LINK: Top HIV researcher killed in plane crash

post by polymathwannabe · 2014-07-19T17:03:21.443Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 18 comments

As most of you may already know, the plane that recently crashed on disputed Ukrainian soil carried some of the world's top HIV researchers.

One part of me holds vehemently that all human beings are of equal value.

Another part of me wishes there could be extra-creative punishments for depriving the world of its best minds.



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comment by Scott Garrabrant · 2014-07-19T17:34:12.283Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do not know what "All humans are of equal value" means, when humans are dependent on one another. If Alice is about to save Bob's life, than surely Alice has more value than Bob, in that removing Alice removes both Alice and Bob. Similarly, if Alice is about to kill bob, then kill herself, then it seems we should say Alice has negative value.

If your position is that all humans have equal terminal value, then those who save lots of lives are of much greater instrumental value than those who do not.

Replies from: Toggle
comment by Toggle · 2014-07-19T19:06:22.692Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Excellently put. But polymathwannabe gives us the interesting question of whether the punishment for murder should be tied to the instrumental utility of the victim, rather than their terminal value as a human being.

I would say no, for at least two reasons.

The first is that quantifying the instrumentality of a particular person with confidence is functionally very challenging and existentially problematic. If a thorough review of these researchers' work established that they were pursuing unhelpful avenues of investigation, and that the new wave of scientists will therefore advance the timetable of AIDS treatment by years, shall we remove years from the murderers' sentence? Who is qualified to make such a determination?

The second is that it leads very quickly to the appearance of class favoritism in the criminal justice system. Broadly speaking, members of the wealthy and middle classes have higher instrumentality than the poor, so this system would produce lighter punishments for the murder of poor and disenfranchised groups. That, in turn, would lower confidence in the justice system as a whole and erode the state's monopoly on violence.

All this said, my emotional response to this event is not nearly so measured. I can't justify it and won't use it, but there's a whole lot of "Hulk smash" going on inside my head.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2014-07-20T00:12:43.052Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One part of me holds vehemently that all human beings are of equal value.

This is the guy concerned with the principles of a just legal system.

Another part of me wishes there could be extra-creative punishments for depriving the world of its best minds.

This is the part that values people differently, and therefore has a different desire for punishment/retribution depending on the victim.

I have the same parts. We have conflicting motivations and goals. Nothing that mysterious. I hope the first part wins out to the extent that you're forming your opinions on law, and we don't have to argue about the importance of equality before the law.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-19T17:36:41.503Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

About a hundred AIDS researchers. Shooting that plane down may kill millions.

Replies from: Adele_L
comment by Adele_L · 2014-07-19T21:03:29.861Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That number sounded suspicious to me when I first heard it, and it turns out that according to the International AIDS Society president, it was more like six. Still a terrible loss.

Replies from: dougclow, David_Gerard
comment by dougclow · 2014-07-20T06:56:53.443Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, they were not just AIDS researchers but AIDS activists and campaigners. The conference they were going to was expecting 12-15,000 delegates (depending on the report); it's the most prominent international conference in the area but far from the only one. As you say, a terrible loss, particularly for those close to the dead. The wider HIV/AIDS community will be sobered, but it will not be sunk. If nothing else, they coped with far higher annual death rates before effective therapies became widespread in the developed world.

The story of this story does helpfully remind us that the other 'facts' about this situation - which we know from the same media sources - may be similarly mistaken.

comment by David_Gerard · 2014-07-20T12:07:48.858Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, thank you!

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-07-20T04:52:48.228Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Europe didn't learn.

Replies from: Creutzer
comment by Creutzer · 2014-07-20T08:44:26.457Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Care to elaborate?

Replies from: Viliam_Bur
comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-21T08:15:05.095Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably a similarity between Putin 2014 and Hitler 1938.

Replies from: knb
comment by knb · 2014-07-22T18:59:26.579Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or maybe Europe finally learned the lessons of 1914 (i.e. not to start an apocalyptic war over relatively trivial matters.)

Replies from: IlyaShpitser, V_V, Viliam_Bur
comment by IlyaShpitser · 2014-07-22T22:19:47.606Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

War would be stupid, but in this case the West is simply unwilling to close ranks and make economic sacrifices to erect a Schelling point vs obvious misbehavior on the international stage. This should have been done before, and it should be done now. But the West cannot coordinate effectively unless forced vs large players like Russia or China. It was done vs Libya or South Africa, however.

The stuff in the Ukraine is not a trivial matter, it's a land grab war, 19th century style. We don't want to reach a new equilibrium where it is ok to do stuff like this. You might not care about this particular instance of the misbehavior, but that is not the same thing as the matter being trivial.

Open question for Moldbug fans in the audience: how do you feel about Putin and Putin's Russia? I am not planning to engage further on this, I am just curious.

edit: Full disclosure, I was born in the Crimea, and raised in Odessa until 13 yo. I am not ethnically Ukrainian.

comment by V_V · 2014-07-23T09:35:13.449Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Europe could either side with Ukraine and boycott the Russian natural gas, at a huge cost, or side with Russia and force Ukraine into submission by political and economic isolation, effectively rewarding the Russian expansionist attitudes.
Looks like a catch-22 scenario.

Or Europe could just do nothing, except maybe avoiding to fly its planes on top of the war zone, which is pretty much what is actually happening now.

It doesn't look like there is an easy solution to this problem.
After all, if politics was easy it wouldn't be politics.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2014-07-23T07:06:25.113Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This sounds like a good question for a political prediction market: Assuming that Putin succeeds to conquer the part of Ukraine he wants, how many years will pass until Russia attacks another country? Which one will be next?

(Possibly relevant data point: Transnistria.)

Since I don't know much about internal power balance and conflicts within Russia, I would only make the rather obvious bet, that the next country will almost certainly be a member of the former Soviet Union.

comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-19T18:22:02.010Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An egoist opinion: "One part of me holds vehemently that all human beings are of equal value" is self-contradicting.

You are included in the set 'all human beings.' But the human being who holds your view (you) is either better or worse than those who do not hold your view (the rest of us). You hold your view correct and thus counter views incorrect. Thus others are not equal to you, and you are better than those who disagree.

What we think about how the world should be, in ways we lack the means to bring about, does not matter. Think what you like.

Replies from: RowanE
comment by RowanE · 2014-07-19T19:18:54.894Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You claim that one group of people is of a different value from another group of people without giving any reason why a difference in value exists, even though what you're trying to prove that such a difference is implied by polymathwannabe's statement.

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2014-07-19T20:19:10.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I cannot think of an example of a claim that does not exclude it's negation. If the claim is "X is better than Y" then the exclusion is "Y is better than X." So to claim it is better to think all people are equal is to claim those who think otherwise are making not-better claims. Thus the confusion of 'all people are equal except those who say all are not equal.'

Replies from: RowanE
comment by RowanE · 2014-07-19T22:40:10.736Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You're assuming that having lower-value beliefs lowers the value of the person holding that belief, which is negated by the claim "all people are of equal value".