively OK. Your subjective well-being (the top) will sort itself. Given even a minimal set of opportunities, it will hit a ceiling-effect, beyond which further resources are wasted.





(*) This means the well-being of *every* human being.

(**) Forthcoming in Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy, (Eds. Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen, David Coady and Kimberley Brownlee)

(***) Status-quo effect, framing, anchoring, availability heuristic... the list goes on.

9 jan. 2016

The Bullerby Beef





Olle Häggström's exceptional new book Here Be Dragons is surely one of the most thrilling, rewarding - and frightening - reads out there. I've read it twice now, and I could easily read again. In fact, I probably should. (Were it not for the ever growing pile of other books on my table.) Here's Olle on the future of humanity:

Another, less dramatic and in a sense diametrically opposite, scenario in which humanity might prosper despite a small value of q * is what we may call the Bullerby Scenario (after Astrid Lindgren's children's stories about the idyllic life in rural Sweden in the late 1940s). Here, humanity settles down into a peaceful and quiet steady state based on green energy, sustainable agriculture, and so on, and refrains from colonization of space and other radical technologies that might lead in that direction. I mention this possibility because it seems to an implicit and and unreflected assumption underlying much of current sustainability discourse, not because I consider it particularly plausible. In fact, given the Darwinian-style arguments discussed above, plus the paradigm of neverending growth that has come to reign both in the economy and in knowledge production (the scientific community), it seems very hard to imagine how such a steady state might come about, except possibly through the strict rule of a totalitarian government (which I tend to consider incompatible with human flourishing).
(p. 212)


The more dramatic - and realistic - scenario being a preemptive and aggressive colonization of the entire universe.


When I described that scenario to my eleven-year-old son, he pronounced, after some thought:

Are we then nothing more than cosmic cockroaches, devastating everything in our path, until there is nothing left in the universe? Is this the only possible fate for our civilization - indeed for every civilization?

(or something to that effect, in tween parlance; aided and abetted by yours truly).


My own reaction was something along these lines, and I told Olle as much at the time:

Yeah, about "totalitarianism"... Human culture, morals, perceptions are really quite malleable; more so than we usually imagine. Relatively delicate nudges can have large impacts in the long run - if they are applied consistently. 
Personally, I find it hard to accept the notion that oppression (perceived or "objective") is necessary in order to "handle" human nature. 
Furthermore, we had better be able to deal with some measure of limitation! And people do, all the time - no problem! It's just a question of what you're used to. 
Think about parenting: Any perceived injustice that a child may experience is always relative to what it construes as "normal" by observing its environment. Consequently, as a parent one must arrange this environment carefully. 
In the Bullerby village you grow up with a natural respect for the environment, for your peers, and for the council of elders. There are no alternatives; the village is surrounded by a forest where you have no chance of surviving on your own. 
Our problem is that people no longer have any sense of the borders of their (global) village, or of their place in it. 
Add to this the scientific and technological developments that could be used in service of the community, e.g., different ways of influencing people's morals - directly as well as indirectly.

As a case in point, the educational initiative Naturvetenskap+ (Science+) is my small contribution to a positive feedback-loop intended to buttress society against selfishness, short-sightedness and sheer stupidity. It's my way of pointing the way towards Bullerbyn, in effect interpreting the curriculum as a collectivist agenda for sustainability. (And I have reason to believe that the Swedish National Agency for Education approves.)


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Dejected, I study Olle's list of existential risks. It seems we have no choice but to abandon Earth. If we can. The only questions are when and how. And "who's 'we'?".

Threats from civilization, human or alien: climate change, environmental degradation, atomic and biological war and terrorism, nano-bots and AI running amok. Things that could (will) kill us all within 100 - 1000 years. Somehow I have been able to live with that knowledge until now. Mainly because there is at least a theoretical possibility of avoiding them.

Threats from nature: pandemics, meteoroids, volcanoes, cosmic rays, and eventually the Sun. These are things that could (will) kill us all no later than 100 000 - 1 000 000 years from now (give or take) **. And there isn't much we can do about it. Except, possibly, try to escape into space.

So, sterile as it is, I may have to accept Neal Stephenson's space habitat scenario - or something much worse - as the only option available to us, if that.

The old Gaia-hugging me looks utterly pathetic. I have lost my existential footing. Oh, the lure of the neighborhood church. (Strictly off-limits, of course.)

But, still... Hanson's and other's techno-social-Darwinism is truly sickening. Deplorable. Horrendous.

The whole idea of "Darwinian-style arguments" to the effect that we, as a society, are incapable of preventing a lone madman (or two) from destroying us all seems hopelessly defeatist. If nothing else, it seems to imply that we are forced to accept that a society can never be stronger than its weakest link; that we are forever bound by the law of least resistance. Perversely, Hanson (and others, mainly economists) seems to revel in the prospect of actualizing Parfit's repugnant conclusion.

Actually, I see this as a violation of Hume's law. Just because something is (or seems to be) a certain way, we can't concede that it should be so, or that it is unavoidable. *** We cannot resign ourselves to letting our propensity for recklessness violate societal and existential borders. Or even worse, the propensity of just a few.

What about the precautionary principle? And what about the asymmetry between the (relatively) known and safe, and the unknown and unsafe?


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One of the most interesting chapters in Olle's book deals with the following question:


What do we really want?


Or perhaps:


What do we want our future techno-selves to want?



Or rather:


What do we want our smarter-than-us
(and possibly also wiser-than-us)
AI to want?




It will take over soon, you know. The AI, that is.



Now, if we ask it to find out what we really want, we will be sorry - for several reasons:
  • we don't know
  • we don't want to know
  • we can't agree (not even with ourselves); and
  • what we want isn't really what we want anyway.

So what if we instead ask the AI to find out what we (objectively) should want...
  • if there even is such a thing
  • if we are able to formulate the question
  • if we are able to understand the answer
  • if we are able to verify it
  • if we are able to comply

...well, then we will also be sorry, for that is surely not what we want.


So what do we want? We want to strive for, but not attain, any and all of the goals that could plausibly appear as candidate answers above. The journey is the goal.

Maybe, then, not even I would be entirely content in a sustainable steady-state Bullerby village.

And what happens, pray tell, once Sandberg et al have colonized the entire universe at lightning-speed? 'Tis but a moment's work (geologically speaking).

I return to my motto: Responsibility trumps liberty. Specifically, we must get into the habit of restraining ourselves - and others. And to find satisfaction in doing so.

It is only in relation to boundaries that we may find meaning and harmony. This is a universally applicable principle of aesthetics. (Here is one example, relating to creativity and music.)


 ---


Speaking of facts and values...

Olle repeatedly calls attention to the all too common mistake of mixing the two. What about this:

If, for instance we take the (from the point of view of mainstream economics) extremely small discounting rate r = 0,1%, then we see from Table 10.1 that this corresponds to retaining 90% of value a hundred years from now, which may seem relatively reasonable. But look what happens 10,000 years from now: the fraction of value retained after such a time period is (1 - 0.001)10,000 ≈ 0.000045, meaning, in frank terms, that we do not care about the economy and welfare of our great-great-...-great-grandchildren 10,000 years hence.
(p. 235, my italics)


Is this a subtle shift from fact to value? (Maybe not in itself; see Olle's comment below.) Would an economist reply that, in fact, our grandchildren will be 1/0,000045 ≈ 22,000 times richer than we are? ****


 ---




Am I, and could perhaps also Häggström be, a Kantian rather than an axiological actualist? And would that be so bad, compared to the hyper-rationality of some twisted utilitarianism? Sentimentality might be good thing. And a bit of Gaia-hugging.





-------


(*) q is the conditional probability that a society - having sprung to life on a life-supporting planet and developed to the technological level of present-day humanity - goes on to develop into an intergalactic civilization.



(**) This makes me wonder why, later (in chapter 10), upwards of a billion years of continued existence as mere flesh-and-blood creatures on Earth alone is described as a "conservative estimate"...

...the point of this conservative estimate being that the future holds far more lives worth saving than all that have hitherto existed...

...which, according to classical calculations of expected value, leads to the conclusion that even ridiculously small increases in spending on the prevention of extinction now correspond to millions of lives (later on).



(***) "Just because something is, we shouldn't let it." The status-quo bias, or the is-ought problem of induction?



(****) I guess that would imply r = gη = 1, and γ = 0 in Ramsey's formula.

Of course, I agree completely that positing a positive g (and r) is reckless, especially over an extended time. Actually, it epitomizes our selfishness and short-sightedness, and maybe also our stupidity. But it could also be an almost unavoidable consequence of our psychological makeup: If we did manage to override it, that would mean the end of our journey.


---

Read part 2 of this text here.

---

Update February 22 2017


8 jan. 2016

Red versus Blue

"Does the general public know how badly the first contact went wrong?" Ty asked.

"None of the identities of your Seven are public knowledge. Certainly no one has the faintest idea that Hua Noah had anything to do with it."

"So Red hasn't been trumpeting that."

"It wouldn't be to Red's advantage, as I see it," Arjun said. "Now that they are allied with the Diggers, they want to make the Diggers out to be sympathetic. Revealing that they killef Hu Noah and his nurse would hardly serve that end."

"So we are just being made out to be some sort of anonymous thug squad. The Diggers chased us off with help from Red. We abducted a hostage as we were running away."

Arjun looked him in the eye. "No intelligent person in Blue believes that, of course."

"But Blue hasn't put out a countervailing narative yet either."

"It isn't Blue's strong suit." Arjun sighed. "Never has been, right? We're technocrats. We make decisions like engineers. Which doesn't always line up with what people imagine they want."

"Are you speaking of Blue in general?" Ty asked. "Or Rio in particular?" Using the name of the Ivyn central habitat as synecdoche for its culture.

"Both. A blue mentality that places us at the top of the decision-making pyramid. There's a reason why the very few Aidans who have become prominent in Blue have been musicians, actors, artists."

"They're supplying something our culture lacks," Ty said.

"You were supposed to supply it," Arjun said. Meaning, as Ty understood, the Dinan race. "And you did, during the heroic age."

Ty could feel a not altogether cheerful smile on his face. "By actually doing things, you mean," he said, "as opposed to pretending to do them in made-up entertainment programs."

"You know what, though? It's all entertainment. Real or made up. It's stuff that people watch on screens or varps. Red gets that."

"Well," Ty said, "maybe we can continue the discussion in my bar if we get out of this. But the bottom line for now, if I'm hearing you right, is that, narrative-wise, Red is killing us."



Neal Stephenson (2015), Sevenevesp. 803-804



---


Read also: The apocalypse of Seveneves (spoiler alert!

6 jan. 2016

EDGE 2016: The most interesting scientific news

194 bidrag. Obligatorisk läsning.



Robert Sapolsky, David Haig, Gloria Origgi, Andrei Linde,  Steven Pinker, Freeman Dyson,  Kai Krause, Matt Ridley,  Joscha Bach,  Noga Arikha, Stewart Brand,  Jonathan Haidt,  Max Tegmark, Yuri Milner, Christopher J. Anderson,  George Church, Nina G. Jablonski,  Martin Rees, Lisa Randall,  Eric J. Topol, Thalia Wheatley, George Dyson, Jennifer Jacquet,  Hans Ulrich Obrist,  Judith Rich Harris, S. Abbas Raza,  Howard Gardner,  Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Anton Zeilinger,  Michael Shermer,  Margaret Levi,  Frank Wilczek, Tania Lombrozo,   Philip Tetlock, Kevin Kelly,  Jaeweon Cho, Seth Lloyd, Rory Sutherland, Jim Holt,  John C. Mather,  Bill Joy,  Michael Vassar,  Gregory Benford,  Robert Provine, Paul Steinhardt,  Robert Kurzban,  Aubrey de Grey,  Antony Garrett Lisi,  Paul Bloom,  David Myers,  Peter Turchin, Andrian Kreye,  John Naughton, W. Tecumseh Fitch, John Tooby, Timothy Taylor, A.C. Grayling, Helen Fisher, Alex (Sandy) Pentland,  Amanda Gefter,  Maximilian Schich, Pamela Rosenkranz, Linda Wilbrecht,  N.J. Enfield, Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, Stuart Pimm, Syed Tasnim Raza, Lisa Feldman Barrett,  Thomas Metzinger,  Ellen Winner,  Giulio Boccaletti,  Gary Klein,  Frank Tipler,  Steve Omohundro,  Laurence C. Smith,  Bruce Hood,  Clifford Pickover,  Rodney A.  Brooks,  Simon Baron-Cohen,  Peter Schwartz,  Thomas A. Bass,  Keith Devlin,  Randolph Nesse,  Steve Quartz,  Richard Muller,  Douglas Rushkoff,  Ara Norenzayan,  Leonard Susskind,  Stephen Stich,  Lawrence M. Krauss,  Sheizaf Rafaeli, Carl Page, Adam Alter,  Luca De Biase,  Nicholas Humphrey,  David Berreby,  Gerd Gigerenzer,  Irene Pepperberg,  Quentin Hardy,  George Johnson,  Neil Gershenfeld,  Stephen M. Kosslyn,  Kurt Gray,  Paul Dolan, Stephon Alexander, Joshua Bongard,  Andy Clark,  Gregory Paul, June Gruber,  Joel Gold,  Peter Gabriel,  Scott Aaronson,  Jamshed Bharucha,  Daniel Goleman,  Mary Catherine Bateson,  Alison Gopnik,  Abigail Marsh, Diana Reiss,  James Croak,  Buddhini Samarasinghe,  Terrence J. Sejnowski,  Todd Sacktor, Charles Seife, Susan  Blackmore,  Scott D. Sampson,  Paul Saffo, Alun Anderson, Ziyad Marar,  Eric R. Weinstein, Ross Anderson, Kate Jeffery,  Brian Knutson, Brian G. Keating, Michael McCullough, Gregory Cochran, Jonathan Schooler,  Sean Carroll, Dustin Yellin, Steve Giddings, Joichi Ito, David M. Buss, Nicholas A. Christakis, Hans Halvorson, Oliver Scott Curry, Hazel Rose Markus, Neil Turok,  Gordon Kane,  Ed Regis,  Mark Pagel,  Lee Smolin,  John McWhorter,  Carlo Rovelli, David Dalrymple, John Gottman, Melanie Swan,  Laura Betzig,  Leo Chalupa,  Gino Segre, Alan Alda,  Koo Jeong A, Sarah Demers,  Ernst Pöppel, Michael Norton, Stuart Firestein, Timo Hannay,  Bruce Parker,  Christian Keysers,  Paul Davies,  Diana Deutsch,  Samuel Arbesman,  Juan Enriquez,  Rudy Rucker,  James J. O'Donnell,  David Christian,  Milford H. Wolpoff,  Michael Hochberg,  Jeremy Bernstein,  Alexander Wissner-Gross,  Brian Christian,  Roger Highfield,  Victoria Wyatt,  Robert Trivers,  Mario Livio, Christine Finn,  Stuart Kauffman,  Nathalie Nahai,  Tor Nørretranders,  Steve Fuller,  Elizabeth Wrigley-Field,  Donald Hoffman,  Roger Schank,  Richard Nisbett,  Jared Diamond,  Pamela McCorduck

4 jan. 2016

Neal Stephenson's remarkable inconsistency


Square meter for square meter, this was the finest shopping district in the human universe, drawing its stock from every habitat visited by the Eye, attracting the sophisticated and well-heeled natives of the Great Chain as well as tourists from whichever habitats were currently in reach. 
She was feeling a kind of vague ambient pressure - enhanced, no doubt, by the advertising that walled her in on all sides - to buy clothes, or try on jewelry, or get a hairstyle that would make her fit in better on Cradle. [...] Kath One had been much more susceptible to those kinds of social influences and would have been emptying her bank account at this moment, trying to silence the little voice in her head telling her she wasn't pretty or stylish enough. [...]
(p. 638-639)


[...] smartphones and tablets and laptops that had been manufactured on Old Earth [...] did not work anymore, but their technical capabilities were [...] impressive compared to what [...] modern people carried around in their pockets. This ran contrary to most people's intuitions, since in other areas the achievements of the modern world [...] were so vastly greater than what the people of Old Earth had ever accomplished. It boiled down to Amistics. [...] 
Blue, for its part, had made a conscious decision not to repeat what was known as Tav's Mistake. [...] 
Fair or not, Tavistock Prowse would forever be saddled with blame for having allowed his use of high-frequency social media tools to get the better of his higher faculties. [...] 
Anyone who bothered to learn the history of the developed world in the years just before Zero understood perfectly well that Tavistock Prowse had been squarely in the middle of the normal range, as far as his social media habits and attention span had been concerned. But nevertheless, Blues called it Tav's Mistake. They didn't want to make it again. Any efforts made by modern consumer-goods manufacturers to produce the kinds of devices and apps that had disordered the brain of Tav were met with the same instinctive pushback as Victorian clergy might have directed against the inventor of a masturbation machine. [...] 
The end result [...] was that she was dwelling in habitats, and being moved around by machines, far beyond the capabilities of Old Earth. She was being served and looked after by robots that were smarter and more robust than their ancestors [...] And yet the information storage capacity of her tablet, and its ability to connect, were still limited enough that it made sense for her to download books over a cable [...] and to make room for them in the tablet's storage chips by deleting things she had already read.

(p. 640-642)


Quotes from Neal Stephenson (2015), Seveneves.



Stephenson is a self-professed "sociomediapath", but I can't help wonder why his concern for keeping the mind uncluttered - his own as well others' - doesn't extend to the "vague ambient pressure" of advertising, high-tech or not.

---

Stephenson is clearly a technocrat of some sort, exhibiting an unsentimental, if not callous, attitude towards many "Old Earth" features, including - it would seem - most things biological *. Perhaps he is being hyper-rational. Or perhaps he has all but given up, and is merely bracing himself.

More generally, Stephenson seems conflicted when it comes to politics. Sometimes he appears to advocate free enterprise, bordering on anarchy. Other times he implies the need for collective action, top-down control, and mass surveillance. Maybe pragmatic is the right word: In interviews published online he comes across as neutral and balanced, almost to a fault.

You cannot help but be amazed by the scope of Seveneves. It is truly epic. And the research behind it is as wide-ranging as the storyline. Stephenson deals with a host of current technological, sociological, and philosophical issues, in effect practicing a scenario-based, thought-provoking, and accessible form of futurism that complements the non-fiction.**

(Also, he is clearly fascinated by chains and whips.)

---

(*) I guess I'm Doob

(**) A perfect companion read would be, e.g., Häggström (2016), Here Be Dragons: Science, Tecnhology, and the Future of Humanity.

2 jan. 2016

When is Cheryl's birthday?

Found this at the Guardian:


It took me a while to figure out, and I felt pretty stupid at times. I browsed the comments for clues and found that:

The right answer is SPOILER ALERT *

I sensed this to be true as soon as I saw comments indicating as much...

even when those comments did not explain why...

and I immediately trusted the comments which did supply an explanation...

despite finding some of them cryptical and unhelpful at first.

When I finally understood them, I realized that I had been stumped by their wording...

and the fact that they fail to explicitly spell out one crucial detail.

But what truly amazes me is the amount of wrong answers and convoluted explanations that come after the correct ones - there are thousands of them!


---












These are the comments that I found useful (but not completely satisfactory):

July 16.


Workings:

Can't be May 19 or June 18, or Bernard would know.
Can't, therefore, be May or June, or Albert wouldn't know that Bernard doesn't know.
Albert's statement means that Bernard now knows it is either July or August.
So it can't be July 14 or August 14, or else Bernard still wouldn't know the birthday, which means it's either July 16, August 15 or August 17.
If Albert had been told August, then Bernard's statement wouldn't help him in figuring out Cheryl's birthday, which means he had to have been told July.
Therefore it must be July 16th.


July 16. When Albert says he knows for sure that Bernard doesn't not know the birthday, it immediately rules out May and June, as both contain dates which could instantly give away the answer (18th and 19th)

Then, when Bernard says that Albert's statement has given him the answer, the date has to be 16th, as all other dates in July and August are repeated elsewhere in the list.
Ergo July 16
QED